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April/May 2019 – upcoming jazz gigs – a massive Barbican celebration of London jazz from the Total Refreshment Centre (13th April); the Steam Down collective hit Shoreditch (24th April); Warmer Than Blood in London and Cardiff (22nd April, 21st May)

10 Apr

When landlords and developers mark a city building for extra, blander profit – and when they put the squeeze on an existing tenant – they don’t only change and narrow the future, they can also asphyxiate the past. I don’t mean that they somehow delete what’s come before, it’s more that they pinch it off and remove its potential for continuance. The meaning that’s associated with a building and what goes on inside it, its history, becomes obscured to people who’ve not had the chance to discover it yet; or to people who might, in the future, grow up nearby never knowing what used to take place there.

For myself, I feel pretty damn ignorant for not having known about Hackney music space Total Refreshment Centre until, ooh, last year. It seems that, in various forms, it harboured and encouraged music for at least half of my lifetime, curating the historical while encouraging the current and never losing touch of the ethos that music should be inherent to and conversant with its community rather than being a little rarified enclave. The fact that sometime, quietly, last summer, the TRC was forced to shut down (presumably to make way for luxury flats or something which can generate a greater ground rent) makes me angry. Fortunately, the place is resilient enough as an idea – effectively, as a movement – not to rely entirely on bricks and mortar. Scheduled gigs have continued (still run by the existing team but moved to other venues), the programs still run; the concept of the place still has legs.

In some respects the people involved with the TRC are making a virtue of their new and more itinerant existence, using it to spread the word a little wider; extending their ongoing work in what ‘Clash Music’ has called “a means of pursing social engineering, a way to build communities up at a time when the political establishment seem content to break communities apart… Music can be used to re-imagine your surroundings, to transform concrete, glass, and brick into something magical.” Still, it must make life a little tougher, a little more challenging, that much more of a forced hack at a time when it’s already pretty exhausting.

With that in mind, it’s good to see that the TRC gets its own jazz tribute – more accurately, its own self-propelled celebratory showcase – this coming weekend at one of London’s more inviolable culture fortresses, the Barbican. There’s an opportunity here to carp about centralization, or about how certain establishments are protected while others are not (and for distasteful reasons – race and class also have a role to play here), but let’s just sound the obvious note here and move on. Better to bounce back and roll on as the TRC are doing; better to celebrate the recognition and cooperation which such a show also represents.

There are still a few tickets available for what’s promising to be one of the events of the London jazz year. Blurb follows:

“Total Refreshment Centre is part and parcel of east London’s recent music history. The building’s musical journey started as a Caribbean social club and studio and evolved into the musical hub that it is today. On April 13th, the Barbican Centre will host Dreaming The City, celebrating a previously untold story in east London’s music history. To mark nearly thirty years of influential music in the building, TRC has teamed up with Boiler Room – the revered global music broadcasting platform – who will broadcast the gig live.

“The concept of the show is a live mixtape exploring three decades of musical excellence that took place inside an Edwardian warehouse in Hackney. The building began life as a confectionary factory and by the 1990s had become Mellow Mix, a Caribbean social club and rehearsal space. In 2012 it began running as Total Refreshment Centre, an influential studio and venue that has played an integral role in the upsurge of new London jazz, which is now gathering worldwide attention. The narrative of ‘Dreaming The City’ is inspired by the history of this building, made special by the communities that inhabited it over the years. This story, researched by writer Emma Warren, is explored fully in her new book, ‘Make Some Space: Tuning Into Total Refreshment Centre (And All Places Like It)‘.

“Over thirty musicians from the thriving jazz scene (including Cassie Kinoshi and her Seed Ensemble, drummer-producer Kwake Bass, Jazz Warrior Orphy Robinson, Tom Skinner’s Wildflower, folk-crossover artists Rozi Plain, Alabaster DePlume and Joshua Idehen) will team up to perform. Also on the bill – Chelsea Carmichael, Cherise Adams-Burnett, Crispin Spry Robinson, Deschanel Gordon, Donna Thompson, Dylema Amadie, Emma-Jean Thackray, Idris Rahman, James Howard, Joe Bristow, Leon Brichard, Maria Osuchowska, Miguel Gorodi, Mutale Chashi, Noriko Okaku, Oscar Jerome, Patrick Boyle, Rai Wong, Rio Kai, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Shirley Tetteh, Tyrone Isaac-Stuart, Yael Camara Onono, Yohan Kebede and more special secret guests to come. This milestone event will unfold over five chapters, blurring the lines of what jazz is and creating new, exclusive and unexpected collaborations.

