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October 2018 – singer-songwriter album launches in London and Wales – Hazel Iris (25th October), Emma Lohan (25th, 26th October)

21 Oct

Looking for events with singer-songwriting women in London? This coming Thursday, you can go big or go small.

* * * * * * * *

If you’re going for the bigger option, there’s Hazel Iris’ album launch in Smithfield, at St. Bartholomew-the-Great, no less. It’s an event that sprawls across the entire church: its varied acts located in different places within the building, like a cross between a miniature festival and a stations-of-the-cross procession. In one corner, two classical musicians – Katrina Sheppeard and Jayson Gillham (who between them have racked up appearances with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, ENO, Melbourne Symphony and the Sydney Opera House) will provide a piano-and-soprano duet performance of Richard Strauss’s ‘Vier letzte Lieder’ – the composer’s last work, a four-song death-and-transfiguration sealing of his legacy, composed during the dusk of the Romantic era. Next, in another corner, Kate Arnold – usually to be found as frontwoman for dark classical-folk fusioneers Fear Of The Forest – will be playing solo and acoustic with hammer dulcimer, violin and voice, providing a set of songs reflecting her folk, medieval and Middle Eastern influences.




 
And so to the headliner, who’s recently been making a name for herself as a standout performer at the Blind Dog Studio evenings. Hazel Iris is a storyteller with an overwhelming musical streak; her tales drawn from her travels, her own musings and her borrowings from the great stewpot of mythology and folklore. California-born and London-based but world-honed, her songs blend indie-folk habits, vaudeville brassiness, operatic training, lieder romance and a dash of country.




 
Bringing her brand-new ‘Nine Sisters’ album to life at St Barts is a similarly broad-based nine-piece band. The rhythm section – drummer Fred Harper and double-bassist Twm Dylan – come from the London and Leeds jazz scenes, while Winter Quartet violinist Aurora Del Río Pérez and French horn player Jessica Cottis are both established in the classical world (the latter, notably, as a conductor – she’s returning to a childhood instrument for this performance). Harpist Tara Minton straddles both jazz and classical worlds. Rounding out the ensemble is cellist and screen music composer Matt Constantine, classical accordionist Aine McLoughlin (Hazel’s regular collaborator at previous Blind Dog gigs), and up-and-coming guitarist Myles Peters (who plays anything and anywhere he can).

Also integral to the show will be the puppets of Alicia Britt, artistic director for Wondering Hands Puppet Theatre. Her usual gig involves using puppetry of all kinds for the entertainment and nourishment of all ages, with an undercurrent of healing, conversation and a restoration of our human nature: work that ranges from carefully-thought-out fairy tales of bereavement and development for children to bawdily sexual puppet-cabaret for adults. Quite possibly all aspects will be making a showing in her support work for Hazel. I’ve no idea whether huge rod-guided creatures will be leaping through the church or whether the puppetry will be on a smaller, more human scale with creatures the size of lutes or horns, but it should add an extra level of story texture.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of smaller, more human scales – if all of the above sounds too grand, then on the same London night another songwriter – Emma Lohan – is launching her own debut album up in the south end of Hackney. ‘Black Atlantic’ pulls together Emma’s own particular blend of Irish hometown influences (she’s a Galway woman), pop leanings and traveller’s scraps, drawn from her footloose global roamings. Impressions and stories, a kind of global coast-combing or, as I put it last time, “beautifully-constructed cloud-tossed songs imbued with the flicker of constant motion.” The album itself is a small, quiet-reveal treasure imbued with a bouncing, soft-chatting liveliness. There’s jigs and kalimba, there’s age and youth, there’s plenty of story to unspool.

She’s doing it all again the following night in Wales – in an unusual display of synchronicity, at a puppet theatre in Cardigan – in a puppet theatre. Elusive ska band Julian’s Reluctant SKAfterparty are in support: no more info on them, I’m afraid. (Update, 24th October – sadly the Cardigan show has had to be cancelled, but they’re promising to reschedule it soon…)



 

All dates:

  • Hazel Iris + Kate Arnold + Jayson Gilham & Katrina Sheppeard – St Bartholomew the Great, Cloth Fair, West Smithfield, Clerkenwell, London, EC1A 7JQ, England, Thursday 25th October 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Emma Lohan – NT’s Bar, 1 Westgate Street #207, London Fields, London, E8 3RL, England, Thursday 25th October 2018, 7.00pm – information here
  • Emma Lohan – Small World Theatre, Bath House Road, Cardigan, Ceredigion, SA43 1JY, Wales, Friday 26th October 2018, 8.00pm (with Julian’s Reluctant SKAfterparty) – information here and here

