February 2020 – single & track reviews – Gallery 47’s ‘I Wish I Was’; Wugo’s ‘Océan’; The Powdered Earth’s ‘Blossom’

28 Feb

Gallery 47: 'I Wish I Was'

Gallery 47: ‘I Wish I Was’

From the land of drifting day-jobs and lo-fi song nights, Nottingham’s Jack Peachey, a.k.a. Gallery 47, moves into his second decade of music. As ever, he sounds like a slacker Jon Anderson; one who never left the shared flats and scruffy bedrooms, nor left the airy space of ’60s pop: there’s the high birdy voice, the elevated melodies, the melancholia that only faintly tinges the carefree tunes (cloud shadow on a fine afternoon). His drowsy electric folk-pop is fragile without being brittle or vulnerable: he’s a blade of grass in the breeze, capable of bending in the unwelcome currents.

 
Look a bit deeper, though, and there’s existential horror, treated with a feather-light touch, belying the Andersonian falsetto with a touch of Elliott Smith. Even more, perhaps, a shade of Love’s ‘Forever Changes’, in which everything under the sun also has an ominous shadow. Launching from a tabla zing but immediately settling for drums which flap and billow like a pair of antique flares, ‘I Wish I Was’ shows Jack gently adrift in a world of options, finding in each of them a nearing ghost of entrapment. “Did you know you can search for conditions online? / Read a graph of relative norms and real lives? / How close or far you are from the day you’re gonna die?” The gentle disappointments mass, almost imperceptibly, into a pall, neither family nor travel a solution, with escape into a spliff the only temporary remedy. “See, the jail we’re going to has no get-out card at all…” Throughout, though, the shrug is a gentle-spirited one. Jack doesn’t rail or sulk about things, just gently regrets them and lets them slip over him.

Wugo: ‘Océan’

Wugo: ‘Océan’

‘I Wish I Was’ is about helplessness settling around you like the flapping wings of a friendly pterodactyl. ‘Océan’, the latest song from French bedroom-popster Wugo, is apparently about “a sea change in people, a hope of a collective conscience to set things right.” It’s in his native French, so I can’t quote him directly. Translated, though, it’s a sighed state-of-the-world lament for a literal and figurative sea that’s been polluted by human short-sightedness and greed.

Wugo’s not slow to lay the blame, but he’s not quick to stagnate in despair either, travelling backwards in memory to honour how things once were, hoping that things will be in a better state in future decades, gently dropping a simple ultimatum. To catch the feeling for how it is, bask in the music: powder-blue puffs of synth and wriggly electronic lines like a kite-tail in the sky. Chillout minus the complacency.


 

The Powdered Earth: 'Blossom'

The Powdered Earth: ‘Blossom’

With their third single (after the curtain-raising instrumental of ‘The Atlantic‘ and the illustrative folk testimony of ‘Hold Your Breath‘), The Powdered Earth feel as if they’ve found their centre with ‘Blossom’. Neither of them men in the first flush of youth, they’re well aware that not all lives end in crashes or operatics: that some longer lives will fade delicately instead, like old watercolours.

While instrumental half George Moorey provides misty piano, gently lagging guitar and a touch of synth cello, vocalist Shane Young comes to the fore with a gently narrated observation of an ageing widower’s rituals as he gathers tree and hedge flowers for his empty house; male and meticulous, understated but kindly. If you’re looking for it, there are parallels with Wugo’s chillout in the overlaying of memory with the present (“he chuckles into space / at her disapproving face / as he takes the crystal glassware from its ornamental case. / Along the window sills, / beside dispenser packs of pills, / are the fragrance bottles salvaged from the sale. / She would joke his perfume was brown ale…” ), plus the overlapping of times and promises altered. What’s different is the matter-of-factness about the protracted aftermath of someone’s death, its quietus and continuance: “he ties each sandwich bag / with a disused Christmas tag / and documents the scent with studious care. / Then he shuffles round the house / that he once shared with his spouse / and he fills up every piece of crystalware.”).


 
The spoken poetry is deliberately workmanlike, relying on its sober intimations rather than on over-flowering, and it’s all the more effective for that. Last time around, I mentioned Arab Strap as an unlikely comparison; if Moffat and Middleton stood as witnesses and recounters to dirty realism and damn well made you care about it, Moorey and Young could be said to be doing the same thing for a more genteel and understated strand of realism. You could picture the lyric being spelled out on a bereavement card, or a silver-surfer web meme, but that doesn’t take anything away from its understated compassion. “So precious quick the petals start to brown – / once more into the fields in dressing gown…” Logging the quiet and unspectacular dignity of carrying on. Someone needs to do it.

Gallery 47: ‘I Wish I Was’
Bad Production Records/AWAL (Kobalt)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th February 2020
Get it from: download via Bandcamp or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud, Deezer, Apple Music, YouTube, Google Play or Spotify
Gallery 47 online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Vimeo Deezer Google Play Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Wugo: ‘Océan’
Echo Orange (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
24th February 2020
Get it from: download from Amazon Music; stream via Deezer, YouTube, Spotify
Wugo online:
Facebook MySpace Soundcloud Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Tidal Amazon Music

The Powdered Earth: ‘Blossom’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th February 2020
Get it from: now part of the ‘Singles’ EP on Bandcamp
The Powdered Earth online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

January 2020 – single & track reviews – The Powdered Earth’s ‘Hold Your Breath’, Broads & Milly Hurst’s ‘Happisburgh’, Lifeboats’ ‘Hurt’

31 Jan

The Powdered Earth: 'Hold Your Breath'

The Powdered Earth: ‘Hold Your Breath’

After their gently atmospheric piano overture earlier in the month, it’s proper debut-single time for Gloucester’s The Powdered Earth: time to find out what they’re actually about. Their ethos is apparently one of writing “little fictions… bringing storytelling to the fore” with a backdrop of “minimalist, melodic melancholia”. With a spec like that, and the previous evidence, you’d expect something like a more genteel piano-based Arab Strap.

Well, not quite… or not yet. Initially, ‘Hold Your Breath’ goes for what seems to be a much bigger and non-fictional story – that of the struggle against deforestation in Brazil – but they tell it in an understated way. In Brazil itself, this tale would probably have come through first-hand, via rap consciência or funk carioca, or possibly as some kind of mournful retro-fado. In the United States, it would probably been plunked or punked out over a banjo as a raucous post-Seeger tale of injustice visited on the working man. From their quiet corner of England, The Powdered Earth tell it in their own soft and sober way, trying to stay true to their instinctive sound while letting the story tell itself.

It sounds like a minimalist piano lieder, sung by Shane Young in a small, precise, discreet voice. George Moorey’s bolstering of synths (squashed brass, mechanical choirs) is similarly small and discreet. The lyrics, too, have the simplicity and directness of a pared-down folk song: “there were many of them. / They were gathered near the wood. / We had only handmade tools / and the clothes in which we stood… The ruling party wielded / the means to terrify, / but evil only triumphs / when we good men stand by.”

Listening to this is an odd experience, since it’s both detached and authoritative. You’re pulled into the gaps in the arrangement, into the void where the anger should be raging, as The Powdered Earth clarify that this is an outrage that occurs over and over again. “Miners brought the mercury / that made the river bend,” Shane pronounces. “Bolsonaro’s loggers / will leave nothing to defend.” The title itself is never mentioned; an unspoken warning to be decoded once you move out from the local outrage and start considering it as a small sign of a bigger problem.


