Tag Archives: New Weird Britain

January 2019 – upcoming London folk gigs – Laboratorium Pieśni (5th January); Sincere Deceivers + Amy May Ellis (18th January); Shirley Collins in the round (31st January)

1 Jan

Premiering last month’s new album ‘Rasti’, heady world-folkers Laboratorium Pieśni make one of their regular returns to London at the start of the month, playing the grand octagonal space of the Union Chapel. Entering their sixth acclaimed year as a band, they’re an all-female seven-piece of polyphonic harmony singers and multi-instrumentalists from the Tri-City district of northern Poland, cooking up a stew of song with traditional material (initially from the Ukraine, but with a songbook now swollen to incorporate music from Poland, Belarus, Bulgaria and Turkey among others).


 
In keeping with the group’s identity as a “song laboratory” – as well as with their connection to instinctive responses and to healing processes – the songs which Laboratorium Pieśni play are festooned with flutes, violins, rebabs, shruti box drones and a web of tuned and untuned percussion (from chimes, gongs and rattles to shamanic drums), adding a mystical cosmic-feminine shimmer to the music’s existing roots. You can listen to an interview with the Laboratorium women (conducted by Canadian television station TVNR) here.



 
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Closer to home and further forward in time, propulsive electro-acoustic folk-pop trio Sincere Deceivers (with roots in Yorkshire but now resident in London) return to action via a new semi-live EP of original songs – their first in half a decade. ‘Hot Handed’ is the lead-off track – a yearning, Martin Furey-esque song of romantic obsession, full of chiming guitar and swirling cello.




 
For their Sebright Arms gig, Sincere Deceivers will be joined by another Yorkshire friend: emergent singer-songwriter Amy May Ellis. She’s touting last autumn’s debut EP ‘Weathered By Waves’: five dreamy ukelele-driven, water-fixated, altered-state song musings on youthful restlessness and the dislocation of emotion (orchestrated with shruti drones, harps and the soft echoing ghosts of guitar strings).




 
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A cornerstone figure of living English folk music is appearing at the Roundhouse at the end of the month, as part of the venue’s extensive In The Round concert season. Back in the mid-’60s Shirley Collins was one of the main exponents of the English folk revival: in her case, a revival drawing on a childhood fascination with the old folk songs which emerged from underneath the blanket of popular culture at times of stress or memory, as well as spells learning and researching alongside voracious American folk curator Alan Lomax and reconstructive British rule-setter Ewan MacColl (both of whom, to put it mildly, didn’t always credit or respect her for her own work, intelligence or contributions).

Shirley Collins, 31st January 2019

Beginning her career at the cusp of the ’50s and ’60s by taking Pete Seeger’s vocal-and-banjo American revival model of old and new work (and transmuting it into a more transatlantic mode), Shirley gradually worked her way deeper back into English forms. Along the way, she recorded the benchmark guitar-and-vocal album ‘Folk Routes, New Routes’ (with folk baroque guitarist Davy Graham) and a number of albums featuring the startling arrangements of her own keyboard-playing sister Dolly, plus foundational ’70s folk rock and Morris revival records with the Albion Country Band, the Morris On project and others.

Over the years she has inspired plenty of other musicians, be they the crop of folk-rockers who sprang up in her wake at the time, or more latterday disciples including alt.folk and alt.country explorers (such as Angel Olson and Josephine Foster), square-peg rock musicians with broad listening habits (such as Blur’s Graham Coxon and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood), off-beat songwriters who delightedly snag themselves onto folk ideas (such as Richard Larcombe of Lost Crowns and Stars In Battledress) or folk-tinged textural experimentalists like Current 93’s David Tibet and eclecti-ambient duo Cyclobe (the former of whom coaxed her back into musical work in 2006, and the latter of whom produced her 2016 comeback album ‘Lodestar’). Most recently, she’s been embraced by various exponents of the New Weird Britain musical movement, drawn to her songs by their archaeological texture and their frequent accounts of dark psychological swells, stark menace and human injustice.


