Tag Archives: Cardiacs

October 2019 – upcoming rock gigs in England from mathcore to magic, part 2 – The Display Team’s October tour (with Project Mork, The Mighty Bossmags, Masiro, Lonely Dakota, Mutant-Thoughts, Flag Fen, Spank Hair, Barringtone, Memory Of Elephants, Alter Ego and Vonhorn); a Jazz from Hell concert in Brighton including Son Of Ugly, BallPointKen and Fukushima Dolphin (23rd October); The Hare and Hoofe, The Galileo 7 and Ulysses in London (26th October)

1 Oct

The Display Team on tour, October 2019In the last post, I covered this month’s Octobear tour of assorted post-hardcore sproutings, plus the Portals All-Dayer of math rock, post-rock and similar.

At around the same time, London post-Zappa/post-Cardiacs jitterbugs The Display Team will be embarking on a brief east-to-west English tour of their own, delivering densely-written, yelling wrangles and conniptions of guitars, drums and heavy brass to various appreciative audiences.



 
At both of their East Anglian dates in Cambridge and Ipswich, The Display Team are playing with the same backup. One of the two bands in tow are Norwich-based Project Mork, who juggle a spasming, shape-shifting pulp-culture impasto of sung comic-book catchphrases, thrash-riffs, ska bumps, and stunt-metal guitars. The other are crunchy Warrington art punk/ska cabaret rockers The Mighty Bossmags, monster-mask-clad theatricals with leering “cirque du punk” stances and a taste for macabre chanson and heavy bursts.



 
There’s something of a different support set up in Bristol, where sleek proggy art rockers Mutant-Thoughts provide their glistening, synth-heavy groove explorations, and where Flag Fen provide psychogeographic drone. The latter is a “bio-electrical resistance project” developed by Adam Burrows and Keith Hall, featuring noise guitars atop a dirty flag of drone and rattling drums, with bits of folky recitation pulled through like a flaxen thread. There’s a backstory in there somewhere about a possibly occulted, potentially dangerous Bronze Age archaeological site with a tendency to firebug any situations connected to it. What’s less uncertain is that Adam and Keith are both former members of Bristol noise-beat outfit Big Joan, and pull in collaborators such as Mancunian industrial poet-rapper and Gnod associate Michael O’Neill, Steve James (from screeching Bristol flailers Geisha Noise Research Group) and My
Octopus Mind frontman Liam O’Connell.

 
In Oxford, support comes from post/tech metal act Masiro whom I’ve previously referred to as “a melange of prog, metal and funk grooves… if that makes them sound like early ’90s macho blokes in shorts, imagine a trio who went the other way, reframing and reappraising those elements from a confusing refracted perspective. As a listener, they make you work to get back to the sources, but it’s a compelling game of reconstruction.”. Also present are local rhythm-warping “twinkly emo-punk” trio Spank Hair. In Southampton, the support acts are straightforward London/Hampshire hard rockers Lonely Dakota and the rather more-difficult to track down Alter Ego: I’ve got something swaggering from the former, but sadly nothing from the latter.




 
In London, urban-baroque pop trio Barringtone open the show (plenty more on them, their Clor heritage and their journey from motoric cool to increasingly proggy enthusiasm is here), while Memory Of Elephants bring a multi-decker pink noise sandwich of joyous experimental metal along with them. While I can still get away with requoting myself, I’ve called them “a restless, conspiratorial mask-dance of a band” and as playing “a welter of restless multipolar mood changes and psych-cyclones with a bewildering delightful stockpile of guitar tones; from mechanistic hissing growls, fire-ribbon swishes and sudden injections of Detroit proto-punk to great woozy carousing fuzzwalls of MBV dreampop, Chinese orchestras and – at one point – what sounds like a gnarly old organ playing itself.”



 
In the late-nighter at Gloucester, support is by sharp Hereford-&-Worcester mutant-power-pop band Vonhorn. While drummer Dominic Luckman brings cult value (and a stylish precision) from his years in Cardiacs, frontman Adam Daffurn has been boinking around the Hereford scene for ages, previously leading Noughties-wave Britpop act The Dandelion Killers, who betrayed many of the same aspects as Vonhorn does: crunchy crisp pop with unexpected chords, rhythmic flicks and spiked-cream harmonies. Consider XTC and the more circus-y moments of The Beatles; consider latter-day clever-classic underground guitar pop acts like Flipron and The Downing Poole.


 
* * * * * * * *

Towards the end of their tour, The Display Team are also headlining Fresh Lenin’s Jazz From Hell night in Brighton, an “autumnal commie cocktail of jazz, prog, ska, punk, rock and psychedelia made with the help of trombone, sousaphone, bagpipes, saxophones, multiple pedals and all of the less weird instruments.”

'Jazz From Hell', 23rd October 2019

Plenty of Brighton musical fringery is springing into the spotlight for the occasion. The aforementioned bagpipes and sousaphone (stirred with a drumkit) come courtesy of pranky, deliberately obscure psychedelic wind trio BallPointKen (who are playing two sets). “Cinematic weirdcore” quintet Son Of Ugly are instrumentalists and Secret Chiefs 3 fans who’ve gobbled up and regurgitate “elements of 60’s and 70’s cartoons, spy action, noir jazz, surf and world music, sometimes in the same song.” In fact they’re less frenetic and Zorn-y than such a summary would suggest, being drawn more to the driving drama of theme songs and the glitter of exotica, thereby turning Brighton’s Lanes into swerving Prague alleyways and glittering dream-souks.

 
That just leaves Fukushima Dolphin – a full band last year, but now a drums-and-guitar loop duo fronted by the irrepressible Josh Butler (who stretches them toward a kind of energised, tuneful pure pop, whatever else happens or whatever tools they need to employ. In the current incarnation, Josh sometimes sounds surprisingly like a junior Mike Scott trying to sing his way out of a post-shoegazer’s cocoon of ‘90s indie-dance beats and dreampop echo. Earlier this year, Fukushima Dolphin were bulking up their setlist with an interleaved cover-version set, with textural art-rock versions of MGMT and Nirvana songs coming to the forefront alongside the band’s own urgent originals.


 
* * * * * * * *

For five or six years now, the various members of Kentish psychedelic troupe The Hare And Hoofe have incubated various tunes down in Folkestone, with an album finally bulging out last year. In the last week of October, they’ll be splurging it all over Islington in a London gig with fellow spirits The Galileo 7 and Ulysses.

What unites all three bands, I guess, is that they’re a collective love-letter to the glitter and stubble and mind-bubbles of a particularly British corner of ‘60s and ‘70s British rock – the clank and rough brinksmanship of garage bands, the rustle of the dressing-up box, the brickie harmonies of power-pop, the quivering flush of freakbeat. Various common enthusiasms loom large: Syd Barrett, Question Mark & The Mysterians, fuzz pedals. It’s all going to be pretty old-school, but expect enough of a surging, hairy, enthusiastic evening that nobody will mind about that.

The Hare And Hoofe + The Galileo 7 + Ulysses, 26th October 2019

Given their leader Allan Crockford’s lengthy background with those crowd-pleasing Medway garage-psych and mod-friendly bands who swirl, in a familial cloud around, The Prisoners and The James Taylor Quartet, The Galileo 7 are the least likely of the three bands to be caught fannying around dressed up as knights in armour, as wizards or Roxy Music’s vampire doppelgangers. Instead they deal in familiar bucketing Prisoners-esque ’60s musical purity: creaky electric organ swerves, fuzz pedals, tambourines and ooh-oohs. In contrast, brash Bathonians Ulysses swagger into view like the second coming of Roy Wood being cheered on by Slade (and are cute enough to confess to a liking for Wings and The Cars). They do like dressing up, and they bring with them hooky, stomping songs like rocking wooden cabinets buffed to a mighty sheen with golden syrup and sandpaper.