 

Broads & Milly Hurst: 'Happinsburgh'

Broads & Milly Hurst: ‘Happinsburgh’

Over on the other side of England, Norwich ambient ramblers Broads have teamed with kindred spirit Milly Hurst for an album of music inspired and partially built from field recordings made throughout the county of Norfolk. Named after a coastal village, ‘Happisburgh’ is a preview of that work; in itself, with its emphasis on widely-spaced reverberant piano, not too different from what The Powdered Earth are doing.

It’s wordless, though – their own sparse Debussian piano part backed up with a little glitch-static and a growing sweet, subliminal agreement of harmonium. The video is a sequence of slow pans across, and sustained shots of Happisburghian scenes: tumbled groyne stones on the sand, the red-banded lighthouse, blue-brown breakers under the wide Norfolk sky; a solitary cliff bench. The second part picks up speed with a rolling piano arpeggio, the sound of feet running through sand and gravel picked up, glitchified and looped. Towards the end, the footstep loop corrupts and stutters, becomes intermittent, vanishes.


 
Probing gently into location and inspiration, like an archaeologist with a fine brush, unlocks some of the messages. Like much of the Norfolk coast, Happisburgh is eroding, dropping fragment by fragment into the sea. It’s shored up by groynes and by its inhabitants’ reluctance to let it go; but has now been abandoned by government, its support withdrawn. It’s a vanishing village which also happens to be the oldest human settlement in Britain, with ancient flint tools in its earth strata, and with the earth’s oldest human footprints outside of Africa once discovered on its beach. Knowing this, the meanings of the sounds come into sombre and beautiful focus – the currents and tides in the shifting piano; the recorded footsteps, once clear as a bell, becoming obscured by time and processing, ultimately disintegrating out of the picture. Our history, even our deep history, vanishes in front of us.

Lifeboats: 'Hurt' (featuring Rena)

Lifeboats: ‘Hurt’ (featuring Rena)

While Lifeboats‘s ‘Hurt’ doesn’t share much musically with either ‘Happisburgh’ or ‘Hold Your Breath’ (being a piece of noisy post-shoegaze guitar pop) it does sort of fit in here by dint of a shared initial and a shared theme of loss, relinquishment and resistance. Lifeboats are a new teaming of Prod Pritchard (main songwriter for Oxfordshire bands Flow and Airstar, as well as being a right-hand man for Owen Paul) and Austrian singer-songwriter Rena (the latter listed as a guest on this single but, so far, very much part of the sound and craft).

‘Hurt’ bustles along on ahead-of-the-beat guitar thrums, not a million miles away from Ride, the Velvets or from Bowie’s “Heroes”. The last, in particular, serves as inspiration, since Rena’s vocal sings out a weathered but hopeful anthem of taking the blows but remaining resilient – “hurt is just a part of living / just like breathing. / We ache before we are – / and fate is beyond all reason; / and then, every season, / above what we control… / This life / we are born to live in, / and the darkness hiding / but the morning’s coming.” She imagines herself propelled, strengthened, along the airwaves, singing “though I’m cracked and shaking, / I will not be broken. / When life is taking its best shot, / say “is that really all you’ve got?” It’s a simple, solipsistic resistance compared to those implied or required in ‘Hold Your Breath’ and ‘Happisburgh’, but it’s there.

 
The Powdered Earth: ‘Hold Your Breath’
The Powdered Earth (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: now part of the ‘Singles’ EP on Bandcamp
The Powdered Earth online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Broads & Milly Hurst: ‘Happisburgh’
Humm Recordings, HUMM08 (no barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: download from Bandcamp or Amazon; stream from Deezer or Spotify
Broads online:
Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Tumblr Bandcamp Last FM Deezer Instagram Spotify
Milly Hurst online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Instagram

Lifeboats: ‘Hurt (featuring Rena)’
Nub Music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: download from Qobuz or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud or Spotify
Lifeboats online:
Soundcloud Spotify

 

January/February 2020 – upcoming London folk/singer-songwriter/experimental gigs – Aga Ujma, Yoni Silver, Yael Roberts, Merlin Nova and Sophie Le Roux at Mortal Oil 2 (24th January) plus Aga Ujma and Nina Harries at PinDrop Session (28th February) and Aga Ujma and The Sages at SOAS (21st February)

22 Jan

Mortal Oil 2, 24th January 2020

More new-ish performance territories; this time down in south London by Nunhead Green, where a somewhat battered but much-loved and independent-spirited shopping local parade currently hosts the Strange Parade venue. The latter is hosting “a night of low-voltage experimental acoustic performance and visual art” at the end of the week, co-curated by Merlin Nova along with filmmaker and photographer Sophie le Roux. This is the second night in the series, which aims to “use no electronic machines (apart from a kettle) and aim to curate acts which have used as little electricity as possible during the processes of their practices.” Tea, whiskey and pom bears are provided as an extra audience incentive; and the last event, back in November, featured (in addition to Merlin) performances by avant-garde double bassist Otto Willberg, all-forms free dancer Sofia Filippou and visual artist Flora Hunt.

Merlin’s been in here several times before as a boundary-hopping singer-instrumentalist, sound artist, poet and monologuist who plunges her imagination and thirst for performance into any opportunity and shapes her art and the situation to fit. Initially a radio broadcaster and soundscaper, she’s the possessor of an unsettling vocal range and a ravenous perspective which she uses for everything from imaginary dronefolk music and the weirdest of weird pop to solo audio dramas…. here’s a selection of what she gets up to.


https://soundcloud.com/user-615512661/to-the-sun

 
Of the two other musicians featured this week, ‘Misfit City’ has previously crossed paths with bass clarinettist/saxophonist Yoni Silver while he was backing Charles Hayward in twisty groove ensemble Timestretch Alarmsong during October last year, and as part of the Ashley Paul Ensemble back in 2017, although he’s also noted for his work with the Hyperion Ensemble. He also sings and plays violin, piano and computer, sometimes simultaneously, so his options for noisemaking are pretty varied. Here’s the A-side of his recent ‘Nethertongue’ cassette, one of his Denis D’Or trio tracks and a solo…



 
As for Aga Ujma, I’ve been hearing about her for a while: a young Polish singer-songwriter and composer also enthralled by English and Indonesian music forms and the connections she makes between them. Though she can quite happily make her way as a singing guitarist with a nice line in Joanna Newson covers (an artist she sometimes resembles, not least in the reedy glory of her vocals) she’s a committed ethnologist who creates art in accordance with her extensive studies, and is as much likely to accompany herself on a quiverful of rarer instruments – the Javanese gamelan-related gender barung xylophone and plucked siter; or the Indonesian sasando, “a gorgeous thirty-two-string, butterfly-winged zither”.




 
The remainder of the evening’s visual art component comes from Yael Roberts, who “hand-prints from found wood to create large scale installations (exploring themes of death, mortality, repetition, and presence.” While she’s got a parallel line in performance art (much of which is captured on video and stills here), her contributions to this particular evening appear to be static art: a set of ceramics made in collaboration with Goldtapped Gallery’s Juliet Fleming.

* * * * * * * *

Aga Ujma + Nina Harries, 28th February 2020I should also mention that Aga Ujma is also playing a couple of other London gigs in February. One is a LaLa Records’ Pin Drop Sessions in Peckham where she’s in a double bill with double bass player singer-songwriter Nina Harries.

