Tag Archives: Edinburgh (Scotland)

November 2019 – upcoming classical concerts – Duncan Honeybourne premieres Richard Pantcheff in London (6th November); Scottish Ensemble’s ‘Elemental’ tour across Scotland with Aidan O’Rourke and Kit Downes (9th-13th November); Joby Burgess plays SOLO in London (13th November)

30 Oct

Duncan Honeybourne, 6th November 2019On 6th November, in London, Duncan Honeybourne – a longstanding specialist in British and Irish piano music – premieres Richard Pantcheff’s ‘Piano Sonata’ at the 1901 Club as part of the English Music Festival. Richard himself will be on hand to introduce the piece.

Duncan is also performing a couple of other British piano works – Frank Bridge’s ‘Piano Sonata’ (from the latter’s later post-tonal, post-impressionist compositional stage), and ‘Notturno’, by Bridge’s onetime pupil and champion Benjamin Britten (a competition piece which, rather than foregrounding performer virtuosity, challenges them to create and sustain an atmosphere involving ever-quieter dynamics). Richard Pantcheff was, in turn, Britten’s pupil – so there’s a chain of learning and of respect being explored here.

Versions of the Britten and Bridge pieces are below…



 
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Mid-month, the Scottish Ensemble embark on their four-date Elemental tour through Scotland, accompanied by Aidan O’Rourke (fiddler for striking post-folk trio Lau) and cross-disciplinary keyboard whiz Kit Downes plus guest violinist/director Simon Blendis (of London Mozart Players, Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa and Schubert Ensemble).

Scottish Ensemble: 'Elemental' tour - 9th to 13th November 2019

The program centres around a new O’Rourke/Downes co-composition ‘There is no beginning’ (written for harmonium, piano, fiddle and string orchestra) which “fuses the visceral energy and haunting beauty of Aidan’s traditional Celtic roots with wisps of jazz, folk, ambient and classical. Surrounding it will come a clutch of contemporary works that speak to us of all things elemental – space, silence, waves and air – intertwined with melodies which echo an ancient Scotland.

“The performance is inspired by Edwin Morgan’s 1984 poem ‘Slate’, generally accepted as a love letter to a politically- and environmentally-battered Scotland. Through music, alongside its two collaborators, Scottish Ensemble will explore themes of time, change and transformation, particularly in relation to our nation and our world; entities that, as with music, are subject to the constant processes of time. Sound will be used to conjure thoughts of the past, present and future of the land we all share – as well as creating a space to contemplate it.”

Several further string orchestra pieces flesh out the programme. Tansy Davies’ ‘The Beginning of the World’ was originally a 2013 BBC Proms piece and is “a variation on Sellinger’s Round, an Elizabethan theme”; David Fennessy’s 2016 work ‘Hirta Rounds’ is an unconducted piece for sixteen string player in small groups with “many different fluctuations in tempo occurring simultaneously”. From earlier on in the repertoire, there’s György Ligeti’s ‘Ramifications’ from 1968 (a “mistuned” experiment for twelve players in two groups, one of which is collectively tuned a quarter tone higher than standard pitch, and within which there are no stresses, meter or specific rhythm) and Ruth Crawford Seeger’s ‘Andante for Strings’ from 1931 (“a study in dissonant dynamics, with the overlapping of crescendos and diminuendos alone creating a sense of melody out of single pitches in each instrument.”)

Versions of the last two are below…



 

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Joby Burgess, 13th November 2019Having already made an impression this season at Daylight Music back in October, percussionist Joby Burgess is heading to Peckham’s CLF Art Café for the first in a new round of composer Alex Groves’ itinerant SOLO concerts.

As is the case with performers at all of these concerts, Joby will be playing a brand-new Groves piece (in this case ‘Curved Form (No. 18)’, one of an ongoing series) plus various other unspecified contemporary percussion pieces. There’s not much information on the latter, although there’ll definitely be some Morton Feldman and some Linda Buckley: possibly the latter’s ‘Dischordia’, played on the aluminium harp (as showcased above and below).

 
Meanwhile, there’s a Joby Q&A here, at the SOLO site, for a window into what makes him tick (and rustle, and rattle, etc.); and here are a few more Joby performances recycled from the Daylight post…



 
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Dates:

The English Music Festival presents:
Duncan Honeybourne performs Richard Pantcheff’s ‘Piano Sonata’ (première)
1901 Arts Club, 7 Exton Street, Waterloo, London, SE1 8UE
Wednesday 6th November 2019, 6.30pm
– information here, here and here

Scottish Ensemble’s ‘Elemental’ tour:

  • Aberdeen Music Hall, Union Street, Aberdeen, AB10 1QS, Scotland – Saturday 9th November 2019, 7:30 pm – information here, here and here
  • Caird Hall, City Square, Dundee, DD1 3BB, Scotland – Sunday 10th November 2019, 7:30 pm – information here, here and here
  • Galvanisers @ SWG3, 100 Eastvale Place, Glasgow, G3 8QG, Scotland – Tuesday 12th November 2019, 7:30 pm – information here, here and here
  • Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9SU, Scotland – Wednesday 13th November 2019, 7:30 pm – information here, here and here

SOLO presents:
SOLO 07: Jody Burgess
The CLF Art Café, Block A, Bussey Building, 133 Copeland Road, Peckham, London, SE15 3SN, England
Wednesday 13th November 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here, here and here
 

September-November 2019 – upcoming post-folk, electrop, electronica gigs – tAngerinecAt on tour across Britain (5th/7th/14th/20th September, 17th/18th/26th October, 16th November) with Flange Zoo, DIANE, Experimental Sonic Machines, Ed Dowie, La Rissa, Yorkshire vs. Essex, Factory Acts, Slow Knife, Harbingers Drum Crew, Tin Mole, Clusterfuck, Hallulugenia, SIN/RED, Hypnotique, Otis Jordan, Saint Bernadette and She Robot

2 Sep

“At three I learned what sex was; /at five – death; / at seven – fascism and violence; /at ten – poverty, labour and hunger…” – tAngerinecAt, I Don’t Want To Be A White Master

Despite best intentions, a lot of folktronica can come across as… well, a bit polite and prissy; as something made by a particular breed of tech-headed enthusiasts, scholars and longtime culture-vultures who wear their tidiness and their geekiness openly. Crinkling synths, and flowery linen, kitchen musings and country walks; deep culture filtered through a tiny screen. It’s not that this invalidates it, as such. Folk culture has been, and remains, a broad cauldronful, as fit for constant renewing as it is for drawing from – and upfront electronics have been part of the tools of the trade for three decades now. It’s just that, as subgenres, folktronica and electrofolk seem particularly prone to diluting message with medium, sacrificing bite for texture; in essence, getting so involved with clubfloor, chillout or culture lab that they lose touch with bones, bothy or battlefield.


 
Fortunately, none of this applies to Anglo-Ukrainian duo tAngerinecAt, who sweep through England, Scotland and Wales for assorted dates across the stretch of autumn this year. After ten years cruising through the underground (five of them under the name of Dark Patrick), androgynous singer/hurdy-gurdy player Eugene Purpurovsky and tin whistle/bagpipe-toting electronicist Paul Chilton are still a constantly creative, intelligent and contrary force. Calling them folktronic, or electrofolk, involves upending the term… or stripping it back to the starting point.

Not that tAngerinecAt wear the label with much comfort themselves. They buck at the “folktronica” tag and, as Paul asserts “we don’t associate ourselves as folk, ever, and there is a good reason for that. We don’t play folk music, we compose our own music – not always based on Western scales but that doesn’t make it folk and neither does our choice of instruments. We often get labelled as this, but it’s a stereotype we are trying to get away from. We are only folk in the broader sense that all music is folk. Also, there isn’t one folk festival that would put us on their lineup…”

Certainly compared to most acts under the name, they’re on another level of impact altogether. An embrace of industrial sound (small keyboards and boxes which shout like giants, plus the rippling scathe of take-no-prisoners effects pedals which they add to their armoury and feed their acoustic instrumentation through) gives them the sonic presence of a no-wave or heavy metal act. They dip into frowning Carpathian mountain culture and various wiry varieties of British heath music, but stir in doses of anarchism, industrial sound and swipes at patriarchal violence. At any given time, in addition to the swirling bare-bones rootsiness you can hear echoes of sounds as diverse as Edith Piaf; the electrogoth stadium boom of Depeche Mode or the targeted upsetter-rants of Crass; the skycracking maximalism of The Young Gods and the angry historical weight of Towering Inferno’s ‘Kaddish’. Bizarrely enough, they also manage to capture elements of both ends of Swans – the booming pallet-drag of the early industrial years, the droning neo-folk of the contemporary band.


 
Then there’s the queer aspect. It’s not brought to the forefront of the band’s publicity, but it ripples through the grain of what they do. Eugene was born Eva, and identified as such in the band’s earlier years; the current tAngerinecAt has a genderfluid air in terms of clothing, movement and expression; and between them Paul and (particularly) Eugene summon up a variety of unexpected vocal characterisations which jolt and yell through the songs, upsetting standard ideas about power structures, protest, sources of ideas and about who might actually be singing. That name, too, queerifys and neonises the concept of a wandering animal spirit as band mascot, inspiration and reflection. tAngerinecAt have already won over gender-studies conferences, folk audiences, experimental-loft huddlers and, strangely enough, prog audiences (who might have a reputation for stolidity, but know and appreciate a good use of musical colouring and form-busting when they encounter it).

Despite the uncompromising drama and starkness inherent in their music, tAngerinecAt exhibit a different aspect when they’re acting as promoters, having run their own Cute Owl evenings and tours for several years now. Maybe it comes from the flexibility of vision and the teamwork ethos which Eugene built up from years of theatre work, but Cute Owl is extraordinarily welcoming to a variety of different acts, approaches and mannerisms when it comes to bringing in gigmates and support acts. It seems that as long as you have a yen for electronics and are sincere in what you do, that you’re part of the family. Hence, a Cute Owl event can encompass calls for revolution, playtime events, glamour stances, inclusive-spirited DIY tinkering and frosted electropop introspection; and hence the pleasing, unexpected diversity of the upcoming tour.

The first of the two London dates, on 14th September, is a relatively straightforward headliner but with a performance art buildup. One of the two supports is a previous Cute Owl gig act called Diane (A Walk Through Twin Peaks), in which two musically omnivorous DJs (NikTheDeks from electrobeat punks LOFE, and Andy “Dumb Blonde” McKinna) put down their record crates in order to team up on electronics, devices and effects-laden double bass for a dream-jazz/cryptronic David Lynch tribute (the solo Nik track below might provide a clue or two). The other is “crypto-zoological” animal-masked performance troupe Flange Zoo. Persistently theatrical creators of dank, humming, psychedelic-radiophonic draggings (within which synths rub up against finger bells, zithers, stylophones, turntable tricks and portentous narratives), at the moment they’re concentrating on their Edgar Allen Poe project: a séance-cum-tribute twisted in on itself. Sonorous readings of Poe short stories swim in ponds of improvised electronic twitchings and meditational pings; ritual resurrections turn into mutual back-slapping sessions.

 
The second London date, on 26th October, is a five-act Cute Owl Festival night. Here, tAngerinecAt are joined by flexible and beloved indie/experimental-pop balladeer Ed Dowie (whose 2017 debut album, ‘The Uncle Sold’ involves “a continually evolving, dream-like journey around a non-specified city (and) paints a picture of a range of characters struggling for certainty in a metropolis beset by continually changing forces, be they political, personal or financial”); by Nottingham “eccentronica chansonneuse” Hypnotique (theremins, clarinet and songs about “the apocalypse, post-feminism, erotic narrative and the banality of everyday life”). Also playing is Peter Rollings’ none-more-DIY project in which he ringmasters a clunking song-riot via his own makeshift/make-do invented instruments, robots and other musical machines while dressed in striking homemade ceremonial horned helms, robes and halberds (as if Moondog had been dressed by Mr Maker).

In addition to Peter’s own ESM set, he’ll be sponsoring and guiding another set by ESM’s robot drummer Ernie, a spindly foil-wrapped automaton who plays like a nervous fork-lift truck attempting a Mexican wave and looks like a 1970s primary school project about Martians.

 
The tour’s opening date, in Leeds, features the ominous ’80s synthpop/post-punk revivalist chimes and buzzes of La Rissa, made by “two misfits… in a dim little attic in Leeds” (originator/singing half Larissa Drozd sounding like a Stevie Nicks avatar entirely blanked out by black lipstick) who surface to carry out “dark, spooky” shows wrapped in crepuscular video art.

Also on board, Yorkshire vs. Essex (named not after a north/south feud, but from the founders’ surnames) offer chugging guitars, bass and white-noise synth garlands interrupted by trombones and flutes, all providing rumpled bedding for Simon Yorkshire’s eccentric songspiels on subjects ranging from “fictional toymakers to Sheffield murderers”, as captured on the recent ‘Dismembered Tales’ album. Shades of Peter Blegvad or Tom Slatter as well as YvE’s cited inspiration list of “Robert Wyatt, Current 93, Scott Walker, Miles Davis, Nick Cave, The Residents, Bjork, Death Grips and Iannis Xenakis.”




 
In Manchester, more dark-toned synthpop nostalgia comes from Factory Acts (who sound like Nico fronting a late ‘80s electro-dance outfit). There’s also a prime example of erudite Manc gobbiness on show via Slow Knife’s spoken-word-over-jazzpop- indie scuffle. Initially sounding like The Fall stranded in New Orleans and trying to get in step with the local pimp walk, they finally come across like a sleeker take on short-lived ‘90s beat-dadaists Campag Velocet: Daniel Tasker’s beat-poet outpourings have a similar (though more focussed) effect as he enounces over a cavalcade of horns, double bass, and slack-skinned drums/slide guitar which call up echoes of Can, The The and Dr John while lapsing occasionally into shrieking interludes of tonal and textural anarchy.



 
In Bristol, live-looper Suzy Condrad – under her She Robot alias – pulls together glockenspiel tinkles, mbira, bottle clinks, live beatboxing, passing sounds and layered banks of girlpop doo-wop and then weaves them into the bones of pre-written fully-formed guitar songs. Consequently, the looping comes across as more of a kind of graduated scratch arrangement, honed to a high level. A lot of loop songs can sound wispy, or hung up on their own polyphony: but with Suzy’s work, the song is paramount without the embellishments feeling forced. She’s managed to hold onto that spun-spontaneously-out-of-the-air feeling of loopsong while allying it to a penetrating, literate lyrical sense which challenges with questions and sharp observations rather than getting lost in the atmospherics.

Also at Bristol is ruminative electro-balladeer Luca Macchi, a.k.a Hallelugenia, whose material seems to stem from late-night chillout tunes which take a firm left turn, eschewing delta-wave blandouts in favour of expanding, talkative thought-paths sung in chamois-soft tones across shifting, subtly disruptive harmonic changes.



 
Another two acts are lined up for the Cardiff show, the first being agit-minded techno-pop quintet Clusterfuck who (despite the uncompromising hardcore name) spin out a tuneful, smoothly quaking ravepop sound inspired by and birthed within the current free-festival scene, laced with raps and DJ moves, and frequently graced by guest contributors. The second is Saint Bernadette, the latest in a string of projects from cross-genre voyager Francesca Murphy, a mainstay of ebullient Cardiff female music collective Ladies Of Rage and a singer who’s taken in punk, prog, country, jazz-pop, blues, spoken word and hip hop along her way. There are no clues yet as to what form Saint Bernadette will be taking, but Francesca’s Soundcloud page provides mostly-acoustic singer-songwriter-y examples from her recent past as well as a chance to hear her rich, welcoming voice.


 

The final show, at Edinburgh, features celebratory drumcore industrialists Harbingers Drum Crew – an aggregation of twenty or more assorted drummers inspired by “dance music, drum ‘n’ bass, dubstep and industrial metal” and emerging as being somewhere between a taiko squad, a British marching band, a samba party and a crew of No-Wave warehouse threateners. Meanwhile, Jo Hill’s SIN/RED, brings the electronica-spectrum cycle of support acts back to something resembling tAngerinecAt themselves: it’s not a precise comparison, but Jo’s foreboding mixture of noir-ballad pop, synth drone and cloister-echo raises similar anticipatory hackles and hints at skin-terror, raw feeling and ancient stirrings.

 
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Full tour dates:

  • Lending Room @ The Library, 229 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 3AP, England – Thursday 5th September 2019, 7.00pm (with La Rissa + Yorkshire vs Essex) – information here and here
  • Gullivers NQ, 109 Oldham Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 1LW, England – Saturday 7th September 2019, 7.30pm (w/ Slow Knife + Tin Mole + Factory Acts + Otis Jordan) – information here, here and here
  • The Raven, 218 Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey, London, SE1 2UP, England – Saturday 14th September 2019, 7.30pm (with DIANE + Flange Zoo) – information here and here
  • Equinox Festival 2019, Chalk Farm, Salters Lane, Wyham, Lincolnshire, DN36 5RS, England – Friday 20th September 2019, 12.00am – information here, here and here
  • The Thunderbolt, 124 Bath Road, Arnos Vale, Bristol, BS4 3ED, England – Thursday 17th October 2019, 7.30pm (with She, Robot + Hallulugenia) – information here and here
  • The Big Top, 11 Church Street, Cardiff, CF10 1BG, Wales – Friday 18th October 2019, 7.00pm (with Clusterfuck + Saint Bernadette) – information here and here
  • Cute Owl Festival @ The Courtyard Theatre, Bowling Green Walk, 40 Pitfield Street, Hoxton, London, N1 6EU, England – Saturday 26th October 2019, 6.00pm (with Ed Dowie + Hypnotique + Experimental Sonic Machines + Ernie) – information here and here
  • Cabaret Voltaire, 36 Blair Street, Old Town, Edinburgh, EH1 1QR, Scotland (with Harbingers Drum Crew + SIN/RED) – Saturday 16th November 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here

February/March 2019 – upcoming British folk/experimental gigs – Bell Lungs on tour with Raiments (20th February to 2nd March, various) with appearances by Despicable Zee, Michael Clark, The Nature Centre, Halcyon Jane, Tara Clerkin Trio and various DJs. Plus sundry other Bell Lungs shows in March including a København evening with Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen, a show with David Toop and Rashad Becker, a date with Gaze Is Ghost.

16 Feb

Working with a multi-instrumental, device-heavy palette which includes guitar, harmonium, Omnichord, electric violin, lyre, bouzouki, saz, voice and a host of effects pedals, avant-folk singer/writer/sometime promoter Ceylan Hay (a.k.a. Bell Lungs) sits at the middle of a host of possible routes. Her sound incorporates post-folk and drone, dream pop, noise and free improv, psychedelia and site-specific realisations, while her psychohistorian subject matter takes in the ancient, the near-ancient and the presently numinous: probing prehistoric spaces, the ghosts of the industrial age, day-to-day feelings and the slide into a new virtual existence space via online culture.

Reflecting these overlaid levels (and what might be, at different perspective points, either shockingly near or completely occluded), her vocal delivery steps between ornamental trad-folk crenellations, feathery ambient warbles and horrific screams. You can never quite tell whether she’s going to lull you or scare you, but you know she cares about what she’s ferrying across to you.

With a new EP, the wintry ‘Wolves Behind Us‘, to promote (apparently it’s a return to folk and landscapes after recent science fiction/site-specific digressions, and is “Joan Aiken’s ‘Wolves of Willoughby Chase’, Olaf Stapledon’s ‘Last and First Men’, caravan living in the Highlands and the ancient cosmology idea of dividing the year into two halves; the opening and closing of the wolf’s mouth”), Bell’s embarking on five weeks of touring (primarily alongside Raiments) through Scotland, England, Wales, followed up by other Raiments-less shows in Scotland, England and Denmark. (She’ll also be playing in Wales next month, but more on that later…)




 
Before taking a look at the tour, let’s take a look at her tourmates. Formed on the Berlin avant-garde scene, Raiments are fronted by sing-murmurer/left-field guitarist Mano Camatsos, and they sound like a soft-stepping muttering blend of Lou Reed and Momus fronting a band that mixes lurking dark-jazz styling (hardwood clarinet burr and groove-pattering trashdrums) with the DIY rattle of Pram and the dark throb of Morphine. Mano’s wildcard guitar is a clinking noisemaker and pulse generator taking note of hip hop, of avant-garde classical extended techniques and of mysterious instruments and methods gleaned from ethnological recordings. His songwriting voice is a oddball surreal instinct leading inexorably towards songs about ants or baffling seductions.



 
Tracing their upcoming footsteps on the tour is a joy, like following a plough which turns up small treasures as it reveals what’s in the earth. It’s partly the succession of intriguing off-the-beaten-path venues – squatty art-pubs, recovered eighteenth-century coal basins, pocket cinemas and art centres, diehard folk rooms and out-of-the-way sipperys – but also the revealing of similarly off-the-wall musical talents and enthusiasts they join up with en route.

In Edinburgh, Bell and Raiments are playing with Claquer – previously three-piece improvisers Claque until they spun off their American drummer an unspecified time ago. Now it’s just the Edinburgh contingent: free/experimental guitarist Jer Reid and viola player/speaker Lisa Fannen. They deal in lo-fi clangs, loopings and scrapes and spoken word: momentary moment-music.


 
In Newcastle, the main support comes from the soft melody murmurs and drowsy, cushioned keens of ambient/improv folk duo Halcyon Jane, a Tyneside/Humberside teamup. Upfront with the voice, guitar and devices is Newcastle performance art polymath Jayne Dent, better known via her own electronic/noisy folk project Me Lost Me, in which she buffers and buffets her singing with concertinas and samplers: when she played Hull back in December, support came from local ambient electronic beatsman Halcyon Neumann, who’s worked with The Body Farmers and with Sarah Shiels and who carries out sonic explorations of “the technological vs. the archaic/the spiritual vs. the scientific/the supernatural vs. the psychological.” Together they tease out a semi-improvised border music, part weird electro-folk and part post-shoegaze wisp.

Also playing is Michael Clark, providing slurred, wise, trepidatious and crepuscular folk music with fogrolls of noise behind an acoustic guitar. Despite being a Londoner, he sounds more like a moor-dweller; or like someone who lives in the kind of port city London used to be, one in which strange tales and intimation billow up the streets with the dock mist: this time out, his strange tales are backed up by a full band.

 
I’ve encountered The Nature Centre before. Headlining the Club Integral-hosted Birmingham show above Bell Lung and Raiments, they’re an affable rural/suburban pop quartet like a four-person one-man band, sprouting banjos and clarinets and found percussion alongside their drum kit and guitars. Drawn to playing at weirder gigs, they’ve shared bills with people like Bob Drake and have their own batchful of three-minute pop songs avidly reflecting the off-kilter visions of previous English songwriter eccentrics (the Syd Barretts, Robyn Hitchcocks and Tim Smiths). Handling the in-between-bands slot is someone new to me but not new to Brum’s vinyl-istas: Moseley Folk Festival’s house DJ and Moseley Record Fair co-organiser DJ Rome, promising his own selection of crate-dug oddities and inspirations.


 
In Bristol, the DJ backup comes from “bleary-eyed staggerer” Siegfried Translator of the Grey Area radio show (another haven for intriguingly weird music from all over the globe), but the gig predominantly features the Tara Clerkin Trio: the DIY musical brainchild of a ceramicist who also seems to have a yen for gamelan/minimalist-sounding pattern tinkling sprinkled with voiceloops, friendly saxophonic intrusions and other pitch-ins from whichever musical friends she can rope in for the occasion. (At other times, she creates her own slumberous take on experimental countrified pop.)

 
The Oxford show (promoted by Divine Schism) is primarily a launch event for the second EP by Zahra Haji Fath Ali Tehrani, a.k.a. Despicable Zee – a live-looper, improviser and conscious patterner of fifteen years standing, mixed Anglo/Irish/Iranian heritage, and a history of drumming in Oxford bands since her teens. Now the drums (plus loopstations and recordings) are used to create live solo tracks in which Zee employs a lo-fi, lo-technique approach to overlapping rhythm garlands and triggered conversations. As an artist (as well as an educator and mother), Zee’s increasingly conscious of the female lines she carries within her: the patched-in samples which wobble her current project along feature the voices of her mother and grandmother, mingling with Zee’s own sing-speak-raps as if they’ve dropped by for some kind of experimental music cross-cultural kaffee klatsch.


 
The London show (at Paper Dress Vintage) is an evening of music and spoken word put together by promoters Spilt Milk in order to raise money and awareness for North London Action for the Homeless. Shapeshifter experimental pop poet Alabaster dePlume comperes: also in the corner is Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business, who showed up in ‘Misfit City’ a little over a year ago.

Jenny’s another artist whose field extends from the visual and situational into action and music: the Mystic Business involves pulling together friends and strangers into a collective performance event that’s part communal clapalong choir, part percussion workshop and good-natured culture-jamming protest (with food). Guileless and charming, but nonetheless political and détournementational, it’s an attempt to get collective conscience back into the body, containing and encouraging a cheerful but insistent protest.



 
The Conventry and Brighton gigs appear to feature just Bell Lungs and Raiments on their own, but news just coming in re. the Liverpool date (at dockside art-pub Drop the Dumbulls) says that support there comes from Merseyside “synthwhisperer” and outsider synthpopper Claire Welles. She’s been rolling out her contrary songs for over a decade now, singing increasingly unsettling lyrics in a deep deadpan tone with a sarcastic medicated edge, while the backings deliquesce from elegant ageless Europop into something a little misshapen. It all becomes something like those conversations during which you wake up a third of the way in, not quite sure how you got into them, not quite believing that you’re stuck in there and will just have to ride it out.



 
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Following the Raiments tour, Bell heads off separately for other shows. A mid-March showing at Manchester’s Peer Hat is a solo gig, but there’s also an Argyll event (in the enchanting recording-studio-as-art-nook surroundings of St Marys Space) at which she’s supporting baroque poptronic project Gaze Is Ghost: itinerant Northern Irish singer/songwriter/post-classical composer Laura McGarrigle, noted for “spectral vocals and impressionist piano playing” as well as drifts into harmonium and ambient atmospherics. In recent years Laura’s let Zed Penguin drummer/artist Casey Miller into the project and (following a number of pre-Casey singles), Gaze Is Ghost are finally readying a debut album as a duo.

 
A return to Glasgow on 28th March sees Bell performing on a talk’n’play bill with musicologist and audio culturer David Toop and Berlin sonicist Rashad Becker (who, having polished over a thousand records by other people spanning noise to techno, has begun stepping out into music creation of his own with the resonant faux-ethnological synthwork of ‘Traditional Music of Notional Species, Vol. I’).

On the 30th she’s back in Edinburgh to support another experimental folker, looper and performance artist: David Thomas Broughton, whose brilliantly wayward path has included looping his own heckles, blurring the line between song performance and experimental theatre. Along the way he’s released eight albums of accessible, tremulous, oddly haunting alt.folk delivered in an arresting genderless vocal tone a little reminiscent of Anthony/Anohni, and won the respect and collaborative contributions of (among others) Beth Orton, Sam Amidon, and Aidan Moffat. David will be in the early stages of his own tour, which I really should cover on its own.





 
Before any of these, though, she’s crossing the North Sea to perform at an experimental folk event in København. Part of the city’s Fanø Free Folk Festival, it’s hosted by local label Dendron Records, specializers in “small runs of abstract electronics, ghostly folk songs and surprisingly hummable tunes.” The concert will also feature two København-based British emigres Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen. Hugh’s been operating for years under various names including The Weave And The Weft and Taiga Taiga, creating shadowy understated mostly-acoustic songs with a literary bent, and he regularly helps out with David Folkmann Drost’s homemade folk project Moongazing Hare. Previously known as a radical electric guitarist in Vinyl Dog Joy, Amstrong and Distortion Girls, Tanja recently struck out on her own with a solo debut, ‘Feeling Love’ in which she embraces and deconstructs pop songs, writing them acoustically before bringing assorted damaged amplification and effects-pedal interference to bear on them, resulting in songscapes covering a field from heavy-lidded noise-folk to cataclysmic “drone-metal disco”.




 
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Dates:

Bell Lungs & Raiments tour:

  • Henry’s Cellar Bar, 16A Morrison Street, Edinburgh EH3 8BJ – Wednesday 20th February 2019, 7.00pm (with Claquer) – information here
  • Cobalt Studios, 10-16 Boyd Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE2 1AP, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.00pm(with Michael Clark + Halcyon Jane) – information here
  • The Edge, 79-81 Cheapside, Digbeth, Birmingham, B12 0QH, England – Friday 22nd February 2019, 8.00pm (with The Nature Centre + DJ Rome) – information here and here
  • Cube Cinema, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England – Sunday 24th February 2019, 8.00pm(with Tara Clerkin Trio + The Grey Area DJs) – information here and here
  • Fusion Arts, 44b Princes Street, Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1DD, England – Monday 25th February 2019, 7.30pm(with Despicable Zee) – information here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England – Tuesday 26th February 2019. 7.30pm (with Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business + Alabaster dePlume) – information here and here
  • The Rose Hill Tavern, 70-71 Rose Hill Terrace, Brighton, West Sussex, BN1 4JL, England – Thursday 28th February 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • The Tin @ The Coal Vaults, Unit 1-4 Coventry Canal Basin, St. Nicholas Street, Coventry, CV1 4LY, England – Friday 1st March 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Drop the Dumbulls @ The Bull, 2 Dublin Street, Liverpool, L3 7DT, England – Saturday 2nd March 2019, 7.00pm (with Claire Welles) – information here

Bell Lungs standalone dates with various others (tbc):

  • Fanø Free Folk Festival @ Alice, Norre Alle 7, DK-2200 København N, Norway – Monday 4th March 2019, 7.00pm(with Hugh Tweedie + Tanja Vesterbye Jessen) – information here
  • St Marys Space, Fasnacloich, Argyll, Scotland, PA38 4BJ – Saturday 9th March 2019, 7.00pm(supporting Gaze Is Ghost) – information here
  • The Peer Hat, 14-16 Faraday Street, Manchester M1 1BE – Thursday 14th March 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Stereo/The Old Hairdressers, 20-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 5AR, Scotland – Thursday 28th March 2019, 7.00pm (with David Toop + Rashad Becker) – information here and here
  • The Waverley, 3-5 St. Mary’s Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TA, Scotland – Saturday 30th March 2019, 9.00pm (supporting David Thomas Broughton) – information here

January/February 2019 – upcoming classical gigs around Britain and Ireland – Nonclassical’s Battle of the Bands (23rd January); Scordatura’s Clara Schumann evening (3rd February); Gyða Valtýsdóttir’s ‘Epicycle’ tour (29th January to 3rd February)

18 Jan

Nonclassical open their year with their annual Battle of the Bands at their live homebase in Hackney’s Victoria performance pub. Six competitors will be duking it out for industry attention and more Nonclassical gig opportunities. As usual, they’ve been chosen from the permeable space where contemporary classical touches on other musical forms, on other arts and on current concerns.

Nonclassical: Battle of the Bands, 23rd January 2019

There will be two solo performers. Woodwind specialist James Hurst will be swapping between alto saxophone and alto recorder to perform his own ‘The Descent of Ishtar To The Underworld’, a guided, Bronze Age-inspired improvisation. Reylon Yount, a San Franciscan Chinese-American yangqin player and member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, will be performing the diasporan-influenced sound exploration ‘Rituals and Resonances for Solo Yangqin’ by Chinese-British composer Alex Ho, which “attempts to engage with the paradoxical sense of nostalgia one may feel for a place one did not grow up in” via “an exploration of the relationship between sound and its resonance.”



 
Three collectives are also competing. Chamber ensemble Scordatura Women’s Music Collective champion and perform the work of female composers, both living and dead: on this occasion, they’ll be performing ‘Las Sombras de los Apus’ by Gabriela Lena Frank, a cello quartet in which each instrument plays in a different tuning. The recently-formed New Music group 4|12 Collective will be playing James Saunders’ Instruments with Recordings (with a lineup of viola player Toby Cook, flautist Epsie Thompson, accordionist Giancarlo Palena, bassoonist Olivia Palmer-Baker, trombonist Benny Vernon and tuba player Stuart Beard).

Rita Says & The Jerico Orchestra (performing Paragraph 7 of ‘The Great Learning’ by Cornelius Cardew) have been around a little longer: over the past decade, they’ve been working at “defin(ing) a connection between fine art performance practise and the history of contemporary music”, exploring a spontaneous blend of physical action and visual interaction to create and conduct pieces.


