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May 2018 – upcoming London classical/experimental gigs – Hen Ogledd’s freak-folk roar plus performances of Conlon Nancarrow, Alice Jeffries and original work by Naomi Sato, Lore Lixenberg and Serge Vuille at Kammer Klang (1st May); Tre Voci & Kit Downes EP launch (15th May)

21 Apr

Kammer Klang, 1st May 2018Kammer Klang presents:
Hen Ogledd + Lore Lixenberg + Naomi Sato + Serge Vuille
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Tuesday 1st May 2018, 7,30pm
– information here, here and here

Headlining this coming month’s Kammer Klang is the shifting noise-folk improv collective Hen Ogledd: named after the ancient Celtic kingdoms of northern Britain and centring on improvising harpist Rhodri Davies and the distorted bass and acoustic guitar of Richard Dawson (once described as “a one-man Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band“).

Richard and Rhodri initially used the name for a 2013 duo album before expanding it to a larger project. Writer-musician Dawn Bothwell (a sometime video-art-curator who also plays “altered electronic torch songs” as Pentecostal Party and drum machine experiments as half of Blep) joined as an equal partner in 2016, her vocals and electronic instrumentation (synths, loops, delay pedals, telephone) simultaneously pulling the project deeper into freak-noise and adding forthright song structures. On this occasion, Rhodri, Richard and Dawn will be accompanied by a fourth member – frequent Dawson collaborator Sally Pilkington – on keyboard, synth and voice; further thickening a startling brew of sound which seems to excavate, parasitize and transform ancient folk music with a roaring dirty-electric experimentalism.


 
The rest of the bill is solo sets of various kinds.

Outstanding avant-garde mezzo-soprano Lore Lixenberg will be flying in from her Berlin base to perform her own multi-tracked vocal version of Conlon Nancarrow‘s ‘Study for Player Piano No. 31’ (one voice live, the rest on tape). Nancarrow specialised in piano pieces with a forest of ecstatic multiple parts: impossible for one human to generate on a single standard piano with only ten fingers, but more readily performable via the automatic pedal-pumped player piano (whose system of playing programmed music from punched paper rolls like a computer or music box proved prime for hijacking).

Lore’s apparent aim is to demechanise the music – respecting its original method but bringing it closer to human performance. Though she’s jokingly dubbed this “Nankaraoke”, in a recent interview with NMC Records she also revealed “the idea is to keep the consistency of timbre of the player piano but with the liveness that Nancarrow couldn’t find in his lifetime. I was talking to David Alberman about the first time Nancarrow heard his music played in ensemble; apparently he nearly cried, having been told his whole life that his music was unplayable…”

 
Saxophonist and reedist Naomi Sato (of Duo X Project, Karooshi Vlinder Vangers and assorted orchestras) will be performing an unspecified solo set on shō (the Japanese 17-pipe bamboo mouth organ). To complete the evening, the Fresh Klang event of new and rare music will be performed by percussionist Serge Vuille – premiering a new work by emerging young British composer Alice Jeffreys, whose music “explor(es) emergent temporal paradoxes in listening”.


 
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I always seem to be doubling up news of Kammer Klang and Nonclassical events, and this time’s no exception. In mid-May, Nonclassical are putting on another Tre Voci gig as the cello ensemble launch their new ‘Auro’ EP with regular collaborator, jazz pianist and organist Kit Downes. (This follows up their previous shared concert) back in February.)

A quick burst of press release for the unfamiliar:

“Formed in 2012, Tre Voci is comprised of Norwegian cellist Torun Sæter Stavseng and British cellists/composers Gregor Riddell and Colin Alexander. Their repertoire ranges from medieval and renaissance vocal music to new commissions and their own compositions. The trio is also focused on structured improvisation, performing with live processed electronics as well as explorations of Scandinavian folk music.

“Kit Downes is a BBC Jazz Award winning, Mercury Music Award nominated, solo recording artist for ECM Records. He has toured the world with artists such as Squarepusher, Thomas Strønen, Aidan O’Rourke and Django Bates and written commissions for Cheltenham Music Festival, London Contemporary Orchestra, Stavanger Konserthus, Cologne Philharmonie, BBC Radio 3 and the Wellcome Trust.”




 
As is usual with Tre Voci concerts, there will be a mixture of site-specific improvisations plus written pieces, including original works by all performers. Presumably the setlist includes Kit’s Tre Voci ‘Auro’ commission ‘The Cult of John Frum’ plus the fifteenth century Josquin des Prez and Johannes Ockeghem pieces which also appear on the EP.

Nonclassical presents:
Tre Voci & Kit Downes
The Old Church, Stoke Newington Church Street, Stoke Newington, London, N16 9ES, England
Tuesday 15th May 2018, 8:00pm
– information here, here and here

Tre Voci + Kit Downes, 15th May 2018

 

February-March 2018 – music and more from across the European borderlands and migrations, as part of the ‘Marchland’ performance season in London (various dates between 7th February and 3rd March) including KultNett, Sefiroth, Carneval String Trio, Åkervinda, Nikos Baroutsakis, Maiden In The Moor, Shiry Rashkovsky, Fran & Flora and Bardos Band…

1 Feb

Sprawling out over a long month between early February and early March, Théâtre Volière’s Marchland performance season will transform the City of London’s Bridewell Theatre into a recreation of “a secluded European theatre” aiming – via discussion and performance, music and acting, photography, discussion and art – “to explore what it means to be European today… everything that is good and bad about the human response to being pushed up against “otherness”…. (to) come together to share and unpick these European stories in an attempt to answer the question, “how do we live together?”…” Slipping in under the frowning threat of a hard, bruising Brexit and the rising of surly, xenophobic British fences, it’s a welcome and timely thing.

In principle, ‘Marchland’ is theatrical. Threaded through the season are performances of Volière’s own ‘Arnika’ dealing with the corrosive effects of dreadful secrets and guilt, post-Nazi occupation, in an Alsace town (exemplifying “the tragic choices forced on a border community trapped in a cycle of international vengeance” and of its quadralingual companion piece ‘Retour au pays‘, “exploring the multi-lingualism of border regions and its effect on their cultures” via the story of Alsatian poet Andre Weckmann and his journey – as a forced military draftee – through the Wehrmacht, the Russian front and the Free French). Also on offer are two pieces by La Soupe Compagnie: ‘Macao et Cosmage‘ (their headphone-driven children’s tale of colonialism – “part Japanese kamishabaï paper theatre, part pop-up storybook” – performed in a tiny twelve-person booth), and their poetry-and-puppetry-incorporating ‘Evocation’, a transposition of ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ (Albert Giraud’s Symbolist poem-cycle of conscious, candid estrangement and displacement) to a Victorian-era Brighton Beach where it’s fed through the experience and cyclic memories of a traumatised young female refugee (scored by electro-acoustic composer Antoine Arlot). There’ll also be a festival-spanning interactive attempt (featuring the combined efforts of Marchlands artists and audience) to create and represent a borderland country of the imagination.

Yet – point for point and performer for performer – the majority of the festival is musical, bringing together a fascinating sweep of players from across Europe and interspersing them with British musicians exploring transcontinental roots and history (whether these are their own – as in the case of British-based Sephardic ensemble Sefiroth – or where their curiosity, studies and sympathies have led them.

Here’s a breakdown of the musical events, condensed from various bits of the programme text.

Carneval String Trio

Carneval String Trio

Carneval String Trio (made up of violinist Kamila Bydlowska, viola player Shiry Rashkovsky and cellist Timothée Botbol) have created a fascinating programme of twentieth-century music for us. Vanished kingdoms and shifting borders here, in an Eastern Europe where identities and allegiances were torn apart under the most savage circumstances imaginable.

“They’ll be playing pieces by Zoltán Kodály, Ernő Dohnányi and Gideon Klein, works that shock and mesmerize in equal measure. Each of these composers used folkloric themes to express their unique national identities, and yet these identities were rewritten for them many times as borders shifted and ideologies fought over their homelands. This is music that challenges us to ask “what is left of our identity when it is warped and usurped by the forces of nationalism?”

“The cultural and political history of the former Yugoslavia features large in this year’s ‘Marchland’. Greek guitarist Nikos Baroutsakis joins the conversation with a recital of music from the Balkans and the wider region, where Europe meets the Middle East. He’ll be playing pieces inspired by the folk culture of Armenia, the Balkans (including the former Yugoslavia) and Turkey.

“Carlo Domeniconi’s Variations on ‘Uzun İnce Bir Yoldayım (I’m On A Long Narrow Road)’ – a Turkish folk song of pain and suffering – opens the programme. It is followed by four traditional Armenian dances arranged for guitar by Iakovos Kolanian. Finally, a rare performance of Dusan Bogdanovic’s ‘Six Balkan Miniatures’, composed for and dedicated to, world peace during the Yugoslavian Civil War.


 
Fran & Flora are cellist Francesca Ter-Berg and violinist Flora Curzon. BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction described them as fiercely passionate and a string duo bound for glory, and that says it all about their approach to music making and their musical influences. For ‘Marchland’, they will be exploring musical styles from Eastern Europe, and how they are influenced by ongoing exchanges and tensions across borders and migrating communities. Expect soulful laments, exquisite songs, irresistible dance tunes, and tales of their musical adventures as outsiders intent on incorporating traditional music-making into their own, unique style.


 
“In addition, they’ll also perform in a double bill of music and conversation with Nikos Baroutsakis (extending their programme, their distinctive music-making interspersed with anecdotes and insights from their musicological travels in the Balkans) and, in another event, pairing up with Alex Batesmith’s dramatised talk ‘Blackbirds and Blue Helmets’ (about his experiences as a UN war crimes prosecutor in Kosovo and his travels in the former Yugoslavia).

Bardos Band

Bardos Band

“We were keen to programme work for ‘Marchland’ that explores the way culture is transformed as it crosses borders. ‘The Oak of Two Greens’ (from mediaeval music specialists Bardos Band, combining the talents of Sophia Brumfitt, Rebecca Austen-Brown, Corinna Silvester, Arngeir Hauksson and Leah Stuttard) shows us that this is an ancient and ongoing process.

“This is a melting-pot of rare and deeply-affecting music, woven around an ancient folktale. A resourceful harper charms his audience to sleep in order to steal their magical harp – The Oak of Two Greens. The harp belongs to the king of the Tuatha da Dannan; a legendary tribe which, according to legend, brought music to Ireland. Bardos Band follow the route this music might have travelled, using voice, harp, medieval fiddle, gittern, flutes and symphony to create an enchanting wash of sound.”

(Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any embeddable examples of the Bardos’ treatment of ‘The Oak Of Two Greens’, but it’s close enough to Christmas for me to offer you this…)


 
“The Bardos Band’s Sophia Brumfitt and Leah Stuttard also make up the early-music due Maiden In The Moor. For their own ‘Marchlands’ performance they’re reviving the music of Occitania, a vanished kingdom that once straddled Southern France and Northern Spain.

Maiden In The Moor

Maiden In The Moor

“The Occitan Troubadours sang of loyalty, love and longing, and their language and music survived through travelling poets and illuminated songbooks long after their culture was devastated by the Albigensian Crusade. Their work had a profound influence on European music and culture, and echoes of it can be heard in lieder, folk music, and the work of the singer-songwriters of our own time. The programme includes Troubadour and Trouvère songs, songs from the courts of Aquitaine and the Languedoc, and Spanish pilgrim songs.”

(Although there’s not much Maiden In The Moor material online, here’s an example of Occitan songcraft…)


 

“Norway’s KultNett bring together some of the foremost folk musicians and storytellers from beyond the Arctic Circle to examine the history of the peoples of Northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Sápmi, the land of the Sámi people. Storytelling, a fast and furious fiddle and the traditional ‘joik’ of the Sámi are interwoven to create a performance that explores and interrogates the dynamics of cultural and ethnic hegemony in the Nordic region of Europe.


 

Ignacio Evangelista: 'After Schengen'

Ignacio Evangelista: ‘After Schengen’

“Adapted especially for Marchland and illustrated by a multi-media presentation, this is a truly immersive experience; a rare insight into a rich and vibrant borderland culture from the Northernmost reaches of Europe. They’ll also play in a separate double bill with Bardos Band, presenting an extended version of their Marchland programme.

“Inspired by Ignacio Evangelista’s photography sequence ‘After Schengen’, we brought together three artists to create an interdisciplinary event, ‘Before and After Schengen’, exploring the politics and the poetry around notions of the vanishing border.

Shiry Rashkovsky

Shiry Rashkovsky

“In front of a screening of his work, Ignacio will be talking about his fascination with Europe’s disused border posts. His talk will be interwoven with poems by Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes, written in response to Ignacio’s images and read by George himself. The whole will be framed by a unique performance of musical fragments and improvisations devised by Carneval String Trio violist Shiry Rashkovsky (also an associate member of the Philharmonia Orchestra).

This is a truly international collaboration that encapsulates perfectly the spirit of ‘Marchland’). Expect to find yourselves pondering the ephemeral and often arbitrary nature of borders. ‘Before and After Schengen’ will also be performed as a separate double bill with another extended performance of Kultnett’s ‘Sound of the Arctic’.


 
Sefiroth is an international collective of musicians founded by brothers Nick and Alex Roth to explore traditional Sephardic repertoire. music from the descendants of the Jews who left Spain or Portugal after 1492. Sung in Ladino (a language primarily spoken by Sephardic Jews), these ancient songs weave stories of love, loss and yearning for home, and evoke the lands where the diaspora settled: Iberia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

“The group’s arrangements are as porous and wide-ranging as the history of the Sephardim, combining acoustic and electric instruments, improvisation, modern harmonies and trance-inducing rhythms. They’ll also be performing separately alongside Maiden In The Moor in a double bill; setting the revived music of a vanished culture alongside the living, evolving traditions of a banished people.


 
“Sweden and Denmark’s Åkervinda perform their unique, modern Scandinavian folksongs. Jazz singers at heart, and influenced by artists such as Björk and The Real Group, they share a deep love of folk music. Through improvisation, they breathe new life into traditional songs, singing stories of women through the ages in a programme of haunting harmonies and dazzling improvisations inspired by women’s history and the shifting populations of Europe. Their appearance at Marchland marks the opening of a UK tour and the release of their latest album. They’ll also be performing in a separate double bill with Maiden In The Moor.


 
“What can we say about our show ‘A Vanished Kingdom’? Not much, since it’s actually mostly your show and you’ve yet to devise it! Come and help make a season-long, open-access interdisciplinary event to be presented on the closing day of the season.

“On three consecutive Saturdays we’ll be meeting to create our own Vanished Kingdom – an imaginary borderland with its own culture, geography, history, language… All devised by you. If you’re a visual artist, writer or performer, if you’re someone who wants to share ideas in a supportive and respectful environment, if you’re someone who enjoys playing and make believe, then join us and artists from the Marchland season to help make something truly unique. You are welcome to come and go as you please for the duration of each workshop, and even to just quietly observe the controlled chaos! It’s completely free to participate.

On the 3rd March, we’ll be presenting the audience with a free ‘Vanished Kingdom’ event featuring the stories, songs, dances, artwork, history, geography of a European borderland of our participants’ collective imagination. As an opener to the presentation, there’ll be another chance to hear a performance by Åkervinda (giving us their perspective on women’s history and cross border co-operation) plus a one-off set from three members of Sefiroth (Alex Roth, Alice Zawadzki & Olesya Zdorovetska).

“Expect, perhaps, robust and lively debate about the tensions between regional identity and cross-cultural fertilisation, absurd flights of fancy and charming anecdotes, and a rich tapestry of differing viewpoints and traditions. Looking forward to meeting you at the crossroads!”

All events are at The Bridewell Theatre, 14 Bride Lane, Blackfriars, London EC4Y 8EQ, England. Dates are as follows.

Single concerts:

  • Carneval String Trio – Wednesday 7th & Wednesday 14th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Nikos Baroutsakis – Thursday 8th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Fran & Flora – Friday 9th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • KultNett’s ‘Sound of the Arctic’ – Friday 9th February 2018, 7:30pm; Tuesday 13th February 2018, 1:15pm; 16th February 2018, 1:15pm; 17th February 2018, 9:00pm
  • Bardos Band’s ‘The Oak of Two Greens’ – Monday 12th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Before and After Schengen – Thursday 15th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Sefiroth – Friday 16th February 2018, 7:30pm; Saturday 17th February 2018, 2:00pm; Friday 23rd February 2018, 7:30pm
  • Maiden in The Moor – Wednesday 28th February 2018, 1:15pm
  • Åkervinda – Friday 2nd March 2018, 1:15 pm

Double-bill concerts:

  • Nikos Baroutsakis + Fran & Flora – Saturday 10th February 2018, 2:00pm
  • Bardos Band’s ‘The Oak of Two Greens’ + KultNett’s ‘Sound of the Arctic’ – Saturday 10th February 2018, 7:30 pm
  • ‘Before and After Schengen’ + KultNett’s ‘Sound of the Arctic’ – Thursday 15th February 2018, 7:30 pm
  • Alex Batesmith’s ‘Blackbirds and Blue Helmets’ + Fran & Flora – Tuesday 20th February 2018, 7:30 pm
  • Maiden in the Moor + Sefiroth – Thursday 22nd February 2018, 7:30 pm
  • Åkervinda + Maiden in The Moor – Thursday 1st March 2018, 7:30 pm

‘A Vanished Kingdom’:

  • Free-entry workshops – Saturday 10th February 2018, 9.30am; Saturday 24th Feburary 2018, 2.00pm, Saturday 3rd March 2018, 10.00am
  • Presentation concert (plus pre-concert performances by Åkervinda + Alex Roth/Alice Zawadzki/Olesya Zdorovetskaya) – Saturday 3rd March 2018, 2:00 pm


All further details at the festival website, the Marchland Facebook page and the Bridewell event pages, with blogging here throughout the course of the season.
 

