Tag Archives: Christian Hayes

May 2016 – upcoming London and Brighton gigs – Roar, Steve Strong and Tony協Yap get noisy (May 21st); Prescott and The Evil Usses spiralize our ears (May 24th); M U M M Y curate a free cavalcade of psychedelia/folk/oddpop on the side of the Alternative Escape festival (May 19th)

16 May

Roar + Steve Strong + Tony協Yap, 21st May 2017

Best of Bandcamp, SPREAD and New River Studios present:
Roar + Steve Strong + Tony協Yap
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Sunday 21st May 2017, 6.00pm
information

Yokohama band Roar (dipping into London as part of a British and American tour) are a two-piece of Shusei on guitar and Taketo on drums. Noisy and immediate, their sound’s an immediately accessible, unconstrained rock sound churning together aspects of surf music, Hendrix, Nirvana, Foetus and The Melvins.

Two support acts add to the fray. Steve Strong provides his usual one-man-band post-rock loop act, layering assertive, precise live drumkit work with rattling spidery guitar riffs and surging wads of noise texture. Keyboard player Gman Leong & drummer Alessandro Salzano make up London experimental noise/beat duo Tony協Yap: more live drumkit, this time paired with abrasive synth jabs and snarls. Taunting us with the possibility of dynamics, they usually come at us full-tilt – a jammed rave cannonade with occasional vivid lacunae of downtime and ebbed space, stripped and shaped by small sounds (such as the ring of Alessandro’s singing-bowl).





 

* * * * * * * *

Prescott + The Evil Usses, 24th May 2017

Prescott presents:
Prescott + The Evil Usses
Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England
Wednesday 24th May 2017, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Like Tony協Yap, the dogged, quirky Prescott are a band who know a thing or two about teasing. A vehicle for the cellular, bafflingly elasticated compositions of onetime Stump bassist Kev Hopper, they’re also an excuse for underground art-rock drummer Frank Byng, out-there guitarist Keith Moliné and improbable synth player Rhodri Marsden to unpredictably shunt each other around pitch and beat.

With the various members drawing on stints with projects as diverse/perverse as Pere Ubu, Snorkel, The Keatons, Scritti Politti, The Free French, Ticklish and This Is Not This Heat, there’s plenty of scope and impetus for lateral thinking, coupled with a poker-faced goofy accessibility. Their second album, ‘Thing Or Two’, is another stylish raspberry in the face of sensibility and torpor. Imagine the swoop and ping of Brand X rendered in far too many inappropriate Lego bricks; imagine Weather Report fed on a diet of Dada and No Wave; imagine a fusillade of perky post-punk blips like XTC spending a stint as a Koji Kondo covers band.

In support, there’s Bristol’s The Evil Usses, whom I last encountered in the runup to Bristol’s Wakizashi festival last October, and whom I described back then as “a deconstructive, fiercely humorous No Wave jazz-rock quartet, who share some of Knifeworld’s brassy exuberance but take it over the escarpment and down into a stomping, seven-league-booted Beefheart country.” Come along and have your cortex ruffled.



 
* * * * * *

Two of the Alternative Escape gigs in Brighton, 18-19 May 2017

Before either of these, though, there’s a particular free all-dayer at The Black Dove in Brighton on 19th May – part of the extensive Alternative Escape fringe event that’s coiled around the city’s huge Great Escape festival. Certain bands and projects affiliated to the great swarming ferment of the Cardiacs tradition tend to repeatedly pepper ‘Misfit City’ coverage. This particular gig packs a bunch of these together like a explosion of overnight mushrooms (appropriately, since the tang of a particular kind of psychedelia hangs over it).

Up in the curator role are M U M M Y, the psychogothadelic thrumming of Jo Spratley and ex-Cardiac/Dark Star/Levitation-eer Bic Hayes. Bic’s also part of the motorik lysergic driving-machine ZOFFF (who’ll be playing their own set towards the end of the night, fresh from their recent show backing Damo Suzuki). ZOFFF pull together plenty of people from the Brightonian psychedelic axis – including Chris Anderson, who’s bringing along both his shipwreck-and-dreams songwriter project Crayola Lectern and his spacegazing pop band La Momo.

Friendly one-man personality cult Kavus Torabi will take another bare-bones acoustic tilt at the ornate songs he’s written for Knifeworld and the Monsoon Bassoon, while touching on the inspirations he’s shared in his work with Cardiacs and Gong. Psych-tinged folk baroque is provided by Emily Jones and Arch Garrison (bringing liberal dashes of Cornwall and Wiltshire psychogeography with them) and there’s frowning, shadowy, mordantly hilarious Kinks-Gothic popcraft from Stephen Evens. Also on board are noisy punk-prog/alt.pop trio Ham Legion, and Chloe Herington’s experimental music project V A L V E (who make obliquely thoughtful, oddly accessible music from bassoons, melodicas, tape-loops, concert harps, electronics, doorbells and things found on walks and in skips).

