Tag Archives: James Larcombe

June 2019 – assorted upcoming London gigs – Block4 and Lynda Beckett’s multi-media recorder concert (15th), Arch Garrison, Charles Bullen and Kavus Torabi play Clapham Library (15th); cellotronics-and-percussion improv with BirdWorld at Wigmore Hall (18th June); North Sea Radio Orchestra, John Greaves, Annie Barbazza and others reinvent Robert Wyatt in ‘Folly Bololey’ (27th)

11 Jun

Classical/experimental recorder quartet Block4 (featuring Emily Bannister, Lucy Carr, Katie Cowling and Rosie Land on a variety of instruments from bass to sopranino) are offering a mingled kids’ workshop and multi-media live concert – ‘The Art Of Sound’ – this coming Saturday down in Lewisham. Exploring links between music and visual art, the ‘Stargazing’ concert is a live collaboration with line artist Lynda Beckett, who’ll be creating spontaneous artwork (pursuing “sensual, the rhythmic and the non-binary” via line art in which “the glitch and the eternal return are welcome”) during the course of the show.

Block4 & Lynda Beckett: 'The Art of Sound' - 15th June 2019

While I’ve not got much info in terms of a programme, the music will be in keeping with Block4’s wide-spanning approach to genre, which in the past has mixed Renaissance and Baroque music with reinterpretations of Jimi Hendrix, “contemporary consort” ideas involving electronics, and more. It will include a new piece by Andrew Crossley, a composer whose inspirations include Zen Buddhism and a sheaf of hybrid forms of criticism (so expect something with plenty of silences and digressions, perhaps). Here’s an earlier electro-acoustic minimalist piece which Andrew wrote for sub-great bass recorder (travelling from borderline-subliminal low register to a resonant temple-horn call and back again), along with a couple of examples from Block4’s existing repertoire.

 

The workshop, taking place in the morning, ties in with the concept – allowing kids (from six-year-olds upwards) to “explore music performance, composition, drawing, and (to) creat(e) their own unique work of art to take home.” Best to book early for that one.

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Arch Garrison + Charles Bullen + Kavus Torabi, 15th June 2019The timing of the Block4 events also gives you time to slip across London (from the south-east to the south-west) on the same day, in order to take in one of the Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival gigs taking place in the atrium at Clapham Library. Back in April, they hosted the Peter Blegvad Quintet. This month, even as Craig Fortnam limbers up his North Sea Radio Orchestra for an upcoming Café Oto show, he and fellow NSRO-er James Larcombe slip on their guise as the Arch Garrison duo and head down Clapham-wards.

Arch Garrison take the implied baroque in folk baroque and draw it fully out into the light. Craig’s amplified gut-strung fingerstyle acoustic guitar playing has as much Spanish classical to it as it does bullish John Martyn counterpoint (though he’ll more readily cite African-Arabic inspirations like Ali Farka Touré), while James’ dextrous post-classical work on vintage-sounding monosynths makes joyously assured connections between chapel organ studies, progtronic flourishes and psychedelic sound webbings. The Garrison have sometimes been compared to Robyn Hitchcock and Nick Drake, and draw from Tim Smith’s eccentric, unlikely folk wellspring, but they don’t sound like anyone nearly as much as they sound like themselves. The songs, sung in Craig’s soft demotic Wyatt-esque sprawl, start with a lone walking man and travel downwards into conceptual strata of history, geography, familial relationships, art and ageing.



 
There will also be sidestepping solo support sets from Gong/Knifeworld expostulator Kavus Torabi (continuing to mine the unsettled psychedelic angst of his dark-sun guitar-and-harmonium solo EP ‘Solar Divination’ and a related upcoming solo album) and from Charles Bullen, one of the triumvirate behind Camberwell proto-punk experimentalists This Heat during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (and, more recently, behind the band’s recently-retired latter-day reimagining This Is Not This Heat). I’ve no idea whether Charles will be singing; whether he’ll be playing along with guitar, viola, a mess of programmed samples or his clarinet: whether and how the music will connect to This Heat’s experimental jazz-prog collage polemics, the pocket-dub work he explored with Lifetones or the bright and mellow synth-rock sparkle of his Circadian Rhythms project; or even whether he’s going to be starting anew with a completely fresh slate. Anticipate anything.

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North Sea Radio Orchestra/John Greaves/Annie Barbazza, 27th June 2019

Returning to Craig Fortnam – and indeed, to Robert Wyatt – his North Sea Radio Orchestra concert is on 27th June. It’s the live British debut of the NSRO’s ‘Folly Bololey‘ project, which also incorporates Henry Cow bassist/art-rock chansonnier John Greaves and rising prog/art-ensemble singer Annie Barbazza.

North Sea Radio Orchestra/John Greaves/Annie Barbazza, 27th June 2019‘Folly Bololey’ has been around in one shape or form for half a decade, being played at arts concert and Rock In Opposition events in continental Europe, but has only just now crossed the Channel to be performed in Britain. Gently picking up, re-arranging and re-performing various Wyatt works (centring on a complete performance of the ‘Rock Bottom’ song cycle), it sets Wyatt’s flowing, unspooling songs of love, grief, plaintive nonsense and recovery against the pastoral raincloud tug of NSRO’s alt.crossover sensibilities. The results are an interesting blending of Wyatt’s mouth-music jazzing and his deliquescing, playfully vulnerable search for meaningfulness against NSRO’s own softly-yielding Anglo-pastoral formalism (which in turn echoes the open-to-all concert music of another Fortnam forebear, David Bedford).

With Craig acting as master of ceremonies on guitar and Farfisa organ, rounding out the ensemble are NSRO reed and cello regulars Nicky Baigent, Luke Crookes and Harry Escott plus Greaves band member Laurent Valero on strings and recorders and William D. Drake (the former Cardiacs keyboard wizard who turned into a touchingly surreal, avuncular chamber-folkster). Handling the tuned and untuned percussion are Gong drummer Cheb Nettles and vibraphonist Tommaso Franguelli (from Piacenza percussion group Tempus Fugit).


 
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On Tuesday 18th, cello/electronics/percussion duo BirdWorld are playing an informal set at the Wigmore Hall’s Bechstein Bar. (When I last touched on them here, they were playing the Frome Festival three years back – too long ago.)

BirdWorld, 18th June 2019

Migrating between twin home-bases of London and Oslo, BirdWorld are cellist/effects twiddler Gregor Riddell and drummer/percussionist Adam Teixeira. For a while, guitarist Alex Stuart was also in the picture; but it’s always been about the core duo, who met in Canada, discussed electronic/acoustic blendings and built from there. Aspects of improvisation, jazz, field recordings and cross-cultural music – plus experimental rock and classical and a battery of kalimbas – wing lightly in and out of their work, which has included film scoring and radio work; and (as of this year) their five-year-delayed debut EP ‘TING TAR TID’, released (in keeping with BirdWorld’s folkloric leanings) on the vernal equinox.


 
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All dates:

Block4 & Lynda Beckett: ‘The Art Of Sound’
St Mary the Virgin Parish Church, 346 Lewisham High Street, Lewisham, London, SE13 6LE, England
Saturday 15th June 2019 – children’s workshop 10.00am, concert 3.00pm
(concert free for under-18 year olds) – information here

Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival presents:
Arch Garrison + Charles Bullen + Kavus Torabi
Clapham Library, 91 Clapham High Street, Clapham, London, SW4 7DB, England
Saturday 15th June 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

BirdWorld
Bechstein Bar @ Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 2BP, England
Tuesday 18th June 2019, 6.15pm
– information here and here

North Sea Radio Orchestra/John Greaves/Annie Barbazza play ‘Folly Bololey’ (Robert Wyatt’s ‘Rock Bottom’)
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Thursday 27th June 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

June 2018 – upcoming chamber-fusion and Rock In Opposition gigs in London – North Sea Radio Orchestra (2nd June); Lindsey Cooper Songbook with The Watts, John Greaves and Chlöe Herington (16th June)

24 May

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

North Sea Radio Orchestra are bringing their chamber-fusion sound to south London as part of the Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival. They’re a leafy and lambent confection of strings, reeds, nylon-strong guitar, boutique post-Stereolab keyboards and softened brass, fronted by the heartfelt disparate vocals of husband and wife team Sharron and Craig Fortnam (one a clarion carol, the other a papery whisper-croon).

Given the Festival’s context, they might pull out a few of the pieces with which they initially made their name a decade-and-a-half ago – garlanded, illuminated settings of Thomas Hardy, William Blake and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Either way, come for an evening which merges English country-garden airiness with German experimental rock boffinry and Zappa-styled tuned-percussion tinkles. Regular gigmate and sometime NSRO contributor William D. Drake was scheduled for a support slot, but since an injury put him out of action for the summer, he’s had to pull out. There may or may not be a suitable replacement.




 
Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival presents:
North Sea Radio Orchestra
Clapham Library, Mary Seacole Centre, 91 Clapham High Street, Clapham, London, SW4 7DB, England
Saturday 2nd June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

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Lindsay Cooper Songbook, 16th June 2018

There’s a tenuous but true link between NSRO and Yumi Hara’s Half The Sky project. On top of the existing ties of friendship, they’re both mostly-acoustic chamber music projects with prominent bassoon and an electric experimental rock component; both focus predominantly on a single composer; both lean (implicitly or explicitly) towards the ‘70s Canterbury scene and sound.

However, where NSRO has a core of sweetness Half The Sky is decidedly umami. Set up to curate, recreate and perform the work of the late Lindsay Cooper (and specialising in the repertoire she put out for the groups Henry Cow, News From Babel and Music for Films) theirs is a knottier, more querying sound: a winding road full of debate and pointings, animated but affectionate.

There have been shifts in the band recently. While Yumi continues on keyboards and lever harp alongside co-founder/former Cow drummer Chris Cutler, and singer Dagmar Krause was added as the primary vocalist for last year’s European dates, the band now features John Greaves on bass and keyboards and Tim Hodgkinson on reeds and lap steel, bringing its ex-Cow member count up to four (with Chlöe Herington still on hand to add more assorted reeds). They’ve kept the fifty-fifty male/female player ratio which reflected their original title, but have now taken up the more sober, less whimsical name of Lindsay Cooper Songbook. This will be the debut of the new crew, but here’s video of various previous lineups of the band in action in London and Japan…



 
The evening also features three support sets drawn from the ensemble. Making their British debut, The Watts unites Yumi Hara with Tim Hodgkinson and Chris Cutler in a post-Cow trio. John Greaves adds a solo performance of his own songs on voice and piano, and Chlöe Herington (following the development of her VALVE project into a collective female trio which, in some respects, echoes Lindsay’s work with FIG) will be returning to her own solo roots with music for bassoon and electronics. If there are any gaps left, staunch ‘Organ’-ista Marina Organ will be filling them with her DJ set, drawing on the horde of fringe-rock and experimental records she plays on her Resonance FM show.

Lindsay Cooper Songbook + The Watts + John Greaves + Chlöe Herington + DJ Marina Organ
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Saturday 16th June 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

There’ll be a second chance to catch them this summer – at the Zappanale in Bad Doberan Germany on 21st July. For those who missed my Lindsay summary last time, here’s a trimmed version:

“Long before the knot of current pop-culture wrangling over women’s control over the music they make, (Lindsay) was plugging away in her own corner, striving (and ultimately succeeding) for much the same thing in the often arid and unforgiving spaces of British art rock, improv and jazz… Pinning down the nature of a woman’s work in art – or women’s work in general – is not always an easy thing, nor even desirable. Even the most positive intentions can produce more restrictive categories, more unwanted boxings and demands to conform.

“In the case of Lindsay, whose career always foregrounded honest effort and end product over personality showboating, and which was tinted by doubt and determination, it’s probably best to concentrate mostly on the mind behind the music: to listen to the querying voice coming through. Operating over a set of times in which both contemporaries and colleagues had a tendency towards answers and stances, stated in both bald pronouncements and modernist-baroque ornamentations, she opted to bring a more questioning tone which nonetheless carried some of its possible answers in both action and presentation.

“Hers was a polymathic but purer musicality: an instrumental voice which voyaged alongside others’ often harsher pronouncements, détournements and doctrines and drew from them while never being subject to them, and which always kept a gentler, more accommodating side open to allow growing space and to consistently rebuild… She was responsible for most of the piled jazzy grandeur of the second side (of Henry Cow’s ‘Western Culture’) finding previously unexplored links between the music of New York, Canterbury and Switzerland)…

“In the late ’70s Lindsay had already formed the witty, subversive Feminist Improvising Group, or FIG (which) not only enabled previously sidelined female voices onto the improv scene but deliberately upturned expectations as to what such a scene could achieve. FIG were spontaneous, mutually supportive and – just as importantly – funny. With a strong and personal rooting in lesbian, class-based and feminist activism (plus parallel feelings of sidelining and denial on the part of others) but a suspicion of dogma, they expressed frustration and political challenge by drawing on a collective sense of the absurd and of the sympathetic… Men carped, frowned and cold-shouldered; women laughed, argued and sometimes welcomed; the group members continually challenged their own sense of self and role; but the work itself sounds joyously unshackled – something I would have loved to have been around to see…

“Post-Cow and FIG, Lindsay ran her own Film Music Orchestra to create and record arthouse soundtracks (often working in cinematic cahoots with Sally Potter). She rejoined Chris Cutler for the 1980s post-Marxist art-song project News From Babel (in which) Chris’ social and political musings would make a happier marriage with the pop-cabaret end of Lindsay’s music. She also contributed to the counter-cultural jazz colours of various Mike Westbrook and John Wolf Brennan bands, played with Pere Ubu ranter David Thomas, worked in theatre and (in the ’90s) composed a more formal chamber music which nonetheless retained the edge and inquiring spirit of her work in avant-rock and political art. She’d collaborate with Potter again for the Cold War song cycle ‘Oh, Moscow’ in the late ’80s, to which Chris Cutler also contributed. If encroaching multiple sclerosis (which had privately dogged her throughout her post-Cow career) hadn’t dragged her into early retirement in the late ’90s, there would have been more.

“(Lindsay Cooper Songbook) provide a welcome re-introduction to Lindsay’s work, performed by committed people whose sympathy with Lindsay Cooper’s music is absolute. However, they should also be viewed as a window onto the wider career of a quietly remarkable woman whose death in 2013 forced a premature coda onto the work of a mind whose personal humility had been more than balanced by its nimbleness, thoughtful and flexibility. Come along to these concerts and hear some of that mindwork and heartwork come alive again.”
 