Marchland logo
 

January 2018 – upcoming London rock and folk gigs – twists and weaves with Prescott, Lost Crowns and Kavus Torabi (11th January); a carpet of acid-folk/chanson dreams with Alison O’Donnell & Firefay (18th January); a lysergic lattice with a Knifeworld double-set (20th January)

6 Jan

Prescott + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 11th January 2018

Prescott + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 11th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Reunited with guitarist Keith Moliné (who had to sit out some of their engagements last year), instrumental avant-rockers Prescott bring their springy barrage of warm, bouncy tune-mozaics back to London at Servant Jazz Quarters. On the evidence of last year’s ‘Thing Or Two’ album, the band (completed by spacey fretless bassist/composer Kev Hopper, keyboard quibbler Rhodri Marsden and swap’n’go drummer Frank Byng) is growing like a tricksy hedgerow. New layers, extensions and scrabbling digressions continue to bud out of their riotous cellular approach; and out of the games of post-minimalist chicken which they use to hold and release each other from their stack of cunning microloops.

It’s still fair to say that Prescott’s relationship with their own instrumental cleverness is an edgy and oblique one. Fine and rebellious players all, they’re too suspicious of straight prog, jazz or lofty experimentalism to have a straight relationship with any of them. Consequently they come across on record as jitterbug countercultural eggheads – ones who play obstinate, transfigured parallels to clavinet jazz-funk (post-Miles, post-Headhunters) or twinkly-marimba’d Zappa passages, but who nail it all down to a precise post-punk, post-virtuoso sensibility. Still, this only sketches part of the Prescott picture while missing the heart of it. Despite the band’s tendencies towards deadpan stage presence (and the eschewment of anything even vaguely wacky), each and every Prescott gig ends up as a generous, audience-delighting puzzle of pulses, traps and tickles on the funny bone.

Maybe if they’ve got anything as corny as a raison d’être (that is, beyond executing Kev’s pieces with deftness, style and pleasure) it might be about evaporating the frequently frustrating and gummed-up relationship between musicality, suffocating ideology and good humour. For all of their self-imposed restrictions, Prescott are in some senses a freer band than almost anyone else in their field: an expansive Lego set of musical options concealed in a deceptively small box.


 
Thanks to both the burgeoning stature of Knifeworld and his helming of the post-Daevid Allen Gong (plus entanglements with Guapo and Cardiacs, and his garrulous showings on radio and in print), Kavus Torabi is rapidly becoming a senior figure at the culty end of psychedelic art-rock. Even his rough-and-ready solo acoustic performances are becoming a draw in their own right, although he’s mostly (and modestly) restraining them to support slots, presenting gravelly-voiced house-party strumalongs rather than electric-genius showcases. Such is the case with his opening slot for Prescott, which also sees him broaden his guitar playing with trips to the harmonium.

On previous form, expect established songs, songs-in-progress and song unveilings from Kavus’ Knifeworld catalogue (plus visits to his old work with The Monsoon Bassoon and possibly a bit of latterday Gong-ing if any of it translates away from the group’s electric Om). If you’re hoping for Guapo stuff, you’d better wait for one of his gigs with them. If you want him to rip into a Cardiac song, you’re best off catching him guesting at one of the growing number of Spratleys Japs shows (increasingly become rolling parties celebrating the Cardiacs spirit, pulling in hit-and-run appearances from the band’s alumni and songbook).


 
Invigorating as a Prescott/Torabi summit might be, the night’s real draw is Lost Crowns: only the third live venture for this carefully-concealed solo project from Richard Larcombe. You might have seen the Crowns step out at either one of a culty pair of Alphabet Business Concern shows in 2013 and 2017: otherwise, you’ve not seen or heard them at all. If you’ve followed Richard’s on/off work singing and guitaring for fraternal duo Stars In Battledress (alongside his brother James), you’ll have some idea of the rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection to expect. Complex, artfully-meandering songs built from delightfully byzantine chords and arpeggios that cycle through ever-evolving patterns like palace clockwork; accompanied by rich, lazy clouds of hilarious, hyper-literate, wonderfully arcane lyrics; all sealed by an arch, out-of-time English manner which (in tone and timbre) falls into a never-was neverworld between Richard Sinclair, Stephen Fry, Noel Coward and a posh, Devonian Frank Zappa.

Reared on English folk and art-rock but steeped in both Chicago math-rock and (via radio, television and film) in sophisticated comic absurdity from the likes of the Marx Brothers, Spike Milligan and Vivian Stanshall, Richard is in fact one of the most aggravatingly unknown, self-effacing, even self-concealing talents of his generation. In the fifteen years since his last, short-lived solo foray Defeat The Young he’s kept his own work closely hidden, apparently preferring the shared burden and brotherly warmth of occasional shows with the similarly-obscure Battledress, or to play supporting roles with William D. Drake or sea-shanty-ers Admirals Hard. Were he not so damn elusive, he’d be regularly cited alongside the likes of Colin Meloy or Neil Hannon as an exemplar of bookish art-pop wit. For the most part, though, Richard seems happiest with his other career (in children’s theatre, an area in which, incidentally, he’s equally talented) although I suspect that the truth is that his perfectionist’s need for control gets a little on top of him, though never enough to ruffle his brow. According to Richard, this particular live surfacing’s going to be a “limited-capacity probably-not-to-be-repeated-often event”, but he clearly means business, having armed himself with the kind of musical crack squad that can do his work justice – London art-rock go-to-guy Charlie Cawood on bass, Drake band regular Nicky Baigent on clarinet, the enigmatic “Keepsie” on drums and a doubled-up keyboard arrangement of Rhodri Marsden (hopping over from Prescott) and Josh Perl (coming in from Knifeworld and The Display Team).

As regards firmer, more specific details on what Lost Crowns will be like, Richard himself will only murmur that the songs are “quite long, with a lot of notes.” Rhodri Marsden (a man more given to gags than gush) has chipped in with a wide-eyed “utterly mindbending and completely beautiful”; rumours abound re ditties about synthesia and/or the quirks of historical figures; and what’s filtered through from attendees at those previous ABC shows is that the Larcombe boy has seriously outdone himself with this project. The rest of us will have to wait and see. Meanwhile, in the absence of any available Lost Crown-ings to link to or embed, here are a couple of live examples of Richard’s artistry with Stars In Battledress.



 
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Alison O’Donnell + Firefay
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 18th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Same time, same place, but one week later – another rare treat in the shape of a London appearance from “fairy queen of acid folk” Alison O’Donnell, allied with Anglo-French folk-noirists Firefay.

Alison O'Donnell & Firefay, 18th January 2018The possessor of a warm declamatory folk voice (one well suited to storytelling), Alison began her musical journey at convent school in 1960s Dublin with childhood friend Clodagh Simonds. Writing and singing folk songs together, the two became the core of mystical folk-rockers Mellow Candle: scoring a faintly lysergic orchestral-pop single before either girl had turned seventeen, Clodagh and Alison then spent five years exploring and finessing the baroque/progressive folk sounds eventually captured on Mellow Candle’s one-and-only album ‘Swaddling Songs’.

Ahead of its time (and mishandled by the record company), it followed the example of other recent genre-stretching folk albums by Trees and Nick Drake and sold poorly. By the time that the disillusioned band disintegrated in 1973, Alison was still only twenty. She spent the next three decades travelling in a slow arc across the world and across music: spending long stretches of time in South Africa, London, and Brussels before returning to Dublin in 2001, she passed – en route – through traditional English, Irish and Flemish folk bands (including Flibbertigibbet, Éishtlinn and Oeda) as well as stints in theatre and satire, and in contemporary jazz band Earthling. As she entered her mid-fifties, though, Alison’s career entered a surprising and fruitful second stage. She finally began releasing material under her own name – initially with multi-instrumentalist Isabel Ní Chuireáin (for the part-trad/part-original ‘Mise Agus Ise’ in 2006), and then alone or with her band Bajik from 2009’s ‘Hey Hey Hippy Witch’ onward.

Meanwhile, the slow transition of ‘Swaddling Songs” from forgotten ’70s flop to early Noughties word-of-mouth lost classic brought Alison into active collaboration with a fresh generation of musicians who’d been captivated by the record. Agitated Radio Pilot’s Dave Colohan came in for on 2007’s ‘World Winding Down’, Steven Collins of The Owl Service for 2008’s ‘The Fabric of Folk’ EP, and Graham Lockett of Head South By Weaving for 2012’s ‘The Execution Of Frederick Baker’. Colohan in particular has become a regular ally and co-writer, playing a big part in Alison’s 2017’s ‘Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace’ album and inviting her into his Irish psych-folk collective United Bible Studies. There have also been teamups with metal bands Cathedral and Moonroot, with folktronicists Big Dwarf, and with Michael Tyack of psych-folkers Circulus.

Among the most promising of these latterday collaborations has been her 2012 teaming with Firefay (fronted by the trilingual Carole Bulewski) for the much-admired ‘Anointed Queen’ album. This month’s concert revisits that project and beyond, Alison and Firefay performing in a meticulously interwoven partnership which will dip into songs from ‘Anointed Queen’ in addition to Firefay material and songs from Alison’s own back catalogue, from Mellow Candle through to ‘Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace’. Come expecting a world/wyrd-folk wealth of keyboard drones, strings, bells, reeds and ouds, all mingled in a lysergia-flecked folk-rooted song continuum stretching from Ireland to Brittany and Flanders (across the British Isles and London, with look-ins from Gallic chanson, kletzmer, urban baroque, boozy sea songs, tints of Canterbury art-prog and even hints of the Sudan and Middle East.)


 
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Knifeworld, 20th January 2018Guided Missile presents:
Knifeworld (double set)
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Saturday 20th January 2018, 7:30pm
– information here , here and here

Just over a week after their leader disports himself (mostly) unplugged and exposed in Dalston, Knifeworld themselves burst back into action in Islington, getting a whole show to themselves at the Lexington. Currently revelling in the flexibility and range of tones available to their eight-piece lineup, they’ll be drawing on their last couple of years of songwriting and performance by playing a full acoustic set followed by a full electric set.

If you’re not yet familiar with Knifeworld’s work, you’re probably new to the blog – ‘Misfit City’ has been saturated with it ever since the band first emerged eight years ago – look back over past posts to acclimatise yourself to their dancing, springy, psychedelic mix of oboes, guitars, saxophones, drums and warm, wood-rough head-next-door vocals. It’s a skewed but precise brew of pointillistic acid-patter pulling in sounds, tones and attitude from five decades of music – you can spot ’50s rockabilly, late ’60s lysergic swirl, full on ’70s prog/soul complexity, ’80s and ’90s art pop noise and suss and beyond – all topped off by Kavus’ particular wide-eyed worldview. Eccentric and garbled on the surface, his songs still couch pungently honest depths of feelings, fears and hope if you’re prepared to push past the distraction of tatters and gags – as with two of his mentors, Tim Smith and Daevid Allen, Kavus treats psychedelia as a tool to explore, question and deepen the subject of human existence rather than trance it away in a blur.

Exceptionally excited by what’s coming up, the band are promising “a gig like no other…. your chance to hear many rarely- or never-played songs before. A whole night of delirious, mindbending and beautifully strange music.” Below is forty-one minutes of slightly shaky, slightly scratchy Knifeworld footage from the Supernormal 2016 festival, in order to light the fuse…


 

January 2018 – assorted English and Scottish gigs – piano, soul, art pop and verbiage with Society of Friends, Blert Ademi, Stone Deep and a host of poets at the SOIF Soiree (London, 5th); cutting an altfolkrock swathe with a Trembling-Bells-flavoured show by Orion’s Belt, Tom Slatter and Marcus Doo (Glasgow, 6th); experimental pop with Snails, Edward Penfold and Eugene Capper/Rhodri Brooks (Bristol, 13th)

1 Jan

Starting off the New Year, there’s a diverse brace of upcoming shows dotted around the country… In London, there’s the Society Of Imaginary Friends’ monthly musicians’n’poets soiree (this month, one that’s particularly heavy on the poets). In Glasgow, there’s a “feast of psych and folk wonderment” linking the folkworlds around Trembling Bells and Alasdair Robert with arch proggy steampunk songwriting. Down in Bristol, there’s “an evening of pop pleasures and wonky wonders.” Read on…

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Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree, 5th January 2018

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
“For Those in Peril on the Sea” Soiree: Society of Imaginary Friends + Blert Ademi + Debra Watson + Stone Deep + Amy Neilson Smith + Ernie Burns + DJ Miracle Rhythm
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 5th January 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here and here

From the Society:

“A still boat in a raging storm, our January Soiree – the month of cataclysmic cyclones battering our little island, foam fills the air, cool seagulls ride the tempest and the Society Of Imaginary Friends gather in their cabin around a crackling fire and tell stories of things past and things to come.

“We are joined by the fabulous young pianist Blert Ademi; brilliant, hard hitting poetess Debra Watson; new intriguing soul music from Stone Deep; charismatic performer, Shakespearian beauty and wonderful poetess Amy Neilson Smith; lusty, revealing super-wordsmith Ernie Burns; on the wheels of steel, the vinyl singles DJ extraordinaire DJ Miracle Rhythm; and the Society Of Imaginary Friends taking you back to a beautiful solstice evening in the Glastonbury Green Field. (More amazing performers to be announced – watch this space!) Cordon bleu vegan delights available to purchase from top chefs Kathy and Roger. Free entry. Dinner from 6pm, live performances start at 8pm.”

I couldn’t find anything on – or by – Stone Deep; but here’s a look at the rest of the lineup so far, beginning with an old SOIF track…






 
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A day later, there’s the Scottish event: a delightful, consensus-bucking meld of the credible, the incredible and the extramural.

Orions Belt + Tom Slatter + Marcus Doo, 6th January 2018

Orion’s Belt + Tom Slatter + Marcus Doo
Nice’n’Sleazy, 421 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, G2 3LG, Scotland
Saturday 6th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Headliners Orion’s Belt are a “seven-piece behemoth” of latterday Glasgow-via-Canterbury psychedelic folk, sometimes compared to “Kevin Ayers & The Whole World with Judy Collins handling the vocals”. They’re led by singer Lavinia Blackwall, best known as the voice of Trembling Bells but a longstanding mainstay of Glaswegian early music and avant-folk. Prior to their work as Trembling Bells, she and Alex Neilson collaborated as free-improv folkers Directing Hand: outside of the Bells they still sing together (alongside Harry Campbell and Katy Cooper of Muldoon’s Picnic) as four-part a capella voice quartet Crying Lion, who blend madrigal, folk, Gregorian and Sacred Harp elements into original songs.

In comparison, Orion’s Belt sounds like one of Lavinia’s more easy-going projects but ought to be magical nonetheless. Also on board in the band, picked from Glasgow’s gutsier psych, prog and folk underground, are members of “ongoing sloth-themed rock opera” collective Sloth Metropolis, prog-folkers Big Hogg, and “neo-psychedelic ninjas” Helicon (plus perhaps a few more people from Trembling Bells). Sorry – it still seems to be too new to have generated any recordings or Youtubings yet, but as a compensation here’s Lavinia’s five-year-old version of Richard Farina’s ‘The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood’ performed with Maddy Prior, Thea Gilmore and the late Dave Swarbrick.


 
Originally with mid-noughties post-rockers Ancient Monsters, Highland-born singer-songwriter Marcus Doo has since made the transition to modern-day folk; initially with his own Spanish-based Secret Family, who explored the genre via their “Magpie Returned the Ring” album and scores for a Spanish Royal Theatre version of Ted Hughes’ ‘Gaudete’ and for Chema Rodríguez’s ‘Anochece en la India’. He’s been described by author Graeme Macrae Burnet as “a songwriter with a rare mastery of both melody and lyrics… his songs are satisfying as a rounded pebble in your hand, and he performs them with such passion and intensity that I would defy anyone not to be moved.” Since his 2015 return to Glasgow, Marcus has been working with sympathetic figures including Alasdair Roberts (with whom he’s recently toured), Alex Neilson and Mike Hastings of Trembling Bells, and Tom Davis of Big Hogg.

All of the latter appear on Marcus’ debut solo effort ‘Kid Wonder’, a loosely conceptual folk album about “an older man looking back at his life, towards death and in search of any Golden Apple (an old Norse emblem of eternal youth) of memory that may help him accept what has gone and what is about to come. Through various adventures to an ever-clearer destination he is emboldened by memories of places and people past, and gives thanks to them.” Other contributors to the record include Trembling Bells’ Valinia Black, various other members of the Doo family (including Marcus’ recently deceased grandfather), France-based flamenco-ist Genaro Alonso and Clova fiddler Aoife McGarrigle.

To have a listen to ‘Kid Wonder’ you’ll need to visit Marcus’ own music page, but here’s another substitute in the shape of an old Secret Family track.


 
In the middle of the bill is sardonic London bard-of-the-fantastical Tom Slatter, whose reliably arch and intricate songbook of weird-fiction songstories (steampunk murders, tentacled monstrosities running amok) has built up across a string of theatrical albums and EPs since the early noughties. Hailed for “epic tales of darkness and light (which) fuse the bile of Roy Harper with humour and a sharp musical mind”, he’s previously delivered them live via a single strummed acoustic guitar, but is now generally accompanied by electric guitarist Gareth Cole. Here’s the video for a particular bit of 2015 Slatter tentaculation:


 
In case you think that Tom sounds like an odd, forced fit in the midst of this sincere Scottish folk stew – and it’s fair to admit that a man who calls his own concert album ‘Live, Discomfiting and Overly Whimsical’ might be bringing the hurt down on himself – it’s worth remembering that (in between the Lovecraft/Sterling/GameCon rampages) his catalogue features scattered, glowing moments of unguarded psychedelic beauty such as the ‘Earthbound’ single. On top of that, Tom’s most recent solo album – last year’s ‘Happy People‘ – took an unexpected sideswerve away from the monster galleries, the top hats and the cog-driven toy theatres into a much more nuanced consideration of the human condition. Tom probably wouldn’t thank me for pointing this out, mind; and if you’re solidly unconvinced, come along and heckle him anyway. By many accounts, he loves a good heckle, especially if topped off by a dose of cunning wordplay.

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Snails + Edward Penfold + Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks, 13th January 2018

Pop Or Not Promotions and Undergrowth present:
Pop/Not: Snails, Edward Penfold, Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks
Cube Microplex, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England
Saturday 13th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

In the Cube Microplex (the squirreled-away Bristol theatre-turned-cinema/venue which recently hosted a rollicking showing of Cardiacs’ ‘Mare’s Nest’ concert film plus The Scaramanga Six), there are some more workings along the pop fringe. Over to the promoters…

“Led by songwriter Dan Weltman and described as “eerie, beautiful, modestly majestic” by Stephen McRobbie of The Pastels, five-piece experimental pop band Snails generate moments of suburban guitar pop reverie for lonely people walking to the shops. Their sound bears the influence of ’60s folk and psychedelia with a peppering of ’90s pop. Mavericks such as Syd Barrett and Nico mingle with the likes of the Gorky’s or even Belle and Sebastian; though, having no desire to recreate the past, Snails sensitively combine a passion for classic sounds with inventive songwritting to create their own heartfelt pop music. For this unique Bristol show they will be playing brand new material from their upcoming second LP.


 
Edward Penfold’s music is a blend of the old and the new, nostalgic but not dated. More than anything it sounds like now. It’s music from the heart – a hazy collection of sounds and moods, sometimes upbeat, sometimes down, but always genuine and always captivating. His lyricism reflects the eloquence and observation of a very English sort of poetry, seeing the depth in the shallows of life, the profundity in the mundane; all accepted with a matter-of-factness that is reflected in the driving impetus in every song, whether slow or fast or groovy. His new album ‘Denny Island Drive’ came out in late November 2017.


 
“After two years of ongoing collaboration and development, Cardiff twosome Eugene Capper and Rhodri Brooks have just released their beautiful debut LP ‘Pontvane’. Individually, both Capper and Brooks have developed back catalogues of diverse musicality and influence, incorporating elements of surf, lo-fi, Americana and psych. Their first release as a duo further emphasises this eclecticism, effortlessly stitching together disparate sonic fragments into a cohesive, compelling whole. Take a listen…”

 

December 2017 – upcoming London folk gigs – Gaelynn Lea at The Old Church (6th December); Tartine de Clous, Alasdair Roberts & Neil McDermott with guests Ivor Kallin & Sholto Dobie and The London Hardingfelelag (11th, 12th December); Gitta de Ridder and The Balkanoes at Collage Nights (13th December)

2 Dec

I keep missing Gaelynn Lea’s shows… and missing the opportunity to post about them. With her return to London for another gig this season, I’ve got a chance to catch up.

Blow the Fuse presents:
Gaelynn Lea
The Old Church, Stoke Newington Church Street, Stoke Newington, London, N16 9ES, England
Wednesday 6th December, 2017, 8.30pm
– information here and here

Gaelynn Lea, 6th December 2017A classically-trained twenty-year veteran of violin playing whose limbs have been shortened from birth by osteogenesis imperfecta, Gaelynn plays her fiddle like a cello and sings original songs drawing from the well of traditional American, Irish, Scottish and English folk sources and blending them with her own ideas and experience. Her wistful honey-gravelled singing, her songwriting artistry and her textured playing (supplemented by improvisation and loop-pedal) is powerful and universal enough to have won NPR Music’s 2016 Tiny Desk Contest, seeing off competition from around six thousand other American songwriters and performers.


 
Meanwhile, her performance presence and physical courage have moved audiences to tears and applause in her native Minnesota and across American and Europe (and have won her both admiration and a shared stage from Low’s Alan Sparhawk, country bluesman Charlie Parr, and New Acoustic touchstyle guitar star Billy McLaughlin). In addition to her musicality, Gaelynn is a powerful disability community advocate – speaking and blogging forthrightly and fearlessly about iniquities and the need for social change to accommodate and support disabled people, and covering subjects from everyday practical challenges to the expression and enjoyment of sexuality. Come for the music, stay for the strength; maybe leave with the encouragement to help make things better.

* * * * * * * *

Over in Homerton, the brilliantly ramshackle Old Dentist venue continues its rewarding partnership with Muckle Mouth, hosting yet another enthralling fringe-folk gig (although this one’s of a more traditional bent)…

Muckle Mouth, 11th December 2017

Muckle Mouth and The Old Dentist present:
Tartine de Clous, Alasdair Roberts & Neil McDermott, plus Ivor Kallin & Sholto Dobie (11th)/The London Hardingfelelag (12th)
The Old Dentist, 33 Chatsworth Road, Homerton, London, E5 0LH, England
Monday 11th December 2017, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
Tuesday 12th December 2017, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

“We are honoured to host a very special collaboration between French harmony-singing trio Tartine de Clous, legendary Scottish guitarist and folk singer Alasdair Roberts and fellow Glasgwegian fiddler Neil McDermott over two nights at The Old Dentist following their residency at Cube Microplex in Bristol.

“Tartine de Clous (Geoffroy Dudouit, Thomas Georget and Guillaume Maupin) are a singing trio originally from the department of Charente in western France. Following in the footsteps of some of the great French groups of the late twentieth century folk revival (such as Mélusine and La Bamboche), they sing largely unaccompanied three-part harmony arrangements of the traditional songs of their native land.


 
“In an echo of The Auld Alliance, Tartine de Clous will perform in collaboration with the Scottish songwriter, guitarist and folk singer Alasdair Roberts and his fellow Glaswegian, fiddler Neil McDermott over two nights at The Old Dentist. Alasdair has worked with Drag City Records for some twenty years, releasing records featuring both interpretations of traditional songs and those featuring his own songwriting. In addition to being a fine fiddler in the Scottish traditional style, Neil McDermott is currently researching the musical and political engagement of the 1960s Scottish folk scene with the anti-nuclear movement.

 
“They are joined on the 11th by veteran improviser Ivor Kallin (onetime co-curator of the 2:13 improvisation club, once rather unpleasantly described by The Times as “a bearded Scotsman given to stream-of-consciousness spew”) and Muckle Mouth curator Sholto Dobie (on viola and diatonic symphony hurdy gurdy respectively), and on the 12th by The London Hardingfelelag playing Norwegian tunes for Hardanger fiddle.”

There’s not much out there on the London Hardingfelelag (though I did find out that their ranks include Sylvia Hallett, Catherine Martin of the Gabrieli Players, Clare Salaman, Tania Simon, Clifford Rowe and until a few years ago, the late Wilf Gibson of ELO/’Spirit of Eden’ fame), but I did turn up a couple of videos of Ivor and Sholto, supplemented by one of the Hardanger fiddle in action…




 
* * * * * * * *
I caught up with the Collage Nights shows in Wood Green last month, just in time to learn about the final two gigs in their season. The last one rolls around mid-month, featuring Dutch-English singer-songwriter Gitta de Ridder and Balkan-styled party band The Balkanoes.

Collage Nights, 13th December 2017

Collage Nights presents:
Gitta de Ridder + The Balkanoes
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Wednesday 13th December 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Gitta’s debut album ‘Feathers’ came out last year. With its songs of family, friends and lovers (as opposed to hill gods, surreal landscapes or twisted urban short stories) it has a conventional tinge for the current time, but the delight is in the detail and the musicality. She’s a Joni Mitchell disciple less in the sense of pursuing the confessional or the coffee-table mope, more in the delightful flowering of orchestral chords and cats-cradle harmonies (as well as in her domestic wit).

As for the Balkanoes, they provide the standard pellmell Eastern European spaghetti-junction of Greek, Ottoman, Slavic and Romani musical threads, but have been known to career off into ‘Star Wars’ covers as well.

There’s also a special guest, but they’re keeping quiet about who that might be.




 

November 2017 – London and Birmingham instrumental giggery – Kabantu at 1901 Club (16th); Alex Roth double bill playing with Future Current and scoring Kasia Witek’s ‘One Wall of Me’ for Olie Brice & Ruth Goller (17th); Steve Lawson with Bryan Corbett at Tower of Song (19th)

9 Nov

A quick sweep through three diverse mid-month gigs in London and Birmingham, covering duets of loop-bass and trumpet, some global acoustic fusion, and a double-bill of experimental guitar trio plus double-bass-accompanied dance piece…

* * * * * * * *

Kabantu, 16th November 2017

Hattori Foundation presents:
Hattori Foundation Rush-Hour Recital: Kabantu
1901 Club, 7 Exton Street, Waterloo, London, SE1 8UE, England
Thursday 16th November 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here

“Reinventing global sounds, rewriting the rulebook – winners of the Royal Over-Seas League Competition 2017, Kabantu (meaning “of the people”), is a five-piece hailing from Manchester who unravel new marriages of music from around the globe to celebrate the space where different cultures meet. Formed in 2014 at the Royal Northern College of Music and combining the virtuosity of classical training with the opportunity to explore music from around the world, Kabantu musically reflect their interest in global cultures, arrangement and improvisation.

“The instrumentation comprises violin (Katie Foster), cello (Abel Selaocoe), guitar (Ben Sayah), double bass (Ali McMath) and percussion (Delia Stevens). Vocal harmonies from South Africa coalesce with everything from Celtic reels and Brazilian samba to Balkan folk music and beyond. Kabantu use music to bridge countries and cultures, creating an exuberant and joyful sound. They have just recorded their debut album with Mercury-nominated producer Gerry Diver and very much look forward to releasing it alongside a UK-wide launch tour in February 2018.

“The programme will include Scotland/Good Call (a set of two tunes, one penned by the group’s Edinburgh-born violinist Katie Foster and one traditional, fused with Kabantu’s take on Scottish music, including bowed banjo woven with intricate rhythmic decoration) and Ulidzele (a traditional song brought to Kabantu by their South African cellist Abel Selaocoe, using a blend of African vocal harmonies preceded by vibrant chanting and percussion to tell the story of a funeral celebrating a life, rather than mourning it.”



 
* * * * * * * *

London Jazz Festival presents:
Kasia Witek’s ‘One Wall of Me’ (featuring Olie Brice & Ruth Goller playing music by Alex Roth) + Future Currents
Jazz Cafe POSK @ POSK (Polish Social & Cultural Association), 238-246 King Street, Hammersmith, London, W6 0RF, England
Friday 17th November 2017, 7.30pm
information

Kasia Witek/Future Currents, 17th November 2017“Conceived specifically for a new company of three dancers and two musicians, Kasia Witek‘s new performance piece ‘One Wall of Me’ investigates and celebrates the intelligence of the body. Through the practice of embodied awareness, the performers awaken a sense of belonging, togetherness, and joy. Watch and listen as the meditation on endless interconnectivity unfolds before you.

“An original score by award-winning composer/improviser Alex Roth, drawing on the deep sonorities and physicality of double bass (played live by renowned improvisers and “double double bass team” Olie Brice and Ruth Goller), provides an integral counterpoint to Kasia’s highly physical choreography, danced by Elisa Vassena, Stella Papi and Tora Hed.

Future Currents is an electric guitar ensemble formed by Alex Roth to explore the full range of the instrument’s sonic potential. Bringing together three of the UK’s most acclaimed improvising guitarists, (Alex, Chris Montague and Chris Sharkey, who between them are members of Troyka, Sephiroth, trioVD, Otriad and Blue-Eyed Hawk), the group creates new music of extremes, informed as much by composers like Morton Feldman, Frank Zappa, Olivier Messiaen and Richard D James as by pioneering guitarists such as Fred Frith, Robert Fripp, Marc Ducret and Bill Frisell.”


 

* * * * * * * *

Steve Lawson & Brian Corbett, 19th November 2017

Steve Lawson with Bryan Corbett
Tower of Song, 107 Pershore Road South, Kings Norton, Birmingham B30 3EL, England
Sunday 19th November 2017, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Back at Tower Of Song in Birmingham, bass guitarist, loop musician and ToS/’Misfit City’ regular Steve Lawson embarks on a launch gig for his latest album ‘PS, You Are Brilliant’.

The sunny title may seem to counterpoint Steve’s recent set of more sombre-toned releases such as ‘If They Had Won’ and ‘Referendum’, mourning the enmity, deprival and confusion of Brexit and the austerity age (as well as providing a restful break before he reimmerses himself in the polemical communitarian thrash/protest metal of Torycore later in the month). However, it seems that the music is more of an extension of the work on his last full album ‘The Surrender Of Time’ (“dark, dissonant layers of sound coupled with glitchy, wonky hip-hop beats and odd time-signature chance-based loops that bring an even more complex set of relationships between the various layers at work”).

The title itself is a quote from and tribute to the late arts producer Roanne Dods (of the Jerwood Foundation and Small Is Beautiful) whom Steve describes as “one of the most relentlessly encouraging people I’ve ever come across… she brought a sense of possibility to every conversation, and alongside that was so, so good at actually making things happen, at organising and pulling together teams to make sure that those ideas, that impetus and all that amazing encouragement came to fruition. I think about her pretty much every day, as I do things that she encouraged me to do, as I reach to be the best that I can be in every area of my life, and pass on that encouragement to others.”

Joining Steve at Tower of Song is “one of my most favourite collaborators ever as special guest – Bryan Corbett on trumpet. Bryan is one of the most brilliant improvisors I’ve ever worked with – he has an otherworldly ability to arrange and orchestrate his sounds on the fly, using subtle effects and exemplary technique to lift everything he plays on to a higher level. It’s been way too long since we last played together, and this will be our first ever duo gig.”

The eticket deal includes a free download of If They Had Won (one of the tracks from ‘PS, You Are Brilliant’). Have an advance listen to it here…


 

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.”
 

November 2016 – upcoming London gigs – a dash through the weekend (26th, 27th) – various adventures in international folk music, experimental music, hip hop and underground rock via Tuesdays Post, Daylight Music, Laura Cannell, Nest Collective Baba Yaga’s Hut and others…

23 Nov

This week finds me ill, exhausted, busy and needing to catch up with things outside the blog – and hence unable to go into the usual detail. Consequently, the usual semi-coherent stammering of recommendations is being cut short. I’m just going to offer a few quick notes and pointers to my picks from this London weekend’s explosion of interesting concerts, and will let you catch up with them yourselves.

Daylight Music 240, 26th November 2016On Saturday, Laura Cannell‘s hosting her ‘Memory Mapping’ afternoon at Daylight Music, including an improvised duet between herself and fellow alt.violinist Angharad Davies, the coastline sound creations of former ‘Wire’ writer Jennifer Lucy Allan and what looks like a Charles Hayward piano piece which may or may not be a song cycle. I’ve already previewed that here a few weeks ago (complete with sounds and visions), so go back and have a look.

The Song Collectors Collective Gathering, 2016At the same time, an incredible wealth of acoustic, folk and international-indigenous music talent will be riding into east London for two twinned and overlapping Nest Collective events at the same impressive Dalston venue – St Mark Church, a grand Early English Gothic Revival pile sometimes described as “the East End’s cathedral”.

Beginning in the morning, the Song Collectors Collective Gathering celebrates and presents the people who conserve rare oral culture within their communities in Britain, Ireland and beyond; and explores ideas spinning off from that. This year it features (among others) storyteller Hugh Lupton, tireless folk archivists Doc Rowe and Paul Wilson, ethnomusicologists Angela Impey and Shzr Ee Tan, and ethnobotanist Sarah Edwards. Topics explored will include song collecting in South Sudan and Taiwan, Doc’s vast archive of unseen videos of Britain’s great traditional singers, political-musical activism on the internet, and “plant knowledge collected with the Songman”.

Starting up in the afternoon is Unamplifire – a jaw-dropping seven-hour assemblage of international folk talent which, at a better time, would warrant a whole post to itself. Traditional and curated music from England, Ireland, Eastern Europe and West Africa, Okinawa and Taiwan, both pure and cross-pollinated; with encompassed styles including griot, London psych-folk and deep-probing acoustic pop and instrumentation including kora, whistles, violins, acoustic guitars, electronics and – above all – the human voice in all of its diversity. For the full list of Unamplifire players, take a look at the details below.

Unamplifire lineup, 2016
 
Tuesdays Post, 26th November 2016Having successfully transferred from north-east London to west London, Tuesdays Post are staging another gig of electronic-slanted progressive/improvisational music on Saturday evening. This week, founder/regular Georgina Brett picks up her voiceloops to engage in a pair of superbly cluttered duets. One of these will be with Jono Podmore (the theremin, delay and ring modulator–wielding Metamono member and Kumo mastermind, who’s promising to bring along an extra selection of intriguing technological gizmos), and another with electro-acoustic instrument inventor Tom Fox (creator of the Springything, the Multi-Dronemachine and the Twitter-triggered Hummingbird). Tom will also be appearing as one-third of improvising experimental textural noise trio YOAF (the other two thirds being Jon Saunders and Tim Yates). Interactive visuals will be provided by Hanzo.

Dälek + Necro Deathmort, 26th November 2016Baba Yaga’s Hut (who haven’t featured in ‘Misfit City’ for a while, thanks to buggered-up mailing list problems) are also doing the honours with two interesting sounding gigs over the weekend. Each of them features what’s becoming a regular Baba Yaga format: an intriguing well-known underground import plus a home-grown Baba regular.

The first of these is an electro/beat fest with long-lived New Jersey hip-hoppers Dälek (whose dense, industrially-slanted noise-stew has annoyed purists and thrilled listeners since 1998) and edge-of-the-seat electronicists Necro Deathmort whose tangled fusion of doom metal, droning dystopian science-fiction synth noise and free-jazz echoes sees them flit like plague mosquitoes from genre to genre. The second is a free showcase for all-female Finnish trio Olimpia Splendid (whose Can-like psychedelic grooves, dogged dour-skew riffing and growly babydoll vocals have been gathering them plenty of attention over the last couple of years) and London pagan “aggrocultural punktronicist” trio Snapped Ankles (the ones who dress up in striking topiary costumes as wild woodwoses, swaying behind various customised instruments like giant hedge carvings while picking out noisy ritual rhythms and post-rural, post-industrial chanting).

Olimpia Splendid, 2016
 
All of this going on… and I’m too knackered to drag myself to any of it. The story of my year, really.

Addresses, links, times etc below.

