Tag Archives: Brighton Unitarian Church (venue) – Brighton – England

February/March 2018 – Minute Taker mini-tour of England with Runes (2nd, 3rd, 10th, 17th February); Holly Penfield’s rescheduled Fragile Human Monster dates in London (23rd February, 23rd March); Joss Cope and Emily Jones in Worthing (2nd February)

26 Jan


 
Ben McGarvey, better known as ambient-torch-y folktronicist Minute Taker is heading out on a brief February tour taking in a brace of Saturdays, a Friday and four of the country’s more impressive churches. It’s in support of his new mini-album ‘Reconstruction‘ which he claims reflects “the search for new improved ways of rebuilding yourself when your world has been blown apart.”

Ben’s last pair of tours were more directly theatrical multi-media affairs, fleshing out the doppelganger/ghost story of ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ with tie-in animations, strings and extra guitars. This time, it’s just him – piano, looped harmonies, distorted Eastern-influenced percussion parts, glockenspiel and synths. In addition to the slow dream-jazz-styled songs from ‘Reconstruction’, he’ll be playing rearranged songs from ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ and his previous albums ‘Too Busy Framing’ and ‘Last Things’, plus some rethought-out cover versions from his various influences. Expect an atmosphere of drawn-out, deliciously lovelorn confessions and self-realisations set to luscious, trembling tunes, each with a core of silver-wire determination.


 
Also along for the ride is Greek-turned-Mancunian singer-songwriter Harry Selevos, a.ka. Runes, who has two albums of dreamy cherubic pop behind him – 2015’s ‘Orphic’ and the 2017 OP3 collaboration ‘AWSS’, sublimating his classical piano training via Asian-influenced vocals, a near-ambient synth pulse and a blissful energy (ending up somewhere between Jimmy Somerville and Mark Hollis).


 
Dates:

Prior to the tour, Ben will be performing a couple of live-streamed concerts from home via his Facebook page on Sunday 28th January. The first, at 7.30pm, is a general one with a Q&A session; it will be followed by a bonus session for his Secret Facebook Group covering the ‘Secret Songs’ album series in which he explores cover versions and reinventions.

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Live At Zedel/Crazy Coqs presents:
Holly Penfield: ‘Fragile Human Monster’
Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Friday 23rd February & Friday 23rd March 2018, 9.15pm
– information here and here

The last Minute Taker tour, in October last year, coincided with Holly Penfield scheduling time out from her ongoing reign as jazz-cabaret queen and camp icon in order to return to the ‘Fragile Human Monster’ show she’d spun into a strange and shamanic synth-pop cult-of-the-broken during the early ‘90s. Back in October – and earlier – I wrote about how the old show had a “compelling and bizarre Californian theatrical edge which variously sat in your lap and purred, wailed over your head, broke down in front of you, or made you feel less alone – always in the same set” and about how “being a member of Holly’s audience meant being enticed into shedding those cloaks of cynicism and reserve we use to insulate ourselves, and opening your heart up to the rawest kind of sympathy and honesty. The show became a part of us, as much as we were a part of it, the church of the misfits she embraced. We dropped our guard, she sang: a voice for our odd angles and our visceral fears… If you led with your sense of cool, or your cynicism, there was no chance. But at full tilt, it was unmatchable.”

Holly Penfield, 23rd February & 23rd March 2018Both ‘Fragile Human Monster’ and its related ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album had been a second-stage reaction to Holly’s previous career as a blow-dried Los Angeles rock starlet (during which, in classic fashion, she’d been sidelined, ground up and spat out by the dream machine). Both had starred Holly alone but for the saxophone and suss of her partner and husband Ian Ritchie and for the evocative night-time sound of her Kurzweil sampler-keyboard. Over these, she spilled her self-composed, gloriously-sung narratives and metaphorical fantasias of collapse, vulnerability, madness and healing like an obsessive, loving, slightly deranged blurring-together of Laurie Anderson, Jane Siberry and Pat Benatar; framed by a stage set of trinkets and keepsakes which assumed the magical associations of a voodoo shrine – or, as I put it previously, “a travelogue of places been, of people touched and gifts given and received.”

It was the kind of gig into which, whether performer or audience member, you had to throw your whole self… and in turn it eventually flamed out, eventually making way for Holly’s camper (yet straighter) third stage as a knowingly decadent flaunt-it-all singer-performer of jazz and torch standards, commanding top-notch acoustic bands. It’s that latter stage that finally made her name – yet some of the willing therapeutic madness of FHM has always been present in those slinks through Fever and I Wanna Be Evil, the wigs and costume changes, the brassy fragility and the phenomenal voice. (Back in California, Holly had shared a voice coach with Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Junior. It showed.)

