Tag Archives: Abingdon (England)

January/February 2019 – upcoming classical gigs around Britain and Ireland – Nonclassical’s Battle of the Bands (23rd January); Scordatura’s Clara Schumann evening (3rd February); Gyða Valtýsdóttir’s ‘Epicycle’ tour (29th January to 3rd February)

18 Jan

Nonclassical open their year with their annual Battle of the Bands at their live homebase in Hackney’s Victoria performance pub. Six competitors will be duking it out for industry attention and more Nonclassical gig opportunities. As usual, they’ve been chosen from the permeable space where contemporary classical touches on other musical forms, on other arts and on current concerns.

Nonclassical: Battle of the Bands, 23rd January 2019

There will be two solo performers. Woodwind specialist James Hurst will be swapping between alto saxophone and alto recorder to perform his own ‘The Descent of Ishtar To The Underworld’, a guided, Bronze Age-inspired improvisation. Reylon Yount, a San Franciscan Chinese-American yangqin player and member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, will be performing the diasporan-influenced sound exploration ‘Rituals and Resonances for Solo Yangqin’ by Chinese-British composer Alex Ho, which “attempts to engage with the paradoxical sense of nostalgia one may feel for a place one did not grow up in” via “an exploration of the relationship between sound and its resonance.”

Three collectives are also competing. Chamber ensemble Scordatura Women’s Music Collective champion and perform the work of female composers, both living and dead: on this occasion, they’ll be performing ‘Las Sombras de los Apus’ by Gabriela Lena Frank, a cello quartet in which each instrument plays in a different tuning. The recently-formed New Music group 4|12 Collective will be playing James Saunders’ Instruments with Recordings (with a lineup of viola player Toby Cook, flautist Epsie Thompson, accordionist Giancarlo Palena, bassoonist Olivia Palmer-Baker, trombonist Benny Vernon and tuba player Stuart Beard).

Rita Says & The Jerico Orchestra (performing Paragraph 7 of ‘The Great Learning’ by Cornelius Cardew) have been around a little longer: over the past decade, they’ve been working at “defin(ing) a connection between fine art performance practise and the history of contemporary music”, exploring a spontaneous blend of physical action and visual interaction to create and conduct pieces.


Finally, there’s composer/performer and Filthy Lucre co-founder Joe Bates, who pitches his camp on the faultline between contemporary classical music and avant-rock, hip hop and electronics; and whose artistic interests include “desire at a remove” and “the decline of classical music’s social prestige and the possibilities for its future.” His music blends contemporary classical structures and instrumentation options with “intense, still, driven riffs” and harmonies from rock and other pop forms. On this occasion, he’ll be playing pieces from his microtonal synthesiser suite/EP ‘Flim Flam’.

* * * * * * * *

If you’re sympathetic to Scordatura’s role as feminist music historians and curators, you might like to know that they’re popping up again in Abingdon, Oxfordshire in early February – as part of the Abbey Chamber Concerts series.

Scordatura, 3rd February 2019

Their 3rd February gig, titled as “Celebrating Clara” (and utilising a shifting duo/trio/quartet formation of clarinettist Poppy Beddoe, violinist Claudia Fuller, cellist Rachel Watson and pianist Thomas Ang) ostensibly showcases Clara Schumann, the similarly talented but undervalued composer-pianist married to Robert Schumann. They’ll be playing one Schumann piece – the Piano Trio in G minor – and possibly some of her clarinet work, but the remaining programme slots are given over to the work of other female composers. Contemporary composer Cecilia McDowall’s chamber piece ‘Cavatina at Midnight’ is followed by the Victorian ‘Piano Suite in E major’ by Clara Schumann’s contemporary Ethel Smyth.

The last piece is by Fanny Hensel ( ‘Fantasia for Cello and Piano’) a.ka. Fanny Mendelssohn, whose life was a sometimes-uncomfortable reiterating mirror of Clara’s. Both were similarly talented intimates of established composers (one a wife, the other a sister); both had surprisingly encouraging husbands; both were also tutored and driven by demanding fathers who established excellence in them. Both, too, were ultimately constrained as composers by the discouragements and domestic responsibilities forced upon women of their times, with the men in their families often acting with a frustrating mixture of systematic positive pressure and patriarchal forbiddings. (Felix Mendelssohn, for instance, was a devoted, championing brother who found that he drew the line at Fanny entering the canon of published composers.)