 
It’s got to be said that The Hare And Hoofe are the most outrightly magical and theatrical of the three, though – a kind of amicable collision of most of the above ingredients, topped by a meeting between Hawkwind, ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ and Steeleye Span (or, to pick a more recent example, Circulus on fizzing monkey drugs). If they’re garage, they’re the garage that gets transformed into Santa’s den. They’re all about jolly singalongs in which all manner of additions and interjections are poking through or going on behind. Lysergic guitar and spurting proggy keyboard figures crash around dopey harmonies, delirous mistrals of solo flute wind their way through folk singalongs; as psychedelic mixing and screeching echo froth is boosted to the max, the music changes shape and speed as if jerked into form by a solid brass gearshift. They’ll play heavy rhythm-and-blues version of eighteenth century English myths, and the second half of their debut album is a full-blown pocket rock opera of time-travelling scientists and giant laser-eyed robots. It’s called The Terror Of Melton.



 
Admittedly in magical terms all of this isn’t exactly cabalistic frenzy or New Weird hauntology. It’s more about capering blokes in pointy paper hats with moons-and-stars on. But The Hare And Hoofe are clearly enjoying the party too much to worry about this, and we sometimes need the kind of silliness which makes us nine years old again, happy, and laughing ourselves well.

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

The Display Team on tour:

  • The Stage Door, 78 West Marlands Road, Southampton, SO14 7FW, England – – Friday 18th October 2019, 7.30pm (with Lonely Dakota + Alter Ego) – information here and here
  • The Blue Moon, 2 Norfolk Street, Cambridge, CB1 2LF, England – – Saturday 19th October 2019, 8.00pm (with Project Mork + The Mighty Bossmags) – information here and here
  • The Steamboat Tavern, 78 New Cut West, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP2 8HW, England – Sunday 20th October 2019, 8.00pm (with Project Mork + The Mighty Bossmags) – information here
  • Port Mahon, 82 St Clement’s Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX4 1AW, England – Sunday 20th October 2019, 8.00pm (with Masiro + Spank Hair) – information here and here
  • The Crofters Rights, 117-119 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RW, England – Tuesday 22nd October 2019, 7.30pm (with Mutant-Thoughts + Flag Fen) – information here, here and here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England – Thursday 24th October 2019, 8.00pm (with Memory Of Elephants + Barringtone) – information here and here
  • Café René, 31 Southgate Street, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, GL1 1TP, England – Friday 25th October 2019, 11.00pm (with Vonhorn) – information here

Fresh Lenins presents:
Jazz from Hell (featuring The Display Team + Son Of Ugly + Fukushima Dolphin + BallPointKen)
The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton, BN1 4FQ, England
Wednesday 23rd October 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

The Hare And Hoofe + The Galileo 7 + Ulysses
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Saturday 26th October 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and
here
 

In memory of Vaughan Simons, 1971-2018

5 Dec

Vaughan Simons...

Vaughan Simons…

Sometime around the end of October, Vaughan Simons died.

I didn’t see it coming. As for Vaughan, he said that he didn’t want memorials, wakes or get-togethers. I’m finding it impossible to comply with all of that. For all of the self-erasing bluster we sometimes put out in our darkest moments, few of us can simply dissolve into the murk of other people’s forgetfulness after we die. Vaughan certainly won’t.

Probably many of you reading this won’t have heard of Vaughan. He won’t be on any of the end-of-year obituary lists of the great and good, or of the famous. If you have heard of him, most likely you’ll be one of the friends I’ve directed here… or you may, long ago in the mists of the late 1990s, have read one of his reviews in ‘Misfit City’. If so, you’ll been have scrolling through reams of clumsy HTML in order to alight upon one of his confections of barbed sugar, bile and forward-looking conviction.

If Vaughan were still here, he’d downplay any credit, but he was very much the ‘Misfit City’ co-founder. In the early days, while it was me who was driving the project, writing most of the material and doing much of the legwork, it was Vaughan who was ensuring that I was less lonely while doing so. Vaughan also played a big part in shaping the incipient webzine’s tastes, and its spirit of enquiry. He lifted some of my obsessive blinkers, gently challenged some of my own unacknowledged conservatism, opened a window or three. If you’re a regular reader, or you’re becoming one, much of what you probably like about ‘Misfit City’ is built on Vaughan’s efforts and encouragement.

I first met Vaughan in 1990, when both of us were new arrivals at the University of Hull. I was a Londoner, he was a West Country boy. Both of us were a little ill at ease in this battered city resting where east England shades into north England: out on its stalk of railway line, miles from anywhere much; a place where Northerners and Midlanders seemed so much more at ease, with their accents and outlooks settling better into the Humberside atmosphere. Vaughan and I had both shown up there looking for some kind of redemption or vindication: initially on the Drama course we both attended. Both of us being serious, thin-skinned people with a tendency to cover our fear with sardonic wit, we never quite figured out the rhythms and cues of a Hull social life.

This was one of the things that bound us. Another, in a jumpy and uneasy way, was music.

Again, we weren’t coming from the same place. I was formed from a background of musical theatre, classical, the pop I’d absorbed from years of independent library raids, and the extended palette of jazz and prog rock. Vaughan was more of a staunch indie-rock man. This was partially due to an affinity with that Lou Reed aesthetic, and partly due to close exposure to (and shoulder-rubbing with) arty indie strivers from his Yeovil hometown: The Becketts, The Chesterfields and Automatic Dlamini, the latter featuring future art-rock mainstay John Parish and a fledgling Polly Harvey. By the time I got into higher education, few people seemed to care all that much about music as something to listen to, something to think about. Vaughan was an exception.


 
The opportunities for clash and camaraderie were there from the start. During our first year, Vaughan and I would occasionally huddle opposite each other in our respective rooms, grumpily playing each other cassettes. Our sessions were sometimes aggressive, often temperamental: two lonely would-be tastemakers falling over each other’s feet, finding each other’s taste inexplicable. Notably, I tried to get him into Yes – the attempt was one of several five-second failures which I’ll not bother to list. But Vaughan, in turn, exposed me to Pixies, the nagging ennui of Bleach, the disillusioned angst of Furniture, bits of The Fall; my first dose of My Bloody Valentine’s holocaust guitar; the first fumblings into the Velvets and Lou Reed records I’d somehow missed as a teenager.

For what it’s worth, when we did reach a consensus it wasn’t entirely a matter of me being schooled. For instance, we reached a point of agreement over mid-’70s King Crimson (whose barrage of rattling noise, violin drone and gnarly guitar got through Vaughan’s resistance) and when I countered MBV’s microtonal pitch-bending hallucino-pop with the tonal guitar swerves of David Torn. As for me, I gradually absorbed what Vaughan was bringing to the table, and as I held onto my roots but expanded my tastes indiewards (into the likes of The House of Love, the rare-bird shimmer of Cocteau Twins and the classical-industrial sampler bombast of The Young Gods), we came more into line.





 
By then, of course, we’d become mutually accepting, mutually supportive friends, doing what we could to back each other up. Beyond the cassette sessions, there wasn’t much more music during this part of the tale. The story of our theatre work is probably best told some other time. We did once pitch in together for a cabaret cover version of Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus (Vaughan as a bulky balaclava’d terrorist on piano, me as a leathered-up comedy rock-god on bass with balled-up sports socks shoved down my trousers). There was also a brief period working on a body-politics University revue, with future Suede member Neil Codling (a rapid, matter-of-fact composer and multi-instrumental jack-of-all-trades, who took one of my lyrics about fashion and tailoring and spun it to a jaunty tune that’s yet to appear as a Suede B-side).

