Tag Archives: Cardiacs

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.
 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – North Sea Radio Orchestra play London and Salisbury (12th, 26th) with Daisy Chute and William D. Drake (and maybe some other people…)

30 May

After a four-year hiatus (punctuated only by a brief 2014 showing at a Robert Wyatt tribute evening in France) North Sea Radio Orchestra – the pocket alt.chamber ensemble formed by husband-and-wife art-rock refugees Craig and Sharron Fortnam – are returning to action with a couple of warm, low-key English shows in London and Salisbury during June.

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2016

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2016

Based around Craig’s aerial compositions (propelled by a fine lattice of nylon-string guitar or gestural piano) and fronted by Sharron’s grand, pealing mezzo-soprano, NSRO emerged fifteen years ago via a series of church concerts in the City of London. A familial, twenty-strong English-gala-on-legs, sporting a rugged/ragged choral section, they blended the feel of a market-town classical festival with the more omnivorous preoccupations of world-city musicians flitting between concert halls, experimental rock clubs and eclectic podcasts.

Notoriously, Craig’s tune-sense drew on a romantic-futurist melding of Britten, Zappa, Vaughan Williams, Peter Warlock, traditional and psychedelic folk, Victorian poetry and the bassoon-laden locomotional soundtracks of Smallfilms’ Vernon Elliott: while the musician-and-singer pool drew not only on moonlighting classical and film-score people, but also on London art-rockers with broad skills and wide-open ears. In retrospect, there are some superficial similarities not just between the NSRO and one of their clearest equivalents – the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, who enjoyed a comparable tidy balance between cosmopolitan genres and methods – but also between the NSRO and that ongoing wave of enjoyable pop-up community choirs who roll around with Beach Boys, Bjork and Pulp songs stuffed in their pockets. Certainly both of the latter share a “get-up-and-do-it” communal warmth which endear them to audience, plus a pleasing lack of collegiate polish (the NSRO’s choral parts managed to be disciplined and soaring and loveably rough’n’baggy, while Sharon’s lead singing has muscled in on uncolonized areas between classical diva, ’60s coffee-house folk and Yorkshire punk).

Having said that, the NSRO have always been a more serious endeavour, treating their inspirations and ongoing creative paths with a discreet and earnest gravity; something typified by their third album’s pre-hiatus digression into a more compacted style, in which minimalist and Krautrock influences subsumed their initial romanticism (and in which self-penned lyrics of connection, loss and retreat replaced their earlier settings of Tennyson and Blake).

Today’s NSRO are a more streamlined affair than they once were: a compact mostly-instrumental nonet with Sharron’s voice still to the fore. Many members may have gently fallen away (if not too far away), but most of the original players remain in place alongside the Fortnams. Percussionist Hugh Wilkinson, organist/monosynther James Larcombe, string players Harry Escott and Brian Wright, and Luke Crooks and Nicola Baigent on reeds are still all on board, Despite being absent for these shows (he’ll be back in the autumn) the ensemble’s newest recruit, percussionist and viola player Stephen Gilchrist, fulfils the usual NSRO criteria of strolling or scrambling across genre lines: as “Stuffy” Gilchrist, he’s best known for thrashing the drums behind Graham Coxon or Art Brut, or for doling out his pop-eyed alt.rock as Stuffy/the fuses or Stephen Evens.)

These new shows should contain material from the NSRO’s upcoming fourth album ‘Dronne’, due out in early September. The first signs of the album came from a minute-and-a-half of dreamy domestic phase music uploaded to their Facebook page back in January (see above). Various other hints which have seeped out suggest a further change of course, perhaps influenced by the inspired psychedelic folk course which Craig and James Larcombe have been following with their parallel project Arch Garrison . In James’ words: “the new NSRO album’s amazing – in my opinion rather further down the psychedelic avenue, particularly the long instrumental title track. The song we’ve recently done a video for (‘Vishnu Schist’) is without a doubt my new favourite NSRO song… I’ve been listening to it loads. There’s a Robert Wyatt cover on it too, which is lovely.”

Regarding the gigs…

Tigmus presents
North Sea Radio Orchestra + Daisy Chute
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Sunday 12th June 2016, 1.30pm
– more information here and here

In support at the Forge is Daisy Chute. Though she’s undoubtedly best known as one-quarter of glossy-teen pop/classical fusion queens All Angels, Daisy vigorously and actively pursues a broad sweep of additional music including theatre, education and modern folk. In addition to her frontline work as a singer, she’s an accomplished composer, arranger, orchestrator and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, piano, ukelele, banjo and pixiphone), and a member of varied other bands including Camberwell folk-pop quartet threeandme. On this occasion she’s going out under her own name, singing a set of self-penned folk-and-jazz inspired songs and fronting a quartet of Tristan Horne (cello), Will Collier (double bass) and Zara Tobias (harmonium and backing vocals).


 

* * * * * * * *

Salisbury Arts Centre presents:
Transplant Music Night: North Sea Radio Orchestra + William D. Drake + special guests
Salisbury Arts Centre, Bedwin Street, Salisbury, SP1 3UT, England
Sunday 26th Jun 2016, 8.00pm
more information

This one’s billed as “a special night of music to accompany Salisbury Arts Centre’s ‘Transplant’ exhibition” (more on that in a moment…) For this show, the support act is onetime Cardiacs member William D. Drake, who forged his own belated solo career alongside NSRO’s (simultaneously putting in time in the latter as both choir singer and occasional composer/pianist). Building on from his interest in Early Music, his stint as the classically-inspired keyboard wildcard amongst Cardiacs’ polystylistic punk tumult and his subsequent immersion in rootsier work, Bill has developed his own idiosyncratic approach to songwriting: baroque, playful and soulful. It’s culminated in his latest – and greatest – album, ‘Revere Reach’, which lovingly threads folk, rock, classical and mythic elements together in a compelling and timeless act of musical bridging.

 

There are also additional “special guests” mentioned on the bill. This could mean anything; but it’s worth speculating on location, on confirmed attendees and on similar associations including the ‘Transplant’ exhibition itself:

promo-mattcuttssculpture2016“Celebrating the interconnectedness between art forms emerging from the festival scene and the joy of being outdoors in nature, ‘Transplant’ brings together sculpture, image, music, poetry and living plants. Forming the heart of the exhibition, Matt Cutts’ wooden sculptures sit in ‘fields’ of wild flowers and trees. Accompanying them are huge batik paintings by Sarah Jones reflecting the beauty of trees. A soundtrack for the exhibition has been created from new music and field recordings by Sarah Jones and William D. Drake. The exhibition opens on Midsummers Eve (Tuesday 21st June) for a 6-8pm viewing, prior to the exhibition proper running from the 22nd to the 25th.”

