Tag Archives: Kev Hopper

September 2016 – upcoming gigs, Aldershot and London – Knifeworld’s “prog all-dayer” with William D. Drake, Prescott, Eschar, Barringtone and others; Laura J. Martin, Oly Ralfe and Duotone at Daylight Music; Muscle and Marrow, Father Murphy and Tolerance Manoeuvre at New River Studios (all 24th)

20 Sep

A nicely-filled Saturday coming up…

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Knifeworld all-dayer, Aldershot, 24th September 2016
Knifeworld + William D. Drake + Prescott + Eschar + Barringtone + others tbc
West End Centre, Queens Road, Aldershot, GU11 3JD, England
Saturday 24th September 2016, 2.00pm
information

Fresh off his solo show in Glasgow on Thursday (and the band’s appearance at ArcTangent in August), Kavus Torabi leads his Knifeworld octet over to Aldershot, curating and headlining what the venue’s calling a “prog all-dayer”. In a pleasing echo of Kavus’ Roastfest mini-festival from a few years ago (with which this particular show shares a few acts and sensibilities), the remit actually stretches out a good deal further than that. I’m not sure whether this is slightly sloppy marketing on the part of the West End Centre, or whether it’s a further sign that prog’s finally slipped out of its straitjacketing… at any rate, the day also features revitalized elements of latterday psychedelic rock, motorik pop, alt.jazz fusion and art punk cheek and coffee house tunes (old Regency coffee houses from a couple of centuries ago, that is; not latterday beard-and-espresso joints) as well as record stalls and “questionable company.”


 
It seems almost redundant summing Knifeworld up here, since I’ve covered them so often in previous posts; and more so in that their dazzling, goofy-but-serious voyages of complex guitar, voice and brass interplay are making increasing inroads into a bigger potential audience. The same goes for the second act on the bill, William D. Drake, who continues to carve out a subgenre of his own. There’s not yet a word for music which combines acoustic psychedelia and friendly, frowsty pop with echoes of Georgian parlours, sixteenth-century catches and never-were folk tunes. I keep trying to think of one that doesn’t sound twee, rather than encompassing the beaming English warmth which Bill’s music embodies. While I continue to fail to do that, here are a couple more of his tunes from recent live shows – one jaunty bounce, one unrolling magic-carpet reverie.



 
Prescott aren’t strangers to this blog either – a hiccuping, percolating instrumental team of four smart, oblique talents who’ve all been round the block more than a few times (lending their individual skills to a bagful of other artists and bands including Pere Ubu, Stump, Snorkel, Scritti Politti, The Keatons and Frank Sidebottom). Kev Hopper, Rhodri Marsden, Frank Byng and Keith Moliné are all far too grounded to do anything other than laugh off the idea of being a supergroup, yet they do form something considerably more powerful when they come together: rubbery, convoluted groove-rock improvisations which come across as part particle accelerator, part mutant squash court, and part horse-laugh. From another angle, they’re a post-punk upending of 1980s jazz-fusion powered by a wry/awry sensibility, creating something pretty serious out of a very English irreverence and inquisitiveness. They’re what you’d expect to get if those smart skeptical bastards raising eyebrows at the backs of every other arty gig were challenged to get together and do better, and actually did.



 
New to both ‘Misfit City’ and to general Knifeworld entanglements are Woking instrumental rockers Eschar, who play an exuberantly tuneful and metallic take on psychedelic post-rock. Filtering sunny melodies and joyous little tempo curlicues through a jackhammering heavy attack, they sound like a grinning, breakdancing road-mender. A little more familiar is Barringtone, sequel to briefly-glowing mid-Noughties electro/oddpop stars Clor. Pumping out a motoric yet shapeshifting art-pop somewhere between Neu! and XTC (and compared, in their peripatetic shifting of tone, structure and subject matter to Todd Rundgren’s Utopia), they’ve been at it for eight years now but are yet to drop a full album. Instead they’ve fired off an intermittent series of quick releases on a succession of labels, popping briefly in and out of view like a stealth submarine to flash a bit of technique and invention before slipping under again.



 

More bands are being added to this bill in a last-week squeak of hope and enthusiasm. I’ve no idea of who these are likely to be (keep checking on the Facebook event page for periodic news shouts) but it’s reasonable to expect that a complicated ArcTangent ethos/Torabi-esque “funny music” atmosphere is going to prevail.

If the above doesn’t do it for you, you could stay in London for another free/donation-only folk-and-songwriter-filled noontime gig by Daylight Music, plus an evening gig from Chaos Theory which addresses the more expansive and heterogenous side of post-rock. As usual, both have provided their own press releases, so I’ll use those (only working in extra information where it might be necessary…)

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Daylight Music 233

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 233: Laura J Martin + Oly Ralfe + Duotone
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 24th September 2016, 12.00pm
– free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information

“Liverpudlian singer-songwriter Laura J. Martin is a “musician of startling originality”, according to The Sunday Times. Her extraordinary, eclectic music speaks of disconnection and England’s blandification: some of the tracks on her third studio album, ‘On The Never Never’, tell of her feelings when returning home to Liverpool to find that all of the town’s individuality seemed to have been erased and replaced by gleaming empty flats.

“Shot through with wit and humour alongside the sociopolitical themes (one of the characters talks of bleaching toilets and taking trips to Lanzarote) ‘On The Never Never’ skips through waltz timings, bears influences from Scott Walker to the Compass Point Allstars and picks up a guest vocal from Benjamin Zephaniah along the way. The album itself was recorded in Nashville with renowned Lambchop/Bonnie Prince Billy producer Mark Nevers and features members of Lambchop, Silver Jews and The Jesus Lizard. Laura has produced a hopeful record, full of joy, beauty and tongue-in-cheek looks at those in charge.


 
Duotone is the alias of songwriter Barney Morse-Brown, cellist with multi-platinum artist Birdy, Chris Wood, Eliza Carthy, Jackie Oates and BBC Folk Award winners the Imagined Village, His mesmerising solo performances move seamlessly between riotous energy and heartfelt intimacy: his debut album ‘Work Harder & One Day You’ll Find Her’ and the critically acclaimed second LP ‘Ropes’ saw him navigating his way through a personal loss.

“Barney’s new album ‘Let’s Get Low’, is an intelligent and thoroughly modern record, infused with the melodic structures of ’80s pop and the emotional honesty of the best of the classic singer-songwriter era; a remarkably optimistic collection of songs, it presents a new perspective on his experiences and explores the meaning of home and his sense of place. Written at home on his narrowboat over a period of two years, it further reveals a songwriter who is unafraid to explore real-life experiences that are often hidden from view.


 
“This is a particularly special Daylight Music as it features the London premiere of Oly Ralfe’s new instrumental piano project, accompanied by Barney on cello. A musician, artists and filmmaker, Oly made significant contributions to the work of The Mighty Boosh both onscreen and in print (including songs, poem cameos and direction) as well as creating the Dylanologist documentary ‘The Ballad Of AJ Weberman’.

“For a decade or so, he’s led his own pop-folk ensemble The Ralfe Band, whose three albums and soundtrack for the film ‘Bunny & The Bull’ have been variously described as “moon-eyed beauty”, “regally drunk” and “alternately sweetly hushed, spooky and sad.” Mark Radcliffe of BBC 6 Music has been a long-time champion of Oly’s music, saying “there is something of the strange and beautiful in everything he does, like the mood created by the darkest of fairy tales. I’m a big fan…””.


 
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Father Murphy, 24th September 2016

Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
Father Murphy + Muscle And Marrow + Tolerance Manoeuvre
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Saturday 24th September 2016, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“A special event at the amazing artist community venue that is New River Studios in north London, in which two wildly exciting duos from dark experimental label The Flenser will join us from the USA and Italy to present us with their latest terrifying works. This will be a stimulating experience.

“After Father Murphy captivated us with their EP ‘Pain Is On Our Side Now’ (and terrified us all at the launch of their phenomenal and stimulating album ‘Croce’ last year), the hairs are already standing up on the backs of our necks in anticipation of working with the Stephen O’Malley, Jarboe and Michael Gira-endorsed visionaries once more.

One of the most mysterious and enigmatic musical entities to come out of Italy in recent years, Father Murphy are known for their collection of dark psychedelic/industrial cabaret, written as a response to living in a deeply Catholic environment. Merging shadowy, muddy and murky atmospheres with unexpected blurts of impossibly catchy noise pop, their sound is both textural and nuanced but also noisy and chaotic. Identified by Simon Reynolds and Julian Cope as part of the “new Italian Occult psychedelia”, Father Murphy are the sound of the Catholic sense of guilt – a downward spiral aiming at the bottom of the hollow, and then digging even deeper.


 
Muscle And Marrow – a duo from Portland, Oregon – write music that is intense and vaporous. Formed in 2013 by Kira Clark (voice, guitar) and Keith McGraw (drums, sounds), Muscle And Marrow quickly discovered their distinctive sound. Taking inspiration from visual and feminist art, as well as contemporary poetry and literature, they are an entity that is as thoughtful as it is fervent and as experimental as it is immediate.

“In April 2016 the band released their new album ‘Love’: a more powerful record than their previous release, with elements of joy, strength and anger present. During the album’s writing process Kira lost a family member, and much of the lyrical content focuses on loss, but also on love in general: how to love better, more and at all, and what happens when someone else loves you — the trap of that love but also the freedom it affords. Additionally, ‘Love’ touches on feminism and female archetypes, a topic that Kira is very interested in. These new songs are just as beautiful and complex as those on the band’s debut, but on ‘Love’, Muscle And Marrow push their craft further, bringing them to the frontier of avant-garde dark music.


 
“Having heard murmurings about Tolerance Manoeuvre for some time, we stood up and paid attention when they performed a brilliant live set on deXter Bentley’s Hello Goodbye Show on Resonance 104.4fm. With a unique combination of guitar, cello, trumpet and vocals, Tolerance Manoeuvre furrow a particularly British seam of post-rock previously mapped by the likes of Talk Talk and Bark Psychosis, but with their own, highly-personalised take. Managing to fuse stark yet luscious melody with ornate orchestration, the trio meticulously unfold and reconfigure space and structure to create a beguiling tapestry that is simultaneously dense and delicate.

“A mainstay on the London underground music scene since 2011, Tolerance Manoeuvre have played at venues as diverse as The Hundred Years Gallery, the Servant Jazz Quarters and the Macbeth, have appeared on MTV Greece, have shared the stage with acts such as The Wytches, Seward, Cara Sebastian, O-Arc and Fear Of The Forest, and have a vinyl LP available at all good record shops courtesy of Flashback Records.”


 

July 2016 – upcoming London gigs – improvisation running rampant at the Classwar Karaoke mini-festival (16th & 17th)

14 Jul

Classwar Karaoke mini-festival, Greenwich, 16th-17th July 2016

Minesweeper Collective presents:
Classwar Karaoke Mini Festival
A secret location in Greenwich, London, England
Saturday 16 & Sunday 17th July 2016, time t.b.c.
information

Experimental music and short-film label Classwar Karaoke celebrates its eighth year of existence and collective-based “unambiguous meritocracy” by assembling a host of improvisers and audio-visualisers for the third in its series of underground mini-festivals. The event will be embedded somewhere deep in the London Borough of Greenwich along with the laser-limned meridian line, the maritime history and the stand-up comedy. We’re told we can “expect such things as improv, free jazz, avant-rock, jokes, theatre, noise, audio-visuals, absurdism, spoken word.”

The first of the two days features a sixteen-strong lineup of Murmurists, the project which coalesces around the work – if not precisely the leadership – of Anthony Donovan (composer, musician, poet, filmmaker and Classwar Karaoke  founder). Murmurists date back to 1991 and use varied lineups to realize Anthony’s compositions in live situations. Over the years, these have moved from being small and predominantly improvisational line-ups to becoming larger and more meticulously-directed ensembles which employ graphic scores and timing instructions to deliver Anthony’s written material. Latterday Murmurist ensembles – both on and off record – use speech, narrative and foley work (spontaneous live sound effects) as key components alongside the musical ones; while live performances employ film projections and dance.

On this occasion, Murmurists are as follows:

  • Anthony Donovan (on voice, bass and film work)
  • dancer-vocalists Rebecca Bogue, Carolyn Roy and Jane Munro
  • foley performers/vocalists Annie Dee (Destroyevsky) and Michael Clough
  • percussionists/vocalists/electronics operators Lawrence Casserley (a frequent Evan Parker/Bob Cobbing collaborator) and David Cunliffe (Spidey Agutter, Igor’s Roomy Labcoat and Coffin Boffin)
  • Geoff Leigh on flute/soprano sax/voice (best known as an early Henry Cow member, but also for Ex-Wise-Heads, The Artaud Beats, Black Sheep, and many others)
  • Mark Browne on soprano sax/percussion/ voice (a three-and-a-half-decade veteran of multiple projects and collaborations including Cockpit Improvised Music, Conspiracy, The Fanatics Of Disaster and The Fastidious Amateurs Of Grief)
  • K.T.Reeder on trombone and voice
  • Martin Archer on bass clarinet/recorder/voice
  • Tim Drage (a.k.a. Cementimental) on electronics
  • Black Howler and Union Furnace duo Anthony and Rosie Osborne (saxophone/keyboards/voice)
  • percussionist/vocalist Walt Shaw

The large Murmurist group will be supported by small-group improv work from various Murmurists members – lineups to be drawn from a hat.


 
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The second day of the festival, July 17th, features a wider lineup of individual projects.

  • Lewisham-based improvising trio LOFE describe themselves thus, in lapping wordplay: “driving beats, driven words. jewel carriageway chords. It’s got that biodynamic, organic whole grain texture and that lively lambic yeasty rhythm. It hits 260°C, when it’s baking.” The man who’s probably guilty of scribbling that account is their performance-poet/fractal-rapper vocalist Zolan Quobble (a Deptford Urban Free Festival founder who’s also voiced One True Dog, Rabbidog and Dodmen). Other involved parties are bass guitarist Elwell (a multi-instrumentalist whom at various times has played with Brain of Morbius, Bert Shaft Orchestra, One True Dog, Foul Geese and South East London Music Collective) and one-man keyboard-and-Ableton orchestra NikTheDeks (see also NakeDBeatZ Radio, Furby-Core, Gabber-Karaoke and others)
  • Warrior Squares is a Hastings-based free improvising electronic/acoustic four piece comprising Geoff Leigh (flute, sax, voice, electronics) James Weaver (electronics, guitar), Paul Gardner (iPad, percussion) and Nick Weekes (bass, sticks, found items).

  • Adam Bohman improvises sounds from “stuff we ignore – toast racks, clothes pegs, styrofoam, upholstery springs, you name it” as well as making tape collages (read some more about him here).

  • Harmergeddon is the duo of audio-visual performance artists Nathan and Fae Harmer, who since 2010 have been creating performance material from mongrelised data sources, physical oddments and information detritus (mangled VHS cassettes, bar code check outs, etc), crossing it over from one format to another. They build instruments and performances from “the unwanted, unheard and unseen… rebuilt from the ground up with whatever comes to hand” and present “sound pieces and visuals improvised as a feedback loop between gesture and combined consciousness.” A Harmergeddon performance is usually a collation of profound industrial drones, haunting sounds, voice snatches and found-object noises with lights which interact with signal sources or body movements, plus abstractions on TV screens. (See below.)

  • Jeffersubstanshall Helicopter is most probably another version of whoever’s behind Oblivian Substanshall, the anti-novelist/performance poet/absurdist contributor to various Klasswar and Deptford events of the past. With those pseudonymic hat-tilts to both the Bonzo Dog Band and West Coast psychedelia, expect some late-‘60s-inspired counterculture/cut-up lunacy. Here’s something of what he did under the original moniker:

  • Phil Durrant & Kev Hopper will provide a duo performance from two very different and complementary masters of a musical continuum stretching from avant-garde to pop and dance. A classical music graduate who plays violin, synth, electronics and (increasingly) state-of-the-art software instruments, Phil has been composing, improvising and performing since 1977 over a career that’s spanned over sixty albums, almost as many collaborations and probably thousands of improvised gigs. His work has included being the third leg of an influential trio with John Butcher and John Russell, sundry ensembles (including Secret Measures, Quatuor Accorde, Lunge, Beinhaltung, Assumed Possibilities and the international electronic orchestra Mimeo), 1990s house/breakbeat work with Fabio, Grooverider and Shut Up And Dance, and exploits into dance-theatre music, site-specific installations and sound design. Kev first came to attention as the fretless bassist whose rubberband playing style anchored early ‘90s popsurdists Stump. Subsequent adventures have involved various avant-garde improviser lineups, albums of musical saw playing, and most recent the delightful improv-rock quartet Prescott. He and Phil previously played together in ’90s improvising quartet Ticklish.


     

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – Laura Cannell & Phil Mill in Colchester; in London, Prescott, Charles Hayward and Kavus Torabi at Servant Jazz Quarters and Clara Sanabras’ musical spin on ‘The Tempest’ at the Barbican

28 Feb

As some of you may have guessed already, I’m treating this blog – including the long stretches during which I’m only posting up about live dates – as an ongoing education. Plenty of the musicians I’m covering I’ve only learned about shortly before covering them; in other cases, in pursuing their tour dates around Britain or elsewhere in the world, I’m learning about places, projects and initiatives which I might otherwise have been ignorant about.

I’ve posted plenty about Laura Cannell since the start of the year. Her slightly psychedelic yet deeply-rooted improvisations on early, mediaeval and imagined tunes and ideas (played on standard or overbowed fiddle or on double recorder) span and spark across several of my musical interests. As she makes her way across Britain this year in a meandering voyage from high-profile festival to half-hidden venue to multi-genre bill, I’m following along behind (at least with the gig news). Here’s where she is this week:

Laura Cannell, 2015

Laura Cannell + Phil Mill
Colchester Arts Centre, Church Street, Colchester, CO1 1NF, England
Tuesday 1st March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

Playing in support is the Colchester experimental musician and sound artist Phil Mill, whose work “focuses on the use of field recordings and digital DIY softwares made for processing sound. He has recently been recording in a variety of locations in Europe, often associated with or identifiable as a territory or boundary between places and their sonic signatures. Phil’s music is often improvised, and he is currently developing software that reflects on this process – enabling the process of composition to reflect on the nature of the sound environment and the unpredictability of the soundscape.”

Below are videos of Laura in concert and one of ‘The Drifters’, a film soundtrack by Phil using only sounds from sea/environmental field recordings, which was commissioned for Colchester’s Lightbulb Festival in 2015.


 

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In London, there’s another gig by one of the finest, most rubbery (and recently augmented) instrumental bands out there at the moment, playing hand-in-hand with some special guests in one of the city’s snuggest venues…

Prescott/Charles Hayward @ Servant Jazz Quarters, 1st March 2016

Prescott + Charles Hayward “begin anywhere” + Kavus Torabi (DJ)
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Tuesday 2nd March 2016, 8.00pm
more information

“It’s the North London debut of a new-look, four-piece Prescott, featuring Keith Moliné (Pere Ubu, Two Pale Boys) alongside Kev Hopper (Stump), Rhodri Marsden (Scritti Politti) and Frank Byng (Snorkel, Crackle, many others). A mesmerising collection of new tunes featuring soaring melodies, nagging riffs and explosive sounds. Also, the legendary Charles Hayward (of This Heat and many other endeavours, including the recently resurgent This Is Not This Heat) will be at the piano with his (begin anywhere) project: “A solo song cycle sequence of betrayal, paranoia, subterfuge, as well as sound events, spoken word and percussion pieces, stark, minimal arrangements; an unexpected departure.” And binding the whole thing together from the safety of the DJ booth will be Kavus Torabi (Knifeworld, Gong, Cardiacs).”

I’ll just add this quote of my own here, from the last time Prescott played London:

“ a percolating musical alliance… According to The Harrison’s blurb, the band deliver “a curious mix of the melodic and discordant with syncopated funky, skewed beats and lopsided, sometimes jabbing riffs that emerge from a complex web of musical interactions and expand or contract like sections of a stuck record.”< The band themselves talk about "jabbing heteroclite riffs, circular rhythmic patterns, vibrating harmonic clashes, irregular note intervals, all contrasted with pockets of beautiful melody" and their trick of "microriffing" – repeating the same tiny melodic segment for “as long as they can hold their nerve” (out of a sense of persistence, a zest for irritancy or a desire to pay homage to loop culture) . I’ll add that while these descriptions make Prescott sound like a set of ticks on a battered art-music bingo card, they’re actually one of the most entertaining and even danceable bands I’ve seen in recent years; pumping out a surprisingly melodious batch of hiccups, peculiar grooves and inventive colours, and sometimes seeming to plug into a monstrous late-Miles Davis synth-fusion groove (entirely by mistake).”

There, that should do it – but here’s some video of the new-look Prescott quartet…


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Lastly for now, something mixing classical drama, classical music and folk work…

A Hum About Mine Ears

Shakespeare400 presents:
Barbican Shakespeare Weekender – Play On…
‘A Hum About Mine Ears’: Clara Sanabras/Chorus Of Dissent/Vox Holloway/Britten Sinfonia, conducted by Harvey Brough
Barbican Hall @ Barbican Arts Centre, Silk Street, City of London, London, EC2Y 8DS, England
Sunday 6th March 2016, 6.00pm
– more information here and here

“Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ is set in new surroundings in this performance of vocalist and composer Clara Sanabras’s new album ‘A Hum About Mine Ears’. More than a simple soundtrack to the play, ‘A Hum About Mine Ears’ takes some of the ideas and themes in ‘The Tempest’ – loss and retrieval, exile and reunion – and relates them to Sanabras’s own experiences as an emigrant.

While some songs lift direct passages from the play, surrounding these in Britten Sinfonia’s soaring strings and the swirling vocals of choirs Chorus of Dissent and Vox Holloway, conducted by Harvey Brough, others place the characters in more modern settings – Sanabras’s powerful soprano solos casting Ariel as a festival-crazed free-loving spirit, or Miranda as a free and independent woman, emancipated from Prospero. Drawing on elements of everything from blues and jazz to European folk, see one of Shakespeare’s most famous works unravelled in a performance as deep, mysterious and expansive as ‘The Tempest’ itself.

This concert takes place as a part of Shakespeare400 – a year of celebrations in 2016 to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.”

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Plenty, plenty more March gig news is on the way…

Upcoming London gigs – Prescott + A Sweet Niche + V A L V E @ The Harrison, August 26th; the welcome return of Daylight Music (with Pete Astor, TEYR and The Left Outsides), August 29th

22 Aug

Coming to a Kings Cross cellar next week…

Prescott - as beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella...

Prescott – as beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella…

Prescott + A Sweet Niche + V A L V E (The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, UK, Wednesday 26th August, 7.00pm) – £5.00

Prescott are a percolating musical alliance between Kev Hopper (who once played elasticated bass guitar for Stump and went on to participate in offbeat experimental projects from laptop improv to pocket pop), veteran avant-indie/improvising drummer Frank Byng (of Crackle, Snorkel and the Slowfoot label) and polymath keyboard player Rhodri Marsden, whose curiosity, industry and dry wit has drawn him through a patchwork career of interesting music (including The Keatons, Zuno Men, The Free French, Gag and Scritti Politti) and deft, wry journalism on everything from drum machines to dating disasters.

According to the Harrison’s blurb, the band deliver “a curious mix of the melodic and discordant with syncopated funky, skewed beats and lopsided, sometimes jabbing riffs that emerge from a complex web of musical interactions and expand or contract like sections of a stuck record.” The band themselves talk about “jabbing heteroclite riffs, circular rhythmic patterns, vibrating harmonic clashes, irregular note intervals, all contrasted with pockets of beautiful melody” and their trick of “microriffing” – repeating the same tiny melodic segment for “as long as they can hold their nerve” (out of a sense of persistence, a zest for irritancy or a desire to pay homage to loop culture) .

I’ll add that while these descriptions make Prescott sound like a set of ticks on a battered art-music bingo card, they’re actually one of the most entertaining and even danceable bands I’ve seen in recent years; pumping out a surprisingly melodious batch of hiccups, peculiar grooves and inventive colours, and sometimes seeming to plug into a monstrous late-Miles Davis synth-fusion groove (entirely by mistake).

I’ve written about A Sweet Niche before, having encountered them a few years ago when they were roaring the roof of a cellar off in Spitalfields. Between them, guitarist Keir Cooper, baritone saxophonist Oliver Sellwood and drummer Tim Doyle have an intimidating list of project credits. In this band, however, they make a brinksman’s racket of free-form punk-jazz, bringing in whatever else they’ve learned from excursions into rock, theatre work and the thornier ends of contemporary classical.

Making the most of their disparate backgrounds (Oliver is a qualified musical academian, Keir more of a non-institutional outsider, newer boy Tim somewhere in between) they’ll attack their musical ideas at full blurt and with plenty of noise, like angry men stripping the wreck of a ca. They’ll toss disparate fragments up into the air and rant about them, but then sideswipe expectations with a run at a cute theme. Last time I described them as “if Bagpuss had joined Slayer”, and they seemed to like it. See what you think.

V A L V E is the solo project of Chlöe Herington – reedswoman, experimenter and Magma/Zappa/Peter Maxwell Davies fan. She’s best known for blowing taut, assertive bassoon and saxophone parts in Knifeworld and Chrome Hoof, but has also worked with lo-fi art-rockers Jowe Head & The Demi Monde and elusive psycho-lounge band Made By Monsters, as well as a clutch of contemporary classical projects. V A L V E places the bassoon to centre stage, surrounded by Chlöe’s clusters of technology and (when required) selected guests. At the Harrison, the project will be appearing in “its first non-gallery show ever”, which might either involve letting it off the leash or playing a little more safe. (Come and find out.)

Dotted around Chlöe’s other band commitments, V A L V E releases have been sparse so far – odd fits and starts on Soundcloud or YouTube plus a couple of Bandcamp tracks. Here are a few tasters, including the soundtrack to a dinosaur battle, something which Chlöe developed from a piece of music found in a skip, and a more sombre contemporary classical effort.

Up-to-date gig information available here and here. (Or, if none of this really floats your boat and you’d prefer some lustrous art-rock croon, here’s one last linking plug for the Tim Bowness/Improvizone gig at the Boston Music Room on the same night.)

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On the Saturday, it’s time to welcome back Daylight Music, who are starting up a new series of free midday gigs (and are still writing their own promo blurb, which makes things a little easier for me).

Daylight Music 198 - Pete Astor + TEYR + The Left Outsides
Daylight Music 198: Pete Astor + TEYR + The Left Outsides (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, UK – Saturday 29th August, 12pm to 2pm)

Ex-leader of The Loft, The Weather Prophets and numerous other esteemed acts, Pete Astor creates timeless chamber-pop, brimming with wry lyrical insight and haunting melodic hooks. Now recording for Fortuna POP!, he has his first full length album for four years ready for release. This has been made with Ultimate Painting, Veronica Falls and Proper Ornaments main man James Hoare along with Pam Berry (Black Tambourine, Withered Hand) on vocals, Alison Cotton (The Left Outsides) on viola, Jack Hayter (Hefner) on pedal steel and guitar, Emma Winston on synth bass (Darren Hayman’s Long Parliament, Owl & Mouse) and Susan Milanovic (Feathers) on drums. The recent single, ‘Mr Music’ has been very warmly received with Astor and band recording sessions for Marc Riley and headlining the Church stage at this years’ Indie Tracks festival among many other recent live outings. For the Daylight Music show Astor will be joined onstage by James, Pam, Alison, Jack, Emma and Susan making a seven-piece group playing Astor’s songs, old and new, for an edifying and nutritious lunchtime performance.

Forged amongst the hustle and bustle of North London’s folk scene, TEYR (“3” in the Cornish language) are a trio of formidable musicians who showcase the many sounds of the British Isles. With roots running from Ireland to Wales to Cornwall, James Gavin (guitar and fiddle), Dominic Henderson (uilleann pipes and whistles) and Tommie Black-Roff (accordion), the players thrive on close interplay and pushing the possibilities of acoustic music. Having met on the traditional music scene through late night sessions, each performer holds an intuitive sense of folk music, evident in their deft arrangements and compositions. The trio draws influence from neo-folk groups such as Lau, Kan and Lúnasa, whilst harnessing an innovative combination of strings, reeds and voices. With this distinct mix, TEYR strike an enigmatic path through the current folk wave.

The Left Outsides are Mark Nicholas and Alison Cotton, a London-based husband and wife duo whose atmospheric, hypnotic songs echo Nico’s icy European folk, pastoral psychedelia and chilly English fields at dawn. Their second album ‘The Shape Of Things To Come’ has just received a welcome and much-praised vinyl release on Dawn Bird Records and an album of new material is currently being recorded. The duo have played across the UK, France, Germany and in the USA; and have recorded radio sessions for Stuart Maconie’s Freakzone, Tom Robinson’s show on BBC6 Music, Pete Paphides show for Soho Radio and Tom Cox’s radio show.

As ever, Daylight Music is free, although you’ll have to pay for your tea and cake, and further donations are encouraged. Full up-to-date information is available here.

Des de Moor: ‘Water Of Europe’ album (“a cherubic smart bomb of chanson”)

1 Oct
Des de Moor: 'Water Of Europe'

Des de Moor: ‘Water Of Europe’

Like a cherubic smart bomb, Des de Moor has popped up whenever London needs a sniff of wicked European song. In his time, he’s helmed the Pirate Jenny’s cabaret club, fought for chanson and acidic cabaret old and new, or made a public case for tying together songwriters as diverse as Boris Vian, Georges Brassens, Martin Jacques of The Tigerlillies, David Bowie and The Magnetic Fields maestro of puckish gloom, Stephen Merritt.

When Des can fit in an album of his own, it’s recorded in bursts of enthusiasm in between all these other burst of enthusiasm. As with everything else he does, it bears the stamp of that sweep of songcraft and resistance he’s devoted himself to, as he elbows his way into his own niche and into the history of chanson. When “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” has become our most famous protest lyric, and our concept of resistance-in-song is measured by the PC-baiting and broody solipsism of Eminem, Marilyn Manson or Wu-Tang Clan, it’s good to hear a dash of genuinely sharp social writing – even if it comes couched in a musical language nearly a century old (which in turn suggests that we might have been missing a lot since we cut those particular stylings out of the popular consciousness).

‘Water Of Europe’ must’ve been recorded for tuppence, and sometimes sounds as if it was lashed together with parcel string. No Dagmar Krause big-budget political cabaret job this, all respectably outrageous and state-concert-hall friendly. It’s sealed and sold on the vigorous punky pocket-orchestra enthusiasm of the players – bumped guitars, cellos, pianos, snapping percussion, Daniel “Boum!” Teper’s accordion.

Des’ voice is the common key – a florid, unusual mixture of madrigal tenor and soapbox preacher; or a grown-up, apostate choirboy in the political thick of a pub argument. It sits at the heart of the de Moor way of working, and is as pugnacious and theatrical as his barbed lyrics. Each word is bitten into shape and flung out with flair. Although most of his music could’ve easily have strolled straight out of the 1930s (Des might have drawn on punk’s assertive spirit of questioning, but he clearly finds more verve and expressiveness in a mix of jazz, folk and cafe singalong), his lyrics are less time-locked. They dig into the dirt and humanity of yesterday, today and tomorrow, exploring themes of exploitation and injustice, politics and deception, war and its wounds, gay life and its hauntings.

Des de Moor: ‘Dirty Pictures’ (preview)

Skidding and acerbic, the punchy accordion tango of Dirty Pictures tears into public figures embroiled in the noisy scams of censorship and social decency, taking forthright aim at their implicit hypocrisy, their encroaching voyeurism and their lust for personal exhibition (“You’ve seen the camera, it’s seen you… / you’ve wanked in front of mirrors too.”) With a sarcastic zest, Des savages the double standard of class and education – “Let middle classes get their kicks: / subtitled sex in foreign flicks / can’t cause infection. / The masses, couch potatoes all, / whose dishes sprout from every wall: / they need protection.” He also spotlights broader horrors for which there’s less willpower for banning (“Pot-bellied children / rooting in rubbish / as food mountains rot; / The obscene, often-seen, / ultimate snuff scene / between have and have-not.”)

Des de Moor: ‘Heart Of A Heartless World’ (preview)

On a more mythological scale, Heart Of A Heartless World (which sounds something like a state-of-the-world take on Fairytale Of New York) takes on the compromised cultures of colonialism, famine relief and the points where they intertwine. Retelling a sweep of human history as a journey from a lost African paradise into a famine filled by suspicious prophets and priests (“vultures that pick at the corpse of the poor”), Des suggests that the journey has bequeathed us a present-day of false hearts, superstition and moralistic humbug where “priests and prime ministers pray for our sins / and mystics on telly guess lottery wins.”

Des de Moor: ‘Margins’ (preview)

Des’ words spit and crackle even when – Germanically – they cluster, fight and split the envelope of the tune. The magnificent Margins (just waspish accordion, Des in marvellously stroppy voice and the bitter backdrop of the Bosnian conflict) jumps out at you, laying waste to the complicity of media and state interests in the parceling-up and selective suppressions of a world in conflict. “Believe what you hear and believe what you’re willing: / a severed head here, and there a mass killing. / We’ll print it provided / it’s clearly one-sided / and something is left to the margins, / at the bottom of the page in the margins.” In this song, little escapes the de Moor tonguelashing – not the journalists who “roam far and wide collecting tales of atrocities / from regular soldiers and mercenaries” and not the conferences that re-order things, ratifying the mess the way the biggest powers want it. Certainly not the scapegoating stories that thrive “so long as they’re hearsay, undated, / uncorroborated / and blame the right side… / We’ve forgot the Ustashe and found the new Nazis / in Belgrade this time.”

A debt to the history of chanson and folk is paid via a handful of gutsy covers and interpretations. Terry Callier’s Ordinary Joe is one, boasting gloriously hooded trombone from Dave Keech and a guarded, evasive street philosophy – “Down here on the ground, / when you find folks are giving you the runaround, / keep your game uptight / – and if you must, just take your secrets underground.” A rough’n’ready, guitar’n’free-verse declamation of Brecht and Eisler’s To Those Born After (An Die Nachtboren) is another, exploring the crummier details of toiling in the revolution. “I ate my dinners between the battles, / I lay down to sleep among the murderers, / I didn’t care for much for love / and for nature’s beauties I had little patience… / Oh we, who wished to lay for the foundations for peace and friendliness, / could never be friendly ourselves… / In the future, when no longer / do human beings still treat themselves as animals, / look back on us with indulgence.”

Des de Moor: ‘To Those Born After’ (preview)

Most impressively, a new translation of Jacques Brel’s My Father Said polishes Des’ claim to be the best English-speaking Brel interpreter – in either sense of the word. The song explicitly links Britain and Europe: a legend of kinship, of severance by high North winds and high water (both brought to musical life by Kev Hopper’s magnificent solo on musical saw), and of humanity blown before the rough and beautiful forces of nature. “The earth was rent / between Zeebrugge and the cliffs of Kent: / and London’s left cut loose and free, / with the Bruges headland taunting the sea. / And London’s left to forever be / a suburb of Bruges, lost in the sea.”

Des de Moor: ‘My Father Said’ (preview)

My Father Said stands as a counterweight to Des’ own Water Of Europe itself – another exploration of kinship. Here, Des places himself on a fantastical odyssey of his own, sending his thoughts out from Britain and around Europe. He finds first an island, and then a continent, locked in a common defensiveness and an ugly sense of purity. Each exploits “the Other” but denies them harbourage – “If they desire a water of Europe / it is the cold grey sea that divides. / Or the deep and inviolable water / taking and making sides.” Against this he calls on the forces and floods of history, hoping for the day when “truth decontaminates water supplies”, and “the fracturing chains of the workers of Europe / have strangled the boy with his thumb in the dijk.” Whips snap, castanets rattle, accordions and guitars throw punches. There’s going to be a party out there when the storm breaks.

Des de Moor: ‘Water Of Europe’ (preview)

Some of Des’ gestures aren’t carried nearly so well. However musical he is, he’s a man of words first and foremost, and this can mean that in his forthright sincerity the songs scramble across an imbalance of text and melody, like a flapping banner dragged by the wind. In the squabbling, tricky surveillance satire of Big Sister, for instance, his voice drowns in his densely-packed lyric: “More cameras than Hollywood, more tape than Scotch, / more logs than Canada, much more to watch… /I am your friend in the fight against crime. / Won’t you be safe when I’m there all the time – / minding your kitchen and minding your bed, / and, for extra security, / minding your head?”

Des de Moor: ‘Big Sister’

The Fairground Attraction swing of Grandmother Was A Hero, with its perceptive picture of human flaws, also should have been better as a standalone song. Over-pressured by words, it lacks smoothness and poise. Yet if you can accept that Des’ prime aim is to get his tales across, it has a lot to offer. Weighing up his monstrous grandmother’s peacetime behaviour, Des offsets it against her tireless protection and concealment of refugee Jews during wartime. “She didn’t have much wit or grace, / nor brains in large amounts. / But Grandmother was a human / and being human counts.” In telling her story, in a voice and lyric that build, ebb and resurge through a complex knot of anger, admiration and pity, Des finally arrives at solidarity, and presents his memorial:

“Just think how it must have been / as a hausfrau in poor Holland when the Wehrmacht goose-stepped in / With a husband that you hate, but there is nothing you can do: / It’s an emergency situation, and your man’s your comrade too. / In that fearful hunger winter when all your two kids have to eat / is potato peelings, pea pods and the snow from off the street – / and they’re handing out the yellow stars that one by one blink out, / and you know you have to help them, and there is no time for doubt. / Until the Gestapo knock on your door, and you find yourself alone / and in the settled dust you’re just a German widow / far from home.”

Des de Moor: ‘Grandmother Was A Hero’

Elsewhere, a loose trilogy about workers in London merges a realist’s acceptance with the strong protest of an angry survivor. In Avocado, Des examines the gritty detail of the kitchen worker’s desperate struggle between hopes and exhaustion – memories crumpled in the heat and hubbub, but not yet devoid of the sting of style. In doing so, he etches a picture of life of triumphs and traps. “Choose a plump, ripe avocado, just like on your first exam / at a college back in Glasgow. Stop the memories if you can. / Take that plump, ripe avocado, slice it with the sharpest knife, / Smile and summon your bravado: it’s a cold, raw kind of life.”

Des de Moor: ‘Avocado’

In Joey’s Dreams, Des delivers a rock song turned back into seething left-wing folk ballad, the story of a gentle working bloke who’s gradually ground into resentment by hard times and defeat – “a beast that’s pacing in a pen / at the edge of a feast for rather richer men.” He goes on to trace how resentment leads to poison, and frustration to an ugly fall, shading it into a larger picture of a caste crushed down from honour into malevolence. “Joey’s cramped contractor’s terms, / that force his crawl among the worms, / create a breeding ground for germs: / opinions that the world confirms… The clots of rot clog up each bend, / the queues for casualty don’t end. / You can’t believe in your MP – now Joey’s voting BNP.”

Des de Moor: ‘Joey’s Dreams’ (preview)

Beyond these small fierce sketches, there’s the fractured battlement of Sleaze City. Des takes an uneasy stroll through his beloved south-east London, past strangled docks and thriving bailiffs, sniffing and frowning at the muggy wind of corruption shrouding Westminster even as homeless beggars huddle in sleeping bags, a stone’s throw away over in the Strand. Throughout, a sweep of history – compromise, an age-old London scrabble and a sense of loss – provides depth. “At Surrey Quays, saluting the seas / sets flags bobbing. Along the shores ex-stevedores / watch gulls mobbing… /The last leaking hulks have long furled their sheets / at Woodpecker, Evelyn, Crossfields and Pepys…. / There’s whole careers / in chasing arrears, still shivers / though shirts are soaking. / Sleaze City’s choking / in the ozone.”

Des de Moor: ‘Sleaze City’ (preview)

For more personal struggles, there’s Sharp Contradictions and Last Orders Please. On the former, Julia Doyle’s double bass and David Harrod’s needling piano pick out itchy broken harmonies like the stab of toothache. Des anatomises the terrifying wonder of a fall into love, like an attacking scalpel or virus winding to the very centre of a person. “Alive and kicking, awake, aware / with a billion lights that sparkle and flare / in the brain above. / But put in the knife and start to twist – / the lizard hisses and lashes a fist. / The world goes runny when you get pissed. / And then there’s love.” Surreal spiraling rhymes paint the upheaval, with a dark coda of sombre feeling – “And it is the time I spend sinking / that sharpens and tempers my thinking. / And it is this feeling you give / that reminds me just how much I live.”

Des de Moor:’Sharp Contradictions’ (preview)

In contrast, Last Orders Please is a death song of the kind you get only in cabaret, filled with defiance and fear. It’s also the only outright gay song which Des has allowed himself for the record; overshadowed by the horrific harvest of AIDS, the hollowing, slithering sense of time passing too fast and too hard, and of youth becoming a strange, sinister and heartless territory. “Now I’m older, Death is a young man, not the skull-faced spook from ‘The Seventh Seal’ / but a bronze Adonis with eyes as blank / as a half-filled diary’s empty pages.”

Des de Moor: ‘Last Orders Please’

Yet although the song starts in a rumble of melodrama, it bursts into a fiery salsa – “At close of day, there’s burning rages / for a hundred loose ends, / for the lovers and friends, / for the wind into which we were pissing / when we never knew what we were missing, / for the might-have-been, could-have-been, never-was life we’ve been living.” Des has the energy – and more – to spit out a last rallying call for the scared and threatened: “We’ve nothing to lose in the trying. / If life is a bitch unless you’re fucking rich, / no wonder we’re frightened of dying.”

The bloodstream of folk music also harbours germs of resistance. Des de Moor’s very much part of that particular flow, provocatively pumping heart and all.

Des de Moor: ‘Water Of Europe’
Irregular Records, IRR038 (5036265000078)
CD-only album
Released: 22nd September 1999

Buy it from:
Irregular Records (or Amazon).

Des de Moor online:
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