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August 2018 – husk, rime and lanterns – a double dose of Jack Hayter in a Gravesend lightship (18th August)

14 Aug

I like the idea of a mobile arts venue. A seabound one is even better. LV21, a forty-metre decommissioned former lightship, once kept other ships from foundering on the rocks along the Kentish coast. Now it’s a floating art space and performance facility, moving intermittently between Thames estuary towns. Although it’s been resting at a long-term Gravesend mooring since summer 2016, LV21 still fits the measure for art-on-the-move (while its sister vessel, LV18, performs a similar function at a similar mooring up the coast at Harwich).

International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend @ LV21, 18th August 2018

Wherever it happens to be at the time, LV21 opens up in full each summer for the overlapping International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend and International Lighthouse Heritage Weekend, allowing visitors to explore the vessel and immerse themselves in lightship and lighthouse history from around the world. Also on offer at the event this year – this weekend – are lessons in tying sailor’s knots, a soldering and radio workshop (build your own pocket amplifier and speaker) and Nicola Pollard of stripped-down drama company Up The Road Theatre inviting discussion for the next UTR production, ‘Peril At Sea’ (set to explore “stories, memories, myths and songs of smuggling, shipwrecks and survival” and to tour around English coastal towns including Lowestoft, Portsmouth and Wells-next-the-Sea).

Jack Hayter @ ILLW 2018, Gravesend, 18th August 2018Of course, it’s music rather than knots that’s attracting my interest. Also on hand is Jack Hayter – wandering multi-instrumentalist, onetime Hefner member, ex-Dollboy-er, Ralegh Long and Papernut Cambridge collaborator; the writer and performer of memorable contemporary folk songs and a relatively recent new Gravesend resident. He has two interesting – and very different – nautical music productions going on in the bowels of the ship.

The first of these is ‘Flashes & Occultations’, a sonic installation in the generator room comprising “a seventy-seven-minute-long sonic improvisation on lighthouse life.” It was originally released by London indie label Where It’s At Is Where You Are in 2017 as part of their ‘Seven@77‘ compilation, on which it loomed massively over the thirteen other pieces (each of them clocking in at a measly seventy-seven seconds). In typically dry and witty fashion, Jack describes it as a salvage job on a foolhardy, ambitious effort to sidestep the requested seventy-seven-minute pedal steel improvisation in favour of an attempt to make “a transient sound sculpture from the identification patterns of distant lighthouses, buoys and light vessels; to convert their flashes and occultations into small voltages using telescopes, light-sensitive resistors and photodiodes, then to use those derived signals to trigger samples and control analogue synths. I was overambitious and my experiments were largely a technical failure. I also got cold and muddy while recording foghorns. Worse still, those supposedly unique and exciting light patterns often turned out to be “one flash every twenty seconds” or “red occulting thrice every minute on a Tuesday. Then I ran out of time.”

Salvaging the project wreckage, Jack returned to the original brief – improvising on pedal steel around field recordings, stirring in documentary dialogue, eight-bit synth pads and calling in a few friends and favours to obtain further ingredients: poetry, wordless harmony singing, harmonium drones and electronic oscillator. Despite his disclaimers, he came up with an effective, charming piece – at different points lulling, humorous and lyrically haunting – which absolutely deserves its second life amongst the Gravesend solenoids and gauges, where Jack claims he might play along with it “from time to time” on live fiddle. Here’s a short excerpt with accompanying video (filmed up at the Firth of Forth) – also, if you’re curious but can’t make it down to LV21 this Saturday, here’s the whole piece in audio.



 
Jack’s second musical contribution of the day is the one-off free live gig he’s performing in the ship (on deck? in the hold?) during the evening, in which he’s going to be performing “a set of my songs and stories which will loosely follow the river from Deptford down to Gravesend finishing up at Margate, with diversions.” Here’s where you get to see Jack in the raw – a rangy, weatherbeaten feller with a voice as chewed-up and resilient as an ancient poster still clinging onto a seafront fence. His recent album, ‘Abbey Wood‘, is one of 2018’s under-the-radar triumphs, a compelling song collection recorded in defiantly threadbare folk fashion but with infusions of avant-garde turn-up-and-play instrumentation. Its ace in the hole, however, is Jack’s songwriter vision. As ever, he writes with a documentarian’s timing and eye for sparse, telling detail; with a poet’s knack for sifting detritus and forgotten trash to find significance; and with a determination to tell stories from those broad, deliberately ignored margins of society which actually make up its overlooked majority.

Jack’s songbook includes tales of post-war slump and of the rural working class swept into conflict; the hopes and dreams of sewage workers; the luckless POWs sunk with the SS Andora Star; the fumblings of early love under the shadow of the Cold War. Crucially – and despite his sharp, assured literacy – he always writes these from the inside and on the level, rather than as booky preachings from above. These are stories about people on lean means, living within strung-together moments: a compassionate, sometimes subtly angry cinema of life’s grain outside the slick and aspirational. They vouch and voice for the itinerate, the sidelined; the workers who just get on with it; the kids with foggy futures stirred and impelled by vast indifferent forces.

Jack’s delivery of these tales, meanwhile, is battered, warm, inclusive, strangely dignified, and mesmeric. Check out an earlier review I did of one of Jack’s previous live performances; or have a dip into the selection of tracks below.





