Tag Archives: Mike Vennart

December 2018 – upcoming London rock gigs – Terry Bickers guests with ZOFFF at a psychedelic extravaganza also featuring Knifeworld, Spratleys Japs, assorted Cardiacs and Mike Vennart (21st December)

4 Dec

Spratleys Japs + Knifeworld + ZOFFF. 21st December 2018Just before Christmas, Terry Bickers (evergreen cult guitarist with The House of Love, and one of a slim pantheon of late ’80s/early ’90s Brit-indie guitar heroes alongside Johnny Marr, John Squire, Nick McCabe and a handful of others) is playing a London guest slot with Brightonian psych-rockers ZOFFF. This isn’t the first time he’s done it. A similar collision and happy entanglement is recorded and celebrated on ZOFF’s brand new live album ‘IV’, capturing the September 2017 set in Brighton in which Terry first joined them on stage.

It’s a reconciliation as much as a guesting – after his first spectacular falling-out with The House Of Love, back in 1989, Terry spent four years fronting post-punk psychmonsters Levitation, interweaving his cetacean-contrail guitars with those of former Cardiac Bic Hayes. It’s a period of his career that’s played down now, in the usual, conservative prodigal-son narrative which implies that he was a one-band indie hero who went astray, fiddled about with nothing much, finally saw sense and came back. But while Levitation lasted they were pretty inspirational: a hell-for-leather band of roaring textures and high anxiety which lasted until a depression-fuelled spat saw Terry falling out with the entire band and very publically ejecting himself.


 
It took a long time – and a long course of growing up – for rapprochement to happen, but happen it did. Bic now strums, wails and noises for ZOFFF (alongside Brighton go-to drummer Damo Waters, modular audio-visual synth maverick Richard Gorbutt and Crayola Lectern duo Chris Anderson and Al Strachan) creating a massive brass-laden textural throb of psychedelic sleet. As part of the renewed friendship, Terry’s increasingly been invited along to ZOFFF shows by Bic to resume their mutually supportive, strange-bedfellow guitar duello. By all accounts, he fits right in. Here’s a preview of all of them, including Terry, raising consciousness and the roof down at the ‘IV’ gig in Brighton last autumn (plus a brief phone clip of Terry in action and in the moment)…



 
ZOFFF are playing as part of a pre-Christmas bill which maintains a much-missed tradition. Until they were brought to a crashing halt a decade ago, Cardiacs hosted an annual gathering of their diverse fantribe (usually at the London Astoria) at which they’d play their exuberant, noisy, cryptid pop songs (transmissions from some imaginary Atlantic plateau where no musical forms either died out or became incompatible) and, like kind eccentric uncles, fostered support slots for the likes of Oceansize, Goddamn Whores, The Monsoon Bassoon, Sidi Bou Said, Johnny 4 and other acts from off the beaten track. It was one of the most warm and exciting nights in the alt.rock, or alt.universe, pop calendar, and since Cardiacs’ enforced retirement in 2008 (when leader Tim Smith got very sick indeed – see plenty of past posts), it’s been down to people from those bands, and others, to keep the tradition going. Which they have, building up to this biggest-yet post-Cardiacs event.


 
Nominally headlining are Spratleys Japs – at one time, an obscure Cardiacs/Tim Smith spinoff. In recent years they’ve been resurrected by their co-vocalist Jo Spratley to celebrate this studio-bound hedge-rock corner of Tim’s work: a kind of wild forest variant on Cardiacs (like a series of strange tome pages, faulty language primer scraps and tufts of Syd Barrett’s pubes ritually scattered and hung from briars throughout Mythago Wood). Now, they’re advancing along the neglected but still-open pathways it set up. Joined by her son Jesse on bass, plus ZOFF’s Damo Waters and psychedelic French escapees the Rodes brothers, Jo’s reinvigorated the original knotty/peculiar Japs songs and (over the past year) built some more of them from scratch, much to Tim’s delight. (“You get wisped away round some corner of God knows wot. You knew it was gonna be good, but not this good…”)

A few of these new songs will be made available at the show as the band launch a boutique vinyl single – the usual deal: limited edition, double-yer-action a-side, hand-carved by trained mice, signatures and so forth. For a longer, more fleshed-out story, try here. For a taste of Spratleys old and new, see below.




