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March 2018 – upcoming London gigs of various kinds – folk-jazz and loop-tinted songcraft from Gabriela Eva and Yasmyn Hendrix (20th March); post-blues and wakeful dream-pop from Cavey and Moon Panda (26th March)

16 Mar

Woodburner presents:
Gabriela Eva + Yasmyn Hendrix
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Tuesday 20th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here


 
On video, Gabriela Eva is a colourful explosion of appropriated and deftly spun images. In many respects she’s a tourist, but the kind who pulls off her acquisitive magpie business to perfection – a keen eye for the fabric she can repurpose, the hairstyle she can adapt, the body-paint or tattoo that can be repositioned. A globetrotter and a photographer’s darling even before she dropped her debut EP last month, she’s a natural at the subtly chameleonic star act; the dance of other people’s veils illuminated, assimilated and penetrated by her own charisma.

Gabriela Eva + Yazmyn Hendrix, 20th March 2018I’m hoping that this translates well to the stage once Gabriela’s tucked under the stairs at Servant Jazz Quarters – belatedly launching that selfsame EP, trapped behind her guitar without access to the self-edit suite, the quick-change boudoir screen and the magical boxes for makeup and jewels. That’s when it’ll either all fall apart or show its core roots. She doesn’t lack courage: previously part of Colchester duo Passive Passengers, she’s busked alone, braved the stage at Ronnie Scott’s and she’s certainly thrown her meme-anchors down (while “future organic” could mean bloody anything from cottage-industry world-changers to rich hippies with busy self-aggrandising Snapchat accounts, “driven, dyslexic, dreadlocked” is as good a packed’n’loaded personal tag as I’ve heard recently).

As for the music, there’s skipping rhythmic and harmonic footwork from jazz, some rhythmic echoes from hip hop, some party looseness from the breezier end of soul and R&B. You can trace your fingers through Gabriela’s songs and tease out strands from clear forebears – Erykah Badu, Astrid Gilberto, Van Morrison, Minnie Riperton (for her part, she claims Nina Simone, Little Dragon, Alanis Morrisette and Incubus) – yet her prime musical descent (probably through accidental parallels) seems to be Eva Abraham, the acoustic London jazzfolksoul luminary who, despite having boiled up cauldron after cauldron of superb transfigured rootsiness for twenty years now, seems doomed to remain a perpetual (though beloved) secret.

Setting aside the quick visual fix of a memorable video, though, that’s not a bad place to be, musically. Close your eyes and you’re still left with Gabriela’s rolling carpet of songcraft: just picking three, there’s her conversational, hip-hop storytelling cover of Estelle and Kanye’s American Boy, the airborne soul-jazz of Sailing Over The City and the twinkling Rise Up (heading that first EP – a light-touch groove salute to advance-and-reclaim, flickering through a clutch of delicate psychedelic changes and nodding to the short-lived but renewable hopes of the Arab spring).




 
In support is Yazmyn Hendrix, whom I last saw four-and-a-half years ago providing guest-vocal accompaniment to What?! (a long-dispersed jazz-rock trio). Nowaday’s she’s still most visible for further collaborations (with Euro-soul act Retrospective For Love and with jazz-rapper Mrisi) plus a smattering of Soundcloud cover versions (including Laura Mvula’s Green Gardens, John Legend’s All Of Me, Adele’s Chasing Pavements and Massive Attack’s Teardrop). By herself – armed with a microphone, a loop station, and assorted live percussion and beatboxing – she creates layered a capella choirs and vocal ensembles out of herself: either simple classic sounding pop songs, the cover versions mentioned above, or assorted vocalese experiments.


 
So far there’s not much direct evidence of the harnessed synaesthesia which Yazmyn claims shapes her music-making (and which means that she “associates each song, each word and each instrument with colours and textures”). Let’s assume that the full breakthrough in that direction is still working its way through development and caution, and that one day she’ll be giving us her own ear-boggling parallel to ‘Medúlla’ or ‘Starsailor’ or Todd Rundgren’s ‘A Capella’. Given her tunes-over-weirdness tastes, I’m guessing that we can rule out a head-to-head with Mike Patton in more tangled territory. For now, she stands as a capable one-woman Manhattan Transfer (or a sleepier, slowed-paced Grace McLean) for contemporary pop songs; and that’ll do in the short run.



 
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Cavey + Moon Panda, 26th March 2018

Decave Discovers presents:
Cavey + Moon Panda
The Waiting Room, 175 Stoke Newington High Street, Stoek Newington, London, N16 0LH, England
Monday 26th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Young post-blues singer-guitarist Luke Cave – a.k.a. Cavey – is already known as half of stoner-fuzz rock duo Rad Frü. He’s already engaging in some solo wing-stretching, parking the Zep-happy Rad in favour of collaborating with Blaenavon bassist/producer Frank Wright, laying down songs with junior Wrecking Crews full of heavy-duty young session dudes. Not far out of his teens, it’s as if he’s trying to echo Robert Plant’s career development, while simultaneously crushing it down from fifty years to a mere decade.

Perhaps that’s a bit glib of me, as well as overstating the classic rock thing. Similarly, I’m not sure if he’s the same Luke Cave as the one who sprang (literally) from Nick Cave’s loins back in 1991, but even if he is, there’s not much trace of Cave the Elder here. Cavey himself cites Jim O’Rourke, T-Bone Walker, Hamilton Leithauser and Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen as influences; and in his light-touch songs I can also hear a dash of Gomez. Here’s a live performance of his recent Living Room Parade single, plus the studio take of its predecessor Day And Night.



 
Born in Boston but currently London-based (and sporting members coming in from Denmark, Sweden and Scotland), dream pop band Moon Panda will inevitably always ring Californian, not least because of the sheer sun-kissed San Diegan beauty of frontwoman Maddy Myers. A blonde, delicately-freckled photographer’s dream on honeyslide vocals and soft dots of bass guitar, she probably finds this kind of objectivifying attention a damn nuisance. For one thing, it distracts from the thoughtful, intricate details of the songs she writes: just as there was always more to Stevie Nicks than posturing and chiffon, there’s more to Maddy than blank-canvas prettiness or swoony lashes.

Let’s be honest – most dream pop bands think it’s enough to deliver blank blocks of navel-gazing noise and dirty snowplough billows: retrodden, remasticated sub-Lushness. Moon Panda don’t. Their songs are constantly, carefully changing beasts: encapsulated within their yearning melodies and taffy-stretched hooks, they have finely honed choral a capella parts, strange and revelatory key changes, sudden pauses and unorthodox shifts of time and dynamic. As with Gustav Moltke’s carefully-placed, only-there-when-you-need-them tidal smooshes of guitar, Maddy’s keen awareness of structure – of spectral drama, of just how softly and subtly you can make a jump-cut work – has a tendency to shatter the mood from within with a hard-hook shift in rhythm and intensity.



