Tag Archives: Deaf School

January to March 2020 – assorted London gigs – Holly Penfield at 100 Club (8th March) and with Ian Ritchie at the Fiddler’s Elbow (10th January); skewed surf, pop and acoustica with Kenny Process Team, Keith John Adams and The Happy Couple (13th January); Balkan/Gaelic folktronics with Arhai (18th January); plus Minute Taker’s ‘Wolf Hours’ in Manchester (24th January)

7 Jan

Holly PenfieldIf you missed Holly Penfield’s London launch gig for her ‘Tree Woman’ album back at Halloween last year – or if you attended and wanted to see it again – then she’s looping back on herself and staging another one at the 100 Club on 8th March. For those unfamiliar with her, here’s what I wrote (indeed, here’s what I recycled) last time.

“Raised in San Francisco (and a veteran of the 1980s LA pop scene with the scars to prove it) Holly spent much of the ‘90s writing and performing the psychodramatic one-woman pop show ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in London and elsewhere. A show with such troubled and intense undercurrents that it eventually blew itself apart, it’s now spawned a return… but under very different circumstances. The whirling mirror-glass synths and saxophones of the old days have been replaced by a gritty post-Americana rock band (which growls, gnaws and struts through her songs like a Cash or Waits ensemble) while Holly herself has mostly forsaken standing behind a keyboard (except for when a grand piano ballad calls for that set of skills).

“It’s funny, sad, uplifting and stirring all at once. Once the very embodiment of storm-tossed waif and precarious survivor, Holly’s now a wiser and much happier woman. She still absolutely owns the stage, though, helping herself to a big dollop of the jazz and blues flavourings which shaped her initial development, playing a dash of ukulele and engaging in some zestful shimmying (and some delightfully ludicrous party outfits, worn with wit and flair – it seems as if her recent steps away from cabaret involved at least one sly step back).

“What hasn’t changed is the quality of her singing, and of her songs. While old FHM standards like Misfit, The Last Enemy, puddle-of-grief ballad Stay With Me, and slinking fingersnapper You Can’t Have The Beauty Without The Beast have shed skins and made the transition to the new show, Holly’s also been dipping into a trunk of neglected and mostly previously unheard work, including the tremendous state-of-the-world song Confessions (based around a lyrical hook she once dangled in front of an intrigued Joni Mitchell) and the vivacious Tree Woman (a more recent effort in which she vigorously embraces both her own ageing and the resilience that comes with it).”



 
Holly Penfield & Ian Ritchie, 10th January 2019If you can’t wait until March, Holly and her multi-instrumentalist husband Ian Ritchie (the latter an ex-Deaf School member recently fresh off playing sax on the Roger Waters tour) will be playing another London gig this coming Friday, up at the Fiddler’s Elbow. This one will be an “experimental thirty-minute duo gig of originals with vintage ‘80s drum machine… interesting, quirky,and challenging!”

Although Holly and Ian are going out under their Cricklewood Cats moniker (under which they’ve previously released a few synth-jazz swing songs), theirs has been a long and varied partnership also encompassing cabaret, out-and-out jazz balladry, noisy rock diva songs and the bewitching sequencer-torch-pop of the ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album. So you could expect takes on all of the above and more, including some of Holly’s newer songs. At the moment she’s on a serious creative upswing, and there’s rarely been a better time to see her than now.


 

* * * * * * * *

Kenny Process Team + Keith John Adams + The Happy Couple, 13th January 2020On the following Monday, the reunited and reinvigorated Kenny Process Team launch their own new album, ‘Travlin’ Light With… Kenny Process Team’. Actually, it’s an old one, recorded as a live session over twenty years ago with the band’s 1998 lineup but lost in the abstracted shuffle of the band’s history, which has seen members swap out, disappear, impale themselves on fences and even join Oasis.

Part avant-surf, part Afro-prog and compared in their time to both The Ventures and Captain Beefheart (while proggies will also find parallels with Television and The League of Gentlemen), there’s more on the Kenny Process back story here. In the present, with the addition of Rhodri Marsden as new guitarist (replacing the late Simon King) and thanks to his existing connections with Lost Crowns and Prescott, they’re further cementing their links with London’s current crop of art/prog/psych/cellularists.



 
Also playing is KPT labelmate Keith John Adams. Once Rhodri’s bandmate in zestful 1990s avant-skifflers Zuno Men, for twenty years now Keith has been a solo act coming at acoustic pop from a gently skewed angle, buffeting around friendly lyrical ideas like a sozzled housefly bumping against a lampshade and turning out understated little song-gems as he does so. His accidental forebears might include Robyn Hitchcock, Kevin Ayers; you might also pretend that he’d been dreamed up from some lazy Walthamstow afternoon when Leon Redbone shared a sofa with the young Bill Oddie.



 

Opening the evening is The Happy Couple, the languid instrumental duo formed by Kenny Process drummer Dave Ross and his life partner Judith Goodman, born out of two decades of inseparable love mingling with the inspiration of the Epping Forest woodscapes where they live. Judith plays a variety of open-tuned guitars, predominantly a Weissenborn acoustic slide guitar but also a 4-string tenor and a 3-string cigar box model (plus a mysterious “early English” example which suggests a rewriting of instrumental history). Leaving his drumkit behind, Dave plays a variety of mouth-held lamellophones: a classic American jaw harp, Indian morchangs in both brass and iron, a Norwegian Munnharpe and a mouth bow harp created in Devon. As for the music, it’s a relaxed evocation of companionship, glissando and boing and intersecting rhythms: or, as Judith comments, “it’s about the sounds that happen when we put our sounds together. We just create a world we want to be in.”



 
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Arhai, 18th January 2020

The following Saturday, British/Serbian electronic folk project Arhai slip into the little cellar at the Harrison to deliver their own electro-acoustic atmospheres. A two-decade-long project led by singer/composer Jovana Backovic, they were a traditional Serbian acoustic octet for their first ten years, gradually shifting into electric terrain before dissolving and allowing Jovana to form the current duo with British multi-instrumental specialist Adrian Lever (mediaeval dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, guitar, tambura, Bulgarian lute etc). Now they’re Balkan-cum-Gaelic, intertwining ancient and technological: or, as they put it “rethinking the archetypal modes of music performance in the context of modernity”. Which sometimes means they’re ultra-accessible and synth-quilty in the familiar Clannad model, and sometimes means that they’re off and racing like a cross between izvorna and a hyperspatial hip hop track.




 
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All of the above events will be in London: for the next one, you’ll need to head up to Manchester, where singer, songwriter and electronic pop creator Ben McGarvey, a.k.a. Minute Taker, is unveiling his multi-media performance ‘Wolf Hours’. Ben is no stranger to mixing theatre and music, having already presented a love-and-ghosts story on tour with ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ featuring animations from Ana Stefaniak. ‘Wolf Hours’ is an even more ambitious undertaking – “a unique performance combining mesmerising film with a dynamic live soundtrack. From forbidden love in the First World War, to the pain and rage of AIDS, to contemporary hedonism and heartbreak, ‘Wolf Hours’ explores the stories of gay men at different points in time through their dreams. This series of stunning new short films (directed by John Lochland, Joe Stringer, Kirk Sylvester, Raphaël Neal and Ben McGarvey) are accompanied throughout by Minute Taker performing an intimate musical and vocal score that both builds the atmosphere and pulls on the heartstrings. Visually explosive and emotionally thrilling, ‘Wolf Hours’ transports the audience through pleasure, grief, lust, joy and our collective historical imagination.”



 
In this interview with ‘Superbia’, Ben expounds on the approach he took when putting together ‘Wolf Hours’, which he describes as “jumbled-up memories, fears and fantasies.. It’s presented a bit like late night TV from back in the ’80s and ’90s (when anything queer was relegated to an after-midnight slot!) with different programmes and images emerging out of the static as you drift in and out of sleep… I also decided to include lots of archive footage in the show, which explores the way homosexuality has been portrayed in the media over the years… all of the stuff that finds its way into the subconscious minds of the characters as they lie awake at night, having an effect on how they view themselves and the gay community.” He’s hoping to take the show out on a broader tour much later this year, but for now this is all that you’re getting…

* * * * * * * *
Dates:

Holly Penfield & Ian Ritchie: The Cricklewood Cats
The Fiddler’s Elbow, 1 Malden Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3HS, England
Friday 10th January, 2020, 8.20pm
– no information links, just turn up…

Kenny Process Team + Keith John Adams + The Happy Couple
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Monday 13th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Folk and Roots presents:
Arhai
The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England
Saturday 18th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Minute Taker presents ‘Wolf Hours’
Hope Mill Theatre, 113 Pollard Street, Beswick, Manchester, M4 7JA, England
Friday 24th January 2020, 8:00pm
– information here and here

Holly Penfield
The 100 Club, 100 Oxford Street, Soho, London, W1D 1LL, England
Sunday 8th March 2020, time t.b.c.
– no information links yet
 

July 2014 – through the feed – The Cricklewood Cats (Ian Ritchie and Holly Penfield)

6 Jul

The Cricklewood Cats: 'Shake Your Skeleton'

The Cricklewood Cats: ‘Shake Your Skeleton’

News in on The Cricklewood Cats, a new band formed by a couple whom I’ve been following on and off since the early ’90s. Holly Penfield sings, Ian Ritchie plays everything else. (I like bands in which one member plays “everything else”. Associates, Elephant, no-man – the tradition’s a good one.)

For those of you who don’t know them, both Holly and Ian have long pedigrees. Starting out as a teenaged Glaswegian jazzer with rock leanings, Ian began his career in the mid-’70s playing saxophone for Deaf School, the theatrical Liverpudlian art-rockers who also gave us Madness/Elvis Costello producer Clive Langer. In the ’80s Ian took a left turn into programming, becoming an early exponent of that decade’s techno-pop via his own project Miro Miroe. From there, he moved on to sleek, glossy electronic productions for Pete Wylie (‘Sinful’), Laurie Anderson (‘Strange Angels’) and Roger Waters (‘Radio K.A.O.S’). Amongst other unlikely adventures, he helped to pioneer digital home recording, flung together the ‘Lonely Planet’ theme after a two-hour crash course in ambient downtempo, and played the sax on Wham’s ‘Club Tropicana’. By the early ’90s, he’d also met and married Holly as a result of working on her second album, ‘Parts Of My Privacy’.

A striking singer, Holly had been part of the flash and swill of the 1980s Los Angeles pop scene, into which she’d delivered ‘Full Grown Child‘ (a fairly average, commercially obscure album of New Wave pop-rock featuring, among others, future King Crimsoneer Pat Mastelotto). ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ was a much more psychologically involved work – a thematic dark-night-of-the-soul electronic ballad record, showcasing her passionate vocals, pulsating synths and Ian’s jazz-noir saxophone. It was based on Holly’s live ‘Fragile Human Monster‘ show – part rock torch-song revue, part performance art – which she performed in L.A and around the UK and Europe. Exploring her fractured psyche and pursuing human connection, while putting a contradictory twist on pop star roles, the show was a shamanic exploration of trauma and angst; persistently breaking the wall between performer and audience, and unafraid to fall on its face if it had to.

In some respects, Holly’s development at the time anticipated that of Tori Amos. Both travelled from brash hairsprayed Angeleno rock (‘Full Grown Child’, ‘Y Can’t Tori Read’) onto more eccentric, higher-achieving confessional efforts. Only one of them had hits and a grand piano; but then, only one of them regularly beat up an inflatable Edvard Munch ‘Scream’ doll onstage. The latter was one of the show’s regular features when I encountered Holly and Ian for the first time, one random night in Edinburgh in a year when they’d taken the Fragile Human Monster to the Fringe.

This in turn led to me becoming a regular at FHM gigs back in London at which Holly would deliver her naked-hearted synth ballads, display scars, converse with the audience and deliver climactic primal screams while Ian prowled the stage behind her, playing multiple saxophones and serving both as musical foil and wary backbone. Over the years, a diverse handful of support performers included Tim Bowness (with his occasional ambient folk band Samuel Smiles), Mark Bandola (ex-Lucy Show), psychedelic London songwriters Susan Chewter (Wise Wound) and Dean Carter, and Chapman Stick ace Jim Lampi. With varying degrees of buy-in, reluctance and affection, each were pulled into the culture of the show in one way or another. It was an intense cabaret of madness, compassion, stress relief and ongoing healing. Depending on how you felt on any given evening, it could be touching, ludicrous, therapeutic, alarming… you certainly had to leave embarrassment at the door. It was all too much for one show to contain for too long, and after several memorable years it finally burnt out.

For the last few decades, Ian’s continued his own explorations – early live techno and Big Chill electronica with Shen and Chance Element, ecstatic dance with Urubu, recreating the sax solos from ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ with the Roger Waters band, and innumerable jazz projects. Holly, meanwhile, has made a bigger name for herself in jazz cabaret in London and elsewhere, shaking down familiar standards with her own particular mixture of sass and kook: beyond the wigs and the campery, however, there’s always been a remarkable singer and performer. Over the years, Ian’s been a frequent contributor to Holly’s jazz bands, but they’ve not formed anything together until now.

In some respects – and on the evidence of their first single – The Cricklewood Cats doesn’t fall too far from what Holly and Ian have been up to in recent years. Rather than a return to the synth-pop balladry of ‘Parts Of My Privacy’, it’s a kind of virtual rockabilly with a strong flavour of jump blues and jumping jive. Ian’s “everything else” consists of plenty of saxophones, plenty of programming, bass, backing vocals and the ubiquitous ukelele; Holly’s collaborator on the lyrics is Tanya Chantier, who’s previously contributed to her jazz songs. Shake Your Skeleton’ is a life-affirming rattle-along on lusty, mocking baritone sax, with Holly setting the lighter and more vulnerable aspects of her balladry and cabaret aside in favour of delivering one of her gutsiest alto-range vocals to date. See above for the video cut (by Ian) from footage in ‘The Skeleton Dance’, a Walt Disney short from 1929.

The song pulls off the neat trick of simultaneously sounding faithful, sounding like a revival, and celebrating the art of the virtual band. As a consequence, there’s not much room for originality. All of the life here is in the happy, immediate unity of performance and production; and Ian cheerfully cites Louis Prima, Brian Setzer and The Cure’s 1983 swing diversion ‘The Love Cats’ rather than making any claims for breaking new ground. Still, The Cricklewood Cats seems to have brought out some of that same sense of fun and expression which Ian and Holly brought to the lighter side of the ‘Fragile Human Monster’ shows (yes, there was some of that too). I’m hope that as they grow into the project it becomes more of a channel for some of that era’s breadth of perspective and for Holly’s songwriting voice. Certainly their sheer musicality is intact.

In the meantime, you can download ‘Shake Your Skeleton’ from here. Incidentally, as far as I know there’s no connection with this.

The Cricklewood Cats online:
Homepage

Ian Ritchie online:
Homepage Facebook

Holly Penfield online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace YouTube

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