It wasn’t clear what was impelling Holly to bring the old show back; nor whether she was resurrecting the synths and sequencers and ditching the jazz quartet and feather boas. In any case, it was promptly derailed by her surprise leather-clad showing on ‘The X-Factor’ in full-on kook mode, teasing Simon Cowell with a riding crop during the auditions phase. She did get a market-friendly Cowell soundbite out of that – “a cross between David Bowie and Liza Minnelli” – to go with her Tim Rice citation (“more than one fine diva – she’s a whole host of them, and they all look wonderful and sound sensational”) but it also meant that the planned Vauxhall Tavern FHM shows got showbizzed, and abruptly morphed into the familiar jazz cabaret albeit with a Halloween tinge. Escape velocity lost and an opportunity missed, even if some of the FHM songs still got stirred into the mix.

Now she’s rescheduled the Monster for a couple of dates at the swish London Zedel eaterie: a luxuriant art-deco cabaret capsule. Again, not much about how she’s going to do it, or how much habit and setting is going to shape instrumentation and presentation, but I’m hoping that after last year’s false alarm this will be the real deal, and that whatever twenty years away have added to the show’s energies will add to the spice. Sadly, there’s nothing directly from the Monster on Youtube – and nothing of ‘Parts of My Privacy’ – so instead I’ll have to whet appetites one of the more Monsterous moments from the cabaret show, an excellent new number Holly posted up the other year (like a Bowie torch song for the American dream), and an FHM ballad in its original glossy LA-pop ’80s garb before Holly pared it back to an art-pop synth shimmer.




 
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Musica Lumini presents:
Joss Cope + Emily Jones
The Cellar Arts Club, (basement of) 70 Marine Parade, Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3QB, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here

Joss Cope + Emily Jones, 2nd February 2018It’s always nice to hear about a new venue, pushing back against the swelling tides of blandness and land-banking; and Worthing’s Cellar Arts Club must be a godsend for the more inquisitive characters who live in Brighton’s smaller, sleepier cousin town. I say “new”, but in fact it’s been in existence for nearly a year – a small, sprightly co-op effort providing music, poetry, stand-up, discussion and small-scale theatre and film showings. This February, it celebrates a small coup in pulling in both Joss Cope and Emily Jones for a concert.

Any discussions of Joss inevitably involve invoking (and then quelling) the shadow of his big brother – Julian Cope, the ‘80s psych-pop chart star and holy fool who spent the next three decades evolving into a garage-rock pagan shaman, a looming Archdrude and more recently a heathen-folk Biker of Ragnarok. So here I go… While there are a few shared traits (a sibling similarity in tone, including the Midlands yawp that occasionally cuts through their middle-class diction; their West Coast way with a melody; their tendency to move from proclaimer to informal intimate in a heartbeat by slipping a conversational twist into a driving lyric) they more often sound like two boys who heard the same records but went away having heard and learned different things. For all of his anarchic ways, whenever Cope the Elder yomps off on his Odinist trip, dooms Christianity or tries to brain-bugger you into enlightenment with 12-strings and Mellotrons, he always seems anxious to please, impose and impress; to garner attention from (and for) his assorted upendings and derailments. More outrightly affable, Joss may have come along on some of Julian’s musical trips, but his own are more relaxed and chatty, drawn from the confidence of one who takes more pleasure in the deft shapework of being a craftsman than in being a noisy prophet of the heath.


 
Ever since his emergence thirty-odd years ago (with short-lived bands such as Freight Train Something Pretty Beautiful and United States Of Mind), Joss has brought Cope-ular bounce and chattiness to the acid wistfulness and garage grooves. Since then, apart from a longer stint with counter-pop collective deXter Bentley, it’s been mostly innumerable multi-instrumental pick-up collaborations between Brighton and London (from Sergeant Buzfuz to Crayola Lectern). However, with last year’s ‘Unrequited Lullabies’ (recorded in Joss’ part-time home of Helsinki with a set of amenable Finnish musicians including Veli-Pekka Oinonen of the Leningrad Cowboys) he’s unveiled an album where his own voice comes clear to the surface. A luscious living-room tranche of psych-pop with a sharp wit; dappled with dextrous pop guitars, carousel prog, fake horns and laps of Mellotron, it also shows that there’s more than enough in Joss’ songwriting to ensure that it’s worth listening to him even if he just rocks up alone with an acoustic guitar. With a delivery not too far off the drowsy cut-glass musings of Guy Chadwick (and travelling through similar musical territories to or the Robyn Hitchcock or The Monochrome Set, although he’s less frivolous than either), he provides deceptive sunny reflections on our currently souring culture with its intolerance, its blame-shifting and the growing poisoning of discourse (“fell voices charm the crowd and there’s a bill for everything / Heard the claim that destiny was waiting in the wings… / Gotta get out of this cauldron before it starts to boil / there’s the frog and the kettle, pour on toxic oil”). At the same time, he’s got a healthy disregard for the idea of singer as preacher – admitting, in Cloudless Skies, that “the truth is understated, there’s no reality to be debated, / but no-one wants to hear that in a song.”