 

September 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – eight for WITCiH’s ‘The State of Gender?’ festival (26th to 28th September) – Bishi, Chagall, Miri Kat, Di Mainstone, Lia Mice, Vicky O’Neon, Rebekah Ubuntu and Gazelle Twin

17 Sep


 
Music tech initiative WITCiH (positive, feminist, genderfluid, multicultural) returns to its regular canalside home at the end of the month, for its first work as a full commissioning platform. ‘The State of Gender?’ is a full festival following several standalone WITCiH concerts over the past few years. While open to all genders, skin tones and persuasions, the three nights of the festival present, foreground and celebrate WITCiH’s central preoccupations – women, technology and creativity. In additional, they continue to promote WITCiH’s extended interest in teasing out and broadening (and, where necessary, seizing) opportunities generally only offered to the male, the straight and the white, and sharing them out across a wider community.

If this sounds like a revolution, it’s a charming and positive one. The people in and around WITCiH are unafraid to critique and push against orthodoxy, and are equally unafraid of their own strength and potential; but this is primarily a celebration rather than a catharsis. Enthusiastic about its geekery, revelling in dressing up and performance, it seems to call into being a place and time in which the worst of patriarchal glowering and rigidity has been dispelled or dissolved; where the culture wars have been won from dance and crafting studios, and from workshops and sheds where electronic components are used to reel in the future. A place and time in which people are just free to get on with open-ended, humanitarian tech-play.

As regards how to get there, there’s a good interview here, at ‘Wyldemag’, in which WITCiH co-founder (and living, walking, proactive “giant culture clash”) Bishi points out her cultural-creative ethos, and that of WITCiH. “People are deciding – especially women and people of colour – that the simple answer is that you have to invest. I mean, it’s great that there’s more awareness and blah blah blah, but it’s really simple, with the minority groups in society, it’s not just about building awareness; it’s the sustained investment that comes with that. And, of course, all the social media and stuff is helpful, but living in a city is so expensive, and politically, everything is so rough and uneven and uncertain, and there’s something powerful about a collective of people coming together physically.”

On this occasion, it’s eight women (or, to be more precise, seven women plus a non-binary person with a female name) coming together. In amongst the music, three of them are going to be providing lectures – physical-pop explorer Chagall, “movician” Di Mainstone and conceptual wildcard Gazelle Twin.

Amsterdam-born but London-based, Chagall is an electronic music singer-songwriter, producer, and performer inspired by a wide-ranging collective-culture range of influences including “nature, Greek poetry, Bjork, James Blake, Beethoven, Nina Simone, Erykah Badu, Joni Mitchell & Miriam Makeba.”. Her particular musical approach embraces gestural and reactive technology: she was an early adopter of a key gestural synth controller, the Mi.Mu Gloves, and her performances involve choreography and triggered interactive visuals.



 
Chagall’s interest in body-gestural sound sourcing is shared – and then some – by “movician” Di Mainstone: artist-in-residence for Queen Mary College at the University of London, and one of the “new generation visionaries” of the international digital arts scene (according to the ‘New York Times’). Working with researchers from QMC’s Centre for Digital Music and Media Arts & Technology, Di creates musical instruments as wearable technology for dancers: electronic extensions of the human body, triggered by movement. These include the Human Harp (which she uses to play suspension bridges), the spring-based Whimsichord, the squeeze’n’jig Hydrochordion, the limb-like “choreophonic prosthetic” Serendipitichord and – outside of music – the Scorpions (a set of kinetic garments with a life of their own). Di also coined the “movician” term – a name for a player of her devices, “a hybrid artist who explores and composes sound through movement.”


 
Earlier on, I suggested that WITCiH was predominantly utopian. The work of Gazelle Twin provides a hellish counterpoint indicating that there’s still plenty of struggles to go through, whether it’s from sinister social forces or our own unacknowledged darknesses.