Citing the fond connections between the world of Cardiacs and that of Salisbury is a pretty easy game. Not only have many former Cardiacs members and affiliates (the Fortnams included) ended up living around Salisbury, but the band recorded their reknowned ‘All That Glitters Is A Mare’s Nest’ concert film in the Arts Centre itself seventeen years ago. Bill Drake’s contributions to both Transplant concert and exhibition further binds the worlds together, but a closer look reveals yet more links. A long time ago (before the batiks), Sarah Jones was Sarah Smith, blowing a puckish saxophone and frail silvery backing vocals in Cardiacs. Before that, she was Sarah Cutts; born into an artistic Forest of Dean family and sister to Matthew Cutts, who himself put in a long stint as a Cardiacs roadie before returning to his sculpting work.

Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones

Whatever the main intentions, it’s clear that a nodding, benevolent Cardiacs spectre looms over the whole event, sealed by the nature-saturated green-fuse inspirations which collectively permeate the artworks of Transplant, North Sea Radio Orchestra’s pastoral heart, and the undergrowth of Cardiacs songs (with their fascination with life and damp and greenery). It could, in fact, be part of one of the ever-more regular waves of Cardiacs-related activity which ripple through English crannies and corners each year in the band’s absence, keeping alive their loving and cheerfully prickly approach to music, friendship and existence (see also the upcoming ‘Whole World Window’ benefit gig in Preston next month, which I’ll flag up again later in the summer). It may give some clues as to who else might turn up; or it might not.

However, I’ll leave any speculation there. Moving back to certainties, here are a few video clips of NSRO in the past – from their choral triumphs to their airborne or churchbound meditations – to pave the way for whatever they’ve got ready for us now.





 

More London gigs, third week of October (12th to 18th) – an art rock blitz with Sax Ruins/Richard Pinhas; new classical music with Darragh Morgan & Mary Dullea; William D. Drake/Bill Pritchard/Bill Botting make a trio of songwriting Bills for Daylight Music; Sex Swing/Early Mammal/Casual Sect make a racket; Laura Moody and a host of others play at Match&Fuse

7 Oct

And October rushes on…

Sax Ruins + Richard Pinhas @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 12th October 2015Sax Ruins + Richard Pinhas (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ Corsica Studios, 4-5 Elephant Road, London, SE17 1LB, UK, Monday 12th October 2015, 7.30pm) – £11.00

Ruins (in both their original configuration and their various spinoffs) are among the best-known and most influential of Japanese experimental rock bands, with their complex rhythmic ideas and expression stretching across progressive rock, Rock in Opposition, jazz and punk. Founded in 1985, their stretchy, power-flurried drums-and-voice/bass guitar/nothing else approach has been described as “a palace revolt against the established role of the rhythm section” and set the initial format for any number of loud-bastard bass-and-drums duos. Since 1994 they’ve also run assorted noise-rock and improv collaborations including Ronruins (a romping trio alliance with multi-instrumentalist Ron Anderson) and longstanding hook-ups with Derek Bailey, Kazuhisa Uchihashi and Keiji Haino. Post-2004, Ruins has given way to Ruins-alone: a solo project in both practical and actual terms, with Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins’ drummer, jabberer, main composer and only consistent member) opting to tour and record solo as a drums-and-tapes act.

Active since 2006, Sax Ruins is yet another iteration of the Ruins concept – a musical tag team in which Yoshida spars happily with Nagoya-based saxophonist Ryoko Ono of Ryorchestra (an all-round improviser steeped in jazz, rock, funk, rhythm & blues classical and hip hop. Their recordings are “extremely complex with irregular beats, frequent excessive overdubbing, and restructured orchestration. The result sounds like a big band playing progressive jazz hardcore. For live performance of Sax Ruins they make hardcore sound like a huge band by full use of effects, also incorporating improvisation. Their shows unfold as a vehement drama.” For further evidence, see below.

Composer, guitarist and synthesizer player Richard Pinhas has often laboured under the reductive tag of “the French Robert Fripp”. This is unfair to him; he may have begun as an admirer of both Fripp and Brian Eno, but whatever he’s learned from them he took in his own direction. Starting out in the early ‘70s with a Sorbonne philosophy doctorate, a keen interest in speculative science fiction and a brief stint heading the post-Hawkwind psych outfit Schizo, Pinhas went on to lead the second-generation progressive rock band Heldon for four years between 1974 and 1978. Geographically and conceptually, Heldon sat bang in the ‘70s midpoint between the artier end of British prog, the proggier end of British art-pop and the chilly sequenced robo-mantras of German electronics. Initially inspired by King Crimson, Eno and Tangerine Dream, they also shared both musicians and ideas with Magma, and at times squinted over the Atlantic towards Zappa and Utopia: no passive followers, they always brought their own assertive, inquiring spin to the party. (A late ‘90s revival version of the band brought in the psychedelic punk and techno imperatives of the dance movement).

Since Heldon, Pinhas has pursued an ongoing and diverse solo career. It’s taken in collaborations with Scanner, Peter Frohmader, Merzbow, Råd Kjetil Senza Testa, Wolf Eyes and Pascal Fromade, plus assorted words-and music projects involving speculative writers and philosophers such as Maurice Dantec, Philip K. Dick, Gilles Deleuze, Norman Spinrad and Chloe Delaume (these include the cyberpunk-inspired Schizotrope). When performing solo, Pinhas uses a loops-layers-and-textures guitar approach which parallels (and to some ears, surpasses) the densely processed and layered Soundscapes work of his original inspiration Fripp. I guess it’s most likely that he’ll employ this at Corsica Studios on the 12th (although as Tatsuya Yoshida has been another of Pinhas’ collaborators over the years, perhaps you might expect another spontaneous team-up…)

Up-to-date info on the concert is here, with tickets available here.

* * * * * * * *

During the midweek, there’s a set of new or rare contemporary classical pieces being performed in Camden Town.

Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea, 2015

Picking Up The Pieces: Darragh Morgan & Mary Dullea (The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, UK, Wednesday 14th October 2015, 7.30pm) – £10.00/£12.00

Here’s what the Forge has to say about it:

Described by BBC Music Magazine as ‘agile, incisive and impassioned’ violinist Darragh Morgan and pianist Mary Dullea are renowned soloists of new music as well as members of The Fidelio Trio, one of the UK’s leading chamber ensembles. ‘Picking up the Pieces’ explores new and recent repertoire, much of it written for this duo, by a diverse selection of composers. Among the program items, Richard Causton’s ‘Seven States of Rain’ (dedicated to Mary and Darragh) won the first ever British Composers’ Award; while Gerald Barry’s ‘Midday’ receives its world premiere alongside other London premieres from Camden Reeves and Benedict Schlepper-Connolly.

