Tag Archives: music tied in knots

April 2016 – upcoming gigs – London rock entanglements this week: mystery superstar(s) sneak into Deptford, supported by Nøught, First and The Kill Raimi’s; Knifeworld go acoustic in Shoreditch; The Display Team, Thumpermonkey and A Formal Horse twist some metres in Bethnal Green.

18 Apr

The folk running the Birds’ Nest in deepest Deptford are wildly, inordinately excited about whom they’ve got to fill their postage-stamp-sized stage at the start of this week, but they won’t tell us who it is

Nøught + First + The Kill Raimi’s  + mystery guests, 19th April 2016Birds Nest TV presents:
(extra special guest band) + Nøught + First + The Kill Raimis
The Birds Nest, 32 Church Street, Deptford, London, SE8 4RZ, England
Tuesday 19th April 2016, 8.00pm
– free entry – more information

“A marvellous occasion is about to happen at the Birds Nest pub, Deptford. We cannot express the sheer excitement at being able to host a night of great local bands and international legends: music conceptualists that have inspired countless bands and still continue to inspire generations of new talent. This is the event we have been waiting for. Get down early to this one as once the venue is full we won’t be letting any more people in.”

We do know that Nøught are playing. After years of being mostly out of the picture while leader James Sedwards ran around playing with everyone bar his main band – including work with shapeshifting prog confounders Guapo, improv blaster Alex Ward, Country Teasers spin-off The Devil, and Thurston Moore (…hmmm?…) – Nøught plunged back into action earlier this year with a Café Oto headliner and a Lydia Lunch support slot, continuing to demonstrate their one-band-fits-all approach of wedding classically precise John McLaughlin/King Crimson-esque jazzprog riffage to blocks of Sonic Youth/Big Black/post-hardcore noise, and how it bridges a stylistic credibility gap which others founder at or don’t even dare to take on.

Filling out the bill are two Deptfordian power trios. First are a third-decade third crack at warm, crunchy Bolanesque grunge-pop by former Stony Sleep/Serafin singer-songwriter Ben Fox Smith (a.k.a. “Young Sawbones”), while The Kill Raimi’s last showed up in here as part of a Thumpermonkey support in December. First’s drummer Jim Devese also happens to play guitar for The Display Team, which ties nicely into events later in the week… read on…



 

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Knifeworld (acoustic set)
Flashback Records, 131 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London, E2 7DG, England
Friday 22nd April 2016, 7.00pm
more information

Knifeworld: 'Bottled Out Of Eden'

Knifeworld: ‘Bottled Out Of Eden’

I hardly need to introduce Knifeworld these days. They’ve never been strangers to this blog (ever since their first releases, and further back if you’re counting coverage of head Knifer Kavus Torabi’s 1990s work as half of the mainspring of The Monsoon Bassoon), but an ever-building profile is beginning to make them, if not a household name, at least not the kind of name which you end up repeating to a succession of nonplussed faces. The world seems to be waking up to the cartwheels and streamers of their music, their meticulous complexity and at least some of the elusive substance lurking behind Kavus’ daffy freak-flag charm.

To celebrate this week’s release of ‘Bottled Out Of Eden’ – their third album proper, and the first to be group-composed – Knifeworld are playing a special acoustic gig at the Shoreditch branch of Flashback Records: perhaps a nod, in part, to Flashback’s role in nurturing that effusive London psychedelic rock tradition in which Knifeworld swim (and which they themselves have a strong role in promoting and sustaining). For plenty of bands, an acoustic session is an excuse to steal a little bit of Proms respectability – some string quartet garnishing, a dig at some previously scorned rootsiness. For Knifeworld, it’s simply a matter of bringing forward what’s integral to the group already. Effectively an electrified chamber octet transfixed by a flaming psychedelic spear, they’re already half-acoustic with their three-line, reeds’n-air whip of saxophones, clarinet and bassoon, with Ben Woolacott’s spacious airy drumming and with their chatty, ever-expanding cloud of harmony vocals. It’ll be interesting to see how full acoustica works on recent tracks like High Aflame, but I can already imagine how it might add a new glint to older songs like The Prime Of Our Decline…

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For the fleet-footed, there might be a chance to catch both the Knifeworld show and part of this next one, which is just in the next neighbourhood over on the same night. Knifeworld finish at 8pm, so the chances are high (as are the chances that you’ll be racing the band – fans themselves – along Bethnal Green Road and Squirries Street to get to the second gig).

The Display Team + Thumpermonkey + A Formal Horse, 22nd April 2016

Chaos Theory presents:
The Display Team + Thumpermonkey + A Formal Horse
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England, Friday 22nd April 2016, 7.30pm
more information

Over to the Chaos Theory publicity factory:

“A frenzied night of prog, punk, ska and rock madness, with bands hiding immense technical prowess under gloriously unhinged music,

Local heroes The Display Team are a band we’ve loved for years but found really hard to place on a lineup! Sounding like a cross between The Specials and Mr Bungle, this prog-punk orchestra create a heavy assault of surprisingly upbeat, melodic nonsense. They’ve impressed DIY audiences all over the UK and beyond with their riotous live shows and their last album ‘Drones’, so after seven years it’s high time for their latest sounds to be captured on another album – ‘Shifts’, which they’re launching this evening.


 

Thumpermonkey are a hugely-acclaimed band who’ve spent years arguing between themselves about whether to play prog, punk or art-rock, and never seem to have quite settled. This creative process somehow produces music that is heavy, delicate, classically and dramatically influenced, sardonic and divisive.


 

Nominated for a Progressive Music Award, A Formal Horse are a progressive quartet hailing from Southampton with a thoroughly uplifting rock sound, playing dense instrumental passages inspired by the sonic worlds created by Mahavishnu Orchestra and Queens Of The Stone Age, whilst still taking cues and colours from twentieth-century art music.”


 

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Next time, some latecoming news on various folk-related tours in England which kick off this week…
 

April 2016 – upcoming gigs – two for April 16th: the third Festival Ambient de Paris with Ujjaya, Asmorod and others; and roaring about in London with Godzilla Black plus cohorts.

15 Apr

Tomorrow – two cities, two gigs. In Paris, people will be filing into the mediaeval cellars, all serious and attentive, fascinated by texture and the warp and weft of sound. In London, it looks as if they’ll be torn between wanting to be handsome psychotic brutes in sharp suits or shabby, demented hermits in bird masks.

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3ieme Festival Ambient de Paris, 2016 3ieme Festival Ambient de Paris
Crypt du Martyrium de Saint-Denis, 11 rue Yvonne Le Tac, 75018 Paris, France
Saturday 16th April 2016, 4.00pm
– more information here and here

From the organisers…

”Crypt du Martyrium is the most mystic and secret of Paris crypts (the head of the first bishop Denis was found here in 300 AD, and it was also the birthplace of the Jesuit Society). For one night only, artists from Paris and its suburbs will enchant this unique historical place with the kind of music you will hardly hear anywhere else in France.

