Tag Archives: intriguingly mixed bags

May 2016 – upcoming gigs – two pay-what-you-like shows for May 28th: Bouche/A. Dyjecinski/The Kindling/Gemma Champ at Daylight Music in London; Rokenri’s album launch in New York

25 May

Two shows for the Saturday that’s coming up – both donation-based, both community-minded, both flexibly soft around the edges. And both well worth attending.

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Daylight Music 225, 28th May 2016

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 225: Bouche + A. Dyjecinski + The Kindling + Gemma Champ
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 28th May 2016, 12.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like event (suggested donation: £5.00) – more information

The summer return of London’s Daylight Music sessions continues with this triple-bill-plus-piano-guest afternoon.

Bouche is the deeply emotive and beguilingly timeless music of double bass player and singer Rebekah Bouche, accompanied by trumpet /flugelhorn and electric guitar. The songs are a kind of ‘blue-jazz hymnal’; the honesty and rawness of the blues, with melodic salutes to early jazz and a sense of pathos and drama that nods in the direction of 18th/19th century hymns and British folk. The unusual instrumentation makes for a delicate, tantalisingly sparse sound that winds prettily around the lyrical themes which, though mostly melancholic, are often delivered with a wink and a smile. The debut Bouche album, ‘So Long Solemn’, was released this spring.


 

A. Dyjecinski (if you’re wondering, it’s pronounced “EH-DEE-YEAH-CHIN-SKI”) is a Canuck from the Ontario woods who currently lives in London, making gritty, raw and vulnerable music (usually with his “scuzzy garage rock” band Dracula Legs). This year he released his debut solo album ‘The Valley Of Yessiree’ which saw him compared to Nick Cave, Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner (and dis-compared to Sinatra) by ‘Folk Radio‘, who also praised him for “epiglottal drunkenness” and for a “spectacularly assured debut album that, for all its minimal aesthetic, is brimming with ideas.”

 

“Cinematic songs, fireside percussion, ghostly harmonies, and T.V. static dreams: The Kindling make sad, strange and beautiful music, like the crack in the window that makes a rainbow, a dark, dusty corner or the last wave that takes her initials with yours from the sand. Presenting widescreen, blissed-out melancholy London alt.folk (and drawing influence from the guerrilla recording spirit of Sparklehorse, Mount Eerie, and Tom Waits), they were formed in 2011 to breathe life into the acoustic songs of Guy Weir. Their introductory EP ‘From Out Of The Wreckage’ was followed by a second EP, ‘Half Light’, in 2013. Their latest release is the 2015 full album ‘By Morning’.


 

“Weaving through the show on the piano and improvising a mix of funk, jazz and pop will be Daylight regular Gemma Champ.”

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On the evening of the same day, on the other side of the Atlantic…

Rokenri/Hannah Edmunds Gardens/Gowanus Canal Conservancy Group present:
Rokenri
Fort Briscoe Studios, 73 Sackett Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York, NY 11231, USA
Saturday 28th May 2016, 7.00pm
– pay-what-you-like (suggested donation: $10.00) – more information

Rokenri @ Fort Briscoe, 28th May 2016Rokenri – the free-floating, free-associating art-pop team-up of sound artist Ethan Woods (guitar, keyboards, noise, vocals), multi-faceted percussionist Matt Evans (drums, keyboards, vocals, noise) and protean Anawan singer-songwriter Trevor Wilson (bass, keyboards, penny whistle, percussion, vocals, noise) – are launching their ‘Donkey Donkey’ album at their DIY space in Red Hook, prior to Trevor’s imminent departure for North Carolina. Expect “a bit of a hang at first, but only one hour of performance… accompanied by dancers, video, and more.”

There’s a horticultural/preservational feel to the evening, with half of the door proceeds going to the Gowanus Canal Conservancy Group (working on and for the polluted and contested Brooklyn canal which neighbours the venue, with the aim of turning its shores into a public park).

‘Donkey Donkey’ (also featuring contributions from Rokenri’s Bennington College/Brooklyn pals Stephen Markow, J.J. Beck and Michael Chinworth) is available to download now, with the vinyl edition following in mid-June. Here’s the recent single – Sullied Tied – one of my own album favourites (Love Takes Time), and a clip of the band rehearsing another ‘Donkey Donkey’ track (Your Arms Are Real) at Briscoe.




 

December 2015 – the last of the Christmas gigs – a happy Glasgow progmas with Abel Ganz/Tiger Moth Tales/We Are Kin; Harry Merry/John Callaghan/Sealionwoman/Tropic of Xhao in Colchester; while in London there’s a Momentum Arts Xmas Fundraiser (with The Marzec Group, Mariela of Venus On The Radio, Maz O’Connor and Keith Burstein), a spill of art-punk-psych-rock bands and a shamisen at the Firstivus, a Christmas Cabareilidh in Stoke Newington, a Yuletide math rock growler (with Axes/Shitwife/Vasa/Wot Gorilla), Kavus Torabi rides with mummers in Deptford, and Café Oto sees in the New Year with Hieroglyphic Being

17 Dec

Rush, rush. Last gigs before I give it a rest for the year. Here’s the expected random peppering, that lack of a consistent aesthetic, and all the other things you either love me for or despair over. They’re still mostly London shows, but Glasgow and Colchester are getting a look in.

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The Prog Before Xmas, 18th December 2015

The Prog before Xmas: Abel Ganz + Tiger Moth Tales + We Are Kin (Saramago @ Centre for Contemporary Arts, 350 Sauchiehall Street, G2 3JD Glasgow, Scotland, Friday 18th December 2015, 7.30pm) – £13.00 – information here and here  – tickets

I probably can’t get away with calling Abel Ganz “veteran neo-proggers”. Although they’ve had no shortage of lineup changes and lengthy hiatuses since forming in Glasgow back in 1980, in recent years they’ve become an almost entirely new band, with the last founder members finally stepping down a year or two ago in favour of new musicians. Not so unusual, perhaps; but oddly, Abel Ganz has thrived in these new circumstances: in 2015, they’ve enjoyed their most successful band year in three-and-a-half decades, and are in the mood to celebrate.

“We really wanted to end what has been a fantastic year for us with a special show in our own home town – and to help us celebrate we have invited along not one, but two of our very favourite bands to join us. Amazingly, they have both agreed! First of all, we are absolutely overjoyed to welcome along the man who is behind the brilliant Tiger Moth Tales: Peter Jones! Anyone who has not heard Pete’s albums ‘Cocoon’ and ‘Story Tellers’ is really missing out! The reaction to these astonishing works has been nothing less than ecstatic with many reviewers – quite rightly – hailing the man’s arrival on the prog scene as a major talent!

Secondly, we have been watching with great interest the growing roster of fantastic artists that have been gradually collected by perhaps the most important and influential independent prog record label around at the moment: Bad Elephant Music. Amongst their many stand-out releases in 2015, there is one in particular that we keep coming back to: ‘Pandora’, by young Manchester band We Are Kin. Rave reviews describe this fresh band’s atmospheric approach as music that “transcends genre and sound to become something timeless, original and new”. So – there you have it. We are really, really excited about this! Three bands on one Xmas party night. We are so pleased that Tiger Moth Tales and We Are Kin will join us on this special occasion, and we are very proud to be bringing them both to Scotland for their first shows north of the border.”



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Back in London, Momentum Arts set themselves going with a Christmas gig. They’ve got roots in, and are closely associated with, the Jeremy Corbyn movement, so the politically averse/committed should expect speeches and some familiar political faces to be included in the package along with the music. You can find out exactly who’s speaking, and in some cases what about) by following the information link). Personally, I share quite a few of their sympathies; but here’s what they have to say:

Momentum Arts Xmas Fundraiser with The Marzec Group + Mariela of Venus On The Radio + Maz O’Connor + Keith Burstein + others (Momentum Arts @ POW/The Prince of Wales, 467-469 Brixton Road, Brixton, London, SW9 8HH, England, Friday 18th December 2015, 7.00pm) – £6.00-£7.00 – informationtickets

Momentum Arts is an open network where creative people from all walks of life and lovers of the arts can unite through a shared passion for contemporary progressive, socially democratic politics. We are very proud of this and always aim (as far as possible) to create organising spaces which are safe for all. For this reason we’ll be operating on a zero tolerance policy for homophobia, racism, classism, transphobia and misogyny. We’re excited to present the first Momentum Arts event upstairs at the Prince Of Wales in Brixton! Get down to hear our excellent speakers, some inspiring music or just have a bit of a dance.

Performing:

The Marzec Group‘s appreciation for the club culture and electronic music genres brings back a reality to jazz; a grit long forgotten. Channelling these influences through a fresh and sophisticated combination of jazz, soul, blues and electronic music, their intense and improvisatory grooves are tailor made for the dancefloor.

Mariela is a girl of many hats; a musician and published author influenced by the likes of Jeff Buckley, Nina Simone, Jack White, Sergio Moroder and many others. With longtime collaborator Anthony she formed Venus On The Radio, a band which after recording in Abbey Road studios, was featured in BBC Introducing.

Maz O’Connor is a gifted singer of traditional and self-penned songs. Influenced by the folk songwriters of the 1960s; Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Neil Young along with her literary leanings make for a varied and intriguing body of work.


Keith Burstein is a composer whose work includes controversial operas which have provoked much comment and indignation from the right-wing press for daring to question the political establishment. Most notable among these is ‘Manifest Destiny’ (co-written with Dic Edwards) which portrays would-be suicide bombers who renounce violence and trigger a peace movement across the world. Keith will be performing two songs on piano, with a guest singer.



 

DJs Dr Punkenstein and Calvin De Kline will also be playing sets.

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In Deptford, something a little more straightforwardly musical:

Firstivus (The Bird’s Nest, 32 Church Street, Deptford, London, SE8 4RZ, England, Friday 18th December to Sunday 20th December 2015, 5.00pm onwards) – free – information & tickets

Firstivus 2015

Two Deptford gig-scene lynchpins, Sinema City and Tom Moody –join forces for this year’s Firstivus – “a fun-filled weekend that will likely proved to be just a little too rhythmically-challenging for the whole family.”

Friday 18th opens, appropriately, with First (about whom no-one seems to know anything), followed by a pair of noisy drum-and-guitar duos (Charles Hayward’s Bass Drum project with his son Riley Hayward, then the more secretive No One You Know). The music continues with garage-grungers Black Plastic Cardiacs/Bungle/Zappa-inspired progressive punk tanglers The Display Team, Gong-esque jazz-rock collisionists Psychoyogi, and finally by Ted Milton’s veteran schizo-disco art-punks Blurt (who are informed by poetry and puppeteering as much as by rock and roll).






Saturday 19th sports another diverse roster – stoner rockers The Cortège, the ”post-punk/alt-pop/awkward friendliness” of Dead Arm, The All New Greatest Hits Band (in which event organiser Tom Moody fronts the rhythm section of The Display Team), an acoustic Japanese interlude with shamisen player Hibiki Ichikawa and Champagne Dub, a new teaming of established friends: polydiscipline drummer Max Hallett (of A Scandal In Bohemia/Super Best Friends’ Club) and bassist Ruth Goller (Acoustic Ladyland, Oriole, Bug Prentice, many others), who’ve previously worked together in the encym trio. The evening rounds off with Afrobeating Leeds post-punk trio Azores and headliners Boss Terror (who bring “drone, punk, spaced-and-motorway funk” as well as “Cockney tropical surf”).





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To be honest, I’ve got little idea of what’s going to happen with this next one, especially since it’s at The Others – but all of the clues point to a fusion of music, theatre and audience, and what time of year is better for that?

The Christmas Cabareilidh 2015

The Christmas Cabareilidh (Troupe @ The Others, 6-8 Manor Road, Stoke Newington, London, N16 5SA, UK, Saturday 19th December 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.00 – information & tickets

A brand new night out that fuses the fabulous fun of cabaret with the gaiety of a good old fashioned ceilidh. Fresh from the success of our last sell-out event, Troupe presents another Christmas Cabareilidh that promises to be even more delightful than the evening’s portmanteau. You’re invited to sit under the glowing haze of fairy lights, as our hilarious cabaret performers fill you with festive cheer. Dance with giddy abandon to the live folk music of our Cabareildih band and fill your stomachs and hearts with mulled wine, minced pies and cheery Christmas carols. Join us at The Others for an evening of irreverent yuletide song and dance- because nothing says Christmas quite like a Cabareilidh!

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Out of London again for a moment… over in Colchester, one of the town’s leading alternative venues (and one of its more eccentric promoters) has something for you.

A Harry Merry Christmas @ The Waiting Room, Colchester, 19th December 2015

A Harry Merry Christmas with John Callaghan + Sealionwoman + Tropic of Xhao (Mother Popcorn @ The Waiting Room, The Old Bus Station, off Queen Street, Colchester, Essex CO1 2PQ, Saturday 19th December 2015, 7.00pm) – pay-what-you-like – information

Harry Merry returns to Colchester for the final Mother Popcorn gig of 2015. Last time he was here was a few years back (when what is now Tribal was still Molly Malones). If you were there then you know what went down. If you weren’t, don’t miss this opportunity to see a Rotterdam legend do his thing in Colchester! Harry has toured extensively with his good friend Ariel Pink (who covered his song ‘Stevie Storm’) and has shared the stage with R. Stevie Moore, Quintron & Miss Pussycat and Colchester Arts Centre regular (via the Faroe Islands) Goodiepal. Here’s what ‘The Weirdest Band In The World’ blog has to say about Harry:

“Harry Merry is a living underground legend from the Dutch harbor city of Rotterdam. Dressed up in a sailor’s tunic and styled with an iconic haircut, he is out there to flabbergast with his unique brand of entertainment. His favorite keyboard is subjected to his own wild arrangements, full of odd chord changes and a tone scale of its own. Add Harry Merry’s unique, heavily accented voice and your ears will witness a match made in weirdo heaven.”

In support is John Callaghan (“an unusual songwriter / performer of thoughtful and spiky electronica from Birmingham… king and fool of the Eccentronica Microscene”), who played for Ma Popcorn back in May and made such an impression on Colchester that he was invited back for the Free Festival in August.

Tropic Of Xhao, that weird psychedelic drum n bass lot from Essex’s only tropical island St. Xhao (and featuring Captain Mother Popcorn) will be playing as well. We invite you to come and do weird dances with us.

Really happy to say Sealionwoman have just been confirmed to complete the line-up and open the show! This will be their first Mother Popcorn but the third time I’ve seen them, and I already want to book them for more next year. Double bass and vocal, both at the top of their game in terms of musicianship, just an incredible force to watch and hear. They list their band influences as “gin, jazz and noise” which sums them up better than anything I could write.

As usual pay what you can afford. All the money goes to the bands so please give generously if you can.

(Just to add a little to the blurb on Sealionwoman: if you want to read my own live review of them from a few years ago – also featuring Liam Singer, Foxout! and a moonlighting Laura Moody – it’s here. And to add to the blurb on John Callaghan: while I’ve yet to make it to one of his shows, I know his music, we’ve conversed, and he’s one of the wisest men I’ve met but cunningly disguised as one of the silliest.)

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Back to the centre of London for some no-nonsense math rock, post-hardcore and brainwork with knuckles… and what could be more festive and seasonal than a band called Shitwife?

TINJR Xmas Party with Axes, Shitwife, Vasa & Wot Gorilla (This is Not Revolution Rock/Jebs Presents @ The Borderline, Orange Yard, off Manette Street, London, W1D 4JB, England, Saturday 19th December 2015, 7.00pm) – £8.50-£9.60 – informationtickets

“Absolutely buzzing for this show. Not only will this be the Xmas party for This Is Not Revolution Rock / Jebs Presents, it marks Del’s 30th birthday and 200th show as a promoter. So we’re really pushing the boat out and there might be some free mince pies. Please spread the word and let’s pack the venue out from start to finish for this, the last show we’re putting on in 2015!”

(They’re so carried away by the occasion that they didn’t really introduce the bands… or assumed that everyone reading would know them. I’m in a hurry, so here’s the one-line version.

Axes – brash and playful mathrockers with a Foo Fighter pop vigour.
Shitwife – astonishingly brutal drums/laptop/electronics juggernaut fusing rave, death metal, noise and post-hardcore. Side project of musicians in bands with equally tasteful names.
Vasa – noisy synesthesic post-rock package.
Wot Gorilla? – how to noodle away at prog-inspired math rock and not alienate people.




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Here’s Knifeworld’s frontman (and eccentric broadcaster, in every sense) heading over to Deptford to dig up something old for the end of the year…

Dear Boss, 20th December 2015

Dear Boss: Kavus Torabi and others (The Bird’s Nest, 32 Church Street, Deptford, London, SE8 4RZ, England, Sunday 20th December 2015, 4.00pm) – free entry – information

It’s Chri-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-istma-a-a-a-as! Join us as we are joined by avant-psych-rock multi-instrumentalist and all round Interesting Alternative guy Kavus Torabi (Knifeworld/Guapo)…(Mr. Steve Davis sadly can’t join us, as he’s gone skiing). And… come early to witness one of England’s strangest and most resilient midwinter traditions – ‘The Christmas Champions’ (a.k.a ‘The Mummers Play’). Our team of Jolly Boys and Guisers will offer up some seasonal shambols – preparing to entertain you with a short performance featuring William the Great, St George, Bull Slasher, The Doctor and old Beelzebub himself – with original music from James Larcombe (Stars in Battledress/North Sea Radio Orchestra). We’ll be doing it around 7-ish, I expect.

Boss. Wassail!

Beyond all of the throaty bombast I think that most of what’s beyond the mummery is DJ sets, although anyone who’s tuned in to Kavus on the Interesting Alternative Show will know that he can slap together some of the most extraordinarily eclectic sets you could ever hope to hear, featuring plenty of names you’d never heard, while telling cheerful lies about other cult artists who don’t actually exist. Fun to catch, in other words.

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On the subject of DJ sets, here’s one last one…

Hieroglyphic Being

Café Oto NYE Party with Hieroglyphic Being 6-hour DJ set) (Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, UK, 31st December 2015, 10.00pm) – £20.00-£30.00 – informationtickets

We’re ecstatic to be welcoming in the New Year with Jamal Moss (a.k.a. Hieroglyphic Being), who will be flying in especially to Café Oto for a bumper 6 hour DJ set.

Jamal is one of the most unhinged and adventurous artists working in electronic music today; born in Chicago and raised in the heyday of the city’s house music scene, he has gone on to blur the lines between various forms of dance music, free jazz and industrial music, releasing countless singles and LPs, and even recently collaborating with the likes of Marshall Allen and Daniel Carter. His infamously unpredictable DJ sets have gardened considerable praise over the years, so we’re delighted to have him here for this very special occasion.

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And that’s it – although there’ll be a ramble through 2015 sometime between now and the end of January, and I may sneakily shuffle a few previously-incompleted posts back into the dates when I intended to publish them.

See you later.
 

December 2015 – some musical Christmas parties, London – Fire Records (with the Jazz Butcher Quartet); The Glass Child’s online Christmas show; Memphis Industries’ Lost Christmas (with Dutch Uncles, The Go! Team, Menace Beach, Outfit, NZCA/Lines & slug); Gare Du Nord’s Arrivée/Départ II (a Viennese whirl with Martin Klein, Bon Bon Beast, Hefner escapees and many others); Arctic Circle’s Santas in Space (with Camden Voices, Left With Pictures, Laish & boy and a balloon); Baba Yaga’s Hut (with Bad Guys, Melting Hand, Wren)

9 Dec

I’ve been posting mostly shout-outs for gigs this year, so I might just as well submit to becoming Santa’s little shill as regards this month’s sprouting of Christmas/Hannukah/seasonal parties. From the flood on my Facebook account to the rumours and snippets I hear, this is a selection of what’s on for the next week or so (just London this time, though I’ve got some gigs elsewhere ready for the follow-up…)

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Fire Records Christmas gig 2015

Fire Records Xmas Party with The Jazz Butcher Quartet + very special guest + Fire Records DJs (Servant Jazz Quarters, 10A Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England, Friday 11th December 2015, 8.00pm) – free – information here and here

The first of several gigs in this post taking place at the Servant Jazz Quarters amongst the bottles, foxes and curios. Fire Records DJs will be playing from their typically wide-ranging hoard of music, and there’ll be two sets of live music. One guest is as-yet unnamed (it’s a surprise) and the other is the latest iteration of the three working decades of absurdist Northampton-based singer-songwriter Pat Fish as The Jazz Butcher.

The Jazz Butcher Quartet sees Pat take a sideways step away from the cunningly meandering rock’n’strum that he’s generally known for, and tease the ever-present jazziness out of his songs and into full focus via a collaboration with three dedicated jazz musicians The Jazz Butcher – drummer Steve Garofalo, trumpeter Simon Taylor and double bass player Steve New. The Steves and Pat were already old buddies from their time in the Northampton music scene, in particular due to their mutual work with the magnificently wise and strange alternative folk singer Tom Hall. The result’s a refreshed acoustic take on Jazz Butcher staples, wrapping itself round the old and new tunes and the playful wandering lyrics with utter flexibility.

The evening is absolutely free, apart from the drinks, but the Servant Jazz Quarters is a small place – so show up early if you want to be able to get in. Some footage of the JBQ is below.

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Swedish singer-songwriter Charlotte Eriksson, a.k.a. The Glass Child is hosting her own Christmas gig online. It sort of fits with her itinerant nature – having left her Gothenburg home at the age of eighteen, she built up both a label and a career while sofa-surfing through London, England and Berlin. You can’t fault the girl for thrift, for ambition and for investigating the art of the possible while living out of a suitcase. Playing a big interactive gig, but from nowhere in particular, certainly suits her style so far.

The Glass Child Christmas StageIt Show (online, Sunday 13th December 2015, 7.00pm CET) – pay-what-you-can – information & tickets

Charlotte’s own message:

Christmas, my children, is not a date. It’s a state of mind. December 13th is the day that Swedes celebrate “Lucia”, which basically means Swedish Christmas songs, gingerbread, tons and tons of candles, mulled wine (Swedish Glögg) and cosiness all around. Basically all of my favourite things!

Lucia is an ancient mythical figure with an abiding role as a bearer of light in the dark Swedish winters. The many Lucia songs all have the same theme: “The night treads heavily around yards and dwellings / In places unreached by sun, the shadows brood. / Into our dark house she comes, bearing lighted candles, / Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia.” All Swedes know the standard Lucia song by heart, and everyone can sing it, in or out of tune. On the morning of Lucia Day, the radio plays some rather more expert renderings, by school choirs or the like. The Lucia celebrations also include ginger snaps and sweet, saffron-flavoured buns (lussekatter) shaped like curled-up cats and with raisin eyes. You eat them with glögg or coffee. (Do you guys understand why this is my favourite Swedish tradition?)

So I thought, what better way to celebrate this little Swedish Lucia day than with you! A cosy acoustic Christmas show with music, candles and maybe my first ever performance of a Swedish song. Like always: some new songs, some old songs, questions, chat and some insights behind my new album that I’m currently working on. Please join me for this evening show and we’ll create a memory worth remembering.

Some examples of Glass Child work so far are below.

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On the Tuesday and Wednesday of the following week, there’s a pair of simultaneous double-evening multi-band events happening within a mile of each other. The first of these is the Memphis Industries shindig – “two nights of festive fun” from one of the smartest small British pop labels at work today, with six bands and a host of present giveaways including limited edition art prints.

Lost Christmas @ Oslo, 14th & 15th December 2015

Lost Christmas – A Memphis Industries Christmas Special with Dutch Uncles, Outfit and NZCA LINES, The Go! Team, Menace Beach and Slug (Oslo, 1A Amhurst Road, Hackney, London, E8 1LL, England, Monday 14th and Tuesday 15th December 2015, 7.00pm) – £16.50 for each night / £30 for both nights – information & ticketsmore information

Monday night kicks things off with three of the label’s bands “art-rocking till they drop”. The striking prog-pop babble of Dutch Uncles headlines; doom-toned Liverpudlian tech-pop band Outfit play the middle set; and (following a brace of high-concept singles over the course of the year) one-man white-pop/R&B hybrid NZCA/Lines opens the show.




 

Tuesday promises “unparalleled noisy fun, and possibly sailor outfits”. Flipzoid Brighton pop crew The Go! Team headline, their lineup a little different from that of recent years but their magpie polymusical energies still intact. Leeds indie supergroup Menace Beach are in the middle; while reformed noiseniks and north-eastern eclecti-pop upsetters Slug open things up with a live band including Peter and David Brewis of Field Music.




 

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The second of the double-night events is the one run by Gare du Nord Records, a pair of concerts which have an almost familial feel, revolving around certain hub projects (Hefner, Death In Vegas), certain locations (Walthamstow, Canterbury, Vienna), certain other sympathetic labels (Fortuna Pop, Audio Antihero) and a smart, sometimes wordy aesthetic.

Arrivée/Départ II @ Servant Jazz Quarters, 14th & 15th December 2015

Arrivée/Départ II – Gare Du Nord Records 2-Night Revue (Servant Jazz Quarters, 10A Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England, Monday 14th December & Tuesday 15th December 2015, 7.30pm) – £5.00 each night – information – tickets on the door

Both nights are revues – a long main set from each of the two special Austrian guests, bolstered by short mini-sets from the other bands. There’s a lot of personnel crossover. Expect the same faces to keep popping up, reshuffled.

The Monday gig’s main set comes from Martin Klein, the Viennese singer-songwriter whose piano songs albums of and witty, deadpan performances are making him a rising star in Austria and Germany, and whose questioning, sometimes undercut romanticism should translate across further borders. Among the short sets are appearances by two former Hefner members: their frontman and prime creative force Darren Hayman and their multi-instrumentalist Jack Hayter, both now established as significant and highly individual solo songwriters (and while Darren might be the better known of the two, don’t underestimate Jack – I was enchanted by a battered set he played at Union Chapel last year).


Other players on the Monday bill are Cockney surf-punks Pit Ponies, Allo Darlin’ guitarist Paul Rains (taking a solo step-out from his main band’s classic indie-pop styles) and the “prim and improper” antifolk punksters Lucy’s Diary. There are also two acts who specialise in the soft-and-sharp – Cambridge’s Alex Highton (whose folk-, pop- and jazz-smattered songs conceal quick jabs of wit beneath their light and luscious surfaces) and Vienna-via-Canterbury trio Rotifer (creators of pitch-perfect country-tinged indie pop songs, sallies and snarks, and who also serve as a kind of scattered house band since various members play in six of the acts on offer during the night).





The Tuesday gig’s Viennese treat headliner is Bon Bon Beast – two multi-instrumental singer/producers, one of them Austrian (Ernst Tiefenthaler) and the other Swiss (Eloui), filtering their diverse past experiences into a straightforward acoustic jolly. Among the support acts, former Weather Prophets/Ellis Island Sound man Pete Astor continues his low-key live renaissance, and former Death In Vegas guitarist Ian Button brings along one of the various lineups of his psych-dusted pop project Papernut Cambridge. Since many of the people who play in the band are appearing in (or as) other acts during the evening, it’ll have been an easy roundup: Papernut Cambridge backing singer Helene Bradley, for instance, is performing a solo set as Citizen Helene (showcasing the soulful delivery and wistful irony which places her somewhere between Mama Cass and Kirsty MacColl).




 
Also playing are baroque orchestral pop songwriter Ralegh Long (presumably detached from the small orchestra which tends to follow him around) and Emma Winston’s one-woman Deerful project (miniature synths and brittle stories). Two Kentish acts round out the evening: lo-fi Canterbury pop band Picturebox and Whitstable’s Alex Williams (whose swerving career so far has encompassed indie rock with Fleeting Things, folk music with New Old World and lo-fi outsider clatter-pop with The Psychotic Reaction, as well as the odd ABC cover).




 

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I’ve been covering Daylight Music gigs for several years now, but anyone who spends much time around those will know that parent organisation Arctic Circle spreads its activities a lot wider than those Saturday afternoons at Union Chapel – and in this case, a lot higher. Over to them:

'Santas In Space' 2015

Santas in Space’ featuring Camden Voices + Left With Pictures + Laish + boy and a balloon (Arctic Circle @ ArcelorMittal Orbit, 3 Thornton Street, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, London, E20 2AD, UK, Wednesday 16th December 2015, 6.30pm) – £15.00 – informationtickets

We return to the most spectacular venue in London to bringing our unique brand of Fuzzy Feeling to the 376 feet high platform of the Arcelormittal Orbit. With the sparkling lights of London as a spectacular backdrop, watch as the sculpture becomes an astronomic live music space celebrating the Christmas season! Camden Voices will start the night off with their thirty-strong choir proclaiming yuletide glee followed by a series of the finest fuzziest musicians from our Daylight Music series – from the chamber indie of Left With Pictures to the luscious folk of Laish and the lo-fi pop of Alex Hall’s boy and a balloon. Finish the evening by wrapping your ear around a winter-warming set from DJ Ben Eshmade (Arctic Circle Radio/Chill) with a festive drink or cocktail in hand. Please note this event is for over-18s only.


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If that last one seems to be bordering on the twee for you, another ‘Misfit City’ regular event is offering something typically noisier and rucked-up around the edges:

Bad Guys/Melting Hand/Wren @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 16th December 2015

Baba Yaga’s Hut Xmas Bash with Bad Guys, Melting Hand, Wren (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ Corsica Studios, 5 Elephant Lane, Newington, London, SE17 1LB, England, Wednesday 16th December 2015, 7.30pm) – £5.00 – informationtickets

Again, over to them:

Come down to the Baba Yaga’s Hut Xmas party. Three very heavy acts for you, mulled wine. Xmas hats. Getting drunk, the usual. London’s best classic metal band Bad Guys headline; plus the first ever London show for new heavy-psych/improvising jam supergroup Melting Hand (featuring Gordon & Russell of Terminal Cheesecake, Mike Vest of Bong/Drunk in Hell etc etc and Tom Fug of Gum Takes Tooth); and a Baba Yaga’s debut for London post-metal/sludge four piece Wren.



 
More Christmas gigs shortly, including some events elsewhere in Britain…

November 2015 – upcoming London gigs – The End Festival in Crouch End, part 2

15 Nov

As promised, here’s the second rundown of people playing Crouch End’s The End Festival here in London this month (in fact, this week). It’s serving as my self-imposed penance for having been stupid enough to have missed the festival’s existence for so many years, especially as it’s been only a fairly short walk from where I live.

In case you’re interested at who’s already played this year, last week’s rundown is here (from math-rock heroes to underground pop hopefuls to assorted folk noises), but here’s who’s performing from tomorrow until the end of next Sunday…

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The Mae Trio + Patch & The Giant + Elephants & Castles (Downstairs @ The Kings Head, 2 Crouch End Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 8AA, UK, Monday 16th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £10.75 – information

Much-garlanded Melbourne chamber-folksters The Mae Trio are a great example of can-do Australian vivacity – three women who juggle multiple instruments (banjo, ukulele, guitar, marimba, violin, cello and bass). While delivering spring-fresh, sparkling three-part harmonies and witty stage banter, they also volley songs at us which merge the whip-smart compassionate edge of Indigo Girls, and the dizzy chatter of The Bush The Tree And Me. Londoners aim plenty of jokes at Aussie visitors, but if they will keep on coming here and showing us up like this… Well, the city’s home-grown alt.folk scene is at least holding its own, since it can produce bands like Patch & The Giant, another gang of multi-instrumentalists (throwing cello, accordion, flugelhorn and violin in with the usual mix) who come up with a ‘Fisherman’s Blues’-era Waterboys mingling of Irish, Balkan and American country influences plus New Orleans funeral-band razz, rolling off heady spirit-in-the-everyday songs for a potential singalong everywhere they go.


The second of the two London bands, Elephants & Castles, might not share the direct folkiness of the rest of the night’s bill (being more of a brash and perky power-pop idea at root, with fat synth and chatty peals of electric guitar) but the band does have an acoustic side (which they might be bringing along on this occasion). Also, a closer look at their songs reveals a strand of outrightly folky protest and character witness, with songs about gentrification, the lot of manufacturing workers and the ordeals and victimhood of Justin Fashanu showing up in their setlist.

 

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Howe Gelb (The Crypt Studio, 145a Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9QH, UK, Monday 16th & Tuesday 17th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £22.00 – information

Tireless alt.country legend and multi-project workaholic Howe Gelb (the frontman for Giant Sand, Sno Angel and Arizon Amp & Alternator) takes in two dates in Crouch End as part of his ongoing tour. The first of Howe’s dates will be solo, but Nadine Khouri (fresh from her Hornsey Town Hall megagig appearance on the preceding Saturday) will be playing support on the 16th, with an extra surprise guest promised at some point in the proceedings.


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Romeo Stodart & Ren Harvieu (Earl Haig Hall, 18 Elder Avenue, Crouch End, London, N8 9TH, UK, Thursday 19th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £13.75 – information

Romeo Stodart (half of the frontline for familial, Mercury-nominated, cuddly-bear band The Magic Numbers) has been taking time out from his main group to write and sing with Salford soul-pop singer Ren Harvieu as R N R. This performance gives both singers a chance to show us what they’ve come up with. Expect a full-potential set: reinterpretations of both Ren songs and Magic Numbers numbers, reworkings of standards (as defined and chosen by the duo) and the full song fruits of their new partnership. One or two examples of the latter have sneaked out into the public eye previously, so here’s a taste – via YouTube – of what’s on offer.

 

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Before the Goldrush presents Green Diesel + Tom Hyatt + Horatio James (The Haberdashery, 22 Middle Lane, Crouch End, London, N8 8PL, UK, Friday 20th November 2015, 8.00pm) – £5.00 – information

Kentish folk-rock sextet Green Diesel happily embrace a spiritual descent from an earlier ‘70s wave of English folk-rockers – Fairport Convention, Mr Fox, The Albion Band, Steeleye Span). As those bands did, they conflate dazzling electric guitar, a mass of acoustic folk instrumentation and a sheaf of traditional tunes mixed in with new songs (“old-fashioned, new-fangled”). In the same spirit, they’re enthusiasts and honourers of the old forms, but are never shy of splicing in others (“a reggae twist into an old sea shanty… spicing up a jig with a touch of jazz funk”) in order to communicate the songs to a fresher and perhaps less reverent audience during one of the frenetic and joyous live gigs which they’re becoming increasingly famous for.

If you’re a bunch of Londoners going for that country-flavoured Neil Young lonesomeness, then you’ll need the conviction, you need a certain selflessness and freedom from posing, and you’ll need the songs. Horatio James have all of this, carrying it off without slipping either into pastiche or into a faux-Laurel Canyon slickness, offering “songs of estrangement, heartbreak and malevolence” floating like dust off a pair of snakeskin boots. A cut-down version of the band charmed me at a Smile Acoustic live session in Shoreditch: the full band ought to be even better.


Tom Hyatt tends to work solo, delivering his clarion tenor voice and songs from behind a propulsive, percussive acoustic guitar or from the stool of a fluid, contemplative piano. There are strains of Tim Buckley and John Martyn in what he does, perhaps a little of the young Van Morrison (and, judging by his taste in covers, a dash of ABBA as well) but with their boozy, visionary slurs and blurs replaced by a clear-headed, clear-witted take on matters. Some might reckon that this was missing the point: if you don’t, Tom – heart and mind engaged – is certainly your man:. At this gig, he’ll be playing with a regular collaborator, cellist Maya McCourt (also of Euro-American folk collision Various Guises and bluegrass belle Dana Immanuel’s Stolen Band).


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The Apple Of My Eye + Michael Garrett + The August List(SoftlySoftly @ Kiss The Sky, 18-20 Park Road, Crouch End, London, N8 8TD, UK, Sunday 22nd November 2015, 3.00pm) – £4.40/£5.00 – information

Of course SoftlySoftly – who present regular unplugged folky gigs in Crouch End – fit perfectly into the festival, and present one of their acoustic afternoons (which are adults only, for reasons of booze rather than scabrousness) with barely a blip in their stride Offering “folk music for the drunk, the drowned and the lost at sea”, Bristolian-via-London sextet Apple Of My Eye write thoughtful, contemplative alt.folk songs tinged with country harmonies and displacement (mellow but slightly homesick, in the manner of the itinerant and accepting). Michael Garrett is another rising star on the London acoustic scene, usually performing with a backing band of Chums to back up his voice and guitar with viola, cello and cajon although this occasion looks as if it may well be a solo gig. There’s not much of Michael’s open, unaffected songcraft online, although I did find a video of him taking on Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years, as well as a brief homemade clip of one of his own songs. Husband-and-wife duo The August List belt out a take on Carter-classic stripped country with honey-and-bitter-molasses vocals, shading into occasional rock clangour and odd instrumentation stylophones – hardbitten songs of hardbitten ordinary folk, sometimes driven into cruel situations.


 
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The Feast of St Cecilia: The Memory Band + The Lords Of Thyme + Elliott Morris + The Mae Trio + You Are Wolf + Collectress + Spectral Chorus + DJ Jeanette Leech (Earl Haig Hall, 18 Elder Avenue, Crouch End, London, N8 9TH, UK, Sunday 22nd November 2015, 1.00pm) – £11.00 – information

The second and last of The End’s big gigs is also the festival closer. Apart from The Mae Trio (making a mid-bill return after their Monday performance) it’s a once-only grouping of End talent – “a fitting folk finale, a weird folk all dayer” with a wealth of bands tapping into or springing out of folk forms across the spectrum, plus DJ-ing by Jeanette Leech (scene authority and writer of ‘The Seasons They Change – The Story of Acid and Psychedelic Folk’).

The Memory Band is a folktronica project with a difference. Rather than clothing old or new folk songs in electronic textures, Stephen Cracknell builds new folk pieces up from scratch, assembling them via computer and a virtual “imaginary band” succession of guest players, Instead of smoothing the gaps, though, he makes the most of the eerie collage effect of digital sampling and patchwork. Some Memory Band pieces are familiar guitar and slap hollers with a folk baroque smoky swirl – hard-drive recordings with a trad air. Others are tapescape instrumentals, like an English-folk translation of Bomb Squad hip hop techniques: old-sounding folk airs carried on acoustic instruments against drones and percussion snippets like jingling reins, while backing tracks are made entirely out of ancient tune snatches and Sussex field recordings (hedgerow birds and bleating sheep, tractors, skyborne seagulls, landscape echoes; the tracery of air, wind and sky over downs). The live arrangements may lean more towards the acoustic and traditional style, but if they capture any of the vivid reimaginings of the recorded efforts they’ll still be well worth seeing.


The Lords Of Thyme are what you get when musicians from the wild psychedelic folk cyclone of Circulus decide that they want to slow down a little but go deeper. Joe Woolley, Tali Trow and Pat Kenneally (three Circulus players, former or current – it’s always hard to tell which) bonded with singer Michelle Griffiths over shared musical loves and have gone on to play and record songs which draw and build on the quartet’s steepings in both psychedelic esoterica and better known touchstones: Wizz Jones and Nick Drake, Sandy Denny’s Fotheringay, Nico, Davy Graham, early ’70s prog (Soft Machine and Yes) and even New York post-punk (Television). The results are a shimmering but solid acid-folk songbook, perfect for recapturing the tail-end of a half-imagined, cider-golden summer in these dank November days.


 

Celtic Connections award-winner Elliott Morris is the kind of young folk musician who makes both his peers and older musicians wince ruefully into their beers. Not only does he play fingerstyle guitar with the dazzling, percussive, ping-pong-match-in-a-belfry attack of Michael Hedges, Antonio Forcione or Jon Gomm, but he simultaneously sings with the controlled passion of a teenaged Martin Furey and writes like a youthful John Martyn. There’s something quite magical here.

Like The Memory Band, Kerry Andrew – who works as You Are Wolf – is a folk reinventor, taking ideas from current technology, leftfield pop, contemporary classical music and spoken word recording and then applying them to folk music. Her current album, ‘Hawk To The Hunting Gone’ is an invigorating cut-up of melodies and Kerry’s extensive vocal and production techniques, sounding like lost ethnology tapes of Anglo-American folk strands from a parallel history.

To call Collectress an alternative string quartet sells them too short – it suggests that the London-Brighton foursome can be summarised as an English take on Kronos. Aside from the fact that that any such position has already been taken (and reinvented, flipped and superseded) by the Smith and Elysian Quartets, Collectress just don’t play the same pattern as regards repertoire or instruments. They’re more of a quartet-plus, with musical saw, keyboards, woodwind, guitar, software, field recordings and singing as much in their armoury as their strings. Citing the Necks, Rachels, Bach and John Adams in their puzzlebox of influences, the group offer four very individual women musicians, a knack for full improvisation, and a sense of narrative that imbues everything from their songs to their suggestive spontaneous pieces.



 

Finally, Merseyside trio Spectral Chorus seem to have emerged from a post-dole background of disintegration, drifting and life lived one long ominous step away from the black. Their tale of sharing one hovel and a single bed as they honed their craft, living off pawn money from putting their instruments in and out of hock, and of nourishing themselves solely with spare hotel breakfasts from one member’s work as a caterer sounds like a grim joke: in these unsparing days, of course, it could well be true. Now homed at Skeleton Key Records (the Liverpool-based label-of-love set up by The Coral), they’re releasing their spooky semi-hymnal urban folk songs – part Shack and part Brendan Perry – to a waiting world, and there’s evidently enough in the kitty for live appearances too.

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And that’s it. More on the End Festival next year, when I’ll know what to expect.

October/November 2015 – upcoming London gigs – gamelan/dance fusion with My Tricksy Spirit, Wax Wings and Segara Madu; Nordic pop at Ja Ja Ja (Kill J, Loveless and Maasai); anarchistwood’s Samhain/NYE party (with Rude Mechanicals, Jane Ruby and more); intercontinental psych & noise with Baba Yaga (Bitchin’ Bajas, Tomaga and Demian Castellanos, Acid Mothers Temple and Zeni Geva); and more LUME jazz

24 Oct

Pausing only to remind you that the last week of October includes two of the Pierre Bensusan acoustic gigs at the Half Moon in Putney (which I mentioned in the previous post), here are the last of my selected London gigs for the month, plus one for the start of November. As ever, it’s just a small sampling of what’s on in town, but it’s what’s caught my attention.

Bitchin’ Bajas + Tomaga + Demian Castellanos (Baba Yaga’s Hut & Hands In The Dark @ Cafe Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, UK, Monday 26th October 2015, 8.00pm) – £9.00

Baba Yaga's Hut, 26th October 2015I’ve heard Chicago trio Bitchin’ Bajas described as “psychedelic easy listening” – presumably by someone who insists on being shouted at in conversation. Despite that swaggering faux-dumb name (the one that makes them sound as if they play manic Tejano to be drowned out by fist-fighting oil workers) they’re more ‘Bitches Brew’ than cathouse. They spin out protracted rhapsodic instrumentals drawing on a variety of introspective, mindful influences and parallels, looking back to the hallowed bucolic trance of Harmonia and Cluster, the ecstatic modular pulses of Terry Riley, the breezy but depthless Pacific cool of West Coast jazz, and perhaps the dissolving pastoralism of Talk Talk. Though they’re multi-instrumentalists, they wear their skills lightly, working wind instruments and mallet percussion into their mists of keyboard and workhorse organ and their landscape of lively rolling, rilling glissandi and drone chords. Sometimes overlapping into ambient electronica, they’re never quite dilute enough to fit into it: even at their most vaporous and transparent, they’re the smoke that never quite fades, the tang that holds your attention. As the clip below shows, they’re perhaps a little too diffuse to work at an open air festival: embraced by the Oto space, they should do just fine.

Synth/sounds looper Tom Relleen and drummer Valentina Magaletti keep in step – just about – as Tomaga, an impressionistic improvising duo drawing on drone music, free jazz and modular synth work hanging off the edge of rock. Simple oscillating melodies percolate loosely over a syncopated jazz lope with hanging coffee-can taps and rattles and shortwave radio whines; sometimes a synth organ hangs by itself, burbling, while the percussion sways and alarms like an approaching freight train. It’s music of preoccupation, with brief flashes of bright sunlight through the pressing focus.

Best known as the figure behind London psychedelic/kosmische projects The Orichalc Phase and The Oscillation, Cornish-born loop guitarist Demian Castellanos steps out under his own name for his most personal work so far. Like Fred Frith or G.P. Hall, Demian’s had a history of playing guitar with implements – paper, cutlery or whatever else came to hand – and feeding the sounds through volume swells and sundry pedals: like Hall, he’s also possessed of a nature-inspired, painterly view of music. For this current work, he’s going back to his formative years of woodshedding as a cottage-bound teenager at the isolated southernmost tip of the British coast; creating rich, portentous and melodious sound layers drawing on early-‘90s shoegaze, on raga and drone, and on echoing, guttering British, Indian, American and German psychedelic influences.


More gig info is here, and tickets are available here.

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As the opening concert of the South East Asian Festival 2015, there’s a performance at the Forge by My Tricksy Spirit, a new musical project which fuses the shimmering sounds of gendér wayang – Balinese gamelan instruments – with dub, electronic, ambient, trip-hop, and psychedelic rock. The Forge’s writeup is below (tweaked a little by me).

My Tricksy Spirit @ The Forge, 28th October 2015

My Tricksy Spirit (The Forge , 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, UK, Monday 26th October 2015, ) – £10.00 

Performed on the bronze-and-bamboo “gendér” metallophones which gives the music its name – and featuring intricate, interlocking melodies played with mallets and damped with the wrists – gendér wayang is a subset of Balinese gamelan music. Involving between two and four players (a small number for a gamelan ensemble) it is used in the island’s Hindu rituals including life-cycle ceremonies, temple festivals, purification rituals and cremations (as well as in the sacred wayang kulit shadow-puppet dramas, based on ancient Indian epics).

The My Tricksy Spirit project was started by Nick Gray, who teaches south-east Asian music at the School of Oriental and African Studies at University of London, and who runs the gendér group that forms the basis of the band. Using Ableton Live, several synths and effects, guitar, bass and drums, the music is played through a mixing desk – much like dub – to create an intense psychedelic journey through sound.

Tonight’s band features Nick Gray (violin and vocal), Paula Friar and Rachel Wilcox (gendérs) and four other musicians: Tomoya Forster of Pumarosa (bass guitar, effects, mixing desk), Julian Vickary of General Skank (synthesizer and effects), Charlie Cawood of Knifeworld (bass guitar, sitar, guitar) and Rob Shipster of Buttress Root Drumming (electronics, drums), who also produced My Tricksy Spirit’s upcoming album.

Support comes from electronica/world-house act Wax Wings and from another of Nick Gray’s SOAS gendér wayang ensembles, Segara Madu (who mostly play repertoire pieces from the Balinese village of Sukawati, as taught by the late I Wayan Loceng). More information and gig tickets are here, with the Facebook event page here.