As a player, Nina follows in a family tradition (her father Tim Harries has double-bassed prominently for Steeleye Span, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks and Brian Eno, amongst others). That said, her musical development and appetites are very much her own; formed not just by parental example and extensive classical training but by immersion in dance theatre and in work with “story telling star gazing ukulele agit-pop” band The Burning Glass, gonzo bluesman John Fairhurst, folk-punkers Barbarella’s Bang Bang, electro-classicalists the London Electronic Orchestra and Symphonica. Her technique’s impeccable and her songwriter voice wide and unfettered, as happy with the whimsical as the mesmeric.




 
The other concert, a week earlier, is a SOAS music showcase in the centre of town which also features world fusion band The Sages (previously The Seven Sages), featuring Yijia Tu, Peadar Connolly-Davey and Gregor Bauer, and blending music strands from East Asian folk music and Chinese Sizhu with those of western forms of folk and indie rock.

The Sages + Aga Ujma, 21st February 2020

More about them here – “as a diverse cosmopolitan generation growing up under an age of globalization and other social changes, the band aims to explore to break through concepts such as “East” and “West,” cultural identity, and musical “genres” through both original composition and adaption of traditional folk music. Indeed the “The Sages 竹林七贤” is a reference to a group of seven literati, artists and scholars in ancient China who chose to escape mundane and hypocritical secular life and status to live in the remote natural countryside with the companionship of music, poetry, art (and wine) in search of a higher spiritual fulfilment.”

Some examples of what The Sages play are here:

 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Mortal Oil 2: Aga Ujma + Yoni Silver + Yael Roberts + Merlin Nova + Sophie Le Roux
Strange Parade, 123 Evelina Road, Nunhead, London, SE15 3HB, England
Friday 24th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here

SOAS Concert Series presents:
The Sages + Aga Ujma
Brunei Gallery @ SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London, WC1H 0XG, England
Friday 21st February 2020, 8.00pm
– information here and here

LaLa Records presents
PinDrop Session: Aga Ujma & Nina Harries
One & All Cafe, 28 Peckham Rye, Peckham, London, SE15 4JR, England
Friday 28th February 2020, 7.30pm
– £10 or pay-what-you-can event – information here and here
 

January 2020 – single & track reviews – Sophie Onley’s ‘Web Of Lies/Broken Doll’, Secret Treehouse’s ‘At Sunrise’, Jakk Jo’s ‘All Dat I Do’

17 Jan

Sophie Onley: 'Web of Lies/Broken Doll'

Sophie Onley: ‘Web of Lies/Broken Doll’

Here’s two pissed-off, crap-boyfriend shots from Sophie Onley. I certainly wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her. It’s not that she’s going to bulldoze you like Nicki Minaj: she’s not into the cartoon superheroine stuff. It’s more that she’s already something of a mistress of rebound.

Again, not in that she’ll promptly plunge into the arms of another unsuitable boy; more that it doesn’t take long for the scales to drop from her eyes, for her to laser in on the inadequacies which she’d previously ignored, and for her to then brush you off in song. She’s fine with addressing her own vulnerability, her own sense of outrage and hurt, but after that she locks it down and knocks it right back.

 
Behind the hi-NRG beat and the offbeat puffy keyboards, ‘Broken Doll’ is classic girl-group stuff. The lyrics are a barrage of quickfire moon-in-June rhyming and indignant complaints – “you’re the puppeteer, / you can pull my strings, / you’ve got to keep control,”; “take me out of play, like a throwaway,”; “you’ve got a heart of stone, / you’ll end up all alone.” But when Sophie delivers her verdict that it’s all “like a fairytale of a princess locked / in a prison tower – / on the final page, there’s no handsome prince, / ‘cos you were just a coward”, there’s that note in her voice; pointedly sour, cutting, entirely justifiable.

Plenty of shallow, lustful men covet the point when a girl becomes a woman. Here’s the flipside they’re scared of: the moment when the gullible eyes staring up at them harden, get wise to them and won’t be fooled any more, and they feel their power shrivel.

 
Trance-pop banger ‘Web of Lies’ comes at it from another angle: Sophie as assertive woman scorned, zooming in over bouncing synth booms, yelling back over being negged and toyed with – “always playing games, no two days the same… you hang round ’til the bitter end, now you tell me you want to be my friend.” As with Broken Doll, her nasal voice has a powerful witchy edge to it, a touch of razor blade under the frills. I think it’ll be a while before people are shouting “yass, queen” at her, but this is a strong start.

Secret Treehouse: 'At Sunrise"

Secret Treehouse: ‘At Sunrise”

With ‘At Sunrise’, Secret Treehouse give us one of those clapalong synthpop anthems that make us feel that that they’re about to lead us out of the nightclub on some kind of procession. Think John Barnes’ You’re the Voice, although Secret Treehouse’s Anja Bere offers a much cooler and airier voice to fly like a banner over the martial beats.

There’s not much more to the lyrics than waking up next to your lover and feeling that you could take on the entire world, but the song still recaptures the immensity and fulfilment of that feeling. “Are we allies?” asks Anja, but doesn’t even take a moment before she affirms it. As simple as anything, and as satisfying as simple.

 

Jakk Jo: 'All Dat I Do'

Jakk Jo: ‘All Dat I Do’

Bloody hell, please spare me from Jakk Jo and his Dirty South rap ramblings on ‘All Dat I Do’ – like some smug drag of a neighbour who spends his life languidly boasting on about how much better his backyard parties are than yours. Singing as if he’s got a personal summer shining down on his crib; while you, you poor bastard, have to spend your time still shivering under the January greys.

Few things are more tedious than someone else showcasing their party, aren’t they? Jakk songspiels in true idling playa style, if everything is spilling into his lap. If you bumped into him at his neighbourhood New Orleans mall and sneaked a look at his shopping list it would probably read something like “swimming pool, models, pussy, booze, and that other guy’s bitch”. God knows that that’s pretty much what this song amounts to. A few buddies – Cre8tive, Kil’lab, 93Bread – pitch up to the mic in order to spurt a few rap bars of their own, but it’s predictable bragging, gym-flexing, bitches-and-bitches-and-ball-wit’-my-crew stuff which flits past like a summer fly.

 
It’s a shame really, since aside from the actual words, this is by no means bad. General Savage’s Miami production is actually rather wonderful, illuminating the whole song in a dreamy, spacious blue-sky light and wrapping several of the vocals in artful Autotune stepping or a cunning heat-haze of backwards distortion. The melodies in the arrangement lick back on themselves, little Caribbean tides, with a perky tickle of steel-drum riff being a particular pleaser. But by cracky, if I could surgically remove the rhyming bores on top, I would.

Yeah, OK, I’m being unfair. There’s more to Jakk than this – a tougher, more urgent side – and I shouldn’t be demanding that he wallows in all of Nawlins’ problems just so that I can get a poverty-porn fix. It’s just that this kind of insubstantial poolside bollocks doesn’t half reduce a man to a mannequin – and under the grey humph of a London January, I’m not good as a party guest and I’m damn grumpy as a neighbour.