 
The lyrics too, eschew the cough-syrup blankness and drunken, dissolved sensual dazes of the genre; in effect, avoiding its copouts. Instead, Moon Panda are dream pop on the verge of waking up, or of piecing together the dreamwork. Shades of vulnerability, disquiet and suspicion run through these words: I’m still processing them, in the way that one works over the puzzling gristle of a dream, but I’m suspecting that these are songs for the gaslit, the fearful, the unwittingly immured: that they’re the etchings of the beginnings of an escape kit. Their videos, too, have an awareness to them – the disassociative motion, fall and sleep-roll of severed doll parts, ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Todd Haynes’ ‘Superstar’ and its Barbie-puppet retelling of the Karen Carpenter story; the road trip photography with its trapped, continuous-loop feel; Maddy’s own blank-faced ballet moves in which limbs stretch or a back twitches into restless determination.

It’s a shame that ‘Twin Peaks’ appears to be over and done now, and that Moon Panda are a year or two behind its production curve. In some respects they’d have made an ideal Roadhouse band. On the other hand, perhaps I’ve missed the point. Perhaps they wouldn’t have fitted the bill: not quite suited to the seamless and ominous cool, nor enigmatic enough for us to project our hungers, our apprehensions and confusions onto. From here, Moon Panda seem more like a measured curious hand rippling the waters or testing the surface of the mirror, fingertips uncovering and assessing what would otherwise been smoothed away. A band and a songwriter to keep a woken eye on, I think.
 

February 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Society Of Imaginary Friends Soiree with Meg Lee Chin, Keiko Kitamura, I Am Her, Kosmic Troubadour, Math Jones (2nd February); Peter Blegvad Trio and Bob Drake (9th February – plus the Club Integral Resonance Benefit Gala on the 8th); Evil Blizzard and Nasty Little Lonely (10th February)

29 Jan

SOIF Soiree, 2nd February 2018

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
“Into The Forest” Soiree: Meg Lee Chin + Keiko Kitamura + I Am Her + Kosmic Troubadour + Math Jones
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here

After a few events which were perhaps a little more predictable than we’d’ve hoped, this month’s Society Of Imaginary Friends-hosted concert moves up a gear with the involvement of “two goddesses of Earth and Heaven”. Purple twilight time:

“We take the path that leads down from the fell, over the style, over a stream and into the heart of the forest. At first it seems completely lifeless in the wood, all of its creatures hibernating deep in the ground; but as our eyes become adjusted to the dusky dark and senses atuned to its music..the rustle of a robin in the dried leaves, a squirrel’s staccato, a falling pine cone. Suddenly we are in a clearing of softest moss – a place of refuge and rest, where a clear spring rises and sunlight dances. Welcome to our “Into the Forest” Soiree.”

A mid-‘90s Pigface member (and the former frontwoman for female noise band Crunch), industrial pop/darkwave/hip hop songstress and hands-on producer Meg Lee Chin is a prime example of longstanding female creativity and independence. Having rattled cages and excited commentators with her turn on Pigface’s ‘Nutopia’, she then spearheaded contemporary home-studio recording with her 1999 solo album ‘Piece and Love’ and went on to found pro-audio community Gearslutz. Although released music has been sporadic for the last couple of decades, Meg’s kept her reputation as a fascinating, brilliant performer and composer and as an outspoken, sometimes contrary blogger. SOIF, in turn, have a reputation for coaxing people’s slumbering performance talents out of semi-retirement: if Meg’s risen to the occasion in response, this ought to be pretty exciting.

Also on hand – and in delightful contrast – is Keiko Kitamura: known for activities ranging from replaying Japanese court music to Jah Wobble’s Nippon Dub Ensemble, is a leading international koto player (in particular, the 17-string bass version) as well as a singer and shamisen player. Expect a mixture of tradition and originality.




 
The rest of the appropriately quirky SOIF bill is filled out by eccentric rainbow keyboard warrior The Kosmic Troubadour, poet/dramatist Math Jones (with a sheaf of forest poems) and Soiree regular I Am Her, a.k.a. ex-Rosa Mota singer Julie D. Riley (who also, with fellow Rosacian Sacha Galvagna, makes up transatlantic transcontinental electropop minimalists Crown Estate). As ever, the Society themselves are performing, presenting (presumably) art-pop forest ballads to take in with the Karamel vegan feast that’s part and parcel of a SOIF event. This time, you get an appropriately woody wild forest mushroom soup, a mushroom and root vegetable pizza and some Black Forest gateau…


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Here’s news on one of the several fundraisers for London alt.culture radio station Resonance FM, helping it to keep up its mission of broadcasting the wild and wonderful across the Smoke’s airwaves and around the world online. Even setting aside the calibre of the night’s performers, it’s pretty much worth going along for that reason alone.

Peter Blegvad Trio, 9th February 2018

Resonance FM presents:
Peter Blegvad Trio with Bob Drake
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Friday 9th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

I’ve always had a lot of admiration for Peter Blegvad – not only for the owlish wit of his songs (including his skill as palindromist and wordplayer) and the enviable polymathic breadth of skills which means he’s also a fine experimental cartoonist, audio dramatist and commentator. It’s also because anyone who can get himself sacked from ‘70s avant/oppositional prog gods Henry Cow by outrightly twitting their seriousness at the height of their brow-furrowing Maoist phase (and apparently by writing a lyric about a woman chucking raisins at a skeleton) is a man who knows something about whistling in the face of sternness.

Well, perhaps I shouldn’t make too much of this. For one thing, despite (and because of) Henry Cow’s high-flying, generally admirable idealism, spending time there seems to have been argumentative for everyone (in particular during the period in which almost every potential action appeared to have its cripping counter-bourgeois condemnation, during which a man of Peter’s wayward questioning wit and self-declared flippancy would have stuck out like a slammable thumb in the way of a door). Once out of the mothership, though, it was evidently easier to be familial. Showing up most artistic spats and internal rock band feuds for the pique and piffle that they are, all of the ex-Cow-ers grew up (and grew past their arguments) to become a mutually supportive bunch. Threading in and out of each other’s concerts and solo careers, they rapidly learned to welcome and celebrate the diversity of their collective interests and ideas, and they’ve stayed that way.


 
Proving this yet again, whenever the Peter Blegvad Trio comes back together it reunites Peter with two regular Cowfriends: John Greaves (bassist and longtime ally both during and after Cowdays, from the ‘Kew.Rhone.’ project onwards) and Chris Cutler (drummer and owner of the eclectic and honourable post-Cow record label ReR Megacorp which, since 1988, has released four widely-spaced Blegvad albums – ‘Downtime’, ‘Just Woke Up’, ‘Hangman’s Hill’ and last year’s ‘Go Figure’). Thirty-seven years of on/off playing together has resulted in a relaxed, gently telepathic connection: not a mysterious communion, nor an alliance of breakneck musical stuntwork, but an easy, comfortable instinct for what’s required to frame the song and no more. As for Peter himself, if you’re unfamiliar with his work it’s best to think of someone with one foot in the sardonic-wit songworld of Loudon P. Wainwright, Leon Rosselson, Richard Thompson and Kinky Friedman, and the other in the counterflow rock camp which the Cow shared with (among others) Faust and Pere Ubu.