* * * * * * * *

Gyða Valtýsdóttir 'Epicycle' tour (Britain/Ireland), January/February 2019Overlapping these two concerts is a British/Irish mini-tour by Gyða Valtýsdóttir – still known as the former cellist for Iceland experimental pop band Múm even though she only played on two of their albums and has been out of the band for sixteen years.

Having immediately returned, post-Múm, to her classical roots (formally studying, graduating and applying herself to classical cello) Gyða’s spent the time since then in the genre-stepping world of the modern post-classical musician. Outside of the classical gigs, rent-paying but artistically respectable engagements adding stringwork to records or tours by Sigur Ros’ Jónsi, Damien Rice and Colin Stetson have alternated with assorted film, dance, theatre and installation music around the world, as well as bouts of free improvisation gigs. Allied with her twin sister and ex-Múm bandmate Kristín Anna, Gyða also added a “reciprocal twin” component to Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s 2015 song cycle ‘Forever Love’, conceived and delivered with performance artists Ragnar Kjartansson.

Although Gyða’s latest personal release (last year’s ‘Evolution’) features her own compositions and a return to her Múm-era multi-instrumentalism – and although some of those songs will get an airing – this tour focusses mostly on her 2017 solo debut ‘Epicycle‘, a two-millennia-spanning exercise in musical commonality and reconfiguration originally intended as “a gift for friends” on which Schubert, Schumann and Messiaen rub shoulders with Harry Partsch, George Crumb, Hildegard von Bingen and the nineteen-hundred year old Seikilos Epitaph. The album was an Icelandic smash hit and a talking point elsewhere: a classical debut recorded with the immediacy of a jazz record and with a broad-minded disregard for purity, bringing in upfront studio processing techniques and stylings/instrumental responses from other traditions from jazz to ancient folk to experimental post-rock.

On tour, she’s performing with her Epicycle trio, also featuring multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily (on guitar, synthesizer, percussion and anything else which needs playing) and drummer Julian Sartorius, both of whom played on the record.

* * * * * * * *


Nonclassical presents:
Nonclassical: Battle of the Bands
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, E8 3AS London, United Kingdom
Wednesday 23rd January 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Abbey Chamber Concerts present:
Scordatura: Women’s Music Collective: ‘Celebrating Clara’
St Nicolas’ Church, Market Place, Abingdon-on-Thames, Oxfordshire OX14 3HF
Sunday 3rd February 2019, 3.00pm
– information here, here and here

Gyða Valtýsdóttir – ‘Epicycle’ tour:

  • Norwich Arts Centre, 51 St. Benedicts Street, Norwich, NR2 4PG, England, Tuesday 29th January 2019, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England, Wednesday 30th January 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Metropolitan Arts Centre, 10 Exchange St West, Belfast, BT1 2NJ, Northern Ireland, Thursday 31st January 2019 – no further information
  • Dublin Unitarian Church, 112 Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, D02 YP23, Ireland, Friday 1st February 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Summerhall, 1 Summerhall, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL, Scotland, Sunday 3rd February 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here


October 2000 – album reviews – Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ (“allowing – or forcibly inducing – change to come through”)

2 Oct
Radiohead: 'Kid A'

Radiohead: ‘Kid A’

Radiohead are history. And they know they are: elevated into a pantheon of great expectations and rock landmarks a mere three albums into their career, and somewhat against their own wishes. Like a latterday Pink Floyd crossed with Nirvana (with the universality of both) they’ve had the rock world at their feet. But they’re also fully aware that, like Miles Davis before them, they need to let go of an expected history before they congeal. Embracing the difficult development of their own history by allowing – or forcibly inducing – change to come through.

So it’s goodbye to Old Radiohead’s upfront army of rock guitars, Thom Yorke’s frenzied in-yer-face angst, and those singles scooping at the soul like the hook in the fish’s mouth. And all the talk of the band making a record that mostly junks standard concepts of guitars, lyrics and pure song in favour of Warp Records-style electronica and muttering left-field oddness has turned out to be true.

