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November 2017 – upcoming London folk gigs – alleged folk/electro-folk clash with Rivers Of England, Boe Huntress and The 150 Friends Club at Collage Nights; a world-swirl with Firefay, The Scorpios and Bread And Circus (both 8th November)

31 Oct

I’m late to the party as regards Wood Green’s regular Collage Nights (which play in the same lively vegan restaurant that also houses the Society of Imaginary Friends soirees and some of outer London’s most vigorous jazz sessions). Just as I discover it, the current every-second-Wednesday-of-the-month season is rolling to a close; but a couple more gigs will see out the autumn. Though November’s gig is billed as a clash (or at least a head-on nuzzle) between straight folk and electrofolk, I’m not sure that it’s as simple as that.

Collage Nights, 8th November 2017
Collage Nights presents:
Electrofolk meets Folk: Rivers Of England + Boe Huntress + The 150 Friends Club
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Wednesday 8th November 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here

In the “straight folk” corner, Bristolian quintet Rivers Of England (fronted by songwriter Rob Spalding) are a fine example of how latterday Anglo folk attempts to hone and counterbalance its nostalgic tendencies, keeping a foot in tradition while steering away from twee fustiness and trying to stir in a contemporary consciousness. Much of their sound has a clear ’70s electric folk lineage (the Fairports or the Albion Band, the stirring in of jazz and blues elements a la John Martyn) but there’s also a conscious effort to get away from that wipe-down synthetic sound that’s plagued many such acts as they hit the studio or deal with increasingly digitised technology.

While there’s plenty in their music to link them to folk roots, their current album ‘Astrophysics Saved My Life’ displays the band’s eclectic instrumental flexibility and takes pains to explore the broadened scope of the present-day educated rural/urban person attempting to make sense of life across a much broader conceptual canvas, with “themes ranging from the inner self to the outer cosmos – the emotional to the scientific… a nautical theme present with a blend of rivers and the sea, alongside the more common personal themes of failed relationships, mental illness, memories of family holidays, childhood bicycle adventures, jobs woes, loneliness and universal love.”



 
If Boe Huntress really is occupying the electro-folk corner, it’ll be yet another alteration in a career built on transformations. Once known as Rebecca Maze (under which name she came to attention via a set of songs critiquing the misogyny around Gamergate), she changed her name circa 2013 in order to dive deeper into her troubadour impulses, mystical femininism and social protest.

Her first album as Boe saw her exploring her own fluid identity via journeys into deep mythology and archetypes from wild women to transformative green dragons to self-examining witches. Inspired (among others) by Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, Bikini Kill and Eve Ensler, Victor Jara, Fela Kuti and The Clash, her follow-up EP (2015’s ‘And I Became A Student Of Love’) saw her moving into more clearly defined spiritual protest songs, turning her evolving feminist voice outwards towards the world to advocate awareness while still keeping a toehold in mythology (as in the Inuit-inspired fable of Untangling The Bones, in which compassion overcomes fear). I’ve no idea whether there’s been a billing goof and whether Boe really has set aside the acoustic guitar and solo voice in favour of keyboards, loops or whatnot; but if she has it will be in keeping with her spirit of adventure and motion.

 
As special guests, there’s collapsable party guys The 150 Friends Club (led by “money-crazed, delusional, imbecile” David Goo, who describes the band as his “evil twin sister”). Based around the theory that “society is best managed at a hundred and fifty people”, they’re a band built for small, intimate, cheerful gigs. The music’s a messy-haired lo-fi folk-pop-rock with attention deficit disorder, which sometimes throws on a skuzzy electric overcoat and reels around the room pulling reggae, rap, post-rock and various other stylistic swerves out of its manky pockets.

David, meanwhile, plays it all up to the hilt – sometimes a chirpier, skiffling Lou Reed continually pricking any romantic balloons in sight, sometimes a Tom Petty who shucked the dedication and dived headfirst into cabaret, sometimes a skinny London echo of David Lee Roth cribbing and cherishing his old-time R&B. Apparently, this performance is some kind of comeback. I’m not sure that they’d care about having something to prove, but expect them to warm things right up.