Programme:

Richard Causton – Seven States of Rain
Gerald Barry – Midday (world premiere)
Benedict Schlepper-Connolly – Ekstase I (UK premiere)
Dobrinka Tabakova – Through the Cold Smoke
Kate Whitley – Three Pieces for violin and piano
Sam Hayden – Picking up the Pieces
Camden Reeves – Gorgon’s Head (London premiere)

Here’s the original premiere recording of Darragh and Mary playing ‘Seven States of Rain’.

Tickets and up-to-date information are here. This concert is being recorded by BBC Radio for future transmission on Hear & Now.

* * * * * * * *

On the Saturday, it’s a triple bill of Bills at Daylight Music. Now that’s cute, even for them. Here are the words direct from the top…

Daylight Music 203, 17th October 2015

Daylight Music 203: William D. Drake + Bill Pritchard + Bill Botting (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, UK – Saturday 17th October 2015, 12.00pm-2.00pm) – free entry, suggested donation £5.00

For his fifth solo excursion, former Cardiacs keysmith William D Drake takes us on a serpentine path through the inner regions of ‘Revere Reach’, a part-imagined landscape composed of memory and fantasy. At once heart-felt, hearty and absurd, its heady reveries blend ancient-seeming modal folk melody with an obliquely-slanted rock thrust.

Bill Pritchard is a beloved cult British-born singer/songwriter. You may remember. You may not. He started writing songs for various bands at school but it wasn’t until he spent time in Bordeaux as part of a college degree that his style flourished. He did a weekly show with two friends on the radio station La Vie au Grand Hertz (part of the burgeoning ‘radio libre’ movement) and was introduced to a lot of French artists from Antoine to Taxi Girl. In 2014 Bill released – Trip to the Coast (Tapeste Records). He’s recently resurfaced with a cracking new album, the songs of which are classic Bill Pritchard. Guitar pop, hooky chorus’, melodic ballads and personal everyday lyrics about love, loss, and Stoke-On-Trent.

Our final Bill is Bill Botting – best known as the bass player from Allo Darlin with the encouraging face, or as one half of indie electro wierdos Moustache of Insanity. Bill returned to playing his own music sometime in 2014. What started as a solo act has now grown into a complete band featuring members of Owl and Mouse, Allo Darlin and The Wave Pictures. A 7-inch single out later in the year on the wiaiwya label has a country slant but an indie heart.

Up-to-date info on this particular Daylight Music afternoon is here.

* * * * * * * *

On the Saturday evening, Baba Yaga’s Hut is running another gig, much of it apparently based around the noise-and-sludge projects which record at south London’s Dropout Studio in Camberwell. I’ve got to admit that I’m quite ambivalent about the hit-and-miss nature of noise-rock – I suspect that it’s too much of a haven for charlatans, and if I can’t drag out anything interesting to say about the noise they produce bar a slew of reference points, then what am I doing if not reviewing my own boredom? – but I like BYH’s omnivorous, ambitious and sharing attitude as promoters, so I’m happy to boost the signal on this one.

Sex Swing + Early Mammal + Casual Sect (Baba Yaga’s HutThe Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, UK, Saturday 17th October 2015, 8.00pm) – £7.00

Sex Swing + Early Mammal + Casual Sect @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 17th October 2015
Sex Swing are “a drone supergroup” featuring South London noisenik Tim Cedar (one of Dropout Studio’s owner/producers, previously a member of both Ligament and Part Chimp), Dethscalator’s Dan Chandler and Stuart Bell, Jason Stoll (bass player with Liverpool kraut-psych band Mugstar) and skronkophonist Colin Webster. On aural evidence, they inhabit a post-Can, post-Suicide hinterland of hell, spring-echoed and tannoy-vocaled – a sinister quotidian landscape of blank anomie and oppression; a Los Alamos penal colony haunted by uranium ghosts, ancient Morse telegraphs, metal fatigue and the zombie husks of Albert Ayler and Ian Curtis. (Well, that’s certainly someone’s perfect birthday present.)

Described variously as raw power, psych-blues, primitive lysergia and threatening backwoods jams, Early Mammal are another Dropout-affiliated Camberwell band. They’re a stoner rock three-piece who’ve drawn further comparisons not just to latterday stoner crews like White Hills or Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, or to predictable perennial touchstones like Captain Beefheart and Hawkwind parallels; but also to broody Harvest Records psych (Edgar Broughton and the ‘Obscured by Clouds’ Pink Floyd), Irmin Schmidt and (a rare and welcome cite, this) the grand dramatics of Aphrodite’s Child (the late-‘60s Greek prog band which skirted the 1966 Paris riots and served as an unlikely launch pad for both Vangelis and Demis Roussos).

Past incarnations have seen Early Mammal stir in some “Turkish-flavoured synth”, but the current lineup is a power trio of ex-Elks guitarist Rob Herian and 85bear’s Ben Tat and Ben Davis, adding baritone guitar and drone box to the usual guitar/bass/drums array.

I’m less sure about the south London/Dropout associations as regards Casual Sect, who seem to be north-of-the-river people; but, armed with their own hardcore noise-punk, they’ll either clatter away like wind-up toys or belly-sprawl on great bluffs of surly noise. They seem to love both citing and mocking conspiracy theory, so I’ll let them yell away on their own behalf – see below…


 
Up-to-date info on this gig is here, and tickets are available from here.

* * * * * * * *

Laura Moody’s captivating cello-and-voice songcraft (which edges along the boundary lines of avant-garde classical, art pop and heart-on-sleeve folk music, while demonstrating a daunting mastery of both vocal and instrument) has been a favourite of mine for a while. On this particular week, she’s performing as part of the Match&Fuse Festival in London on 17th October, which I’d have made more of a noise about had I cottoned on to it earlier. She’ll be following up her London show with a date on 20th October at Leeds College of Music: unfortunately, this concert (which also features a talk) is only for LCM students/staff, but if you happen to be attending the college, grab the chance to go along.

There’ll be more on Laura shortly, as she’s embarking on a brief British tour next month which dovetails quite neatly with some other brief tours I’d like to tie together in a post. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, I might as well provide a quick rundown of the Match&Fuse events. This will be a short and scrappy cut’n’paste’n’link, since I’m honouring my own last-minute pickup (and, to be honest, because I exhausted myself listing out all the details of the Manchester Jazz Festival events earlier in the year).

