Tag Archives: Norwich (England)

January 2020 – single & track reviews – The Powdered Earth’s ‘Hold Your Breath’, Broads & Milly Hurst’s ‘Happisburgh’, Lifeboats’ ‘Hurt’

31 Jan

The Powdered Earth: 'Hold Your Breath'

The Powdered Earth: ‘Hold Your Breath’

After their gently atmospheric piano overture earlier in the month, it’s proper debut-single time for Gloucester’s The Powdered Earth: time to find out what they’re actually about. Their ethos is apparently one of writing “little fictions… bringing storytelling to the fore” with a backdrop of “minimalist, melodic melancholia”. With a spec like that, and the previous evidence, you’d expect something like a more genteel piano-based Arab Strap.

Well, not quite… or not yet. Initially, ‘Hold Your Breath’ goes for what seems to be a much bigger and non-fictional story – that of the struggle against deforestation in Brazil – but they tell it in an understated way. In Brazil itself, this tale would probably have come through first-hand, via rap consciência or funk carioca, or possibly as some kind of mournful retro-fado. In the United States, it would probably been plunked or punked out over a banjo as a raucous post-Seeger tale of injustice visited on the working man. From their quiet corner of England, The Powdered Earth tell it in their own soft and sober way, trying to stay true to their instinctive sound while letting the story tell itself.

It sounds like a minimalist piano lieder, sung by Shane Young in a small, precise, discreet voice. George Moorey’s bolstering of synths (squashed brass, mechanical choirs) is similarly small and discreet. The lyrics, too, have the simplicity and directness of a pared-down folk song: “there were many of them. / They were gathered near the wood. / We had only handmade tools / and the clothes in which we stood… The ruling party wielded / the means to terrify, / but evil only triumphs / when we good men stand by.”

Listening to this is an odd experience, since it’s both detached and authoritative. You’re pulled into the gaps in the arrangement, into the void where the anger should be raging, as The Powdered Earth clarify that this is an outrage that occurs over and over again. “Miners brought the mercury / that made the river bend,” Shane pronounces. “Bolsonaro’s loggers / will leave nothing to defend.” The title itself is never mentioned; an unspoken warning to be decoded once you move out from the local outrage and start considering it as a small sign of a bigger problem.


 

Broads & Milly Hurst: 'Happinsburgh'

Broads & Milly Hurst: ‘Happinsburgh’

Over on the other side of England, Norwich ambient ramblers Broads have teamed with kindred spirit Milly Hurst for an album of music inspired and partially built from field recordings made throughout the county of Norfolk. Named after a coastal village, ‘Happisburgh’ is a preview of that work; in itself, with its emphasis on widely-spaced reverberant piano, not too different from what The Powdered Earth are doing.

It’s wordless, though – their own sparse Debussian piano part backed up with a little glitch-static and a growing sweet, subliminal agreement of harmonium. The video is a sequence of slow pans across, and sustained shots of Happisburghian scenes: tumbled groyne stones on the sand, the red-banded lighthouse, blue-brown breakers under the wide Norfolk sky; a solitary cliff bench. The second part picks up speed with a rolling piano arpeggio, the sound of feet running through sand and gravel picked up, glitchified and looped. Towards the end, the footstep loop corrupts and stutters, becomes intermittent, vanishes.


 
Probing gently into location and inspiration, like an archaeologist with a fine brush, unlocks some of the messages. Like much of the Norfolk coast, Happisburgh is eroding, dropping fragment by fragment into the sea. It’s shored up by groynes and by its inhabitants’ reluctance to let it go; but has now been abandoned by government, its support withdrawn. It’s a vanishing village which also happens to be the oldest human settlement in Britain, with ancient flint tools in its earth strata, and with the earth’s oldest human footprints outside of Africa once discovered on its beach. Knowing this, the meanings of the sounds come into sombre and beautiful focus – the currents and tides in the shifting piano; the recorded footsteps, once clear as a bell, becoming obscured by time and processing, ultimately disintegrating out of the picture. Our history, even our deep history, vanishes in front of us.

Lifeboats: 'Hurt' (featuring Rena)

Lifeboats: ‘Hurt’ (featuring Rena)

While Lifeboats‘s ‘Hurt’ doesn’t share much musically with either ‘Happisburgh’ or ‘Hold Your Breath’ (being a piece of noisy post-shoegaze guitar pop) it does sort of fit in here by dint of a shared initial and a shared theme of loss, relinquishment and resistance. Lifeboats are a new teaming of Prod Pritchard (main songwriter for Oxfordshire bands Flow and Airstar, as well as being a right-hand man for Owen Paul) and Austrian singer-songwriter Rena (the latter listed as a guest on this single but, so far, very much part of the sound and craft).

‘Hurt’ bustles along on ahead-of-the-beat guitar thrums, not a million miles away from Ride, the Velvets or from Bowie’s “Heroes”. The last, in particular, serves as inspiration, since Rena’s vocal sings out a weathered but hopeful anthem of taking the blows but remaining resilient – “hurt is just a part of living / just like breathing. / We ache before we are – / and fate is beyond all reason; / and then, every season, / above what we control… / This life / we are born to live in, / and the darkness hiding / but the morning’s coming.” She imagines herself propelled, strengthened, along the airwaves, singing “though I’m cracked and shaking, / I will not be broken. / When life is taking its best shot, / say “is that really all you’ve got?” It’s a simple, solipsistic resistance compared to those implied or required in ‘Hold Your Breath’ and ‘Happisburgh’, but it’s there.

 
The Powdered Earth: ‘Hold Your Breath’
The Powdered Earth (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: now part of the ‘Singles’ EP on Bandcamp
The Powdered Earth online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Broads & Milly Hurst: ‘Happisburgh’
Humm Recordings, HUMM08 (no barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: download from Bandcamp or Amazon; stream from Deezer or Spotify
Broads online:
Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Tumblr Bandcamp Last FM Deezer Instagram Spotify
Milly Hurst online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Instagram

Lifeboats: ‘Hurt (featuring Rena)’
Nub Music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: download from Qobuz or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud or Spotify
Lifeboats online:
Soundcloud Spotify

 

October 2019 (and onwards) – various upcoming jazz gigs – Yazz Ahmed’s Electric Dreams, Rosie Turton Quintet, Alina Bzhezhinska in London (3rd October); Electric Dreams in Newcastle (4th October); Forq and SEN3 in London (30th October); SEN3 in London and Brighton (1st & 8th October); Jim Rattigan’s October-to-January Pavillon tour of England (6th October onwards)

29 Sep

At the start of the month, a Women In Jazz summit in London brings Yazz Ahmed’s Electric Dreams, the Rosie Turton Quintet and Alina Bzhezhinska to the Jazz Café.

Trumpeter/flugelhorn player Yazz Ahmed has been covered in here before (thanks to Polar Union’s Jazz Herstory series) – a young British-Bahraini already being dubbed “the high priestess of psychedelic Arabic jazz” thanks to her exploration (across two previous albums) of her mixed cultural heritage, and via the use of a custom quarter-tone flugelhorn which enables her to explore the microtonal pitching within Arabic music. Electric Dreams is her electrophonic/acoustic multi-textural tie-up with drummer Rod Youngs, guitarist Samuel Hällkvist and “vocal sculptor” Jason Singh. Emerging from Yazz’ interest in spontaneous composition, “these free-flowing and conversational improvisations make use of electronic effects, sound design, live looping and sampling, in an exploration of contemporary jazz from a different angle.”