 
Jack Hayter @ International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend 2018
Light Vessel 21, (currently moored at) St Andrews Quay, Royal Pier Road, Gravesend, Kent DA12 2BD, England
Saturday 18 August 2018
• ILLW full event duration: 12.00pm-11.00pm
• Flashes & Occultations installation: 12.00pm-4.00pm
• Jack Hayter free live set: 7.00pm-11.00pm

– free event – information here, here, here and here
 

July 2018 – upcoming London singer-songwriter gigs – Ana Silvera’s ‘Oracles’ at the South Bank (4th July) and Holly Penfield’s ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in Piccadilly (9th July)

1 Jul

Ana Silvera, 4th July 2018

‘Oracles’ – the BASCA-nominated song-cycle by Anglo-Portuguese singer-songwriterAna Silvera – already has a seven-year history. Created more or less in parallel with her debut album ‘The Aviary’ (and originally a choral piece for the NEC choir at the Roundhouse), it’s now returning this month, freshly re-arranged for Ana and small vocal/instrumental ensemble, for a full album release and the first of two 2018 live shows.

A response to the pain of intimate family bereavement, ‘Oracles’ “draws on folk tales and myths to chart a transformative journey from profound grief to tentative acceptance.” In some senses it’s a wide-spectrum take on adult pop without a trace of that genre’s unnecessary blandening: an as-it-happens assessment of the dramatic personal shifts in position following the loss of both loved ones and of the relationship one has with them while they’re alive.

What I’ve heard of it so far suggests a similar vivacity as her songs elsewhere on album or in her theatrical work – vividly characterised narratives of internal reflection and of landscapes both physical and emotional, mingling detailed, nakedly honest personal verbal imagery and an influx of Portuguese folk feel in a way which makes her sound a little like an Iberian Jane Siberry.


 
For the live performance, Ana’s six-piece band features her co-arranger – Listenpony curator and singing multi-instrumentalist Josephine Stephenson – plus a wealth of folk-jazz talent in the shape of the string trio of Jasper Høiby on double bass, Alice Zawadzki on vocals and violin, and Alice Purton on vocals and cello, plus Will Barry on piano and percussion.

The concert will feature “specially arranged new songs” for the first half and a full run through ‘Oracles’ for the second: the latter including a specially commissioned dance film by Royal Ballet/’Random Acts‘ director/dancer Kate Church and art director Alice Williamson.

Ana Silvera – ‘Oracles’
Purcell Room @ Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England
Wednesday 4th July 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here


 
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Holly Penfield, 9th July 2018

From where she’s standing in her life right now, Holly Penfield can reach out in both directions to touch the passionate, large-lunged ingenue singer of her youth and the salty life-loving veteran she’s transforming into. Of course, she’s got a longer, bolder reach than most. Once tagged as “David Bowie meets Liza Minelli” by a surprised and wrongfooted Simon Cowell, she’s a classic torch-pop singer with a stunning voice who’s also both blessed and cursed with an upsetter’s drive. These days, as she rebounds from twenty years as a leading international cabarettier in order to return to her own songs, it’s more of a blessing.

Raised in San Francisco (and a veteran of the 1980s LA pop scene with the scars to prove it) Holly spent much of the ‘90s writing and performing the psychodramatic one-woman pop show ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in London and elsewhere. A show with such troubled and intense undercurrents that it eventually blew itself apart, it’s now spawned a return… but under very different circumstances. The whirling mirror-glass synths and saxophones of the old days have been replaced by a gritty post-Americana rock band (which growls, gnaws and struts through her songs like a Cash or Waits ensemble) while Holly herself has mostly forsaken standing behind a keyboard (except for when a grand piano ballad calls for that set of skills).


 
It’s funny, sad, uplifting and stirring all at once. Once the very embodiment of storm-tossed waif and precarious survivor, Holly’s now a wiser and much happier woman. She still absolutely owns the stage, though, helping herself to a big dollop of the jazz and blues flavourings which shaped her initial development, playing a dash of ukulele and engaging in some zestful shimmying (and some delightfully ludicrous party outfits, worn with wit and flair – it seems as if her recent steps away from cabaret involved at least one sly step back).


 
What hasn’t changed is the quality of her singing, and of her songs. While old FHM standards like Misfit, The Last Enemy, puddle-of-grief ballad Stay With Me, and slinking fingersnapper You Can’t Have The Beauty Without The Beast have shed skins and made the transition to the new show, Holly’s also been dipping into a trunk of neglected and mostly previously unheard work, including the tremendous state-of-the-world song Confessions (based around a lyrical hook she once dangled in front of an intrigued Joni Mitchell) and the vivacious Tree Woman (a more recent effort in which she vigorously embraces both her own ageing and the resilience that comes with it).

Holly Penfield’s Fragile Human Monster Show
Crazy Coqs @ Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Monday 9th July 2018, 9.15pm
– information here


 

June 2018 – upcoming chamber-fusion and Rock In Opposition gigs in London – North Sea Radio Orchestra (2nd June); Lindsey Cooper Songbook with The Watts, John Greaves and Chlöe Herington (16th June)

24 May

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

North Sea Radio Orchestra are bringing their chamber-fusion sound to south London as part of the Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival. They’re a leafy and lambent confection of strings, reeds, nylon-strong guitar, boutique post-Stereolab keyboards and softened brass, fronted by the heartfelt disparate vocals of husband and wife team Sharron and Craig Fortnam (one a clarion carol, the other a papery whisper-croon).

Given the Festival’s context, they might pull out a few of the pieces with which they initially made their name a decade-and-a-half ago – garlanded, illuminated settings of Thomas Hardy, William Blake and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Either way, come for an evening which merges English country-garden airiness with German experimental rock boffinry and Zappa-styled tuned-percussion tinkles. Regular gigmate and sometime NSRO contributor William D. Drake was scheduled for a support slot, but since an injury put him out of action for the summer, he’s had to pull out. There may or may not be a suitable replacement.




 
Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival presents:
North Sea Radio Orchestra
Clapham Library, Mary Seacole Centre, 91 Clapham High Street, Clapham, London, SW4 7DB, England
Saturday 2nd June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

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Lindsay Cooper Songbook, 16th June 2018

There’s a tenuous but true link between NSRO and Yumi Hara’s Half The Sky project. On top of the existing ties of friendship, they’re both mostly-acoustic chamber music projects with prominent bassoon and an electric experimental rock component; both focus predominantly on a single composer; both lean (implicitly or explicitly) towards the ‘70s Canterbury scene and sound.

However, where NSRO has a core of sweetness Half The Sky is decidedly umami. Set up to curate, recreate and perform the work of the late Lindsay Cooper (and specialising in the repertoire she put out for the groups Henry Cow, News From Babel and Music for Films) theirs is a knottier, more querying sound: a winding road full of debate and pointings, animated but affectionate.

There have been shifts in the band recently. While Yumi continues on keyboards and lever harp alongside co-founder/former Cow drummer Chris Cutler, and singer Dagmar Krause was added as the primary vocalist for last year’s European dates, the band now features John Greaves on bass and keyboards and Tim Hodgkinson on reeds and lap steel, bringing its ex-Cow member count up to four (with Chlöe Herington still on hand to add more assorted reeds). They’ve kept the fifty-fifty male/female player ratio which reflected their original title, but have now taken up the more sober, less whimsical name of Lindsay Cooper Songbook. This will be the debut of the new crew, but here’s video of various previous lineups of the band in action in London and Japan…



 
The evening also features three support sets drawn from the ensemble. Making their British debut, The Watts unites Yumi Hara with Tim Hodgkinson and Chris Cutler in a post-Cow trio. John Greaves adds a solo performance of his own songs on voice and piano, and Chlöe Herington (following the development of her VALVE project into a collective female trio which, in some respects, echoes Lindsay’s work with FIG) will be returning to her own solo roots with music for bassoon and electronics. If there are any gaps left, staunch ‘Organ’-ista Marina Organ will be filling them with her DJ set, drawing on the horde of fringe-rock and experimental records she plays on her Resonance FM show.

Lindsay Cooper Songbook + The Watts + John Greaves + Chlöe Herington + DJ Marina Organ
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Saturday 16th June 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

There’ll be a second chance to catch them this summer – at the Zappanale in Bad Doberan Germany on 21st July. For those who missed my Lindsay summary last time, here’s a trimmed version:

“Long before the knot of current pop-culture wrangling over women’s control over the music they make, (Lindsay) was plugging away in her own corner, striving (and ultimately succeeding) for much the same thing in the often arid and unforgiving spaces of British art rock, improv and jazz… Pinning down the nature of a woman’s work in art – or women’s work in general – is not always an easy thing, nor even desirable. Even the most positive intentions can produce more restrictive categories, more unwanted boxings and demands to conform.

“In the case of Lindsay, whose career always foregrounded honest effort and end product over personality showboating, and which was tinted by doubt and determination, it’s probably best to concentrate mostly on the mind behind the music: to listen to the querying voice coming through. Operating over a set of times in which both contemporaries and colleagues had a tendency towards answers and stances, stated in both bald pronouncements and modernist-baroque ornamentations, she opted to bring a more questioning tone which nonetheless carried some of its possible answers in both action and presentation.

“Hers was a polymathic but purer musicality: an instrumental voice which voyaged alongside others’ often harsher pronouncements, détournements and doctrines and drew from them while never being subject to them, and which always kept a gentler, more accommodating side open to allow growing space and to consistently rebuild… She was responsible for most of the piled jazzy grandeur of the second side (of Henry Cow’s ‘Western Culture’) finding previously unexplored links between the music of New York, Canterbury and Switzerland)…

“In the late ’70s Lindsay had already formed the witty, subversive Feminist Improvising Group, or FIG (which) not only enabled previously sidelined female voices onto the improv scene but deliberately upturned expectations as to what such a scene could achieve. FIG were spontaneous, mutually supportive and – just as importantly – funny. With a strong and personal rooting in lesbian, class-based and feminist activism (plus parallel feelings of sidelining and denial on the part of others) but a suspicion of dogma, they expressed frustration and political challenge by drawing on a collective sense of the absurd and of the sympathetic… Men carped, frowned and cold-shouldered; women laughed, argued and sometimes welcomed; the group members continually challenged their own sense of self and role; but the work itself sounds joyously unshackled – something I would have loved to have been around to see…

“Post-Cow and FIG, Lindsay ran her own Film Music Orchestra to create and record arthouse soundtracks (often working in cinematic cahoots with Sally Potter). She rejoined Chris Cutler for the 1980s post-Marxist art-song project News From Babel (in which) Chris’ social and political musings would make a happier marriage with the pop-cabaret end of Lindsay’s music. She also contributed to the counter-cultural jazz colours of various Mike Westbrook and John Wolf Brennan bands, played with Pere Ubu ranter David Thomas, worked in theatre and (in the ’90s) composed a more formal chamber music which nonetheless retained the edge and inquiring spirit of her work in avant-rock and political art. She’d collaborate with Potter again for the Cold War song cycle ‘Oh, Moscow’ in the late ’80s, to which Chris Cutler also contributed. If encroaching multiple sclerosis (which had privately dogged her throughout her post-Cow career) hadn’t dragged her into early retirement in the late ’90s, there would have been more.

