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January 2018 – assorted English and Scottish gigs – piano, soul, art pop and verbiage with Society of Friends, Blert Ademi, Stone Deep and a host of poets at the SOIF Soiree (London, 5th); cutting an altfolkrock swathe with a Trembling-Bells-flavoured show by Orion’s Belt, Tom Slatter and Marcus Doo (Glasgow, 6th); experimental pop with Snails, Edward Penfold and Eugene Capper/Rhodri Brooks (Bristol, 13th)

1 Jan

Starting off the New Year, there’s a diverse brace of upcoming shows dotted around the country… In London, there’s the Society Of Imaginary Friends’ monthly musicians’n’poets soiree (this month, one that’s particularly heavy on the poets). In Glasgow, there’s a “feast of psych and folk wonderment” linking the folkworlds around Trembling Bells and Alasdair Robert with arch proggy steampunk songwriting. Down in Bristol, there’s “an evening of pop pleasures and wonky wonders.” Read on…

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Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree, 5th January 2018

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
“For Those in Peril on the Sea” Soiree: Society of Imaginary Friends + Blert Ademi + Debra Watson + Stone Deep + Amy Neilson Smith + Ernie Burns + DJ Miracle Rhythm
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 5th January 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here and here

From the Society:

“A still boat in a raging storm, our January Soiree – the month of cataclysmic cyclones battering our little island, foam fills the air, cool seagulls ride the tempest and the Society Of Imaginary Friends gather in their cabin around a crackling fire and tell stories of things past and things to come.

“We are joined by the fabulous young pianist Blert Ademi; brilliant, hard hitting poetess Debra Watson; new intriguing soul music from Stone Deep; charismatic performer, Shakespearian beauty and wonderful poetess Amy Neilson Smith; lusty, revealing super-wordsmith Ernie Burns; on the wheels of steel, the vinyl singles DJ extraordinaire DJ Miracle Rhythm; and the Society Of Imaginary Friends taking you back to a beautiful solstice evening in the Glastonbury Green Field. (More amazing performers to be announced – watch this space!) Cordon bleu vegan delights available to purchase from top chefs Kathy and Roger. Free entry. Dinner from 6pm, live performances start at 8pm.”

I couldn’t find anything on – or by – Stone Deep; but here’s a look at the rest of the lineup so far, beginning with an old SOIF track…






 
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A day later, there’s the Scottish event: a delightful, consensus-bucking meld of the credible, the incredible and the extramural.

Orions Belt + Tom Slatter + Marcus Doo, 6th January 2018

Orion’s Belt + Tom Slatter + Marcus Doo
Nice’n’Sleazy, 421 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, G2 3LG, Scotland
Saturday 6th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Headliners Orion’s Belt are a “seven-piece behemoth” of latterday Glasgow-via-Canterbury psychedelic folk, sometimes compared to “Kevin Ayers & The Whole World with Judy Collins handling the vocals”. They’re led by singer Lavinia Blackwall, best known as the voice of Trembling Bells but a longstanding mainstay of Glaswegian early music and avant-folk. Prior to their work as Trembling Bells, she and Alex Neilson collaborated as free-improv folkers Directing Hand: outside of the Bells they still sing together (alongside Harry Campbell and Katy Cooper of Muldoon’s Picnic) as four-part a capella voice quartet Crying Lion, who blend madrigal, folk, Gregorian and Sacred Harp elements into original songs.

In comparison, Orion’s Belt sounds like one of Lavinia’s more easy-going projects but ought to be magical nonetheless. Also on board in the band, picked from Glasgow’s gutsier psych, prog and folk underground, are members of “ongoing sloth-themed rock opera” collective Sloth Metropolis, prog-folkers Big Hogg, and “neo-psychedelic ninjas” Helicon (plus perhaps a few more people from Trembling Bells). Sorry – it still seems to be too new to have generated any recordings or Youtubings yet, but as a compensation here’s Lavinia’s five-year-old version of Richard Farina’s ‘The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood’ performed with Maddy Prior, Thea Gilmore and the late Dave Swarbrick.


 
Originally with mid-noughties post-rockers Ancient Monsters, Highland-born singer-songwriter Marcus Doo has since made the transition to modern-day folk; initially with his own Spanish-based Secret Family, who explored the genre via their “Magpie Returned the Ring” album and scores for a Spanish Royal Theatre version of Ted Hughes’ ‘Gaudete’ and for Chema Rodríguez’s ‘Anochece en la India’. He’s been described by author Graeme Macrae Burnet as “a songwriter with a rare mastery of both melody and lyrics… his songs are satisfying as a rounded pebble in your hand, and he performs them with such passion and intensity that I would defy anyone not to be moved.” Since his 2015 return to Glasgow, Marcus has been working with sympathetic figures including Alasdair Roberts (with whom he’s recently toured), Alex Neilson and Mike Hastings of Trembling Bells, and Tom Davis of Big Hogg.

All of the latter appear on Marcus’ debut solo effort ‘Kid Wonder’, a loosely conceptual folk album about “an older man looking back at his life, towards death and in search of any Golden Apple (an old Norse emblem of eternal youth) of memory that may help him accept what has gone and what is about to come. Through various adventures to an ever-clearer destination he is emboldened by memories of places and people past, and gives thanks to them.” Other contributors to the record include Trembling Bells’ Valinia Black, various other members of the Doo family (including Marcus’ recently deceased grandfather), France-based flamenco-ist Genaro Alonso and Clova fiddler Aoife McGarrigle.

To have a listen to ‘Kid Wonder’ you’ll need to visit Marcus’ own music page, but here’s another substitute in the shape of an old Secret Family track.


 
In the middle of the bill is sardonic London bard-of-the-fantastical Tom Slatter, whose reliably arch and intricate songbook of weird-fiction songstories (steampunk murders, tentacled monstrosities running amok) has built up across a string of theatrical albums and EPs since the early noughties. Hailed for “epic tales of darkness and light (which) fuse the bile of Roy Harper with humour and a sharp musical mind”, he’s previously delivered them live via a single strummed acoustic guitar, but is now generally accompanied by electric guitarist Gareth Cole. Here’s the video for a particular bit of 2015 Slatter tentaculation:


 
In case you think that Tom sounds like an odd, forced fit in the midst of this sincere Scottish folk stew – and it’s fair to admit that a man who calls his own concert album ‘Live, Discomfiting and Overly Whimsical’ might be bringing the hurt down on himself – it’s worth remembering that (in between the Lovecraft/Sterling/GameCon rampages) his catalogue features scattered, glowing moments of unguarded psychedelic beauty such as the ‘Earthbound’ single. On top of that, Tom’s most recent solo album – last year’s ‘Happy People‘ – took an unexpected sideswerve away from the monster galleries, the top hats and the cog-driven toy theatres into a much more nuanced consideration of the human condition. Tom probably wouldn’t thank me for pointing this out, mind; and if you’re solidly unconvinced, come along and heckle him anyway. By many accounts, he loves a good heckle, especially if topped off by a dose of cunning wordplay.

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Snails + Edward Penfold + Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks, 13th January 2018

Pop Or Not Promotions and Undergrowth present:
Pop/Not: Snails, Edward Penfold, Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks
Cube Microplex, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England
Saturday 13th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

In the Cube Microplex (the squirreled-away Bristol theatre-turned-cinema/venue which recently hosted a rollicking showing of Cardiacs’ ‘Mare’s Nest’ concert film plus The Scaramanga Six), there are some more workings along the pop fringe. Over to the promoters…

“Led by songwriter Dan Weltman and described as “eerie, beautiful, modestly majestic” by Stephen McRobbie of The Pastels, five-piece experimental pop band Snails generate moments of suburban guitar pop reverie for lonely people walking to the shops. Their sound bears the influence of ’60s folk and psychedelia with a peppering of ’90s pop. Mavericks such as Syd Barrett and Nico mingle with the likes of the Gorky’s or even Belle and Sebastian; though, having no desire to recreate the past, Snails sensitively combine a passion for classic sounds with inventive songwritting to create their own heartfelt pop music. For this unique Bristol show they will be playing brand new material from their upcoming second LP.


 
Edward Penfold’s music is a blend of the old and the new, nostalgic but not dated. More than anything it sounds like now. It’s music from the heart – a hazy collection of sounds and moods, sometimes upbeat, sometimes down, but always genuine and always captivating. His lyricism reflects the eloquence and observation of a very English sort of poetry, seeing the depth in the shallows of life, the profundity in the mundane; all accepted with a matter-of-factness that is reflected in the driving impetus in every song, whether slow or fast or groovy. His new album ‘Denny Island Drive’ came out in late November 2017.


 
“After two years of ongoing collaboration and development, Cardiff twosome Eugene Capper and Rhodri Brooks have just released their beautiful debut LP ‘Pontvane’. Individually, both Capper and Brooks have developed back catalogues of diverse musicality and influence, incorporating elements of surf, lo-fi, Americana and psych. Their first release as a duo further emphasises this eclecticism, effortlessly stitching together disparate sonic fragments into a cohesive, compelling whole. Take a listen…”

 

Upcoming gigs at the end of July and onwards – 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.

 

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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…

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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

 

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