The festival welcomes :

Ujjaya – an French ethno-ambient veteran, deeply influenced by Robert Rich, Steve Roach, Jon Hassell and Jorge Reyes. With his new found interest in suspended gamelan (which he’ll be enchanting the crypt with tonight), Loren Nerell has become another point of reference for his ongoing work. (For more information, try one or both of his two free-to-download albums: ‘De Retour’ and ‘The Master of Crossroads’.)


 
Onde Poussière – an experimental duo specializing in hypnotic minimalism and controlled chaos, and featuring Doedelzak (synth) and Kecap Tuyul (table-top prepared guitar). Think an ambient version of Jim O’Rourke , Taku Sugimoto or even Autechre.


 
Patrick Wiklacz – also known as Prats – is influenced by Terry Riley, Klaus Schulze and Bernard Parmeggiani. He will unleash his own electronic universe on synth and MIDI controller – a mix of repetitive minimalism, ambient and electro-acoustic music.


 
Archetype – an heir to Oöphoi, Alio Die and Mathias Grassow (and performing on guitar, synth, voice and table harp)Archetype makes deep listening music and also plays some ethno-ambient music not unlike Dead Can Dance.


 
Asmorod – the founder of the Snowblood label, synth/keyboard player Asmorod is both very discreet and very influential in the dark ambient scene (he’s an acknowleged influence on Kammarheit’s ‘Hysope’ album).


 

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Godzilla Black + Bobbie Peru + Punching Swans + Mashiro
The Hope & Anchor, 207 Upper Street, Islington, London, N1 1RL, England
Saturday 16th April 2016, 7.00pm
more information

Godzilla Black + Bobbie Peru + Punching Swans + Mashiro, 16th April 2016Godzilla Black have been unsettling ears since 2006 with their own personal brand of depraved heaviness. This is the official launch party for their new album, ‘Press The Flesh’, which was released on 1st April through Quisling Records. ‘Press The Flesh’ is the most ‘normal’ Godzilla Black record to date, drawing on influences such as Cardiacs, Liars and The Jesus Lizard, underscored by feeling of sensuality in all the wrong places. ACCEPT NO IMITATIONS.”

I may have to revise that “James-Barry-in-a-sleetstorm” description with which I always saddle Godzilla Black. Listening through to ‘Press The Flesh’ reveals the band in all of their romping glory, sometimes sounding like gonzo-industrial hero Foetus hijacking a soul revue, sometimes like late Cardiacs channelling early Roxy. Glam-descends meet blaring beefhorns, with lyrics full of dark jokes and carnivorous, cannibalistic disassociation. They’re flowering into something sharky and vivid. Clips below for album opener ‘The Other Other White Meat’ and the first ‘Press The Flesh’ single, ‘First Class Flesh’ (note that there’s a theme developing here…)


In support are Bobbie Peru, whose music is heavily influenced by punk, post-punk, rockabilly and 60’s garage; and who offer “an abrasively grooving electric live show with a vibe somewhere between Sonic Youth, Nomeansno and Groop Dogdrill.” Currently recording their third full-length album in Manchester (and constantly playing live around the north-west of England), the band are something of a fixture in the world of indie and post-punk tours, having racked up road support slots with Black Francis, Buzzcocks, Spear Of Destiny, Killing Joke and The Fall since their own emergence in the mid-2000s.

Medway convulsers Punching Swans are self-described as “thrilling dischordance for fans of Future Of The Left and Fugazi”, although I can hear hints of The Residents lurking in their threshing pop-savvy upending of rituals, and when they’re not hammering alarmingly at a darker idea they’re out on the whoop chasing the spirit of ‘Song 2’. It’s the cryptic strangeness that makes them special, though – they’ve recently brought out a concept album about “a man cast out from society and taking on the habits and compulsions of a depraved bird, gone to seed,”, and are making the woodsbound videos to match. There’s a peek into this particular world below.

Oxford abstract mathcore metallists Masiro bring “heaviness, other-wordly atmosphere and headfuck grooves. Touching on Pelican, Isis and Battles. Don’t expect a singalong.” All right, then. Evidence of their jabbing attention-deficit methods is here:

 
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More shortly…
 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – Charles Hayward at The Harrison with Chadrak Masenga, Will Campos and LawrenceJCP

21 Mar

A quick reminder of a midweek London gig featuring an art-music legend in his mid-sixties (who’s currently in the midst of one of the biggest burst of creativity in his career) and a collection of unknowns nudging at the start of their twenties, if that…

Westking Music present:
Charles Hayward + support
The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England
Wednesday 23rd March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

Some background info follows (the usual mash-up of press release bolstered by web dredgings):

Charles Hayward, 2016“Westking Music welcome back the wonderful Charles Hayward to the intimate setting of the Harrison. Ever-evolving and hugely innovative, Charles never fails to delight at his shows. This will be a lovely opportunity to see him perform in the close confines of a little basement in Kings Cross.

Hailed by ‘The Wire’ for his “unwavering belief in the power of the groove and an uncanny facility for generating one riff after another” and by ‘The Sound Projector’ for his “telepathic magic”, Charles has been active since the early 1970s. First coming to notice as a member of Phil Manzanera’s pre-Roxy jazz-prog outfit Quiet Sun, he went on to spend the second half of the ‘70s as the drummer with pioneering experimental rockers This Heat and most of the 1980s in avant-prog quartet Camberwell Now (both of which, in their work with dissonant complicated riffs, tape techniques and deconstructions laid significant groundwork for a host of experimental musicians including Sonic Youth, Swans and Animal Collective. Charles and his onetime This Heat collaborator Charles Bullen finally returned to full collaboration this year via their This Is Not This Heat ensemble, in which they’ve been joined by Thurston Moore, Chris Cutler, Daniel O’Sullivan of Guapo/Ulver/Grumbling Fur etc., James Sedwards of Nøught, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor and a shifting cast of plug-in musicians. Having launched with a couple of concerts at Café Oto in February, they’re performing again in June at the Barbican with a ensemble of up to eighteen players.

“Other band work involving Charles (who sings and plays clarinet, keyboards and tapes as well as drums, sometimes in tandem) includes stints with Massacre alongside Bill Laswell and Fred Frith, with Blurt and – very briefly – with Crass, as well as key post-punk recording sessions with Lora Logic, The Raincoats and Everything but the Girl. As a free agent, he has been the progenitor of an ever-growing list of solo albums and concerts CDs plus a multitude of special collaborations. Throughout the ‘90s up until the present day he has initiated a bewildering array of events and performances, including the widely acclaimed series ‘Accidents + Emergencies’ at the Albany Theatre; Out of Body Orchestra; appearances at Yumi Hara’s Bonobo’s Ark evenings; music derived from the sound of the new Laban dance centre under construction which was then choreographed for the building’s official opening; music for a circus (part of the National Theatre’s ‘Art of Regeneration’ initiative); and the full-on installation/performance Anti-Clockwise (conceived with Ashleigh Marsh and David Aylward for multiple strobes, a maze structure of diverse textures, two drummers, synthesizers and the listener’s own nervous system).”