“(Lindsay Cooper Songbook) provide a welcome re-introduction to Lindsay’s work, performed by committed people whose sympathy with Lindsay Cooper’s music is absolute. However, they should also be viewed as a window onto the wider career of a quietly remarkable woman whose death in 2013 forced a premature coda onto the work of a mind whose personal humility had been more than balanced by its nimbleness, thoughtful and flexibility. Come along to these concerts and hear some of that mindwork and heartwork come alive again.”
 

April 2018 – folk-theatre in progress in London and Bristol: ‘Travelling With Thomas’ (12th, 23rd, 24th April)

8 Apr

I can’t believe that, up until now, I’ve managed to miss news of this. A team gradually workshopping a brand-new folk musical and bringing it to the public in Bristol and London this month – a folk opera, really, based on an old, old story (in fact, one of my favourites of its kind, about a man given the twisted gift of prophecy along with the inability to lie, often with the proviso that the results will come back and hit him).

'Travelling With Thomas', 2018

“An ancient tale. A new twist. A musical journey. ‘Travelling With Thomas‘ presents an interactive gig that presents beautiful new songs, music and artwork to explore the legends and folklore of Thomas the Rhymer. Forced to travel to Fairyland, Thomas is helped and hindered as he tries to find a safe way home. It is a tale of fairness, love, truth and time. Come and join the journey!

“Composer Laurel Swift and designer Lizzie Watts invite you to share their journey with some of the finest performers on the scene as they start to create a new folk musical, and conclude their first year-long collaborative project. This fourth and final showcase is a summary of the perilous journey so far and a tantalising insight into what’s to come. It’s a unique, behind the scenes insight into the artistic development of ‘Travelling with Thomas’. Through an exhibition and concert, view Lizzie’s distinctive artwork and hear Laurel’s contagious music performed by a captivating cast of leading folk performers.”

Laurel’s already an inspiring (or intimidating) talent – the founder, leader and choreographer of the self-explanatory Morris Offspring dance troupe; ceilidh fiddler and singer in The Gloworms; double bassist in Gadarene; and clogdancer in pretty much everything she does. She’s dipped into storytelling before, telling a semi-improvised selkie tale as the instrumental/dancing half of the ‘Under Her Skin‘ team (alongside performance storyteller Debs Newbold). Lizzie is even more deeply embedded in tale-telling, probably being best known as a third of the three-woman core of Thimble Theatre who assemble physical theatre out of circus, music and traditional arts.

In addition, the ensemble putting the music together is a pretty fantastic cross-section of British folk, classical and theatrical crossover. It features singer and fiddler Ben Moss (Lauren’s partner in both Ben & Laurel and the spring-themed touring show ‘A Branch of May’), plus Lizzie’s Thimble Theatre cohort Harriet Riley (marimba and percussion, also in Spindle Ensemble and Tezeta). Other members are Hazel Askew (voice and flute, from Lady Maisery and The Askew Sisters), Nick Janaway (a.k.a. Newton Disc, voice and guitar), Deb Chalmers (fiddle and viola, from Stepling, The Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra and innumerable sessions), Sarah Moody (cello and voice, from The Devil’s Violin), and finally the Bellowhead/Faustus duo of Benji Kirkpatrick (voice, bouzouki) and Paul Sartin (fiddle, oboe, voice).

Dates and places:

  • Horsefair (formerly the Alliance Boots store), 49 The Horsefair, Broadmead Shopping Centre, Bristol, BS1 3JY, England, Thursday 12th April 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Gunnersbury Park Museum @ The Small Mansion, Gunnersbury Park, Acton, London, W3 8LQ, England, Monday 23rd April 2018, 1.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regents Park Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 7AY, England, Tuesday 24th April 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

Sadly, I’ve picked this up too late to bring news of opportunities for you to get involved in the early developments, but at least you now get to see the work in something close to a finished form. Here are a couple of videos to explain more of the concept…

 

April 2018 – London classical/classical fusion/experimental gigs – North Sea Radio Orchestra and V Ä L V E at the Lexington (15th April); Sarah Deere-Jones harp-and-choir song cycle in the heart of Westminster (21st April)

3 Apr

North Sea Radio Orchestra + V Ä L V E , 15th April 2018

North Sea Radio Orchestra + V Ä L V E
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, N1 9JB, London, England
Sunday 15th April 2018, 4.00pm
– information here, here and here

Last seen using their classical leanings to command the gorgeous baroque interior of Oxford’s Holywell Music Room, chamber-fusion group North Sea Radio Orchestra are heading back to London to fistbump the other branch of their own roots. Arguably, the Lexington is London’s current home of forward-looking eclectic prog and psychedelia; and the NSRO (whose own moist-aired and mournfully jaunty English psychedelic sensibility is inspired by both Robert Wyatt and Cardiacs) are paying it a visit.

Led, as ever, by the husband-and-wife Fortnam team of Craig and Sharron, they’ll bring along their combination of Anglo-pastoral classical gentility, their London clay bed foundations, their motorik strings-and-reeds chamber-kosmische (equal parts Britten, Neu!, Penguin Café Orchestra and ‘Ivor The Engine’) and their unorthodox vocals (Craig’s vulnerable, transparent murmur; Sharron’s homespun clarion of mezzo-soprano-meets-folk-punk). They’ve always possessed a mingling of the down-to-earth and the numinous, as well as their own spin on English psych’s way of plugging into ancient national myths (the patient ones tucked away in strata far, far below the more prickly, hijackable old pomp-and-circumstances).



