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September 2018 – upcoming London folk gigs – Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows, part 1 – Curly Strings and Fran & Flora (6th September); She’Koyokh and Owl Parliament Choir (7th September); Alasdair Roberts and Counter’s Creek (14th September)

30 Aug

Here’s the first half of September’s set of Nest Collective Campfire Club open air, communal spaces shows. Info on the second half to follow in a week or so…

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The first gig, on Thursday 6th , features Curly Strings and Fran & Flora.

Curly Strings is a four-piece band from Estonia which draws its inspiration from American bluegrass and their own personal heritage in the current Estonian cultural space. Intense and playful ensemble work, hauntingly beautiful melodies and sincere presentation of their music forms the main basis of the Curly Strings soundscape.


 
Fran & Flora – a collaboration between ninja violinist Flora Curzon and folk/experimental cellist Francesca Ter-Berg – combines aspects of traditional string music and song from Eastern Europe with original compositions and improvisation. Having travelled across Europe to study with many great masters of Eastern European Roma and Klezmer music Fran & Flora perform this repertoire incorporating their own unique arrangements creating a sound that is both timeless and contemporary. They captivate their audiences with soulful laments, exquisite songs, irresistible dance tunes, and tales of their musical adventures.”


 
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One day later, there’s a joint show for klezmer aces She’Koyokh and the Owl Parliament Choir

“Since bursting on to the kletzmer and Balkan music scene in the early noughties, busking at London’s East End markets, the outstanding She’Koyokh has been at the forefront of UK’s world music scene, releasing four critically acclaimed studio albums, bringing the stunning polyphonic melodies and intricate rhythms of Bulgaria and Macedonia, treasured songs and kolos from Serbian villages, exhilarating Gypsy dances from the Romanian mountains and the Jewish music of Eastern Europe to new stages, venues, radio stations and audiences.


 
Owl Parliament Choir are a south London community choir, a group of friends and misfits united by their gleeful spirits, love of singing and feverish pursuit of the natural high induced by making music together. Led by Greg Staw, the choir’s repertoire is as wide as the eyes of the owls therein: Bulgarian folk songs, classical and contemporary compositions, English madrigals and original arrangements of pop classics. Anything with a soul is carefully brought to life and imaginatively crafted into colourful performances.”


 
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The 14th September gig features Alasdair Roberts and Counter’s Creek.

Alasdair Roberts is one of a rare breed of musicians whose work has found favour with aficionados of both experimental/avant-garde music and traditional/folk music – as such, he has been the cover star of both Wire Magazine and fRoots Magazine. He is primarily a songwriter/composer, singer and acoustic fingerstyle guitarist as well as an interpreter/arranger of traditional songs and ballads from Scotland and beyond.

“Originally performing and releasing as Appendix Out, Alasdair began a formal solo career under his own name in 2001, and in 2013 became a member of the Scottish/English folk group The Furrow Collective (who’ve released two albums on Hudson Records and won the accolade of Best Group in the 2017 BBC Radio Two Folk Awards). Over the years, Alasdair has collaborated with a wide variety of fellow musicians such as Will Oldham, Jason Molina, Josephine Foster, Mairi Morrison and Karine Polwart; as well as with other artists including poet Robin Robertson, puppeteer Shane Connolly of Sokobauno Puppet Theatre and film-maker Luke Fowler.


 
Counter’s Creek is an acoustic folk trio based in London who make original music inspired by the folk music of the British Isles and beyond. Jigs, reels, grooves from Eastern Europe and West Africa, catchy melodies with closely interwoven harmonies allied to a real sense of swing and dance energy.

“Fiddler Tom Newell is known for his work with Effra, The Ceilidh Liberation Front, Alex Mendham & His Orchestra and assorted pop acts, and also plays banjo and mandolin (not to mention charango and mouth harp). Guitarist Moss Freed plays with jazz/folk group Flekd, the Spike Orchestra, has recently recorded for John Zorn’s Tzadik label and is currently researching a PhD at Hull University. Whistle player Jonathan Taylor has worked in many different musical genres: best known as a jazz pianist who’s played with artists such as Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Wesley, Ruby Turner and various British jazz luminaries, he’s also co-founder of Tango Siempre, appeared on Strictly Come Dancing and arranged music for Robert Wyatt. Three musicians from very different backgrounds, united by a love of acoustic folk music, great tunes and earthy dance grooves.”