“There’s a strong link between club culture and live music in today’s vibrant music scene – what some have called ‘jazz-rave’ – and Dreaming The City will offer an energetic journey through time, space and London’s rich culture. The evening will start with a celebration of Caribbean sounds, recognising the community that first established the space as a musical hub. Following this, we trace the contemporary lineage of jazz music between inner-city London, West Africa, the Caribbean and continental Europe. Expect a session showcasing household names premiering new outfits, dropping old classics and brand new tunes. The music will reflect the diversity of sounds that have been danced to at TRC, from reggae and dub, to Krautrock via jazz and West African grooves.”

Some glimpses…

 
…and here’s a short film about the state of London jazz (with plenty of TRC-ing) which was released into the wild a few months ago in January…


 
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Back in January I did some praise singing for Steam Down, the south London jazz collective who bring regular African-inspired but London-cooked communal music events to Deptford. For the benefit of those north and east Londoners who for some reason never cross the river, they’re playing Shoreditch’s Village Underground towards the end of the month.

Steam Down, 24th April 2019“Join Steam Down as they take over Village Underground, with members on the decks and some very special guests joining them on stage. Jumping off from the sonic springboard of Afrofuturism, grime and future soul, all fused together with the fearless spontaneity of jazz, Steam Down is an arts collective comprised of Ahnanse, Alex Rita, Brother Portrait, Sawa-Manga, Theon Cross, Nadeem Din-Gabisi, Benjamin Appiah, Dominic Canning and “Nache. The collective congregates mid-weekly for a live performance where healing vibes and compulsive dancing are just as important as the music. Previous sessions have included guest appearances from Kamasi Washington, Sampa The Great, Nubya Garcia, members of Ezra Collective, SEED Ensemble and Sons of Kemet. Every week proves to be a co-creative piece of magic where everyone’s participation matters.”


 
There’s a new Village Underground interview with Steam Down here, but below is part of what I wrote about them three months ago:

“(An) African-inspired collective ethos… a diverse, voluntary hive mind, their individualities fused and encouraged by common purpose… a simmering pot of phuture soul, West African rhythms and cheerful Afrofuturism, the rapid offset breakbeat-splash and electrophonic edge of grime and broken-beat, and (in particular) spiritual jazz. That said, they’re well aware that they should steer clear of romantic oversimplifications about roots. As Ahnanse remarked in an interview with ‘The Vinyl Factory’ last year, “the roots of what we are creating starts outside of that context, jazz is not the only source of improvised music in the world. It happens in many forms and many cultures, we all come from different spaces and cultures, and it isn’t black American culture, none of us were born there, so actually we are bringing all of those other experiences into this… In a society that is so hegemonic and monotonous it’s nice to surprise yourself and be surprised, by people that you know well.” More than anything else, Steam Down work is inspired by the interlocking of Afro-diasporan culture with week-by-week London life – the information-rich bustle and challenges of a world city made up of people from everywhere, many of them sometimes pushing (or knocking heads) against half-invisible restrictions and oppressions as well as providing broad-mindedness and opportunity.”


 
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Also this spring, guitarist/composer Chris Montague revs up his jazz trio Warmer Than Blood (with bass guitarist Ruth Goller and pianist Kit Downes) for a couple of month-apart gigs in London and Cardiff. As I noted when I wrote about them in February, between them they can draw on a massive range of potential influences (including Sephardic music, manouche, punk jazz, Latin folk and Maghrebian sounds, the bouncing imagined world-jazz of the F-IRE Collective, Chris’ six-string avant-mapping in Future Currents) but in practise tend to go somewhere else – somewhere more uprooted and peril-flecked. Compared to the broad communality of Steam Down or the TRC community, they’re coming from a different place – tenser, more abstract and (if we’re being honest) whiter – but it’s still a collective communal effort, just shrunk down to a smaller chamber and a slender triangular format.