 
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On the same night, over in east London, there’s the option of “a musical journey that will take you across the world in just over three hours”

Firefay + The Scorpios + Bread And Circus, 8th November 2017Firefay + The Scorpios + Bread and Circus
Cafe 1001, 91 Brick Lane, Shoreditch, London, E1 6QL, England
Wednesday 8th November 2017, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Formed from “storytelling, wyrd folk, Middle Eastern flavours, things that can only be defined as otherworldly, and still a bit of France somewhere in there… urban baroque, world folk noir, jazz and chanson music… whisky and sailors’ songs” as well as influences from John Dowland and Gabriel Fauré to kletzmer and the Canterbury Scene, Firefay blend keyboards, guitars, ouds, violins, brass and cello underneath Carole Bulewski’s trilingual vocals in a polycultural blend of colourings.

Compared to Art Bears, Françoise Hardy and Broadcast as much as to the Fairports and Pentangle (see the rave review of their 2015 album ‘The King Is Dead’ over at the ‘Active Listener‘ blog), they’ve also recorded with Mellow Candle’s Alison O’Donnell and have spent the last five years becoming one of the London folk world’s most joyous rising secrets. They’re planning “a full set of entirely reworked old songs, some from the ‘The King Must Die’ and some older even, some that took years to complete, and some brand new ones from the album we are currently recording”.



 
Firefay themselves are playing in the middle of the bill. Their cellist Fraser Parry will be opening the show with his own project Bread And Circus, a “musical vanity project (of) songs about anxiety, enjoying oneself, the passage of time and solipsism” with added piano, accordion, brass, and allsorts (depending on which other musicians he can plug in on the night).




 
Closing the show, Firefay’s sibling band The Scorpios will be playing a set of their own material: a Sudanese-based world funk in which “Arabic rhythms and guitar chops (and a kind of swooning cyclical ecstasy) with a raw Eastern funk feel (and) heavy bass, synths, horns and percussions drive through traditional Sudanese forms to create a sound owing to both Detroit and Khartoum.” Expect plenty of crossover, both in terms of musical traditions and in terms of how many members of Firefay also show up in this band.


 

April 2017 – upcoming London gigs – Gabriele Pollina’s free HandPan/Hang solo show (7th), Al Firdaus Ensemble play Arab-Andalusian fusion at Syrian children’s charity event (8th)

2 Apr

Here’s news on a couple of events in early April, for Londoners who are trying to think their way outside of London.

* * * * * * * *

MAP Studio Cafe presents:
Cafe Session: Gabriele Pollina
MAP Studio Café, 46 Grafton Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3DU, England
Friday 7th April 2017, 12.00pm
– free event – information

Gabriele PollinaGabriele Pollina plays one of the most rare and incredible instruments in the world, the HandPan. Its sound combines perfect melody and rhythm, is tuneful, mesmerising and directly affects the soul of the listener.

“Gabriele’s performance is unique and original, musically gorgeous with a beautiful visual impact. From Italy to Australia, his hypnotic hang drum improvisations are guaranteed to captivate audiences and get people talking far and wide.”


 

 
* * * * * * * *

Al Firdaus Ensemble

LAFZ Magazine and ISRA Books present:
Songs for Syria: Al Firdaus Ensemble
Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Bloomsbury, London, WC1R 4RL, London
Saturday 8th April 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

A charity event for the Al Khair Foundation, featuring a particularly enchanting band:

“The Al Firdaus Ensemble is a group of performers with roots in both Eastern and Western music who currently live in Granada, Andalusia (the historic base of La Convivencia, that golden age when Christians, Jews and Muslims lived peacefully together in an Arabic-speaking culture). The unique sound of the Ensemble is due to their synthesis of many different musical styles, including the Western classical tradition, Celtic folksong, flamenco and traditional Sufi music from Arabic, Andalusian and Turkish sources. The group has performed to great acclaim at concerts and international festivals in Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Morocco and Tunisia.


 
“The Ensemble was founded in 2012 by the English violinist and singer, Ali Keeler, and includes members from England, Spain and Morocco. They take their inspiration from the word Firdaus, the Arabic name of the most elevated abode in Paradise. Just as the musicians tune their instruments, so they need to tune their hearts to receive the inspiration of the moment and transmit that to the audience. The traditional Arabic term for this kind of music is “sama”, which may be translated as “the art of listening”.

