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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.




 

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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.”
 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – picking through BBC Music Day

29 May

BBC Music Day

The annual BBC Music Day comes up this year and this week on Friday 3rd June. It’s a generally beneficial nation-building exercise in typical BBC style, informed by magazine-style news, middle-range tastes and light entertainment. Much of what’s on is comfortably communal – plenty of light music choirs, familiar regional touches of brass and pipes.

In all fairness, there’s plenty here to like. There’s a scheme organising gentle live shows in hospitals throughout Scotland and England. There’s a focussing on church bell ringings around the country which is free of gimmick and simply lets the art speak for itself (emphasising both its national status and its localism). There’s the ‘Take It To The Bridge‘ programme, during which the nation’s bridges will be briefly overrun by symbolic musical meetings, community choirs, time-travelling orchestras and local songwriters.

Twelfth Doctor with guitar

Sadly not joining in with any time-travelling orchestras…(© BBC 2015)

There’s also a strong sense of that other nation – the one which the BBC still encourages in the face of rumbling political dissatisfaction, manipulation and discomfort. It might be a non-partisan wash of generic English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish decency which doesn’t offer much to scare the horses, doesn’t break a sweat breaking new ground, and doesn’t ultimately provide much event-by-event challenge; but it should still be applauded for at least trying to encourage common ground and (at a time when art is being squeezed out of schools) a culture of engagement with music. For the full programme – and for British readers who want to find out exactly what’s going on in their region – check the links above.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been sifting through the programme with my jaundiced, picky eye and selecting out what I feel are some of the more unusual or rewarding events dotted around the comfy musical quilt (more or less in order of occurrence), starting in the middle of another festival in Hay-on-Wye…

BBC Radio 3 Live/Hay Festival presents:
Hay Festival Guitar Jam with Morgan Szymanski
Friends Café @ Hay Festival Site, Dairy Meadows, Brecon Road, Hay-on-Wye, HR3 5PJ, Wales
Friday 3rd June 2016, 9.30am

BBC Music Day - Get Playing!“Prior to his Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert (a collaboration with the Cremona String Quartet at 1.00pm, and already sold out) classical guitar ace Morgan Szymanski will be inviting amateur guitarists to join him for a morning guitar jam. Help create and perform a brand new piece for a hundred guitarists to be featured in the concert. Morgan will lead you through the process, whatever your level, from beginner to advanced. The event includes a special master class from Nitin Sawhney on playing the guitar.”

Unlike the walk-up nature of most of the other events listed here, a Hay Festival ticket is required for this one.

In Cambridge…

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire presents:
English Pocket Opera vs. Imperial & K.I.N.E.T.I.K
Silver Street Bridge, Silver Street, Cambridge, CB24 5LF, England
Friday 3rd June 2016, 11.30am

English Pocket Opera will be performing on a punt through the waterways of Cambridge. As they approach Silver Street bridge the opera will be joined by a local ‘BBC Introducing’ hip-hop duo Imperial & K.I.N.E.T.I.K, on top of the bridge. Hip-hop and opera will merge to create a brand new sound.”

Christ, this one could be a car-crash in multiple senses. I mean, it’s hard enough to handle a Cambridge punt at the best of time – it’s an unhappy marriage of Newton and Zen – let alone try to synchronise it with anything else. Still, given the sunny, positive and playful nature of both sets of musicians involved (don’t expect a collision of ‘Wozzeck’ and Kanye), let’s give them the benefit of the doubt… and just to put it into perspective, I‘m an appalling puntsman and these guys know their music.



 

In Nottingham…

Afro Therapy, 3rd June 2016Can’t Stop Won’t Stop presents:
Afro Therapy: featuring Jourdan Pierre Blair + Ella Knight + Early Bird + Garton + D Dot + others tbc
Rough Trade Nottingham, 5 Broad Street, Nottingham, NG1 3AJ
Friday 3rd June 2016, 7.00pm

“Live music and DJs will be putting music of black origin in the spotlight. Unsigned and independent artists Ella Knight, beat maker Early Bird, and MCs Garton, D-Dot and Jourdan Pierre Blair (the last better known as Jah Digga) will represent a range of R’n’B and hip hop styles with a British stamp on global music. This free event is open to people over the age of 14.”

I’ve got to say that – for all of the community ethos being trumpeted elsewhere – this show is probably the most proactively street-level event on a day which needs to be about everyone in the country, not just people who like choirs and crumpets. (I’m not trying to bitch here; I just… noticed.) Here’s a run of video and soundclips for most of those involved.