Just about the only band here that’s not a ‘Misfit City’ regular is Hurtling, the alt./dream-rock trio featuring Jen Macro and Jon Clayton (formerly of stuffy/thefuses and Something Beginning With L) with Smallgang/Splintered Man bassist Simon Kobayashi. Boasting sturdy support musician links to My Bloody Valentine, Shonen Knife Graham Coxon, Robyn Hitchcock and Bitch Magnet (and taking inspiration from alt.rock heroes such as The Breeders, Sebadoh and Warpaint), they’re possibly the best connected band on the bill: also one of the most straightforward, and a link to the Great Escape outside.


 
Throughout, you’ve got illuminations from south coast psych-lighters of choice Innerstrings. See below for performance schedule and time; see above for links to the wealth of things I’ve previously written about most of these people; go here for the Facebook event page…

Programme:

2.00pm – doors
3.00pm – Ham Legion
3.40pm – Emily Jones
4.20pm – Crayola Lectern
5.00pm – Hurtling
6.00pm – La Momo
6.40pm – Stephen Evens
7.20pm – M U M M Y
8.00pm – V A L V E
8.40pm – Arch Garrison
9.20pm – Kavus Torabi
10.00pm – ZOFFF
afterwards, until 3.00am – DJ Moke
 

March 2017 – upcoming Brighton gigs – Oscillations V on the 10th (JØTA, M U M M Y, Maskulin); The Real Music Club on the 25th (Brother Twain, Gail Storm Edmunds, Jack Pout)

3 Mar

Here are a couple of imminent Brighton events which caught my attention, initially through their connection with a certain strand of south-coast English psychedelia – gently self-exiled, looking outward from the shore, murmurating in open-sky freedom) which spans contact, membership, inspiration or practical fellowship with the likes of Damo Sukuki, The House of Love, Cardiacs, Stereolab, Levitation, the Lewes Psychedelic Festival et al.

That said, the full range of what you eventually get here, along Brighton’s eclectic seafront, seems to sit itself more in other areas: ‘60s pop and Anglo rhythm-and-blues (Love, Traffic, The Walker Brothers), synthpop, European dance music and broken beats, folk-club fingerpicking, slightly eldritch post-punk noise. Everything meets by the sea.

* * * * * * * *

The first of these two gigs takes place in central Brighton’s rock’n’roll boutique hotel, Hotel Pelirocco – two Regency townhouses turned into a glamour warren. Oscillations have been running free nights of electronic/psychedelic music and visuals there since last autumn, inspired by fifty years of assorted countercultures and altered states of mind: I’m only just catching up with this now.

Oscillations V, 10th March 2017

Oscillations presents:
Oscillations V – JØTA + M U M M Y + Maskulin
Hotel Pelirocco, 10 Regency Square, Brighton, BN1 2FG, England
Friday 10th March 2017, 7.30pm
– free event – information

JØTA is electronic music producer Peter J.D Mason (half of Becky Becky, one-fifth of Cloud and formerly one-thirtieth of Fence Collective. He improvises electro-space-disco-synth-experimental-Soviet-dance tunes on cheap anal/igital synths inspired by the Soviet space programme of the ’50s and ’60s.


 
M U M M Y‘s Jo Spratley and Bic Hayes breathe and drink and eat and live with all the other creatures and plants and beings in England near The Sea. They need very little to survive. They dedicate their noise to the vanishing ones and long to slip through the deep with the seal.


 
Maskulin provides a versatile collection of content generating modern twist on the beats scene. Expect vibrant combinations of genres from the likes of jazz and soul with modern rap to engineer a sound unique within the Brighton music scene.”


 
Also on hand are the “mind-melting visual projections” of Innerstrings, the “lumière” side of the son-et-lumière at Lewes Psychedelic Festival. DJ sets come from from the Oscillations organisers themselves and from DJ MessyTrax: “proud owner of one of the largest private collections of Legowelt vinyl in Fiveways… spinning a selection of tunes old and new, including aliases, side projects, collaborations and remixes… essential slam-jack electronics.”

* * * * * * * *

Later in the month, there’s an airier, gentler evening being staged a step or two westward in Hove, at which one of the newer Brighton bands are making their first live appearance.

The Real Music Club, 25th March 2017

The Real Music Club presents:
“The Triangulation of the New”: Brother Twain + Gail Storm Edmunds + Jack Pout
The Brunswick, 1-3 Holland Road, Hove, West Sussex, BN3 1JF, England
Saturday 25th March 2017, 8.00pm
– information here or here

“The name “Brother Twain” has been rumoured and whispered about on the Brighton scene for a few years now, especially amongst fans of legendary Brighton garage band CLOWWNS. The time has arrived for the Rodes brothers, Étienne and Adrien, to launch the band: drawing influences from classic pop, less classic pop, Krautrock, crooners, bluegrass and film music, it’s grown-up-psych-prog-baroque pop (with a love of circular melodies and unexpected chords via guitars, strings and brass).

“Brighton dwellers since the early 2000s, Adrien and Étienne hail from the historic city of Versailles, France. It’s perhaps unsurprising (or inevitable) therefore that their sister went to school with members of Phoenix, and that Nicolas Godin of Air once studied under the benevolent supervision of their father at the Versailles School of Architecture. Adrien previously busied himself with recording under the aliases Topo Gigio and Rec.Tangle for mancunian label Melodic Records, while Étienne joined Stereolab offshoot Imitation Electric Piano (with Simon Johns and Joe Watson) for their second album, before becoming part of CLOWWNS. Most recently, both brothers participated in the live rendition of Tim Smith’s Spratleys Japs album ‘Pony’.

“United by blood and an undying love for a crafty tune (and armed with a long list of tracks written over the last ten years), the Rodes brothers joined forces and got to work in Adrien’s six-meter square studio on the Brighton seafront along with singer/lyricist Miles Heathfield (CLOWWNS, Poppycocks) and drummer Damo Waters (CLOWWNS, Tim Smith’s Spratleys Japs, Electric Soft Parade, Field Music, SLUG), while hired hands played strings and brass. Adrien and Étienne played everything else and everyone chipped in for backing vocals. The Brother Twain debut album has been out since 19th February; this is their debut gig.


 
“Niece of the late trombone legend Rico Rodriquez, Gail Storm Edmunds grew up heavily influenced by reggae, soul, jazz and blues. Having played sessions and toured all over the world with the likes of Eddie Floyd, Terence Trent D’Arby, Heidi Berry and Sacha Stone, she’s pioneers her own “Hippy Soul” sound, blending her strong, rich, powerful yet classical voice to simple, affective acoustic guitar, meaningful songwriting and a catchy, upbeat, positive style. Though Gail’s original debut album ‘Time Is The Master’ (recorded back in 1999) ended up unreleased – and she subsequently took time out for happy motherhood – she is making a comeback (having played a number of festivals last year) with the upcoming ‘This is Hippie Soul’ EP.


 
Jack Pout is a BBC Folk Award-nominated singer/songwriter inspired by the revivalist musicians of the ’60s and ’70s. Jack’s music carries nuances of numerous influences such as John Martyn, Duster Bennett, Bob Dylan and Chris Smither but with an individuality that makes his music inimitably his. In 2015 he released his debut EP “Baksun” and he has just followed that up with the release of ‘Chrono Manual Man’ (an EP of his favourite songs from the ‘40s, ‘50’s, ‘70’s and 2016). Jack continues to play shows across the UK and Europe, playing and hosting stages at numerous festivals: his honest, and often deeply personal, style of writing is married to a love for humour. His live shows are known for their friendly and conversational style with audiences, and feared for his love of puns.”


 

Upcoming tour and festival nods for 2016 – Sussex action at the Lewes Psychedelic Festival (March) and the all-female Her Festival in Worthing (June)

13 Jan

The first of a few pointers towards upcoming festivals and tours happening this year. The first of these are both in Sussex during the spring and summer.

* * * * * * * *

Lewes Psychedelic Festival, 2016

Lewes Psychedelic Festival 2016 (presented by Innerstrings & Melting Vinyl)
All Saints Centre, Friars Walk, Lewes, BN7 2LE, England
Saturday 19 March 2016, 6.00pm
more information
(All-ages event, but under-16s must be accompanied by an adult)

Here’s what they have to say:

“Initially conceived by former Lewes resident Richard Norris (The Grid, Beyond the Wizards Sleeve, Circle Sky) over a pint of Harveys, Lewes Psychedelic Festival was an immediate success, selling out it’s first event way back in 2009. For the first two years, the event was held at All Saints Centre, a beautiful Norman church in the heart of Lewes. In 2012, the event moved to Zu Studios, which again was hugely successful. With mind bending visuals from Innerstrings since the festival’s inception, the event has seen performances from such great bands as The Soundcarriers, The Yellow Moon Band, Voice of The Seven Thunders, Black Market Karma, Himmel – Music For Massed Fuzz Organs, Crayola Lectern, Diagonal, kontakte, Notorious HiFi Killers and The Time & Space Machine. This year, Lewes Psychedelic Festival returns to the intimate 200 capacity All Saints Centre. On word of mouth alone, it’s already virtually sold out, but a few tickets remain available from physical outlets in the south coast area (The Vinyl Frontier, Music’s Not DeadPebbles and Wow And Flutter. These will go fast, so buy now.

The Cult Of Dom Keller will headline this year’s festival. The Nottingham four-piece are a groovy bunch of sonic alchemists, who create whacked-out soundscapes and songs that appear to have been born from another universe: their fuzz-laden psych pop is infectious and consuming and are destined to blow you away. The south London group Virginia Wing are a perfect blend of psychedelic majesty, speaking to everyday anxiety and isolation as well as seeking to evoke an inner world of pastoral fortification. They draw influence from the radiophonic sounds of Broadcast, the kosmische wonder of Cluster and the rhythmic propulsion of This Heat whilst never directly emulating any particular style. We are more than excited to have them join this stellar line-up!


Brighton-based (with a Lewes connection) Soft Walls is the solitude, singular and unique vision of Cold Pumas member and Faux Discx overseer Dan Reeves, who incorporates a broad palette of sonic textures from psychedelic pop to found sounds and ’60s echo. We also needed some youths on the line-up and new Brighton up-and-comers Wax Machine fit the bill. They are pure psychedelic rockers with a love for the ’60s, alongside a contemporary and experimental approach to the hazy, lo-fi sounds of psychedelia.


We are really pleased to have booked Novella after seeing them play an amazing set (with fan Bobby Gillespie in attendance) in London back in May. London-based (but originally from these shores), the band create their own intensively psych-ethereal harmonies and melodic garage sound. Finally, ZOFFF are a south-coast-based psychedelic krautrock band, assembled from various members of the rather brilliant Cardiacs, Levitation, Sons of Noel and Adrian, Clowwns and Crayola Lectern. It was Crayola Lectern’s mind-blowing performance of ‘Trip In D’ at the last Lewes Psych Fest that inspired them to form this collective. Intense and unpredictable, ZOFFF’s performances are the stuff of future legend.”


* * * * * * * *

While the Psychedelic Festival may well have sold out by the time you read this, the next one probably hasn’t: and if you’re female, you might even still have a chance to pitch for a performance slot. Read on…

Her Festival, 2016

Her Festival 2016 (presented by Samurai Nights)
various venues, Worthing, England
Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th June 2016

As befits a town in the Brighton orbit, Worthing has its share of a questioning and revolutionary undercurrent, with challenging countercultural/counter-status-quo ideas being constantly tossed around against that backdrop of Georgian-to-Edwardian seaside gentilities and bland housing developments. Albeit, sometimes this is off in the sidestreets and on the quiet, but it’s promising to hear news that someone there is planning an all-female music festival (with boys and men still welcome, but only in the audience this time). Details have been sketchy for a while (and it’s unclear whether there are going to be any stylistic tendencies or restrictions – they’ve mentioned band and dance stages and an “urban” component, but not suggested that anyone’s likely to be locked out due to not fitting the sound of the show). Here’s what the organisers have said so far:

Her Festival, 2016Samurai Nights presents Her Festival – a brand new festival that aims to lead in showcasing women in music. Held in Worthing, West Sussex, UK, the three day festival will showcase female DJs/bands/urban artists in three fantastic venues including Worthing Pavilion (the Dance Stage) and Worthing Assembly Hall (the Band Stage). Acts will be a mixture of grass roots, emerging and very established headline acts. We will also hold a VIP music industry convention that will hold discussions, workshops and Q&A sessions that will cover topics such as pregnancy in the music industry, radio, entertainment law and booking agencies to name a few. Day/weekend /VIP-industry tickets will be available”

So far the only confirmed act is beatboxer/ambient pop singer Grace Savage (a 2015 beatbox team champion and onetime member of BURD), with more to follow. The organisers are still teasing the audience by asking them to name people whom they’d like to see on the bill. I’d say that any women reading this (whether performers or just attendees) who are in with a chance of getting anywhere near Worthing in the summertime, should take them up on it. They said “grassroots”, so give them grassroots. Any building information and developments can be found here and here as it arrives. I’ll do an update later.

 

Upcoming gigs at the end of July and onwards – Thumpermonkey/The Earls Of Mars/Ham Legion in London; Holly Penfield’s Judy Garland show hits the Hippodrome; The Luck Of Eden Hall tour the UK

25 Jul

Next week sees the first gig (for some time) for one of the most interesting of current British rock bands; some high-gloss cabaret; and the start of a psychedelic pop roadshow travelling around the UK. Read on…

Thumpermonkey @ The Islington, 30th July 2015

Thumpermonkey + The Earls Of Mars + Ham Legion (Guided Missile Special People Club, The Islington, 1 Tolpuddle Street, N1 0XT, London, UK, Thursday 30th July, 8.00pm) – £7.00/£6.00

Thumpermonkey don’t get as much attention as they deserve. It’s possible that this is because they don’t seem to take things seriously, addressing almost everything with a skewed and multi-levelled sense of cryptic grand-baroque geek humour. Just to illustrate this – a current work-in-progress Thumpermonkey song is “something which we’re calling Giraffes, which includes some vague narrative about doing a conga during an asteroid-based extinction-level event.” One of their older albums is called ‘Chap With The Wings, Five Rounds Rapid’ – a wry kill-the-monsters line filched from ‘Doctor Who”s laconic and unflappable Brigadier. In the same spirit as that reference, I’d suggest that while they are serious about what they do, they’re not necessarily serious about the way they do it – like many of my favourite things.

If what I’ve written so far leads you to expect strained, fey, sub-Zappa wackiness, then think again. Both in the flesh and on record, Thumpermonkey are a brooding and atmospheric proposition – seriously musical, travelling from blitzingly heavy quasi-metal riffs to spidery post-rock, from threshing post-hardcore to theatrical mane-tossing prog at a moment’s notice while Michael Woodman’s grand edgy vocals and complex multi-levelled lyrics ride on top like an arcane mahout with an arched eyebrow. They’ve been called “a sustained victory for intuitive cross-pollination” by ‘Prog’ magazine and every gig they play confirms this particular accolade. Here they are playing 419 (a song which at first appears to be one of their more delicate offerings, revealing its intensities later).

The other two bands on the bill are less well known to me, but aren’t short of blurb:

The Earls Of Mars are probably the most original thing you’ll hear all year. At their heart, the band are a ’70s-influenced rock band bringing together jazz, prog, space rock, doom and blues and forming it into a barking mad noise that you’ll either get or you won’t. If you don’t get it then close the door on your way out of the spaceship, as those of us who want to stay are off on a fantastical journey to who-knows-where, with The Earls Of Mars steering the ship. Enjoy the trip, ladies and gentlemen, as it’s going to be a fun ride.

Ham Legion‘s noisy lo-fi pop is punctuated with proggy outbursts, psychedelic breakdowns and passages of cod-metal joy. Tangy and tart guitar, egg noddle bass lines and light crispy drums are smothered in gooey boy/girl harmonies. Eat in or take away. For fans of Cardiacs, Deerhoof, They Might Be Giants, Split Enz, Heavy Vegetable.

Judge for yourselves – here are the videos for the Earls’ ‘Astronomer Pig’ single from last year, followed by some footage of a Ham Legion gig in Brighton a couple of years ago. As for tickets, they’re available here.

 

* * * * *

The day after the Thumpermonkey gig, Holly Penfield plays one of her biggest gigs of the year…

Holly Penfield as Judy Garland

Holly Penfield sings Judy Garland, The Hippodrome Casino, Cranbourn Street, Leicester Square, London, WC2H 7JH, UK, Friday 31st July 2015, 8.00pm) – £15.00 and upwards

Following a triumphant debut last year, Holly returns to the London Hippodrome, singing the songs of the legendary Judy Garland in her own inimitable style. Holly will be joined by her musical director Sam Watts and his magnificent seven-piece band. An unmissable evening for Holly and Judy fans alike, set in the glorious Matcham Room, located inside the Hippodrome Casino – formerly known as The Talk Of The Town, this is the venue of legends and home to Judy’s final London concerts.

Longer-term readers will know that I got to know Holly years ago via her own original ‘Fragile Human Monster Show‘ and the ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album (which I wrote about ages ago – that review’s due a revamp and remount, I think). Both of those, though original songwriter pop, had their own theatrical and psychodynamic aspects which pointed towards Holly’s current work in vivid cabaret (and, latterly, as half of swing revivalists The Cricklewood Cats). As for Holly’s interpretations, she can and does cover cute showbiz camp and heart-tugging pathos within the same performance – you can see a couple of examples below.

Up-to-date information on the Judy concert is here and here, while tickets are available here. A mischievous part of me fancies swapping the audience from Holly’s show with the one from the Thumpermonkey/Earls/Ham Legion gig, and vice versa. I suspect that they all might enjoy it more than they’d expect to…

* * * * *

The Luck Of Eden Hall, 2015

On the same night that Thumpermonkey and co. play, The Luck Of Eden Hall are over from Chicago to play the first of two London gigs, launching a Kickstarter-funded UK tour which will take them to a wide array of venues and mini-festivals around England, Scotland and Wales, accompanied by a shifting cast of local psych heroes, left-field blues artists and quirky alt.pop shoegazers.

As for the headliners, you can expect clear-voiced, well-made classic pop beset by sudden gusts of psychedelic blizzarding. The Luck Of Eden Hall remind me of the drawn-out trucker-and-motorist tussle in ‘Duel’ – they come across like a more sombre Neil Finn or Andy Sturmer being stalked, dogged and sideswiped by Hawkwind, Ride or ‘Saucerful’-era Pink Floyd. Here’s a little evidence:


 

Full tour dates below:

The Luck Of Eden Hall UK tour

 

REVIEW – Various Artists: ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1’ album, 2010 (“an unmapped musical crossroads… one of the most diverse tribute albums imaginable”)

12 Sep
Various Artists: 'Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1'

Various Artists: ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1’

Listen. They’re singing at his bedside.

In June 2008, en route back from a My Bloody Valentine concert, the world fell in for Tim Smith. A sudden heart attack (and in immediate cruel succession, a pair of devastating strokes) failed to kill him, but only just. Now he’s in long-term recuperation, condemned to that long wait in the margins. With his damaged body now his enemy, his brain’s left to flick over the days until something – anything – gets better and his luck turns. This is a sad story. Even sadder, given that many similar stories must shuffle out of hospitals every month.

There’s an extra layer of pain here in that for over four decades Tim Smith was a dedicated, compulsive fount and facilitator of music. As the singer, composer and main player of some of the most eerily intense, unique and cryptic songs ever recorded, he sat at an unmapped musical crossroads where apparently incompatible musics met. In turn, his songs were hymnal, punky and part-classical; shot through with crashing guitars, keyboard trills and mediaeval reeds; festooned with swings and changes. They were sometimes choral, or full of martial pomp or playground squabble. They were sometimes ghostly. They were a damned ecstatic racket, or a parched and meditative whisper. With what’s now become a brutal irony they also frequently fluttered, quizzically, across the distinctions of life and death; sometimes seeing little separation between the two states, sometimes hovering somewhere in between; sometimes seeing as much meaning in the wingbeat of a stray insect as in the scrambling for human significance.

Tim’s rich and puzzled perspective on life and the weave of the world travelled out to a fervent cult following via a sprouting tree of projects – the quaking mind-mash rock of Cardiacs; the psychedelic folk of Sea Nymphs, the tumbledown explorations of Oceanland World or Spratleys Japs. In addition (and belying the manic, infantile mood-swings of his onstage persona) the man was generous of himself. Via sound production, video art or simple encouragement, his influence and peculiar energy spread from feisty indie rock bands right across to New Music performers and bedroom-studio zealots. It spread far wider than his nominally marginal status would suggest. For all of this, Smith never received adequate reward or overground recognition for these years of effort – another sting in the situation (though, having always been a stubborn goat, he’s probably dismissed it).

Yet if he’s been slender of pocket, he’s proved to be rich in love. His praises may not have been sung by the loudest of voices, but they are sung by a scrappy and vigorous mongrel choir, scattered around the houses. The Smith influence haunts cramped edit suites and backwater studios. It lingers in the scuffed shells of old ballrooms, and in the intimate acoustics of a handful of cramped Wren churches in London: it’s soaked into the battered ash-and-beer-stained sound desks of rock pubs. Most particularly, it lives in the memories of thirty years of backroom gigs where people baffled at, laughed at and finally yelled along with the giddy psychological pantomime of a Cardiacs concert; and where they lost their self-consciousness and finally stumbled away with their armour discarded.

And now, all silenced?

No.

In many cases, these same people who yelled and sang from the audience (or, onstage, from beside Tim) would go on to form bands which demonstrated that three chords and a crude truth was far too blunt a brush with which to paint a picture of the world. All of this outgoing wave of energy comes rolling back with a vengeance on ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies’. Put together by Bic Hayes (best known for galactic guitar in Levitation and Dark Star, but in his time a Cardiac) and Jo Spratley (Tim’s former foil in Spratleys Japs), it’s an album of Smith cover versions in which every penny of profit going back to raise money for Tim’s care. In effect, it’s swept up many of those people who sang along with Tim Smith over the years (all grown up now, and numbering characters as diverse as The Magic Numbers, Julianne Regan and Max Tundra) and brought them back for visiting hours.

And they sang outside his window, and they sang in the corridors; and from the ponds and rivers, from the windows of tower blocks and from lonely cottages…

Given Tim Smith’s own eclecticism, it’s hardly surprising that ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies’ is one of the most diverse tribute albums imaginable. Despite the familial feel, the musical treatments on here vary enormously. Lost broadcasts, festooned in unsettling noise, rub up against stately electric folk. Psychedelic grunge balances out colourful playschool techno. Unaccompanied Early Music recreations drift one way, while centipedal Rock-in-Opposition shapes charge off in another. None of this would work if Tim’s songs – seemingly so resistant – didn’t readily adapt. Anyone can get around the shape of a Neil Young song, a Paul McCartney song or even a Morrissey song for a tribute: but these rampant compositions with their peculiar twists are of a different, wilder order. However, every contributor has managed to embrace not only the unorthodox Smith way with a Jacob’s Ladder tumble of chords but also his dense lyrical babble, which grafts nonsense onto insight and the ancient onto the baby-raw. Everyone involved has striven to gently (or vigorously) tease the songs out of cult corner and bring them to light.

Take, for instance, what The Magic Numbers have done with A Little Man and a House. This anguished Cardiacs ode to the 9-to-5 misfit has never seemed quite so universal, slowly pulling out from one man’s chafing frustration for a panoramic view of a worldful of human cogs. (“And there’s voices inside me, they’re screaming and telling me ‘that’s the way we all go.’ / There’s thousands of people just like me all over, but that’s the way we all go.”) The original’s pained South London squawk and huffing machinery noises are replaced by Romeo Stodart’s soft American lilt, while massed weeping clouds of piano and drums summon up an exhausted twilight in the Monday suburbs. Likewise, when Steven Wilson (stepping out of Porcupine Tree for a moment) sighs his way through a marvelously intuitive and wounded solo version of Stoneage Dinosaurs, he takes Tim’s hazy memories of childhood fairgrounds and incipient loss and makes them glisten like rain on a car mirror while sounding like the saddest thing in the world. Even with Wilson’s own formidable reputation behind him, this is immediately one of the finest things he’s ever done – an eerie ripple through innocence; a sudden, stricken look of grief flitting for a moment across a child’s face.

Three of the covers have added poignancy from being connected to ends, to new beginnings, or to particular paybacks. When Oceansize abruptly split up at the peak of their powers, their final word as a band turned out to be Fear (this album’s loving cover of an obscure Spratleys Japs track). Rather than their usual muscular and careening psychedelic brain-metal, they render this song as a soft-hued exit, a fuzzed-up tangle of fairy lights which wanders hopefully down pathways as they gently peter out. Conversely, glammy Britpop anti-heroes Ultrasound set an acrimonious decade-old split behind them and reformed especially to record for this project. Their whirling clockwork version of the Cardiacs anthem Big Ship is all boxed-in and wide-eyed. It bobs along like a toy theatre while the band fire off first pain (“the tool, the tool, forever falling down / planes against the grain of the wood / for the box, for my soul / and my aching heart,”) and ultimately burst into the kind of incoherent, hymnal inclusiveness which was always a Cardiacs trademark – “All of the noise / takes me to the outside where there’s all /creations, joining in / celebrating happiness and joy; /all around the world, / on land and in the sea.” It seems to have worked for them – they sound truly renewed.

Some of Tim Smith’s songs have a strangely mediaeval tone or texture to them, and some have a twist of eerie folk music. These attract different interpretations. Foundling was once a particularly bereft and fragile Cardiacs moment: an orphaned, seasick love-song trawled up onto the beach. Accompanied by elegant touches of piano and guitar, the genteel art-rockers Stars in Battledress transform it into a heartfelt, change-ringing English bell-round. North Sea Radio Orchestra travel even further down this particular line – their bright tinkling chamber music sweeps up the hammering rock parade of March and turns it into a sprightly, blossoming cortege. Packing the tune with bells, bassoon and string quartet, they dab it with minimalism and a flourishing Purcell verve: Sharron Fortnam’s frank and childlike soprano clambers over the darker lyrics and spins them round the maypole.

Deeper into folk, Katherine Blake (of Mediaeval Baebes) and Julianne Regan (the shape-shifting frontwoman for All About Eve and Mice) each take an eerie acoustic Sea Nymphs fragment and rework it on their own. Julianne’s version of the children’s dam-building song Shaping the River adds rattling tambourine, drowsy slide guitar and a warm murmur of voice: it’s as if the faded lines of the song had washed up like a dead leaf at her feet, ready to be reconstructed at folk club. (“Pile some sticks and pile some mud and some sand. / Leave the ends wide, / three against the side, / plug the heart of flow.”) Katherine’s narcotic a-cappella version of Up in Annie’s Room might have shown up at the same concert. A world away from the pealing cathedral organ of the original, it slips away into empty space in between its gusts of eerie deadened harmonizing and Tim’s sleepy, suggestive cats-cradle of words (“Fleets catch your hair on fire. / The fleet’s all lit up – flags, flame on fire…”)

Max Tundra, in contrast, sounds very much alive and fizzing. His pranktronica version of the brutal Will Bleed Amen re-invents it as delightfully warm and loopy Zappa-tinted techno. Its abrupt air-pocketed melody opens out like a sped-up clown car: when a convoluted cone of lyrics punches his voice up and sticks it helpless to the ceiling, former Monsooon Bassoon-er Sarah Measures is on hand to provide a cool clear vocal balance, as well as to build a little open cage of woodwind at the heart of the rush. It’s a terrific reinvention, but perhaps not the album’s oddest turnaround. That would be courtesy of Rose Kemp and Rarg – one a striving indie-rock singer and blood-heir to the Steeleye Span legacy, the other the laptop-abusing keyboard player with Smokehand. Rose is a Cardiacs interpreter with previous form: this time she’s fronting a forbidding glitch-electronica version of Wind And Rains Is Cold with all of the cute reggae bounce and innocence pummeled out of it. While Rarg flattens and moves the scenery around in baleful planes, Rose delivers the nursery-rhyme lyric with a mixture of English folk stridency and icy Germanic hauteur, uncorking its elliptical menace as she does – “Now you remember, children, how blessed are the pure in heart – / want me to take ’em up and wash ’em good?… / Hide your hair, it’s waving all lazy and soft, / like meadow grass under the flood.”

While most of the musicians on ‘Leader…’ could cite Tim Smith as an influence, Andy Partridge was a influence on Tim himself, way back in his XTC days. Three-and-a-half decades later he repays the appreciation by guesting on the dusky autumnal spin which The Milk & Honey Band‘s Robert White gives to a Sea Nymphs song, Lilly White’s Party. Redolent with regret (for more innocent times, before a fall), it covers its eyes and turns away from the shadows falling across the hillside. Partridge’s deep backing vocals add an extra thrum of sympathy: “Let’s not reinvent the wheel, let’s not open that can of worms, / Let’s not say what we did, and play by ear. / Back to square one…”

The backbone of ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies’ however, comes from the contributions of former Cardiacs players reconnecting with the family songbook. As with any family over time, they’re scattered. One of the earliest members, Pete Tagg, now drums for The Trudy, who take the bucketing psychedelic charge of Day is Gone and offer a more down-to-earth spin on it for the indie disco, keeping that heady chromatic slide of chorus but adding a suspiciously blues-rock guitar solo and Melissa Jo Heathcote’s honeyed vocals. One of the more recent Cardiacs additions, Kavus Torabi, brings his band Knifeworld to the party. He hauls a particularly involved and proggy Cardiacs epic – The Stench of Honey – back through a 1970s Henry Cow filter of humpbacked rhythms, woodwind honks, baby squeaks and rattletrap percussion. Double-strength art rock, it could have been a precious step too far. Instead, it’s triumphant, its skeletal circular chamber music salad-tossed by stomping bursts and twitches of joy.

Onetime Cardiacs keyboard player William D. Drake offers a gentler, kinder tribute, taking the shanty-rhythms of Savour and spinning them out into soft Edwardiana with harmonium, ukulele and a gently bobbing piano finale. Drake’s predecessor Mark Cawthra brings an eerie sense of pain to his own cover version: back in the earliest days, he was Tim Smith’s main foil, playing lively keyboards and drums as well as sharing the bumper-car vocals. Now he sounds like the head mourner, taking on the heavy tread of Let Alone My Plastic Doll and sousing it with Vanilla Fudge-slow organ, doubled guitar solos and sigh-to-wail vocals. The twitchy, baby-logic lyrics are slowly overwhelmed by an undercurrent of grief, but the kind of grief that can only come from a older, wiser man.

Under his Mikrokosmos alias, Bic Hayes takes on Cardiacs’ biggest near-hit (Is This The Life) and subjects it to startling psychedelic noise-storms and industrial drum twirling. In the process, he shakes out and enhances its original pathos. Blown splay-limbed into a corner by a tornado of white noise, plug-in spatters and buzzing malfunctions, Bic’s voice is nasal, lost and forlorn. It sings of split and rootless identity against a wall of forbidding harmonium: “Looking so hard for a cause, and it don’t care what it is; / and never really ever seeing eye to eye / though it doesn’t really mind. / Perhaps that’s why / it never really saw.” Although Jo Spratley coos reassurance under ululations of alto feedback, Bic still ends up cowering like a damaged crane-fly under showers of distorted harpsichords and Gothic synths. Bewitchingly damaged.

The last word goes to The Scaramanga Six, the swaggering Yorkshire theatricalists who were the main beneficiaries of Smith production work before the accident. By their usual meaty standards, the Six’s take on The Alphabet Business Concern (Cardiacs’ tongue-in-cheek corporate anthem, packed to the gunwales with flowery salutes) initially seems cowed, as if flattened by dismay and sympathy at Tim’s misfortune. But it doesn’t end there. Starting tremulous and hushed, with nothing but the embers of faith to keep it up, it builds gradually from tentative acoustic guitars and hiding vocals up through a gradual build of electric instruments, feeding in and gaining strength: “and now the night of weeping shall be / the morn of song…” Over the course of the anthem the Six go from crumpled to straightened to proud cheat-beating life. By the end, the recording can hardly contain their vigorous Peter Hammill bellows, as they sweep out in a grand procession with rolling guitars, pianos and extended Cardiacs choirs. It’s a stirring, defiant finale to an album that’s done everything it could to blow away the ghosts of helplessness and to charge up not just an armful of Smith songs but, in its way, a vivid sense of Smith. He might have taken a bad, bad fall; but the humming and rustling vitality of the music, the way that it’s become a spray of vivid lively tendrils reaching far and wide, is an enormous reassurance.

Listen. He’s alive. He’s alive.

Various Artists: ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1’
Believer’s Roast, BR003 (5060243820372)
CD/vinyl/download album
Released: 13th December 2010

Buy it from:
Genepool (CD) or iTunes (download)

Tim Smith online:
Facebook

‘Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1’ online:
Homepage Facebook

ATTN:Magazine

Not from concentrate.

Xposed Club

improvised/experimental/music

I Quite Like Gigs

Music Reviews, music thoughts and musical wonderings

Make Weird Music

Because 4 chords aren't enough

A jumped-up pantry boy

Same as it ever was

PROOF POSITIVE

A new semi-regular gig in London

We need no swords

Static and debris. Skronk and wail. This is music?

:::::::::::: Ekho :::::::::::: Women in Sonic Art

Celebrating the Work of Women within Sonic Art: an expanding archive promoting equality in the sonic field

Ned Raggett Ponders It All

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Headphone Commute

honest words on honest music

Yeah I Know It Sucks

an absurdist review blog

Pop Lifer

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

Archived Music Press

Scans from the Melody Maker and N.M.E. circa 1987-1996

The Weirdest Band in the World

A lovingly curated compendium of the world's weirdest music

OLD SCHOOL RECORD REVIEW

Where You Are Always Wrong

Fragile or Possibly Extinct

Life Outside the Womb

a closer listen

A home for instrumental and experimental music.

Bird is the Worm

New Jazz: We Search. We Recommend. You Listen.

Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

eyesplinters

Just another WordPress.com site

FormerConformer

Striving for Difference

musicmusingsandsuch

The title says it all, I guess!

%d bloggers like this: