Tag Archives: North Sea Radio Orchestra

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
 

July 2018 – some post-Doran thoughts on smaller music festivals; and next week’s EppyFest in Cheltenham (27th & 28th July)

21 Jul

John Doran of ‘The Quietus’ wrote a pithy, on-the-nose article a while back about the ongoing corruption of big music festivals, lambasting them as “unsatisfying money hoovers designed to deplete your bank account for minimal return… a heavily branded and patronisingly over-mediated experience – with little in the way of the rough round the edges, unexpected, challenging or genuinely exciting experience that makes being a music fan worthwhile; just a massive spoonfed dose of the ubiquitous, the hyped and the monolithically popular.”

As a follow-up punch, John slashed a hole in the backdrop in order to expose the ethics behind the festival business: how, even as you’re frolicking in a ludicrously overpriced facsimile of countercultural free-spiritedness, your ticket money wriggles its way into the war chests and “shockingly regressive campaigns” of suspect billionaires intent on crushing any genuine counterculture that’s little more than a cheery mask on a product, funding a host of life-killing causes including anti-LGBTQ, anti-union and anti-immigration initiatives. Unsurprisingly, he concluded “personally I’d sooner go to a smaller, more grass-roots independent festival and have a clutch of genuinely odd, uplifting, joyous and memorable experiences on a smaller, freer scale.” He lists plenty of smaller, more conscientious festivals which might better suit your ethics or your conscience – Supersonic, End of the Road, many more. Modestly, he didn’t mention ‘The Quietus’s own efforts .

I might lack John’s edge, but I’ll still say amen to all that. There’s also always the option of going further off the map, seeking out festivals beyond the tents’n’burgers belch. I’ve covered some such here… Marchlands’ annual musical/theatrical celebration of reaching across borders and understanding history; the composer-driven London New Wind Festival; New York’s wonderfully brainy and diverse Ecstatic Music Festival. On a more domestic level, there’s next month’s Whole World Window 2 in Preston, raising urgent money for psychedelic hero Tim Smith’s health care while also functioning as a focussing lens for assorted rock and pop acts existing in a rowdy, complex continuum outside ot the mainstream. The staunchest supportive and communal ethics, unsurprisingly, still hover around punk events, those pass-around-a-donation-bucket battles for big values in small places (I might often be bored by the music, but I profoundly admire the commitment and the generosity of spirit).

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As regards the coming week, Gloucestershire’s EppyFest – just a week away now – is the epitome of a pocket festival. Now heading in its seventh year, it also pretty much defines “boutique”. Its amiably knitted-together selections of psychedelic rock and pop, folk, electric and acoustic chamber music and accomplished instrumentalist is undeniably cosy, but in the right way – unashamed and unaggressive, slightly specialised while toting an inclusive audience ethic. There’s a rosy English glow to it, alright, but not the kind which shoulders out differences while indulging a truculent and moneyed bucolic fantasy. The Eppyfest England is one which is comfortable in itself, but not too smug to look outwards: mostly white, but not bleached and angry. In the best sense and intimation, it’s a liberal parish.

Gong, 2018

The Friday lineup, starting in the evening – is the briefer concert, with just two sets of performers. The headliners are the current and ongoing version of cosmic-rock libertine troupe Gong, still romping along after the death of founding holy prankster Daevid Allen. This isn’t the first time there’s been a post-Allen Gong: percussionist Pierre Moerlen floated a de-hippified mid’-70s jazz-rock version around Europe which had little to do with Allen’s mischievous space rock parables, while the band’s original feminine-mystiquer Gilli Smyth led a sporadic Mother Gong version at points in the ’80s. This, however, is the first Gong that’s been a direct continuation of Allen’s work: thumbing its collective nose at his departure from music and from life, and mourning him by celebrating his ethos.

This Gong iteration is helmed by delightfully wayward, larger-than-life Anglo-Persian prodigy (and ‘Misfit City’ favourite) Kavus Torabi, who established himself as one of the premier, most open-eared British psychedelic talents while with The Monsoon Bassoon and Cardiacs, has continued it with Knifeworld and Guapo, and who has in effect been rehearsing for Gong leadership for the whole of his musical life. Expect the same applecart-overturning riffs, the mingled brass and electric strings, the space-dust party atmospheres. The old firm’s still a family.



 
In support, Liverpudlian guitarist Neil Campbell is arguably one of the most gifted musicians still unknown to the general public. An omnivorous stylistic polymath, he’s mastered contemporary classical, progressive rock, jazz and assorted other styles to the point in which he can pass seamlessly between and through them; and he comes trailing awestruck references from guitar scholars and crossover music master musicians alike. Working off nylon- and steel-strung acoustic guitars (with a chain of echoes, loop pedals and other processors) he creates detailed, fiery electro-acoustic tapestries when playing solo: given the opportunity, he’ll also roll out orchestral concerti, small ensemble pieces, vital building-block contributions to the larger works of other, and site-specific concerts in venues of all kinds.



 
North Sea Radio Orchestra headline Saturday’s seven hours of music – as ever, they draw together Anglo-pastoral classical, a stolen kiss or two of folk melody, crossover chamber music and English art-rock. (They’ve covered Robert Wyatt, as well as old Christmas carols and Vernon Elliot). Sixteen years in, they’re a little smaller and tighter than they used to be – the choir is long gone and the ensemble streamlined, with most of the Victorian poetry settings consigned back to the bookshelf in favour of more personal lyrics of chalkhills and children, lost loved ones and the make-do-and-mend of life.

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

They’re still a quietly enchanting proposition, gently webbed together by a deceptive fragility, a village-singer tone and Craig Fortnam’s elegant compositions, and they grow ever more comfortable in themselves as the years pass. From German kosmische, they bring in that cosmic powerplant throb: from Frank Zappa and Canterbury, the somersaults of harmony and tinkle of xylophone (with the lyrical coarseness and silly whimsy gently steered out of the picture); from English chamber music, the gentle green ache. All soft borders, all subtle mind.



 
Second down the bill is Doris Brendel. The Vienna-born multi-instrumentalist daughter of concert-piano legend Alfred Brendel, she originally made her mark in ‘90s neoprog and underground AOR providing vocals, guitar, sax and flageolet to The Violet Hour: when that didn’t last, she applied herself to whatever was going while cultivating her own records in her own time. She’s refined her earlier approach, but what you get now is still pretty much what you got then – a singer who can go from a dream-folk murmur to a gutsy rhythm-and-blues blast, who puts on an assured show of muscular rock and costumed pizazz. An old-school rock chick, but one who’s taken control and honed it to excellence. There might be differences in tone, but latter-day ladyrockers like She Makes War and Ciara Clifford might look to her and immediately see a spiritual older sister.



 
Via a shifting gambler’s hand of interrelated projects – and a proven ability to survive practical and artistic disruption – the persistently thoughtful Oxford prog-rock collective Sanguine Hum have explored music for nearly twenty years now. In many respects, they’re a back-to-first-principles prog-initiative. Rather than constructing vast vanity pieces (as if to impress their aspirational Mellotronic forebears), the Hum are based very much in a lush’n’lambent ’70s pop mode – as least as much Neil Young, Steely Dan or David Bowie as Genesis, Zappa or Canterbury – which they can then wilfully and logically expand to bigger and broader things (engulfing and building upon later influences such as Boards Of Canada along the way).

For this acoustic-slanted EppyFest slot, lead singer/guitarist Joff Winks and keyboard player Matt Baber (the latter fresh from last month’s release of his “ambient prog minimalism” solo album ‘Suite For Piano and Electronics‘) will play as a duo; exploring at least one track from each of the project’s scattered albums and personae, with new material as a bonus.



 
Electric chamber group Firefly Burning were to have held the middle of the bill but had to pull out. To replace them, in comes a harder noise in the shape of the explosive wit, ominous chording and multi-layered songwriting of London’s Thumpermonkey. I described them a while back as “the missing link between Peter Hammill and Neal Stephenson”: a tag which they really seemed to like, so let’s run with it. A motley crew of brainiacs, meticulators and fast friends with their heads in lofty places and their toes sunk in dirty post-metal, they have the kind of esoteric preoccupations (and the wherewithal to communicate them) which encourage interest rather than eye-rolling and detachment. Unshamedly weird-fictional, the songs have covered Nigerian email fraud, Aztec hauntings, bizarre medical conditions and Victorian explorers amongst many other topics, all via a rich filter of literary and cinematic techniques and dark, sophisticated humour.

As for the music, Thumpermonkey play within that increasingly rare strata of hard rock in which there’s room to breathe, think, listen and explore beauty as well as nail down a predatory riff. Michael Woodman sings like an athletic college don moonlighting as an operatic priest, while his cohorts Ben, Sam and Rael construct a moving fortress, observatory and interdimensional vessel for him to stand on. They’re the kind of band that either make you proud to be curious, or will magnetize your brain into a state of curiosity. In effect, they’re the ‘Infinite Monkey Cage’ of British post-prog and we’re bloody lucky to have them.



 
Bristolian progressive-grunge rockers Lord Of Worms cite Meshuggah, Soundgarden, Tool and Ufomammut as influences, and there’s certainly some roiling springy punktone bass and restless post-hardcore rhythmic shifts in the mix. Their folk lilts and Zoie Green’s burnished-silver vocals simultaneously tie them into a tradition of female-fronted folk-rock acts like Renaissance and The Morrigan. Judge for yourselves…



 
Like Sanguine Hum, Dutch/American crossover prog poppers Fractal Mirror will be playing under reduced circumstances as regards personnel, but probably not in terms of the music. While the band can rely on the assistance of Echolyn polymath Brett Kull, among others, in the studio, this live date will just feature their core duo of singer/guitarist/keyboard and recorder player Leo Koperdraat and lyric-writing drummer Frank Urbaniak. Expect intimate expansions on their recipe of dove-soft Mellotronics and pastoral post-Porcupine Tree moods, with their hidden freight of darker, reflective lyrics.



 
Sonic Bond Promotions & The Epileptic Gibbon Podcast present:
EppyFest 7: North Sea Radio Orchestra + Gong + Neil Campbell + Sanguine Hum + Doris Brendel + Thumpermonkey + Lord Of Worms + Fractal Mirror
St Margaret’s Hall & Annex, Coniston Road, Hatherley, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL51 3NU, England
Friday 27th July 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
Saturday 28th July 2018, 1.00pm – information here and here

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It would be stupid of me to represent EppyFest as some kind of absolute template for festivals. It’s its own little Gloucestershire gem, it has its context and its taste-palette, and while it’s a fine refresher there’s far more to contemporary music – to a nourishing cultural diet – than even a thoughtful slipped-weekend like this one can provide.