Warmer Than Blood, 22nd April/21st May 2019

As I wrote last time, “all three are longtime friends and collaborators, seeking yet another new approach. They seem to have found it with Chris’ newest batch of compositions and improvisation-seeding situations, which he suggests consist of “intricate textures, dark pools of harmony, layered melodies, kinetic group improvisation and percussive prepared piano… fractious composed passages can inhabit the same sonic space as spare, ambient melodies, often described as melancholic and uplifting at the same time…” Introverted and ominous, their name-track’s a quiet etiolated piano exploration over a minimal pulsing guitar-chord cycle and locked-in bass rumble. The excerpt from a longer piece, FTM, is a gradual evolver in which Chris hovers in menacing sustain/volume-swell textural clouds and momentary dust-devils over ghost-Latin clicks and bass piano thuds (Kit muting the piano at both ends) before the trio expand into what’s partly a kind of haunted country music (like a Bill Frisell ensemble scoured to the bone by plains wind), and partly like a salsa band coming to terminal grief in a badlands dustbowl.”

Here’s a rare recent live recording and an album taster for their imminent debut…

 
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Dates:

Boiler Room and Total Refreshment Centre present:
BR x Total Refreshment Centre: ‘Dreaming The City’
Barbican Hall @ Barbican Arts Centre, Silk Street, City of London, London, EC2Y 8DS, England
Saturday 13th April 2019, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Warmer Than Blood:

Steam Down
Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England
Wednesday 24th April 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

February 2019 – upcoming London eclectic/multicultural gigs at Poplar Union – Grand Union Orchestra (22nd February); Mishti Dance (23rd February) with Conspirators of Pleasure, The Tuts, Kapil Seshasayee and Soundar Ananda

15 Feb

I don’t go down to Poplar that often, but despite its more confusing aspects – the hurtling convergence of the eastern motorway routes out of London; that strange dislocated/disassociated/dispossessed neighbour’s relationship which it has with the glittering towers of Docklands to the south – the place has always felt welcoming; from the wry hardiness of its shopkeepers to the gentle courtesy of the djellaba-clad pair of Muslim brothers (one twentysomething lad, one eight-year-old kid) who spotted me wandering (a lost, bald, bearded middle-aged white bloke) all nonplussed by the Limehouse Cut, and were kind enough to redirect me to Poplar Union.

PU still feels like a beacon for the area’s future – enthusiastically aspirational in its bright, clean, modern bookishness but also happily embedded in the area’s colourful swirl of cultures; decidedly unshabby but also entirely inclusive. Here are another couple of gigs coming up there this coming week.

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Grand Union Orchestra, 22nd February 2019

Sporting a thirty-plus roster of musicians from all across the world, Grand Union Orchestra have spent two decades playing and personifying an ethic of joyous multicultural cooperation onstage. With a tradition of creative diasporan work, and with an additional set of roots in left-wing community theatre, they’re a living rebuttal to British insularity. Usually there’s about eighteen of them on stage, drawn from a flexible roster of around thirty top-flight musicians from a variety of cultures and generations. You’ll see Bangladeshi, Chinese, English, Turkish, Caribbean, Roma, Bulgarian, Mozambiquian people and more, from striplings to grandmothers, all playing together, long accustomed to assembling rolling caravans of sound into which assorted musics – Carnatic and Bangladeshi classical, salsa, jazz – can be folded.



 
You can pick out the various components (even a quick dip will turn up players like Jazz Warriors trumpet veteran Claude Deppa, Carnatic violin virtuoso Claude Deppa, Roma accordionist Ionel Mandache, guzheng star Zhu Xiao Meng and a poly-hued battery of singers with backgrounds including fado, jazz, opera and Bengali classical) but you’re better off just enjoying the sweeping palette. Just looking at their gig flyers reminds me of the happy, souped-up neighbourly multiculture festivals in and around my primary school. It makes me want to bare my teeth against the chilly white monocultural wind that’s blowing from the future, from Brexit and from the surly side of Englishness; or – if I can’t do anything else – to at least turn up my collar, turn my angry back against the freeze and head for the lights, the warmth and the rhythms.