 
And that brings me to the second point – ultimately, it’s really pretty misleading to define Peter by the lineaments of Henry Cow, art-prog or Rock In Opposition. Granted, he’s spent quite a bit of time paddling away in those areas (in addition to ‘Kew.Rhone’ and the Cow work, there’s been Slapp Happy, Faust and The Lodge, as well as swing-by dates with The Golden Palominos and Art Bears). Yet if you put him firmly in the driving seat on his own, what you get isn’t hyperliterate trickery, but intelligent, light-touch, surprisingly roots-rocking songs with a smart economy of tale-telling and reflection.

He’s still got a yen for throwing up a thesis and exploring it (this is, after all, a man who once explored the roots and fears of the European Union via a teasing, erudite and baffling lyrical mirror-maze of classical borrowings), but more often than not he’ll now use a folk or country-folk form to do so, or pick a nuanced idea to polish in a few simple strokes: something a child could pick up on but which an adult might savour. From some angles you could even confuse him (via that nasal, tuneful, breathy bark of a voice) with a more relaxed Mike Scott in acoustic mode, or even with Mark Knopfler in a moment of sardonic humanism. Although neither of them would have written a love ballad as sparse and sorrowful as Shirt And Comb, honed a metaphysical gag like Something Else (Is Working Harder) or tweaked, explored and upended a common cultural assumption the way Peter does on Gold.


 
One of the contributors to ‘Go Figure’ (along with Karen Mantler) was the delightful Bob Drake – the erstwhile Thinking Plague and 5uu’s mainstay turned offbeat producer and solo artist. For more of my rambles on him, take a look over here. The long and the short about him, though, is that he’s a multi-instrumentalist and hedge-bard with broad and rambling ideas about just how far you can stretch and mutate an open-ended thought or song, who now regularly heads out for solo voice-and-guitar gigs (often performing, for reasons both flippant and serious, in a lovely white bear-dog suit). Like Peter Blegvad, Bob’s got a liking for complexity and warm perverse wit; but what you take away from his shows is literal shaggy-doggery: peculiar sung tales both finished and unfinished about strange mammals, haunted houses, odd habits, monster-movie scenarios and twisted eldritch dimensions.

When I originally posted this, I was under the impression that Bob was playing a solo Oto support slot, but it now appears that he’s actually beefing up the Trio to a quartet, with or without the animal suit. If you still want to see Bob in solo mode, however, you could set aside some time the previous evening for another Resonance FM fundraiser: Club Integral‘s annual Resonance tin-shaker, being held south of the river at IKLEKTIK on Thursday 8th.

Offering “thirteen minute sets from thirteen acts”, this features a wealth of music-and/or-noise-makers from the Integral playlists: improv pranksters Glowering Figs, audiovisual sculptress Franziska Lantz, ARCO composer Neil Luck, mixed-ability folk internationalists the No Frills Band, Found Drowned/Four Seasons Television guitar manipulator James O’Sullivan, sound designer/Howlround member Robin The Fog, Bob and Roberta Smith (a.ka. artist/advocate/utopian Patrick Brill) playing with his own “musical intervention” project The Apathy Band, restlessly morphing New Wave survivors Spizz, and whoever St Moritz, Two Horns, Robert Storey, Strayaway Child, Swordfish and King/Cornetto happen to be. Plus Bob – who was hoping to balance his thirteen-minute time limit with the playing of thirteen one-minute songs, but has apparently opted to settle for eleven.


 
(If Bob’s wily, he’ll also strap a few tentacles onto that fur-suit and go up and do a bit of busking by Camden Lock, staking out the London Lovecraft Festival that’s also taking place that week…)

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Evil Blizzard, 10th February 2018

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Evil Blizzard + Nasty Little Lonely
The Underworld, 174 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 0NE, England
Wednesday 10th February 2018, 6.00pm
– information here and here

Filling in a three-cornered gap between Public Image Ltd, Poisoned Electrick Head and The Residents, hilariously distressing Preston lords of misrule Evil Blizzard are bringing their act south in order to launch their ‘Fast Forward Rewind’ single (from upcoming third album ‘The Worst Show On Earth’). Their gigs are part banging art-punk party and part horror-comedy masked ball, featuring four cranky and disparate bass guitarists; a singing, chanting drummer; and a pair of in-house stage invaders in the shape of a dancing money-chucking pig and a man running wild with a mop.

The assorted masks (hilarious and creepy) and the threatening mannequin/orc lunges may make it all look like an Auton’s cheese-dream or a riot in a Black Lodge dollhouse, but underneath the screaming horse-laughs are a rattling good party band. Over the years, they’ve won over many a psychedelic or underground festival audience and even their own musical heroes (with Killing Joke, Hawkwind and PiL having invited them on for support slots).



 
Also playing are stomping industrial post-punk duo Nasty Little Lonely, who provide a bandsaw-guitar set of “post apocalyptic decadence, discarded trappings of consumerism gone awry, alienation and small furry creatures with very sharp teeth.” They might possibly be tempted to dance afterwards if you encourage them enough.


 

December 2017 – various upcoming gigs in Bristol and London – Seitz, Tom O.C Wilson and Northwest (17th December); Colonial Sun, Mally Harpaz and V Ä L V E (19th December); The Secret Crowd and The Many Few (15th December)

7 Dec

Here are three more upcoming December shows across the coming fortnight which caught my interest. There’s a three-helping dose of sophisticated underground pop on a decommissioned barge in Bristol; another triple-decker in London covering moody post-colonial balladry, electro-acoustic film music and experimental collage-composing; and finally an easy-going London indie rattlethrough…

As I’m still rushed, what follows is the usual textgrab from press releases and gig guides, although I’ve leaned in to dab in extra information where needed…

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Seitz + Tom O.C Wilson + Northwest, 17th December 2017

Seitz + Tom O.C Wilson + Northwest
Grain Barge, Mardyke Wharf, Hotwell Road, Bristol, BS8 4RU, England
Sunday 17th December 2017, 8.00pm
– information here and here

“A Sunday night triple-bill of advanced accessible music. Here’s what to expect:

“Hailing from Germany via California and incubated in Bristol, singer and pianist Carolin Seitz formed Seitz in 2015 – a glacial chamber trio bringing you some vast and microcosmic torch hop. Think Lotte Lenya on Pukka tea!