So far, the singer-songwriter work of Truronian hinterland-folkie Emily Jones (daughter of cult sixties folk singer and instrument inventor Al Ashworth-Jones) has rambled across two albums and a collection of Bandcamp oddments. In these pages, she’s mostly shown up in connection with the regular support slots she’s played backing up the Spratleys Japs revival. Opening for Joss should provide a bit more of a window for getting across her own particular songview, which layers ancient drone-lays and Sandy Denny musings with latterday and merges ancient folk tropes with latterday horrorfolk tales and strands of modern rurality, in particular the mystical fraying of reality that comes with too much time alone in a remote cottage. Picking at her songbook reveals the makings of an intriguing psych-folk visionary, with stories of strange transformations, blurrings and exchanges (from her recasting of traditional selkie tales to the peculiar trash-moth creature that flits through Hermegant And Maladine to her musings on the supernatural interplay of housework, psychic memories and ghost-hopes in Pieces Of People).




 

September/October 2016 – upcoming gigs – Jane Siberry on tour in Britain and Ireland (9th Sep – 7th Oct) with The Blackheart Orchestra, Balsamo Deighton, Ruth, Delilah Montagu, LeeSun and Carol Laula

5 Sep

This week, Jane Siberry embarks on her first tour of the British Isles for a good while.

  • Whelan’s, 25 Wexford Street, Dublin 2, Ireland, Friday 9th September 2016, 8.00pm (with Ruth) – information
  • The Queens Hall, 85-89 Clerk Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9JG, Scotland, Friday 16th September 2016, 7.30pm (with Carol Laula) – information
  • The Convent, Convent Lane, South Woodchester, Stroud, GL5 5HS, England, Sunday 18th September 2016, 9.00pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • Henry Tudor House, Barracks Passage, Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury, SY1 1XA, England, Monday 19th September 2016, 8.00pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • The Trades Club, Holme Street, Hebden Bridge, HX7 8EE, England, Thursday 22nd September 2016, 8.00pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • The Greystones, Greystones Road, Sheffield, S11 7BS, England, Friday 23rd September 2016, 7.30pm (with Delilah Montagu) – information
  • Kitchen Garden Café, 17 York Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7SA, England, Sunday 25th September 2016, 7.30pm (withThe Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • St John’s Church, St John’s Street, Farncombe, Godalming, GU7 3EJ, England, Wednesday 28th September 2016, 7.45pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • The Stables, Stockwell Lane, Wavendon, Milton Keynes, MK17 8LU, England, Thursday 29th September 2016, 8.45pm (with LeeSun) – information
  • Brighton Unitarian Church, New Road, Brighton, BN1 1UF, England, Friday 30th September 2016, 7.30pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • Chapel Arts Centre, St Oaks Memorial Hall, Lower Borough Walls, Bath, BA1 1QR, England, Sunday 2nd October 2016, 8.00pm (with Balsamo Deighton) – information
  • St James Theatre, 12 Palace Street, Westminster, London, SW1E 5JA, England, Monday 3rd October 2016, 7.15pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • Stromness Town Hall, Church Road, Stromness, Orkney, KW16 3BA, Scotland, Friday 7th October 2016, 7.30pm (solo show) – information (note – this date is listed on some places but not currently on Jane’s own site, so check before committing)

Sometimes, to her chagrin, Jane’s been tagged as “the Canadian Kate Bush” – a tag which is at least as constrictive as it is helpful. Unfair as it might be, the comparison holds true and is a good place to start. Early musical developers, women of a similar age and independent-mindedness, Jane and Kate both realised their full powers and creative approaches during a boomtime of studio-bound 1980s art pop. Pioneering later self-propelled female studio auteurs, both kept absolute control of their songwriting and mastered enough of the necessary technology to dictate form as well as content, working as meticulous musical painters, dramatists and refractors. Both have favoured carefully-chosen instrumentation, sonorities and song structures, neither of which necessarily follow common practise or expectations (and neither of which they’ve felt obliged to stick to, preferring to change formulae whenever inspiration and craft took them there). Most crucially, both of them have a sweeping emotional effect on listeners, transcending both genre and gender.

The differences, though, are as significant and illustrative as the similarities. Genius notwithstanding, Kate’s creativity was cosseted in an indulgent arts-and-crafts family background, and the recording and development deal she’d gained by her mid-teens ensured that she didn’t have to slog her way up with hard gigging in parallel with grinding dayjobs. This, plus the overwhelming commercial success which came from her first single onwards, ensured the shape and circumstances of her work to come. Hers was a unfettered imagination fuelled by spliff and arts and cocooned in recording studios, voraciously processing mythology and literature to spin out detailed and immersive storydramas in pop form, all contained within a wary privacy she’s maintained to this day. In some respects Kate’s never left the book-lined bedrooms of her childhood: she’s simply extended them, and grown within the bigger space she made there.



 
Jane’s, on the other hand, has been a less charmed or settled road. An uneasy family life and childhood led to a voyage into a university degree which soon morphed, dissatisfied, from music to microbiology, then work as a waitress in order to self-fund a tightly-budgeted debut record. Perhaps it’s these elements which have inspired the elements of research quirk and observational stillness in parts of her songcraft, from the twinkling electronic dissections of beachlife on her first hit (Mimi On The Beach) to the moments, when in otherwise warm and involved musical landscapes she appears to pull back, tilting her gaze askance, casting a cool bright birdlike eye on the matter: not necessarily making conclusions, but grabbing a quick and open assessment of what’s going on, whether or not details have fallen into a conclusive pattern.


 
Certainly her songcraft reflects an edgier, more marginal, creative life; intelligent and existential, but fully in touch with the irrational and perverse. While Kate’s catalogue dramatizes odd states and situation, Jane’s songbook seems more of a recounting. She has, in moments of straightforward generosity or acceptance, delivered art-pop singalongs such as The Life Is The Red Wagon or the rapturous k.d. lang duet Calling All Angels; in bouncier times, she’s delivered songs about dogs and people or childhood hockey games. When certain moods have taken her, she’s carved out monumental, borderline-impenetrable audio-literary mysteries such as The Bird In The Gravel.



 
Yet she’ll also touch uneasily, obliquely, but always openly on subjects such as alcoholism and mental disturbance which might or might not be first-hand, and in ways which tide the listener into the heart of the situation – the compulsive, brittle, confessional dream-suite Oh My My which swallows up the second half of 1989’s ‘Maria’; the title track to ‘The Walking (and Constantly)’, which casts a heartbreaking light on the trudge and hysteria of grieving; or the disturbingly open-ended half-story of The Lobby (a incomplete, displaced female narrative with a chillingly sad tune, which might be about dementia, bereavement, social defiance or a mixture of all three).


 
Over thirty-five years Jane’s music has flowed and curved from her early folk-and-synths period to the grand studio-as-instrument art-pop shapings of ‘The Walking’ and ‘When I Was A Boy’ to the embracing of tones from Canadian country, big-band soul and Celtic fusion. In more recent years, you can hear her conceptual thumbprint (if only in the shape of an elusive transmitted meme and method) in the work of a newer crop of independent female songwriters such as Jenny Hval. Her latest record, the crowd-funded ‘Ulysses’ Purse’, takes elements of all of these strands only to strain and diffuse them into gentle atmospherics around a core of some of Jane’s finest songs to date.

As with form, so with content. As Jane turns sixty, the focus of her songcraft has turned towards the significant but under-explored passage out of middle-age, in which neither work or life is over and done yet, but old disagreements must be put to rest and the scattered aspects of personhood and affection allowed to settle into the character you’ll need to take you through the next stage. Perhaps committed to communicating the album’s simplicity in action as well as concept (and perhaps transforming her budget restrictions into a broadening of the message), Jane’s been touring it low-budget and solo, with the minimum of instruments. For the British gig, she’s even laid some troubadour plans to make the journey between gigs on foot (when possible), accompanied only by her dog.


 

* * * * * * * *

The range of Jane’s tour guests – straightforward, but telling in tone – suggest that she’s put active thought and choice into the arrangements.