Vaughan probably had fonder memories of his staging of Jim Cartwright’s dream play ‘Bed’, which we took to the Edinburgh fringe in 1993. I worked closely with him on that one: acting under his direction, serving as his auxiliary brain while we combed through the script’s allusive dream-logic, and tracking down Jean Michel Jarre’s ghostly, uncharacteristic ‘En Attendant Cousteau’ as intro music. (It was one of the few times when I got the Euro-prog side of my musical tastes past Vaughan’s implacable guard. I didn’t tell him who’d created it until he’d chosen it…)


 
Post-Hull, Vaughan and I regrouped in London during 1994. While bumbling along wondering whether life was ever going to start, we kept each other stimulated by swapping homemade music comps via cassettes through the post. Quicker off the mark with job-hunting than I was, Vaughan had more ready cash than I did. He spent a fair chunk of it on hunting down left-field tunes and textures. An early adopter of communication technology, he appreciated my geeky fascination with recording details. He’d picked up a little tiny printer, and would always indulge me by sending his cassettes with little typed-out slips filling me in on who played what. These always came with irreverent miniature essays, which I appreciated even more. Even after I’d bought the original CDs myself, I’d keep Vaughan’s essays and slip them into the booklets.

Nearly twenty-five years later, I’ve still got them all. I loved Vaughan’s delighted enthusiasms, which overturned his guarded cynicism and dispelled his intermittent grumpiness. He’d wax lyrical on the phoenix-like, post-folk return to action of Eyeless in Gaza. He’d provide me with perky little ruminations on dubtronicists Seefeel; on murmuring post-Pale Saints duo Spoonfed Hybrid; on indie-folk songstress Heidi Berry, her albums festooned with various former members of Cardiacs (another of Vaughan’s favourite bands, and one which would reduce him to a guileless smirking mess of joy).

Vaughan introduced me to what we’d both come to see as a “holy British quadrinity” of post-rock – Moonshake, Laika, AR Kane and Disco Inferno (who collectively, while less prominent than the Mogwai/Explosions In The Sky consensus we’re stuck with today, achieved and meant so much more). He once bought me a copy of White Town’s ‘Your Woman’ and sent it along by post – just as the song hit number one – with a handwritten letter raving unguardedly about its homemade aesthetic, pluck and left-wing in-jokes.


 
When I decided – circa 1996 – to set up ‘Misfit City’, one of the first things I thought of were Vaughan’s miniature essays. It was natural to invite Vaughan onboard, and to encourage him to expand his original off-the-cuff enthusings into longer reviews. Also, since I’d been spending the last few years on a prog rock zine (trying, with mixed success, to get classic/neo-prog fans to expand their outlook into a broader concept of “progressive”) I thought he’d expand my own scope.

Consequently, during the first three years of the original crude-format ‘Misfit City’ webzine you’d have been able to find assorted Vaughan’s-eye views dotted through the pages. His enthusiasm for Eyeless in Gaza, Disco Inferno and Bark Psychosis made it into the early postings, and he was soon bringing in more. He covered Cranes (growling at them for slumping into college rock), one-off trip-hoppers Ragga & The Jack Magic Orchestra, and avant-pop trio R.O.C. (another new favourite).

Only a couple of years out of the closet himself, he explored Patrick Fitzgerald’s flagrantly gay post-Kitchens of Distinction romp, Fruit. He let his romantic side and his cynical side tussle it out over The Bathers. At a time when half of the arty writers in town were fawning over Spiritualized, he delivered a measured dissection of ‘Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’ (and although I’m not one for outright critical bitchery, I think I’ll always treasure his brutally blunt putdown of their parent band, Spacemen 3, in the opening paragraph).

I’d also occasionally feed Vaughan things from outside his immediate knowledge base and comfort zone, and wait for a response: whether it was positive (Jocelyn Pook, John Greaves & David Cunningham) or scathing (State Of Grace). Vaughan and I would also collaborate, via various methods, as “Col Ainsley”, combining our insights, our perspectives and our occasional cheap shots. Mostly, this involved me adding odd gracings to Vaughan’s stern dressing-down of James’ ‘Whiplash’, his intrigued exploration of ‘Wappinschaw’ (by transfigured noiseniks Cindytalk), and his surprisingly warm response to The Verve’s ‘Urban Hymns’. It also led to reviews of erratically ambitious skunk-rockers Lo Fidelity Allstars, of enigmatic early post-rockers Labradford and emergent art-tronica force Darkroom, and of Bill Nelson during his surprisingly successful drum-and-bass/Beat-poet period.

The Ainsley method generally involved Vaughan starting a review and me finishing it, chucking in an image or association which I thought was in keeping with his perspective. He always congratulated me when he thought I’d nailed it. When I didn’t, he kept a generous diplomatic silence. If he ever found me pushy or domineering, he didn’t say so.

Don’t expect any stories of wild times in grubby shared flats; or tales of baiting or celebrating indie-hopefuls to their faces. There are none. Likewise, there were no precarious nights out on coke, E or speed; and there were none of the I-Ching pranks, the gleeful bitching clubs or the twenty-four hour fire-station atmospheres which always seem to bubble up in the memoirs of the journalists who cut their writing teeth while working on the music weeklies. Vaughan and I were more sober, more obscure characters – mostly out of the music biz loop and generally half a city away from each other, with much of our contact by phone or email. While I spent several years in shared accommodation in Stoke Newington (turning my room and my shrinking amount of shared space into a man-cave), Vaughan was working his way up through one-bedroomers in Acton and, later, Clapham.


 
Occasionally I’d inveigle him out for gigs. I suspect that getting him over to Shepherds Bush to see Barenaked Ladies was an elaborate tease, but that seeing Sylvian & Fripp (and, later, a MIDI-ed-to-the-gills six-piece King Crimson) was more of a celebration of friendship. The camaraderie remained. We were a pair of lonely, earnest, sidelined brains; writing as and when we could; bobbing on the millions-strong sea of self-obsessed insomniac lights that made up London.

By 1999, however, things were changing. I was sulking in low-status clerical work by day and obsessively, stubbornly hammering out ‘Misfit City’ reviews by night. Vaughan, meanwhile, was shifting focus. He’d always been meticulous, but now he was going professional and doing it well, working for the BBC on then-nascent internet projects of the kind we take for granted now. He found the idea of “WAP phones” particularly hilarious, mostly because the name suggested Wile E. Coyote and slapstick. The irony is that you’re probably reading ‘Misfit City’ on one now; and Vaughan’s last-ever advice to me was on how I might tailor the blog to fit better into the world of phone-browsing.

At the same time, Vaughan’s musical stance was relaxing, and my former champion of esoteric left-field indie was guilelessly singing the praises of the early Coldplay singles. I wasn’t judgemental or stupid enough to feel that he was selling out, but I could recognise that he was unbending a little. He didn’t reject ‘Misfit City’ as such, but he no longer had the time to concentrate on it. We gradually, blamelessly drifted in our different directions, birthday meetings eventually yielding to radio silence.

Vaughan out and about...