Beneath her alarming/exciting dual skins of latex costumery and processed sound, Gazelle Twin is Elizabeth Bernholz – composer, producer, incantationeer, framework-overturner and time-traveller. Via loops, sampling and processing, her work jams and transforms acoustic and Early Music sources (recorder, harpsichord, female chorus) against found sounds and electronic “shades of ‘90s house and the once-thriving rural rave scene, albeit recalled as a watery, second-hand memory.” The results buck and bray, ripple and snarl; delivering disturbing, liberating dreamscapes and warning fables with a violently physical component. In her videos, we see hissing ferocious folk devils battling it out; or blank-masked hooded figures capering and proliferating, barking and twitching like dysfunctional maenads. Much of it comes across as mingled summoning, exorcism and terrible warning. There’s rather a lot of teeth, and an underlying exploration of specific modern sicknesses via primeval mythology (redressed in manmade synthetics).

Elizabeth’s lecture promises to unpack and reveal the complex vision of one of Britain’s most unsettling and unexpectedly timely artists: it will cover the creation of the latest Gazelle Twin audio-visual project ‘Pastoral‘, including the influences and ideas behind this year’s Hobby Horse single and video (the aforementioned devilfest). En route, it will branch out into related fields exploring “fascism and horror in the English landscape past and present, (Elizabeth’s) own creative process from writing to recording/production, and her identity as a working artist and mother.”



 
Other musicians will be performing newly commissioned audio-visual music pieces. Bishi herself is performing in the middle of the bill on all three nights. There’s no specific clues as to what she’s doing, but on past form expect a melange of some or all of the following:

  • interlocking pop forms (from classic English to Eurosynth to Hindi filmi songs).
  • a headlong, full-on involvement with the intersection of grand costume and high fashion.
  • sitars, ukeleles, extended voice and Ableton synth controllers.
  • traditional folk material from the Balkans to Bengal; classical ideas from Hindustani tradition to contemporary opera.
  • vocal inspirations from Meredith Monk and Yoko Ono.
  • fervent and earnest positive politics (including song cycles about immigration, and a long-standing loyalty to queer club culture).
  • and finally, Bishi’s own strong and self-willed musical identity, which never rules out a willingness to interact or integrate with anyone from Sean Lennon to the London Symphony Orchestra (and with anything from interactive wind-harps to Christina Rosetti poems and giant floating holograms of Tony Benn).



 
By day, Miri Kat works as a Novation Music engineer, designing and finessing electronic musical instruments. She’s also a combined audio-visual artist and music producer, interested in algorithmic music, webtech and generative visuals, with further interests in hacking, live coding and immersive multimedia in general. Mainly composed with Max/MSP Supercollider (and with found sounds live-coded from open ecosystems with open-source tools), her productions provide “hyperactive textures (and) ephemeral collages, in turns frenetic and and lyrical, in a unique brand of glitchy grindcore for a post-Internet age.”

 
Lia Mice‘s work covers multiple bases: live electronic artist, producer, DJ and instrument designer. Sometimes she’s to be found applying her live analog sampling skills across “high energy vinyl-hybrid” DJ sets of electro, Italo, tech noir, acid and “weird-pop”. At other times she applies them to live sets of original music alongside “self-hacked” instruments and Max/MSP, while her recordings can stir in eight-track tape mangling alongside influences from Laurie Anderson, BBC Radiophonics and electronica across forty years from German pioneers to American outliers. Live sets also feature both live voice sampling and Lia’s own custom-designed tactile-interface instruments – such as the Delia Derbyshire-inspired Reeltime sound manipulator (based on a broken reel-to-reel tape recorder) and the suspended tap’n’tilt/swing/spin ChandeLIA (designed to blend the organic bell-like sound of tapping on a metal chandelier with the sound of the electricity powering its lights).

A major WITCiH supporter, Lia also designs sonic sculptures, is a contributor to the Augmented Instruments Lab in the Centre for Digital Music and is “forever taking refuge in the mysteries of the sonic universe.” Her third solo album, ‘The Sampler As A Time Machine’, is a selection of “experimental dance x wave-y industrial x parallel-dimension pop tracks”. For the festival, she’ll be presenting a lecture based on the album and its studio experiments (themselves inspired by time travel writings by philosophers, physicists, neurologists and psychologists from Mark Fisher to Oliver Sacks to Stephen Hawking).



 
An explosively enthusiastic character (and WITCHiH regular), Vicky O’Neon performs in a dazzle of beats plus shocking day-glo costumery and makeup. Born Vicky Österberg in Finland, she was originally a class-topping, award-winning drummer and percussionist at the British Institute of Modern Music. She went on to work around the world as sessioneer and tour-band member for the likes of Pharell Williams, Johnny Marr, Hans Zimmer and assorted live-set DJs. Since summer 2017, she’s gone solo, buoyed up by the success and positivity of her parallel work in tech/instrumental teaching and in co-founding girl-promoting music initiatives Girls Rock London, Rock Donna and Racuma.