What I am advocating is a spreading of its care-filled cottage ethos; its preference for building a relatively equal, mutually supportive community of performers and audients in a warm and humble space, rather than driving a rush of drainable, soakable human cattle through the money-mill. Events like this are worth the seeking-out, worth the effort that goes into their creation. Go find some. Go make some. Come tell me about them.
 

June 2018 – upcoming chamber-fusion and Rock In Opposition gigs in London – North Sea Radio Orchestra (2nd June); Lindsey Cooper Songbook with The Watts, John Greaves and Chlöe Herington (16th June)

24 May

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

North Sea Radio Orchestra are bringing their chamber-fusion sound to south London as part of the Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival. They’re a leafy and lambent confection of strings, reeds, nylon-strong guitar, boutique post-Stereolab keyboards and softened brass, fronted by the heartfelt disparate vocals of husband and wife team Sharron and Craig Fortnam (one a clarion carol, the other a papery whisper-croon).

Given the Festival’s context, they might pull out a few of the pieces with which they initially made their name a decade-and-a-half ago – garlanded, illuminated settings of Thomas Hardy, William Blake and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Either way, come for an evening which merges English country-garden airiness with German experimental rock boffinry and Zappa-styled tuned-percussion tinkles. Regular gigmate and sometime NSRO contributor William D. Drake was scheduled for a support slot, but since an injury put him out of action for the summer, he’s had to pull out. There may or may not be a suitable replacement.




 
Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival presents:
North Sea Radio Orchestra
Clapham Library, Mary Seacole Centre, 91 Clapham High Street, Clapham, London, SW4 7DB, England
Saturday 2nd June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

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Lindsay Cooper Songbook, 16th June 2018

There’s a tenuous but true link between NSRO and Yumi Hara’s Half The Sky project. On top of the existing ties of friendship, they’re both mostly-acoustic chamber music projects with prominent bassoon and an electric experimental rock component; both focus predominantly on a single composer; both lean (implicitly or explicitly) towards the ‘70s Canterbury scene and sound.

However, where NSRO has a core of sweetness Half The Sky is decidedly umami. Set up to curate, recreate and perform the work of the late Lindsay Cooper (and specialising in the repertoire she put out for the groups Henry Cow, News From Babel and Music for Films) theirs is a knottier, more querying sound: a winding road full of debate and pointings, animated but affectionate.

There have been shifts in the band recently. While Yumi continues on keyboards and lever harp alongside co-founder/former Cow drummer Chris Cutler, and singer Dagmar Krause was added as the primary vocalist for last year’s European dates, the band now features John Greaves on bass and keyboards and Tim Hodgkinson on reeds and lap steel, bringing its ex-Cow member count up to four (with Chlöe Herington still on hand to add more assorted reeds). They’ve kept the fifty-fifty male/female player ratio which reflected their original title, but have now taken up the more sober, less whimsical name of Lindsay Cooper Songbook. This will be the debut of the new crew, but here’s video of various previous lineups of the band in action in London and Japan…



 
The evening also features three support sets drawn from the ensemble. Making their British debut, The Watts unites Yumi Hara with Tim Hodgkinson and Chris Cutler in a post-Cow trio. John Greaves adds a solo performance of his own songs on voice and piano, and Chlöe Herington (following the development of her VALVE project into a collective female trio which, in some respects, echoes Lindsay’s work with FIG) will be returning to her own solo roots with music for bassoon and electronics. If there are any gaps left, staunch ‘Organ’-ista Marina Organ will be filling them with her DJ set, drawing on the horde of fringe-rock and experimental records she plays on her Resonance FM show.

Lindsay Cooper Songbook + The Watts + John Greaves + Chlöe Herington + DJ Marina Organ
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Saturday 16th June 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

There’ll be a second chance to catch them this summer – at the Zappanale in Bad Doberan Germany on 21st July. For those who missed my Lindsay summary last time, here’s a trimmed version:

“Long before the knot of current pop-culture wrangling over women’s control over the music they make, (Lindsay) was plugging away in her own corner, striving (and ultimately succeeding) for much the same thing in the often arid and unforgiving spaces of British art rock, improv and jazz… Pinning down the nature of a woman’s work in art – or women’s work in general – is not always an easy thing, nor even desirable. Even the most positive intentions can produce more restrictive categories, more unwanted boxings and demands to conform.

“In the case of Lindsay, whose career always foregrounded honest effort and end product over personality showboating, and which was tinted by doubt and determination, it’s probably best to concentrate mostly on the mind behind the music: to listen to the querying voice coming through. Operating over a set of times in which both contemporaries and colleagues had a tendency towards answers and stances, stated in both bald pronouncements and modernist-baroque ornamentations, she opted to bring a more questioning tone which nonetheless carried some of its possible answers in both action and presentation.

“Hers was a polymathic but purer musicality: an instrumental voice which voyaged alongside others’ often harsher pronouncements, détournements and doctrines and drew from them while never being subject to them, and which always kept a gentler, more accommodating side open to allow growing space and to consistently rebuild… She was responsible for most of the piled jazzy grandeur of the second side (of Henry Cow’s ‘Western Culture’) finding previously unexplored links between the music of New York, Canterbury and Switzerland)…

“In the late ’70s Lindsay had already formed the witty, subversive Feminist Improvising Group, or FIG (which) not only enabled previously sidelined female voices onto the improv scene but deliberately upturned expectations as to what such a scene could achieve. FIG were spontaneous, mutually supportive and – just as importantly – funny. With a strong and personal rooting in lesbian, class-based and feminist activism (plus parallel feelings of sidelining and denial on the part of others) but a suspicion of dogma, they expressed frustration and political challenge by drawing on a collective sense of the absurd and of the sympathetic… Men carped, frowned and cold-shouldered; women laughed, argued and sometimes welcomed; the group members continually challenged their own sense of self and role; but the work itself sounds joyously unshackled – something I would have loved to have been around to see…

“Post-Cow and FIG, Lindsay ran her own Film Music Orchestra to create and record arthouse soundtracks (often working in cinematic cahoots with Sally Potter). She rejoined Chris Cutler for the 1980s post-Marxist art-song project News From Babel (in which) Chris’ social and political musings would make a happier marriage with the pop-cabaret end of Lindsay’s music. She also contributed to the counter-cultural jazz colours of various Mike Westbrook and John Wolf Brennan bands, played with Pere Ubu ranter David Thomas, worked in theatre and (in the ’90s) composed a more formal chamber music which nonetheless retained the edge and inquiring spirit of her work in avant-rock and political art. She’d collaborate with Potter again for the Cold War song cycle ‘Oh, Moscow’ in the late ’80s, to which Chris Cutler also contributed. If encroaching multiple sclerosis (which had privately dogged her throughout her post-Cow career) hadn’t dragged her into early retirement in the late ’90s, there would have been more.

“(Lindsay Cooper Songbook) provide a welcome re-introduction to Lindsay’s work, performed by committed people whose sympathy with Lindsay Cooper’s music is absolute. However, they should also be viewed as a window onto the wider career of a quietly remarkable woman whose death in 2013 forced a premature coda onto the work of a mind whose personal humility had been more than balanced by its nimbleness, thoughtful and flexibility. Come along to these concerts and hear some of that mindwork and heartwork come alive again.”
 

April 2018 – London classical/classical fusion/experimental gigs – North Sea Radio Orchestra and V Ä L V E at the Lexington (15th April); Sarah Deere-Jones harp-and-choir song cycle in the heart of Westminster (21st April)

3 Apr

North Sea Radio Orchestra + V Ä L V E , 15th April 2018

North Sea Radio Orchestra + V Ä L V E
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, N1 9JB, London, England
Sunday 15th April 2018, 4.00pm
– information here, here and here

Last seen using their classical leanings to command the gorgeous baroque interior of Oxford’s Holywell Music Room, chamber-fusion group North Sea Radio Orchestra are heading back to London to fistbump the other branch of their own roots. Arguably, the Lexington is London’s current home of forward-looking eclectic prog and psychedelia; and the NSRO (whose own moist-aired and mournfully jaunty English psychedelic sensibility is inspired by both Robert Wyatt and Cardiacs) are paying it a visit.

Led, as ever, by the husband-and-wife Fortnam team of Craig and Sharron, they’ll bring along their combination of Anglo-pastoral classical gentility, their London clay bed foundations, their motorik strings-and-reeds chamber-kosmische (equal parts Britten, Neu!, Penguin Café Orchestra and ‘Ivor The Engine’) and their unorthodox vocals (Craig’s vulnerable, transparent murmur; Sharron’s homespun clarion of mezzo-soprano-meets-folk-punk). They’ve always possessed a mingling of the down-to-earth and the numinous, as well as their own spin on English psych’s way of plugging into ancient national myths (the patient ones tucked away in strata far, far below the more prickly, hijackable old pomp-and-circumstances).



 
Yet, in parallel to the Fortnams’ relocation from London to Salisbury, NSRO’s gradual songwriting and compositional journey (especially over the last couple of albums) has seen them move away from Victorian revivals and fine church woodwork; shifting their poetic patron spirit from their early taste for Tennyson (and through a transitional fix on Blake) to end up with Craig and Sharron’s own experiences of landscape magic, familial loss and loyalties. The process has also seen NSRO quietly phase into a worldview that’s less of a beautifully polished bubble of English nostalgia, and is now more implicitly inclusive of gentle acknowledgements of English connections and fallibilities as well as paeans to oak, ash, ridgeways and birds.

To be fair to them (in times when celebrations of antique, semi-rural Englishness can lead to accusation of chocolate-box/mug-of-tea fascism), NSRO have always seemed naïve as opposed to genuinely being naïve. More recent centrepiece songs and pieces have reflected on the balefulness of nationalism, and celebrated more benevolent co-operations such as the Berlin Airluft – the Fortnam’s kinder, fiercer convictions now written more clearly in the texture of their music; a demonstration that that taste for Wyatt goes deeper than just mood-shadings.