 

Finally, there’s composer/performer and Filthy Lucre co-founder Joe Bates, who pitches his camp on the faultline between contemporary classical music and avant-rock, hip hop and electronics; and whose artistic interests include “desire at a remove” and “the decline of classical music’s social prestige and the possibilities for its future.” His music blends contemporary classical structures and instrumentation options with “intense, still, driven riffs” and harmonies from rock and other pop forms. On this occasion, he’ll be playing pieces from his microtonal synthesiser suite/EP ‘Flim Flam’.

 
* * * * * * * *

If you’re sympathetic to Scordatura’s role as feminist music historians and curators, you might like to know that they’re popping up again in Abingdon, Oxfordshire in early February – as part of the Abbey Chamber Concerts series.

Scordatura, 3rd February 2019

Their 3rd February gig, titled as “Celebrating Clara” (and utilising a shifting duo/trio/quartet formation of clarinettist Poppy Beddoe, violinist Claudia Fuller, cellist Rachel Watson and pianist Thomas Ang) ostensibly showcases Clara Schumann, the similarly talented but undervalued composer-pianist married to Robert Schumann. They’ll be playing one Schumann piece – the Piano Trio in G minor – and possibly some of her clarinet work, but the remaining programme slots are given over to the work of other female composers. Contemporary composer Cecilia McDowall’s chamber piece ‘Cavatina at Midnight’ is followed by the Victorian ‘Piano Suite in E major’ by Clara Schumann’s contemporary Ethel Smyth.

The last piece is by Fanny Hensel ( ‘Fantasia for Cello and Piano’) a.ka. Fanny Mendelssohn, whose life was a sometimes-uncomfortable reiterating mirror of Clara’s. Both were similarly talented intimates of established composers (one a wife, the other a sister); both had surprisingly encouraging husbands; both were also tutored and driven by demanding fathers who established excellence in them. Both, too, were ultimately constrained as composers by the discouragements and domestic responsibilities forced upon women of their times, with the men in their families often acting with a frustrating mixture of systematic positive pressure and patriarchal forbiddings. (Felix Mendelssohn, for instance, was a devoted, championing brother who found that he drew the line at Fanny entering the canon of published composers.)

* * * * * * * *

Gyða Valtýsdóttir 'Epicycle' tour (Britain/Ireland), January/February 2019Overlapping these two concerts is a British/Irish mini-tour by Gyða Valtýsdóttir – still known as the former cellist for Iceland experimental pop band Múm even though she only played on two of their albums and has been out of the band for sixteen years.

Having immediately returned, post-Múm, to her classical roots (formally studying, graduating and applying herself to classical cello) Gyða’s spent the time since then in the genre-stepping world of the modern post-classical musician. Outside of the classical gigs, rent-paying but artistically respectable engagements adding stringwork to records or tours by Sigur Ros’ Jónsi, Damien Rice and Colin Stetson have alternated with assorted film, dance, theatre and installation music around the world, as well as bouts of free improvisation gigs. Allied with her twin sister and ex-Múm bandmate Kristín Anna, Gyða also added a “reciprocal twin” component to Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s 2015 song cycle ‘Forever Love’, conceived and delivered with performance artists Ragnar Kjartansson.

Although Gyða’s latest personal release (last year’s ‘Evolution’) features her own compositions and a return to her Múm-era multi-instrumentalism – and although some of those songs will get an airing – this tour focusses mostly on her 2017 solo debut ‘Epicycle‘, a two-millennia-spanning exercise in musical commonality and reconfiguration originally intended as “a gift for friends” on which Schubert, Schumann and Messiaen rub shoulders with Harry Partsch, George Crumb, Hildegard von Bingen and the nineteen-hundred year old Seikilos Epitaph. The album was an Icelandic smash hit and a talking point elsewhere: a classical debut recorded with the immediacy of a jazz record and with a broad-minded disregard for purity, bringing in upfront studio processing techniques and stylings/instrumental responses from other traditions from jazz to ancient folk to experimental post-rock.

On tour, she’s performing with her Epicycle trio, also featuring multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily (on guitar, synthesizer, percussion and anything else which needs playing) and drummer Julian Sartorius, both of whom played on the record.




 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Nonclassical presents:
Nonclassical: Battle of the Bands
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, E8 3AS London, United Kingdom
Wednesday 23rd January 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Abbey Chamber Concerts present:
Scordatura: Women’s Music Collective: ‘Celebrating Clara’
St Nicolas’ Church, Market Place, Abingdon-on-Thames, Oxfordshire OX14 3HF
Sunday 3rd February 2019, 3.00pm
– information here, here and here

Gyða Valtýsdóttir – ‘Epicycle’ tour:

  • Norwich Arts Centre, 51 St. Benedicts Street, Norwich, NR2 4PG, England, Tuesday 29th January 2019, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England, Wednesday 30th January 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Metropolitan Arts Centre, 10 Exchange St West, Belfast, BT1 2NJ, Northern Ireland, Thursday 31st January 2019 – no further information
  • Dublin Unitarian Church, 112 Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, D02 YP23, Ireland, Friday 1st February 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Summerhall, 1 Summerhall, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL, Scotland, Sunday 3rd February 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here

 

May/June 2018 – Long Fin Killie man Luke Sutherland’s new band Rev Magnetic on tour in Scotland and England (25th May to 1st June) with (variously) Superchunk, Erin Friel, Foolish Atoms, Helen Mort, Stonethrower, Salome Benidze, Nova Scotia The Truth, ILK, Caitlin Buchanan, The Honeyfarm, Jack Cheshire and winterThieves

22 May

Rev Magnetic on tour, 25th May to 1st June 2018

I’m rushing this one into post, since I’ve only just heard about it. No apologies for the excessive cut-and-paste here, nor for the absence of much personal insight (although I will say that when a shortage of information meant that I had to dig deeper, I found more).

“While touring the world as guest multi-instrumentalist with Mogwai, Luke Sutherland (Long Fin Killie, Bows, Music A.M.) used the downtime to sketch a bunch of songs. Once he got home, he wrote a handful more and recorded them with the help of a few friends at his cottage on the edge of the Scottish Highlands. The result was an album’s worth of material with references ranging from My Bloody Valentine to Teebs, Lemmy-era Hawkwind to ABBA, Vaughan Williams to Boulez.

“Keen to translate the radiant chaos of the recordings into a live setting, Luke put together Rev Magnetic, featuring Audrey Bizouerne (Gift Horse), Sam Leighton (Live w/ Prides, St MARTiiNS) and Gregor Emond who played with Luke in a band called Hynd, way back before the birth of the internet. Combining elements of dream pop, shoegaze, R&B, and post rock, their first single, Like No Girl That Ever Was/Don’t Let Joy Destroy You is the sound of summer at full pelt.”


 
Imminent Scottish and English tour dates are below:

  • Neu! Reekie @ St Andrew’s Church, 410-412 Easter Road, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 8HT, Scotland, Friday 25th May 2018, 7.15pm (with Salome Benidze + Helen Mort + Erin Friel + The Honey Farm) – information here and here
  • Stereo, 22-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 6PH, Scotland, Sunday 27th May 2018, 7.30pm (supporting Superchunk) – information here and here
  • The Hug & Pint, 171 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G4 9AW, Scotland, Tuesday 29th May 2018, 7.30pm (with Nova Scotia The Truth + Caitlin Buchanan) – information here and here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England, Wednesday 30th May 2018, 7.30pm (with ILK + Jack Cheshire) – information here, here and here
  • The New Adelphi Club, 89 De Grey Street, Kingston-upon-Hull, East Yorkshire, HU5 2RU, England, Thursday 31st May 2018, 8.00pm (with Foolish Atoms + others t.b.c.) – information here, here and here
  • Conroy’s Basement, 51-53 Meadowside, Dundee, DD1 1EQ, Scotland, Friday 1st June 2018, 8.00pm (with Stonethrower + winterThieves) – information here

It’s probably accidental, but when you take a look at the finer details of the tour, it’s almost like an exploded reflection of Luke’s influences and sympathies; the cultural and artistic breadth he’s shown throughout a career voyaging through books and music. Indie rock and dance chemistry, hip hop and poetry; filtered and transformed Scottish folk; literacy and blasting noise. The balancing of multiple cultures in one evening, or just in one person.


 
Regarding the Glasgow shows… if you’ve been hitting on indie-punk playlists and festival lineups for the past twenty years, you’ll need little introduction to Superchunk. Headlining over Luke and co. at Stereo, they’re early ‘90s favourites who helped define a Carolina DIY punk sound. They were all over the inkies back in the day more or less during the same time that Luke first was; they founded Merge Records, and have kept their place in indie rock affections ever since. On the other hand, the two support acts at the Hug & Pint show are still thrumming – just – under the radar.

Originally from Aberdeen, Caitlin Buchanan is an emerging acoustic singer-songwriter working towards her first EP and taking Angel Olsen, Laura Marling and Kate Bush as influences. Perhaps Angel’s the most obvious one – the slowcore tempos, the collapsing drapes of melody – but Caitlin has little of Angel’s narcotic slur. She also isn’t as propulsive or as easy-to-follow as Laura, and (despite her own musical theatre background) isn’t as brilliantly hammy as Kate.

That’s not actually a string of negatives. Rather, it’s a suggestion that, even at this early stage, Caitlin’s already sloughed off her initial inspirations and found a voice of her own: a folded, cleverly elusive literary one which makes you sit up and take notice, full of double-take lyrical moments. Nestled in strong hammocks of folk guitar, and in gorgeous transplanted curves of Scottish melody, her songcraft is often a series of strange elisions and non-sequiturs somehow coalescing into stories, delivered in a velvety softness which makes it all the more jolting when she drops a perfectly-enunciated precision F-bomb into the crook of a tune – “I fucked up your favourite song, and this is why I don’t do imitations. / Betrayed by the idea of God, we are her most hated creations / Dressed for the office but underqualified, / express my gratitude between her slender thighs…”


 
I suspected that Nova Scotia The Truth might have picked her name as a ScotNat political assertion. It seems that I was half right. A “queen of sample-based electronic music”, active in the Scottish hip hop scene since her teenage years (and now stretching out as a producer-performer), Nova might well be representing a rising strand of modern Scotland, but not necessarily one which will cradle comfortably in the old-school saltire. Her preoccupations are with feminism and of people of colour: a pavement-and-club engagement with embedded and intersectional inequalities, mapped out in whip-crack sonic edits and shifts.

Nova’s recent ‘Al-Haqq’ EP is a determined but bewildering mash of pointers and unrest. Cyber-mimetic R&B, corbies and round-chamberings; blasts of rap and dancehall chat; industrial-grime sound collage; all mixed in with found speech from black culture and protest and faith (some of it tweaked and repurposed, but much of it left free to run). The follow-up, Zoom, is a half-hour of rapid sonic cross-cuts in a similar vein: it’s intended as a backing track for a live rap story of love and talk gone wrong, ultimately, broadening out to a wider exploration about power imbalances in relationships, silencings and language. As with a lot of underground hip hop, there’s plenty packed in there: I’m guessing that onstage, this flies.


 
The Dundee show could have been created as a vast-contrast tribute to Luke’s own willingness to be broad in listening. Rev Magnetic aside, it’s a truly strange, rather brave pairing of opposites. “East coast ecossemo” band Stonethrower bring “monolithic slabs of lead-heavy riffage, angular rage-filled spiky melodies and frantic jazz-core arrangements to blast our faces off”; while Edinburgh/Dundee duo winterThieves are a sacramental ambient act “pool(ing) their varied musical backgrounds to craft a sound that is in equal measures melancholic and euphoric, featuring vast ambient swells, lush guitar and piano melodies, and crashing drums,”, playing wordless slow-reveal post-rock hymnals to an empty sky. The angry hammer and the lonely quilt.



 
South of the border, the London show features Ilk, whose “colourful and dreamy songs unravel against a collision of psych pop influences and scruffy, found sound warmth… the band’s songs and sketches are somehow both grandiose and playful, upbeat and melancholic” plus the “psychedelic jazz-infused” songwriting of rising folk-rock favourite Jack Cheshire in solo mode.

Supporting at Hull, Chris Norrison – a.k.a. Foolish Atoms – is a solo performer who “dreams up droning acoustic swamps in his sleep… creating music so delusional and pain numbing, audiences peacefully drown in the sweet rustic guitar tones and his strained vocals.” Other acts will be added at Hull over the course of the next few days: let’s see what the city’s recent pop-cultural renaissance has produced…

 
However, it’s the Edinburgh show which looks like the pick of the crop. It’s a packed-to-the-gills mass of words, music and beats put together by “Scotland’s favourite avant-garde noisemakers” and high/low art boundary-smashers Neu! Reekie, as a partial benefit for the Save Leith Walk community crowdfunder.

As well as Rev Magnetic, on hand for performance are poets Salome Benidze and Helen Mort and a couple of Scottish hip hop acts. Onetime Deadlife Crew member Erin Friel (part of a wave of Scottish hip hoppers who stick, refreshingly, to their own accents and cadences) recently opened for rapper/activist Loki at his sell out King Tuts event for Poverty Safari. The Honey Farm – Scotland’s only all-female rap crew – are self-confessed East Lothian rap bumpkins who “simultaneously skewer and celebrate rap stereotypes with their unapologetic, take no shit attitude” and whose recent debut release L.A.D.S. is “a dragged-up pussy-grabs-back takedown of laddish, bullshit behaviour.”

It’s not quite the fierce textured outrospection of Nova, and perhaps the Farm sometimes let their drama school backgrounds show a little, but it’s all fine. Wit over pose; and plenty of rap’s supposed to be accessible, youthful and funny, including the bit of cross-cast fun with which the Farm kick off the roll of verbiage below…

 

October/November 2016 – upcoming gigs – Pierre Bensusan’s autumn tour of Britain and Ireland (30th October to 20th November)

26 Oct

Pretty much a year to the day since his last appearance in London, French-Algerian acoustic guitar master Pierre Bensusan is returning to town this Sunday for the start of a British and Irish tour. The tour will be taking in a delightfully broad sweep of venues both grand and humble, rowdy and formal, from pubs and multi-utility community rooms to concert halls. Most of them will have little in common at the start of the show. By the end, they’ll all be sharing the particular warmth which Pierre brings to his expansively intimate music and performances.

World music’s an often-abused term, especially when you can see crude joins within it. Yesterday’s exotic-record discovery shopped and slopped onto whichever beats selling; or the sound of one particular city’s overbearing acquisitiveness, engulfing and pickling the music of its immigrants rather than fostering it. Pierre’s music is an example of how you can revitalise and justify the term. I’ve spoken before about the French-Algerian-Sephardic background which gave him a head start as regards polycultural vision, but perhaps what he actually embodies is the mixed grain of musical acceptance: the travelling tunes and the more intangible freight of cultures soaking and blending into his playing without strain. Neither jazz nor folk nor Spanish classical, neither rai nor chaabi, nor flamenco (old or new), it nonetheless contains all of these – a translucent, fully-realised and seamless chamber-acoustic melange, played softly and without affectation.


 

Full tour dates below:


 

September/October 2016 – upcoming gigs – Jane Siberry on tour in Britain and Ireland (9th Sep – 7th Oct) with The Blackheart Orchestra, Balsamo Deighton, Ruth, Delilah Montagu, LeeSun and Carol Laula

5 Sep

This week, Jane Siberry embarks on her first tour of the British Isles for a good while.