May/June 2018 – gigs for Crayola Lectern in London and Brighton with Joss Cope, The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Husband and others t.b.c. (16th May, 1st June); ‘A Spring Symposium’ fundraiser for Tim Smith near Salisbury with Lake Of Puppies, Arch Garrison, Crayola Lectern, Bob Drake, Kemper Norton and Emily Jones (12th May)

1 May

Crayola Lectern + Joss Cope + The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Husband, 16th May 2018First things first: the murmuring, brass-dappled Crayola Lectern trio are making their way up for a rare London gig in the middle of May, followed by a Brighton launch show for the new Crayola Lectern album, ‘Happy Endings’, at the start of June. The vehicle for Chris Anderson’s tidal, sometimes melancholic, often softly funny songs – low-key dramas of reflection, resignation and not-quite acceptance – they’re powered by his piano, Al Strachan’s sleepy cornet and percussion and Brighton uberdrummer Damo Waters’ parallel skills on keyboards.

It’s not been confirmed yet who’s joining in at Brighton, though the whispers are that it’ll be someone – or several someones – drawn from Chris’ Brighton psychedelic circles, which includes driving psych-rock ensemble ZOFFF, Kemper Norton (more on whom shortly), CLOWWNS and Spratleys Japs. However, the London bill has its two support acts.

Psych-pop journeyman Joss Cope, armed with his strongest project yet (last year’s ‘Unrequited Lullabies’) will be along for the ride. I recently described the album as “a luscious living-room tranche of psych-pop with a sharp wit; dappled with dextrous pop guitars, carousel prog, fake horns and laps of Mellotron”. Live, you may get a little less of the texturing, but you’ll still get the songs: chatty, wry commentaries on a world wobbling off the rails. The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Husband also happens to be Nick Howiantz, who otherwise divides his time between running Brixton Hill Studios and fronting sporadic, noisy Brighton psych-pop rompers Ham Legion. I’ve no idea about what’s behind the genderswapping ecclesiastical mask, but he/she/they are being tagged as a “veritable modern day Syd Barrett”, so come along and see whether that’s a claim worth claiming or whether it falls interestingly wide of the mark.




 
Dates:

  • Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England, Wednesday 16th May 2018, 7:30pm (with Joss Cope + The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Husband) – information here, here and here
  • The Rose Hill, 70-71 Rosehill Terrace, Brighton, BN1 4JL, England, Friday 1st June 2018, 8.00pm (support t.b.c.) – information here

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A Spring Symposium (for Tim Smith), 12th May 2018
I was talking about Crayola – and William D. Drake – only a few posts ago, as regards their Worthing fundraiser for Tim Smith on 19th May. A week before that, both of them (in various permutations) will be joining another Tim fundraiser – this one an all-dayer in Coombe Bissett, nestled in the Wiltshire chalk downs south-west of Salisbury.

‘A Spring Symposium’ is the brainchild – or heartchild – of onetime Cornish folkie Emily Jones, who’s now joined the cluster of Cardiacs family musicians living around Salisbury. Her own songs of seal-wives, haunted bungalows, witchery and other glimpses beyond the vale will be part of the event, alongside contributions from various other characters well-known to Cardiacs followers or to aficionados of certain weird-folk, Rock in Opposition and hauntological camps.




 
Emily’s near-neighbours, Craig and Sharron Fortnam of North Sea Radio Orchestra, will be taking part in various permutations. Craig will be bringing along his Arch Garrison duo with James Larcombe, singing soft songs (on gut-strung acoustic guitar and buzzing organs and monosynths) about long walks, lost brothers, ancient roads, dogs, death and bereavement and the various gentle tug-of-wars between family and necessary solitude, compromise and truthfulness, art and earning. Craig and Sharron will both be playing in a second reunion of Lake Of Puppies, the rollicking, affectionate acoustic-psychedelic folk-pop band they formed with avuncular ex-Cardiac and alternative keyboard virtuoso William D. Drake over twenty years ago. During the mid-‘90s they’d play regular small gigs around London; bobbing up with their bouncy songs of life, good humour and growing things, like a rosy apple in a tub. Sadly, they went their separate and amiable ways after only a few years and no more than a couple of rough demos. Having reconvened in the summer of 2013 (for a lovingly received appearance at the Alphabet Business Convention), they promptly disappeared again, but have been working out a long-delayed debut album on the quiet. Some of that ought to show up at this concert. See below for a couple of dashes of their particular flavour. Large Life might be billed as Bill’s, but it’s Puppies to the bone, and their 2013 set from Salisbury should give you an idea as to how they are now.




 
I’ve already mentioned the Crayola Lectern set; there’ll also be one from Bob Drake (the onetime 5uus and Thinking Plague guy currently bouncing around the country on a tour of his own). Sit at Uncle Bobby’s feet; listen to his electric guitar jangle, pop and change its mind every other mid-phrase; and take in some loveably bizarre constantly changing one-minute songs about sinister meerkats, experiments gone wrong, and the way in which assorted eldritch beasts from dark dimensions annoyingly disrupt your life, your shopping and your evening’s relaxation. If Ogden Nash, Fred Frith, Roald Dahl and Neil Young had all crept up to H.P. Lovecraft’s house one larky summer’s evening with a pint of moonshine and some tall tales – and really made him laugh – it would have sounded something like this.


 
While there may be a couple of extra guests showing up as a surprise, the Symposium roster is formally rounded off by Kemper Norton and by Libbertine Vale – the former an electro-acoustic folk-culture miner of music and landscapes, (armed with instruments, electronics and field recordings to remap both physical terrain and song terrains), the latter the Omnia Opera/7shades singer who’s revealed herself as a rebel Midlands folkie, digging deep into the more macabre corners of the folk-song catalogue and coming back with “uncomfortable songs about death, a capella sqwarking that will kill or heal your ears, dependent on your disposition.” It’s tough to track Libby down on the web, but here’s a bit of Kemper.



 
There’s only ten days to go ‘til the event, but there’s still time to arrange to get there. There’ll be cakes and ale, there’ll be vegetarian food; Tim Smith himself will probably be in attendance, and Emily’s suggested that you caravan-camp out on the chalk downs. If this English May makes its mind up (and settles for being a good springsummer), it all ought to be lovely.

Emily Jones presents:
A Spring Symposium: Lake of Puppies + Crayola Lectern + Arch Garrison + Bob Drake + Kemper Norton + Libbertine Vale + Emily Jones
Coombe Bissett Village Hall, Shutts Lane, Homington Road, Coombe Bissett, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 4LU, England
Saturday 12th May 2018, 2.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

April/May 2018 – solo tours in Britain/Europe for Kavus Torabi and Cosmo Sheldrake (4th April to 24th May various, with guest appearances from I See Rivers, Paul Morricone, Bunty, V Ä L V E, Peaks, Arch Garrison, Madilan, Stephen Evens, Bovril, Redbus Noface and May The Night Bless You With Heavenly Dreams)

25 Mar

It’s not exactly surprising that Kavus Torabi has finally gone solo. There’s too much hopeful, demanding inventiveness in him ever to submit entirely to the dynamics of a group, despite the fact that he’s currently got at least three on the go, most of them with him at the helm – the brassy lysergically-illuminated avant-pop of Knifeworld; the ritual instrumentalism of Guapo, and the cantering countercultural circus of Gong (transferred onto his lanky shoulders, history and all, following the 2015 death of Daevid Allen).

What’s more surprising is the direction he’s chosen for the first records under his own name (the new ‘Solar Divination’ EP and a full upcoming album for later in the year). A darker, more agrarian take on his psychedelic homeground, this time it’s drumless, bassless, hornless – rinsed clear of the capering squirrel energy he’s shown for twenty-odd years, in order to reveal muted, angsty bones. Mostly based around slow, smoky-lunged harmonium stretches and sparse flotsam drags of guitar chording, this is a more foreboding turn of song, haunted by deaths, loss and disintegrations. It’s never mopey or lachrymose, thank goodness (even in Knifeworld or The Monsoon Bassoon, Kavus knew how to undercut joyous tootling with passing shadows without souring the milk) but these new songs are overcast with sombre vulnerability: the gravel-grain in Kavus’ voice welling up from deeper, ghostlier territories than before.



 
Despite being a couple of decades younger than Kavus, Cosmo Sheldrake has been out on his own for a bit longer. It’s been four-and-a-half years since Cosmo put out anything as part of super-eclectic mongrel troupe Gentle Mystics, but during that time he’s been gently dabbing the release schedules with occasional singles, videos and EPs of his own. Earlier work brought some of the Mystics weird and charming vibe along with it: a homemade-toy, party-in-the-fairy-forest feeling, Cosmo lilting skewed nursery-rhyme verses over softly bouncing weaves of melody. In the videos, he came across as a generous digital troubadour on a set of meandering visitations, playing his lashed-up keyboards-and-tech assemblages for performances in model villages, truck beds, pigsties and fishing boats.

Byronic-looking but Branestawm-minded, Cosmo’s a shed-pop tinkerer and a baffling multi-instrumentalist with a mixed mystical/academic background. Part kid’s entertainer and part hippy-boffin, he has a shamanical nose for the margin between nonsense and connection. More recent efforts (trailing the imminent release of his debut album ‘The Much Much How How and I’) have seen chewier, pacier and poppier songs. The videos, meanwhile, have become an ingenious riot of increasingly theatrical, fantastical and sometimes macabre fabling in which foil monsters swim in canvas seas and giant fluffy headlice run amok. There’s a communal, childlike warmth to what he does: not perhaps a guileless wonder, but a sense of celebration, where fables and singalongs and misadventures become part of the accepted, useful junk with which we build our nests.



 
Kavus’ upcoming tour is a brief series of simmering April dots around England and Wales; Cosmo’s is a more leisurely, lengthy two-month loop, garlanding the British Isles and western Europe. They’re not sharing any shows, or even any venues. The only time they overlap in any respect is on the 25th of April, when they’re playing different but simultaneous one-man shows a stone’s throw apart in Bristol. It would be nice to think of them looking up midset on that one evening, peering across that city-central loop of the Avon, and nodding to each other. Not necessarily natural comrades but, in their way, parallel leywalkers. Each with a bit of Barrett in the back pocket, each with a peculiar charm of innocence, each with fingertips in the otherworldly and the mythic. The uncontainables…

Kavus’ tour also happens to be a chance to catch an intriguing spread of fellow musicians, reflecting the wide body of musical ideas and affinities he touches upon. While in Margate (squeezed into a former Victorian coach house transformed into the Japanese/Alpine cheese dream of a minature theatre), he lines up with two left-field folk acts: the organ-draped, ridge-walking green-chapel psychedelia of Arch Garrison and the mysterious brand-new “wonk-folk” of Bovril (featuring Tuung’s Mike Lindsay). In Birmingham, the bill sharer is Scaramanga Six songwriter Paul Morricone, providing gutsy acoustic songs of fear and brutality with lashing of dark Yorkshire humour. Paul and Kavus also reunite in York for the Tim Smith fundraiser Evening of Fadeless Splendour, alongside the off-kilter art rock of Redbus Noface and the sarcastic-bastard English songcraft of Stephen Gilchrist (a.k.a. Stephen Evens).




 
On his Manchester date, Kavus will be supported by Peaks (Ben Forrester, formerly of shouty slacker-punk duo Bad Grammar and Manc math-rock supertrio Gug, now performing “loop-driven emo pop”). In London, it’ll be V Ä L V E – once an avant-garde solo project (full of belches and found sounds, situational scoring and sound-art jokes) for Kavus’ Knifeworld bandmate Chloe Herington, now an increasingly ubiquitous three-woman live trio (evolved and evolving into a warm-hearted feminist/Fluxus/Rock In Opposition massing of harps, bassoon, punk bass and singalong bunker-folk). In Leeds, Kavus plays the quiet support act in a free gig for tintinnabulating Sheffield post-metallers May The Night Bless You With Heavenly Dreams (whose echoing tremstrumental pinings add a little magical shimmy to the usual doleful post-rock astronomy) and Bristolian experimental rockers Madilan (whose songs recall both the angst-shredded psychedelic night-journeys of Oceansize and also, in their spindly electronics and Autotuned vocal musing, post-Oceansize rocktronicists British Theatre).




 
In contrast, most of Cosmo’s dates are solo – possibly because once he’s unshipped his assorted instruments and gizmos (from euphoniums and banjos to loop pedals and pennywhistles), there’s not much room for anyone else in the dressing room. Nonetheless, support for eight of the European April dates comes from Liverpool-based Norwegian girl trio I See Rivers, who wed their outstanding and eerily resonant Scandinavian vocal harmonies, sunny dispositions and scanty guitar to their own balloon-light, touching folk-pop songs and to heart-thawing covers of Daughter (Medicine), George Ezra (Budapest), and Whitney Houston (‘80s wedding fave I Wanna Dance With Somebody).



 
For the London album launch for ‘The Much Much How How and I’, Cosmo and I See Rivers are joined by Bunty“multi-dimensional beat merchant and vocal juggler” Kassia Zermon. Also to be found fronting jazz/junk/folk trio Le Juki, co-fronting dub act Resonators, and co-running Brightonian experimental label Beatabet, Kassia’s run Bunty for years as a loopstation-based “one woman electro-orchestra” bolstered by her multi-instrumentalism and vivid imagination. Parallels with Cosmo are clear (the looping and beatboxing, a life blossoming with social art initiatives and therapeutic work beyond the entertainments) and she guests on one of the ‘Much Much’ tracks (very much an equal passing through, with a cheeky hug and a bit of upstaging), but her own vision is distinct. Giddier, jazzier, less directly English in its whimsy, with input from her Moroccan heritage and from her taste for Andy Kaufman; a slightly more cosmic playbox; imaginary languages; an undiluted Brightonian fabulosity.

Kassia’s last Bunty album, ‘Multimos’, was a pocket-sized multimedia event spanning apps, interactive AV, dream machines, audience choirs and gaming cues. Time and occasion will probably only allow a smidgin of that, this time around, but it’ll be a window onto her explosively colourful world.



