Tag Archives: Dollboy

March/April 2017 – upcoming London & Hastings gigs – a start to the Folk at the Foundling season (Three Cane Whale on 24th March; Jimmy Aldrige & Sid Goldsmith with Samantha Whates on 28th April); Non-Blank soundtrack Dr Caligari (1st April)

14 Mar

A quick reminder of the two upcoming London concerts launching this year’s Folk at The Foundling season…

“Folk at the Foundling brings traditional music from the British Isles and beyond to the unique surroundings of the Foundling Museum, showcasing folk legends and breakthrough artists. Set in the our intimate Picture Gallery, the evenings offer the chance to explore the Museum and learn about our rich musical past. Guests can wander through the beautiful rooms whilst enjoying a drink, before hearing music from some of today’s best folk artists, brought to you by The Nest Collective.”

Three Cane Whale
The Nest Collective presents:
Folk At The Foundling: Three Cane Whale
The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, St Pancras, London, WC1N 1AZ, England
Friday 24th March 2017, 6.30pm
– information here and here

“Multi-instrumental acoustic trio Three Cane Whale comprises Alex Vann (mandolinist for Spiro), Pete Judge (trumpeter for Get The Blessing and Eyebrow) and Paul Bradley (acoustic guitarist for Scottish Dance Theatre). They combine the influences of folk, minimalism, classical and film music to produce intricate works with a cinematic sweep and intimate delicacy, something “fascinating, remarkable, and impressively original” (‘The Guardian’), in which “the aroma of muddy leaves and old nettles is almost tangible” (‘The Observer’).

“The band’s eponymous debut album was recorded live in an 18th century Bristol church, and chosen by Cerys Matthews as one of her top five modern folk albums in the ‘Sunday Telegraph’. Second album ‘Holts And Hovers’ was recorded in twenty different locations, including churches, chapels, a greenwood barn, an allotment shed, the top of a Welsh waterfall, and the underside of a Bristol flyover: it was awarded ‘fRoots’ Editor’s Choice Album of 2013. Tonight they’ll be performing an intimate unamplified double set.”



 

 
Sid & Jimmy + Samantha Whates, 28th April 2017
The Nest Collective presents:
Folk At The Foundling: Jimmy Aldrige & Sid Goldsmith + Samantha Whates
The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, St Pancras, London, WC1N 1AZ, England
Friday 28th April 2017, 6.30pm
– information here and here

“Acclaimed folk duo Jimmy & Sid (Jimmy Aldrige and Sid Goldsmith) are fast building a reputation for their arresting and moving performances of traditional and original folk song from the British Isles. Their sensitive musical arrangements and stunning vocals bring an integrity to their performances, telling stories of hardship, joy, struggle and celebration. Their second album ‘Night Hours’ has been well-received by critics, with its driving banjo and guitar arrangements alongside close vocal harmonies.

Samantha Whates‘ beguiling voice draws on the contemporary music scene, whilst retaining a strong affinity with the traditional music of her Scottish roots. She has performed throughout the UK and at major London venues including the Union Chapel, the Vortex and Cecil Sharp House: her 2013 debut album of original works, ‘Dark Nights Make For Brighter Days’, has enjoyed critical acclaim and radio play on BBC 6 Music.”



 
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On a different tack, the beginning of April also sees sinister textures massing on a corner of the south coast…

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari @ Kino-Theatr, 1st April 2017Kino-Teatr presents:
‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ – With an Original Live Soundtrack
Kino-Teatr, 43-49 Norman Road, St. Leonards, Hastings, East Sussex, TN38 0EQ, England
Saturday 1 April 2017, 7.15pm
– information here, here and here

“This classic 1920 German silent horror film, directed by Robert Wiene, is considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema. It tells the story of an insane hypnotist (Werner Krauss) who uses a somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) to commit murders. The film features a dark and twisted visual style, with sharp-pointed forms, oblique and curving lines, structures and landscapes that lean and twist in unusual angles, and shadows and streaks of light painted directly onto the sets.

“The live music for this performance is provided by Non-Blank (Oliver Cherer, Jack Hayter, Riz Maslen and Darren Morris) who perform semi-improvised suites of music based on recordings, schemes and strategies made and devised in and around various locations, collections and libraries of sounds. Having sprung from London’s improvised music scene, Darren is a seasoned performer, composer and producer (recent projects include the soundtrack to the Sundance premiered film ‘We Are What We Are’, pre-production of the internationally performed ‘Massive Attack v Adam Curtis’ and touring work with former Beta Band-er Steve Mason). Riz is well known for her long list of recordings and projects under the Neotropic moniker; while Oliver has been trading for the last decade under his musical alias Dollboy. Jack (formerly guitarist with pop band Hefner) has carved out a niche as a pedal steel player, along with his unique story-telling combining electronic loops, samples and traditional instruments.

“Non-Blank use old tape machines, organic/analogue/digital instruments and voices to improvise around and react to each venue they play in, responding to each environment they inhabit. Recent shows (at various venues including the Union Chapel, H20 Finland, the De La Warr Pavilion and Coastal Currents) have included spontaneous compositions involving church organs, a male voice choir, audience members and school children armed with hand bells and bloogle resonators. The group bring their unique and often off-kilter talents in these journeys of discovery: no two shows are alike and it is their aim to bring these performances to as many new audiences as possible, particularly in public spaces.”

(Below is a forty-five video of Non-Blank in action in 2014 at the De La Warr…)

 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – three shows from another packed London weekend – Daylight Music’s Piano Day prelude (with Haiku Salut, Poppy Ackroyd, Gavin Greenaway, Angus MacRae and Oliver Cherer) and a double event for Baba Yaga’s Hut (spaceyness from rock to electronics with The Lucid Dream, Vena Cava and Fragments Of Space Hex on Saturday; art-punk, improv and sensual noise with Hypochristmutreefuzz, Warren Schoenbright and Anji Cheung on Sunday).

25 Mar

Three more London shows for the upcoming weekend. If regular readers are finding it all too predictable to find Baba Yaga and Daylight Music shows listed in these posts, I’d have to agree with you that those guys aren’t the only game in town – it’s just that both of them run a persistently strong game.

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Piano Day, 2016

Daylight Music presents:
Daylight Music 221: Haiku Salut + Poppy Ackroyd + Gavin Greenaway + Angus MacRae + Oliver Cherer
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 26th March 2016, 12.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like event (suggested donation: £5.00) – more information

“For the last event in their current season, Daylight Music is delighted to join in the celebrations for this year’s Piano Day – with piano highlights and delights including lots of artists playing on a baby grand on the Union Chapel stage – in a concert kindly supported by UK publishers Manners McDade.”

Born in Belgrade, Serbia, but resident in Paris for many years, Ivan Ilić is best known for his solo performances of French classical piano music (in particular an acclaimed and controversial 2008 recording of Debussy’s 24 Préludes and a recording of Leopold Godowsky’s left-hand Studies on Chopin’s Études) He also performs music by contemporary composers including Morton Feldman (the subject of his next recording), John Metcalf, Keeril Makan and Dmitri Tymoczko.

Haiku Salut – the Derbyshire-based dream pop/post-folk/neo-everything trio (influenced equally by the evocative film soundtracks of Yann Tiersen and Benoît Charest, the genre-melting electronica of early Múm, and the impressionistic writing of Haruki Murakami) will be setting aside their multi-instrumental skills to play a short piano trio set.

Fresh from her support slot to Jo Quail last week, Poppy Ackroyd will be performing several of her own post-classical piano originals; perhaps making use of field recordings, but certainly incorporating the specific sonic qualities of the Union Chapel space into the performance.

Gavin Greenaway (whose work as composer and conductor covers an extensive variety of film scores, Paul McCartney’s oratorio ‘Ecce Cor Meum’, the 2012 Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant and assorted theme park and sporting events) previews his “immediately engaging, unashamedly melodic and deeply personal” solo piano album ‘Il Falco Bianco’ on Tenuto Records, which takes in alternating flavours of post-minimalism, concert-hall majesty, jazz and prepared piano (with eighty-eight table tennis balls).

Angus MacRae (who has composed for and in conjuction with filmmakers, choreographers, theatre pieces, animations and photography exhibitions) performs pieces from his piano repertoire which “blend melancholic melodies with minimalist structures and rich, atmospheric electronics”.


 

In between the acts, Oliver Cherer – a.k.a. ambient isolationist-turned-pagan folkscaper Dollboy – will explore the inside of the piano.

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Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
The Lucid Dream + Vena Cava + Fragments of Space Hex
Electrowerkz @ Islington Metal Works, 5 Torrens Street, Islington, London, EC1V 1NQ, England
Saturday 26th March 2016, 8.00pm
more information

Baba Yaga's Hut, 26th March 2016The first of two Baba Yaga gigs for the weekend stretches its fingers out across psychedelia, noise and spacetronica.

The Lucid Dream meld a variety of factors into their sound. A Seeds-style, garage-rock sense of the groove; mechanistic drums which flail like a dogged threshing machine with an ‘Unknown Pleasures’ fixation, pinning the sound to the ground; spacious, folded-over guitar contrails which travel from chilly vapour to scalding smoke in a couple of heartbeats. They sound as if they spring from a West Coast town that’s swapped its soul with the most blasted Motown-less end of Detroit or the frowning shadow-Philadelphia of ‘Eraserhead’. They’re actually from the relatively unravaged streets of Carlisle.


Bristol-based Vena Cava are “a noise rock band that enjoys frequent flirtations with shoegaze, space rock and no wave” Well, that covers most of the hang-out-and-rattle scenes. They also call themselves “sludgegaze”, which more or less nails it – guttering mantra-riffs which start out like Lush or Cranes taking on ‘Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun’ and end up pulping themselves against a grille in a welter of grinding distortion.


 

Fragments Of Space Hex flitted across these pages late last year when they played More News From Nowhere up in Walthamstow. An electronic confabulation of dub-techno musician Ciaran Mackle (Ashplant) and drone-kosmischian Andrew Nixon (Deathcount In Silicone Valley), they’re part BBC radiophonic, part Germanic oscillators and part Bakelite space-age, layering in bits of antique broadcast and hands-on synth lines in their rippling, lapping, pulsescapes.



 

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Hypochristmutreefuzz, 2016

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Hypochristmutreefuzz + Warren Schoenbright + Anji Cheung
Birthdays, 33-35 Stoke Newington Road, Dalston, London, N16 8BJ, England
Sunday 27th March 2016, 7.00pm
– free event – more information

To round off the week, Baba Yaga offers a free show featuring “three fantastic bands.”

Ghent art-punk fivesome Hypochristmutreefuzz headline, folding together sturdily uncomfortable but compelling riffs and musical figures (in the King Crimson/Les Savy Fav vein), punk drawls and a space-rocking burble of echoing synth. The music’s smart, bright, cheeky and oblique: like some mocking street-genius eating an ice-cream cone at you. I can also hear some of the clanging swagger of long-lost ‘90s art-hooligans Campag Velocet (although rather than dropping names, puns and flakes of Nadsat, this band tend to yank ideas from the floating debris at the top of the mind). I’m intrigued.


 

London-based noise/improv duo Warren Schoenbright are Daniel McClennan on drumkit, Matthew Pastkewicz on electronics and a shuffled deck of noises. When I listen to them, they remind me of the hackle-raising anticipatory stillness of Bark Psychosis on ‘Scum’, or of the eerie King Crimson sextet improvs from the mid-‘90s (murky, pulmonary, oft-detonating free-instrumental ghost-rides – once described by ‘Q’ as “ambient music for giants”, which is a phrase that’s far too good not to steal when you need it). Hissing, spitting drum improvisations and head-slithers from a jazz corner combine with boiling brewing ambient vapours from the electronic side to form spectacular instrumental illuminations.

Dynamically speaking, it can go from all-out drum hammering and scourscreech to tense gaps and lacunae in which the sound withdraws and poises. Often it sounds like slow-motion night trains caught in a series of stretched-out near misses, watched from the goods-yard shadows by a pair of twitchy, punchy hobos. Here’s fourteen minutes of live set from 2014, to show you what I mean.


 

Multi-instrumentalist and sound-sculptress Anji Cheung might make unsettling ritual drones out of frantically overdriven noise and subterranean bass frequencies, but she also murmurs sensual, semi-comprehensible fragmentary monologues on top; or brings in other women to add their own voices. It’s a compelling mix, and one which adds body – often a literal and living impression of thinking, human body – to the often deliberate alienating and dehumanising world of noise music. Some of Anji’s pieces sound like Raudive experiments (capturing a dead voice on bared electrical wires), or like an encounter with an occult ritual caught in the kink of a broadband cable. Some explore cruelty and subjugation, others the vulnerability of natural environments; some end in hypnotic folk songs. This noise may have been shaped by industry and electronics; but its exploring roots continue to grow deeper and downwards.


 

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Next up – more news on Piano Day around the world…
 

Early September London gigs, part 3 – experimental pop in Brixton on the 9th, folk and darkwave in Bethnal Green on the 11th, a Daylight Music melange and a Tim Smith garage-fizz fundraiser on the 19th

9 Sep

More upcoming September gigs, from tomorrow through to Saturday 19th

a.P.A.t.T. + Tom O.C. Wilson Ensemble + 4tRECk + Some of My Best Friends (The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, UK, Thursday 9th September 2015, 8.00pm) – £6.00/£7.00

a.P.A.t.T. , 2015

a.P.A.t.T. , 2015

A Brixton evening of skewed and experimental pop, shading off into other directions including R’n’B, improvised instrumentals and assorted prankery. (Age restriction – 18 years minimum)

The a.P.A.t.T. of today take a skilled yet cheeky approach to playing progressive pop that owes as much to Kurt Schwitters and the Chapman Brothers as it does to ABBA and Zappa. In touring new album ‘Fun With Music’, a.P.A.t.T. have condensed their vision-quest into forty-five minutes of hooky, style-busting live band material, evading capture at every turn. This is the band that swaps instruments live mid-track and has even run its own small country for an evening: it’s a restless and relentless take on 21st century music and performance through a lens of knowing, winking, quintessentially British humour.

The Tom O.C Wilson Ensemble offers forward thinking pop music that combines classic songwriting values with boundless musical curiosity. Wilson describes himself as “a composer and performer driven by the desire to create music that doesn’t exist but should”, and his work (ranging from experimental pop albums to concert pieces for amateur orchestras) has won praise from Field Music, Michael Finnissy and Devendra Banhart among others.

The USSB of Hamburg-based Some Of My Best Friends is a Unit of Science, Socialism and Booty. Some Of My Best Friends use tunes and words. Some Of My Best Friends don’t approve of unnecessary effort. Some Of My Best Friends never travel with more than one case. Think psycho dub, garage soul, trap, and Karl Marx’s booty in sequin overalls.

In existence for years and years, Sam Callow’s 4tRECk project makes music based around spontaneous improvisation, chance, using various instruments (piano, guitar, violin, accordion, home-made stringed instruments, percussion, voice) the “wrong” way, ideas, and detailed composition. The results are broad, with a melancholic side.

More info here, and tickets here.

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Friday 11th sees the launch of a “new regular night, bringing you new sounds and non-traditional world music, folk, contemporary classical, trip hop and downtempo music. We start with some truly breathtaking bands…” This kind of blarney could be an attempt to heat up some very thin and bland material indeed, but the people behind Whispers & Hurricanes are Chaos Theory, who already sweat bullets to bring interesting jazz, post-prog, metal and post-hardcore into and out of London, so I think we can trust them. Here’s the bill:

Whispers & Hurricanes, 11th September 2015Mishaped Pearls + Seventh Harmonic + TEYR (Whispers & Hurricanes @ The Sebright Arms,, Friday 11th September 2015, 7.30pm) – £6.00/£8.00

Seven-piece band Mishaped Pearls are at the forefront of a very exciting new wave of UK folk. Their adventurous song combination of the ancient and the new finds an echo in their musical make up – banjo, saz baglama, bodhran, violin and mandolin mix with acoustic guitar, keyboards, electric bass and drums, all led by the mezzo-soprano voice of Manuela Schuette. Their music’s roots in tradition expand into progressive folk and rock, eastern modal music and shows elements of contemporary classical influence. Their most recent album ‘Thamesis’ has received outstanding reviews across the media.

Consisting of multi-instrumentalist and composer Caroline Jago and drummer Lesley Malone (both also of Sol Invictus) plus singing violinist Éilish McCracken, Seventh Harmonic are a neoclassical darkwave ensemble creating sensual euphoric epics that draw on a great diversity of influences. The music blends an intoxicating kaleidoscope of rhythmic intensity and soaring vocals with ethno-symphonic overtures, defying categorisation yet always beating with a dark romantic heart.

Forged amongst the hustle and bustle of North London’s folk scene, TEYR (“3” in the Cornish language) are a trio of formidable musicians who showcase the many sounds of the British Isles. With roots running from Ireland to Wales to Cornwall, James Gavin (guitar and fiddle), Dominic Henderson (uilleann pipes and whistles) and Tommie Black-Roff (accordion), the players thrive on close interplay and pushing the possibilities of acoustic music. Having met on the traditional music scene through late night sessions, each performer holds an intuitive sense of folk music, evident in their deft arrangements and compositions. The trio draws influence from neo-folk groups such as Lau, Kan and Lúnasa, whilst harnessing an innovative combination of strings, reeds and voices. With this distinct mix, TEYR strike an enigmatic path through the current folk wave.

Tickets from here – note that this is another 18-and-over event.

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Admittedly the following is late rather than early September, but if you look forward to Saturday 19th you can anticipate spending from noon until early afternoon admiring architecture to a soundtrack of chamber classical, contemporary folk and experimental pop, and then head into the fringes of south-west London for something a little scruffier and garage-friendly.

In conjunction with the Open House London Weekend (which takes in their home venue of the Union Chapel as well as a wealth of other fantastic London architecture – check it out), Daylight Music are doing a special double-length all-ages Saturday session. Details below…

Daylight Music 199

Daylight Music 199: Sean O’Hagan, Ellie Lovegrove/Illumina, Pip Mountjoy + Elephant (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, UK – Saturday 19th September 2015, 10.00am-2.00pm) – free entry, suggested donation £3.50

Sean O’Hagan is a legend of the indie scene, initially from his work in Microdisney and latterly from his time in The High Llamas who have been following their own lights for the past eighteen years, making records and essentially occupying their own genre in doing so. Their music is timeless; elements of retro and modern share the space, creating a unique time and place that is outside the lines of history as we experience it. Today Sean will be providing a solo performance.

Consisting of Ellie Lovegrove (trumpets) and Richard Moore (church organ), classical chamber music duo Illumina were formed in 2012 for a bespoke private recital and enjoy performing a wide variety of music, including works by Handel, Bach, Purcell, Stanley, Elgar, Damase, Takemitzu, and Eben.

Up-and-coming singer-songwriter Pip Mountjoy has been championed by BBC Introducing. She has toured the UK extensively, supporting the likes of Ryan Adams, John Smith, Slow Club, playing festivals such as Glastonbury, Isle of Wight and Cambridge Folk, and leaving audiences “simultaneously entertained, depressed, amused, bemused and delighted.”

Elephant is an intriguing creature hand reared by Lymington-based Alex Hall. Armed with a laptop and a modest collection of instruments, he set forth in piecing together and recording a collection of material inspired by his love of experimental indie, ’60s surf pop and more contemporary lo-fi electronic music. This is the result.

Approximate timings:

  • 10.00am Doors
  • 10.30am Elephant
  • 11.30am Illumina
  • 12.30pm Pip Mountgrove
  • 1.30pm Sean O’Hagan

In between, there are musical interludes by unsigned indie-folk duo Swallow & The Wolf (about whom there’s an ever-growing buzz) and by Jack Hayter (the multi-instrumentalist perhaps best known for work with Darren Hayman and Hefner, and on this occasion providing pedal steel improvisations similar to his Dollboy work plus “the odd jazz standard” though his solo performances of his own engagingly battered folk songs are also well worth seeing).

More information on the concert is here https://www.facebook.com/events/446360282212545/

In the evening, in Kingston-upon-Thames, there’s a benefit gig: another in the ongoing series of support fundraisers for the cruelly-stricken Tim Smith of Cardiacs. Even if Cardiacs in the raw, uncompromising original isn’t quite your thing, if you’ve got any interest in slightly complicated, roughened pop and garage-band grit, go along anyway. These are among the warmest of gigs…

From The Pond, 19th September 2015

From The Pond: a benefit for Tim Smith featuring Redbus Noface + 7shades + Sterbus + t.b.c. (The Fighting Cocks, 56 Old London Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, London, KT2 6QA, UK, Saturday 19th September 2015, 7.00pm) – £10.00

“A multi-faceted psychedelic pop-punk benefit gig… four extraordinary bands (all Cardiacs-y), beautiful and exclusive merchandise… every penny raised goes to Tim.”

Redbus Noface is the band project from latterday recording engineer and long-ago Cardiac Mark Cawthra. The first Redbus Noface album, ‘#1 If It Fights The Hammer, It Will Fight The Knife’, was released in 2011 and represents many years of Cawthra songwriting and musical ideas – a sturdy, beautifully crafted art-pop gem in the tradition of assorted English mavericks such as XTC.

Led by Neil Spragg, 7shades are a musical project which “pays tribute to the music of Tim Smith and Cardiacs – but with all original music” – a sometimes-nine-piece band delivering vigorously convoluted pop and blurts of punky, proggy, psychedelic noise, all equipped with a fantastical and humorous edge and no fear of either looking or sounding ridiculous.

Sterbus is from Rome, but his musical heart is in the shaggier, dreamier end of 1990s Britpop and American indie rock (Blur and Cardiacs, Elliott Smith and Nirvana, Supergrass and Pavement) and also delves happily into prime prog (with King Crimson, Zappa, Porcupine Tree and the fuzzier rockier chunks of the Canterbury scene). Self-releasing – and working mainly solo – he’s mixed this menu into a series of albums of warm double-jointed oddpop. Returning to the Fighting Cocks for his second Smith benefit gig, he’s performing in duet with his regular band foil Dominique D’Avanzo (him on guitar, her on clarinet, recorder and mouth harp, and both of them singing) for what he describes as “something very Sea Nymph-y and full of chords that Tim would love.”

Sadly, one of the scheduled bands has had to pull out… but if you’re still interested in the garage-rocker sounds of The Spencers (who “make noises. Loud noises. Noises that make you all happy and sad and angry… and sometimes, all at the same time” via a grime of guitars, low-budget organs and rock-siren vocals, plus distinctly Cardiacs twists of wandering harmonies and attention-deficit mood‘n’pace changes) here’s a taste of them anyway.

The event will be compered by writer and comedian Robin Ince (he of ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage‘) who’s apparently “bringing a friend. And may be doing a little music.” There will also be visuals by South Coast animator Cyriak Harris, whose hilarious, playful and slightly disturbing videos have been a YouTube staple ever since he delivered a monster-movie ‘EastEnders’ tribute to the BBC nearly a decade ago…

Ongoing news regarding From The Pond (including any last-minute substitutes for The Spencers) is here and tickets are here.

More September gigs shortly, plus a look at October and further on.

CONCERT REVIEW: Autumn light, part 1 – Daylight Music presents Directorsound/Candythief/Jack Hayter @ Union Chapel, Islington, London, 28th September 2013 (“decency, enthusiasm, a place to gather and music’s qualities of balm and binding”)

24 Apr

This way in...

This way in…

In some respects, when you’re chasing music, being broke is easy. Almost everyone sympathises with it (not least the musicians themselves). A bigger challenge is to keep up with both music and a young family: neglect either, and you feel sick at heart. Chances fly past and it sometimes seems as if, whatever you do, someone’s going to get disappointed.

My own, fairly recent family is typical in this. Getting us all together behind one piece of music, at one time, can be tricky. Regular readers will already know that I like music in all its forms – from scream to coo; from four-square pop craftsmanship to impulsive tangle-ups; from stroke to slap, from massed strings to static. In the face of this indiscriminate barrage, my wife prefers her music to be more ordered and comfortable. (We did enjoy a freak one-off bonding over some Belgian avant-jazz six years ago – marriage always has its surprises). As for Oscar, at two-and-a-half years old he hasn’t settled on absolute likes yet; but as he hones his toddler free-improv skills and makes up scrambled songs about the Gruffalo, making musical noises with any convenient object (or watching other people do it) fascinates him.

Well, if you’re broke, you track down free gigs – as for the other challenge, go looking for something family-friendly. Hiding in plain sight in the middle of north London, Daylight Music offers both, hosting fortnightly pay-what-you-like triple bills beneath the piling, bounding Victorian-Gothic rooftops of Union Chapel. Persuading Clare and Oscar to go is easy. It’s a single bus ride away; it’s in the early afternoon; it’s mostly acoustic. Apparently, there’s cake. I think that’s the clincher. We go.

Inside, we find something like a church fête. The merchandise stall nuzzles up against Christian Aid posters; and yes, there’s cake – people volunteer to bake and bring it in. Beneath the Chapel’s bold and cavernous octagon of elevated brickwork, a gentle, meandering throng of people criss-cross the aisles like drowsy autumn bees, settling gradually into the wooden pews. Children’s faces are dotted around the audience – happy or distracted toddlers, anxious infants who’ll be smiling at the thumps and arpeggios later. During breaks in performance, a strikingly tall and kind-looking lady called Caitlin cat-steps over to the grand pipe organ and plays us a weave of half-melted pop hits and memory-songs. Despite the Chapel’s imposing scale, this is all remarkably cosy.

In recent years, unfriendly rumbles have rattled round the woodwork of the more family-friendly, acousti-folky end of music. Certain commentators have been drawing ominous conclusions about a resurgent conservatism, the rejection of multiculturalism and the stealthy rehabilitation of a rigid and stratified Britain strapped into place by ersatz traditions. It’s an uneasy picture, not least because the distaste drives so many things before it – farmer’s markets, bespoke festivals, the parodification and commodification of working-class folk culture, even the innocuous folk-rock of Mumford & Sons are all rolled up into a looming kipple-spectre of incipient English fascism. You could imagine the same questionable bile being aimed at Daylight Music – at the grand church setting, the tea-and-cakes, the shortage of outright punk and smoke, the Mothercare cups, even the efforts to make people comfortable.

Look a little more closely, and the cheap shots are belied. There’s a faint fray of urbanism to Daylight Music and to the Chapel – a slight scuffing and engriming in the Victorian iron and woodwork; a dash of non-conformism (both with and without the capitals) to the gathering and its setting. There are glimpses of more lived-in faces punctuating the young professionals, yummy mummies and cultured grandparents (hard-bitten elderly hippies, tattooed ex-bruisers; that nervy look which struggling musicians get, two decades into lean times). There’s that mingling of quiet anxiety with generosity which hangs around the trestle-table food counter, raising money for the homeless. Indeed, there’s even something of the trade union fund-raiser to Daylight Music.You sling your voluntary contribution into a plastic bucket at the door; you’re smiled at; you feel like part of something bigger and more inclusive, and a little more generous.

Daylight Music's Ben Eshmade - making us an offer we won't refuse.

Daylight Music’s Ben Eshmade – making us an offer we won’t refuse.

Although plenty of people are involved, Daylight Music is primarily another outcropping of enthusiasm from Ben Eshmade: broadcaster, promoter, occasional French horn blower and the man behind Arctic Circle, Chiller Cabinet and other warm-spirited musical things with cold names. Ambling onstage to introduce acts and deliver Daylight parish notices, Ben’s the gentler kind of presiding presence. Despite his amiable, bumbling manner (part distracted curate, part Sunday scholar and part walk-leader) it’s clear that there’s expertise and resolve hidden beneath those layers of fuzz and softness. I suspect that he knows everything that’s ticking over throughout the afternoon. Ever so slightly, there’s a sense that Daylight Music are holding off the darkness of ignorance in a matter-of-fact way and with the simplest of tools – decency, enthusiasm, a place to gather and music’s qualities of balm and binding. If London was flattened by meteorites or missiles tomorrow, you get the impression that Ben and the rest of the Daylighters would be dusting themselves down and going around afterwards – knocking at the fragments of doors; rigging tarpaulins and mending guitars; ensuring that everyone was given a flapjack while we put society back together.

Jack Hayter, at work.

Jack Hayter, at work.

Today’s first act seems as if he’s already been through a little war or two. Looking like a man carved out of driftwood (and dwarfed by the Chapel’s glowing rose window) a slightly battered Jack Hayter is suffering, though not on our account. He’s got toothache, and he might have managed to give himself organophosphate poisoning this week from accidentally squirting dog-flea killer in his eye. He’s taking it well, though: downbeat afflictions and mishaps seem to suit him. Later on, he’ll be singing “I’ve got teeth like tombstones, skin like clay – / well, it could be the scurvy, but anyway.. / The symptoms will fade if you come around / tomorrow – well, I was thinking, I’ll impress you somehow…”

Despite twelve years of on/off solo work (plus bandwork with Spongefinger and Dollboy) Jack seems perpetually fated to be known from his Jack-of-all-trades period with Hefner – when he was Darren Hayman’s handy sidekick, the have-a-go guy playing pedal steel and anything else which the others couldn’t manage. Watching him up there by himself with just his acoustic guitar (and a voice that’s not so much husky as husk), I can’t think of him as anything else but his own man. Both he and his songs are of a part: stubbed and illuminated by poverty and handiwork, scraped down to the bumpy grain and crafted to the true.

His Devon-gone-Estuary accent rattling against his throat, he sings movingly – even elegaically – about the come-and-go of Margate seafront, capturing in fingernail sketches hints of dereliction, the sweep of world currents, and the ongoing business of life: “Seahorse eggs, bladder wrack, / starfish in the sand, / and the Balkan girls on the West Beach with their prams.” With wryness and fellow feeling, he sings about being short of money (“it just sits in my wallet / rehearsing its final goodbye…/ Every letter that hits the welcome mat / is a fancy shade of brown,”) and shifts seamlessly between the metaphysical and the bare-boned personal. (“Trust is just belief without evidence. / Faith is a river that leads to the light. / So I’ll write songs… / so we can sleep better tonight.”)

Jack Hayter - songs of tall ships, peeling paint, old aircraft and weathered people.

Jack Hayter – songs of tall ships, peeling paint, old aircraft and weathered people.

While there’s a soft centre to his songs, Jack’s a long way from that breed of walking-pullover songwriters who fluff up the average acoustic night. I mentioned driftwood earlier, but perhaps weathered garden sheds are better comparisons: those unintentional brittle monuments to ordinary men’s lives and their fumbled, uncompleted dreams. Gaps and splinters in the planking; fugs of memories of hard work and shaping, of small private failings and imaginary wickedness.

There are snags in these songs. In one rippled, helpless brooding on love and mistakes Jack casts wildering, dissonant chords in amongst the slash and finger-picking. He passionately rasps fragments of revealing (“your freckled arms wrapped around to drag me under or set me free… / She puts her trust in lucky charms… / Every time we go to pieces, every time we go to war,”) with his bleached, crumpled vocals making them sound like damaged photographs held fearfully at fingertips, their significance lingering even as their colours and clarity parch.

Where Jack truly comes into his own, though, is when he blends these roughened surfaces and threadbare textures with a broader scope: the hauntings of memory, perhaps, or a drunken fantasy. I Stole The Cutty Sark is the latter, a boozy-dream-come-lover’s-bet in which Jack’s decrepit old soak of a narrator imagines commandeering the famous old Greenwich clipper and sailing it (topgallants filled with drunkard’s breath) across south London parkland and streets to serenade his girl at Lee (“I bet she’d sleep with a man who’s got a tall ship…”). It snatches romance from the brink of the ludicrous – even restores a little dignity and life to its own shipwrecked subject.

'Misfit City' Jr. at play - Oscar enjoys the show.

‘Misfit City’ Jr. at play – Oscar enjoys the show.

Another antique vessel – this time a plane – haunts The Shackleton: a post-war sub-hunter haunting the north-eastern coast in the 1960s, droning overhead while lonely Cold War teenagers pursue the wrong people, go through pregnancy scares and flinch from dreams of the mushroom cloud. From these elements, and from two tales of shredded correspondence in sorry little boxes, Jack spins out an aching kitchen-sink ballad of how people repeat their mistakes, neglect their cues, fail to be protected; in the end, how they come to miss what they feared and learn (too late) to love what they once only took for granted. He calls all of this time-travel. Oscar, too young to understand any of it, is still fascinated by the plaintive bony man onstage with his exhausted face and his air of dessicated kindness; the songs lolling from his guitar.

A few things about Candythief take me back to that wrangle which I mentioned earlier – the one about the politics of folk music. Superficially, they seem worlds (and perhaps a property band or two) away from Jack Hayter. As driving force and songwriter, Diana de Cabarrus has learned to be flexible while leading a Lego-flexible band lineup which clicks and pops available members into place as and when possible. This afternoon they’re a duo – Diana fronting on lipstick-red guitar, with Jason Dickinson’s vigorous fiddle playing and vocal harmonies adding some friendly sinew to her songs.

Part of a Daylight Music experience - baby cups, toys, Victorian woodwork, and Candythief in the background.

Part of a Daylight Music experience – baby cups, toys, Victorian woodwork, and Candythief in the background.

There’s nothing wrong with Candythief’s craft – it’s their cleanliness that jolts a little, after Jack’s scuff and scrape. Diana’s taste for adding a little crunch to her guitar is offset by her occasional dashes of loopage – choir-lady codas, little ziggurats of arpeggios – while Jason’s all-around virtuosity is further buffered by his beaming, ready-to-please showmanship. Their cheerful confidence extends to each other and to the audience; they deliver updates and clear intros at every opportunity, they’re nicely turned-out… They could hardly be more iconic of the modern, middle-class, tech’ed-up professional folkie if they tried.

Still, it’s churlish to snap at them for their impeccable diction, or for the fresh-faced, well-brushed aspect which they bring to their music and manner – after all, no-one snaps at Kate Rusby for making the effort. A songwriter’s voice finds itself while working through all manner of factors – family, shoes, regions, songs caught up from records or by ear, the day-jobs cadged on and survived, the places traveled and the things seen in passing. Diana’s own background (taking in a desert childhood and links with King Creosote and lo-fi Fence Records folk) suggests that there’s more to her than the assured, well-groomed perpetual-debutante which she presents as. Listening past the image doesn’t necessarily reveal all of this, but it does reveal a songwriter of thoughtfulness and impact behind the cool tones and bright sounds.

Candythief-in-chief - Diana de Cabarrus

Candythief-in-chief – Diana de Cabarrus

Not just that, but Diana proves to have a taste for mournful reflection which parallels those scrappier, plangent Hayter regrets. Her songs are windows onto other lives, onto which her own feelings overlap to etch away the politeness with a soft, stubborn acid. Many of the subjects are other women; such as the young girl at the centre of one particular time-blurred song, in which you can’t be sure whether Diana is looking at a daughter or niece, at a stranger, or at herself. Whoever it is, Diana appears to be both looking towards future journeys and looking back on them from that future, her responses a mixture of concern, solidarity and trepidation. (“Your face was so smooth – / you had no idea.”)

In the sleeve-plucking Time In The Tin Diana protests at how everyday lives are pecked away and blurred by the waste and distraction of marketing: “Please don’t spend the hours staring at the distant shrines in shopping malls, / the speechless saints in magazines and city walls… /With our minds thus occupied / we didn’t see our hands get tied… / Who dares tell you good enough / means buying into all this stuff / while the thoughts inside your head / are dismissed, remain unsaid?” As with the best political songs, the polemic is tempered by the personal, reflecting “summer was discovery – now the slightest wind chills me, / and I’ve set nothing aside. / I’ve only scattered thoughts to hide / from quicker clock face hands, from rain that turns it all to sand. / A bit more life is in the can: with hands outstretched we try to cram / every last taste and scent and breath / that rings of life, but every pledge / holds its promise and the line / towards home is hard to find.”

Jason Dickinson (Candythief's fiddler).

Jason Dickinson (Candythief’s fiddler).

Also buried beneath that clean surface and Diana’s own still, bright-eyed presence (like a guitar-toting reedbird) is Candythief’s taste for the cunning disarrangements of psychedelia and of folk – the flicks in the beat, the wrong-footing rhythms which inspire thought and dance together. Several Candythief songs skip between multiple paces, stirring up the barbs and challenges in the narratives. “We thought we were walking, making our own path… /You can’t close your grip ‘cos your hands are cold… / You ate up the insults, described them as fate. / Rattling the cage, / rewriting the same page – / footprints on your skin / where the robbers all crept in.”

They end – joyfully – on a new single, The Starting Gun, which takes this practically to prog levels. Leaping from a scrum of guitar and violin up to a stepped and spiky arrangement, it’s a stirring wake-up shout. “Your heart’s a roaring furnace underneath the evening news, / a mighty engine longing for the chance to be the fuse… / Draw the curtain back, join what was once apart, / scrape the grease from your beating heart. / We are bullets of pure light unraveling in time / through damage, loss, theft; the darkest of each other’s crimes.” Jason and Diana end on a confident crash, grinning at each other – clean sparks.

The soft armoury - Directorsound in action.

The soft armoury – Directorsound in action.

It takes a while for Directorsound‘s pool of mostly acoustic instruments to be assembled onstage. A nylon-strung guitar and a bouzouki, an autoharp and an accordion, a Tibetan singing bowl; dangling hammers, sticks and strikeables; sundry pedals; a miniature gong the breadth of a hand. Most vividly, there’s a compact and jutting array of hand-bells painted in bright toy-like colours, pointing outwards like clown-car klaxons. Apparently, this last item is a belldalabra.

If you’re still determined to think about things politically, there are a few options. Should we be expecting an admirable, inclusive world-music approach, or just the spoilt, self-indulgent tourism of an inveterate instrument collector? Is all of this wood, brass and hollow space about a love of open sound, or is it simple acoustic puritanism? I have to admit that I’m musing on something completely different – Daylight Music’s family atmosphere and the band name mingle lazily into a daydream of Thomas the Tank Engine, the Fat Controller hiding himself away from squabbling trains in order to piece together steampunk tunes in his bedroom. (Of course, it turns out that someone’s already beaten me to this…)

Idle speculation is rendered moot by the ambling arrival of Directorsound himself, Nick Palmer. Far from being any kind of poser – or any kind of prover – he’s a sweet skinny haystack of a man for whom any hints of ego or preciousness dissolve into the air with his music. He communicates with us via friendly mutters and the occasional warm, shy peer-out from between tousled fringe and beard. From the off, he engrosses himself in the business of stroking sound out of bells and strings and drum-skins, beginning with a ruminative solo on Spanish guitar but soon progressing to a smooth shuttling between instruments (an assured, hands-on craftsman, moving between tools).

Accompanying Nick on his explorations are two ghostly, gentle-faced women: one on harmonium, one on flute. Standing on either side of him, like handmaidens or like muses, they mingle an air of the slightly worn with one of peaceful contentment. Neither of them speak: instead, both softly watch Nick as they play, possibly picking up cues, most of which are invisible if they exist at all. While it’s Nick who initiates most of the patterns and melodies (and who rides swap-shot on the reliable single-instrument drones and figures his companions provide), no-one onstage appears to be in absolute charge. Instead, music happens as a mutual pass-around, shifting its focus equably between woodwind, soundbox, reed-buzz, string and chime. Three pieces along, Nick is picking up his piano accordion, playing his own take on a café reel and punctuating it with horn-honks and stomps of foot-tambourine, until the trio are summoning up strolling, bobbing images of fairground and French sidewalk.

Directorsound spread out...

Directorsound spread out…

The belldalabra (which has been sitting tantalisingly in plain sight throughout the set) finally comes to the fore on the fourth piece. “It even sounds good when you move it,” Nick chuckles in passing, bringing it in closer even as he’s strapping on a pair of leg-bells. What follows is a stirring, flurrying one-man duet. Nick’s autoharp lies flat on a chair, his beaters ringing softly off its strings when they’re not rapping and fluttering across the belldalabra in exquisite slithers and chimes, a full flow of musical counterpoint from harmonium and flute turning the ringing into glints on the tide. In time, Nick sets the beaters aside in favour of the bouzouki; but his strumming hand still makes regular, hawk-talon lunges back at the autoharp as the piece blossoms into a Celto-Grecian tapestry of stamps and zings. When it’s going at full tilt, Nick is racking belldalabra, tambourine, leg-bells, gong and even a set of box-hinges in a continuous weaving sweep.

If this prolonged and frequently ecstatic dream-folk reminds me of anything in particular, it’s The Incredible String Band, though that’s a tenuous connection at best. Nick’s sunlit tunefulness and his enthusiasm for quilting diverse and divergent instruments into the mix certainly recalls the ISB’s “grab-anything” psychedelic enthusiasm. Yet he has no pretensions towards following their wildly cluttered and creative songcraft, nor any interest in emulating their engaging cracked-crow vocals. Directorsound’s music stays all-instrumental, and comparatively edgeless. Rather than being the product of quirky scattershot individualism, it’s both evasive and welcoming. Nick and his fellow players seem content to summon up broad, bright, impressionistic blurs of scene and culture (a ripple across a wheatfield, a Mistral gust, or holiday memories of a drift of indigenous evening music winding down a warm street) rather than dig into their roots or to challenge them.

Oscar explores the belldalabra.

Oscar explores the belldalabra.

In spite of this, Directorsound remain honest – and, frankly, loveable. Simultaneously introverted and inclusive, the music absorbs musical ideas and feelings like a sponge, but breathes them all back out without a hint of selfishness or self-consciousness. The other Incredible String Band component that’s missing is the alpha-male jockeying for position which both fired up and benighted the latter group. With Nick as the lone (and unchallenged) Directorsound member in the studio, the project was never going to be anyone’s wrestling ground, but even with this in mind, the courtesy, the mutual kindness and the shy, unassuming generosity of the band is palpable from the moment they set foot onstage to the moment that they finally wander off, instruments in hand, into the Chapel’s shadows.

Before that, while Directorsound are still packing up. I bring Oscar up for a closer look at the instruments. Those previously silent women are now happily animated, smiling broadly, chatting to people from the stage. With an open smile, Nick shoves the belldalabra and a beater over towards us. Encouraged, Oscar taps out some ringing notes of his own, briefly making himself part of the band and part of the afternoon. It’s very much a Daylight Music moment.

(To be continued. We went back again two weeks later..)

Someday all 'Misfit City' reviews will be written like this.

Someday all ‘Misfit City’ reviews will be written like this.

Jack Hayter online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp

Candythief online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace Bandcamp

Directorsound online:
Facebook MySpace Bandcamp

Daylight Music online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud

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