 
Also at the party are ever-rising post-Cardiacs crew Knifeworld, led by the irrepressible Kavus Torabi. His ever-broadening string of exploits have included fronting the current Gong and the long-lost Monsoon Bassoon, guitarring for Guapo and the late-lineup Cardiacs, gabbling nonsense in between records on DJ dates with snooker ace-turned-weird-rock patron Steve Davis, and adding a little extra weirdness to the interim-Pogues music of Spider Stacy. Over the course of a decade and four records, his Knifeworld work has spiralled up from a solo project to become a honkingly powerful brass-and-reed-laden all-star octet; interlacing prog, indie rock, psych, experimental tones and cycling minimalism into an exuberant package of lysergic babble and quadruple-ended hookery.


 
Everything’s being lit by south coast psychedelic illuminators Innerstrings; and for bonuses, Bic’s contributing a DJ set, as are Kavus and Steve Davies. Plus, there’s going to be a jamboree set of Cardiacs covers and reinterpretations. This will feature a pile-on scratch band featuring Spratleys Japs bolstered by members of all three of the night’s other bands, plus yet another former Cardiacs guitarist (wildcard and Wildheart Jon Poole) and former Oceansize frontman Mike Vennart (currently stretching ears and punishing stages with his post-Oceansize projects Vennart and British Theatre, as well as putting big-league time in as a hired-hand guitar ace for Biffy Clyro).

As a low-key taster for what this might be like, here’s Kavus guesting with Spratleys Japs for a couple of Cardiacs numbers in Brighton last year. This month’s full show is likely to be a friendly cyclone full of flying twigs and bright colours. If you want to find out what all the fuss is about, get on down there.


 
Spratleys Japs + Knifeworld + ZOFFF
The Garage, 20-22 Highbury Corner, Highbury, London, N5 1RD, England
Friday 21st December 2018, 6.00pm
– information here, here and here

Upcoming gigs – Lite + Knifeworld + Axes in London, August 19th; Vennart in Leicester and Colchester, August 19th & 20th; Vennart + Knifeworld + Cleft UK tour in November

13 Aug

My part of London’s being gradually gentrified. I’m noting the warning signs – the launderettes being replaced by redundant fresh-fruit emporiums, estate agents proliferating even as the street drinkers melt away; the rough-and-ready Irish pub that’s suddenly been boarded up and now waits to became a sandwich outlet. Even the looming black tower block which dominates the district and which once housed the capital’s most brutal social security offices (leading to it being roundly cursed in song by New Model Army) is being stripped down to white bone and built up into luxury homes, yesterday’s painful memories now smothered under today’s property bubble.

Waiting for the next rent rise – the one which might well bump me out of the neighbourhood in search of new roots – I guess that I can console myself with what seems to be a coincidental side effect. The neighbourhood’s also hosting more interesting gigs, with an influx of art rock, post-progressive and psychedelic evenings nudging aside the garage bands. If this is gentrification, I can at least live with that side of it: Tim Bowness playing down the road at the end of the month, and fresh bursts of tone-colour lighting up Tufnell Park junction on a regular basis. Which leads me to the following…

Lite (& Knifeworld) @ The Boston Music Rooms, London, 19th August 2015

 

LITE + Knifeworld + Axes (Pink Mist @ The Dome, 2a Dartmouth Park Hill, Tufnell Park, London, NW5 1HL UK, Wednesday 19th August 2015, 7.00pm) – £12.00

On August 19th Tokyo instrumental math heroes LITE return to London for a special one-off show at The Dome. A mainstay in the Japanese charts and something of an institution in their homeland, LITE released ‘Approaches 4‘ – six new live recordings including a new track called Balloon – for free download on May 19th. They’ll be joined by shape-shifting psych impresarios Knifeworld. Led by former Monsoon Bassoon/Cardiacs man Kavus Torabi, the London based octet have been hailed by everyone from ‘The Guardian’ to ‘Rock Sound’ to ‘The Line Of Best Fit’ to ‘Drowned In Sound’ and back again. And then there’s Axes, who in ‘Glory’ released one of the best math rock records of the last ten years. All three bands are on the same bill, for £12, which is pretty damned amazing.