 

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Kavus’ full tour dates:

 

Cosmo’s full tour dates:

  • More Human Than Human @ The Haunt, 10 Pool Valley, Brighton, BN1 1NJ, England, 4th April 2018, 7.00pm (+ I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England, Thursday 5th April 2018, 7.30pm (album launch, with Bunty + I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Soup Kitchen, 31-33 Spear Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1DF, England, Friday 6th April 2018, 7.00pm (+ tbc) – information here and here
  • Headrow House, 19 The Headrow, LS1 6PU Leeds, Saturday 7th April 2018, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Fluc + Fluc Wanne, Praterstern 5, 1020 Vienna, Austria, Austria, Monday 9th April 2018, 8.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Feierwerk, Hansastr. 39-41, 81373 Munich, Germany, Tuesday 10th April 2018, 7.30pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Artheater, Ehrenfeldgürtel 127, 50823 Cologne, Germany, Wednesday 11th April 2018, 8.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information
  • Molotow, Nobistor 14, 22767 Hamburg, Germany, Thursday 12th April 2018, 7.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Lido, Cuvrystrasse 7, 10997 Berlin, Germany, Friday 13th April 2018, 8.00pm (with I See Rivers) – information here and here
  • Paradiso, Weteringschans 6-8, 1017SG Amsterdam, Netherlands, Tuesday 17th April 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EJ, England, Wednesday 25th April 2018, 7.30pm (+ tbc) – information here and here
  • Ancienne Belgique, Anspachlaan 110, 1000 Brussels, Belgium, Friday 27th April 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Ninkasi Gerland Kafé, 267 Rue Marcel Mérieux, 69007 Lyon, France, Wednesday 2nd May 2018, 8.30pm – information here
  • Point Éphémère, 200 Quai de Valmy, 75010 Paris, France, Thursday 3rd May 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Unplugged in Monti @ Black Market Art Gallery, Via Panisperna 101, Rione Monti, 00184 Rome, Italy, Wednesday 9th May 2018, 7.00pm – information here
  • Serraglio, Via Gualdo Priorato 5, 20134 Milan, Italy, Thursday 10th May 2018, 9.00pm – information here and here
  • Freakout Club, Via Emilio Zago, 7c, 40128 Bologna, Italy, Friday 11th May 2018, 9.00pm – information here
  • The Hug and Pint, 171 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G4 9AW, Scotland, Tuesday 22nd May 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Globe, 125 Albany Road, Cardiff, CF24 3PE, Wales, Wednesday 23rd May 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Plug, Sheffield, Thursday 24th May 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

 

June 2017 – upcoming London/German gigs – Lindsay Cooper remembered by Half The Sky (22nd June – plus Avantgarde Festival appearance on 25th June)

15 Jun
Half The Sky, 22nd June 2017

Half The Sky (photo © Jean-Hervé Péron)

Long before the knot of current pop culture wrangling over women’s control over the music they make, the late Lindsay Cooper was plugging away in her own corner, striving (and ultimately succeeding) for much the same thing in the often arid and unforgiving spaces of British art rock, improv and jazz. Later this month, the Half The Sky ensemble (led by vigorous curator/arranger /multi-instrumentalist Yumi Hara) will be bringing their showcase of her music both to London and to a small town outside Hamburg, re-animating the work she created for Henry Cow, News From Babel and Music For Films between the late ’70s and the mid-’80s.

Originally formed in 2015 for festival appearances in Japan and France, Half The Sky derive their name from the Maoist/feminist maxim, “women hold up half the sky”, as used by Lindsay as a composition title on Henry Cow’s ‘Western Culture’ album, back in 1978) and feature an impressive alliance of British and Japanese art-rock musicians. As well as Yumi on keyboards, lever harp and vocals, the ensemble features two members of Cicala-Mvta (Miwazow on koto, ching-dong percussion and voice; Wataru Okhuma on alto saxophone and clarinet), the Korekyojinn/Altered States bass guitarist Nasuno Mitsuru; Chlöe Herington (the reeds and melodica player from Knifeworld, Chrome Hoof and V Ä L V Ē) and finally two of Lindsay’s former Henry Cow/News From Babel colleagues (singer Dagmar Krause and drummer Chris Cutler). As Yumi points out, “the gender split follows Lindsay’s general practice and the example of the original bands – Henry Cow (50% female) and News from Babel (75% female).”

Yumi’s comments on the music:

“In 2013, soon after Lindsay passed away, Matthew Watkins made a call for arrangements of her mini-composition ‘Slice’ for a special edition of his podcast ‘Canterbury Sans Frontières‘. I made a transcription of the piece and recorded it for solo clavichord. Chris Cutler and I also played it in Japan and New York. A little later, inspired by the three memorial concerts Chris Cutler organised in 2014 with the original bands, I put Half The Sky together to play Lindsay’s music in Japan.

“With the exception of ‘Slice’, it was only after – and because of – the 2014 concerts that any working scores for the Henry Cow pieces became available, having been painstakingly assembled from Lindsay’s notebooks, original band-members’ surviving parts and careful analysis of the recordings. A handful of the News from Babel songs – none of which had ever been performed live – had already been reconstructed for the memorial concert by Zeena Parkins; the rest I had to work out from scratch – as well as rearranging everything for a mixture of occidental and oriental instruments.

“This programme is approached very much as a music of the present – and not as an academic reconstruction.”

In addition to Half The Sky’s performance, the London show will feature DJ sets from two of London’s more interesting musical personalities. Marina Organ’s known both for three decades of staunch work as writer/co-driving force of ‘Organ’ magazine and for her indefatigable DJ/interviewing work on ‘The Other Rock Show’. James Larcombe is the keyboard player and sometime composer with Stars In Battledress, Arch Garrison, North Sea Radio Orchestra, Zag & The Coloured Beads and the William D. Drake band; now he seems to be extending his talents (or at least his brassy neck), to disc-spinning.

Half the Sky: Music of Lindsay Cooper

  • Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England, Thursday 22nd June 2017, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Avantgarde Festival, Steinhorster Weg 2, 23847 Schiphorst, Deutschland, Sunday 25th June 2017, 2.15pm – information here and here


 
* * * * * * * *

Pinning down the nature of a woman’s work in art – or women’s work in general – is not always an easy thing, nor even desirable. Even the most positive intentions can produce more restrictive categories, more unwanted boxings and demands to conform. In the case of Lindsay, whose career always foregrounded honest effort and end product over personality showboating, and which was tinted by doubt and determination, it’s probably best to concentrate mostly on the mind behind the music: to listen to the querying voice coming through.

Operating over a set of times in which both contemporaries and colleagues had a tendency towards answers and stances, stated in both bald pronouncements and modernist-baroque ornamentations, she opted to bring a more questioning tone which nonetheless carried some of its possible answers in both action and presentation. Hers was a polymathic but purer musicality: an instrumental voice which voyaged alongside others’ often harsher pronouncements, détournements and doctrines and drew from them while never being subject to them, and which always kept a gentler, more accommodating side open to allow growing space and to consistently rebuild.

Although she also put in stints with both the cheery Canterbury fusioneering of National Health and the terrifying dark-folk band Comus during the 1970s, Lindsay was probably best known for her work with the powerful political chamber-prog of proto-Rock In Opposition ensemble Henry Cow (a creative ferment which she joined and left twice and, like most Cow-ers, never entirely left behind). Having initially brought in her toolkit of reeds, woodwind and piano skills to play on the band’s second album ‘Unrest’, she subsequently made small inroads into the writing, contributing to a number of group compositions on ‘In Praise of Learning’ and the ‘Concerts’ set. As a composer, though, she finally came into her own on the band’s final, all-instrumental statement ‘Western Culture’, on which she was responsible for most of the piled jazzy grandeur of the second side (finding previously unexplored links between the music of New York, Canterbury and Switzerland).

Lindsay Cooper

Lindsay Cooper

Perhaps more significantly, by this point in the late ’70s Lindsay had already formed the witty, subversive Feminist Improvising Group, or FIG; a project which she co-ran with vocalist Maggie Nichols in parallel with her Cow work. Generally considered to be the preoccupation and property of educated, intense, white men, the British and European free improvising of the time tended to be a little short on jokes (bar occasional pranking along the lines of the Free Art Research Trio). FIG allied Lindsay and Maggie with various other musical and performance talents – “feminist rock” trumpeter Corine Liensol (who’d played in Jam Today with a young Deirdre Cartwright), pianist Cathy Williams (who’d worked with another Cow-er, Geoff Leigh, in the Rag Doll duo), future filmmaker Sally Potter, latterday Cow cellist Georgie Born and Swiss free-jazz pianist Irène Schweizer (the last being allegedly the only European female improviser on the ‘60s and ‘70s scene). In classic feminist tradition, FIG not only enabled previously sidelined female voices onto the improv scene but deliberately upturned expectations as to what such a scene could achieve.

In comparison to the demanding and abstruse Maoist politics of Henry Cow (which, in private, sometimes resembled a brutally masculine university debating society preoccupied with games of political high-grounding), FIG were spontaneous, mutually supportive and – just as importantly – funny. With a strong and personal rooting in lesbian, class-based and feminist activism (plus parallel feelings of sidelining and denial on the part of others) but a suspicion of dogma, they expressed frustration and political challenge by drawing on a collective sense of the absurd and of the sympathetic. In addition to the music, their shows featured parodic stagings and examinations of domestic work (such as kitchenwork and cleaning) and of consumer preoccupations. Vegetables were peeled onstage; household tools such as dustpans and brooms pressed into service as props and noisemakers; oppressive or manipulative memes transformed into call-and-response singing.

Reading accounts of FIG work reveals a tale of tough gigs, audience misunderstandings and frequent frustration. Men carped, frowned and cold-shouldered; women laughed, argued and sometimes welcomed; the group members continually challenged their own sense of self and role; but the work itself sounds joyously unshackled – something I would have loved to have been around to see. It’s a shame that much improv and theatrical work is always of the moment and tends to vanish like dew in the morn. Without recorded evidence or restaging, it fades into hearsay, and in this case an important chapter in Lindsay’s work has to dwell in a kind of word-of-mouth samizdat.

Post-Cow and FIG, Lindsay ran her own Film Music Orchestra to create and record arthouse soundtracks (often working in cinematic cahoots with Sally Potter). She rejoined another former Cow colleague ((the now-mellowed Chris Cutler) for the 1980s post-Marxist art-song project News From Babel: here, Chris’ social and political musings would make a happier marriage with the pop-cabaret end of Lindsay’s music. She also contributed to the counter-cultural jazz colours of various Mike Westbrook and John Wolf Brennan bands, played with Pere Ubu ranter David Thomas, worked in theatre and (in the ’90s) composed a more formal chamber music which nonetheless retained the edge and inquiring spirit of her work in avant-rock and political art. She’d collaborate with Potter again for the Cold War song cycle ‘Oh, Moscow’ in the late ’80s, to which Chris Cutler also contributed. If encroaching multiple sclerosis (which had privately dogged her throughout her post-Cow career) hadn’t dragged her into early retirement in the late ’90s, there would have been more.

Half The Sky provide a welcome re-introduction to Lindsay’s work, performed by committed people whose sympathy with Lindsay Cooper’s music is absolute. However, they should also be viewed as a window onto the wider career of a quietly remarkable woman whose death in 2013 forced a premature coda onto the work of a mind whose personal humility had been more than balanced by its nimbleness, thoughtful and flexibility. Come along to these concerts and hear some of that mindwork and heartwork come alive again.


 

May 2017 – upcoming London and Brighton gigs – Roar, Steve Strong and Tony協Yap get noisy (May 21st); Prescott and The Evil Usses spiralize our ears (May 24th); MUMMY curate a free cavalcade of psychedelia/folk/oddpop on the side of the Alternative Escape festival (May 19th)

16 May

Roar + Steve Strong + Tony協Yap, 21st May 2017

Best of Bandcamp, SPREAD and New River Studios present:
Roar + Steve Strong + Tony協Yap
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Sunday 21st May 2017, 6.00pm
information

Yokohama band Roar (dipping into London as part of a British and American tour) are a two-piece of Shusei on guitar and Taketo on drums. Noisy and immediate, their sound’s an immediately accessible, unconstrained rock sound churning together aspects of surf music, Hendrix, Nirvana, Foetus and The Melvins.

Two support acts add to the fray. Steve Strong provides his usual one-man-band post-rock loop act, layering assertive, precise live drumkit work with rattling spidery guitar riffs and surging wads of noise texture. Keyboard player Gman Leong & drummer Alessandro Salzano make up London experimental noise/beat duo Tony協Yap: more live drumkit, this time paired with abrasive synth jabs and snarls. Taunting us with the possibility of dynamics, they usually come at us full-tilt – a jammed rave cannonade with occasional vivid lacunae of downtime and ebbed space, stripped and shaped by small sounds (such as the ring of Alessandro’s singing-bowl).





 

* * * * * * * *

Prescott + The Evil Usses, 24th May 2017

Prescott presents:
Prescott + The Evil Usses
Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England
Wednesday 24th May 2017, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Like Tony協Yap, the dogged, quirky Prescott are a band who know a thing or two about teasing. A vehicle for the cellular, bafflingly elasticated compositions of onetime Stump bassist Kev Hopper, they’re also an excuse for underground art-rock drummer Frank Byng, out-there guitarist Keith Moliné and improbable synth player Rhodri Marsden to unpredictably shunt each other around pitch and beat.

With the various members drawing on stints with projects as diverse/perverse as Pere Ubu, Snorkel, The Keatons, Scritti Politti, The Free French, Ticklish and This Is Not This Heat, there’s plenty of scope and impetus for lateral thinking, coupled with a poker-faced goofy accessibility. Their second album, ‘Thing Or Two’, is another stylish raspberry in the face of sensibility and torpor. Imagine the swoop and ping of Brand X rendered in far too many inappropriate Lego bricks; imagine Weather Report fed on a diet of Dada and No Wave; imagine a fusillade of perky post-punk blips like XTC spending a stint as a Koji Kondo covers band.

In support, there’s Bristol’s The Evil Usses, whom I last encountered in the runup to Bristol’s Wakizashi festival last October, and whom I described back then as “a deconstructive, fiercely humorous No Wave jazz-rock quartet, who share some of Knifeworld’s brassy exuberance but take it over the escarpment and down into a stomping, seven-league-booted Beefheart country.” Come along and have your cortex ruffled.



 
* * * * * *

Two of the Alternative Escape gigs in Brighton, 18-19 May 2017

Before either of these, though, there’s a particular free all-dayer at The Black Dove in Brighton on 19th May – part of the extensive Alternative Escape fringe event that’s coiled around the city’s huge Great Escape festival. Certain bands and projects affiliated to the great swarming ferment of the Cardiacs tradition tend to repeatedly pepper ‘Misfit City’ coverage. This particular gig packs a bunch of these together like a explosion of overnight mushrooms (appropriately, since the tang of a particular kind of psychedelia hangs over it).

