Tag Archives: music for banjo

March/April 2017 – upcoming London & Hastings gigs – a start to the Folk at the Foundling season (Three Cane Whale on 24th March; Jimmy Aldrige & Sid Goldsmith with Samantha Whates on 28th April); Non-Blank soundtrack Dr Caligari (1st April)

14 Mar

A quick reminder of the two upcoming London concerts launching this year’s Folk at The Foundling season…

“Folk at the Foundling brings traditional music from the British Isles and beyond to the unique surroundings of the Foundling Museum, showcasing folk legends and breakthrough artists. Set in the our intimate Picture Gallery, the evenings offer the chance to explore the Museum and learn about our rich musical past. Guests can wander through the beautiful rooms whilst enjoying a drink, before hearing music from some of today’s best folk artists, brought to you by The Nest Collective.”

Three Cane Whale
The Nest Collective presents:
Folk At The Foundling: Three Cane Whale
The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, St Pancras, London, WC1N 1AZ, England
Friday 24th March 2017, 6.30pm
– information here and here

“Multi-instrumental acoustic trio Three Cane Whale comprises Alex Vann (mandolinist for Spiro), Pete Judge (trumpeter for Get The Blessing and Eyebrow) and Paul Bradley (acoustic guitarist for Scottish Dance Theatre). They combine the influences of folk, minimalism, classical and film music to produce intricate works with a cinematic sweep and intimate delicacy, something “fascinating, remarkable, and impressively original” (‘The Guardian’), in which “the aroma of muddy leaves and old nettles is almost tangible” (‘The Observer’).

“The band’s eponymous debut album was recorded live in an 18th century Bristol church, and chosen by Cerys Matthews as one of her top five modern folk albums in the ‘Sunday Telegraph’. Second album ‘Holts And Hovers’ was recorded in twenty different locations, including churches, chapels, a greenwood barn, an allotment shed, the top of a Welsh waterfall, and the underside of a Bristol flyover: it was awarded ‘fRoots’ Editor’s Choice Album of 2013. Tonight they’ll be performing an intimate unamplified double set.”



 

 
Sid & Jimmy + Samantha Whates, 28th April 2017
The Nest Collective presents:
Folk At The Foundling: Jimmy Aldrige & Sid Goldsmith + Samantha Whates
The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, St Pancras, London, WC1N 1AZ, England
Friday 28th April 2017, 6.30pm
– information here and here

“Acclaimed folk duo Jimmy & Sid (Jimmy Aldrige and Sid Goldsmith) are fast building a reputation for their arresting and moving performances of traditional and original folk song from the British Isles. Their sensitive musical arrangements and stunning vocals bring an integrity to their performances, telling stories of hardship, joy, struggle and celebration. Their second album ‘Night Hours’ has been well-received by critics, with its driving banjo and guitar arrangements alongside close vocal harmonies.

Samantha Whates‘ beguiling voice draws on the contemporary music scene, whilst retaining a strong affinity with the traditional music of her Scottish roots. She has performed throughout the UK and at major London venues including the Union Chapel, the Vortex and Cecil Sharp House: her 2013 debut album of original works, ‘Dark Nights Make For Brighter Days’, has enjoyed critical acclaim and radio play on BBC 6 Music.”



 
* * * * * * * *

On a different tack, the beginning of April also sees sinister textures massing on a corner of the south coast…

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari @ Kino-Theatr, 1st April 2017Kino-Teatr presents:
‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ – With an Original Live Soundtrack
Kino-Teatr, 43-49 Norman Road, St. Leonards, Hastings, East Sussex, TN38 0EQ, England
Saturday 1 April 2017, 7.15pm
– information here, here and here

“This classic 1920 German silent horror film, directed by Robert Wiene, is considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema. It tells the story of an insane hypnotist (Werner Krauss) who uses a somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) to commit murders. The film features a dark and twisted visual style, with sharp-pointed forms, oblique and curving lines, structures and landscapes that lean and twist in unusual angles, and shadows and streaks of light painted directly onto the sets.