The Nest Collective presents:
Song Collectors Collective Gathering 2016
St Mark Church Dalston, St Mark’s Rise/Colveston Crescent, Dalston, London, E8 2LJ, England
Saturday 26th November 2016, 10.30am to 6pm
information

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 240: Laura Cannell presents “Memory Mapping”: Laura Cannell + Charles Hayward + Mythos Of Violins + Jennifer Lucy Allan
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 26th November 2016, 12.00pm
– free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information

The Nest Collective presents:
Unamplifire 2
St Mark Church Dalston, St Mark’s Rise/Colveston Crescent, Dalston, London, E8 2LJ, England
Saturday 26th November 2016, 4.00pm to 11.00pm
information

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Dälek + Necro Deathmort
Corsica Studios, 4-5 Elephant Road, Elephant & Castle, London, SE17 1LB, England
Saturday 26th November 2016, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Tuesdays Post present:
YOAF + Jono Podmore + Tom Fox & Georgina Brett
The Muse Gallery, 269 Portobello Road, Ladbroke Grove, London, W11 1LR, England
Saturday 26th November 2016, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Olimpia Splendid + Snapped Ankles
Birthdays, 33-35 Stoke Newington Road, Stoke Newington, London N16 8BJ
– free event (but sign up for tickets) – information here and here
 

November 2016 – upcoming London classical gigs – Daire Halpin & Jean Kelly in David Wallace’s ‘London Irish Reflections’ (14th)

13 Nov

Some quick news on an interesting-sounding concert tomorrow, which I’ve only just picked up on:

'London Irish Reflections', 14th November 2016
Irish Heritage presents:
Daire Halpin & Jean Kelly: David Wallace’s ‘London Irish Reflections’
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Monday 14th November 2016, 7.00pm
information

‘London Irish Reflections’ is a new song-cycle for soprano, acoustic and electric harps and electronics, which merges two distinct art music traditions – Western classical and traditional Irish – and which is based on the reflections and insights of the London Irish community. The piece came about through Cork-born cousins and musicians Daire Halpin (soprano) and Jean Kelly (harp) commissioning a piece from a Kilkenny-born musical polymath (composer, pianist, conductor and dancer David Wallace) in order to explore their interest in the diverse and sometimes contradictory experiences of those, like themselves, who’d emigrated from Ireland to London.

Thought up by a four-person creative team, all of them London Irish (with the fourth being ‘Guardian’ journalist and deputy business/consumer affairs editor Dan Milmo), the piece expanded into a communal musical reflection on the experience of Irish immigration to London within current living memory. Drawing on Dan’s interviews with attendees at the Southwark Irish Pensioners project, it was supplemented by similar discussions with family members and friends within the London Irish community, including Dan’s conversations with members of the Bloomberg group ‘Paddy Chat’ and a swathe of people ranging from working artists to manual labourers who laid the foundations of the London Tube train network to the chief executives of several major London firms.

The song cycle is structured around various themes – including displacement and belonging – which surfaced as common shared threads within Dan’s various interviews, with the words of the interviewees have been rearranged to both form and inform multi-perspective reflections throughout the piece. Dan comments “I found a lot of the discussions at the Pensioners Project very moving because the interviewees had so many fascinating stories to tell about themselves but they had never been recorded.”

Jean confesses that “we were moved by the tales of hardship endured by the audience members – a generation of Irish emigrants who arrived in London in the 1950s and ’60s. The comparison to our own trouble-free, racism-free experience of moving to London was shocking to me, and I came away feeling that I owed a huge debt to this group of people who contributed so much to change the attitude towards Irish people in Britain, and who allowed my transition from Cork to London to be so smooth.” However, ‘London Irish Reflections’ actively celebrates the community’s experience as much as dwelling on its hardships. Daire adds “being an emigrant myself, I found a lot of the literature focused on the darker, tragic side of life as an emigrant. I wanted to explore the experiences of other emigrants and find a way to share our stories so we can reach out to the many, many people whose lives have been touched by emigration.”

David Wallace adds: “I have tried to create a sound world for each of the bodies of text that allows the message behind the text to really shine through. Working with both concert and electric harps helped to create a contrast in sound world that the text seemed to contain, one where the old and the new collide with the same agenda: the sense of loss at having to relocate.”

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For something slightly similar and imminent – musically different but based around community vox pops (admittedly the pre-Brexit voices of depressed communities in southern England) – you could compare and contrast this with Billy Bottle & The Multiple’s ongoing roadshow ‘The Other Place‘, which rolls into London next Sunday. This has also reminded me of ‘I Could Read The Sky’, the 1999 Nichola Bruce film on the London Irish emigrant experience, which was soundtracked (with typically mournful rhapsody) by Iarla Ó Lionáird. I’ll have to dig that one out again…
 

November 2016 – upcoming gigs – the glorious 12th: some of many gigs scattered around England on my birthday tomorrow – Mother, North Sea Radio Orchestra, ILL, Nick Costley-White, India McKellar, Alice Zawadski, Merrick’s Tusk, Snowapple, Captives On The Carousel, Mark Lewandowski, Steve Strong, Shield Patterns, Jamie Safiruddin, The Yossarians, Boy & A Balloon, Bruxa | Cosa, Ed Dowie, Carl Woodford, Andy Or Jenny, Patrons…

11 Nov

Tomorrow I turn forty-six. About half of those years have been spent as an on-and-off writer, scrambling round the edges of music and music culture, attempting to understand this great amorphous art form with its thousands of doors and voices. I had a sombre, or at least a serious, preamble planned: one of those reflective commentator essays that you see on many of the more literate blogs. I threw it away.

Instead (and in keeping with what ‘Misfit City’ has been up to for most of the year), here’s a particularly long garland of gig notices. It’s not here to illustrate any particular school of thought, being the usual melange of tastes and forms – jazz, folk, art-punk, acoustic singer-songwriter, prog, performance art, drone, classical fusion and lush noise. It’s that particular kind of broad, inconsistent, credibility-trampling aural palette which (back when I started doing this in the mid-’90s), wasn’t suggested much outside of the pages of ‘Organ’ or the less austere corners of ‘The Wire’, or indeed ‘Misfit City’; but which now seems to be almost a mainstream stance.

Some other day – perhaps some other birthday – will be the right time for an essay or a grand declaration. If I’ve got a point to make right now (if only by implication and example), it’s that at a tired, fairly battered forty-six I’m still curious, still enthusiastic, still in the business of learning; at a time and place in life which might otherwise ossify my tastes and reduce music to just another commodity or flattened signifier. Spread out over this post are details on concerts, all of them in England, all of them scattered across my birthday. There’s no way I could attend all of them, even with an entirely free hand, but all of them attract me; and at any one of them you’d have found me leaning against a wall, pen and pad in hand, taking notes, looking for new thoughts.

I’ve already posted about the iamthemorning/Tim Bowness teamup for the iO Pages festival, but I can’t really squeeze in the flight to the Netherlands. (Besides, I’m catching them in London on Monday). I’ve also posted about the evening’s Hallkvist/Taylor/Goller/Hayward jazz-fusion show (plus a side order of Charlie Stacey) at the Lambeth art incubator of IKLECTIK, as part of an update on Charles Hayward’s burst of late-year shows. Since that one’s in London, it’s a more likely option for me; but also down at IKLECTIK, in the early afternoon, London jazz incubator Jazz Nursery will be joining in with the ongoing EFG London Jazz Festival in order to present a couple of young bandleaders with relatively accessible projects.

Well, why not start there – start mellow…

Guitarist Nick Costley-White has a trio featuring Conor Chaplin on double bass and David Ingamells on drums and offers fresh, swinging takes on Jerome Kern and Cole Porter (with the leader described by ‘Jazz News’ as “a classy player with an elegant and subtle way with a good tune”). Bassist Mark Lewandowski (“sonorous, fluent… an indispensable part of our scene” – ‘London Jazz’) sets aside his busy calendar as a sideman to compose for and lead a quartet of American drum legend Jeff Williams (Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano etc) as well as tenor saxophonist Tom Challenger (Brass Mask, Wedding Music, Dice Factory, Ma) and pianist Liam Noble (Stan Sulzman, Bobby Wellins, many records as leader).

Nick Costley-White, 2016Jazz Nursery/EFG London Jazz Festival presents:
Nick Costley-White Trio + Mark Lewandowski Quartet
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 2.30pm
information

It looks as if this particular Mark Lewandowski band is too new to have been recorded, but here’s a clip of the Costley-White Trio at work:


 
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'Liberate yourself from my vice like grip", 12th November 2016
Were I up in the north-west I’d be listening to something entirely different, tempted by ‘Liberate yourself from my vice like grip’, the R.D. Laing-inspired exhibition/concert/happening that’s playing at Islington Mill in Salford. Set up by contemporary art organisation Broken Grey Wires, it’s part of their scheme to create safe psychological spaces for people with various mental health issues; to use art as “a facilitator for recovery… to encourage people to make something special for themselves”, following Laing’s own suggestion that “madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through.” 

(Yep – I know how to relax on my own special days.)

For the musical component, co-curators Fat Out have put together a typically eclectic and Mill-ready line-up of mostly local bands. Included are soundscaping folk-indie/jazz-shoegaze performance artists Mother, psychedelic folk-rock jam-jivers The Yossarians and colourful, blippy post-punk femme/art/pop troupe ILL (proudly strident champions of “disobedient noise” who believe in “creating music until something tingles, and performing dance noise until something bleeds”, and who were namechecked in ‘The Guardian’ today as one of the fifty new pop projects shaping the future). Also on the bill are ambient improvisers Andy Or Jenny, the “atavistic” Berlin-based Welsh looptronica singer Bruxa | Cosa, and landscape-ghosting Peak District ambient-pop duo Shield Patterns.

For the ongoing exhibition BGW have brought in various artists who explore mental health, gender, identity and subjective reality in their work (Lizz Brady, Robert Good, Amy Mizrahi, David Sheery, Kirsty Harris, Paul Kindersley, Jared Pappas-Kelley, Alexander Storey Gordon) all of whom raise so many questions, options and ways of seeing that I’d go on for ages trying to clumsily summarise them. Instead, I’d suggest that you follow them up on Facebook through the second info link below…

Broken Grey Wires & Fat Out present:
‘Liberate yourself from my vice like grip’
Islngton Mill Arts Centre, James Street, Salford, M3 5HW, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 6.00pm
– information here and here





 
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Steve Strong + Patrons + Merrick's Tusk, 12th November 2016If I were in Durham, I could make up for missing one-man post/math/trip-hop band Steve Strong‘s set of simultaneous guitar-loops/drums/electronic-noise hybrids at Wakizashi last month, by catching up with him up at his Empty Shop show in Durham – alongside the trepidatious post-hardcore of Plymouth four-piece Patrons and the blitzing sentimental charge of Derby trio Merrick’s Tusk (currently touring their melodic, heart-on-sleeve half-emo rock around the country). While I was at it, I could feel as if I was contributing more to the community than just the usual couple of hours of head-nodding. (See more about the constructive, cohesion-building Empty Shop ethos here.)

Sapien Records Ltd/Empty Shop presents:
Steve Strong + Patrons + Merrick’s Tusk
Empty Shop HQ, 35c Framwellgate Bridge (above ‘Ciao Ciao’), Durham, DH1 4SJ, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 8:00 pm
– information here and here




 

India McKellar, 2016

India McKellar

If in Sheffield, I’d probably be in a softer mood, heading over to the Regather co-op for one of their cosier gigs: the second of the recently-established acoustic evenings run by local cello/voice/guitar folk duo Captives On The Carousel.

This week (in addition to the Carouselers usual warm starting set), the night’s playing host to two other Sheffield-area singer-songwriters – India McKellar, whose previous adventures on piano, as a traditional Celtic harpist and as a onetime prog-rocker have set her up well for her matured, quietly captivating role as Laurel-Canyon-by-way-of-West Riding adult songwriter; and rootsier Drake-and-Jansch-inspired guitar-and-banjo picker Carl Woodford.

Captives on the Carousel present:
Captives Vol. 2: India McKellar + Carl Woodford + Captives On The Carousel
Regather Works, 57-59 Club Garden Road, Sheffield, S11 8BU, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 7.30pm
information




 
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Alice Zawadski, 2016

Alice Zawadski

Back in London, I’d also be tempted (were it not already sold out) by Alice Zawadski’s Joni Mitchell evening down at Brasserie Zedel. I’m not keen on the institution of the average cover version, and embarrassingly average covers of Joni songs are the bane of many an acoustic evening: honeytraps for earnest women with guitars who cover them reverently, winsomely and really badly. Every time, I picture Joni seething in the audience, her notorious strongmindededness in full bullish effect: snarling at the women onstage, cursing them out for skipping her weird tunings, for ignoring the orchestral conception behind the compositions, or for just sugaring the fine vinegar.

This one might well be different, for several reasons. One is that Alice already comes with acclaim, experience and enough background to serve the songs – extensively trained in both jazz and classical skills, a violinist and arranger as well as a singer, she’ll be thinking on maybe as many levels as Joni herself. Another is that her gig partner and pianist Jamie Safiruddin has racked up time and plaudits accompanist and/or musical director with prime British jazz, ballad and folk interpreters Ian Shaw, Claire Martin and Barb Jungr and Ben Cox, as well as pop adventures with Will Young (plus he already has Joni-form, having “played Edith And The Kingpin with exquisite poise” according to ‘The Arts Desk’).

A third reason is that this is primarily a jazz gig; Jamie and Alice joined by Seafarers saxophonist Matthew Herd, bassist Conor Chaplin (strolling over from the earlier Costley-White trio show), drummer and Conor’s Fabled buddy and drummerWill Glaser. No matter how many copies of ‘Blue’ you pitch at my head, I’ll always maintain that Joni was at her original best when diving into jazz, interweaving with Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius as her words kaleidoscoped, her notes ached and flexed and the potential in the arrangement spanned and fanned. Alice is promising Joni’s most well-worn hits and folky standards (‘Big Yellow Taxi’, ‘A Case of You’, ‘Woodstock’) but also “lesser-known gems from throughout her long and fruitful back-catalogue”, and it’s not always that you get the chance to hear someone dipping into the more challenging territories of ‘Hejira’, ‘The Hissing Of Summer Lawns’ or ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’.

Here are the details for anyone who’s a better ligger/doorstaff wheedler than I am; and below that’s a clip of Alice at work with saxophonist Joe Wright on a song which, even if it’s not quite Joni, shows what her mind and approach could be bringing to the Mitchell catalogue.

Jamie Safiruddin & Alice Zawadski
The Crazy Coqs @ Brasserie Zedel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London, W1F 7ED, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 9.00pm
information


 
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As for me, I can only guarantee that I’ll be in one particular place tomorrow. At noontime I’ll be in the Union Chapel, at one of the Daylight Music shows which I constantly plug here but all to often have to miss. Accompanied by family (and perhaps even a few unexpected friends), I’ll be down there listening to the soft, distracted keyboard songs of Ed Dowie; watching the charming and daffy Dutch folk-pop trio SnowApple delight and dazzle an audience in a fizz of swapped instruments, leapt genres, blended voices and eye-catching outfits; taking in the interstitial battered-pop moments from Boy And a Balloon‘s Alex Hall; and finally immersing myself in the ringing, humming chamber-ensemble arrangements of Craig Fortnam’s North Sea Radio Orchestra as they navigate (in a bright-toned weave of nylon-strung guitar, bassoon, strings, keyboards and voice) between the Britten-esque and the kosmische, between gurgling Vernon Elliott and sighing Robert Wyatt, between the hopping pulse of downtown minimalism and the Anglican warmth of a Wiltshire harvest festival.

Maybe Daylight shows are at the cuddlier end of what interests me within this blog; but it’s also fair to say that, out of everything covered here, perhaps the rambling, all-points Daylight positivity reflects ‘Misfit City’s own attitude best of all. And in a similar spirit… say hello if you see me there.

Daylight Music 238, 12th November 2016

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 238: North Sea Radio Orchestra + Snowapple + Ed Dowie + Boy & A Balloon
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 12.00pm
– free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information here and here





 

November/December 2016 – a plague of Charles Haywards in Britain and Ireland – with Samuel Hällkvist and Charlie Stacey in London (Nov 12th); with Phosphene at Xposed Club in Cheltenham (Nov 18th); at Daylight Music in London for Laura Cannell’s ‘Memory Mapping’ (with Mythos of Violins, Hoofus and Jennifer Lucy Allan, Nov 26th); in Dublin with The Jimmy Cake and Percolator (Dec 10th)

7 Nov

“Man with drumkit and nerve available. Works well on his own, but can work with anyone from virtuoso level to raw newbie. Will also travel, though being in the right place is essential.”

Charles Hayward – drummer, songwriter, improviser; patron saint of South London spontaneity. Creator, humble communitarian and sharer. Kit-and-tapes driver for avant-rockers This Heat and Camberwell Now! during the ‘70s and ‘80s; more recently, the curator-enabler of experimental multi-media events such as Accidents & Emergencies. Internationally reknowned but publically anonymous go-to bloke for musical support and thrilling upset. A musician who goes out and does.

Here are four separate upcoming instances of Charles Hayward in the act of doing: all taking place this month or next month. As good a hook as any to hang a ‘Misfit City’ post off.


 
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London EFG Jazz Festival presents:
Hallkvist/Taylor/Goller/Hayward + Charlie Stacey
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 8.00pm
– information here and here

“The Swedish musician Samuel Hällkvist was given the ‘Jazz in Sweden’ award in 2010. It caused some controversy at the time because Samuel is a guitarist who doesn’t fit comfortably into the template of Scandinavian jazz. Nordic brooding is not his style at all. Instead Samuel brings unsurpassed wizardry to the use of effects pedals, which he deploys with great discretion and aplomb. He has toured extensively in Scandinavia, other parts of Europe and Japan, as well as touring the UK in 2012, where he performed with Yazz Ahmed, Denys Baptiste and Gary Crosby.


 
“Samuel is joined on this occasion by a carefully selected cast, featuring Ruth Goller (the bass guitarist of Acoustic Ladyland), the wonderful Charles Hayward on drums (This Heat etc.) and free improviser Noel Taylor on bass clarinet. The ensemble is a combustible blend of elements which promises high-energy rhythmic patterns awash with thunderous beats of drum and bass, and surmounted with the languorous, rich tones of bass clarinet.

Charlie Stacey first popped into the jazz scene when he was featured on UK television as a child prodigy. In 2012, still a teenager, he reached the semi-finals of the Montreux Jazz Piano Competition. Since then he has performed at festivals around the world. Stacey’s tastes range from Keith Jarrett to Sun Ra and Albert Ayler – stir these ingredients together into a swirl of mood and pianistic virtuosity: that’s the unique sound of Charlie Stacey.”


 
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Charles Hayward + Phosphere, 18th November 2016The Xposed Club presents:
Charles Hayward + Phosphene
The Xposed Club @ Francis Close Hall, University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ, England
Friday 18th November 2016, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Charles Hayward‘s ‘(begin anywhere)’ is a new project centred around songs performed at the piano, a sequence of betrayal, paranoia, subterfuge, opening out into resistance, hope and humanity, interweaved with sound events, drums, spoken word, performance. Stark, minimal arrangements; an unexpected departure.