In support are the apparently tireless V Ä L V E – click here for a string of recent posts in which I babble repetitively about their bassoonical beginnings, messy play with lost objects, Rock in Opposition links, and current status as harp/bass/reed toting classical/experimental punks. As with many of the band’s recent gigs, this is familial (V A L V E being another branch on the rambling Cardiacs shrub thanks to mainwoman Chlöe Herington’s role as Knifeworld bassoonist), but V A L V E is a far more elusive beast, deeply embedded in avant-garde visual scoring, synthaesthesia and a kind of feminist tyro-science approach to memory and associations as well as an opportunity to make a noisy puckish semi-improvised racket and a group singing session.



 
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Sarah Deere-Jones and Cornwall Harp Centre present:
Sarah Deere-Jones: ‘Carmina Iocunda: Songs for the Seasons’
St Matthew’s Church, 20 Great Peter Street, Westminster, London, SW1P 2BU, London, England
Saturday 21st April 2018, 6.00pm
– free event – information here

Sarah Deere-Jones' 'Carmina Iocunda: Songs for the Seasons', 21st April 2018
Harpist and composer Sarah Deere Jones premieres the first complete performance of her new composition ‘Carmina Iocunda (Songs For The Seasons)’ a twenty-two minute song cycle for choir and lever harp which she describes as “a combination of everything I love – mediaeval literature, the English countryside, the changing seasons, choral music and of course, the sound of the harp.” The piece sets eight mediaeval poems (one by Chaucer, one by Shakespeare, the rest anonymous or unassigned) in four blocks of two, or two for each season, in a format which Sarah notes is “similar to Britten’s famous ‘Ceremony of Carols’.”

The concert is free and runs for an hour – there are no details or confirmation yet, but this suggests that Sarah might also be performing other pieces from her repertoire , whether as composer or as specialist player (in addition to her work on pedal and lever harps, she’s currently the only authentic-style performer on the Regency harp-lute and the dital harp).

Below is a video clip of the original choral version (minus harp) of one of the eight ‘Carmina Iocunda’ pieces, ‘Blou northern wind’ (as performed by Exeter University Chapel Choir back in 2015, while the larger work was still being assembled), as well as one of Sarah in action on both concert harp and windblown Aeolian harp out at Glastonbury Abbey and the Somerset Levels.



 

August 2017 – Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place UK tour (22nd-26th August)

11 Aug

Rob Crow's Gloomy Place UK tour, 22-26 August 2017Rob Crow was once the man who seemed to do everything all the time. Best known as one of the two multi-instrumental frontmen for American cult rockers Pinback, he’s also been the driving force behind a host of projects. To the uninitiated, you could describe him as an kind of unfettered one-man Pavement – he does, after all, write long and delightfully noodly songs which build up like mushrooming musical favelas – but without Malkmus and co’s detached preppiness and their relatively narrow college-rock framing.

Instead, Rob voyages off into odd avenues of punkified folk-naive, semi-sloppy wandering garage meditations, stream-of-chat lyrics, and omnivorous lo-fi post-Sonic Youth psychedelia punctuated by dirty guitar blasts. For a while, it seemed as if every other convoluted mid-paced meander spilling from American underground rock had a Crow fingerprint on it somewhere. Listening across his catalogue, you can find slippery reincorporations of math rock and pop into each other’s spheres (on Other Men’s ‘Wake Up Swimming‘), apparent mixtures of thrash metal, grunge and line-dancing (viz the opening songs on his Ladies album ‘They Mean Us‘) or pretty much everything that flashes across his mind and memory (most Heavy Vegetable and Thingy records) – and that’s before you get to the toy-play of Optiganally Yours and the parody doom/drone/pop culture metal of Goblin Cock. In general, Rob treats genres as if they’re all bedrooms in one single-floor dormitory block and all he has to do is amble up in a friendly way and knock on the door.

A couple of years ago, Rob downed tools and walked away. Burnt out, broke and unhealthy, for a while it seemed as if he’d become an unwilling example of the costs and practical futility of doing committed but marginalised DIY quirk-rock for too long without proper support. Actually, the way it’s turned out has been less pathetic and more sensible: all Rob needed were better plans in which to cradle his existing energies. With his dark patch behind him, and his home life and lifestyle repaired, he’s back in business with a number of new projects.

Prime amongst these is the relatively new Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place, a shifting collective based around him and his guitar. Rather than tote an expensive band around full time, he’s now (like a strapped but shrewd jazzman) in the position of being able to assemble one around whichever sympathetic souls are available wherever he happens to touch down. For his upcoming British tour, he’s been able to mine a particular strand of DIY musical gold thanks to a cluster of particularly talented Crow enthusiasts – Kavus Torabi on second guitar, Craig Fortnam on bass, Rhodri Marsden on keyboards, and the mysterious “Loz Bozenge” (apparently current Gong drummer Cheb Nettles, shuffling his Chinese box of pseudonyms). Expect further but wiser wrangles on the expansive Rob template, as laid out on the Gloomy Place debut ‘You’re Doomed. Be Nice‘.