By the sound of it, though, the festival deserves more attention than I’m providing. Even just on spec, it’s a delightful bursting suitcase of British and European music; much of which consists of various forms of jazz and improvisation, but which also takes in electronica, math rock, accordion-driven Tyrolean folk-rap, vocalese, glam punk, the aforementioned Ms. Moody and what appears to be a huge scratch ensemble closing the events each night. It’s spread over three days including a wild triple event on the Saturday. Tickets are starting to sell out; so if you want to attend, be quick.

Match&Fuse Festival, London, 2015

Committed to the composers and bands who propel, compel and challenge, Match&Fuse turns it on and ignites the 4th London festival in October. Dissolving barriers between genres and countries, it’s a rare chance to hear a spectrum of sounds from underground European and UK artists. On Saturday 17th October our popular wristband event will give you access to three Dalston venues and about thirteen artists and bands. Strike a match…

The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ, UK, Thursday 15th October 2015, 7.30pm – £9.90

Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London E1 6LA, UK, Friday 16th October 2015, 7.30pm – £13.20

The Vortex/Café Oto/Oto Project Space/ Servant Jazz Quarters simultaneous event, Saturday 17th October 2015, 8.00pm – £11.00/£16.50

Café Oto/Oto Project Space, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, UK

Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, UK

The Vortex Jazz Club/Vortex Downstairs, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ, UK

Full details of Match&Fuse London 2015 are here and here, with tickets (including wristbands) available here. There’s also a playlist available – see below.

 
* * * * * * * *

More October gig previews coming up shortly, plus some more for November…
 

Through the feed – free single/upcoming crowdfunder from The Duke Of Norfolk; Cardiacs and Knifeworld reissues; a new Tim Bowness album; disinterring lost Levitation

21 May

I can tell I’ve not kept my eye on the ball – nothing makes a person feel less alert than suddenly finding that three of his favourite musical projects (plus one new recent favourite and one older interest) are suddenly pouncing out new releases and. I step out for a moment, for another writing project, and someone moves all of the furniture around.

The Duke Of Norfolk: 'A Revolutionary Waltz'

The Duke Of Norfolk: ‘A Revolutionary Waltz’

So… let’s start with news of fresh work from The Duke of Norfolk, a.k.a transplanted Oklahoman folkie Adam Howard, now resident in Edinburgh. He’s currently offering a free single – A Revolutionary Waltz – in part-promotion, commenting “I am launching a Kickstarter project in two weeks to fund the making of a live video EP, and would like to give you this recording in the meantime. It’s just a wee sonic experiment, but I hope you enjoy it!”

If you’re wondering whether there’s a Scottish Nationalist tie-in here, given recent political events in Britain, Adam’s adopted hometown, and that beautifully sympathetic and country-tinged setting of Robbie Burns’ Ae Fond Kiss on which he duets with Neighbour, think otherwise. In fact, this song is a darker cousin to An Evening Waltz (from his 2013 album ‘Le Monde Tourne Toujours’): a foreboding meditation on the inexorable turn of fate’s wheel, tying together three histories of power, betrayal and fall. Despite its timeless trad-folk lyric, Adam’s busking roots (and the lusciously acoustic sound of much of his other material) it’s also a rough-and-ready take on digital folk, either demo-rough or intended to display Adam’s other roots in sound design. A clipped electrophonic waltz picks its way across a murky psychedelic smudge and a droning feedback pibroch: its characters sea-waltz to the grim, dry beat of a hand drum and a scattering of cowrie-shell percussion. It’s well worth a listen. As for progress on the Duke Of Norfolk video Kickstarter campaign, it’s probably best to keep tabs on his Facebook page.

Cardiacs: 'Guns'

Cardiacs: ‘Guns’

Following the success of their double vinyl LP reissue of 1995’s ‘Sing To God‘ album, Cardiacs are doing the same with its 1999 follow-up, ‘Guns’. While it’s not the magnificent sprawler that ‘Sing To God’ is, ‘Guns’ offers a more concise take on the pepper-sharp 1990s Cardiacs quartet that featured Bob Leith and gonzo guitarist Jon Poole alongside the band-brothers core of Tim and Jim Smith. As Cardiacs albums go it’s an even brasher beast than usual, hiding its gnarly depths under brass-balled upfront confidence and strong seasonings of glam-bang, pell-mell punk, whirring Krautrock, and jags of heavy metal looning.

‘Guns’ is also one of the most obscure Cardiacs works. Drummer Bob joined Tim on lyric duties, helping to turn the album’s words into a dense hedge-witch thicket of allusion and play, in which typically naked Cardiacs preoccupations (dirt, wartime, suspicion, indeterminate life and death) are tied up into an almost impenetrable web, driven along by the music’s eight-legged gallop. The fact that Tim and Bob were slipping in random borrowings from ‘English As She Is Spoke‘,  a notoriously bungled Victorian phrasebook with its own wonky and unintentional poetry, only added to the tangle.

You can pre-order the ‘Guns’ reissue here for end-of-June shipping. It’s a single vinyl record, with no extra thrills or treats, but does come with the promise of beautiful packaging and pressing. You can expect to hear news on more Cardiacs reissues over the next few years. The current plan is to reissue the band’s whole back catalogue on vinyl after years of exile (predominantly spent huddled exclusively on iTunes).

Meanwhile, see below for a taste of ‘Guns’ magnificent oddness. Here’s the grinding drive of Spell With A Shell (which encompasses the lives of pets, the terror and wonder of transformation, and the cruelty, loneliness and confused loyalties of childhood). Here’s a collision of outsider folk and reggae in Wind And Rains Is Cold (via a fan video of clips from ‘Night Of The Hunter’, from which Cardiacs frequently filch scraps of lyric). Finally, here’s the scavenged, scratchy prog of Junior Is A Jitterbug with its prolonged and celebrated unravelling coda.

Cardiacs: 'Day Is Gone'

Cardiacs: ‘Day Is Gone’

For those without turntables, there’s been a relatively recent CD reissue of Cardiacs’ 1991 EP ‘Day Is Gone’ – which I somehow managed to miss when it was first announced – and which includes the original three B-sides (No Bright Side, Ideal and concert favourite Joining The Plankton). This is from the pre-‘Sing To God’ lineup: another quartet but with Dominic Luckman on drums and, ostensibly, Bic Hayes on second guitar (prior to his explosive stints in Levitation and Dark Star, and to his current position etching dark psychedelic guitar shadings in ZOFFF).