Trombonist Rosie Turton is usually to be found as part of all-female Tomorrow’s Warriors-linked octet Nérija alongside other expanding-profile bandmates including Nubya Garcia, Cassie Kinoshi, Zoe Rahman and Shirley Tetteh (the latter of whom, not content with being a jazz guitar name to watch, also operates as one-woman pop project Nardeydey). As I’ve noted before, Rosie’s own leanings are towards Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, with digressions via hip hop and Himalayan ragas; and her quintet (sometimes known as 5ive) “works around a sensually airy intertwining of Indian violin (played by Johanna Burnheart), trombone and electric piano (from Maria Chiara Argirò), in which adventurous tunes effloresce and sway around light-on-their-feet rhythm grooves: a clever, flowing, flowery architecture.” The quintet’s completed by drummer Jake Long and bassist Twm Dylan.


 
The orchestral harp is always a potentially explosive instrument. Particularly so when it’s under the fingers of Alina Bzhezhinska – a soulful beast of a player who steps easily between classical demands and jazz immediacy. She’ll be playing a solo jazz set to open the evening.

 
Yazz and Electric Dreams will also be playing – on their own, this time – up in Newcastle the day after the London gig.

* * * * * * * *

At the end of the month, New York new-school jazz rock quartet Forq also play the Jazz Café. Fluid, grooving and highly accessible improvisers, they’re strongly Snarky Puppy-affiliated. Two of the current Forq-ers, plus the band’s departed co-leader Michael League, also play in the celebrated Brooklyn jam family, while keyboard-playing Forq leader Henry Hey is even something of a Big Apple mentor to League, having first convinced the Snarky Puppy leader to move and set up shop there.

As originally conceived by Hey and League, Forq’s music doesn’t stray too far from the Snarky blueprint (dextrous young super-sidemen put together a fizzy stew of everything they’ve learned from playing jazz, blues, rock, funk, etc), but according to League “we had the idea to start a band that was bi-i-i-i-i-ig on groove and sonic exploration, without getting caught in the snags of the modern jazz world. We want to play shit with personality, character, and not nerdy, brainy stuff. Also, we want people to shake their asses. I think the band has a very hard, NYC-style sound that is industrial but also innovative, but also has some serious Texas flavour…” League moved on a couple of years ago, replaced on bass by Kevin Scott, but the band, currently completed by Snarky guitarist Chris McQueen and drummer JT Thomas, continue the initial work.


 
In support is London trio SEN3: in some respects, a transatlantic Forq mirror image. They’re another grouping of top-notch overtrained pop and rock sidemen who fancied doing something fun, immersive and different. Citing “Pink Floyd’s ethereal epic-ness, Thundercat’s psychedelic soul-funk, a touch of J-Dilla/Madlib beat conducting with a twist of Led Zeppelin riffs” as inspiration and aims. Max O’Donnell (on guitars, synths and assorted tuned percussives), Dan Gulino (on bass guitar and synths) and Saleem Raman (on drums) put together something jazzy, dubby, reverb-y and floaty: very much a product of the London melting pot they’re proud of.


 
SEN3 are also playing two dates of their own earlier in the month – at Kansas Smitty’s in London on 1st October, and at The Mesmerist in Brighton on 8th October.

* * * * * * * *

French horn virtuoso and bandleader Jim Rattigan continues to step up activity with his Pavillon twelvetet, currently featuring Martin Speake, Andy Panayi and Mick Foster on saxophones, Percy Pursglove, Steve Fishwick and Robbie Robson on trumpets, Mark Nightingale and Sarah Williams on trombones, and a rhythm section of Hans Koller (piano), Dave Whitford (double bass) and Martin France (drums).

Pavillon’s new album ‘The Freedom Of Movement’ comes out in mid-October, featuring more of Jim’s original tunes (which have been compared to Charles Mingus, Gil Evans and Duke Ellington). To help it on its way, he’s taking Pavillon out extensively (around southern England and the Midlands) on assorted dates over the next four months, between early October and mid-January.

Previous Pavillon commentary from me – “confident, breezy, swing-happy music seamlessly blending inspirations from different times and places; beery, wise and cosmopolitan but also very English. It’s the sort of sound you’d expect to hear currently curving its way around London’s seawall, if such a thing existed.”



 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

Women In Jazz presents:
Yazz Ahmed’s Electric Dream + Rosie Turton Quintet + Alina Bzhezhinska
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Thursday 3rd October 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Jazz North East presents:
Yazz Ahmed’s Electric Dreams
Gosforth Civic Theatre, 125 Regent Farm Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE3 3HD, England
Friday 4th October 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

SEN3:

  • Kansas Smitty’s, 63-65 Broadway Market, Dalston, London, E8 4PH, England – Monday 1st October 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • The Mesmerist, 1-3 Prince Albert Street, Brighton, West Sussex, BN1 1HE, England – Monday 8th October 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here

Forq + SEN3
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Wednesday 30th October 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Jim Rattigan’s Pavillon:

 

February 2019 – upcoming London classical gigs plus previews – Edmund Finnis premieres new piano trio on Britten Sinfonia English mini-tour (12th,13th, 15th February) – plus looks at Edmund’s imminent ‘The Air, Turning’ album and Markus Reuter’s imminent ‘Heartland’ album

8 Feb

A new Edmund Finnis composition is doing the rounds on a Britten Sinfonia micro-tour next week, taking in concerts in Cambridge, London and Norwich. The piece is a piano trio nestled in amongst a programme of compositions which examine chamber music’s historical connection to, and evolution from, Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 1. Starting with this sonata, the concert progresses through Leoš Janáček’ ‘Pohádka’ and Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Le merle noir’, with the piano trio then preceding a performance of Bohuslav Martinů’s ‘Sonata for flute, violin and piano’. The performers are flautist Emer McDonough, violinist Thomas Gould, cellist Caroline Dearnley and pianist Huw Watkins.

I can’t find a title – or indeed, much more context and background – for the piano trio beyond this, although all will probably be revealed at the time. At the London date, Edmund’s also providing more details in a ticketed public talk with Dr Kate Kennedy before the concert begins. I’ve previously noted his compositional style as “flow(ing) from the luminously minimal to frenetically eerie orchestral jousts”, so he should have plenty to talk about.

