Tag Archives: Mike Westbrook

May 2020 – single & track reviews – Heavy Lamb/Jesse Cutts’ ‘CONFINEMENT-release4’; Jack Hayter’s ‘Let’s Go Shopping’ (Sultans of Ping F.C cover); Billie Bottle sings ‘Ted Hughes – Wind: Upheaval Imminent’

11 May

Jesse Cutts/Heavy Lamb: 'CONFINEMENT​/​release4'

Jesse Cutts/Heavy Lamb: ‘CONFINEMENT​/​release4’

The fourth helping of Brighton psychedelia from the Confinement Tapes series is more Heavy Lamb, and more Jesse Cutts. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. As was the case last time, while Jesse isn’t the only Lamb player the line between what’s him and what’s Lamb is blurring into the inconsequential. Certainly ‘All Dust’ is an actual Heavy Lamb piece at least: revisited, re-arranged and re-seasoned by Jesse and the other remaining Lambkin (John Gee), with Jesse’s mum, frequent collaborator and core Confinementeer Jo Spratley back on lead vocals, as she was for last month’s take on Cardiacs’ ‘Odd Even’.

It’s tempting to suggest that they should make it a permanent arrangement: Jo sounds happier doing Lambwork than she does in any other project, and the song itself is a delightful complication, unpacking plentiful musical material from inside a sleek indie-pop/rock shell. Threes against fours, sudden teases of hot spaces; voice keeping inside the chords but finding any conceivable space to hop around inside there; Propelled by Jesse’s cunning, slippery bass the chords themselves obligingly fold over and flip into new spaces so as to give the melody more space to roam and loop back. The Cardiacs influence is strong, but so’s the love for any batch of raucous goodtime English sunshine-pop. The lyric’s as complicated, digressive and warm as the music; something about fragile hearts surviving on the tide, something about continual replenishment. So far, it’s peak Lamb: not just an ideal bridge between rock disco and broader music, but great fun in its own right.


 
As with ‘All Dust’, the two instrumental pieces also contained in the package are new recordings, all played in their entirety by Jesse; in contrast to some of the more archival odds and sods on Confinement Tapes releases, these were only put together this month. In ‘Gutter Pigeon’, wobbled piano encountered during a downpour switching into orchestrated chord clambering, a lazy little pavement circus. After a shimmery start, ‘Small Things’ compresses and unpacks an album’s worth of development in a single six-minute tune. Lovely. If there’s a prog tone to all of this, it’s in keeping with those leisurely Kent’n’Sussex prog tones from Canterbury, Herne Bay and all of the other Mellow-on-Seas these kind of sunny benevolent English meanders come from.



 
From up the Thames estuary (and following his life-blasted, gutter-country cover of ‘The Dark End of the Street’ at the end of last month), Jack Hayter continues his lockdown broadcasts with a visit to 1990s Irish indie. As he recounts, “in 2004 an American band provided the British with a national anthem… ‘Mr Brightside’. Back in 1992 an Irish band did the same thing with ‘Where’s Me Jumper’. In the time of Corona we’re not dancing in the disco bumper-to-bumper. Neither are we going out shopping much… so this is all a bit pants, really. Dunno why I did this.. and I played bum notes too.”


 
Yes, the bum notes are obvious (not least because Jack lampshades each one of them with a quirk and a chuckle), but his warmth, humour and charm – even via webcam – are so engaging that it’s all forgivable. More importantly, it’s what he brings to the song that matters more than a finger-slip or two. The original Sultans of Ping version of ‘Let’s Go Shopping’ – the product of young men imagining a contented, domestic afterlife for a reformed raver and pillhead – almost vanishes under the sweet conscious hokiness of its string arrangements and its honky-tonk drum click. Jack’s version (basic voice and guitar) gently trims off the hints of irony and any tongue-in-cheek trappings.

As I mentioned last time, few people have such a skill at uncovering the tender core of a song. Watching Jack’s treatment is like watching a great little bit of subtle pub theatre story unfold. In his hands, it’s no longer something simple and jolly, but something grown touching and tender. Love for one’s wife, a nostalgia for wilder times but no regrets of any kind; embracing grown-up responsibilities (and burdens) with a sunny chuckle – “you can push the trolley – and I’ll push the pram.” And then, after this cheerful jaunt, lazy and affectionate, the cloud comes: lockdown bleakness casting a shadow over Jack’s face for a moment as the world shrinks and chills, and even dull everyday pleasures become fraught with peril. “Let’s go shopping, / we can wish away our fears. / Let’s go shopping, / the shops are really… near.” Jack plays this cover down as some kind of throwaway. Nothing he ever does is really a throwaway.

Billie Bottle‘s life has been in flux for a while – the transition from “he” to “they” to “she”, the rearrangement of day-to-day living and bands and dressing and sundry ways of doing things. Still, Billie’s an unfailingly positive and proactive character (as shown in her series of songs with non-binary musician/activist Kimwei – the most recently-aired one being here) and most of the unsettledness had eased down just before the plague blew in this spring.

From indoors, she’s just revealed some multi-layered new work taking on and reflecting both her innate calm and musicality, and the impact of an unsettled world. For now, though it’s just a lyrics video, with Billie announcing “well me lovelies, it feels like the right time to share one of the projects that have been on the go here in Bottledom over seven weeks of UK lockdown. My auntie read me the Ted Hughes poem, ‘Wind’, down the phone and I was struck by its power and pertinence. It blew itself into a kind of song, ‘Wind: Upheaval Imminent’. May you also be filled with its gustiness!”

As a member of Mike Westbrook’s band, Billie’s an heiress to his chamber-jazz poetics as well as to the playful jazzy lilt of the Canterbury sound. Both were well in evidence on last year’s ‘Grazie Miller’ EP, and they’re just as clear on ‘Wind: Upheaval Imminent’, a Hughesian account of a storm which “wielded / blade-light, luminous black and emerald, / flexing like the lens of a mad eye.”). Initially it’s an interplay between Billie’s high androgynous tenor and a sketching, dabbing piano; with drums, subtle blocks of organ, a near-subliminal bass, and a few judiciously-placed sound effects and concrete-instrumental coloration making their way into the mix.


 
Mostly, though, it’s the words and the voice. Billie responds to a setting in much the same way that Robert Wyatt handles a cover, and her carefully-timed leaps from note to note (all with an underlying, broken-up sense of swing) recapture the poem’s sense of awe; its trepidation and exultation, its illustration of the way that fragility shades strength. (“The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace, / At any second to bang and vanish with a flap: / The wind flung a magpie away and a black- / back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house / rang like some fine green goblet in the note / that any second would shatter it.” ) She uses the sprung challenges of jazz – the rhythm eddies, the intrusion of unexpected harmonic currents – to dig into the hinted upheaval in Hughes’ words.

As with the poem, the music ends unresolved – “now deep / in chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip / our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought, / or each other. We watch the fire blazing, / and feel the roots of the house move, but sit on, / seeing the window tremble to come in, / hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.” Structurally brilliant, captivatingly emotive, and an excellent marriage of text and music, it’s one of the best things Billie has ever done in a persistently ripening career.

Heavy Lamb/Jesse Cutts: ‘CONFINEMENT-release4’
The Confinement Tapes, CONFINEMENT_release4
Download/streaming single
Released: 4th May 2020
Get it from:
free/pay-what-you-like download from Bandcamp
Heavy Lamb/Jesse Cutts online:
Facebook Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM

Jack Hayter: ‘Let’s Go Shopping’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Video-only single
Released: 10th May 2020
Get it from:
currently view-only on YouTube
Jack Hayter online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Deezer Spotify Amazon Music

Billie Bottle: ‘Ted Hughes – Wind: Upheaval Imminent’
self-released, no catalogue number or barcode
Video-only single
Released: 11th May 2020
Get it from:
currently view-only on YouTube
Billie Bottle online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

November/December 2016 – upcoming gigs – more English dates for Billy Bottle & The Multiple’s ‘The Other Place’ (4th & 20th November, 10th December)

28 Oct

Billy Bottle & The Multiple - 'The Other Place' tour, 2016Mike Westbrook-affiliated pastoral Anglo-jazz explorers Billy Bottle & The Multiple have added more dates on their evolving, ongoing ‘The Other Place’ tour.