Phosphene is the name Glasgow-based artist John Cavanagh has worked under for his solo music-making since 2000. In that time, there have been three full-length Phosphene albums, featuring collaborations with Lol Coxhill, Bridget St. John, Raymond McDonald, John McKeown (1990s/Yummy Fur), Isobel Campbell, Bill Wells and others. John is also a a member of the duo Electroscope, along with Gayle Brogan (Pefkin) and the more recently formed Sonically Depicting, with Ceylan Hay & friends. He is also known as a radio presenter & contributor, voice-over artist, author of a book on the Pink Floyd album ‘The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’, producer of records/occasional record label operator and organiser of music nights at Glasgow’s Sharmanka Kinetic Gallery.”

* * * * * * * *

Daylight Music 240, 26th November 2016

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 240: Laura Cannell presents “Memory Mapping”: Charles Hayward + Mythos Of Violins + Hoofus + Jennifer Lucy Allan
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 26th November 2016, 12.00pm
– free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information

“The Arctic Circle At Ten celebrations continue courtesy of experimental fiddle and recorder player Laura Cannell, bringing together musicians whose work is both spontaneous and deeply inspired by their surroundings. Using real and imagined memory, ideas are mapped internally and externally and turned into atmospheric, moving and unexpected performances.

“Charles Hayward gives a solo performance of his piano piece (begin anywhere)…” – see the Xposed Club bit for more on that. Also note that Charles and Laura play together in the Oscilanz trio (with Ralph Cumbers of Bass Clef/Some Truths), creating new music by exploding, recombining and reinterpreting the music of twelfth-century composer and polymath Hildegard Von Bingen, in a web of drums, trombone, violin, recorders, singing and electronics. (There’s a clip of them below, for context.)


 
Mythos Of Violins is the experimental violin work of Laura Cannell and Angharad Davies, creating new works inspired by location and memory and “puzzling over the unsconcious or conscious effect of place on the creative development of an artist.” ‘The Scotsman’ reviewed their performance at Glasgow University Chapel earlier in April this year as “hypnotic… they made judicious use of the venue as they circled the pew-bound audience, unfurling a tapestry of intense scratches and squeals – as if the cloisters had been infested by an attack of rabid rats – fused with discordant prettiness and yearning hints of Celtic folk.” Laura and Angharad will be performing a special piece inspired by the Union Chapel. Laura will also be performing a solo set of her own.



 
Jennifer Lucy Allan – former online editor of ‘The Wire’ (and still running their Resonance FM radio show), as well as being the co-runner of experimental record label Arc Light Editions – will be weaving rural and industrial soundscapes through this very special event (possibly including evidence of her ongoing research project on fog horns).”
Also to have played was Hoofus, a.k.a. Andre Bosman, an electronic musician based in coastal Suffolk. Focused on live performance, emergence and improvisation, Hoofus uses drifting oscillators, overlapping frequency modulation, ragged percussion and a sense of tactile interaction between performer and machines to create music of wayward eerie wonder. Drawing on ideas of edgelands and peripheries and the intersecting of wilderness with urban/industrial spaces, Hoofus explores the uncanny beauty of the intangible, the occult and the arcane seeping through into the post-industrial 21st century world of reason and corporate compliance. Unfortunately he won’t be performing them here this time around – maybe next time?


 
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Charles Hayward + The Jimmy Cake + Percolator, 10th December 2016The Jimmy Cake present:
Charles Hayward + The Jimmy Cake + Percolator
Bello Bar, Portobello Harbour, Saint Kevin’s, Dublin 6, Ireland
Saturday 10th December 2016, 8.00pm
information

For this December show, Charles heads up an evening of “loud instrumental space-prog-post-apocalypse rock”. There’s no word on what he’s specifically doing, but I’m guessing it’s a return to the furious drums, the disruptive tapes and the man-in-the-moment vocals of his main improvisation style.


 
Event organisers The Jimmy Cake are sixteen-year instrumental veterans of Irish instrumental rock. Over five albums under the leadership of keyboard-playing main-brain Paul G. Smyth they’ve employed banjos, clarinets, strings and brass – mixing Chicagoan post-rock, European space rock and Canterbury prog with the happysad fiddle-and-whistle uplift of Irish music sessions – or lurked behind gonging walls of noise and synth. Fast friends with Charles already (he guested at their previous annual show, prompting his invite back for this one), they’ve also backed Damo Suzuki – a set of influences and associations which should make their intentions, impulses and credibility clear.



 
When they’re clicked into “simple” mode, Waterfordian trio Percolator bounce and sing-song like an appealing, easily-approved indie-pop mix of The Stooges, Television, and Pavement influences, with additional craic courtesy of the chatty vocal rapport between drummer Eleanor and fuzz-sliding, odd-angles guitarist Ian. When they pull out the remaining stops on their organism and get more complicated, they transform into something much more remarkable – one of the few bands who can appropriate that lazy “sounds like My Bloody Valentine” tag – or have it foisted on them – and not disgrace it. The wilder tracks on their last EP, ‘Little Demon’ are whirlwinds of biplane-crash guitar drones, road-hammering motorik drums and bass surges. They sound like so much more than a rock trio – virtual unknowns already able to capture the wheeling cosmic dizziness of a full-on King Crimson soundscape or the pre-apocalyptic glower of a Gnod blur-mood as well as the microtonal shear of Kevin Shields.



 

September 2016 – upcoming London gigs – Penny Rimbaud’s musical Wilfred Owen evening at the Horse Hospital and the ‘Songs of Separation’ female folkstravaganza at King’s Place (both 9th)

31 Aug

Here’s some more upcoming September shows in London – a musical setting of First World War poems down at the Horse Hospital courtesy of parts of the Crass family, and an all-star, all-female folk meet at Kings Place to celebrate the collective indigenous folk music of Scotland and England (nice to see some fellow feeling there).

Sadly, both of these concerts are on the same night, so choices will need to be made – unless you take a good look at the timings and figure that you can make the best of both, via a gruelling sprint or rapid Tube ride between Russell Square and the upper reaches of Kings Cross…

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Penny Rimbaud recites the Works of Wilfred Owen, 9th September 2016Penny Rimbaud recites the Works of Wilfred Owen (with Kate Shortt & Liam Noble)
The Horse Hospital, The Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1JD, England
Friday 9th September 2016, 7.00pm
information

A couple of notes from the event blurb:

“As part of the exhibition ‘Under The Changing Light: The Landscapes of The Somme’ (consisting of photos by Toby Webster), Penny Rimbaud recites the works of Wilfred Owen with Kate Shortt (cello) and Liam Noble (piano).

Penny Lapsang Rimbaud was born in south-west London. He is a poet, writer, philosopher, painter, and musician. He was formally a part of the performance art groups Exit and Ceres Confusion. In 1977 he co-founded the anarchist punk band Crass with Steve Ignorant, which disbanded in 1984. From then up until 2000 he devoted himself to writing. He returned as a performance poet working with Australian saxophonist Louise Elliot, as well as a wide variety of other jazz musicians as the group L’Académie Des Vanités.”

Regarding Penny’s accompanists, both Kate Shortt and Liam Noble have previous Rimbaud form. Both have collaborated with him in L’Académie Des Vanités forebear Last Amendment – itself formerly the Crass Collective or Crass Agenda performance art group, set up as a post-split arrangement enabling former Crasseurs to work together without either over-commodifying their ex-band’s name or being restricted by its form.

Liam needs little introduction to those who’ve seen his spiky, droll playing across the British jazz scene over the last two decades (initially playing with Stan Sulzmann, John Stevens, Harry Beckett and Bobby Wellins, latterly leading his own projects or collaborating with Christine Tobin). So far, Kate is arguably less well-known; but her witty multi-instrumental singer-songwriter contributions to contemporary British cabaret have drawn comparisons to both Victoria Wood and Jim Tavares. Her Crass connections, continued membership of L’Académie Des Vanités and willingness to provide more sober aspects to events like this one demonstrate that she’s by no means cocooned in the cabaret box.

As for Penny himself – a lifelong anarcho-libertarian and punk hero who was initially inspired by an unlikely literary combination of Ernest Hemingway, Henrik Ibsen and Walt Whitman – there’s plenty to say on the varied subject of Crass and his work in and out of it. This is generally handled by better counter-culture historians than myself. If you’re new to Penny (or to Crassage in general), here’s a fairly good place to start, courtesy of ‘The Quietus’…

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Kings Place Festival 2016 presents:
‘Songs of Separation’: Eliza Carthy + Karine Polwart + Mary Macmaster + Kate Young + Hannah James/Hazel Askew/Rowan Rheingans (Lady Maisery) + Jenn Butterworth + Jenny Hill + Hannah Read
Hall One @ Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England
Friday 9th September 2016 – 9:45pm
information

From the Festival promotional info:

“In June 2015, ten of Scotland and England’s leading female folk musicians joined forces to explore the rich musical, cultural and linguistic heritage of the two countries. What emerged is one of the landmark collaborative folk albums of recent years, Songs of Separation.

Various Artists: 'Songs Of Separation'

Various Artists: ‘Songs Of Separation’

“‘Songs of Separation’ is an outstanding collaboration between ten of Scotland and England’s leading female folk musicians. Devised and recorded in just six days, on the fairytale Hebridean Isle of Eigg, the musicians explored the rich musical heritage of the two countries, drawing on their respective and collective musical experiences and crafting something both new and very special.

“Celebrating the similarities and differences in our musical, linguistic and cultural heritage, and set in the context of a post-referendum world, the work aims to evoke emotional responses and prompt new thinking about the issue of separation as it occurs in all our lives. The collection of traditional and original songs aims to get to the heart of what we feel when we are faced with a separation; linking us both to previous generations who shared the same human experiences and responses to separation, and to generations that will follow. The horizons of the project are already evolving and speak as much about connection, as they do about separation.

“The album was launched in January 2016, with a sell-out tour and received exceptional reviews from the music press and musicians alike. Opportunities to experience ‘Songs of Separation’ performed live are rare… and unmissable.


 
“A richly evocative and quietly provocative collection of traditional and newly composed songs, the artists behind this album include two of the most celebrated contemporary voices on the UK folk scene, England’s Eliza Carthy (fiddle, percussion) and Scotland’s Karine Polwart (tenor guitar, Indian harmonium); two boundary-breaking Scots, Mary Macmaster of The Poozies (harp) and Kate Young (fiddle); Hannah James (accordion, percussion), Hazel Askew (flute, melodeon, harp) and Rowan Rheingans (banjo, fiddle, viola) from the award-winning English ensemble Lady Maisery; Jenn Butterworth (guitar) and Jenny Hill (double bass), brilliant backline players who have worked across both the English and Scottish trad scenes; and Hannah Read (fiddle, guitar), a New York-based musician and singer who spent much of her childhood on the Isle of Eigg.”

This is the last ‘Songs Of Separation’ concert of the year, with previous 2016 performances having occurred at assorted festivals (Celtic Connections, Dumfries and Galloway Festival of Arts, Cardiff’s Festival of Voice, the Cambridge Folk Festival) as well as shows in Edinburgh, Stroud, Didcot and Bury. The project is ongoing, with recent developments including onstage collaborations with schoolchildren and mythology-inspired plans for field recordings, among other ideas.
 

July 2016 – upcoming nu-folk gigs in England – Felix M-B on tour with Lorkin O’Reilly and Lewis Barfoot (July 10th to 17th); plus a note on Sylva Kay

9 Jul

Some notes previewing a Tigmus acoustic tour passing through England this coming week…

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Still only eighteen, Derby singer-songwriter Felix Mackenzie-Barrow – better known as Felix M-B – is already tipped as a future star of acoustic rock, and it’s not difficult to see why. The Jeff Buckley comparisons have come flocking, as they always do for good-looking young-white-male hopes with an acoustic guitar and a way with a commanding falsetto when they need it.

For me, though, the comparisons are a little off beam. Felix is by no means enslaved to the wail; not another in the line of anxious high-tenor clones aiming for its flaming hoops. If he has to be Jeffified, let it be for his boiling post-Page rhythm guitar with its flint-and-harps tone; for the way he can dance that guitar, like an elegant fencer, around some of the shifting, bullish meters within his songs. As a singer, he’s slightly – and thankfully – short of that assertive, archangelic (and to me, sometimes cold) Buckley edge. Under its smooth edges, it’s warmer and less elevated, closer at times to the incantatory yearnings and yelps of a Mike Scott or Van Morrison, or (whenever a little country seeps in) to Gram Parsons; or to a less pickled take on Chris Thompson of The Bathers. Whenever Felix wraps his melodic threads in a rippling transported melisma, he’s also much more reminiscent of Tim Buckley than of his gilded son.

As for the songs, so far they’re remarkably mature – involved, ruminative and harmonically adventurous explorations of love, connection and conscience rather than the gawky narcissistic three-chord blasts you’d expect from a teenage early starter. As of yet, it’s unclear where this surprising depth comes from. Perhaps it’s self-demurral at play, but Felix’s backstory doesn’t seem much more than “nice boy learns piano for many years, picks up guitar in mid-teens and two years later makes a record”. Perhaps he’s just one of those diffident, delightful natural songwriters, able to pick up on stories and ideas from elsewhere and magically transform them without letting himself get in the way.

Perhaps the answer lies in other background textures. Felix grew up with parents who ran the self-sufficient mobile theatre company Oddsocks (who used to tour Britain on the back of a transforming, swiss-army-knife of a cart which doubled as transport and ever-morphing play set), while he himself is a thoughtfully precocious alumnus of Derby Youth Theatre. It might be this that’s made him such a canny transmuter of tradition and style; such a promising inhabiter of diverse stories.


Felix’s current Tigmus-boosted tour dates are as follows:

As noted above, Felix is teaming up with other young songwriters en route – so here’s some more about them.

22 year old Lorkin O’Reilly released his debut EP, ‘After The Thaw’, last year. Nominally Scottish, with a youth spent on one side or the other of the Borders (with rangings into the Highlands plus a stint down in Brighton), he’s now made a home and a marriage in Poughkeepsie, New York State.

It’s difficult not to notice how Lorkin’s peripatetic shifting life (partly brought on by an unsettled and shifting adolescence) has fed into his music, which is partly inspired by that of John Martyn (another songwriter divided between Scotland and England to traumatic effect and artistic impact). His song Alba explores his ambivalence about the recent deepening schism between the two countries: he describes and delivers it more as an abstract “storm warning” than a rallying call or hand-wringing tract. Nick Drake, Phil Cook, American country-blues and British folk also inform his work, in which his softly mesmeric voice and lone guitar move through slow, Scottish moodclouds at a slithering, sliding pace, sometimes gently gilded by slide and resonator.



 
Despite her own Irish/English background, there don’t appear to be similar complexities in the work of Lewis Barfoot. On spec and on evidence, her debut EP ‘Catch Me’ is singer-songwriter fare pitched at an assured soft and wholesome level – not bland as such, but undeniably comfortable in itself. She works with an uncomplicated loveliness of sound that’s smoothly crafted, waxed and finished, and which follows an unruffled mood (lightly decorated by its Irish roots and, on one occasion by some throw-rug drapings of Maori choir). As edgeless as a high-street cafe-latte, it also makes the ideal soundtrack to one. There’s an underlying murmur of stability in these songs, whether they’re dealing with love or landscape,


 
A little more delving reveals that Lewis is more substantial than these songs suggests. A busy polymath, she’s self-propelled and organised enough to have her own “summer of Sundays” tour dovetailing into this one. Before going solo three years ago, she was a member of Gaelic a cappella quintet Rún; and like Felix, she’s also got a theatrical background, maintaining a parallel career as an actress on film, television and fringe theatre (using the latter to fertilise her theatrical writing and conceptualising). With all of this behind her, it seems a shame that what she’s currently offering is lovely but cosy acoustic-evening entertainment with a high-boutique gloss to it: certainly these initial songs lack the playful wit and sense of enquiry which goes into her original stage work.


 
For now, go along for the sleek craft and gently-cupped warmth, and hope that more of Lewis unfolds into her music over time. Here are her remaining summer dates beyond this tour:

  • The Horniman Museum, 100 London Road, Forest Hill, London, SE23 3PQ, England, Sunday 10th July 2016, 12.00 pm (noontime show, following which she’ll sprint to Bristol to catch up with Felix and Lorkin for the evening gig)
  • The Bicycle Shop, 17 St Benedicts Street, Norwich, NR2 4PE, England, Sunday 17th July 2016
  • The Blue Man, 8 Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3WA, England, Sunday 24th July 2016

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It was a shame to see that Silva Kay has had to pull out of the tour… but it would also be a shame to waste what I wrote about her before she dropped off the billing.

A singer, guitarist, looper and occasional drummer, Sylva has been creating songs since childhood, growing up as she did in the bosom of an artistic family (and being encouraged by writers, photographer and crafters of all stripes). A self-taught self-producer and a youthful veteran of several bands on both sides of the Atlantic and on both coasts of America (including Ra Ra Rabbit, IC and American City), she performs songs which touch on the territories of Joanna Newsom, Ash Ra Tempel, Dayna Kurtz and the dream-permeable moods of My Bloody Valentine. Often performing while surrounded by an arc of miscellaneous percussion, pedals, sound sources and electronics, her music remains centred around her voice and guitar, changing the moods and patterns within its dreamy folktronic format, using cunning loop-pedal work to establish a folk chorale of spontaneous backing vocals and to shift back and forth into trance-like psychedelic moods, moments of skipping indie-pop and stretches of acoustic soul/r’n’b grooves.

Unusually for a latterday loop musician, there’s plenty of space in the performance. The looped parts sound as if they’ve been thought out architecturally on the fly; a semi-spontaneous foundation on which Silva can mount wandering explorations of situations, reflections and reaction. Within the space of a single song, she can sound both independent and love-lorn, interiorised and reaching out, mysterious and readable.

The good news is that, like Lewis, Sylva is determinedly self-propelled, touring out in monthly ripples from her Oxford base: so despite her having withdrawn from this tour, it won’t be too long before there’s an opportunity to see her again.