Britten Sinfonia: At Lunch 2 2018-2019 – Bach, Janácek, Messiaen, Finnis and Martinu

  • West Road Concert Hall, 11 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DP, England – Monday 12th February 2019, 1.00pm – information here, here, here and here
  • Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 2BP, England – Wednesday 13th February 2019, 1.00pm
    – information here, here and here (Edmund Finnis in conversation with Dr Kate Kennedy, 12.15pm – free event – information here)
  • St Andrew’s Hall @ The Halls, St Andrew’s Plain, Norwich, NR3 1AU, England – Friday 15th February 2019, 1.00pm – information here, here and here

Edmund Finnis: 'The Air, Turning'

Edmund Finnis: ‘The Air, Turning’

Meanwhile, the first recorded collection of Edmund’s compositions – ‘The Air, Turning’, which has been six years in the making – is out on 9th February on NMC Recordings. Besides the sensual title composition (an orchestral work inspired by the concept of how music’s sound vibrations thrum and manipulate the atmosphere around us), it includes five other Finnis works. There’s the slow-ringing string orchestra piece ‘Between Rain’ (as performed at the Roundhouse and at ‘Organ Reframed‘ in 2016); the crepuscular, haunting ‘Shades Lengthen’ violin concerto; the blossoming ensemble work ‘Parallel Colour’ (in which clarinet, piano, strings and percussion drip and swell like heavy dew in an unexpected spot of bluster) and his ‘Four Duets’ for clarinet and piano.

Players include the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the London Contemporary Orchestra, violinist Eloisa-Fleur Thom and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. The more electronic/electrophonic side of Edmund’s work isn’t really present (for a few examples of that, visit his Soundcloud page), but it’s nodded to via the violin-plus-reverb concert hall piece ‘Elsewhere’ (which was touched on in here around two years ago when I plugged its second ever performance by Daniel Pioro). All in all, it’s exciting music – simultaneously translucent, muscular and subtly cerebral, with a rare quality of mystique and engagement.


 
* * * * * * * *

Seeing that I’ve drawn myself into writing about Edmund’s album, I’ll add something about Markus Reuter’s upcoming string quartet project ‘Heartland’. This isn’t out on record for a couple of months but has just begun to tease on Bandcamp, although Markus was good enough to send me the whole recording this week to listen to. This isn’t the first time Markus has created music which has disengaged from his usual electrophonic world of direct sound-processing and touch guitar, or in which he hasn’t felt the requirement to be present as performer. That would have been the orchestral version of ‘Todmorden 513’ a few years ago: a dense slowly-evolving soundpool built from algorithmic processes, assuming a vast, eerie and slightly melancholic ritual character to overlay its logical progression.

Markus Reuter, 2017 (photo © Dutch Rall)

Markus Reuter, 2017 (photo © Dutch Rall)

Across the sixty minutes and eight sections of ‘Heartland’, algorithmic processes are once again the driving engines: mathematics lurk within the extended composition, with fractals, magic squares, and other numerical devices defining its elegant form. The piece, however (beautifully recorded in Berlin’s Kirche Zum Heiligen Kreuz, Berlin last October by the Matangi Quartet) brings more to the listener than an appreciation of structures. Beyond the initial brain-tickle, it seems that different listeners are inspired into different psychoactive responses. Active voyages of discovery seem to be a common theme. Various sleevenote contributors compare the journey through ‘Heartland’ to a Jungian river-ride through the collective subconscious, or to a Kubrickian Star Gate trip; while in the teaser video, Matangi violinist Maria-Paula Majoor appreciates the essential character of ‘Heartland’ as being “contemplative, maybe, (but) not very sure… I like that, in music… I think it’s nice to feel there is a doubt…that also gives the space for interpretation, and also for the listener to create (their) own interpretation”, and cellist Arno van der Vuurst comments that the music seems to be “searching for something”.


 
On a superficial level, ‘Heartland’ sometimes also suggests a bridge between the technical perfection of Bach baroque and the programmatic patterning of New York minimalism. It’s true that that particular bridge has already taken some heavy traffic, and from many different composers; but in Markus’ case he seems to have built his own separate bridge across the same river, and it’s only a part of the architecture and living space which the piece enables – it’s by no means its raison d’être. For initial promotion, Markus has mostly restricted himself to talking about translating processes into music, and about how his algorithmic/fractal note rows (and what progresses from them) work like carefully decorated modes or ragas; but the twinkle in his eyes suggests more. On the literary side, there are explicit references to Scarlett Thomas, short stories and sad goodbyes, and implicit ones to Thomas Mann: Markus also talks about “music that is there already and only needs to be uncovered”, and he’s clearly revelling in his opportunity to go wherever he wants and that “people want to be surprised, and they kind of like the fact that I’m an explorer.”

Matangi Quartet: 'Markus Reuter: String Quartet No. 1 'Heartland''

Matangi Quartet: ‘Markus Reuter: String Quartet No. 1 ‘Heartland”

Due to my own circumstances, I often find that I have to run much of my music-listening time in parallel with entirely unassociated work time. In some cases this works fine: the higher levels of my brain are usually bored with lying fallow while other tasks have to be done, and the business of processing and appreciating music occupies brain space which would otherwise make me rattle and rebel. However, I do find that certain kinds of music are tougher to listen to. Much of contemporary classical music is too immediately information-dense, too neurotically intellectual – and, in a strange way, simultaneously too directly assertive and too demandingly needy for to be able to split my attention while listening to it. (Oddly enough, I have a similar response to hip hop).

‘Heartland’ is certainly full of coding, but when I ran it through the mill of listening necessity I’ve described above – while concentrating fiercely on a pile up of day-job things which needed to be fixed – I found that it also had surprisingly calming qualities. In particular, it had qualities of order – as if the pulse and pitching of the music was putting things right without relying on the usual structural/dramatic clichés to which I respond. While ‘Heartland’ is full of detail and mechanism, and while Markus is particularly open about that, much of its devicery is camouflaged: the piece does not anxiously assert its complexity and importance. Instead, I found it subtle and confident in its own intelligence, like the workings of a brain; not the chaotic, nervy dramatisation of an unbalanced mind, but something more Apollonian, with a matter-of-fact humanity. On this particular pass I didn’t feel skilled enough to analyse everything in it, but from the off I felt the structures and the processes… and also felt that I was somehow sharing in them.

This might not be a purely rational conclusion (and a different week might produce a different flexion of the imagination) but for now I’m sticking to it. Perhaps, beyond its number processes, ‘Heartland’ is a self-contained flexible map for an inner journey; perhaps, for me, it works as a set of complex mental debugging routines generated and given impetus by the chug of bow on string and the singing self-contained musicality that’s propelled string quartets in common for three centuries (and which has built a proportion of my own responses for about a sixth of that time). To these ears, this mind, ‘Heartland’ is a generous piece. It inspires a kind of serenity, even a kind of hope.

‘Heartland’ is out on Solaire Records on 12th April, and can be pre-ordered here and here.


 

January/February 2019 – upcoming classical gigs around Britain and Ireland – Nonclassical’s Battle of the Bands (23rd January); Scordatura’s Clara Schumann evening (3rd February); Gyða Valtýsdóttir’s ‘Epicycle’ tour (29th January to 3rd February)

18 Jan

Nonclassical open their year with their annual Battle of the Bands at their live homebase in Hackney’s Victoria performance pub. Six competitors will be duking it out for industry attention and more Nonclassical gig opportunities. As usual, they’ve been chosen from the permeable space where contemporary classical touches on other musical forms, on other arts and on current concerns.