Actually, since this was a time of shuffle and change in the band it’s unclear as to whether Bic or Jon Poole is providing the extra galactic bangs and shimmerings on the EP. However, for Day Is Gone itself the attention should be on Tim Smith’s grand bottle-rocket of a solo, capping what’s both one of Cardiacs’ most autumnal songs and one of their most headrushing cosmic efforts – a bout of November skygazing gone bright and vivid. See below for the original video in all of its low-budget saucer-eyed glory, and pick up the CD here.

Cardiacs: 'Heaven Born And Ever Bright'

Cardiacs: ‘Heaven Born And Ever Bright’

Note also that a couple of other early-‘90s Cardiacs recordings have made it back on CD in the past six months. ‘Heaven Born And Ever Bright’ (the parent album for Day Is Gone) shows Cardiacs at their brightest and bashing-est, but hiding a wounded heart. ‘All That Glitters Is A Mares Nest’ – the recording of a raucous 1990 septet concert at the Salisbury Arts Centre – was both the last hurrah of the 1980s lineup (with carousel keyboards, saxophone and half-a-scrapyard’s-worth of percussion rig) and, for my money, is also one of the greatest live rock recordings ever made. See if you agree.

Cardiacs: 'All That Glitters Is A Mares Nest' (2014 reissue)

Cardiacs: ‘All That Glitters Is A Mares Nest’ (2014 reissue)


‘Mares Nest’ also made a welcome resurfacing on DVD a couple of years ago – see below for a typically quaking example of the band in action. It’s also worth repeating that all of the profits from the recording sales continue to go towards palliative care and physical therapy for Tim Smith, who’s still engaged in the slow painful recovery from his crippling stroke of 2008.

Knifeworld: ‘Home Of The Newly Departed’

Knifeworld: ‘Home Of The Newly Departed’

Meanwhile, Knifeworld – who feature an ex-Cardiac and, while being very much their own eclectic and tuneful proposition, carry a certain continuation of the Cardiacs spirit along with them – have collated early, interim and now-unavailable tracks onto a full-length album, ‘Home Of The Newly Departed’. The seven tracks (dating from between 2009 and 2012) bridge the space between their ‘Buried Alone: Tales of Crushing Defeat’ debut and last year’s tour-de-force ‘The Unravelling’.

If you want to read my thoughts on the original releases, visit the original ‘Misfit City’ reviews of the ‘Dear Lord, No Deal’ and ‘Clairvoyant Fortnight’ EPs from which six of the tracks are taken. (I’ve just had a look back myself and discovered that I’ve previously described them as a band who could drag up exultation with their very fingernails, as starchildren weighed down by dark matter, as possessing “a knack of dissecting difficult feelings via swirling psychedelic sleight-of-hand” and as “an almighty and skilful art-rock mashup, with horns and bassoons poking out of it every which-way and strangely kinking, spiraling spines of rhythm and harmony locking it all together.” I must have been pretty excitable, on each occasion.)

Alternatively, have a look at the videos below. Also, if you’re in England during the end of May, the band (in full eight-person glory) are out on a short tour featuring the debut of new music.

Tim Bowness: 'Stupid Things That Mean The World'

Tim Bowness: ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’

With his erstwhile/ongoing no-man bandmate Steven Wilson going from strength to strength as a solo act, Tim Bowness also continues to concentrate on work under his own name – sleek, melancholy art-pop with a very English restraint, fired with a desperate passion and shaded with subtleties and regrets. His third album, ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’, is due for release on July 17th; barely a year after his last effort ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ (one of my own favourite records of 2014).

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’ features the ‘Abandoned…’ core band of Tim plus his usual cohorts Michael Bearpark, Stephen Bennett, and Andrew Booker, and on spec sounds as if it’ll be a smooth progression and development from the previous album. It also features guest showings from three generations of art rock (Phil Manzanera and Peter Hammill; David Rhodes and Pat Mastelotto; Colin Edwin, Bruce Soord, Anna Phoebe and Rhys Marsh) and string arrangements by art-rock-friendly composer Andrew Keeling.

Expect a typically Burning Shed-ish range of format options: the double CD mediabook edition (with companion disc of alternate mixes and demos including an unreleased no-man demo from 1994), and LP versions in either black vinyl or transparent vinyl (CDs included with each). Pre-ordering gets you a downloadable FLAC version of the 5.1 mix, plus the usual cute postcard. Sorry – I have no early tasters for ‘Stupid Things…’, but here’s a taste of one of the slower, lusher tracks from ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ for the benefit of anyone who missed it last year.

Earlier on, while discussing Cardiacs, I briefly mentioned Bic Hayes and his time in Levitation. For those of you who are unfamiliar with them – or who weren’t around in early ’90s Britain to witness their brief, Roman candle of a run – they were a band who eagerly fused together an enormous sound, leashing and running with a frenzied and energized take on psychedelic rock, driving post-punk noise and earnest, distressed chanting from their singer, the former House of Love guitar star Terry Bickers. Sadly, they’ve become best known as the springboard by which Terry catapulted himself first into frontmanhood, then into the uncharted and finally (via some tortured decisions and unfortunate outbursts) into the obscure.

In truth, Levitation were an equal conspiracy of five. As well as Terry and Bic, there was Robert White (a baby-faced free-festival veteran and secret-weapon multi-instrumentalist, who’d later lead The Milk & Honey Band), an undersung alt.rock bass hero called Laurence O’Keefe and David Francolini, an astounding and slightly demonic drummer who could run the gamut from pattering rain to pneumatic drill in a single roll round his kit (and who, within Levitation, had the perfect opportunity to do so). Fuelled equally by inspiration, drugs and sheer hard work, they strived for three intense years while living on the outside of their skins, and briefly came close to making some very unfashionable sounds current again.

While they were certainly a “head” band – hippy punks who joined floating threads of British counter-culture, spontaneity and resistance together – it’s vital to remember that Levitation were never your average festival band. They were never complacent, never entitled. More Yippie than trustafarian, they seemed (Bickers, in particular) to be desperately chasing revelations just over the rim of the horizon. Their ethos and experience was best summed up – or, more accurately, caught in a passing flare – in a lyric from their song Against Nature ), with Terry choking out “there is an answer, but I’ve yet to find out where” over a raging foam of guitars. Fingers (and not a few minds) got scorched along the way. In May 1993, it culminated in Terry’s wracked, brutal self-ejection from the band – in a spurt of slogans and despair – during a concert at the Tufnell Park Dome, just a short walk from Misfit City’s current home.