 
Yet Shirley’s spiritual legacy resides most purely in anyone (particularly, any woman) who picks up the thread of folk archetypes, winnows out any temptations towards twee fluffery and glib romantic posturing, and returns to the unadorned human grain of the music. Her own personal commitment and connection to the work, and to living the work honestly, is absolute (for good or ill – assailed by a traumatic late ’70s divorce from the Albion Band’s Ashley Hutchings, the impact of which slipped in under her staunch guard, she was physically unable to sing for the best part of thirty years). Shorn of the halo of veneration, her recordings are sparse and matter-of-fact, her voice that of a neighbourhood teller of tales (many of them harsh) rather than some fluting bel canto feelgood exercise. The natural habitat and venue for her work would seem to be some stone-flagged kitchen or ancient pub space rather than a concert hall: perhaps the focussing-lens effect of the Roundhouse’s setting and seating will meet that need halfway.




 
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Dates as follows:

Laboratorium Pieśni
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 5th January 2019, 8.00pm
– information here and here

The Folkroom presents:
Sincere Deceivers + Amy May Ellis
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Friday, 18 January 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Shirley Collins
The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 8EH, England
Thursday 31st January 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

August 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Phaze Theory blends occult Blake-and-Yeats visions with brooding jazz rock (28th August)

25 Aug

Phaze Theory, 28th August 2018

When I think of musicians citing the mystical, revolutionary poetry of Yeats or Blake, I’m likely to think of assorted classic rock fops; or young white literate/ dissolute pretenders fitting the pair in between their Rimbaud and Verlaine namedrops. The Libertines loved Blake; as have a swathe of musicans ranging from stadium botherers Robert Plant, Richard Ashcroft and U2 to dedicated underground upsetters like The Fugs, Duglen and Coil. Further delving turns up quotings and reverent steals by Pet Shop Boys and Bloc Party, plus the fact that Blake himself was a songwriter. As for Yeats, Joni Mitchell has set him to music, as has Van Morrison: the Hold Steady met him at a party in Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night, Bright Eyes quotes him in Four Winds; and from her debut album, Sinead O’Connor’s devastating Troy reshapes and reclaims his ‘No Second Troy’.

As for those who take on both, there’s North Sea Radio Orchestra with their sweet folk-toned chamber music settings. More prominently, there’s Patti Smith, who shook Blake-and-Yeats vision out into her early punk poetry and has kept it up ever since. Then there’s Patti’s ardent acolyte, Mike Scott of The Waterboys, who’s kept both by him on his travels: snarling about Blakean tigers and savage earth hearts on his debut album, capping ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ by fusing Yeats fairy tales with New York minimalism and Irish chamber-folk, and devoting a whole album to Yeats-isms twenty-three years after that.


 
What I’m getting at is that Blake-and-Yeats setters and expressers, in music, tend to be storm-tossed white romantics… with the music to match. Bar guesting singers here and there (including some formidable soul wailers), Phaze Theory are certainly white, are probably romantics, and may well be storm-tossed, but it’s initially a surprise to encounter their own take on this particular poetry; working it as a collective muse for a band that, while it calls its music art rock, has more in common with reggae, dub and the glowering Dark Magus electric wrack of Miles Davis in the early ‘70s.

Around in various forms since 2014, they’re led by a questing mystic of a tuba player, Christopher Barrett. Their conservatoire backgrounds and well-schooled chops belie their strange geological ferocity, stemming from an interest in Britain’s occult traditions and how these break through into sounds and words. Dedicated to “exploring the vastness of the musical cosmos” they lay claim to “roots in the deep grooves of the earth and the city and our branches reaching to the stars… we seek to free your feet, open your heart and liberate your spirit.”

In tone and intent, and at full heat, they’re an unexpected outpost of New Weird Britain, set in a jazzier wilderness in which Marco Quarantotto’s echoed drums, Tal Janes’ gnarled heavy guitar and in particular Barrett’s rumbling, adroit, effects-burnished electric tuba (which shifts seamlessly from bass to horn parts, sometimes with no immediate break) probe and scald across a foreboding, eerie terrain of post-industrial brambles, Tannoy vocals and perhaps a little Hendrix crunch. Compare and contrast their troubling, hallucinatory take on The Song of Wandering Aengus (recorded with Manchester singer Rae Jones) with the polished, melodious elegance of the Waterboys version above.



 
Currently collaborating with London rhythm-&-blues/Southern soul singer Arthur Lea, this imminent end-of-the-month gig at the Vortex is part of their ongoing process of bringing their music back to London and England after a brief Californian shift. Back to the grime but also back to the original fertility, I guess.

Phaze Theory
The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, Dalston, London, N16 8AZ, England
Tuesday 28th August 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here
 

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