Up in the curator role are MUMMY, the psychogothadelic thrumming of Jo Spratley and ex-Cardiac/Dark Star/Levitation-eer Bic Hayes. Bic’s also part of the motorik lysergic driving-machine ZOFFF (who’ll be playing their own set towards the end of the night, fresh from their recent show backing Damo Suzuki). ZOFFF pull together plenty of people from the Brightonian psychedelic axis – including Chris Anderson, who’s bringing along both his shipwreck-and-dreams songwriter project Crayola Lectern and his spacegazing pop band La Momo.

Friendly one-man personality cult Kavus Torabi will take another bare-bones acoustic tilt at the ornate songs he’s written for Knifeworld and the Monsoon Bassoon, while touching on the inspirations he’s shared in his work with Cardiacs and Gong. Psych-tinged folk baroque is provided by Emily Jones and Arch Garrison (bringing liberal dashes of Cornwall and Wiltshire psychogeography with them) and there’s frowning, shadowy, mordantly hilarious Kinks-Gothic popcraft from Stephen Evens. Also on board are noisy punk-prog/alt.pop trio Ham Legion, and Chloe Herington’s experimental music project V A L V E (who make obliquely thoughtful, oddly accessible music from bassoons, melodicas, tape-loops, concert harps, electronics, doorbells and things found on walks and in skips).

Just about the only band here that’s not a ‘Misfit City’ regular is Hurtling, the alt./dream-rock trio featuring Jen Macro and Jon Clayton (formerly of stuffy/thefuses and Something Beginning With L) with Smallgang/Splintered Man bassist Simon Kobayashi. Boasting sturdy support musician links to My Bloody Valentine, Shonen Knife Graham Coxon, Robyn Hitchcock and Bitch Magnet (and taking inspiration from alt.rock heroes such as The Breeders, Sebadoh and Warpaint), they’re possibly the best connected band on the bill: also one of the most straightforward, and a link to the Great Escape outside.


 
Throughout, you’ve got illuminations from south coast psych-lighters of choice Innerstrings. See below for performance schedule and time; see above for links to the wealth of things I’ve previously written about most of these people; go here for the Facebook event page…

Programme:

2.00pm – doors
3.00pm – Ham Legion
3.40pm – Emily Jones
4.20pm – Crayola Lectern
5.00pm – Hurtling
6.00pm – La Momo
6.40pm – Stephen Evens
7.20pm – M U M M Y
8.00pm – V A L V E
8.40pm – Arch Garrison
9.20pm – Kavus Torabi
10.00pm – ZOFFF
afterwards, until 3.00am – DJ Moke
 

March to September 2017 – upcoming gigs – North Sea Radio Orchestra out and about in England and Wales (sometimes with Crayola Lectern or William D. Drake)

23 Feb

Having bowed, hummed and carolled their way back into action with last September’s ‘Dronne’ album, plus a few end-of-the-year gigs, art-pop-touched chamber ensemble North Sea Radio Orchestra are casting a garland of assorted luminous live dates across England and Wales this year – starting in March, and continuing through April, July and September.

In keeping with their liking for ecclesiastical reverb, which suits their churchy acousti-tech sound (described recently as “sitting in a special place somewhere between Neu! and Arvo Pärt”), most of these gigs are taking place in current or former places of worship, some converted into community centres or arts spaces or (in the case of the Cardiff show) into acoustic recording studios.


 

  • St Paul’s Church, 55b Chapel Road, Worthing, BN11 1EE, England, Saturday 11th March 2017, 1.30pm (with Crayola Lectern) – information here and here
  • Gresham Centre @ St Anne & St Agnes Church, Gresham Street, Barbican, London, EC2V 7BX, Friday April 28th 2017, 7.30pm (with William D. Drake) – information here and here
  • Assembly Rooms @ Frome Memorial Theatre, Christchurch Street West, Frome, BA11 1EB England, Sunday 9th July 2017 (part of the Frome Festival – further details t.b.c.)
  • Sacred Trinity Church, Chapel Street, Salford, M3 5DW, England, Saturday 15th July 2017, 4.30pm (with William D. Drake) – information here and here
  • Acapela Studio @ Capel Horeb, Heol Y Pentre, Pentyrch, Cardiff, CF15 9QD, Wales, Saturday 23rd September 2017, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

The Worthing show (a fundraiser for MIND) features a support slot for Chris Anderson’s rumpled, brass-dabbed domestic/psychedelic song project Crayola Lectern, while the London and Salford dates have William D. Drake in tow (playing a solo piano set, which may or may not focus on the kind of instrumental studies collected on his ‘Yews Paw’ album).



 

There’s another Drake solo show taking place mid-tour in Greenwich, London – another solo piano set (details below). For news of Bill’s concurrent song tour – much of it a two-hander with another singer-songwriter friend, Stephen EvEns – check back on my earlier blog post from the 15th.

William D Drake – The Prince Of Greenwich, 72 Royal Hill, Greenwich, London, SE10 8RT, England, Friday 17th March 2017time & further information t.b.c.
 

July 2016 – upcoming and ongoing gigs – some pickings from the Frome Festival, west of England (1st-10th)

2 Jul

While I missed the chance to plug the Sin Eater Festival a few weeks ago, I’m just about in time for the modest fireworks which herald the Frome Festival in Wiltshire.

I’m too late to plug the opening party (in which Frome’s own electro-poppers Sweet Machine shared a bill with psychedelic synth-cabarettier, rock biographer and all-round performance character Alan Clayson); I don’t have much to say about the festival’s big-draw act Reef (currently enjoying a new revival of their original ‘90s revival of 70s blues-rock); and I feel sorry that the free gig by “ukular fusion” band The Mother Ukers doesn’t involve furious Mahavishnukulele jazz shredding (instead of being a variation on banjo-happy rockgrass covers). But there’s plenty more on offer, so here are a few other things picked out from the billing.

It’s by no means everything on offer (the festival’s full of visual art, talks and theatre; there’s plenty more jazz and classical; and there’s a show by Billy Bragg which will probably take care of itself) but these represent the bits-between-the-bits which are closest to ‘Misfit City’s natural constituency (if such a thing exists).

* * * * * * * *

The Magical Folk Garden @ The Archangel, 1 King Street, Frome, BA11 1BH, England
Tuesday 5th-Friday 8th July 2016, 7.30pm each night
– information: Tuesday 5th / Wednesday 6th / Thursday 7th / Friday 8th

At the upstairs room at the Archangel pub, The Magical Folk Garden continues to turn itself into an annual institution with a series of cushion-strewn/standing-room-only unplugged gigs, creating a “euphonious forest of folk and contemporary acoustic music from some of the UK’s finest talents.” It’s all pretty well-scrubbed and tasteful – there’s nothing to scare the horses here. That said, a few of the performers might own horses, and some might whisper them; while a few might go all ‘Poldark’ and ride off on one, bareback and bare-chested, a honey-coloured guitar bouncing up and down on the withers (it all probably depends on the state of the booze and the pollen count).

The Tuesday show features two Bath acts – lit-pop cello-and-guitar duo The Bookshop Band and romantic solo-balladeer Tom Corneill – plus the sunny pure-pop/psychedelic fizz of Trowbridge’s The Pigeons.


The Wednesday show has a band-backed performance from Frome’s Al O’Kane (a gravel-and-honey country-blues-folker who, with his mix of rolling American roots guitar and British mysticism, can come across as a one-man ‘Led Zeppelin III’). Also playing are Alex Taylor (bouncy, jazz-and-funk-tinged, broadening his sound and filling out his pockets with pedals and loops) and young songwriter Emma Shoosmith, whose output has ranged from thoughtful folkified Taylor Swift covers to the lilting ska-tinted song shown below.




 

The Thursday show has a chamber-folk air. Bookshop Band multi-instrumentalist Beth Porter returns with her own augmented-string quartet band The Availables and her own clutch of intricate literary songs. Also on board are the strings, percussion rustles and detailed guitar of Rivers Of England (fronted by Rob Spaulding) who, although they take on some pretty familiar modern folk tropes, land them in an interesting marginal territory in which the early-’70s John Martyn and the early-’80s Julian Cope sit down to exchange lines and tips. The bill’s completed by the lost-boy charm of Avebury singer-songwriter (and Nick Harper protégé) George Wilding with his warm, abstracted songs of distraction and heartbreak (simultaneously soothing and haunting).




 

The Friday folk-final involves wayward Bristol-and-Bath folk septet The Cedar. Beth Porter makes her third Magical Folk Garden appearance of the week as the band’s cellist, alongside five other musicians. Playing a variety of instruments and implements (from guitar, glockenspiel, viola, organ and ukulele to calculator, screwdriver, musical and tri-square) they weave Neil Gay’s slightly distracted songs into a musical fabric that’s sometimes Belle-&-Sebastian communal, sometimes music-school precise, and sometimes as frayed as a scrap-basket oddment.

The rest of the evening gently mixes Western with Western. Accompanying herself on guitar, baritone ukulele, harmonium or shruti box, Bradford-on-Avon’s Jess Vincent delivers a set of original country-folk songs with a sound and demeanour that’s seen her compared to both Iris DeMent and Kate Bush. Evening openers Ali George and Ruby Brown do their own take on Gram-and-Emmylou duets, filtered through Ali’s trunkful of original English folk/clawhammer guitar songs.




 

* * * * * * * *

The town’s Rook Lane Chapel arts centre is hosting plenty of events. These two in particular caught my ear:

Snowapple
Rook Lane Chapel, Bath Street, Frome, BA11 1DN, England
Thursday 7th July 2016, 7:30pm
information

Snowapple is an outstanding female harmony trio from Amsterdam who draw on folk, classical and chanson influences, in unique, charming and beautiful arrangements of original songs. Having sold out the Granary for the last two years, Snowapple have earned a reputation all over Europe and the US, and this year appear in the perfect setting of Rook Lane Arts.”

Praying For The Rain
Rook Lane Chapel, Bath Street, Frome, BA11 1DN, England
Friday 8th July 2016, 8.00pm
information

From the blurb: “Known for their dynamic and compelling live performances, Praying For The Rain blend contemporary folk, Celtic and world music with irresistible rhythms, memorable melodies, beautifully crafted vocals and inspired musicianship. Their music brings to mind a modern blend of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Robert Plant, to Fleet Foxes and the Dave Matthews Band, creating a truly uplifting experience. Following last year’s sell out concert, Praying for the Rain return to Rook Lane for Frome Festival 2016. Expect an exhilarating night of high energy, movement and wonderfully engaging songs.“

I’m sure I remember Praying For The Rain from when I was a regular at Martyn Swain’s wonderful Dreamhouse acoustic nights, a refuge of warm bohemian chic and unplugged music alongside the Splash Club in scuzzy mid-’90s Kings Cross. These were the same shows at which I was delighted by up-close performances from Marcy Detroit, Simons Warner and Whitaker and many more… there’s a little bit about Dreamhouse here, since someone’s been writing a crowdfunded book about the Splash years (and you can still pitch in to help it). Dreamhouse was the kind of night where you could expect table candles and belly dancing interludes most weeks; but during their own slot, Praying For The Rain completely overflowed the little Water Rats stage with finger-cymbals, accordions, cellos, cirrus-band harmonies and what seemed like about ten people on whispering percussion, temporarily transforming the place to a full-on New Age folk temple.

Although they seem rather more bluesy and straightforward-rootsy than I remember through the gauzes of memory, it’s good to see that they’ve lasted the twenty-year distance and garnered themselves a new up-to-date list of comparisons.


 
* * * * * * * *

Over at the Granary, there’s a semi-unplugged triple bill and a visit from a ‘Misfit City’ favourite.

Three Is The Magic Number presents:
Three Corners + Molly Ross + Gum Girl
The Granary @ The George Hotel, 4 Market Place, Frome, BA11 1AF, England
Friday 8th July 2016, 8.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like

Regular Frome-and-Wiltshire unplugged night Acoustic Plus takes on a new identity for this three-act bill of “original songs, haunting vocals, mesmeric music” celebrating a diversity of approach via three different acts. Molly Ross offers fledgling piano pop touches on folk and R&B; Three Corners (with their roots in 1980s new-wavers The Impossible Dreamers, and featuring ex-Dreamers Nick Waterhouse and Caroline Radcliffe) play sparse, questing songs around more of a loose blues-and-jazz-informed tip; but the one I find most interesting is the dreamy beat’n’texture pop of Gum Girl.




 
Arch Garrison
The Granary @ The George Hotel, 4 Market Place, Frome, BA11 1AF, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 8.00pm
– information http://cheeseandgrain.ticketsolve.com/shows/873554307

As Arch Garrison, North Sea Radio Orchestra mastermind Craig Fortnam and Stars In Battledress‘ James Larcombe explore gentle, intricate psychedelic folk: partly gentle clean chapel tones, partly kosmische textures, partly chalk-ridge geomancy. A duo of Craig’s nylon-strung acoustic guitar and James’ assorted keyboards (organ, monosynth, harmonium and piano), their two albums’ worth of songs have enabled Craig to bring the smaller and more personal songs he writes to life, when they don’t fit the grander feel of NSRO. Their ‘Will Be A Pilgrim‘ album was one of my favourites of 2014 – an unexpected gem of small voice and thinking space. Support comes from local favourites Dexter’s Extra Breakfast, playing Dave Clark’s soft-petalled and “Weltschmerzian” songs of middle-aged reflection.

 

* * * * * * * *

John D Revelator
The Griffin, 25 Milk Street, Frome, BA11 3DB, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 8.00pm
– free event

At the Griffin, John D Revelator will be bringing along their dark-tinged acoustic swamp-pop for a free show. Even if there’s not actually such a thing as the “Somerset Levels delta”, they’ll lie to their last tooth and their last busted guitar string trying to persuade you that it does exist.


 

* * * * * * * *

Towards the end of the festival, the second of Frome’s two substantial concert halls is offering two very different performances on the same day. One is a post-lunchtime concert of vividly Catalonian Spanish classical music from the twentieth century; the other is an evening show of polymusical fusion from an all-star collective trio.

Elena Riu & Clara Sanabras: ’A Taste Of Spain’
Cooper Hall @ Selwood Manor, Jacks Lane, Frome, BA11 3NL, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 1.00pm
information

Pianist Elena Riu and singing multi-instrumentalist Clara Sanabras (the latter on voice, harp, oud, charango and guitar) perform selections from the ‘Songs & Dances’ of Catalan impressionist/miniaturist composer Federico Mompou and the ‘Spanish Dances’ of his compatriot Enrique Granados, interspersed with Clara’s performances of the original Catalan folk songs on which Mompou drew.