 
The London gig also sports the sly, tremendous heavy-art-rock of Thumpermonkey – long-running nice-boy brainiacs who bring to the table deft slabs of intricate stunt-riffing, grand lyrical puzzles and intimidating songwriter wit (like the geek who can also and effortlessly beat all comers at arm-wrestling). In Glasgow, the support slot’s filled by Herbert Powell (described as an “amazing hi-NRG needling jogathon for fans of This Heat and Povlo”). It’s been a bit trickier finding out who’d be along for the ride in Manchester, but it turns out to be sarcastic Mancunian noise-poppers Sweet Deals On Surgery, who offer “short, snappy, stupidly-titled insights into Jeremy Kyle Britain, social decline, alcohol, drug abuse, sour family histories, serial killers and an ungrounded dislike for Elvis Costello.” Fine as these gigs promise to be, in Salisbury Rob and co. will be headlining something much bigger – a cavalcade of bands honouring and emulating the peculiarly rich musical vision of Cardiacs’ Tim Smith as part of the biennial Alphabet Business Convention. More on that next time – in many respects, it’s a natural home for Crowery.


 
The full set of dates:

  • The Deaf Institute, 135 Grosvenor Street, Manchester, M1 7HE, England, Tuesday 22nd August 2017, 8.00pm (+ Sweet Deals On Surgery) – information here and here
  • Stereo, 22-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 6PH, Scotland, Wednesday 23rd August 2017, 7.30pm (+ Herbert Powell & guests) – information
  • Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, 2-4 Hoxton Square, Hoxton, London, N1 6NU, London, England, Thursday 24th August 2017, 8.00pm (+ Thumpermonkey) – information
  • Alphabet Business Convention @ Salisbury Arts Centre, Bedwin Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP1 3UT, England, Saturday 26th August 2017, 5.30pm – information here and here

 

March to September 2017 – upcoming gigs – North Sea Radio Orchestra out and about in England and Wales (sometimes with Crayola Lectern or William D. Drake)

23 Feb

Having bowed, hummed and carolled their way back into action with last September’s ‘Dronne’ album, plus a few end-of-the-year gigs, art-pop-touched chamber ensemble North Sea Radio Orchestra are casting a garland of assorted luminous live dates across England and Wales this year – starting in March, and continuing through April, July and September.

In keeping with their liking for ecclesiastical reverb, which suits their churchy acousti-tech sound (described recently as “sitting in a special place somewhere between Neu! and Arvo Pärt”), most of these gigs are taking place in current or former places of worship, some converted into community centres or arts spaces or (in the case of the Cardiff show) into acoustic recording studios.


 

  • St Paul’s Church, 55b Chapel Road, Worthing, BN11 1EE, England, Saturday 11th March 2017, 1.30pm (with Crayola Lectern) – information here and here
  • Gresham Centre @ St Anne & St Agnes Church, Gresham Street, Barbican, London, EC2V 7BX, Friday April 28th 2017, 7.30pm (with William D. Drake) – information here and here
  • Assembly Rooms @ Frome Memorial Theatre, Christchurch Street West, Frome, BA11 1EB England, Sunday 9th July 2017 (part of the Frome Festival – further details t.b.c.)
  • Sacred Trinity Church, Chapel Street, Salford, M3 5DW, England, Saturday 15th July 2017, 4.30pm (with William D. Drake) – information here and here
  • Acapela Studio @ Capel Horeb, Heol Y Pentre, Pentyrch, Cardiff, CF15 9QD, Wales, Saturday 23rd September 2017, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

The Worthing show (a fundraiser for MIND) features a support slot for Chris Anderson’s rumpled, brass-dabbed domestic/psychedelic song project Crayola Lectern, while the London and Salford dates have William D. Drake in tow (playing a solo piano set, which may or may not focus on the kind of instrumental studies collected on his ‘Yews Paw’ album).



 

There’s another Drake solo show taking place mid-tour in Greenwich, London – another solo piano set (details below). For news of Bill’s concurrent song tour – much of it a two-hander with another singer-songwriter friend, Stephen EvEns – check back on my earlier blog post from the 15th.

William D Drake – The Prince Of Greenwich, 72 Royal Hill, Greenwich, London, SE10 8RT, England, Friday 17th March 2017time & further information t.b.c.
 

November 2016 – upcoming gigs – the glorious 12th: some of many gigs scattered around England on my birthday tomorrow – Mother, North Sea Radio Orchestra, ILL, Nick Costley-White, India McKellar, Alice Zawadski, Merrick’s Tusk, Snowapple, Captives On The Carousel, Mark Lewandowski, Steve Strong, Shield Patterns, Jamie Safiruddin, The Yossarians, Boy & A Balloon, Bruxa | Cosa, Ed Dowie, Carl Woodford, Andy Or Jenny, Patrons…

11 Nov

Tomorrow I turn forty-six. About half of those years have been spent as an on-and-off writer, scrambling round the edges of music and music culture, attempting to understand this great amorphous art form with its thousands of doors and voices. I had a sombre, or at least a serious, preamble planned: one of those reflective commentator essays that you see on many of the more literate blogs. I threw it away.

Instead (and in keeping with what ‘Misfit City’ has been up to for most of the year), here’s a particularly long garland of gig notices. It’s not here to illustrate any particular school of thought, being the usual melange of tastes and forms – jazz, folk, art-punk, acoustic singer-songwriter, prog, performance art, drone, classical fusion and lush noise. It’s that particular kind of broad, inconsistent, credibility-trampling aural palette which (back when I started doing this in the mid-’90s), wasn’t suggested much outside of the pages of ‘Organ’ or the less austere corners of ‘The Wire’, or indeed ‘Misfit City’; but which now seems to be almost a mainstream stance.

