Tag Archives: Jo Spratley

November/December 2017 – more assorted Smithery – BarmyFiveseveN play Tim Smith at Connector V, Amsterdam (2nd November); Spratleys Japs’ Wonderful Winter Wonderland tour of England (14th-17th December)

15 Oct

Coverage of the complex, perverse and joyful musical work of the sadly incapacitated Tim Smith – whether inside or outside his mothership Cardiacs band – frequently figures in here. It’s good to bring you all more about his continued crossover from cult status to something wider: this time, with news of a conservatory jazz gig in Amsterdam and of the continued afterlife of Spratleys Japs.

Connector V, 2nd November 2017

Broedplaats Lely & Steim present:
Connector V
Steim, Schipluidenlaan 12-3E, 1062HE Amsterdam, Netherlands
Thursday 2nd November 2017, 8.00pm
information

“Composers are not necessarily dead. They also do not necessarily write symphonies in D flat minor in a 4/4 time signature.

“Tim Smith, frontman of the British band called Cardiacs, is a great composer who wrote lots of music permeated with energy, humour, beauty, Britishness. By people who only partly open their ears (or their minds for that matter), his music has been defined as being “chaotic”. The opposite is true, however: it is strongly organised music and all one needs to be able to do is count past four (and not forget about prime numbers). This challenging mix of punk, prog rock, orchestral and live electronic music (also known as “pronk”) will be performed by BarmyFiveseveN, a “small big band” ensemble of around fifteen players from the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, armed with live electronic extensions.”

Connector V is part of a monthly series at Steim: regular readers should recognise this particular one as a follow-up to the Smith-covering set by Alex Brajkovic Ensemble at Amsterdam’s Jazz Ensemble Festival back in April, and it does in fact feature most or all of the same players, put together by rebel prog professor Jos Zwaanenburg. No-one seems to have recorded/posted evidence from the last time, so I can’t show you how it went – but as before, I can give you some very loose indications as to how this concert might might turn out by referring you to English Rose Orchestrations’ string quartet version of one of the featured pieces, The Duck And Roger The Horse.


 

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Spratleys Japs, 14th-17th December 2017The following month, Spratleys Japs consolidate the success of their Brighton and London reunion shows over the last couple of years by setting out on a bigger, broader English tour taking in Yorkshire and the West as well as the south east, with a mass of current/former Cardiacs and friends coalescing as support around the tour dates.

Read more about SJ here: in brief, though, they’re a short-lived and swampy alternate-universe pop project (part alien folk maunderings, part glam-punk punch and part spindly antiprog) which Tim put together in the mid-’90s with then-girlfriend/muse Jo Spratley. Now revived by Jo and a collection of Brighton art rockers, they’ve got a second wind and have been rattling through fresh gigs partially in tribute to Tim and partially because the enthralling, infuriating puzzle-box songs have a peculiar life of their own.


As regards the backup, looming raconteur Stephen Evens brings his scowling, sardonic British pop along to the London, Brighton and Bristol shows (possibly with full band in tow for all of them). In a similar vein, Yorkshire dark-melodrama rockers The Scaramanga Six pile in at the Huddersfield date, while the Brighton show also sports vigorous dream poppers Hurtling and noisy art-rock goons Ham Legion (the latter performing their Syd Barrett tribute as “Vegetable Men” (plus another acoustic set from Kavus Torabi, squeezing in time in between fronting Gong, Knifeworld and his radio broadcasts). At Bristol there’s another onetime Cardiacs guitarist, Jon Poole, possibly bringing both solo stuff and one-man versions of his clever-pop work with The Dowling Poole; plus ZOFFF (the reverberant south coast kosmische/deep-psych band featuring Crayola Lectern‘s Chris Anderson and yet another ex-Cardiac six-stringer, Bic Hayes).