Birdworld
Cooper Hall @ Selwood Manor, Jacks Lane, Frome, BA11 3NL, England
Saturday 9th July 2016, 8.30pm
– information http://cheeseandgrain.ticketsolve.com/shows/873554308

“Birdworld is made up of musicians Adam Teixeira (drums/percussion), Gregor Riddell (cello/electronics); and Alex Stuart (guitar). The project came about when Gregor and Adam met during self-directed Banff Creative Residencies where they discovered a shared interest in blending electronic and acoustic sounds. Since Adam moved to the UK in 2014 they have continued to develop BirdWorld, adding Alex along the way. Combining their artistic voices as both instrumentalists and composers, the trio will showcase each members original compositions arranged specifically for this unique musical exchange. Creating a unified sound that blends the inspirations of modern jazz, world music, contemporary classical, rock and electronic music in a rare concert setting.”

Here’s a video of the original two-piece in action, to give you two-thirds of an idea of what might be on offer.

 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – North Sea Radio Orchestra play London and Salisbury (12th, 26th) with Daisy Chute and William D. Drake (and maybe some other people…)

30 May

After a four-year hiatus (punctuated only by a brief 2014 showing at a Robert Wyatt tribute evening in France) North Sea Radio Orchestra – the pocket alt.chamber ensemble formed by husband-and-wife art-rock refugees Craig and Sharron Fortnam – are returning to action with a couple of warm, low-key English shows in London and Salisbury during June.

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2016

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2016

Based around Craig’s aerial compositions (propelled by a fine lattice of nylon-string guitar or gestural piano) and fronted by Sharron’s grand, pealing mezzo-soprano, NSRO emerged fifteen years ago via a series of church concerts in the City of London. A familial, twenty-strong English-gala-on-legs, sporting a rugged/ragged choral section, they blended the feel of a market-town classical festival with the more omnivorous preoccupations of world-city musicians flitting between concert halls, experimental rock clubs and eclectic podcasts.

Notoriously, Craig’s tune-sense drew on a romantic-futurist melding of Britten, Zappa, Vaughan Williams, Peter Warlock, traditional and psychedelic folk, Victorian poetry and the bassoon-laden locomotional soundtracks of Smallfilms’ Vernon Elliott: while the musician-and-singer pool drew not only on moonlighting classical and film-score people, but also on London art-rockers with broad skills and wide-open ears. In retrospect, there are some superficial similarities not just between the NSRO and one of their clearest equivalents – the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, who enjoyed a comparable tidy balance between cosmopolitan genres and methods – but also between the NSRO and that ongoing wave of enjoyable pop-up community choirs who roll around with Beach Boys, Bjork and Pulp songs stuffed in their pockets. Certainly both of the latter share a “get-up-and-do-it” communal warmth which endear them to audience, plus a pleasing lack of collegiate polish (the NSRO’s choral parts managed to be disciplined and soaring and loveably rough’n’baggy, while Sharon’s lead singing has muscled in on uncolonized areas between classical diva, ’60s coffee-house folk and Yorkshire punk).

Having said that, the NSRO have always been a more serious endeavour, treating their inspirations and ongoing creative paths with a discreet and earnest gravity; something typified by their third album’s pre-hiatus digression into a more compacted style, in which minimalist and Krautrock influences subsumed their initial romanticism (and in which self-penned lyrics of connection, loss and retreat replaced their earlier settings of Tennyson and Blake).

Today’s NSRO are a more streamlined affair than they once were: a compact mostly-instrumental nonet with Sharron’s voice still to the fore. Many members may have gently fallen away (if not too far away), but most of the original players remain in place alongside the Fortnams. Percussionist Hugh Wilkinson, organist/monosynther James Larcombe, string players Harry Escott and Brian Wright, and Luke Crooks and Nicola Baigent on reeds are still all on board, Despite being absent for these shows (he’ll be back in the autumn) the ensemble’s newest recruit, percussionist and viola player Stephen Gilchrist, fulfils the usual NSRO criteria of strolling or scrambling across genre lines: as “Stuffy” Gilchrist, he’s best known for thrashing the drums behind Graham Coxon or Art Brut, or for doling out his pop-eyed alt.rock as Stuffy/the fuses or Stephen Evens.)

These new shows should contain material from the NSRO’s upcoming fourth album ‘Dronne’, due out in early September. The first signs of the album came from a minute-and-a-half of dreamy domestic phase music uploaded to their Facebook page back in January (see above). Various other hints which have seeped out suggest a further change of course, perhaps influenced by the inspired psychedelic folk course which Craig and James Larcombe have been following with their parallel project Arch Garrison . In James’ words: “the new NSRO album’s amazing – in my opinion rather further down the psychedelic avenue, particularly the long instrumental title track. The song we’ve recently done a video for (‘Vishnu Schist’) is without a doubt my new favourite NSRO song… I’ve been listening to it loads. There’s a Robert Wyatt cover on it too, which is lovely.”

Regarding the gigs…

Tigmus presents
North Sea Radio Orchestra + Daisy Chute
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Sunday 12th June 2016, 1.30pm
– more information here and here

In support at the Forge is Daisy Chute. Though she’s undoubtedly best known as one-quarter of glossy-teen pop/classical fusion queens All Angels, Daisy vigorously and actively pursues a broad sweep of additional music including theatre, education and modern folk. In addition to her frontline work as a singer, she’s an accomplished composer, arranger, orchestrator and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, piano, ukelele, banjo and pixiphone), and a member of varied other bands including Camberwell folk-pop quartet threeandme. On this occasion she’s going out under her own name, singing a set of self-penned folk-and-jazz inspired songs and fronting a quartet of Tristan Horne (cello), Will Collier (double bass) and Zara Tobias (harmonium and backing vocals).


* * * * * * * *

Salisbury Arts Centre presents:
Transplant Music Night: North Sea Radio Orchestra + William D. Drake + special guests
Salisbury Arts Centre, Bedwin Street, Salisbury, SP1 3UT, England
Sunday 26th Jun 2016, 8.00pm
more information

This one’s billed as “a special night of music to accompany Salisbury Arts Centre’s ‘Transplant’ exhibition” (more on that in a moment…) For this show, the support act is onetime Cardiacs member William D. Drake, who forged his own belated solo career alongside NSRO’s (simultaneously putting in time in the latter as both choir singer and occasional composer/pianist). Building on from his interest in Early Music, his stint as the classically-inspired keyboard wildcard amongst Cardiacs’ polystylistic punk tumult and his subsequent immersion in rootsier work, Bill has developed his own idiosyncratic approach to songwriting: baroque, playful and soulful. It’s culminated in his latest – and greatest – album, ‘Revere Reach’, which lovingly threads folk, rock, classical and mythic elements together in a compelling and timeless act of musical bridging.

There are also additional “special guests” mentioned on the bill. This could mean anything; but it’s worth speculating on location, on confirmed attendees and on similar associations including the ‘Transplant’ exhibition itself:

promo-mattcuttssculpture2016“Celebrating the interconnectedness between art forms emerging from the festival scene and the joy of being outdoors in nature, ‘Transplant’ brings together sculpture, image, music, poetry and living plants. Forming the heart of the exhibition, Matt Cutts’ wooden sculptures sit in ‘fields’ of wild flowers and trees. Accompanying them are huge batik paintings by Sarah Jones reflecting the beauty of trees. A soundtrack for the exhibition has been created from new music and field recordings by Sarah Jones and William D. Drake. The exhibition opens on Midsummers Eve (Tuesday 21st June) for a 6-8pm viewing, prior to the exhibition proper running from the 22nd to the 25th.”

Citing the fond connections between the world of Cardiacs and that of Salisbury is a pretty easy game. Not only have many former Cardiacs members and affiliates (the Fortnams included) ended up living around Salisbury, but the band recorded their reknowned ‘All That Glitters Is A Mare’s Nest’ concert film in the Arts Centre itself seventeen years ago. Bill Drake’s contributions to both Transplant concert and exhibition further binds the worlds together, but a closer look reveals yet more links. A long time ago (before the batiks), Sarah Jones was Sarah Smith, blowing a puckish saxophone and frail silvery backing vocals in Cardiacs. Before that, she was Sarah Cutts; born into an artistic Forest of Dean family and sister to Matthew Cutts, who himself put in a long stint as a Cardiacs roadie before returning to his sculpting work.

Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones

Whatever the main intentions, it’s clear that a nodding, benevolent Cardiacs spectre looms over the whole event, sealed by the nature-saturated green-fuse inspirations which collectively permeate the artworks of Transplant, North Sea Radio Orchestra’s pastoral heart, and the undergrowth of Cardiacs songs (with their fascination with life and damp and greenery). It could, in fact, be part of one of the ever-more regular waves of Cardiacs-related activity which ripple through English crannies and corners each year in the band’s absence, keeping alive their loving and cheerfully prickly approach to music, friendship and existence (see also the upcoming ‘Whole World Window’ benefit gig in Preston next month, which I’ll flag up again later in the summer). It may give some clues as to who else might turn up; or it might not.

However, I’ll leave any speculation there. Moving back to certainties, here are a few video clips of NSRO in the past – from their choral triumphs to their airborne or churchbound meditations – to pave the way for whatever they’ve got ready for us now.




October 2015 – upcoming London gigs – Arch Garrison & Lisa Doscher, October 3rd

29 Sep

…and this would have been in the previous post about first-week-of-October gigs had I found out about it sooner. For a while now, I’ve been a fan of Tigmus‘ portable crowdfunding formula for making gigs happen, so it’s good to be spurred into plugging one such gig – especially since it features Arch Garrison (whose wonderful second album gained an extensive ‘Misfit City’ review last year) and takes place in such an unusual location…

Arch Garrison +Lisa Doscher, October 3rd 2015

Arch Garrison + Lisa Doscher (Tigmus @ Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare, Hampton Court Road, Hampton, London, TW12 2EN, UK, Saturday 3rd October 2015, 7.00pm) – £10.00

Over to Tigmus:

The second concert in our autumn series at the Garrick Temple to Shakespeare features the beautiful sounds of Arch Garrison and Lisa Doscher.

Having garnered much critical acclaim for his larger-scale compositions and songs with North Sea Radio Orchestra, Craig Fortnam also writes and performs in singer-songwriter mode, alongside James Larcombe (NSRO/Stars in Battledress/William D. Drake) on keyboards as  Arch Garrison, who have released two albums; ‘King of the Down’ (2010) and the latest work ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ (2014).

‘…Pilgrim…’ details Fortnam’s attachment to the chalk downland of Southern England; a landscape criss-crossed with ancient trackways, droves and green lanes, and dotted with Neolithic mounds and barrows, evidence of the Great Stone Culture – all calling him to pull on his walking boots, whistle for the dogs and hit the road, to undertake a pilgrimage to nowhere. He walks the ancient paths as an act of connecting to something intangible but present in the marks left by man, be they burial mounds or pylons – it’s all the same really – all grist to the songwriting mill – walk walk hum sing walk…

Originally from New Hampshire, USA, but now settled in Oxfordshire, England, Lisa Doscher creates soulful vocals with lovely cosy harmonies. Indie-folk peppered with gospel, Americana and urban rhythms; uplifting songs from the heart and soul-powered rhythms for sharing around the campfire and joining in. In her first full-length album, aptly titled ‘Return Home’, she charts her last ten years of diverse musical experience with introspective songwriting and her atmospheric alt-folk sound. The songs each provide a landscape for some discovery that is essential for understanding one’s place in the world.

Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare is a small garden folly erected in 1756 on  the north bank of the River Thames at Hampton, London. It was built by the actor David Garrick to honour the playwright William Shakespeare, whose plays Garrick performed to great acclaim throughout his career. After a campaign supported by distinguished actors and donations from the National Lottery’s “good causes” fund, it was restored in the late 1990s and reopened to the public as a museum and memorial to the life and career of Garrick. It is reputedly the world’s only shrine to Shakespeare.

Up-to-date info on the gig is here, and tickets are available here.

July 2015 – upcoming London gigs on Saturday and Tuesday – the Independent Label Market; Tom Slatter & jh’s free gig in Bethnal Green; William D. Drake with Stars In Battledress and Steven Evens

10 Jul

The Carvery at the Independent Label Market

If your musical instincts include any crate-digging, hoarding or hunter-gathering aspects, you could try checking out the Independent Label Market this Saturday, 11th July, at Old Spitalfields Market in east London. I got my own heads-up about this via The Carvery, who say:

We will be representing a strong and eclectic mix of labels we work with… There will be a limited amount of stock hand picked by each label at a reduced price for one day only. Expect releases and limited edition items from Sofrito, Tropical Discotheque, Matsuli Music, Numero Group, Five Easy Pieces, Names You Can Trust, Bastard Jazz, Paradise Bangkok, Rhythm Section, High Focus, Faux Discx Records, ALTER, NICE UP! Records and Reggae Roast.

No, I know none of these labels. Expect many others, plus other mastering companies and record manufacturers, to be there on the day selling independent-label music at bargain prices. For anyone who attends, the event is likely to be an education in itself. It starts at 11am, goes through until 6 in the evening.

Later on, but not very far away, there’s this…

Tom Slatter @ St Margaret's House, 11th July 2015

Tom Slatter + jh (The Chapel, St Margaret’s House, Old Ford Road, London, E2 9PL, UK, Saturday 11th July, 7.30 pm)– free

Disarmingly, Tom describes his work as “the sort of music you’d get if Genesis started writing songs with Nick Cave after watching too much ‘Doctor Who'”, while one of his occasional collaborators, Jordan Brown of airy London prog-poppers The Rube Goldberg Machine, calls him “a sci-fi storyteller with a penchant for odd time signatures and soundscapes.” Both descriptions ring true but fail to pinpoint the cheerfully pulpy weird-fiction exuberance of Tom’s work as a one-man band. He’s a man not just happily out of his time, but making a virtue of it – a latter-day Victorian street-theatre barker with a guitar promising tales of mystery, imagination, ‘orrible murders and bloody great waving tentacles.

This gig’s an acoustic show, with Tom mostly playing versions of songs from his recent ‘Fit The Fourth‘ album (out on Bad Elephant Music last month). Part of me hopes that he’ll take his taste for Victoriana a step further and rig himself up like a phoney spiritualist – little bits of prestidigitation, a tambourine between the knees, plus additional instruments and sound effects triggered by fishing line attached to thighs and elbows. We probably won’t get all of that, but what we will get is a performer who’s blissfully committed to the inherent fun and theatricality of his material. Something to treasure. Here he is at play in the video for his recent single, ‘Some Of The Creatures Have Broken The Locks On The Door To Lab 558’ (for better or worse, the title says it all), plus another video taken from an acoustic show he did amidst the wheels, pistons and cams of the London Museum of Water & Steam down at Kew Bridge.