 

Sheffield also deserves credit for working outside the comfy box…

A Law Unto Ourselves, 3rd June 2016

Yellow Arch Studios present:
A Law Unto Ourselves: The Eccentronic Research Council (featuring Maxine Peake) + The Death Rays of Ardilla + Sieben + The Third Half
Yellow Arch Studios, 30-36 Burton Road, Neepsend, Sheffield, S3 8BX, England
Friday 3rd June 2016, 7.30pm
– free event – more information

This is probably the most experimental event of the lot: an opportunistic but rewarding live spotlight on Sheffield’s unique independent music scene. There should have been more events like this dotted up and down the country – not necessarily with an experimental pop thrill, but emphasizing local current indigenous music which could only have happened in particular towns and at this particular time. All respect is due to Sheffield musicians, to the Yellow Arch venue and to curator Sophie Toes for taking the trouble to spot this challenge and rise to it.

Probably the biggest draw for A Law Unto Ourselves are the headliners – The Eccentronic Research Council, barbed and crafty exponents of their own scenic and sample-heavy “library/soundtrack, experimental, folkloric/non-populist pop”. They’ll be accompanied by their own established muse and mouthpiece – Maxine Peake (actress, declaimer, proud overturner of complacent applecarts) – and are the most questioning act across Music Day, bringing a touch of dissent, argument and the British radical tradition into its general cosiness. In support are spaced-out and (literally) brotherly garage-rock duo The Death Rays of Ardilla, Sieben (a.k.a. beater, plucker, tickler and layerer of voice and violin Matt Howden) and The Third Half (a duo who combine and alternate harp, celeste, guitar and voice in “twenty-first century neo-pastoral rare groove”).

ERC


There will also be DJ sets from representatives of some of Sheffield’s other interesting underground or experimental bands – spooky lysergic-child-song folksters Antique Doll, progtronicians I Monster, psychedelic country-and-western band The Cuckoo Clocks – plus one from Sophie Toes herself. There’s limited capacity for this show, so early arrival is recommended to avoid disappointment.

* * * * * * * *

In Bristol…

Charles Hazlewood and the British Paraorchestra
Colston Hall, Colston Street, Bristol, BS1 5AR, England
Friday 3rd June 2016, 8.00pm

“After the success of last year, the ground-breaking British Paraorchestra, the world’s first professional ensemble of disabled musicians, return to Colston Hall to perform for BBC Music Day. The group is headed up by Charles Hazlewood, a genuine pioneer and innovator in the world of classical music. In a unique show, the Paraorchestra will be joined on-stage by performers from Extraordinary Bodies, the professional integrated circus company and partnership between Cirque Bijou and Diverse City. The combined effect of The British Paraorchestra and Extraordinary Bodies playing ‘In C’ by composer Terry Riley, promises to be cathartic and uplifting. The aural equivalent to climbing inside a giant lava lamp.”

On spec, this may sound like a case of worthiness over content – but while it’s true that (despite the Riley) the Paraorchestra plays its fair share of light-ent pop transcriptions to sugar the pill, albeit in its own way – it’s also worth noting that the ensemble isn’t just about the state of bodies. The Paraorchestra also explodes a lot of ideas about how an orchestra might work, in terms of instrumentation and approach: likewise, Extraordinary Bodies has plenty of challenges and delight to offer. See below:

 

…and finally…

Shaun the Sheep

Aardman Animation/Colston Hall/Bristol Museums present:
Shaun the Sheep’s Vegetable Orchestra
Studio 2, The M Shed, Princes Wharf, Wapping Rd, Bristol BS1 4RN, England / Colston Hall, Colston Street, Bristol, BS1 5AR, England
Friday 3rd June 2016
Workshops and rehearsals at Studio 2: 10.15am, 11.15am & 12.15pm (tel: 0117 352 6600 for details)
Veg Orchestra Finale! featuring Shaun the Sheep and his Vegetable Orchestra at Colston Hall: 1.40pm

“In celebration of BBC Music Day and Aardman’s 40th anniversary, children are invited to join Shaun the Sheep and become part of his Vegetable Orchestra for a live performance at Colston Hall. (There will also be an Aardman birthday singalong and cake presentation.) There will also be pre-performance workshops at M Shed to decorate your veg instruments and learn how to play your part, all set to the ‘Shaun The Sheep’ theme tune. Workshops presented by Farmer characters & Shaun himself, it’s ‘flock ‘n’ roll’ for all ages and all set on Mossy Bottom Farm!”

Sorry. For a variety of reasons (parenthood, humour, a taste for experimentalism and a love of everything Aardman-esque) I just couldn’t bloody resist that last one… and it turns out that the foremost practitioners of the vegetable orchestral art are as cheerfully experimental and conceptual as anything else I tend to feature in here…


 

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