“The live music for this performance is provided by Non-Blank (Oliver Cherer, Jack Hayter, Riz Maslen and Darren Morris) who perform semi-improvised suites of music based on recordings, schemes and strategies made and devised in and around various locations, collections and libraries of sounds. Having sprung from London’s improvised music scene, Darren is a seasoned performer, composer and producer (recent projects include the soundtrack to the Sundance premiered film ‘We Are What We Are’, pre-production of the internationally performed ‘Massive Attack v Adam Curtis’ and touring work with former Beta Band-er Steve Mason). Riz is well known for her long list of recordings and projects under the Neotropic moniker; while Oliver has been trading for the last decade under his musical alias Dollboy. Jack (formerly guitarist with pop band Hefner) has carved out a niche as a pedal steel player, along with his unique story-telling combining electronic loops, samples and traditional instruments.

“Non-Blank use old tape machines, organic/analogue/digital instruments and voices to improvise around and react to each venue they play in, responding to each environment they inhabit. Recent shows (at various venues including the Union Chapel, H20 Finland, the De La Warr Pavilion and Coastal Currents) have included spontaneous compositions involving church organs, a male voice choir, audience members and school children armed with hand bells and bloogle resonators. The group bring their unique and often off-kilter talents in these journeys of discovery: no two shows are alike and it is their aim to bring these performances to as many new audiences as possible, particularly in public spaces.”

(Below is a forty-five video of Non-Blank in action in 2014 at the De La Warr…)

 

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.

* * * * * * * *

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).


 

* * * * * * * *

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).



 

REVIEW – Leah Banks: ‘Sincerely’ EP, 2012 (“devotion makes us vulnerable”)

17 Aug

Leah Banks: 'Sincerely'

Leah Banks: ‘Sincerely’

Someone you love. Just the thought of them gives you a little catch, right there, under the chest; like a hard kiss or a light blow, reminding you that even when it’s going right, love is never entirely safe.

Devotion makes us vulnerable. You’re never more than a moment from the topple or the stumble, from the interrupted step to the full-force sprawl. That’s what Leah Banks’ songs are like. They don’t need much amplification beyond their feather-soft country-folk shapes and the superb, subtle brush-drum work that stokes them (more like the breath and sinews of a jazz master than the shed-whack of honky-tonk). They’ve got their own transporting power, their own risk, wrapped up in the hush.

Riverside, the first song on Leah’s ’Sincerely’ EP, has the panting pitch of the Song of Solomon. A coil of eroticism rises up like a sacrament via a thudflutter rush of muted acoustic guitar, heartbeat bass and swimming cello. The words are breathless and obsessive – “I can’t wait to see you, to look upon your face / I’ll dive into your adoring eyes and hang on every word you say. / And I can’t wait to feel you, to be held in your arms – / one hand resting on the small of my back, and the other round my neck.”

Leah’s delivery is a tense urgent moan, stretching and bending phrases, pushing against the metre as if it were clothes that suddenly felt too hot and too tight. There’s a touch of Sinead O’Connor in her fervour as she rides the buried complexities of female desire, poised between a caress and a snap, between devotion and greedy hunger. “Lover, please hurry, / I’m not sure how long I’ll last, / waiting here by the riverside, / my breath is wasted on the wind and waves, / when it should be dwelling in a kiss… / I’ll press into your chest as the wind blows my dress / and steal warmth from your presence.” Towards the end, there’s a little lacuna of drop-away. The song vanishes for a second, then gusts back into place. “The water is rushing, and without you here / I think I might fall in,” Leah warns. There’s been a change in the climate. Ignore it at your own risk.

That hint of the Song of Solomon lingers in the mind: while Leah’s own spiritual beliefs are never stated, all three of the songs on ‘Sincerely’ could have a religious cast. The grit and carnality in them don’t have to be a barrier. If we’re following this line of thought, consider the steamy metaphor in the ecstacy of Saint Theresa, or, closer to now, Al Green singing “Belle – oh, it’s you I want, but it’s Him I need.” The blend of the holy and the earthbound-but-urgent is no new thing – it’s what lets gospel tug at the hearts of secular people, and what lends that numinous shiver to country, to blues and indeed to anything which reaches out of the mess in the hope of finding something higher. Leah herself is telling without telling, although ambiguous clues flicker through the songs.

In contrast to the feverish pulse of longing in Riverside, The Only One is a confessional. “I wish I could stop my eyes from wandering / and keep my mind from its hungering,” Leah sings, in a regretful insomniac sigh. “Listen, the struggle makes me weak – / now I can hardly stand on my feet.” A tattoo of snare and acoustic guitar sets the reflective pace, while a mandolin (and an occasional brush of banjo) draws slow, colourful paper hoops around the chorus. At the kernel, the song might be about keeping faith, and the sometime bitterness of submitting to it: “How long will I drink from this cup? / Maybe I should just give up, / give up trying to fight it out, / give up trying to live without doubt.”