 
Yet, in parallel to the Fortnams’ relocation from London to Salisbury, NSRO’s gradual songwriting and compositional journey (especially over the last couple of albums) has seen them move away from Victorian revivals and fine church woodwork; shifting their poetic patron spirit from their early taste for Tennyson (and through a transitional fix on Blake) to end up with Craig and Sharron’s own experiences of landscape magic, familial loss and loyalties. The process has also seen NSRO quietly phase into a worldview that’s less of a beautifully polished bubble of English nostalgia, and is now more implicitly inclusive of gentle acknowledgements of English connections and fallibilities as well as paeans to oak, ash, ridgeways and birds.

To be fair to them (in times when celebrations of antique, semi-rural Englishness can lead to accusation of chocolate-box/mug-of-tea fascism), NSRO have always seemed naïve as opposed to genuinely being naïve. More recent centrepiece songs and pieces have reflected on the balefulness of nationalism, and celebrated more benevolent co-operations such as the Berlin Airluft – the Fortnam’s kinder, fiercer convictions now written more clearly in the texture of their music; a demonstration that that taste for Wyatt goes deeper than just mood-shadings.

In support are the apparently tireless V Ä L V E – click here for a string of recent posts in which I babble repetitively about their bassoonical beginnings, messy play with lost objects, Rock in Opposition links, and current status as harp/bass/reed toting classical/experimental punks. As with many of the band’s recent gigs, this is familial (V A L V E being another branch on the rambling Cardiacs shrub thanks to mainwoman Chlöe Herington’s role as Knifeworld bassoonist), but V A L V E is a far more elusive beast, deeply embedded in avant-garde visual scoring, synthaesthesia and a kind of feminist tyro-science approach to memory and associations as well as an opportunity to make a noisy puckish semi-improvised racket and a group singing session.



 
* * * * * * * *

Sarah Deere-Jones and Cornwall Harp Centre present:
Sarah Deere-Jones: ‘Carmina Iocunda: Songs for the Seasons’
St Matthew’s Church, 20 Great Peter Street, Westminster, London, SW1P 2BU, London, England
Saturday 21st April 2018, 6.00pm
– free event – information here

Sarah Deere-Jones' 'Carmina Iocunda: Songs for the Seasons', 21st April 2018
Harpist and composer Sarah Deere Jones premieres the first complete performance of her new composition ‘Carmina Iocunda (Songs For The Seasons)’ a twenty-two minute song cycle for choir and lever harp which she describes as “a combination of everything I love – mediaeval literature, the English countryside, the changing seasons, choral music and of course, the sound of the harp.” The piece sets eight mediaeval poems (one by Chaucer, one by Shakespeare, the rest anonymous or unassigned) in four blocks of two, or two for each season, in a format which Sarah notes is “similar to Britten’s famous ‘Ceremony of Carols’.”

The concert is free and runs for an hour – there are no details or confirmation yet, but this suggests that Sarah might also be performing other pieces from her repertoire , whether as composer or as specialist player (in addition to her work on pedal and lever harps, she’s currently the only authentic-style performer on the Regency harp-lute and the dital harp).

Below is a video clip of the original choral version (minus harp) of one of the eight ‘Carmina Iocunda’ pieces, ‘Blou northern wind’ (as performed by Exeter University Chapel Choir back in 2015, while the larger work was still being assembled), as well as one of Sarah in action on both concert harp and windblown Aeolian harp out at Glastonbury Abbey and the Somerset Levels.



 

April 2018 – upcoming London classical/experimental/folk gigs – Caterina Barbieri solotronic set at Kammer Klang, plus Zwerm Ensemble and the RAM’s Experimental Music Ensemble playing Feldman, Dowland, Brown and Baillie (3rd April); the ‘What is England?’ festival including Bishi/Jeff Cook’s ‘The Good Immigrant”, Ansuman Biswas, Suna Alan and John Spiers (20th-23rd April)

28 Mar

Dips into the mid-twentieth century New York School (including its work with graphic scores) and into unintentionally sprightly electronica characterise a surprisingly sober, instrumentally-based April show for Kammer Klang.

Kammer Klang, 3rd April 2018Kammer Klang presents:
Kammer Klang: Caterina Barbieri + Zwerm Ensemble (playing John Dowland, Earle Brown and Joanna Baillie) + RAM Experimental Music Ensemble (playing Morton Feldman)
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Tuesday 3rd April 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Opening, the Royal Academy of Music’s Experimental Music Ensemble present Morton Feldman‘s rarely-performed, highly textured septet piece ‘The Straits Of Magellan’. Dating back to 1961, the piece’s graphical score is an array of coded time boxes, each containing representative symbols for single or simultaneous notes/durations/colourations; while the dynamics of the composition are explicitly and sternly noted (with minimal note attacks, a generally quiet approach but multiple instructions for glissandi, harmonics etc), the pitches are left entirely up to the players’ choices. Here’s one of the many possible interpretations:


 
In the middle of the bill are Belgian electric guitar quartet Zwerm Ensemble (avant-garde favourites whose collaborations and performance credits include Fred Frith, Mauro Pawlowski, Larry Polansky, Eric Thielemans, Yannis Kyriakides and Etienne Guilloteau) The four members (Toon CallierJohannes WestendorpBruno Nelissen and Kobe van Cauwenberghe) will present arrangements of ‘Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens’ (by peerless Renaissance lute composer John Dowland), ‘December 1952’ (by twentieth century “open form” pioneer Earle Brown,and, like the Feldman piece, sourced from a graphic score) plus a performance of ‘Last Song From Charleroi’, a new seventeen-minute work for four electric guitars and tape composed by Joanna Bailie. Examples of playing, pieces and general composer tone below…





 
Headlining, Italian composer and voltage-controlled-sequencer specialist Caterina Barbieri will perform a solo electronic set of her “ecstatic computation” music. Berlin-based, she explores “themes related to machine intelligence and object oriented perception in sound through a focus on minimalism” and “psycho-physical effects of repetition and pattern-based operations in music, by investigating the polyphonic and polyrhythmic potential of sequencers to draw severe, complex geometries in time and space.”

In practise, this is surprisingly accessible. Her work (including her recent ‘Patterns Of Consciousness’ album, composed entirely on Verbos Harmonic Oscillator and ER-101 Indexed Quad Sequencer) initially sounds closer to the pop-synth airiness of Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream records from the ‘70s; even to the rhythmic clink of Larry Heard or the warm chitter of Jean-Michel Jarre. But even if there are similarities to ‘Pong’ or ‘Popcorn’ – especially live – this is merely a side effect of structure. Caterina’s work is intended as an austere examination of qualities: its primitive but plaintive blippery coming about due to her wish to avoid signature synth sounds, concentrating instead on careful shifts of accenture, attack and shaping on basic sine tones, accelerating and decelerating. The emotional content – like the unexpected danceability – apparently comes despite her intentions. Live, she fits right in with populist EM; sometimes, though, in the studio, she can come across as more raw, glitchy and forbidding. Perhaps in the tougher Kammer Klang environment, more of this side will will emerge.


 
* * * * * * * *

Information’s starting to come through on a defiantly heterogenous and diverse festival springing up in Stoke Newington towards the end of the month, delving into electroclassical and folk music forms, queerness, multiculturalism and the concept of English nationality in (and in spite of) ugly times. Details on this are still taking shape, so I’ll drop in what I’ve got now and add to it later, when I can…

The Old Church, The Nest Collective & others present:
‘What is England?’
The Old Church, Stoke Newington Church Street, Stoke Newington, London, N16 9ES, England,
20th-23rd April 2018, various times
– information here

'What Is England?', 20th-23rd April 2018“A four-day festival in the run up to St George’s Day, ‘What Is England?’ offers a chance for everyone to reimagine ‘Englishness’ in an inclusive, welcoming way, at a time when a toxic form of nationalism is on the rise.

“The festival includes the European debut of ‘The Good Immigrant’, an electroclassical song cycle for voice looper, sitar and electronics about race and identity by vocalist/composer Bishi. Co-produced with composer and sound designer Jeff Cook, the song cycle received its world premiere at The Ferus Festival in January 2018 in New York. The music is inspired by ‘The Good Immigrant’ by Nikesh Shukla, a collection of essays by 21 BAME writers, ruminating on race & identity in contemporary Britain. Each song is a response to a particular essay in the book, with special audio quotes sampled in from personal interviews conducted with writers Nikesh Shukla, Salena Godden and Darren Chetty, ending with a choral setting of Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Where The Mind is Without Fear’.

“In this work, Bishi takes a personal & intersectional journey reflecting on her experiences. As a British-Bengali daughter of immigrants, adopted by London’s community of alternative queer nightlife, she has lived through a unique cross-section of London’s contemporary urban landscape. ‘The Good Immigrant’ is a call to arms to explore our differences so that we may find more unity and empathy in a divided world. Having been trained in eastern and western classical music, and experienced performing in a Bulgarian choir, Bishi takes her influences from a variety of musical styles. Major musical influences include electronic producers Burial and Arca, and vocalists such as Meredith Monk and Lisa Gerrard.


 
“Also as part of the festival, modern folk initiative The Nest Collective presents a very special St George’s day involving established and merging talent in English folk, again looking at the idea of Englishness. Confirmed artists so far include Ansuman Biswas, Suna Alan and John Spiers.

“Believing that “music spreads throughout the environment like a perfume.. it soaks into the fabric of other things and people”, Ansuman is an Kolkata-born percussionist, interdisciplinary artist and composer who has been commissioned by Tate Modern, National Theatre, English Ballet and has worked with Bjork and the London Philharmonic Orchestra and in world music hybrid quartet Newanderthal (“four humans, three continents”). Suna is a Kurdish/Alevi singer based in London whose family moved to Smyrna (Izmir) in her early childhood (meaning that much of her formative years were spent surrounded by traditional Kurdish dengbêj music and Kurdish-Alevi laments within a rich cosmopolitan cultural environment). Her main focus is Kurdish folk songs from the four regions of Kurdistan, namely Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, but her repertoire also includes Armenian, Greek, Sephardic and Turkish songs. John Spiers, known better in folk circles as Squeezy, has made a name for himself as one of the leading squeezebox players of his generation, playing with Eliza Carthy’s Ratcatchers band, Bellowhead and the duo Spiers and Boden (with Jon Boden).”