Sophie Onley: ‘Web Of Lies/Broken Doll’
Nub Music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming double A-side single
Released: 3rd January 2020

Get it from: download from Apple Music and Amazon; stream via Soundcloud Deezer or Spotify
Sophie Onley online:
Facebook Twitter Soundcloud YouTube

Secret Treehouse: ‘At Sunrise’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 17th January 2020

Get it from: download from Apple Music or Amazon Music; stream via Deezer or Spotify
Secret Treehouse online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Apple Music YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Jakk Jo: ‘All Dat I Do’
Jakk Jo (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 17th January 2020

Get it from: free download from Bandcamp; stream via Soundcloud
Jakk Jo online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp YouTube
 

January 2020 – single & track reviews – The Powdered Earth’s ‘The Atlantic’, Simen Lyngroth’s ‘Morning Light’, Marle Thompson’s ‘Expectations’

17 Jan

Three quieter tracks – let’s start soft and get louder…

A couple of decades ago, George Moorey was the multi-instrumental half of the criminally-unknown Gloucester duo Ghosting, who gifted us with a succession of gorgeous and breathy low-key pop singles and a couple of obscure albums before their singer-songwriter half Dan Pierce followed another calling and headed off to County Durham to become a vicar. Since then, George has sometimes resurfaced as a producer, or as a sporadic instrumental illustrator of Gloucester history.

Now, however, he’s re-teamed with singing drummer Shane Young (from late-era Ghosting) to form The Powdered Earth. New songs and stories are promised; but for their curtain-raiser, ‘The Atlantic’ George briefly and wordlessly steps out on his own, sketching out the musical terrain at the break of dawn before coming back to lead us into it properly.


 
What wells out of the speakers at us has many of George’s hallmark Ghosting touches. There’s his sparse but luminous sonic touch (here, it’s mostly carried by softly-couched piano echoed by distant fluting synth, and impelled by deep-rooted waves of drone-bass). There’s that intimated, yet subtly forensic, focus on emotional detail, drawing you in. Pull the ingredients apart and you’ve got a typical piece of soft-edged film soundtracking; but put them together the way George is doing it, and you end up with the prelude to a kind of musical novel, something closer to Peter Chilvers’ intermittent work with Tim Bowness. Unexplicit; eschewing clumsy points; providing clues and pointers to something which only gradually comes together and reveals itself. It’s over in two-and-a-half minutes, brought to a delicate halt in mid-pace. I’m already looking forward to whatever comes next.

More stories are supposed to be coming from Norwegian singer-songwriter Simen Lyngroth‘, whose debut album ‘Take All the Land’ was a set of autumnal reflections and hauntings on jealousy, insecurity and secret trepidations. ‘Morning Light’ is the first song in a forthcoming set which wraps into a fairytale: a sort of Scandinavian slice of magic-realism in which a young man searches for “the spark”.

 
Perhaps it’s just a more mythical and sensitive way of tackling the sophomore album jitters. Certainly, ‘Morning Light’ has all of the indications of being a palate cleanser. It’s as simple as can be. An acoustic guitar, a voice, a frail harmony; the outline of a hometown visit, a return to childhood haunts. A revisiting of old views and landscapes in order to recharge, but at all times carefully skirting stagnation. “It’s what I need. / Lazy walks around the park… / I need this morning light to call my own – / these few moments awake / before I’m breathing in water again.” Another frangible overture.

Dutch singer-songwriter Marle Thomson has already made a mark at home, and while ‘Expectations’ sees her slipping a little deeper into Anglo territories, it’s still an indicator of how accomplished she is already and how little she needs to change. Mellow beat-pop – with its slow hip-hop jams, its crafty drop-outs and its rare-groove echoes – has been an over-populated territory for the past few decades: and refreshing that is a delicate matter of not messing too much with the formula, but polishing and emphasising particular isolated aspects as you build it around your core of song. Marle does just that with ‘Expectations’.

It’s not a game-changer by any means, but that’s part of the point. ‘Expectations’ is about anxieties and FOMO; it’s about the way that it’s not just celebrities who feel compelled to live out their lives broadcasting images, but the way that all of us now do via timelines and digital shopfronts, instagramming and influencing, feeding a general hunger while breeding another helpless hunger all of our own. (“Expectations, like a nail into the wall / I need everything, everything, or nothing at all.”) In response to its theme, it’s musically relaxed, with flickers of both Erykah Badu and early-’80s Steve Winwood – its rhythm ticking along like an old grandfather clock, its guitar line springy like a hair-curl rather than a disco pulse; its synths little warm, edgeless wellings and air-puffs which just happen to be there at precisely the right time.

Marle’s voice is breezy, intimate, unshowy but effortless winding itself around the blue notes needed to emphasis regret (“On my own, off the beaten track, / I didn’t know, I didn’t know – / I fell right through the cracks”) and understated revelation. By song’s end, everything is filtered, resolved and successfully reset, for now: “just ‘cause I’m giving it up, doesn’t mean I give up, no.” Next step coming.


 
The Powdered Earth: ‘The Atlantic’
The Powdered Earth (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only single
Released: 11th January 2020

Get it from: Bandcamp
The Powdered Earth online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Simen Lyngroth: ‘Morning Light’
Apollon Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 17th January 2020

Get it from: Apollon Records (parent album)
Simen Lyngroth online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud YouTube

Marle Thomson: ‘Expectations’
BERT music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 17th January 2020

Get it from: Apple Music, Soundcloud (stream only)
Marle Thompson online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Spotify <Instagram Amazon Music
 

January/February 2020 – showcases in London with Ragga Gröndal in Earls Court (19th January) and Velveteen Orkestra, Ben Eaton, Hattie Erawan and Matt Ryan in Soho (21st January); plus Blair Coron’s ‘On The Nature Of Things’ quiet evening in London and Glasgow (21st January, 7th February) with Zoë Bestel, Anin Rose, Tom Blankenberg, Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach

14 Jan

A set of upcoming showcases happening at opposite corners of the country.

 
Ragga Gröndal’s currently a little-known name over here. In Iceland, though, she’s a much bigger deal – hailed as one of the country’s most remarkable singers. Performing in both Icelandic and English, she spans folk, pop and classical elements: less of an upsetter and groundbreaker, perhaps, than most of the Icelandic musicians who make the crossing over to Britain, but as the expounder of a kind of refined pop purity that’s actually a broad umbrella for a rich blend of other musical aspects, she does well. Here’s the blurb:

“The sound of Ragga Gröndal’s music is warm, adventurous and modern, yet accessible for curious music-lovers. (She) has worked with the same musicians for a decade and together they have toured all over Europe and created many beautiful and unforgettable moments. The band consists of musicians who are all independent artists in their own right; Guðmundur Pétursson (guitar), her brother Haukur Gröndal (woodwind player) and Claudio Spieler (percussion)… Each and every concert becomes a unique journey between the musicians, the audience and the performance space.”

For this special one-off show in London on the 19th, Ragga’s just bringing Guðmundur Pétursson: a musician whose work stretches from pop to his own classical guitar concertos, he’s an ideal and flexible foil.



 
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There’s a Success Express quadruple bill at Zebranos in Soho on the 21st, part of a new fortnightly showcase scheme. It’s all free to get in, but you pay Soho prices for your drinks and they suggest you book ahead for a table if you want to get in and sit down.

