Tag Archives: Liverpool (England)

July 2021 – single & track reviews – Franz Yusef vs. David Peel & Friends’ ‘How Lucky We Are’; Fatum Aeternum’s ‘Spiders’; The Academy of Sun’s ‘It is Finished When It’s Destroyed/Ghost Foxes’

3 Jul

Had he lived, Tim Smith would have been sixty years old this week;  but with a wealth of Cardiacs-inspired music still riffling up from the underground like a crop of wheat, it’s almost as if he was still here.

Celebrating Tim’s birthday, Franz Yusef vs. David Peel & Friends are an assortment of his fans – principally Israeli odd-rock maverick Franz Yuzef and half-hidden Liverpudlian talent David John Peel (who’s had stints in The Farm and with a pre-Space Tommy Scott, amongst others), but also Eric Kearns, Johnee Beegood and Bobby Bilsborough and Pocket Gods’ Noel Storey. ‘How Lucky We Are’ is an unabashed tribute, full of open sentiment, but with the words attempting to recapture some of those peculiar, endearing Smith sensibilities – the touch of the maritime, the open and unashamedly awkward emotionalism, the sense of gleeful rampage, and the strange public mixture of schooling and punk idiot savant. “How lucky we are / to have known that man, / to have heard his mind / trample kindly through our own, / tickling through the tar. / How lucky we are.”

It could have been winsome, it could have been embarrassing. It could have been a coy cop of Smith-y sound. In fact (although it’s a close-run thing sometimes) it’s actually none of these. It’s more of an inhabiting; a realisation that Smithworld isn’t something which you should pastiche, but a sensibility which you can slip into. Franz sets up a web of awkwardly-related synth and organ chords over a rattling-door haunted-house rhythm and then turns them all into family, venturing out on a strange, stretched-out harmonic limb that always feels a second away from breaking apart. The feel constantly flickers between mediaeval to the dark recesses of Victoriana to this week’s inspiration; there are fake reeds and a Mellotron, and a sort of sonic flickering, like a swamp at the deepening of the dusk.    

Meanwhile, Franz clambers from point to point on this web, dotting down David’s words as a theatrical incantation and a thanksgiving, replete with that slightly arcane and macabre Cardiacs touch; that fractured grammar; and, for the fully committed, glancing references to Smith lyrics. “How lucky we were to be a part of miracle fun, / to sing the score of heaven, / to hear the brave son, shine on. / To swim the waters there. / How lucky we were…. / How lucky we shall be / to shout the crowns of majesty, / to bring our children to the sea / and hold their heads beneath the waves / of glory not unfound and see / how lucky they shall be… / We are better / for having known him.”

Israeli multi-genre rockers Fatum Aeturnum are playful and theatrical, as were Cardiacs, but they don’t quite swim in the same peculiar seas. They’re a more self-consciously artful proposition – flashy, stagey board-stompers whose avid raiding of heavy metal, jazz, Paganini violin heroics, Goth rock, gypsy dance and even little dollops of Shakespeare turn them into a obvious, omnivorous circus act. But they do what they do with heart, humour and lip-smacking gusto (especially not that they’re lightening up a little); and ‘Spiders’ is heaps of fun.

It starts with swing hi-hat, big-band saxophone riffs and diving violin, only to have them blown up by burly metallic bass and by guitar riffs tossed in like precision cherry bombs. While this is noisy enough to punch out the flap of a cabaret tent, everything that’s been blown up falls slap-bang back into place. Sonically, it could be early King Crimson (the blood-red crunchy big-band jazz sandwich of ’21st Century Schizoid Man’) meeting Iron Maiden, with kooky Muppet Show vocals sprinkled on top: you can toss in the straighter end of Mr Bungle and the weirder end of The Stranglers if you want to. Away from the geeky comparisons, you get a carefully controlled set of romps and explosions. Stunts, but no chaos. Bits of it may wriggle like eels, on cue; but (as ever in the circus) nothing’s left to chance.

It might be ironic, then, that the lyrical targets of ‘Spider’ are those who make a religion out of regulation – and vice versa (“We expect you to be good people / since we erect our holy steeple. / Pay your taxes, live on the edge,/  buy affordable, conquer your rage. / Watch TV, drink some Coke, / give away your life as a joke.”). Fatum Aeturnum’s real target, of course, is structured consumerism; and as I imagine them prancing around in their satirucal marketeer’s masks, I’m reminded of some of the more fantastical Brechtian clowning which popped up at one end of British psychedelia during the ’90s – Sleepy People, Poisoned Electrick Head. Plus, of course, somewhere in counter-culture heaven, Daevid Allen must be grinning a little. “Keep on running, with your blinkers – / we don’t appreciate the thinkers.”

Traces of the Tim Smith spirit also seem to have found their way into The Academy of Sun‘s ‘It is Finished When It’s Destroyed/Ghost Foxes’ single (a limited-edition double-sider cut by Graham Duff’s boutique label Heaven’s Lathe). If so, they’re wrestling with a rabble of Nick Hudson’s other influences – on this occasion, dark British psychedelia, Cramps-y psychobilly, Goth rock and rattling lysergic American garage rock.

It’s typically diverse Academy of Sun in that it’s volatile, ready to shift. At any moment the light could polarise. ‘It is Finished…’ opens with warnings of tainted help, of murder and dysfunction, sailing along as a mystic-urban incantation with a spider-strewn Goth riff before lapsing into an unexpected silence, changing gear, then coming back with a prog boost and a doubled-down sense of doom. (“Lie down, lie down, they all lie down – / the walls are falling in this town.”) It sounds like nothing so much as a fateful, biblical-apocalyptic meeting between the Bad Seeds and long-gone ’90s Britpsych comets Levitation

‘Ghost Foxes’ showcases another side to The Academy of Sun. Gnarling along on a 13th Floor Elevators/Seeds tip, and kicking off on a stop-start guitar slam, it reminds us that there’s more than one meaning to acid wit.  “If I had a book of unhealthy stuff, I’d like to let you read it / but gazing at your fevered eyes, I don’t know if you need it… / If you don’t think my love is true, maybe magic doesn’t believe in you. / If you feel you’re being ignored, maybe change the batteries on your ouija board.” It seems to be bringing a prank perspective into a relationship, although where it’s therapy or some kind of weaving, elusive kiss-off is difficult to see as it ducks and dives behind its off-beat witticisms and peculiar maxims. “Used to be a part of me, / but all that’s left is electricity. / Ghost foxes are best on the periphery.”

Throughout, though, it crackles with verve and interest. “What a curious time to be alive!” interjects Nick, partway through, and apropos of nothing. You feel that it’s that which propels Academy of Sun onwards, through apocalypse and squabbles and failed understandings. A keenness of curiosity.

Franz Yusef vs. David Peel & Friends: ‘How Lucky We Are’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Streaming single
Released:
2nd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud

Franz Yusef online:
Facebook, Bandcamp    

David Peel online:
Facebook  


Fatum Aeternum: ‘Spiders’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
2nd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Fatum Aeturnum online:
Homepage, Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music, VK


The Academy of Sun: ‘It Is Finished When It’s Destroyed/Ghost Foxes’
Heaven’s Lathe (no catalogue number or barcode)
7″ vinyl-only single (100-copy limited edition)
Released:
2nd July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Heaven’s Lathe (vinyl), Soundcloud (stream)

The Academy of Sun online:
Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram

May/July 2019 – upcoming classical/experimental gigs – multimedia string quartet work – Solem Quartet in London, Liverpool and Manchester (2nd, 9th, 10th May); Kronos Quartet & Trevor Paglen’s ‘Sight Machine’ in London (11th July)

29 Apr

Some quick signal-boosing for those of you who might enjoy augmented string quartet music…

* * * * * * * *

Solem Quartet, 2nd/9th/10th May 2019“In the first of a brand new series, Solem Lates, the Solem Quartet present ‘batózeyal’: a night of music for string quartet and electronics.

“Excitingly, ‘batózeyal’ will feature two specially commissioned premieres, from Larry Goves and Aaron Parker, alongside Anna Meredith‘s ‘Tuggemo’ (a dance-inspired romp mixing the sounds of live string quartet with synth electronics), and other exhilarating recent works from Jonathan Dove (‘Quite Fast’ from his 2001 string quartet ‘Out of Time’) and Paul Zaba (‘Sidechains’, a dizzying musical incarnation of the electronic effect of the same name).

“In the context of this contemporary music, we will also be performing Bartók’s 3rd Quartet which sounds as fresh and visceral as it did at its conception, almost one hundred years ago.

“The title of the night shares its name with the piece by Aaron Parker, which responds to and interacts with the Bartók Quartet (while incorporating electronics and film). So come and join us for sparkling new music and a masterpiece of twentieth-century chamber music!”

There were no initial details for what the Goves piece was called, but talk on Twitter has confirmed that it’s a nine-minute composition called ‘Two-Way Mirror’. Meanwhile, here’s the Solem playing the Bartók (along with a Paul Zaba Soundcloud clip of ‘Sidechains’ and a performance of ‘Quite Fast’ by the Eurasia Quartet).


 
* * * * * * * *

“Artist Trevor Paglen and the ever-inventive Kronos Quartet present Sight Machine, a multimedia performance putting a string quartet under the gaze of machine-vision and artificial intelligence.

Kronos Quartet/Trevor Paglen: ' Sight Machine', 11th July 2019We live in a data-driven world, but is it really possible to quantify human emotion? This concert puts that question under surveillance. While the Kronos Quartet perform works by Terry Riley, Laurie Anderson, Steve Reich, Egyptian electronic musician Islam Chipsy and others, the musicians are monitored by cameras feeding into a suite of artificial intelligence algorithms. The software turns this abstracted information back into images, which are then projected onto the screen behind the performers, showing us how machines and their algorithms perceive what we are seeing.

“Utilising algorithms ranging from consumer-grade facial detection to advanced surveillance systems and even guided missiles, ‘Sight Machine’ is a fascinating and unsettling illustration of the discrepancy between what we experience as human beings and what machines ‘see’.

“This is part of Life Rewired – the 2019 Barbican season exploring what it means to be human when technology is changing everything.”

 

This work was originally performed in New York back in 2017 – read some more about that here. No extra details on the setlist yet…

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Solem Quartet: ‘batózeyal’

  • The CLF Art Café, Block A, Bussey Building, 133 Copeland Road, Peckham, London, SE15 3SN, England – Thursday 2nd May 2019, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • The Invisible Wind Factory, 25 Carlton Street, Liverpool, L3 7BX, England – Thursday 9th May 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Soup Kitchen, 31-33 Spear Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1DF, England – Friday 10th May 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here


Serious presents:
Kronos Quartet & Trevor Paglen: ‘Sight Machine’
Barbican Hall @ Barbican Arts Centre, Silk Street, City of London, London, EC2Y 8DS, England
Thursday 11th July 2019, 8.30pm
– information here and here

* * * * * * * *

Also, I guess it’s worth mentioning that the Markus Reuter string quartet record I previewed back in February is now out. Here are some promotional clips for those of you who missed out on the previous post…




 

February/March/April/May 2019 – upcoming English experimental/rock gigs – Markers and Haress on tour with appearances by Tom House, Anji Cheung, Caius Burns and Aby Vulliamy; plus later dates with Jaye Jayle and Motes

23 Feb

One of the connections which particularly intrigues me (for which read “always baffles me and induces me to go over it again”) is the one between folk music and hardcore punk. Apparently it’s a love based on a number of things – the inclination towards keeping to the basics, the austerity which is fostered both by that and by a distrust of commercialism and toys, a sense of political purity and of dodging corruption… It’s perhaps a little one-sided – punk tends to love folk more, although you’ll get some acknowledgement coming back the other way, increasingly so as more young folkies grow up with punk. Regardless of the relative exchange, you’ll see quite a bit of traffic moving around here. An upcoming British tour looks into this particular dynamic and feel, at the stripped-down point where the genres meet: along the way, there are more overlappings and enfoldings.

Markers on tour, February-May 2019Markers’ Jodie Cox always seemed like a gifted guy that strolled into hardcore with a positive attitude, rather than hunching or raging his way into it. Even when he was blitzing and shrieking away at the front of short-lived London seedbedders Ursa during the late ‘90s, he seemed cheerfully unlimited by the constraints of form. Ever since then (via transatlantic journeys through Earth, Narrows, Bullet Union, Sex Swing, Exes and others) he’s always seemed to be where he wanted to be rather than being forced into it: a sunny, enthusiastic character who’s helped humanise and hearten any project he’s been in. Jodie’s bandmate, contemporary and friend Jason Carty began his career in the same time and place. Stubborn, meticulous and sometimes anxious, he twitched and reeled various fluent post-rock/prog/post-metal guitar complexities through Geiger Counter and Foe like a ferocious engraver, then threw all of that aside to play blattering post-hardcore doom bass in Art Of Burning Water before embracing silence for a number of years.

Now reunited and united, Jason and Jodie’s all-instrumental work as Markers sees the two of them eschewing other musicians and hairy-arsed distortion in order to see what they can get out of two (mostly) clean electric guitars. Their debut album ‘Heaven In The Dark Earth’ is a beautifully executed thing. As Jodie’s put it elsewhere, rather than roaring easily through fuzz they’re now aiming for something “tonally heavy” (Even if they have covered Jesus Lizard, they went for one of that gonzo band’s rarer gentle tunes, and it came out sounding like late lamented bass frowners Rothko.)

Markers’ music is immediately atmospheric, recorded at a larger-than-life scale in which the listener feels as if they’re about a foot high, wandering around the duo’s feet and their suddenly gargantuan amplifiers. When processing does turn up it’s mostly in the form of encompassing shivers of reverb, or discreet echo – wider brushstrokes and spongeings to complement delicate penwork. Apart from that it’s wood, wire, pickups and an intuitive, space-filled musical marriage between the two players, pursuing a fluid sparseness and a sombre/passionate flaring of arpeggios and arabesques, flotsam folk figures and fragments rubbed smooth enough for their provenance to stay ambiguous. It’s a kind of post-industrial classical guitar, making the most of sparse resources and close-mouthedness, mysterious conversations through fingers and dusty speaker-cones. These buggers always had a lot more depth than previous circumstances have allowed them to show: or perhaps, more than they allowed themselves to make clear. In Markers, they no longer have either of these problems.