GUO’s current, workshop-driven project – ‘Bengal, Bhangra and the Blues’ – is helmed by tabla ace Yousuf Ali Khan: it leans back towards the music of the Asian sub-continent with classical ragas, Bengali songs and the aforementioned bhangra at the heart of it. Various young participants, having already enjoyed the previous week’s free instrumental youth workshops incorporated into the project programme, will be joining the main band for the concert.

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Mishti Dance featuring Conspirators of Pleasure + The Tuts + Kapil Seshasayee + Soundar Ananda, 23rd February 2019

I know Grand Union Orchestra, but I’m less familiar with PU’s Mishti Dance evenings and their Asian club/dance initiative. The idea strikes a fond chord of memories stemming from the Talvin Singh Anokha nights I’d occasionally attend in the mid-‘90s, in which all of the sounds I’d been vaguely aware of during an upbringing in multicultural Haringey suddenly seemed to grow up and stream together. Anokha, though, had its road laid down for it by the bhangra grooves and post-rave dance culture of the times, and while you could skulk up to the chillout room to listen to Shakti if you wanted to, it was predominantly about immersing yourself in sub-bass, remix chops and tabla frenzy.

Mishi, however, looks like a much looser bag: admittedly hung on the same British Asian peg but more tenuously, with room for just about anything and anyone with a Asian connection and in particular those who are following their own path out of the immediate cultural confines and bringing their innate cultural qualities to question, alter and enrich other spaces. The closest Anokha-type dance exemplar in this month’s gig looks as if it’s DJ Soundar Ananda of Indigenous Resistance, a French-Asian “conscious beats” deliverer, promoter and compilation curator working with “cutting-edge, futuristic, nu-skool, Eastern electronic music influenced by dub, dubstep, d’n’b, breakbeat, jungle, reggae.”

 
The Tuts, on the other hand, are a long way from Anohka beat culture, although I think Talvin and co would have appreciated their ethic. A fiesty, witty, self-propelled female throw-forward from the all-too-brief days of ’70s post-punk inclusivity, they’re a young DIY pop-punk trio of “proud Caribbean, English and Indian/Pakistani origin” and an immediate, salty working-class attitude of immediate self-assertion and street wit. Full of chop-and-change musical sharpness and girl-group zest (they’ve happily covered Wannabe, though there’s as much Fuzzbox or Slits to their vigour as there is Spice Girlhood), they’ll be inspiring girl moshers and wallflowers alike from Wolverhampton to Leicester, with little for old white gits like me to do but gently get out of the way, smiling as we do so. Bluntly inspirational.



 
The remaining two acts take us into delightfully eclectic and weird experimental pop and noise terrain. Bringing the majority of the weird noises are headliners Conspirators Of Pleasure: multi-media artists Poulomi Desai (who’s been in here before a few times over the year, toting her polydisciplinary stage shows and their festoonings of gizmos and collated contradictory content) and onetime Pop Group/Pigbag post-punk/funk/dub bassist Simon Underwood (once compared by Dennis Bovell to a white Robbie Shakespeare). Their adventures together have included helping to set Joyce’s ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ to music, and touring with Stewart Lee and other restless upsetters in the ‘Usurp Chance Tour’. Using repurposed tools of the cultural trade (Poulumi’s context-yanked sitar played with everything from an axe to a massage vibrator, Simon’s prepared bass guitar) plus assorted noisemakers, drone-sources, toys, stylophones and radios and a battery of makeshift audio-visual, they’ll spend their time onstage forking over textures and flotsam, touching on the industrial, on dance culture, on noisy improvised chaos and on the voices and ideas which emerge from this conflation.


 
Glaswegian-Asian singer-songwriter Kapil Seshasayee has parked himself on a junction where a variety of different ideas and approaches are coerced into meeting. He takes his beats from hardcore machine punk and Arca-ian experimental electropop; his guitar choices from a superimposition of Carnatic traditions and skinny-wire Hendrixian note-bending, crashes and hammer-on blues; his song structures from the kind of improvisational bardic rock which itself is drawing from griots or the ecstatic traditions which bubble away in various cultures despite having been vainly tarmac-ed over by Western rationalism.