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Arguably, there’s not been enough pop or R&B in here recently. Let’s set that straight.

Ja Ja Ja, 29th October 2015

Kill J + Loveless + Maasai (Ja Ja Ja @ The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, UK, Thursday 29th October 2015,) – £5.00/£7.00

Straight from the publicity:

Founded in 2009, Ja Ja Ja is the definitive Nordic website and club night celebrating the very best new music emerging from Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Denmark. Each month at London’s The Lexington, Ja Ja Ja hand-picks the finest emerging talent from the Nordic countries, making sure that only the best music is filtered through to your ears.

KIll J (a.k.a. Julie Aagaard) has been turning heads the past two years with her signature blend of dark experimental pop. A devastating one-two-punch with debut singles Phoenix and Bullet set the blogosphere buzzing, also catching the keen eye of ‘The Guardian’, ‘Indie ‘, ‘Stereogum’, ‘Pigeons and Planes’ and landing airplay on BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 6music. Deliciously diverse, the sugary sweet Cold Stone revealed a more innocent and naive side of KIll J, whilst Propaganda burst forth as “a bombastic, fangs-bared snarl at sexism” (‘Stereogum’). There’s more to come too, with an EP promised this fall.

Prominent identities in their own right, Eirik Tillerli and Filip Kollsete teamed up late 2013 to form Norwegian beat crooners Loveless. Following back-to-back remixes, debut single How To Love You was instantly added to national radio. Clocking in excess of 500K streams last year, their music has picked up attention from blogs, magazines and DJs all over the world; also landing them on some of the biggest festivals in Norway, not to mention their own club night in Oslo, Klubb Loveless (where guests include Artful/Artful Dodger and NVOY). New single They Don’t Know was recently hailed Record of the Week on BBC Radio 1xtra, serving the first taste of upcoming project ‘Relationships’.

Maasai is a Stockholm-based duo consisting of Dominique Teymouri and Zackarias Ekelund. Together they create soulful sound landscapes with a cinematic touch and lyrical depths. The pair broke on to the scene with debut single Memories, pulling inspiration from varied and abstract constructs – places, people, surroundings and everywhere in between. Follow-up tracks The Healer and Forgive Me have since held a captive audience; also hinting to the fearless, fragile and all-the-while dreamy atmosphere inhabited by MAASAI’s upcoming debut album – set for release later this year.

Resident DJs Project Fresh Socks are along for the ride in October; having also spun up a storm at Ja Ja Ja’s first club night of the season last week at The Lexington with CHINAH (Denmark), The Fjords (Norway) and Axel Flovent (Iceland).

Up to date information for this particular Ja Ja Ja night is here and tickets are here.

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Flapping-in-the-wind time… here’s what looks like a very interesting gig, but the colourful cloud of information around it keeps changing shape. Here we go..

Subterfuge presents Samhain Special/Labiatory New Year’s Eve Party with Rude Mechanicals + NiMBUL + Bad Suburban Nightmare + We Are A Communist + Jane Ruby + Milky Sugar (Subterfuge @ The Others, 6-8 Manor Road, Stoke Newington, London, N16 5SA, UK, Friday 30th October 2015, 7.00pm) – £3.00 to £6.00 and upwards

Samhain Subterfuge, 30th October 2015

Run by arch, arty but heartful prank-rockers anarchistwood (whose own ingredients span post-punk cantatas, skeletal lo-fi garage pop, silly voices and quickfire sampler collages), this is the last Subterfuge club night of the year (hence the split between a Halloween/Samhain night and a New Year’s Eve shindig) and promises a fabulous musical sprawl – a right old grab-bag of this and that, in the best way. anarchistwood themselves are playing, though at the moment it’s unclear whether or not they’re teaming up with dysfunctional Chatham polymath and Stuckist art brute Sexton Ming (as the anti-supergroup called Nimbul), or playing as themselves. I guess that whichever way it goes you could expect a roughly equal mix of distracted behaviour, political protest, self-absorbed memory jigsaws and détournements with echoes of Beefheart, Crass, The Raincoats and the high point of a Pride parade. But that’s all it is – a guess.

Compared to Earth and Neil Young at their most dogged and noisy, Dan Hrekow – a.k.a Bad Suburban Nightmare – plays “impossibly slow and melancholic” grunge-drone instrumentals on a minimal setup of distorted guitar and pedals. In violent contrast, Rude Mechanicals play party music for paranoid schizophrenics, fronted by the peroxide-beehive rantings of Miss Roberts (who looks like a doubled-back-drag-queen version of Patsy Stone, and speak-sings like a collision between Dagmar Krause and Holly Penfield), Their songs are rattling hallucinatory-jam sandwiches about sinister neighbours, stand-up arguments and alien mice on the Tube, mixing jazz, punk and cabaret together in equal measures and played with both needle-sharp precision and full glamour oomph.

Of the rest, We Are A Communist provide “trashy guitar-laden sci-fi surf music, with stylophones to boot – a must for Man or Astroman? fans”; onetime Naked Ruby frontwoman (and current Deptford Beach Babes member) Jane Ruby turns up to sing her solo mixture of torch, garage rock’n’roll, flamenco and blues songs with twists of Spanish & Arabic flavours; and Milky Sugar performs “punk go go”… but that’s where I run out of information.

I’ve no actual idea about the order in which everyone’s going on, as the various info and flyers seem to contradict each other: either that or the whole event is morphing too fast for me to keep up with it. Presumably they’re working to some functional anarchist or I Ching method to establish it, or you just turn up and see what happens. Perhaps that’s what they’re doing. Either/and/or DJ Sugarlump SS, DJ KG Lumphead and MC Sadogasm provide some extra noises, punkvertery & Kodek provide visuals, and they’ve got a proactive but generous door price policy – three quid if you’re unwaged, four quid if you’re a student with an NUS card, and six quid if you’re neither but have shown enough commitment to arrive before 9pm. After that, they charge more. More information is here; keep track of developments as best you can on Facebook here; and there’s the usual array of tasters below.

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On the Sunday, it’s time for the monthly LUME gig: more jazz in Dalston…

LUME logo

Tom Taylor/Rob Luft and Cath Roberts/Seth Bennett/Andrew Lisle (LUME @ The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, Dalston, London, N16 8JH, UK, Sunday 1st November 2015, 7.30pm) – £10.00

For our November Vortex gig, we welcome a duo and a trio to the stage, for a night of improvised music.

Tonight sees the first meeting of a new improvising trio featuring LUME’s co-director Cath Roberts (baritone saxophone), Seth Bennett (double bass) and Andrew Lisle (drums). Andrew is known for being one of the drummers in heavyweight Leeds anarcho-sextet Shatner’s Bassoon, and as a prolific improviser working with a multitude of musicians on the free scene (Colin Webster, Alex Ward, Daniel Thompson, Tom Wheatley and more). Seth leads his own ensembles Nut Club and En Bas Quartet, as well as being involved in many other projects across musical styles including Fragments Trio, Metamorphic and The Horse Loom. He and Cath play together as a duo, as well as in Word of Moth and Cath’s quintet Sloth Racket. In addition to this and her LUME work, Cath also leads Quadraceratops (a septet) and has a duo with guitarist Anton Hunter, Ripsaw Catfish.

Seth Bennett, Cath Roberts, Andrew Lisle

The new duo featuring Tom Taylor and Rob Luft is a recent collaboration borne out of a mutual love of improvised music. The music draws attention to the many common features of the two instruments, and mixes high-intensity improvisation with more tender and reflective textures.

A former award-winning classical piano graduate at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, Tom is now a rising British jazz star, having transferred to London in 2009 to pursue a Masters in jazz piano at Trinity College of Music (studying with Simon Purcell, Liam Noble and Nick Weldon). Since then he’s played the main jazz festivals in Manchester and London and Kongsberg Jazz Festival in Norway. He’s a member of the Jack Davies Big Band and of Southbound (both of whom have recorded for V&V Records) and also plays in the collaborative electro-acoustic trio duck-rabbit with saxophonist Joe Wright and double bass player James Opstad. Rob began his career as a jazz guitarist in Sevenoaks, where he took lessons from Mike Outram and turned professional at 15. He has been a mainstay of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra for many years, having been its guitarist since 2010 and having played in the associated NYJO Nonet. He currently co-leads the band Organism and plays with various groups on the London jazz circuit; including positions with Nigel Hitchcock, Gareth Lockrane and the Callum Au Big Band.

Rob Luft, Tom Taylor

More information here, and tickets here.

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Finally (and also on the Sunday) there’s a double bill of Japanese heaviness at Corsica Studios.

Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso UFO + Zeni Geva (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ Corsica Studios, 4-5 Elephant Road, London, SE17 1LB, UK, Sunday 1st November 2015, 7.30pm) – £14.00

Zeni Geva (or Zeni Gaiva, depending on how you translate the phonetics – conceptually, it translates as “money violence”) have been around since 1987. Led by guitarist/singer/noise-chopper KK Null, and currently backed up solely by drummer Tatsuya Yoshida to make a quake-strength power duo, they have initial links to legendary noise-Dadaists The Boredoms (and even the venue-destroying pre-Boredoms chaos act Hanatarash, which featured Mitsuru Tabata, until relatively recently Zeni Geva’s second guitarist). You’d expect them to have an abrasive side, and you’d be right. Their default musical setting is one of boiling, barking aggression, with tight and furious knots of threshing machine guitar; their records have savage, sadistic titles like ‘Total Castration’ and ‘Desire For Agony’; their progressive hardcore approach takes assorted forms hostage (aside from the obvious, there’s math and noise rock, psychedelia and death metal in the tangle) and makes them jump like puppets.

And yet, in spite of this, there’s a world of difference between Zeni Geva and your average long-lived heavy-thunderfuck band. It’s mostly in the way they use calm – little, perfectly-formed lacunae of space in between the blurs and blows, bringing their bursts of frenzy into focus (Steve Albini is both fan and sometime collaborator, and you can see why). It’s a terrible cliché to compare Japanese musicians to martial artists, but in this case there’s some substance to it. The brutality is sheer craft rather than an end in itself, every movement seems considered and purely executed; and live, in between each flurry of songblows and each ugly song name, they seem enormously humble, friendly and pleased to be there.

Acid Mothers Temple have taken twenty years to set themselves up as a revered psychedelic institution, but it seems as if they’ve been doing it for much longer, such is leader Makoto Kawabata’s talent for back-engineering himself into the culture. Part of this is down to the way he and his cohorts have mastered the ingredients, including the tearing metallic squalls, mellow blues tracery and starry smears of Hendrixian guitar, the whispering lapping Gong synths, the Pink Floyd mantra riffs and Zappa-esque air sculpture solos, and the zoned-out post-James Brown grooves (with the addition of Japanese chanting and noise-squalls). Much of the rest of it is to do with AMT’s open, overlapping community approach. Their musical impetus has utilised multiple faces and names, from their own simpler reconfigurations (the heavier trippier playing of Acid Mothers Temple & the Cosmic Inferno, the Sabbath-y sludge of Acid Mothers Temple & Space Paranoid) to the friendly absorption or co-opting of contemporaries (Acid Mothers Temple SWR, with Ruins, and Acid Mothers Afrirampo) and of heroes from the original psychedelic generation (the team-up with Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth as Acid Mothers Gong, and with Mani Neumeier as Acid Mothers Guru Guru). If old heroes are unavailable or disinclined to pool resources, AMT have simply shrugged and continued anyway (such as when they took up hurdy-gurdys and acid folk and briefly became Acid Mothers Temple & the Incredible Strange Band).

If this makes Kawabata and co sound like slick chancers (and even if AMT album titles like ‘Starless and Bible Black Sabbath’ do suggest both avid, nerdy fandom and piss-taking on a Julian Cope level), I’m selling them short. Acid Mothers Temple might be a brand as much as an ethos, but that hasn‘t stopped their project and record-releasing ethics being continually dedicated to possibilities and continuance,rather than simply banking a following (or colonizing someone else’s). Their communal origins may have been two decades behind those of their inspiration but were hardly any less sincere; and their exploration of less obvious musical areas en route (including opera, Terry Riley minimalism, Nepalese folk and southern European Occitan culture) have led them into interesting places and opened further doors to anyone following them.

First and foremost, anyone who’s seen AMT play will vouch to their talent of both mastering their sources and creating music which lives, thrills and involves in the moment. This week’s London concert features the more space-rock inclined Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. lineup – probably the easiest entry point to an increasingly rewarding musical world. See below for a full-length concert clip of the band in action.

More gig info is here, and tickets are available here.

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More November gig previews shortly…

September 2015 – upcoming gigs – Gong’s Dave Sturt and friends travel the world from Derbyshire on the 23rd; London gets more Daylight Music eclectica plus a Blacklisters/Joeyfat/Himself jabber-rock summit on the 26th

17 Sep

Here are details on some more interesting concerts coming up later this month. These run the gamut from soft psychedelic world-folk atmospherics to jabbering electric art-punk noise and sprechtstimme via dream-folk, caustic love songs and extended-technique art-rock instrumentals. (It was a shame to hear about the cancellation of the Charles Hayward gig in London on the 23rd – taking its ANTA, Gnob and Kavus Torabi support slots with it – but I’m sure that something similar will be rescheduled for anyone in need of their art-mash/stoner/prog/psych/metal salad…)

event20150923davesturtwirkw

Dave Sturt presents An Evening of Dreams & Absurdities (Upstairs @ The Red Lion, Market Place, Wirksworth, Matlock, Derbyshire, DE4 4ET, UK, 23rd September 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.00

As part of the Wirksworth Festival Fringe, Dave Sturt (bass guitarist with Gong, Bill Nelson, Steve Hillage and Jade Warrior, as well as being half of Cipher) showcases tracks from his forthcoming solo album ‘Dreams & Absurdities’ in an evening of world-class all-instrumental musicianship featuring beautiful eclectic music, soundscapes and various field recordings from Gong tours and elsewhere. The music is “mostly mellow and ambient – somewhere between melancholy and elation.”

For the performance, Dave will be accompanied by three guests. Chris Ellis (guitar and piano) is a multi-instrumentalist/singer-songwriter/actor, an ex-member of Anglesey band Ghostriders, and an award-winning soundtrack composer – he’s also a collaborator with Dave on the Past Lives Project (which recreates the recent ancestral histories of British communities by resurrecting their old cinefilm recordings and setting them to new music). Brian Boothby (low whistle, djembe) is an acclaimed folk musician, dramatist and writer and a member of the Derbyshire mixed-arts collective Genius Loci. Jeff Davenport (drums, percussion, HandSonic pad) has worked with jazz musicians Andy Sheppard and Phil Robson, pop artists James Morrison and Laura Mayne, and currently collaborates regularly with “Silent Pianist” Neil Brand providing soundracks to silent films, as well as working in Europe and the Far East on various projects with all manner of musicians.

Up-to-date details here  and here, with tickets available online from here or available from Traid Links via email enquiry.

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On the last post, I plugged a London double event on the 19th – a day with a Daylight Music concert at midday and a noisier rock gig in the evening (both events which are still about to happen as I post this). In another week’s time, history’s repeating (fortunately not as farce, though anyone familiar with the bands in the evening show can expect some twists and jabs of humour) so here’s what’s coming up on September 26th…

Daylight Music 200

Daylight Music 200: Ex-Easter Island Head + French For Rabbits + Louis Barabbas, plus a photo exhibition (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, UK – Saturday 26th September 2015, 12.00pm-2.00pm) – free entry, suggested donation £5.00

An extra special event to celebrate the 200th Daylight Music, featuring some of the most popular acts from the last six years (643 performances by 530 different acts; 15,254 cups of tea or coffee drunk; 9,863 slices of cake scoffed; 5,003 pieces of quiche devoured) and during which we’ll be raising funds for Daylight Music in 2016.

Ex-Easter Island Head are a Liverpool based musical collective composing and performing music for solid-body electric guitar, percussion and other instruments. They have performed their original compositions solo, as a duo, trio, quartet and as a large ensemble across a wide variety of events from site-specific installation works to live film scores. They create a sensation whenever they play. If you’ve never seen musicians hitting electric guitars with mallets before, then cancel all other plans for the day and head down.

French For Rabbits hail from the remote natural setting of Waikuku Beach, in New Zealand’s South Island. Vocalist Brooke Singer expresses intimate narratives against the cast of the damp colonial cold; her voice delicately steeled against winsome guitar lines and the eerie instrumentation of her bandmates. It’s a weather-beaten dreamscape, nostalgic for warmth and hopefully lilting towards sunnier climes.

Louis Barabbas is a writer, performer and label director, best known for caustic love songs and energetic stage shows that leave you pumped up and breathless.

The icing on the cake this week is an instrumental soundscape provided by Irish singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Adrian Crowley, who (over his six-album career) has been described by the Independent as “a master of understatement” and cited by Ryan Adams as the answer to the question “who’s the best songwriter that no one’s heard of?”

To celebrate the fantastic photography taken throughout the lifespan of Daylight Music by a very talented bunch of volunteer photographers, there will be a lo-fi photo exhibition consisting of 200 postcards on the pews of the chapel for people to take away; plus there will be a limited numbers of brochures to buy featuring all of the photographs.

More information on the concert is here.

In the evening, there’s a change of pace and milieu over in Hackney as post-hardcore rubs up against a bit of playful English Dada. I’ve got a liking for those occasions when rock music drives itself up against persistent, wayward speech and stubs its toes on it; and this gig will offer plenty of opportunities for that…

Blacklisters, Joeyfat, Himself, September 26th

Blacklisters + Joeyfat + Himself (Pink Mist @ The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, London, E8 2EB, UK, Saturday 26th September 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.00

Blacklisters’ aggressive, confrontational and darkly humorous performances have earned them a reputation as one of the best acts on the UK underground, drawing comparisons to the likes of The Jesus Lizard and Pissed Jeans. Their debut album ‘BLKLSTRS’ was released in 2012 to critical acclaim, landing them supports with Scratch Acid, Pig Destroyer, Future of the Left and Big Business, as well as a live session at Maida Vale studios for the Radio 1 Rock Show. Tonight’s special show is in support of their fearsome new record ‘Adult’ on Smalltown America. Produced by Matt Johnson (aka MJ of Hookworms) the album is a clear progression for the band and sees them fuse abstract art-noise with the brutally minimalist riffs that first put them on the radar.

Also playing are amorphous cult stalwarts Joeyfat, a band who’ve been defying conventions of “band logic” longer than most of us have been able to get into shows at all. Their sinewy math-inspired spoken-word has seen them share stages with the likes of Bilge Pump, S*M*A*S*H, Clearlake, Lords, Dartz, Art Brut, Trencher and Green Day, obviously. Catch them at this rare London show.

Direct from Leeds (unless they stopped off some place on the way), Himself’s shouty/talky interactive noise rock has been winning them plaudits up and down the company, including from Radio’s Daniel P. Carter who invited them to record a live session for the Radio 1 Rock Show earlier this year.

Tickets for the Shacklewell Arms gig are available here and here. Note that this is an 18+ event.

 

November 2015 – upcoming gigs – Mutations Festival in Brighton, 28th & 29th November 2015

24 Aug

Here’s a quick signal booster (or, perhaps more accurately, noise booster) for the debut Mutations festival coming up in Brighton at the end of November. (The press release just came in from Stereo Sanctity today). Note that tickets go on sale in the middle of this week, and that there’s only a thousand tickets. I’ve just seen a Facebook counter suggesting that 330 people have already committed themselves to tickets. Move fast.

Mutations 2015 banner

Mutations is a new multi-venue inner city festival in Brighton, England, born out of last years acclaimed DRILL:BRIGHTON. With Wire’s touring project moving onto the next urban sonic assault, co-curators One Inch Badge decided the time was right for a forward thinking, annual, artist-lead festival that would be static to Brighton on the last weekend of November

Spanning two days and nights on the 28th and 29th November with an incredibly intimate capacity of just 1,000, Mutations is a music-lover’s event. Alongside the music you can also expect pop-up record fairs, poster art exhibitions, photography and more.

Mutations is a creative mass of genre hybrids and expression, delivering some of the most inspiring, creative and interesting music the world has to offer; a host of other national and international acts including genuinely alternative rock, aggressive noise, experimental house, singer-songwriters, doom metal, electronica, drone, experimental folk and various other experimental sounds.

Acts confirmed so far are Lightning Bolt, METZ, John Talabot, Josh T. Pearson, Tourist, OM, Chelsea Wolfe, Willis Earl Beal, Ought, Jane Weaver, Natalie Prass, BRNS, Kagoule, Vision Fortune, Blaenavon, All Tvvins, Lowly, Plastic Mermaids, Chastity, Mount Bank, Abi Wade, Sea Bastard, Blacklisters, Foreign Skin and Nature Channel.

Mutations festival, Brighton, 2015Venues will include Concorde 2, All Saint’s Church, The Arch, The Old Market, The Haunt, Patterns, Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar, Green Door Store, The Prince Albert, The Hope And Ruin and The Bee’s Mouth, with more to be confirmed.

Pre-sale launches this Wednesday 26th August at 9.00am (exclusively via See Tickets) with general sale following on Friday 28th August at 9.00am.

Mutations Festival online:
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August/September 2015 – an American summer/fall tour for The Collection and Lowland Hum

20 Aug
the Collection tune up...

the Collection tune up…

Today the Collection begin a two-month American tour. Veering mostly around the South, the Midwest, the West Coast and the Pacific North-Western states, it takes in (bar a mid-tour rendezvous with the Viper Room in Los Angeles) the kind of intimate, audience-engaging venues I’d love to discover on an American road trip of my own – assorted music bars, small theatres, coffee shops. This is in keeping with the band’s stated ethos – based in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Collection describe themselves less as a band and more of “a community of artists, nurses, farmers, students, and everyone in between doing life together.” According to bandleader David Wimbish, “we don’t want fans, we want family. It’s incredible to us that people would even listen to our music, and it’s so much more important for us to connect with those people than to figure out how to get fans.”

The second Collection album, ‘Ars Moriendi’, was released last summer but only crossed my ears recently via a brief and now-expired Noisetrade offer (you can still go there and pick up a free sampler if you want to). I love discovering inspiring records by accident, and ‘Ars Moriendi’ is one of the more emotionally commanding works I’ve heard for a good while. Swelling up from a core of seven people to as many as twenty-five on record, the Collection dip into rock, folk, gospel, barndance, bluegrass, soul and mariachi. Adding banjo, brass, strings, reeds, autoharps, and didgeridoos to the usual pianos, guitar and drums results in a heady grand-medicine-show of a sound.

This in itself isn’t new. There are plenty of expansive Americana folk-rock ensembles peppered with diverse instrumentation; and (either by coincidence, intent or just common feeling) the Collection echo strains of music which we’ve already heard via The Polyphonic Spree, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens and Guillemots; not to mention The Band and Mercury Rev, or the reedy, distracted, keening tones David shares with Damien Rice. What gives them the Collection their particular edge is the driving verve and commitment with which they play. Despite their hollering utopian tendencies of their singalongs they’re unconcerned with party robes or cute, culty psychedelic trappings. Instead, their music is imbued with communitarian impulses and a fumbling, ever-hopeful sense of personal connections.

Integral to this is the band’s Christianity. Almost every one of David Wimbish’s songs is studded and seeded with Biblical allusions and resonances, yet he’s never rendered complacent and conformist by his faith. Rather, he’s caught up in it – a tender-hearted radical questioning and examining his beliefs, challenging his own conscience and the orthodoxy, compelled to decry the church’s seams of bigotry and exceptionalism whenever he stumbles over them. At the same time, David is clearly fascinated by the church’s central mystery of life renewed, setting it (with some pain and trepidation) against the deaths of friends and family that cut grief-lines into his songs and filter both darkness and weight into the Collection’s music. Like me, you don’t have to actually be a believer to be moved by David’s explorations and exhortations as he travels from exuberance to despair, from buoyant encouragement to audible tear-swallowing. After all, the best Christian music is always a little wracked and cracked: something in which their faith reveals people to themselves, and perhaps a little more of their humanity to others.

 

On this tour, the Collection will be accompanied by two of their Greensboro compatriots – husband-and-wife duo Daniel and Lauren Goans, a.k.a. Lowland Hum. Fond of the intimacy of house concerts, they ought to make a good foil and complement to the Collection’s inclusive spirit. Hopefully Daniel and Lauren will get the chance to carry out their usual immersive, synaesthesic gig experience – staging and dressing the playing environment with props and essential oil burners, passing out hand-bound lyric books to their audience, and generally eliding the boundaries between the many ways a person can experience a concert.

Lowland Hum get immersed (photo by Griffin Hart Davis)

Lowland Hum get immersed (photo by Griffin Hart Davis)

Even if not, there’s still the music from their eponymous debut album (released in April this year) to consider. ‘Lowland Hum’ is an enthrallingly American art-pop record in which country-duo harmonies and Atlantic folk guitar intertwines with multi-instrumental Portishead/Mandalay trip hop, and in which songs flick unsettlingly between sports arena scale and backyard porch intimacy in the space of a breath. Lyrical preoccupations (fragmented but lucid) span ageing, the shifting internal perspective of growing and growth, or suburban disassociations; or cover the life of Toulouse-Lautrec in ten short scattered lines.

Sharing voices, instrumentation and production between them, Lauren and Dan sometimes seem to phase in and out of each other (as on Rolling And Rolling, a touching first-person meditation on a boy’s budding adolescence on which both singers take turns to voice his slipping thoughts). Similarly, they move through genres like purposeful ghosts. A song like Jack Of Hearts (a study of the dangers of power and charisma) can begin as a country cautionary, fray into psychedelic folk, clatters its sticks into complications and end up as a layered ambient march.

 
On a couple of dates the Collection and Lowland Hum will be joined by other performers. In Birmingham, Alabama, they’ll be playing with folk-rock trio War Jacket (who describe themselves as both warm and haunted, like their hometown); in San Francisco by Gothic-tinged chamber-pop crooner (and Stephen Merritt collaborator) Jon DeRosa; and in Greely, Colorado by both the Denver art-and-music collective Giants & Pilgrims and the outlaw-country cowpunker Matt Davis.

 

 

 

 

Full tour dates below:

  • Ashland Coffee and Tea, 100 North Railroad Avenue, Ashland, Virginia, USA, Thursday 20th August 2015
  • Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar, 414 E Main St, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, Friday 21st August 2015
  • Hanesbrands Theater @ Milton Rhodes Centre for the Arts, 251 Spruce Street North, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA, Saturday 22nd August 2015
  • Local 506, 506 West Franklin St, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA, Sunday 23rd August 2015
  • The Pour House, 1977 Maybank Highway, Charleston, South Carolina, USA, Monday 24th August 2015
  • The Camp House, 832 Georgia Avenue, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA, Wednesday 26th August 2015
  • Eddie’s Attic, 515 North McDonough Street, Decatur, Georgia, USA, Thursday 27th August 2015
  • The Nick, 2514 10th Avenue South, Birmingham, Alabama, USA,
    Friday 28th August 2015
    (supported by War Jacket)
  • The Beatnik, 615 Toulouse Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, Saturday 29th August 2015
  • Common Grounds, 1123 South 8th Street, Waco, Texas, USA, Sunday 30th August 2015
  • (House Show), 407 Mignon Lane, Houston, Texas, USA, Monday 31st August 2015 (ticketed – apply via link)
  • Mohawk, 912 Red River Street, Austin, Texas, USA, Wednesday 2nd September 2015
  • The Viper Room, 8852 West Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA, Sunday 6th September 2015
  • Hotel Utah, 500 4th Street, San Francisco, California, USA, Wednesday 9th September 2015 (supported by Jon DeRosa)
  • Fremont Abbey, 4272 Fremont Avenue North, Seattle, Washington, USA, Friday 11th September 2015
  • Kelly’s Olympian, 426 SW Washington Street, Portland, Oregon, USA, Sunday 13th September 2015
  • Old Nick’s Pub , 211 Washington Street, Eugene, Oregon, USA, Tuesday 15th September 2015
  • Reef, 105 South 6th Street, Boise, Idaho, USA, Thursday 17th September 2015
  • The Dawg Pound, 3550 South State Street, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, Saturday 19th September 2015
  • Moxi Theatre, 802 9th Street, Greeley, Colorado, USA, Monday 21st September 2015 (supported by Giants & Pilgrims, Matt Davis)
  • Downtown Artery, 252 Linden Street, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA, Tuesday 22nd September 2015
  • Hi-Dive, 7 South Broadway, Denver, Colorado, USA, Wednesday 23rd September 2015
  • The Tank Room, 1813 Grand Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri, USA, Thursday 24th September 2015

Woven in and out of this tour, Lowland Hum will be playing some separate headlining dates of their own (shared, on one North Carolinan occasion, by church-and-country songwriter Josiah Early).

  • Horizon Records, 2-A West Stone Avenue, Greenville, South Carolina, USA, Tuesday 25th August 2015
  • Westmont College, 955 La Paz Road, Santa Barbara, California, Saturday 5th September 2015
  • Old Orchard Church, 640 Amelia Avenue, Webster Groves, St Louis, Missouri, USA, Saturday 26th September 2015
  • The Grey Eagle, 185 Clingman Avenue, Asheville, North Carolina, USA, Sunday 25th October 2015 (supported by Josiah Early)

 

The Collection/Lowland Hum, summer/fall US tour 2015
 

 

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.

 

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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

 

May 2015 – upcoming London rock gigs – Gryphon’s crumhorn-wielding at the Union Chapel (preview via ‘Organ’)

28 May

I’m really out of the loop – I didn’t even know that Gryphon were playing, let alone touring. If I’d known, I’d have blogged about it earlier (and perhaps saved up for a ticket).

Gryphon are a wonderful band – a serious-minded but no-bullshit bassoon-and-crumhorn-toting electric folk/prog oddity with a perfect and elegant focus. They seemed to come about almost by accident in the early ’70s, as if a group of matter-of-fact mediaeval music scholars had suddenly been caught up on a lolling tongue of rock and taken off for a ride for a few years. I’ve not seen them play since 2009, when after thirty-one years they finally put on a reunion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. In a lone concession to rock theatre, reed player Brian Gulland turned up in a Wild Man of Borneo barnet and matching beard, and had the latter shaved off with a straight razor during the encore. Otherwise it was a straight demonstration that it was Gryphon’s music which had always mattered – inclusive, always choosing the deft path over the clotted, as clear as a bell and never overblown. They promised us a new album, but went quiet about that very quickly: at least they’re still up for playing.

If you’ve not already committed to something else for tomorrow’s London evening (and I know I’ve already pitched you two other options in the past week) do go along, but don’t just take my word for it. Here’s Organ’s typically gonzo-rapturous take on the band and the tour. I couldn’t agree with them more.

THE ORGAN

gryphon_unionchapel_flyeGryphon are on tour, this is a very very good thing, Gryphon are gloriously beautiful, they’re like Bagpuss or strawberry jam on toast, they’re like every good thing from back there when all was good, pipe organs and tank engines and crumhorn-wielding and jousting and as cool as f. And tomorrow is the final night of their rather unexpected current tour – It has been a long time coming and so it is with enormous pleasure that we announce the Gryphon “None the Wiser” tour. – Gryphon bring their unique blend of English prog, refined folk and mediaeval warmth to London’s Union Chappel

Gryphon is the oldest and the newest thing – a legendary British band that’s as exhilarating, energetic, unpredictable and addictive now as it was when the band last toured, in the 1970s. At that time, no-one could pigeonhole Gryphon. The band appeared on BBC Radios 1, 2…

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June 2014 – through the feed – Sufjan Stevens reissues ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’ with various goodie options

26 Jun

Sufjan Stevens: 'Enjoy Your Rabbit'

Sufjan Stevens: ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’

Assuming that you’ve not heard about this yet (I still have the sneaking suspicion that the majority of my readers are ahead of me as regards news)…

…that prolific, poly-instrumental singer-songwriter/critical darling Sufjan Stevens is reissuing one of his earliest and oddest albums. Originally released by Asthmatic Kitty back in 2001, ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’ was reissued a couple of days ago (June 24th) on limited-edition deluxe vinyl and as a download.

On initial hearing, ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’ doesn’t sound much like the work with which Sufjan later made his name. Despite the man’s reputation for assured eclectism, it seems out-of-place and unexpected – very different from the concept albums in which he codified his life and thoughts into the hopes, dreams and terrains of American states; or from his baroque-ified folk-Americana (in which you were as likely to hear a cor anglais as a banjo or harmonium); or from his combining of original film and symphony music for ‘The BQE’; or even his battery of Christmas albums.

Recorded during Sufjan’s first stint in New York, it’s almost entirely electronic – a fizzing post-modern cut-up built from digital work station noises, samples and tweaks of live sounds (including stray guitars, organs, the brassy lather of Tom Eaton’s trumpet and prelingual vocals from Liz Janes and Sufjan himself). There’s a running theme via the Chinese zodiac and its twelve-year cycle, each year of which lends its name to a track (Year Of The Dragon, Year Of The Rat and so on), although Sufjan muddies the waters with two extra pieces – the title track and The Year Of Our Lord. (Given his professed Christianity, the latter is as likely to be sincere as it is to be a tongue-in-cheek gag: given the nature of the album, it’s probably both.)

Over to his label, Asthmatic Kitty, for a fuller explanation (as Asthmatic Kitty appears to have a staff of two, one of whom is Sufjan, you can be pretty sure that this is a definitive statement):

“Departing from the singer-songwriter format of his first Asthmatic Kitty album, ‘A Sun Came’, this collection of fourteen colourful instrumental compositions combines Sufjan’s noted gift for melody with electronic sounds to create an unusually playful and human – not to mention humane – electronic experience. First released in 2001 on CD, 2014 — the Year of the Horse — brings the original recording back as a double-LP set, the first disc clear and the other left to fortune. And no one can foresee who will receive one of two very special boxes of fortune cookies, containing fortunes penned especially for this occasion by Sufjan himself.

‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’ is the most underrated and overlooked album in Sufjan’s discography. It contains in capsule form what he would later unpack into more palatable music. There are flashes of ‘Michigan’ and ‘Illinois’ in Year Of Our Lord, Year Of The Ox and Year Of The Dog, and shadows of ‘Age Of Adz’ in the darkest moments of Year Of The Boar, Year Of The Snake or Year Of The Dragon. ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’ is a harbinger. A precursor. A wink in the eye before the slight. You should have listened in the first place. We’ll forgive you though, because when an album is only available in wasteful jewel-case CD, how cool can it be? Jewel-cases are so 1998. But now that it’s in multi-colored limited-edition gimmick-ridden vinyl, you have no excuse. ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’, which Sufjan wrote and recorded in the innocence of a pre-9/11 2001, is Sufjan’s best work because it is Sufjan at his least self-aware.

In an alternate reality, Sufjan never made ‘Michigan’ or ‘Seven Swans’ or ‘Illinois’; he kept making electronic freakout albums like ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’ in obscurity, until perhaps he just gave up and stayed in graphic design and some pitying barely-afloat label re-released ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’ and sold a few dozen copies to a few scattered part-time record store employees. But here we are in this reality, where ‘Michigan’ is slated for an energy drink commercial, ‘Illinois’ is a backdrop to a pensive montage in a kickstarted blockbuster movie, and ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’ is relegated to a drunken purchase at Amazon.com.

Here at Asthmatic Kitty, where we often ignore reality as it’s presented, ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’ is one of our most played records. We find ourselves in the small company of ballet choreographers, quartets, and occasional internet reviewers, but there should be more of us. So, as if we were in that alternate universe where “Sufjan” is more likely the name of a ‘Game of Thrones’ character than an indie star, we hope you’ll give this record a chance now that it’s available as vinyl. It is just as genius as anything Sufjan has released since. Everything’s been downhill since.”

To my own cranky ears, ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’ is a fascinating, skillful blip in Sufjan’s career – a rare chance to see his singular talent from a specific angle. It’s a little similar to your first encounter with Frank Zappa’s cascading Synclavier cut-ups if all you’d previously heard was his catalogue of hairy, horse-laugh rock cabaret numbers about groupie misdemeanours and middle-America caught napping and dribbling. Another comparison is Adrian Belew’s 1986 one-off ‘Desire Caught By The Tail‘ – a snarling, abstract career swerve from a musician who’d previously satisfied his avant-garde leaning by blowing spacey textures and barnyard/traffic sound effects through art-rock songs, but was now sitting down with a crude guitar synth (plus a jumble of pedals and assorted things to hit with a stick) in order to create uncompromising Picasso-Hendrix shapes at heavy-metal volume. Did someone say ‘Metal Machine Music’? Not quite, although there are moments of crushing noise on ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’ which recall Lou Reed’s own Marmite effort.

One thing which can be said for certain is that ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’ is a breathtakingly playful record which nonetheless exhibits Sufjan’s extraordinary breadth of influences and compositional skills. If you listen closely, his subsequent ways of building a song are all already present and correct. Though they’re sheathed and blurred within the blip-glitching video-Pong noises, Tibetan bells and drunken brass band textures of Year Of The Monkey, they’re definitely there: it’s a song, voiced with all the oddness of a Charles Ives let loose on a sampler.

Speaking of Zappa, some prime bogus pomp shows up on Year Of The Snake and Year Of The Boar. Amongst the larking bass-harmonium reed drone and the razzing fizz of Sufjan’s electronics, some weighty blimpery waddles and patters. I could have sworn that Year Of The Boar even quotes ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’ at one point. Sufjan’s certainly not slow to drop in a ‘Mission Impossible’ quote on the album’s title track, which is otherwise the odd song out – an angular, dissonant line of Rock-In-Opposition guitar fuzz joined by a cavalcade of pushy racket and chiptune burble.

As for the Chinese component, it’s not clear whether this is a gimmick (like Sufjan’s subsequent tall tales of a “50 States” concept project) or another little metajoke which he’s balled up and sent sailing over our heads. Scattered sparingly across the record, Mannar Wong adds some genuine spoken Chinese. In and around certain pieces, trilled Chinese melodies bump up against European string quartet tunes or (as on Year of the Tiger) flute around cabaret vocalese and bells over thudding shadow-tones. But at least as much is drawn through and worked in from other sources: Sufjan’s first years in the thick of New York’s cosmopolitanism must have been a greedy feast for his ears. Steam-organ and No Wave whomp, carefully orchestrated, collide with early-Genesis prog flourishes. Sewer-pulsations meet Bontempi organs and sample-heavy vocal murmurs, folded into Latin pop melodies. Silvery Krautrock turns into dinky, glitch-mauled castle music on Year Of The Rat. For Year of the Sheep, Sufjan turns the music into a battle between pulp and celestial. Against the birth-of-the-world vocalise which he and Liz Janes knit together, animal sounds yawp and rampage – angry pregnant elephants, excited pterodactyls.

Rat

The thirteen-minute Year Of The Horse – the piece on which Sufjan could really have come unstuck – instead shows him in full control: sustaining and mutating schools of ideas at greater length, like a post-techno Mike Oldfield. Despite its mongrel elements and its sense of hazard sources, over the course of its journey (minimalist piano figure in trio with vibrating mechanical sounds and out-of-focus kettledrums; panpipe-riffles marshalling around industrial squashing-tones; a finale of glitched/phased/near-atonal signal twitches), it’s not so dissimilar to those carefully-structured stretches of ‘Tubular Bells’ or ‘Ommadawn’ back in the 1970s. Not that Sufjan would necessarily agree: his time at New York’s New School (which he was attending while he wrote this album) would have exposed him to any number of inspirations from chance heroes to masters of structure. What’s clear is that under the capering and restless sonics, great swathes of ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’ display Sufjan’s bedrock talent and the solidity of his musical placings. It’s a cliché that a single work by one artist can hold as many ideas as another artist’s entire career, but this is one of those cases where the old saw is true. I’ve heard plenty of electrophonic records eking out a single concept or a sparse few, albeit successfully. ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’ makes most of them sound like lazy sketches.

You should judge for yourselves, though – this wasn’t supposed to be a review. You can get your copy of the album from Asthmatic Kitty or Bandcamp (both fixed-price vinyl or download) or from Noisetrade (pay-what-you-like download-only). For the possibility of fortune cookies, I’m guessing that you should pester Asthmatic Kitty directly. If you want the additional option of ordering a vinyl twosome of ‘Enjoy Your Rabbit’ and Osso String Quartet’s ‘Run Rabbit Run’ as a thirty-dollar special offer… well, that’s another thing to talk to Asthmatic Kitty about.

Sufjan Stevens online:
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May 2014 – through the feed – Sontag Shogun debut album

12 May

Sontag Shogun: 'Tale'

Sontag Shogun: ‘Tale’

Multi-disciplinary New York trio Sontag Shogun (including Jeremy Young, whom I reviewed playing live in London last year as Foxout!’s guitarist) sent me some news about the recent release of their debut album ‘Tale’. Ostensibly post-rockers, Sontag Shogun don’t conform much to the genre’s more insular tendencies, being made up of three restless multi-media artists moving from craft to craft and from continent to continent. Jeremy, for instance, also co-runs the band’s not-just-a-record-label Palaver Press, which unifies sound publication with assorted texts and fine-art bookbinding.

‘Tale’ was recorded in carefully-hoarded scraps created around the world while Jeremy (sound sources and contact miking) was studying in London, Jesse Perlstein (laptop, tweaked voice and kleptomaniac microphone) was traveling in Korea, and Ian Temple (the grand piano) was back at home in Brooklyn. Field recordings were gleaned from diverse adventures including “a trek through a Columbian jungle, a piano tuner testing the ivory at the Southbank Centre and a South Korean traditional singer hitting a buk (or leather folk drum).” Back in New York, the results were looped, layered and mixed with planned performance (both final takes and rehearsal scrapings) to create a tender collage and a trans-genre which Sontag Shogun call “lullanoise”.

For a taste of what this sounds like, here’s the simple and beautiful but implicatory video for one of the album’s piano-led tracks, The Musk Ox (directed by Isabel Nao):

and here’s a video of Sontag Shogun performing another album track, Let The Flies In, live in France in 2013:

‘Tale’ is available as either CD and download and can be ordered from here.

Sontag Shogun online:
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April 2014 – through the feed – another crowdfunding campaign (Laura Moody’s debut album)

15 Apr

Another crowdfunding request arrived in one of my inboxes yesterday (I have multiple identities and secret lives, but there’s no escape from news). This one was from Laura Moody, whom regular and assiduous ‘Misfit City’ readers might remember from her low-key guest appearance at the Liam Singer/Foxout!!! gig which I reviewed in summer 2013.

As well as being a superb cellist (with fistfuls of classical and extended techniques) Laura’s also an extremely good singer-songwriter responsible for a self-titled three-track EP released back in 2009 and which I really ought to review sometime. It showed her sweeping her multi-textured cello playing and her stunt-kite vocals into the service of some extraordinary songs. Complicated, tuneful and wood-noisy, they quivered with a thoroughly female complexity dealing mostly with the passage through womanhood (brains tussling with sexuality, daughterly angst, the farcical behaviour of older men) and brimming with an exuberant, theatrical wit. Here’s what ‘The Irish Times‘ said about Laura some time ago:

“…for enjoyable astonishment, nothing quite beats the singer-cellist Laura Moody. She plays lyrically; then as if it was a box for sound effects. She sings her own almost-pop songs, gurgles, hoots, wails, taps her throat with the bow. Yet it’s all seamless, as if she, the cello and the music are a single organism.”

I can second that, and here’s some more evidence.

While I’m dragging my feet about reviewing that EP properly, you can listen to it here. Meanwhile, there’s a follow-up coming soon, and here is Laura’s crowdfunding request:

“Dear Friends,

Well, it seems spring has sprung in more ways than one for me and I have really exciting developments to report! My debut album is very very nearly finished and I have a launch date for your diaries – 26th June this year at Wiltons Music Hall! I can’t wait to welcome you all there for what I think is going to be a magical evening at the most beautiful venue in London. But before I can do any of that I’m afraid I need to ask for your help…

I have launched a crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo to help me raise the money I need for the final stages of production and release. I really hope you’ll take a look at the video, the rewards on offer and consider getting involved. I am going to be releasing on my own label – the newly christened Surbiton Lagoon Records – but what this campaign really means is that you wonderful people will essentially be becoming my record label, the force that makes getting my music out into the world possible.

Some of you might have noticed on Facebook or Twitter that I rather nervously launched the campaign late on Friday afternoon. I figured that not much would happen until this week when I would have a chance to contact all of you properly about it. However… things kind of went a bit bananas with people pitching in to get me to 10% of my target by the end of the day and 30% by the end of the weekend. I am completely stunned and deeply moved by the enthusiasm and generosity everyone has shown. If you have already contributed to the campaign I really must thank you so, so much.

Thank you again for your time, support, encouragement and patience with getting this album out. It’s so close now and I’ll be keeping you updated as to how this all goes.

More soon

Laura xx

PS I will be supporting my friends Dollyman at the Hackney Attic in London this Friday. If you’re free please do come along for some songs and a drink to celebrate a great first week for my campaign!”

While I know Laura, I don’t know Dollyman, but for what it’s worth ‘Time Out’ described them as “fractious Mingus-informed punky jazz quartet offers broken themes full of menace and mischief. Possibly what Tom Waits’ band might sound like after he’s popped out for a smoke,” – all of which sounds promising.

Laura Moody online:
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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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June 2013 – live reviews – Liam Singer/Foxout!/Sealionwoman (with Laura Moody) @ The Dentist (33 Chatsworth Road), Homerton, London, 26th June 2013 (“a gig in a bottle”)

30 Jun

As I get off the bus in Clapton, the midsummer evening sun is giving the neighbourhood a lingering kiss. It brushes across the Clapton Portico (a bewildered, disinherited classical remnant, grafted onto a school at the end of an abbreviated road), takes away its sadness and helps it in its lonely loom. It limns the shopfronts of convenience stores and barbers and closed-down shops, and perks them up. It lends soft glows and sends little licks of shadow chasing around the stonework of the Round Chapel, and it brings out the last sleepy cheeps of the day from the local sparrows as I head down Glenarm Road towards Homerton.

Waiting for someone to sing..

Waiting for someone to sing..

Thirteen years ago – when I was living a lengthy stone’s-throw to the west, over in Stoke Newington – this part of east London was a soured inner suburb with a brooding, bullet-ridden reputation. The length of Clapton Road was tagged as Murder Mile – an edgy and angry place beset by resentments, drive-by shootings and unprovoked beatings. Flickers of anger sometimes still plague it. Almost two years ago, the second night of the 2011 London riots kicked off just a few minutes walk from here: a churn of flames, looting and outright war between police and estate kids. Barely a block away in Clarence Road, Pauline Pearce delivered the impassioned harangue which would establish her as a Hackney heroine. Now though, all is peaceful: and it gives me the chance to reflect that, as with people, the hair-raising reputations of many places come only from their occasional spasms.

The biggest fuck-you I get tonight comes from a house painted in a shocking purple and gesturing out from an otherwise cream-and-beige Victorian terrace, like some kind of bolshy architectural remix. As I’ve come to know in recent years, this part of London is a place where a very diverse set of people get on with living: it’s also the kind of area where people get out of doors not to go hunting but to break that pesky London reserve and meet their neighbours. Pubs become sitting rooms; sitting rooms and armchairs spill onto streets – another embedded global village. While people are a little thin on the ground tonight, this late-June evening (just beginning to show the mottlings of dusk) is suffused with an easy warmth. Later in the evening, Liam Singer will chuckle from behind his keyboard and gift the neighbourhood with a more welcome tag than it’s had in years. “It’s like Brooklyn, but if everyone was really friendly.”

Lampshading.

Lampshading.

Sitting on the border of Clapton and Homerton, The Dentist is nothing if not hopeful. A former drop-in surgery a little north of the hospital, it’s a genial wreck of a building. Crumbled, scarified and grime-smeared, it stands like a worn, chewed tooth in a shopping parade halfway between old London main drag and international souk. An enterprising guy called Phil calls the upstairs home, while using the downstairs for pop-up gigs, shoestring theatre, and scratch-and-strike art gallery exhibits. The back garden is full of splintered wood and earth hummocks, plus a makeshift tabletop bar. The wine is rolled up from the cellar via a scary ravine. The whole place thrums with friendliness.

Inside, crowded into the front room and sharing its atmosphere of ravage and reclaim, we’re part of a show. In a place this small, within breathing or patting range of the musicians, it’s hard not to feel that way. Behind the players, the curving plate-glass façade of the old shopfront runs across and around: over their shoulders, we look out at the street life. It looks right back at us, sometimes with suspicious flicks of the eyes (a man in a shalwar kameez, hurrying past to the makeshift mosque next door), sometimes with a bemused acceptance (a local geezer ambling along to the chippy) and sometimes with outright delight (younger locals on a stroll, pointing and celebrating on their way to and from the Hackney bars further into town).

Sealionwoman - Tye and Kitty as the daylight fades.

Sealionwoman – Tye and Kitty as the daylight fades.

To them, this must look like a gig in a bottle – the audience in full view, the musicians upfront but backs turned, the music bleeding out in faint enticing vapours. Speaking of which… cue musicians.

Tye McGivern slumps over a double bass, plucking, bowing and sometimes wrenching his notes: a man with strong, thoughtful butchers hands and the face of a weary rabbi. To his right, Kitty Whitelaw sways barefoot – grubby toes, blue nails, a jazz pulse, a little black dress and a feel for the taut sinews of a song. There’s no-one else. About five years ago Tye and Kitty were two-thirds of Kitty & The Drowning Bag, were a lot noisier, and had a drummer. For the couple of years that they’ve been Sealionwoman they’ve been drummer-less and bring their own extra noise in their pockets.

Sealionwoman deal in blurred versions of jazz and torch, and they’re perfectly suited to the smear of dusk that’s coming on as they begin to play. As influences, they’ll cite the crepuscular – Nick Cave and Morphine – but also cite the vivid, iconoclastic enactments and reinterpretations of jazz songs as carried off by Mina Agossi. There’s something in that. While they deal with plenty of old jazz standards – passed from hand to hand, worn smooth like wooden heirlooms – Sealionwoman share a trace of that Agossi rebellion against jazz performance manners and form, preferring to draw out song essence and perhaps a thread of history along with it.

Sealionwoman - Kitty Whitelaw possesses another standard.

Sealionwoman – Kitty Whitelaw possesses another standard.

However, what I’m hearing is something which shades Peggy Lee with Patti Smith. It’s partially that everything they do sounds a little bit like Fever – songs carried entirely and by necessity on the honk, creak and slide of Tye’s bass and the teasing dance-around of Kitty’s voice. It’s partly the lazily assured flutter of Kitty’s demeanour, and the way that it can quickly shift and escalate to an incantatory yell.

What they do has little to do with straightforward theatrics, and still less to do with diva drama. In his hands and on her lips, the songs turn as wayward as blown smoke: dip in and out of ritual; become stretched-out, yammering versions of themselves; go from breezy cool to swimming, waking dream. Sometimes Tye leans over to prod at a laptop or a fuzz pedal, furring up those woody bass notes to turn them into air-horns, or a sweep across concrete. Sometimes he drums with a pair of brushes on boxes and chairs. At other times his hands drum vigorously on the wood of the bass, booming out ritual and conversation, a vigorous and physical lover teetering on the border of tenderness and violence. Kitty sways, stands on tiptoe; brushes against the songs as if stretching for a passing kiss. Her voice folds around the melody line and uses it as a jumping off point, springing into the air, hanging, returning. Every so often a familiar tune and lyric slides through the circling murk. I spot Night And Day.

Mostly, though, it’s all about mood. Strangely blissful, narcoleptic – although by the end of the set and the dip of the late sunset they’ve risen in a slow heat, culminating in a Dionysiac frenzy of bass-drumming and banshee wails. It’s probably enough to put the wind up the Muslim congregation next door, praying their way through Asr. If they’re as Hackneyfied as everyone else around here, though, they’ll just shrug it off.

Foxout! 's Daniel Merrill, bowing against the dusk.

Foxout! ‘s Daniel Merrill, bowing against the dusk.

The gloaming has well and truly arrived as Foxout! settle down and begin. Perched opposite each other on a couple of stools, Daniel Merrill and Jeremy Young hunch over a network of effects pedals and rummage through what looks like a box of yellowed prehistoric teeth: these they mouth and mumble, blowing into a microphone to build up a warm, rambling noisescape of notes, feedback and harmonic buzz before they even pick up an instrument.

In fact, the teeth are reed tubes gutted from an old harmonium. Foxout! enjoy rejigging bits and pieces of antique musicality, and they’re extraordinarily good at it. Some more history might be useful, before we go any further. Essex-raised but with feet made for journeying, Daniel is the fiddler in Dead Rat Orchestra. Despite his youthful looks, he already has a decade of improvised folk music behind him, plus tours all over the globe (some of which were in the company of Godspeed You! Black Emperor (from whom he may have filched Foxout!’s abrupt exclamation mark). Another young veteran, Jeremy’s from Brooklyn music – he once played bleakly beautiful post-Godspeed chamber music with [the] slowest runner [in all the world] and limpid post-rock atmospherics with Sontag Shogun before moving on to solo experimental tonescapes and spoken word as szilárd. Both men wander; both men curate the work of others. Both men mingle.

Foxout! - Jeremy Young.

Foxout! – Jeremy Young.

Right now, both men are studying here in London. As their orbits have converged, Foxout! has emerged – immersed in the tributaries of Celtic folk but flowing through some crafty filters as it contributes to the journey. Certainly the prime stamp and weft of the music is Celtic – reels and pibrochs; plangent, sad melodies. Yet it’s Celtic music folded back over itself, cross-cut with experimental sounds and processing, and by strands of improvisation from elsewhere.

Daniel is one of those musicians who looks extraordinarily sad while he plays. Concentration renders his long, bearded face into a subtle mask of tragedy until you expect lock-gates to burst and for three hundred years of folk laments to come pouring out of him. His fiddle is the main melodic phrasing voice, with Jeremy’s acoustic guitar serving as a taut, bounding dodging rhythm source. Jeremy himself is constantly watchful and supportive, his eyes fixed on Daniel, holding up his partner’s passionate forays.

Speaker.

Speaker.

What emerges is remarkable, not least for the way in which it shape-shifts between different disciplines, experiments and sound-art tricks with neither seam nor strain. At times Foxout! broil with a heated minimalism or take on a grain of compulsive, systematic Futurist patterning. At others, a flexing bough or current of history catches at them and pulls them back to direct expression. One piece is a sensitive plucked-and-bowed air-ballad played (for half its length), over the sound of a draining straw, but with neither bathos nor disruption. Strips of noise sometimes bluster through the wood and strings, like another conversation passing through. Another gorgeous ballad tune sounds as if it could have be minted yesterday, simultaneously fresh and ancient. In the latter, there’s a moment of perfect meshing as Daniel and Jeremy briefly sweep into lockstep, rolling out a near-telepathic unison of notes before dancing away from each other again.

Night begins to settle in properly. Shades of indigo, of dulled London brick and of gaudy shop-front neon sift in through the window. The Dentist’s front room starts to take on something of the air of an Irish lock-in – nothing rowdy, but with the same sense of deep involvement in the music. As Daniel announces “a new ditty”, a couple of guests step up. Usually, Laura Moody’s a mischievous classical renegade or an acrobatic singer-songwriter when she’s not a fizzing cocktail of both. Right now, though, she and her cello are demure and thoughtful – the sober and quiet accompanist providing deep, cloudy strings while Liam Singer (just a few minutes away from his headlining set), sits in to sing.

Foxout! - strings against the dying light.

Foxout! – strings against the dying light.

The song all four share with us in semi-darkness- which may or may not be called As The Wind Turns Away – is a perfect closer. Sombre and gripping, there may not be too much too it (certainly Liam’s softly yearning tenor seem to be making much with fragmentary, cycling sentences) but they make a virtue of that.The song builds softly and inexorably with the dying of the light: a folky threnody for something a little out of focus, something over your shoulder, waiting to be picked up on. Listening to Foxout! gives you the dreamy and welcome impression that if you didn’t have roots before, you’re growing some now.

Liam Singer - songs against the sirens.

Liam Singer – songs against the sirens.

Sat behind a borrowed piano, and minus the sophisticated ornamentations that colour his chamber pop and detailed modern-classical minatures on record (those strings, mandolins and marimbas; those sundry twists and shifts of sound), Liam Singer runs his own set on a shoestring, and runs it well. As the delicate instrumental fantasia of On Earth A Wandering Stranger Was I Born unspools itself, it’s tenebrous but increasingly shot with hopeful illumination. While Liam performs, police cars occasionally sail up Chatworth Road in search of trouble, passing behind him in a quick welter of blue-and-red lights and siren-wail. They rock his soft resilient bubble of song, but don’t burst it.

Easygoing and enthusiastic in person, Liam ripples his own depths when he sits down to sing. Even when stripped down to piano-and-voice, his songs grow their own bosky Edenic atmosphere, filling out his excursions into classical minimalism with deeper shadings. I’ve noticed, previously, how he dips into American antiquity and draws it up up like well-water. His high, open tenor brings freshness and a glow of innocence, but older things lie in wait in the shade to snatch that away. At times, Liam’s like a young scholar running assured, fascinated fingers over the scuffed and scraped covers of ancient leather-bound books; but when the mood deepens and takes him, he sings like the man who’s been spat back out of the faery mound – fully aware and alive, but displaced, crucially out-of-joint with his times.

Still life at The Dentist - mixing desk, lollipops and scarification.

Still life at The Dentist – mixing desk, lollipops and scarification.

This is not just down to the tinge of Edwardian parlour song within Liam’s work, nor yet the occasional antiquarian “thou” or “thee” in his lyrics. There’s a mildly febrile quality to his songwriting, a flicker of Blakeian hallucination to add to the forays into classical piano and the Tennyson tint of mediaeval inflections. His song world is notable for its permeability – the mythic or the supernatural soak through into it, adding piquancy to his sharply edged portraits of involvement and solitude. On The Brief Encounter, Liam can bump into swarms of gentle slacker ghosts, massing there to comfort him as he heads up the coastal road. In the middle of Oh Endless Storm he can cite a rock-chained Andromeda, looming spectrally above him and disdaining rescue as he veers towards a break-up.

Liam immerses himself in the story-swirls, homing in on the core as he sings, “Love is a wind, rips through our hearts, that takes control / We long for a language to lose ourselves, / or for a way to let go.” Later on – as his piano notes spiral in a stately, panicking dance on One Breath Out – he’ll clutch after disappearing chances. “Never could I know as each one passed, / that the last would be the last… / Just one breath out and the world grows colder; / fight the war, but not the soldier. / And one hand moves to protect the other now – / but we’re falling anyhow.” Yet none of this is mawkish or precious – in between songs, Liam is relaxed, gently self-mocking and friendly. Two songs played with Laura Moody on cello (a snatched opportunity before she catches the train back to West London) become affectionate tickles and tussles, ranging from childlike warmth to a rousing gamelan jig.

Liam Singer

Liam Singer

Even his solo piano miniatures, potentially an excuse for indulgence, carefully balance their romantic invention with a pucker of thoughtful modesty. The Dance of Cupid and Psyche pays subtle passing visits to Chopin, Satie and Air On The G-String, flushing its economy with a dash of vigour. On Hannah’s Dance (a lone flash from his decade-old debut, ‘The Empty Heart Of The Chameleon’) Liam displays a Tori Amos drive and fluidity but rounds it off within a single minute. The sweet cascading single, Stranger I Know, slips out of its crafty Shaker-gamelan arrangement and breathes easier, now less of a revelation than a relaxed celebration: “suckers, speeches, they can keep ’em all.”

In one week’s time, Liam’s new album – ‘Arc Iris‘ – is released, yet already he’s moving on from it. Half of the set is songs so new that they’re not on any record, and at least one of them – Three Songs – is fresh out of the notebook. “I’ll fuck it up tastefully,” promises Liam, shuffling his sheet music into place.

What emerges suggests that the drift away from Liam’s earlier experimentalism into fully-fledged romance (as promised by much of ‘Arc Iris’) is accelerating. Here is a beautiful but unnerving love-song, holding strong on the edge of wreck; swimming with gas-masks and cruelty and an unsettling Saint Sebastian gasp. “Someday I’ll see you sideways, / your pretty words are opening like arrows in the middle of my chest / ’til petals fall from my mouth / and I, I gasp for air / ‘cos something inside is pressurized… / When you feel it, you will know / that I was not crazy when I had to let it go.” Running through the words are hints of fairytale transmogrifications; always restlessness. Liam’s heading east after this concert, travelling over to play more gigs in France and Belgium. In another new song, with a vocal line like a perilous descent down crags and scree, he muses “from one skin to another we slide endlessly.” Perhaps he’d like to keep wandering on, heading to the edge of the world.

Ceiling.

Ceiling.

Sitting beside the mixing desk is a jar of lollipops. By now, the contents are making the rounds among the audience and consequently Liam’s playing is being punctuated by furtive, respectful cellophane rustles, which he takes in good heart. Someone else is passing around a copy of ‘Paradise Lost’, which seems more appropriate, as the prowling monsters name-checked back in Oh Endless Storm are resurfacing in Love Me Today (“”There are dark things in the earth / soon they’ll be twisted / up for air /… as the ground gives way.”) Maybe I’m a being little suggestible, but it seems to me that there are also shadings of the twenty-first century ghosts which haunt Liam’s adopted hometown of New York. For over a decade the city’s romantic signifiers, once brash and confident, have been haunted by the shock of sudden and brutal dissolution. While Liam’s not one for hammer-blow songcraft, much of what he sings enfolds an onset of loss, from the counting to (ominously) the banking aircraft. “In the shadow of the moon, as our planes spin away / You know my eyes may tell you lies, but love me today.”

Under the cheerful coloured bulbs strung across The Dentist’s battered ceiling, he offers us a last dance. This’ll be to Unhand Me (You Horrid Thing), from ‘Arc Iris’, a brief, deliciously rueful song which sketches out the mixture of hope, awkward embarrassment and careful blundering steps that make up an ordinary, flakey relationship – prickles and all. “They’re playing our favourite song, the one that makes us both dance for a dare / ’til our feet turn to air / and our hands come apart, / as the guitar solo starts. / And that is the part / that breaks my heart.” It’s a different, generous note to end on, for a gig that’s felt like a cosy but inspiring house party. As I say my goodbyes and slip out of The Dentist, it looks as if the party will be going on for a while longer. Not only sound carries. Warmth does, too.

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May 2013 – live reviews – Chaos Theory presents ‘Jazz Market’ @ The Luxe, Spitalfields, London, 29th May 2013 (featuring A Sweet Niche, Macchina del Tempo, What?! – with guests Yasmyn Hendrix, Moo Clef, Chloe Herington) (“tunes and stutters and babels”)

30 May

Walking into the Luxe, I feel even shabbier than usual. I fear those spotless white napkins and wooden counters; I look sidelong at the pricey menu; I sidle off to the side door as soon as possible. Like most of the rest of Spitalfields, this place has gone upmarket and left me behind. Until about a decade ago, it was the Spitz – another restaurant, another bar, another venue. Much loved, and more boho-genteel: I’d come here for electronica, for rock of the post- and mathy variety, and for the occasional off-centre songwriter.

Occasionally I’d come for jazz – something which, as a language, still sits oddly in London’s mouth. It’s not that the city spurns jazz – enough London musicians, venues and festivals give the lie to that. But I feel that sometime it seems a little deracinated here, even in a town where more recent arrivals like reggae and salsa now seem like part of tradition. Supper jazz might be healthy, foyer spaces still welcoming, but outside of grants or outright corporate sponsorship, it’s mostly a tribute to the tenacity and dedication of London’s jazzers that the music keeps its personal, inventive foothold here. The old Spitz was a place which welcomed jazz in plenty of its diverse strands and split-tongued digressions. When you were at a Spitz jazz event, you could feel the music striving, feel its life; and when all of that ended London jazz was diminished.

This picture’s a little too gloomy. There were – and are – other venues, and for those who still want it, the displaced spirit of the Spitz lives on elsewhere as a jazz collective. But it’s heartening that Chaos Theory Promotions (that mobile feast of wide-spanning musical interest, springing from place to place across London) seem to be paying a little homage to old times when they drop their Jazz Market night into the Luxe. Some things stay changed, sadly. I’ve not been here in years, but in Spitz days the music owned the top floor (and a Shoreditch panorama, such as it was). Now it’s down in the basement bar, sharing with the comedy and competing with the toilets: sidelined. Never mind. The Chaos brokers themselves are brimful of enthusiasm, and three jazz trios have come to chat.

What?! sway and chop through something (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

What?! sway and chop through something (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

If jazz is a language, What?! keep it as handfuls of sentences plunged into a deep baggy pocket, mixed up with anything else they’ve found during the week. Everything in the pocket is regularly hauled up for inspection, to be chucked and scattered casually across a table, just to see how it will fall. The boys certainly aren’t purists, although their taste for locating comfortable licks and riffs in whichever genre they’re toying with does keep you guessing as to how much of what they do is serious. In keeping with this, they’re acting as class clowns tonight. In fetching scarlet dressing-gown and shades, his white-man dreads spilling from a Rasta cap, guitarist Niels Bakx is part-Trustafarian and part-trannie. Bass guitarist Ago Collura, his back turned to the audience, is Reverse Man – a white mask strapped to the back of his head beneath his Tyrolean stovepipe hat, a collar and tie sprouting from the nape of his neck. Having apparently lost a bet, sparky drummer Raphael Lanthaler performs stripped to the waist and down to his underpants (though he’s been allowed to keep his hatful of bright rainbow-dyed feathers as well as his delighted grin).

On record, What?! strut and step like a cool-jazz function band about to be warmed-up and overcome by a sly sense of mischief. Both of their recent singles make a showing tonight – the Brubeck reggae of Tikka Masala (now with extra curlicues from Ago’s bass and curves of wah on the rhythm guitar); a spiked-up, rockier version of Schwaffelen, passing a swaying cats-cradle of jazz and ska touches over and over the tune. This kind of music is what they’re most at home with. It’s not, however, what they’re most drawn to doing. What?! like to stray – prancing into diced-up, chequered rock patterns dominated by the thwack of Raphael’s tom; laying out a sun-stroked Caribbean hiccup for a minute; or suddenly picking up and pelting through some driving motorbike music. Still very young (at an age where anything and everything can be hysterically funny), and still drunk on the musical options that surround them as busy session players and broad listeners, What?! can certainly groove: but they won’t settle.

What?! - unexpectedly naked drummer... (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

What?! – unexpectedly naked drummer… (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

It’s unclear how many of the band’s disruptions, false halts and oblique quotes are written rather than improvised, but their sense of fun constantly overpowers their artfulness, and every so often their humour dips towards novelty territory. When they slip into a quick strum through Happy Birthday for a friend, it’s warm but a touch too crowd-pleasing. I doubt that What?! wouldn’t care if anyone told them that. An easy-going and sociable band, they’ve invited buddies up to play and clearly thrive on it.

Like a dayglo Tom Waits in his checkered-tablecloth bowler and green tints, the jazz-prankster Moo Clef sits in for a couple of songs. One he plays straight, blowing a fiesta trumpet over a reggae section, fluent and cool-fired. For the other, he adds various sung, rapped and chanted interjections that he tweaks and filters into cartoon oddities via effects pedals. At one point, a chipmunk-voiced cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit takes over, the band smoothly slipping into light-touch Nirvana riffage. The joke wobbles somewhere between Battles and Zappa: disarming romp, or sarcastic cheese. (Or lounge act. Ha.)

It’s a different story when Yasmyn Hendrix and her flower-child headscarf step up to front the trio for Stay With Me. Usually she’s found in unlikely venues, crafting herself castles out of her own vocal loops. Here she plays it straight and soulful, her light but bluesy vocals lounging and skittering over What?!’s skein of tango-funk and Come Together dub-shimmer. For a while, the band sit back and enjoy playing as accompanists. For a while, they stay rooted. They’re good at it. Those quick-cut style shifts and the metafoolery are just part of their choices, not their only option.

Still, in between clear individual pieces the band improvise loosely, and as much with genre as with anything else. They’ll roll out a strolling lunar echo (Raphael sighing and gusting on the drums with near-silent brushstrokes while Niels caresses out wide chords), or crawl through a fragmented, broken-backed jazz ballad that they’ve deconstructed to the point of disintegration. Once they spit out a talking-blues bossa (with Niels on vivid slide guitar), only to refit it midway and produce a tumbling complex skeleton of arpeggiated notes, traveling from Elmore James to Gilberto to Robert Fripp’s League of Gentlemen in a matter of minutes. Towards the end, they throw in a grunge-rock climb complete with punk screaming. Raphael (tonight’s head joker) continually tosses in triggers: false stops and starts, or stalking who-blinks-first contests with Ago.

Again, how much of this is quick coin whipped out of a trick-bag is unclear. What is clear is What?!’s breadth of reference, be it a midsection of shoegazing-summer guitar-echo, a little reggae chip or a mass-less bridging passage of math-rock brewing like a disappearing wreath of mercury fumes. Sometimes their work is a puzzle; sometimes it’s cut-and-shunt. Sometimes, though, it seems as if they’ve scattered themselves out a bit too far, becoming a set of waggling jazz-hands where they should be a breathing, scatting jazz lung. They could do with a little time to breathe in and rethink, maybe.

On first sighting, Macchina del Tempo are raw-boned, hard-faced men. They look like the kind of band that shows up at remote and friendless small-town gigs, purely to prey on other bands. You could imagine them cornering some other, more hapless group in order to swipe and swig their beer in front of them, shake them down for their gig money and then steal their van, all without cracking those stony expressions.

Stocky guitarist Walter Fazio, glowering above his inverted Slayer goatee, looks particularly fearsome, purposeful and frowning – the kind of man who’d grunt one word and unleash hell. Then you see him play. As he smiles, broad and unguarded, while one of his liquid runs of notes hits the spot, then you understand what Macchina del Tempo are really about. Jazz Market regulars, this fusion trio made common cause a few years ago. Two Brits and an Italian, forged in and scarred by the grim working heat of innumerable cover bands, they made a leap to somewhere they could flower.

Macchina del Tempo heading towards fusion temperature (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Macchina del Tempo heading towards fusion temperature (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

What Macchina del Tempo provide tonight is a strong contrast to What?!’s permanent state of playful. Effortlessly inventive but tightly-drilled, they roll out four long and muscular pieces of driving jazz-rock ,each with a gritty core which suggests that there might be something to that initial hard-man appearance. If you’re imagining the kind of shrill sterile tech-wank that afflicted jazz-fusion when it gulped down the wrong bits of synthpop and heavy metal at the end of the ‘70s, think again – and think further back. There’s certainly plenty of rock in here, but from the organic end, in which sweat and texture add body and warmth as well as disrupting any shop-fresh sheen.

Certainly Macchina are as much Motorhead as they are Mahavishnu or Metheny (and, given the choice, they appear to be more Rush than Yellowjackets). One of their offerings blends a long-throw fusion funk with creamy jazz metal, a tight seethe of musicality with a laddering, gibbon swing to it. Another starts as a swinging Jimmy Page-meets-Sonny Sharrock hydra – tremendously fluent, ribbed with dissonant slashes but full of tight prog-rock pounces of unison guitar and bass, with a strong rumbling taste of Ace Of Spades (and a final united scurry like La Villa Strangiato).

However, Walter’s persistently inventive guitar playing ensures that the band’s music never boils dry. There might be a bit of Hendrix in his floating horn-wail of lead line, continually playing a push, stroke’n’stretch game with its envelope. There’s probably a pinch of Allan Holdsworth ripple, some dirty Mike Stern blues or Foley McCrearey whumph, an occasional trilling coil of fretboard tapping… whatever there is, it’s subsumed into Walter’s own voice. For the forty minutes he’s onstage, he’s playing almost continually and never once puts a foot wrong. For the full set, he wraps you in the ins and outs of his conversation, his pauses for thought, his gently brooding reflections, frowns and unspoken implications. Guitarists this compelling and fertile are rare – and they’re a pleasure to encounter.

Macchina del Tempo - Jamie McKenzie nails a scale (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Macchina del Tempo – Jamie McKenzie nails a scale (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

From the start, it’s also been clear that Macchina have an utter mastery of the flexible groove. While drummer Mick Claridge can certainly swing, it’s only part of his vocabulary as the band drive and chivvy through their smooth shifts of time and tempo. On bass guitar, Jamie McKenzie plays neither the great soloist nor the staid, conservative backliner. Instead he firmly unzips the chords in all their glory, then fingers his way around and across the scales in a continous springy roam. A dextrous fretted fingerstylist, he knows where every note needs to go. His playing creates a webbing of involved, swung-baroque bass-line, over which Walter’s guitar can flicker like a sly chameleon whenever it needs to. Mick subtly supports the arc; swirls under it, drums cruising and lifting like a river-rise.

A prolix music blogger lurks in the shadows... (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A prolix music blogger lurks in the shadows… (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)


They’re certainly making an impact – around me, bodies rapidly lose their reluctance, peeling up from the Luxe’s dark faux-leather sofas to sway and wave to the Macchina percolations. A third piece, though it starts with a crabby rock sidle strangely similar to You Really Got Me, soon turns into electric-chicken jazz funk. Mick slides greasy rhythms from hand to hand even as he pins the piece to the floor, a human nail-gun. For the last in their foursome of amplified groove, the band’s funk turns a little Mahavishnu: full of tensing stops, bullish balance and hot scraps sliding unregarding from that smouldering guitar. Even now, deep into their set, the three Macchina men seem transformed by their playing. Seeing those tough faces softened and gentled into something resembling reverence – it does the heart good.

What?! have the playful end of things covered tonight. Macchina del Tempo have so convincingly laid claim to solidity and substance that they’d be tough to follow with something similar. It falls to A Sweet Niche, then, to stagger splay-armed along the edge; to rake their nails down the rough wall of art and shout the appropriate odds.

A Sweet Niche drive forward (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A Sweet Niche drive forward (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Ben Handysides drums with dainty motions but powerful strikes. He looks like a handsome public-school rugger star who’s thinking about becoming a poet; he can play jazz, folk, progressive rock, kletzmer and sundry permutations of all of those and more. This makes him a shoo-in for A Sweet Niche when they play live. While they’ve already got an established drummer for composing and recording, he lives, rather disobligingly, far off in Cornwall (where he can presumably maintain the freshness required for their studio sessions). Everyone else in the band besides Ben seems to have intense sidelines in film, or theatre, or the spiky world of contemporary classical. Perhaps this explains the open-marriage, flyaway feel of the band; and why Ben currently seems like a blond bridge linking the two remaining poles of A Sweet Niche together.

A Sweet Niche - Oliver Sellwood's baritone lecture (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A Sweet Niche – Oliver Sellwood’s baritone lecture (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

One of these two poles is Oliver Sellwood, on baritone sax. He’s a fluid rippling player (with plenty of bassy skronk in him whenever he needs it) and he’s as well turned out as his playing: neat haircut, neat glasses, unflappable demeanour. He can blow like a demon, but he delivers these storms coolly and professorial, as if chatting from a podium. The other pole is on the other side of Ben and looks as if he’ll rattle himself to bits at any moment. In his agony-scarlet sweat top, Keir Cooper is spindly and driven; bristle-bearded, and playing a guitar as if someone will nail him to it at set’s end. Everything about him screams “art lifer”. He’s the filmmaker. He probably sleeps once or twice every five years, if someone else talks him into it.

A Sweet Niche cast off with a clutch of snaking instrumental wiggles. Oliver’s baritone sax tattoo soon settles into a blaring drone, around which Ben casts up a ticking construction set before the band blaze up into distortion. Keir is clearly going to be the splinter in the jam – his face crumples into walnut creases as he drives shattered howls out of his guitar. Ben looks loose in comparison, his drumsticks dangling like plucked lilies. Oliver disregards them both, ripping off a sax solo as if he was wrenching a seam from a jacket: it’s a little Arabian in tone, a reproving and arrogant ripple of grace above the chaos, of which there’s plenty more to come.

A Sweet Niche - Keir Cooper, about to bounce off another wall (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A Sweet Niche – Keir Cooper, about to bounce off another wall (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Their second salvo, Eye Music II is crash noise from the off. Their third begins as a kind of minimalist ska, then becomes Yaketty-Yak re-imagined for math-rockers. After Ben delivers a burst of horse-clopping rimshots, they break for another swirl of Arabian saxophone, heavy on the romance, before heading back towards the ska armed with hammer-swipes of noise. To top it off, the coda is a lullaby pop tune.

As a band – or, perhaps, as a spasm – A Sweet Niche seem to crouch somewhere between John Zorn (in his more impish Naked City moods) and the wracked, Maoist judders of English free jazz. Moments where a passage of brittle swing mutates into a kind of thrash samba could be put down to dark humour, but it’s difficult to calculate the shape of the band’s intent when a cheerful passage of saxophone sleaze is overtaken by screeching guitar alarm and then a taut, distant game of musical tag as Keir and Oliver dot each other with single notes and with silence.

It’s tricky to pin down whether what they do is political, or disruptive for its own sake, or just a natural expression of brain hiccups; or whether all of these options are equally valued or dismissed. Besides their wary body language – which could be a deceptive feint anyway – they give little away personally. There are no arcane jokes at the microphone, and few wacky titles (although the choppy ta-ta-ta and carousel echos of Bananagirl inspire even more confusion, as if Bagpuss had joined Slayer).

A Sweet Niche - Keir Cooper plays another agonizing chord (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A Sweet Niche – Keir Cooper plays another agonizing chord (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Ultimately A Sweet Niche’s aim seems to be to blow their education out of their minds, like a bolus of brain-snot. Chunks of structure regularly whiz past our ears (Oliver, in particular, has a knack for hurling fervent and compressed musical dialogue) while Keir is ceaseless in shaking off his thoughts as an urgent, committed racket. At one point, following a particularly intense bit of guitar wringing, he blinks with astonishment. For a few seconds, he looks relieved, with a surprised smile and the hint of shy laughter fluttering round his chops, and a “where did that come from?” shrug lifting his arms. As they head towards the end of their set, though, their disruptive peace-destroying turns into a dotted bounce. Bit by bit, they’re turning to a dance even if at the next song they’ll be trying to squash us against the wall with ripped slices of metallic thrash-hop.

They end with a thunderous, purging blast through Duodecimal. Then, bizarrely, they’re back for an encore, augmented by Chloe Herington (the unflappable reedswoman from Chrome Hoof, VALVE and Knifeworld) who suddenly pops up to moonlight and to add a new factor to the band’s unruly chemistry. There’s plenty of muttering, subtle stares and subliminal eyebrow gestures before they get started. It’s unclear whether they’re cueing each other, playing chicken or attempting some kind of disguised wink-murder.

A Sweet Niche with a pensive Chloe Herington (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A Sweet Niche with a pensive Chloe Herington (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Just as I’m losing interest, they reel out a tremendous length of jazz-thrash-turned-sludge-metal. Her alto sax hovering, Chloe stays silent for most of it before jerking into place right at the pell-mell coda. She blows ten or fifteen seconds of twisting Coltrane overblowing over the roar, and then everything crashes to a halt. The night’s over, and so is A Sweet Niche’s psychological shell game. The strains and strange focusses slough away like last month’s bandages: with the instruments down, they’re suddenly warm with each other.

Chloe Herington waits for a cue which only she knows about (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Chloe Herington waits for a cue which only she knows about (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Ten minutes later, sleepy and stumbling, I’m making my way south-west of Spitalfields and I’m ever so slightly lost. Trying to find the tube, I’m wandering past the cluster of City skyscrapers by Bishopsgate – pushy assertions, half-formed nubbins and works-in-progress, garlanded by lights: and the finished statements, shoved heavenwards. Appropriate really.

Around my midnight bleariness (and as I’m passing the arrested concrete stump of the Pinnacle building, humiliated and frozen by market forces) I’m thinking dimly about language again, about tunes and stutters and babels and temporary silences. I don’t come to a conclusion, but as the last echoes of the gig swirl away in my mind I’m feeling glad that this part of town’s got some of its more unusual dialogues back.

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December 2010 – album reviews – Various Artists ‘Leader of the Starry Skies – A Tribute to Tim Smith – Songbook 1’ (“an unmapped musical crossroads… one of the most diverse tribute albums imaginable”)

20 Dec
Various Artists: 'Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1'

Various Artists: ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1’

Listen. They’re singing at his bedside.

In June 2008, en route back from a My Bloody Valentine concert, the world fell in for Tim Smith. A sudden heart attack (and in immediate cruel succession, a pair of devastating strokes) failed to kill him, but only just. Now he’s in long-term recuperation, condemned to that long wait in the margins. With his damaged body now his enemy, his brain’s left to flick over the days until something – anything – gets better and his luck turns. This is a sad story. Even sadder, given that many similar stories must shuffle out of hospitals every month.

There’s an extra layer of pain here in that for over four decades Tim Smith was a dedicated, compulsive fount and facilitator of music. As the singer, composer and main player of some of the most eerily intense, unique and cryptic songs ever recorded, he sat at an unmapped musical crossroads where apparently incompatible musics met. In turn, his songs were hymnal, punky and part-classical; shot through with crashing guitars, keyboard trills and mediaeval reeds; festooned with swings and changes. They were sometimes choral, or full of martial pomp or playground squabble. They were sometimes ghostly. They were a damned ecstatic racket, or a parched and meditative whisper. With what’s now become a brutal irony they also frequently fluttered, quizzically, across the distinctions of life and death; sometimes seeing little separation between the two states, sometimes hovering somewhere in between; sometimes seeing as much meaning in the wingbeat of a stray insect as in the scrambling for human significance.

Tim’s rich and puzzled perspective on life and the weave of the world travelled out to a fervent cult following via a sprouting tree of projects – the quaking mind-mash rock of Cardiacs; the psychedelic folk of Sea Nymphs, the tumbledown explorations of Oceanland World or Spratleys Japs. In addition (and belying the manic, infantile mood-swings of his onstage persona) the man was generous of himself. Via sound production, video art or simple encouragement, his influence and peculiar energy spread from feisty indie rock bands right across to New Music performers and bedroom-studio zealots. It spread far wider than his nominally marginal status would suggest. For all of this, Smith never received adequate reward or overground recognition for these years of effort – another sting in the situation (though, having always been a stubborn goat, he’s probably dismissed it).

Yet if he’s been slender of pocket, he’s proved to be rich in love. His praises may not have been sung by the loudest of voices, but they are sung by a scrappy and vigorous mongrel choir, scattered around the houses. The Smith influence haunts cramped edit suites and backwater studios. It lingers in the scuffed shells of old ballrooms, and in the intimate acoustics of a handful of cramped Wren churches in London: it’s soaked into the battered ash-and-beer-stained sound desks of rock pubs. Most particularly, it lives in the memories of thirty years of backroom gigs where people baffled at, laughed at and finally yelled along with the giddy psychological pantomime of a Cardiacs concert; and where they lost their self-consciousness and finally stumbled away with their armour discarded.

And now, all silenced?

No.

In many cases, these same people who yelled and sang from the audience (or, onstage, from beside Tim) would go on to form bands which demonstrated that three chords and a crude truth was far too blunt a brush with which to paint a picture of the world. All of this outgoing wave of energy comes rolling back with a vengeance on ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies’. Put together by Bic Hayes (best known for galactic guitar in Levitation and Dark Star, but in his time a Cardiac) and Jo Spratley (Tim’s former foil in Spratleys Japs), it’s an album of Smith cover versions in which every penny of profit going back to raise money for Tim’s care. In effect, it’s swept up many of those people who sang along with Tim Smith over the years (all grown up now, and numbering characters as diverse as The Magic Numbers, Julianne Regan and Max Tundra) and brought them back for visiting hours.

And they sang outside his window, and they sang in the corridors; and from the ponds and rivers, from the windows of tower blocks and from lonely cottages…

Given Tim Smith’s own eclecticism, it’s hardly surprising that ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies’ is one of the most diverse tribute albums imaginable. Despite the familial feel, the musical treatments on here vary enormously. Lost broadcasts, festooned in unsettling noise, rub up against stately electric folk. Psychedelic grunge balances out colourful playschool techno. Unaccompanied Early Music recreations drift one way, while centipedal Rock-in-Opposition shapes charge off in another. None of this would work if Tim’s songs – seemingly so resistant – didn’t readily adapt. Anyone can get around the shape of a Neil Young song, a Paul McCartney song or even a Morrissey song for a tribute: but these rampant compositions with their peculiar twists are of a different, wilder order. However, every contributor has managed to embrace not only the unorthodox Smith way with a Jacob’s Ladder tumble of chords but also his dense lyrical babble, which grafts nonsense onto insight and the ancient onto the baby-raw. Everyone involved has striven to gently (or vigorously) tease the songs out of cult corner and bring them to light.

Take, for instance, what The Magic Numbers have done with A Little Man and a House. This anguished Cardiacs ode to the 9-to-5 misfit has never seemed quite so universal, slowly pulling out from one man’s chafing frustration for a panoramic view of a worldful of human cogs. (“And there’s voices inside me, they’re screaming and telling me ‘that’s the way we all go.’ / There’s thousands of people just like me all over, but that’s the way we all go.”) The original’s pained South London squawk and huffing machinery noises are replaced by Romeo Stodart’s soft American lilt, while massed weeping clouds of piano and drums summon up an exhausted twilight in the Monday suburbs. Likewise, when Steven Wilson (stepping out of Porcupine Tree for a moment) sighs his way through a marvelously intuitive and wounded solo version of Stoneage Dinosaurs, he takes Tim’s hazy memories of childhood fairgrounds and incipient loss and makes them glisten like rain on a car mirror while sounding like the saddest thing in the world. Even with Wilson’s own formidable reputation behind him, this is immediately one of the finest things he’s ever done – an eerie ripple through innocence; a sudden, stricken look of grief flitting for a moment across a child’s face.

Three of the covers have added poignancy from being connected to ends, to new beginnings, or to particular paybacks. When Oceansize abruptly split up at the peak of their powers, their final word as a band turned out to be Fear (this album’s loving cover of an obscure Spratleys Japs track). Rather than their usual muscular and careening psychedelic brain-metal, they render this song as a soft-hued exit, a fuzzed-up tangle of fairy lights which wanders hopefully down pathways as they gently peter out. Conversely, glammy Britpop anti-heroes Ultrasound set an acrimonious decade-old split behind them and reformed especially to record for this project. Their whirling clockwork version of the Cardiacs anthem Big Ship is all boxed-in and wide-eyed. It bobs along like a toy theatre while the band fire off first pain (“the tool, the tool, forever falling down / planes against the grain of the wood / for the box, for my soul / and my aching heart,”) and ultimately burst into the kind of incoherent, hymnal inclusiveness which was always a Cardiacs trademark – “All of the noise / takes me to the outside where there’s all /creations, joining in / celebrating happiness and joy; /all around the world, / on land and in the sea.” It seems to have worked for them – they sound truly renewed.

Some of Tim Smith’s songs have a strangely mediaeval tone or texture to them, and some have a twist of eerie folk music. These attract different interpretations. Foundling was once a particularly bereft and fragile Cardiacs moment: an orphaned, seasick love-song trawled up onto the beach. Accompanied by elegant touches of piano and guitar, the genteel art-rockers Stars in Battledress transform it into a heartfelt, change-ringing English bell-round. North Sea Radio Orchestra travel even further down this particular line – their bright tinkling chamber music sweeps up the hammering rock parade of March and turns it into a sprightly, blossoming cortege. Packing the tune with bells, bassoon and string quartet, they dab it with minimalism and a flourishing Purcell verve: Sharron Fortnam’s frank and childlike soprano clambers over the darker lyrics and spins them round the maypole.

Deeper into folk, Katherine Blake (of Mediaeval Baebes) and Julianne Regan (the shape-shifting frontwoman for All About Eve and Mice) each take an eerie acoustic Sea Nymphs fragment and rework it on their own. Julianne’s version of the children’s dam-building song Shaping the River adds rattling tambourine, drowsy slide guitar and a warm murmur of voice: it’s as if the faded lines of the song had washed up like a dead leaf at her feet, ready to be reconstructed at folk club. (“Pile some sticks and pile some mud and some sand. / Leave the ends wide, / three against the side, / plug the heart of flow.”) Katherine’s narcotic a-cappella version of Up in Annie’s Room might have shown up at the same concert. A world away from the pealing cathedral organ of the original, it slips away into empty space in between its gusts of eerie deadened harmonizing and Tim’s sleepy, suggestive cats-cradle of words (“Fleets catch your hair on fire. / The fleet’s all lit up – flags, flame on fire…”)

Max Tundra, in contrast, sounds very much alive and fizzing. His pranktronica version of the brutal Will Bleed Amen re-invents it as delightfully warm and loopy Zappa-tinted techno. Its abrupt air-pocketed melody opens out like a sped-up clown car: when a convoluted cone of lyrics punches his voice up and sticks it helpless to the ceiling, former Monsooon Bassoon-er Sarah Measures is on hand to provide a cool clear vocal balance, as well as to build a little open cage of woodwind at the heart of the rush. It’s a terrific reinvention, but perhaps not the album’s oddest turnaround. That would be courtesy of Rose Kemp and Rarg – one a striving indie-rock singer and blood-heir to the Steeleye Span legacy, the other the laptop-abusing keyboard player with Smokehand. Rose is a Cardiacs interpreter with previous form: this time she’s fronting a forbidding glitch-electronica version of Wind And Rains Is Cold with all of the cute reggae bounce and innocence pummeled out of it. While Rarg flattens and moves the scenery around in baleful planes, Rose delivers the nursery-rhyme lyric with a mixture of English folk stridency and icy Germanic hauteur, uncorking its elliptical menace as she does – “Now you remember, children, how blessed are the pure in heart – / want me to take ’em up and wash ’em good?… / Hide your hair, it’s waving all lazy and soft, / like meadow grass under the flood.”

While most of the musicians on ‘Leader…’ could cite Tim Smith as an influence, Andy Partridge was a influence on Tim himself, way back in his XTC days. Three-and-a-half decades later he repays the appreciation by guesting on the dusky autumnal spin which The Milk & Honey Band‘s Robert White gives to a Sea Nymphs song, Lilly White’s Party. Redolent with regret (for more innocent times, before a fall), it covers its eyes and turns away from the shadows falling across the hillside. Partridge’s deep backing vocals add an extra thrum of sympathy: “Let’s not reinvent the wheel, let’s not open that can of worms, / Let’s not say what we did, and play by ear. / Back to square one…”

The backbone of ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies’ however, comes from the contributions of former Cardiacs players reconnecting with the family songbook. As with any family over time, they’re scattered. One of the earliest members, Pete Tagg, now drums for The Trudy, who take the bucketing psychedelic charge of Day is Gone and offer a more down-to-earth spin on it for the indie disco, keeping that heady chromatic slide of chorus but adding a suspiciously blues-rock guitar solo and Melissa Jo Heathcote’s honeyed vocals. One of the more recent Cardiacs additions, Kavus Torabi, brings his band Knifeworld to the party. He hauls a particularly involved and proggy Cardiacs epic – The Stench of Honey – back through a 1970s Henry Cow filter of humpbacked rhythms, woodwind honks, baby squeaks and rattletrap percussion. Double-strength art rock, it could have been a precious step too far. Instead, it’s triumphant, its skeletal circular chamber music salad-tossed by stomping bursts and twitches of joy.

Onetime Cardiacs keyboard player William D. Drake offers a gentler, kinder tribute, taking the shanty-rhythms of Savour and spinning them out into soft Edwardiana with harmonium, ukulele and a gently bobbing piano finale. Drake’s predecessor Mark Cawthra brings an eerie sense of pain to his own cover version: back in the earliest days, he was Tim Smith’s main foil, playing lively keyboards and drums as well as sharing the bumper-car vocals. Now he sounds like the head mourner, taking on the heavy tread of Let Alone My Plastic Doll and sousing it with Vanilla Fudge-slow organ, doubled guitar solos and sigh-to-wail vocals. The twitchy, baby-logic lyrics are slowly overwhelmed by an undercurrent of grief, but the kind of grief that can only come from a older, wiser man.

Under his Mikrokosmos alias, Bic Hayes takes on Cardiacs’ biggest near-hit (Is This The Life) and subjects it to startling psychedelic noise-storms and industrial drum twirling. In the process, he shakes out and enhances its original pathos. Blown splay-limbed into a corner by a tornado of white noise, plug-in spatters and buzzing malfunctions, Bic’s voice is nasal, lost and forlorn. It sings of split and rootless identity against a wall of forbidding harmonium: “Looking so hard for a cause, and it don’t care what it is; / and never really ever seeing eye to eye / though it doesn’t really mind. / Perhaps that’s why / it never really saw.” Although Jo Spratley coos reassurance under ululations of alto feedback, Bic still ends up cowering like a damaged crane-fly under showers of distorted harpsichords and Gothic synths. Bewitchingly damaged.