As with most Cardiacs-related events, these give you a cross-section of a under-celebrated ongoing British sub-scene; stretching from surprisingly accessible, sharply written latter-day take on Britpop right through to mantric pedal noise and squirts of lysergic space-cadet juice. Here’s a selection of sundries from all concerned:









 
Full dates:

  • The Parish, 28 Kirksgate, Huddersfield, Yorkshire, HD1 1QQ, England, Thursday 14th December 2017, 7.30pm (with The Scaramanga Six) – information here and here
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market, Bristol, Avon, BS2 0EJ, England, Friday 15th December 2017, 7.30pm (with Jon Poole + ZOFFF + Stephen Evens) – information here and here
  • The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton BN1 4FQ, England, Saturday 16th December 2017, 6.00pm (with Kavus Torabi + Stephen Evens (full band) + Hurtling + Ham Legion As Vegetable Men) – information here and here
  • The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England, Sunday 17th December 2017 (with Stephen Evens + others tbc) – information t.b.c.

UPDATE, 18th October – apparently we can also expect a couple of imminent fundraising Cardiacs cover versions from Spratleys Japs and Stephen Evens (Odd Even and Two Bites of Cherry), plus other surprises they’re keeping a little tightlipped about for the moment.

Meanwhile, Cornish psychedelic folkie Emily Jones (another Spratleys friend from previous gigs) has been added to the Brighton concert, which now also features a Torabi/Steve Davis DJ set. Support for the Brixton Windmill show in London is going to be thrashy prog-pop stuntmeisters The Display Team and rapidly rising Windmill favourites Black Midi. Below are a couple of moments from Emily and the ‘Team. (There’s not much more I can give you about Black MIDI. They’re so new that the paint’s hardly dry on them, and their Soundcloud page is still empty; but I did manage to establish that they’re an experimental/instrumental rock five-piece of teenage Croydonians and that they’re “purveyors of the darkest dreamscapes”…)



 

May 2016 – 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); M U M M Y 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).





 

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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.



 
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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 M U M M Y, 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 2017 – upcoming Brighton gigs – Oscillations V on the 10th (JØTA, M U M M Y, Maskulin); The Real Music Club on the 25th (Brother Twain, Gail Storm Edmunds, Jack Pout)

3 Mar

Here are a couple of imminent Brighton events which caught my attention, initially through their connection with a certain strand of south-coast English psychedelia – gently self-exiled, looking outward from the shore, murmurating in open-sky freedom) which spans contact, membership, inspiration or practical fellowship with the likes of Damo Sukuki, The House of Love, Cardiacs, Stereolab, Levitation, the Lewes Psychedelic Festival et al.

That said, the full range of what you eventually get here, along Brighton’s eclectic seafront, seems to sit itself more in other areas: ‘60s pop and Anglo rhythm-and-blues (Love, Traffic, The Walker Brothers), synthpop, European dance music and broken beats, folk-club fingerpicking, slightly eldritch post-punk noise. Everything meets by the sea.

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The first of these two gigs takes place in central Brighton’s rock’n’roll boutique hotel, Hotel Pelirocco – two Regency townhouses turned into a glamour warren. Oscillations have been running free nights of electronic/psychedelic music and visuals there since last autumn, inspired by fifty years of assorted countercultures and altered states of mind: I’m only just catching up with this now.

Oscillations V, 10th March 2017

Oscillations presents:
Oscillations V – JØTA + M U M M Y + Maskulin
Hotel Pelirocco, 10 Regency Square, Brighton, BN1 2FG, England
Friday 10th March 2017, 7.30pm
– free event – information

JØTA is electronic music producer Peter J.D Mason (half of Becky Becky, one-fifth of Cloud and formerly one-thirtieth of Fence Collective. He improvises electro-space-disco-synth-experimental-Soviet-dance tunes on cheap anal/igital synths inspired by the Soviet space programme of the ’50s and ’60s.


 
M U M M Y‘s Jo Spratley and Bic Hayes breathe and drink and eat and live with all the other creatures and plants and beings in England near The Sea. They need very little to survive. They dedicate their noise to the vanishing ones and long to slip through the deep with the seal.


 
Maskulin provides a versatile collection of content generating modern twist on the beats scene. Expect vibrant combinations of genres from the likes of jazz and soul with modern rap to engineer a sound unique within the Brighton music scene.”


 
Also on hand are the “mind-melting visual projections” of Innerstrings, the “lumière” side of the son-et-lumière at Lewes Psychedelic Festival. DJ sets come from from the Oscillations organisers themselves and from DJ MessyTrax: “proud owner of one of the largest private collections of Legowelt vinyl in Fiveways… spinning a selection of tunes old and new, including aliases, side projects, collaborations and remixes… essential slam-jack electronics.”

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Later in the month, there’s an airier, gentler evening being staged a step or two westward in Hove, at which one of the newer Brighton bands are making their first live appearance.

The Real Music Club, 25th March 2017

The Real Music Club presents:
“The Triangulation of the New”: Brother Twain + Gail Storm Edmunds + Jack Pout
The Brunswick, 1-3 Holland Road, Hove, West Sussex, BN3 1JF, England
Saturday 25th March 2017, 8.00pm
– information here or here

“The name “Brother Twain” has been rumoured and whispered about on the Brighton scene for a few years now, especially amongst fans of legendary Brighton garage band CLOWWNS. The time has arrived for the Rodes brothers, Étienne and Adrien, to launch the band: drawing influences from classic pop, less classic pop, Krautrock, crooners, bluegrass and film music, it’s grown-up-psych-prog-baroque pop (with a love of circular melodies and unexpected chords via guitars, strings and brass).

“Brighton dwellers since the early 2000s, Adrien and Étienne hail from the historic city of Versailles, France. It’s perhaps unsurprising (or inevitable) therefore that their sister went to school with members of Phoenix, and that Nicolas Godin of Air once studied under the benevolent supervision of their father at the Versailles School of Architecture. Adrien previously busied himself with recording under the aliases Topo Gigio and Rec.Tangle for mancunian label Melodic Records, while Étienne joined Stereolab offshoot Imitation Electric Piano (with Simon Johns and Joe Watson) for their second album, before becoming part of CLOWWNS. Most recently, both brothers participated in the live rendition of Tim Smith’s Spratleys Japs album ‘Pony’.

“United by blood and an undying love for a crafty tune (and armed with a long list of tracks written over the last ten years), the Rodes brothers joined forces and got to work in Adrien’s six-meter square studio on the Brighton seafront along with singer/lyricist Miles Heathfield (CLOWWNS, Poppycocks) and drummer Damo Waters (CLOWWNS, Tim Smith’s Spratleys Japs, Electric Soft Parade, Field Music, SLUG), while hired hands played strings and brass. Adrien and Étienne played everything else and everyone chipped in for backing vocals. The Brother Twain debut album has been out since 19th February; this is their debut gig.


 
“Niece of the late trombone legend Rico Rodriquez, Gail Storm Edmunds grew up heavily influenced by reggae, soul, jazz and blues. Having played sessions and toured all over the world with the likes of Eddie Floyd, Terence Trent D’Arby, Heidi Berry and Sacha Stone, she’s pioneers her own “Hippy Soul” sound, blending her strong, rich, powerful yet classical voice to simple, affective acoustic guitar, meaningful songwriting and a catchy, upbeat, positive style. Though Gail’s original debut album ‘Time Is The Master’ (recorded back in 1999) ended up unreleased – and she subsequently took time out for happy motherhood – she is making a comeback (having played a number of festivals last year) with the upcoming ‘This is Hippie Soul’ EP.


 
Jack Pout is a BBC Folk Award-nominated singer/songwriter inspired by the revivalist musicians of the ’60s and ’70s. Jack’s music carries nuances of numerous influences such as John Martyn, Duster Bennett, Bob Dylan and Chris Smither but with an individuality that makes his music inimitably his. In 2015 he released his debut EP “Baksun” and he has just followed that up with the release of ‘Chrono Manual Man’ (an EP of his favourite songs from the ‘40s, ‘50’s, ‘70’s and 2016). Jack continues to play shows across the UK and Europe, playing and hosting stages at numerous festivals: his honest, and often deeply personal, style of writing is married to a love for humour. His live shows are known for their friendly and conversational style with audiences, and feared for his love of puns.”


 

November 2016 – upcoming gigs – Spratleys Japs recreated live in Brighton, co-starring Stephen Evens, Emily Jones and sundry Brighton psychedelic talent (19th November)

16 Nov

'Spratleys Japs Live', 19th November 2016Though it’s long sold out (Facebook and local word-of-mouth rendering any blog efforts unnecessary), I thought I’d tip the hat to Saturday’s Brighton revival-cum-recreation of the obscure and short-lived Spratleys Japs, the first full live outing that the project’s songs have ever had.

Nominally a band, one which first wormed its way out into the light back in 1999, Spratleys Japs were one of the more enigmatic branches of the Cardiacs family. Head Cardiac Tim Smith composed the cryptic bulk of it, played bass guitar and organ, and added scratchy vocals; his then-girlfriend Jo Spratley sang bright and artless (like an urchin sparrow) and dabbled in theremin and flugelhorn. Tone and shape was inspired by a gloriously malfunctioning Mellotron keyboard on loan from ‘Tron historian Andy Thompson – its antique tape-replay system disrupted; its brass and string sounds invaded and polluted by grand staggers, stammers and dark blarts.

The rest of the instrumental roles were filled by the Rev-Ups, a Mexican desert band transplanted across the Atlantic and camping out in the New Forest. Dibbling around in Spratleys history brings you more information, albeit in baffling crepuscular fashion. There are stories of cutlery-hoarding obsessives hunched over humming home-made electronics; of a dilapidated old valve-tech recording studio buried deep in the Hampshire woods (“a bit rotten and a bit covered in leaves and rats, and rats spiders… ‘Doctor Who’ stylee control room… wiring swung between olden telegraph poles…”); and of vocals recorded “at dusk, in the drizzle”, bounced off the surface of a stagnant pond.


 
All very interesting, but probably spurious. It’s true about the ailing ‘Tron (and some elements of the dank forest sessions story might even be based on reality) but Spratleys were, in all likelihood, a Jo and Tim duo project: something cooked up through Smith production wizardry and swathed with the usual Cardiacs thicket of playful disinformation and purposefully eccentric mythology. In the decade following the album release, there was occasional talk about taking Spratleys to the stage, none of which came to anything: Tim’s near-fatal stroke and heart attack in 2008 finally put paid even to the talk.

What was left was the music – one album, one single with extra scraps – and very interesting it was too, be it the twinkling, seething, termite’s-nets funk of Fanny, the nursery piano and Wagnerian choir of Sparrows or Tim whispering an endless meandering verse over a strummed bass in Oh. Half of Cardiacs’ songbook had always been weirdly Arcadian, yearning out and away from regimented urban suburbia into a half-imagined clotted English greenwood full of growing things. Spratleys suggests what might have happened if Cardiacs had escaped there only to find out that it was a swamp, vegetation, trash and identity alike inexorably decaying into fertile sludge.


 
The grand, precarious staircases of extended harmony are pure Smith: parkour chord progressions racing on to destination unknown, delighting in the unpredictable terrain underfoot. The glue and ingredients which surround them are different, or at the very least repurpose and re-examine previous Smithian influences. Looking back at it now, it resembles nothing so much as various Cardiacs urges bumping up against the make-do, repurpose-and-discover influence of Faust, recoiling a little dazed and reconsidering. Creatures rustle; flashes of crude bayou guitar and ’50s rock’n’roll lick set up home with spluttering electronics. Vinyl pops; lyrics torn from malfunctioning phrasebooks float and spin in the eddies; all of the vocals sound as if they’ve been transposed from worn vellum. Jo, too, leaves her mark on proceedings – tugging Tim’s obsessive tendencies into more abstract, wandering territories, her childlike voice and delivery a perfect foil for his.

Regards this weekend’s recreation, Jo is the only original Spratley left standing. Though he’s recovered sufficiently to recently disinter and prepare a long-shelved Sea Nymphs album for release, Tim is still a long, long, unlikely way from playing live again. The Rev-Ups have long since dispersed and disappeared (probably back into the realms of Tim’s imagination); and as for the crumbling Mellotron, Andy Thompson (the entirely entitled bastard) has long since callously repaired it without a thought to history. There have been efforts to keep the project in the family, one way or another: Jo’s son Jesse Cutts (of Heavy Lamb) is backing her on guitar, and remaining roles are filled by sundry Brighton multi-instrumentalists and Cardiacs sympathisers. In the bag for the band are Étienne Rodes of Clowwns, his brother Adrien Rodes (once of Rect.angle, now playing with Étienne in Brother Twain) and the frighteningly busy Damo Waters (drummer for Clowwns, ZOFFF, Brother Twain and Slug; organist for Crayola Lectern; sessioneer for Field Music, British Sea Power, Chris T-T and plenty of others; everything-ist for his own project Muddy Suzuki when he has a spare moment).

At the moment, it’s not yet clear whether all of this is going to be a one-off amplified and extended celebration; or whether it’s going to become part of that eagerly growing body of post-Cardiacs musical life, joining the massing bands and solo artists which throng the increasingly regular Tim Smith fundraisers. Meanwhile, some indication as to what’s coming on the night could be found here – a kind of dry run, as Jo and Heavy Lamb take a rockier, punkified crack at the Spratleys song Vine at last year’s Alphabet Business Convention.


 

‘Spratleys Japs Performed Live’ (featuring members of Spratleys Japs, Crayola Lectern, Clowwns, Brother Twain, Muddy Suzuki) + Stephen Evens + Emily Jones
The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton BN1 4FQ, England
Saturday 19th November 2016, 7.30pm
– information here and here

In support are Stephen EvEns (the current solo project by thoughtfully-hangdog drummer and multi-instrumental songwriter Steve Gilchrist – that’s Jo playing the therapist in his video below) and Cornish psychedelic folkie Emily Jones, whose own work shows a (possibly accidental) affinity with the softer end of Smithiana both in its occasional odd-corner harmonies and changeability, and in its occasional fascination with small, obscurely significant things.



 
If you’re not discouraged by that “sold-old” sign, see links above for the tickets that might become available… or just show up on the door with some cash on the night and hope for the best. If the Green Door Store has windows, crane up against them; fog them with sorry breath; make the kind of forest-creature creeling noises which you’d suspect might be just out of earshot on the Spratleys Japs album. They might take pity on you, and let you in.


 

Upcoming gigs at the end of July and onwards – Thumpermonkey/The Earls Of Mars/Ham Legion in London; Holly Penfield’s Judy Garland show hits the Hippodrome; The Luck Of Eden Hall tour the UK

25 Jul

Next week sees the first gig (for some time) for one of the most interesting of current British rock bands; some high-gloss cabaret; and the start of a psychedelic pop roadshow travelling around the UK. Read on…

Thumpermonkey @ The Islington, 30th July 2015

Thumpermonkey + The Earls Of Mars + Ham Legion (Guided Missile Special People Club, The Islington, 1 Tolpuddle Street, N1 0XT, London, UK, Thursday 30th July, 8.00pm) – £7.00/£6.00

Thumpermonkey don’t get as much attention as they deserve. It’s possible that this is because they don’t seem to take things seriously, addressing almost everything with a skewed and multi-levelled sense of cryptic grand-baroque geek humour. Just to illustrate this – a current work-in-progress Thumpermonkey song is “something which we’re calling Giraffes, which includes some vague narrative about doing a conga during an asteroid-based extinction-level event.” One of their older albums is called ‘Chap With The Wings, Five Rounds Rapid’ – a wry kill-the-monsters line filched from ‘Doctor Who”s laconic and unflappable Brigadier. In the same spirit as that reference, I’d suggest that while they are serious about what they do, they’re not necessarily serious about the way they do it – like many of my favourite things.

If what I’ve written so far leads you to expect strained, fey, sub-Zappa wackiness, then think again. Both in the flesh and on record, Thumpermonkey are a brooding and atmospheric proposition – seriously musical, travelling from blitzingly heavy quasi-metal riffs to spidery post-rock, from threshing post-hardcore to theatrical mane-tossing prog at a moment’s notice while Michael Woodman’s grand edgy vocals and complex multi-levelled lyrics ride on top like an arcane mahout with an arched eyebrow. They’ve been called “a sustained victory for intuitive cross-pollination” by ‘Prog’ magazine and every gig they play confirms this particular accolade. Here they are playing 419 (a song which at first appears to be one of their more delicate offerings, revealing its intensities later).

The other two bands on the bill are less well known to me, but aren’t short of blurb:

The Earls Of Mars are probably the most original thing you’ll hear all year. At their heart, the band are a ’70s-influenced rock band bringing together jazz, prog, space rock, doom and blues and forming it into a barking mad noise that you’ll either get or you won’t. If you don’t get it then close the door on your way out of the spaceship, as those of us who want to stay are off on a fantastical journey to who-knows-where, with The Earls Of Mars steering the ship. Enjoy the trip, ladies and gentlemen, as it’s going to be a fun ride.

Ham Legion‘s noisy lo-fi pop is punctuated with proggy outbursts, psychedelic breakdowns and passages of cod-metal joy. Tangy and tart guitar, egg noddle bass lines and light crispy drums are smothered in gooey boy/girl harmonies. Eat in or take away. For fans of Cardiacs, Deerhoof, They Might Be Giants, Split Enz, Heavy Vegetable.

Judge for yourselves – here are the videos for the Earls’ ‘Astronomer Pig’ single from last year, followed by some footage of a Ham Legion gig in Brighton a couple of years ago. As for tickets, they’re available here.

 

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The day after the Thumpermonkey gig, Holly Penfield plays one of her biggest gigs of the year…

Holly Penfield as Judy Garland

Holly Penfield sings Judy Garland, The Hippodrome Casino, Cranbourn Street, Leicester Square, London, WC2H 7JH, UK, Friday 31st July 2015, 8.00pm) – £15.00 and upwards

Following a triumphant debut last year, Holly returns to the London Hippodrome, singing the songs of the legendary Judy Garland in her own inimitable style. Holly will be joined by her musical director Sam Watts and his magnificent seven-piece band. An unmissable evening for Holly and Judy fans alike, set in the glorious Matcham Room, located inside the Hippodrome Casino – formerly known as The Talk Of The Town, this is the venue of legends and home to Judy’s final London concerts.

Longer-term readers will know that I got to know Holly years ago via her own original ‘Fragile Human Monster Show‘ and the ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album (which I wrote about ages ago – that review’s due a revamp and remount, I think). Both of those, though original songwriter pop, had their own theatrical and psychodynamic aspects which pointed towards Holly’s current work in vivid cabaret (and, latterly, as half of swing revivalists The Cricklewood Cats). As for Holly’s interpretations, she can and does cover cute showbiz camp and heart-tugging pathos within the same performance – you can see a couple of examples below.

Up-to-date information on the Judy concert is here and here, while tickets are available here. A mischievous part of me fancies swapping the audience from Holly’s show with the one from the Thumpermonkey/Earls/Ham Legion gig, and vice versa. I suspect that they all might enjoy it more than they’d expect to…

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The Luck Of Eden Hall, 2015

On the same night that Thumpermonkey and co. play, The Luck Of Eden Hall are over from Chicago to play the first of two London gigs, launching a Kickstarter-funded UK tour which will take them to a wide array of venues and mini-festivals around England, Scotland and Wales, accompanied by a shifting cast of local psych heroes, left-field blues artists and quirky alt.pop shoegazers.

As for the headliners, you can expect clear-voiced, well-made classic pop beset by sudden gusts of psychedelic blizzarding. The Luck Of Eden Hall remind me of the drawn-out trucker-and-motorist tussle in ‘Duel’ – they come across like a more sombre Neil Finn or Andy Sturmer being stalked, dogged and sideswiped by Hawkwind, Ride or ‘Saucerful’-era Pink Floyd. Here’s a little evidence:


 

Full tour dates below:

The Luck Of Eden Hall UK tour

 

REVIEW – Spratleys Japs: ‘Hazel’ EP, 2001 (“halted by the tiniest thing”)

10 Apr
Spratleys Japs: 'Hazel'

Spratleys Japs: ‘Hazel’

More songs brought out of the woods in a bloody enormous bucket, then? A bucket that’s small enough and big enough to hold the moon and all the stars in the night sky, in one drink of water…

‘Hazel’ is a single, of sorts. It’s a little taste of Spratleys Japs, the youngest bud on the twisty family tree of Cardiacs. If you believe some of the yarns being spun about them, then they’re a cunning trans-Atlantic bud, gene-splicing Cardiacs’ abrasive brand of psychedelia (in which punk squawk and London brick-ends collide with a particularly rowdy mediaeval minstrels gallery) with singing urchin Jo Spratley and a gaggle of American high-desert rockers called the Rev-Ups. If you believe some of the other rumours, the hybrid songs that resulted were recorded in a spooky little shack deep in damp, spidery New Forest darkness: head Cardiac Tim Smith going outlaw as he pulled them all together with an audience of rats and a tenuous umbilical of dodgy power lines. Hence my strange intro back there. Hence the babbling.

(Anyway, Cardiacs lie. It’s best to remember that.)

Regardless of rats or forests, Hazel sounds neither young nor American. It’s a stately, ghostly, mouldering-castle fanfare – tear-blown strings, brass, kettle-drums and harps. It wheels massively in the sky like a planetarium show, or booms out low and ponderous like a ritual march. Just as it seems to have settled into its dinosaur vastness, it’s halted by the tiniest thing… Jo’s child-size voice, squished and distorted to a ghost-broadcast tinniness. She sounds seasick, she sounds strained and flattened as wallpaper; and she’s keening out a desperate minimal anti-tune from some dusty corner, words smeared beyond recognition. Everything (bar a shimmering, failing wall of high Mellotron) just stops – dead. Then the Jo-ghost fades, nervous guitars stir the air, and the orchestra pours in again. It’s the same tune, but transmuted somehow from its original pomp into something overwhelmingly compassionate. Then it all happens again. Then it happens no more. What they’re getting at defies the workings of my brain; but it digs up my emotions, as if it’s forking up mulch.

Two other songs – Curfew and the sleepy, knotted Secret, both voiced scratchily by Tim – are closer to the usual Cardiacs bashes. They clamber, jagged and monkey-like, around the whole-tone scale. They’re like folk songs forgotten in the womb, carrying a scolding kind of order in their baroque keyboard structures and the little child-choir voices. Perhaps they deal with more complete stories, on a more human scale: one of the Gothic scenarios which bubbles up is about a woman desperately trying to muffle a pealing bell, using her own body to hold off her husband’s execution. But it’s elsewhere that Spratleys Japs are really active on the borders of instinct: where they’re at their most stimulating. No answers. Exposure. A little fear. Good medicine?

A jarring change of gear after the spooky grandeur of Hazel, Home is just upsetting. There’s not much to it – just some captured seconds of studio chatter during which Jo breaks down into a panic attack, whimpering and gulping like a scalded child. Tim and sundry other SpratJaps leave the tape rolling, heartlessly, as they prepare for the next song. It’s intrusive, it’s claustrophobic, it’s horribly naked. It could well be a prank. But along with Hazel, it does get to the back-ways of the heart. Sometimes Spratleys Japs do this with a soothe, sometimes with a jolt, but they do it as if they’re twitching a curtain aside to reveal something outside the normal angle of view: something beautiful, terrifying or wondrous, but unquestionably there. Something which changes you just by being seen.

Spratleys Japs: ‘Hazel’
All My Eye And Betty Martin Music, AME CD002 (502127203848)
CD-only EP
Released: 2001

Get it from:
Cardiacs official store or second-hand.

Spratleys Japs online:
Homepage MySpace Last FM

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