Nonclassical: Battle of the Bands, 23rd January 2019

There will be two solo performers. Woodwind specialist James Hurst will be swapping between alto saxophone and alto recorder to perform his own ‘The Descent of Ishtar To The Underworld’, a guided, Bronze Age-inspired improvisation. Reylon Yount, a San Franciscan Chinese-American yangqin player and member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, will be performing the diasporan-influenced sound exploration ‘Rituals and Resonances for Solo Yangqin’ by Chinese-British composer Alex Ho, which “attempts to engage with the paradoxical sense of nostalgia one may feel for a place one did not grow up in” via “an exploration of the relationship between sound and its resonance.”



 
Three collectives are also competing. Chamber ensemble Scordatura Women’s Music Collective champion and perform the work of female composers, both living and dead: on this occasion, they’ll be performing ‘Las Sombras de los Apus’ by Gabriela Lena Frank, a cello quartet in which each instrument plays in a different tuning. The recently-formed New Music group 4|12 Collective will be playing James Saunders’ Instruments with Recordings (with a lineup of viola player Toby Cook, flautist Epsie Thompson, accordionist Giancarlo Palena, bassoonist Olivia Palmer-Baker, trombonist Benny Vernon and tuba player Stuart Beard).

Rita Says & The Jerico Orchestra (performing Paragraph 7 of ‘The Great Learning’ by Cornelius Cardew) have been around a little longer: over the past decade, they’ve been working at “defin(ing) a connection between fine art performance practise and the history of contemporary music”, exploring a spontaneous blend of physical action and visual interaction to create and conduct pieces.


 

Finally, there’s composer/performer and Filthy Lucre co-founder Joe Bates, who pitches his camp on the faultline between contemporary classical music and avant-rock, hip hop and electronics; and whose artistic interests include “desire at a remove” and “the decline of classical music’s social prestige and the possibilities for its future.” His music blends contemporary classical structures and instrumentation options with “intense, still, driven riffs” and harmonies from rock and other pop forms. On this occasion, he’ll be playing pieces from his microtonal synthesiser suite/EP ‘Flim Flam’.

 
* * * * * * * *

If you’re sympathetic to Scordatura’s role as feminist music historians and curators, you might like to know that they’re popping up again in Abingdon, Oxfordshire in early February – as part of the Abbey Chamber Concerts series.

Scordatura, 3rd February 2019

Their 3rd February gig, titled as “Celebrating Clara” (and utilising a shifting duo/trio/quartet formation of clarinettist Poppy Beddoe, violinist Claudia Fuller, cellist Rachel Watson and pianist Thomas Ang) ostensibly showcases Clara Schumann, the similarly talented but undervalued composer-pianist married to Robert Schumann. They’ll be playing one Schumann piece – the Piano Trio in G minor – and possibly some of her clarinet work, but the remaining programme slots are given over to the work of other female composers. Contemporary composer Cecilia McDowall’s chamber piece ‘Cavatina at Midnight’ is followed by the Victorian ‘Piano Suite in E major’ by Clara Schumann’s contemporary Ethel Smyth.

The last piece is by Fanny Hensel ( ‘Fantasia for Cello and Piano’) a.ka. Fanny Mendelssohn, whose life was a sometimes-uncomfortable reiterating mirror of Clara’s. Both were similarly talented intimates of established composers (one a wife, the other a sister); both had surprisingly encouraging husbands; both were also tutored and driven by demanding fathers who established excellence in them. Both, too, were ultimately constrained as composers by the discouragements and domestic responsibilities forced upon women of their times, with the men in their families often acting with a frustrating mixture of systematic positive pressure and patriarchal forbiddings. (Felix Mendelssohn, for instance, was a devoted, championing brother who found that he drew the line at Fanny entering the canon of published composers.)

* * * * * * * *

Gyða Valtýsdóttir 'Epicycle' tour (Britain/Ireland), January/February 2019Overlapping these two concerts is a British/Irish mini-tour by Gyða Valtýsdóttir – still known as the former cellist for Iceland experimental pop band Múm even though she only played on two of their albums and has been out of the band for sixteen years.

Having immediately returned, post-Múm, to her classical roots (formally studying, graduating and applying herself to classical cello) Gyða’s spent the time since then in the genre-stepping world of the modern post-classical musician. Outside of the classical gigs, rent-paying but artistically respectable engagements adding stringwork to records or tours by Sigur Ros’ Jónsi, Damien Rice and Colin Stetson have alternated with assorted film, dance, theatre and installation music around the world, as well as bouts of free improvisation gigs. Allied with her twin sister and ex-Múm bandmate Kristín Anna, Gyða also added a “reciprocal twin” component to Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s 2015 song cycle ‘Forever Love’, conceived and delivered with performance artists Ragnar Kjartansson.

Although Gyða’s latest personal release (last year’s ‘Evolution’) features her own compositions and a return to her Múm-era multi-instrumentalism – and although some of those songs will get an airing – this tour focusses mostly on her 2017 solo debut ‘Epicycle‘, a two-millennia-spanning exercise in musical commonality and reconfiguration originally intended as “a gift for friends” on which Schubert, Schumann and Messiaen rub shoulders with Harry Partsch, George Crumb, Hildegard von Bingen and the nineteen-hundred year old Seikilos Epitaph. The album was an Icelandic smash hit and a talking point elsewhere: a classical debut recorded with the immediacy of a jazz record and with a broad-minded disregard for purity, bringing in upfront studio processing techniques and stylings/instrumental responses from other traditions from jazz to ancient folk to experimental post-rock.

On tour, she’s performing with her Epicycle trio, also featuring multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily (on guitar, synthesizer, percussion and anything else which needs playing) and drummer Julian Sartorius, both of whom played on the record.




 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Nonclassical presents:
Nonclassical: Battle of the Bands
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, E8 3AS London, United Kingdom
Wednesday 23rd January 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Abbey Chamber Concerts present:
Scordatura: Women’s Music Collective: ‘Celebrating Clara’
St Nicolas’ Church, Market Place, Abingdon-on-Thames, Oxfordshire OX14 3HF
Sunday 3rd February 2019, 3.00pm
– information here, here and here

Gyða Valtýsdóttir – ‘Epicycle’ tour:

  • Norwich Arts Centre, 51 St. Benedicts Street, Norwich, NR2 4PG, England, Tuesday 29th January 2019, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England, Wednesday 30th January 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Metropolitan Arts Centre, 10 Exchange St West, Belfast, BT1 2NJ, Northern Ireland, Thursday 31st January 2019 – no further information
  • Dublin Unitarian Church, 112 Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, D02 YP23, Ireland, Friday 1st February 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Summerhall, 1 Summerhall, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL, Scotland, Sunday 3rd February 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here

 

August-December 2018 – upcoming British and Irish rock gigs – Kiran Leonard on tour (26th August to 5th December, various)

20 Aug

Between late August and early December, the unsettlingly-talented Kiran Leonard will be making his way through England, Ireland and Scotland on a sporadic but wide-ranging tour; preparing for and celebrating the mid-October release of his new album, ‘Western Culture‘.

The first of Kiran’s albums to be recorded in a professional studio with a full band, ‘Western Culture’ comes at the tail-end of a comet-spray of home-made releases. Over the course of these, he’s leapt stylistically between the vigorous home-made eclectic pop of ‘Grapefruit’ and ‘Bowler Hat Soup’, sundry pop and rock songs (including twenty-plus-minute science fiction doom epics and explosive three-minute celebrations), the yearning piano-strings-and-yelp literary explorations of ‘Derevaun Seraun’ and the lo-fi live-and-bedroom song/improv captures of ‘Monarchs Of The Crescent Pail’ and ‘A Bit of Violence With These Old Engines’ (all of this punctuated, too, by the scrabbling electronica paste he releases as Pend Oreille and the prolonged experimental piano/oddments/electronics pieces he puts out as Akrotiri Poacher).

As much at home with kitchen metals as with a ukelele, a piano, or a fuzzy wasp-toned guitar solo, Kiran’s cut-up titles and his wild and indulgent genre-busting complexities are reminiscent of Zappa or The Mars Volta, while his budget ingenuity and fearless/compulsive pursuit of thoughts and his occasional psychic nakedness recall outsider bard Daniel Johnston. On top of that, he’s got the multi-instrumental verve of Roy Wood, Prince or Todd Rundgren; and his stock of bubbling energy and eccentric pop bliss means you can toss Mike Scott, Fyffe Dangerfield or Trevor Wilson into the basket of comparisons, though you’ll never quite get the recipe right.



 

As before, Kiran’s out with his usual band (Dan Bridgewood-Hill on guitar, violin and keyboards, Andrew Cheetham on drums, Dave Rowe on bass), which propels him into something nominally simpler – a ranting, explosive, incantatory mesh of art punk and garage-guitar rock which might lose many of the timbral trimmings of the records, but which is riddled with plenty of rhythmic and lyrical time bombs to compensate; a kind of punky outreach. Most of the dates appear to be Kiran and band alone, though supports are promised (but not yet confirmed or revealed) for Dublin, Brighton, Birmingham, Newcastle and Norwich; and his festival appearances at This Must Be The Place, End of the Road and Ritual Union will be shared with other acts aplenty. No doubt all details will surface over time.


 
What we do know is that the August date in London will also feature Stef Ketteringham, the former Shield Your Eyes guitarist who now performs splintered experimental blues: previewing his appearance in Margate last month, I described his playing as being “like an instinctive discovery: more punk than professorial, bursting from his gut via his heart to tell its shattered, hollered, mostly wordless stories and personal bulletins without the constraint of manners or moderation. For all that, it’s still got the skeleton of blues rules – the existential moan, the bent pitches and percussive protest that demand attention and serve notice of presence.” Judge for yourselves below.


 

The first Manchester date – in September – will be shared with Cult Party and The Birthmarks. The former’s the brainchild of Leo Robinson: multi-disciplinary artist, Kiran associate and songwriter; a cut-back Cohen or Redbone with a couple of string players to hand, delivering dry understated daydream folk songs (from the Americana mumble of Rabbit Dog to the twenty-minute meander of Hurricane Girl, which goes from afternoon murmur to chopping squall mantra and back again). The latter are long-running Manchester cult indie rock in the classic mold – over the years they seem to have been a clearing house or drop-in band for “people that are or have been involved with Sex Hands, Irma Vep, Klaus Kinski, Aldous RH, Egyptian Hip Hip, Human Hair, Sydney, lovvers, TDA, Wait Loss and many more.”



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates as follows:

(August 2018)

  • This Must Be The Place @ Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen, 1-1A Cross Belgrave Street, Leeds, Yorkshire, LS2 8JP, England, Sunday 26th August 2018, 1.00 pm (full event start time) – information here and here
  • The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, Hackney, London, E8 3AS, England, Wednesday 29th August 2018, 7.30pm (with Steff Kettering) – information here and here
  • End Of The Road Festival (Tipi Stage) @ Larmer Tree Gardens Tollard Royal, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 5PY, England, Thursday 30th August 2018, 9.45 pm – information here and here

(September 2018)

  • Partisan, 19 Cheetham Hill Road, Strangeways, Manchester, M4 4FY, England, Saturday 8th September 2018, 7.30pm (with Cult Party + The Birthmarks) – information here and here

(October 2018)

  • Ritual Union festival @ The Bullingdon, 162 Cowley Rd, Oxford, OX4 1UE, Saturday 20th October 2018, 11.00am (full event start time) – information here, here and here
  • The Cookie, 68 High Street, Leicester, Leicestershire, LE1 5YP, England, Monday 22nd October 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Portland Arms, 129 Chesterton Road, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB4 3BA, England, Tuesday 23rd October 2018, 7.00pm – information here
  • The Boileroom, 13 Stokefields, Guildford, Surrey, GU1 4LS, England, Wednesday 24th October 2018, 7.00pm – information here, here and here
  • The Crescent Working Men’s Club, 8 The Crescent, York, Yorkshire, YO24 1AW, England, Thursday 25th October 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Parish, 28 Kirkgate, Huddersfield, Yorkshire, HD1 1QQ, England, Friday 26th October 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Green Room, Green Dragon Yard, Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, TS18 1AT, England, Saturday 27th October 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here

(November 2018)

  • The Roisin Dubh, Dominic Street, Galway, Ireland, Wednesday 21st November 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Whelan’s, 25 Wexford Street, Dublin 2, Ireland, Thursday 22nd November 2018, 8.00pm (with support t.b.c.) – information here and here
  • Kasbah Social Club, 5 Dock Road, Limerick, Ireland, Friday 23rd November 2018, 9.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Cyprus Avenue, Caroline Street, Cork, T12 PY8A, Ireland, Saturday 24th November 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton BN1 4FQ, England, Monday 26th November 2018, 7.00pm (+ support t.b.c.) – information here and here
  • Soup Kitchen, 31-33 Spear Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1DF, England, Wednesday 28th November 2018, 7.00pm – information here, here and here
  • The Hare & Hounds, 106 High Street, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7JZ, England, Thursday 29th November 2018, 7.30pm (+ support t.b.c.) – information here and here
  • The Hug & Pint, 171 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G4 9AW, Scotland, Friday 30th November 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here

(December 2018)

  • The Cumberland Arms, James Place Street, Byker, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tyne & Wear, NE6 1LD, England, Saturday 1st December 2018, 7.30pm (+ support t.b.c.) – information here and here
  • Norwich Arts Centre, St. Benedict’s Street, Norwich, Norfolk, NR2 4PG, England, Monday 3rd December 2018, 8.00pm (+ support t.b.c.) – information here and here
  • Rough Trade, Unit 3 Bridewell Street, Bristol, BS1 2QD, England, Tuesday 4th December 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Clwb Ifor Bach, 11 Womanby Street, Cardiff, CF10 1BR, Wales, Wednesday 5th December 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here

 

July 2018 – strange folk indeed – Sutari and Dead Rat Orchestra’s joint-headlining English tour through Colchester, Norwich, London, Nottingham, Hull, Leeds and Oxford (10th to 16th July 2018) with The Dyr Sister and Sarsa Awayes

4 Jul

News on an imminent set of alternative folk gigs – eerie, funny, magical and pertinent (aiming as it does at our history of migrations and settlings).