His voice… well, I’m not entirely sure where that comes from. A beautiful Western/Indian rock clarion with hints of boy angel, Quwalli pronouncer and open-ended Beefheartian abstractioneer, it barrels up out of a position of assured strength only to lyrically splatter itself across parts of the landscape you’d not even noticed before. I could wave in Tim Buckley, Thom Yorke, Nick Harper and Van Morrison as whiter comparisons; I could point to some of the fiery ecstastic pitches and timbres of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, or toward youthful bluesmen with an axe to sharpen; but I still wouldn’t get it across to you or do it the right kind of justice.

Bald and impressively bearded (beating me on both counts, in fact), Kalil additionally decorates his wrenched-cable music with electronic fizz and spookings plus the eldritch acoustic wails he can scratch out of a waterphone. As for his songs, whether they’re upended experimental blues or club-leaning avant-pop abstractions (and often they’re both), they sound like distracted revelations in train marshalling yards, Kapil as a spasming, pointing Blakean figure continually spotting and sweeping the hidden numinous into his narratives and fracturing them into cracked landscapes. Somewhere inside Kalil there’s a bloke who wants to sing straightforward young-man songs about love gone wrong. Fortunately, his own brain continually waylays him in between impulse and expression.



 
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Dates:

Grand Union Orchestra: Bengal, Bhangra and the Blues
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Mishti Dance presents:
Conspirators of Pleasure + The Tuts + Kapil Seshasayee + Soundar Ananda
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Saturday 23rd February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

June 2017 – some of London’s more theatrical upcoming gigs – cartoon critters run amok with ‘Cat & Mouse’ (8th & 9th June); plague, trauma and rhythm with Grand Union Orchestra’s ‘Song of Contagion’ (13th-17th June); Debbie Wiseman and The Locrian Ensemble play music from ‘Wolf Hall’ (June 18th)

26 May

Three theatrical/televisual fusion gigs in London for the coming month…

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'Cat and Mouse', 8th/9th June 2017

1927 Theatre Company and Village Underground present:
‘Cat and Mouse’
Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England
Thursday 8th + Friday 9th June 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here

“The world premiere of ‘Cat And Mouse’! A theatrical animation experience involving an animated cat and mouse and a band of dogs. Featuring the animations of Paul Bill Barritt (1927) with live music by Officer Pup (composer Laurence Owen and band), introducing Miss Lesley Ewen as The Law.

“You could say we’ve seen it all at VU, but in actual fact there are still plenty of firsts. This’ll be one of them: our debut in-house theatrical production. We’ve been waiting for just the right project to come along for some time, so when Paul said he wanted to do a theatrical animation experience with anthropomorphic animals, we knew we’d waited long enough.


 
“The cultural history of anthropomorphised animals is long and deep, as long and deep as the river of imagination itself. We see ourselves reflected back at ourselves within those furry beings. ‘Cat and Mouse’ is one such development. Taking its germ from the great peddler of anthropomorphised cat and mouse chaos Mr. George Herriman (creator of the ‘Krazy Kat’ stories which in turn inspired ‘Tom & Jerry’), it proceeds in a zigzag line through the gamut of human idiocy from art to war, from technology to industry, from civilisation to love all via the shenanigans of various humanimals mostly of the rodent/feline variety with some notably canine overseers holding court over the proceedings. Sticking within the traditions of artistic purveyance there will be visuals in the form of animations, sets and costume, there will be live music and there will be storytelling. A theatrical animation experience unlike anything seen before, alike to everything seen once upon a time, long ago . . .

“‘Cat and Mouse’ sets up the familiar dichotomy of good and evil, navigating the extremes of human idiocy from art to war, from technology to industry, from civilisation to love all rendered through the shenanigans of a rodent, a feline and the dogs of law. With a band performing the original score live, don’t expect to sit through this – witnessing Cat and Mouse will be like finding yourself inside a television set. “Made of old ‘toons and new tunes, it’s like an arthouse ‘Itchy and Scratchy’ where the action spills out into the audience,” says Paul. “Expect high-octane action, fun and frolics, extreme (cartoon) violence, moments of edification, sadomasochism, a face machine, skeletons, dogs, dancing, and more.”