 
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Full dates:

  • Campfire Club: Curly Strings + Fran & Flora – Kindred Studios, 18 Saltram Crescent, West Kilburn, London, W9 3HW, England, Thursday 6th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: She’Koyokh + Owl Parliament Choir – (secret location t.b.c.), London, England, Friday 7th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Alasdair Roberts + Counter’s Creek – Glengall Wharf Garden, 64 Glengall Road, Peckham, London, SE15 6NF, England, Friday 14th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

 

May 2018 – upcoming gigs – world folk through various filters with Brona McVittie, Marcus Corbett and Sebastian Reynolds in Oxford (16th May); Jack Miguel and Sam Mumford’s rap-folk exploration of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath with ‘A Murder Of Crows’ in London (18th May)

11 May

Marcus Corbett + Brona McVittie + Sebastian Reynolds, 16th May 2018Here’s another prompt for me to pay more regular attention to what’s going on at the Daylight Music shows in London – British folk guitarist Marcus Corbett is playing there this month, and next Wednesday (alongside Brona McVittie, whose own Daylight performance I missed back in March due to looking elsewhere), they’re both playing at a separate event in Oxford.

It’s easy to miss or forget the pointers at concerts which might lead you somewhere interesting – and I only picked up information on this Oxford event – billed as “a night of Thai electronica, Indian classical meets British folk and pastoral Celtic folk through a kosmiche filter” – by accident. Meanwhile, here’s a bit more on Marcus and Brona…

Marcus Corbett is an Anglo-Indian singer and guitarist spending his time between the English West Country and Pune in India: likewise, his guitar playing draws on Western-shaped ideas of folk and blues, but also on the world and tones of Indian classical music. His most recent recording is 2013’s ‘Strung Deep’, which also calls upon the talents of bansuri flute player Milind Date, violinist Sanjay Upadhye and tabla players Ntin Gaikwad and Sharanappa Guttaragi. It’s this record, amongst others, that he’ll be playing from for this concert, for which he’s rejoined by Ntin Gaikwad. (Both Marcus and Ntin are currently on a wider tour together, which you can find out more about here.)



 
Brona McVittie is an Irish harpist, singer and electronic musician from County Down, perhaps best known for fronting/plucking for acclaimed London-Irish trad outfit The London Lasses and for adding the Early Music influences to the Orla Wren-affiliated neo-impressionist project littlebow. During the noughties, she played in folk duos Footnote and The Balance and Footnote duos, followed by a spell leading experimental folktronica band Forestbrook. More recently, her occasional experimental folk-pop work as Queen Of Corkbots has displayed a sprightly humour in electro-acoustic arrangements as well as a love of reviving and gently reinventing old folk songs, carols and not-so-innocent children’s ditties in a web of electronic blips, Mellotronic flutes, pattering synth percussion and other delicate ornamentation.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this comes the new work under her own name which she’s gathered up into her formal solo debut album, ‘We Are The Wildlife’. Voice, harp, flute and strings combine with careful well-honed electronic arrangements for what’s described as “a psycho-geographic journey through a collection of traditional folk ballads and original compositions inspired as much by the geometries of London’s urban fringes as by the sonic phenomena within the great rural landscapes of Mourne.”

For this performance, Brona will be accompanied by friend, collaborator and American émigré Myles Cochran on slide guitar; himself an established solo artist in the more psychedelic, atmospheric end of UK Americana. Here’s the title track from ‘We Are The Wildlife’, plus the album’s version of Irish traditional song Molly Brannigan.



 
The third act at the concert is Oxford musician and PinDrop promoter Sebastian Reynolds. Possibly solo, or possibly accompanied by his Solo Ensemble (also featuring keyboard player Jody Prewett, cellist Anne Müller and violinist Alex Stolze), he’ll be performing excerpts from his Mahajanaka Dance Drama project score (released on a Bandcamp EP last month). The music itself is founded on sampled loops taken from recordings of a piphat (high Thai classical) session undertaken by Thai pop ensemble the Krajidrid Band, which Sebastian has continued to build on.

The Mahajanaka story tells a tale from Buddhist mythology concerning a shipwrecked prince who survives alone at sea until the goddess of the ocean comes to his rescue. Here’s both Sebastian’s original version and a shimmering, urgent live treatment from the Solo Collective; plus a video documentary about the research into, and making of, the source music.