The Velveteen Orkestra + Ben Easton + Hattie Erawan + Matt Ryan, 21st January 2020As leader of The Velveteen Orkestra, Dan Shears dresses his dramatic sky-high vocals and rockabilly guitar in a wagon circle of string trio, piano and drums; sometimes evoking the country pop of Del Shannon or Dion, sometimes a Russian tundra shimmer, sometimes Muse-ian histrionics. Seasoned Aussie guitarist-singer-songwriter Ben Eaton is as smooth and gritty and no-nonsense as a well-maintained backroad: he’s a constantly busy professional with weddings, corporate events and similar cover-fests under his belt along with the gigs stuffed with originals, but don’t let that put you off too much. He’s a witty performance livewire who’s more than capable of transcending any workaday made-to-measure gig as well as pulling off blues-funk shows of his own.



 

Two more singer-songwriters are on the bill. Hattie Erawan – until recently known as Hattie Marsh – is Norfolk-born, has mingled Thai and English heritage and a forbidding expression, and also has about five years of playing London acoustica mainstays like the Bedford and St Pancras Old Church. She’s got Joni Mitchell, Nirvana, and Sheila Chandra down as influences: the outcome is bare, clear modern songs with a hard electric edge, sung with a hint of storms and in a tone like a steel statue. Sessioneer/producer Matt Ryan is embarking, or perhaps reembarking, on a solo career. His lone available track, a demo for The Last Time, is a polished bit of white R’n’B: while it’s a tad conservative and stripped-back in its current state, emotionally it’s a good deal more convincing than much of what reaches the charts. Worth keeping an eye on.

 

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'On The Nature Of Things' - 21st January and 7th February 2020Although it does have a lower-income ticket option, another upcoming showcase – ‘On The Nature Of Things’ – isn’t free; but, to be fair, it’s less likely to cover its expenses with beer money and upmarket bar food. Its aims are to be “quiet… introspective… an intimate evening of music. Immerse yourself as we relish in the more subdued side of music for one night through folk song, piano music, ambience/electronic and some modern classical. It is a space to listen. Expect fairy lights, darkness, and music to make you sit in awe, cry or sleep.

“‘On The Nature Of Things’, which this event is named after, is the debut album by Glasgow based musician and composer Blair Coron, who shall be hosting this event and is currently touring the UK with it. His intention is to create enchanting atmospheres allows for the audience to listen to the performers and to set course for introspection and meditation.”

Blair’s own work blurs around classical and near-ambient ideas for piano, acoustic guitar and string ensemble. He describes the album as “a delicate exploration of the intricacy and fragility of life, nature and the surrounding world. It is love…mortality…the sublime…a personal mantra…every thing.” So far, on spec, typically New Age-y and easily consumable; but he also mixes in poetry, chamber chorale, mandolins, birdsong and folksongs and (somewhere) a Nintendo handheld games console. If you’re worried that his deliberate gentleness places him on the wrong side of tentative, don’t. The results are edgeless and delicate, deliberately softened and frangible; but they have their own dainty logic and an openness which is rare. Streets away from the guarded blandness of much of the post-classical wash.




 
He’s been doing these shows for about a year now (from Edinburgh to Yorkshire to Inverness and Manchester) and I’ve not heard about them before this; but there are currently two OTNOT shows happening soon, both featuring Blair and ukulele-folkster Zoë Bestel. If you read that last phrase and thought cutesy versions of old pop and indie hits, think again. Zoë’s of that small number of people who turn the uke into a kind of perpendicular harp, using it to underpin a gorgeous art-pop folk soprano and a series of bewitching small-place songs. The kind of song and delivery that kills casual chat and has a roomful of people rapt and focussed entirely on what they’re seeing and hearing.

 
The London show – on the same night as Success Express – also features a couple of German musicians. Pianist, composer and sound designer Tom Blankenberg (who runs the Convoi Studios in Düsseldorf) works in a similar post-classical vein to Blair, although a more austere one. In recent years, he became interested in writing for solo piano: the result was his debut album ‘Atermus’, released last year and containing thirteen tracks in which strangely tender romantic melodies are concealed in minimalist sparseness, as if Bill Evans were communing with Arvo Pärt. In contrast, Anin Rose creates gospel-infused piano pop – not at the brassy end of either, but at the silky reverberant intersection of both. On record, a subtle reverb skitters almost imperceptibly around her songs and harmonies chase the main vocal like kissing clouds: live, I’m guessing that she does it all by presence.

 
The Glasgow show – in early February – features a pair of Scottish folk musicians, Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach. A fiddler and pianist respectively, they’re rooted in tradition but immersed in present impression, “interested in making music filled with spontaneity, sensitivity and freedom. Inspiration comes from their pasts and surroundings, feeding music that’s rooted in tradition, whilst stretching it’s possibilities through improvisation and imagination.” Their latest release, last summer’s ‘Air Iomall’, was inspired by a trip around the currently uninhabited Shiant Isles off Scotland’s west coast, and their instrumental responses to the history that hangs around the places.


 
I’m hoping that Blair continues with these shows: they have a potential for some serious beauty. Previous evenings have included appearances by fellow Glaswegian post-chamber composer Richard Luke, piano improviser Carla Sayer and harpist Esther Smith; jazz/soul/gospel harmony duo Canter Semper; The Silver Reserve (a.k.a classical guitarist/looper Matthew Sturgess, who “plays delicate, sparse music (and) songs about out-of-body experiences, monogamy, small-town community Facebook pages and much more”; alt.folker Thomas Matthew Bower as Thomas & The Empty Orchestra; Jamie Rob’s post-everything project Poür Me, ambient song trio Luthia and drift band Neuro Trash; plus a further spray of diverse singer-songwriters in the shape of Simon Herron, Leanne Smith, Kate Dempsey, Mathilde Fongen, Hollie “Haes” Arnold, Leanne Body and Megan Dixon Hood. There’s a whole softened and glorious world opening up here.

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Dates:

Sunday Hive Sessions with Buzz Music Group presents:
Ragga Gröndal
The Troubadour, 263-267 Old Brompton Road, Earls Court, London, SW5 9JA, England
Sunday 19th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Success Express Music presents:
The Velveteen Orkestra + Ben Eaton + Hattie Erawan + Matt Ryan
Zebrano Bars, 18 Greek Street, Soho, London, W1D 4DS, England
Tuesday 21st January 2020, 7.00pm
– free event – information here and here

‘On The Nature Of Things’:

  • SET (SET Dalston Lane), 27a Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England – Tuesday 21st January 2020, 7.00pm (Blair Coron + Anin Rose + Zoë Bestel + Tom Blankenberg) – information here, here and here
  • Old Trinity College, 35 Lynedoch Street, Glasgow, G3 6AA, Scotland – Friday 7th February 2020, 7.00pm (Blair Coron + Zoë Bestel + Charlie Grey & Joseph Peach ) – information here and here

 

January 2020 – upcoming gigs – electronica, jazz and gamelan in Bristol and London – Byron Wallen plays Boards of Canada (17th, 18th January); Bersarin Quartett and LTO (21st January)

12 Jan

The last few tickets are selling out for the return of Byron Wallen’s audacious gamelan reinvention of Boards Of Canada’s ‘Music Has The Right To Children‘, playing in Bristol and London next weekend (following its London debut a couple of years ago). Quick repro of the blurb here:

“Having previously sold out two nights at London’s famous venue the Jazz Cafe, Byron Wallen comes to EartH, Hackney and Bristol’s Thekla for two incredible shows in January. His fantastic show pays homage to Boards of Canada’s seminal album ‘Music Has The Right To Children‘ working with his rarely used Gayan Gamelan Ensemble for a truly unique night.