Playing support is Tom’s fellow Bad Elephanteer jh in a similar acoustic slot, promoting his ‘Morning Sun‘ compilation and the upcoming Bad Elephant release of his back catalogue. With the soul of a confessional busker but the expansive sound-draping instincts of an electric-Eden acid rocker, jh (on record, at least) is the missing link between Joe Strummer and Roy Harper with a touch of prog pastoral thrown in. Live and unplugged, he’s likely to be wirier and relying on his narratives to hold your attention. Personally, I warm to a man who can write an eighteen-minute Anglo-prog epic (complete with Michael Caine references and conversational swearing) and call it ‘Making Tea Is Freedom’.

Up-to-date info on the concert should be here, while tickets can be reserved here (as I post, there are twenty-nine left).

Tom Slatter gig flyer 11th july 2015

On the following Tuesday, William D. Drake follows up last Sunday’s launch gig in Brighton for his new ‘Revere’s Reach’ album with a second launch gig in London. I’ve been putting up plenty of posts about his exuberant music and its clever, affecting mash-up of folk, rock and classical; its beguiling nonsense, its striking beauty and its deceptive humanity. Expect a few more of those shortly. Support comes from a rare appearance from Stars In Battledress (the Larcombe brothers’ cryptic, witty psychedelic folk duo – read an account of them onstage here) and the mysterious Steven Evens, about whom I know nothing (update – ah, it’s a new incarnation of Stuffy Gilchrist!). Current event info is here, tickets are here, and the basic info plus a brace of videos are below.

William D. Drake + Stars In Battledress + Stephen Evens (The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, N1 9JB, London, UK, Tuesday 14th July, 7.30 pm)– £11.00

UPDATE, JULY 13th – sadly, the William D. Drake gig has had to be postponed due to bereavement. I’ll repost about it once it’s been rescheduled.

June 2015 – some videos – Tim Bowness, William D. Drake, Thumpermonkey

2 Jun

A few videos to pass the time.

Firstly, here’s the newest video from Tim Bowness, promoting the lead single from next month’s ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’ album. The Great Electric Teenage Dream features a cut’n’paste scratch effort built up from fragments from the Prelinger archive.

While I’m limbering up for a big William D. Drake catchup (reviews of this month’s ‘Revere Reach’ album and its predecessor ‘The Rising Of The Lights’), here’s the uproarious Chaos Engineers video from the former’s lead single. ‘Distant Buzzing’ features appearances, on- or off-video, from assorted Drake associates – the Larcombe Brothers (from Stars In Battledress), Dug Parker (from North Sea Radio Orchestra), Stuffy Gilchrist and many others…including a certain sordid, waxy tyrant from the 1980s. And a donkey.

Finally, do you ever hear anyone complaining bitterly that all of the artistry has gone out of rock vocals? If so, play them this video of Thumpermonkey‘s Woody recording voicework for the band’s upcoming album, and watch a grin breaking like sunrise across their face. (I don’t cover Thumpermonkey enough in this blog. That’s going to change.)

May 2015 – upcoming London gigs – ‘William D.Drake Pawformance’ – Friday 22nd May 2015. London. Schott Music Shop.

22 May

If you’re free and easy in London tonight – and fancy an evening of intriguing piano music – try this. In spite of some of the more ominous language used in the Subba-Cultcha review, Bill’s music is as full of light, flight and green-leafed freshness as it is of strange chords and left-field turns. Fans of post-modernist dissonance, polystylism and mongrel English romanticism will all be well satisfied. As a bonus, you get extra listening pleasure via James Larcombe (of Stars In Battledress and Arch Garrison) fingering one of his collection of tuneful antiques.

William D Drake

yewspawlpcoverGrabwebYou are most warmly invited to an evening performance of ‘Yew’s Paw’ in the intimate surroundings of Schott Music Shop in Central London.

Glass of wine and nibbles will be provided with Mr Drake’s compliments.

Be sure to arrive early to enjoy Mr James Larcombe performing on his marvellous melodeon.

Yew’s Paw is an album of piano pieces written and performed by Mr Drake at his pianoforte, and released in February 2007.

Listen to tracks and buy the album here.

Friday 22nd May 2015.  7.30-9.30pm

Tickets £10 – Buy in person from Schott Music Shop or by telephone 020 7534 0710.

Schott Music Shop (Recital Room), 48 Great Marlborough Street, London. W1F 7BB

‘YEW’S PAW’ – ALBUM REVIEWS

Subba-Cultcha. February 2007 – Jonathan Sebire

‘Yew’s Paw’ consists of thirteen solo piano pieces, a macabre soundtrack that draws forth a huge swell of foreboding and tempered power across its…

View original post 148 more words

May 2014 – album reviews – Arch Garrison’s ‘I Will Be a Pilgrim’ (“lay out its gears and bones”)

25 May

Arch Garrison: 'I Will Be A Pilgrim'

Arch Garrison: ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’

Crest the ridge, now. Slow down at the sitting-stone, park your bones and aching muscles there, and take stock. Look at the way the landscape spreads out from up here – all of the fields and rills and, beneath, the skeleton of the land, the rocks and water, the things which give it shape. Moving back up a few layers, there’s the earth and grass and moving animals; the places lived in; the crows’ feet, the salt-and-pepper…

First, let’s look at the shapes which are closest to hand. Pick them up; have a squint.

On his second album of latter-day folk-baroque at the head of Arch Garrison, Craig Fortnam moulds and reworks diverse old and new traditions to delightful effect. His dexterous fingers strip webworks of notes from his acoustic guitars – nylon and steel, telegraph and gut. Within these, home-grown (or at least home-brewed) elements travel from song to song in a loose continuum, stretching from Elizabethan lute ballads through Celtic-American folk to Davey Graham’s flowing Anglo-Arab fingerstyle and the febrile reinventions of John Fahey. Elsewhere, the slides and clinks of change-ringing rows are smuggled from English church bells onto keys and strings.

Other specks and strains within the music seem to have been picked up from other parts of the world. A vellum-dry recording and a staccato attack nod to Ali Farka Touré’s Malian folk-blues, with the debt explicit on two lilting instrumental vamps. That elegant lilting baroque figure which opens the record initially steps out like something broader (a koto flourish, or a banjo beginning) and is returned to for the coda; this time built upon by bobbing, sliding, Cluster-esque layers of electronic organ, the drift of stained-glass shadows on flagstones. Across the album, while Craig sings the songs into life in his thin hopeful straw of a voice, a feathering of psychedelic burr hangs in the air like the faint memory of a benign, long-ago acid trip – a touch of the Barretts.

While Arch Garrison aren’t quite as numerous as they once were, Craig isn’t alone on his voyage. Over at his right hand, James Larcombe plays buzzing monosynths and gently teetering Philicorda, fusing the meticulous discipline of a classical organ scholar with a blend of Krautrock tangents. His playing can carry hints of wilful trance and of conscious airy detachment, but he also has the focus to draw an assured bead on what the moment requires and to nail it. On ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’s title track, the duo reach a pinnacle of mutual intricacy and involvement. James builds up a musing Philicorda fanfare (part kosmische, part chapel) amongst strands of piano, synth and swirling cymbal. Craig’s screw-threaded clawhammer guitar bursts through this massing kaleidoscope of psychedelic refractions to launch the song proper, whereupon Arch Garrison twirl deftly through knotwork prog breaks, rough-dancing harmonised vocals and capering mediaeval percussion (constantly pinned to a kind of Gothic lysergia via glimmering, echoed guitar counter-melodies).

The business of unpicking this intricate little treasure-box of an album can be fascinating: you can lay out its gears and bones, and marvel at how Appalachia, Forst, Tombouctou and Wiltshire can be encouraged to dance together. But getting distracted by the spread of ingredients on show would be missing the deeper points. On this set of songs, skilled fingerwork and compositional complexity sit in support of finer gravities of heart and of belonging. On Arch Garrison’s previous album, ‘King Of The Down’, Craig sketched the opening lines of a personal landscape – stretches and twinges, journeys and feelings, embraces and aches. It was even there in the album title, which encompassed Craig’s beloved southern English hills and his own wounded doubts. But it’s only now, with ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’, that he’s fully realised the craft of mapping these outer and inner geographies together, growing deeper into his own voice as he does so.

Craig has spent much of his musical history in the charismatic, ever-present shadow of his wife and bandmate Sharron. In their teamwork within The Shrubbies and North Sea Radio Orchestra (as with briefer work with the fFortingtons and Lake of Puppies), his writing set out most of the musical substance, but it was her striking vocal and personal anneal of post-punk bounce, classical soprano and folk chirp which set the tone. Voluntary as all of this was, in recent years the balance has shifted, with Craig singing several NSRO pieces in a smaller version of the band. While Sharron initially came along for Arch Garrison on bass guitar and harmonies, it was Craig who took the vocal lead. Now the Garrison trio’s reduced to a duo, and the older alliance is temporarily severed. Sharron is on leave-of-absence, away on the same maternity break that has currently put NSRO into mothballs. Although James provides conversational hums of backup vocal as well as his multi-jointed keyboards, Craig’s singing alone as he never has before.

Serendipitously, this has happened at the perfect time. ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ is the album on which both Craig’s songwriting and his growing hunger (after NSRO’s sculpted Edwardianisms) for direct expression fully mature. Fragile tones notwithstanding, you can’t imagine anyone else singing these songs, let alone singing them better. Just as Craig’s voice has come into focus, so too have his lyrics, with every song now an open, expanding kernel of idea and a signpost for an open road. The picture that emerges is of the restlessness that beats and tugs at men in the middle passage of life, turning them into helpless sails for every fearful yaw or sneaking gust of emotion.

Over the course of eight songs and three instrumentals, ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ explores parenthood, competition, faith, engagement with art and the ambivalence of loneliness. Its core – both symptoms and solutions – is centred round the act of walking. Propelled by his sinewy melodies and striding harmonic progressions, which roll across the album the way old wire fences roll across hills, Craig is constantly journeying, pressing currents of angst and uncertainty underfoot. From being a fragmented and distracted modern man, he strides back into connection, rediscovering himself in subconscious acceptance of history and place. Here and there, from song to song, a line recurs – “chalk under the bone” – as Craig acknowledges and encourages this strata of belonging. When he sings “never more known” he’s talking about both the hidden and the savoured.

Two river songs roll the point home. On The Oldest Road Craig has a full-on metaphysical vision of the Downs hills in a state of historical flux, and explores them in tones that echo William Blake and Edward Thomas as well as his old mentor Tim Smith. “Chalk arises overhead, up above alluvial. / Is it true what you said, chalk springs the fluvial? – / flows into town, / scatters people all around. / Do they feel it, do they know / chalk under the bone?” While landscape offers him escapism (“disappear into the haze – / happy days,”) he also greets the growing sense of heritage that it brings to him (“I was born with flint in hand, / write my name upon the land,”) and ends up celebratory, an open-ended bounds-walker freed from linear time altogether. “It only takes an hour, / even in an hour / feel the time unwind, boy… / I have walked the open road, made ten thousand years ago. / And when the earth explodes, / atomise the oldest road, never more known.”

On the title track (amidst James’ stitchwork of keyboards and the rattling percussion) Craig begins another journey – this time in London, tracing his beloved River Thames outwards “from the Cheap to the Fleet to the Strand, / then up to the fields, / then over the land, the grey-green and brown. / Oh the city, city wide, / beautiful river rolling by.” A former Londoner himself, perhaps he starts off by retracing his own path; but as soon as the city falls behind him the song opens out into more universal territories. Specific details and place-names dissolve; the journey becomes as permeable as dreams and as material as aching feet. Sadness and inspiration, solitude and engagement alternate and counterbalance each other. “In the morning, don’t be low. / There’s a ribbon of road. / Early morning – the giant stride. / The steeper the hill, then the faster walk I. / I will never, never tire.”

Eventually, Craig’s progress becomes open-ended; a pick-up-the-pace walk song in which he threads in and out of other people’s lives – ever the visitant. “I spring out of the sun, feel sigh. / Oh, people ringing… / In a pilgrim’s high… / oh pilgrim, wander by… / Oh, the lonely, lonely road. / Chalk under the bone.” Running alongside this wandering engagement is a sense of displacement; of letting oneself fall loose from the world of family and neighbours, tugging at the lead, tempted to drift away under a vague compulsion and never knowing whether it’s the right thing to do. “By the evening, don’t be low, there’s a light in a window,” Craig sings softly, grasping after a sense of home and fulfilment in the midst of wandering.

In contrast, the album’s opening song – Where The Green Lane Runs – sees him preparing to set it all aside. It’s more than a little unsettling to open your record with a vision of your own death, but that’s what this is. In a careful picking-out of parts and purposes (part march, part folk dance, meticulously lined on nylon-string guitar and a thin wheedle of organ) Craig sets out his exit. “I’ll make my own bed when the time comes / under a tree where the green lane runs. / You’ll never find me, I hope you wouldn’t look. / I’ll leave our home without a jacket on, / head to the west and the setting sun… / I’ll do a Captain Oates and step outside, / checking out the great divide.” If the river songs placed him on the landscape, this one sees him finally merging with it, plotting out a resting place which echoes his own increasingly blurred position between modernity and antiquity: “where the green lane divides… / between the A road and the river that flows.” There’s much to mull over here, not least the uneasy mixture of feelings – defiance (with a flicker of warrior spirit in the pledge to “look for high ground, / there I’ll make my stand,”), self-sacrifice (the evocation of the wounded Oates, wandering away to die alone rather than bring others down with him) and the underlying course of loneliness; the hooded, blurred reason for the walking-away and that final solitary end.

Meanwhile, while still earthbound, there’s still the business of living and of making day-to-day sense. Three songs deal with the frustrations of making art and the fluctuations of faith. On Everything All (a flourishing blues-y hop, with James blending in crayon synth and cheerful monkey-bar clamberings of piano) Craig’s reflections are weary, beaten by the grind and by other people’s indifference. They tend towards sadness and hints of retirement. “Sometimes it’s everything all / moving the air in a room or a hall / Trying to explain what I don’t understand, / The song is a mirror / I’m taking it down.” Other People, a tickling float of flamenco plucking resolving into a more classical structure, casts an uneasier look at competition and the perils of letting life slip out of your grasp. “You’re not other people – / if you were, they’d look you in the eye, / but they’re active, pushing along the road, / and you’re passive with the flow… / We used to live together, but they’re active – up the ladder, watch them go.”

As with the rest of the record, Craig keeps us guessing as to where he’s aiming his reflections. His gentle chiding could be a nudge at a torpid friend, or a dialogue with himself – a dose of pragmatism while stuck somewhere along the road. “You’re not undeserving of course, but there’s something you should know. / Life’s out selling, and you’re passive with the flow – / you go, go, go – / and the world is active – look, the spinning globe.” By the time he gets to Six Feet Under Yeah, he’s cemented some resolution. Accompanied by beautiful Tudoresque chording (festooned with joyfully quilled keyboard lines and fugues atop a sliding bass) he prods and encourages, and finally celebrates the struggle in a rousing gain-in-spite-of-pain anthem. “You don’t appreciate / the beauty of what you make… / Don’t be dissatisfied / keep your eye on the prize / Create it, then get it out – / yeah, get it out. / It ain’t over / ‘til it’s over.”


In spite of the darker veins that cross its vision (those vagabond drifts away from home, the spectre of lonely death, the cracks which erode confidence), ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ ultimately emerges onto the uplands of optimism. It’s not just about Six Feet Under Yeah’s concluding reclamations of course and momentum: in Bubble, Craig sets aside solitary thoughts and immerses himself in a simple celebration of parenthood. A squiggled bass riff boinks, a busy trio of guitars stand for family, and while James floats streamers of monosynth over everything (like a playful uncle) Craig sings unguardedly of little hats and tiny hands, chuckling over the chaos of cheerful, burgeoning family life – “we’ve skidded again… Blessed are we now, we’ll never be the same.”

All of this is capped, as it should be, by Craig’s reunion with Sharron on So Sweet Tomorrow; an old fFortingtons country tune turned nursery-rhyme on which the two harmonise, take turns and all but curtsey to each other. A soft mule-trudge rhythm, dappled with deceptively Christmassy bells, it has some of their old wide-eyed Shrubbies feel to it (“after today / we’ll ring a true bell, / when all is well”), but its heady couple-sung doggerel taps into older rituals of season and celebrations of survival. “Oh come along you, to light a spire, / wash out the mire, and raise the shadow, / dig under belly-o.” Spectres still flit around the edges, but the overall flavour is one of resilience. “Bring out your dying, and near-to-dead, / but still the final breath is left.”

Pull back and reflect. If there’s a final form to that psychic landscape – the one which we were scouting out from that hill-brow, back then when we first sat down, and the one which Craig’s been limning throughout the record – it’s here. Ghost-thoughts and dark loomings might protrude through the weak points, but the weak points aren’t everything; nor are they the defining features, just as a walk isn’t entirely defined by the blisters it raises. Walks are terrain, no less. Smoothnesses disrupted; routes which are more difficult and more revealing than the maps which you started with; stumbles leading to unexpected vistas. ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ is a record which (in its soft-spoken revealings and sway-back moods) ultimately embraces those stones in the shoes, the crows-feet and skiddings and the salt-and-pepper, the simple actions which maybe ache a little more than they used to. While it doesn’t make a meal of the fact, it’s also a record which absorbs something important – the point that pilgrimage isn’t just the journey or the destination, it’s the chance to discover yourself along the way.

All right, now. Rest-time is over, and there are roads to tread. Come on – ease yourself up. Put your pack back on; check your shoes. Comfortable enough. You’ll make it. Go.

Arch Garrison: ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’
The Household Mark, THM003
CD/download album
Released:
19th May 2014
Get it from:
Amazon or iTunes or Wayside Music.
Arch Garrison online:
Homepage MySpace

May 2014 – through the feed – Tim Bowness/Stars In Battledress pre-orders

9 May

News on two long-awaited second albums, both now available for pre-order.

(Brief rant first. Up until now ‘Misfit City’ has avoided reproducing or paraphrasing current news releases, apart from the odd crowdfunding mention. Too many music blogs are rolling shills, just throwing out links and one or two lines of PR blurb – fine if you only want a quick squirt of info, but I prefer to provide something to read and reflect on. Now I’m relaxing my stance: partly because release schedules are moving too fast for me to keep up with them properly, and also because ‘Misfit City’ readers probably appreciate the opportunity to pursue a few things on their own. Hence this first “through the feed” post, passing on and personalising info on promising upcoming releases or events which I’ve heard about. This will flesh out the City’s posting schedules and also allow me to indulge myself as pure enthusiast, minus the more sober and serious responsibilities that come with in-depth reviewing. Having unbent myself a little, I’ve found I’m enjoying it. Wheedling rant over. Now…)

Tim Bowness: 'Abandoned Dancehall Dreams'

Tim Bowness: ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’

On 23rd June, Tim Bowness releases ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ on Inside Out Music. I know I wasn’t alone in hoping for Tim to release a new no-man album this year, but thanks to bandmate Steven Wilson’s ongoing commitments to his own solo career, we get this as an alternative: a might-have-been no-man album reworked as a Bowness solo effort. The album features contributions from the no-man live band (including Darkroom‘s Mike Bearpark and Henry Fool‘s Stephen Bennett) plus a scatter of interesting guest players (King Crimson’s Pat Mastelotto, Porcupine Tree’s Colin Edwin, Anna Phoebe from Trans-Siberian Orchestra, composer/string arranger Andrew Keeling).

Those who’ll still miss the presence of Steven Wilson can console themselves by the fact that he’s done the album mix, but it’s always worth pointing out that no-man is an equal partnership for a very good reason – and that Tim’s work outside no-man during the band’s lengthy absences over the past decade has flowered into much broader areas and accomplishments. For ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’, expect plenty of violins, choirs, an edgy croon and some immediate art-rock songs which should effortlessly combine the wracked, the sleek and a very English blend of wryness and longing. One song, The Warm-Up Man Forever, was premiered as a highlight of the no-man tour back in 2012.

A download version comes later, but as regards the solid options the usual Burning Shed boutique format options apply for the pre-order. For turntable worshippers, there’s not only a vinyl version but also a very limited white vinyl edition, both of which come with a free CD version. For musical completists and sleeve-note fans, the double CD version comes with alternate/outtake versions plus remixes by Richard Barbieri, UXB and Grasscut, as well as a nice fat 16-page essay booklet (of the kind I used to write, once upon a time). Sweet. Some live dates follow in July, featuring members of the erstwhile Bowness band, the no-man live band, and Henry Fool (all of whom appear to have morphed together into an overlapping art-rock amoeba). Loop-guitar thresher Matt Stevens and silky Italian art-rockers Nosound appear as support at some dates.

Stars In Battledress: 'In Droplet Form'

Stars In Battledress: ‘In Droplet Form’

The week before that, on June 16th, sibling duo James and Richard Larcombe – a.k.a Stars In Battledress – release their own second album ‘In Droplet Form’ on Believers Roast. Their debut album was one of 2003’s hidden, intricate gems – a marvellous multi-levelled faux-antique toybox of sepia-ed wit, sophisticated arrangements, sly poetry and clambering harmony. Fans of Neil Hannon, Robert Wyatt, Stephen Merritt and Cyril Tawney should all have had a field day with it, but for a variety of reasons, it remained hidden. (I’m sure that my own wretched inability to complete a review at the time didn’t help…)

Since then Stars In Battledress have only reappeared sporadically, although the brothers have kept busy both separately and together. Both have worked as ensemble members of North Sea Radio Orchestra and of William D. Drake & Friends: James has played keyboards in Arch Garrison and Zag & The Coloured Beads; Richard has kept himself busy with his Sparkysongs project for children, no less of a challenge than keeping cranky art-rock fans happy. Yet absolutely nothing else that the Larcombes do can top the particular magic they cook up when they’re together and completely in control of their own songs.

With an eleven year gap between albums, some of these songs have been around for quite a while. The romping wit of Hollywood Says So, the rambling melodic spikes of Fluent English (an oblique essay on rebellion, Empire, personal misplacement and embarrassment) and the haunting cadences of The Women From The Ministry – all of these were highlights of Battledress sets back in the early Noughties, so it’s lovely to finally have them arriving in recorded form. If you want some idea of what Stars In Battledress are like live, here’s a review of them at Roastfest in 2011. As a taster for the new album, here’s their video for the opening track A Winning Decree (directed by Ashley Jones of Chaos Engineers).

‘In Droplet Form’ is a CD-only release for now, and can be pre-ordered here, with a London album launch (also featuring Arch Garrison and Prescott) downstairs at the Roundhouse on April 13th.

Also in June, the Laura Moody debut album should be appearing. I’m really looking forward to that one too.

Tim Bowness online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Last FM YouTube Vimeo

Stars In Battledress online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp LastFM

March 2003 – live reviews – North Sea Radio Orchestra @ St Clement Eastcheap, City of London, England, 15th March (“a polished Victorian never-never land of intricate miniatures and toymaker’s details”)

18 Mar

Once you’ve found it (tucked away in the cramped, confusing whorls of buildings and alleyways near the Monument) the diminutive Christopher Wren church of St Clement Eastcheap is like an old-fashioned kid’s treasure-box, hidden in a chest-of-drawers. Small but perfectly-formed (and bearing the decorous marks of its mid-Victorian refurbishment), it perches pertly between two well-known architectural schools – “enchanting” and “cute”. Tidy pillars spring up hopefully at the sides of its nave. That creamy yellow tint in the immaculate plasterwork of the walls sets off the lovingly-worn mahogany of choir stalls, pews and the massive pulpit. It’s tiny enough for a smallish art-rock audience to squeeze into and feel cosy: and there’s a nursery-rhyme connection too, if you know your oranges and your lemons.

Really, the North Sea Radio Orchestra couldn’t have picked a more appropriate venue. For the music of this retrofitted, romantic-progressive chamber ensemble, St Clements fits like a glove. It shares those hints of modestly-mingled English eras of scaled-down splendour, the atmosphere of nostalgic time travel and aan affectionate polish of traditional heritage. Once you’re inside, both of them also tempt you to blissfully engulf yourself in a luxurious dream of old England – open fields, spinneys, bright stars, sunlight and green thoughts – while all around you the ruthlessness, frenetic urban pace and concrete encroachment looms and sprawls. This may all be an imaginary, selective stance. On a superficial level, you could also get suspicious of well-spoken contemporary white musicians in London warding off angst by cooking up a hand-crafted pre-industrial daydream. But this does the NSRO a disservice. You could accuse them of forcing their innocence – and maybe yours as well – but whatever else they’re doing here is done entirely without malice.

Twenty people settle onstage and get a grip on their violas, cellos, trombones, bass clarinets or whatever. Familiar London art-rock faces abound. Conductor-composer Craig Fortnam and the ensemble’s soprano singer Sharron Saddington used to bob up and down on the fringes of the Cardiacs scene, first in the psychedelic tea-party of William D. Drake’s short-lived Lake Of Puppies and then in the bumptiously charming folk-pronk of The Shrubbies. James Larcombe (Stars In Battledress’ elegantly-tailored smoothie of a keyboard player) is soberly fingering a chamber organ. His brother and bandmate Richard is boosting the numbers in the eight-strong choir, right next to the wild Persian afro of onetime Monsoon Bassoon-er (and current Cardiac) Kavus Torabi. Out in the audience, the aforementioned Mr Drake sits next to Tim Smith, his old friend and former boss in Cardiacs. Across from them, there are various Foes and Ursas and Sidi Bou Saids. There’s a sense of occasion. We get a beautifully designed arts-and-crafts-styled programme to take home. It’s a long way from Camden pub gigs.

This isn’t solely because of the surroundings. North Sea Radio Orchestra might carry their assorted historical splinters of psychedelic rock, folk, and even punk along with them, but they are unabashedly classical in intent. Even the twistiest and most abrasive of the art-rockers in the lineup are sporting the sober concentration of churchgoers, and Sharron has traded her former outfit of cosy specs and jumpers (though not her artlessly warm smile) for a modest diva gown. Craig, his back turned, conscientiously conducts the ensemble. When he sits aside to strum a little polite guitar, he has to crane his neck round anxiously, making sure that the music is still running smoothly.

He needn’t worry. Despite the shades of complex tonality which inform the NSRO’s compositions (Frank Zappa, Benjamin Britten and Tim Smith have all left their mark on Craig’s inspiration), the music flows readily. Sometimes it’s a simple organ drone as a base for Dan Hewson’s trombone expositions. At the other end of the measure, there’s the rollicking Occasional Tables: a dancing interplay between clarinets with a gloriously drunken, attention-switching Frank Zappa/Henry Cow approach. With its mediaeval echoes, and an additional infusion of the peculiar darkness of post-Morton Feldman Californian conservatoire music, it’s given an edge by the astringent, atonal vibraphone shiver (and by Craig’s strict, almost military turn on bongos).

Intriguing as these are, it’s the NSRO’s orchestration of poems which connect deepest with the audience. Mostly these are Tennyson settings (with a sprinkling of Thomas Hardy and other contemporaries) but even Daniel Dundas Maitland’s modern Sonnet looks back to ornate Victoriana. So does Craig’s music, swirling its Early Music and contemporary classical influences together to meet halfway in a polished Victorian never-never land of intricate miniatures and toymaker’s details. Sharron’s vocals – sometimes piping, sometimes emoting in keen, theatrical wails – make for exquisitely brittle sugar-sculpture shapes, while rivulets of strings and woodwind launch themselves from the melody.

The heavenly sway of Move Eastward Happy Earth sets Sharron’s winsome soprano against the lazy, streaming clarinet of Nick Hayes and against Ben Davies’ slow waltz of trimmed-down piano. The choir (with a hearty, clever enthusiasm that reminds me of nothing so much as Gentle Giant) leaps in for stepped, skipping choruses and glorious vocal resolutions. For The Flower, drifts of strings slip from the vocal line and weave busily like something out of Schubert’s Trout Quintet. Onstage, everyone who isn’t smiling looks happily dazed, as if drunk on the sunny harmonies.

And so it continues, with parts of the NSRO dropping in and out to suit the music. For Thumb Piano, Craig trims it down to a revolving arpeggio of guitar harmonics in trio with the blues-tinged fluting of Hayes’ sweet’n’wild clarinet and Katja Mervola’s pizzicato viola. Harry Escott provides a cello improvisation, impressively-voiced chordal melodies sliding on top of a slithering bass drone. James Larcombe sketches out a collage of beady, kaleidoscopic chord progressions in his studious organ solo. The chorus, for their part, sing lustily in a London melting-pot of diverse accents. For the canon setting of Yeats’ He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven, the whole orchestra sings its way through Craig’s pop-folk melodies.