‘Kid A’ does indeed have no singles and no singalongs – lovesick, punch-drunk or otherwise. It has a bleary, fractalized, impersonal mountain-scape etched out on computer for a cover; a lyrical agenda which is plainest in its absence. And its diverse pieces are deliberately disassociated from each other. Sometimes chill, sometimes as mechanistic as automata moving in a warehouse; all strung-out and scrambled by filters, Pro-Tools or anti-technique. Trusted “recorder” Nigel Godrich plays an odd mixture of Eno and Albini roles, squeezed alongside the band in the producer’s chair. Sometimes you can hear a band member at work, untweaked. More often you can’t. It’s like a set of glass cases enclosing specimens, puzzling specimens of music pulled up and laid out with a firm “that’s what you’re getting – goodbye” sense to it. Anti-pop, not pleasing anyone’s appetite for a snackable chorus.

And already (to filch another Yorke line) the knives are out. Radiohead are busily having their seams ripped open and their functioning organs speared, teased out and compared scrupulously against charts; a list of names marking off the components of ‘Kid A’ track by track. And, increasingly, marking it down. “Charles Mingus, Autechre, Alice Coltrane, Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin…” goes the chant. “Rip-off. Buy the originals. Who the hell do Radiohead think they are?” And yes, none of ‘Kid A’ is as groundbreaking as any of those recorded texts, which Yorke and co readily cite as influences. There’s no element that a student of improv, post-rock, serious electronica or revolution jazz won’t have heard already. But this also means that one of the world’s biggest rock bands have admitted they’re at least as much learners as teachers. Sounds like cause for celebration to me.

In fact it’s other legendary records – the likes of Robert Wyatt’s ‘Rock Bottom’, Scott Walker’s ‘Tilt’ and Robert Fripp‘s ‘Exposure’ – which ‘Kid A’ is most genuinely akin to. Each of these records strives to meet its ends by a mixture of instinct, cold science flushed hot again with consuming passion, and their own secretive internalised logic. It’s a big step going from ‘OK Computer’ (one of the most explicit and upfront records of the ’90s, in which Thom Yorke was a incandescent clench of ego; stubborn, scarred, and railing against the draining fear and indifference of the adult world we’re trained for) to a twenty-first century record which is as weirdly egoless as this one is. An inarticulate speech of the heart via samplers, hazard and evasion.

Significantly, the most memorable and accessible song on ‘Kid A’ (the tear-blown strum and shivering strings of How To Disappear Completely, echoing both King Crimson‘s desperately vulnerable Waiting Man and Walker’s cryptic Patriot) sees Yorke singing softly and acceptingly of the ultimate relinquishment. Drifting away from himself in Dublin, becoming insubstantial, not as a surrender, but as some kind of transcendence. “I’m not here… this isn’t happening,” he sings, a tired relief (and, almost, a kind of love) suffusing his voice as the quivering violins flutter down, snow-like, obscuring the signposts.

It’s the emotional rightness in ‘Kid A’ that finally pulls it clear of the dissectory attacks people are aiming at it. As if the cry of rage that dominated ‘OK Computer’ is now diffused in a temporarily helpless scatter of images and impulses. As if the echo, coming back, has impacted on a band whose foes and fears are now nested in the fabric of the world, who can no longer respond with a simple song.

The fabulously grotesque artwork (a booklet of nightmare kid’s drawings) that lurks, hidden, in the back of the CD tray, gives a little glance into this world. Stick men boot each other in the balls; small mice squeaking copyright signs wander into the maw of a toothy beast growling a trademark; frightened eyes stare out of threatened houses, and Tony Blair’s PR grin is distorted into empty-eyed predatory lust. A nation of grinning little bears end up on the end of people’s forks or balaclava-clad and tooled up with Kalashnikovs, and a screaming parade of vitriolically surreal words march across the pages like circus handbills. Like the doomsday rhetoric of Godspeed You Black Emperor, it’s almost comical… yet it jolts, like the sound of a chisel stealthily tapping at your wall.

And perhaps ‘Kid A’, rather than being the rebel songbook for this world, is the recovery notes for those as cracked by it as ‘OK Computer’ predicted they would be. There’s a terrible surrender and relief about Everything in Its Right Place, freewheeling along on tranquillised electric piano chording with a slipstream of sliced up, gossamer-keening Yorke vocals tangled in its tail. In which two of the few comprehensible lines are “yesterday I woke up sucking on a lemon – yesterday I woke up soaking,” and “what is that you tried to say?” This is disarrangement, dysfunctionality – not order. Yet Yorke seems to realise that this too has its place in a person’s history; and the sheer beauty of his singing throughout implies there’s hope waiting up beyond the dissolution.