There have been some reconcilations since then (not least Bic, David and Laurence reuniting in the wonderful but equally short-lived Dark Star five years afterwards) but there have been no reunion, and no-one has ever seemed to want to go back. However, on Monday this week – Record Store Day 2015 – the Flashback label released the first Levitation music for twenty years – ‘Never Odd Or Even’, a vinyl-only EP containing three tracks from the band’s lost 1992 album ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ (these being Never Odd Or Even, Greymouth and Life Going Faster). More information is here, although if you want to pick up one of the five hundred copies you’d better find your nearest participating British record store here: they might have some left. (There’s an earlier version of the title track below, in perhaps a rawer form.)

I’ve described ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ as a lost album, which isn’t strictly true. Although the record was recorded prior to Terry’s explosive departure, there was life after Bickers, For just over a year, singer Steve Ludwin took on the frontman role; during this time the band took it upon themselves to partially re-work the album with Ludwin’s vocals rolled out firmly over Terry’s. The resulting version of ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ was only released briefly in Australia. Following the split of the Ludwin lineup and the final end of the band, it’s always been regarded (rightly or wrongly) as something of a bastard appendix to the Bickers-era albums.

The happier news is that, following up ‘Never Odd Or Even’, Flashback are about to give ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ its own new lease of life with the active collaboration of the original lineup (including Terry Bickers). The album’s original vocals have been restored, the songs polished to satisfaction and a final tracklisting agreed upon. Although former album tracks Graymouth and Life Going Faster have been ceded to the ‘Never Odd…’ EP, the 2015 version of ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ keeps four of the tracks familiar from the Ludwin version (Food For Powder, Gardens Overflowing, Even When Your Eyes Are Open and the vaulting soar of King of Mice) and adds five songs previously only available via bootlegs (Bodiless, Imagine The Sharks, Evergreen, I Believe, Burrows and Sacred Lover). Apparently, it’ll be out sometime in “summer 2015” as a single CD and limited-edition double LP, each coming with gatefold sleeve and new artwork by original Levitation cover artist Cally.

It’s probably best to keep track of progress on the ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ release here; but meanwhile here’s the Bickers version of Even When Your Eyes Are Open (the last single the band released before he quit) and a bootleg-sourced version of the startling post-psychedelic stretchout Burrows – just to whet the appetite.

The Duke Of Norfolk online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp

Cardiacs online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace LastFM

Knifeworld online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp

Tim Bowness online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Last FM YouTube Vimeo

Levitation online:
Homepage Facebook

REVIEW – Knifeworld: ‘The Unravelling’ album, 2014 (“hurrying fearfully along the rim of a weakened dam”)

5 Aug
Knifeworld: 'The Unravelling'

Knifeworld: ‘The Unravelling’

You must have heard this one before. Alan Moore’s told a version, so has Groucho Marx. So have many others as the tale creeps down the years, gathering new clothes to wrap its bones in. Here’s another version.

One afternoon a doctor receives an unexpected patient – a middle-aged man, cheeks slack and jaw unshaven, creeping shyly into the consulting room where he sits, quivering, on the chair. His shoulders are hunched as if expecting a blow to fall. He wrings his battered hat in his hands and stammers that his world is imploding, that he feels that he cannot face a cruel present and uncertain future; that his body and mind are suffering and he doesn’t think that he can go on. The doctor is tempted to say “cheer up, it may never happen,” but restrains himself. It’s not purely out of professionalism – there’s something in his visitor’s muddy eyes that suggests that such flippancy would be more than cruel. Then the doctor has an idea. He puts on his most comforting, most reasonable voice. “What you need, my friend, is laughter. Here, I know the very thing for you. The great clown Grock is playing in town tonight – go and buy a ticket. He will make you forget your worries and your terrors.” The man says nothing for a moment, then, as he rises to leave, his eyes fill with terrible wounded tears. “But Doctor,” he stammers. “I am Grock…”

Chewing over this old chestnut has put me in mind of Knifeworld’s leader Kavus Torabi – a musician who’s spent years stuck fast in the guts of cult appeal but who’s suddenly starting to look a little ubiquitous. Steps upward via bigger cult bands (to Gong via Cardiacs and Mediaeval Babes) have helped him here. So, too, have his vigorous radio-show hostings and his eccentric, affectionate charm, belatedly recognised by a horde of magazines and webzines. So too, the frequency with which his lanky frame, explosive hairdo and glowing enthusiasm rock up at and around London gigs. By now, he’s well on his way to becoming a public personality – a vivacious, goofy, black-dandelion star with an infectious grin and throaty chuckle, whose career (to a new fan) would seem to have burst upwards in a series of random turns and innocent accidents.

The flipside of this is that he’s become something of a beloved clown, and it could have sunk him. Flying in the face of anxious rock pomposity and its accelerated quest for significance, Kavus openly refers to his work as “funny-music”. For two decades, on-and-off, he’s been releasing swarms of supercharged tatterdemalion art-rock songs (in which Canterbury whim grapples with Chicago nerve while spinning cogs of power-pop, psychedelia, prog and folk joust with reed-crammed avant-garde blares and slamming flashes of heavy metal) and ices this wild cake with baroque psychedelic imagery turned into a daffy, tongue-in-cheek juggling act. Upfront and loveable, Kavus will always bring accessibility and charm to the musical tumult behind him; but his oddball image has sometimes resisted and obscured deeper engagement. There’s a risk that his growing audience won’t grow with him; that when they listen to the ornate, shaggy-lantern rock of Knifeworld’s 2009 debut album ‘Buried Alone…‘ they might hear only its knotty playfulness, its busy collisions. While revelling in Knifeworld’s bird-flipping refusals to be either meat-and-potatoes rock or polished narcissistic artfulness, they’ll miss the emotive depths which wind beneath the band’s fairground-dazzle surface. Instead, they’ll be demanding constant cheery Kavus looning while they augur their own vague Phineas Freakears rebellions from the flyaway whorls in his barnet.

All in all, ‘The Unravelling’ – with its crucial shift in tone and weight – has arrived right on time. Kavus’ funny-music mask needs to crack. His entertainer face needs to blanch a little. He can’t remain the cute bastard child of Daevid Allen and Tom Baker forever.