“As we veer further towards duplicitous times of fake news and alternate facts, the idea that we can define what is purely good or evil becomes a tempting focus. Yet with cartoonish reality TV characters as world leaders, the notion that we’re all made up of these shades of good and evil becomes increasingly obscured. Predator and prey, good and evil, and our instincts to protect those that are vulnerable – ‘Cat and Mouse’ couldn’t be more timely.”


 
Here’s a more in-depth interview with Paul Barritt about the project, from ‘Run Riot‘…

* * * * * * * *

Grand Union Orchestra, 13th-17th June 2017

Grand Union Orchestra and Wilton’s Music Hall present:
Grand Union Orchestra: ‘Song Of Contagion’
Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, Whitechapel, London, E1 8JB, England
Tuesday 13th June to Saturday 17th June 2017, 7:30pm (2:30pm – schools matinee on 15th June, family show on 17th June including “meet the musicians” event)
– information here, here, here and here

“Ever wondered what would happen if you teamed up a distinguished scientist with internationally-acclaimed jazz and world musicians? The answer is ‘Song Of Contagion‘, the brainchild of composer Tony Haynes and epidemiologist Elizabeth Pisani and featuring Grand Union Orchestra, which explores the mismatch between areas where diseases are suffered and those where the money is spent, bringing cold statistics vividly to life on stage.

“It begins in the East End, round the corner from Wilton’s, where cholera raged in Victorian times; eradicated in London by building the sewers, it continues rampant in Kolkata today. A moving series of songs tells the stories of combatants and civilians affected by shell-shock, for which treatment is still scarce. Exuberant dance rhythms describe how dengue and Zika spread unnoticed across Africa and the Caribbean until Zika hit the headlines, threatening to spoil the Rio Olympics. A big-band piece celebrates the activism that brought HIV/AIDS to public attention and an old music hall song dramatises the danger of heart disease posed by the junk food industry.

“‘Song Of Contagion’ features thirty of Grand Union’s finest musicians and singers from musical traditions worldwide, who add immense impact and authenticity to the performance – Indian musicians evoking Kolkata past and present; brilliant jazz soloists giving voice to the trauma of soldiers and refugees; highlife, merengue, soca and samba beats dramatising the spread of Zika.”



 

Thursday 15th June features a schools matinee and a free pre-evening show at 6.00pm in which Sam Johnson and students from Community Music describe their contribution to the project with audio illustrations. There’s also a free post-show discussion at 9.30pm on Friday 16th June in which Elizabeth Pisani talks about ‘Turning health statistics into music and song’. On Saturday 17th June (at 4:15pm) the extra event is ‘King Cholera and the Great Metropolis Walk‘ a two-hour tour with guide Sophie Campbell exploring cholera in London’s East End.

* * * * * * * *
Anton Lesser as Thomas More

Live at Zédel presents:
‘Wolf Hall live’
Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Sunday 18th June 2017, 7.00pm
information

“Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novel ‘Wolf Hall’ was transformed into a riveting six-part drama by the BBC to huge acclaim in 2015. Accompanying Thomas Cromwell’s machinations and hushed conversations in shadowy palace corners was original music by Debbie Wiseman, performed by members of The Locrian Ensemble of London; the soundtrack CD reached no.1 in the classical charts.

“Debbie has over two hundred film and television soundtracks to her name including ‘Wilde’, ‘Wolf Hall’ and, more recently, ‘Dickensian’. Consisting of some of the country’s finest musicians, the Locrian Ensemble is at the very top of its game, delivering stunning performances which range from the blisteringly dramatic to the heart-rendingly mournful.

“Tonight, Debbie and the Ensemble perform selections from her acclaimed score, alongside extracts from ‘Wolf Hall’ and its first sequel ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ read by Anton Lesser (who played Thomas More in the BBC series). The concert roughly follows the narrative of the television series with Lesser’s intense readings setting the scene for a musical commentary. The most intense part of the concert must surely be the depiction of Anne Boleyn’s execution, as the impassioned readings leave the audience hanging on every word, with music that is gripping and moving in equal parts.”


 

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