* * * * * * * *

“Two of the world’s most prominent avant-folk ensembles join forces for a joint headline tour of the UK.

“It’s not often that you can say you met someone over a meat cleaver but in the case of Dead Rat Orchestra and Sutari it’s true. Not that anyone who knows the work of the UK’s DRO – or for that matter, Poland’s Sutari – should be surprised. Kindred spirits not only in their approach to free-folk but in their use of unusual objects – including meat cleavers – in their performances, this tour will see them join forces to explore the cultural impact of Polish and European migration in England. Performing in locations across England that have been centres of Polish immigration, and engaging with British, Polish and European communities, the tour will utilise Sutari and DRO’s unique approaches to performing traditional musics to lead audiences in a performative and timely discussion about the cultural impacts of the UK leaving the European Union.

“Formed by Daniel Merrill, Nathaniel Mann and Robin Alderton – and performing internationally for over a decade – Dead Rat Orchestra have gained a reputation as one of the most innovative ensembles on the UK music scene. Raw, elemental and poignant and with a love of adventure, their performances feature flailing axes, salt and sawdust, throbbing harmonium, grinding fiddle and two thousand shards of micro-tuned steel cast to the floor in cascading, shimmering joy. DRO create works that blur boundaries between installation and performance. Activities have included ‘The Cut’ (2014), a site-specific musical tour undertaken by canal boat along two hundred and seventy-three miles of waterway; and ‘Tyburnia’ (2015/17) exploring seventeenth and eighteenth century gallows ballads and their sociopolitical history.

“Dead Rat Orchestra are adventurers adrift in a sea of sound and possibility, plucking textures and melodies to craft their idiosyncratic vision of what music and performance can be. Most often they have steered their ship through the idioms of folk and improv, to shout, sing and glisten at audiences from the UK to mainland Europe, Scandinavia to Canada. They have created music using the architectural surroundings in which they find themselves; coppice woods, abandoned abattoirs, paper mills, churches. Necessity has sometimes dictated duo performances of any permutation, always imbued with a sense of the missing member. Instruments are constantly swapped. Rarely performing in a conventional manner they often step away from the stage, to sing and holler a cappella amongst the audience. Acutely haunting, occasionally brutal and raucously joyous, their music always attempts to enchant and entrance, be it emotionally or physically.

 

“Sutari are Kasia Kapela, Basia Songin and Zosia Zembrzuska – a trio of young singers, instrumentalists and performers, each from different musical and theatrical backgrounds, who come together to continue the tradition of home-made folk music. The Sutari project is a fusion of diverse music experiences and passions: they use a mixture of traditional instruments (violin, basetla and drum), and also make use of everyday objects, exploring their potential as musical devices – for instance, a hand mixer, grater, bottles and a wrench… kitchen avant-garde!

“They explore deep vocal harmony traditions, searching for the essence and hidden character of traditional songs, whilst exploring themes of femininity in folklore. Their compositions are based on Polish and Lithuanian folk songs; and they are particularly inspired by the sound and character of Lithuanian Sutartines, sung only by women in perfect harmony. An affecting and elegant fusion of traditional folk, theatrical flair and contemporary mood music.”



 

There are a couple of support acts along the way. In Nottingham, the support comes from Sarsa Awayes – a Nottingham-based Polish spoken word artist. In Colchester, it’s Sally Currie – a.k.a. The Dyr Sister (where “dyr” is Old Norse for “deer”). A Hull-born “multi-instrumental cervine beat mistress”, she “conjures up surreal tales with the aid of viola, synth, mandolin her voice and an array of DIY samples. Performing her catalogue of haunting, ethereal, modern day folk songs as a one-woman band, she paints a fascinating canvas of sound.”


 
Dates:

  • Colchester Arts Centre, Church Street, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1NF, England, Tuesday 10th July 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Norwich Arts Centre, 51 St Benedicts Street, Norwich, Norfolk, NR2 4PG, England, Wednesday 11th July 2018, 8.30pm – information here and here
  • (secret location), Bow, London, England, Thursday 12th July 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Maze, 257 Mansfield Road, Nottingham, NG1 3FT, England, Friday 13th July 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • The New Adelphi Club, 89 De Grey Street, Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire, HU5 2RU, England, Saturday 14th July 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Leeds Polish Centre, Newton Hill Road, Leeds, Yorkshire, LS7 4JE, England, Sunday 15th July 2018, 4.00pm – information here and here
  • Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street, Oxford, OX1 3SD, England, Monday 16th July 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here

 

July 2016 – upcoming nu-folk gigs in England – Felix M-B on tour with Lorkin O’Reilly and Lewis Barfoot (July 10th to 17th); plus a note on Sylva Kay

9 Jul

Some notes previewing a Tigmus acoustic tour passing through England this coming week…

* * * * * * * *

Still only eighteen, Derby singer-songwriter Felix Mackenzie-Barrow – better known as Felix M-B – is already tipped as a future star of acoustic rock, and it’s not difficult to see why. The Jeff Buckley comparisons have come flocking, as they always do for good-looking young-white-male hopes with an acoustic guitar and a way with a commanding falsetto when they need it.

For me, though, the comparisons are a little off beam. Felix is by no means enslaved to the wail; not another in the line of anxious high-tenor clones aiming for its flaming hoops. If he has to be Jeffified, let it be for his boiling post-Page rhythm guitar with its flint-and-harps tone; for the way he can dance that guitar, like an elegant fencer, around some of the shifting, bullish meters within his songs. As a singer, he’s slightly – and thankfully – short of that assertive, archangelic (and to me, sometimes cold) Buckley edge. Under its smooth edges, it’s warmer and less elevated, closer at times to the incantatory yearnings and yelps of a Mike Scott or Van Morrison, or (whenever a little country seeps in) to Gram Parsons; or to a less pickled take on Chris Thompson of The Bathers. Whenever Felix wraps his melodic threads in a rippling transported melisma, he’s also much more reminiscent of Tim Buckley than of his gilded son.

As for the songs, so far they’re remarkably mature – involved, ruminative and harmonically adventurous explorations of love, connection and conscience rather than the gawky narcissistic three-chord blasts you’d expect from a teenage early starter. As of yet, it’s unclear where this surprising depth comes from. Perhaps it’s self-demurral at play, but Felix’s backstory doesn’t seem much more than “nice boy learns piano for many years, picks up guitar in mid-teens and two years later makes a record”. Perhaps he’s just one of those diffident, delightful natural songwriters, able to pick up on stories and ideas from elsewhere and magically transform them without letting himself get in the way.

Perhaps the answer lies in other background textures. Felix grew up with parents who ran the self-sufficient mobile theatre company Oddsocks (who used to tour Britain on the back of a transforming, swiss-army-knife of a cart which doubled as transport and ever-morphing play set), while he himself is a thoughtfully precocious alumnus of Derby Youth Theatre. It might be this that’s made him such a canny transmuter of tradition and style; such a promising inhabiter of diverse stories.


Felix’s current Tigmus-boosted tour dates are as follows:

As noted above, Felix is teaming up with other young songwriters en route – so here’s some more about them.