 
Following their recent showing at a mid-February gig in Brighton (hands up, I admit that I missed it) Markers are setting out on tour with kindred spirits Haress. Hailing from arty market town Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire, Haress are fundamentally the guitar duo of David Hand and Elizabeth Still. Mantric, minimalist, low-hanging and close-knit, theirs is a music in which several tight and lowering musical disciplines meets. Art-rock, hardcore edge, meditational post-rock and American electric folk fragments emerge via very loud, mostly clean electric guitars (on the lip of distortion and at the precarious peak of electromagnetic responsiveness) and meet shruti and amp drones plus delicate percussion tingles. Below are a couple of clips of David and Elizabeth meeting inside and outside:



 
Haress sometimes expand for live dates. The current ones see them augmented by a third guitarist (Chris Summerlin of dubby Notts psych/noise-ians Kogumaza, accelerated post-Beefheart screamers Wolves of Greece, and bluescore trio Lord), by a singer (Tom House, best known as the frontman for a pair of Brighton bands, hollering post-hardcore act Charlottefield and its more tender-fleshed followup Sweet Williams) and by drummer David Smyth of Liverpudlian synthcore/space-punks Kling Klang. No clips for that, I’m afraid…

At the London show (also the Markers album launch, with ticket/LP/download bundles available for those who want them), Anji Cheungprovides “audio intermissions”. She was in here earlier this month being previewed at the Matthew Shaw/English Heretic show, sandwiched between rural synth ambience and psychogeographic audio-visual. I can’t immediately improve much on what I said about her back then, so here it is again – “unnerving, frowning amplifier buzzes rolling over the listener like a gigantic clumsy wheel, with dramatically chopped/distorted/otherwise incomprehensible vocals implying pirate-radio-eavesdropping on a covert ritual… car-boot clatter under a lowering sky… beautiful lost female murmur-melodies stalked by drainage-ditch fuzz…. Another aspect of New Weird Britain: ambiguously multicultural and urban, mixing and obscuring London and Chinese references, but sounding mostly as if it stems from a place where jerry-built tower blocks break up old fields around the city’s tired periphery and where unknown syncretic practises are carried out (perhaps only half-understood even by the people involved).”



 
In Nottingham, Kagoule’s frontman Caius Burns will be bolstering the evening: sidestepping the noisy fantastical post-hardcore of his main band to deliver an acoustic voice-and-guitar set of his own songs, all in an old-school folk baroque form complete with slippery Jantschian fingerpicking. (And here he is in transient mode, halfway between folk and electropop…)

 
The Shipley show is the most extensive on the mini-tour: a four-act event with Tom House stepping forward out of the Haress lineup to perform a set of his own queasy, sludgy, draggy-pop slowcore. Hometown girl Aby Vulliamy is also joining the evening. A multi-instrumentalist (piano, viola, flute, musical saw, accordion) and singer/composer across a remarkable range of genres, she was covered in here a few years ago via her part-written/part-improvised Mothercore project, in which she teamed up with established musicians Laura Cole and Maria Jardardottir plus an ever-shifting cast of local musician/mothers who joined in whenever the main trio rolled into their town. Mothercore was inspired by, and triggered by, the ambiguous experience of motherhood, and appears to have led into last year’s long-overdue Aby solo album, ‘Spin Cycle’.

If Mothercore thrived on solidarity, ‘Spin Cycle’ places itself, sometimes unnervingly, on “mother alone yet not alone”: its songs tracing their way across a webwork of maternal experience (broader voicings of political anger at the forcing of roles onto women of childbearing age; the claustrophobic vortex of love, fear and exhaustion surrounding breastfeeding; an awareness of the greater female timespan of girl baby to young woman, watched over by mother all the way). Depending on your gender, your situation and where you are in your own lifespan, it’ll either shed light onto a much generalised-over, much-misunderstood state of being, or simultaneously rue and celebrate what’s one of the greatest and most turbulent tasks, all to a DIY backing of diverse, intimate floating-folk instrumentation.





 
The final tour show, in Liverpool, is just Haress and Markers on their own. I can’t tell you where the Old Brazilian Embassy is, although longstanding Liverpudlians might be able to hazard a guess, while the organisers appear to be a collective who throw concerts at home and overlap with avant-garde rock ensemble Ex-Easter Island Head (so now you know who to chase up and pester if you really want to come). Apparently this isn’t the only show these guys are putting on, although the proximity of neighbours and license issues means that they’ve got to keep the volume down… Merseyside art musicians who operate at the quiet end of things, here’s a new place to beat a pathway to (if you can find it yourself).

Outside the tour, Haress and Tom House will also be plying their trade at a mid-March gig in Bristol, for which they’re joined by obscure Somersetters Motes, who come bearing the priceless label of “drunk-minimal/hypnotist-un-rock based at the ventriloquistic intersection of Barrow Gurney and Old Market”. There’s no way I can better that sentence – it’s its own short film, all by itself – but here they are, playing a couple of their lo-fi guitar-and-drum, barn-under-the-motorway scrambles:



 

San Haress, Markers go on to play a couple of dates in Brighton and Leeds on the cusp of April and May with American “dark-indie” band Jaye Jayle. Formed in Louisville around onetime Young Widows songwriter Evan Patterson and with other personnel sporting a history including The For Carnation, Freakwater, and Phantom Family Halo, Jay Jayle connect American roots music and Southern Gothic musical sensibilities with drone, garage rock, and bits of kosmische analogue-tronic drive (much of it brought by Corey Smith’s “auxiliary instrumentation”). They’re an exciting thrumble of Velvets-y deathmarch, down-home fucked-up country backroads, factory sirens, momentary blackouts and haunted, incoherent confessionals. They sing the songs of drifters on long, dark trips; of people in back-prickling situations; and of people who’ve picked at the scabs of guarded obscure places just enough to show you why you shouldn’t pick at any more of them. Jay Jayle are compelling. I think I’ll be back to give them another listen.



 

Also on hand at the first of those two shows – the one in Brighton – is Nick Hudson’s own home-grown take on the “psychedelic dystopian gnostic-Gothic post-punk” approach, The Academy Of Sun. Some overlap with Jay Jayle’s sound, perhaps, but quite a bit more verbose and self-consciously literary, to be honest. Somewhere between Johnny Cash and dark cabaret, with a dash of biting chanson – but then as Brightoneers they’re not much more than a stone’s throw away from either the sea or Nick Cave (and, judging by the sound of this, from a mouldering salt-stained stack which when pulled apart bursts into a sprawl of old Furniture records and bright West Coast glad-rags).



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Markers & Haress on tour:

  • Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England – Tuesday 26th February 2019, 8.00pm(Markers album release gig, also featuring Anji Cheung) – information here, here and here
  • JT Soar, 2 Aberdeen Street, Nottingham, NG3 1JB, England – Friday 15th March 2019, 7.30pm(also featuring Caius Burns) – information here
  • The Triangle, 47 Bradford Road, Shipley, Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD18 3DS, England – Saturday 16th March 2019, 7.00pm (also featuring Tom House + Aby Vulliamy) – information here
  • The Old Brazilian Embassy, somewhere in Liverpool, England – Sunday 17th March 2019 – ask around for information

Haress + Tom House + Motes
The Old England, 43 Bath Buildings, Bristol, BS6 5PT, England
Thursday 14th March 2019, 8.00pm
– information here

Jay Jayle and Markers:

 

February/March 2019 – upcoming British folk/experimental gigs – Bell Lungs on tour with Raiments (20th February to 2nd March, various) with appearances by Despicable Zee, Michael Clark, The Nature Centre, Halcyon Jane, Tara Clerkin Trio and various DJs. Plus sundry other Bell Lungs shows in March including a København evening with Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen, a show with David Toop and Rashad Becker, a date with Gaze Is Ghost.

16 Feb

Working with a multi-instrumental, device-heavy palette which includes guitar, harmonium, Omnichord, electric violin, lyre, bouzouki, saz, voice and a host of effects pedals, avant-folk singer/writer/sometime promoter Ceylan Hay (a.k.a. Bell Lungs) sits at the middle of a host of possible routes. Her sound incorporates post-folk and drone, dream pop, noise and free improv, psychedelia and site-specific realisations, while her psychohistorian subject matter takes in the ancient, the near-ancient and the presently numinous: probing prehistoric spaces, the ghosts of the industrial age, day-to-day feelings and the slide into a new virtual existence space via online culture.

Reflecting these overlaid levels (and what might be, at different perspective points, either shockingly near or completely occluded), her vocal delivery steps between ornamental trad-folk crenellations, feathery ambient warbles and horrific screams. You can never quite tell whether she’s going to lull you or scare you, but you know she cares about what she’s ferrying across to you.

With a new EP, the wintry ‘Wolves Behind Us‘, to promote (apparently it’s a return to folk and landscapes after recent science fiction/site-specific digressions, and is “Joan Aiken’s ‘Wolves of Willoughby Chase’, Olaf Stapledon’s ‘Last and First Men’, caravan living in the Highlands and the ancient cosmology idea of dividing the year into two halves; the opening and closing of the wolf’s mouth”), Bell’s embarking on five weeks of touring (primarily alongside Raiments) through Scotland, England, Wales, followed up by other Raiments-less shows in Scotland, England and Denmark. (She’ll also be playing in Wales next month, but more on that later…)




 
Before taking a look at the tour, let’s take a look at her tourmates. Formed on the Berlin avant-garde scene, Raiments are fronted by sing-murmurer/left-field guitarist Mano Camatsos, and they sound like a soft-stepping muttering blend of Lou Reed and Momus fronting a band that mixes lurking dark-jazz styling (hardwood clarinet burr and groove-pattering trashdrums) with the DIY rattle of Pram and the dark throb of Morphine. Mano’s wildcard guitar is a clinking noisemaker and pulse generator taking note of hip hop, of avant-garde classical extended techniques and of mysterious instruments and methods gleaned from ethnological recordings. His songwriting voice is a oddball surreal instinct leading inexorably towards songs about ants or baffling seductions.



 
Tracing their upcoming footsteps on the tour is a joy, like following a plough which turns up small treasures as it reveals what’s in the earth. It’s partly the succession of intriguing off-the-beaten-path venues – squatty art-pubs, recovered eighteenth-century coal basins, pocket cinemas and art centres, diehard folk rooms and out-of-the-way sipperys – but also the revealing of similarly off-the-wall musical talents and enthusiasts they join up with en route.

In Edinburgh, Bell and Raiments are playing with Claquer – previously three-piece improvisers Claque until they spun off their American drummer an unspecified time ago. Now it’s just the Edinburgh contingent: free/experimental guitarist Jer Reid and viola player/speaker Lisa Fannen. They deal in lo-fi clangs, loopings and scrapes and spoken word: momentary moment-music.


 
In Newcastle, the main support comes from the soft melody murmurs and drowsy, cushioned keens of ambient/improv folk duo Halcyon Jane, a Tyneside/Humberside teamup. Upfront with the voice, guitar and devices is Newcastle performance art polymath Jayne Dent, better known via her own electronic/noisy folk project Me Lost Me, in which she buffers and buffets her singing with concertinas and samplers: when she played Hull back in December, support came from local ambient electronic beatsman Halcyon Neumann, who’s worked with The Body Farmers and with Sarah Shiels and who carries out sonic explorations of “the technological vs. the archaic/the spiritual vs. the scientific/the supernatural vs. the psychological.” Together they tease out a semi-improvised border music, part weird electro-folk and part post-shoegaze wisp.

Also playing is Michael Clark, providing slurred, wise, trepidatious and crepuscular folk music with fogrolls of noise behind an acoustic guitar. Despite being a Londoner, he sounds more like a moor-dweller; or like someone who lives in the kind of port city London used to be, one in which strange tales and intimation billow up the streets with the dock mist: this time out, his strange tales are backed up by a full band.

 
I’ve encountered The Nature Centre before. Headlining the Club Integral-hosted Birmingham show above Bell Lung and Raiments, they’re an affable rural/suburban pop quartet like a four-person one-man band, sprouting banjos and clarinets and found percussion alongside their drum kit and guitars. Drawn to playing at weirder gigs, they’ve shared bills with people like Bob Drake and have their own batchful of three-minute pop songs avidly reflecting the off-kilter visions of previous English songwriter eccentrics (the Syd Barretts, Robyn Hitchcocks and Tim Smiths). Handling the in-between-bands slot is someone new to me but not new to Brum’s vinyl-istas: Moseley Folk Festival’s house DJ and Moseley Record Fair co-organiser DJ Rome, promising his own selection of crate-dug oddities and inspirations.


 
In Bristol, the DJ backup comes from “bleary-eyed staggerer” Siegfried Translator of the Grey Area radio show (another haven for intriguingly weird music from all over the globe), but the gig predominantly features the Tara Clerkin Trio: the DIY musical brainchild of a ceramicist who also seems to have a yen for gamelan/minimalist-sounding pattern tinkling sprinkled with voiceloops, friendly saxophonic intrusions and other pitch-ins from whichever musical friends she can rope in for the occasion. (At other times, she creates her own slumberous take on experimental countrified pop.)

 
The Oxford show (promoted by Divine Schism) is primarily a launch event for the second EP by Zahra Haji Fath Ali Tehrani, a.k.a. Despicable Zee – a live-looper, improviser and conscious patterner of fifteen years standing, mixed Anglo/Irish/Iranian heritage, and a history of drumming in Oxford bands since her teens. Now the drums (plus loopstations and recordings) are used to create live solo tracks in which Zee employs a lo-fi, lo-technique approach to overlapping rhythm garlands and triggered conversations. As an artist (as well as an educator and mother), Zee’s increasingly conscious of the female lines she carries within her: the patched-in samples which wobble her current project along feature the voices of her mother and grandmother, mingling with Zee’s own sing-speak-raps as if they’ve dropped by for some kind of experimental music cross-cultural kaffee klatsch.


 
The London show (at Paper Dress Vintage) is an evening of music and spoken word put together by promoters Spilt Milk in order to raise money and awareness for North London Action for the Homeless. Shapeshifter experimental pop poet Alabaster dePlume comperes: also in the corner is Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business, who showed up in ‘Misfit City’ a little over a year ago.

Jenny’s another artist whose field extends from the visual and situational into action and music: the Mystic Business involves pulling together friends and strangers into a collective performance event that’s part communal clapalong choir, part percussion workshop and good-natured culture-jamming protest (with food). Guileless and charming, but nonetheless political and détournementational, it’s an attempt to get collective conscience back into the body, containing and encouraging a cheerful but insistent protest.



 
The Conventry and Brighton gigs appear to feature just Bell Lungs and Raiments on their own, but news just coming in re. the Liverpool date (at dockside art-pub Drop the Dumbulls) says that support there comes from Merseyside “synthwhisperer” and outsider synthpopper Claire Welles. She’s been rolling out her contrary songs for over a decade now, singing increasingly unsettling lyrics in a deep deadpan tone with a sarcastic medicated edge, while the backings deliquesce from elegant ageless Europop into something a little misshapen. It all becomes something like those conversations during which you wake up a third of the way in, not quite sure how you got into them, not quite believing that you’re stuck in there and will just have to ride it out.



 
* * * * * * * *

Following the Raiments tour, Bell heads off separately for other shows. A mid-March showing at Manchester’s Peer Hat is a solo gig, but there’s also an Argyll event (in the enchanting recording-studio-as-art-nook surroundings of St Marys Space) at which she’s supporting baroque poptronic project Gaze Is Ghost: itinerant Northern Irish singer/songwriter/post-classical composer Laura McGarrigle, noted for “spectral vocals and impressionist piano playing” as well as drifts into harmonium and ambient atmospherics. In recent years Laura’s let Zed Penguin drummer/artist Casey Miller into the project and (following a number of pre-Casey singles), Gaze Is Ghost are finally readying a debut album as a duo.

 
A return to Glasgow on 28th March sees Bell performing on a talk’n’play bill with musicologist and audio culturer David Toop and Berlin sonicist Rashad Becker (who, having polished over a thousand records by other people spanning noise to techno, has begun stepping out into music creation of his own with the resonant faux-ethnological synthwork of ‘Traditional Music of Notional Species, Vol. I’).

On the 30th she’s back in Edinburgh to support another experimental folker, looper and performance artist: David Thomas Broughton, whose brilliantly wayward path has included looping his own heckles, blurring the line between song performance and experimental theatre. Along the way he’s released eight albums of accessible, tremulous, oddly haunting alt.folk delivered in an arresting genderless vocal tone a little reminiscent of Anthony/Anohni, and won the respect and collaborative contributions of (among others) Beth Orton, Sam Amidon, and Aidan Moffat. David will be in the early stages of his own tour, which I really should cover on its own.





 
Before any of these, though, she’s crossing the North Sea to perform at an experimental folk event in København. Part of the city’s Fanø Free Folk Festival, it’s hosted by local label Dendron Records, specializers in “small runs of abstract electronics, ghostly folk songs and surprisingly hummable tunes.” The concert will also feature two København-based British emigres Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen. Hugh’s been operating for years under various names including The Weave And The Weft and Taiga Taiga, creating shadowy understated mostly-acoustic songs with a literary bent, and he regularly helps out with David Folkmann Drost’s homemade folk project Moongazing Hare. Previously known as a radical electric guitarist in Vinyl Dog Joy, Amstrong and Distortion Girls, Tanja recently struck out on her own with a solo debut, ‘Feeling Love’ in which she embraces and deconstructs pop songs, writing them acoustically before bringing assorted damaged amplification and effects-pedal interference to bear on them, resulting in songscapes covering a field from heavy-lidded noise-folk to cataclysmic “drone-metal disco”.




 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

Bell Lungs & Raiments tour:

  • Henry’s Cellar Bar, 16A Morrison Street, Edinburgh EH3 8BJ – Wednesday 20th February 2019, 7.00pm (with Claquer) – information here
  • Cobalt Studios, 10-16 Boyd Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE2 1AP, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.00pm(with Michael Clark + Halcyon Jane) – information here
  • The Edge, 79-81 Cheapside, Digbeth, Birmingham, B12 0QH, England – Friday 22nd February 2019, 8.00pm (with The Nature Centre + DJ Rome) – information here and here
  • Cube Cinema, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England – Sunday 24th February 2019, 8.00pm(with Tara Clerkin Trio + The Grey Area DJs) – information here and here
  • Fusion Arts, 44b Princes Street, Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1DD, England – Monday 25th February 2019, 7.30pm(with Despicable Zee) – information here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England – Tuesday 26th February 2019. 7.30pm (with Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business + Alabaster dePlume) – information here and here
  • The Rose Hill Tavern, 70-71 Rose Hill Terrace, Brighton, West Sussex, BN1 4JL, England – Thursday 28th February 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • The Tin @ The Coal Vaults, Unit 1-4 Coventry Canal Basin, St. Nicholas Street, Coventry, CV1 4LY, England – Friday 1st March 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Drop the Dumbulls @ The Bull, 2 Dublin Street, Liverpool, L3 7DT, England – Saturday 2nd March 2019, 7.00pm (with Claire Welles) – information here

Bell Lungs standalone dates with various others (tbc):

  • Fanø Free Folk Festival @ Alice, Norre Alle 7, DK-2200 København N, Norway – Monday 4th March 2019, 7.00pm(with Hugh Tweedie + Tanja Vesterbye Jessen) – information here
  • St Marys Space, Fasnacloich, Argyll, Scotland, PA38 4BJ – Saturday 9th March 2019, 7.00pm(supporting Gaze Is Ghost) – information here
  • The Peer Hat, 14-16 Faraday Street, Manchester M1 1BE – Thursday 14th March 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Stereo/The Old Hairdressers, 20-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 5AR, Scotland – Thursday 28th March 2019, 7.00pm (with David Toop + Rashad Becker) – information here and here
  • The Waverley, 3-5 St. Mary’s Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TA, Scotland – Saturday 30th March 2019, 9.00pm (supporting David Thomas Broughton) – information here

October 2018 – upcoming rock/experimental/dance gigs in England – The Evil Usses on tour in Liverpool, Salford and Derby (4th, 6th, 7th October) with shows also featuring Unstoppable Sweeties Show, The Age Of Glass, Mal, Night Stage, Shunya and Unicursal

30 Sep

This coming week, The Evil Usses take their witty, post-Beefheart/No Wave skronk-rock out of Bristol to travel in a brief arc across the Midlands and the North.



 
* * * * * * * * *

In Liverpool, they’ll be playing a saxophone-heavy Postmusic night with three Merseyside acts.

Jazz-punk absurdists Unstoppable Sweeties Show will be celebrating the release of their second album “Bring Kath her Breamcatcher [the musical]”. Styling themselves as “post-pronk” or as “passive-aggressive progressive prog” they come across as prime nonsensical Scouse upsetters: singer Yashaswi Sharma sounds like a young PJ Harvey yelping nonsequiturs, drug babble and occasional obscenities against an omnidirectional springy racket of guitars, saxophone and drums (while a bassline rushes across the gaps like a spider on a slender bridge, under fire). Incorporating “free improvisation, spoken word, avant-garde, noise, and comedy” as blunt objects in their armoury, USS are part of the scattered North-West English rock weirdness which includes a.P.a.t.t., White Blacula and Poisoned Electrick Head. (They’ve got members of the first two on board, plus people from the LAZE and from Elmo & The Styx, making them something of a Mersey anti-supergroup).



 
Rounding out the Liverpool bill, Mal provide ritualistic occult-industrial ambient noise (employing synth pads and doubled saxophones for “brutal sermons” and “chilling sideways sweeps at things”), while Unicursal bring cut-up acoustic noise via guitar and tape loop.

* * * * * * * * *

For Salford’s Space Cassette night, Evil Usses will be playing with delightfully spindly Manchester band The Age Of Glass, who employ skinny acoustic guitar skank, rolling jazz bass and crisp percussion to create their own yelping electronic dance/dub/funk combination.



 
Age Of Glass’ samplehead Alan Keary will also be performing as his own multi-instrumental, multi-genre project Shunya, using his mastery of guitar, programming, jazz double bass and other strings to create a rattled, skittish combination of post-classical, jazz and electronic dance ideas. Firing live beats across live instrumentation that can vary from duo performances to a twelve-piece band, he’s already made a name for himself by remixing the work of latterday choral composer Eric Whitacre, and drawn collaborative interest from members of GoGo Penguin: his future’s looking bright and intriguing.




 
In addition, Talos 4000 (specialist in “acid rave/cosmic dross”) and Burnibus (curator of eclectic electronica show Non Dualism Podcast) will be providing the DJ sets. Here’s an example of some previous Space Cassette-ing…

 
* * * * * * * * *

In Derby, Evil Usses’ support comes from Night Stages: the brainchild of Dubrek Studio owner and Derby music stalwart Jay, who’s put together his own “psychedelic noise-rock super group” featuring members of assorted Derby strivers Them Are They, Twinkie and YouNoGoDie. They’re still so underground and emergent that they’ve got no web presence yet, so all we’ve got to go on is an account from Derby arts-blog ‘Storge’, from a previous Dubrek all-dayer – “they are loud, shimmering sludge, and at one point the rhythm section sounds like pure, glorious metal. The guitar sounds Jay provides at times sound like shattering glass and if he hits that red pedal of doom you know it means trouble for your hearing.”

* * * * * * * * *

Full dates:

  • Postmusic @ DROP The Dumbulls Gallery, Dublin Street, Liverpool, L3 7DT, England, Thursday 4th October 2018, 7.30pm (with Unstoppable Sweeties Show + Mal + Unicursal) – information here
  • Space Cassette @ Siren Asylum, 24 Missouri Avenue, Salford, M50 2NP, England, Saturday 6th October 2018, 10.00pm (with The Age of Glass + Shunya) – information here and here
  • Dubrek Studio, 6 Becket Street, Derby, Derbyshire, DE1 1HT, England, Sunday 7th October 2018, 6.30pm (with Night Stages) – information here and here

 

March 2017 – upcoming gigs – kletzmer in New York, Southampton, Liverpool and London, from Geoff Berner/Luisa Muhr and She’Koyokh (7th, 9th, 10th, 17th)

27 Feb

Some news on some upcoming kletzmer-related gigs in New York and across England during the first couple of weeks in March.

Geoff Berner & Lisa Muhr, 7th & 9th March 2017

In New York, as part of the Jalopy Theatre’s ongoing NY Klezmer Series in Brooklyn, there’s a newly created, first-collaboration show from two Vancouver-based musicians – singer-songwriter-accordionist Geoff Berner and singer Luisa Muhr (both of whom can collectively muster up talents across novel-writing, theatre directing, community activism and movement art, but that’s several other stories…)

“Being part of the Klezmer and Yiddish music and performance scene in the US, Canada and Europe, Geoff and Luisa first met at the renowned KlezKanada music camp where they spent many hours singing together. ‘Songs of People Other People Don’t Like So Much’ has been created out of the necessity of producing political work in times that need it. Geoff and Luisa will sing you stories of the underdogs (and unpopular overdogs) of our society: some in Yiddish, some with quite some Klezmer, some in their own words, some in someone else’s. Join us, listen, engage, and enjoy!”

The project’s too new for soundclips or videos: but here’s Geoff performing a solo song from 2013 (tearing with righteous venom into Vancouver’s rotten civic developments), and Luisa fronting a Yidishe Lider concert about a year ago.



 
In addition to the Jalopy show, Geoff and Luisa are presenting another Brooklyn performance, in the shape of a preview version a couple of days earlier at Freddy’s Bar & Backroom. This is a pay-what-you-like event (though they suggest a ten bucks minimum and you’re also tied to a minimum-of-two-drinks rule). This particular evening is for twenty-one year olds or over: not because of any added salty adult content, but purely because of licencing laws for the bar.

Dates:

* * * * * * * *

She'Koyokh, 2017

Meanwhile, back here in England, She’Koyokh – who have been hailed as “one of London’s musical treasures” (‘Evening Standard’) and “one of the finest kletzmer ensembles on the planet” (‘The Australian’) – are out on the road launching their fourth studio album, ‘First Dance On Second Avenue’.

“With a name roughly translated from the original Yiddish as “nice one”, She’Koyokh have spent over a decade absorbing the rich folk music traditions of Jewish Eastern Europe, Turkey and the Balkans. Their evolution spans the origins of busking at East London’s Columbia Road flower market to performing in the famous concert halls of Europe including Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, the Gasteig in Munich and London’s Southbank Centre. She’koyokh’s members hail from the UK, USA, Serbia, Sweden and Turkey, forging a unique sound that is traditional yet original.

“Their live shows are an expertly crafted, multi-lingual exploration from the Baltic to the Black Sea virtuosic, toe-tapping klezmer instrumentals, Gypsy music, soulful songs and the best Balkan dance tunes from Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia. They’ll take you on a journey sampling polyphonic singing from Bulgaria, a Serbian song about a pigeon on the raspberries, a steamy quarrel between mother-in-laws in a Turkish sauna, a duet between a father and daughter about who she’s going to marry – in the end she chooses the drunken one! – and a love song for a Gypsy girl with penetrating green eyes.”


 
Dates:

 

March 2017 – upcoming gigs – Coven ’17 English tour, 2nd-13th March (fightin’ women’s folk from O’Hooley & Tidow, Lady Maisery and Grace Petrie)

17 Feb

Coven, 2017

Coven, 2017

Last month’s astonishing Women’s March laid bare a fairly fundamental truth – that the backbone and much of the driving force of protest movements (certainly the successful ones) are made up of women.

Historically, one of the binding factors of this has been folk music – women singing, women playing, women writing or interpreting, and women inspiring from the stage. Though this kind of music’s often had a rough ride from the fashion police who drag it in and out of style, generally the performers have treated this as little more than an incidental matter – noted, grunted at, and set aside while the serious matter of talk’n’listen is gotten on with. Similarly, there’s nothing saying that folk performers whose public image might mostly be that of making pretty sounds on the radio won’t also retain, sustain or develop deep commitments to social politics, and thereby draw in anyone who’s prepared to think of them as more than an aural accessory to go with the wallpaper. At any time there are plenty of tours and shows taking place and reinforcing this, although I, for one don’t get to hear enough about them. Here’s one which I did get to hear about – six outspoken women on tour in March with a brace of songs and collective commitment, stirring up discussion and solidarity. Past craft; present engagement.

Woven from the usual brace of press releases:

“Coven are a collective of three of the British folk scene’s finest, most formidable and forthright female acts, taking to the stage to celebrate International Women’s Day in a week of unforgettable concerts. The exquisitely harmonic songwriting duo and BBC 6 Music favourites O’Hooley & Tidow (described as “defiant, robust, political, Northern, poetical folk music for the times we live in” by the ‘Independent’) will be joined by the enchanting BBC Radio 2 Folk Award Finalists Lady Maisery (“women with ideas, purpose and urgency… powerful, enthralling work” – ‘Songlines’) and the irrepressible Leicester songwriter, activist and performer Grace Petrie (“a powerful new songwriting voice” – ‘The Guardian’).

“Three years ago, they all got together to celebrate International Women’s Day in March with a series of three concerts. Since then, the tour has extended year on year… Experience these thought-provoking, entertaining and enthralling women debuting the music from their first collective EP, ‘Unholy Choir’ (recorded at Frome’s Cooper Hall in the early part of 2017), and performing both individually and collectively on one stage.”