Vaughan out and about…

The best part of a decade later, I reconnected with Vaughan via Facebook – not because I was looking for a writer, but because I missed my friend and because technology was now enticing old buddies back together again. By then, Vaughan had gained plenty more experience as a writer and solo blogger; as a sardonic forum star; as a man who knew how to put things together and lead teams. Musically, his fleeting enthusiasm for Coldplay and their ilk was long gone. During the last decade of his life he was sunk deeply and appreciatively in the world of Manchester indie-folk: Louis Barrabas, Ríoghnach Connolly’s ongoing adventures in Honeyfeet and The Breath. From what I can gather, it seemed to be one of the few things which dragged him out of his flat and out of London.

Vaughan was glad to hear from me, and we were talking on and off up until the month that he died; but we never met face-to-face again. There were various reasons for this. Throughout the whole time I’d known him, it had been obvious that Vaughan suffered from assorted illnesses and troubles which affected his self-image and how certain people were likely to view him (and even, sometimes, what he was allowed to do). Later on, these roadblocks even come to affect what he was capable of doing. On top of that, there were hauntings: tormenting bits of his past that circled like ghostly sharks and regularly savaged him. Often he preferred to be alone, ensconsced at home, safely insulated behind phones and wires – even while friendships remained central to his existence.

Despite his troubles, Vaughan soldiered on and, in many respects, achieved more than many of the unencumbered. This past month, I’ve been hearing from many people (most of them strangers) about how inspirational he was as a boss at the BBC internet coalface; or as someone to virtually cross swords/slap palms with on some forum or other; as a poster of vinegar-wry wit, or as an encourager of other people’s blossoming via their own blogs. In his last years, Vaughan single-handed ran the Pixel+Pilcrow web design company from his flat, assiduously providing excellent, state-of-the-art modular homepages for customers and friends (most of whom eventually overlapped, one way or the other).

Yet, metaphorically and literally, his illnesses and challenges were taking pieces out of him and eroding his life. As I saw these things happening (generally behind the fierce shield of Vaughan’s stubborn dignity, and often only perceptible via dropped hints) I came to regret my reticence. I wish that I’d had the brass neck to intervene sometimes, and maybe risk hurting his feelings, but perhaps providing the chance to help him to make things better.

And then, one morning, he was gone forever.

* * * * * * * *

When I relaunched ‘Misfit City’ in blog format about eight years ago, I’d decided to make it much more my own thing. By mutual consent, I didn’t re-mount Vaughan’s contributions. At that point, he considered them juvenilia and curios in a writing career which spanned original blogwork, technical writing and sardonic children’s stories.

Since his death, I’ve reconsidered my position, and those reviews are now all back up in ‘Misfit City’ as part of an ongoing reworking of the blog. You can read them via the links above; or, if you want to coast through them all, you can get them in a sorted sequence (with this memorial at the top) by following the tags for Vaughan’s name or for Col Ainsley.

Re-reading them now, two things occur to me: Vaughan was right about them being juvenilia, but it also doesn’t matter. Like many of my own writing at the time, these reviews betray many of the flaws, pretensions, awkwardnesses and quick judgements of writing by people not yet out of their twenties, yet also not quite on the ball as regards youth cool (whether spontaneous or studied), nor knowing which instinctive steps to take in order to pass themselves off as tastemakers.

Yet the man’s voice, and mind, razzes through regardless. Tart, salty, Anglo-Germanic; sometimes surprisingly coy or camp; clearly in love with his subject, and only partially covering up his enthusiasm with that deflecting humour and that peanut-gallery sarcasm. It was right for the zine. At the start, ‘Misfit City’ was unashamedly awkward, hopeful, geeky and anxious. It keeps those characteristics now; and Vaughan was, in those early years, an integral part of that spirit.

* * * * * * * *

Goodbye, Vaughanie. You never knew how much people were going to miss you. I know you hated phoney sentiment and how annoyed you got at people’s tendency to blather along with their half-arsed well-meaningness (when they should have been getting up and doing something solid to help), but I do what I can to commemorate you.

Right now, I’m tempted to pick up something I know you couldn’t get along with – one of the most balloon-headed Yes albums, say, or the Lloyd Webber ‘Requiem’ – just so that I can imagine telling you about it down the phone. Just so that I can invite you to write something about it. So I could hear the whistle of you sucking your cheeks in and squirming; and finally, hear that carefully polite, firm, impeccably-enunciated “er… No,” emerge from your mouth. As if you’d spent the intervening three seconds mouthing a sugar cube into a tiny statuette of a unicorn, and had just delicately spat it out, completed with its own little sculpted, candied glare.

You were always a sweetheart, in sarcastic-git’s clothing. Sleep well, you lovely fraud; you wise, spiky friend.
 

November/December 2017 – more assorted Smithery – BarmyFiveseveN play Tim Smith at Connector V, Amsterdam (2nd November); Spratleys Japs’ Wonderful Winter Wonderland tour of England (14th-17th December)

15 Oct

Coverage of the complex, perverse and joyful musical work of the sadly incapacitated Tim Smith – whether inside or outside his mothership Cardiacs band – frequently figures in here. It’s good to bring you all more about his continued crossover from cult status to something wider: this time, with news of a conservatory jazz gig in Amsterdam and of the continued afterlife of Spratleys Japs.

Connector V, 2nd November 2017

Broedplaats Lely & Steim present:
Connector V
Steim, Schipluidenlaan 12-3E, 1062HE Amsterdam, Netherlands
Thursday 2nd November 2017, 8.00pm
information

“Composers are not necessarily dead. They also do not necessarily write symphonies in D flat minor in a 4/4 time signature.

“Tim Smith, frontman of the British band called Cardiacs, is a great composer who wrote lots of music permeated with energy, humour, beauty, Britishness. By people who only partly open their ears (or their minds for that matter), his music has been defined as being “chaotic”. The opposite is true, however: it is strongly organised music and all one needs to be able to do is count past four (and not forget about prime numbers). This challenging mix of punk, prog rock, orchestral and live electronic music (also known as “pronk”) will be performed by BarmyFiveseveN, a “small big band” ensemble of around fifteen players from the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, armed with live electronic extensions.”

Connector V is part of a monthly series at Steim: regular readers should recognise this particular one as a follow-up to the Smith-covering set by Alex Brajkovic Ensemble at Amsterdam’s Jazz Ensemble Festival back in April, and it does in fact feature most or all of the same players, put together by rebel prog professor Jos Zwaanenburg. No-one seems to have recorded/posted evidence from the last time, so I can’t show you how it went – but as before, I can give you some very loose indications as to how this concert might might turn out by referring you to English Rose Orchestrations’ string quartet version of one of the featured pieces, The Duck And Roger The Horse.


 

* * * * * * * *

Spratleys Japs, 14th-17th December 2017The following month, Spratleys Japs consolidate the success of their Brighton and London reunion shows over the last couple of years by setting out on a bigger, broader English tour taking in Yorkshire and the West as well as the south east, with a mass of current/former Cardiacs and friends coalescing as support around the tour dates.

Read more about SJ here: in brief, though, they’re a short-lived and swampy alternate-universe pop project (part alien folk maunderings, part glam-punk punch and part spindly antiprog) which Tim put together in the mid-’90s with then-girlfriend/muse Jo Spratley. Now revived by Jo and a collection of Brighton art rockers, they’ve got a second wind and have been rattling through fresh gigs partially in tribute to Tim and partially because the enthralling, infuriating puzzle-box songs have a peculiar life of their own.