Some other day – perhaps some other birthday – will be the right time for an essay or a grand declaration. If I’ve got a point to make right now (if only by implication and example), it’s that at a tired, fairly battered forty-six I’m still curious, still enthusiastic, still in the business of learning; at a time and place in life which might otherwise ossify my tastes and reduce music to just another commodity or flattened signifier. Spread out over this post are details on concerts, all of them in England, all of them scattered across my birthday. There’s no way I could attend all of them, even with an entirely free hand, but all of them attract me; and at any one of them you’d have found me leaning against a wall, pen and pad in hand, taking notes, looking for new thoughts.

I’ve already posted about the iamthemorning/Tim Bowness teamup for the iO Pages festival, but I can’t really squeeze in the flight to the Netherlands. (Besides, I’m catching them in London on Monday). I’ve also posted about the evening’s Hallkvist/Taylor/Goller/Hayward jazz-fusion show (plus a side order of Charlie Stacey) at the Lambeth art incubator of IKLECTIK, as part of an update on Charles Hayward’s burst of late-year shows. Since that one’s in London, it’s a more likely option for me; but also down at IKLECTIK, in the early afternoon, London jazz incubator Jazz Nursery will be joining in with the ongoing EFG London Jazz Festival in order to present a couple of young bandleaders with relatively accessible projects.

Well, why not start there – start mellow…

Guitarist Nick Costley-White has a trio featuring Conor Chaplin on double bass and David Ingamells on drums and offers fresh, swinging takes on Jerome Kern and Cole Porter (with the leader described by ‘Jazz News’ as “a classy player with an elegant and subtle way with a good tune”). Bassist Mark Lewandowski (“sonorous, fluent… an indispensable part of our scene” – ‘London Jazz’) sets aside his busy calendar as a sideman to compose for and lead a quartet of American drum legend Jeff Williams (Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano etc) as well as tenor saxophonist Tom Challenger (Brass Mask, Wedding Music, Dice Factory, Ma) and pianist Liam Noble (Stan Sulzman, Bobby Wellins, many records as leader).

Nick Costley-White, 2016Jazz Nursery/EFG London Jazz Festival presents:
Nick Costley-White Trio + Mark Lewandowski Quartet
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 2.30pm
information

It looks as if this particular Mark Lewandowski band is too new to have been recorded, but here’s a clip of the Costley-White Trio at work:


 
* * * * * * * *

'Liberate yourself from my vice like grip", 12th November 2016
Were I up in the north-west I’d be listening to something entirely different, tempted by ‘Liberate yourself from my vice like grip’, the R.D. Laing-inspired exhibition/concert/happening that’s playing at Islington Mill in Salford. Set up by contemporary art organisation Broken Grey Wires, it’s part of their scheme to create safe psychological spaces for people with various mental health issues; to use art as “a facilitator for recovery… to encourage people to make something special for themselves”, following Laing’s own suggestion that “madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through.” 

(Yep – I know how to relax on my own special days.)

For the musical component, co-curators Fat Out have put together a typically eclectic and Mill-ready line-up of mostly local bands. Included are soundscaping folk-indie/jazz-shoegaze performance artists Mother, psychedelic folk-rock jam-jivers The Yossarians and colourful, blippy post-punk femme/art/pop troupe ILL (proudly strident champions of “disobedient noise” who believe in “creating music until something tingles, and performing dance noise until something bleeds”, and who were namechecked in ‘The Guardian’ today as one of the fifty new pop projects shaping the future). Also on the bill are ambient improvisers Andy Or Jenny, the “atavistic” Berlin-based Welsh looptronica singer Bruxa | Cosa, and landscape-ghosting Peak District ambient-pop duo Shield Patterns.

For the ongoing exhibition BGW have brought in various artists who explore mental health, gender, identity and subjective reality in their work (Lizz Brady, Robert Good, Amy Mizrahi, David Sheery, Kirsty Harris, Paul Kindersley, Jared Pappas-Kelley, Alexander Storey Gordon) all of whom raise so many questions, options and ways of seeing that I’d go on for ages trying to clumsily summarise them. Instead, I’d suggest that you follow them up on Facebook through the second info link below…

Broken Grey Wires & Fat Out present:
‘Liberate yourself from my vice like grip’
Islngton Mill Arts Centre, James Street, Salford, M3 5HW, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 6.00pm
– information here and here





 
* * * * * * * *

Steve Strong + Patrons + Merrick's Tusk, 12th November 2016If I were in Durham, I could make up for missing one-man post/math/trip-hop band Steve Strong‘s set of simultaneous guitar-loops/drums/electronic-noise hybrids at Wakizashi last month, by catching up with him up at his Empty Shop show in Durham – alongside the trepidatious post-hardcore of Plymouth four-piece Patrons and the blitzing sentimental charge of Derby trio Merrick’s Tusk (currently touring their melodic, heart-on-sleeve half-emo rock around the country). While I was at it, I could feel as if I was contributing more to the community than just the usual couple of hours of head-nodding. (See more about the constructive, cohesion-building Empty Shop ethos here.)