 

May-into-June 2016 – upcoming gigs – Andrew Howie’s new album/video and shows, plus Refuweegee songwriter/spoken word concert in Glasgow, Carol Laula in Stirling and Yvonne Lyons in Birmingham

26 May

Andrew Howie, 2016

As part of a recent burst of activity, Andrew Howie (who for many years released his beautiful skeletal balladry and scuds of tingling noise as Calamateur before reverting to his own name), has recently released ‘Scars Are Like A Beacon’, a companion album to last year’s ‘The Great Divide’. He describes it as “a completely instrumental re-imagining of (‘The Great Divide’) but it sounds nothing like that record. Instead, it’s full of dark, ambient, textural soundscapes that are sometimes reminiscent of the more left-field music I used to make as Calamateur. The feedback I’ve had from listeners so far has been really encouraging, so if you’re tempted to think this one might be too weird for you then please do give it a listen – you might be surprised! This album is only available to stream and download from my Bandcamp shop (for a tempting mere £3!), where you can also buy it on cassette – my first! So if retro analogue tape is your thing, then just click here. I’ve also made a short series of black & white films to accompany some of the songs. Here’s the first – ‘Tremble’…”


 

An enthusiastic performer of house concerts, Andrew has two British ones coming up in June – one on Saturday 4th June in Westerton, Glasgow and one on Saturday 11th June in London (tickets available from his live page, with further information). In addition, he’s making appearances at three other shows between late May and mid-June, as follows:

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Carol Laula + Andrew Howie
The Tolbooth, Jail Wynd, Stirling, FK8 1DE, Scotland
Friday May 27th 2016, 8.00pm
more information

Carol Laula has been dear to Glasgow’s heart ever since her song Standing Proud was picked as the anthem for its year as European City of Culture in 1990. Her eight albums to date have continued to showcase Laula’s vibrant voice and soulful folk-pop songwriting, interwoven with strands of country and blues. 2016 heralds the release of Carol’s latest offering, ‘The Bones of It’ (produced and engineered by her longtime friend and colleague Marco Rea, who plays on the record along with many others including Ken McCluskey and Davie Scott). Her live performances are warm, embracing, intimate and engaging. Stirling based singer-songwriter Andrew Howie will open the evening, with a selection of his most recent songs.”



 

* * * * * * * *

Refuweegee and raukarna present:
A Night of Notes: Ross Clark + Kim Edgar + Dave Frazer + Lucy Cathcart Froden + Andrew Howie + Nicolette Macleod + Jamie Robert Ross + Tiff Griffin + Martin Cathcart Froden + others tbc
Kelvinside Hillhead Parish Church, Observatory Road, Glasgow, G12 9AG, Scotland
Friday 3rd June 2016, 7.30 pm
more information

“Refuweegee is a new initiative aiming to welcome refugees and asylum seekers to Glasgow in style, with welcome packs that include ‘letters fae the locals’, and return envelopes so that recipients can respond with their own words and stories. Join us for a night of new songs inspired by these amazing letters. Note that five pounds from the eight pound face value of every ticket sold will be donated to Refuweegee, and that asylum seekers and refugees will be admitted for free.”

Songwriters performing include Ross Clark (of hillbilly rock’n’rollers Three Blind Wolves), Kim Edgar (a provocative solo artist as well as a member of both Scottish/Canadian alt-folk supergroup The Burns Unit and German/Irish trad-folk band Cara), alt.country-tinged Dave Frazer, literary song-siren Lucy Cathcart Froden (of raukarna), Andrew Howie, looping folk vocalist Nicolette Macleod and upside-down-guitarist Jamie Robert Ross. There will also be spoken word contributions from Tiff Griffin and Martin Cathcart Froden, and from some of the brand new Glaswegians who’ve benefited from the project.

Here are some examples of what’s on offer:









 

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Finally…

Lobelia’s Lazy Sundays presents:
Yvonne Lyon + Andrew Howie + Lobelia Lawson
Tower of Song, 107 Pershore Road South, Kings Norton, Birmingham B30 3EL, England
Sunday 12th June 2016, 7:30am
more information

“Come one come all to the Tower of Song to see the best touring singer songwriters in the UK and beyond! This month we’ve got Yvonne Lyon, among the best and brightest talent currently emerging from the UK. She has consistently stirred audiences across the UK and beyond with her emotive performances, combining poignant lyrics with creative melodies and demonstrating a voice that can be both fragile and intense. Yvonne was among the winners of the Burnsong International Songwriting Competition and performed her winning song All Is Not Lost at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Support comes from the amazing Andrew Howie, and a few songs to start from host Lobelia Lawson.”


April 2016 – upcoming gigs – two types of British folk tour: Michael Chapman and Moulettes, plus a menagerie of support acts (United Sound of Joy, Richard Moss, Marcus Bonfanti, The Brackish, The Horse Loom, Dirty Old Folkers, Colour Trap)

19 Apr

Two British tours start this week, reflecting – in their way – very different aspects of British folk music.

Recently celebrated by ‘Mojo’, Michael Chapman isn’t just one of the sturdiest and most independent of the singer-songwriters coming out of the homegrown British folk revival of the 1960s: he’s also one of the last acoustic guitar masters standing from the generation which included Bert Jansch, Davy Graham and John Renbourne (all of whom are now gone). His playing reveals a fascination with Southern blues, folk, slide and ragtime jazz styles (all of which he’s mastered), while his pursuit of sound and setting has drawn him towards drones, delay, and loop effects (all of which he’s used as an adjunct to his unadorned playing, rather than as a replacement or distraction). As a singer and songwriter, there are parallels with J.J. Cale; and, rightly or wrongly, I can also hear echoes or anticipations of fellow Cale devotee Mark Knopfler in there, in terms of the husk, the fingerpicking clarity and the unprecious observational skills. (For what it’s worth, the two are connected by time in Leeds and both shared, however fleetingly, original Dire Straits drummer Pick Withers, whose jazz-influenced drummer kept the band both grounded and textured in the days before stadiums and weariness).

Here’s the press release for the upcoming tour:

“2016 marks noted guitarist & songwriter Michael Chapman’s 75th birthday and fifty years since he went on the road professionally in 1966. To coincide with the celebrations, Michael’s new instrumental album, ‘Fish’ has just been released on US imprint Tompkins Square & is already gathering much praise. To mark this important milestone in his life and career Michael Chapman tours in the UK as part of a stripped-back trio also featuring two longstanding allies – pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole (whose association with Chapman goes back a long, long way to the early 1970s) and Sarah Smout on cello (Chapman’s favourite musical instrument, which many fans will recall featured strongly on his classic 1970 album ‘Fully Qualified Survivor’.). The trio will be playing material from Michael’s incredible five-decade performing history as well as some new and experimental music.”




 

Dates are as follows:

A diverse set of interesting support acts are showing up at points during the tour, reflecting both the breadth of Michael’s musical references and the way in which venue promoters feel that they can successfully fit others around him on a bill. At Blackburn, the evening will be opened by Richard Moss: Lancashire singer-songwriter, fingerstyle guitarist, mandolin player and member of Anglo-Malaysian guitar duo Squirrels In Space, Irish music band Drop The Floor and the Union Street Country Dance & Ceilidh Band. At the Sinderhope show, support comes from hardcore punk escapee turned folk-baroque guitarist Steve Malley, otherwise known as The Horse Loom.



 

At the first gig of the tour (up in Hull), it’s Bristolian post-punk/psych/jazz band The Brackish who sound like an artfully spilled bookshelf of three decades worth of vinyl. Their muscly, slightly boggled tone mixes in urban blues, Ventures-tinged surf tunes, Frank Zappa air-sculptures and a few of Captain Beefheart’s broader brushstrokes (plus a tooth-in-the wind guitar edge which recalls the rawest work of Adrian Belew, at his analogue-screaming decennial point midway between Zappa and King Crimson).


 

* * * * * * * *

Although they’re also a product of the British folk tradition, Moulettes come from a different angle – one which is more fanciful and playful, in which authenticity is less the Holy Grail and more of a switchable ingredient. Like Rose Kemp, their take on folk draws on heavier sounds and on nearly fifty years of extraordinary, fanciful rock music. A Moulettes song comes at you like a dose of multi-instrumental chamber prog, adding cello, bassoon and autoharp to the guitars, bass and drums and the triple-decker lead vocals. Their storytelling itch, sense of mischief and enjoyment of each other’s company just glows out of both of these video clips below:



 

Dates are as follows:

  • The Brook, 466 Portswood Rd, Southampton, SO17 3SD, England, Thursday 21st April 2016
  • The Cellar, Frewin Court, Oxford, OX1 3HZ, England, Friday 22nd April 2016
  • Islington Assembly Hall, Upper Street, London, N1 2UD, England, Saturday 23rd April 2016, 7.00pm (with United Sounds Of Joy)
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EJ, England, Sunday 24th April 2016
  • The Apex, 1 Charter Square, Bury Saint Edmunds, IP33 3FD, England, Tuesday 26th April 2016
  • The Dark Horse, Alcester Road, Moseley, Birmingham, B13 8JP, England, Wednesday 27th April 2016, 7.00pm (with Marcus Bonfanti + The Dirty Old Folkers)more information
  • The Musician, 42 Crafton St West, Leicester, LE1 2DE, England, Thursday 28th April 2016
  • The Mash House, Hastie’s Close, 37 Guthrie Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1JQ, Scotland, Friday 29th April 2016 (with Colour Trap)more information
  • The Duchess, Stonebow House, The Stonebow, York, YO1 7NP, England, Tuesday 3rd May 2016 (support tbc) – more information
  • The Greystones, Greystones Road, Sheffield, S11 7BS, England, Wednesday 4th May 2016
  • Band On The Wall, 25 Swan Street, The Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 5JZ, England, Thursday 5th May 2016 (support t.b.c.) – more information
  • The Convent, Convent Lane, Stroud, GL5 5HS, England, Friday 6th May 2016more information
  • The Tolmen Centre, Fore Street, Constantine, near Falmouth, TR11 5AA, England, Saturday 7th May 2016, 7.30pmmore information

As with Michael Chapman, the support slot arrangements fan out over a diverse range of styles: in fact, even more diverse than the Chapman tour. The London gig features United Sounds Of Joy, the slow-burn sensual pop-noir duo reuniting Michael J. Sheehy and Alex Vald (who, during the 1990s, alternately spat savage vindictive rock filth or crooned a creased and seedy London romanticism with Dream City Film Club).



 

At Birmingham, support comes from straightahead London blues guitarist Marcus Bonfanti and from wisecracking locals The Dirty Old Folkers (who describe themselves as “a Viz comic, being narrated by the Pogues” and deliver a raucous, sometimes smutty set which might be good-time but which still draws heavily on bad times and working-class resilience).



 

In Edinburgh, Moulettes are joined by local trad-indie rockers Colour Trap, who look back to golden-age British rock and Britpop scenes of the ‘60s and ‘90s.

 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – two London shows for Saturday – folkestralism and soundscaping at Daylight Music with Benni Hemm Heem, The Second Hand Marching Band and Jilk; post-classical fusion moods with Jo Quail and Poppy Ackroyd in Bethnal Green

16 Mar

Two shows coming up at the weekend…

* * * * * * * *

Daylight Music 220

Daylight Music presents:
Daylight Music 220: Benni Hemm Hemm + The Second Hand Marching Band + Jilk
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 19th March 2016, 12.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like event (recommended donation – £5.00) – more information

“This is the first of many epic celebrations for Arctic Circle’s 10th Anniversary; Benni Hemm Hemm are even coming all the way from Iceland to join the party!

Benni Hemm Hemm is the band of Benedikt H. Hermannsson, who writes the band´s songs and produces their recordings. The band is an organism that is hard to explain. Its members are in total around three hundred: at shows, the size of the band is usually somewhere from three to forty, deploying guitar, choral vocals, glockenspiel and a broad potential range of chamber instrumentation depending on who’s available. Their songs are variously described by ‘Pitchfork’ as “wispy, ruminative strums with brass, strings, and fiercely emotive rhythms… lullabies that age well – and go out with a predictable, usually affecting bang.”

 

“Sprawling anywhere between fifteen and twenty-two people, and led by accordionist/tenor horn player Pete Liddle, Glaswegian untraditional folk band The Second Hand Marching Band aim to create something that can’t be created by just four or five people – a mixture of cacophony and beauty, dancing and stillness. They play their music on a variety of brass, woodwind, accordion, guitar and drums; draw on dance, indie pop, post-rock, chanson, Balkan and Scottish music, and love home recording and ensemble madness. They don’t often play south of the border, so this is a good chance for Londoners to catch them in action.

“Expect an afternoon of collaboration and joy, as Benni Hemm Hemm and The Second Hand Marching Band join forces to perform pieces from their recent joint album ‘Faults’. The seeds of the record came from when Benni and Pete first met in 2007, at one of the first SHMB performances. Pete, Ross, Rich and Fraser from SHMB subsequently started playing in Benni Hemm Hemm, and at the same time Pete and Benni recorded some songs together as a collaboration between the two projects. Eventually, nine songs were produced in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fife, Cumbernauld and Reykjavik – a long project stretching over seven years, eight hundred miles, sixteen instruments and eight singers. The album is a totally self-funded, DIY, self-recorded, self-produced, self-assembled production. This is no mean feat for a normal band, but try it with seventeen people in two countries!

“In support, Bristolian folktronicists Jilk fuse a bewildering collage of home-found sounds with the ambient soundscapes of washy synths, insect-like clicks & cuts, and huge gorgeous waves of all encompassing experimental noise. Deploying violins, guitars, trombone, strings, flutes, multiple drums and vibraphone in addition to the samplers and electronics, they also describe themselves as “glitch-and-paste electronic ambience with balls” and “the sound of jelly babies in tin wellington boots at an Arctic rave”.”


 

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Jo Quail & Chaos Theory present:
Jo Quail + Poppy Ackroyd
St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9PA, England
Saturday 19th March 2016, 6.45pm
more information

Jo Quail + Poppy Aykroyd, 19th March 2016“Composer and cellist Jo Quail writes and performs instrumental music. Her sound is courageous and demands the intense emotional investment of the listener, while remaining wholly accessible to fans of all backgrounds. The inspiration for Jo’s music is drawn from a wide spectrum of influences. Music itself is an obvious touchstone, the compositional aspects of Bach, Debussy, Arvo Pärt, Zoltán Kodály, John Tavener and Bartók sit beside her love of Whitesnake, Jane’s Addiction and Nine Inch Nails to name but a few. At this concert, she’ll be launching her new album ‘Five Incantations’, which she’ll perform in full along with a selection of her previous work.


Composer and performer Poppy Ackroyd , originally from London, is currently based in Brighton. Classically trained on violin and piano, she works by manipulating and multi-tracking sounds from just these two instruments so creating deeply affecting instrumental music. Her widely acclaimed debut album ‘Escapement’ was released in December 2012; a DVD called ‘Escapement Visualised’, featuring stunning bespoke visuals by Lumen for each track on the album, was released in September 2014. ‘Feathers’, her second album, was released in November 2014, and builds on the concept behind her debut – this time, the tracks also feature other keyboard and string instruments. Through the nature of the older instruments Poppy uses there is an intimacy to her work, while field recordings add to the cinematic and atmospheric quality of the music. Yet in a live context the sonic qualities of the performance space itself become another instrument to be manipulated and woven into the performance.”

* * * * * * * *

More March gig previews on the way…
 

September 2015 – upcoming gigs – Gong’s Dave Sturt and friends travel the world from Derbyshire on the 23rd; London gets more Daylight Music eclectica plus a Blacklisters/Joeyfat/Himself jabber-rock summit on the 26th

17 Sep

Here are details on some more interesting concerts coming up later this month. These run the gamut from soft psychedelic world-folk atmospherics to jabbering electric art-punk noise and sprechtstimme via dream-folk, caustic love songs and extended-technique art-rock instrumentals. (It was a shame to hear about the cancellation of the Charles Hayward gig in London on the 23rd – taking its ANTA, Gnob and Kavus Torabi support slots with it – but I’m sure that something similar will be rescheduled for anyone in need of their art-mash/stoner/prog/psych/metal salad…)

event20150923davesturtwirkw

Dave Sturt presents An Evening of Dreams & Absurdities (Upstairs @ The Red Lion, Market Place, Wirksworth, Matlock, Derbyshire, DE4 4ET, UK, 23rd September 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.00

As part of the Wirksworth Festival Fringe, Dave Sturt (bass guitarist with Gong, Bill Nelson, Steve Hillage and Jade Warrior, as well as being half of Cipher) showcases tracks from his forthcoming solo album ‘Dreams & Absurdities’ in an evening of world-class all-instrumental musicianship featuring beautiful eclectic music, soundscapes and various field recordings from Gong tours and elsewhere. The music is “mostly mellow and ambient – somewhere between melancholy and elation.”

For the performance, Dave will be accompanied by three guests. Chris Ellis (guitar and piano) is a multi-instrumentalist/singer-songwriter/actor, an ex-member of Anglesey band Ghostriders, and an award-winning soundtrack composer – he’s also a collaborator with Dave on the Past Lives Project (which recreates the recent ancestral histories of British communities by resurrecting their old cinefilm recordings and setting them to new music). Brian Boothby (low whistle, djembe) is an acclaimed folk musician, dramatist and writer and a member of the Derbyshire mixed-arts collective Genius Loci. Jeff Davenport (drums, percussion, HandSonic pad) has worked with jazz musicians Andy Sheppard and Phil Robson, pop artists James Morrison and Laura Mayne, and currently collaborates regularly with “Silent Pianist” Neil Brand providing soundracks to silent films, as well as working in Europe and the Far East on various projects with all manner of musicians.

Up-to-date details here  and here, with tickets available online from here or available from Traid Links via email enquiry.

* * * * * * * *

On the last post, I plugged a London double event on the 19th – a day with a Daylight Music concert at midday and a noisier rock gig in the evening (both events which are still about to happen as I post this). In another week’s time, history’s repeating (fortunately not as farce, though anyone familiar with the bands in the evening show can expect some twists and jabs of humour) so here’s what’s coming up on September 26th…

Daylight Music 200

Daylight Music 200: Ex-Easter Island Head + French For Rabbits + Louis Barabbas, plus a photo exhibition (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, UK – Saturday 26th September 2015, 12.00pm-2.00pm) – free entry, suggested donation £5.00

An extra special event to celebrate the 200th Daylight Music, featuring some of the most popular acts from the last six years (643 performances by 530 different acts; 15,254 cups of tea or coffee drunk; 9,863 slices of cake scoffed; 5,003 pieces of quiche devoured) and during which we’ll be raising funds for Daylight Music in 2016.