Support will be in the form of three up and coming young musicians: Chadrak Masenga (an accomplished “acrobat drummer”), rapper/songwriter Will Campos, and rapper/singer LawrenceJCP (who specializes in gospel and Afrobeat). All three musicians have church music backgrounds, and all three are finalists on the Westminster Kingsway College music course: their performance slots (in which they’re backed by their own bands) are counting as solo performance assessments towards their course marks.

Looking back at those details again, this does seem like one of the oddest gigs I’ve previewed on this blog. There’s nothing unusual in a concert bill full of complicated art-music upsets, or in graduation shows, and there’s nothing unusual in a bill of smoother music topped by a well-polished guest of honour. Mashing the three situations together, however, is not so predictable. I wonder what they’ll all be learning from each other?

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More gig news to follow as we move towards the end of March…
 

Early September London gigs, part 3 – experimental pop in Brixton on the 9th, folk and darkwave in Bethnal Green on the 11th, a Daylight Music melange and a Tim Smith garage-fizz fundraiser on the 19th

9 Sep

More upcoming September gigs, from tomorrow through to Saturday 19th

a.P.A.t.T. + Tom O.C. Wilson Ensemble + 4tRECk + Some of My Best Friends (The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, UK, Thursday 9th September 2015, 8.00pm) – £6.00/£7.00

a.P.A.t.T. , 2015

a.P.A.t.T. , 2015

A Brixton evening of skewed and experimental pop, shading off into other directions including R’n’B, improvised instrumentals and assorted prankery. (Age restriction – 18 years minimum)

The a.P.A.t.T. of today take a skilled yet cheeky approach to playing progressive pop that owes as much to Kurt Schwitters and the Chapman Brothers as it does to ABBA and Zappa. In touring new album ‘Fun With Music’, a.P.A.t.T. have condensed their vision-quest into forty-five minutes of hooky, style-busting live band material, evading capture at every turn. This is the band that swaps instruments live mid-track and has even run its own small country for an evening: it’s a restless and relentless take on 21st century music and performance through a lens of knowing, winking, quintessentially British humour.

The Tom O.C Wilson Ensemble offers forward thinking pop music that combines classic songwriting values with boundless musical curiosity. Wilson describes himself as “a composer and performer driven by the desire to create music that doesn’t exist but should”, and his work (ranging from experimental pop albums to concert pieces for amateur orchestras) has won praise from Field Music, Michael Finnissy and Devendra Banhart among others.

The USSB of Hamburg-based Some Of My Best Friends is a Unit of Science, Socialism and Booty. Some Of My Best Friends use tunes and words. Some Of My Best Friends don’t approve of unnecessary effort. Some Of My Best Friends never travel with more than one case. Think psycho dub, garage soul, trap, and Karl Marx’s booty in sequin overalls.

In existence for years and years, Sam Callow’s 4tRECk project makes music based around spontaneous improvisation, chance, using various instruments (piano, guitar, violin, accordion, home-made stringed instruments, percussion, voice) the “wrong” way, ideas, and detailed composition. The results are broad, with a melancholic side.

More info here, and tickets here.

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Friday 11th sees the launch of a “new regular night, bringing you new sounds and non-traditional world music, folk, contemporary classical, trip hop and downtempo music. We start with some truly breathtaking bands…” This kind of blarney could be an attempt to heat up some very thin and bland material indeed, but the people behind Whispers & Hurricanes are Chaos Theory, who already sweat bullets to bring interesting jazz, post-prog, metal and post-hardcore into and out of London, so I think we can trust them. Here’s the bill:

Whispers & Hurricanes, 11th September 2015Mishaped Pearls + Seventh Harmonic + TEYR (Whispers & Hurricanes @ The Sebright Arms,, Friday 11th September 2015, 7.30pm) – £6.00/£8.00

Seven-piece band Mishaped Pearls are at the forefront of a very exciting new wave of UK folk. Their adventurous song combination of the ancient and the new finds an echo in their musical make up – banjo, saz baglama, bodhran, violin and mandolin mix with acoustic guitar, keyboards, electric bass and drums, all led by the mezzo-soprano voice of Manuela Schuette. Their music’s roots in tradition expand into progressive folk and rock, eastern modal music and shows elements of contemporary classical influence. Their most recent album ‘Thamesis’ has received outstanding reviews across the media.

Consisting of multi-instrumentalist and composer Caroline Jago and drummer Lesley Malone (both also of Sol Invictus) plus singing violinist Éilish McCracken, Seventh Harmonic are a neoclassical darkwave ensemble creating sensual euphoric epics that draw on a great diversity of influences. The music blends an intoxicating kaleidoscope of rhythmic intensity and soaring vocals with ethno-symphonic overtures, defying categorisation yet always beating with a dark romantic heart.

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

Tickets from here – note that this is another 18-and-over event.

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Admittedly the following is late rather than early September, but if you look forward to Saturday 19th you can anticipate spending from noon until early afternoon admiring architecture to a soundtrack of chamber classical, contemporary folk and experimental pop, and then head into the fringes of south-west London for something a little scruffier and garage-friendly.

In conjunction with the Open House London Weekend (which takes in their home venue of the Union Chapel as well as a wealth of other fantastic London architecture – check it out), Daylight Music are doing a special double-length all-ages Saturday session. Details below…

Daylight Music 199

Daylight Music 199: Sean O’Hagan, Ellie Lovegrove/Illumina, Pip Mountjoy + Elephant (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, UK – Saturday 19th September 2015, 10.00am-2.00pm) – free entry, suggested donation £3.50

Sean O’Hagan is a legend of the indie scene, initially from his work in Microdisney and latterly from his time in The High Llamas who have been following their own lights for the past eighteen years, making records and essentially occupying their own genre in doing so. Their music is timeless; elements of retro and modern share the space, creating a unique time and place that is outside the lines of history as we experience it. Today Sean will be providing a solo performance.

Consisting of Ellie Lovegrove (trumpets) and Richard Moore (church organ), classical chamber music duo Illumina were formed in 2012 for a bespoke private recital and enjoy performing a wide variety of music, including works by Handel, Bach, Purcell, Stanley, Elgar, Damase, Takemitzu, and Eben.