At one point Leah craves to return to a time “before our hearts were involved”, suggesting a lovers wrangle; yet throughout the song’s soft bourbon haze she leaves the surface meaning blurred. It could be about straying from religious devotion; it could just be a lonely kitchen-table song as Leah tries to scrape herself up off the floor one wretched and heart-sore night. There’s reproach in here, and somewhere there’s a reckoning to be had; but it’s never quite clear who’s to blame, or even if she’s blaming anyone. “And how does it feel to be the only one standing? / and how does it feel to be the only one left?” she sings, with a touch of asperity, before settling on a conclusion which weaves not through what’s happened, but through what’s going to happen next. “Lets go back to the beginning, / bring it back to the start. / I won’t do it again now – / this time I’ll do it right.”

Blame is easier to pin down in the final song on ‘Sincerely’: its title track. Carried along on a light and rolling road-pulse of guitar (which, along with the restless jazzy jabs of vocal, echoes Joni Mitchell’s reflective road-burned floats on ‘Hejira’), Leah holds her own hands up in admission. “I know I said I would, but what if I can’t?” she asks. “Sometimes I say things without even thinking, / sometimes I jump the gun.” In flight from somewhere, in flight to something, honesty is being pressed out of her with every roll of the wheels; although she doesn’t claim to have cured her failings. In her apology, there’s a blunt statement of self-knowledge. “There’s a sinking in my heart, / I know that I have failed you. / I just didn’t see it coming / and you never warned me, / so, / well, I could say I’m sorry, and I would be sincere. / I could try harder next time, but I would still be here.”

Even with guilt admitted and delivered, and even hoping to be saved and forgiven by love, there’s still grit in Leah; enough for her to throw her own challenge out into the confession. Once again, the lines blur in the song – lover, saviour, self. “I know that you love me – so where are you now? she “Make yourself known – / no, make yourself heard.” Perhaps she’s hoping, like Jacob, to encounter her angel on the road and to wrestle some meaning out of him. I suspect that she won’t settle for less. A woman of heart and mind, by any measure.

Leah Banks: ‘Sincerely’
Inus Records (no catalogue or barcode)
Download-only EP
Released: 16th October 2012

Get it from:
Noisetrade

Leah Banks (Leah Freeman) online:
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Glowing House: ‘Taming Lions’ single (“beating time on a tumbledown shack”)

12 May

Out at the helm of Glowing House, Steve Varney is raw, ruffled, hollering and sounds born to run. This is just as well. Trouble is hot on his tail. “I don’t think there is a gauge that will save me – / somehow they overpower gunpowder, like it’s easy…”

The head-up single for the second Glowing House album, Taming Lions is all about the incipient, savage disaster that’s just about to crash down on Steve’s head. The band’s fall-apart folky acoustic noise catches the feeling perfectly. They sound like the kind of band which survives credit crunches, small nuclear wars and the collapse of most of the functional parts of civilization. You can see yawing flashes of light straight through the gaps in the barefoot, wind-tossed rhythms.

Besides the cluck and clunk of Steve’s banjo, the song’s a superb stomping wobble of school piano, Salvation Army brass, foggy rasps of accordion and dirty cello, and someone beating time on a tumbledown shack with a handful of big sticks. (I checked back on this – it’s actually a third of the band playing on church pews. Talk about muscular Christianity…) At the top of his carrying, celebratory bruise of a voice, Steve’s making it quite clear that he’s stuck in a rigged and increasingly dangerous game. “They gave me a ten-minute head start, and they started counting. / I need a top-notch hiding spot I can hide out in. / Don’t be fooled they’ll give you space in the chase for a reason – / they wait for the perfect minute to stop the healing.”

Off he hurtles; firing a cartoon blunderbuss for cover, and to no great effect. They keep coming. As the song bounces on, there are more than a few suggestions that what Steve’s actually fleeing are his own demons, bouncing after him like a tin can tied to his ankle. Not much hope in escaping that way. But the sheer vigor of the band – of the song itself – suggests that they’re people who thrive on this kind of peril and the energy it kicks up. This is enormous fun. Keeping one step ahead of disaster rarely sounded so lively.

Glowing House: ‘Taming Lions’
Bandcamp
download-only single
released: 8th May 2012

Get it from:
Free download from Bandcamp

Glowing House online:

Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp

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