 
Rough details on the festival dates and events below: with panel events, DJs and an as-yet-unrevealed event for the Sunday slot, expect things to expand. With ‘The Quietus’ involved, I wouldn’t be surprised if a New Weird Britain strand began to weave its way into proceedings…

  • Friday 20 April, 7.00pm – festival launch: ‘The Good Immigrant’, plus NTS and The Quietus DJs and What Is England? panel eventtickets
  • Saturday 21 April, 10.30am – OPEN: Morning including “make-you-own-flag” event with OPEN:Art/Output Arts tickets
  • Saturday 21 April, 7.00pm – The Good Immigrant, with DJs and ‘The Good Nationalist?’ panel eventtickets
  • Sunday 22 April – details t.b.c.
  • Monday 23 April, 7.00pm – Nest Collective’s St George’s day event featuring Ansuman Biswas, Suna Alan, John Spiers and others t.b.c.tickets

 

April/May 2018 – solo tours in Britain/Europe for Kavus Torabi and Cosmo Sheldrake (4th April to 24th May various, with guest appearances from I See Rivers, Paul Morricone, Bunty, V Ä L V E, Peaks, Arch Garrison, Madilan, Stephen Evens, Bovril, Redbus Noface and May The Night Bless You With Heavenly Dreams)

25 Mar

It’s not exactly surprising that Kavus Torabi has finally gone solo. There’s too much hopeful, demanding inventiveness in him ever to submit entirely to the dynamics of a group, despite the fact that he’s currently got at least three on the go, most of them with him at the helm – the brassy lysergically-illuminated avant-pop of Knifeworld; the ritual instrumentalism of Guapo, and the cantering countercultural circus of Gong (transferred onto his lanky shoulders, history and all, following the 2015 death of Daevid Allen).

What’s more surprising is the direction he’s chosen for the first records under his own name (the new ‘Solar Divination’ EP and a full upcoming album for later in the year). A darker, more agrarian take on his psychedelic homeground, this time it’s drumless, bassless, hornless – rinsed clear of the capering squirrel energy he’s shown for twenty-odd years, in order to reveal muted, angsty bones. Mostly based around slow, smoky-lunged harmonium stretches and sparse flotsam drags of guitar chording, this is a more foreboding turn of song, haunted by deaths, loss and disintegrations. It’s never mopey or lachrymose, thank goodness (even in Knifeworld or The Monsoon Bassoon, Kavus knew how to undercut joyous tootling with passing shadows without souring the milk) but these new songs are overcast with sombre vulnerability: the gravel-grain in Kavus’ voice welling up from deeper, ghostlier territories than before.



 
Despite being a couple of decades younger than Kavus, Cosmo Sheldrake has been out on his own for a bit longer. It’s been four-and-a-half years since Cosmo put out anything as part of super-eclectic mongrel troupe Gentle Mystics, but during that time he’s been gently dabbing the release schedules with occasional singles, videos and EPs of his own. Earlier work brought some of the Mystics weird and charming vibe along with it: a homemade-toy, party-in-the-fairy-forest feeling, Cosmo lilting skewed nursery-rhyme verses over softly bouncing weaves of melody. In the videos, he came across as a generous digital troubadour on a set of meandering visitations, playing his lashed-up keyboards-and-tech assemblages for performances in model villages, truck beds, pigsties and fishing boats.

Byronic-looking but Branestawm-minded, Cosmo’s a shed-pop tinkerer and a baffling multi-instrumentalist with a mixed mystical/academic background. Part kid’s entertainer and part hippy-boffin, he has a shamanical nose for the margin between nonsense and connection. More recent efforts (trailing the imminent release of his debut album ‘The Much Much How How and I’) have seen chewier, pacier and poppier songs. The videos, meanwhile, have become an ingenious riot of increasingly theatrical, fantastical and sometimes macabre fabling in which foil monsters swim in canvas seas and giant fluffy headlice run amok. There’s a communal, childlike warmth to what he does: not perhaps a guileless wonder, but a sense of celebration, where fables and singalongs and misadventures become part of the accepted, useful junk with which we build our nests.



 
Kavus’ upcoming tour is a brief series of simmering April dots around England and Wales; Cosmo’s is a more leisurely, lengthy two-month loop, garlanding the British Isles and western Europe. They’re not sharing any shows, or even any venues. The only time they overlap in any respect is on the 25th of April, when they’re playing different but simultaneous one-man shows a stone’s throw apart in Bristol. It would be nice to think of them looking up midset on that one evening, peering across that city-central loop of the Avon, and nodding to each other. Not necessarily natural comrades but, in their way, parallel leywalkers. Each with a bit of Barrett in the back pocket, each with a peculiar charm of innocence, each with fingertips in the otherworldly and the mythic. The uncontainables…

Kavus’ tour also happens to be a chance to catch an intriguing spread of fellow musicians, reflecting the wide body of musical ideas and affinities he touches upon. While in Margate (squeezed into a former Victorian coach house transformed into the Japanese/Alpine cheese dream of a minature theatre), he lines up with two left-field folk acts: the organ-draped, ridge-walking green-chapel psychedelia of Arch Garrison and the mysterious brand-new “wonk-folk” of Bovril (featuring Tuung’s Mike Lindsay). In Birmingham, the bill sharer is Scaramanga Six songwriter Paul Morricone, providing gutsy acoustic songs of fear and brutality with lashing of dark Yorkshire humour. Paul and Kavus also reunite in York for the Tim Smith fundraiser Evening of Fadeless Splendour, alongside the off-kilter art rock of Redbus Noface and the sarcastic-bastard English songcraft of Stephen Gilchrist (a.k.a. Stephen Evens).