 
Tom O.C Wilson is an Anglo-American pop composer with an insatiable appetite for musical discovery. His music straddles the line between the classic English pop songwriting tradition (Ray Davies, Andy Partridge, Damon Albarn) and the sophistication of current US acts such as Dirty Projectors and Deerhoof. Yet his musical canvas also draws upon wider influences, from the exuberance of contemporary jazz (Denys Baptiste, John Hollenbeck), to the irresistible rhythmic pull of Sardinian guitarists such as Paolo Angeli and Marino De Rosas.

“Tonight he is joined by the dynamic and musically sensitive trio of James Ashdown (drums), Steve Haynes (bass) and Steve Troughton (keyboard), to perform songs from his recently released album “Tell A Friend” (Pickled Egg Records).


 
Northwest are an experimental pop duo based in London, formed by the Spanish-born singer and composer Mariuca García-Lomas and producer and multi-instrumentalist Ignacio Simón. Their music explores different genres (from contemporary classical music and avant-garde electronica to experimental pop, psychedelia and trip-hop) and has drawn comparisons to artists such as Julia Holter, Portishead or Grouper. Their euphoric performances have quickly become recognized as one of the most captivating and mesmerizing live shows around.”

 
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Colonial Sun + Mally Harpaz + V Ä L V E, 19th December 2017

Blind Dog Studio presents:
Colonial Sun + Mally Harpaz + V Ä L V E
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, Hackney, London, E8 3AS, England
Tuesday 19th December 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Colonial Sun is the brand-new musical moniker of James Marples, an Australian singer-songwriter who sings dark ballads set amongst minimal cello and percussion arrangements, and whose work has drawn comparisons with Howe Gelb, Sun Kil Moon and Mark Lanegan. Emotionally lucid and at times surreal, these songs explore history, nostalgia and a sense of place and draw on imagery ranging from the Australian landscape to the decaying monuments of empire. This is only the second Colonial Sun gig, for which James will be joined onstage by a new and very special guest…

“James has previously released music (including 2006’s ‘Heads Are Down, Collars Are Up’ EP) on two independent record labels and performed his own compositions at the Glastonbury Festival and at theatres and venues in Europe and Australia. He worked with Second Hand Dance on the music for the shows ‘Creepy House’ and ‘Grass’, and (during 2017) has been the songwriter-in-residence at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at King’s College, London.

“Drummer, pianist and multi-instrumentalist Mally Harpaz (who’s played with Lunatic Crash, Anna Calvi, Hazel Iris, Ciara Clifford and Jessica Lauren) will be performing her original compositions joined by a small number of phenomenal musicians and special guests. These distinct pieces were mainly written as part of a collaboration with award-winning video artist Clara Aparicio Yoldi for several short films including ‘Iconosfera’, ‘Zoom Out’, and ‘Zoom In’: the original recordings feature (among others) Anna Calvi, Mark Neary and Mally’s old Lunatic Crash bandmate Eran Karniel.

“Mally’s reverence for the profound creates mysterious melodic lines and shares a luscious ambience with other contemporary pioneers such as Steve Reich, Max Richter, and Nils Frahm.

 
V Ä L V E is the outlet for the compositional work of composer/performer Chlöe Herington (also a member of Chrome Hoof, Knifeworld and Half The Sky), using text and image as the starting point for scores. Chlöe collects sounds and diagrams – such as score fragments found in skips, or electrocardiograph printouts – composing predominantly for bassoon, saxes, electronics and found sounds to explore synaesthetic memory and collective experience.

“Live (joined by Emma Sullivan on bass, Microkorg and vocals and by Elen Evans on harp), the music traverses the realms of noise and improv into songs, punctuated with found sounds and eases into spacy soundscapes.”



 
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The Secret Crowd + The Many Few, 15th December 2017

If you fancy something a little more straightforwardly poppy, then there’s this show a little earlier in the week. The Secret Crowd headline with their sunny semi-acoustic pop-punk (with added ukulele and trumpet), supported by endearing ‘Misfit City’ faves The Many Few playing material from their brand new album ‘Sharkenfreude’, (plus Fleetwood Macs – I don’t know, covers band or ironic indie?). All of it preceding the usual ’60s Mod, Motown and soul disco at the Crawdaddy! clubnight.

The Secret Crowd + The Many Few (Christmas Special) + Fleetwood Macs + Crawdaddy Club Night
The Fiddler’s Elbow, 1 Malden Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3HS, England
Friday 15th December 2017, 6.00pm
– information here, here and here

Here’s The Many Few sounding like a delightfully rickety collision of Deacon Blue and XTC with West African highlife; and (due to newness of band and shortage of online material) some muffled recent-gig phone footage of The Secret Crowd…

 

December 2016 – upcoming gigs – ‘Staggerlee Wonders’ with Robert Mitchell, Debbie Sanders, Corey Mwamba, John Edwards, Elaine Michener, Mark Sanders and others (London, 8th); Trio Generations with Maggie Nichols/Lisa Ullén/Matilda Rolfsson (Cheltenham and London, 9th & 11th)

5 Dec

StaggerLee Wonders
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Thursday 8th December 2016, 8.00pm
– information here and here

'Staggerlee Wonders', 8th December 2016Billed as “an evening of radical poetry and prose fused with free improvised music”, this event’s title is taken from James Baldwin’s blazingly scornful, almost conversational poem – itself named for the black outlaw/hoodlum who flits and thunders through a set of conflicting American tales and songs, taking on the roles of murderer, proud badass, pimp and more.

In all cases, Stagger Lee’s become a byword and signifier for transgressive black resistance to cultural pressure and norms. A lengthy lope in a thickly jazzy, declamatory style, Baldwin’s version takes up the final, revolutionary Stagger Lee position, setting aside the thuggery, choosing instead to weigh up the protests, delusions and not-so-secret wickednesses of white hegemony in one Afro-American palm (seamed with exile, scepticism and righteous ire) before firing up his sardonic, acidic tongue to flay and spit the flesh right off their bones. It’s not clear whether Baldwin’s take will be performed as the evening’s centrepiece, or whether it simply serves as an inspiration; but it certainly sets the bar high, both artistically and politically.

Various performers, both black and white, are confirmed to attend. Hopefully, they’ll all rise to the explicit challenge. Reknowned for his weighty slowhand approach, jazz pianist Robert Mitchell has worked with Epiphany3, F-ire Collective and Panacea. Jazz/folktronicist Corey Mwamba plays small instruments, dulcimer and electronics across assorted projects but is best known for his highly dynamic, hammers-to-humming vibraphone playing and for the ongoing questioning spirit which he explores in both live music and academia (and any intersections he can make between the two). Voices come from restless, movement performer and polygenre singer Elaine Michener (recently seen at the Cockpit Theatre in a quartet with Alexander Hawkins) and from storytelling singer/composer Debbie Sanders (currently heading up Mina Minou Productions, previously embedded in proto-acid-jazz, trip-hop and British R&B via work with Skylab and Chapter & The Verse).