The last word goes to The Scaramanga Six, the swaggering Yorkshire theatricalists who were the main beneficiaries of Smith production work before the accident. By their usual meaty standards, the Six’s take on The Alphabet Business Concern (Cardiacs’ tongue-in-cheek corporate anthem, packed to the gunwales with flowery salutes) initially seems cowed, as if flattened by dismay and sympathy at Tim’s misfortune. But it doesn’t end there. Starting tremulous and hushed, with nothing but the embers of faith to keep it up, it builds gradually from tentative acoustic guitars and hiding vocals up through a gradual build of electric instruments, feeding in and gaining strength: “and now the night of weeping shall be / the morn of song…” Over the course of the anthem the Six go from crumpled to straightened to proud cheat-beating life. By the end, the recording can hardly contain their vigorous Peter Hammill bellows, as they sweep out in a grand procession with rolling guitars, pianos and extended Cardiacs choirs. It’s a stirring, defiant finale to an album that’s done everything it could to blow away the ghosts of helplessness and to charge up not just an armful of Smith songs but, in its way, a vivid sense of Smith. He might have taken a bad, bad fall; but the humming and rustling vitality of the music, the way that it’s become a spray of vivid lively tendrils reaching far and wide, is an enormous reassurance.

Listen. He’s alive. He’s alive.

Various Artists: ‘Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1’
Believer’s Roast, BR003 (5060243820372)
CD/vinyl/download album
Released: 13th December 2010

Buy it from:
Genepool (CD) or iTunes (download)

Tim Smith online:
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‘Leader Of The Starry Skies – A Tribute To Tim Smith – Songbook 1’ online:
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June 2004 – live reviews – The Cox Cruise @ MV King Arthur, floating along the River Severn, Gloucestershire, early summer 2004 (featuring Earnest Cox, Ghosting, Charlie Says, Michael J. Sheehy & Paddy McCarthy of St Silas Intercession, Datapuddle) (“a self-propelled music bash”)

30 Jun

All we can see outside in the dark are moving, ghostly fronds – foliage bleached by the passing light spilling from our boat, nodding in the gusting winds above the lap of water. We’re on the river at night. We can’t see where we’re going, and we’ve entrusted our safety to a group of people with the seedy, ingratiating collective name of Earnest Cox. Things look bleak.

“It’s ‘Nam, man!” some joker screams suddenly. “Charlie’s out there, and he don’t surf! We’re all gonna die, man!”

He’s greeted by laughter. It’s all far, far too English for any of that: those nodding leaves we’re passing are in quiet Gloucestershire, and the River Severn isn’t winding us towards the heart of darkness… not unless Bristol’s having a really bad Saturday night. The double-decker boat we’re riding – the MV King Arthur – has been hired from the National Waterways Museum, and in under four hours we’ll have looped back to its safe berth in Gloucester. On the way, we’ll be enjoying a self-propelled music bash featuring the aforementioned Coxers and a little circle of related bands from Gloucester and London. There’s even a raffle. Cosy.

Had we set out a little earlier in the summer, and during the day, it would have been picnics and beer all round by now. As the red and gold lights of a jolly riverside pub bob past like a luminous Johnny Walker bottle, it’s clear that any actual weirdness will need to be handled by the bands. Crammed onto chairs on the makeshift band stage wedged into the top deck, Datapuddle do what they can. Alex Vald (who once played filthy guitar for Dream City Film Club) cradles an electric mandolin across his chest like a sulking cat. When not distractedly plucking and strumming at it as if he were plucking a chicken, his hands dart restlessly towards a litter of electronic gizmos on a table: a virtual theremin, a cheap sequencer, a plastic voice-changer and other bits of toy-box guts. Stephen Huddle plays sketchy acoustic guitar and pushes broken murmurs and mumbles of song up into Alex’s cobwebs of sound.

Datapuddle at The Cox Cruise

Datapuddle at The Cox Cruise

What ultimately emerges is a lo-fi cat’s-cradle of strung-together and slightly strung-out elements. Tidal dub; debris and dusty notes swept out of an Irish-American bar; bits of memory and reaction scattered like dandruff – all glued by static electricity and misfiring synapse energy to the guitar strings of a long-fried singer-songwriter. “Here’s a little sea shanty,” says Stephen brightly. A water-blip of electronics merges with a Lloyd Cole chug of guitar, rocking it on its rhythmic base. Alex buzzes a harmonica into an overlapping backwards loop, transforming it into a reversed melodica.

On the next song, trip-hop snare-drum smoke merges with psychedelic space whisper like the first skunked-out collision between Portishead and Hawkwind. Alex’s mandolin maintains a relentless, disappearing clang like a freight train bell, while Stephen mutters like Tom Waits ruffled from deep sleep. Peril – another shaggy-dog shanty written especially for tonight – namechecks the Severn amidst its steam-train chunter of knocks, old-school electro breaks, and harmonica rasps. “Don’t buy the brown acid,” Stephen sings, channelling up the confusion of a different party as ours sways cheerfully along the river.

Datapuddle come to a purring end with lashings of electric theremin wibble and a lengthy musical chew on a genuine melodica which has surfaced from their box of battered goodies. Watching them was like watching someone scrabble a shack together out of estuary trash and flotsam. In its way, it was just as raw and triumphant.

Paddy McCarthy & Michael J. Sheehy at The Cox Cruise.

Paddy McCarthy & Michael J. Sheehy at The Cox Cruise.

While the upstairs audience return to conversation and shore-spotting, Michael J. Sheehy and Paddy McCarthy are down below decks mopping up the leftovers (along with any beer that’s available). Cuddling a pair of honey-blonde acoustic guitars, the brothers from St Silas Intercession (and, previously, Dream City Film Club) have wedged themselves into a corner to hammer out rough’n’ready London-Irish punk blues as brutal as paving stones and hard-luck sneers. Eventually they’re joined by a wandering harmonica player and by a growing crowd of boozy party stragglers. Before too long, the corner turns into an enthusiastic trash-music shebeen (staggered over the changeover times between the acts upstairs) during which everyone’s treated to rattling, spat-out’n’spattered takes of the songs from the debut St Silas EP, starting with the vicious roar of You Don’t Live Here Anymore.

St Silas Intercession’s music is a London echo of the brutally direct and bluesy garage noise still spilling out of Detroit (and all of the little Detroits that have sprung up in the wake of Jack White or The Dirtbombs). Venomous as a dirty flick-knife and as blunt as masonry nails, it’s some way down the evolutionary tree from the corrupted sophistication of Sheehy’s recent songwriter albums, or even from the trawling sleaze of his old work with Dream City Film Club. Obviously the man himself couldn’t give a shit about all that: judging by the twinkle in his eyes and in Paddy’s, as they face each other off over sprawling riffs and hollers, they’ve rarely been happier with their music than now.

Paddy McCarthy at The Cox Cruise.

Paddy McCarthy at The Cox Cruise.

The brute-blues meanness of Get My Share has a good hard whiskey sting to it; as does the defiance of Caravan Rock (“me and my kids and their mum, / living in a caravan, moving on, moving on…”). A lacerating spurt through All About The Money sets people bobbing, scrambling and bouncing as well as a seven-and-a-half foot deck ceiling will allow. But as Paddy’s permanent goofy cartoon grin indicates, the St Silas brothers never take themselves too seriously. “It’s always about the money!” Michael protests, through a cheap megaphone. His voice suddenly jumps tracks from Louisiana bawl back through his London grit to an ‘EastEnders’ stage-Cockney. “You sla-a-a-g!”

Back upstairs, a dirty blonde in a cute plush cap is hammering a comradely nail into Mr Sheehy’s coffin. “Michael slags me off in his songs, and I slag him off in my songs,” explains Charlie Beddoes. Then she bowls us the rapaciously scornful putdowns of Vitriolic Alcoholic which kerb-kicks a snarling addict with a series of offhanded verbal wallops, culminating in “do I look like I give a toss? / It’s not my problem, not my loss.” It’s good to have friends.

The determined, diminutive Charlie is both the figurehead and the core of the shifting cult-of-personality that calls itself Charlie Says. Tonight, they’re three boot-babes and a moll-boy. Backed up by sidekick Ben Fisher’s car-crash guitar and by Lian and Kim Warmington’s ice-diva backing vocals and cool basilisk stares, Charlie plucks a remarkably articulate bass, sings like a breezeblock with lipstick and thuds out middle-weight girlpunk. Not short of charisma, Charlie holds the audience in the palm of her hand. The trouble is, she then rolls them around as if she doesn’t quite know what to do with them.

There’s a big difference between true punk and mere punk-ertainment, and Charlie Says wander a bit too close to the latter end of the scale. While Charlie’s former background in hip-hop art-rockers Rub Ultra is promising, discovering that both she and Ben are recent refugees from the touring band of tech-rocker Martin Grech pokes some suspicious holes in their lo-fi rebel stance. It just makes their music seem a little contrived. Not that the songs always help: It’s All About The Music is just another me-and-my guitar anthem, and Hey Leadfinger, Why You Gotta Keep Putting Me Down? is a foray into garage-blues which is far less interesting than its title is.

What pulls the band up out of fun-punk poseur-world are Charlie’s bright flickers of blunt humour and determination. The girlpower swagger of Venus Envy suddenly flings out “if the balls are in our court, then at least we have some,” while This Is Not My Story claims “whichever way it lands, my heart will keep on beating.” Little gems of lead-pipe wit and guts like this are what will make Charlie Says special; not desperate attempts to hitch onto whichever punk or garage soul flits past next. For the rest of the evening, I see Charlie perched here and there around the boat – beaming with life, always as if on the verge of delivering another breezy wisecrack. Let’s have more of that.

For all their efforts, Charlie Says don’t make me want to riot. Ghosting do… but I’d be rioting on their behalf. Five more minutes of hearing boozy party blabber drown out their beautiful, beautiful songs and I’d be flinging bottles around myself. Ghosting are heartbreakingly soft – as vulnerable and resilient as fresh grass bending underfoot. Unlike any other band this evening, they create little pockets of pure songcraft which you need to crane your head into to find out what’s going on.

Upfront, Dan Pierce picks out gentle acoustic guitar arpeggios which ride up into the atmosphere like thermals, and lets his voice follow suit. In the corner, wedged into a little cage of half-drumkit, laptop and miniature keyboard, George Moorey handles the rest. Intent and anxious-looking, he peers at his screen like a nervy microbiologist watching a virus proliferate. In fact, he’s just making sure that the sounds arrive on time – making tiny triggering adjustments to a mouse, reaching out one hand to roll off a gentle peal of Blue Nile piano, or swivelling to make precise soft taps on cymbal and snare with the single drumstick he holds in his other hand. It’s like watching someone play a one-man-band suit and conduct an orchestra at the same time. Yet even more impressive than this deft and diffident juggling act are the way Ghosting’s songs pool in the atmosphere – gradually, quietly filling up the space.

Dan’s big genial frame contains a songwriter’s spirit of rare and seductive delicacy. Faced with a chattering crowd, he simply shifts his guitar in his hands and sings soft, warm and open… and slowly the chatter drains away as the spell begins to work. Gently, Ghosting explore topics spanning all the way from frayed love songs (Your Love Don’t Make Sense) through thoughtful disillusion all the way to ending up being fingered as a murder suspect (Someone At The Door). Hopefully not as a natural progression – but if it was, you’d suspect that they’d’ve illustrated even that story with colossal and convincing sensitivity.

By the time Ghosting are midway through the exquisite, naked plea of I Want You To See Me, the crowd is hushed and half of them are hooked. Dan’s flexible and heartfelt singing – mostly a feather on tremulous breath, but rising to a swoony peak of intensity – sometimes recalls Mike Scott or Robert Forster at their very softest. In a fey, English, breathy way, he even has flashes of the fluttering abandonment of a Van Morrison or an Aaron Neville. Like them, he’s singing songs of real people grasping out at the intangible – unsure of what to believe on Anything That Might Be True, or “waiting for the one thing which really might have been some help,” on Good Year, only to wait in vain. Intangible desires, tangible heartaches. They’ll probably rise like damp rather than rockets, but I suspect that within a few years Ghosting will be very important to a lot of people.

Having put the whole cruise together in the first place, Earnest Cox get a well-deserved heroes’ welcome once they arrive onstage. They respond with perhaps their most energetic and assured set to date. It’s the third or fourth time I’ve caught the Cox, over a time when I’ve watched their sturdy intelligence getting to grips with lacing together their multiple influences. It’s taken a while for their mixture of old Memphis R’n’B, ’60s lad-rock, ’80s indie textures and prowling street poetry to gel.

Tonight it does with a vengeance. Hello Stranger sweeps out of the gate with a swagger of rogue testosterone coupled with a smart and beady eye, as Cox singer La Windo immediately takes on the audience with his particular blend of strut and twice-burned wariness. Perhaps it’s recent honeymoon rejuvenations or perhaps it’s the side effects of squabbling over their current recordings, but Earnest Cox are smouldering tonight. Still looking like a disparate houseful of mature students (the band’s a bewildering range of types from motherly to mysterious, from rogue to stockbroker) they continue to draw on what’s in them already rather than trying to squeeze themselves into an image.

The rhythm section used to be little more than agreeably white’n’slightly-funky: now it’s moving towards a lubricious slippery groove, with bass player/occasional MC Simon abandoning cheese and cheeriness to join drummer Shane in seriously flexing the pocket. Nicola parachutes in flights of piano, springs of Booker T. Hammond organ or splurges of synth when she needs to, while Marc buries himself in the middle of the band, cooking up lightly-textured mats of funky guitar texture to fly blurs across the gaps.

Up front, where you’d expect to find a preening Rod Stewart lookalike, La continues to prowl like a Gloucester merging of Shaun Ryder and Lou Reed, delivering his narratives of edgy small-town life like the most restless man in the pub and shaking his percussion as if testing the heft of a throwing knife. He looks pretty handy: yet the Cox don’t exactly trade on casual violence, even when La hurls out scathing fighting talk on You’re Not Fit To Lick (The Shit From My Shoes).

Rather, they seize on restlessness in general, whether it’s randiness, boredom, the unease as your parents age towards death, or the bumps in love’s road. There’s swagger, vengeance and one-upmanship aplenty in songs like Two Can Play At That Game, Baby and Scratching The Same Old Itch: yet in spite of this Earnest Cox’s songs are about survival if they’re about anything. No More Happy Endings treads the ashes of hopes and securities with the dogged, battered trudge of someone who’s had the knocks, has sagged, but won’t go down yet.

The Cox’s musical cockiness almost makes them part of that line of lad’s bands dipping in and out of pubs, taverns and speakeasys (and finally Royal Command performances). Yet the way the bruises on the songs never entirely fade (and the way that La quietly retreats into himself, gaze distracted, mid-song) hints at a band who’ve accepted, even embraced, the dragging baggage of personal history rather than saturating themselves in adolescent posing. Marc’s refusal to play the role of the strutting guitar stud (keeping his back almost entirely turned to La and the audience as he brews up his noises) confirms it and heightens the internal dignity beyond the Cox’s miscellaneous looks.

Perhaps it’s this mixture of getting by, getting on and getting on with it even within limited horizons that makes Earnest Cox local heroes on the Gloucester scene. The familiar tastes of that stew of pop ingredients they serve it up with, plus their band’s anti-glorious English universality and their bumpy everyman charisma should win them friends around the country, whether or not they bring their boat with them.

As the Cox set hits its climax, we look up and find ourselves back in the Gloucester lock. Hometime, Charlie.

Datapuddle online:
Homepage TwitterMySpace Bandcamp LastFM

Michael J. Sheehy online:
Facebook MySpace LastFM

Miraculous Mule (what Sheehy/McCarthy/St Silas Intercession did next) online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud LastFM

Charlie Says online:
Homepage

Ghosting online:
Homepage MySpace Bandcamp

Earnest Cox online:
MySpace

MV King Arthur online:
Homepage

October 2000 – album reviews – Grizzlybearunderwear’s ‘Grizzlybearunderwear’ (“faraway silhouettes atop burnt-off hills”)

15 Oct

Grizzlybearunderwear: 'Grizzlybearunderwear'

Grizzlybearunderwear: ‘Grizzlybearunderwear’

If Grizzlybearunderwear’s terrible name (which might be an old ‘Simpsons’ joke) gets you thinking of a manic yodeling band of gabblers with wacky shorts and tricky fingers, then your reaction needs a rethink. On the other hand, if their music really is the “apocalyptic pop music” which they claim it to be, then that term needs a rethink too. There’ll be no sheets of fire, no torn T-shirts; no glamorous wailing and fucking in the streets while rolling in the torn shreds of the Situationist manifesto. Instead, life as we know it will end in radioactive studio silt and aching bones: and if this is pop music, then the future apocalypse won’t be about dancing and verse-chorus-verse (or even verse-chorus-explosion, verse-weird bit-recap). It’ll be about toil, twisted smiles and arms flailed grimly at faraway silhouettes atop burnt-off hills.

This is cause for cheerfulness if you’re of a certain cast of mind – a lover of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s cheery hellbound sitcoms, for example, or someone who sees ‘The Seventh Seal’ as an average day at the office. Maybe also if you were the kind of person seduced during the ’80s and ’90s by 4AD’s handful of backwards-future visionaries, soused in reverb and electronic gumbo but somehow touching on something stirringly ancient… even if they’d injected bastardised hip-hop into the mixture. Grizzlybearunderwear (Leipzig-based, led by the enigmatic KGSi) would’ve fitted in perfectly with that crowd. A decade or so further on at the century’s turn – with post-rockers rooting back into that world of blurs, dirt, noise and strangely captivating obscurities – they’ve got a chance to make a whole new set of friends.

So… eleven mostly-instrumental tracks, combed in from the band’s previous run of EPs. Some of this are a little too familiar-sounding. My Esoteric Friends sounds like Dif Juz deciding whether to dig themselves out of a swamp or wallow sensuously in the warm sludge; and if Germany had hosted a Cocteau Twins concert in the middle of a swamp, the bootleg would have sounded like Again, Dangerous Visions (romantic, rusted post-punk bass, fussing drum machine and guest singer Hirshie’s lightly sonorous warning tones, close to that chin-down, guarded alto which Liz Fraser used in more plaintive Cocteaus songs). But the way in which the phased guitar yields to free-form space whispers and to an unhitched scramble of psychedelic organ points the way towards Grizzlybearunderwear’s wilder, woollier intentions.

As KGSi and co. delve deeper, the album proves that they’re not short of ideas for interesting meetings of instruments and noise. Physalia takes a rocky journey from distant cave-drums and tremolo guitars to exhausted sludge-metal riffs and queasy, fingers-at-the-brink harmonium chording. The two-minute Spacer tumbles out of gothic guts like one of Vincent Ward’s lost sound cues from ‘The Navigator’: dragging, muddy-toil rhythms and a lamenting guitar which flaps overhead like a ragged banner. A suffocating sky-duvet of wah-noise cups itself She Drove To The Sea which (with its chain-clanking Slint guitars, Bardo Pond moodies and tinnitus grumble over the top) comes across like one of the more restless new-millennial post-rock bands (perhaps a more despondent Delicate AWOL). Ushuaia strips the detail further back only to add even more noise guitars, suffocatingly entwined, with gushing tidal waters surging relentlessly over the top with a hammering beauty. The gothic bells and sombre Rothko bass clanging of Parthian Shot, clunking bravely in its subterranean echo, mask a swirl of voice being squeezed out of existence in a tempest of rushing noise.

Broader thinking, filtering in dance music, is revealed on Snapdragon (Eniwetok Remix). A squelching bass pulse and a rapidly fluttering trance-techno riff are poised over the everyday, comforting sounds of a shopping mall: you can hear parents and children swarming distractedly through the aisles, as if to set us up for a braver, happier new world of clean architecture and Saturday shopping: suddenly, an abrupt countdown slams the music into driving industrial rock mode, extinguishing the shoppers. When we next hear voices they’re quietly discussing the effects of atomic explosions and the penetrative power of radioactive particles.

It’s revealing that the latter is being talked about in the matter-of-fact tones of Midwestern news broadcasts, and that KGSi’s industrial attack was merely grim and tough rather than decisively devastating. The 4AD bands cowered under the global threat of one overwhelming nuclear apocalypse. The Grizzlies are of a time when the average person’s at risk from a smaller hell – maybe one small package of explosive discontent, stashed in a city bin under a pile of greasy McDonald’s wrappers and waiting coldly for rush hour. Snapdragon’s lack of hysteria suggests that KGSi has accepted these everyday atrocities. His tongue-in-cheek claim of playing “electric chair controls” seems to be an acknowledgement of the casual trappings of horror the world now contains so openly.

Grizzlybearunderwear: ‘Beaver Female Seminary’

Grizzlybearunderwear’s work with dialogue adds to their explorations, although they’re rarely explicit. Patrol These Borders retains the time-honoured spangly guitars (embroidered with the hiccuping spatter of treated toms) but blends in a long chunk of bitter dialogue from ‘The Maltese Falcon’ – the voices of Bogart and Bacall, strained by disappointment and guilt. An assured, untrustworthy telephone voice on Beaver Female Seminary (providing guidelines to “the True Way” in the tones of a used-car salesman) is flattened by heated, weary steam-press thuds and growling Banshees guitars.

Hell Are Other Real People (which samples Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Dead Man’) nods its way along on a scarcely-there-at-all dance thud, while deep, surprisingly vocal guitars hum to each other. Sometimes it’s like a more diffuse, message-less take on Godspeed You Black Emperor. All around crickets are warbling, cars draw up stealthily, a campfire burns, and voices mutter to each other. We’re somewhere in the American West, and they’re talking of stalking and concealment, of victimisation, of the decay of living bodies. The story never clarifies; but the feeling lingers: sinister places and hungry lives constantly poised for flight.

Beneath their guitars and samples, Grizzlybearunderwear certainly have an ear for the messages contained in sound and in the emotional underwash of voices. I might wish they had as good an ear for band names but, given what else they can achieve, I can forgive that lack.

Grizzlybearunderwear: ‘Grizzlybearunderwear’
Noiseworks Records/Heliodor Recordings, NW220 / HELIODOR 004 2000 (4032648002203)
CD-only album
Released: 2000

Get it from:
Best obtained secondhand, although some Grizzlybearunderwear tracks are downloadable for free from Edaphon and there’s an album page here.

Grizzlybearunderwear online:
Homepage MySpace

September 1999 – album reviews – John Ellis’ ‘Spic’n’Span’ (“a minor treasury of passing ideas”)

24 Sep
John Ellis: 'Spic'N'Span'

John Ellis: ‘Spic’N’Span’

The lifespans of pop musicians are usually measured in five-year units – generally just one each before they’re inserted into the “where are they now?” file. But for every ten who went into hostelry, college lecturing or millinery, one adapted and carried on the journey as best they could and perhaps saw how their talents and ideas could fit into the next stage.

As guitarist, songwriter and sound-shaper John Ellis is hardly a household name, but his work and adaptability have both been consistent. He’s already discreetly chameleoned his way through three decades of music. A founder member of The Vibrators during the punk era, he went on to play an integral role in the Peter Hammill and Peter Gabriel bands over the cusp of the ’70s and ’80s. Links with Jean-Jacques Burnel eventually led him (along with Paul Roberts) into the post-Hugh-Cornwell Stranglers line-up; he developed an electronica sideline via his digressions into gallery music, There’s even a touch of prog beyond Gabriel and Hammill: John also plays guitar for Judge Smith’s ongoing “song-story” projects.

John’s journeyman credentials are unquestionable, and to each position he’s brought his own supporting voice and particular marks. However, always being the lieutenant means some of your ideas bounce off the boss (or the inflexibility of circumstances) and get stashed away. ‘Spic’N’Span’ corralls together unheard odds’n’sods from John’s curvy journey through music, and consequently it’s a musical scrapbook rather than an album.

A third of the tunes are the kind of thing that many working musicians knock out for TV music library discs – bright jingles and “we’re going somewhere” music, executed on cupboard synth orchestras. The synthetic Euro-funk/perky testcard tunes of Wild Talent and Tune-O-Matic fall into this category; as do the flying-over- mountains melody of Early Riding Daddy, the New Age-y pop march of The Needs Of The Soul and the rather more ambitious baroque-jazz stylings of Running Through The Trees. Still… behind many of these you can hear little pop chicks trying to hatch out of the multi-track demos, hoping to drop into the collective lap of an ’80s boy band, to do that five-year round; and to then cheat death by popping up in a nostalgia DJs record box, taking a ride on a revival. It might not have actually happened, but then the business of selling songs has always been a bit of a lottery.

Another third of ‘Spic’N’Span’ is a set of genuine ’80s pop songs. All of these are produced in the squeaky-clean studio fashion of the time; but all are executed with the restraint, intelligence and puritanical zeal of post-punk. The pin-sharp shimmy of John’s guitar is the linking factor – wailing away on E-bow sustain, sparking off claw-hand finger-picking, or adroitly yanked from note to note.

Three of these songs are sung by Alex Legg – his spooky vocal resemblance to Peter Gabriel shows us how things might have been had Gabriel and Ellis joined forces and run off together into the showy pop territory eventually colonised by Tears For Fears instead. The Space Between Us (a soulful, regretful R’n’B lament of hostility, injustice and enmity) could easily have fitted onto an album like ‘So’. Similarly, Joe Jackson would have been proud to have written the pumping Monopoly (the biting list song of an abusive marriage, a woman’s increasingly desperate attempts to escape it, and the grim consequences). Off on its own, the John Greaves-ish piano song Mumble Jumble (pointing up the Ellis art-school/art-rock background) ponders the confusions and blocks of language.

Two more songs are sung by John himself. Giving Up The Ghost, with its airbrushed console-blues sound and phantom horn section, strives after the authenticity of roots Americana only to arrive as a Eurythmics B-side instead. But the glinty, polished Elevator Man (which sounds more like Steve Harley doing J-pop) works better, capturing the arch giddiness of stardom from a slight but crucial degree of separation. “I went from rags to riches, from riches to rags. / I was an overnight sensation.”

Then there’s a third section: a couple of tunes which seem to be trying for the early ’80s link between electro, hip-hop, and primitive British synth pop. Such is the buzz and piping of Stutter Gun with its earnest, uptight vocal samples and its synaesthesic theme: “it’s beautiful… the colours will flash… the sounds will embrace you.” Jimi Jam studs its gurgling electro with little sampled Hendrix asides – “Hey, what’s happening?… Oh no, I think I’m out of tune.” Discreetly decorated with wobbling wails of clean sustained feedback, it’s so cheerfully plastic when compared to Hendrix’s controlled brinksmanship that it has to be a piss-take.

There are also a couple of genuine, delightful misfit chunks in the stew. The panoramic zither chug of One Way Street walks in step with Trans-Global Underground in its mess of world beats, the spine-shivering harmonies of crowd hums from old Lomax recordings, and the Republic serial dialogue snippets (“All the streets are one way!”; “What better way to commemorate the dead?”). John performs a solo joke on The Best Part Of The Cabbage: woozy slide guitar and sleepy voice shambling out a ramshackle joke-blues on cannibalism. (“Looking at you, I lick my lips…”) The sensuous laziness of the tune offsets the wonderfully appalling humour: “If you ain’t got a fridge yet, there’s not much on a midget – / a mouthful, or two.”

A minor treasury of passing ideas, ‘Spic’N’Span’ will never be more than a curio, but one that remains open and friendly throughout.

John Ellis: ‘Spic’N’Span’
Furious Productions (no catalogue number or barcode)
CD-only album
Released: September 1999

Get it from:
Best obtained second-hand: this was released as a very-limited-edition run of 50 copies, so it’s extremely rare.

John Ellis online:
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June 1999 – album reviews – The Monsoon Bassoon’s ‘I Dig Your Voodoo’ (“gloriously twisted tunes with gritty, testifying zeal”)

15 Jun

The Monsoon Bassoon: 'I Dig Your Voodoo'

The Monsoon Bassoon: ‘I Dig Your Voodoo’

You could say that The Monsoon Bassoon are like three train-tracks converging on a single set of points. Going full-tilt on the first is a savage, grinning, tuneful thing from that edgy end of indie-rock that spawned Pixies or Shudder To Think – one eye a gimlet, the other a Catherine wheel. Riding the second, there’s a rigorous interlocking mechanism poised like a mantis: its lifeblood a nerve-pumping mix of math-rock mesh and prog rock verve. Careening along the third track is a thrashing shotgun wedding of baroque black metal and head-fuck psychedelia, steam spurting out of every joint. High speed. Impact imminent. This could be messy.

In fact, it ends up as something wonderful. Where there should’ve been mangled smoking fragments strewn across the neighbourhood, an ornate and brand-new beast is racing ahead. Gleaming gears whirling, showering fat sparks – taking on the stodgy, mulchy, rotted-down state of guitar rock and carving an intricate furrow through it, smashing exuberantly through fences en route. Ten tracks of delirious celebratory intricacies, and explosive rock detonations, ‘I Dig Your Voodoo’ rejoices unashamed in the sheer excitement of motion. If you could fix it so that a tropical rainstorm blasted through a double reed, you’d probably end up with this kind of melodious shrapnel.

The very thought of latterday psychedelic rock can prompt a checklist: druggy sonic syrup, honeybee harmonies, static songs, ad-infinitum wobbly jamming… Forget that. Instead, and for starters, imagine a roller-coasting XTC arguing their way down the corkscrew. Imagine Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci if they’d been shorn of their Brian Wilson fixation, off their heads on chaos theory and frantically shagging a stapling machine. In The Monsoon Bassoon two duelling slashing guitars, a fat-geared-but-light-footed rhythm section and three urchin-meets-starchild singers (Sarah Measures, Dan Chudley and Kavus Torabi) fractalise their songs into manic battling melodies. There are pop hooks aplenty, generally on the verge of turning into egg-whisks and grappling irons: there’s an alphabet soup of puzzling riffs, quirks and blissful deranged woodwind. If the band are clearly enthralled by their own avid craftmanship, they’re also firing up their gloriously twisted tunes with gritty, testifying zeal, running the shoe-leather off the soul-punk poseurs.

Even so, managing to bag an NME Single of the Week with each of their three singles so far must have been as vividly strange for the Bassooners as their songs are to everyone else. At a time when artier British tastemakers generally save their praise for musicians across the Atlantic – Flaming Lips and Pavement, Jim O’Rourke, Godspeed, Dave Pajo and his ever-unwinding adventures – left-field rockers over here are rarely given many sniffs of approval. While there are some exceptions, the Bassoon doesn’t fit the gaps in the sorter. They lack the 1960s classic-pop castellations of the aforementioned Gorky’s or Super Furry Animals; nor do they have the latter’s comfortable indie pounding and canny dilution of experimental juices: nor do they ever resort to those sullen, reductive punk-gang posturings with which Mogwai feel they need to justify their own rugged sound-paintings. Operating right off the critical and commercial radar, driven by a stubborn and guileless enthusiasm, the Monsoon Bassoon give off the impression of a band mounting an unexpected coup which is as much of a surprise to them as it is to everyone else.

That said, a shortage of ambition – or of sheer bloody cheek – is the last thing that this band need to worry about. With joyous, inspirational disregard for their own dignity, The Monsoon Bassoon blow the lid off the whole shebang in a well-overdue explosion – and the last that I heard, it was still heading skywards. When The King Of Evil kicks in at Mach 3 (with its interweaving jitterbug melodies and Sarah purring her foxy way along the switch-backing melody) and when it closes in a welter of rough’n’ready choral excitement, giant celebratory chords and the sound of Kavus and Dan’s guitars utterly losing it, screaming in delight… you can hear liberation. This is rock music flowering into shape without the usual restrictions on decreed shape, or on fashion manifesto; and it’s all the better for it, yelling “fuck you, get out of my way!” while in the same breath flashing a brilliant grin and adding “but you can come too.”

There are left-field forebears to spot, for sure. Beyond the Naked City reed-punk and the manic gearshifting, there’s a chainmail of intent and disciplined guitar patterns (equal parts Television and Henry Cow) while their zeal for distressed chords and textures would do Sonic Youth proud. Blue Junction – in which meticulous chamber-minimalism suddenly explodes into New Wave thrash – anchors them to Steve Reich, as does their ‘Magic Roundabout’ way with a circling riff. Sometimes the band resemble a younger, more hyperactive King Crimson (those revolving guitars, Sarah’s daredevil flutes and reeds, the way the music booms back and forth between celestial minimalism and bellowing, screaming blasts of red-hot air) yet they have more of a sense of sheer fun and active dynamism. The lunatic shadow of Cardiacs walks alongside them too – unsurprisingly, as it’s Tim Smith’s jaggedy production that’s trimming off any of the album’s residual cuteness, feathering the guitars with a swarming shiver, and turning the music into a multi-coloured paintbomb blowing up in a garage.

But The Monsoon Bassoon are very much their own people – sporting their irrepressible pop edge; spin-drying their surreal, prismatic lyrics into motion-blurs; bouncing melodies off a riot-ballet of pummelling rhythms. The band’s collective readiness to go from ragged pop coo to thrash to heavy prog to freak-noise – all at the flick of a wrist – ensures that nothing has time to go stale. They could be strafing and racing, relentlessly hammering a metallic riff to death until it haemorrhages rainbows, as they do on The Constrictor and Commando. Or (as on Soda Pop And Ash) they could be fattening a snakey wisp of wistful melody on those knotty guitars and skewering your attention through your third eye. Or – as on the fragmentary, wonder-struck Volcano – they could be sliding off the edge of the world, pupils dilated, as a lone glissando guitar scribbles hazy colour across the sky. Whichever way they go, a brainstorm of invention is guaranteed to hit you in the ears at just the right moment, spinning the music into a fascinating new course.

Wise Guy was the first of their singles to wear a bizarre groove in London indie-radio playlists and has lost none of its ability to set your head dancing. Six minutes of choppy pop (as if they’d collided the best bits of ‘Red’, ‘Fear Of Music’, Living In The Past and Paranoid Android to audaciously tuneful effect), it periodically explodes like axe-heads coming through hotel-room doors, twirls pirouettes, and leaps up to a trumpeting, triumphant, speaker-melting fanfare. Kavus, Dan and Sarah babble about uncut diamonds and flashbulbs and gravity gone bored; about digging (perhaps into trouble, probably into revelation), and about “three silver sixes” (which might be about dice, and might be about something more occult). Both wild and meticulous, the music races away into a game of pouncing, quick swap grooves and joshing body-slams. Through the flashes, the song’s actual meaning is more elusive, more felt than voiced; it flirts around you and threads its way into your instincts, dancing on giddy splinters as it does.

Yet in spite of the tangled, giddy innocence their enthusiasm suggests, there’s more to the Monsoon Bassoon than just adrenalin art or an agreeably scrambled psychedelic circus. As their leaf-storm of lyrics tumbles by, it leaves scratches of faith, fear, things seen from the corners of eyes and in the corners of souls. Flashes of purgatory, intimations of danger – “lovely tornado, / who is such a fucking laugh, / turns up on my turf… Like glass I may crack. / Unlike glass I’ll not be replaced.” The menace lurking in the places where a glittering chord can’t hurl illumination. It’s all of a piece with the band’s fizzing, open spirit of inquiry: it’s the other side of the receiver. Their journey offers fractured glimpses of disturbing places – a kaleidoscopic stream of raw life-jolts, bad comedowns, metaphysical jitters and naked feelings all fusing together.

It takes guts and risk to walk the Bassoon’s kind of wayward line, to let yourself be carried along in the impulses of creating this music’s headlong rush. Towards the end of the gloriously-titled Fuck You Fuck Your Telescope, there’s a panicked, repeating wail of “wake up teetering everyday.” On Blue Junction the music bursts from serenity into pulsing frenzy as soon as Kavus blurts “he was out of the country and down on his luck / when you came out laughing and I came unstuck.” Among the chopping riffs and lofting spirals of Best Of Badluck 97, Kavus is seething and licking wounds. “I broke my neck to kiss her / The year this mother went up to 11. / Saddle-sore and still there’s more… / No sword of iron ever struck such blows. / Such a swarm of death, self-centred I… / Inside I’m six foot deep.” Shortly afterwards, the whole group carols “and I can’t catch up, / and I can’t wake up, / and I won’t grow up, / and I can’t stand up” as if their collective backs are against the wall, and all that they can do is sing the threat away: a harmony of defiance.

The forbidding tones of In The Iceman’s Back Garden (slow, pagan, cathedralline), closes the album like a shower of luminous earth hitting a coffin lid. It’s the sort of epic you’d expect from a band stuck into their fourth album, grown-up, newly spiritual and eager to wrestle with the indifferent savagery of the universe. A world away from the vivacious peekaboo of Wise Guy, it’s no less impressive. If the former was a firework display, Iceman is the glow on the lip of a volcano, showing that The Monsoon Bassoon are just as effective when rooted to the planet and letting something dark and troubling seep through them to the surface. It starts off as dark embers, slowly fanned and building up to destroying flame: an enormous iron clang, then a foreboding clarinet, intoning over the top of a massive, bells-of-doom guitar lattice that’s enough to send most of the Goth bands of the world running home to mother. And this time there’s an almost religious terror in the vocals – a fierce song commemorating the end of something as it has been known, and tinged with fear as to what will happen next.

The voices and lyrics are murky, mysterious, entranced. Faces, dirt, hair, stars, cries and eyes creep out of the word-darkness – little clues. In one of the few clear moments, they’re keening “He won’t dare…” There are a few moments of tumbling vocals, slashing guitars and urgent reeds during which the whole thing seems to whirl: then the guitars flail and the clarinet screams as a fierce, beautiful, terrible light pours down from above. A final, desperately beautiful chant, then they beat our hearts to death with a riff the size of the sky before bursting into a stream of starry feedback that sweeps all before it. If the apocalypse is going to be this beautiful, roll on Doomsday.

Stubborn, ludicrous, gloriously eccentric; ‘I Dig Your Voodoo’ is all these things: but it’s also one of the bravest, most exciting British rock albums of its time… by a long twisty neck. Jumping the tracks with style and a vengeance.

The Monsoon Bassoon: ‘I Dig Your Voodoo’
Weird Neighbourhood Records, WNRS4 (5 024545 078428)
CD-only album
Released:
7th June 1999
Buy it from: Best obtained second-hand. (Note, April 2013 – Believers Roast plan to reissue this along with the rest of the Monsoon Bassoon catalogue at some point in the next few years.)
The Monsoon Bassoon online:
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January 1997 – live reviews – Podsdarapomuk @ The Hope & Anchor, Islington, London, November 13th 1996 & January 23rd 1997 (“passages of dreamlike contemplation with surges of magnificently tangled art-rock splurge”)

29 Jan

Podsdarapomuk - concerted action (photographer unknown).

Podsdarapomuk onstage (photographer unknown).

On an early-November afternoon in 1996, I’d hopped out of a car travelling up from Kent and made my way to one of ‘Organ’ magazine’s “Vital Organ” gigs at the London Astoria 2. As usual, I was following their lead on where newer progressive and psychedelic rock was pushing at the door. At the moment I can’t quite remember who was playing. Some scribbled notes somewhere might tell me that it was Sleepy People (still tootling, yelping and gamely plugging away at their foothold on the capital), or Porcupine Tree (keeping a sharp grip on themselves and gathering speed at their own pace). Or perhaps it was Terry Bickers continuing on the slow, injured trajectory out of his House of Love and Levitation stardom – winding out ashy cigarette-coils of dream guitar with his recently trimmed-down, soon-to-vanish Cradle, he was avoiding eye contact, preparing to evaporate. However, that’s a story for another time, if I can dig the details up.

Over at the merchandise stall, I was leafing through the Organ stock of colour-splashed vinyl and obscure demo tapes – a typically eclectic, magical crop from bands with unknown names, complex influences and musical agendas ignored elsewhere (people were concentrating on Oasis’ gobby bloat, and on the sorry disintegration of The Stone Roses). It was then that I was collared by an earnest young German drummer called Claas Sandbothe: wiry limbs and granny glasses, a schoolboy’s fringe, a grinful of persistent little teeth. He tried to talk me into buying something by his band, Podsdarapomuk; an enthusiastic rave about it from Marina at ‘Organ’ clinched the deal. So I bought Claas’ band’s EP, and it just knocked me out.

Ten days later, and I’m in a pub cellar in Islington as the group takes the stage. Podsdarapomuk turn out to be five young gentlemen-longhairs in suits and ties; German-born (hailing from an out-of-the-way little town near Stuttgart) but London-based (up near Leyton, home to many an intriguing left-field band of late). They look like a young undertaker’s convention. They grin shyly, and sound like…

Daniel Klemm in contemplative mood. (photographer unknown).

Daniel Klemm in contemplative mood. (photographer unknown).

…well, hell, we really are onto something here. Imagine a band with the nervous jazzy edge and contemporary noisy indie-cum-art-rock punch of dEUS, but which also sounds like every period of King Crimson from 1969 to 1996 all rolled into one; apparently taking its melodic cues from Gentle Giant and its double-back musical bungee-jumping from Mr. Bungle or Primus, and stirring in more than a smidgin of John Zorn. That’s what we have here – something complex, wearing its hungry tonal erudition on its sleeve.

But don’t expect wackiness or calisthenics; and while there’s a strong dose of prog to the band, it’s the crepuscular kind. While Podsdarapomuk may have left home, they’ve also brought it with them – trailing sombre Germanic influences, their music prowls rather than jiggles. It has a peculiar, rickety-ghost-house unease to it. Studied, grotesque expressionism wells through the lyrics – images of puppets, of ships in peril, of flowers and beautiful paintings about to have huge, horrible shadows cast over them. Elusive, sinister pictures are etched by the beautiful haunted wail of Daniel Klemm, which rooftop-hops over Lars Puder’s sinewy bass, Klaas’ stalk-and-pat drumming and the dual punch of clawing guitars from brooding main tunesmith/spine-provider Thorsten Pachur and his sweeter foil Christian Schmidt. Debra Scacco (one of London’s art-school journeywomen), guests on flute, offering a sunny smile and journeying melodies which seem to follow their own sweetly oblivious path on top of the raging electric music underneath.

They’re scrupulously polite and smiling throughout: solicitously ensuring that we’re comfortable before they tear into our eardrums. A Dream & Rage In A Cage teeters briefly on Daniel’s eerie chant before the band plunge down into concerted action and a succession of metallic talon feints, as they were trying to blowtorch and harrow fresh life King Crimson’s ‘VROOOM’ via Captain Beefheart restlessness. Heavy jazz-electric riffage ransacks the room on A Fool’s Smile, like a threesome of John McLaughlin, Fred Frith and Hendrix turned bad, all stalking each other with Bowie knives. The punks in the room are confused and sulking. The little knot of proggies present are jamming themselves up near the front to drink it all in. They get it. Crimson-like, the Pods alternate passages of dreamlike contemplation with surges of magnificently tangled art-rock splurge.

Podsdarapomuk's Christian Schmidt conjures a noise (photographer unknown).

Podsdarapomuk’s Christian Schmidt conjures a noise (photographer unknown).

The effect is a bit like unscrewing the back of a magnificent antique clock, only for the clockwork to burst out and ambush you in a chaotic explosion of precision parts. Torn Puppet Without Hands Nor Tongue tumbles into grungy post-Fripp shapes, lunging haphazardly over Daniel’s slice’n’dice vocals and the bebop-y spine of Claas and Lars’ rhythms. On the hunched, hanging Make The King Laugh ( which sometimes sounds like the Shulman brothers soundtracking ‘Twin Peaks’ by way of stuttering trip hop), Christian adds to the unsettling shimmer by tricking alien insect-calls out of his guitar with his slide and the jack-plug.

Podsdarapomuk close the set with the comparative calm of Is It? – a spindled and vulnerable bit of near-acoustica which, again, is reminiscent of Gentle Giant, but which also has the ravaged prayer-feeling of Kurt Cobain. On the final whispering, jazzy chord, it’s as if a door has shut on a world of ever-so-slightly dangerous wonder: one you know you’ll soon want to open again.

*********

Two months and four gigs later… It’s January 1997, and I’m back at the Hope & Anchor watching a group that’s evolving at a frightening speed. Personally, they’re still as polite and amiable as ever, still given to mild surreal humour and little comedies of manners. (In a nod to ‘Don’t Look Back’, Daniel is now holding up cards with the song titles printed on them). In contrast, Podsdarapomuk’s mutable music seems about as stable as nitro-glycerine these days. Watching it go off is a rare thrill. Sometimes the band’s music explodes in a jagged flash of brightness: sometimes it’s just an ominous smoke-cloud rolling out from the stage, filled with glowing cinders and embers.

Thorsten Pachur - Podsdarapomuk's brooding heart (photographer unknown).

Thorsten Pachur – Podsdarapomuk’s brooding heart (photographer unknown).

There’s plenty of new material. The chippy guitar intro of Waiting For God leads into a mating of jazzy-walking with Beefheart word-slicing, and even if you could brush this off as being a little shapeless and jammy, they rock you back on your heels with the following I’m Your Dog, a blistering blast that could have come off the most ferocious moments of ‘Exposure’ via The Jesus Lizard. Another new song swerves along like a sprinter weaving through a minefield, Thorsten and Christian morse-coding their guitars over the kind of skittish body-blocking drum patterns that’d make Bill Bruford weep with joy. Later, they’ll be telling me that they’ve been saving every penny to catch Bob Berg gigs at Ronnie Scott’s: that they’ve been studying with Talvin Singh, and listening to Portishead.

It’s clear that their studies and their omnivorous hunger is flourishing into new creative heights. Most evidently, the restless electric jazz that was always percolating deep down in the Podsdaramomuk sound is starting to flood up now, raising the boats and crowding in at the windows. Songs are evolving – Make The King Laugh has somehow deepened, added layers of delirium and almost become a new genre of dub-prog. When A Dream & Rage In A Cage makes a reappearance, it’s been seductively greased and funked-up; Torn Puppet Without Hands Nor Tongue has become tighter, fiercer. Another new piece, Biscuit Murder Blues, is full of forbidding Bark Psychosis jazz-guitar swells, and effortlessly morphs from Daniel’s sleazeball lounge-lizard singing to frenetic pogo-punk in an eyeblink.

They finish up with the tap-dancing metal-mathcore of Little Bombs, with a shriek of John Coltrane saxophone flown in on tape. I finish up with a dawning belief that Podsdarapomuk could go anywhere from here. Unfortunately, it looks as if it’s going to be Berlin – they’re already planning for the end of their London sojourn, and we’ll only have them until the middle of the year. It’ll take us that long to remember how to pronounce their name properly. Perhaps we should spend the time appreciating what we’ve got, while we have it.

Podsdarapomuk - concerted action (photographer unknown).

Podsdarapomuk – concerted action (photographer unknown).

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