Here are examples of work by each of the three Coven components; followed by a clip of all of them together, performing an extended harmony-folk take on Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work. A version of the latter is on ‘Unholy Choir’ along with the Maisery’s Rowan Rheingans’ resetting of female labour anthem Bread & Roses, a cover of the late Maggie Roche’s Quitting Time, an a capella version of Pat Humphries ’ Never Turning Back, a new version of Grace’s If There’s A Fire In Your Heart and a full sextet version of Coil & Spring (O’Hooley and Tidow’s Pussy Riot tribute, co-written with former Chumbawamba mainstay Boff Whalley). So far, the plan is for the EP to only be available at the gigs. Early on, at least, you’ll need to attend one to get one.





 

Full tour dates:

Coven, 2017
 

October/November 2016 – upcoming gigs – Pierre Bensusan’s autumn tour of Britain and Ireland (30th October to 20th November)

26 Oct

Pretty much a year to the day since his last appearance in London, French-Algerian acoustic guitar master Pierre Bensusan is returning to town this Sunday for the start of a British and Irish tour. The tour will be taking in a delightfully broad sweep of venues both grand and humble, rowdy and formal, from pubs and multi-utility community rooms to concert halls. Most of them will have little in common at the start of the show. By the end, they’ll all be sharing the particular warmth which Pierre brings to his expansively intimate music and performances.

World music’s an often-abused term, especially when you can see crude joins within it. Yesterday’s exotic-record discovery shopped and slopped onto whichever beats selling; or the sound of one particular city’s overbearing acquisitiveness, engulfing and pickling the music of its immigrants rather than fostering it. Pierre’s music is an example of how you can revitalise and justify the term. I’ve spoken before about the French-Algerian-Sephardic background which gave him a head start as regards polycultural vision, but perhaps what he actually embodies is the mixed grain of musical acceptance: the travelling tunes and the more intangible freight of cultures soaking and blending into his playing without strain. Neither jazz nor folk nor Spanish classical, neither rai nor chaabi, nor flamenco (old or new), it nonetheless contains all of these – a translucent, fully-realised and seamless chamber-acoustic melange, played softly and without affectation.


 

Full tour dates below:


 

August 2016 – upcoming British tours – Sax Ruins & Barberos (16th-21st) overlap Massicot (18th-27th); with Housewives, a.P.A.t.t., That Fucking Tank, Big Naturals & Anthroprophh, Guttersnipe, Rattle, Negative Midas Touch, Soft Walls and The Furious Sleep all putting in appearances.

14 Aug

I was only intending this post and the last one to be brief… I was going to quickly cover the upcoming Kiran Leonard tour and a couple of avant-prog dates in Yorkshire and London, but looking deeper into the latter meant that a whole lot of other dates and bands came springing out at me, as if I’d hit a tripwire.

Such are the ways of digging around for live previews for ‘Misfit City’ without a map or all of the details… I often come back with information on artists and venues I’ve never heard of before. (It’s exhilarating, and an education in itself, but it plays hell with my schedule.)

Anyway…

* * * * * * * *


 

Following their last UK visit (in October last year), Sax Ruins return for another go. The most active current version of the Ruins project (an ever-altering minimal-maximal mash-up of jazz, prog and avant-rock ideas centred, for three decades, around Japanese drummer and vocalist Tatsuya Yoshida) Sax Ruins features Tatsuya alongside Ryorchestra saxophone improviser Ryoko Ono in a spilling, furious, brassy power duo augmented by a battery of effects pedals, covering all bases from skronk to Rock In Opposition and big-band jazz across written and improvised material of baffling complexity.

The London show also features a set by what’s billed as “Ruins” – this is most probably a “Ruins-alone” drums-and-tapes set by Tatsuya rather than a spontaneous revival of the band’s original bass-and-drums lineup (unless a secret call’s gone out for ambitious London bass guitarists to step up and cover).
 

 

Tour dates in full:

  • Cafe Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England, Tuesday 16th August 2016, 8.00pm (with Ruins + Barberos) – information
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EJ, England, Wednesday 17th August 2016, 7.30pm (with Barberos + Big Naturals & Anthroprophh) – information
  • Delius Arts & Cultural Centre, 29 Great Horton Road, Bradford, BD7 1AA, England, Thursday 18th August 2016, 7.00pm (with Barberos + a.P.A.t.T. + That Fucking Tank) – information here and here
  • The Car Park Space, 45-51 Duke Street, Liverpool, L1 5AP, England, Friday 19th August 2016, time t.b.c. (with Barberos) – information
  • Doune The Rabbit Hole Festival, Cardross Estate, Port of Menteith, Doune, FK8 3JY , Scotland, Saturday 20th August 2016 (with Barberos)
  • Islington Mill Arts Centre, James Street, Salford, M3 5HW, England, Sunday 21st August 2016, 5.00pm (with Barberos + a.P.A.t.T. + Massicot) – information

Along the tour, Sax Ruins are embracing and encouraging a set of post-Ruins bands. Support on all dates comes from Barberos – drumtronic electro-noise experimentalists from Liverpool. Live (and they’re very much a live concern), they resemble a trio convocation of nuclear power station workers and fetish gimps. A pair of kit drummers, swathed in or vacformed into latex bodysuits and full-head masks, batter away in parallel like wrestling brain hemispheres. A single begoggled head-nodding keyboard player exploits a baffling range of electronic organ sounds. Any or all of them can suddenly burst into cloth-muffled shouting. The sound varies from full-clog percussive noise-traps (the kind that’ll have you wondering whether the band’s deliberately using the wrong definition of “jam”), through to passing plateaux of psychedelic reflection and still points of droning, delicate hush.
 

 
In Bristol, both bands are joined by Big Naturals & Anthroprophh – a two-plus-one alliance featuring the noise-rock duo team of bass/electronic warper Gareth Turner and motorik-attack drummer Jesse Webb (Big Naturals) and rogue psychedelic sludge player Paul Allen from longstanding Bristolian psych-stoners The Heads. While it’s ostensibly Paul who travels under the Anthroprophh solo moniker, it’s increasingly unclear where the boundary lies between Anthroprophh and the partner duo, or whether there’s a boundary at all. Best to treat all three as a collective entity delivering a frowning fuzzed wall of experimental psychedelia: a ritual of heavy bricking.
 

 
Chipping in at Bradford and Salford (though, oddly enough, not at the Car Park show) are a.P.A.t.T., the deft and enigmatic gang of Liverpudlians who deliver a rolling multi-media extravaganza best described as “serious pranking”, and who skip around multiple musical styles in a boiling froth of play. Via their loose collective membership, they have family connections with a host of other Liverpool bands (including Barberos) but no-one ever seems to have sat down and laid out who’s who behind the pseudonyms and lab coats, the puffs of suspect facial hair and the occasional maskwork. Perhaps refraining to pin them down and pull them apart counts as a mark of respect.

Similarly, it’s difficult to summarise or bottle a.P.A.t.T. via anything that’s definitely representative, although tagging them as a Scouse spin on the methodology of The Residents is perhaps as good as anything. However, if you take a quick delve into the plinketting synth-pop minimalism and jazz operatics of Give My Regards To Bold St (with its playful am-dram video of everyday banality set against urban terrorism), their atmosphere/installation piece Seachimes or the Devo-esque Yes… That’s Positive (the last of which displays the punchy musicianship behind the art-school stunts) you might get an idea of how they work.
 



 
Also playing at the Bradford show are deafeningly loud drumkit-and-baritone-guitar duo That Fucking Tank, whose abrasive DIY noise rock has quaked venues from Yorkshire to China for nearly a decade and a half now. As with plenty of contemporary bass-end-plus-drums rock twosomes, you can track down a bit of Ruinous DNA in their work (alongside that of Nomeansno and Lightning Bolt), though they seem to be as much inspired by the nodding insouciant momentum of electronic dance as they do by any Rock In Opposition or post-hardcore ideas.
 

 

* * * * * * * *


 
At the Salford show, the Sax Ruins tour collides with (and briefly joins forces with) a different one by Genevan art-punks Massicot. Named after an electric paper cutter, the latter are a loose and twitchy four-woman array of scratch and propulsion. They pump out charming sophisti-primitive rhythmic instrumentals in which slice-happy guitar and lunging sproings of toy bass are decorated by squeaky violin and barky vocals, all of it bouncing atop a mattress of intricate drumming which apparently prides itself on a blend of “Krautrock and tropicalia”. All of the members draw on shared backgrounds of fine-art schooling and years of instinctive, untutored pre-Massicot bandwork (which, in drummer Colline Grosjean, has resulted in the creation of at least one accidental virtuoso).

Massicot’s music relies on maintaining and capturing the open-minded approach of the original improvisations which generate it, avoiding polish or emblandening; as a result, it keeps its instinctive, childlike sense of motion and immediacy. This kind of restless work – fizzing in a fug of assertive, iconoclastic female spontaneity – always gets the Slits and Raincoats names chucked at it, as well as that of No Wave: Massicot, however, pull off the trick or the triumph of making it sound like a fresh oblique discovery. For the curious, their first two albums – plus a demo – are available for free/pay-what-you-like at their Bandcamp site.
 

 

Here are the Massicot dates:

 

 
As with Sax Ruins, Massicot will be trailed and complemented by fellow travellers of one kind or another up and down the land. At London, Brighton, Exeter and Cambridge, the support comes from powerful, broody London four-piece Housewives. Noise-rock favourites since their formation in 2013, playing dissonant tectonic music with a future-chaos tinge on home-made guitars, the band mingle their rumbling No-Wave/no certainties approach and surging, forbidding dynamics with an adaptive and pragmatic artistic practicality, making drawbacks and serendipity a strong part of the process.

For instance, when their 2015 recording sessions at a remote country farm in France ran into trouble, Housewives salvaged them with a site-specific ingenuity entirely in tune with their musical ethos. With interference from the farm’s electric fence preventing proper recording of electric guitars and basses, the band postponed those particular tasks for another time and place and switched instead to working with the farm’s fabric rather than against it – making spontaneous field recordings; generating feedback models of the farm architecture by looping its ambient sounds; interacting with agricultural machinery by layering found items for percussion or playing reverberant drumkit parts from inside silage tanks. (The end results, with the guitars added from later and elsewhere, can be heard on their 2015 album ‘Work’. All this and a hint of Samuel Beckett, too.)
 


 
 
At Cambridge, there’ll be extra support from windstripped local post-punk ranters The Furious Sleep and at Brighton from Soft Walls, the psychedelic echo-pop/“Krauty bedroom noise” solo project by Cold Pumas/Faux Discx man Dan Reeves (which played at this year’s Lewes Psychedelic Festival).
 


 
In Leeds, Massicot will be joined by two bands. The only one that’s actually confirmed right now are mysterious local noiseniks Guttersnipe, who seem to have blown up (in all senses) this year. Consisting of cuddly, pseudonymously-frenzied couple Xyloxopa Violaxia and Bdallophytum Oxylepis, they’re a desperate lash-together of fragmenting volcanic drums, edge-of-unbearable guitar, flaying-knife electronics and blind, screeching, ranting vocals. In interviews, they talk up a cheery storm about black-metal fandom and deconstructive anti-technique. In action, they sound like a violent and querulous nervous breakdown, being bounced to pieces down an endless set of spiral staircases.
 

 
At Nottingham, two gigmates have been confirmed. Rattle are a warm, post-punkified union of double drum-set and conversational, exploring anti-pop vocal from Kogumaza‘s Katharine Eira Brown and Fists‘ Theresa Wrigley, whose air of distracted discovery belies their strategic percussive planning. (Read more details on both that and the Rattle mindset here.) Also on board is the writhing, sibilant, whispering one-woman power-electronics concern Negative Midas Touch, completing a lineup which renders the Notts gig an all-female experimentation zone.
 


 

July 2016 – upcoming London gigs – A.R. Kane + Plastic Flowers’ dream pop evening (13th), Jausmė with Nicole Collarbone and Sian Magill in Battersea (13th); Cecil Sharp Choir’s Appalachian evening (14th)

11 Jul

…And in the middle of the week it’s about dream pop, folk music and the margin in between…

* * * * * * * *

Our Friends Eclectic presents:
A.R. Kane + Plastic Flowers
The Good Ship, 289 Kilburn High Road, Kilburn, London, NW6 7JR, England
Wednesday 13th June 2016, 8.00pm
information

This Wednesday, resurrected dream pop pioneers A.R. Kane play one of only two small, indoors British gigs while they ride the wave of worldwide summer festivals. This little London show is the guaranteed best opportunity to see them for the foreseeable future, especially if you missed their Manchester gig at the Soup Kitchen back in May (an event which, I’ll admit, I myself was too disorganised to even flag up) and especially since ’Kane leader Rudy Tambala has been enthusiastic about his preference for “a small crowd loving it, getting it” (as opposed to a fieldful of musical floating voters).

The original A.R.Kane were many things before those things became more commonplace – Afropean art-culture swaggerers, dissolvers of rock and pop’s hierarchical structures, sound-melters in whom dancefloor politics met punk threshing, electronic upsetters who played equally with roots and the bewilderingly synthetic. Rudy formed the band in 1986 with his childhood friend Alex Ayuli – two east London black kids with family roots in west or south-east Africa; a pair of eclectic clubgoers and self-confessed cocky chancers with broad listening habits, enough gab to make their brainwaves sound seductive (notably, Alex’s day job was in advertising), and a post-post-punk whim for running with ideas rather than technique. The idea of A.R. Kane was conceived as a backfiring party boast that Rudy and Alex felt obliged to follow up. Citing Cocteau Twins, the Velvet Underground, Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell as a range of influences might have been a handful of arty clichés then – it would certainly become so later. For two men who approached music as something envisaged rather than something played, however, it was a recipe for building a project from the ground up.

A.R. Kane’s work is often cited as pop reinvention. In fact, it’s more of a sprawl of jouissance – anti-formalism, a dab of abstract expressionism, and a joy in capturing moments on the fly. All of this should have been in the air when (early on in the journey) they joined forces with experimental dance duo Colourbox for the M|A|R|R|S sessions, leading to a number one hit via the British house classic ‘Pump Up The Volume’. As it happened, an experience that should have felt like a triumph of creative opportunity ended up as a bruising, short-lived encounter with hit factory frenzy, mutual intransigence and a blizzard of copyright litigation. These days Rudy dismisses ‘Pump Up The Volume’ as straight cultural theft from black and gay American club culture, but keeps a soft spot for the flipside – ‘Anitina’ (a confection of careening, planing guitar feedback and joyous narcotic pop vocal over hammering Colourbox industrial drums).