Bass and drums are provided by two stunning soloists who also happen to make up one of London music’s most formidable rhythm partnerships. Both double bass player John Edwards and drummer Mark Sanders are capable of a breadth of sound and attack on their respective instruments, running across an orchestral breadth from whisper to hailstone attack (via conversation or monologue, from growling belligerence to kidding conversation or querying patter).

More people may be showing up to play, but that’s already a pretty thrilling loose sextet to work with and to choose from.

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Trio Generations is an intermittent name for a convocation of three top European improvisers, Maggie Nichols, Lisa Ullén and Matilda Rolfsson. Formed last year, they’re playing a couple of English shows to bookend the upcoming weekend. Outlines below, mostly from the Café Oto pages:

Trio Generations, 2016

Trio Generations, 2016

Maggie Nicols joined London’s legendary Spontaneous Music Ensemble in 1968 as a free improvisation vocalist. She then became active running voice workshops with an involvement in local experimental theatre. She later joined the group Centipede, led by Keith and Julie Tippets and in 1977, with musician/composer Lindsay Cooper, formed the remarkable Feminist Improvising Group. She lives in Wales and continues performing and recording challenging and beautiful work, in music and theatre, either in collaborations with a range of artists (Irene Schweitzer, Joelle Leandre, Ken Hyder, Caroline Kraabel) as well as solo.

Matilda Rolfsson is a Swedish percussionist and free improviser, based in Trondheim, Norway. During the spring of 2015 she was temporarily based in London where she finished her masters in free improvisation and the relationship between improvised music and dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. During her London stay Matilda got the chance to meet and play with some of Londons most efficient improvisers: Phil Minton, Sylvia Hallett and London Improvisers Orchestra with Maggie Nichols. With her 20” vintage Gretsch bass drum, Tibetan bowls, gongs, bells and plastic isolations, sticks, fingers and brushes, Matilda explores the free improvisation and the instant compositions shaped in the moment: dynamics, orchestrations – structure and chaos. To make rules and break rules, always with the question: where’s the music going, and where’s the freedom?

“Pianist Lisa Ullén grew up in the northern part of Sweden, and is based in Stockholm. A versatile player with a singular musical vision, Lisa has repeatedly proven her ability to imprint her absolute sense for tonal texture on whatever musical context she appears in. Besides working as a soloist and leader of her own groups, Lisa has collaborated extensively with many well-known Swedish artists and dancers, and has also scored several dramatic productions. She’s also performed and recorded music by contemporary composers.”
 
To provide a sense of what might be coming, here’s the full half-hour set from their debut performance at IKLECTIK in 2015: a fractured, prolonged collective improvisation which swaps mood, pace and suggestions like a game of speed poker, with passing shreds of blues. Although Lisa and Matilda match her with lethally-aimed flinders of explosive, challenging percussion and piano, Maggie remains the centre of attention via a performance that’s as much stand-up comedy or theatre piece as it is free jazz. She produces not only the clucks, hisses, pants and operatics of free-voice improv but a bewildering spiky cavalcade of female voices and archetypes (hopeful chitterer, wise sly crone, mother in labour, put-upon wailer, deft gossiper) while including fleeting lyrics from jazz, blues or music hall and assorted Dada twists (including a phase which sounds like a demonic toothbrushing session).


 

This month’s Trio Generations dates:

  • Xposed Club @ Francis Close Hall, University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ, England, Friday 9th December 2016, 8.00pm (with Chris Cundy) – information
  • Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England, Monday 11th December 2016, 8.00pminformation

At the Café Oto show, John Edwards will be joining in to make the group a quartet. While there’s no support act at Oto, at the Xposed Club Cheltenham reedsman/multi-instrumentalist Chris Cundy will be providing a solo slot on bass clarinet and saxophone. A tactile extended-technique player, Chris began as a self-taught Medway busker coming into his own under the combined influence of Eric Dolphy (on record) and Billy Childish (in the flesh and in the kitchen). Following a relocation to Cheltenham to pursue fine art, Chris has broadened his scope into a world of other collaborations in film, electronica, free improvisation and pop. He’s worked extensively with Fyfe Dangerfield (as part of the Guillemots horn section and as an integral member of Gannets), with Canadian freak-folkers Timbre Timbre and a succession of left-field singer-songwriters. His extended techniques (including multi-phonics, circular breathing and microtonality) have also led him into exploring the works of Cage and Cardew and those of contemporary avant-garde composers such as Thanos Chrysakis and Pete M Wyer, as well as producing a growing number of albums of his own work.


 

November 2016 – upcoming London gigs – electro-poetryscapes with Jeremy Reed & The Ginger Light at the Horse Hospital (5th)

3 Nov

They might be performing in Bloomsbury , but their heart’s in Soho. You can’t get away from it.

Jeremy Reed & The Ginger Light, 5th November 2016I once started writing a set of time-travelling stories about Soho, and one day I may go back to them. If so, it might be difficult not to write Jeremy Reed into them. Poet locum and unruly novelist, with fifty-odd books behind him, both his work and his person is soused in the atmosphere, possibilities and ramifications of this particularly disobedient district of London. For my lifetime and his, it’s been the haunt of artists, drunks, liars, king-queens, agreeable rascality and disagreeable visionaries. Even in its current state of snarling retreat, slowly losing a civil war against the clammy, sterilizing encroachment of central London gentrification, chain shops and absentee renting, it’s still the part of town where you’re most likely to see an inexplicable marching band or dishevelled unicorn.

A Firewords Display presents:
Jeremy Reed & The Ginger Light
The Horse Hospital, The Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1JD, England
Saturday 5th November 2016, 7.30pm
information

Dating back to 2012, The Ginger Light is a collaboration between Jeremy and Itchy Ear, a.k.a. Covent Garden loftbird Gerald McGee: an electronic music producer, film buff and keen, self-starting soundtracker who adds spectrally-energised EDM and electronica backings to footage from the likes of brutal nightmare-noir ‘Kiss Me Deadly’, Jean Genet’s steamy men’s-prison reverie ‘Un Chant d’Amour’ and the differently-dreamy 1903 film of ‘Alice In Wonderland’. Working live from a laptop, Gerald complements Jeremy’s word salvos with sound layers too detailed and active to be described as simple backdrops.

Like the poems they lift and wreathe, Gerald’s soundscapes are multilayered time-travel textures: archaeological digs pulling up mongrel music memories from London’s strata of music and broadcast history. Ladbroke grove dub-echoes, Carnaby pop and basement jazz; psychedelic acid-rock distortions from the UFO or Portobello Road. Ominous Throbbing Gristle reverberation and corrosive washes from the old Hackney squats. Floating ghostly sound effects, like snippets of radio drama caught on a forty-year rebound.