“There will be a short interval during the performance in which the Al Khair Foundation will give a brief presentation of their work: raising awareness of its educational projects in Syria and encouraging interested members of the public to assist in funding these projects which are aimed at supporting children with sustenance, education and psychosocial support, particularly for infants living in some of the worst-affected parts of the country.”
 

October/November 2016 – upcoming gigs – Pierre Bensusan’s autumn tour of Britain and Ireland (30th October to 20th November)

26 Oct

Pretty much a year to the day since his last appearance in London, French-Algerian acoustic guitar master Pierre Bensusan is returning to town this Sunday for the start of a British and Irish tour. The tour will be taking in a delightfully broad sweep of venues both grand and humble, rowdy and formal, from pubs and multi-utility community rooms to concert halls. Most of them will have little in common at the start of the show. By the end, they’ll all be sharing the particular warmth which Pierre brings to his expansively intimate music and performances.

World music’s an often-abused term, especially when you can see crude joins within it. Yesterday’s exotic-record discovery shopped and slopped onto whichever beats selling; or the sound of one particular city’s overbearing acquisitiveness, engulfing and pickling the music of its immigrants rather than fostering it. Pierre’s music is an example of how you can revitalise and justify the term. I’ve spoken before about the French-Algerian-Sephardic background which gave him a head start as regards polycultural vision, but perhaps what he actually embodies is the mixed grain of musical acceptance: the travelling tunes and the more intangible freight of cultures soaking and blending into his playing without strain. Neither jazz nor folk nor Spanish classical, neither rai nor chaabi, nor flamenco (old or new), it nonetheless contains all of these – a translucent, fully-realised and seamless chamber-acoustic melange, played softly and without affectation.


 

Full tour dates below:


 

REVIEW – Meczûp: ‘Hanging From The Purgatory’s Pendulum’ album, 2010 (“intimations of strings, pipes and carefully torn air”)

21 Jun

History can catch at things and mess them around. Take the theremin – a serious instrument, reduced to a circus trick, with a story that reads like a map of twentieth-century aspirations and follies. Early days were heady: born from Russian security research, Léon Theremin’s electronic instrument was quickly diverted to more high-minded classical music uses: mostly summoning up the sounds of the ethereal spheres for mystically-minded intellectuals. Now? The gimmick tray. Its “woo-woo” glissandi are used to evoke gimcrack spookiness, or as a quick and flashy shorthand for psychedelic derangement.

Worse – on half of those occasions when you’re assured that you’re actually hearing a theremin (Good Vibrations, the original ‘Star Trek’ theme, early Portishead) what you’re actually hearing is a forgery. Based on motion detectors and on hands that aren’t allowed to touch anything, the genuine instrument is tougher to play than a greased fiddle. Hence (for those who want a quick route to the theremin sound without the sweat, physicality and sheer involvement of playing one) the slew of knock-off devices and plug-ins available for faking the flitter.

It’s all a little sad. Despite the efforts of a distinguished handful of composers (not least Shostakovich and Miklós Rózsa) the theremin passed quickly from being the sound-of-the-future to becoming a sonic trinket and a source of freaky icing – all via pop culture, counterfeitery and the Cold War. You could scarcely blame Léon Theremin if he were spinning in his grave (sounding a heavenly wavering burble of rage as he did so). Hearing a theremin played in a way that’s even slightly close to the original intent is something of a rarity these days. While he’s not exactly a purist, Cihan Gülbudak (better known as Meczûp) clearly takes his own theremin seriously enough to steer it back to roots-level.

On ‘Hanging From The Purgatory’s Pendulum’, Meczûp’s theremin is accompanied only by its own looped signals, and sometimes by a gauzy, delicate brushing of fuzz-noise shrouding the pure tone in a gentle, finely-milled distortion. Mostly, though, Meczûp suspends the instrument in wide space, sending its sliding, sustained tones out as a majestic keen. His control is exemplary, mastering the air-shaping swoops and pinches necessary to pull away from plain electronic tone and towards intimations of strings, pipes and carefully torn air. Where a little more flex is required there’s a whammy-pedal available, heaving the pitches up and down in tidal zooms, and giving the music the apocalyptic boom of a Messaien organ-blast.