The show has its roots in a personal odyssey and serious socio-political stunt from band core Billy and Martine, who took advantage of their brief infamy as guests on ‘The Voice’ to run a whistle-stop free busking tour across southern and western England just prior to the 2015 election. In the process, they sounded out a disgruntled, despairing populace about what they thought about democracy and connection. Later, Billy and Martine put together this semi-theatrical vox-pop song-and-music roadshow on what they found, tracing a shadow of disaffection which culminated in the Brexit vote earlier this year.

For the full skinny on ‘The Other Place’, click back a few months. I’ve been slow off the mark again, and missed promoting their Margate and Brighton dates in September; but here are the rest of the dates between now and Christmas… unless they wangle a few more in the interim, which is entirely possible. For now, there are two shows in Cornwall (the first being the 4th November) and one in London.

As before, the band for ‘The Other Place’ consists of Billy Bottle (voice, keyboards, guitar), Martine Waltier (voice, violin, guitar, percussion), Roz Harding (alto saxophone, recorder, percussion), flautist/singer/percussionist Vivien Goodwin-Darke (flute, voice, percussion) and Lee Fletcher (synths, soundscapes, percussion).
 

June/July/October 2016 – upcoming gigs – Billy Bottle & The Multiple tour ‘The Other Place – a Vox-Popera’ across the English South-West and South Coast

22 Jun

Whatever happens in the wake of this week’s Britain-in-Europe referendum, there are going to be plenty of questions asked about democracy, accountability and connection. Personally, I’m expecting most of them to be shouted or sworn rather than asked, so I’m not looking forward to it… especially if I’m going to be one of the people doing the swearing.

Last year, Billy Bottle & The Multiple were asking a few of those questions themselves. Since they’re heirs to the spirit of Daevid Allen rather than that of Jeremy Paxman, they were asking them in their own unorthodox way. This month, as part of an ongoing follow-up roadshow stretching into autumn (and perhaps beyond), they’re beginning to show us what they discovered.

* * * * * * * *

Billy Bottle, 2016

‘The Other Place – A Vox-Popera’

“On the evening of 7th May, 2015, a pint of milk mysteriously appears at the gates of Parliament.

Special delivery...

Special delivery…

“Set in the week running up to a UK general election, The Other Place tells the true story of two musicians from Devon as they make their way slowly to Westminster. On high streets, market squares and seafront promenades, they perform the same song, forty-nine times over, and at each stop they start conversations with whoever they meet, asking them ‘Who’s got the Power?’

At the end of a long and winding journey, they arrive at Parliament Square on a milk float to make their delivery: a symbolic reminder that the power doesn’t belong to the inhabitants of Westminster, it is given to them by the rest of us.

“This journey through the foundations of British democracy inspired a sequence of songs whose lyrics come from the words of the voters (and non-voters) that Billy and Martine met on their journey. It is a celebration of gentler kinds of power and an invitation to the audience to make their voices heard.

Billy Bottle & The Multiple - 'The Other Place' - on tour, 2016“The Multiple currently features Martine Waltier (voice, violin, guitar, percussion), Roz Harding (alto saxophone, recorder, percussion) and Billy Bottle (voice, keyboards, guitar), all of whom are mainstays of Mike Westbrook’s Uncommon Orchestra; plus flautist/singer/percussionist Vivien Goodwin-Darke (from the psychedelic rock band Magic Bus) and recording artist and producer Lee Fletcher (of Unsung Productions) on synths, soundscapes and percussion. Like the best art rock, they combine folk, jazz, pop and minimalism in an engaging and meaningful way.