Up-and-coming singer-songwriter Pip Mountjoy has been championed by BBC Introducing. She has toured the UK extensively, supporting the likes of Ryan Adams, John Smith, Slow Club, playing festivals such as Glastonbury, Isle of Wight and Cambridge Folk, and leaving audiences “simultaneously entertained, depressed, amused, bemused and delighted.”

Elephant is an intriguing creature hand reared by Lymington-based Alex Hall. Armed with a laptop and a modest collection of instruments, he set forth in piecing together and recording a collection of material inspired by his love of experimental indie, ’60s surf pop and more contemporary lo-fi electronic music. This is the result.

Approximate timings:

  • 10.00am Doors
  • 10.30am Elephant
  • 11.30am Illumina
  • 12.30pm Pip Mountgrove
  • 1.30pm Sean O’Hagan

In between, there are musical interludes by unsigned indie-folk duo Swallow & The Wolf (about whom there’s an ever-growing buzz) and by Jack Hayter (the multi-instrumentalist perhaps best known for work with Darren Hayman and Hefner, and on this occasion providing pedal steel improvisations similar to his Dollboy work plus “the odd jazz standard” though his solo performances of his own engagingly battered folk songs are also well worth seeing).

More information on the concert is here https://www.facebook.com/events/446360282212545/

In the evening, in Kingston-upon-Thames, there’s a benefit gig: another in the ongoing series of support fundraisers for the cruelly-stricken Tim Smith of Cardiacs. Even if Cardiacs in the raw, uncompromising original isn’t quite your thing, if you’ve got any interest in slightly complicated, roughened pop and garage-band grit, go along anyway. These are among the warmest of gigs…

From The Pond, 19th September 2015

From The Pond: a benefit for Tim Smith featuring Redbus Noface + 7shades + Sterbus + t.b.c. (The Fighting Cocks, 56 Old London Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, London, KT2 6QA, UK, Saturday 19th September 2015, 7.00pm) – £10.00

“A multi-faceted psychedelic pop-punk benefit gig… four extraordinary bands (all Cardiacs-y), beautiful and exclusive merchandise… every penny raised goes to Tim.”

Redbus Noface is the band project from latterday recording engineer and long-ago Cardiac Mark Cawthra. The first Redbus Noface album, ‘#1 If It Fights The Hammer, It Will Fight The Knife’, was released in 2011 and represents many years of Cawthra songwriting and musical ideas – a sturdy, beautifully crafted art-pop gem in the tradition of assorted English mavericks such as XTC.

Led by Neil Spragg, 7shades are a musical project which “pays tribute to the music of Tim Smith and Cardiacs – but with all original music” – a sometimes-nine-piece band delivering vigorously convoluted pop and blurts of punky, proggy, psychedelic noise, all equipped with a fantastical and humorous edge and no fear of either looking or sounding ridiculous.

Sterbus is from Rome, but his musical heart is in the shaggier, dreamier end of 1990s Britpop and American indie rock (Blur and Cardiacs, Elliott Smith and Nirvana, Supergrass and Pavement) and also delves happily into prime prog (with King Crimson, Zappa, Porcupine Tree and the fuzzier rockier chunks of the Canterbury scene). Self-releasing – and working mainly solo – he’s mixed this menu into a series of albums of warm double-jointed oddpop. Returning to the Fighting Cocks for his second Smith benefit gig, he’s performing in duet with his regular band foil Dominique D’Avanzo (him on guitar, her on clarinet, recorder and mouth harp, and both of them singing) for what he describes as “something very Sea Nymph-y and full of chords that Tim would love.”

Sadly, one of the scheduled bands has had to pull out… but if you’re still interested in the garage-rocker sounds of The Spencers (who “make noises. Loud noises. Noises that make you all happy and sad and angry… and sometimes, all at the same time” via a grime of guitars, low-budget organs and rock-siren vocals, plus distinctly Cardiacs twists of wandering harmonies and attention-deficit mood‘n’pace changes) here’s a taste of them anyway.

The event will be compered by writer and comedian Robin Ince (he of ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage‘) who’s apparently “bringing a friend. And may be doing a little music.” There will also be visuals by South Coast animator Cyriak Harris, whose hilarious, playful and slightly disturbing videos have been a YouTube staple ever since he delivered a monster-movie ‘EastEnders’ tribute to the BBC nearly a decade ago…

Ongoing news regarding From The Pond (including any last-minute substitutes for The Spencers) is here and tickets are here.

More September gigs shortly, plus a look at October and further on.

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

22 Aug

Coming to a Kings Cross cellar next week…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW – The Monsoon Bassoon: ‘I Dig Your Voodoo’ album, 1999 (“gloriously twisted tunes with gritty, testifying zeal”)

24 Jul

The Monsoon Bassoon: 'I Dig Your Voodoo'

The Monsoon Bassoon: ‘I Dig Your Voodoo’

You could say that The Monsoon Bassoon are like three train-tracks converging on a single set of points. Going full-tilt on the first is a savage, grinning, tuneful thing from that edgy end of indie-rock that spawned Pixies or Shudder To Think – one eye a gimlet, the other a Catherine wheel. Riding the second, there’s a rigorous interlocking mechanism poised like a mantis: its lifeblood a nerve-pumping mix of math-rock mesh and prog rock verve. Careening along the third track is a thrashing shotgun wedding of baroque black metal and head-fuck psychedelia, steam spurting out of every joint. High speed. Impact imminent. This could be messy.

In fact, it ends up as something wonderful. Where there should’ve been mangled smoking fragments strewn across the neighbourhood, an ornate and brand-new beast is racing ahead. Gleaming gears whirling, showering fat sparks – taking on the stodgy, mulchy, rotted-down state of guitar rock and carving an intricate furrow through it, smashing exuberantly through fences en route. Ten tracks of delirious celebratory intricacies, and explosive rock detonations, ‘I Dig Your Voodoo’ rejoices unashamed in the sheer excitement of motion. If you could fix it so that a tropical rainstorm blasted through a double reed, you’d probably end up with this kind of melodious shrapnel.

The very thought of latterday psychedelic rock can prompt a checklist: druggy sonic syrup, honeybee harmonies, static songs, ad-infinitum wobbly jamming… Forget that. Instead, and for starters, imagine a roller-coasting XTC arguing their way down the corkscrew. Imagine Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci if they’d been shorn of their Brian Wilson fixation, off their heads on chaos theory and frantically shagging a stapling machine. In The Monsoon Bassoon two duelling slashing guitars, a fat-geared-but-light-footed rhythm section and three urchin-meets-starchild singers (Sarah Measures, Dan Chudley and Kavus Torabi) fractalise their songs into manic battling melodies. There are pop hooks aplenty, generally on the verge of turning into egg-whisks and grappling irons: there’s an alphabet soup of puzzling riffs, quirks and blissful deranged woodwind. If the band are clearly enthralled by their own avid craftmanship, they’re also firing up their gloriously twisted tunes with gritty, testifying zeal, running the shoe-leather off the soul-punk poseurs.