Besides the skill of Meczûp’s fingertips, the other key ingredient in his work is locale. Based in Istanbul, he sits at the historic conceptual crossroads of East and West. Seemingly setting aside contemporary blendings of globalization and cyberculture, his music taps into older frictions and fertilizations. There’s an old-fashioned sense of discovery here. Geographies slide across each other and voices strain to mingle, from the earnestly mangled English of the song titles to the cross-sifting of the musical impulses. Throughout the album, echoes of the classical European yearn-to-order meet intimations of Eastern devotional. Despite Meczûp’s classic theremin technique his musical lines don’t have the chilly ethereality of the original approach. They sound more like ney flutes, duduks or zurnas – Middle Eastern wind instruments with their own connection to Sufi, shamanism and oral histories; to the angelic and diabolic aspects of spiritual experience; or the difficult memories of the region’s blood-mottled sway between the heights of civilization and the depths of brutality and pain. There are notes of beauty and agony here, calling up more than a few old ghosts.

Meczûp: 'Hanging From The Purgatory's Pendulum' (previous cover)

Meczûp: ‘Hanging From The Purgatory’s Pendulum’ (previous cover)

At its most basic, Meczûp’s music sounds predominantly Eastern (the brief Arabic piping of Shadow: A Parable) but the musical crossings-over are far more interesting. Beneath the long whining melodies that cap and guide A Tale For Lancinant Screws, a kind of slender and abbreviated suggestion of Renaissance counterpoint emerges. It’s less an outright structure than a kind of haunting, like the image of a face flattened out across an endless carpet. A similar device haunts The Ribald Genie, ghosting underneath a lonely melody which gradually alters from pure keen to distorted scream and finally to a melancholy sarangi moan. For the brief but wide-ranging Garoun A, more of these suggestions blur into whalesong glissandi: a succession of theremin voices from teetering soprano to slithering sub-bass chase each other before tailing off into echoes.

Meczûp’s sharp appreciation of lines of beauty dominates the record, although at points this is deliberately overstretch to the point of breakdown. On Puriest Morning of All Times, baroque intimation destroys its own bounds: a vaulting lead melody (first soprano, then alto) strides downwards into echo-space before more parts build into a looping, uneasy fugue. As it moves on, the theremin sound begins to rip and degrade, eventually becoming a mass of gargling sharp-edged rattles like a rockslide or a Geiger counter. Blossoming in Cemetery sits between Bach liturgy and Armenian lament, maintaining an ache and yearn for six minutes before the theremin’s translucent cloak of distortion cracks and dissolves, and the melody starts to reiterate as a scabrous insect buzz.

In spite of his austere tendencies, Meczûp allows a little fantasy into the mix for a couple of pieces, drawing on and transforming pinches of popular culture. The first of these is Kwaidan, rooted in Japanese ghost tales via Lafcadio Hearn and cinema. Relinquishing the counterpoint which informs the rest of the record, it brings out more of the Eastern melodies while walls of looped theremin churn in the background, fluttering and stuttering on a grand scale.

The second is The Bridge of Khazad-dûm – an etiolated isolationist drone which becomes perhaps the most powerful work on an album already full of grand-scale intimations. It takes its inspiration from Tolkien: specifically, that chasm-spanning subterranean stone bridge which (at a key point in ‘Lord of the Rings’) becomes a locus for death, despair and ruin. Meczûp interprets another aspect, capturing something of Tolkien usually drowned under torrents of merchandising: his valedictory quality, the way his stories shuffle and re-deal the racked old bones of history, romance and inevitable decay for one final mournful hurrah. Meczûp’s vision of the bridge is of an ancient, significant place deserted. Plangent teary layers of theremin fuse together, cold spaces emerge in the music, and entwined senses of antiquity and abandonment are caught in broad view.

In fact, this sense of stricken grandeur applies equally to the rest of the album. Meczûp’s eerie, assertive picking-over and teasing-out of elements within of his music feels like a week spent immersed in history. It has the same tasting of triumphs and fleeting beauty; the same dawning feeling that one somehow fits into something so much broader and complicated. Through it all, the theremin rises triumphant. Survival and vindication.

Meczûp: ‘Hanging From The Purgatory’s Pendulum’
BFW Recordings, BFW038 (no barcode)
Download-only album
Released: 1st March 2010

Buy it from:
BWF Recordings, Magyar Walltapper or Reverb Nation. 9-track version also available from Bandcamp

Meczûp online:
Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp

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