Complete with wobbly camera footage and the sounds of the streets, this performance is a real democratic party in action!”

* * * * * * * *

As regards the delivery of the Power… it all began as a stunt, of sorts. In January 2015, a peak-time British TV audience was treated to the sight of Billy and Martine ripping into an acoustic busker-cover of Snap!’s old Eurodance chestnut as they competed in ‘The Voice’. Wrapped in pink quilting, flower-child swirl prints and a sunshine glow, chatty about their south Devon rural idyll (and their taste for naturism), they gave the impression of being only a couple of brow-stars away from the Age of Aquarius. They delighted the judges (and went down a storm with a supposedly-hippy-proof public) but their faces and demeanour didn’t fit the reality TV narrative, and they didn’t get any further in the contest. By popular demand the single was out that summer via Bandcamp and cottage industry: it sold nicely behind the scenes and away from the charts; and that might have been that.


 

However, painting the Bottle squad as talented, bright-eyed novelty hippies is to get no further than the colourful wrapping; to miss the bright, enquiring intelligence under the apparent sunny simplicity; and to mistake constructive, conscious choices for naivety and innocence. Before they’d even thought of stepping onto ‘The Voice’s stage, Billy and Martine had been longstanding Westbrook Band and Dave Sinclair associates, with urban roots in Darlington and London supplemented by dues paid in neo-progressive rock, indie, music teaching and circuses. Already able to tap and hold serious British musical talent, their 2013 album ‘Unrecorded Beam’ had been a triumph of pastoral ensemble jazz; scooping up the poetry of Thoreau and blowing new leaf-green life through it, zig-zagging through the soundfields like a tripping honeybee. ‘The Voice’ was a diversion – a game they were coaxed into. In turn it triggered another experiment in play, taking something apparently trivial and fluffy but using it to tap into a more serious undercurrent.

The busk pilgrimage that would eventually become ‘The Other Place’ started as an attempt at a “rolling conversational democratic jam session.” With no more than the violin, acoustic guitar, costumes and voices from the ‘Voice’ session, Billy and Martine flipped their brief brush with celebrity into an engagement with recognition and a much more down-to-earth version of meet’n’greet. They rode on the back of their ‘Voice’ platform not in order to achieve celebrity, but to set up a chat: a little conversation at the feet of the Big Society, where the bunions and the broken toes are. What they found and heard – and recorded en route – would eventually weave itself into the sonic fabric of ‘The Other Place’, fleshed out by jazz reeds and woodwind, and aided and abetted by production wizard Lee Fletcher (who’d done so much for the encompassing feel of ‘Unrecorded Beam’ and was co-opted into the Multiple once they’d realised the multimedia nature of the emerging new project).

In lieu of any sonic or visual teasers for the show (the Multiple are keeping their cards close to their chests on that one) here are some clipped’n’mixed reflections from the original voyage, all taken from their blog of the original roadtrip:

“We’re not pretending we’ve got any answers. We’re definitely not pretending that wearing fluorescent tights and playing a song in the street is a way to change things. But it’s a way in, a way to start meeting people, catching little snatches of a tune that this country is humming under its breath, that nobody’s quite remembered the words to yet…

“When you travel slower, the country gets larger. Stopping off at so many places along the way, Exeter is a really long way from Newton Abbot, Bristol is a really long way from Exeter. You realise that each of these places is a world, the world of the people who live here and do their best to make life work in the conditions in which they find themselves. Seeing news clips of the party leaders climbing out of helicopters or stepping off intercity trains, it feels like they are whizzing up and down a different country, a smaller country, a country where most of the places we are visiting don’t matter very much…

“Each time we get off the train at a new place, we find ourselves sniffing the air, sensing for clues as to what it is like to be getting on with your life in a place like this. And the clothes, the music, the harmless foolishness of our little gang seems to open up a line of contact, so that within twenty seconds people are talking to us about their lives….