Ex-Easter Island Head are a Liverpool based musical collective composing and performing music for solid-body electric guitar, percussion and other instruments. They have performed their original compositions solo, as a duo, trio, quartet and as a large ensemble across a wide variety of events from site-specific installation works to live film scores. They create a sensation whenever they play. If you’ve never seen musicians hitting electric guitars with mallets before, then cancel all other plans for the day and head down.

French For Rabbits hail from the remote natural setting of Waikuku Beach, in New Zealand’s South Island. Vocalist Brooke Singer expresses intimate narratives against the cast of the damp colonial cold; her voice delicately steeled against winsome guitar lines and the eerie instrumentation of her bandmates. It’s a weather-beaten dreamscape, nostalgic for warmth and hopefully lilting towards sunnier climes.

Louis Barabbas is a writer, performer and label director, best known for caustic love songs and energetic stage shows that leave you pumped up and breathless.

The icing on the cake this week is an instrumental soundscape provided by Irish singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Adrian Crowley, who (over his six-album career) has been described by the Independent as “a master of understatement” and cited by Ryan Adams as the answer to the question “who’s the best songwriter that no one’s heard of?”

To celebrate the fantastic photography taken throughout the lifespan of Daylight Music by a very talented bunch of volunteer photographers, there will be a lo-fi photo exhibition consisting of 200 postcards on the pews of the chapel for people to take away; plus there will be a limited numbers of brochures to buy featuring all of the photographs.

More information on the concert is here.

In the evening, there’s a change of pace and milieu over in Hackney as post-hardcore rubs up against a bit of playful English Dada. I’ve got a liking for those occasions when rock music drives itself up against persistent, wayward speech and stubs its toes on it; and this gig will offer plenty of opportunities for that…

Blacklisters, Joeyfat, Himself, September 26th

Blacklisters + Joeyfat + Himself (Pink Mist @ The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, London, E8 2EB, UK, Saturday 26th September 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.00

Blacklisters’ aggressive, confrontational and darkly humorous performances have earned them a reputation as one of the best acts on the UK underground, drawing comparisons to the likes of The Jesus Lizard and Pissed Jeans. Their debut album ‘BLKLSTRS’ was released in 2012 to critical acclaim, landing them supports with Scratch Acid, Pig Destroyer, Future of the Left and Big Business, as well as a live session at Maida Vale studios for the Radio 1 Rock Show. Tonight’s special show is in support of their fearsome new record ‘Adult’ on Smalltown America. Produced by Matt Johnson (aka MJ of Hookworms) the album is a clear progression for the band and sees them fuse abstract art-noise with the brutally minimalist riffs that first put them on the radar.

Also playing are amorphous cult stalwarts Joeyfat, a band who’ve been defying conventions of “band logic” longer than most of us have been able to get into shows at all. Their sinewy math-inspired spoken-word has seen them share stages with the likes of Bilge Pump, S*M*A*S*H, Clearlake, Lords, Dartz, Art Brut, Trencher and Green Day, obviously. Catch them at this rare London show.

Direct from Leeds (unless they stopped off some place on the way), Himself’s shouty/talky interactive noise rock has been winning them plaudits up and down the company, including from Radio’s Daniel P. Carter who invited them to record a live session for the Radio 1 Rock Show earlier this year.

Tickets for the Shacklewell Arms gig are available here and here. Note that this is an 18+ event.

 

September 2015 – upcoming London gigs – experimental pop in Brixton on the 9th, folk and darkwave in Bethnal Green on the 11th, a Daylight Music melange and a Tim Smith garage-fizz fundraiser on the 19th

9 Sep

More upcoming September gigs, from tomorrow through to Saturday 19th

a.P.A.t.T. + Tom O.C. Wilson Ensemble + 4tRECk + Some of My Best Friends (The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, UK, Thursday 9th September 2015, 8.00pm) – £6.00/£7.00

a.P.A.t.T. , 2015

a.P.A.t.T. , 2015

A Brixton evening of skewed and experimental pop, shading off into other directions including R’n’B, improvised instrumentals and assorted prankery. (Age restriction – 18 years minimum)

The a.P.A.t.T. of today take a skilled yet cheeky approach to playing progressive pop that owes as much to Kurt Schwitters and the Chapman Brothers as it does to ABBA and Zappa. In touring new album ‘Fun With Music’, a.P.A.t.T. have condensed their vision-quest into forty-five minutes of hooky, style-busting live band material, evading capture at every turn. This is the band that swaps instruments live mid-track and has even run its own small country for an evening: it’s a restless and relentless take on 21st century music and performance through a lens of knowing, winking, quintessentially British humour.

The Tom O.C Wilson Ensemble offers forward thinking pop music that combines classic songwriting values with boundless musical curiosity. Wilson describes himself as “a composer and performer driven by the desire to create music that doesn’t exist but should”, and his work (ranging from experimental pop albums to concert pieces for amateur orchestras) has won praise from Field Music, Michael Finnissy and Devendra Banhart among others.

The USSB of Hamburg-based Some Of My Best Friends is a Unit of Science, Socialism and Booty. Some Of My Best Friends use tunes and words. Some Of My Best Friends don’t approve of unnecessary effort. Some Of My Best Friends never travel with more than one case. Think psycho dub, garage soul, trap, and Karl Marx’s booty in sequin overalls.

In existence for years and years, Sam Callow’s 4tRECk project makes music based around spontaneous improvisation, chance, using various instruments (piano, guitar, violin, accordion, home-made stringed instruments, percussion, voice) the “wrong” way, ideas, and detailed composition. The results are broad, with a melancholic side.

More info here, and tickets here.

* * * * * * * *

Friday 11th sees the launch of a “new regular night, bringing you new sounds and non-traditional world music, folk, contemporary classical, trip hop and downtempo music. We start with some truly breathtaking bands…” This kind of blarney could be an attempt to heat up some very thin and bland material indeed, but the people behind Whispers & Hurricanes are Chaos Theory, who already sweat bullets to bring interesting jazz, post-prog, metal and post-hardcore into and out of London, so I think we can trust them. Here’s the bill:

Whispers & Hurricanes, 11th September 2015Mishaped Pearls + Seventh Harmonic + TEYR (Whispers & Hurricanes @ The Sebright Arms,, Friday 11th September 2015, 7.30pm) – £6.00/£8.00

Seven-piece band Mishaped Pearls are at the forefront of a very exciting new wave of UK folk. Their adventurous song combination of the ancient and the new finds an echo in their musical make up – banjo, saz baglama, bodhran, violin and mandolin mix with acoustic guitar, keyboards, electric bass and drums, all led by the mezzo-soprano voice of Manuela Schuette. Their music’s roots in tradition expand into progressive folk and rock, eastern modal music and shows elements of contemporary classical influence. Their most recent album ‘Thamesis’ has received outstanding reviews across the media.

Consisting of multi-instrumentalist and composer Caroline Jago and drummer Lesley Malone (both also of Sol Invictus) plus singing violinist Éilish McCracken, Seventh Harmonic are a neoclassical darkwave ensemble creating sensual euphoric epics that draw on a great diversity of influences. The music blends an intoxicating kaleidoscope of rhythmic intensity and soaring vocals with ethno-symphonic overtures, defying categorisation yet always beating with a dark romantic heart.

Forged amongst the hustle and bustle of North London’s folk scene, TEYR (“3” in the Cornish language) are a trio of formidable musicians who showcase the many sounds of the British Isles. With roots running from Ireland to Wales to Cornwall, James Gavin (guitar and fiddle), Dominic Henderson (uilleann pipes and whistles) and Tommie Black-Roff (accordion), the players thrive on close interplay and pushing the possibilities of acoustic music. Having met on the traditional music scene through late night sessions, each performer holds an intuitive sense of folk music, evident in their deft arrangements and compositions. The trio draws influence from neo-folk groups such as Lau, Kan and Lúnasa, whilst harnessing an innovative combination of strings, reeds and voices. With this distinct mix, TEYR strike an enigmatic path through the current folk wave.

Tickets from here – note that this is another 18-and-over event.

* * * * * * * *

Admittedly the following is late rather than early September, but if you look forward to Saturday 19th you can anticipate spending from noon until early afternoon admiring architecture to a soundtrack of chamber classical, contemporary folk and experimental pop, and then head into the fringes of south-west London for something a little scruffier and garage-friendly.

In conjunction with the Open House London Weekend (which takes in their home venue of the Union Chapel as well as a wealth of other fantastic London architecture – check it out), Daylight Music are doing a special double-length all-ages Saturday session. Details below…

Daylight Music 199

Daylight Music 199: Sean O’Hagan, Ellie Lovegrove/Illumina, Pip Mountjoy + Elephant (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, UK – Saturday 19th September 2015, 10.00am-2.00pm) – free entry, suggested donation £3.50

Sean O’Hagan is a legend of the indie scene, initially from his work in Microdisney and latterly from his time in The High Llamas who have been following their own lights for the past eighteen years, making records and essentially occupying their own genre in doing so. Their music is timeless; elements of retro and modern share the space, creating a unique time and place that is outside the lines of history as we experience it. Today Sean will be providing a solo performance.

Consisting of Ellie Lovegrove (trumpets) and Richard Moore (church organ), classical chamber music duo Illumina were formed in 2012 for a bespoke private recital and enjoy performing a wide variety of music, including works by Handel, Bach, Purcell, Stanley, Elgar, Damase, Takemitzu, and Eben.

Up-and-coming singer-songwriter Pip Mountjoy has been championed by BBC Introducing. She has toured the UK extensively, supporting the likes of Ryan Adams, John Smith, Slow Club, playing festivals such as Glastonbury, Isle of Wight and Cambridge Folk, and leaving audiences “simultaneously entertained, depressed, amused, bemused and delighted.”

Elephant is an intriguing creature hand reared by Lymington-based Alex Hall. Armed with a laptop and a modest collection of instruments, he set forth in piecing together and recording a collection of material inspired by his love of experimental indie, ’60s surf pop and more contemporary lo-fi electronic music. This is the result.

Approximate timings:

  • 10.00am Doors
  • 10.30am Elephant
  • 11.30am Illumina
  • 12.30pm Pip Mountgrove
  • 1.30pm Sean O’Hagan

In between, there are musical interludes by unsigned indie-folk duo Swallow & The Wolf (about whom there’s an ever-growing buzz) and by Jack Hayter (the multi-instrumentalist perhaps best known for work with Darren Hayman and Hefner, and on this occasion providing pedal steel improvisations similar to his Dollboy work plus “the odd jazz standard” though his solo performances of his own engagingly battered folk songs are also well worth seeing).

More information on the concert is here https://www.facebook.com/events/446360282212545/

In the evening, in Kingston-upon-Thames, there’s a benefit gig: another in the ongoing series of support fundraisers for the cruelly-stricken Tim Smith of Cardiacs. Even if Cardiacs in the raw, uncompromising original isn’t quite your thing, if you’ve got any interest in slightly complicated, roughened pop and garage-band grit, go along anyway. These are among the warmest of gigs…

From The Pond, 19th September 2015

From The Pond: a benefit for Tim Smith featuring Redbus Noface + 7shades + Sterbus + t.b.c. (The Fighting Cocks, 56 Old London Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, London, KT2 6QA, UK, Saturday 19th September 2015, 7.00pm) – £10.00

“A multi-faceted psychedelic pop-punk benefit gig… four extraordinary bands (all Cardiacs-y), beautiful and exclusive merchandise… every penny raised goes to Tim.”

Redbus Noface is the band project from latterday recording engineer and long-ago Cardiac Mark Cawthra. The first Redbus Noface album, ‘#1 If It Fights The Hammer, It Will Fight The Knife’, was released in 2011 and represents many years of Cawthra songwriting and musical ideas – a sturdy, beautifully crafted art-pop gem in the tradition of assorted English mavericks such as XTC.

Led by Neil Spragg, 7shades are a musical project which “pays tribute to the music of Tim Smith and Cardiacs – but with all original music” – a sometimes-nine-piece band delivering vigorously convoluted pop and blurts of punky, proggy, psychedelic noise, all equipped with a fantastical and humorous edge and no fear of either looking or sounding ridiculous.

Sterbus is from Rome, but his musical heart is in the shaggier, dreamier end of 1990s Britpop and American indie rock (Blur and Cardiacs, Elliott Smith and Nirvana, Supergrass and Pavement) and also delves happily into prime prog (with King Crimson, Zappa, Porcupine Tree and the fuzzier rockier chunks of the Canterbury scene). Self-releasing – and working mainly solo – he’s mixed this menu into a series of albums of warm double-jointed oddpop. Returning to the Fighting Cocks for his second Smith benefit gig, he’s performing in duet with his regular band foil Dominique D’Avanzo (him on guitar, her on clarinet, recorder and mouth harp, and both of them singing) for what he describes as “something very Sea Nymph-y and full of chords that Tim would love.”

Sadly, one of the scheduled bands has had to pull out… but if you’re still interested in the garage-rocker sounds of The Spencers (who “make noises. Loud noises. Noises that make you all happy and sad and angry… and sometimes, all at the same time” via a grime of guitars, low-budget organs and rock-siren vocals, plus distinctly Cardiacs twists of wandering harmonies and attention-deficit mood‘n’pace changes) here’s a taste of them anyway.

The event will be compered by writer and comedian Robin Ince (he of ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage‘) who’s apparently “bringing a friend. And may be doing a little music.” There will also be visuals by South Coast animator Cyriak Harris, whose hilarious, playful and slightly disturbing videos have been a YouTube staple ever since he delivered a monster-movie ‘EastEnders’ tribute to the BBC nearly a decade ago…

Ongoing news regarding From The Pond (including any last-minute substitutes for The Spencers) is here and tickets are here.

More September gigs shortly, plus a look at October and further on.

June 2013 – live reviews – Liam Singer/Foxout!/Sealionwoman (with Laura Moody) @ The Dentist (33 Chatsworth Road), Homerton, London, 26th June 2013 (“a gig in a bottle”)

30 Jun

As I get off the bus in Clapton, the midsummer evening sun is giving the neighbourhood a lingering kiss. It brushes across the Clapton Portico (a bewildered, disinherited classical remnant, grafted onto a school at the end of an abbreviated road), takes away its sadness and helps it in its lonely loom. It limns the shopfronts of convenience stores and barbers and closed-down shops, and perks them up. It lends soft glows and sends little licks of shadow chasing around the stonework of the Round Chapel, and it brings out the last sleepy cheeps of the day from the local sparrows as I head down Glenarm Road towards Homerton.

Waiting for someone to sing..

Waiting for someone to sing..

Thirteen years ago – when I was living a lengthy stone’s-throw to the west, over in Stoke Newington – this part of east London was a soured inner suburb with a brooding, bullet-ridden reputation. The length of Clapton Road was tagged as Murder Mile – an edgy and angry place beset by resentments, drive-by shootings and unprovoked beatings. Flickers of anger sometimes still plague it. Almost two years ago, the second night of the 2011 London riots kicked off just a few minutes walk from here: a churn of flames, looting and outright war between police and estate kids. Barely a block away in Clarence Road, Pauline Pearce delivered the impassioned harangue which would establish her as a Hackney heroine. Now though, all is peaceful: and it gives me the chance to reflect that, as with people, the hair-raising reputations of many places come only from their occasional spasms.

The biggest fuck-you I get tonight comes from a house painted in a shocking purple and gesturing out from an otherwise cream-and-beige Victorian terrace, like some kind of bolshy architectural remix. As I’ve come to know in recent years, this part of London is a place where a very diverse set of people get on with living: it’s also the kind of area where people get out of doors not to go hunting but to break that pesky London reserve and meet their neighbours. Pubs become sitting rooms; sitting rooms and armchairs spill onto streets – another embedded global village. While people are a little thin on the ground tonight, this late-June evening (just beginning to show the mottlings of dusk) is suffused with an easy warmth. Later in the evening, Liam Singer will chuckle from behind his keyboard and gift the neighbourhood with a more welcome tag than it’s had in years. “It’s like Brooklyn, but if everyone was really friendly.”

Lampshading.

Lampshading.

Sitting on the border of Clapton and Homerton, The Dentist is nothing if not hopeful. A former drop-in surgery a little north of the hospital, it’s a genial wreck of a building. Crumbled, scarified and grime-smeared, it stands like a worn, chewed tooth in a shopping parade halfway between old London main drag and international souk. An enterprising guy called Phil calls the upstairs home, while using the downstairs for pop-up gigs, shoestring theatre, and scratch-and-strike art gallery exhibits. The back garden is full of splintered wood and earth hummocks, plus a makeshift tabletop bar. The wine is rolled up from the cellar via a scary ravine. The whole place thrums with friendliness.

Inside, crowded into the front room and sharing its atmosphere of ravage and reclaim, we’re part of a show. In a place this small, within breathing or patting range of the musicians, it’s hard not to feel that way. Behind the players, the curving plate-glass façade of the old shopfront runs across and around: over their shoulders, we look out at the street life. It looks right back at us, sometimes with suspicious flicks of the eyes (a man in a shalwar kameez, hurrying past to the makeshift mosque next door), sometimes with a bemused acceptance (a local geezer ambling along to the chippy) and sometimes with outright delight (younger locals on a stroll, pointing and celebrating on their way to and from the Hackney bars further into town).

Sealionwoman - Tye and Kitty as the daylight fades.

Sealionwoman – Tye and Kitty as the daylight fades.

To them, this must look like a gig in a bottle – the audience in full view, the musicians upfront but backs turned, the music bleeding out in faint enticing vapours. Speaking of which… cue musicians.

Tye McGivern slumps over a double bass, plucking, bowing and sometimes wrenching his notes: a man with strong, thoughtful butchers hands and the face of a weary rabbi. To his right, Kitty Whitelaw sways barefoot – grubby toes, blue nails, a jazz pulse, a little black dress and a feel for the taut sinews of a song. There’s no-one else. About five years ago Tye and Kitty were two-thirds of Kitty & The Drowning Bag, were a lot noisier, and had a drummer. For the couple of years that they’ve been Sealionwoman they’ve been drummer-less and bring their own extra noise in their pockets.