About half of ‘Kid A’ ties in with this dissolve. The clinking music-box-meets-hip-hop narcosis of the title track, a nursery lullaby as rendered by an uptight and drier Massive Attack. Yorke’s bass-warped, filtered and generally fucked voice wavers, croons and ties little musical bows in and out of the pernickety beats, while words about “heads on sticks”, “ventriloquists” and “a little white lie” work their way through the dirty pink clouds. Who blinks first? The gaudily humming electro-disco on Idioteque reveals an empty dancefloor grooving away to itself as catastrophe looms. Yorke, in a slurred keen, is spilling out surreal sub-sense like David Byrne on sodium pentothal (“laugh until my head falls off / I swallow ’til I burst… / Women and children first, and children first…”) but sounds ecstatically happy (“here I’m alive, everything all of the time”), and the last sounds on the track aren’t death-booms but an aviary of feverish guitar loops.

The breakdown’s in the motorik groove of The National Anthem, adhesive thumbstains of bass underpinning a brawling rabble of brass that sound fresh from a vigorous drunken debate at Mingus’ Jazz Workshop or the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Yorke’s voice winds out of the airshaft with a lobotomised “everyone around here… everyone is so clear”: later quavering “everyone has got the fear” as the horns become restive, but affirming “it’s holding on… it’s holding on.”

The other half? Anyone’s guess. The smears and rumbles, the webbing of indistinct voices, the gusts of emotion hurtling up towards invisible targets, all blur the picture. The ghostly tundra ring of Treefingers gives away nothing but a deathly peace. The unravelling trip-hop of In Limbo, full of unhitched folk guitar and stutters of echoed organ, is lost somewhere in the subconscious: grumbling “you’re living in a fantasy world” while itself threatened by nightmares of loss and disappearance (“I’m on your side, / nowhere to hide, / trapdoors that open, / I spiral down”), and finally swirling away in a rush of killing reverb as if down an enormous storm drain.

There are a few dud or ill-fitting moments while Radiohead grope in the fog. Morning Bell, for one, where they knock out a scratchy, swamping, insect-buzzing song which sounds like nothing so much as Echo & The Bunnymen shaking with the D.T.s. Or the tribal tom booms, wiry laceration of rhythm guitars and guilt-ridden lyric on Optimistic, harkening back too much to ‘The Bends’ (or the out-of-focus U2 of ‘The Unforgettable Fire’). But the starved boniness renders these hauntingly hollow-eyed stuff, compared to the previous fire. “If you try the best you can / the best you can is good enough,” sings Yorke, with a scratched, dented demeanour belying his words.

The final act is Motion Picture Soundtrack, journeying on an exultant wheeze of harmonium, celestially riffling harps and gusting bass wind as Thom Yorke settles back into love as if he’s settling back into a wrecked old armchair. And it’s love among the trashed – “red wine and sleeping pills / help me get back to your arms. / Cheap sex and sad films / Help me get where I belong.” Querulous (as he protests “Stop sending letters, / letters always get burned. / It’s not like the movies,”), but there’s happy-sad commitment here as he murmurs “I think you’re crazy, maybe… / I will see you in the next life.” Then one last delayed pink gush of electrophonic orchestration, and out.

But it’s in its totality that ‘Kid A’ sinks into your mind. There’s no way it could ever be counted as a flawless record – in fact, it revels in its flagrant imperfection with such a fierce joy (and one born of abstract willpower) that it’s hard to condemn it for that. But it’s a vitally important record for Radiohead; and a rewarding one for the listener.

The peculiar triumph of ‘Kid A’ is the way that it transcends both its own wanton abstractions and Radiohead’s past explicitness to resonate beyond each of them, in the way that an impact on a random strand can shake the whole web. To hear it is to be haunted by the emotional husks of messages long lost and made irrelevant, or by the impressions left by intentions deflected and displaced into half-formed actions and events. To have your mind rippled by the last exhausted breeze from a shockwave far, far away. To be moved by the vibration of history – Radiohead’s history, at any rate – as it passes.

Radiohead: ‘Kid A’
Parlophone, CDKIDA 1 (72435 2959020)/7243 5 27753 4 7 (72435 27753 47)/LPKIDA 1 (724352 959013)
CD/cassette/10-inch double vinyl album
2nd October 2000
Get it from: (2020 update) buy/download from W.A.S.T.E. Store, Google Play or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud, Deezer, YouTube, Apple Music or Spotify
Radiohead online:
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