“People start off curious and cautious. They see us coming a mile off, the technicolour outfits, the huge #dontjustvote stickers on our instrument cases. Sometimes they recognise us off ‘The Voice’. They want to know what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and that means we have to keep asking ourselves those questions, figuring out the answers as we go along. They want to know what we’re selling, what we’re trying to persuade them of, and we tell them really we just want to start conversations, to meet people, to find out what’s going on in this country now, what this election actually means.

“When they start talking to us, they usually start with a flat statement, something definitive. ‘I never vote.’ ‘They’re all the same.’ ‘There’s no point, is there?’ But as they realise we’re actually interested, the way they talk changes, something else comes out. You can hear how much they care. Everyone we meet feels disillusioned, disengaged, disenfranchised. They all feel like they’re not being heard. A lot of them aren’t voting. Yet they also believe that we as people do have power, they just can’t see a route to change that goes through the ballot box…

“In Trowbridge, we started playing and police came running round the corner. There had been a theft of a piece of meat from a shop. A shopkeeper came running towards us, she thought we were just shouting in the street, shouting like a thief. Well, we were shouting in the street. A few minutes later, Bill was listening to the story of a man who had been homeless for twelve years as he talked about his father’s addiction and how he died. At the end, there would have been no point in words. The two of them stood there in the street, holding each other, crying.

“In Brighton and Lewes, the air smells green, and then we cross some unmarked threshold and in the next few towns another reality takes over. Listening to the way people talk, we find ourselves starting to understand why they are drawn to UKIP, not because the facts or the arguments add up, but because in this reality it could sound like they make sense.

“The song is the same in every place, but something changes, grows, deepens. Maybe what we’re doing is charging up the song, like we have to keep charging our phones whenever we get a few minutes near a socket. All of these encounters, conversations, stories are charging up this song we started out with and the song is carrying them.

“All along this journey, we’ve been feeling an aching gap between the cold anger, disillusionment, exhaustion that nearly everyone we talk to has when they talk about the political system and something else, something that doesn’t come so easily into words, but is a kind of faith in people, in people’s ability to muddle through, to somehow go on making life work, finding opportunities for kindness in the middle of all its absurdities.

“Maybe this all has something to do with what we mean by power? A friend of ours, Anthony McCann, talks about the idea of a ‘politics of gentleness’. Watching the news about this election, gentleness and politics don’t really seem like words that belong together. But what he says is that when we think about power, we usually think of it as the ability to manipulate, control or dominate other people. And since those are all pretty nasty ways of treating people, and since most of us don’t actually want to treat people in nasty ways, that way of thinking about power makes it something we wouldn’t want to have, which makes us powerless.


 
“So what if there were other ways of thinking about power? What if there were other kinds of power that exist, all the time, so much part of our everyday lives that we take them for granted? Anthony talks about power as ‘the ability to vary the experience of oneself or others’. As an example of this gentle power, he talks about what it’s like to be a parent holding a small child… And maybe it’s this kind of power that people feel, that they have some kind of trust in, even if it’s not easy to give it words?…”

We’re going to deliver The Power to Westminster.

“When we started saying that, it was a joke, but as we kept joking about it, the thought deepened on us. We’re still figuring all of this out as we go along, finding out what we’re doing by doing it, but it’s starting to seem like this journey culminates in an ironic ritual: the delivering of The Power to Westminster, to remind the politicians that The Power doesn’t belong to them, not really, not on polling day, or even on any other day.

“The Power is loaned to them by the people, and they can hardly dare to acknowledge how grudgingly that loan is made, how overdue the repayments have become. This is the other deficit, the one that no one is making pledges about, and someday the people may call in the loan.”
 
* * * * * * * *

Or, to put it another way (as another beloved couple did, in another time and another place):

“Are you serious?”
“About what I do, yes. Not necessarily the way I do it.”

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