It’s this track that exemplifies ‘Kanework, rather than the pulsing plunderphonics of ‘Pump Up The Volume’. When Rudy and Alex played pop, it sounded like toy music or a process of on-the-spot discoveries. Nurtured along the way by the production suss of Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie and Gentle Giant’s Ray Shulman (with the latter’s post-prog bass often adding a subtle touch of spine and structure to the core cavortings), A.R. Kane seemed to achieve their aims by recreating music from around its edges rather than heading up through the centre. Paradoxically, they deracinated while remembering exactly where the roots were grounded, as if rock music was a complicated hairstyle which they were ripping the pins out of, sending them rattling onto the floor.

Sometimes they’d sound like what would happen if someone had had the gall to strip all of the blues out of Hendrix’s ‘Third Stone From The Sun’, leaving just the cosmic frizz, fragmentary whippling stringwork and mind-opening vocal fragments; like a disembodied, chromatically-dappled sci-fi Afro. Ecstatic hollers might chase sleepy narratives over chamber strings. Gnarly Guthrie-esque guitar noise, hell-gate heartbooms and refracting-knife feedback would bob around dashes of funk and house (which Alex and Rudy were onto long before the Madchester boom). From Jamaica, they gleaned dub-echo bursts of clipped piano or high snare. From American psychedelia, they drew jelly-baby lyrics that bobbed around dancing synth basslines (as if ‘60s acid casualties were making healing pilgrimages to New York electro clubs). From the underground currents of their hometown, they took their conceptual irreverence, their underlying cheek and their mix-and-match mercantilism. (It’s also where they gained their hard-knocks guile and ingenuity, that second-or third generation immigrant pluck that Western city racism forces back onto even the smartest of its homeboys).

Despite all of this sonic ensorcelment, on the early albums you could (if you wanted to) cock your head, peek underneath the noise and find a couple of guys who could barely play or sing; who were keeping it all afloat via acts of will, wit and weather. Most of the time, you’d wink back at them, then return to the bliss and forget the slender mechanisms holding it together. However, by the time of their sun-kissed swansong album, ‘New Clear Child’, A.R. Kane had skilled up and drifted towards a more coherent pop music. Apparently inspired by Alex’s move to California, the later songs meandered up to both Love and Talk Talk via West Coast funk, with daisy petals matted into their nappy hair. As was only appropriate for a band driven by an elusive and amorphous ingenuity, the more A.R. Kane solidified, the more they dissolved. Alex went solo; Rudy teamed up with his sister Maggie (an occasional ‘Kane backing singer) in Sufi and for twenty-odd years, that was that.

As is often the case, the band were finally tempted back into action via the nostalgia engine which fuels pop festivals. Last year Rudy was coaxed into weaving A.R. Kane back into existence, although he had to do it without his erstwhile partner (apparently busy with his own perspective on dream pop, Alex Ayuli opted to sit this one out). 2015’s ambitious Alex-free septet has now been trimmed to the core trio of Rudy and Maggie Tambala plus new cohort Andy Taylor; a mess of three guitars, three voices, computers and synths. While they originally billed themselves as “#A.R.Kane”, with Rudy optimistically explaining that “should Alex come out-to-play, we can easily drop the ‘#’..”, they’ve subsequently dropped the hashtag anyway, along with the distinctions and (it seems) the hope that Ayuli’s said no, gave no reasons refusal wouldn’t be permanent.

The flipside of this disappointment is that the band’s new lease of life has inspired and toughened them into a more committed playing unit fired up by contact with both fans and heirs. Back in the ‘80s, few bands used A.R. Kane’s methodology and thinking. Nowadays you could pull together a huge, snaking, intercontinental conga line of the fuckers. One of them’s playing at the Good Ship alongside Rudy and co. – Plastic Flowers, the London-based dream pop project of Thessaloniki-born George Samaras, whose grand skeletal lushness (bare-bones drumbox echo, threaded vocal and towering ripcurls of melodic guitar noise) is an almost pure mainlining of the ‘Kane lineage.


 
Now a revitalized Rudy is talking, with giddy enthusiasm, about future recordings and about the new material he apparently brought to the Soup Kitchen gig the other month. (I’ve checked for reviews of that, but found nothing unless it’s been reduced to telegrammatic burbles on Facebook – being off-‘book at the moment, I wouldn’t know). We’ll have to see how his intentions pan out. With planned American coastal tours cancelled (due to date and commitment clashes rather than lack of interest), there are still a couple of showings at the Siren and Half Die festivals in Italy later in the month; and then back home for On Blackheath in September. After that, the future’s both blank and open – which, in a way, is where A.R. Kane came in in the first place.

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If vindicated dream pop discombobulation doesn’t float your boat for Wednesday, then perhaps you’d prefer a free event at Battersea’s delightful acoustic playground on the same night…

Jausmė (with Nicole Collarbone) + Sian Magill
The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England
Wednesday 13th July 2016, 9:00 pm
– free event – information

Transplanted Lithuanian singer-songwriter Jausmė – Vilnius-born, but Milton-Keynes-based – will be performing a set of her own material accompanying herself on the kanklės (a twenty-nine string Lithuanian zither with a sparkling sound) and aided by Liverpudlian cross-disciplinary cellist Nicole Collarbone (whose myriad projects and collaborations include the Neil Campbell Collective and folk ensemble Sonnenberg).

Jausmė describes her work as “urban etherealism”. Translated, this seems to mean a half-invented, half-archaeological folk music (like a less grandiose, less Gothic, closer-to-the-source Dead Can Dance), and one in which the focus is shifted thirteen hundred miles northwest to the Baltic states; it also means that Jausmė listens to, and can slip into, the work of sub-bass, garage and techno producers. On this occasion, though, it’s all wood and no electronics, and the roots are northern. For evidence of what Jausmė and Nicole can do together (and of Jausmė’s skills on her own), see below.



 
In support is another no-less-impressive Milton Keynesian, Sian Magill, who honed her subtly immersive, highly literary folk songs at venues both there and at Oxford, where she studied English Literature at degree level. If the latter suggests someone whose work’s likely to wear its intelligence as clever English hauteur, think again. Sian’s songs draw on more distant traditions, coming across as a more Irish-toned echo of the dense, individual American song-tales of someone like Dayna Kurtz, although she sounds less likely to venture to bars on the wrong side of the tracks, or to lean quite so much into the urban blues. Instead, Sian makes her own way into a story through a quiet and continuous flow of detailed observation and consideration, atop a busy, depth-inducing weave of fingerpicked guitar (see below).


 

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Appalachian 100: Cecil Sharp House Choir (with Alice Cade + Pete Cooper + Ed Hicks)
Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent’s Park Road, London, NW1 7AY, England
Thursday 14th July 2016, 7.30pm
information

If you missed the Cecil Sharp Choir at the Union Chapel last Saturday (singing songs for a Daylight Music marine afternoon), they’re back on home turf at Cecil Sharp House for another show on Thursday. This time, they’re celebrating the centenary of musicologist Sharp’s first folk-song-collecting visit to the Appalachian Mountains of America, a region replete with influences from sixteenth-century England and from the tough feuding culture of the Scottish Borders, as well as (at least in the Ozark region) a great line in dirty stories.

I don’t know whether any cheerful smut is going to be reeled out at the concert (in song or in asides), but the choir are promising “a selection of glorious a capella harmony arrangements of traditional songs, including some collected in the Mountains”, in new arrangements by leader Sally Davies. Three special guests will be adding to the show- flatfoot dancer Alice Cade, fiddle master Pete Cooper and multi-instrumentalist Ed Hicks (banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, Anglo concertina and voice).



 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – Schnellertollermeier on tour in Ireland and England (with guest showings by ReDiviDEr, Taupe, Tasmin A, Lambhorn, Shatner’s Bassoon and Motherese); bassfest in Southampton (with Steve Lawson, BassDbler, Grant Sharkey, A Ninja Slob Drew Me); Steve Lawson and Poppy Porter’s synaesthesic show in Guildford.

6 Mar


 

In a few days time, Swiss avant-rock trio Schnellertollermeier begin a tour of Ireland and England. The group’s mellifluous name cutely overlaps and portmanteaus those of each of its members – bass guitarist Andi Schnellmann, guitar player Manuel Troller and drummer David Meier – but also mirrors their working method. Their music, too, is an overlap – a mosaic of small obsessive note-figures either written or improvised, which all three pick up on and play with almost neurologically tight collective timing. They’re also masters of dynamics, able to play each fragment at clean moth-wing softness or biting punk fuzz-roar at will and in sync as the moment demands.

They’re not quite rock, despite the electric power-team lineup and the locked, riffing minimalism. They’re not quite jazz, although they function on a similar level of technical assurance, small-group telepathy and potentially mutative rhythm. They describe themselves as “a little about quiet, and a lot about anger, silliness and precision,” which is one way of drawing a loose line around their bag of impetus.If they’re anything, Schnellertollermeir are an unconstrained cellular dance – fizzing on what’s initially a fixed grid of possibilities, then working around it at ever-smaller, ever-more-complex levels of detail and option; using slivers of math-rock, post-hardcore and free-jazz idiom to get themselves there.

The other quote they toss out is that the group “sounds like classic literature, where you have to keep on re-reading a sentence until you understand. But when you have finally understood, you understand a lot more.” Listening to them myself, they’re more like a tremendously extended Peter Blegvad palindrome – clever, obscurely arch, coasting on the brink of tumbledown nonsense but staying in place and in grace by a touch of sheer skill and a hinting at a good deep-level joke to share.

Dates:


 

While most of the tour appears to be one-act concerts for Schnellertollermeir alone, at points it sweeps up interesting local bands as well. Unfortunately I can’t find out much about the Darwen support act Tasmin A – apart from the fact that she’s a tourmate and backing singer for JD Meatyard (a.k.a. John Donaldson of Levellers 5) – but the Dublin gig features ReDiviDeR, an anagram-fixated two-horns-no-chords quartet led by drummer/composer Matt Jacobson with Derek Whyte (bass) and Nick Roth (alto sax) and Colm O’Hara (trombone), playing “downtown grooves , catchy melodies and collective improves” and taking inspiration from Charles Mingus, Steve Coleman, Deerhoof and Phil Ivey. In support at the Bristol gig are the “instrumental surf prog” band Lambhorn, while the London gig features Taupe (the hip hop and heavy metal-quoting “power-jazz commando team” who first showed up on my radar at last year’s Manchester Jazz Festival).


Surprisingly for a Manchester show, the gig at the Dulcimer Bar doesn’t feature any of the masses of experimental projects which throng the city. Instead, “six-piece madcap surrealists” Shatner’s Bassoon (a double-drum pile-on of jazz and wayward electronics barely containing Michael Bardon, Ollie Dover, Joost Hendrickx, Andrew Lisle, Johnny Richards and Craig Scott) hop across the Pennines from Leeds. The Leeds gig itself features Motherese – a teamup of vocalist/violist Aby Vulliamy, pianist/singer Laura Cole (of Metamorphic) and improvising singer Maria Jardardottir. Motherese aren’t even playing their first gig for a couple of days yet, so I’ll feature more about them in the next post.


 
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Steve Lawson (bass guitar virtuoso, loop musician, occasional avant-garde teddy bear and unstoppable Twittergob) can generally be relied upon to conceive, or latch onto, interesting gigs. With his own work spanning from textural ambience and tasteful but outgoing songwriter accompaniment to New Age, multi-collaborator jazz fusion and even political death metal (and since he’s a man who’s perpetually enthused by new contexts to explore) he’s naturally going to be drawn to more unorthodox events… and, generally speaking, not the standard type of unorthodox events either. This month he has two of them in southern England.

Innovate Guildford Festival of Science and the Arts presents:
Poppy Porter & Steve Lawson
G Live, London Road, Guildford, GU1 2AA, England,
Saturday 12th March 2016, at some point between 10.00am and 4.00pm
– free event – more information

“As a synaesthetic, abstract artist/jeweller Poppy Porter has a visual response to sound – she specialises in making jewellery inspired by the abstract shapes and colours of her synaesthetic inner landscape, and her art is mostly object-centred (as she puts it, “sound goes into my ears and art comes out of my hands”). Steve Lawson is a solo bassist who is best known for his improvised music and whose art is almost solely performed.

The duo perform in a collaboration that follows the evolving process of the work between them. Steve plays, building a layered, improvised sonic landscape to which Poppy responds by drawing what she “sees” synaesthesically (shape, colour, movement). Steve then reacts to what has been drawn, using the fresh drawings as a visual score and improvises further. A feedback loop is created between them. Although Poppy and Steve’s individual art forms are different, there is a meeting of minds that pushes beyond the physical object or sonic creation giving rise to a visual, musical, aural and performance element in the work.

Following the performance, the audience will have an opportunity to have a go at drawing the music themselves. The idea of this workshop is to get the audience to try looking at the world in a different way. Rather than drawing an object, Poppy and Steve ask the audience to have a go at expressing how the music affects them. Paper and pencils will be provided and the audience can then listen to Steve play and express what the music is telling them in whatever way they choose with the art materials. We hope that the audience will be inspired to look at creating art in unusual ways and become aware of how we all think and express ourselves differently.”

For the precise performance time, it’s probably best to check on Steve’s Facebook or Twitter accounts closer to the time. This event is part of a larger one-day festival of imagination and practical application taking place in Guildford over the course of a day. Further details and a promo video are below:

“Innovate Guildford will ignite the imaginations of young and old through a stunning showcase of innovation taking place in Guildford – from cutting-edge research to a sneak preview into the future. Our free festival is for everyone and will particularly appeal to young people – to inspire and nurture the scientists, engineers, artists and innovators of tomorrow.”


 

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Steve’s second March event is more familiar territory for him, since it’s what’s described as “a night of genre-defying solo bass performances from some of the most innovative bass players around.” Pretty much a plural version of the day-job, then.

'Sorry To Hear You're A Bass Player', 17th March 2016

Gigs In The Gallery presents:
“Sorry To Hear You’re a Bassist!” – Steve Lawson + BassDbler + Grant Sharkey + A Ninja Slob Drew Me + Greyum May (DJ sets)
The Art House, 178 Above Bar Street, Southampton, SO14 7DW, England
Thursday 17th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

J.D. Short, a.k.a. BassDbler, grew up playing alternative rock and hardcore in Chicago, Nashville, Indianapolis, and Louisville before studying music formally and moving on to build guitars for Rickenbacker. It was only on his relocation to New Zealand that he developed an affinity for electronic music and realised that it held a similar DIY ethic to the music of his youth. The resulting approach also partially inspired by science fiction (specifically Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ saga) described by Aquarius Records as “bass-heavy dubstep electro-prog ambience” has been revealed on a pair of albums: ‘Slow Blade Penetrates The Shield’ and its slightly-more-acoustic follow-up ‘Machine & Ghola’. When not working on BassDbler projects J.D. creates film scores and works as music director for the Giant Fire Breathing Robot website and podcasts.