Vicky characterises herself as a “relentlessly optimistic Riot Grrrl multi-instrumentalist, with fluoro-glowing intentions to inspire the masses with harmony, laughter and love … on a mission from a higher plane of consciousness, devoted to the elevation of human vibration.” Her one-woman show involves her making a delightful proactive racket via drum pads, loopstations, acoustic percussion, body-worn percussion triggers and MicroKorg synth, plus her own “tongue-in-cheek lyrics and visuals”. As the founder of the Electric Vegetable Orchestra she also mixes tech with vegetable husbandry, carving new instruments from fruit, tubers and other root vegetables, then playing them through loops and effects to create “catchy tunes and singalongs with the audience.” However she chooses to entertain you at WITCiH, she’s certainly got plenty of options to choose from.



 
Vicky’s fellow BIMM graduate Rebekah Ubuntu is a multimedia performance artist, musician and culture scholar experimenting with “ideas of futurism, rebellion, and paradoxes” filtered through queer, non-binary, black and feminist perspectives. Their work spans synthwave, glitch music, techno and various forms of Afro-futurism (including reference to black poets and writers such as Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler, black rock and punk statement, and Afro-orientated pop/house/trap/beat forms) as well as electronic soundscapes and vocal manipulations.

As with most of the other participants, Rebecca’s got a strong allegiance to (and grounding in) club culture, and they’ve recently played sets at black pride, queer and general futurist events from Berlin to Norwich and Birmingham’s FLUID festival. Outside of clubwork, previous work has included last year’s ‘trans.mission.Q’ sonic installation project for Tate Britain (in which Rebecca posed as an extra-terrestrial DJ encouraging gallery visitors to “add your voice(s) to the live soundscape as we broadcast our earthly messages to the remotest regions of outer space”. They also recently guest-edited new music webzine ‘The Sampler’, interviewing five queer, trans & non-binary sound-and-music artists about the intersection of their identities with their music.

 
* * * * * * * *

Full dates:

  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 1: Chagall (lecture) + Bishi + Miri Kat – Wednesday 26th September 2018
  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 2: Di Mainstone (lecture) + Bishi + Lia Mice + Vicky O’Neon – Thursday 27th September 2018
  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 3: Gazelle Twin (lecture) + Bishi + Rebekah Ubuntu – Friday 28th September 2018

All events are at The Barge House, 46a De Beauvoir Crescent, De Beauvoir Town, London, N1 5RY, England at 7.00pm. Further information is here, here and here.

Note that on the evening of the 27th – the day before her appearance at the festival – Gazelle Twin will also be making a live in-store appearance at Rough Trade East off Brick Lane, performing tracks from ‘Pastoral’.
 

September 2018 – women singing (in London, mostly, and Cambridge) – Ana Silvera (15th), Susanna Wallumrød (27th), Hear Her Sounds evening with The Butterfly Wheel, Mary-Grace Dineen and Imogen Bliss (19th)

4 Sep

In Cambridge on, the 15th, there’s a repeat performance for Ana Silvera’s ‘Oracles’ song cycle, following its appearance at the South Bank Centre back in July, where Ana was bolstered by a Kate Church/Alice Williamsondance film, a folk-jazz string trio, piano, percussion and the multi-instrumental/singing skills of Listenpony’s Josephine Stephenson. The Cambridge show’s stripped down (just Ana and Josephine this time, and perhaps the dance film) but should still deliver. Beautifully crafted and sung, it’s an Anglo-Portuguese meditation and discussion of familial bereavement (Ana’s mother and brother) and of the shifting landscapes of migration. Originally conceived to have a choral sound and scape, it draws “on folk tales and myths to chart a transformative journey from profound grief to tentative acceptance.”

The last time around, I suggested that it was “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 characterized 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 (Ana) sound a little like an Iberian Jane Siberry.”




 

In London on the 27th, Norwegian singer Susanna Wallumrød plays her only British show of 2018. Originally – during the mid-Noughties – her ghostly, questioning, sighing vocal originally fronted The Magical Orchestra’s Nordic-jazz/ambient-pop reinventions of assorted pop, country and rock standards. Since then she’s moved on to other collaborations – with holy-meditative jazz pianist Tord Gustavsen; with boundary-running song experimentalist Jenny Hval; and in particular with baroque harpist Giovanna Pessi (who’s contributed to three of her seven solo albums). Along with violinist Sarah-Jane Summers and accordionist Frode Haltli, Giovanna will be performing at this London concert, which showcases Susanna’s newest album ‘Go Dig My Grave’.