As for Jeremy, he plays his own role to the hilt. Blurring confessor and transgressor, impressionist chronicler and flagrant charlatan, he’s a figure of arch and wasted glamour, as if Quentin Crisp had woken up one morning transformed into Jim Morrison. A Soho fixture since the mid-’80s, he’s a onetime protege of Francis Bacon; hailed as the real poetic deal by past literary titans (Seamus Heaney, J.G. Ballard and Edmund White – two of whom compared him to Rimbaud and one to Bowie’s Thomas Newton, the Man Who Fell to Earth) and by living pop-poetry shapers (Bjork, Richard Hell, Pete Docherty).

He delivers his own poems in a voice like London sleet – a heavy-lidded, lead-cadenced drone; lisping and compellingly monotonous, burnished by rich and antiquated RADA tones and by a seething incantatory Peter Hammill flair. In the psychic autopsy of talent’s fragility in ‘Soho Johnny’; you can detect echoes of the Beats and of the exploding perspective of the ‘60s; in his calling-up and collaging of spirits including Derek Jarman and Jack the Ripper, those of cut-up broadsheets and psychogeography; in his accounts of shoplifters and dissidents adrift in the changing junk-raddled backwash of city trade, commerce and exploitation, there are looming narcotic Blakean myths.

A career-long celebrator of the transgressive, ignored and cast-aside, Jeremy’s becoming not only a poet locum for Soho, but something of a genius loci: declaiming the neighbourhood’s crumpled, contemplative, spontaneous amorality like the last pub-bard standing. In consequence, he himself seems to be succumbing to being fixed in time, representing qualities being swept away as Crossrail opportunities and predatory investment force them out. Like the Wood Green soiree happening the previous night, he’s edging towards becoming one of those fragile something to enjoy while you still can. Here he is, rouged and alert, alongside Gerald and delivering a Ginger Light performance earlier this year: keeping the vision breathing.


 

October 2016 – upcoming gigs – this weekend’s Wakizashi music festival in Bristol – two days of underground allsorts (22nd, 23rd)

19 Oct

Wakizashi Festival, Bristol, 22nd & 23rd October 2016There may still be tickets left for the “glut of experimental and cross-genre artists” descending on Bristol this weekend for the two-day, twenty-band Wakizashi music festival.

The shared brainchild of two Bristolian gig engines – PROBO Titans (who incubate and deliver bi-monthly rock, pop and experimental gigs) and Harry “Iceman” Furniss (restless jazz cornetter and leading fringeman within the Avon jazz underground), Wakizashi offers an exciting, intimate and intelligent spill of psychedelia, noise, post-punk, math rock, jazz strains, electronica and much more.

PROBO Titans & Harry Iceman Furniss present:
Wakizashi Festival:
– Get The Blessing + Hysterical Injury + Twin + Iyabe + Iceman Furniss Quartet + Human Bones + Charivari + Luui + Saltings (Saturday)
– Knifeworld + Edward Penfold + Evil Usses + Milon + Halftone + Drone Soul + Rafael Dornelles Trio + Uther Modes + Perverts (Sunday)
The Old Malt House, Little Ann Street, Bristol, BS2 9EB, England
Saturday 22nd & Sunday 23rd October 2016 – starts 1.00pm, Saturday
– information here and here

Harry Furniss makes the most of his own involvement by appearing with his Iceman Furniss Quartet. His flowing cornet leads punk-art jazz moves over dogged springy bass rhythms and shuddering No Wave electric-curtain guitar (care of Danny Le Guilcher from Dynamite Pussy Club, whose other career as a printmaker seems to have literally rubbed off on his playing).


 
Further jazz directions are provided by Saturday’s headliners Get The Blessing (founded sixteen years ago over a mutual appreciation of Ornette Coleman,) provide rumbling, doomy trip-hop-tinged jazz-rock. They boast a rhythm section of art-rock/trip-hop/drum & bass go-to-men Clive Deamer and Jim Barr (who between them have kept the pulse going for Portishead, Radiohead, Hawkwind, Peter Gabriel and Roni Size) plus saxophonist Jake McMurchie (of Michelson Morley) and trumpeter Pete Judge (Eyebrow and Three Cane Whale), with another Portisheader, Adrian Utley, sometimes guesting on guitar. Their music brings along some of the flash and flair of jazz pioneers, but also the sense of being trapped in a small room with a lumbering, powerful inscrutable beast – with an equal chance of being either impressed or squashed.


 
Post-punk bass/drums/voice duo Hysterical Injury have a toe in the improv scene and a touch of folk. Their recent press tagging as some kind of “better version of Savages” belies the hovering thoughtfulness and the gentle dignity in their music beyond the softly roiling industrial bass textures. Singing bassist Annie Gardiner has a way with the writing and delivery of a surreal, conceptually suggestive lyric which baffles and entrances.


 
There’s something similarly compelling about the voice of Sophie Dawes, who sings for Iyabe further down the bill. As it was with missing-in-action Delicate AWOL singer Caroline Ross, Annie and Sophie’s voices and words are clear, weightless and elusive – keeping you listening while you try to figure out the messages and hidden narratives floating past in slow streams of isolated moment and fleeting detail.

Regarding Iyabe – considering that they’re a five-piece, they sound remarkably skeletal. Soft pings, drum clicks, bass shadows. At their most expansive, they’re a pencil-sketch ghost of Seefeel’s dub-rock dreaminess: other tracks are a hypnotic rain-drip of slowly growing consciousness. Recent moves towards alliances with remixers, further fleshing out the band’s sound, may point the way forward: but, as with Hysterical Injury, there’s already plenty in place.


 
Two more of Saturday’s bands provide further dispatches from rock’s dissolving, dreamier side. The mystery brainchild of Christelle Atenstaedt, Twin’s drawn-out one-woman Gothpop offers a wealth of detail in its hypnotic overlaid folk drones and its reverberant, tangled-roots guitar chug, which seems to reference both Cranes and Sandy Denny. With electric cello adding occasional extra texture to a droning, crashing armoury of blood-stained guitar fuzz, Bath-based post-rockers Charivari have a sombre lysergic depth; plus a repertoire of zurna-like Mediterranean melodies to add to their gloaming-murmurs, their evenstar twinkles and their post-Mogwai cascades of noise.



 
Begun as a solo project by Andrew Cooke (inspired by ancient ghost stories and the concept of the English eerie), Saltings has evolved into a three-piece drone collective. Andrew (plus string players Liz Muir and Caitlin Callahan) gradually unveil an occult soundtrack full of marine and maritime references, maybe as much inspired by Andrew’s origins in the port of Dublin as by the current trio’s Bristol harbouring. Sampler-moulded sounds (noise-grates, hull-knocks, whistles, water-throbs and motors) are enfolded with double bass and cello parts – whispered, minimal elegies for the undetermined; or baleful shadings; or queasy, discombobulated, John Adams-styled loops both shaken and slurred.