Sapien Records Ltd/Empty Shop presents:
Steve Strong + Patrons + Merrick’s Tusk
Empty Shop HQ, 35c Framwellgate Bridge (above ‘Ciao Ciao’), Durham, DH1 4SJ, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 8:00 pm
– information here and here




 

India McKellar, 2016

India McKellar

If in Sheffield, I’d probably be in a softer mood, heading over to the Regather co-op for one of their cosier gigs: the second of the recently-established acoustic evenings run by local cello/voice/guitar folk duo Captives On The Carousel.

This week (in addition to the Carouselers usual warm starting set), the night’s playing host to two other Sheffield-area singer-songwriters – India McKellar, whose previous adventures on piano, as a traditional Celtic harpist and as a onetime prog-rocker have set her up well for her matured, quietly captivating role as Laurel-Canyon-by-way-of-West Riding adult songwriter; and rootsier Drake-and-Jansch-inspired guitar-and-banjo picker Carl Woodford.

Captives on the Carousel present:
Captives Vol. 2: India McKellar + Carl Woodford + Captives On The Carousel
Regather Works, 57-59 Club Garden Road, Sheffield, S11 8BU, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 7.30pm
information




 
* * * * * * * *

Alice Zawadski, 2016

Alice Zawadski

Back in London, I’d also be tempted (were it not already sold out) by Alice Zawadski’s Joni Mitchell evening down at Brasserie Zedel. I’m not keen on the institution of the average cover version, and embarrassingly average covers of Joni songs are the bane of many an acoustic evening: honeytraps for earnest women with guitars who cover them reverently, winsomely and really badly. Every time, I picture Joni seething in the audience, her notorious strongmindededness in full bullish effect: snarling at the women onstage, cursing them out for skipping her weird tunings, for ignoring the orchestral conception behind the compositions, or for just sugaring the fine vinegar.

This one might well be different, for several reasons. One is that Alice already comes with acclaim, experience and enough background to serve the songs – extensively trained in both jazz and classical skills, a violinist and arranger as well as a singer, she’ll be thinking on maybe as many levels as Joni herself. Another is that her gig partner and pianist Jamie Safiruddin has racked up time and plaudits accompanist and/or musical director with prime British jazz, ballad and folk interpreters Ian Shaw, Claire Martin and Barb Jungr and Ben Cox, as well as pop adventures with Will Young (plus he already has Joni-form, having “played Edith And The Kingpin with exquisite poise” according to ‘The Arts Desk’).

A third reason is that this is primarily a jazz gig; Jamie and Alice joined by Seafarers saxophonist Matthew Herd, bassist Conor Chaplin (strolling over from the earlier Costley-White trio show), drummer and Conor’s Fabled buddy and drummerWill Glaser. No matter how many copies of ‘Blue’ you pitch at my head, I’ll always maintain that Joni was at her original best when diving into jazz, interweaving with Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius as her words kaleidoscoped, her notes ached and flexed and the potential in the arrangement spanned and fanned. Alice is promising Joni’s most well-worn hits and folky standards (‘Big Yellow Taxi’, ‘A Case of You’, ‘Woodstock’) but also “lesser-known gems from throughout her long and fruitful back-catalogue”, and it’s not always that you get the chance to hear someone dipping into the more challenging territories of ‘Hejira’, ‘The Hissing Of Summer Lawns’ or ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’.

Here are the details for anyone who’s a better ligger/doorstaff wheedler than I am; and below that’s a clip of Alice at work with saxophonist Joe Wright on a song which, even if it’s not quite Joni, shows what her mind and approach could be bringing to the Mitchell catalogue.

Jamie Safiruddin & Alice Zawadski
The Crazy Coqs @ Brasserie Zedel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London, W1F 7ED, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 9.00pm
information


 
* * * * * * * *

As for me, I can only guarantee that I’ll be in one particular place tomorrow. At noontime I’ll be in the Union Chapel, at one of the Daylight Music shows which I constantly plug here but all to often have to miss. Accompanied by family (and perhaps even a few unexpected friends), I’ll be down there listening to the soft, distracted keyboard songs of Ed Dowie; watching the charming and daffy Dutch folk-pop trio SnowApple delight and dazzle an audience in a fizz of swapped instruments, leapt genres, blended voices and eye-catching outfits; taking in the interstitial battered-pop moments from Boy And a Balloon‘s Alex Hall; and finally immersing myself in the ringing, humming chamber-ensemble arrangements of Craig Fortnam’s North Sea Radio Orchestra as they navigate (in a bright-toned weave of nylon-strung guitar, bassoon, strings, keyboards and voice) between the Britten-esque and the kosmische, between gurgling Vernon Elliott and sighing Robert Wyatt, between the hopping pulse of downtown minimalism and the Anglican warmth of a Wiltshire harvest festival.

Maybe Daylight shows are at the cuddlier end of what interests me within this blog; but it’s also fair to say that, out of everything covered here, perhaps the rambling, all-points Daylight positivity reflects ‘Misfit City’s own attitude best of all. And in a similar spirit… say hello if you see me there.

Daylight Music 238, 12th November 2016

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 238: North Sea Radio Orchestra + Snowapple + Ed Dowie + Boy & A Balloon
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 12.00pm
– free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information here and here





 

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