As regards the backup, looming raconteur Stephen Evens brings his scowling, sardonic British pop along to the London, Brighton and Bristol shows (possibly with full band in tow for all of them). In a similar vein, Yorkshire dark-melodrama rockers The Scaramanga Six pile in at the Huddersfield date, while the Brighton show also sports vigorous dream poppers Hurtling and noisy art-rock goons Ham Legion (the latter performing their Syd Barrett tribute as “Vegetable Men” (plus another acoustic set from Kavus Torabi, squeezing in time in between fronting Gong, Knifeworld and his radio broadcasts). At Bristol there’s another onetime Cardiacs guitarist, Jon Poole, possibly bringing both solo stuff and one-man versions of his clever-pop work with The Dowling Poole; plus ZOFFF (the reverberant south coast kosmische/deep-psych band featuring Crayola Lectern‘s Chris Anderson and yet another ex-Cardiac six-stringer, Bic Hayes).

As with most Cardiacs-related events, these give you a cross-section of a under-celebrated ongoing British sub-scene; stretching from surprisingly accessible, sharply written latter-day take on Britpop right through to mantric pedal noise and squirts of lysergic space-cadet juice. Here’s a selection of sundries from all concerned:









 
Full dates:

  • The Parish, 28 Kirksgate, Huddersfield, Yorkshire, HD1 1QQ, England, Thursday 14th December 2017, 7.30pm (with The Scaramanga Six) – information here and here
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market, Bristol, Avon, BS2 0EJ, England, Friday 15th December 2017, 7.30pm (with Jon Poole + ZOFFF + Stephen Evens) – information here and here
  • The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton BN1 4FQ, England, Saturday 16th December 2017, 6.00pm (with Kavus Torabi + Stephen Evens (full band) + Hurtling + Ham Legion As Vegetable Men) – information here and here
  • The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England, Sunday 17th December 2017 (with Stephen Evens + others tbc) – information t.b.c.

UPDATE, 18th October – apparently we can also expect a couple of imminent fundraising Cardiacs cover versions from Spratleys Japs and Stephen Evens (Odd Even and Two Bites of Cherry), plus other surprises they’re keeping a little tightlipped about for the moment.

Meanwhile, Cornish psychedelic folkie Emily Jones (another Spratleys friend from previous gigs) has been added to the Brighton concert, which now also features a Torabi/Steve Davis DJ set. Support for the Brixton Windmill show in London is going to be thrashy prog-pop stuntmeisters The Display Team and rapidly rising Windmill favourites Black Midi. Below are a couple of moments from Emily and the ‘Team. (There’s not much more I can give you about Black MIDI. They’re so new that the paint’s hardly dry on them, and their Soundcloud page is still empty; but I did manage to establish that they’re an experimental/instrumental rock five-piece of teenage Croydonians and that they’re “purveyors of the darkest dreamscapes”…)



 

October 2017 – upcoming English gigs – Holly Penfield chops and changes in London (18th October); Minute Taker’s multimedia love-and-ghosts story ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ in Glasgow, London & Brighton (15th, 21st, 22nd October); Cardiacs’ ‘Marenest’ fundraiser showing in Bristol with The Scaramanga Six (21st October); and something on Paul Diello

7 Oct

Holly Penfield presents:
‘Holly Penfield – Spooky Little Girl’
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 372 Kennington Lane, Vauxhall, London, SE11 5HY, England
Wednesday 18th October 2017, 8.00pm
– information here

Holly Penfield: 'Fragile Human Monster', 18th October 2017For a while, there, I was spun back. Twentysomething years ago, I was a regular at Holly Penfield‘s ‘Fragile Human Monster Show’ (having first caught her performance on a random Edinburgh night back in 1992). Ostensibly based around sleek ’80s synth’n’sequencer pop, her shows had a number of twists. More like ’70s songwriter confessionals, they stirred yearning jazz and blues strands back into a genre which had mostly eschewed them. Based around Holly, her Kurzweil keyboard and a saxophonist (usually her husband Ian Ritchie, who’s had a hand in everything from Scouse artniks Deaf School to the Roger Waters band and the ‘Lonely Planet’ theme), they also 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.

If you can dig up Holly’s long-lost debut album ‘Full Grown Child‘ – a brash early ‘80s Chinnichap production – you’ll hear an Innuendo-strewn, pop-belting cross between Suzi Quatro, a bleach-blond Rizzo, ABBA and full-on coke-blizzard-era Stevie Nicks. ‘Fragile Human Monster’ was the fallout from all that: an onstage realisation of Holly’s independent followup ‘Parts Of My Privacy’, in which she and Ian went back to her bluesier and torchier San Francisco roots, merged it with Ian’s techno-pop skills and teased out a series of passionate, cracked paeans (plus jarring digressions into performance art) about fear, instability and how the lost rebuild their lives and make their way. Tremendously tuneful but at odds to the music biz, the ‘Fragile Human Monster Show’ was that rare thing: outsider music with genuine craft and skill. It was also pretty queer and culty, drawing a diverse squadron of waifs and strays of all stripes (including me) to Holly’s home venue on the Kilburn High Road. Eventually it wore Holly out: putting it to rest, but still hanging onto her stubborn kookiness, she applied her remarkable voice and stage presence to a new career as a jazz cabaret diva. She’s made, I think, just one revisitation to Monster territory since (which you can read about here).

Holly Penfield: 'Spooky Little Girl', 18th October 2017Late this summer, though, Holly announced that she was bringing the old show back for an evening in October, though she wasn’t clear about how she’d be doing it: perhaps reworked for the acoustic jazz band she’s used for the last couple of decades, or perhaps with her going it alone (with the Kurzweil and sequencers brought out of mothballs and will go it alone). At any rate, I thought I’d be going along – possibly in search of my own confused, similarly theatrical mid-twenties self, perhaps to see if I got along with him a little better.

However, everything was upended in early September following Holly’s jolting appearance in the auditions for ‘The X-Factor’. Ubercamp, leather-clad and singing Meredith Brooks’ Bitch, she went full-on nightclub and came on to Simon Cowell like a kinky Weimar nightmare with a riding crop. Inspired by the experience (and not a little miffed at the mocking edit that made it to TV) Holly’s now claiming that “the evil jazz cabaret performer in (me) has clawed its way to the surface”, and has morphed the October show into an upbeat Halloween “Spooky Little Girl” special (billed as “cabaret classics, spooktacular rocking favourites and self-penned songs as only our Diva can deliver them”).

I can’t help thinking that an opportunity’s been lost (or steamrollered) but I might show up anyway. She’s still promising to pepper all of the knowing cornballery with old FHM songs; several existing set standbys (such as Stay With Me, seen below in a torch-jazz arrangement from 2009) originated in the old show, and a new-ish piano/vocal song Confessions (posted up online a year ago) suggests a creative leaning back towards the old days of torch and bearing witness. Regardless of any of that, there’s still the voice; there’s still the onstage magnetism. Should be some sort of a blast.



 
* * * * * * * * *

Minute Taker: 'To Love Somebody Melancholy' (live show)Also during the midmonth, acclaimed LBTQ folktronicist Minute Taker (aka Ben McGarvey) takes his multimedia show ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ out on tour in England and Scotland. I missed the news about his summer tour (which spiralled out from his homebase of Manchester, taking in Oldham, Chorlton and the Didsbury Art Festival plus a trans-Pennine appearance at Hebden Bridge) but managed to catch the news about his autumn followups in Glasgow, Brighton and London (including an appearance at the seventeenth century “actor’s church”, St Pauls in Covent Garden). Here’s the story:

“Singer-songwriter Minute Taker and BFI award-winning animation artist Ana Stefaniak have created a haunting, modern fable told through projected film and an epic live band performance of Minute Taker’s upcoming album… Expect to be immersed in a dark and magical world of strange animated characters and piano songs brimming with ethereal harmonies, fizzing synthesisers and orchestral twists.