 
TMD Media and PinDrop present:
Marcus Corbett + Brona McVittie + Sebastian Reynolds
Modern Art Oxford, 30 Pembroke Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX1 1BP, England
Wednesday 16th May 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 
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A Murder Of Crows, 18th May 2018Back in London, at Poplar Union, there’s a coming together of spoken word, poetry, rap and experimental folk for Mental Health Awareness Week, as poet/rapper Jack Miguel collaborates with exploratory post-folk musician Sam Mumford in ‘A Murder Of Crows’, a multimedia response to ‘Crow‘, Ted Hughes’ collection of poems dealing with his own “demons” following the suicide of his wife and fellow poet Sylvia Plath. All proceeds will go towards supporting the Campaign Against Living Miserably, an award-winning charity dedicated to preventing male suicide (the single biggest killer of men under the age of forty-five in Britain) with additional donations encouraged on the door. This is a work-in-progress, so expect – even savour – a few rough edges, which might be part of the point.

Well established as a guitarist, singer, composer and sound artist, Sam makes a kind of deconstructed and rebuilt electro-acoustic folk music which draws equal comparisons to Bob Dylan, Joan Armatrading, Aphex Twin and Venetian Snares. While electronic sound techniques and collagery (taken from Sam’s love of dub, techno, drum and bass and electronica) lean in to both the mix and the toolbox, shaping and impling, Sam’s work is rooted in fingerpicking and voice, resulting in an unmoored new folk music which carries its roots with it as sleepwalking instinct, leaving him free to explore the here and now, whether addressing personal concerns or broader contemporary matters.

In this he’s well matched by Jack, whose own previous work has encompassed sound design, sculpture and moving image. The first poet and rapper to attend the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, he’s gone on (as “Jakaboski”) to become a writer and performer with psychedelic hip hop group Strangelove (and release his own solo debut, the ‘Mount Strive’ EP, in 2014). He also also exibits his own art installations, and works as a diverse arts educator with a particular specialisation in damaged but nurturable psyches (working in hospitals, pupil referral units and secure psychiatric units).

The latter, in particular, has led to work like Jack’s collaborative installation and performance study ‘The Turning of the Leaves’, a meditation on the First World War, masculinity and intergenerational trauma (drawing on the aforementioned Hughes, Carl Jung and Kendrick Lamar, and dealing directly with “the challenges facing men today amidst inherited narratives of power, violence and invulnerability.”) It will be interesting – and important – to see how this interest in toxic and tortured masculinity feeds into Jack and Sam’s examination of Hughes: well known, even beyond his poetry, as a man’s man and an alpha male; and whose treatment of Plath (including his co-opting of her posthumous legacy) has come under increasing challenge and outright attack in recent years (a further darkening of the story).
 



 
Also engaged with the project are two special guests – performance poet and theatre maker Cecilia Knapp and cellist-composer Natasha Zielanzinski (who specialises in contemporary repertoire, early music, free improvisation and folk music and whose performance history spans Sadlers Wells, Kanye West, the Royal Court Theatre and Kate Tempest). More special guests may be announced closer to concert time, although there’s only a week to go…

Jack Miguel & Sam Mumford present:
‘A Murder of Crows’
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Friday 18th May 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

March 2018 – upcoming gigs – Echo Trails and Djanan Turan in London (10th March); Echo Trails, Ingrid Plum, Kyriakides and Polbrone soundtrack old Russian animations for Colliding LDN in London (8th March); Antigen night in Ipswich with MacGillivray, Sealionwoman and Polly Preacher (16th March)

6 Mar

Echo Trails + Djanan Turan, 8th March 2018

Echo Trails + Djanan Turan
The Betsey Trotwood, 56 Farringdon Road, Clerkenwell, London, EC1R 3BL, England
Saturday 10th March 2018, 7.30pm
information

This month, the roiling, thrilling, mostly-acoustic post-folk band Echo Trails resurface for a Clerkenwell gig in the vaults of the Betsey Trotwood. If you missed them a month ago (at the Magic Garden), here’s what I said about them back then:

“Selling Echo Trails as being some kind of hopeful mashup of “epic groove and post-rock” is a massive undersell. Just because they’ve got a little Godspeed string thunder in them on occasion (and know a thing or two about old-school jazz’n’R&B propulsion) doesn’t mean that they’re one of those bands that milk the juice out of other genres and feed it into papery approximations.