 
The sole hip hop representative on the bill, Luui, rolls out complex, constantly unfolding raps over seductively silky, time-flexed instrumental samples: slurred, narcotic Rhodes piano doodles, bits of glowing solo jazz guitar smeared into something blunted and sinister. Arced out in short, enveloping doses – most of his tracks are over and done in a couple of minutes – it’s both intimate and claustrophobic: a growing autumnal darkness, a slowly moiling confusion.


 
As Luui harmonises with himself (in subtle dischords), his flow folds over and over onto itself like piling lava, journeying from memories of childhood cheeriness into an increasing broody adult disaffection, shot with regrets, spiked with quick vicious jabs of obscenities and flashes of temper. As with the best, most unsettling confessional rap, you get a crooked window onto Luui’s unresolved world, see him wrestle with his conscience and his instincts and, though you see a little too much of him for comfort, for a while you’re matching breath with him too.


 
Initially known for upbeat Lou Reed drawls larded with guitar fuzz, Human Bones now seem to be moving towards a languorous cardboard-box take on Americana. Multi-instrumental looper Steve Strong, meanwhile, has set himself up as a one-man trip hop/math rock band, in which much of the emphasis seeming to be on the drum rhythm. See below for his Godspeedian live take on a grim, violent found story of road anarchy, in which his hopeful, orderly and dreamy guitar introduction gives way (under the growing brutality of the tale on tape) to the controlled heat of a drum beat through which he seems to be trying to slough off the increasing horror.




 

* * * * * * * *

It’s an odd festival indeed in which Knifeworld (Sunday’s headliners) are virtually the straightest act on the bill. That this is the case says plenty about Wakizashi, but it also says something about where Knifeworld are at the moment. Currently cruising on self-created, sunny psychedelic uplands, the London octet are enjoying a period of relative bliss and (for now) a more familial creative approach, as Kavus Torabi starts to share more of the writing with the crew of expert instrumental heads who make up his band. But if Knifeworld are the closest that the festival comes to pop, it’s still a zestfully spiked pop – brazen and crenellated, filled with monkey panache, their tunes still running exuberantly out of the ears with loopy spirals of melody and unexpected double-backs. If Henry Cow had woken up one morning and decided to steal a march on The Flaming Lips, they couldn’t have done much better than this.


 
More lysergic hints string through the day via the sleepy, lo-fi acidic pop of Edward Penfold, whose songs and instrumentals halo the everyday with a softly vibrating warmth. Sometimes they hint at a might-have-been Syd Barrett; one who ducked the madness and fled away to a healing West Coast hideaway, sending missives back to Cambridge in a rested, sprawling hand; faint blue ink on pale blue paper. On the other side of the coin are The Evil Usses – a deconstructive, fiercely humorous No Wave jazz-rock quartet, who share some of Knifeworld’s brassy exuberance but take it over the escarpment and down into a stomping, seven-league-booted Beefheart country.


As with Saturday, two fringe full-jazz groups will be taking the stage. Led by saxophonist Dino Christodoulou, Milon are a mostly acoustic quartet, edging into something more speaker-warping via Neil Smith’s electric guitar and Pasquale Votino’s judiciously over-amplified double bass: Eager Legs sounds like Charles Mingus being pursued down a stuck groove by a bounding ball of Sharrock/McLaughlin electric guitar grit, with Dino keeping one hand on the wheel by some riffling, ruffling Coltrane-ish sax lines. While the Rafael Dornelles Trio might have Brazilian roots, don’t expect samba or even Tropicália: electric guitar, bass and drums are aiming for somewhere far more heatedly lyrical and direct. Tunes like Slave’s Escape and Indigenous Mass grab you straight from the title and power off in muscular, quick-sprung directions, with a fierce and formidable vigour (plus a buccaneering hint of the knife).



 
Saltings’ double bass player Caitlin Callahan returns as one-quarter of part-improvising, part-compositional, female quartet Halftone, alongside two similarly-inclined Bristolians (violinist Yvonna Magda, flautist Tina Hitchens) and a London ally (cellist Hannah Marshall). Formed earlier this year, the foursome play an unsettling, absently beautiful post-classical music evoking wind in the trees, unresolved conversations and difficulties around corners.


 
Drone Soul boast about their “sheer bleak nihilism” and stake a claim to the abrasive post-punk heritage of The Pop Group. At least part of that’s true – the post-punk bit, anyway – but I’d bat away the nihilistic posturings. This music might be on the dark and cavernous side, but it’s illuminated with a vivid energy which belies the band’s collective grizzliness. If they’re bringing you news of falling buildings or collapsing people, they’re doing it with an exuberant dark snarl. Think of Iggy Pop in-yer-face, think Suicide’s assault-by-sine-wave; and also give a little credit to a lost Bristol band, Lupine Howl, whose gonzo millenial motorik finds a fresh echo here.


 
Rhodri Karim – the Welsh-Arabian heart of Uther Modes – used to be a mournful pop scientist, making his name with sepulchural computer-pop songs which bobbed gently at the juncture of philosophy, physics and bedsit soul. More recently he’s swapped this for a new kind of songcraft, strapping up a bass guitar and pulling in other musicians. Now he reels out shifting part-sombre part-jazzy mutters, winding slate-grey but sensual vocals around echoing guitar curlicues; like a fresh breed of post-rock which refuses to stagnate and instead flexes its muscles and goes haring around the park.


 
While he can sometimes be found paddling around in the warm, shallow pools of downtempo electronica, Traces will shake the drips off his feet once he’s warmed up enough. His studio recordings are fine, but it’s his live improvisations that show him at full strength. They’re heart-warmingly intimate and cheery stretches of pick-you-up synthery – like an enthusiastic half-drunken 2am conversation between Max Tundra and Guy Sigsworth, following which they track down Jean-Michel Jarre, drag him away from his pyramids and lasers and force him back into a kitchen full of analogue keyboards. From tabletop synth noodles to Pong blip and cheekily squirting techno, a cunning wonkiness prevails without diminishing the music’s straightforward ambition. Traces sometimes labels it “devotional”, and I’m not entirely sure that he’s joking.


 
Finally, there’s the fall-apart electronic gagpunk of Perverts, with their squalling songs about angry muppets and guilty onanists; their one-finger clickstab of synth drums; their beady-eyed sampler-shreddings of lachrymose film music. I guess that they’re there to remind musicians and punters alike not to take it all too seriously. It’s just that they’re staring me out a little too intently. On record, at least, Perverts deliver their spoofs and squibs with a crazed and chilly eye: a brattier Residents with a crappier laptop; a young digital Punch waiting to knock everything down.