In 2013 singing/songwriting/double-bass-playing Grant Sharkey (previously a member of Southampton drum-and-two-basses absurdists Toupé) pledged to independently record and release an album every six months over a period of twenty years. Now it’s 2016 and he’s up to six albums – one of which is a single forty-five-minute song (dealing with “how amazing live music is compared to a life of television”), while another he wrote while recovering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome surgery on both wrists.Usually the albums are recorded around Grant’s bass and voice with drums and assorted guest vocals added later, although ukelele and other sounds aren’t unknown.

Grant’s most recent effort is the combined album/political concept ‘Ignoramus’, which was released into the wild last November and which is (depending on how you look at it) either a set of double-bass-plus-voice songs or a philosophical/political manifesto for a new nation based on questioning our current course as a species, or probably both. It follows up and inverts some of the portrayals in his previous, nationalism-inspired album ‘Goon’ – “the five-part life-cycle of someone that doesn’t ask any questions about their situation.”


Another Southampton act – A Ninja Slob Drew Me – is extended-range seven-string bass player Daniel James, who since 2007 has created “moody, mostly instrumental albums” of finger-tapped ambience and distortion, citing post-rock, film soundtracks and trip hop as influences. After four albums as a solo act, Daniel introduced violinist and vocalist Jo Stevens into the project last year as a full partner, with their first album as a duo due to arrive later this year.

Former Ozric Tentacles/Firebird bass player Greyum May (more recently occupied with his own psychedelic/progressive project Keepers Brew) will be playing host but (as far as I know) will be staying off the bass himself in favour of playing a DJ set of “the best in bass-heavy tunes.”

Headlining, Steve Lawson will presumably be offering what he usually offers – deftly melodic bass playing which he’ll simultaneously loop, layer, warp, e-bow and KAOSS-Pad into semi-improvised minimal-maximal solo orchestrations which mingle jazz tunefulness, crowd-pleasing rock directness, and the textured rhythmic detail of prime electronica. Half of the time it won’t sound like a bass, and a third of the time it’ll sound like nothing on earth; with the added bonus being that you won’t necessarily need to be a hardened avant-gardener to appreciate it.

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More gig news shortly…
 

January 2016 – upcoming gigs – Kiran Leonard’s UK mini-tour; Laura Cannell plays Liverpool, Glasgow and Bradford (with In Atoms, Jozef van Wissem, Magpahi and Stephanie Hladowski); in London, a Julian Dawes fundraiser at The Forge and an Ichi show at the Harrison; in New York, Legs play the Manhattan Inn and Rough Trade NYC with Blank Paper, Tropic Of Pisces and SKP (Lip Talk, Cosmicide). And Tom Slatter doesn’t play Brighton, yet…

10 Jan

Born in Oldham, currently Saddleworth-based, but occupying a wayward and exciting multi-instrumental/multi-genre orbit (which takes in, among many others, Todd Rundgren, spangled electronica, Dirty Projectors, Van Morrison and Nancy Chodorow) teenage wunderkind turned twenty-year-old psych-pop pioneer Kiran Leonard embarks on a quick British tour this coming week. For a sampling of what’s on offer, have a listen to Kiran’s most recent single, which examines the panicked, unwilling misogyny of pubescent boys and uses it as a launchpad for sixteen minutes of charging, spontaneous-sounding twist-and-turn musical quest. Spattered with snippets of radio, cut’n’paste ADHD changes and lo-fi turnarounds, it sounds like Lou Reed and Jim O’Rourke grappling over the steering wheel of a gawky teenage Yes.

For the tour, Kiran’s four-piece band features three other flexible Manchester music luminaries. Guitarist Dan Bridgewood Hill also plays as dbh and with NASDAQ, Irma Vep Band and Seatoller), bass player Dave Rowe is from Plank and Andrew Cheetham drums with acts including Desmadrados Soldados De Ventura, Easter, Butcher The Bar, the Birchall/Cheetham Duo and experimental rock duo Yerba Mansa. Support across the dates comes, variously, from Yerba Mansa, introverted Manchester singer-songwriter Tom Settle, Marc Rooney (taking a solo break from his usual band, Glaswegian “past post-modern bug-eyed beatniks” Pronto Mama), Edinburgh rock juveniles Redolent and inventive Sussex girl duo Let’s Eat Grandma.

Something of what to expect from the support bands is below:




This gig info was added to the top of this post at the last minute, and these gigs are selling out fast, so move quickly.

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The past week’s death of Pierre Boulez cast an overwhelming shadow over the classical and avant-garde worlds. Under that pall, it’s easy to forget that breed of composers that the post-war work of Boulez and his acolytes sometimes eclipsed – working at a humbler altitude, often inclined to traditional tonalism and craftsmanship and generally writing for the vast and undersung body of working musicians and small regional music groups, their work’s left out of the big conversations. It may break fewer boundaries, or no boundaries at all, but (to my mind, at least) it doesn’t necessarily have a lesser value. Not only does it often demonstrate an empathy for the musician over the concept, it demonstrates music’s quality of constant giving, showing that the older schemes which a younger and more intemperate Boulez once dismissed as being played out are anything but: revealing an ever-renewing, ever-fertile grain to be worked with and against even in well-mined territories.

To my ears, the work of Julian Dawes fits into this category. Five decades of his composing has produced chamber and keyboard music, theatre compositions, youth pieces, assorted works on Jewish themes (including Kaddish songs, Exodus cantatas and Holocaust pieces) plus an acclaimed mandolin concerto. All of it displays a lambent, empathetic feel for subject, performer and musician; and this coming Wednesday sees some of it compiled for a dedicated concert in London.

A Concert of Commemorative Music by Julian Dawes  (The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England, Wednesday 13th January 2016, 7.30pm) – £9.00 to £12.00 – information & tickets

This is an evening of music which Julian has written to celebrate people and events. The night is also in memory of Emma Daly, and the proceeds of the concert will go to the Rosewood Chemo Ward at the Darenth Valley Hospital.

Programme:

Love Life and Lyric (for soprano and piano)
Reflection on Psalm 43 (for piano) – first concert performance
Homage (for string quartet)
Wedding Song (Louisa) (for soprano, violin & piano) – world premiere
Piano Sonata – world premiere
Bagatelle for a Wedding (for string quartet)
Songs from ‘The Song of Solomon’ (for mezzo soprano, tenor & piano)
String Quartet (slow movement)
Sonata for Violin and Piano

Performers:

The Holywell String Quartet
Vivienne Bellos, Helena Massip (sopranos)
Camille Maalawy (mezzo soprano)
Cantor Jason Green (tenor)
Sophie Lockett, Louisa Stuber (violins)
Mitra Alice Tham, Stephen Dickinson, Andrew Gellert, Alex Knapp, Julian Dawes (piano)

Soundclips of Julian Dawes’ music on the web are few and far between, but I’ve managed to dredge up these two videos – one of Cantor Jason Green performing one of Julian’s vocal pieces, and a low-key one of Julian talking about his work (on behalf of the publishing service Tutti). You can also listen to soundclips of some of his work at the page for Omnibus Classics’ release of his ‘Chamber Music’ CD.


Julian’s most recently completed project is ‘Pesach Cantata’ with a libretto by Roderick Young telling the story of Passover. This will be premiered at the New London Synagogue in April 2016: I’ll post about that closer to the time.

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There are a series of concerts coming up featuring East Anglian musician Laura Cannell. Playing a variety of instruments (predominantly straight or overbowed fiddle and double recorders, but also percussion and “other rarified wind instruments”, Laura fuses early and mediaeval music with a mixed ancient-and-modern approach to improvisation and to transcendent musical ceremony, taking fragments or inspirations from earlier sounds and melodies as the basis for exploration, illustration and linkages.


Laura will be playing up and down the country over the next few months at a variety of different events and locations, Each one has different musicians on the bill – Brooklyn-based Dutch lutenist and composer Josef van Wissem, who’s bringing the baroque lute out towards the worlds of experimental rock, folk and film; Liverpudlian tape-loop composer In Atoms whose “blissful and evocative” soundscapes and tones mix heath music and throbbing clubby sub-bass with the industrial and reveal him straddling Anglo-pastoralism and the European electronic grandeur of the Schultzes and Jarres; and two Yorkshire singers, Stephanie Hladowski (whose work stretches from reggae to traditional folk) and Magpahi (a.k.a. Todmorden based multi-instrumentalist Alison Cooper, who assembles a collage of folk song, fairy tale, Elizabethan poetry and dreamworld sonics from a variety of instruments and is inspired by “sepia stories, stray animals and recurring dreams of migration”).

Here’s the gig list, and something from each of Laura’s gigmates (including something quite rare from Magpani via the Was Is Das clubnight and promotions):





Laura has further gigs coming up later in the year, which I’ll also be posting about in due course.

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Born in Nagoya, (but now based in Bristol with his wife and collaborator, alt.folk singer Rachael Dadd) Ichi is paying London another visit with his truckload of invented instruments and mind-snagging riffs, digging a dayglo-lined tunnel between the avant-garde and a children’s playroom.

Ichi (The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, London, WC1H 8JF, UK, Saturday 23rd January 2016, 8.00pm) – £11.00 – informationtickets

From the Harrison’s blurb:

Ichi takes the notion of a one-man band to new limits, combining his quirky handmade instrument inventions (stilt-bass, kalilaphone, balloon-pipes, hatbox-pedal-drum, tapumpet, percussion-shoes & hat-trick-hat) with steel-drum, ping-pong balls, toys & everyday objects all in the space of one short set. Somehow there’s an ancient, ritualistic feel to his performances – he’s like the misplaced leader of a tribe. To see Ichi live is to witness something so playful and unusual you know that you’re experiencing something entirely new. It`s fun, it`s danceable, it`s exciting…. Also a practicing and exhibiting artist and film-maker, Ichi is usually seen with a cine camera in his hand, or his hands rooting through Bristol skips for materials for his musical and sculptural inventions, or his hands in the earth making human sized interactive earth xylophones as he did at Bristol`s Forage Festival.

And where words fail, there’s always the video to Ichi’s recent single Go Gagambo, “a song about mistaken identity (gagambo is an insect unfortunate enough to be mistaken as a big mosquito, resulting in probable death by angry clapping hands)”.


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I’d been hoping to bring you news of London acoustic steampunk-prog hero Tom Slatter playing Britain’s first actual steampunk bar (the recently opened Yellow Book, which is squirreled away in the Lanes of Brighton and claims to have been founded by time-travelling Victorians). Sadly not. Message just in – “This gig has been postponed. Don’t go there expecting to see me on the 23rd! Do go there if you want to see the venue, which is lovely. I will be playing at the Yellow Book in the near future. Watch this space.”

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Lastly, there are a couple of New York gigs (this week and towards the end of the month) by a ‘Misfit City’ favourite of recent years, Brooklyn-based groove-pop band Legs, who mix irresistible New Wave dance grooves with twitchy emotional neurosis and a verbose, occasional waspish Steely Dan-esque approach to songcraft under the double-keyboard licks.

Legs + SKP (Hypnocraft @ The Manhattan Inn, 632 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, New York 11222, USA, Monday 11th January 2016, 8.30pm) – free event (suggested $5.00-$10.00- information

This pay-what-you-like gig is a Legs headliner, at which they’re supported by SKP – a.k.a. Sarah Kyle, frontwoman of Brooklyn psychedelic pop band Lip Talk. Sarah is also a member of recent Interpol tourmates Cosmicide, which features most of Lip Talk plus ex-Secret Machines leader Brandon Curtis.


Blank Paper + Tropic Of Pisces + Legs (Rough Trade NYC, 64 N 9th Street, Brooklyn, New York, NY 11249, USA, Friday 22nd January 2016, 8.00pm) – information here and heretickets

This latter one’s a bottom-of-the-bill show for Legs. Swings and roundabouts, but they can play on both. At least they get to perform at Rough Trade (should be a natural audience booster) and they also get to act as warm-up and gig primer for two other stylish and eminently compatible Brooklyn acts. Keytar-wielding Blank Paper mix up classic hip hop rhythms, distant glimmering-city synthpop tones and vocals with just the right degree of hauteur for detached explorations of love and obsession sheathed in immaculate tunes. Tropic Of Pisces is the new project from Mon Khmer/Oberhofer sideman Mathew Scheiner – his geeky white-boy solo funk seems to be inspired equally by glam, hip hop and South African township jive, though he himself describes it as “a warm, magical place that you must be special enough to have found.” Judge for yourselves below via the videos, with their ninja noir and tinfoil chic.


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More gig news next time, including shows by Of Arrowe Hill and Earl Zinger with the Emanative & Collocutor Duo; plus an appearance by Sealionwoman.

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

17 Sep

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

event20150923davesturtwirkw

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

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

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

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

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

Daylight Music 200

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More information on the concert is here.

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

Blacklisters, Joeyfat, Himself, September 26th

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

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

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

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

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

 

August 2015 – upcoming gigs – the Manchester Jazz Festival (31st July to 9th August)

31 Jul

One of the reasons that I’ve been posting so many concert previews recently is simply that (being mostly homebound at the moment) I miss going to gigs. Looking at the lineup and scope of the 2015 Manchester Jazz Festival (which starts today and runs rampant for ten days through until 9th August) reminds me that not only do I regret not attending the wealth of music that takes place here in London, but that I miss more freewheeling days of music elsewhere. Discovering unexpected, treasurable bands at random while on holiday in Brugge, for instance; or immersing myself in a week of concerts and more in Edinburgh or Leeds (such as the one I reviewed here, over a decade ago.)

We know that, as a British pop and dance city, Manchester punches well above its weight. Despite a bubbling undercurrent of improvised music, its reputation as a jazz town is hazier…. or, more probably, I’m just ignorant. The Festival’s been going for twenty years, long enough to gain enough gravity to generate its own traditions. (One such is ‘Surroundings’,  a longer-form ensemble piece by Salford composer Neil Yates. Commissioned for the festival in 2010, it seems to have become the event’s unofficial signature – this year, it’s being revisited as a quartet performance in the Central Library Reading Room.)