Sealionwoman deal in blurred versions of jazz and torch, and they’re perfectly suited to the smear of dusk that’s coming on as they begin to play. As influences, they’ll cite the crepuscular – Nick Cave and Morphine – but also cite the vivid, iconoclastic enactments and reinterpretations of jazz songs as carried off by Mina Agossi. There’s something in that. While they deal with plenty of old jazz standards – passed from hand to hand, worn smooth like wooden heirlooms – Sealionwoman share a trace of that Agossi rebellion against jazz performance manners and form, preferring to draw out song essence and perhaps a thread of history along with it.

Sealionwoman - Kitty Whitelaw possesses another standard.

Sealionwoman – Kitty Whitelaw possesses another standard.

However, what I’m hearing is something which shades Peggy Lee with Patti Smith. It’s partially that everything they do sounds a little bit like Fever – songs carried entirely and by necessity on the honk, creak and slide of Tye’s bass and the teasing dance-around of Kitty’s voice. It’s partly the lazily assured flutter of Kitty’s demeanour, and the way that it can quickly shift and escalate to an incantatory yell.

What they do has little to do with straightforward theatrics, and still less to do with diva drama. In his hands and on her lips, the songs turn as wayward as blown smoke: dip in and out of ritual; become stretched-out, yammering versions of themselves; go from breezy cool to swimming, waking dream. Sometimes Tye leans over to prod at a laptop or a fuzz pedal, furring up those woody bass notes to turn them into air-horns, or a sweep across concrete. Sometimes he drums with a pair of brushes on boxes and chairs. At other times his hands drum vigorously on the wood of the bass, booming out ritual and conversation, a vigorous and physical lover teetering on the border of tenderness and violence. Kitty sways, stands on tiptoe; brushes against the songs as if stretching for a passing kiss. Her voice folds around the melody line and uses it as a jumping off point, springing into the air, hanging, returning. Every so often a familiar tune and lyric slides through the circling murk. I spot Night And Day.

Mostly, though, it’s all about mood. Strangely blissful, narcoleptic – although by the end of the set and the dip of the late sunset they’ve risen in a slow heat, culminating in a Dionysiac frenzy of bass-drumming and banshee wails. It’s probably enough to put the wind up the Muslim congregation next door, praying their way through Asr. If they’re as Hackneyfied as everyone else around here, though, they’ll just shrug it off.

Foxout! 's Daniel Merrill, bowing against the dusk.

Foxout! ‘s Daniel Merrill, bowing against the dusk.

The gloaming has well and truly arrived as Foxout! settle down and begin. Perched opposite each other on a couple of stools, Daniel Merrill and Jeremy Young hunch over a network of effects pedals and rummage through what looks like a box of yellowed prehistoric teeth: these they mouth and mumble, blowing into a microphone to build up a warm, rambling noisescape of notes, feedback and harmonic buzz before they even pick up an instrument.

In fact, the teeth are reed tubes gutted from an old harmonium. Foxout! enjoy rejigging bits and pieces of antique musicality, and they’re extraordinarily good at it. Some more history might be useful, before we go any further. Essex-raised but with feet made for journeying, Daniel is the fiddler in Dead Rat Orchestra. Despite his youthful looks, he already has a decade of improvised folk music behind him, plus tours all over the globe (some of which were in the company of Godspeed You! Black Emperor (from whom he may have filched Foxout!’s abrupt exclamation mark). Another young veteran, Jeremy’s from Brooklyn music – he once played bleakly beautiful post-Godspeed chamber music with [the] slowest runner [in all the world] and limpid post-rock atmospherics with Sontag Shogun before moving on to solo experimental tonescapes and spoken word as szilárd. Both men wander; both men curate the work of others. Both men mingle.

Foxout! - Jeremy Young.

Foxout! – Jeremy Young.

Right now, both men are studying here in London. As their orbits have converged, Foxout! has emerged – immersed in the tributaries of Celtic folk but flowing through some crafty filters as it contributes to the journey. Certainly the prime stamp and weft of the music is Celtic – reels and pibrochs; plangent, sad melodies. Yet it’s Celtic music folded back over itself, cross-cut with experimental sounds and processing, and by strands of improvisation from elsewhere.

Daniel is one of those musicians who looks extraordinarily sad while he plays. Concentration renders his long, bearded face into a subtle mask of tragedy until you expect lock-gates to burst and for three hundred years of folk laments to come pouring out of him. His fiddle is the main melodic phrasing voice, with Jeremy’s acoustic guitar serving as a taut, bounding dodging rhythm source. Jeremy himself is constantly watchful and supportive, his eyes fixed on Daniel, holding up his partner’s passionate forays.

Speaker.

Speaker.

What emerges is remarkable, not least for the way in which it shape-shifts between different disciplines, experiments and sound-art tricks with neither seam nor strain. At times Foxout! broil with a heated minimalism or take on a grain of compulsive, systematic Futurist patterning. At others, a flexing bough or current of history catches at them and pulls them back to direct expression. One piece is a sensitive plucked-and-bowed air-ballad played (for half its length), over the sound of a draining straw, but with neither bathos nor disruption. Strips of noise sometimes bluster through the wood and strings, like another conversation passing through. Another gorgeous ballad tune sounds as if it could have be minted yesterday, simultaneously fresh and ancient. In the latter, there’s a moment of perfect meshing as Daniel and Jeremy briefly sweep into lockstep, rolling out a near-telepathic unison of notes before dancing away from each other again.

Night begins to settle in properly. Shades of indigo, of dulled London brick and of gaudy shop-front neon sift in through the window. The Dentist’s front room starts to take on something of the air of an Irish lock-in – nothing rowdy, but with the same sense of deep involvement in the music. As Daniel announces “a new ditty”, a couple of guests step up. Usually, Laura Moody’s a mischievous classical renegade or an acrobatic singer-songwriter when she’s not a fizzing cocktail of both. Right now, though, she and her cello are demure and thoughtful – the sober and quiet accompanist providing deep, cloudy strings while Liam Singer (just a few minutes away from his headlining set), sits in to sing.

Foxout! - strings against the dying light.

Foxout! – strings against the dying light.

The song all four share with us in semi-darkness- which may or may not be called As The Wind Turns Away – is a perfect closer. Sombre and gripping, there may not be too much too it (certainly Liam’s softly yearning tenor seem to be making much with fragmentary, cycling sentences) but they make a virtue of that.The song builds softly and inexorably with the dying of the light: a folky threnody for something a little out of focus, something over your shoulder, waiting to be picked up on. Listening to Foxout! gives you the dreamy and welcome impression that if you didn’t have roots before, you’re growing some now.

Liam Singer - songs against the sirens.

Liam Singer – songs against the sirens.

Sat behind a borrowed piano, and minus the sophisticated ornamentations that colour his chamber pop and detailed modern-classical minatures on record (those strings, mandolins and marimbas; those sundry twists and shifts of sound), Liam Singer runs his own set on a shoestring, and runs it well. As the delicate instrumental fantasia of On Earth A Wandering Stranger Was I Born unspools itself, it’s tenebrous but increasingly shot with hopeful illumination. While Liam performs, police cars occasionally sail up Chatworth Road in search of trouble, passing behind him in a quick welter of blue-and-red lights and siren-wail. They rock his soft resilient bubble of song, but don’t burst it.

Easygoing and enthusiastic in person, Liam ripples his own depths when he sits down to sing. Even when stripped down to piano-and-voice, his songs grow their own bosky Edenic atmosphere, filling out his excursions into classical minimalism with deeper shadings. I’ve noticed, previously, how he dips into American antiquity and draws it up up like well-water. His high, open tenor brings freshness and a glow of innocence, but older things lie in wait in the shade to snatch that away. At times, Liam’s like a young scholar running assured, fascinated fingers over the scuffed and scraped covers of ancient leather-bound books; but when the mood deepens and takes him, he sings like the man who’s been spat back out of the faery mound – fully aware and alive, but displaced, crucially out-of-joint with his times.

Still life at The Dentist - mixing desk, lollipops and scarification.

Still life at The Dentist – mixing desk, lollipops and scarification.

This is not just down to the tinge of Edwardian parlour song within Liam’s work, nor yet the occasional antiquarian “thou” or “thee” in his lyrics. There’s a mildly febrile quality to his songwriting, a flicker of Blakeian hallucination to add to the forays into classical piano and the Tennyson tint of mediaeval inflections. His song world is notable for its permeability – the mythic or the supernatural soak through into it, adding piquancy to his sharply edged portraits of involvement and solitude. On The Brief Encounter, Liam can bump into swarms of gentle slacker ghosts, massing there to comfort him as he heads up the coastal road. In the middle of Oh Endless Storm he can cite a rock-chained Andromeda, looming spectrally above him and disdaining rescue as he veers towards a break-up.

Liam immerses himself in the story-swirls, homing in on the core as he sings, “Love is a wind, rips through our hearts, that takes control / We long for a language to lose ourselves, / or for a way to let go.” Later on – as his piano notes spiral in a stately, panicking dance on One Breath Out – he’ll clutch after disappearing chances. “Never could I know as each one passed, / that the last would be the last… / Just one breath out and the world grows colder; / fight the war, but not the soldier. / And one hand moves to protect the other now – / but we’re falling anyhow.” Yet none of this is mawkish or precious – in between songs, Liam is relaxed, gently self-mocking and friendly. Two songs played with Laura Moody on cello (a snatched opportunity before she catches the train back to West London) become affectionate tickles and tussles, ranging from childlike warmth to a rousing gamelan jig.

Liam Singer

Liam Singer

Even his solo piano miniatures, potentially an excuse for indulgence, carefully balance their romantic invention with a pucker of thoughtful modesty. The Dance of Cupid and Psyche pays subtle passing visits to Chopin, Satie and Air On The G-String, flushing its economy with a dash of vigour. On Hannah’s Dance (a lone flash from his decade-old debut, ‘The Empty Heart Of The Chameleon’) Liam displays a Tori Amos drive and fluidity but rounds it off within a single minute. The sweet cascading single, Stranger I Know, slips out of its crafty Shaker-gamelan arrangement and breathes easier, now less of a revelation than a relaxed celebration: “suckers, speeches, they can keep ’em all.”

In one week’s time, Liam’s new album – ‘Arc Iris‘ – is released, yet already he’s moving on from it. Half of the set is songs so new that they’re not on any record, and at least one of them – Three Songs – is fresh out of the notebook. “I’ll fuck it up tastefully,” promises Liam, shuffling his sheet music into place.

What emerges suggests that the drift away from Liam’s earlier experimentalism into fully-fledged romance (as promised by much of ‘Arc Iris’) is accelerating. Here is a beautiful but unnerving love-song, holding strong on the edge of wreck; swimming with gas-masks and cruelty and an unsettling Saint Sebastian gasp. “Someday I’ll see you sideways, / your pretty words are opening like arrows in the middle of my chest / ’til petals fall from my mouth / and I, I gasp for air / ‘cos something inside is pressurized… / When you feel it, you will know / that I was not crazy when I had to let it go.” Running through the words are hints of fairytale transmogrifications; always restlessness. Liam’s heading east after this concert, travelling over to play more gigs in France and Belgium. In another new song, with a vocal line like a perilous descent down crags and scree, he muses “from one skin to another we slide endlessly.” Perhaps he’d like to keep wandering on, heading to the edge of the world.

Ceiling.

Ceiling.

Sitting beside the mixing desk is a jar of lollipops. By now, the contents are making the rounds among the audience and consequently Liam’s playing is being punctuated by furtive, respectful cellophane rustles, which he takes in good heart. Someone else is passing around a copy of ‘Paradise Lost’, which seems more appropriate, as the prowling monsters name-checked back in Oh Endless Storm are resurfacing in Love Me Today (“”There are dark things in the earth / soon they’ll be twisted / up for air /… as the ground gives way.”) Maybe I’m a being little suggestible, but it seems to me that there are also shadings of the twenty-first century ghosts which haunt Liam’s adopted hometown of New York. For over a decade the city’s romantic signifiers, once brash and confident, have been haunted by the shock of sudden and brutal dissolution. While Liam’s not one for hammer-blow songcraft, much of what he sings enfolds an onset of loss, from the counting to (ominously) the banking aircraft. “In the shadow of the moon, as our planes spin away / You know my eyes may tell you lies, but love me today.”

Under the cheerful coloured bulbs strung across The Dentist’s battered ceiling, he offers us a last dance. This’ll be to Unhand Me (You Horrid Thing), from ‘Arc Iris’, a brief, deliciously rueful song which sketches out the mixture of hope, awkward embarrassment and careful blundering steps that make up an ordinary, flakey relationship – prickles and all. “They’re playing our favourite song, the one that makes us both dance for a dare / ’til our feet turn to air / and our hands come apart, / as the guitar solo starts. / And that is the part / that breaks my heart.” It’s a different, generous note to end on, for a gig that’s felt like a cosy but inspiring house party. As I say my goodbyes and slip out of The Dentist, it looks as if the party will be going on for a while longer. Not only sound carries. Warmth does, too.

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February 1997 – album reviews – The Bathers’ ‘Kelvingrove Baby’ (“full of Celtic soul histrionics, surging choruses and delicate instrumental interludes”)

13 Feb

The Bathers: 'Kelvingrove Baby'

The Bathers: ‘Kelvingrove Baby’

Oh, but I do worry about Chris Thomson.

Chris Thomson is The Bathers. He’s been ploughing his lonely furrow for ten years, since the break up of the seminal Glasgow group Friends Again (who also featured James Grant of Love And Money ‑ no, me neither…). This is The Bathers’ fifth album ‑ it will doubtless be received with the same resounding silence as all the others, save for the tiny devoted following who will think manna has descended from heaven. So why was I worried? Well, the sleeve to the last album, ‘Sunpowder’, contained the desperately insecure messages “Support the Arts ‑ Hug A Musician” and “The Dream Is Over ‑ Long Live The Dream”. Sob.

Now you’ll have to take The Bathers to your hearts, surely…?


 
In truth, the first three or so tracks are a touch disconcerting by normal Bathers standards. The (frankly pretentious, but marvellous) European‑influenced titles are absent; the credits show a preponderance of Wurlitzer, Rhodes and electric pianos rather than the normally ever‑present ethereal strings and chiming classical piano lines. And while Van Morrison has often been an undoubted influence, on this album the influence is perhaps too pervasive, and it verges at times on sounding like an avant‑garde Hothouse Flowers. The trio of Girlfriend, If Love Could Last Forever and East Of East Delier ‑ whilst gloriously late‑night ‑ can make them sound like a barely‑audible, zonked‑out but musically polite cafe band. At one point, I half expected Thomson to slur: “Ladeez and gennelmen, we’re your band this evening. Gonna take a little ol’ break now. See you at the bar, which is now open.”.


 
But for East Of East Delier, the European outlook (“I dreamed she’d come from Copenhagen…”) is back, serenaded by Thomson’s 2 a.m‑feel, decidedly tipsy, highly emotional display, and the album twitches into life with No Risk No Glory. With a sparse acoustic base to the verse, and sympathetic soul‑style backing vocals (by, of all people, Del Amitri’s Justin Currie ‑ bang goes the indie cred) that echo Thomson’s lyric, the chorus rises to breast‑beating Celtic soul and a lyric full of self‑awareness ‑ “I was born to suffer.”

And after a slightly hazy start to the album, Once Upon A Time On The Rapenburg restores my faith. It’s like an old friend, and you should never change an old friend. All the signature Bathers motifs are there ‑ the classical piano, the strings, the over‑emotional vocals, the continental cool. And the lyrical concern is a familiar one about kissing a girl under starlit skies in various exotic European locations. What a guy…


 
Kelvingrove Baby itself is the album’s central epic ‑ there’s always one, full of Celtic soul histrionics, surging choruses and delicate instrumental interludes. It begins as a simple piano motif before bursting into life with haunting voices and an operatic diva weaving in and out of Thomson’s lyrics ‑ which could be corny, but instead sends a shiver down the spine. He’s expectantly waiting for a girl again, and dedicating his overflowing paean of love to her hometown. The music regularly builds, swells and bursts like a raincloud, as Thomson reaches ecstatic preacherly heights of inspiration: “when your girl looks at you, and she sighs, / when she moves beside you, you want the moment touched with magic and immortality. / You want rain, / you want soft music, / and the last words to be about love!” Pianos and drums explode. The song ends, soaked to the skin and smiling.


 
On a quieter tip, Girl From The Polders is a good example of what Thomson does so well: taking a standard, timeless melody (you know the tune already, from the first notes onwards) and drawing out of it something haunting and emotional. He seems to be waiting through the seasons, until summer, for her this time. (Hands up if you see a lyrical theme emerging…)

The one unforgivable track ‑ the first real blot on Thomson’s copy book I’ve heard in ages, is Dial. More cafe band music; too mellow, man. Lots of filmic guitar, elongated major‑7th chords, treacle‑smooth backing vocals and an irredeemably cringeworthy chorus ‑ “Caller, you’re divine.” Ugh. But Hellespont In A Storm (yes! titles! titles!) wins us back: a late‑night lament guided by an accordion, acoustic guitar and violin. Although, gorgeous as it is, Thomson’s way with a familiar melody takes a tumble in the verses, where echoes of Unchained Melody can be clearly heard. Oh, never mind…

The final track, Twelve, finds Thomson devoting himself to a girl in the most poetic and tangible of ways; “I’ll love you ’til the roses lose their perfume… / until the poets run out of rhymes… / ’til the twelfth of never. / And, baby, you know / that’s a long, long time…” Then that “Bathers moment” appears ‑ distant voices appear and disappear through snatches of ghostly telephone conversations, string passages shoot up at the back of the recording like incense rushing up the dome of St Peter’s. The callers hang up.


 
Chris Thomson will be waiting for you, bottle of red wine in hand in the late‑night rain, under the street lamp’s orange glow. He’ll be singing quietly to himself.

Goodbye, Chris. See you at the same place next time.

(review by Vaughan Simons)

The Bathers: ‘Kelvingrove Baby’
Marina Records, MA 22/MACD 4468‑2 (4 015698 446821)
CD-only album
Released: 10th February 1997

Get it from:
(2018 update) the original Marina pressing of this album has long since sold out, so is best obtained second-hand. The 2000 reissue on Wrasse Records is still available.

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