  • Whelan’s, 25 Wexford Street, Dublin 2, Ireland, Friday 9th September 2016, 8.00pm (with Ruth) – information
  • The Queens Hall, 85-89 Clerk Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9JG, Scotland, Friday 16th September 2016, 7.30pm (with Carol Laula) – information
  • The Convent, Convent Lane, South Woodchester, Stroud, GL5 5HS, England, Sunday 18th September 2016, 9.00pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • Henry Tudor House, Barracks Passage, Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury, SY1 1XA, England, Monday 19th September 2016, 8.00pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • The Trades Club, Holme Street, Hebden Bridge, HX7 8EE, England, Thursday 22nd September 2016, 8.00pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • The Greystones, Greystones Road, Sheffield, S11 7BS, England, Friday 23rd September 2016, 7.30pm (with Delilah Montagu) – information
  • Kitchen Garden Café, 17 York Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7SA, England, Sunday 25th September 2016, 7.30pm (withThe Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • St John’s Church, St John’s Street, Farncombe, Godalming, GU7 3EJ, England, Wednesday 28th September 2016, 7.45pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • The Stables, Stockwell Lane, Wavendon, Milton Keynes, MK17 8LU, England, Thursday 29th September 2016, 8.45pm (with LeeSun) – information
  • Brighton Unitarian Church, New Road, Brighton, BN1 1UF, England, Friday 30th September 2016, 7.30pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • Chapel Arts Centre, St Oaks Memorial Hall, Lower Borough Walls, Bath, BA1 1QR, England, Sunday 2nd October 2016, 8.00pm (with Balsamo Deighton) – information
  • St James Theatre, 12 Palace Street, Westminster, London, SW1E 5JA, England, Monday 3rd October 2016, 7.15pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • Stromness Town Hall, Church Road, Stromness, Orkney, KW16 3BA, Scotland, Friday 7th October 2016, 7.30pm (solo show) – information (note – this date is listed on some places but not currently on Jane’s own site, so check before committing)

Sometimes, to her chagrin, Jane’s been tagged as “the Canadian Kate Bush” – a tag which is at least as constrictive as it is helpful. Unfair as it might be, the comparison holds true and is a good place to start. Early musical developers, women of a similar age and independent-mindedness, Jane and Kate both realised their full powers and creative approaches during a boomtime of studio-bound 1980s art pop. Pioneering later self-propelled female studio auteurs, both kept absolute control of their songwriting and mastered enough of the necessary technology to dictate form as well as content, working as meticulous musical painters, dramatists and refractors. Both have favoured carefully-chosen instrumentation, sonorities and song structures, neither of which necessarily follow common practise or expectations (and neither of which they’ve felt obliged to stick to, preferring to change formulae whenever inspiration and craft took them there). Most crucially, both of them have a sweeping emotional effect on listeners, transcending both genre and gender.

The differences, though, are as significant and illustrative as the similarities. Genius notwithstanding, Kate’s creativity was cosseted in an indulgent arts-and-crafts family background, and the recording and development deal she’d gained by her mid-teens ensured that she didn’t have to slog her way up with hard gigging in parallel with grinding dayjobs. This, plus the overwhelming commercial success which came from her first single onwards, ensured the shape and circumstances of her work to come. Hers was a unfettered imagination fuelled by spliff and arts and cocooned in recording studios, voraciously processing mythology and literature to spin out detailed and immersive storydramas in pop form, all contained within a wary privacy she’s maintained to this day. In some respects Kate’s never left the book-lined bedrooms of her childhood: she’s simply extended them, and grown within the bigger space she made there.



 
Jane’s, on the other hand, has been a less charmed or settled road. An uneasy family life and childhood led to a voyage into a university degree which soon morphed, dissatisfied, from music to microbiology, then work as a waitress in order to self-fund a tightly-budgeted debut record. Perhaps it’s these elements which have inspired the elements of research quirk and observational stillness in parts of her songcraft, from the twinkling electronic dissections of beachlife on her first hit (Mimi On The Beach) to the moments, when in otherwise warm and involved musical landscapes she appears to pull back, tilting her gaze askance, casting a cool bright birdlike eye on the matter: not necessarily making conclusions, but grabbing a quick and open assessment of what’s going on, whether or not details have fallen into a conclusive pattern.


 
Certainly her songcraft reflects an edgier, more marginal, creative life; intelligent and existential, but fully in touch with the irrational and perverse. While Kate’s catalogue dramatizes odd states and situation, Jane’s songbook seems more of a recounting. She has, in moments of straightforward generosity or acceptance, delivered art-pop singalongs such as The Life Is The Red Wagon or the rapturous k.d. lang duet Calling All Angels; in bouncier times, she’s delivered songs about dogs and people or childhood hockey games. When certain moods have taken her, she’s carved out monumental, borderline-impenetrable audio-literary mysteries such as The Bird In The Gravel.



 
Yet she’ll also touch uneasily, obliquely, but always openly on subjects such as alcoholism and mental disturbance which might or might not be first-hand, and in ways which tide the listener into the heart of the situation – the compulsive, brittle, confessional dream-suite Oh My My which swallows up the second half of 1989’s ‘Maria’; the title track to ‘The Walking (and Constantly)’, which casts a heartbreaking light on the trudge and hysteria of grieving; or the disturbingly open-ended half-story of The Lobby (a incomplete, displaced female narrative with a chillingly sad tune, which might be about dementia, bereavement, social defiance or a mixture of all three).


 
Over thirty-five years Jane’s music has flowed and curved from her early folk-and-synths period to the grand studio-as-instrument art-pop shapings of ‘The Walking’ and ‘When I Was A Boy’ to the embracing of tones from Canadian country, big-band soul and Celtic fusion. In more recent years, you can hear her conceptual thumbprint (if only in the shape of an elusive transmitted meme and method) in the work of a newer crop of independent female songwriters such as Jenny Hval. Her latest record, the crowd-funded ‘Ulysses’ Purse’, takes elements of all of these strands only to strain and diffuse them into gentle atmospherics around a core of some of Jane’s finest songs to date.

As with form, so with content. As Jane turns sixty, the focus of her songcraft has turned towards the significant but under-explored passage out of middle-age, in which neither work or life is over and done yet, but old disagreements must be put to rest and the scattered aspects of personhood and affection allowed to settle into the character you’ll need to take you through the next stage. Perhaps committed to communicating the album’s simplicity in action as well as concept (and perhaps transforming her budget restrictions into a broadening of the message), Jane’s been touring it low-budget and solo, with the minimum of instruments. For the British gig, she’s even laid some troubadour plans to make the journey between gigs on foot (when possible), accompanied only by her dog.


 

* * * * * * * *

The range of Jane’s tour guests – straightforward, but telling in tone – suggest that she’s put active thought and choice into the arrangements.

In the studio, The Blackheart Orchestra‘s Chrissy Mostyn and Richard Pilkington sometimes make the mistake of corraling multi-instrumental skills into recordings which over-egg and over-slick the substance of their songs. Live, however, is where to catch them and where everything works: with Richard carrying out carefully-timed and layered instrumental changes under Chrissy’s storyteller guitar and full, mesmeric voice, their compelling, atmospheric storytelling pop comes into focus. They’re with Jane for around half of the tour dates, an arrangement and environment which seems set to bring out the best in them: maybe not so much a learning environment as one which might convince them to bring their leaner, more spontaneous live strengths fully back into their recordings.


 
In place for the Bath date, Balsamo Deighton (a spinoff duo from late Brit-country band The Storys, featuring sometime theatre-musical star Steve Balsamo and former Deighton Family singer Rosalie Deighton) have a confident, Gram-and-Emmylou/Alison Krauss-inspired West Coast sound, nicely reflecting Jane’s own rootsier country leanings (as well as providing a more traditional songwriting style for her to kick off from).


 
For the Edinburgh show, Jane’s scored a coup by enticing her friend Carol Laula into a support slot. Carol’s one of those adult pop artists – thoroughly successful in their own sphere – who can slip clear away from the radar of younger, more experimentally-inclined listeners only to rush back in unexpectedly, a welcome gust of fresh air and vision. Noted for the warmth, engagement and humility of her gigs, Carol is another tourmate choice reflecting a past and current aspect of Jane – this time, the rapport with an audience through melodic and personal openness, the dedication to dynamiting preciousness in favour of rapport.


 
Kerry-based popster Ruth (who opens the first show of the tour at Whelan’s in Dublin) is less of an established quality, having only begun making a name for herself this year/ That said, her debut single Who Are You Living For? has already revealed prodigious depth and subtlety. Exploring anger, hurt, sympathy, reproach and concern in a single package, tied together with rapier-sharp insight: one to add to the list of big-hearted/let-down woman songs. While I suspect that Ruth might be turning up to the Siberry gig with minimal instrumentation, it also shows that she can flush a current dancetronic wallpaper-of-sound production style with the vivid intelligent personality of the expert singer-songwriter, moving from probing Wurlitzer-chime verses to explode into a grand CCM pop chorus. Ruth’s next single, out this month, is called Queen Of The Con. Clearly I’ll need to pay careful attention.


 
Similarly fresh on the scene but much, much more elusive is Delilah Montagu, who’s supporting at Sheffield and who keeps a bizarrely low media profile, with nary a song or a picture to be found to help build a profile. Apparently a gifted Joni Mitchell/Laura Marling-inspired singer and guitarist, she’s another early starter (first song written at eight, work being performed by choir and orchestra by the time she was eleven), and while she’s apparently been making a small, solid splash at selected regional folk festivals this year, her highest profile one seems to have been supporting similarly obscure art-folk trio Paradisia in a Stoke Newington pub cellar.

It seems as if this new support slot’s a jump up for Delilah… or maybe not. Despite the radio silence, she already comes garlanded with industry praise (from the likes of Simon Climie), and a little digging does reveal that she’s a scion of the eye-wateringly costly liberal-arts school Bedales, who’ve already rolled out pop alumni such as Marika Hackman, Lily Allen, baritone moodist Gabriel Bruce and blues-rocker Leah Mason – plus Cara Delevingne – and for whom she scored the school musical ‘Sound of The Night Feather’ before graduating). Everything about Delilah seems to mutter “carefully groomed for stealth success”, but, as ever, you can’t fake that kind of a thing in front of a cult audience like Jane’s; so I’m assuming that whoever picked her (and it could well be Jane herself) knows what they’re doing.

Amongst the tour guests, maybe the closest to Jane in terms of spirit is LeeSun, who’s supporting her at Milton Keynes. Korea-born, Canada-raised and now Leeds-based, Lee originally comes from witty, deceptively whimsical jazz-pop (if her Calgary-recorded, Wurlitzer-chiming 2011 debut, ‘Prime’, is anything to go by – check it out, since it’s a secret gem, and in line with Jane’s own lighter, perkier musings). Since then, changes in life and perspective have led her towards stretched-out, semi-spiritual chamber pop ballads which explore from the creche to the cosmos: swaddled but epic, tinted with rocking lullaby rhythms and touches of sleepy string jazz. I’m not sure what she’ll bring to the party at this point – hopefully some of the brave, open fragility of her recent singles, some of the Blossom Dearie wit of ‘Prime’, and some of the cool, defiant, musing commentary that’s evident from her podcasts in which she questions the way in which a patriarchal Western world distorts her situation (single mother, south-east Asian roots, self-possessed singleton) into that of some kind of resident alien.




 

August/September/December 2016 – music dramas in London and Edinburgh: Héloïse Werner & Jonathan Woolgar’s ‘Scenes From The End’ (10th to 27th August variously, plus more in December) and Zoe Lewis’ ‘Britten in Brooklyn’ (31st August-17th September)

4 Aug

Some news on a couple of pieces of music drama showing in London and Edinburgh this month – one a fully-fledged conceptual solo piece (involving original contemporary classical compositions and diverse performance techniques), the other a more conventional theatrical play themed around the wartime exile of Benjamin Britten.

Here’s a little more information about each of them (combed, shaped and styled in a hurry, from the press releases).

* * * * * * * *

Héloïse Werner's 'Scenes From The End'

‘Scenes from the End’ is a tour-de-force showcase for Héloïse Werner – soprano, sometime cellist and member of (amongst others) contemporary classical ensemble The Hermes Experiment, vocal ensemble Shards and original folk bands The Coach House Company and The Amazing Devil.

“Héloïse’s increasing interest in the dramatic potential of the unaccompanied voice has led her to experiment with a wide range of more contemporary techniques. ‘Scenes from the End’ is a fully staged, physical drama that combines classical and operatic vocal techniques, as well as improvisation, acting and body percussion. In it, Héloïse aims to confront the audience with the uncomfortable themes of death and grief, challenging them to reevaluate their own attitudes towards these difficult issues.

‘Scenes from the End’ is a collaboration with young composer Jonathan Woolgar (a previous award-winner of the BBC Proms Young Composers’ Competition) and with director Emily Burns. Using a colourful array of vocal and theatrical means, the show paints historic, comic and tragic pictures of “the end”, from the heat-death of the universe to the end of an individual life. This is virtuoso music theatre on a scale that is both cosmic and intimate.”

‘Scenes From The End’ is being performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with a couple of preview performances in London a week and a half beforehand. There’ll be a further run of London performances in December.

Camden Fringe Festival @ Camden People’s Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Road, London NW1 2PY, England
Wednesday 10th August 2016 & Thursday 11th August 2016, 7.15pm
information

Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Lime Studio @ Greenside (Nicholson Square), 25 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9BX, Scotland
Monday 22nd August 2016 to Saturday 27th August 2016 1.55pm
information

Tristan Bates Theatre, 1A Tower St, Covent Garden, London, WC2H 9NP
Tuesday 6th December 2016 to Saturday 10th December 2016, 7.30pm (plus one 3pm performance on the 10th)
– no information online yet

Although Héloïse is someone I’d like to catch up with for a chat at some point, for the moment I’d better point you in the direction of this recent interview she’s done (freshly published today!) with the LaLaLa Records vocal music homepage, covering ‘Scenes From The End’ and several of her other projects.

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'Britten In Brooklyn'

“Based on true events, the world premiere of Zoe Lewis‘s passionate and thought-provoking play Britten In Brooklyn takes place in the beautiful and unique setting of Wilton’s Music Hall. Starring Sadie Frost and directed by Oli Rose, it plays for a strictly limited season of 21 performances.

“New York City, 1940. A dilapidated house in Brooklyn Heights. The bohemian lifestyle of Benjamin Britten, WH Auden, Carson McCullers and Gypsy Rose Lee in the artistic community at 7 Middagh Street starts to unravel as World War II becomes a brutal reality. Exiled in America for his beliefs and a national disgrace, Benjamin Britten must decide which way his conflicted political ideals lie but the constant parties, doomed affairs and John Dunne, the mysterious stranger, provide an easy distraction.”

‘Britten in Brooklyn’
Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, Whitechapel, London, E1 8JB, England
Wednesday 31st August 2016 to Saturday 17th September 2016, 7.30pm (plus 2.30pm matinee performance on Wednesdays and Saturdays)
information
 

April 2016 – upcoming gigs – two types of British folk tour: Michael Chapman and Moulettes, plus a menagerie of support acts (United Sound of Joy, Richard Moss, Marcus Bonfanti, The Brackish, The Horse Loom, Dirty Old Folkers, Colour Trap)

19 Apr

Two British tours start this week, reflecting – in their way – very different aspects of British folk music.

Recently celebrated by ‘Mojo’, Michael Chapman isn’t just one of the sturdiest and most independent of the singer-songwriters coming out of the homegrown British folk revival of the 1960s: he’s also one of the last acoustic guitar masters standing from the generation which included Bert Jansch, Davy Graham and John Renbourne (all of whom are now gone). His playing reveals a fascination with Southern blues, folk, slide and ragtime jazz styles (all of which he’s mastered), while his pursuit of sound and setting has drawn him towards drones, delay, and loop effects (all of which he’s used as an adjunct to his unadorned playing, rather than as a replacement or distraction). As a singer and songwriter, there are parallels with J.J. Cale; and, rightly or wrongly, I can also hear echoes or anticipations of fellow Cale devotee Mark Knopfler in there, in terms of the husk, the fingerpicking clarity and the unprecious observational skills. (For what it’s worth, the two are connected by time in Leeds and both shared, however fleetingly, original Dire Straits drummer Pick Withers, whose jazz-influenced drummer kept the band both grounded and textured in the days before stadiums and weariness).

Here’s the press release for the upcoming tour:

“2016 marks noted guitarist & songwriter Michael Chapman’s 75th birthday and fifty years since he went on the road professionally in 1966. To coincide with the celebrations, Michael’s new instrumental album, ‘Fish’ has just been released on US imprint Tompkins Square & is already gathering much praise. To mark this important milestone in his life and career Michael Chapman tours in the UK as part of a stripped-back trio also featuring two longstanding allies – pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole (whose association with Chapman goes back a long, long way to the early 1970s) and Sarah Smout on cello (Chapman’s favourite musical instrument, which many fans will recall featured strongly on his classic 1970 album ‘Fully Qualified Survivor’.). The trio will be playing material from Michael’s incredible five-decade performing history as well as some new and experimental music.”




 

Dates are as follows:

A diverse set of interesting support acts are showing up at points during the tour, reflecting both the breadth of Michael’s musical references and the way in which venue promoters feel that they can successfully fit others around him on a bill. At Blackburn, the evening will be opened by Richard Moss: Lancashire singer-songwriter, fingerstyle guitarist, mandolin player and member of Anglo-Malaysian guitar duo Squirrels In Space, Irish music band Drop The Floor and the Union Street Country Dance & Ceilidh Band. At the Sinderhope show, support comes from hardcore punk escapee turned folk-baroque guitarist Steve Malley, otherwise known as The Horse Loom.



 

At the first gig of the tour (up in Hull), it’s Bristolian post-punk/psych/jazz band The Brackish who sound like an artfully spilled bookshelf of three decades worth of vinyl. Their muscly, slightly boggled tone mixes in urban blues, Ventures-tinged surf tunes, Frank Zappa air-sculptures and a few of Captain Beefheart’s broader brushstrokes (plus a tooth-in-the wind guitar edge which recalls the rawest work of Adrian Belew, at his analogue-screaming decennial point midway between Zappa and King Crimson).


 

* * * * * * * *

Although they’re also a product of the British folk tradition, Moulettes come from a different angle – one which is more fanciful and playful, in which authenticity is less the Holy Grail and more of a switchable ingredient. Like Rose Kemp, their take on folk draws on heavier sounds and on nearly fifty years of extraordinary, fanciful rock music. A Moulettes song comes at you like a dose of multi-instrumental chamber prog, adding cello, bassoon and autoharp to the guitars, bass and drums and the triple-decker lead vocals. Their storytelling itch, sense of mischief and enjoyment of each other’s company just glows out of both of these video clips below:



 

Dates are as follows:

  • The Brook, 466 Portswood Rd, Southampton, SO17 3SD, England, Thursday 21st April 2016
  • The Cellar, Frewin Court, Oxford, OX1 3HZ, England, Friday 22nd April 2016
  • Islington Assembly Hall, Upper Street, London, N1 2UD, England, Saturday 23rd April 2016, 7.00pm (with United Sounds Of Joy)
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EJ, England, Sunday 24th April 2016
  • The Apex, 1 Charter Square, Bury Saint Edmunds, IP33 3FD, England, Tuesday 26th April 2016
  • The Dark Horse, Alcester Road, Moseley, Birmingham, B13 8JP, England, Wednesday 27th April 2016, 7.00pm (with Marcus Bonfanti + The Dirty Old Folkers)more information
  • The Musician, 42 Crafton St West, Leicester, LE1 2DE, England, Thursday 28th April 2016
  • The Mash House, Hastie’s Close, 37 Guthrie Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1JQ, Scotland, Friday 29th April 2016 (with Colour Trap)more information
  • The Duchess, Stonebow House, The Stonebow, York, YO1 7NP, England, Tuesday 3rd May 2016 (support tbc) – more information
  • The Greystones, Greystones Road, Sheffield, S11 7BS, England, Wednesday 4th May 2016
  • Band On The Wall, 25 Swan Street, The Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 5JZ, England, Thursday 5th May 2016 (support t.b.c.) – more information
  • The Convent, Convent Lane, Stroud, GL5 5HS, England, Friday 6th May 2016more information
  • The Tolmen Centre, Fore Street, Constantine, near Falmouth, TR11 5AA, England, Saturday 7th May 2016, 7.30pmmore information

As with Michael Chapman, the support slot arrangements fan out over a diverse range of styles: in fact, even more diverse than the Chapman tour. The London gig features United Sounds Of Joy, the slow-burn sensual pop-noir duo reuniting Michael J. Sheehy and Alex Vald (who, during the 1990s, alternately spat savage vindictive rock filth or crooned a creased and seedy London romanticism with Dream City Film Club).



 

At Birmingham, support comes from straightahead London blues guitarist Marcus Bonfanti and from wisecracking locals The Dirty Old Folkers (who describe themselves as “a Viz comic, being narrated by the Pogues” and deliver a raucous, sometimes smutty set which might be good-time but which still draws heavily on bad times and working-class resilience).



 

In Edinburgh, Moulettes are joined by local trad-indie rockers Colour Trap, who look back to golden-age British rock and Britpop scenes of the ‘60s and ‘90s.

 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – Kiran Leonard tours Britain again (March into April) and reveals new single; London gigs from Whispers & Hurricanes (with Madam, Kat May and RobinPlaysChords) and a guitar double from Dean McPhee and Seabuckthorn

23 Mar

Details on two London shows from a packed upcoming weekend: but first, an extended British tour from a major talent…

* * * * * * * *

Tomorrow, explosively gifted singer-songwriter Kiran Leonard charges off on another British tour with his all-star quartet of Manchester art rock luminaries (completed by Dan Bridgwood Hill, Dave Rowe, and Andrew Cheetham – see the note on his previous tour for their credentials). Support on most of the tour comes from dark-glam Manchester pop act Irma Vep, although some dates feature folk musicians Richard Dawson and Salvation Bill (in Newcastle and Oxford respectively) and Bristolian “jazz/rock/post-op pop” quartet The Evil Usses (who fill the bill in Bath), with other acts to be confirmed (though they might have been added to the individual gig pages by now…)





Meanwhile, here’s Kiran’s brand-new nine-and-a-half-minute single – a terrific and spontaneous-sounding interweaving of otherworldly folk baroque, chamber prog, post-hardcore racket and kitchen-warrior percussion. The parent album, ‘Grapefruit’, is out on Moshi Moshi on Friday.


 

* * * * * * * *
In London, at the weekend, there’s a third-outing triple bill for Whispers & Hurricanes (the quieter wing of Chaos Theory Promotions, for when they fancy putting on an act that doesn’t sound like a giant metallic jazz centipede in manga boots)…

Whispers & Hurricanes, 26th March 2016

Chaos Theory presents:
Whispers & Hurricanes: Madam + Kat May + RobinPlaysChords
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Saturday 26th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

“A five-piece London based band, fronted by charismatic singer-songwriter and composer Sukie Smith, Madam create nocturnal, intricate-yet-cinematic soundscapes showcasing songs that are at once confessional and a call to arms, and have been compared to both Mazzy Star and Cat Power. The band has amassed a loyal legion of fans at home and abroad, showcasing their smoky sound at intimate gigs and packed venues across Europe. Tonight they will launch their haunting single When I Met You, taken from their upcoming album ‘Back To The Sea’.” (Meanwhile, here’s an earlier track from their previous album, ‘Gone Before Morning’; plus their darned slinky cover of Oscar Brown’s tale of treachery, ‘The Snake’ – a welcome antidote to the song’s recent co-opting by Donald Trump.)



 

Whispers & Hurricanes, 26th March 2016“After many years we are reunited with the extraordinary singer-songwriter Kat May, who is inspired by the melancholy of Scandinavia, the urban textures of her base in London and the literary song-writing of her native France. Her atmospheric indie folk-pop has been hailed by France’s biggest music magazine, ‘Les InRocks’, as “cathartic and elegant”, and by ‘Lomography’ as “visually dreamy, melancholic and emotionally arresting all at the same time.” We caught the launch of her debut album ‘Beyond The North Wind’ at St Pancras Old Church back in 2014, and it’s still a regular feature on our playlists. Tonight she will perform her music on piano and voice, with violin and cello accompaniments.


 

Robin Jax’s exploits as RobinPlaysChords have been built on a slow but steady sonic development. Hailing from his remote country abode near Leamington Spa, the solitary songwriter uses his guitar and loopstation to create percussion, shimmering ambience and distorted hooks for him to place his honest lyrics over. Garnering comparisons to David Bowie and Patrick Wolf, RobinPlaysChords has previously won over audiences when opening for The Irrepressibles, Larsen, Thomas Truax and others, as well as undertaking his first shows in continental Europe in 2015.”


 

* * * * * * * *

Finally for now, a doubled gig of textured, looped and echoed guitar, but with a pastoral edge…

Dean McPhee + Seabuckthorn
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX, England
Saturday 26th March 2016, 8.30pm
more information

“West Yorkshire based solo electric guitarist Dean McPhee plays a Fender Telecaster through a valve amp and effects pedals, combining clean, chiming melodic lines with deep layers of decaying delay and cavernous echo. Over years of improvisation and experimentation he has developed a unique style of playing which draws together influences from British folk, dub, kosmische, post-rock, Mali blues and modal jazz. His releases on the Blast First Petite, Hood Faire and World in Winter labels have been critically acclaimed by ‘The Wire’, ‘Uncut’, ‘Record Collector’, ‘Music OMH’, ‘Dusted’, ‘Brainwashed’, ‘The Out Door’, ‘Drowned in Sound’ and ‘The Quietus’ amongst others. He has supported artists/bands including Thurston Moore (as UK tour support), Acid Mothers Temple, Wolf People, James Blackshaw, Emeralds, Josh T Pearson, The Magic Band, Sharon Van Etten, Michael Hurley, Josephine Foster, Meg Baird, Bohren and der Club of Gore and Charalambides. Dean is currently working on a new album which uses a kick drum pedal to introduce a pulsing, percussive undercurrent to his most recent compositions,


 

Seabuckthorn is the solo project of UK acoustic guitarist Andy Cartwright. Releasing 6 albums since 2008 he explores alternative terrains on six to twelve strings, often with minimal layered accompaniments to form musical landscapes. Cartwright uses the techniques of finger picking & bowing combined with various open tunings to create a well curated mixture of approaches. Falling into the cinematic and soundtrack genres, his music is evident of influences ranging from the traditional styles of Robbie Basho and Jack Rose, to more modern players like Ben Chasny, Zak Riles, and Gustavo Santaolalla with whom Cartwright shares an emphasis on atmospheric and multi-instrumental compositions. Sometimes quietly ambient, often powerfully expressive. As well as live performances around the UK, Cartwright has performed in numerous shows & festivals all over France & the southern deserts of Tunisia.


 

Dean McPhee and Seabuckthorn are recording a split 7″ single to be released later this year.”

* * * * * * * *

News on more London weekend shows are coming up next time…
 

February 2016 – upcoming gigs – airy and almost acoustic: William D. Drake in Italy, Louis Barrabas plays across Scotland and the north of England, Daylight Music brings us Alex Mendham’s 1930s dance tunes, Ben See’s a capella and more…

16 Feb

William D. Drake, 2016

Here’s some news on a brief three-date set of Italian shows by William D. Drake. Approximate blurb translation follows:

“Cristiano Roversi (in collaboration with Arci Tom, Pietro Rubini & Guido Bellachioma ) is happy and proud to announce the William D. Drake Italian 2016 Minitour. One of the most exciting acts on the contemporary London underground music scene, the amazing virtuoso songwriter, keyboardist and piano artist (reknowned for having been both keyboard player and co-composer in Cardiacs) presents songs from his latest studio album ‘Revere Reach’ plus a selection of old numbers. William will share the stage with Mr.James Larcombe (keyboards, backing vocals & hurdy-gurdy, from Stars In Battledress) and Mrs. Nicola Baigent (clarinet, from North Sea Radio Orchestra).”

Dates:

  • Arci Tom, Piazza Tom Benetollo, 1, 46010 Mantova MN, Italy, Friday 19th February 2016 – more information here
  • Metricubi, Campiello delle Erbe 2003 San Polo 30125 Venezia, Saturday 20th February 2016 – more information here
  • Planet Live Club/Discoteca Planet, Via del Commercio, 36, 00154 Roma, Italy, Sunday 21st February 2016, 8.00pm (with Sterbus) – more information here or here

Italian musician and songwriter Sterbus (whose ‘Smash The Sun Alight‘ mini-album features in one of ‘Misfit City’s most-read reviews) will be playing a support slot at the Rome date. Promising a mixture of originals plus “some familiar surprises”, he’s fielding a semi-unplugged trio of himself on voice and guitar, regular sidekick Dominique D’Avanzo on vocals, clarinet and harmonica and Noel Storey (of St Albans lo-fi indie pop band The Pocket Gods) on piano and synth.

Three video clips (two Drakes, plus a Sterbus) are below. The first is a full-band Drake recording – live in the studio – of To My Piano, capturing the folk, Early English and chapel-songbook aspects of his baroque pop songwriting to full effect (as well as some of the warmth of his live shows). The second is a recording of him playing his solo piano study The Moth Surrenders To The Flame, a deeper immersion in his classical side.


The third is Sterbus’ recent cover of the Cardiacs song Gina Lollabridgida, which eases away the original’s frenetic New Wave rush in favour of a summery acoustic coo while keeping all of its intricacies intact. Sterbus unveiled this version of the song at a London fundraiser for Tim Smith last autumn, while the video itself is a mash-up of some of the finest visual moments from Gina herself on film… so that’s three or four layers of tribute right there. Enjoy.


 

* * * * * * * *

Louis Barrabas plays Santa...The perpetual vigour and drive of theatrical, multi-disciplinary songwriter Louis Barabbas has seen him dubbed “the hairy Bez of blues harp”, put him to work with Dr. Dog and John Otway, and made him busy with mentoring developing artists, running a record label, and fronting radio shows plus at least three simultaneous bands. He’s currently engaged in a long and winding British tour over the next few months, spattering through spring and into a few bigger summer dates.

For now, here are the dates for Louis’ February shows, all of which take place in Scotland and the north of England and all of which are solo (although some subsequent dates will see Louis playing with his Bedlam Six and Ceaseless Horror Band projects).

Dates:

  • The Doghouse Cellar Jazz Bar, Kay Brow Yard, Kay Brow, Ramsbottom, BL0 9AY, England, Friday 19th February 2016 – free event
  • Stacoustic @ The Star Inn, 2 Back Hope Street, Salford, M7 2FR, England, Saturday 20th February 2016 – more information
  • The Ferret, 55 Fylde Road, Preston, PR1 2XQ, England, Tuesday 23rd February 2016
  • Siempre Bicycle Café, 162 Dumbarton Road, Glasgow, G11 6XE, Scotland, Thursday 25th February 2016
  • St Andrews Sessions @ St Andrews Church, Church Street, Innerleithen, EH44 6JA, Scotland, Friday 26th February, 2016, 8.00pmmore information
  • Woodland Creatures, 260-262 Leith Walk, Edinburgh, EH6 5EL, Scotland, Saturday 27th February, 2016
  • Argyle Rooms (house concert), Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumbria, England, Sunday 28th February, 2016
  • Heaton Perk, 103-105 Heaton Park Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE6 5NR, England, Monday 29th February 2016

Since most of these are café gigs, check at the venues for more information on times, prices etc or check via Louis’ homepage. The tour will continue into March and April, with further summer gigs to come. I’ll post information about those shows closer to the time. Meanwhile, here’s the man himself, in action…



 

* * * * * * * *

There’s a wealth of shows on Saturday 20th February, but for now I’ll just mention the acoustic one which comes with 1930s arrangements and voice-dancing…

Daylight Music 216, 20th February 2016

Daylight Music presents:
Daylight Music 216: Alex Mendham & His Orchestra, Ben See + Rory McVicar + Gemma Champ
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 20th February 2016, 12.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like event (suggested donation £5.00) – more information

Alex Mendham & His Orchestra are a truly authentic Golden Age 1920s and 1930s British dance band formed in 2010. These young musicians have been stunning audiences all across Europe, as they perform with boundless passion and energy, with impeccable attention to period detail not only in their music and vocals, but in everything from their original instruments to their hair and attire.

Ben See is a singer and composer from London. He specialises in vocal music, and more specifically contemporary a cappella. Ben’s musical influences range from the scores of Benjamin Britten to the ever-eccentric Björk, with a small detour via the beautiful song-writing of Brian Wilson and the vocal wizard Bobby McFerrin.

Rory McVicar is a musician and songwriter who has been releasing music under his own name since 2005. His first demo found its way into Radio One’s Festive Fifty after heavy rotation on the Huw Stephens and Rob da Bank shows. Since then, he’s released two long players and a clutch of singles, splits and EPs on various indie labels.

This week Gemma Champ will return to provide the matinee music in-between on the piano.”

* * * * * * * *

Noisier events coming right up…
 

January 2016 – upcoming gigs – Fortuna Pop Winter Sprinter and Repeater alt/indie/noisepop mini-festivals (and Hannah Marshall/Korbik Lucas playing a LUME slot) in London; Britten Sinfonia At Lunch across the east of England (with an Anna Clyne premiere); David Cohen and friends play magical-journey chamber music by Michael Nyman, Schubert and Gavin Higgins in Norwich

3 Jan

Happy New Year everyone. While I sort myself out, put the review of 2015 together and decide which approaches to take with ‘Misfit City’ this year, here’s what I know about so far in terms of January shows. A couple of mini-festivals of indie pop/garage rock/punk/noise rock and indie folk in London; a lunchtime mini-tour of chamber music in London and the east of England; an afternoon of free improvisation in a Kentish Town record shop; plus one more interesting classical concert in unusual surroundings up in Norwich.

* * * * * * * *

Several of the characters who showed up for the Arrivée/Départ II festival last month are also showing up for this next one: it’s a similar aesthetic, and involves many of the same musical and professional friendships.

Fortuna Pop Winter Sprinter, January 2016

The 6th Annual Fortuna POP! Winter Sprinter (2016) (The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England, Tuesday 5th to Friday 8th January 2016, various times) – £10.45 (or £32.70 for four-day pass) – informationtickets

It’s happening again… The 6th Annual Fortuna POP! Winter Sprinter 2016 is Go! Four nights, twelve bands, DJs… the perfect antidote to the post-Christmas blues with the creme de la creme of the Fortuna POP! roster – including former members of Broken Family Band and The Loves – plus special guests.

Tuesday 5th January – Steven James Adams + Simon Love + The Leaf Library plus DJ Paul Wright (The Track & Field Organisation).



Wednesday 6th January – Tigercats + Flowers + Chorusgirl plus DJ Paul Richards (Scared To Dance).



Thursday 7th January – Withered Hand (full band) + Evans The Death + Pete Astor, plus DJ Darren Hayman.



Friday 8th January – Martha + Milky Wimpshake + Bleurgh (a Blur covers band featuring members of Allo Darlin’‎, Fever Dream, Night Flowers and Tigercats) plus DJs Sandy Gill & Karren Gill (Stolen Wine Social Club Night).


* * * * * * * *

Overlapping the Winter Sprinter is something a little noisier, over in Shacklewell…

Repeater Festival, January 2016

Repeater Festival (Bad Vibrations @ The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, England,
Thursday 7th to Saturday 9th January 2016, various times)
– free entry – information

To break in the new year, Bad Vibrations will be putting on a 3-day residency of free-entry gigs at The Shacklewell Arms featuring a selection of garage, noise-rock and indie-folk bands. People playing include Taman Shud, The Wharves, Strange Cages, Virgin Kids, The Eskimo Chain, Honey Moon, Lucifer’s Sun, Night Shades and St. Serf. The usual strip of soundclips and video is below.








 

* * * * * * * *

A recent trip to Norwich (still a prime ‘Misfit City’ stomping ground, partly thanks to all of those hometown Burning Shed concerts in the past decade or so) brought me into touch with the next set of gigs. The classical ensemble Britten Sinfonia has close links with the east of England and is honouring that with its At Lunch mini-tours, which swing in a loose arc between Norwich, Cambridge and London, bringing sturdy classical repertoire plus new premieres with them. Here’s information on the second of these tours (sorry, I missed the first one) which takes place mid-month:

Anna Clyne (photo by Javier Oddo)

Anna Clyne (photo by Javier Oddo)


Britten Sinfonia presents ‘At Lunch Two’

  • St Andrew’s Hall @ The Halls, St Andrews Plan, Norwich, Norfolk, NR3 1AU, England, Friday 15th January 2016 – £3.00 to £9.00 plus booking fee – tickets
  • West Road Concert Hall, 11 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DP, England, Tuesday 19th January 2016, 1.00pm – £3.00 to £9.00 – information & tickets
  • Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 2BP, England, Wednesday 20th January 2016, 1.00pm – £11.00 to £13.00 – information & tickets

Programme:

Johann Sebastian Bach – Gott versorget alles Leben (from Cantata BWV187)
Domenico Scarlatti (arr. Salvatore Sciarrino) – Due arie notturne dal campo
Arvo Pärt – Fratres (for string quartet)
Johann Sebastian Bach – Seufzer, Tranen, Kummer, Not (from Cantata BWV21)
György Ligeti – Continuum
Anna Clyne – This Lunar Beauty (world premiere tour)
Johann Sebastian Bach – Tief gebückt und voller Reue (from Cantata BWV199)

Performers:

Julia Doyle (soprano)
Maggie Cole (harpsichord)
Jacqueline Shave, Miranda Dale (violins)
Clare Finnimore (viola)
Caroline Dearnley (cello)
Marios Argiros (oboe)

A pre-occupation with texture permeates this programme, beginning with two arias from the grand master of counterpoint, J. S. Bach. Ligeti’s ‘Continuum’ tests not only the limits of the soloist but also the exhilarating knife-edge between hearing individual notes and continuous sound. A world premiere from Grammy-nominated composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music, Anna Clyne, whose music seeks to explore resonant soundscapes and propelling textures, completes the journey from the baroque to present day.

* * * * * * * *

LUME, whose London jazz and free improvisation events I tracked during 2015, are continuing to expand their efforts. While they seem to have found themselves a more regular slot at the Vortex, early 2016 shows are taking place at assorted venues around the capital – galleries, shops, any suitable space. The first of these is in a heavy-duty experimental record shop in Kentish Town, which – although it’s only a short walk or bus hop away from the ‘Misfit City’ flat – I’ve not noticed up until now. I should visit it and go through my usual masochistic experience of being intimidated by serried racks of music made by people I’ve not heard of before; or perhaps I should just go to this show.

Hannah Marshall + Kordik Lucas (LUME @ Electric Knife Records, 16b Fortess Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 2EU, England, Saturday 16th January 2016, 1.30pm) – pay-what-you-like, £5.00 minimum

The first LUME gig of the year features a solo set from improvising cellist Hannah Marshall (whose collaborators have included Veryan Weston, Evan Parker, Lauren Kinsalle, Alex Ward and former Henry Cow members Tim Hodgkinson and Fred Frith), followed by a performance by the improvising duo Kordik Lucas duo (Slovakian analogue synth player Daniel Kordik and trombonist Edward Lucas, who also run the Earshots concert series and record label). This will be an in-store show so space is limited. There’s not much more information available on the evening at present, so keep an eye on the LUME and Electric Knife sites for updates (if anything new shows up, I’ll add it in here…)


* * * * * * * *

David Cohen (photo by Daniel Herendi)

David Cohen (photo by Daniel Herendi)

Finally, back to Norwich to drop in on a classical chamber music series assembled by acclaimed Belgian cellist David Cohen and assorted friends. Usually when I cover classical or modern classical concerts it’s because they feature premieres of new pieces or intriguing new interpretations and juxtapositions. While this one does feature a premiere (Gavin Higgins’ ‘Howl’) as well as a recent Michael Nyman string quartet from 2011, in this case I was intrigued by the venue – the John Innes Centre, a long-established plant and microbial research centre which lends its lecture theatre for these concerts. If you’re of an intellectual, associative and site-specific mindset, you can listen to the structures in the music unfold while simultaneously considering that you’re surrounded by the echoes of people thinking about – and unravelling the shape of – vegetable genomes.

Cello Con Brio ‘Magical Journeys’ (Norfolk & Norwich Chamber Music @ John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, Colney Lane, Norwich, NR4 7UH, England, Sunday 17th January 2016, 7.30pm) – £1.50 to £25.50 – informationtickets

Programme:

Michael Nyman – String Quartet No. 5 (‘Let’s not make a song and dance out of this’)
Gavin Higgins – Howl (for solo cello & string quartet) – world premiere
Franz Schubert – String Quintet in C

Performers:

David Cohen (cello)
Henri Sigfridsson (piano)
Corinne Chapelle (violin)
The Smith Quartet (strings)

Music performed by the ensemble on the other two days of the residency (15th and 16th January) includes chamber works by Brahms, Arensky, Schnittke, Beethoven and Paganini – the full listing is here.

* * * * * * * *

More gig news next time, including shows by Laura Cannell, Ichi and Tom Slatter.
 

August 2015 – upcoming gigs – the Manchester Jazz Festival (31st July to 9th August)

31 Jul

One of the reasons that I’ve been posting so many concert previews recently is simply that (being mostly homebound at the moment) I miss going to gigs. Looking at the lineup and scope of the 2015 Manchester Jazz Festival (which starts today and runs rampant for ten days through until 9th August) reminds me that not only do I regret not attending the wealth of music that takes place here in London, but that I miss more freewheeling days of music elsewhere. Discovering unexpected, treasurable bands at random while on holiday in Brugge, for instance; or immersing myself in a week of concerts and more in Edinburgh or Leeds (such as the one I reviewed here, over a decade ago.)

We know that, as a British pop and dance city, Manchester punches well above its weight. Despite a bubbling undercurrent of improvised music, its reputation as a jazz town is hazier…. or, more probably, I’m just ignorant. The Festival’s been going for twenty years, long enough to gain enough gravity to generate its own traditions. (One such is ‘Surroundings’,  a longer-form ensemble piece by Salford composer Neil Yates. Commissioned for the festival in 2010, it seems to have become the event’s unofficial signature – this year, it’s being revisited as a quartet performance in the Central Library Reading Room.)

Even a quick sift through this year’s programme reveals a jazz party that any city would be proud of – diverse, inclusive, inviting and multi-levelled, an exciting noise ranging from the stately to the vividly scraggled and all the better for it.  With many tickets going at only four pounds, (with a ten-pound all-events daily ticket and free-entry deals if you stump up as a low-level event sponsor), they could hardly have made it any more inviting to the casual walker-upper. Excuse me for a moment while I strip-mine press releases and YouTube, and check Soundcloud pages and Bandcamp links.

Starting with the higher-end, bigger name events…  Acclaimed Blue Note pianist Robert Glasper slips away from his experimentations with latterday R’n’B to get back to basics with an acoustic trio;  John Surman re-teams with the Trans4mation String Quartet to revive the thoughtful, tidally-deep music from his ‘Coruscating’ and ‘The Spaces in Between’ albums. Norma Winstone, Klaus Gesing and Glauco Venier bring along their trans-European project DistancesPartisans bring their transatlantic swing storm; Christine Tobin  her ‘Thousand Kisses Deep’ jazzification of Leonard Cohen songs. French Jazz Musician of the Year Airelle Besson makes an appearance with her Quartet for a set of “gently experimental songs animated by heartfelt lyrics, plaintive melodies and rolling harmonies.” backed with pinballing rhythms and punchy countersyncopations.

There are heavyweight two-headed summit performances by acclaimed British jazz talents – one by frequent quartet buddies Mike Walker and Gwilym Simcock, another by the more recent pairing of Tori Freestone and Alcyona Mick.  Two further British scene fast risers – Stuart McCallum and Alice Zawadzki – bring string-enhanced performances of ongoing projects (the former offering contemporary soul jazz and bass-heavy electronica with surprise guest singers, the latter a fantastical Mancunian song cycle influenced by various shades of love and fairytale).

There are also several of those gentler, more literate projects which seem to blossom best in a festival atmosphere away from a hot core of gutsy brass.  Andrew Woodhead and Holly Thomas’ Snapdragon trio specialize in chilled, ethereal song-settings of literature and poetry (Larkin and Bukowski-inspired) and bursts of vocalese. Mark Pringle‘s A Moveable Feast mates orchestral strings with a bold horn and rhythm section to explore “themes of wildlife, literature and city chaos.”  The “fractured Anglicana” of Hugh Nankivell’s multi-instrumental/four-part vocal quartet Natural Causes means that they perform “curious compositions with  improbable but poignant texts” including “psychedelic lullabies, pinprick-precise ballads, unpredictable group improvisation and brotherly harmony across the board”, and music which draws on classic and contemporary art pop (Robert Wyatt, XTC and Björk) as much as it does on jazz sources.

Elsewhere, much of the polyglot diversity of jazz today is celebrated. The Cuban tradition is represented by the Pepe Rivero Trio and Orquesta Timbala; the Congolese by Eddy Tshepe Tshepela‘s Afrika Jazz. Central and South American ideas are brought along by Agua Pasa (who, with  Dudley Nesbit’s steel pan project Pan Jumby,  also touch on the Caribbean).  The Quarry Hillbillies (a teaming of Ulrich Elbracht, Ed Jones, Jamil Sheriff) from European contemporary jazz, while the frenetic whirl of Eastern European folk elements are covered by Makanitza.  The Gorka Benítez Trio move between Basque-flavoured small group jazz and compelling free-form impressionism. David Austin Grey’s Hansu-Tori ensemble is inspired by natural, elemental and cinematic” ideas, as well as a fascination with Eastern world culture.  Percussionist Felix Higginbottom’s Hans Prya  provides genre-hopping jazz-dance and Jim Molyneux’s Glowrogues favour funk and hip-hop flavoured pieces. Trumpeter Lily Carassik‘s fusion group Yesa Sikyi take ideas from the ’50s and blend them with popular standards and soul arrangements; while The Stretch Trio include glossier elements from ’70s jazz rock, progressive rock and ’80s pop along with sinuous gusts of wind synth.

Those who prefer classic jazz – more traditional by-the-book American styles – might prefer Russell Henderson and Jamie Taylor’s Ellington-and-Strayhorn tribute ‘The Intimacy Of The Blues’, or the Dan Whieldon Trio‘s salute to Gershwin. The Dave Kane Quartet take inspiration from the knottier ambitions of Charles Mingus, John Zorn and Eric Dolphy. Two groups of students from the Royal Northern College of Music provide live celebrations of the history which they’ve been learning – the James Girling Quintet  spans jazz, blues and funk from New Orleans roots through to the 1960s, while the Nick Conn Octet (a self-described “trombone choir”) interweaves re-arranged jazz classics with original material.

Fans of New Orleans jazz can check out genuine New Orleaners The Session (who offer a past-present take on their hometown’s music), or look out for the street sounds of the New York Brass Band (actually from old York, the cheeky buggers) or see how the Riot Jazz Brass Band dust up old New Orleans sounds with dancefloor, dubstep and drum-and-bass incursions. Hot jazz/Gypsy/jazz manouche aficionados can go for the loving recreations of 52 Skidoo (who promise you prohibition speakeasies, rent parties and Tin Pan Alley) or for Gypsies Of Bohemia, who manouche-ify latterday pop songs such as Heart Of Glass, Toxic and Hot In Herre. (Being Mancunian, they also do This Charming Man – I’ll bet that that high-life opening riff translates pretty well).

Of course, much of the fun of a jazz festival involves catching a lesser-known, or even unknown, band carving away at the edge, furiously discovering – and there are plenty of those here. Since they drew me into covering the festival in the first place, I’m going to put a particular word in for Jon Thorne’s Sunshine Brothers (playing at Matt & Phreds on 4th August) in which the double bass/laptop-wielding Jon teams up with drummer Rob Turner (of Blue Note-signed breakbeat jazz electronicists GoGo Penguin) and looping poly-genre bass guitarist Steve Lawson (a ‘Misfit City’ regular) for “a cutting-edge trio of genre-defying musicians mixing jazz, improvisation, electronic and filmic soundscapes to euphoric effect, evoking sounds far removed from their bass origins.”

However, you could just as easily catch a full performance by GoGo Penguin themselves; or by Lauren Kinsella’s Blue-Eyed Hawk, who offer “art-rock, jazz and electronic soundworlds: imaginative and emotive, from pindrop to powerhouse.” The Madwort Saxophone Quartet play intricate four-part math-jazz. “Power-jazz commando team” Taupe (a triple-city trio from Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh) punch around themes from jazz, hip hop and heavy metal. Craig Scott’s Lobotomy seem determined to take the cake for upfront experimental exhilaration this time around, delivering shout-outs to John Cage, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, proclaiming a performance in which “experimental jazz rubs shoulders with electronica and DIY alternative rock in a bubbling cauldron of live and recorded sounds” and promising to sample and reconstruction their own improvisations live on stage.  There’ll also be a improvised summit involving bands associated with Manchester’s Efpi Records and Paris’ Onze Heures Onze collective.

One way into discovery is to take advantage of the free showcases for emerging bands. Care of the BBC’s ‘Jazz On 3’, London offers three bands – Nérija ( the all-female creative septet from the Tomorrow’s Warriors jazz school), the award-winning piano jazz of the Ashley Henry Trio and the decidedly psychedelic Phaze Theory (a quartet of drums, tuba, voice and guitar dedicated to “exploring the vastness of the musical cosmos”).

But perhaps it’s Jazz North’s Northern Line series that you should be checking out, showcasing bands from the north and the Midlands. Manchester offers the Iain Dixon/Les Chisnall Duo (whose repertoire of self-defined standards stretches from Messaien to Gracie Fields) and the John Bailey Quintet  (guitar-led, and similarly inspired by twentieth century classical music). Newcastle provides barrel-house blues and ballads from The Lindsay Hannon Plus and the tricky free jazz/folk/rock/dancefloor entwinings of the Graeme Wilson Quartet. Lancaster and Liverpool provide one act apiece – Andrew Grew’s “total improvisers” The Grew Quartet and the “gothic bebop” of Blind Monk Trio, who claim to fuse the spirit of Thelonius Monk with Persian traditional music and the heavy-rock attitude of Led Zeppelin and Nirvana’s heavy-rock attitude.

However, it’s Leeds (still underrated as a musical powerhouse despite the world-class output of its music college and the vigorous inventiveness of its bands) which dominates the Northern Line. As well as providing the previously-mentioned Pan Jumby, Leeds brings the Portuguese/African/Latin  and Indian song-fusions of Manjula, the Django Reinhardt swing of the Matt Holborn Quartet, Cameron Vale‘s ferociously energetic melange of jazz, metal, electronica, Afrobeat and Klezmer and the semi-electric “extreme, eerie to comic” improvisations of Tipping Point (featuring perpetual bad-boy pianist Matthew Bourne).  Friendly rivalry aside, there’s also co-operation: Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool all join forces in The Bugalu Foundation for a Latin barrio take on northern soul.

Around all of this jazz there’s the usual happy agglomeration of related music – not quite jazz in itself, but possibly sharing a drink or a roll-up somewhere along the way. The festival covers various popular outcropping such as soul (in assorted Northern, jazz and diva forms courtesy of The Juggernaut Love Band, Terry Shaltiel & The Soultroopers, Charlie Cooper & The CCs) but also ’60s/‘70s funk (Buffalo Brothers), ’70s Afrobeat and Ethiopian pop (Kalakuta), ska (Baked à la Ska) and mbalax (Mamadou & The Super Libidor Band). There’s even an alt-country act (Stevie Williams & The Most Wanted Band) sneaking in at the back door. As for rock’n’roll/folk/reggae/swing scavengers The Flat Cap 3… well, for starters, there’s only two of them, so you can be dubious about anything else you might read, but don’t let that put you off.

Three female songwriters are also bringing their bands, coming from a folk or world music zone and overlapping into jazz. Kirsty McGee leads her Hobopop Collective through a “joyful, dirty” sound drawing from gospel, blues and a collection of found instruments (including musical saw, waterphone, Humber hubcaps and metal buckets). The constantly shifting song landscapes of the Zoe Kyoti Trio draw from their leader’s Armenian and Greek heritage (as well as Cajun, European and Indian ideas). Saluting home-brewed British polyculture, Shama Rahman‘s ensemble explore her London home, her Bangladeshi roots, and her childhood memories of Middle Eastern desert landscapes in a “sitar,stories and song” melange of  jazz-inspired improvisation, classically-inspired melodies and folk-inspired storytelling accompanied by energetic rhythms of swing, funk, hip hop, bossa nova and drum’n’bass.

For parents of very young children, needing to balance a jazz fix with family responsibilities, there are a couple of fully interactive kids’ events with activities, storytelling and improvisations.  The Living Story Music Ensemble and illustrator Ann Gilligan collaborate on ‘I Have A Duck Who Can Roar’; the blues-and-roots-tinged Hillary Step Quartet work with storyteller Ursula Holden Gill and dancers from The Dalcroze Society for ‘How Monkey Found His Swing’. Once the kids are attended to, there are still interactive events for the grown-ups, whether you’re talking about the all-in jazz vinyl night, the mixed-genre dj sets by Mr Scruff, Franny Eubanks‘ open-door blues jam or (for the more technologically inquisitive)  Rodrigo Constanzo‘s showcasing of his dfscore software. The latter’s a creative music tool, cueing improvisers via graphical, visual and written clues: on this occasion, anyone with an instrument and a connectible smartphone/tablet/pad should be able to roll up and join in with the roar, joining some leading improvisers in performing music in tandem with the system.

For those remaining soundclips which I’ve not already snatched and pasted, visit the MJF Soundcloud page here … but better yet, if you’re anywhere near Manchester over the next few weeks, drop in at the festival (it’s hard to miss, considering that it’s not just hiding behind club doors but has effectively taken over the town’s main square for a fortnight). Seeing something this impressive light up and roll on fills me with delight – even if on this occasion I’m also filled with rue at not being able to go myself.  But never mind me…

July/August 2015 – upcoming gigs – 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

 

June 2015 – upcoming gigs – Sink and Alabaster DePlume on brief English tour this week

1 Jun

This just in from all-round Mancunian multi-media bloke (poet, songwriter, saxophonist, theatre-and-film collaborator) Alabaster DePlume. He’s on a tour of off-the-beaten track venues in the south of England this week with experimental Edinburgh improvisers SiNK, having started off in Aberystywyth over the weekend (sorry, I heard about that gig too late). It’s not entirely clear what they’re doing, but it’s safe to assume that there’ll be a spirit of discovery.

About SiNK, Alabaster says:

The tour celebrates their new album, ‘Ossicles’… Last time I played with them they created a ‘sound mirror’ – a bass drum on its side filled with water, with a speaker underneath. They played their music through the speaker and projected a light onto the water which was reflected onto the ceiling, where it displayed the geometrical shapes created by the sounds. They then played in response to the shapes (and each other) which changed in response to their playing.

event-20150601sinkalabaster

Tour dates:

The Prince Albert, Rodborough Hill, Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL5 3SS, Tuesday 2nd June, 8.00 pm – free event.

The Albion Beatnik Bookshop, 34 Walton Street, Oxford, OX2 6AA, Wednesday 3rd June, 7.30pm – tickets £8.00 (£5.00 concessions);

Nest Collective @ Turning Earth Ceramics Studio, Railway Arches 361-362, Whiston Road, London, E2 8BW, Friday 5th June, 8.30 pm – tickets £8.00 to £10.00 from here.

Café Kino, 108 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RU, Saturday 6th June, 8.00 pm – tickets £6.00.

Earthworm Housing Co-Op, Wheatstone House, High Street, Leintwardine, Craven Arms, Shropshire, SY7 0LH, Sunday 6th June, 7.30 pm – free event.

Sounds intriguing…

May 2015 – through the feed – free single/upcoming crowdfunder from The Duke Of Norfolk; Cardiacs and Knifeworld reissues; a new Tim Bowness album; disinterring lost Levitation

21 May

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

The Duke Of Norfolk: 'A Revolutionary Waltz'

The Duke Of Norfolk: ‘A Revolutionary Waltz’

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

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

Cardiacs: 'Guns'

Cardiacs: ‘Guns’

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

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

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

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

Cardiacs: 'Day Is Gone'

Cardiacs: ‘Day Is Gone’

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

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

Cardiacs: 'Heaven Born And Ever Bright'

Cardiacs: ‘Heaven Born And Ever Bright’

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

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

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


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

Knifeworld: ‘Home Of The Newly Departed’

Knifeworld: ‘Home Of The Newly Departed’

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

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

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

Tim Bowness: 'Stupid Things That Mean The World'

Tim Bowness: ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Duke Of Norfolk online:
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Cardiacs online:
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Knifeworld online:
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Tim Bowness online:
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Levitation online:
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October 2013 – live reviews – autumn light, part 2: Daylight Music presents Annie Dressner/Buriers/We Are Children (We Make Sound) @ Union Chapel, Islington, London, 12th October 2013 (“the Daylight mixture of low-key quirk and put-you-at-yer-ease continues to work its magic”)

17 Oct
The Uke of Doom.

The Uke of Doom.

A fortnight on from our last visit to Daylight Music, my family and I are back again. Blame the warmth of the welcome, blame the homemade cake; blame my little son Oscar’s hopes of grabbing a set of hand-bells again. Blame a rare opportunity for us all to like the same kind of thing, but I think we’re hooked. If not hooked, we’re already used to that Daylight Music atmosphere: the occasional sound of a baby’s coo echoing through the cavernous vault of the Union Chapel, the slightly sleepy post-lunchtime ambience, the arts’n’crafts feel to proceedings; that gentle, polite undercurrent of London community ambience that’s getting more and more difficult to find in this time of mounting rents and bugger-my-neighbour.

Daylight family matters - Caitlin and Ben.

Daylight family matters – Caitlin and Ben.

A full-family, free-or-whatever event at a major London junction, Daylight remains something to treasure. Things do change here, of course. The autumn wears on and there’s less and less sun to slip in and kiss the Gothic brickwork, less physical warmth to rouge the stone. The lowering October light dims the room rather than illuminates it, so that everyone onstage seems to be performing inside an unrestored oil painting, beneath a filmy pall of soot and years – but the Daylight mixture of low-key quirk and put-you-at-yer-ease continues to work its magic. Compering the event with his usual pin-point fuzziness, Ben Eshmade seems more and more like a gentle young cousin slowly evolving into a beloved uncle. Caitlin Hogan (Daylight’s beaming, leggy factotum-and-mascot) not only plays the church organ but frisks cheerfully around at the interval with an usherette’s tray. We’re warmed – and when we aren’t, we just pull our clothes around ourselves a little tighter and wait to see who’s come to the show this time.

A short time ago, New York singer-songwriter Annie Dressner crossed the Atlantic to England, swapping the brashness of her hometown for the more reticent self-assurance of Cambridge. As part of the deal, gridlocks were traded for grass commons, skyscrapers for Gothic spires, the swarming of yellow cabs for the purr of passing bicycles. New York isn’t entirely left behind, though: Annie’s very first song today is called Brooklyn. Her soft strum sketches out an altogether quieter place than the ever-rising hipster centre we’d expect: more sideslip Bohemian ’50s than rattling, overcrowded Noughties. The art-life, though, remains at the core of the story in the passing images of painter’s hats and “whiskey in a broken glass”, in the sketch of flawed new lives, the talk of friends, the passing spectre of discouragement.

Annie Dresser - softness is deceptive.

Annie Dresser – softness is deceptive.

Annie herself seems winsome, demure, even folk-soprano cute at the start (Oscar, who’s something of a two-year-old ladykiller, is certainly intrigued). Her dialogue, as she chats to us in between songs, is a halting soft-voiced take on that scatting New York curl of rapid ideas and the slipping between subjects. She claims not to be used to holding a crowd on her own (“Usually my husband plays with me. He tells jokes about cheese,”) but she gives it her best shot: giving us North London travel advice, or revealing which of her songs is her grandmother’s favourite. I’m not sure that she’s quite as much the shy ingénue as she implies. For all her easy-going, soft-cheeked charm, and for all the hushed and humble tones to her singing, she’s got a subtle self-assurance as she stands up there: for all the world like a Modigliani model who got the joke.

I’m not sure how much difference Annie’s Cambridge relocation is likely to make to her songwriting. Her songs don’t need backdrops of big cities or the hungers of creativity in order to work or to find focus: they can work anywhere. In fact, her quiet songs seem better suited to quieter rooms in quieter towns, or just to moments in which people’s reactions are contained in reflection – delicately muted regrets, a steady and accepting love.

Annie seems to write songs like other people read books – pulling in her attention, quietening; becoming stiller, gently illuminated. She’s mastered small, telling, understated images and the knack of placing them, lightly, in the best passing places. Something innocuous like a picture of a turtle becomes tinted with significance, as if caught by a stray beam of light at just the right moment.

Dressner in detail.

Dressner in detail.

Rather than being dramas, Annie’s songs are filled, unobtrusively, with little details of life’s motions. When the blows fall, as they must, they fall softly but decisively, like the moment in Lost In A Car where she sings “the wind was high / and your candle blew out.” When she sings about death, she sings about it in a series of aftershocks or in that slow repetitive rub of mingled grief, guilt and simple wishes that silently burnishes the pain: “if I had come / out in the cold dark night… / I can’t forget, even if I tried: / I can’t forget the night you died… / If I had come a minute sooner…”

Heartbreaker (which, like Lost In A Car, is from this year’s spring EP, ‘East Twenties’) picks over the memory of love lost by running over domestic details, slowly working around and creating the sketch of a man (“your father was a painter and your mother was a teacher – I remember all the things in your house”) but never obsessing over the man himself. Instead the song becomes a gentle, telling rebuke: the testament of someone who cared enough to notice all of the small building blocks of a loved one’s life; the account of someone who cared enough to remember. Annie doesn’t wreak obvious and horrible revenges in song. She’ll just tack you to the scene of your crime – once, with one expertly- and regretfully-placed pin – and what’s worse, she’ll stay sympathetic.

A band of Buriers.

A band of Buriers.

For the most part, this kind of subtlety is the sort of things Buriers just trip over – or more likely, stride over – while their eyes stay fixed on a savage, lowering horizon full of stormclouds and junk. A thunder-tommed, string-heavy vehicle for the splintered, semi-apocalyptic ramblings of poet-songwriter James P. Honey, superficially they seem to be snapping at the heels of Godspeed! You Black Emperor; intent on seizing the title of house-band for the Grand Collapse. Despite eschewing electric instruments (this time out, at least), they’ve certainly got most of the necessary ingredients. Cello and viola, droning menacingly or carving the air with dark, bitten post-romantic melodies; a smoggy aura of passive-aggressive ferocity with a hint of tragic, tender despair leaching through; war-drum rumbles and a close relationship with the dystopian spoken word.

Their first piece sets the scene and nails it – an unsettled English almost-rap layering slashes of scene over lowering, growling string drones. Hollow wood, full of heavy weather. Looking beyond those easy Godspeed comparisons, though, Buriers have a voice of their own – one with a distinct purple tint. Post–rock parsimonies be damned: chivvied on by James’ welter of words, Buriers continually thump up against their disciplined constraints in search of something which sprawls or potentially brawls. They smudge and crumple the lines between booze-spattered vignettes of romance (emerging wearily from behind nicotine stains and inertia) and violent Ginsbergdelaireian flowerings of collaged, surreal imagery.

Laura Mallows of Buriers strings us along.

Laura Mallows of Buriers strings us along.


On Slides By, for instance, James and the band spin out loose-jointed low-rent vignettes. Passion that accumulates itself from tawdry scraps and spontaneous moments of visual poetry, hungrily seized upon. “Glass of bourbon, a poorly rolled smoke, / then it’s time to go home. / Spend my whole night chasing your eyes – two flakes of burning coal… / And so I say to you, I swear / nowhere could ever seem so dreary. / Within your palm a lock of hair is smouldering and rising up, oh so lightly. / Snaking upwards, coiling along the ceiling. / Rebuild our cynicism there, / abreast to all my mighty, misty, misplaced feelings.”

On Stuffing A Chest (led by Jamie Romain’s ominous cello figure) James blurts out a kaleidoscope chant of cut-up impressions and intimations – “A skin like flung paint on a window… / Head on to the edge of the night / residing in a western crockery plantation… / Material plenitude, / seraphim skin, / sexually potent media and humour hanged and left silhouetted through a dazzling stained-glass window to wither.” As his portents pile up, the song seems no more than a few loose images away from disemboweling itself. The anchoring string growl of Jamie (and of violinist Laura Mallon) holds it together, like coarse sail-thread.

It’s a shame to deny the atmospheric power of the Buriers ensemble as a whole, but the attention is constantly caught and held by the febrile James. No slouch as a guitarist (he contributes a beautiful, rippled nylon-string finger-picking part to Dim Half Light, and intermittently wrings delicate sprawls out of a ukelele) it’s as voice and emoter that he shines; or, rather, smoulders with a dark discomfort. His vocal is crisp and doomy, brooding and fastidious. He doesn’t mince his words: he snaps them off, shifting agitatedly between politics and abstractions (a snarled “well-heeled” is rapidly rhymed with a distracted “old film reel”), but snipping each phrase clean.

By nature James sounds fey, even effete, but voice and song are transformed by the ferocity of his words and convictions as they slide over each other. In attitude, if not in tone, his performance carries with it a labyrinth of echoes – Cohen, Reed and Patti Smith among them – but there’s a stubborn Englishness in there as well. Not just in the way that his verbal flashes of fang, whisker and dissent recall modern English songs’ own crepuscular, compelling rank of anti-heroes (Curtis, Hammill, Mark E. Smith). There’s also that porcelain gnash of thwarted, inward-turned privilege that hangs around him. Sometimes he could be a harried, half-deranged young schoolmaster, trapped in a staid public school while dreaming of freedom in the slums; one binge of words and absinthe away from fomenting revolt.

James P. Honey in flow and frenzy...

James P. Honey in flow and frenzy…

Then there’s his physical presence. Trapped in position by his microphone, James squirms and chafes against the necessity like a bug stuck on a pin, while haranguing us with hellfire intensity. His head rocks and bobs; his eyes and teeth lock; his feet sway and twitch in tiny shuffles and anxious hops. When not constrained by guitar or uke his elbows flail, as his forearms move in frantic twists and swivels. While he declaims his words, his hands accent them in frantic conduction, clasp in desperate spasms, or pluck savagely at his T-shirt as if trying to scrape their way through to his vitals.

Set against his rolling, literary imagery and precise, mannered diction, James’ tortured physicality almost looks comical – less Cave or Iggy than a Rowan Atkinson vicar possessed by the spirit of a rabid weasel. What sells it to us is his naked fervour. Maybe it’s a willing possession: James’ surrender to his bursts of words suggest that poetic discipline will always be less important to him than channeling (or reviving) an epileptic torrent of meaning.

Not everyone is sold on this (including the scattering of toddlers in the Daylight audience – Oscar toddles determinedly off to the colouring-in table during Buriers’ set, and stays there) but there’s no denying the commitment onstage and the band’s sustained grind of shimmering intensity. By the time Lynch Mob Hero rolls around, facing off against a time “when the city kills off the poets”), James is increasingly wracked; stumbling to the front of the drum-kit to hammer at the cymbals with a pair of beaters. Wriggling in a fury of words, he lets them shake him out as they will. On Buriers’ final song, he pleads for a kind of mercy – “God be kind – my ship is small.”

* * *

A change of act and a change of mood. I retrieve Oscar from the crayons and felt tips. There’s another short break. Let’s go back a bit…

In November 1973 (when I was barely three years old, and missing most of the significance at the time), Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ was nowhere near as ubiquitous as it is today. While there was a growing buzz about its fusion of rock technology, ’60s conservatoire minimalism and folk textures, its all-conquering grip on record players, planetaria, whistling hippy milkmen and (by degrees) pop culture in general was still some way off. Nonetheless, at that point it had enough momentum for a reluctant Oldfield to be cajoled into playing a version on television. To reproduce what had previously been a mass of overdubs, Oldfield was joined by an diverse dream-team.

For those who are interested, here’s that original telly performance (courtesy of YouTube). A sizeable chunk of Oldfield’s broadcast band came from Henry Cow, touchstone avant-rockers inspired by Mao, blues, free-jazz, performance poetry and fearsome contemporary composition, who’d been organising their own cross-genre Explorers’ Club events. (The Cow’s work is worth a whole article in itself: their questioning collective spirit led them to challenges which still lurk in the musical undergrowth to this day, still challenging any halfway-political art musician prepared to kick at the wheels of the applecart). With remaining spaces to fill, Oldfield pulled in musicians drawn from a wide but sympathetic spectrum – from Gong; from Soft Machine; from The Rolling Stones; from folk and classical woodwind-playing.

To put it mildly, it was a crowded podium that evening, pregnant with cross-genre possibilities and implicit predictions. Karl Jenkins blew oboe – a Soft Machine member at the time, it was twenty-two long years before he himself would grow grand on his own wave of chart-storming cross-genre malarkey, via ‘Adiemus’. A few years before that one of the Gongsters – Steve Hillage – would stage his own later-life transformation, returning with System 7’s ambient techno to woo and wow a 1990s generation of dance freaks. Even the most obscure contributor, Ted Speight, was a musical journeyman: his own career would map from Lol Coxhill’s avant-garde fusion jazz to the artful punkified pub-rock of Kilburn & The High Road (at the side of Ian Dury) and, by the millennium, back again to London jazz.

That one-off broadcast wasn’t the end of the story, either. By the following year David Bedford (Oldfield’s friend, and a burgeoning crossover composer) had written up an orchestral version of Tubular Bells to perform and record with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In doing so he joined further significant British culture dots to the puzzle. The Royal Albert Hall – where the concert was recorded, and where high art meets broad public a stone’s throw from London’s royal palaces. Thomas Beecham, the RPO’s belligerent founder, conductor and impresario – eight years dead by the time his orchestra was playing Oldfield, but with his own legacy of revitalising English concert music still very much intact. Lastly, Worcester Cathedral, where Oldfield eventually re-recorded some of his Tubular Bells guitar parts under the soar and shadow of five hundred years worth of evolving English architecture.

The reason that I’m bringing all of these things up is that the Tubular Bells events were, in their way, high-water marks in post-war British music. In terms of that era’s art-music fusion they might have been at the easy-listening end, but their tunefulness and canny textural appeal allowed them to poke their heads right up into the mainstream. For a brief moment, they trespassed over those stubborn cultural divides which separated music into sullen and defensive camps muttering stale arguments about high versus low, fossilized versus spontaneous, conservative versus radical. It wasn’t a moment which lasted. With a few honourable exceptions (most obviously in jazz, such as Mike Gibbs and Keith Tippett) few musicians maintained those crossing points.

Many British musicians (Henry Cow among them) ultimately had to look to Europe or America if they wanted to cross-fertilise, at that level or a higher one. Back at home, most of the genres subsided back into their cramped little stockades to percolate and evolve separately. It was as if, as a musical nation, the British had given up on inclusiveness in favour of more miserly joys. They swapped the possibilities of crosstalk for more limited experiences of belonging – being in on an exclusive clique, the petty rivalries of defining your own group against another; the footie-fan logic and competing crunch of pop tribes. A proud Mod might argue that this was a good thing; another reviewer might argue that the friction between scenes and identities provided sparks of its own, and they’d have a point. For me, though, disappointments came with the choice. It’s not that all the opportunities vanished, but for a long time it was as if many of us had gone into our houses and shut the doors.

We Are Children (We Make Sound).

We Are Children (We Make Sound).

This is turning into a rant. Let’s get back to 2013, to the considered, warm inclusivity of Daylight Music, and to where a ten-to-fifteen strong We Are Children (We Make Sound) are onstage, picking their way through a note-perfect version of Tubular Bells, revelling gently in their own tender, communal sound; and gently blowing away not just the years, but the resistances. I can’t call them revolutionary, especially in the light of what I’ve just written about memories of early-’70s icebreaking. I can’t even claim that they’re the only barrier-crossing ensemble around. But it’s great to be able to peg them as an indicator of how Western music culture – and, narrowing the scope, British music culture – has softened its adolescent stiffness, relaxed its intolerant bark.

Born from after-hours jams between students and staff from the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance, over in Kilburn, We Are Children come from a fresh generation of musicians (most, but by no means all of them, are still in their twenties). Within the lineup, I spot some half-familiar faces from various London gigs and cellar-jams. Here’s the sensual feline pout and mussed-blond curls of Chinese Missy rocker Richard Bond, today dividing his time between guitar and clarinet. Here’s dreadlocked guitarist Niels Bax from groove-players What?!. Here are singer Gyongyi Salla and flautist Abi Murray, both of whom hover around the capital as songwriters (Ziaflow and ABI, respectively). As individuals, as part of smaller groups, as gigging and communicating musicians, these and other We Are Children members continually work and learn across a wide range of music throughout London, and they don’t thinking twice about doing so. That genre permeability which was ground-breaking in 1973 (and which was subsequently scorned as a betrayal of the tribe) is reestabished within a broader perspective; a healthy, heterogeneous fabric taken for granted, and casually encouraged.

Assorted Children...

Assorted Children…

Having said all that, We Are Children are playing a little bit safe today, perhaps in friendly deference to Daylight’s sleepy early-afternoon babies. Happy to work with both driving rock pulses and dance-and-dubstep mixology experiments, they bring neither to this afternoon’s live party. While they’re nominally a composing and arranging collective, this afternoon’s showcase is a little more conservative, focussing on a couple of familiar classics of melodious minimalism plus a solid pair of pieces from the leadership. For now, though, this gentler, more doctrinal taste is fine. The ensemble sets up a cool October glow, breathing a loving life back into the familiar and working up some new tunes of their own. As they carefully, unfussily work their way around what were once crusted old encampments, We Are Children have a tender communal feel to them. Nominal leaders Dan Gaylard and Alastair Beveridge both look as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. Meanwhile, Audrey Riley – the veteran strings sessioneer and the band’s tutor-cum-guiding-light – oversees proceedings and provides some silent backbone. She glares protectively from behind her cello, a determined mother-hen with a steely glint.

Audrey might provide the anchor, but it’s Alistair who’s responsible for today’s Tubular Bells treatment, leading from the grand piano and providing a remarkably faithful arrangement for We Have Children’s smaller forces (centred predominantly round a quintet of clean electric guitars, bass and a string duo of Audrey and violinist Richard Jones). Imperceptibly, and with great skill, he shaves down Oldfield’s ringing repetitions and multiple layers to fit a ten-minute piece and a thirteen-person ensemble (the core bolstered by glockenspiel, by Abi’s flute and by the voices of both Gyongyi and fellow London songwriter Jo Kelsey. The piano anchors with that familiar dancing, pulse, and somehow all of the missing textures are masked. If anything, the original piece emerges refreshed, especially after two decades of intermittent and questionable reworking by Oldfield himself. Earlier on, a somewhat reshuffled We Are Children (flute, glock and voices out; drumkit and a second bass guitar in) have already taken us on an immaculate trip through Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint – less trippy-disciplined than the original, with the opened-up instrumentation and acoustic-electric sound bringing out intimations of both folk-round and disco pulse. The music is replete with examples of the mutual sympathy and interaction which We Are Children have built up over three years of jamming and unlikely pub gigs – violin and flute blend for a second, then cycle smoothly apart: guitars ravel into a delicate thirty-string mechanism.

Cell-out...

Cell-out…

The ensemble’s original material fits in seamlessly with the regroomed, revitalised Reich and Oldfield warhorses. Circles (written by Alistair) slims down We Are Children to the string duo, a quartet of guitars and a single bass. It manages to be many things – a neo-minimalist declaration, smooth and detailed. Riding on a Satie-esque continuo, the melody line passes in a ripple through the players: an oscillated hocketed sway with a tingling, conversational counterpoint. A fourth piece (for which I don’t catch the name) has a murkier quality. They’ve shuffled the lineup again – the electric guitar quartet against the string duo; a return of bass, piano, drums and female voices; a returning flute this time joined by clarinet. What emerges from this configuration journeys through a set of moods, interlocked like a meshwork of paper rings. A Scottish/English border folk air filters through string duo and piano, dissolving into string noise. Drums and piano pick up and point a beat in three-time. A dawdling sensual theme passes from violin to clarinet; as flute is worked in, the drums become jazzier, stretching and moulding the rhythm around the weaving melody instruments.

Viewed as a whole, We Are Children’s pieces (whether adopted or originated) build up a utopian sound-picture, part rural and part urban – they’re both verdant woodlands and immaculate ductwork; warm sunsets on glass; the patter and pulse of working cities overlaid with their parks, borders and spaces to dream. Sitting on my lap, Oscar listens quietly and thoughtfully, his attention held. I was ten before I first heard ‘Tubular Bells’; sixteen before I heard Reich. In this band’s inclusive space- itself enveloped by Daylight Music’s easy welcome – my son’s getting an earlier and much more natural introduction than I did, untroubled by tribal antipathies. When Ben Eshmade first brought We Are Children into Daylight Music – much earlier in their concert series – he described them as “what I imagined a Daylight band might sound like.” He’s righter than he knows, and it’s a credit to both ensemble and event.

Arrow of welcome...

Arrow of welcome…

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September 2013 – live reviews – 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”)

30 Sep

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.

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North Atlantic Oscillation: ‘Savage With Barometer’ promo single (“new rituals form”)

18 Feb

This certainly is compelling… but why is it so compelling?

Ever since 2009 and their ‘Callsigns’ EP, North Atlantic Oscillation have been ploughing up a reputation as the new thing in rock, the sound of the future. Here, it seems that what they offer isn’t all that new, once you capture and dissect it. That engulfing hedge of pins-and-needles guitar noise – great writhing blocks of it surrounding and overwhelming the vocal, like windings of toxic insect-ridden gauze – harks back to the psychedelic revival of the late ’80s and the shoegazing bands who sprang up out of a plain of distortion, disorientation and nauseous bliss. That rambunctious bang of snare drum and tom (pimp-rolling forcefully through the music like a garbage man turned one-man-marching band) is ultimately drawn from Bonham and ‘Kashmir’. Sam Healy’s voice, pale and waving above the monstrous swell of sound from his guitars, always on the verge of drowning in it… again, that’s psychedelia returning on a comet-swing, tied to Syd Barrett on Astronomy Domine, Kevin Shields on You Made Me Realise, or Wayne Coyne on most things.

For all that, Savage With Barometer is pretty marvellous. It’s certainly full-bodied: the attention to detail from Healy and cohorts’ is streets ahead of most of their predecessors and contemporaries. It’s got a pell-mell momentum, albeit via an inexorable slow motion rather than a tremendous rush. But why does it sound new, and how does it carry that shock of emergence along with it?

I think there are two answers here. One is a matter of architecture. Beyond those towering gnarls of scratch-and-howl, the melody that’s clasped by the all-but-buried vocals refuses to be reduced to a simple narcotic mumble. Instead it’s flat-out aspirational. It builds up and out and up again: a precarious scaffolding of pitches, clinging to a hope of reaching somewhere above the roar. Even when it dips or lowers, this is merely a kind of dogged feint – a way around an obstacle. A few people have cut out similar pathways and hauled us along it with them (Brian Wilson and Tim Smith, to name but two) but North Atlantic Oscillation bring their own spooked wonder and weight.

The second answer is to do with ritual, and with belief. Healy has gone on record as saying that his band is, in effect, less post-rock than post-faith. They create music for a world in which established religion has fallen away, leaving a yawning vacuum. Into this, a confusion of signals and noise roars in a torrent, and new rituals form.

Savage With Barometer is, in fact, a trucker’s anthem. Yes, you read that right. It’s also a bitter psalm, a work-song… a portrait of how thinking can be formed by tasks. Take away the plastic Jesus on the dashboard. Substitute a dread which is now invested in the readings of forecasts, and of gauges, and on the turn of storms both physical and fiscal. Now imagine a loose squadron of men caught up in it together, and listen to those high wind-blown words again. “I want fair weather, so I will pray to Mercury / Alone and in lockstep… / We need cargo, / we need news from wretched outposts. / Show us, we can’t see.”

You can rise up and kill your first god – maybe someone else will kill him for you, whether you want them to or not. You’re actually no freer in the brave new material world into which you emerge. You’re still at the mercy of forces beyond your power to wrestle with; still walking under somebody’s bloated shadow, begging them to grant you some kind of harvest, or to provide those answers you need in order to shape and save your fumbling life. For a trucker, orders and benedictions come over the airwaves from the depot. Supply-and-demand carves necessary shapes onto their wanderings. A brief tick or plummet on a financial graph can spark a schism, spilling lives and plans and blasted hopes in its wake.

In turn, a working man’s grumble – speed-addled and resentful, stupefied by an imposed servitude – turns into a plaint, a prayer and a resentful surrender. “I want fair weather, I want white pills. / One-state anthill / – the great operation brings us all under your thumb.” Compressed by work, by the noise of labour piling up, it becomes a new and bitter creed. Perhaps what we’re talking about here isn’t the shock of the new, but of the exposed. Emerging from beneath the bellies of the old gods, we find the new vistas surprisingly familiar, if not worse. Fooled again?

North Atlantic Oscillation: ‘Savage With Barometer’
K-Scope/Bandcamp (no cat. number or barcode)
Download-only promo single
released 15 February 2012

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