 
On his Manchester date, Kavus will be supported by Peaks (Ben Forrester, formerly of shouty slacker-punk duo Bad Grammar and Manc math-rock supertrio Gug, now performing “loop-driven emo pop”). In London, it’ll be V Ä L V E – once an avant-garde solo project (full of belches and found sounds, situational scoring and sound-art jokes) for Kavus’ Knifeworld bandmate Chloe Herington, now an increasingly ubiquitous three-woman live trio (evolved and evolving into a warm-hearted feminist/Fluxus/Rock In Opposition massing of harps, bassoon, punk bass and singalong bunker-folk). In Leeds, Kavus plays the quiet support act in a free gig for tintinnabulating Sheffield post-metallers May The Night Bless You With Heavenly Dreams (whose echoing tremstrumental pinings add a little magical shimmy to the usual doleful post-rock astronomy) and Bristolian experimental rockers Madilan (whose songs recall both the angst-shredded psychedelic night-journeys of Oceansize and also, in their spindly electronics and Autotuned vocal musing, post-Oceansize rocktronicists British Theatre).




 
In contrast, most of Cosmo’s dates are solo – possibly because once he’s unshipped his assorted instruments and gizmos (from euphoniums and banjos to loop pedals and pennywhistles), there’s not much room for anyone else in the dressing room. Nonetheless, support for eight of the European April dates comes from Liverpool-based Norwegian girl trio I See Rivers, who wed their outstanding and eerily resonant Scandinavian vocal harmonies, sunny dispositions and scanty guitar to their own balloon-light, touching folk-pop songs and to heart-thawing covers of Daughter (Medicine), George Ezra (Budapest), and Whitney Houston (‘80s wedding fave I Wanna Dance With Somebody).



 
For the London album launch for ‘The Much Much How How and I’, Cosmo and I See Rivers are joined by Bunty“multi-dimensional beat merchant and vocal juggler” Kassia Zermon. Also to be found fronting jazz/junk/folk trio Le Juki, co-fronting dub act Resonators, and co-running Brightonian experimental label Beatabet, Kassia’s run Bunty for years as a loopstation-based “one woman electro-orchestra” bolstered by her multi-instrumentalism and vivid imagination. Parallels with Cosmo are clear (the looping and beatboxing, a life blossoming with social art initiatives and therapeutic work beyond the entertainments) and she guests on one of the ‘Much Much’ tracks (very much an equal passing through, with a cheeky hug and a bit of upstaging), but her own vision is distinct. Giddier, jazzier, less directly English in its whimsy, with input from her Moroccan heritage and from her taste for Andy Kaufman; a slightly more cosmic playbox; imaginary languages; an undiluted Brightonian fabulosity.

Kassia’s last Bunty album, ‘Multimos’, was a pocket-sized multimedia event spanning apps, interactive AV, dream machines, audience choirs and gaming cues. Time and occasion will probably only allow a smidgin of that, this time around, but it’ll be a window onto her explosively colourful world.



 

* * * * * * * *

Kavus’ full tour dates:

 

Cosmo’s full tour dates:

  • More Human Than Human @ The Haunt, 10 Pool Valley, Brighton, BN1 1NJ, England, 4th April 2018, 7.00pm (+ I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England, Thursday 5th April 2018, 7.30pm (album launch, with Bunty + I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Soup Kitchen, 31-33 Spear Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1DF, England, Friday 6th April 2018, 7.00pm (+ tbc) – information here and here
  • Headrow House, 19 The Headrow, LS1 6PU Leeds, Saturday 7th April 2018, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Fluc + Fluc Wanne, Praterstern 5, 1020 Vienna, Austria, Austria, Monday 9th April 2018, 8.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Feierwerk, Hansastr. 39-41, 81373 Munich, Germany, Tuesday 10th April 2018, 7.30pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Artheater, Ehrenfeldgürtel 127, 50823 Cologne, Germany, Wednesday 11th April 2018, 8.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information
  • Molotow, Nobistor 14, 22767 Hamburg, Germany, Thursday 12th April 2018, 7.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Lido, Cuvrystrasse 7, 10997 Berlin, Germany, Friday 13th April 2018, 8.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Paradiso, Weteringschans 6-8, 1017SG Amsterdam, Netherlands, Tuesday 17th April 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EJ, England, Wednesday 25th April 2018, 7.30pm (+ tbc) – information here and here
  • Ancienne Belgique, Anspachlaan 110, 1000 Brussels, Belgium, Friday 27th April 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Ninkasi Gerland Kafé, 267 Rue Marcel Mérieux, 69007 Lyon, France, Wednesday 2nd May 2018, 8.30pm – information here
  • Point Éphémère, 200 Quai de Valmy, 75010 Paris, France, Thursday 3rd May 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Unplugged in Monti @ Black Market Art Gallery, Via Panisperna 101, Rione Monti, 00184 Rome, Italy, Wednesday 9th May 2018, 7.00pm – information here
  • Serraglio, Via Gualdo Priorato 5, 20134 Milan, Italy, Thursday 10th May 2018, 9.00pm – information here and here
  • Freakout Club, Via Emilio Zago, 7c, 40128 Bologna, Italy, Friday 11th May 2018, 9.00pm – information here
  • The Hug and Pint, 171 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G4 9AW, Scotland, Tuesday 22nd May 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Globe, 125 Albany Road, Cardiff, CF24 3PE, Wales, Wednesday 23rd May 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Plug, Sheffield, Thursday 24th May 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

 

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