I think I’ve previously described the Boston Music Room – one of my own local venues – as London’s current home of prog. If so, the Lexington, down in the hinterlands between Kings Cross and Angel, is making a good showing as a second home. Two imminent shows reinforce that reputation, making next week a good one for London’s prog village.
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Resonance, in association with Prog Magazine and Orange Amplification present
The Gift + We Are Kin + Tiger Moth Tales
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Sunday 7th August 2016, 6.30pm – information here and here
The name that’s missing from the promoters’ line-up above is Bad Elephant Music: London’s ever-industrious cottage label for various types of prog, and home for two of the acts on the bill. In some respects, this is a shuffled and re-run of a similar gig back in February, in which The Gift’s mix of symph/prog/folk grandeur plus flashy AOR (and We Are Kin’s exploration of art rock shapes and northern English socialism) lined up with a pair of one-man bands in the shape of steampunk balladeer Tom Slatter and troubadour rocker jh. Now The Gift are back, and so are We Are Kin, with only the choice of one-man-band changed. Here’s the official blurb from the Elephant:
“The Gift, fresh from their triumphant performance at An Evening Of Bad Elephant Music, will be headlining the event, bringing their own particular brand of symphonic progressive rock on stage. The band is currently working on the followup to 2014’s ‘Land of Shadows’, and may well be previewing a song or two here.
“Making the journey down to ‘that London’ all the way from Manchester, We Are Kin will be playing a selection of songs from their new album, ‘The Waiting Room’, as well as from their acclaimed debut, ‘Pandora’. Their twin vocal lineup wowed the audience at Abel Ganz’s Christmas party last year, and is sure to be a highlight of this event.
“Tiger Moth Tales is the brainchild of Pete Jones, who will be performing solo for this event. His live shows have been widely acclaimed for their virtuosity, emotion and huge sense of fun. Pete’s two album releases ‘Cocoon’ and ‘Storytellers Part One’ will both be represented in his performance, and he may well throw in one or two cover versions of the prog classics!”
Just one final note – the gig’s a fundraiser for Macmillan Cancer Trust, emphasising a community that’s broader than just the prog one.
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The David Cross Band (with special guest David Jackson) + Richard Palmer-James
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Tuesday 9th August 2016, 7:30 pm – information here and here
Despite nearly five decades in music, David Cross is still best known for his contributions to three albums at the start of his career. During a two-year early-‘70s stint with King Crimson (incorporating ‘Starless And Bible Black’, ‘Larks’ Tongues In Aspic’ and ‘Red’) David added “delicacy, and wood” to what some consider to be the band’s finest incarnation – part proto-punk-Mahavishu Orchestra, part stately electric-classical chamber group, and part droning/clattering/blaring building site. In its relatively brief and always restless lifespan, this particular Crimson lineup lay athwart the path of progressive rock, heavy metal and European improvisation like a splinter-ridden sleeper across the tracks: innovative, stern and ornery.
David’s amplified violin was a key part of the band’s powerful Euronoise, bringing in evocative melodies and moods which varied between Roma scurries, fall-of-Rome dramatics, foggy drones and angry squeals. As was the case with many of the departures from Crimson, David’s was passionate, painful and galling: progressively swamped by the band’s incremental climb towards avant-rock brutality, he was eventually forced out by its bruising, bristling volume and the implacable battering of its rhythm section. It took a few decades for him to salvage a more cordial relationship with Crimson leader Robert Fripp: nonetheless, the reconciliation has led to a return to the large extended Crimson family including guest spots and latterday Soundscape duets as well as recent “electric chamber music” with Crim-connected composer Andrew Keeling.)
Immediately after Crimson, though, David had to follow a different winding path of his own. From mid-‘70s work with trans-Manche psych/prog/fusioneers Clearlight (and experiments with big-band improv whilst leading the sadly undocumented Ascend) he went on to a long learning process during which, by his own admission, he failed at jazz. On the other hand, he successfully honed an affinity with alternative improvisation and with other forms. Theatre, in particular, proved to be a natural home, with David working up on stage and behind the scenes as well as in the pit band or composer’s slot. Theatricality also bled through into his other musical work. A trio he formed with keyboard player Sheila Maloney and saxophonist Pete McPhail took to the arts centres to perform musical interpretations of Samuel Beckett plays, while from the turn of the 1980s David was carrying out interdisciplinary performances with dancers, painters and the like (something he’s continued up until the present day).
After a decade away, a return to fusion and avant-rock in the late 1980s saw David becoming a keystone of Geoff Serle’s Radius band; an interesting, if airlessly pastoral, British answer to Material’s electro-funk. He was also a quarter of one-shot project Low Flying Aircraft, in which he joined forces with Crimson-orbit jazz pianist Keith Tippett, drummer Dan Maurer and budding teenaged guitar whiz Jim Juhn in a leaf-storm of nervy electroacoustic frenzy and scattered early sampler sputters. (For my money, it’s probably his most interesting post-Crimson bandwork to date.). He’s stayed busy ever since – this year, for instance, saw the release of violin-and-electronica duo album with Sean Quinn of Tiny Magnetic Pets, plus a live album from Japanese dates in which he guested with Crimson spinoff trio Stick Men.
All of this suggests the work of a musician whose reputation should be broader and better respected. It’s probably only the taint of grand prog – and of the “wrong kind” of fusion – which keeps him from it. In experimental rock (or, more accurately, in the media commentary which covers it, particularly on the British side) there still seem to be very clear, if dubious and snobbish, rules about who’s allowed credibility, and why. It’s not easy to escape from those fencings; and without this side of his history, David might have had his due.
For better or for worse, David’s most enduring project has been his own David Cross Band. Anchored since the mid-’90s by cohorts and co-composers Mick Paul (bass) and Paul Clark (guitars), it displays his electric violin – by turns stately, romantic, gnarled or locustlike – coursing fluently over a grandiose, detailed bed of prog pomp, deep metal, and flaring jazz-rock gestures. This year, however, the band’s taken an intriguing and strategic left-turn. With their latest album ‘Sign Of The Crow’ barely out of the gate, they’ve unexpectedly replaced keyboard player Alex Hall with veteran avant-prog sax hero David Jackson, once of Van Der Graaf Generator.Musically adventurous and visually iconic, Jackson spent his Van Der Graaf years festooned with multiple instruments, blowing double-horn brass sections through brain-buggering electronics and being described as “a Third Reich bus conductor”. Since then, he’s spent much of his time working on the gesture-to-MIDI Soundbeam electronic project (bringing out the musicality of disabled children) while sometimes venturing out for gigs on the strength of his experimental rock reputation. Since crossing paths with David Cross at one such gig in Verona years ago, Jackson has been one of his frequent improvisation partners, making him an overdue natural fit for something like this. Regarding their chemistry, here’s a lengthy fly-on-the-wall video of the two of them playing (alongside Yumi Hara and Tony Lowe) at a release show for the Cross/Fripp ‘Starless Starlight’ album of Crimson-inspired Soundscape duets. Covering the show from rehearsal to performance, it hints at some of what the Cross/Jackson duo might be bringing to bear on the band shows; something which might well be transformational, pulling the band up and out of its shiny prog-metal box and perhaps delivering David Cross some of the broader respect he deserves.
The new Cross Band lineup, completed by Space Cowboys singer Jinian Wilde and by poly-disciplinary drummer Craig Blundell (who displays a heartening taste for post-dubstep playing when people let him off the prog leash), made their live debut in Wolverhampton last month. While no videos have emerged from this, there have been enthusiastic reports; and as King Crimson tours as a grand septet with a long-denied, fervently-delivered battery of archived ’70s classics, the Cross band are studding their own set with live deliveries of 21st Century Schizoid Man and Starless.
The London gig’s also intriguing in that it features a rare-as-rocking-horse-shit British solo slot from Richard Palmer-James. Originally the embattled first guitarist and wordsmith for Supertramp (a long time before they hit big at the American breakfast bar), Richard was the long-distance lyricist for King Crimson during David’s tenure and has subsequently carried out the same favour for twenty years of various Cross bands. Based in Bavaria for forty-odd years, he’s spent most of it embedded in production and writing work for German pop: since the turn of the century, however, he’s revived his original love for playing blues and country guitar. Most likely it will be this side of him that we’ll see at the Lexington on Tuesday. Still, who knows what the sense of occasion might bring out?