“A well-honed acoustic band is like a set of unhindered precision muscles, able to flex rhythms on the fly and dance in unexpected curves, and this is just such a band. Fronted by Dimitra Tzanakaki (a ballsy, smouldering Greek blend of Beth Gibbons, Tori Amos and Bette Midler) they’re a supple alliance of guitar, voluble double bass, viola and drumkit, the song undercarriage slipping easily from Mediterranean folk to psychobilly to a salsa set-to or to shedbashing Led Zeppelin thrills. Since their arrival in 2014 they’ve phased out keyboard and phased in pedalwork, enriching texture even as the instrumentation shrank: hence the post-rock tag, but there’s Schönberg, Piaf, Korn, Temper Trap, bebop and Hidden Orchestra tucked into their bag of influences along with Godspeed.”




 
In support is Turkish singer turned Egg collaborator and London bandleader Djanan Turan, who specializes in light, chatty near-acoustic party pop with a timeless perpetually-youthful feel. Into the pot – along with her own warm and garrulous vocal – go Turkish beats, cabaret pop, mellow synth riffs, raga, woody spiralling clarinet lines and slithering Romani/Med-jazz guitar (the latter courtesy of Funkshy’s Fatih Ebrem).

Djanan’s also known for organising one of London’s female artist platforms (the Anatolian/Middle-Eastern-flavoured Hura Nights). In keeping with this, her own songs always sound and feel as if she’s invited you back into her kitchen to keep you abreast of developments and to talk a friendly blue streak about whatever’s crossing her mind – world peace, personal disagreements and reconciliations, the position of women, youth recalled and put into deeper perspective. Despite the hints at New Age positivity (I suspect that that kitchen has a couple of crystals hanging in the window), underneath that loquacious flow is an accomplished songwriter with her dancing feet firmly in touch with the ground. There may be gush involved, but it’s never flippant.



 
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A few days earlier, Echo Trails are making another London appearance at New River Studios as part of a film evening. As well as closing the show with a full set of their own songs, they’re one of four artists/bands performing live soundtracks to existing silent films. More below…

Colliding LDN, 10th March 2018Colliding Lines present:
‘Colliding LDN: Reanimation’
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Thursday 8th March 2018, 8.30pm
– information here and here

Live cross-disciplinary art promoters Colliding Lines begin “a new, bi-monthly night of live art, sound and vision, presenting experimental collaborations and post-label projects from select performers. ‘Reanimation’ (is) a live re-scoring of mostly Soviet-era cartoons and surrealist animations by four different artists).”

The programme features two shorts by veteran Russian animator Andrei Khrjanovsky (1968’s anti-bureaucratic musical fable ‘The Glass Harmonica‘ and 1972’s ‘The Butterfly‘), as well as alternative 1968 tellings of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid (‘Rusalochka‘ by Ivan Aksenchuk) and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (the National Institute of Mental Health’s polemical ‘Curious Alice‘, which took a somewhat counter-productive slap at the early ‘70s drug culture by making it look even more fascinating to children).

 
In addition to Echo Trails, live soundtracking will be performed by extended-voice improviser and soundshaper Ingrid Plum (who blends and savages her own glorious clear vocals with sound processing and field recordings, and stirs in influences from neo-classical and from Scottish and Nordic folk music) and by two different sets of electro-acoustic music-making brothers. In-demand collaborators for film, dance and installation work, Kyriakides (Reuben and Jacob, to their mother) build “expansive, enveloping soundworlds” from live instruments, field recordings and found objects across a wide spectrum of musical and stylistic options. Electro-acoustic fraternal drone duo Polbrone are an alternate workframe for Andrea and Simone Salvatici of Glasgow avant-folk minimalists Clorinde, who in this project loop and gradually destroy their own sonic textures (and on this occasion will be aided by improvising cellist Derek Yau).


 
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A little later on, inspired East Anglian “marginal musician” label Antigen are running a concert over in Ipswich…

MacGillivray + Sealionwoman + Polly Preacher, 16th March 2018

Antigen Records present:
MacGillivray + Sealionwoman + Polly Preacher
The Smokehouse, South Street Studios, 6 South Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1 3NU, England
Friday 16th March 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

When she’s out and about playing music, writing or committing performance art, Kirsten Norrie goes by her ancestral Scottish name MacGillivray, pulling her matrilineal Highland heritage over her head like a mask. With many wannabe artists, this kind of method ends up as no more than an affectation: people short on colour, scraping at the bottom of the pot of history in a vain attempt to garner the last scraps of savour. With Kirsten, it’s different: if it’s a mask, it’s the kind that renders everyday matters and habits transparent, allowing her to express deeper and stranger ideas and fancies fervently. What emerges is startling. MacGillivray it is, then.