That said, there’s little to suggest that Knifeworld’s second album is a calculated attempt at growing up, or at brushing away frivolity. Neither is it a “poor-me” album of mid-life crises or bleats about B-list fame. (Nor, in case you were worrying, are there any arch, camped-up traces of sad clown.) Instead, ‘The Unravelling’ seems to have formed out of sheer necessity. Its aches, fears and stalking black dogs have been cast out into the open by compulsive honesty and irresistible pressure. While undercurrents of darkness have snaked through the band’s colourful fantasias before, they’ve always been couched in fragmented word-games and arcane disguises – late-night fears sprouted a psychedelic froth of in-jokes, and tales of betrayal and shortfalls would spread and mutate into Ancient Mariner epics. Kavus was constantly hedging his bets; hanging little baubles of angst and honesty in his jagged, branching tunes like Christmas decorations. No more. Finally, he’s stopped the tease, stopped the sleight-of-hand and the fucking fan-dance.

What he’s revealing now is engaging, intimate and entirely human. At times, it’s heartbreaking. “My friends call out to me, / but I’m not home too many times,” he confides, on the very first song, swelling to a sudden pitch of raw hurt. “So some escaped or reproduced and some just fell apart. / Why? / Why did you grow those teeth in your heart?” At its roots, ‘The Unravelling’ is about love and vulnerability. It’s about feeling naked and thin-skinned at the mercy of dreadful forces of fate and irrationality, of memory and error. In its most reflective moments, it’s about the painful process of accepting the wounds. “Every passing year,” laments Kavus. “I feel those icy fingers poking me.”

Perversely, he’s singing about this while fortified by his biggest, most accomplished band yet. The current Knifeworld lineup is a solid brass-and-reeds-bolstered eight-piece – capable of fierce King Crimson snarls, elastic Shudder To Think bounds, sidesteps into complex harmonic spaghetti (a la Henry Cow) and rapid shifts of time signature or dynamic, but also possessing the immediate poise of a finely-honed pop band. Where on spec they ought to sprawl, they’re actually dead on-point. That extra cannonade of saxophones and Emmett Elvin’s wandering, watchful keyboards are as tight as an old-school soul revue. Musically, they’re brimming with confidence and simmering power: just listen to them charge their way through Don’t Land On Me like a progged-up John Barry Orchestra, deliver a pummelling but light-footed jazz-metal barrage on The Orphanage, or spice a vocal or string arrangement with an ingenious Kate Bush twist. Often they stop just short of swagger.

Some Knifeworld tics and tropes remain the same. Still present and correct are the proud eclecticism and visceral drive beneath the ornamentation; the vocal interplay between Kavus’ rusty earnestness and Mel Woods’ cool matter-of-fact tones; the naval tang of shanty and sea-song that soaks deep into the band’s marrow along with the rock-in-opposition and bristling prog. Yet the sound, formerly wayward and freewheeling, has been squeezed and sharpened by Kavus’ new preoccupations. Just as the lyrics have been pared from puzzle to pith, the vaulting chambers of psychedelic echo have been reduced to a tighter space (as if Gong had suddenly fallen under Joy Division’s shadow) and the tuneful sprawl has narrowed down to sinews and bones. Despite all of Knifeworld’s brassy collective strength, a miasma of unease hazes their horizon. It’s as if the whole octet – amps, guitars, horns, bassoon and all – are hurrying fearfully along the rim of a weakened dam. As if they’ve never felt so fragile, so ungainly and as likely to stumble… and it’s a long, long way down.

This is hardly surprising. In song terms, everything that Kavus has previously lived with but toyed with or danced around has finally reared up and shaken off the frills and protection. By his own account, ‘The Unravelling’ was inspired by ripples of pain in and around his own life and his tight-knit friendships in the last few years – solid bonds dissolving, unexpected savage blows from out of the darkness, free spirits tumbling into madness while the chickens come home to roost as vultures. Unsettling noises lope alongside several tunes – scrapes, friction-screeches or skeletal rattles; watch-ticks, muted footfalls and knocks – like eerie fellow travellers or frightened ghosts haunting dingy rooms, huddled in corners or stumbling, stricken; trying to stay unnoticed; afraid to live. Ominous bad-trip lyrics and phrases creep from song to song as eyes are shuttered, blocked off or sprout hideously from bare skulls; as hands hold secrets to be fumbled, dropped or cherished.

All of the trauma may or may not have settled to echoes now, but the music is still caught in the teeth of the drama. The Orphanage’s quick-flail riffing (packed with panicky staircases of crowded saxophone) frames a brief and bitter lyric of introverted desperation and disgusted intimacy, primed to implode, while the grand album opener I Can Teach You How To Lose A Fight bellies with muscular, operatic disquiet. Esther Dee’s guesting soprano dips and soars – a Valkyrie figurehead – while Knifeworld arc through star-peppered space and oncoming storms like the Flying Dutchman, and Mel delivers a portrait-in-flashes of a relationship wrenched off course by suspicions, resentments and absences. (“You’ll sleep alone, / bet I don’t get the chance / to watch it every night I’m home. / That halo won’t have far to drop, / ‘til it becomes a noose, /and I’m not gonna break you loose, no. / So steep inside my room, / when I’m not there, / too many times. / A witch-hunt for a bed, / uncover all my plan.”) In choral passion, and over explosive minefield rhythms, the band beat their hearts against the swelling poison – “every fight you lose, that breaks over us. / All the fights that you lost from the start, / unravelled something inside of you. / Every tooth you grew, that bites into us.” Even in Don’t Land On Me’s prog-Bolan/James Bond swagger (which bursts from thunder into light via great cruising stretches of acoustic guitar, dreamy verses and flashes of gospel ecstacy), Kavus unpacks bald moments of emotion. Confession, guilt and disconnection intertwine with his lysergic reveries of dream cities, withering stars, and the jolt of awakening. “Inside your dying sun, and you never caught me out. / Inside you’re dying, son. / Broken, unfound, there is only one thing I find – / we ran aground when I wouldn’t make up my mind.”

Back when he was a fresh-eyed twentysomething – wrangling guitars in The Monsoon Bassoon, and hatching ideas that would blossom again in Knifeworld – Kavus wrote a song called The Best Of Badluck 97. Wrapped in cryptic legends of iron swords and bitten hands, It covered a particular annus horribilis that sprawled and stank across the lives of him and his friends: band splits, broken romances, fallings-outs and other youthful horrors. Sixteen years on, history repeats with a fearful weight. In ‘The Unravelling’s eerie centrepiece (a haunted jig of snake-slide bass and revolving Rhodes piano) Kavus cites it directly – and with bitter rueful nostalgia – while nightmares of ruination and frightened statues take hold and things claw their way out of the garden. “That cursed year that caused the great divide. / …when we all regrouped it felt so different then, / like something had been lost, something had died. / Chemicals, craziness and confusion, / betrayals in between another’s thighs. / But I’d trade all I have to be right back there now, / ‘cos the skulls we buried have regrown their eyes.”