Even a quick sift through this year’s programme reveals a jazz party that any city would be proud of – diverse, inclusive, inviting and multi-levelled, an exciting noise ranging from the stately to the vividly scraggled and all the better for it.  With many tickets going at only four pounds, (with a ten-pound all-events daily ticket and free-entry deals if you stump up as a low-level event sponsor), they could hardly have made it any more inviting to the casual walker-upper. Excuse me for a moment while I strip-mine press releases and YouTube, and check Soundcloud pages and Bandcamp links.

Starting with the higher-end, bigger name events…  Acclaimed Blue Note pianist Robert Glasper slips away from his experimentations with latterday R’n’B to get back to basics with an acoustic trio;  John Surman re-teams with the Trans4mation String Quartet to revive the thoughtful, tidally-deep music from his ‘Coruscating’ and ‘The Spaces in Between’ albums. Norma Winstone, Klaus Gesing and Glauco Venier bring along their trans-European project DistancesPartisans bring their transatlantic swing storm; Christine Tobin  her ‘Thousand Kisses Deep’ jazzification of Leonard Cohen songs. French Jazz Musician of the Year Airelle Besson makes an appearance with her Quartet for a set of “gently experimental songs animated by heartfelt lyrics, plaintive melodies and rolling harmonies.” backed with pinballing rhythms and punchy countersyncopations.

There are heavyweight two-headed summit performances by acclaimed British jazz talents – one by frequent quartet buddies Mike Walker and Gwilym Simcock, another by the more recent pairing of Tori Freestone and Alcyona Mick.  Two further British scene fast risers – Stuart McCallum and Alice Zawadzki – bring string-enhanced performances of ongoing projects (the former offering contemporary soul jazz and bass-heavy electronica with surprise guest singers, the latter a fantastical Mancunian song cycle influenced by various shades of love and fairytale).

There are also several of those gentler, more literate projects which seem to blossom best in a festival atmosphere away from a hot core of gutsy brass.  Andrew Woodhead and Holly Thomas’ Snapdragon trio specialize in chilled, ethereal song-settings of literature and poetry (Larkin and Bukowski-inspired) and bursts of vocalese. Mark Pringle‘s A Moveable Feast mates orchestral strings with a bold horn and rhythm section to explore “themes of wildlife, literature and city chaos.”  The “fractured Anglicana” of Hugh Nankivell’s multi-instrumental/four-part vocal quartet Natural Causes means that they perform “curious compositions with  improbable but poignant texts” including “psychedelic lullabies, pinprick-precise ballads, unpredictable group improvisation and brotherly harmony across the board”, and music which draws on classic and contemporary art pop (Robert Wyatt, XTC and Björk) as much as it does on jazz sources.

Elsewhere, much of the polyglot diversity of jazz today is celebrated. The Cuban tradition is represented by the Pepe Rivero Trio and Orquesta Timbala; the Congolese by Eddy Tshepe Tshepela‘s Afrika Jazz. Central and South American ideas are brought along by Agua Pasa (who, with  Dudley Nesbit’s steel pan project Pan Jumby,  also touch on the Caribbean).  The Quarry Hillbillies (a teaming of Ulrich Elbracht, Ed Jones, Jamil Sheriff) from European contemporary jazz, while the frenetic whirl of Eastern European folk elements are covered by Makanitza.  The Gorka Benítez Trio move between Basque-flavoured small group jazz and compelling free-form impressionism. David Austin Grey’s Hansu-Tori ensemble is inspired by natural, elemental and cinematic” ideas, as well as a fascination with Eastern world culture.  Percussionist Felix Higginbottom’s Hans Prya  provides genre-hopping jazz-dance and Jim Molyneux’s Glowrogues favour funk and hip-hop flavoured pieces. Trumpeter Lily Carassik‘s fusion group Yesa Sikyi take ideas from the ’50s and blend them with popular standards and soul arrangements; while The Stretch Trio include glossier elements from ’70s jazz rock, progressive rock and ’80s pop along with sinuous gusts of wind synth.

Those who prefer classic jazz – more traditional by-the-book American styles – might prefer Russell Henderson and Jamie Taylor’s Ellington-and-Strayhorn tribute ‘The Intimacy Of The Blues’, or the Dan Whieldon Trio‘s salute to Gershwin. The Dave Kane Quartet take inspiration from the knottier ambitions of Charles Mingus, John Zorn and Eric Dolphy. Two groups of students from the Royal Northern College of Music provide live celebrations of the history which they’ve been learning – the James Girling Quintet  spans jazz, blues and funk from New Orleans roots through to the 1960s, while the Nick Conn Octet (a self-described “trombone choir”) interweaves re-arranged jazz classics with original material.

Fans of New Orleans jazz can check out genuine New Orleaners The Session (who offer a past-present take on their hometown’s music), or look out for the street sounds of the New York Brass Band (actually from old York, the cheeky buggers) or see how the Riot Jazz Brass Band dust up old New Orleans sounds with dancefloor, dubstep and drum-and-bass incursions. Hot jazz/Gypsy/jazz manouche aficionados can go for the loving recreations of 52 Skidoo (who promise you prohibition speakeasies, rent parties and Tin Pan Alley) or for Gypsies Of Bohemia, who manouche-ify latterday pop songs such as Heart Of Glass, Toxic and Hot In Herre. (Being Mancunian, they also do This Charming Man – I’ll bet that that high-life opening riff translates pretty well).

Of course, much of the fun of a jazz festival involves catching a lesser-known, or even unknown, band carving away at the edge, furiously discovering – and there are plenty of those here. Since they drew me into covering the festival in the first place, I’m going to put a particular word in for Jon Thorne’s Sunshine Brothers (playing at Matt & Phreds on 4th August) in which the double bass/laptop-wielding Jon teams up with drummer Rob Turner (of Blue Note-signed breakbeat jazz electronicists GoGo Penguin) and looping poly-genre bass guitarist Steve Lawson (a ‘Misfit City’ regular) for “a cutting-edge trio of genre-defying musicians mixing jazz, improvisation, electronic and filmic soundscapes to euphoric effect, evoking sounds far removed from their bass origins.”

However, you could just as easily catch a full performance by GoGo Penguin themselves; or by Lauren Kinsella’s Blue-Eyed Hawk, who offer “art-rock, jazz and electronic soundworlds: imaginative and emotive, from pindrop to powerhouse.” The Madwort Saxophone Quartet play intricate four-part math-jazz. “Power-jazz commando team” Taupe (a triple-city trio from Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh) punch around themes from jazz, hip hop and heavy metal. Craig Scott’s Lobotomy seem determined to take the cake for upfront experimental exhilaration this time around, delivering shout-outs to John Cage, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, proclaiming a performance in which “experimental jazz rubs shoulders with electronica and DIY alternative rock in a bubbling cauldron of live and recorded sounds” and promising to sample and reconstruction their own improvisations live on stage.  There’ll also be a improvised summit involving bands associated with Manchester’s Efpi Records and Paris’ Onze Heures Onze collective.

One way into discovery is to take advantage of the free showcases for emerging bands. Care of the BBC’s ‘Jazz On 3’, London offers three bands – Nérija ( the all-female creative septet from the Tomorrow’s Warriors jazz school), the award-winning piano jazz of the Ashley Henry Trio and the decidedly psychedelic Phaze Theory (a quartet of drums, tuba, voice and guitar dedicated to “exploring the vastness of the musical cosmos”).

But perhaps it’s Jazz North’s Northern Line series that you should be checking out, showcasing bands from the north and the Midlands. Manchester offers the Iain Dixon/Les Chisnall Duo (whose repertoire of self-defined standards stretches from Messaien to Gracie Fields) and the John Bailey Quintet  (guitar-led, and similarly inspired by twentieth century classical music). Newcastle provides barrel-house blues and ballads from The Lindsay Hannon Plus and the tricky free jazz/folk/rock/dancefloor entwinings of the Graeme Wilson Quartet. Lancaster and Liverpool provide one act apiece – Andrew Grew’s “total improvisers” The Grew Quartet and the “gothic bebop” of Blind Monk Trio, who claim to fuse the spirit of Thelonius Monk with Persian traditional music and the heavy-rock attitude of Led Zeppelin and Nirvana’s heavy-rock attitude.

However, it’s Leeds (still underrated as a musical powerhouse despite the world-class output of its music college and the vigorous inventiveness of its bands) which dominates the Northern Line. As well as providing the previously-mentioned Pan Jumby, Leeds brings the Portuguese/African/Latin  and Indian song-fusions of Manjula, the Django Reinhardt swing of the Matt Holborn Quartet, Cameron Vale‘s ferociously energetic melange of jazz, metal, electronica, Afrobeat and Klezmer and the semi-electric “extreme, eerie to comic” improvisations of Tipping Point (featuring perpetual bad-boy pianist Matthew Bourne).  Friendly rivalry aside, there’s also co-operation: Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool all join forces in The Bugalu Foundation for a Latin barrio take on northern soul.

Around all of this jazz there’s the usual happy agglomeration of related music – not quite jazz in itself, but possibly sharing a drink or a roll-up somewhere along the way. The festival covers various popular outcropping such as soul (in assorted Northern, jazz and diva forms courtesy of The Juggernaut Love Band, Terry Shaltiel & The Soultroopers, Charlie Cooper & The CCs) but also ’60s/‘70s funk (Buffalo Brothers), ’70s Afrobeat and Ethiopian pop (Kalakuta), ska (Baked à la Ska) and mbalax (Mamadou & The Super Libidor Band). There’s even an alt-country act (Stevie Williams & The Most Wanted Band) sneaking in at the back door. As for rock’n’roll/folk/reggae/swing scavengers The Flat Cap 3… well, for starters, there’s only two of them, so you can be dubious about anything else you might read, but don’t let that put you off.

Three female songwriters are also bringing their bands, coming from a folk or world music zone and overlapping into jazz. Kirsty McGee leads her Hobopop Collective through a “joyful, dirty” sound drawing from gospel, blues and a collection of found instruments (including musical saw, waterphone, Humber hubcaps and metal buckets). The constantly shifting song landscapes of the Zoe Kyoti Trio draw from their leader’s Armenian and Greek heritage (as well as Cajun, European and Indian ideas). Saluting home-brewed British polyculture, Shama Rahman‘s ensemble explore her London home, her Bangladeshi roots, and her childhood memories of Middle Eastern desert landscapes in a “sitar,stories and song” melange of  jazz-inspired improvisation, classically-inspired melodies and folk-inspired storytelling accompanied by energetic rhythms of swing, funk, hip hop, bossa nova and drum’n’bass.

For parents of very young children, needing to balance a jazz fix with family responsibilities, there are a couple of fully interactive kids’ events with activities, storytelling and improvisations.  The Living Story Music Ensemble and illustrator Ann Gilligan collaborate on ‘I Have A Duck Who Can Roar’; the blues-and-roots-tinged Hillary Step Quartet work with storyteller Ursula Holden Gill and dancers from The Dalcroze Society for ‘How Monkey Found His Swing’. Once the kids are attended to, there are still interactive events for the grown-ups, whether you’re talking about the all-in jazz vinyl night, the mixed-genre dj sets by Mr Scruff, Franny Eubanks‘ open-door blues jam or (for the more technologically inquisitive)  Rodrigo Constanzo‘s showcasing of his dfscore software. The latter’s a creative music tool, cueing improvisers via graphical, visual and written clues: on this occasion, anyone with an instrument and a connectible smartphone/tablet/pad should be able to roll up and join in with the roar, joining some leading improvisers in performing music in tandem with the system.

For those remaining soundclips which I’ve not already snatched and pasted, visit the MJF Soundcloud page here … but better yet, if you’re anywhere near Manchester over the next few weeks, drop in at the festival (it’s hard to miss, considering that it’s not just hiding behind club doors but has effectively taken over the town’s main square for a fortnight). Seeing something this impressive light up and roll on fills me with delight – even if on this occasion I’m also filled with rue at not being able to go myself.  But never mind me…

July/August 2015 – upcoming gigs – Thumpermonkey/The Earls Of Mars/Ham Legion in London; Holly Penfield’s Judy Garland show hits the Hippodrome; The Luck Of Eden Hall tour the UK

25 Jul

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

Thumpermonkey @ The Islington, 30th July 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Holly Penfield as Judy Garland

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

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

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

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

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The Luck Of Eden Hall, 2015

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

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


 

Full tour dates below:

The Luck Of Eden Hall UK tour

 

August 2000 – album reviews – Rudy Simone’s ‘To Put the Sun Back in the Sky’ (“shot through with aftershocks of abandonment, dispossession, self-doubt and the battle to stay afloat”)

19 Aug

record-rudysimone-putthesun

Shot through with aftershocks of abandonment, dispossession, self-doubt and the battle to stay afloat, Rudy Simone’s debut album doesn’t resolve the questions she’s raised before. It doesn’t round off those battleworn displays of uneasy heart from the previous year’s ‘Personal Cloud‘ EP, nor does it offer clear clues about where she’ll be travelling in the future.

Fresh as she sounds, Rudy already has plenty of past. Originally from Buffalo, New York State (where, as Rita Seitz, she sang in various obscure bands during the early 1980s) she turned emotional refugee later in life and crossed the Atlantic to Liverpool, where her own songs emerged amid a landscape of acoustic sessions and nightclub rushes. Most debut albums are a statement, however crude. This one’s a scrambling steeplechase across Rudy’s emotions and her spiritual restlessness. It stays true to the disruptive collisions between the life singing in the head and the life that lurks outside. What ‘To Put The Sun Back In The Sky’ resembles most is an attempt to wrap up Rudy’s fraught baggage in a big, unwieldy brown paper package; to tie it together with guitar strings and beats, to spray it with disco glitter and then set it free somewhere down the Mersey. Drifting seawards, it comes unstuck and reveals itself.

Attempting to cram in all her gushes of inspiration, Rudy ends up with a confusing whole. Seemingly at random, songs appear in alternate acoustic and instrumental alternate versions; there are two takes on the eerie Kill The Cult Of Cool single, and a trancier reworking of Personal Cloud. ‘To Put The Sun Back In The Sky’ ends up as an anxious, fractured goodie-bag, unsure about whether floaty beats are better than strumming, and telling repeated stories in different tones. Don’t expect track-by-track coherence – but do expect plenty of understated feeling, a maverick DIY pop sense in full effect, and some determined songcraft. This album is a necklace-worth of interesting, often touching episodes.