Discovering her is a little like being startled by a slow-motion jack-in-the-box: she’s already got eight albums behind her, a couple of soundtracks and poetry collections, and a collaborator roster which bags a list of left-field folk musicians of all strands and odd definitions, including The Fall (yes, folk, really), The Pogues’ Jem Finer, Dead Rat Orchestra, Trembling Bells and Current 93. Her performance art involves powerful weird rituals – furiously smoking cigars in Sigmund Freud’s garden; conflating mediaeval stocks and death metal; eating chandelier glass in an abandoned shopping centre; carrying a dead sheep on a pilgrimage.

As a musician (both recorder and performer), she’s similarly unnerving: experimenting with loudness and quietness via folk drones, piano, savagely distorted electric autoharp and vocal wails, but refusing to hide behind them. Slender, still and intense, she rules a stage, dragging up distressed ghosts and the aftermath of harsh laws and bare beliefs. On this occasion, she’ll be performing tracks from her forthcoming mini-album, ‘Watermarked in Flame’.




 
Like Kirsten, Colchester’s Ashleagh Claire Hurren immerses herself in a performance persona, although Polly Preacher‘s “wonky folk troubadour” act is a good deal more comfortable than MacGillivray’s harsher hauntology. That said, the original tag makes her sound a lot kookier than she is. You don’t get cute acoustic numbers about spice racks, paintings and milky heartbreaks. Instead you get a crepuscular, witty electric folk with a homemade feel and a few echoes of lo-fi indie rock. There are a few shades of Kristen Hersh, perhaps even a little Lupen Crook, but for the most part a Polly Preacher song follows its own pattern: cryptic feints into storytelling where the supernatural rubs shoulders with grit, and in which haunted cutlery drawers and fairy tales cross imperceptibly over into stories of how to navigate a female life… or at least how to begin the journey and begin mapping the hazards.

 
Sealionwoman slightly buck this gig’s tonal trend of “folk meets New Weird Britain”, being much more of a dark-dusk monochromed blues-and-jazz basement affair, albeit filtered through loops, noise and the canny restrictions of being an unorthodox duo. The bare bones and wizard’s brew of Tye McGivern’s effects-laden double bass steps in and out of the shadows with subtle changes of raiment, sometimes clean-limbed and sometimes masked; Kitty Whitelaw ‘s vocals stretch from distracted torch singer to ghostly and mischievous jazz acrobat, running deft arabesques around the shape of the song.

Bar occasional gig notifications, I’ve not encountered Sealionwoman much since getting very absorbed in a live performance of theirs in a Hackney shopwindow back in 2013. My negligence, not theirs. Go back and have a look at that review: I’ve just done so myself, and it captures the compelling sinewy distractions of their live presence, the transformative implications of their name and their thousand-shades-of-black-white-and-grey better than anything I could come up with right now.



 

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 Zdorovetskay).

“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 – 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…

* * * * * * * *

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…






 
* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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.




 

LOOKBACKS – Album reviews – Cindytalk: ‘Wappinschaw’, 1994 (“one of 1994’s most intense, perverse and unusual lost albums”)

30 Aug

Cindytalk: 'Wappinschaw'

Cindytalk: ‘Wappinschaw’

For almost fourteen years now, Cindytalk have been forging a lonely path through the ever-changing styles of modern music. Despite the soft pink flush of their name, Cindytalk’s music has always been so out-there, so much a music of violent extremes, that they have (more or less by default – how much could you change when you touch both ends of the spectrum?) stayed the same – no bad thing – while refining their sound on each album.

Gordon Sharp, the mainstay of Cindytalk’s many line-ups, is perhaps best known as the voice of three haunting tracks on the first album by 4AD art-collective This Mortal Coil, which also spawned Elizabeth Fraser’s honey-drenched version of Tim Buckley’s Song To The Siren in 1983. Yet 4AD-ethereal was never really Sharp’s bag. Cindytalk operate in the same dark areas that Michael Gira and Swans did before they transformed into doom-laden acoustic hippies (no more titles like Raping A Slave, then, Michael? cheers, love!), or The Birthday Party before Nick Cave mellowed out into Satan’s crooner.

They’ve wilfully, awkwardly, pursued music of extremes. Their first album, ‘Camouflage Heart’, must rank somewhere alongside Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’ for sheer unlistenable music for (dis)pleasure, that has to be owned simply to piss people off. And the mammoth ‘In This World’ was a double album of contradictions – one record of near-industrial rock with razor-sharp guitar sounds (varying between tooth- extraction by electric power drill or sheet-metal white noise), and one record of near-ambient instrumentals and songs, mostly played on very soft piano like Erik Satie on Mogadon.