22 year old Lorkin O’Reilly released his debut EP, ‘After The Thaw’, last year. Nominally Scottish, with a youth spent on one side or the other of the Borders (with rangings into the Highlands plus a stint down in Brighton), he’s now made a home and a marriage in Poughkeepsie, New York State.

It’s difficult not to notice how Lorkin’s peripatetic shifting life (partly brought on by an unsettled and shifting adolescence) has fed into his music, which is partly inspired by that of John Martyn (another songwriter divided between Scotland and England to traumatic effect and artistic impact). His song Alba explores his ambivalence about the recent deepening schism between the two countries: he describes and delivers it more as an abstract “storm warning” than a rallying call or hand-wringing tract. Nick Drake, Phil Cook, American country-blues and British folk also inform his work, in which his softly mesmeric voice and lone guitar move through slow, Scottish moodclouds at a slithering, sliding pace, sometimes gently gilded by slide and resonator.



 
Despite her own Irish/English background, there don’t appear to be similar complexities in the work of Lewis Barfoot. On spec and on evidence, her debut EP ‘Catch Me’ is singer-songwriter fare pitched at an assured soft and wholesome level – not bland as such, but undeniably comfortable in itself. She works with an uncomplicated loveliness of sound that’s smoothly crafted, waxed and finished, and which follows an unruffled mood (lightly decorated by its Irish roots and, on one occasion by some throw-rug drapings of Maori choir). As edgeless as a high-street cafe-latte, it also makes the ideal soundtrack to one. There’s an underlying murmur of stability in these songs, whether they’re dealing with love or landscape,


 
A little more delving reveals that Lewis is more substantial than these songs suggests. A busy polymath, she’s self-propelled and organised enough to have her own “summer of Sundays” tour dovetailing into this one. Before going solo three years ago, she was a member of Gaelic a cappella quintet Rún; and like Felix, she’s also got a theatrical background, maintaining a parallel career as an actress on film, television and fringe theatre (using the latter to fertilise her theatrical writing and conceptualising). With all of this behind her, it seems a shame that what she’s currently offering is lovely but cosy acoustic-evening entertainment with a high-boutique gloss to it: certainly these initial songs lack the playful wit and sense of enquiry which goes into her original stage work.


 
For now, go along for the sleek craft and gently-cupped warmth, and hope that more of Lewis unfolds into her music over time. Here are her remaining summer dates beyond this tour:

  • The Horniman Museum, 100 London Road, Forest Hill, London, SE23 3PQ, England, Sunday 10th July 2016, 12.00 pm (noontime show, following which she’ll sprint to Bristol to catch up with Felix and Lorkin for the evening gig)
  • The Bicycle Shop, 17 St Benedicts Street, Norwich, NR2 4PE, England, Sunday 17th July 2016
  • The Blue Man, 8 Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3WA, England, Sunday 24th July 2016

* * * * * * * *

It was a shame to see that Silva Kay has had to pull out of the tour… but it would also be a shame to waste what I wrote about her before she dropped off the billing.

A singer, guitarist, looper and occasional drummer, Sylva has been creating songs since childhood, growing up as she did in the bosom of an artistic family (and being encouraged by writers, photographer and crafters of all stripes). A self-taught self-producer and a youthful veteran of several bands on both sides of the Atlantic and on both coasts of America (including Ra Ra Rabbit, IC and American City), she performs songs which touch on the territories of Joanna Newsom, Ash Ra Tempel, Dayna Kurtz and the dream-permeable moods of My Bloody Valentine. Often performing while surrounded by an arc of miscellaneous percussion, pedals, sound sources and electronics, her music remains centred around her voice and guitar, changing the moods and patterns within its dreamy folktronic format, using cunning loop-pedal work to establish a folk chorale of spontaneous backing vocals and to shift back and forth into trance-like psychedelic moods, moments of skipping indie-pop and stretches of acoustic soul/r’n’b grooves.

Unusually for a latterday loop musician, there’s plenty of space in the performance. The looped parts sound as if they’ve been thought out architecturally on the fly; a semi-spontaneous foundation on which Silva can mount wandering explorations of situations, reflections and reaction. Within the space of a single song, she can sound both independent and love-lorn, interiorised and reaching out, mysterious and readable.

The good news is that, like Lewis, Sylva is determinedly self-propelled, touring out in monthly ripples from her Oxford base: so despite her having withdrawn from this tour, it won’t be too long before there’s an opportunity to see her again.


 

April 2016 – upcoming gigs – two types of British folk tour: Michael Chapman and Moulettes, plus a menagerie of support acts (United Sound of Joy, Richard Moss, Marcus Bonfanti, The Brackish, The Horse Loom, Dirty Old Folkers, Colour Trap)

19 Apr

Two British tours start this week, reflecting – in their way – very different aspects of British folk music.

Recently celebrated by ‘Mojo’, Michael Chapman isn’t just one of the sturdiest and most independent of the singer-songwriters coming out of the homegrown British folk revival of the 1960s: he’s also one of the last acoustic guitar masters standing from the generation which included Bert Jansch, Davy Graham and John Renbourne (all of whom are now gone). His playing reveals a fascination with Southern blues, folk, slide and ragtime jazz styles (all of which he’s mastered), while his pursuit of sound and setting has drawn him towards drones, delay, and loop effects (all of which he’s used as an adjunct to his unadorned playing, rather than as a replacement or distraction). As a singer and songwriter, there are parallels with J.J. Cale; and, rightly or wrongly, I can also hear echoes or anticipations of fellow Cale devotee Mark Knopfler in there, in terms of the husk, the fingerpicking clarity and the unprecious observational skills. (For what it’s worth, the two are connected by time in Leeds and both shared, however fleetingly, original Dire Straits drummer Pick Withers, whose jazz-influenced drummer kept the band both grounded and textured in the days before stadiums and weariness).

Here’s the press release for the upcoming tour:

“2016 marks noted guitarist & songwriter Michael Chapman’s 75th birthday and fifty years since he went on the road professionally in 1966. To coincide with the celebrations, Michael’s new instrumental album, ‘Fish’ has just been released on US imprint Tompkins Square & is already gathering much praise. To mark this important milestone in his life and career Michael Chapman tours in the UK as part of a stripped-back trio also featuring two longstanding allies – pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole (whose association with Chapman goes back a long, long way to the early 1970s) and Sarah Smout on cello (Chapman’s favourite musical instrument, which many fans will recall featured strongly on his classic 1970 album ‘Fully Qualified Survivor’.). The trio will be playing material from Michael’s incredible five-decade performing history as well as some new and experimental music.”




 

Dates are as follows:

A diverse set of interesting support acts are showing up at points during the tour, reflecting both the breadth of Michael’s musical references and the way in which venue promoters feel that they can successfully fit others around him on a bill. At Blackburn, the evening will be opened by Richard Moss: Lancashire singer-songwriter, fingerstyle guitarist, mandolin player and member of Anglo-Malaysian guitar duo Squirrels In Space, Irish music band Drop The Floor and the Union Street Country Dance & Ceilidh Band. At the Sinderhope show, support comes from hardcore punk escapee turned folk-baroque guitarist Steve Malley, otherwise known as The Horse Loom.