In the studio, The Blackheart Orchestra‘s Chrissy Mostyn and Richard Pilkington sometimes make the mistake of corraling multi-instrumental skills into recordings which over-egg and over-slick the substance of their songs. Live, however, is where to catch them and where everything works: with Richard carrying out carefully-timed and layered instrumental changes under Chrissy’s storyteller guitar and full, mesmeric voice, their compelling, atmospheric storytelling pop comes into focus. They’re with Jane for around half of the tour dates, an arrangement and environment which seems set to bring out the best in them: maybe not so much a learning environment as one which might convince them to bring their leaner, more spontaneous live strengths fully back into their recordings.


 
In place for the Bath date, Balsamo Deighton (a spinoff duo from late Brit-country band The Storys, featuring sometime theatre-musical star Steve Balsamo and former Deighton Family singer Rosalie Deighton) have a confident, Gram-and-Emmylou/Alison Krauss-inspired West Coast sound, nicely reflecting Jane’s own rootsier country leanings (as well as providing a more traditional songwriting style for her to kick off from).


 
For the Edinburgh show, Jane’s scored a coup by enticing her friend Carol Laula into a support slot. Carol’s one of those adult pop artists – thoroughly successful in their own sphere – who can slip clear away from the radar of younger, more experimentally-inclined listeners only to rush back in unexpectedly, a welcome gust of fresh air and vision. Noted for the warmth, engagement and humility of her gigs, Carol is another tourmate choice reflecting a past and current aspect of Jane – this time, the rapport with an audience through melodic and personal openness, the dedication to dynamiting preciousness in favour of rapport.


 
Kerry-based popster Ruth (who opens the first show of the tour at Whelan’s in Dublin) is less of an established quality, having only begun making a name for herself this year/ That said, her debut single Who Are You Living For? has already revealed prodigious depth and subtlety. Exploring anger, hurt, sympathy, reproach and concern in a single package, tied together with rapier-sharp insight: one to add to the list of big-hearted/let-down woman songs. While I suspect that Ruth might be turning up to the Siberry gig with minimal instrumentation, it also shows that she can flush a current dancetronic wallpaper-of-sound production style with the vivid intelligent personality of the expert singer-songwriter, moving from probing Wurlitzer-chime verses to explode into a grand CCM pop chorus. Ruth’s next single, out this month, is called Queen Of The Con. Clearly I’ll need to pay careful attention.


 
Similarly fresh on the scene but much, much more elusive is Delilah Montagu, who’s supporting at Sheffield and who keeps a bizarrely low media profile, with nary a song or a picture to be found to help build a profile. Apparently a gifted Joni Mitchell/Laura Marling-inspired singer and guitarist, she’s another early starter (first song written at eight, work being performed by choir and orchestra by the time she was eleven), and while she’s apparently been making a small, solid splash at selected regional folk festivals this year, her highest profile one seems to have been supporting similarly obscure art-folk trio Paradisia in a Stoke Newington pub cellar.

It seems as if this new support slot’s a jump up for Delilah… or maybe not. Despite the radio silence, she already comes garlanded with industry praise (from the likes of Simon Climie), and a little digging does reveal that she’s a scion of the eye-wateringly costly liberal-arts school Bedales, who’ve already rolled out pop alumni such as Marika Hackman, Lily Allen, baritone moodist Gabriel Bruce and blues-rocker Leah Mason – plus Cara Delevingne – and for whom she scored the school musical ‘Sound of The Night Feather’ before graduating). Everything about Delilah seems to mutter “carefully groomed for stealth success”, but, as ever, you can’t fake that kind of a thing in front of a cult audience like Jane’s; so I’m assuming that whoever picked her (and it could well be Jane herself) knows what they’re doing.

Amongst the tour guests, maybe the closest to Jane in terms of spirit is LeeSun, who’s supporting her at Milton Keynes. Korea-born, Canada-raised and now Leeds-based, Lee originally comes from witty, deceptively whimsical jazz-pop (if her Calgary-recorded, Wurlitzer-chiming 2011 debut, ‘Prime’, is anything to go by – check it out, since it’s a secret gem, and in line with Jane’s own lighter, perkier musings). Since then, changes in life and perspective have led her towards stretched-out, semi-spiritual chamber pop ballads which explore from the creche to the cosmos: swaddled but epic, tinted with rocking lullaby rhythms and touches of sleepy string jazz. I’m not sure what she’ll bring to the party at this point – hopefully some of the brave, open fragility of her recent singles, some of the Blossom Dearie wit of ‘Prime’, and some of the cool, defiant, musing commentary that’s evident from her podcasts in which she questions the way in which a patriarchal Western world distorts her situation (single mother, south-east Asian roots, self-possessed singleton) into that of some kind of resident alien.




 

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