But it’s been a long time since any new Cindytalk material; perhaps because of artistic reclusiveness, perhaps through being a true cult act. Having already had a protracted recording between 1990 and 1992, this album took a further two years to emerge on a record label in 1994. A lone concert aside, we’ve heard nothing from them since (that’s what y-o-u think.. – ED.). Hence this five-years-after-the-event review: cults can always do with getting bigger while they wait for the resurrection.

So, ‘Wappinschaw’; one of 1994’s most intense, perverse and unusual lost albums…


 
It opens deceptively simply, with an a-capella reworking of Ewan MacColl’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, reflecting Gordon Sharp’s interest in folk idioms (especially his own native Scots). He’s singing solo, without echo or reverb, up close, right there in your darkened room. His voice – one of the most expressive at conveying rage, pain, fear – displays power here yet, somehow, also insecurity. A Song Of Changes is leaden-paced at first, but David Ros’ guitars are more blurry and hazed than previous industrial strength Cindytalk noise. Suddenly the guitars hit an almost bright riff around which Sharp fluctuates and soars. A song of changes, indeed – light is breaking into Cindytalk’s dark world: “Within the heart of everything, there is you…”


 
It doesn’t last, though. Return To Pain (hah!) lurches in on a mix of barely-scrubbed electric and slide guitars, creating an empty and menacing atmosphere as Sharp emotes through wordless high vocals. It’s nightmare swamp music, midnight in the Mississippi plains accompanied by the scariest of companions, before the tension explodes into a barrage of noise. Drums, shotgun guitars, and Sharp wailing that “everybody is Christ.” Y-e-e-es; whatever you say, Gordon.


 
Whichever expectations are set for them, Cindytalk trump them on this record. Wheesht is introduced by a tape of Alisdair Gray reading an extract from his mammoth Scottish psycho-epic ‘Lanark’: a story of a young boy dreaming about what lies beyond the clouds. Recorded over the sound of a ticking clock and a ghostly musical box, this exercise in unsettling atmospherics chills the spine and sets us up for Wheesht itself: a brutally short, non- musical violent collage of bass drones, sonic interferences, sampled voices, blood-curdling screams and other genuinely unnerving sounds.


 
To the looping, echoed scrapings of a low-tuned violin, Snowkiss restores some sense of calm with more of Cindytalk’s music for winter nights – Gordon’s vocals imploding out of their rage into delicate lines and wordless harmonies sung over the gentlest of chiming, raindrop pianos. The lyrics of Disappear evoke a painfully trapped life: “You’re in heaven now, / Inside your head. / No thoughts of flight, / Your wings are clipped…”, while a strongly martial beat provides the tracks only propulsion as guitars and sampled interference compete with each other in a swirling eddy of sound. The lively, echoing trumpet on Traumlose Nacht, mingled with delicate piano and evocative waves of rolling drums, provide some relief and a different sonic vocabulary – it sounds like incidental music for the dark magic and oppressive heat of ‘Angel Heart’.


 
The final track, Hush, starts as an guitar-and-solo-vocal acoustic lament (back to the folk singing of the opening track) but then gives way to influential voices from the heavens (including samples of Orson Welles and Joseph Beuys) before everything fades to leave a long passage of bagpipe music that is, after the tumult of Cindytalk in action, strangely beguiling and soothing… but wait. After a long pause, a final hidden track, Muster. An incendiary, veritably Napalm-Death’s- worth battery of hideous thrash-noise, over which Sharp’s passionate ragged voice issues forth evocations to notable spirits: “The Wappinschaw is an invocation of the spirits of Shiva: Rise, William Wallace, rise! Rise, Arthur Rimbaud, rise!” He goes on to summon the spirits of Pasolini, Sitting Bull, Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh, amongst others. So unearthly does Sharp sound, so compelling, that I have no doubt that the spirits responded. Quite the most disturbing sound heard on CD for some time.


 
I wouldn’t like to hazard too close a guess at what kind of emotional traumas Gordon Sharp purges from himself to make this music; all razor blades, blizzards and crow feathers. It’s enough to say that, after fourteen years on the extremes, Cindytalk demand your rapt attention, your horrified fascination…

(review by Col Ainsley)

Cindytalk: ‘Wappinschaw’
Touched Recordings, TOUCH 1 (5 021958 432021)
CD-only album
Released: 1994

Get it from:
(2018 update) best obtained second-hand

Cindytalk online:
Homepage Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM

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