Music Has The Right To Children‘ is the debut studio album by Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada. It was released on 20 April 1998 in the United Kingdom by Warp and Skam Records and in the United States by Matador Records. The album stands as the Scottish duo’s magnum opus, made all the impressive by the fact that it was their debut record. An adult meditation on childhood, concerned with play, naïveté and nostalgia, all tinted with rosy pastoralism, the sensitivity of the compositions marry beautifully with Byron’s orchestration of the gamelan sound.”

The band is Byron Wallen (trumpet and conches), keyboard player Chris Jerome, bass player Paul Michael and drummer David Dyson, with the Gayan Gamelan Ensemble made up of Freddie Abel Parish (saron, trumpet), Wilf Diamond (gongs, trombone), James Wade-Sired (saron demung, peking, trombone), Thomas Morley (bonang barung, keyboards) and Tara Jerome (bonang panerus, keyboards). Here’s Byron talking about the project, and a snippet of last year’s Gayan Kraftwerk project.



 
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On a more purist electronica tip, there’s an evening of post-classical beat-and-synthery a few days later in London, when a couple of acts on the Denovali label come out and do their thing.

Bersarin Quartett + LFO, 21st January 2020

Thomas Bücker, a.k.a Bersarin Quartett has been at work for a decade now on an evolving body of music from the gushing, overwhelming haunted-rehearsal-room ambience of his debut album, the graceful space-capsule visions of the follow-up and the melancholic minimal sheen of the third effort. While Bersarin music has all of the soundtrackery smoothness of its genre, there’s a yearning side to this which cuts through the drawbacks of slickness. The project’s newest album, ‘Methoden Und Maschinen’, sometimes refines this and sometimes slips deeper into aspects of post-rock guitar gutturality and Tangerine Dream sequencer dreams.





 
In support, former Old Apparatus member LTO showcases his own new “Déjà Rêvé“ album focussing on an “abstracted sense of time and place” via busy floating piano patterns, room booms, vaporous keyboard pads and passing comment from cirrus guitars and mournfully reverberant brass hangings. It sounds as if the world of post-ery has gone so far round it’s colliding with early Mike Oldfield albums again. No bad thing.



 
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Dates:

Soundcrash presents:
Boards of Canada’s ‘Music Has The Right To Children‘ played by Byron Wallen’s Gayan Gamelan Ensemble

Bersarin Quartett + LTO
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Tuesday 21st January 2020, 5.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

January 2020 – various classical concerts in Britain – Manchester Collective’s ‘Ecstatic Dances’ tour with Poul Høxbro in Leeds, Glasgow, London and Manchester (15-19 January); Jamie Akers plays 19th century women guitar composers in London (16th January); Eos Ensemble play contemporary chamber quartets in London (24th January)

11 Jan


 
For their ‘Ecstatic Dances’ concert tour this month, Manchester Collective team up with Danish instrumentalist and storyteller Poul Høxbro in a programme of “Nordic myths, songs and dances; ones that bring a chill to the air” – esoterically-inclined repertoire works, new material and transformed folk songs from England, Scotland and Scandinavia. On this occasion, the Collective are coming out as an augmented quintet – string quartet plus electric bass guitar – with Poul, sometimes called “the great man of small instruments”, working from his armoury of flutes and percussion, including tabor, pipe and the quease-inducing rhythm bones (crafted from the ribs of a diseased, or possibly just deceased, Irish cow).


 
Amongst the folk songs “from some pretty dark places” which are scheduled for performance is the Norwegian ‘Fanitullen’, or ‘The Devil’s Tune’, apparently “conceived during a violent and bloody wedding in 1724 which the Devil himself attended.” Similarly mythical themes should be stirring in their performance of occult-minded composer Peter Warlock‘s ‘Capriol Suite’; while various excerpts from Thomas Adés‘ ‘Arcadiana’ “evoke various vanished or vanishing idylls” either aquatic or pastoral, plus an evocation of the tomb of Baroque storytelling painter Nicolas Poussin. There’ll also be new work, a world premiere from contemporary composer Paul Clark, most recently recognised for his New York project ‘Norma Jeane Baker of Troy‘ with Anne Carson, Renee Fleming and Ben Whishaw (a spoken-sung transfiguration of Euripedes’ ‘Helen of Troy’).

From the Collective: “While we were building the show, we had a moment when we realised that this combination of instruments has literally never been heard before. The set that we are presenting is all new – terrifyingly, ink-barely-dry new. Ancient music, brought vividly to life for 21st century ears… Full disclosure – ‘Ecstatic Dances’ feels scary for us. New work is always frightening, mostly because until you start making it, you never really know what you’re going to end up with. Fortunately, we’re not particularly fond of being comfortable.”

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'Twilight Lives: Surgery & Music for and by 19th Century Women', 16th January 2020

On 16th January, Scottish classical guitarist Jamie Akers will be setting up in London’s Old Operating Theatre as part of his ongoing project to stir up more interest in neglected nineteenth century female composers for the guitar (following his release of new performances of their music on 2018’s ‘Le Donne e la Chitarra’ album).

“ The early 19th century has been described as the first golden age of guitar music. A time from which, a treasury of music of great emotional depth and technical brilliance was bequeathed to posterity. Profound works, written by the great composers and virtuosos who populated the concert stages and publishing houses of the age, have been continuously in print and regularly performed for almost two hundred years. However, alongside the famous names and renowned masterpieces, some of the most original and exciting music of the era has fallen into obscurity.

“Languishing in libraries, ignored by performers and neglected by archivists, the loss of the repertoire of 19th century women guitar composers has caused an imbalance in our view of history, as well as a notable vacuum in our artistic heritage. The absence of these works from concerts and recordings has led to a mistaken belief that before the modern era, women composers were a rarity and women’s creative impulses were either suppressed or unformed.

“This concert is intended to remedy this misperception, giving voice to the forgotten outpourings of artistic sensibilities silenced by unforgiving prejudice. While classical music has traditionally been perceived as a male dominated affair, many women composers throughout its history have written unique and expressive works. From the mediaeval religious works of Hildegard von Bingen to the suffragette anthems of Ethel Smyth, the creative impulses of women composers have taken flight in spite of societal pressures and historical neglect.

“The composers featured in this concert, Athenais Paulian, Emilia Giuliani and Catharina Pratten were highly respected in their day. They were society figures, famed performers, teachers of royalty, whose works were widely disseminated and gained international acclaim. Given the recognition they received during their lifetimes, the subsequent neglect of their music highlights the ongoing struggle to achieve equality women composers face, an issue this concert aims to address.

“This is a rare opportunity to experience the breadth of expression, formal mastery and emotional heights that the music of these unjustly neglected composers achieved and which, despite our modern advances in equality, has yet to secure the respect and recognition it deserves.

“The music concert will be preceded by an introduction to and demonstration of how the old operating theatre was used from 1822 until 1862. The space where the music will pay was once the room where women in the 19th century went through surgery without anaesthesia nor antiseptics. Join us for this incredible experience!”

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On 24th January, London chamber group Eos Ensemble play IKLECTIK. The regular trio of the two founder members (composer/clarinettist Paul Evernden and violinist Angela Najaryan) plus regular pianist Thomas Ang are on this occasion expanded by the addition of cellist Corinna Boylan in a typical programme of mingled classical and obscure contemporary chamber music.