In some respects, Rudy fits in with that rough wave of confessional women emerging in the 1990s via trip-hop and indie rock, including the two Beths (Gibbons and Orton) and Juliana Hatfield. There are some similarities to Jane Siberry; though Rudy is more loosely strung, she shares elliptical, Siberryesque feminine perspectives, blown about by impressions and finding solid little truths in the midst of abstraction. But for my money the artist whom she’s closest to is Lida Husik. Both Rudy and Lida resist committing themselves to any one musical approach or way of looking; both seem suspicious of tradition or sturdy craftsmanship. As with Husik, Rudy’s wispily sweet vocal belies her determination to discover and envision things her own way, learning from time and from chance. Both, too, are peripatetic and intuitive to a fault: they’re both quite prepared to walk into mires of embarrassing self-conscious fluff if that’s where an idea takes them (in Rudy’s case, a misplaced James Brown tribute called Bony Little, giddy and apologetic, in which she bangs on forever about her skinny white ass).

For this album, the club dance elements have triumphed in Rudy’s big bag of sounds – as they did on Husik’s ‘Green Blue Fire’ album four years previously. Techno producer Sheldon Southworth, a.k.a Diffusion, is a vital collaborator for half the album. He’s the Beaumont Hannant to Rudy’s Husik, adding his own club-friendly trance sparkle to hers and replacing guitars with the zing of electronics. For The Secret Sayings Of Jesus, Rudy whispers god-inside Gnostic philosophy, floating it like evangelical thistledown over Diffusion’s bright trance beats and aquatic keyboard textures. Despite her trippy tones, hypnotically soft, the chant is a desperate prayer rather than navel-gazing. It’s a counterpoint to the other songs, which make up a travelogue of delusions to be overcome in oneself or endured from others.

Vanity’s Car perks its way through cheerful Euro-trance and Soft Cell gurgles, but Rudy’s lyrics dwell on how the wrong kind of excitement can lessen a person’s grasp on reality – “amazing how far you’ll go when you lose control – / I’ve got to get out on my feet / and be the things I always wanted to be.” The fallout is clear: “I might be sitting in your living room / but I might as well be in another country,” Rudy protests on Can’t Go There. “You can drive if you wanna, but I prefer to stay on my feet… / ‘cos you’re so blind, you can’t see that it’s right across the street.” Warm swelling synths, glinting funk-wah guitar, and house piano echo that communal gospel glory which Primal Scream tapped on Come Together. Rudy’s own hopes of connection, though, are dissolving.

While Diffusion’s contributions are valuable, there’s no question that Rudy remains convincing on her own. The brief pure-dance diversion of Mentallium hurls rapid drum’n’bass kitfire headlong into chilly trance electronica: to wild things up a little, Rudy mixes twitchy diva calls, jazzy double bass and kettle drums into the instrumental. Out on the other edge of her music, she abandons beats and boxes. A blues-y acoustic guitar version of Vanity’s Car brings its warnings closer to the surface, no longer masked by shiny bodywork. Part pop-plaint, but mostly blues rant, the all-acoustic Water’s Edge sees the banalities of love (“Sometimes I’d like to kill him, / but I always gotta thrill him”) splinter in a glare of rage. Wailing like a cross between PJ Harvey and Etta James, Rudy walks the shoreline, grappling with a moment of agonising choice. Violence is poised within her, ready to strike inwards or outwards, and only the lone conscious voice of the song cries out against it. “Don’t go, you’ll only make your mama cry / Don’t go, you’ll only fuck your baby’s mind.”

As a single, Kill The Cult Of Cool got lost in the no-budget wilds which sank so many others; yet its emotional hop-skip-and-jump was a remarkable coming-together of ideas and instinct. It still is. Broody horror synths, laceworks of folk guitar and a patchwork of voice snippets quilt together into something haunted, defiant and transformative. In keeping with the rest of the album’s repetitions and revisitings, the song gets a double outing (the Derision Mix transforms it into radiophonic electro-funk replete with glitchy scratching and whooshing, frothing Vangelis synth splurge) but it’s the original that really matters. Something of a signature song for Rudy ever since it first showed up on ‘Personal Cloud‘, its cohesive spirit remains clear as its splintered voices ask for compassion, pray for guidance, plant down stubborn feet. “I was the quiet one in school, never made any trouble,” stammers a sampled man; “I don’t care what you say, I’m not crazy,” Rudy adds quietly. It’s full of struggle, though never precisely clear what that struggle is – the claw back to sanity out of the creeping horrors? a defense of alternative thinkers and scapegoats? – yet it’s also affecting in a way in which few things that I hear are.

The spine of the album, though, is the title track and Personal Cloud. The former’s a grieving white-girl rap about a marriage snapped violently in half: here, Rudy sounds as soft-spoken but as wide-awake’n’dreaming as Margaret Fiedler does while puzzling out dreams in Laika. Almost cushioned by the pain, she lets moments of heartbreaking reproach crest over it and into the words: when she murmurs “you say you’re following your heart / I say fear has played a much bigger part”, real agony glints. In a new take on Personal Cloud (remixed by M@2K into radar blips, ambient funk and blue-light electronics) more displaced degrees of mourning are added to Rudy’s grapple with addictions, love and loneliness (“I wrap my lips around a cigarette instead of you…”). Her voice flutters, weightless and bereft: a hydrogen balloon un-anchored by faithless hands.

Maybe ‘To Put The Sun Back In The Sky’ is not the album Rudy Simone’s capable of. It’s more like several different shots at an album: all crowded into the kitchen together, taking anxious and uncomfortable refuge. No clear clues; a spinning signpost; but indications of an effective, if scattered, talent – one worth investing some love in.

Rudy Simone: ‘To Put The Sun Back In The Sky’
Phat Lady Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
CD-R-only album
Released: 2000

Buy it from:
Extremely rare – best found second-hand.

Rudy Simone online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp Last FM YouTube

August 1999 – EP reviews – Schulte/Eriksson’s ‘For the Sake of Clarity/Answering Machine’ (“a loose cluster of stoned bees”)

24 Aug

Schulte/Eriksson: 'For The Sake Of Clarity'

Schulte/Eriksson: ‘For The Sake Of Clarity’

It’s an inviting idea. Anna Schulte and Lisa Eriksson sit around in a room in Liverpool with a couple of detuned guitars and some basic looping gear (plus a pair of rhythm-section men borrowed from Mersey psychedelics The Living Brain) to see what happens. They hum out songs and snatches of conversation in a way that’s always on the verge of crumbling to bits, but still holds together, like the immortality of crudded-up cobwebs – lots of interesting little fragments bound up in a tenuous snaggle.

Listening to the bits and pieces of lo-fi invention which they’ve kept on tape shows that Schulte/Eriksson have something in their music like the wobbly stagger of Captain Beefheart’s bloodshot jamming. Or like the scratchier bits of German science-rock that get played at you during music parties (the ones where the competitive art-freak boys are trying to uber-weird each other). But Anna and Lisa seem totally unconcerned with any of these fixations on pointers and signifiers. They’re an offbeat double act, sounding simultaneously bizarre and totally natural. It’s not just their German and Swedish accents as they bounce off English ears. When one of them asks the other “if I say the word ‘sexuality?’ to you, what do you think about that?” she’s met with an incredulous giggle (as if she’d asked “what sound does bread make?”) and neither of them come up with anything.

There’s something warm and alien about these women. Likeable but unreachable – like the futile task of trying to make a cat explain itself, trying to get beyond that affectionate and satisfied manner that displays nothing you can recognise and use for leverage. Interviews have (so far) revealed a pair of women totally detached from earnestness, preciousness or any other self-conscious qualities, and with a simple and unconcerned desire to just let music come.

The music, scribbling and swerving across the grooves of their single like a loose cluster of stoned bees, seems happy to oblige. The straightest that Schulte/Eriksson ever get is the bizarre jazz-train lurch of For The Sake Of Clarity. Their guitar (tuned with a kind of hummingbird logic) hop and pump ahead of the beat; their voices play up and down in stretchy harmonies. “Henry Kaiser playing a samba” is one possible description. I’m also wondering whether Sonic Youth might have produced something shaped like this, in the sweet muzziness after a Brazilian bender.

In Answering Machine the blokes from the Brain bash and stumble away manfully to give the song a bone structure, but in vain. All of the attention goes to the way Lisa and Anna’s voices tug up at their dismal otherworldly sag of guitar chords and take it to somewhere else. For the queasy First Ear Reset/Schaller/Riff, they sound like they’ve turned their guitars upside down: more perturbing jazz-punk chords and steam-whistle tweets yanked off the strings. A violent riff smashes in from another tape and shuts everything down. Their serene smiles probably didn’t drop a notch. But they were obviously laughing when they stuck a phony dance-pop title onto Bassline Loop/No. 1 Hit – it’s about a minute of drunken, tarry slide guitar and murmuring voices which are suddenly exposed as the instruments fall silent and intersect in lovely arcs like a tiny choir of mediaeval nuns… just as the tape runs out.

Scratching cheerfully at the join of subconscious and curiosity, Schulte/Eriksson might use a disorienting private language to run the dig – but you still feel invited to perch nearby. If you’ve ever felt like sitting in on the beginnings of music, here’s a chance to do it.

Schulte/Eriksson: ‘For the Sake of Clarity/Answering Machine’
Org Records, ORG 054
7-inch vinyl-only single
Released: 1999

Buy it from:
Org Records, or look for it second-hand.

Schulte/Eriksson online:
MySpace

May 1999 – mini-album reviews – Rudy Simone’s ‘Personal Cloud’ (“contradictory shards and half-formed knots of feeling”)

14 May

Rudy Simone: 'Personal Cloud'

Rudy Simone: ‘Personal Cloud’

“I wrap my lips around a cigarette / instead of you,” mourns Rudy Simone on the title track of ‘Personal Cloud’. Her voice pipes and teeters on a precipice of reproach. It’s gently, perpetually, pulled back by beautiful harp-like guitars and throaty bass synth. Here’s a lullaby for the betrayed, somewhere between the sweet hyper-conscious dissolve of a Jane Siberry ballad and a Rose Royce disco symphony. Clasping heartbreak to itself, like an addict in recovery, and gently rocking to soothe; while allowing all of the contradictory shards and half-formed knots of feeling to swim free for a moment, a float of voices and words knocking against each other.

“I thought I was drowning, it was only rain./ Thought I felt fire, it was only smoke. / Never leave me… / Oh, will this world take you from me? / I tried, I tried to leave it alone…”

‘Personal Cloud’ is all about this kind of mixed, eddying feeling. Intensities and unravellings. Throwing vitriol and clinging to loyalty. The need to stab the same person you might be begging to pick you up off the floor two hours later. And if it wavers dramatically – both in its musicality and in its consistency – that’s only in keeping with what it’s about, as Rudy explores her emotional devastation using various forms of music. Club elements invade baggily-hanging acoustic confessionals. Wobbly jazz singing gatecrashes trance-dance. Free association yanks a tune bloodily from its roots. Throughout, moods swing like road-signs in a gale, confusing direction.

 “I swear sometimes I wish an alien will take you from this planet / then I turn around, y’know, / I never meant it,” frets Rudy on Velvet, an all-over-the place straggle of guitar, cello and drums where jealousy, need and pride disrupt each other. At one moment, she’s showing the lover her boot and the door  (“Go on out / take your place and find the one who does it all for you,”). At the next, she’s turned the full blowtorch of greedy sexuality onto him to melt him back down again (“It don’t fit into your plans to be so selfish / when all that velvet is waiting for your kiss…”).

Puppet strings yank themselves; kissing lips bruise on gritted teeth. A foot slides, caressing, up a lover’s calf. The same foot turns and hammers a heel, hard, into his instep.

This kind of tense no-man’s land is a stressful place to be. Sometimes there’s a wordless protest, as expressed in Galactica – cosmic trance-techno, where the lonely cry of a star-burned keening synth is cheered up by a flamboyant crash of bells and bucked up by a roguish, tarry bubble of club bassline. Alternatively, Stronger Than You Know meanders along on its skinny guitar and string synths, changing its shape, like a girl dancing drunkenly across treacherous ground, knowing where to put her feet but lurching dangerously close to disaster. It seems fey, but only because it’s discovered a different kind of resistance, dissolving again to escape damage – “Oh, you’re kicking light, / you’re punching air.”

The militaristic Bjork-ish beat of Glimmer Of Hope, the tension of guitar and listing punchdrunk voice, belies its positivity – “I see a glimmer of hope in the clouds / and it’s all I need to see my way out of this.”  On Feel Like I Belong, the club electronics bang and bubble under one of Rudy’s sweetest bluesiest sighs, and bloody experience is weighed up – “memories can drown if you let them – / just because you can it doesn’t mean that you should.” Only the drunken brooding of surly fuzz-guitar suggests there’s something wrong behind this particular attempt at finding peace.

record-rudysimone-ktcocFar more satisfying (in terms of comfort, anyway) is the spooky guitar and spiralling trip-hop of the haunted single Kill The Cult Of Cool – remarkable in any context, particularly moving here, it sounds like a night’s spiritual battle committed to tape. On the single cover Rudy, visibly haunted, stared down fear out of a circle of tall, slender flames, and the song’s occult, speaking-in-tongues feel is still immediate. Over Gothic movie keyboards, Rudy delivers a Buffy-esque putdown in a cool, girl-with-a-mission voice – “I’ve got nothing but derision for your apocalyptic vision. / Anti-amorous, not glamorous. / Time to kill the cult of cool,” – before rolling off into a weird, syncopated mixture of American indie, sampledelia and trip-hop in which everything seems to slide gracefully in and out of time. Ruminative, sandpapery hip-hop beats do the slippery shuffle-and-collapse in the basement. Frail raga-trance vocal melodies drape themselves in irregular folds over the roof. White noise, static radio fizz and heart-monitor bleeps struggle in and out of the mix: a dreamy staircase of guitars (including a spaghetti-Western dobro) twangs at the heart of the chorus.

The rest is a weave of lost-girl chant and coos, a multiplicity of voices flipping backwards and forwards, a narcotic nuzzle towards solace. “Help up, I shall bless,” keens one line. “Ooh yes, honour – there’s no-one there…” murmurs another. Rudy duels weightlessly with other wounded voices (“I was the quiet one in school, never made any trouble…”) and absentee gods before declaring with quiet assurance, “I don’t care what you say, I’m not crazy.” The fact that this happens at the beginning of ‘Personal Cloud’ – and not as a tidy resolution at the end – suggests that this isn’t the first time she’s had to take up arms against her own crowded inner sea of troubles.

Uneven, unsettling, and mixing awkward un-coordination with gliding grace, ‘Personal Cloud’ reveals the wayward talent of a potential cult heroine – unafraid to grasp at the chaos and trash of the battered heart.

Rudy Simone: ‘Personal Cloud’
Phat Lady Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
CD-R-only mini-album
Released: 1999

Buy it from:
Extremely rare – best found second-hand.

Rudy Simone online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp Last FM YouTube