“In ancient Greek philosophy Aristotle first popularised the notion that artists, poets and writers were of a melancholic disposition. In the middle ages melancholics were thought to be possessed by demons if they could not be “cured” of their depressive tendencies. Set on a desolate seashore, ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ explores the notion of the archetypal artist as he journeys through the euphoric highs and the self-destructive lows of his creative cycles. A new romantic relationship brings the artist the contentment he craves but it soon becomes apparent that there’s something else lurking in the shadows; a ghostly, shapeshifting third entity whose form is entirely dependent upon the artist’s current mindset. Sometimes a saviour, a source of inspiration and hope, sometimes a savage, ruthlessly determined on driving his lover away.”


 
Ben comments “one of my biggest influences when creating ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ was Kate Bush’s masterpiece ‘The Ninth Wave’. Such a wonderfully magical, otherworldly and at times frightening journey into the unknown. I never tire of going on this adventure with her. Come join our own dark adventure, inspired by Kate’s.”

Dates:

  • Websters Theatre, 416 Great Western Road, Woodlands, Glasgow, G4 9HZ, Scotland, Sunday 15th October 2017, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • St Paul’s Church, 29 Bedford St, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9ED, London, England, Saturday 21st October 2017, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Latest Music Bar, 14-17 Manchester Street, Brighton, BN2 1TF, England, Sunday 22nd October 2017, 7.30pm (with Paul Diello) – information here

Additional support comes in Brighton comes from the award-winning “pop/folk/fabulous” singer-songwriter Paul Diello, who recently wowed the Brighton Fringe Festival with a sold out run of five-star-review shows and who promises “a special set of songs” for the occasion. Citing Madonna, Bowie, Kate Bush and Anohni as inspirations, Paul is an increasingly powerful artistic presence in the LGBT underground, operating in the febrile interface between cabaret, chart pop, queerness and visual staging (in particular, via video). Provocative and insidious, with an ear for the brazen tunes of ‘80s synthpop, Paul reminds me of a tougher Marc Almond – albeit with the sturdy physique of a dockside bouncer – while his songs are sharp confections of fists, flowers and standing your ground.


 
* * * * * * * *

Kate Bush seems to have become a recurring presence in this thread. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I’ve always drawn a vague connecting line between ‘The Ninth Wave’ and Cardiacs’ 1989 album ‘On Land And In The Sea’.

Despite their common south London roots and the bare three years between them, there doesn’t initially seem to be much linking Bush’s silky-petalled Fairlight-driven art pop with the shrill, switchbacking, horns-and-artpunk firepower of Cardiacs, let alone their urchin squawks versus her sensual coo (though I’d have loved to have heard them cover each other). Dipping beneath the surface, however, reveals plenty to unite the two work. There’s the common and commonly transmogrified debt to English prog (in the structural ambition, the little flourishes of grandeur, and the enthusiastic mining of everything from twinkling tunes to violent psychedelic riffs, looming synth orchestration to jigs and jittering dreamscapes). There’s the common immersive marine motif – even when the sea’s banished from the foreground, it’s always present to embrace, propel, threaten or dissolve the bobbing characters within the songs. And although ‘The Ninth Wave’ centres pretty clearly on the near-death experience and night journey of a single castaway, while ‘On Land…’ zig-zags crazily over suburbs, shorelines, skies and inlets while weaving through multiple blurred perspectives (from the individual to that of a kind of profoundly skewed post-war national consciousness) in both works a half-sleeping, half-waking British mythology gets forked up and worked over anew, with a relentless filmic curiosity.


 

‘On Land And In The Sea’ provided most of the songs played in Cardiacs’ 1990 concert film ‘Marenest’, which brings its own chaotic theatrics to a fundraiser showing in Bristol. Live support comes from brutally grand, macabre Yorkshire rockers The Scaramanga Six, bringing a punchy live set based in part on their new crowdfunded ‘Chaotica’ album.

If ‘On Land…’ really was intended as some kind of concept album, it hid the fact under a typically Cardiacs welter of invention and disinformation. In contrast, ‘Chaotica’ wears its conceptual heart on a stained sleeve – the Scaramangas have been pretty open about its roots in “an abstract story roughly hewn from a concept of a dystopian island society. A place where everything has fallen into ruin, yet people still seem to have the same preoccupation with the trivial crap they had before. The population trudge through a chaotic existence on top of each other with absolutely no hope of a better life. Society is reduced to its base behaviour yet people still crave superficial fixes. The human condition carries on regardless. There is no outcome, no lessons to be learned. Familiar?” ‘Chaotica’ might not quite be a Brexit ‘Quadrophenia’, but it’s clearly leaning that way.


 
As is generally the rule with Cardiacs-related events these days, all profits on the day (including bonus donations by bucket or booking-stage gifting) are going to fund the care of Cardiacs’ driving force Tim Smith as he continues to battle against the aftermath of heart attacks and stroke. Note that the venue is quite hard to find, hidden as it is away behind the rubbish bins in a nondescript Bristol car park. Some Cardiacs fans would claim that this is only appropriate.

‘Maresnest’: Tim Smith Benefit with The Scaramanga Six
Cube Microplex, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England
Saturday 21st October 2017, 7.00pm
information
 

August 2017 – Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place UK tour (22nd-26th August)

11 Aug

Rob Crow's Gloomy Place UK tour, 22-26 August 2017Rob Crow was once the man who seemed to do everything all the time. Best known as one of the two multi-instrumental frontmen for American cult rockers Pinback, he’s also been the driving force behind a host of projects. To the uninitiated, you could describe him as an kind of unfettered one-man Pavement – he does, after all, write long and delightfully noodly songs which build up like mushrooming musical favelas – but without Malkmus and co’s detached preppiness and their relatively narrow college-rock framing.

Instead, Rob voyages off into odd avenues of punkified folk-naive, semi-sloppy wandering garage meditations, stream-of-chat lyrics, and omnivorous lo-fi post-Sonic Youth psychedelia punctuated by dirty guitar blasts. For a while, it seemed as if every other convoluted mid-paced meander spilling from American underground rock had a Crow fingerprint on it somewhere. Listening across his catalogue, you can find slippery reincorporations of math rock and pop into each other’s spheres (on Other Men’s ‘Wake Up Swimming‘), apparent mixtures of thrash metal, grunge and line-dancing (viz the opening songs on his Ladies album ‘They Mean Us‘) or pretty much everything that flashes across his mind and memory (most Heavy Vegetable and Thingy records) – and that’s before you get to the toy-play of Optiganally Yours and the parody doom/drone/pop culture metal of Goblin Cock. In general, Rob treats genres as if they’re all bedrooms in one single-floor dormitory block and all he has to do is amble up in a friendly way and knock on the door.

A couple of years ago, Rob downed tools and walked away. Burnt out, broke and unhealthy, for a while it seemed as if he’d become an unwilling example of the costs and practical futility of doing committed but marginalised DIY quirk-rock for too long without proper support. Actually, the way it’s turned out has been less pathetic and more sensible: all Rob needed were better plans in which to cradle his existing energies. With his dark patch behind him, and his home life and lifestyle repaired, he’s back in business with a number of new projects.