When the whole ensemble is running at full strength, St Clement brightens with music. Shelley’s Skylark, in particular, is profoundly ambitious – semi-connected cello lines swing like foghorns, thick Michael Byron-ish string parts disgorge dominant melodies, and the chorus is a rich blur of voices, pumping resolution into Hardy’s words. But best of all is a generous Fortnam orchestration of a piece by his former bandleader William D. Drake – a setting of William Johnson Cory’s Mimnermus In Church. With Richard Larcombe stepping out from the chorus to duet with Sharron, and the North Sea Radio Orchestra performing at its fullest stretch, the results are captivating. The voices of Sharron and Richard move around each other in dusty, reedy, yearning harmonies (he floating up to countertenor) while strings, piano, clarinets and brass open out like a delicate night-bloomer, fragrantly illustrating Cory’s salute to flawed and transient life in the face of a perfect yet chilly heaven. “All beauteous things for which we live by laws of time and space decay. / But O, the very reason why I clasp them is because they die.”

Yes, in pop culture terms it is music for an ivory tower, or for a detached oasis where you can secrete yourself away from the world. Only a mile or two to the west, I’m sure that electric guitars are roaring out rock, garage clubs are spinning off beats and bling, and someone’s delivering tonight’s definitive urban hymn. But emerging into the City of London – all higgledy-piggledy with glass skyscrapers, Renaissance guildhalls and mediaeval street names, a ragbag of congealed history in parallels – I couldn’t care less.

Like the best musicians, North Sea Radio Orchestra tap into timeless things (beauty, transient joys, the shift of seasons). But like the stubbornest, they also know the colours and shades of the times which they’ll want to employ, finding a way to make them mean something whenever and wherever they’re played. And though an antique church and a Victorian altar cloth made a beautiful frame tonight, this music – at its peak – would’ve sounded good even if the whole ensemble had been balanced atop a Docklands trash-heap.

North Sea Radio Orchestra online:
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St Clement Eastcheap online:
Homepage

December 2002 – EP reviews – North Sea Radio Orchestra’s ‘North Sea Radio Orchestra’ demo EP (“the bluffness and friendly beauty of English music – all clotted cream and cider”)

5 Dec

North Sea Radio Orchestra: 'North Sea Radio Orchestra' demo EP

North Sea Radio Orchestra: ‘North Sea Radio Orchestra’ demo EP

Though it isn’t a patch on their ornately gilded live performances, there’s still much on the North Sea Radio Orchestra’s debut recording to give you an idea of their fledgling fragility and freshness.

Making strikingly pretty voyages into English chamber music, the NSRO are a vehicle for the Frank-Zappa-meets-Benjamin-Britten compositions of the former Shrubbies/Lake Of Puppies guitarist Craig Fortnam. They feature a cross section of classical musicians and serious moonlighters from latter-day London art-rock bands like Cardiacs and Stars In Battledress; and they mingle a palpable innocence of intent with a taste for engagingly convoluted melodic decoration. All this plus eminent Victorian poetry too. At this rate, Craig will wake up one day to find out that the National Trust has staked him out.

He could use some backup, to tell the truth. This time, budget constraints mean that the NSRO’s flexible little company of clarinets, piano, violin, organ, cello and harmonium (plus Craig’s own nylon-strung electric guitar) gets squeezed into a recording vessel too small to give them justice. It’s a measure of the music’s innate charm that it transcends these cramped conditions, aided in part by the loving assistance of head Cardiac Tim Smith at the console.

Music For Two Clarinets And Piano, in particular, strides out in delicious pulsating ripples as it evolves from a folky plainness to an increasingly brinksman-like disconnection. The clarinets hang off the frame of the music like stunt-riders, chuckling and babbling cheerfully at each other, held up by bubbling piano. The keyboard trio of Nest Of Tables also overcomes the plinking tones of the necessarily-synthesized vibraphone and harp to embark on a long, waltzing journey over a stack of tricky chords: leaning on the piano, the benevolent spectres of Tim Smith and Kerry Minnear nod approval in the background like a pair of proud godfathers. Organ Miniature No. 1 (written and delivered by Stars In Battledress’ James Larcombe) manages to find a convincing meeting point for relaxed Messiaen, strict chapel and the better-groomed end of Zappa.

For many it’ll be the three Alfred Lord Tennyson settings which encapsulate the heart of the North Sea Radio Orchestra’s appeal. Featuring the soprano vocals of Sharron Saddington (Craig’s longtime musical and romantic partner), they’re as tart and sweet as freshly pressed apple juice. Somehow they manage to dress the poems up in artful, beautifully-arranged chamber flounces and frills without swamping them in too much chintz. It’s a fine line, which the NSRO tread by matching Tennyson’s blend of mellifluous personal introspection and cosmological scenery with similarly perfumed and illuminated music. Soft but increasingly detailed puffs of chamber organ gently rock Sharron’s summertime lament on The Lintwhite, from where it’s cradled in its bed of harmonium. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Craig chooses to orchestrate The Flower (a fable of beauty, nurture and prejudice which conceals a sharp judgmental barb) with a muted brass arrangement reminiscent of another sharp musical fabulist, Kurt Weill.

The crowning glory is Move Eastward Happy Earth, where Sharron sings a hymnal wedding waltz over joyfully welling piano. Refusing to sing in either classical bel canto or pure pop, Sharron comes up with her own tones in a full sweep of approaches between urchin, candyfloss and diva: here, she carols in a kind of beautifully-mannered choirboy ecstasy. She’s backed up by an exuberant miniature chamber choir who sweep between yo-ho-ho-ing madrigal accompaniment and full-throated burst festive celebration via a set of boldly harmonised canons. It’s a little trek through the bluffness and friendly beauty of English music – all clotted cream and cider.

Perhaps that last idea is as fancifully romantic of me as is Tennyson’s own image of the spinning planet, racing him on towards his marriage day. Or perhaps underneath it all I’m being as phoney as John Major, last decade, waxing corny about a vintage Albion of cycling spinsters and cricket whites on the village green. Dreams of English innocence and cleanliness can end up trailing their roots through some pretty murky places unless you’re careful. Nonetheless, for three-and-a-half minutes North Sea Radio Orchestra could restore your faith in its well-meaningness – all without a trace of embarrassment, or recourse to snobbery. They earn their right to their genuine dreamy innocence, and (for all of their blatant nostalgia) to their sincerity too.

Shoebox recording or not, here’s a little piece of wood-panelled chamber magic for you.

North Sea Radio Orchestra: ‘North Sea Radio Orchestra’ demo EP
North Sea Radio Orchestra (no catalogue number or barcode)
CD-only EP
Released: late November 2002

Buy it from:
(Updated, 2016) Best obtained second-hand – although it’s as rare as hen’s teeth.

North Sea Radio Orchestra online:
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December 2002 – album reviews – Various Artists: ‘House of Stairs Volume 1: Useless in Bed’ compilation (“happily balanced on the rougher brinks and fringes”)

4 Dec

Various Artists: 'House of Stairs Vol. 1 - Useless in Bed'

Various Artists: ‘House of Stairs Vol. 1 – Useless in Bed’

Placing yourself on faultlines, rather than easily marketable turf, brings risks but inspiration – ask a San Franciscan. That the three London art-rock bands who originally set up the House of Stairs label (The Monsoon Bassoon, Geiger Counter, and Ursa) have all now split or mutated into something else is perhaps proof of both.

Regardless, ‘Useless In Bed’ – the first House of Stairs release – is a declaration of brotherhood. Compiling the work of musicians dwelling on various faultlines (though still mostly centred on London art-rock, it also takes in music from Chicago, Atlanta and Bordeaux), it both defines the edges of prog, jazz, art-rock, hardcore, electronica, folk, improv and noise rock, or encourages people to spill across them.


 
Hard-rocking math-proggers Foe – sprung from the wreckage of Geiger Counter – offer the most urgent track. ‘Triangulator’ is full of furious refracting guitar lines over Crawford Blair’s piano-growl of bass. For six minutes it swings, chops, drops down trapdoors, executes perverse King Crimson leaps between mordantly grim chords, and savages minor keys like The 5uu’s on far too much coffee. Geiger Counter’s posthumous statement is ‘Drink Your Milk’ – less obviously wired than ‘Triangulator’, it still carves up its grunge-y math riffs with heavy enthusiasm, embracing sweeter interludes of short-lived luminous peace as it does so. Nouveau Metal is spreading…

The Monsoon Bassoon‘s own posthumous offering is a explosive and complicated song from when their mingling of Henry Cow and gamelan-Crimson art-rock ran full tilt into their love of American alt.rockers like Shudder To Think. The psychedelic squeal of guitars on ‘Stag’ marches from plateau to jagged plateau in a skirl of trippy flute and meshing riffs, held together by the band’s tight discipline.


 
These days various Bassooners have regrouped in Miss Helsinki, who deliver a sparkling piece of progressive pop called ‘I Felt Your Arms Around Me’. Less surreal than most Bassoon confections, it’s still an acid-flavoured love song whose rattling good XTC jangle and tootling clarinets don’t stop it hurtling delightedly into a complex, storm-tossed middle section in which they see just how much you can rock the train without slinging it off the rails.

 
If you’d prefer to stick with the Bassoon’s skronkier legacy, Chicago’s Sweep the Leg Johnny are still juggling that torch. With the superb ‘Only in a Rerun’, they’re obviously on a roll – it’s a rich mixture of harsh Schizoid Man tones and flamboyant jazz-metal attack from the raw husky wail of Steve Sostak’s alto sax and Chris Daly’s bloodthirsty roar of guitar, tossing Sostak’s airy vocal like a bull tossing a skinny matador. Slewing between dEUS busyness and violent post-Slint minimalism, this is a rough bareback ride to put a wicked smile on your face.


 
Manic Glaswegian pranksters Lapsus Linguae provide ‘Olestra (There’s Only One Drinking Fountain in Heaven)’. A stab of theatrical art-metal somewhere between Faith No More and Beck (with a Resident eyeballing it from the director’s chair) it has all you need to storm the castle of pomp. There’s a man called Penelope Collegefriend singing in a rampant bellow like a punk Freddie Mercury; there’s an inexplicable strings break and a rolling piano line continually chopped off with guillotine precision; there are namechecks for Hermann Hesse and Charlton Heston, and choicely bizarre lyrics like “More I eat, the hungrier I feel – / I lick menus, ignore the meals.”


 
Holding up the genteel-er proggie end are the whimsical and witty projects of the Larcombe brothers. With ‘Sand (Blowing About)’, Stars in Battledress provide a beautiful dance of fluent piano and autoharp: but beyond the divertimento prettiness, James Larcombe leads the duo through eddies of suggestive Debussyan chords.

Richard Larcombe goes on to turn in a conceptual tease on Defeat the Young‘s wonderful ‘I’m Ruining Something’ – an absurdist essay on the corruptions of power which blends Gentle Giant with Lewis Carroll and Stravinsky. Larcombe greets his ensemble of actors, trombone, and full-blown operatic chorus as a lounge-lizard lord of misrule, sighing a manifesto of playful destruction in his arch, refined tones. “I’m recognised as your one sovereign Lord Protector / Trust me – I’ve learned of your country by tape and slide projector. / Each day I’ll go out of my way to spoil, deface and tarnish, / like he who ruins carpentry by swapping glue for varnish.” Oboe, piano and hammer dulcimer float in a dreamy arrangement like an August haze. Apparently there’s a whole album’s worth of this story in the Larcombe shed – ‘The Golden Spike’ – and it’s only one of their dastardly plans.

Both of House Of Stairs’ lo-fi electronica boffins seem to grab inspiration from bargain-bucket electrical goods. Desmotabs create an appealing Stylophone fanfare buzz on ‘Gaseous Exchange at the Alveoli’, let their drum machine go nuts and assault a heart monitor, and squiggle some demented Mini-Moog solos before the entire track melts like a Dali model. Max Tundra (the Frank Zappa of the techno world) continues his marvellous and bizarre mission to fuse hardcore dance music with prog rock. ‘Life in a Lift Shaft’ equals Desmotabs buzz-for-buzz while festooning tough and hilariously uptight Tundra beats with jittery robot piano and fat sub-bass from the tar-pits. Alarm-clocks fly past on tiny wings trying to take bites out of the zany, sunny tune.

The free-er bands – as usual – have a harder time. Gnarly bass-and-drums duo Guapo can be the missing link between ‘Red’ and Ruins when they want to be. However, their grinding ‘Pharoah’ – despite Dave Smith’s excellent Brufordian snarework – is mostly as subtle as a flying breezeblock. Dragging large chunks of pyramid across the desert and insisting that you appreciate each tortuous step, they occasionally snap, shoot off the flywheel and go ape with some fearsome tattoo riffs. Hardcore acoustic fusioneers Cheval de Frise hop up and down with impatience on ‘Chiendents’, banging their heads against their own lo-fi envelope, manically coiling up tighter and tighter acoustic guitar scrabbles against the tussling drums. Compression to destruction, breaking out in wild slashes.


 
And finally there’s the hardcore department, with the recently defunct Ursa demonstrating why they’ll be a sad loss to the British heavy scene. Avoiding hardcore’s usual fixed, deafening riffage and reductive howling, ‘The Blooding’ begins with a studied ponderousness and heaviness which gives way to an inspiring controlled demolition. Galloping punked-up Iron Maiden guitar runs charge under giant toppling riffs, the band dodging falling masonry via nifty turn-on-a-dime spins while losing none of their brute power. American Heritage, likewise, execute proggie timeswitches with rapid and brutal thrash flair, their sound a bleak, bare cliff of thick guitar noise. It’s anyone’s guess as to why they’ve called their track ‘Phil Collins’ – it’s an unlikely tribute, whether it’s aimed square at the Genesis drumstool or at the white-soul crowdpleaser.


 
Anyhow… here’s a house of many doors, happily balanced on the rougher brinks and fringes and demonstrating the breadth of personalities camped out in even one small part of today’s art-rock community. Admirable.

Various Artists: ‘House of Stairs Volume 1: Useless in Bed’
House of Stairs, HOS001 (5030094077829)
CD-only compilation album
Released: 2nd December 2002
Get it from:
(2020 update) best obtained second-hand
 

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