Eos Ensemble, 24th January 2020It includes Linda Catlin Smith’s ‘Among The Tarnished Stars’, a piece which the composer has described as “travers(ing) a variety of terrains, usually through the variation, or re-translation, or reconsideration of simple things, harmonies, melodies, intervals. I was especially interested in seeing what I could do with the various sound colours of these instruments, sometimes looking for blend, sometimes for independent pure lines. I am fascinated with small changes, subtle gradations and shadings. I like how these things contribute to something we might almost call ‘mood’.”

Also on offer is a performance of deep listening pioneer Pauline Oliveros’ ‘Tree/Peace’ (a seven-part set of listening/reacting sonic explorations which, via dynamics, articulations, phrasing, sectioning and styling, mimics the life cycle of a tree) and Philip Cashian’s ‘Caprichos’ (an uneasy set of pieces inspired by various grotesques by Goya which originally satirised 18th century Spanish society). The evening ends with Olivier Messiaen’s prisoner-of-war camp classic ‘Quatour Pour La Fin Du Temps’, with its mingled influences of birdsong and Biblical revelation.

Various previous versions below:



 
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Dates:

Manchester Collective with Poul Høxbro: ‘Ecstatic Dances’

  • The Crypt @ Leeds Town Hall, The Headrow, Leeds, Yorkshire, LS1 3AD, England – Wednesday 15th January 2020, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, 100 Renfrew Street, Glasgow, G2 3DB, Scotland – Thursday 16th January 2020, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The CLF Art Café, Block A, Bussey Building, 133 Copeland Road, Peckham, London, SE15 3SN, England – Friday 17th January 2020, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • The Stoller Hall, Hunts Bank, Manchester, M3 1DA, England – Sunday 19th January 2020, 5.00pm – information here and here

Twilight Lives: Surgery & Music for and by 19th Century Women
The Old Operating Theatre Museum, 9a St Thomas St, Southwark, London, SE1 9RY, England
Thursday 16th January 2020, 6.15pm
– information here, here and here

IKLECTIK presents:
Eos Ensemble
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Friday 24th January 2020, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

January to March 2020 – assorted London gigs – Holly Penfield at 100 Club (8th March) and with Ian Ritchie at the Fiddler’s Elbow (10th January); skewed surf, pop and acoustica with Kenny Process Team, Keith John Adams and The Happy Couple (13th January); Balkan/Gaelic folktronics with Arhai (18th January); plus Minute Taker’s ‘Wolf Hours’ in Manchester (24th January)

7 Jan

Holly PenfieldIf you missed Holly Penfield’s London launch gig for her ‘Tree Woman’ album back at Halloween last year – or if you attended and wanted to see it again – then she’s looping back on herself and staging another one at the 100 Club on 8th March. For those unfamiliar with her, here’s what I wrote (indeed, here’s what I recycled) last time.

“Raised in San Francisco (and a veteran of the 1980s LA pop scene with the scars to prove it) Holly spent much of the ‘90s writing and performing the psychodramatic one-woman pop show ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in London and elsewhere. A show with such troubled and intense undercurrents that it eventually blew itself apart, it’s now spawned a return… but under very different circumstances. The whirling mirror-glass synths and saxophones of the old days have been replaced by a gritty post-Americana rock band (which growls, gnaws and struts through her songs like a Cash or Waits ensemble) while Holly herself has mostly forsaken standing behind a keyboard (except for when a grand piano ballad calls for that set of skills).

“It’s funny, sad, uplifting and stirring all at once. Once the very embodiment of storm-tossed waif and precarious survivor, Holly’s now a wiser and much happier woman. She still absolutely owns the stage, though, helping herself to a big dollop of the jazz and blues flavourings which shaped her initial development, playing a dash of ukulele and engaging in some zestful shimmying (and some delightfully ludicrous party outfits, worn with wit and flair – it seems as if her recent steps away from cabaret involved at least one sly step back).

“What hasn’t changed is the quality of her singing, and of her songs. While old FHM standards like Misfit, The Last Enemy, puddle-of-grief ballad Stay With Me, and slinking fingersnapper You Can’t Have The Beauty Without The Beast have shed skins and made the transition to the new show, Holly’s also been dipping into a trunk of neglected and mostly previously unheard work, including the tremendous state-of-the-world song Confessions (based around a lyrical hook she once dangled in front of an intrigued Joni Mitchell) and the vivacious Tree Woman (a more recent effort in which she vigorously embraces both her own ageing and the resilience that comes with it).”



 
Holly Penfield & Ian Ritchie, 10th January 2019If you can’t wait until March, Holly and her multi-instrumentalist husband Ian Ritchie (the latter an ex-Deaf School member recently fresh off playing sax on the Roger Waters tour) will be playing another London gig this coming Friday, up at the Fiddler’s Elbow. This one will be an “experimental thirty-minute duo gig of originals with vintage ‘80s drum machine… interesting, quirky,and challenging!”

Although Holly and Ian are going out under their Cricklewood Cats moniker (under which they’ve previously released a few synth-jazz swing songs), theirs has been a long and varied partnership also encompassing cabaret, out-and-out jazz balladry, noisy rock diva songs and the bewitching sequencer-torch-pop of the ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album. So you could expect takes on all of the above and more, including some of Holly’s newer songs. At the moment she’s on a serious creative upswing, and there’s rarely been a better time to see her than now.


 

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Kenny Process Team + Keith John Adams + The Happy Couple, 13th January 2020On the following Monday, the reunited and reinvigorated Kenny Process Team launch their own new album, ‘Travlin’ Light With… Kenny Process Team’. Actually, it’s an old one, recorded as a live session over twenty years ago with the band’s 1998 lineup but lost in the abstracted shuffle of the band’s history, which has seen members swap out, disappear, impale themselves on fences and even join Oasis.

Part avant-surf, part Afro-prog and compared in their time to both The Ventures and Captain Beefheart (while proggies will also find parallels with Television and The League of Gentlemen), there’s more on the Kenny Process back story here. In the present, with the addition of Rhodri Marsden as new guitarist (replacing the late Simon King) and thanks to his existing connections with Lost Crowns and Prescott, they’re further cementing their links with London’s current crop of art/prog/psych/cellularists.



 
Also playing is KPT labelmate Keith John Adams. Once Rhodri’s bandmate in zestful 1990s avant-skifflers Zuno Men, for twenty years now Keith has been a solo act coming at acoustic pop from a gently skewed angle, buffeting around friendly lyrical ideas like a sozzled housefly bumping against a lampshade and turning out understated little song-gems as he does so. His accidental forebears might include Robyn Hitchcock, Kevin Ayers; you might also pretend that he’d been dreamed up from some lazy Walthamstow afternoon when Leon Redbone shared a sofa with the young Bill Oddie.



 

Opening the evening is The Happy Couple, the languid instrumental duo formed by Kenny Process drummer Dave Ross and his life partner Judith Goodman, born out of two decades of inseparable love mingling with the inspiration of the Epping Forest woodscapes where they live. Judith plays a variety of open-tuned guitars, predominantly a Weissenborn acoustic slide guitar but also a 4-string tenor and a 3-string cigar box model (plus a mysterious “early English” example which suggests a rewriting of instrumental history). Leaving his drumkit behind, Dave plays a variety of mouth-held lamellophones: a classic American jaw harp, Indian morchangs in both brass and iron, a Norwegian Munnharpe and a mouth bow harp created in Devon. As for the music, it’s a relaxed evocation of companionship, glissando and boing and intersecting rhythms: or, as Judith comments, “it’s about the sounds that happen when we put our sounds together. We just create a world we want to be in.”



 
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Arhai, 18th January 2020

The following Saturday, British/Serbian electronic folk project Arhai slip into the little cellar at the Harrison to deliver their own electro-acoustic atmospheres. A two-decade-long project led by singer/composer Jovana Backovic, they were a traditional Serbian acoustic octet for their first ten years, gradually shifting into electric terrain before dissolving and allowing Jovana to form the current duo with British multi-instrumental specialist Adrian Lever (mediaeval dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, guitar, tambura, Bulgarian lute etc). Now they’re Balkan-cum-Gaelic, intertwining ancient and technological: or, as they put it “rethinking the archetypal modes of music performance in the context of modernity”. Which sometimes means they’re ultra-accessible and synth-quilty in the familiar Clannad model, and sometimes means that they’re off and racing like a cross between izvorna and a hyperspatial hip hop track.




 
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All of the above events will be in London: for the next one, you’ll need to head up to Manchester, where singer, songwriter and electronic pop creator Ben McGarvey, a.k.a. Minute Taker, is unveiling his multi-media performance ‘Wolf Hours’. Ben is no stranger to mixing theatre and music, having already presented a love-and-ghosts story on tour with ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ featuring animations from Ana Stefaniak. ‘Wolf Hours’ is an even more ambitious undertaking – “a unique performance combining mesmerising film with a dynamic live soundtrack. From forbidden love in the First World War, to the pain and rage of AIDS, to contemporary hedonism and heartbreak, ‘Wolf Hours’ explores the stories of gay men at different points in time through their dreams. This series of stunning new short films (directed by John Lochland, Joe Stringer, Kirk Sylvester, Raphaël Neal and Ben McGarvey) are accompanied throughout by Minute Taker performing an intimate musical and vocal score that both builds the atmosphere and pulls on the heartstrings. Visually explosive and emotionally thrilling, ‘Wolf Hours’ transports the audience through pleasure, grief, lust, joy and our collective historical imagination.”



 
In this interview with ‘Superbia’, Ben expounds on the approach he took when putting together ‘Wolf Hours’, which he describes as “jumbled-up memories, fears and fantasies.. It’s presented a bit like late night TV from back in the ’80s and ’90s (when anything queer was relegated to an after-midnight slot!) with different programmes and images emerging out of the static as you drift in and out of sleep… I also decided to include lots of archive footage in the show, which explores the way homosexuality has been portrayed in the media over the years… all of the stuff that finds its way into the subconscious minds of the characters as they lie awake at night, having an effect on how they view themselves and the gay community.” He’s hoping to take the show out on a broader tour much later this year, but for now this is all that you’re getting…

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Dates:

Holly Penfield & Ian Ritchie: The Cricklewood Cats
The Fiddler’s Elbow, 1 Malden Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3HS, England
Friday 10th January, 2020, 8.20pm
– no information links, just turn up…

Kenny Process Team + Keith John Adams + The Happy Couple
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Monday 13th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Folk and Roots presents:
Arhai
The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England
Saturday 18th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Minute Taker presents ‘Wolf Hours’
Hope Mill Theatre, 113 Pollard Street, Beswick, Manchester, M4 7JA, England
Friday 24th January 2020, 8:00pm
– information here and here

Holly Penfield
The 100 Club, 100 Oxford Street, Soho, London, W1D 1LL, England
Sunday 8th March 2020, time t.b.c.
– no information links yet
 

January 2020 – single & track reviews – Madrona’s ‘Alone with a Crow and a Pylon’; Madrona & Chris Cundy’s ‘Humming I’ and ‘Humming II’

3 Jan

Easing into the new year with some pastoral drones…

Here’s the elusive Cheltenham drone duo Madrona, about whom there’s little else to reveal at the moment. Their name’s taken from a fruiting Pacific coast shrub with no particular outstanding qualities, and even their precise location is questionable (Cheltenham appears to be where they congregate and play live, but it’s also possible that they just blow into town on these occasions, like friendly tumbleweeds). So it’s all in the music, then.

Madrona: 'Alone with a Crow and a Pylon'

Madrona: ‘Alone with a Crow and a Pylon’

Recent Bandcamp converts, Madrona have begun by mining their odds-and-sods file bank. ‘Alone with a Crow and a Pylon’ originally came out a couple of years ago on a Linear Obsessional compilation. It’s two minutes of oscillating, intentional generator drone; part reed harmonium, part electronics, with the former pedal clanks and the dipping pitches from the latter tying the music in with a feel of ageing but dogged technology. Mixed in are field recordings of birds and the outside air. The crow calls aren’t the standard scene-setting monotonous carks, but wrap around the instrumentation in varied and conversational tones. A single gabby corvid chatting, almost an enthusiast; a live counterpart to the stumbling pulse of the electrical machinery; a soloist working wittily against a conductor. (Sorry…)


 

Madrona & Chris Cundy: 'Humming I'

Madrona & Chris Cundy: ‘Humming I’

Simultaneously, Madrona are releasing a pair of interrelated tracks recorded with bass clarinettist Chris Cundy. ‘Humming I’, at twelve-and-a-half minutes, is the longer: dissonant layers of baritone and bassy reeds overlaying and weaving through each other at a pace that’s less leisurely than watchful. Cundy’s lines gradually evolve from single sustained stubbornnesses to sweet attenuated micro-melodies stretched out across protracted seconds. While sticking to their drones, Madrona nonethess rise to meet him; adding more consonant pitches to soothe the tension, or shorter rising drone parts as if reaching up.

By the halfway point, Cundy’s fully into jazz minimalist mode, toying with accenture, rallentando, manic flutters and pared harmonics across his short phrases, but increasingly with an undercurrent of blues. It ends somewhere gently celestial: Madrona’s tones resolved peacefully, Cundy playing on an overblown edge tone which nonetheless hovers somewhere serene.


 

Madrona & Chris Cundy: 'Humming II'

Madrona & Chris Cundy: ‘Humming II’

The nine-and-a-bit minutes Humming II is different from the outset. Warm air rather than disturbed currents, consonant hanging chords of harmonium which vary in their bulk and in subtle changes of intensity. Cundy’s tone may vary from falsetto or didgeridoo to hallucinated cattle or distant motorbike; but a brooding, urgent undercurrent of melody always wins through, whether or not it gets very far. On the other hand, Cundy’s quite capable of wringing the maximum impact out of a simple slow ascending scale, so even the simplest motifs have a surprising substance. It ends on a quiet clatter of keys, like the lashing of the loose end of a film reel.


 

Madrona: ‘Alone with a Crow and a Pylon’
(self-released)
Download-only single
Released: 3rd January 2020
Get it from:
Bandcamp

Madrona + Chris Cundy: ‘Humming I’
(self-released)
Download-only single
Released: 3rd January 2020
Get it from:
Bandcamp

Madrona + Chris Cundy: ‘Humming II’
(self-released)
Download-only single
Released: 3rd January 2020
Get it from:
Bandcamp

Madrona online:
Facebook Bandcamp

Chris Cundy online:
Homepage Facebook Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo
 

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