Prime amongst these is the relatively new Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place, a shifting collective based around him and his guitar. Rather than tote an expensive band around full time, he’s now (like a strapped but shrewd jazzman) in the position of being able to assemble one around whichever sympathetic souls are available wherever he happens to touch down. For his upcoming British tour, he’s been able to mine a particular strand of DIY musical gold thanks to a cluster of particularly talented Crow enthusiasts – Kavus Torabi on second guitar, Craig Fortnam on bass, Rhodri Marsden on keyboards, and the mysterious “Loz Bozenge” (apparently current Gong drummer Cheb Nettles, shuffling his Chinese box of pseudonyms). Expect further but wiser wrangles on the expansive Rob template, as laid out on the Gloomy Place debut ‘You’re Doomed. Be Nice‘.


 
The London gig also sports the sly, tremendous heavy-art-rock of Thumpermonkey – long-running nice-boy brainiacs who bring to the table deft slabs of intricate stunt-riffing, grand lyrical puzzles and intimidating songwriter wit (like the geek who can also and effortlessly beat all comers at arm-wrestling). In Glasgow, the support slot’s filled by Herbert Powell (described as an “amazing hi-NRG needling jogathon for fans of This Heat and Povlo”). It’s been a bit trickier finding out who’d be along for the ride in Manchester, but it turns out to be sarcastic Mancunian noise-poppers Sweet Deals On Surgery, who offer “short, snappy, stupidly-titled insights into Jeremy Kyle Britain, social decline, alcohol, drug abuse, sour family histories, serial killers and an ungrounded dislike for Elvis Costello.” Fine as these gigs promise to be, in Salisbury Rob and co. will be headlining something much bigger – a cavalcade of bands honouring and emulating the peculiarly rich musical vision of Cardiacs’ Tim Smith as part of the biennial Alphabet Business Convention. More on that next time – in many respects, it’s a natural home for Crowery.


 
The full set of dates:

  • The Deaf Institute, 135 Grosvenor Street, Manchester, M1 7HE, England, Tuesday 22nd August 2017, 8.00pm (+ Sweet Deals On Surgery) – information here and here
  • Stereo, 22-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 6PH, Scotland, Wednesday 23rd August 2017, 7.30pm (+ Herbert Powell & guests) – information
  • Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, 2-4 Hoxton Square, Hoxton, London, N1 6NU, London, England, Thursday 24th August 2017, 8.00pm (+ Thumpermonkey) – information
  • Alphabet Business Convention @ Salisbury Arts Centre, Bedwin Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP1 3UT, England, Saturday 26th August 2017, 5.30pm – information here and here

 

April 2017 – upcoming gigs – performance of Tim Smith/Cardiacs pieces in Amsterdam by jazz ensemble, for free (6th)

31 Mar
Tim Smith (photo © Sarah Mather)

Tim Smith (photo © Sarah Mather)

Just heard this heartening news from INKT/Theater M-Lab/Palmen & Reijmerink bassist Rita Kárpáti, in Amsterdam:

Tim Smith‘s previously-unheard composition ‘Pod, my my look my Pod’ (1983) is going to be performed in the Amsterdam Conservatory during the Jazz Ensemble Festival in the Blue Note hall – alongside with two other classic songs by Cardiacs… The ensemble is going to be rather extended, I don’t even remember the exact number of members – around ten or eleven people on stage, so it’s going to be loud! So if you are around in the Netherlands and want to hear ‘Pod…’ for the first time, performed by the wonkiest of students and alumni of the CvA, conducted by prog-rock professor Jos Zwaanenburg – for free – you know where to find us.”

This is taking part as part of the Conservatorium Jazz Ensemble festival, which runs between 3rd and 6th April this year and features performances from many of the Conservatorium’s budding jazz and cross-disciplinary musicians, mostly for free. If you’re interested in the whole festival programme you can get it here, but if you’re specifically hoping to catch the set of Smith pieces then you need to look out for Alex Brajkovic‘s electric/acoustic ensemble performing on the evening of 6th April…

3rd Jazz Ensemble Festival @ Conservatorium von Amsterdam presents:
Alex Brajkovic (MA)’s Student Ensemble play Tim Smith
Blue Note Zaal @ Conservatorium van Amsterdam, Oosterdokseiland, 1011 DL Amsterdam, Netherlands
Thursday 6th April 2017, 6:30pm – free event

More from Rita regarding the background to this:

“I got Timfected by my teacher at the Amsterdam Conservatory about two years ago. His name is Jos Zwaanenburg, a prog rock flautist who dedicates a whole class to teaching the music of Frank Zappa and related artists. The year I joined that class he decided to throw in a Cardiacs piece for us to learn (we can say he is a big Patient Zero). It was Jibber And Twitch. I still remember the childish joy of playing something so punky in a respected music institution and how impossible those fast quintuplets seemed to play. (I play the bass and I deeply adore Jim (Smith, Cardiacs bassist) for his elaborate basslines and his ability to endure fierce domestic brutality).

“A few years of vigorous Cardiacs listening passed and I graduated. Fast forward to this November, 2016. Jos writes us an e-mail that he finally got the chance to make his trip to England. A trip he had been organizing for years with the help of a mutual friend. He was about to visit Tim Smith and ask him geeky musical questions! He said that during their e-mailing he had been requested to show what he had been doing with his students, but since all the exam recordings sounded crappy we had to make a new, proper home recording of Jibber And Twitch. I couldn’t have been happier to play it again! We rehearsed and made the new version. (It still sounded very lo-fi, but our heart was in it I’d like to think.)

“So Jos went to England, and yes, he actually met Tim. (He is going to cover the details of that absolutely touching encounter in an article soon, so I’m not going into details about how they communicated or what else happened there. I don’t want to take Jos’ credits.) Only my side of the story. After some friendly drinking and whatnot Jos played our silly little recording to Tim. And the anecdote says he looked impressed and he gave it a thumbs up when the song arrived to a part with overdubbed vocals. Even though I wasn’t there (only in a form of an under-mixed bassline) I’m always going to remember this as the most epic ‘Like’ in my life.

“We also got permission to study and record any of his music, including the ones that have never been recorded. We got all the sheet music we need. That’s what kind of a guy Tim Smith is.”

I’m not sure about which three Cardiacs pieces will be played alongside ‘Pod…’ but from hints dropped in various discussions I wouldn’t be surprised if they included Jibber And Twitch and The Duck And Roger The Horse. Below are Cardiacs performances of each of these, plus the English Rose Orchestrations variant on ‘The Duck…’ showing how the original hectic art/prog/punk piece has yielded a set of contemporary classical variations.



 

 

September/October 2016 – film time – Dutch Uncles’ Robin Richards performs live score for ‘Birdsong: Stories From Pripyat ‘ in Manchester, Stockport and Salford (30th September, 6th-7th October); Scalarama Glasgow screens Cardiacs’ ‘Maresnest’ concert movie with live solo show from Kavus Torabi (22nd September)

17 Sep
Still from 'Birdsong' (Pripyat Palace of Culture)

Still from ‘Birdsong’ (Pripyat Palace of Culture)

In a couple of weeks’ time, Robin Richards (bass guitarist and driving force in Stockport art-poppers Dutch Uncles, and cross-disciplinary composer on the not-so-quiet) unveils the latest in his growing series of film collaborations, via three screenings and live score performances in the Manchester area.

“An amusement park in the Ukrainian city of Pripyat was due to be opened on the 1st May 1986, but the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred just a few miles away on 26th April. The park’s owners opened the park for a couple of hours the following day for the people of Pripyat before the city was evacuated. Eerie images of the deserted Pripyat Amusement Park now permeate the visual representation of the city’s desolation.