Even so, managing to bag an NME Single of the Week with each of their three singles so far must have been as vividly strange for the Bassooners as their songs are to everyone else. At a time when artier British tastemakers generally save their praise for musicians across the Atlantic – Flaming Lips and Pavement, Jim O’Rourke, Godspeed, Dave Pajo and his ever-unwinding adventures – left-field rockers over here are rarely given many sniffs of approval. While there are some exceptions, the Bassoon doesn’t fit the gaps in the sorter. They lack the 1960s classic-pop castellations of the aforementioned Gorky’s or Super Furry Animals; nor do they have the latter’s comfortable indie pounding and canny dilution of experimental juices: nor do they ever resort to those sullen, reductive punk-gang posturings with which Mogwai feel they need to justify their own rugged sound-paintings. Operating right off the critical and commercial radar, driven by a stubborn and guileless enthusiasm, the Monsoon Bassoon give off the impression of a band mounting an unexpected coup which is as much of a surprise to them as it is to everyone else.

That said, a shortage of ambition – or of sheer bloody cheek – is the last thing that this band need to worry about. With joyous, inspirational disregard for their own dignity, The Monsoon Bassoon blow the lid off the whole shebang in a well-overdue explosion – and the last that I heard, it was still heading skywards. When The King Of Evil kicks in at Mach 3 (with its interweaving jitterbug melodies and Sarah purring her foxy way along the switch-backing melody) and when it closes in a welter of rough’n’ready choral excitement, giant celebratory chords and the sound of Kavus and Dan’s guitars utterly losing it, screaming in delight… you can hear liberation. This is rock music flowering into shape without the usual restrictions on decreed shape, or on fashion manifesto; and it’s all the better for it, yelling “fuck you, get out of my way!” while in the same breath flashing a brilliant grin and adding “but you can come too.”

There are left-field forebears to spot, for sure. Beyond the Naked City reed-punk and the manic gearshifting, there’s a chainmail of intent and disciplined guitar patterns (equal parts Television and Henry Cow) while their zeal for distressed chords and textures would do Sonic Youth proud. Blue Junction – in which meticulous chamber-minimalism suddenly explodes into New Wave thrash – anchors them to Steve Reich, as does their ‘Magic Roundabout’ way with a circling riff. Sometimes the band resemble a younger, more hyperactive King Crimson (those revolving guitars, Sarah’s daredevil flutes and reeds, the way the music booms back and forth between celestial minimalism and bellowing, screaming blasts of red-hot air) yet they have more of a sense of sheer fun and active dynamism. The lunatic shadow of Cardiacs walks alongside them too – unsurprisingly, as it’s Tim Smith’s jaggedy production that’s trimming off any of the album’s residual cuteness, feathering the guitars with a swarming shiver, and turning the music into a multi-coloured paintbomb blowing up in a garage.

But The Monsoon Bassoon are very much their own people – sporting their irrepressible pop edge; spin-drying their surreal, prismatic lyrics into motion-blurs; bouncing melodies off a riot-ballet of pummelling rhythms. The band’s collective readiness to go from ragged pop coo to thrash to heavy prog to freak-noise – all at the flick of a wrist – ensures that nothing has time to go stale. They could be strafing and racing, relentlessly hammering a metallic riff to death until it haemorrhages rainbows, as they do on The Constrictor and Commando. Or (as on Soda Pop And Ash) they could be fattening a snakey wisp of wistful melody on those knotty guitars and skewering your attention through your third eye. Or – as on the fragmentary, wonder-struck Volcano – they could be sliding off the edge of the world, pupils dilated, as a lone glissando guitar scribbles hazy colour across the sky. Whichever way they go, a brainstorm of invention is guaranteed to hit you in the ears at just the right moment, spinning the music into a fascinating new course.

Wise Guy was the first of their singles to wear a bizarre groove in London indie-radio playlists and has lost none of its ability to set your head dancing. Six minutes of choppy pop (as if they’d collided the best bits of ‘Red’, ‘Fear Of Music’, Living In The Past and Paranoid Android to audaciously tuneful effect), it periodically explodes like axe-heads coming through hotel-room doors, twirls pirouettes, and leaps up to a trumpeting, triumphant, speaker-melting fanfare. Kavus, Dan and Sarah babble about uncut diamonds and flashbulbs and gravity gone bored; about digging (perhaps into trouble, probably into revelation), and about “three silver sixes” (which might be about dice, and might be about something more occult). Both wild and meticulous, the music races away into a game of pouncing, quick swap grooves and joshing body-slams. Through the flashes, the song’s actual meaning is more elusive, more felt than voiced; it flirts around you and threads its way into your instincts, dancing on giddy splinters as it does.

Yet in spite of the tangled, giddy innocence their enthusiasm suggests, there’s more to the Monsoon Bassoon than just adrenalin art or an agreeably scrambled psychedelic circus. As their leaf-storm of lyrics tumbles by, it leaves scratches of faith, fear, things seen from the corners of eyes and in the corners of souls. Flashes of purgatory, intimations of danger – “lovely tornado, / who is such a fucking laugh, / turns up on my turf… Like glass I may crack. / Unlike glass I’ll not be replaced.” The menace lurking in the places where a glittering chord can’t hurl illumination. It’s all of a piece with the band’s fizzing, open spirit of inquiry: it’s the other side of the receiver. Their journey offers fractured glimpses of disturbing places – a kaleidoscopic stream of raw life-jolts, bad comedowns, metaphysical jitters and naked feelings all fusing together.

It takes guts and risk to walk the Bassoon’s kind of wayward line, to let yourself be carried along in the impulses of creating this music’s headlong rush. Towards the end of the gloriously-titled Fuck You Fuck Your Telescope, there’s a panicked, repeating wail of “wake up teetering everyday.” On Blue Junction the music bursts from serenity into pulsing frenzy as soon as Kavus blurts “he was out of the country and down on his luck / when you came out laughing and I came unstuck.” Among the chopping riffs and lofting spirals of Best Of Badluck 97, Kavus is seething and licking wounds. “I broke my neck to kiss her / The year this mother went up to 11. / Saddle-sore and still there’s more… / No sword of iron ever struck such blows. / Such a swarm of death, self-centred I… / Inside I’m six foot deep.” Shortly afterwards, the whole group carols “and I can’t catch up, / and I can’t wake up, / and I won’t grow up, / and I can’t stand up” as if their collective backs are against the wall, and all that they can do is sing the threat away: a harmony of defiance.

The forbidding tones of In The Iceman’s Back Garden (slow, pagan, cathedralline), closes the album like a shower of luminous earth hitting a coffin lid. It’s the sort of epic you’d expect from a band stuck into their fourth album, grown-up, newly spiritual and eager to wrestle with the indifferent savagery of the universe. A world away from the vivacious peekaboo of Wise Guy, it’s no less impressive. If the former was a firework display, Iceman is the glow on the lip of a volcano, showing that The Monsoon Bassoon are just as effective when rooted to the planet and letting something dark and troubling seep through them to the surface. It starts off as dark embers, slowly fanned and building up to destroying flame: an enormous iron clang, then a foreboding clarinet, intoning over the top of a massive, bells-of-doom guitar lattice that’s enough to send most of the Goth bands of the world running home to mother. And this time there’s an almost religious terror in the vocals – a fierce song commemorating the end of something as it has been known, and tinged with fear as to what will happen next.

The voices and lyrics are murky, mysterious, entranced. Faces, dirt, hair, stars, cries and eyes creep out of the word-darkness – little clues. In one of the few clear moments, they’re keening “He won’t dare…” There are a few moments of tumbling vocals, slashing guitars and urgent reeds during which the whole thing seems to whirl: then the guitars flail and the clarinet screams as a fierce, beautiful, terrible light pours down from above. A final, desperately beautiful chant, then they beat our hearts to death with a riff the size of the sky before bursting into a stream of starry feedback that sweeps all before it. If the apocalypse is going to be this beautiful, roll on Doomsday.

Stubborn, ludicrous, gloriously eccentric; ‘I Dig Your Voodoo’ is all these things: but it’s also one of the bravest, most exciting British rock albums of its time… by a long twisty neck. Jumping the tracks with style and a vengeance.

The Monsoon Bassoon: ‘I Dig Your Voodoo’
Weird Neighbourhood Records, WNRS4 (5 024545 078428)
CD-only album
Released: 7th June 1999

Buy it from:
Best obtained second-hand. (Note, April 2013 – Believers Roast plan to reissue this along with the rest of the Monsoon Bassoon catalogue at some point in the next few years.)

The Monsoon Bassoon online:
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CONCERT REVIEW – Chaos Theory presents ‘Jazz Market’ @ The Luxe, Spitalfields, London, 29th May 2013 (featuring A Sweet Niche, Macchina del Tempo, What?! – with guests Yasmyn Hendrix, Moo Clef, Chloe Herington) (“tunes and stutters and babels”)

9 Jun

Walking into the Luxe, I feel even shabbier than usual. I fear those spotless white napkins and wooden counters; I look sidelong at the pricey menu; I sidle off to the side door as soon as possible. Like most of the rest of Spitalfields, this place has gone upmarket and left me behind. Until about a decade ago, it was the Spitz – another restaurant, another bar, another venue. Much loved, and more boho-genteel: I’d come here for electronica, for rock of the post- and mathy variety, and for the occasional off-centre songwriter.

Occasionally I’d come for jazz – something which, as a language, still sits oddly in London’s mouth. It’s not that the city spurns jazz – enough London musicians, venues and festivals give the lie to that. But I feel that sometime it seems a little deracinated here, even in a town where more recent arrivals like reggae and salsa now seem like part of tradition. Supper jazz might be healthy, foyer spaces still welcoming, but outside of grants or outright corporate sponsorship, it’s mostly a tribute to the tenacity and dedication of London’s jazzers that the music keeps its personal, inventive foothold here. The old Spitz was a place which welcomed jazz in plenty of its diverse strands and split-tongued digressions. When you were at a Spitz jazz event, you could feel the music striving, feel its life; and when all of that ended London jazz was diminished.

This picture’s a little too gloomy. There were – and are – other venues, and for those who still want it, the displaced spirit of the Spitz lives on elsewhere as a jazz collective. But it’s heartening that Chaos Theory Promotions (that mobile feast of wide-spanning musical interest, springing from place to place across London) seem to be paying a little homage to old times when they drop their Jazz Market night into the Luxe. Some things stay changed, sadly. I’ve not been here in years, but in Spitz days the music owned the top floor (and a Shoreditch panorama, such as it was). Now it’s down in the basement bar, sharing with the comedy and competing with the toilets: sidelined. Never mind. The Chaos brokers themselves are brimful of enthusiasm, and three jazz trios have come to chat.

What?! sway and chop through something (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

What?! sway and chop through something (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

If jazz is a language, What?! keep it as handfuls of sentences plunged into a deep baggy pocket, mixed up with anything else they’ve found during the week. Everything in the pocket is regularly hauled up for inspection, to be chucked and scattered casually across a table, just to see how it will fall. The boys certainly aren’t purists, although their taste for locating comfortable licks and riffs in whichever genre they’re toying with does keep you guessing as to how much of what they do is serious. In keeping with this, they’re acting as class clowns tonight. In fetching scarlet dressing-gown and shades, his white-man dreads spilling from a Rasta cap, guitarist Niels Bakx is part-Trustafarian and part-trannie. Bass guitarist Ago Collura, his back turned to the audience, is Reverse Man – a white mask strapped to the back of his head beneath his Tyrolean stovepipe hat, a collar and tie sprouting from the nape of his neck. Having apparently lost a bet, sparky drummer Raphael Lanthaler performs stripped to the waist and down to his underpants (though he’s been allowed to keep his hatful of bright rainbow-dyed feathers as well as his delighted grin).

On record, What?! strut and step like a cool-jazz function band about to be warmed-up and overcome by a sly sense of mischief. Both of their recent singles make a showing tonight – the Brubeck reggae of Tikka Masala (now with extra curlicues from Ago’s bass and curves of wah on the rhythm guitar); a spiked-up, rockier version of Schwaffelen, passing a swaying cats-cradle of jazz and ska touches over and over the tune. This kind of music is what they’re most at home with. It’s not, however, what they’re most drawn to doing. What?! like to stray – prancing into diced-up, chequered rock patterns dominated by the thwack of Raphael’s tom; laying out a sun-stroked Caribbean hiccup for a minute; or suddenly picking up and pelting through some driving motorbike music. Still very young (at an age where anything and everything can be hysterically funny), and still drunk on the musical options that surround them as busy session players and broad listeners, What?! can certainly groove: but they won’t settle.

What?! - unexpectedly naked drummer... (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

What?! – unexpectedly naked drummer… (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

It’s unclear how many of the band’s disruptions, false halts and oblique quotes are written rather than improvised, but their sense of fun constantly overpowers their artfulness, and every so often their humour dips towards novelty territory. When they slip into a quick strum through Happy Birthday for a friend, it’s warm but a touch too crowd-pleasing. I doubt that What?! wouldn’t care if anyone told them that. An easy-going and sociable band, they’ve invited buddies up to play and clearly thrive on it.