As a counterpart, Knifeworld deliver a bittersweet tribute to survival and thwarted hopes on Destroy The World We Love. “Oh well, it always ends up underground, then. / The best minds and all of that were going down,” sings Kavus. “The years that passed between, / unravelled all our dreams.” As the band thread and weave an intricate psychedelic cobweb (majestic crabbed guitar lines, Steve Reich wind cycles and delicate glock’n’Rhodes chimes) he muses over what’s been lost and what’s been salvaged: “I kind of miss all the madness, / I kind of miss the way we were, but, / for all the loss and the sadness, / me and you we made it through, / me and you we made it. / So we can never replace it, / and it’ll never come again, but / we got so close I could taste it.”

One particular story looms high above this knot of sorry tales – that of fallen Cardiacs leader Tim Smith, Kavus’ friend, onetime boss and profound inspiration. Although the man was shattered and silenced by a set of devastating strokes six years ago, his musical presence haunts ‘The Unravelling’, from its singalongs and switchbacks to the complex contrary rigging of its songcraft. His painful absence inspires the album’s two most involving songs, in which Kavus’ mingled love and grief burst into plain view. (“In my dreams still, you’re just like you were, you’re just fine. / In my waking, you are never out of my mind.”)

Travelling from exultation to dismay, and showcasing Knifeworld in all of their delicious tunefulness and irritation, Send Him Seaworthy is a coded parable of Tim Smith’s fall. Chloe Herington’s bassoon (increasingly, Knifeworld’s hotline to avant-garde classical rigour) lofts in stern spiny hogbacks above welters of nautical metaphor, as a jaunty sea-song is stretched and corrugated into proud crenellations, surging somewhere between the Sloop John B and Henry Cow. As the band defiantly fly their Cardiacs flag (“most set sail in the usual way, / and always stand to reason, / never set themselves ablaze. / Our proud galleon that sails today, /just dwarves the other vessels, / cuts through the waves,”) Kavus pursues his melody into every cranny and corner, as if hoping that he’ll find Tim tucked away in one of them, grinning and healed. “Enlisted men hit the waves again, / I can’t adjust the rudder – man overboard! / I never knew you’d capsize, my friend, /I said you were my brother, / I thought you’d be restored.” At the height of the drama, emotion capsizes the metaphor. Kavus drops all of the nautical play for an agonised real-life account of his own. “On the telephone at four AM, you said you wanted to stay. / It came as no surprise, ‘cos you were always that way. / I made up your bed and went back to mine. Yeah, I drifted but then, / when you never showed, how could I have known you’d never show up again?”

These same cold awakenings gnaw at This Empty Room Once Was Alive. A haunted, minimal hole-in-the-hull, this is a close cousin to Japan’s Ghosts: a stripped and eerie confessional in which a bass-less, drum-less, de-horned Kavus shivers outside the protection of his band. Only Emmett’s rippling dream-clock of Rhodes and Mel’s spectral harmony are there to keep him company against the night sounds and the early hours as he stares at the wall, “too terrified to sleep in case / the dreams in which you’re walking come, / that find me woken, staring at my pillow, / broken, spent, undone.” A background of ominous grinds and creaking scrapes suggest crumbling houses or rotting ship-hulks, or a slow, stranded disintegration of worth and significance. “When the curtain draws, / and buried all are we, / would this have made a difference? / And in the afterlife, / a gaudy purgatory,/ would we still remember?”

Then, with a strummed and beautiful sigh of cuatro strings, Kavus lets it all loose: a direct address to his broken friend, the words scraping against his teeth, full of profound sadness, sorrow and an acceptance of fear finally laid bare. “All I am is frightened / I’ll forget just what we had, / and all I am is scared / to cast what’s left of my mind back. / My dear friend, my sweet captain, / I can’t find the words to tell you, / just how deep the hole you left behind you when you fell became. /Around in circles limps this crippled horse that I’m still riding, / while old friends ring me up to ask me where have I been hiding?” At last he hits rock bottom… or, perhaps, ‘Rock Bottom’, as some of Robert Wyatt’s fluid account of transformative feeling is echoed here too, laving the sadness – that feeling of stun and shift; the sense of wonder, and of the human connection which redeems the disaster.

It’s that last which is going to save us, if anything will. Happy endings aren’t simply gifted to people: Kavus is sad enough and wise enough not to cheat and deny these bleak experiences he’s sung about (nor the marks they’ve scored onto people) by painting a smiley face over them. Instead, he leaves warmer points to glow inside the darker corners of these songs; bright crumbs of hope for us to gather up, those scraps that weren’t torn or whirled away. Destroy The World We Love patches some resolution and consolation into both its pealing Kavus guitar solo (which blends humility and dented heroism) and its warm, ghostly bind of a-capella – “Back in my room again, / I can’t remember when / you put to sleep my wars, /and turned my life to yours.”

To wrap up ‘The Unravelling’, I’m Hiding Behind My Eyes provides a bittersweet post-apocalyptic reverie. With cycling acoustic guitar and brittle piano flourishes, and a suppurating cosmic bleed as a backdrop, the song trudges away from the self-made wreckage as in brief, knotty breaks of guitar and horns, the band levers itself off the ground and puts itself back together. In soft and ashy tones, Kavus and Mel weigh up the losses, loyalties and shortfalls; accept them; then make a ragged plea for forgiveness, acceptance and something better. “Heavens fall, across the room, across the world, / After all we’ve lost… / If I fell into your arms, into your world, / could I dwell in your universe, / universe? / Even now I can’t begin to form the words, / to tell you how you’re my everything, / everything. / Worlds collapse, heavens fall, / and after all there’s really only us now.”

There’s no need to be a Grock (trapped in yourself, baling out hollow laughs to an audience that can’t really see you) nor a lost space cadet, out on your own and burned by your own dreams. In the end, ‘The Unravelling’ puts the remains of its battered faith behind compassion, and suggests that we can cede our own pain and finally surrender to our better natures simply by surrendering to each other, being ready to feel each other’s pain and being transformed by it. “Passing through this world of shadows, / I’m in love with you. / I’ll erase this world alive behind my eyes, / to spend my days in your universe.” That last word repeats and repeats to the fade, a hopeful mantra to the last.

Knifeworld: ‘The Unravelling’
Inside Out Music, 0506 858 (5052205068588)
CD/vinyl album
Released: 22nd July 2014

Get it from:

CD – from Knifeworld homepage store, Inside Out Shop, or Burning Shed.

Vinyl – Knifeworld homepage store, Inside Out Shop, or Burning Shed.

Knifeworld online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp