In mid-March, Richard Barbieri heads out on a five-date English tour supporting his new album ‘Planets & Persona’: on all but one of the dates he’ll be sharing the bill with art-pop singer-songwriter Grice.
Over a five-decade career as a keyboard player, Richard has exemplified a precise balance between pop and the avant-garde. Initially compared to both Brian Eno and Karlheinz Stockhausen, his work anticipated the likes of Aphex Twin and a host of shrouded twenty-first century electronica artists. Initially finding fame as the keyboard player in art-pop band Japan, his approach reached its first apogee in the chimes-and-sibilance atmospherics of their 1982 single Ghosts: unwilling to be restricted by the glamour-punk through which he’d entered music (yet unsuited to either roots playing or the formal technicalities of progressive rock) he’d concentrated instead on developing electrophonic timbre and immaculately-planned textural arrangements, allied to subtle pop tunefulness.
Richard went on to refine his techniques in the post-Japan realignment projects Rain Tree Crow and Jansen Barbieri Karn, to work with left-field instrumentalists and bands (including Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Percy Jones, No-Man and The Bays), and to become an experimental sonic foil for singer-songwriters (Steve Hogarth, Tim Bowness, his own wife Suzanne on ambient folk project Indigo Falls). For seventeen years he was a member of Porcupine Tree, helping to shape the texture of the band’s music as it shifted from psychedelic space rock through prog to metallic adult rock, while simultaneous honing his own skills with more conventional keyboard playing on organ, clavinet and Mellotron. Richard’s recent string of solo albums – including ‘Planets & Persona’ – marry his past experiences with further inspirations from contemporary dance, electronica and left-field progressives.
One of the singer-songwriters who’ve benefited from Richard’s textural input, Grice is a more recent art-rock emergent. London-born but now Devon-based, he began as an early ‘90s arty Britpopper with the bands Laugh Like A Madman and The Burning Martyrs before refining his work with the successor project hungersleep. Since 2012 he’s been a solo artist.The subsequent ‘Propeller’ and ‘Alexandrine’ albums – plus last year’s ‘Refractions’ EP – have explored Grice’s drive towards dramatic and emotive songcraft. Blending his ballad-singer openness and the feathered strength-and-vulnerability of his high, breathy voice with a wide range of acoustic and electronic ingredients (brass-band and acoustic guitar, Uillean pipes and violins, touchstyle instrumentation and electronic glitch) they’ve rewarded him with acclaim in art-pop and progressive rock circles, plus the opportunity to collaborate on his own terms with instrumental and production luminaries such as BJ Cole, Markus Reuter, Raphael Ravenscroft, Lee Fletcher, Hossam Ramzy and Steve Jansen.
- Vibraphonic Festival @ Exeter Phoenix, Bradninch Place, Gandy Street, Exeter, EX4 3LS, England, Thursday 16th March 2017, 8.00pm – information
- Seventh Wave Festival of Electronic Music @ The Blue Orange Theatre, 118 Great Hampton Street, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, B18 6AD, England, Sunday 26th March 2017, 1.30pm – information
- Seventh Wave Festival of Electronic Music @ The Blue Orange Theatre, 118 Great Hampton Street, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, B18 6AD, England, Sunday 26th March 2017, 6.30pm – information
- Hoxton Hall, 130 Hoxton Street, Hoxton, London, N1 6SH, England, Tuesday 28th March 2017, 7.00pm – information
On all dates, GRICE will be performing with his collaborator Duncan Chave, a Devon-based theatre composer and sound designer who (in addition to handling loops and programming) plays the Eigenharp, an intriguing breath/strip/finger-flex MIDI controller. In Exeter, they’ll also be joined by the rest of GRICE’s band (Jo Breban on drums, Al Swainger on bass and pedals).
In contrast, Richard Barbieri performs solo at Exeter, but at the Birmingham theatre shows and the London date will be performing with Swedish singer/saxophonist/electronics player Lisen Rylander Löve, formerly half of experimental pop/jazztronica duo Midaircondo and one of the major guest contributors to ‘Planets & Persona’.
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While I’m here, a little more on the other events in the Seventh Wave Festival in Birmingham (for more information on Exeter’s Vibraphonic event, go browsing, since they don’t seem to have put a website together this year…) Put together by the people behind the local electronica radio show of the same name, Seventh Wave Festival expands the show’s sideline of putting on electronica, synthpop, post-punk, Goth and New Wave music nights in Birmingham.
This particular concert series has a strong late-’70s/early-’80s focus, calling in some big names from the first synthpop wave. Visage mainstay and onetime ‘Blitz’ club DJ Rusty Egan will be performing material from his new album ‘Welcome to the Dancefloor’, as well as providing DJ slots and talks. Rusty’s ‘Fade to Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne (who also worked with Dramatis and Dead or Alive, as well as spending a decade in Gary Numan’s band) will be showing up with a brief resurrection of his early ‘80s post-Numan project Electronic Circus – for more on that, have a read of his recent interview with ‘The Electricity Club’. There’ll also be appearances by Richard Barbieri and by Human League/Heaven 17/British Electric Foundation’s Martyn Ware.
Although late ’80s dance-poppers Scarlet Fantastic (of ‘No Memory’ fame) have had to pull out, they’ve been replaced by Peter Coyle of the revived The Lotus Eaters; his fellow New Wavers Blue Zoo are also in place. At the more experimental end, two members of electro-experimentalists Test Dept (Graham Cunnington and Paul Jamrozy) will be on hand with “an electronic remix preview of upcoming Test Dept album material” complete with audio-visual mix.
Also contributing are representatives of newer takes on the electronic approach – Salford’s expansive Gnod collective, Ade Bordicott’s drone project Mutate, the vintage synthpop movie soundtrack-inspired Agents Of Evolution and Tony Adamo’s Ten:Ten project.
- Test Dept:Redux (Graham Cunnington/Paul Jamrozy) + Gnod + Mutate – The Flapper, Cambian Wharf, Kingston Row, Ladywood, Birmingham, B1 2NU, England, Thursday 23rd March 2017, 7.00pm – information
- Chris Payne’s Electronic Circus (Gary Numan/Visage) + DJ Rusty Egan + Peter Coyle (Lotus Eaters) + Ten:Ten – The Flapper, Cambian Wharf, Kingston Row, Ladywood, Birmingham, B1 2NU, England, Friday 24th March 2017, 7.00pm – information
- A Morning with… Richard Barbieri – Birmingham and Midland Institute, 9 Margaret Street, City Centre Core, Birmingham B3 3BS, England, Saturday 25th March 2017, 9.00 am – information
- Electronic Music Conference (featuring Martyn Ware, Chris Payne, Richard Barbieri & Rusty Egan) – Birmingham and Midland Institute, 9 Margaret Street, City Centre Core, Birmingham B3 3BS, England, Saturday 25th March 2017, 12.00pm – information
- Rusty Egan (with Chris Payne) + DJ Martyn Ware + Blue Zoo + Agents Of Evolution – The Flapper, Cambian Wharf, Kingston Row, Ladywood, Birmingham, B1 2NU, England, Saturday 25th March 2017, 7.00 pm – information
- (see also the Birmingham Richard Barbieri/Grice dates above…)