Please note that there are age restrictions on this gig – there’s a lower age limit of fourteen, and under-sixteens must be accompanied by an adult, so trainee adolescent psychonauts should take note (or take a fake ID). Up-to-date information on the gig is available here, while tickets are available here.

(UPDATE – whoops. I only posted this twelve hours ago, and suddenly the whole gig has been transferred to The Lexington instead – up-to-date and ongoing details here – though hopefully not because some moneyed flashmob’s now opening a craft brewery on the site of the luckless Dome…)

Mike Vennart, 2015

More British psychedelic/post-progressive rock is out on the road at the same time, since former Oceansize and current British Theatre frontman Mike Vennart (also known for putting extra guitar flail into the live lineup of Biffy Clyro) is playing a couple of warm-up gigs for his appearance at the ArcTanGent Festival with music from his solo album ‘The Demon Joke’. ArcTangent has nearly sold out now (though you might still be able to grab one of the last tickets if you head over to the website now) but I’m plugging the other gigs now for the benefit of anyone within running distance.

The Vennart live band features two other former Oceansizers (Richard “Gambler” Ingram and Steve DuRose) plus drummer Denzel Pearson. Support comes, variously, from Mike and Gambler themselves (as British Theatre, who’ve just released their first new music in three years – a free download single called ‘Cross The Swords‘ which I’ll be reviewing shortly), Colchester alt.rock songwriter Christie Isaac and assorted last-minute Leicestrians (ask the promoter).

Vennart + British Theatre + guests (Robot Needs Home @ Firebug Bar, 25 Millstone Lane, Leicester, UK, Wednesday 19th August 2015 – 7:00pm) £10 – info and tickets here.

Vennart + Christie Isaac (Colchester Arts Centre, Church Street, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1NF, UK, Thursday 20th August 2015 – 7.30pm) £11 – info and tickets here.

You could also set aside some time in the autumn to catch Vennart’s week-long British tour in November, apparently the last of their gigs for some time (after this, Mike and Gambler will immerse themselves in recording a full album as British Theatre). Knifeworld will return as support on this tour, with the third act on the bill being Mancunian “turbo-prog” duo Cleft who encourage you to think of them as “a machine that compresses fourteen minute songs down to three minutes.”

  • Bodega Social Club, 23 Pelham Street, Nottingham. NG1 2ED, UK, Monday 23rd November 2015
  • Bush Hall, 310 Uxbridge Rd, London, W12 7LJ, UK, Tuesday 24th November 2015
  • The Deaf Institute, 135 Grosvenor Street, Manchester, M1 7HE, Wednesday 25th November 2015
  • King Tut’s, 272a St Vincent St, Glasgow G2 5RL, UK, Thursday 26th November 2015
  • The Hop, 19 Bank Street, Wakefield, West Yorkshire WF1 1EH, UK, Friday 27th November 2015

A couple of tastes of Knifeworld and Cleft follow. If I’m going to be fiddling while Rome burns, I can’t imagine better company.


EP reviews – British Theatre: ‘EP’ (“a fresh start, but some old pains linger”)

1 Mar

British Theatre: 'EP'

British Theatre: ‘EP’


All rock bands potentially contain storms. Oceansize were one of the few who genuinely sounded as if they did. For twelve years and four albums, the Manchester quintet careened along just at the underside of a breakthrough. They crafted a complex, roaring and passionate music, which took no prisoners but captured plenty of imagination. While they were around, they barrelled the psychedelic back into heavy metal, the dirt back into prog and the starscapes back into grunge. Perhaps it’s not such a surprise that in 2011 they finally (violently, and without explanation) blew themselves out – like a blazing oil-rig, suddenly snuffed.

Maybe we shouldn’t shed too many tears for Oceansize, even though it was a shame to lose them. Sometimes a situation just comes to an end. Sometimes all of that volatile fuel just runs out, and you’re left with dead, falling machinery. Everyone involved has maintained a taut, wounded silence since the split: but now there’s British Theatre, made up of two former Oceansizers: Richard “Gambler” Ingrams and the band’s battered cherub of a frontman, Mike Vennart. Once wrapped inside a romantic name that made you think of heavy mechanisms or naked storms, they’re now hiding behind a monicker that spins off only confusing signals. A rarified, slightly stuffy textbook? A drawing-room comedy? Kitchen-sink bitterness?