“Robin Richards: “Since hearing about the trips young evacuees from Pripyat and neighbouring towns made to my hometown Stockport as part of charity programmes over the last twenty-five years, and reading personal accounts of those affected by the catastrophic nuclear disaster I have wanted to create an art piece depicting the stories, whilst also addressing environmental and scientific dimensions. I am fascinated by the gestural vocabulary of film and its relationship to the formal properties of musical composition. I want to push beyond the notion that music should always be in service to visual narrative, and explore the possibilities of music’s power to create and transform meaning.”

Still from 'Birdsong' (Pripyat ferris wheel)

Still from ‘Birdsong’ (Pripyat ferris wheel)

“The resulting piece, comprising a forty-minute original film and live score with chamber ensemble will be performed at related venues in North West England in late 2016, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the disaster. A screening of the film with recorded score is programmed as part of an exhibition in Kiev in late October 2016.

“Combining the immediacy and energy of live musical performance with the visual impact of film, ‘Birdsong: Stories from Pripyat‘ aims to revisit a dramatic and devastating historical event using personal and scientific narratives to draw out the tensions and truths at play in our collective, cultural memories of this unfathomable event. This cross-artform project brings together original contemporary classical composition with film to explore an historic event through storytelling, montage and archival footage.

Robin Richards’ forty-minute score incorporates first-hand testimonies of evacuees and liquidators from Ukraine and Belarus, while Clara Casian’s filmmaking process is underpinned by nuclear research, and incorporates found and archival footage with original material filmed on location in Ukraine. The pair made a four-day research trip to the Chernobyl exclusion zone in May 2016 to meet with local artists, filmmakers and historians, collect original footage and archival material. The narrative arc of the film follows the journey of people with first-hand experience of the disaster, as personal records and testimonies are interwoven with original material. Music enters into a continuous dialogue with film as part of a nuanced artistic process, designed to evoke the experiences of people from Pripyat and their recollections of the evacuation and the cleaning process following the 1986 disaster.”

The piece will premiere as the highlight of HOME’s Artist Film Weekender in Manchester, followed by a second performance in Stockport’s historic art deco cinema The Plaza and a third at the University of Salford. Dates below:

Each night also features another showing, performance or event.

The University of Salford performance will also feature a question and answer session with Robin and Clara (also billed as a music-and-film masterclass with Robin, who’s an alumnus of the University’s Music course, having graduated in 2011 with a first-class honours degree, the Elgar Howarth Composition Shield and the Award for Innovative Audience Engagement).

The Manchester performance will be preceded by the showing of another Robin Richards-scored film, ‘Wizard’. Directed by Nick Middleton, this is “a short film about magic and madness”, which premiered earlier in the month at The Smalls film festival in Shoreditch, London.

The Stockport performance will be accompanied by ‘Celluloid History Songs’, by Anglo-African Mancunian singer-songwriter Josephine Oniyama: a “spellbinding… live multimedia performance against a backdrop of historical footage drawn from the North West Film Archive held at Manchester Metropolitan University, and edited by filmmaker Kim May of Asta Films. The specially-commissioned songs were influenced by scenes of Northerners at leisure, taken from the archive’s many inspiring images of industrial working-class people, young and old, discovering ways to spend their new leisure time.” This work was previously performed at HOME’s 2015 launch event, in tandem with Robin’s own previous soundtrack engagement (a new score for Pal Fejos’s 1928 silent New York romance ‘Lonesome’).

Update, 22nd September 2016 – Robin has just shared a recording of one of the ‘Birdsong’ soundtrack pieces. As he describes it, it’s “inspired by the liquidators working on the Chernobyl nuclear plant after the disaster. The liquidators were civil and military personnel called upon by the Soviet Union in to clean, burn and bury contaminated areas and materials around the power plant. The first part of this section is based on archival footage of the liquidators cleaning and digging in 1986, with the rhythmic jostling of the strings representing the movement of the workers, and the deep synthesisers representing the overriding radiation. The second part is inspired by the testimonies of four liquidators we interviewed in Borispol during our trip to Ukraine in May this year; their memories of the clean up and the years that followed the disaster.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Scalarama screening of 'Maresnest' (poster stencil image by Abe Peachment)

Scalarama screening of ‘Maresnest’ (poster stencil image by Abe Peachment)

A little earlier in the month – as part of September’s ongoing Scalarama film festival – there’ll be a public showing of the Cardiacs’ concert film ‘Maresnest’ in Glasgow.

Organisers Luminous Monsters call ‘Maresnest’ “the greatest concert movie ever made! Recorded one glorious afternoon at the Salisbury Arts Centre in 1990, ‘Maresnest’ captures all of the manic intensity and joyous delirium of one of the UK’s, nay, the world’s finest bands. Theres nothing quite like Cardiacs at full force. ‘Maresnest’ takes Cardiacs kaleidoscope-prog and ultra-pop impossibility and gives it a fiery hoof up the colon. From the bruising, nigh-industrial intro through the perilous frenzy of To Go Off And Things to the sustained climax of unlikely minor hit Is This The Life?, this is delirious, potent stuff, the sound of wild ideas obsessively woven from flesh and wire and moments.”

While this isn’t exactly a once-in-a-lifetime showing – the film was disinterred from VHS purgatory to be reissued and released on DVD three years ago – there are three extra selling points. The first is that the event is another of those fundraisers for the much-needed medical rehabilitation of Cardiacs’s life-mauled Tim Smith (see plenty of past ‘Misfit City’ posts for more on this particular story). Another is that the event also features a solo set from the band’s onetime guitarist Kavus Torabi (these days better known for Knifeworld, for exuberant radio hosting and for an ongoing role as the post-Daevid Allen frontman for Gong), who’ll be performing “songs of extreme loveliness and brilliance.”

The last is that Luminous Monsters are quite right about the value of ‘Maresnest’. It’s one of the great rock concert films, comfortably up on the same level with the likes of ‘Stop Making Sense’, ‘Tourfilm’, ‘The Last Waltz’ and ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’. Capturing the band live in 1989 – then, as ever, inhabiting a murky cult status which could nonetheless draw thousand-strong crowds – it also caught them at a particularly turbulent time. The one-off seven-piece version of their close and familial lineup, as featured in the film, featured a guesting recent departee plus a new recruit and a pair of longstanding mainstays who’d both soon be gone from the band. Cardiacs shows were already volcanically energetic events, laced with disturbing performance-art overtones in which the band played at being frightened, stubborn children at odds with the perplexing and fascinating world around them. The fact that the aforementioned recent departee was Tim’s soon-to-be-ex-wife Sarah, and that the show was teetering on the edge of disaster due to equipment breakdowns and raw nerves, added an extra frisson of tension and imminent madness to this particular concert.

Fortunately, the band rose both to and above the occasion – pulling a powerful, massing set out of this chaotic fuel, and it was all caught on tape. Though ‘Maresnest’ is laced with and interrupted by additional faux-found footage from backstage (in which, in nightmarish glimpses, the band continue to act out disturbing dysfunctional and childlike personae; like ‘Blue Remembered Hills’ being wrenched out of shape by David Lynch) it’s ultimately about the music – which is ecstatic, churning, and strangely shamanic, tapping into a distorted British sub-mythology of old war films, children’s television and everyday ritual, and whipping it up into an ambiguous apotheosis for a delighted crowd.


 
Luminous Monsters present:
Scalarama 2016: ‘Cardiacs – All That Glitters is A Maresnest’ + Kavus Torabi (live set)
The Old Hairdressers, 23 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 6PH, Scotland
Thursday 22nd September 2016, 7:30pm
– information here, here and here

It’s been a good month for Cardiacs-related news: more of that coming along shortly. Meanwhile, for more info on Scalarama’s ongoing events around the UK (and at the festival’s outpost in Spain), click here.