 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – Merz’s English tour with Julian Sartorius (12th-19th) plus The Sound Book Project, Hayley Ross, Megan Carlile and Christopher Anderson

9 Jun

In 1999 Merz popped up, apparently out of nowhere, with the Many Weathers Apart single. It was delightfully bizarre – there were deck scratches, a warbling rubber-guitar lick, a screaming soul sample. Merz himself was a crowy, androgynous pop squawk riding on a reverbed conga boom as big as the circling horizon. A hippy priest with a boombox, plugged into the metaphysical mainline, he sang in fluttering scraps about separation, connection and rainstorms and somehow tied them all together. The equally out-there follow-up, Lovely Daughter, was a sideswipe at subjugation and exploitation – ostensibly about young brides, but perhaps also about outflanked cultures. It sounded like Anthony Newley trapped in a tropical aviary, sprinkled with reggae-dust while tussling with Prince and Beck. Refreshingly, both songs were modest hits.

A bold debut album followed, on a Sony subsidiary. Merz surrounded the darting, hummingbird heart of his songcraft with paper-chain folk guitar, string orchestras and rain-dewed colliery brass bands, as well as what sounded like tips of the hat to Public Enemy, Sinatra and Van Morrison. He also added psychedelic flourishes, looted with elan, from a range of sources (be they worldbeat, Eurodance, the buccaneering edges of late-‘90s club culture, or acid-fuzzed corners of the Incredible String Band’s cottage). Unfortunately, 1999 wasn’t the best year for innovative eclectic-pop. However unfairly, Merz seemed to be at the tail end of a wave of experimentalists riding in Björk’s cooling wake. In the face of a much bigger wave of Latin disco and lighter entertainment, the hoped-for bigger hits didn’t happen for him. The album sold indifferently, the record deal foundered, and Merz walked. In music business terms that should have been the end of a familiar and often-repeated story. A&R takes a punt on something unusual; it rapidly runs out of steam; and the pet eccentric promptly drops back into obscurity, a footnote for geeks.

Merz (photo by Tabea Hubeli)

For Merz, in fact, all of this was simply one chapter of work; and it hadn’t even been the first chapter. Under his real name, Conrad Lambert, he’d been recording and releasing songs for over a decade before Many Weathers Apart broke cover. Even though that stage monicker turns out to have been a chance appropriation (rather than a nod to Kurt Schwitters), Merz had, from an early age, followed the connective prompts of a Bahá’í upbringing and a personal artistic bent (which had had him picking up the bagpipes as a first instrument at the age of six). His own restless nature spurred him on to early travelling, and would later drive the adult Conrad to make homes from town to town and from country to country. Ultimately, parting company with Sony and with an audience of turn-of-the-millennium hipsters just seems to have been another thing to shrug off. Merz had different things to do. Even if he didn’t quite know what they were yet. Then, as now, open possibilities beckoned… and security was a straitjacket.

As for the obscurity, that’s a matter of perspective. Merz seems to been quietly and steadily embraced by continental Europe (perhaps one of the reasons why he now makes his home in the Swiss Alps). His albums – including last year’s ‘Thinking Like A Mountain’ – are persistently and publically hailed across magazines and online review sites as the welcome surfacings of an inventive, tuneful and touching mind. If, in spite of this, he still remains cult it’s partly because it seems to suit him. Musically, he’s mellowed without slackening. As with Geddy Lee, what was once a strident corvine vocal has matured into a warmer, more human sound without losing its fundamental chirp. Across time he’s delivered songs which might only rarely touch the earth but which flutter and roost in stray corners of the mind for years; from the Northern-brass love-call of Lotus to the offset rhythms and flamenco fairing of Goodbye My Chimera, the melding of baroque harpsichord waltz and bubbling phuture-pop on Dangerous Heady Love Scheme, and the melding of Buckleylalia with blootering, breakneck industrial techno in the recent Ten Gorgeous Blocks.


At the core, today’s Merz is a roaming twenty-first century folk troubadour – centred around voice, a keyboard or laptop and a single fingerpicked guitar, making the most of both local ingredients and things intercepted en route. He’s based around instinctive heart rather than roots, and around spontaneous initiative rather than the solidity of tradition; spurred on by intuitive choices of collaborators, such as British electro-concrète producer Matthew Herbert. His current musical foil, wingman and licensed disruptor is Swiss drummer and sound artist Julian Sartorius, whom Merz met while recording his ‘No Compass Will Find Home’ album, and whom he subsequently allowed to strip out and repurpose his songs to form a further album’s-worth of startling drum-and-vocal renditions

As for his tours, they manage to be both quietly exhilarating and easy to miss. Ducking around and under the radar, they mount a clear challenge to the business of tired pop promotion. He seeks to make concerts – like live art works – unique and permanently memorable to the attendees, taking care over matters like time, place and involvement. In addition to fairly familiar arty venue types (picture galleries, music churches and house concerts), last year’s ‘In Intimate’ tour took in a village chapel, a working-men’s club and an Air Force Legion hall: even a cow barn, a Scottish castle, a yurt, a forest clearing, a railway arch, and a snooker club. This season’s tour isn’t quite as unusual, although it returns to a couple of In Intimate venues (in Middlesbrough and Oswestry). Elsewhere, Merz seems to have gone where he was invited… and made sure that it was either somewhere interesting or somewhere that strives (sprouting rock clubs in transient locations, or the sites of hopeful songwriter nights).

For many of the shows Merz will be playing as a duo alongside Julian Sartorius, who’ll also be playing a solo drumkit set to open the concert. On some evenings, support acts will be drawn from more straightforward singer-songwriter turf – in Hinckley, sixteen-year-old local open-mic promoter Megan Carlile; in Newcastle, local acoustic bard-of-observations Christopher Anderson; in Brighton, Hayley Ross (who leans towards a classic ‘70s style and expression but with a darker, cruel-hinting edge and occasional bursts of garage rock).


 
To counterbalance, at Oswestry support comes from the altogether stranger Sound Book Project, a sextet of multimedia artists and musicians (including a pair of Pram members) who use books as noisemakers and instruments – “wound, sprung, strummed, slapped and thrown” as well as being modified or miked-up – in an experimental, slightly fetishistic celebration of the sensuality of bound text as opposed to digital media, and the way in which sounds trigger memories and associations.

Similarly, the opening show at Middlesbrough’s MIMA is somewhat different from the others: it marks the closure of ‘When Now Becomes Then: Three Decades’, MIMA’s exhibition of the work of British abstract/gestural painter and printmaker Basil Beattie. Over two hours spread across the ground floor galleries, Merz will play songs from his repertoire which “allude to Beattie’s paintings both from a visual and spiritual point of view” and promises “a roving and impressionistic solo set.”
 

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