More important is what the music contains, and what the changes have churned up. There are strong strands joining British Theatre’s music to what came before with Oceansize. There’s the crooning bawl of Mike’s voice, for one – a perpetually skinned innocence rising to a pitch of blasted, despairing resistance. Having a tormented side comes as standard for the children of grunge: and British Theatre have carried Oceansize’s moody habits along with them. There’s also the flexible guitars (a mass of tones and liquescent washes) and the interest in long, shape-shifting song structures and their connection to expressiveness. The EP’s closing instrumental – Little Death #3 (6th Gen Degrade) – isn’t far off the wordless romantic-industrial pieces which used to complete Oceansize EPs: winding like a bashed-up river though the remains of a factory district. If Manchester were ever pummelled into the ground, this is what the aftermath might sound like – the sound swallowed up in a cocoon, gentle noises of sifting rubble and Mike’s crumpled guitar nosing in on the breeze, delivering misshapen bluesy asides.

What’s changed is working method. Even before Oceansize fissioned, Gambler had been making a separate name for himself as a solo keyboard player and electronica artist. With Mike now also an enthusiastic convert (both men play “everything” in the new band), British Theatre take on a far more electronic approach, abandoning the metallic live-band contortions of Oceansize to take tips from laptop culture and dubstep, pasting and transparentizing layers of shaped instrumentation and sound effects, plunging deeper into the post-rock melt.

ID Parade On Ice sets up what’s different now. Overlapping electronic polyrhythms, twinkling synth patterns, ghostly floating twinkles of piano flown in from distant rooms. Draughty guitar hums smudge into ominous yellow-wallpaper textures. Lopsided creaking sounds stalk through the music (part untended door, part straining hull) as do bony typewriter clacks and clinks of wire: the harp-trembling of guitar harmonics recall John Fahey. The brutal disaffection of the song, however, is pure Oceansize; as is Mike’s yearning scar of vocal and the bursting choruses.

This may be a fresh start but some old pains linger, whether Mike’s still licking wounds from the split, acting out a teeth-baring Vennart snarl at paymasters or even taking a swipe at the controlling appetite of an audience: “Sit down, be the tormenter – make all of us dance / to songs cynical in tone… / Insist this is a cold magisterial charade, / a pornographic paid display… / Well, I’m glad to fake it for our sake.” Certainly the dark undercurrent of violence, desperation and disgust that seeped through Oceansize songs is still present, as Mike mutters “our engine’s thriving on ketamine and mogadon, / cut ear to ear, cut ear to ear. / Our engine’s thriving on violence and bleeding tongues – / let’s bite away, let’s bite our way out,” while riding a winding snare of melody across a landscape of shifting keyboard smears and stretched beats.

While with Oceansize, Mike and Gambler often seemed to be merging the beefiness of Pearl Jam with the ambitious structures and songwriting of new-prog. With British Theatre, they’re as likely to sound like a grunged-up Talk Talk with pattering dance-loops and restless, frowning tattoos. Gold Bruise, a broodingly lovely ballad with ghostly siren sustain, mouthpiece buzz and Rhodes piano touches floating above a subtle dubstep pulse, shows how far they’ve travelled. It echoes the weightless cocooned take on urban melancholia which Bark Psychosis mined in the mid-’90s for ‘Hex’; but the lovely folk melody threading through it (sung by Mike in a heartbreaking murmur) recalls something far older.

So does the subject matter – archetypal flaming youth and violent life, wound down to its fatal conclusion, only seen and mourned from the outside. Mike’s sung words, spacey and elusive, wreath the story in flashes and outcrops, transforming grit into mythology: “The boy that shot the bullet, decked in yellow gold; / pulled out of the river, angel’s hair for rope.” Despite the beautiful flares of lyrical colour, there’s little doubt that this is a mourning: in fact, for all of Mike’s gentle flow, a stricken raging against a waste and a path gone desperately wrong. “All the stranger’s battle cries / are back to front, wrong to right. / Nothing cradles you through all your crimes…. / You should be calling time / and bursting bubbles / but after all this time you couldn’t care less.” This is an aching, stirring return: the staging and the muscle have changed, but there are still deep storms here.

British Theatre: ‘EP’
Bandcamp
Download-only EP
Released: 25th February 2012

Buy it from:
Bandcamp.

British Theatre online:
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