Post-Magical Orchestra, Susanna’s kept up her role as re-interpreter. While the majority of her solo albums (up to and including 2016’s consummate ‘Triangle’), have featured her own songs, her ongoing work is littered with cool-toned covers, reworkings, reframings. Songs by Sandy Denny, Thin Lizzy, ABBA, Prince, Nico, Will Oldham and others were cultivated on 2008’s ‘Flower Of Evil’; while her 2011 collaboration with Giovanna and fellow baroque/Early Music musicians Marco Ambrosini and Jane Achtman provided parallel takes on Nick Drake, Henry Purcell and Leonard Cohen.

‘Go Dig My Grave’ builds on this inquisitive, restaging impetus, with Susanna’s original pieces cheek-by-jowl with her takes on “Charles Baudelaire to Joy Division, English folk to American blues, a seventeenth-century lament by Purcell to Lou Reed’s Perfect Day” , all blended with “echoes of traditional music, baroque classics and dark ambient sounds.” It’s a project of timeshifts: or, more accurately, of superimposed time, in which songs and stylings of different eras interpenetrate and merge in spellbinding manner.



 
Dates:

  • Ana Silvera: ‘Oracles’ – The Junction, Clifton Way, Cambridge CB1 7GX, England, Saturday 15th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Susanna Wallumrød: ‘Go Dig My Grave’ – Rich Mix, 35- 47 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London, E1 6LA, England, Thursday 27th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

* * * * * * * *

In between – on 19th September, in London – there’s the second in Hoxton’s ongoing ‘Hear Her Sounds’ evenings; a semi-acoustic live event in a small space, with cocktails, vegan snacks, all-female lineups and organisers/initiators The Butterfly Wheel as regulars, aimed at supporting emerging female musicans. (The first one slipped my attention back in July. That was a shame, featuring as it did Margot Weidemann’s desert-sparse psych-folk project Daisy Oracle and the “twist(ing) song structure(s), striking hallucinatory lyrics, and unexpected radiophonic sounds” of former Joanna And The Wolf frontwoman Johanna Glaza.)

Alongside the Wheel-ers, mandolinist/singer/loop-stationeer Imogen Bliss played support at The Mantis Opera’s August gig last month at Paper Dress. Now, as then, you can expect to hear her weaving together songs from the East and the West: delivering slender, sparkling arrangements of old pop hits from hither and yon, plus original songs and layered one-woman folk chorales with Romani, Armenian and Balkan origins.

A few examples are below, along with a couple from by billmate Mary-Grace Dineen. A south-east Londoner, Goldsmiths graduate and sometimes session multi-instrumentalist, Mary’s output as singer-songwriter seems to vary between zippy, polyrhythmic jazz-coustica reminiscent of Eva Abraham, Roberta Flack (or, more recently, Gabriela Eva) and sour-sweet Lauryn Hill-esque pop-reggae. Her lyrics betray restlessness, compassion and a conversational impatience with the unresponsive and the inert. It seems she’s been quiet for a few years; now she’s coming out to play again.


 

As for The Butterfly Wheel, they’ll be bringing their Gothic romance, their ritual chant and their vocal flair. Previously I’ve sniped a bit about the duo’s showy, overtly flowery mysticism; their self-hype, their claims of originality and experimentalism despite a transparent debt to Early Music-toting Goth-tinged forebears like Dead Can Dance or Miranda Sex Garden. But when the hype is done, and they get down to business, they do bring a new flavour to that ripe old stew.

Reading beneath the lush electrophonic drones and the climbing priestess incantations, you can draw that personal touch out of their songs like long strands of myth-soaked twine – those places where they’ve taken old bronze-age stories, boiled them down to their most archetypal juices and then infused a latterday consciousness, an active female note of resistance, a little #TimesUp and sky-father toppling amidst the bones and sinews. When I hear that peeping through, I’m sorry that I bitched…



 
The Butterfly Wheel and MOVI present:
Hear Her Sounds: An Evening of Live Female-Led Music featuring The Butterfly Wheel + Mary-Grace Dineen + Imogen Bliss
Matters of Vinyl Importance, 163 Hoxton Street, Hoxton, London, N1 6pJ, England
Wednesday 19th September 2018, 6.30pm
– information here and here
 

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


 
* * * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * * *

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…

 

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