Like a dayglo Tom Waits in his checkered-tablecloth bowler and green tints, the jazz-prankster Moo Clef sits in for a couple of songs. One he plays straight, blowing a fiesta trumpet over a reggae section, fluent and cool-fired. For the other, he adds various sung, rapped and chanted interjections that he tweaks and filters into cartoon oddities via effects pedals. At one point, a chipmunk-voiced cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit takes over, the band smoothly slipping into light-touch Nirvana riffage. The joke wobbles somewhere between Battles and Zappa: disarming romp, or sarcastic cheese. (Or lounge act. Ha.)

It’s a different story when Yasmyn Hendrix and her flower-child headscarf step up to front the trio for Stay With Me. Usually she’s found in unlikely venues, crafting herself castles out of her own vocal loops. Here she plays it straight and soulful, her light but bluesy vocals lounging and skittering over What?!’s skein of tango-funk and Come Together dub-shimmer. For a while, the band sit back and enjoy playing as accompanists. For a while, they stay rooted. They’re good at it. Those quick-cut style shifts and the metafoolery are just part of their choices, not their only option.

Still, in between clear individual pieces the band improvise loosely, and as much with genre as with anything else. They’ll roll out a strolling lunar echo (Raphael sighing and gusting on the drums with near-silent brushstrokes while Niels caresses out wide chords), or crawl through a fragmented, broken-backed jazz ballad that they’ve deconstructed to the point of disintegration. Once they spit out a talking-blues bossa (with Niels on vivid slide guitar), only to refit it midway and produce a tumbling complex skeleton of arpeggiated notes, traveling from Elmore James to Gilberto to Robert Fripp’s League of Gentlemen in a matter of minutes. Towards the end, they throw in a grunge-rock climb complete with punk screaming. Raphael (tonight’s head joker) continually tosses in triggers: false stops and starts, or stalking who-blinks-first contests with Ago.

Again, how much of this is quick coin whipped out of a trick-bag is unclear. What is clear is What?!’s breadth of reference, be it a midsection of shoegazing-summer guitar-echo, a little reggae chip or a mass-less bridging passage of math-rock brewing like a disappearing wreath of mercury fumes. Sometimes their work is a puzzle; sometimes it’s cut-and-shunt. Sometimes, though, it seems as if they’ve scattered themselves out a bit too far, becoming a set of waggling jazz-hands where they should be a breathing, scatting jazz lung. They could do with a little time to breathe in and rethink, maybe.

On first sighting, Macchina del Tempo are raw-boned, hard-faced men. They look like the kind of band that shows up at remote and friendless small-town gigs, purely to prey on other bands. You could imagine them cornering some other, more hapless group in order to swipe and swig their beer in front of them, shake them down for their gig money and then steal their van, all without cracking those stony expressions.

Stocky guitarist Walter Fazio, glowering above his inverted Slayer goatee, looks particularly fearsome, purposeful and frowning – the kind of man who’d grunt one word and unleash hell. Then you see him play. As he smiles, broad and unguarded, while one of his liquid runs of notes hits the spot, then you understand what Macchina del Tempo are really about. Jazz Market regulars, this fusion trio made common cause a few years ago. Two Brits and an Italian, forged in and scarred by the grim working heat of innumerable cover bands, they made a leap to somewhere they could flower.

Macchina del Tempo heading towards fusion temperature (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Macchina del Tempo heading towards fusion temperature (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

What Macchina del Tempo provide tonight is a strong contrast to What?!’s permanent state of playful. Effortlessly inventive but tightly-drilled, they roll out four long and muscular pieces of driving jazz-rock ,each with a gritty core which suggests that there might be something to that initial hard-man appearance. If you’re imagining the kind of shrill sterile tech-wank that afflicted jazz-fusion when it gulped down the wrong bits of synthpop and heavy metal at the end of the ‘70s, think again – and think further back. There’s certainly plenty of rock in here, but from the organic end, in which sweat and texture add body and warmth as well as disrupting any shop-fresh sheen.

Certainly Macchina are as much Motorhead as they are Mahavishnu or Metheny (and, given the choice, they appear to be more Rush than Yellowjackets). One of their offerings blends a long-throw fusion funk with creamy jazz metal, a tight seethe of musicality with a laddering, gibbon swing to it. Another starts as a swinging Jimmy Page-meets-Sonny Sharrock hydra – tremendously fluent, ribbed with dissonant slashes but full of tight prog-rock pounces of unison guitar and bass, with a strong rumbling taste of Ace Of Spades (and a final united scurry like La Villa Strangiato).

However, Walter’s persistently inventive guitar playing ensures that the band’s music never boils dry. There might be a bit of Hendrix in his floating horn-wail of lead line, continually playing a push, stroke’n’stretch game with its envelope. There’s probably a pinch of Allan Holdsworth ripple, some dirty Mike Stern blues or Foley McCrearey whumph, an occasional trilling coil of fretboard tapping… whatever there is, it’s subsumed into Walter’s own voice. For the forty minutes he’s onstage, he’s playing almost continually and never once puts a foot wrong. For the full set, he wraps you in the ins and outs of his conversation, his pauses for thought, his gently brooding reflections, frowns and unspoken implications. Guitarists this compelling and fertile are rare – and they’re a pleasure to encounter.

Macchina del Tempo - Jamie McKenzie nails a scale (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Macchina del Tempo – Jamie McKenzie nails a scale (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

From the start, it’s also been clear that Macchina have an utter mastery of the flexible groove. While drummer Mick Claridge can certainly swing, it’s only part of his vocabulary as the band drive and chivvy through their smooth shifts of time and tempo. On bass guitar, Jamie McKenzie plays neither the great soloist nor the staid, conservative backliner. Instead he firmly unzips the chords in all their glory, then fingers his way around and across the scales in a continous springy roam. A dextrous fretted fingerstylist, he knows where every note needs to go. His playing creates a webbing of involved, swung-baroque bass-line, over which Walter’s guitar can flicker like a sly chameleon whenever it needs to. Mick subtly supports the arc; swirls under it, drums cruising and lifting like a river-rise.

A prolix music blogger lurks in the shadows... (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A prolix music blogger lurks in the shadows… (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)


They’re certainly making an impact – around me, bodies rapidly lose their reluctance, peeling up from the Luxe’s dark faux-leather sofas to sway and wave to the Macchina percolations. A third piece, though it starts with a crabby rock sidle strangely similar to You Really Got Me, soon turns into electric-chicken jazz funk. Mick slides greasy rhythms from hand to hand even as he pins the piece to the floor, a human nail-gun. For the last in their foursome of amplified groove, the band’s funk turns a little Mahavishnu: full of tensing stops, bullish balance and hot scraps sliding unregarding from that smouldering guitar. Even now, deep into their set, the three Macchina men seem transformed by their playing. Seeing those tough faces softened and gentled into something resembling reverence – it does the heart good.

What?! have the playful end of things covered tonight. Macchina del Tempo have so convincingly laid claim to solidity and substance that they’d be tough to follow with something similar. It falls to A Sweet Niche, then, to stagger splay-armed along the edge; to rake their nails down the rough wall of art and shout the appropriate odds.

A Sweet Niche drive forward (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A Sweet Niche drive forward (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Ben Handysides drums with dainty motions but powerful strikes. He looks like a handsome public-school rugger star who’s thinking about becoming a poet; he can play jazz, folk, progressive rock, kletzmer and sundry permutations of all of those and more. This makes him a shoo-in for A Sweet Niche when they play live. While they’ve already got an established drummer for composing and recording, he lives, rather disobligingly, far off in Cornwall (where he can presumably maintain the freshness required for their studio sessions). Everyone else in the band besides Ben seems to have intense sidelines in film, or theatre, or the spiky world of contemporary classical. Perhaps this explains the open-marriage, flyaway feel of the band; and why Ben currently seems like a blond bridge linking the two remaining poles of A Sweet Niche together.

A Sweet Niche - Oliver Sellwood's baritone lecture (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A Sweet Niche – Oliver Sellwood’s baritone lecture (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

One of these two poles is Oliver Sellwood, on baritone sax. He’s a fluid rippling player (with plenty of bassy skronk in him whenever he needs it) and he’s as well turned out as his playing: neat haircut, neat glasses, unflappable demeanour. He can blow like a demon, but he delivers these storms coolly and professorial, as if chatting from a podium. The other pole is on the other side of Ben and looks as if he’ll rattle himself to bits at any moment. In his agony-scarlet sweat top, Keir Cooper is spindly and driven; bristle-bearded, and playing a guitar as if someone will nail him to it at set’s end. Everything about him screams “art lifer”. He’s the filmmaker. He probably sleeps once or twice every five years, if someone else talks him into it.

A Sweet Niche cast off with a clutch of snaking instrumental wiggles. Oliver’s baritone sax tattoo soon settles into a blaring drone, around which Ben casts up a ticking construction set before the band blaze up into distortion. Keir is clearly going to be the splinter in the jam – his face crumples into walnut creases as he drives shattered howls out of his guitar. Ben looks loose in comparison, his drumsticks dangling like plucked lilies. Oliver disregards them both, ripping off a sax solo as if he was wrenching a seam from a jacket: it’s a little Arabian in tone, a reproving and arrogant ripple of grace above the chaos, of which there’s plenty more to come.

A Sweet Niche - Keir Cooper, about to bounce off another wall (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A Sweet Niche – Keir Cooper, about to bounce off another wall (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Their second salvo, Eye Music II is crash noise from the off. Their third begins as a kind of minimalist ska, then becomes Yaketty-Yak re-imagined for math-rockers. After Ben delivers a burst of horse-clopping rimshots, they break for another swirl of Arabian saxophone, heavy on the romance, before heading back towards the ska armed with hammer-swipes of noise. To top it off, the coda is a lullaby pop tune.

As a band – or, perhaps, as a spasm – A Sweet Niche seem to crouch somewhere between John Zorn (in his more impish Naked City moods) and the wracked, Maoist judders of English free jazz. Moments where a passage of brittle swing mutates into a kind of thrash samba could be put down to dark humour, but it’s difficult to calculate the shape of the band’s intent when a cheerful passage of saxophone sleaze is overtaken by screeching guitar alarm and then a taut, distant game of musical tag as Keir and Oliver dot each other with single notes and with silence.

It’s tricky to pin down whether what they do is political, or disruptive for its own sake, or just a natural expression of brain hiccups; or whether all of these options are equally valued or dismissed. Besides their wary body language – which could be a deceptive feint anyway – they give little away personally. There are no arcane jokes at the microphone, and few wacky titles (although the choppy ta-ta-ta and carousel echos of Bananagirl inspire even more confusion, as if Bagpuss had joined Slayer).

A Sweet Niche - Keir Cooper plays another agonizing chord (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A Sweet Niche – Keir Cooper plays another agonizing chord (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Ultimately A Sweet Niche’s aim seems to be to blow their education out of their minds, like a bolus of brain-snot. Chunks of structure regularly whiz past our ears (Oliver, in particular, has a knack for hurling fervent and compressed musical dialogue) while Keir is ceaseless in shaking off his thoughts as an urgent, committed racket. At one point, following a particularly intense bit of guitar wringing, he blinks with astonishment. For a few seconds, he looks relieved, with a surprised smile and the hint of shy laughter fluttering round his chops, and a “where did that come from?” shrug lifting his arms. As they head towards the end of their set, though, their disruptive peace-destroying turns into a dotted bounce. Bit by bit, they’re turning to a dance even if at the next song they’ll be trying to squash us against the wall with ripped slices of metallic thrash-hop.

They end with a thunderous, purging blast through Duodecimal. Then, bizarrely, they’re back for an encore, augmented by Chloe Herington (the unflappable reedswoman from Chrome Hoof, VALVE and Knifeworld) who suddenly pops up to moonlight and to add a new factor to the band’s unruly chemistry. There’s plenty of muttering, subtle stares and subliminal eyebrow gestures before they get started. It’s unclear whether they’re cueing each other, playing chicken or attempting some kind of disguised wink-murder.

A Sweet Niche with a pensive Chloe Herington (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

A Sweet Niche with a pensive Chloe Herington (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Just as I’m losing interest, they reel out a tremendous length of jazz-thrash-turned-sludge-metal. Her alto sax hovering, Chloe stays silent for most of it before jerking into place right at the pell-mell coda. She blows ten or fifteen seconds of twisting Coltrane overblowing over the roar, and then everything crashes to a halt. The night’s over, and so is A Sweet Niche’s psychological shell game. The strains and strange focusses slough away like last month’s bandages: with the instruments down, they’re suddenly warm with each other.

Chloe Herington waits for a cue which only she knows about (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Chloe Herington waits for a cue which only she knows about (photo by Magda Wrzeszcz @ http://magdawrzeszcz.com)

Ten minutes later, sleepy and stumbling, I’m making my way south-west of Spitalfields and I’m ever so slightly lost. Trying to find the tube, I’m wandering past the cluster of City skyscrapers by Bishopsgate – pushy assertions, half-formed nubbins and works-in-progress, garlanded by lights: and the finished statements, shoved heavenwards. Appropriate really.

Around my midnight bleariness (and as I’m passing the arrested concrete stump of the Pinnacle building, humiliated and frozen by market forces) I’m thinking dimly about language again, about tunes and stutters and babels and temporary silences. I don’t come to a conclusion, but as the last echoes of the gig swirl away in my mind I’m feeling glad that this part of town’s got some of its more unusual dialogues back.

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