 

At the first gig of the tour (up in Hull), it’s Bristolian post-punk/psych/jazz band The Brackish who sound like an artfully spilled bookshelf of three decades worth of vinyl. Their muscly, slightly boggled tone mixes in urban blues, Ventures-tinged surf tunes, Frank Zappa air-sculptures and a few of Captain Beefheart’s broader brushstrokes (plus a tooth-in-the wind guitar edge which recalls the rawest work of Adrian Belew, at his analogue-screaming decennial point midway between Zappa and King Crimson).


 

* * * * * * * *

Although they’re also a product of the British folk tradition, Moulettes come from a different angle – one which is more fanciful and playful, in which authenticity is less the Holy Grail and more of a switchable ingredient. Like Rose Kemp, their take on folk draws on heavier sounds and on nearly fifty years of extraordinary, fanciful rock music. A Moulettes song comes at you like a dose of multi-instrumental chamber prog, adding cello, bassoon and autoharp to the guitars, bass and drums and the triple-decker lead vocals. Their storytelling itch, sense of mischief and enjoyment of each other’s company just glows out of both of these video clips below:



 

Dates are as follows:

  • The Brook, 466 Portswood Rd, Southampton, SO17 3SD, England, Thursday 21st April 2016
  • The Cellar, Frewin Court, Oxford, OX1 3HZ, England, Friday 22nd April 2016
  • Islington Assembly Hall, Upper Street, London, N1 2UD, England, Saturday 23rd April 2016, 7.00pm (with United Sounds Of Joy)
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EJ, England, Sunday 24th April 2016
  • The Apex, 1 Charter Square, Bury Saint Edmunds, IP33 3FD, England, Tuesday 26th April 2016
  • The Dark Horse, Alcester Road, Moseley, Birmingham, B13 8JP, England, Wednesday 27th April 2016, 7.00pm (with Marcus Bonfanti + The Dirty Old Folkers)more information
  • The Musician, 42 Crafton St West, Leicester, LE1 2DE, England, Thursday 28th April 2016
  • The Mash House, Hastie’s Close, 37 Guthrie Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1JQ, Scotland, Friday 29th April 2016 (with Colour Trap)more information
  • The Duchess, Stonebow House, The Stonebow, York, YO1 7NP, England, Tuesday 3rd May 2016 (support tbc) – more information
  • The Greystones, Greystones Road, Sheffield, S11 7BS, England, Wednesday 4th May 2016
  • Band On The Wall, 25 Swan Street, The Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 5JZ, England, Thursday 5th May 2016 (support t.b.c.) – more information
  • The Convent, Convent Lane, Stroud, GL5 5HS, England, Friday 6th May 2016more information
  • The Tolmen Centre, Fore Street, Constantine, near Falmouth, TR11 5AA, England, Saturday 7th May 2016, 7.30pmmore information

As with Michael Chapman, the support slot arrangements fan out over a diverse range of styles: in fact, even more diverse than the Chapman tour. The London gig features United Sounds Of Joy, the slow-burn sensual pop-noir duo reuniting Michael J. Sheehy and Alex Vald (who, during the 1990s, alternately spat savage vindictive rock filth or crooned a creased and seedy London romanticism with Dream City Film Club).



 

At Birmingham, support comes from straightahead London blues guitarist Marcus Bonfanti and from wisecracking locals The Dirty Old Folkers (who describe themselves as “a Viz comic, being narrated by the Pogues” and deliver a raucous, sometimes smutty set which might be good-time but which still draws heavily on bad times and working-class resilience).



 

In Edinburgh, Moulettes are joined by local trad-indie rockers Colour Trap, who look back to golden-age British rock and Britpop scenes of the ‘60s and ‘90s.

 

April 2016 – upcoming gigs – Project Instrumental’s 21st century string quartets and Julian Dawes’ Passover cantata in London: Britten Sinfonia tours Bartok, Schumann and a new Bryce Dessner work across the east of England.

29 Mar

On the first day of April, Project Instrumental offer another performance of their current twenty-first century string quartet programme:

Project Instrumental, 2016

Late Shift @ NPG presents:
Project Instrumental
National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, Westminster, London, WC2H 0HE, England
Friday 1st April 2016, 6.30 pm
– free event – more information

“Described as “simply knockout” (Alex Julyan, Wellcome Trust Fellow) and selected as a Time Out London Critic’s Choice, Project Instrumental brings thrilling performances to unbounded audiences. Instrument-inspired, rather than genre-led, the group evolves around a core of strings and what can be done with them, across genres and instrumental combinations, to create truly enlivening performances, for anyone. Bold, imaginative and boundary defying, this virtuosic group strips back the peripherals with their straightforward contemporary approach to, to create not just concerts, but experiences.”

Programme:

Thomas Seltz: String Quartet No.1
Joby Talbot: String Quartet No.2
Nico Muhly: Diacritical Marks

This concert is, for the most part, a repeat performance of Project Instrumental’s late February free appearance at the Southbank Centre. I’ll just requote from the preview that I wrote at the time:

“Though Project Instrumental haven’t made this explicit, all of the contemporary classical composers whose quartets are being played either originally stem from, or confidently dip into, a broad field of popular music. Nico Muhly has long been a byword for latterday classical/pop crossovers, balancing operas and contemporary music ensemble commissions with arrangements and co-writes for Grizzly Bear, Björk, Antony and the Johnsons and Philip Glass. Joby Talbot spent nine years playing on and expanding Neil Hannon’s chamber-pop songs for The Divine Comedy before moving on to a diverse compositional career of ballets, concerti, orchestral and choral works and madrigals (while still doing film scores and arrangement works relating to pop, such as his reworking of songs by The White Stripes for choreographer Wayne McGregor). Thomas Seltz, spent his teenage years recording and touring as a rock guitarist and songwriter with French rock bands (most notably TORO) before making the shift to classical composition at the University of Edinburgh from 2006. Since then, he’s maintained his interest in the classical/popular faultline, writing an electric bass guitar concerto (for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and John Patitucci), ‘Awesome X’ (a comic opera about reality TV) and ‘Mandarin’ (a concerto written for Chinese erhu player Peng Yueqiang and Edinburgh crossover-chamber ensemble Mr McFall’s Chamber).


 

All four composers refuse to be pigeonholed either by their established classical reputations or by their current or past roots/impingements upon pop and rock, seeing it all as a set of disciplines between which they can step as they choose. Seltz’s quartet (completed only last year) documents and honours his musical history, in particular his transition from rock musician to contemporary composer, via rock-inspired “strong dynamic, rhythmic and melodic elements”. Talbot’s possesses a wheeling dovelike softness in its graceful minimal approach, while Dessner’s takes tips from Reich, Adams and Glass but explodes them with a hoedown vigour. Sidestepping his confessed anxieties regarding the emotional exposure of the form, Muhly’s is bookended by an emphasis on lively ticking mechanisms and accents, counterbalanced by a more rhapsodic (and possibly concealing) middle section.”

* * * * * * * *

Back during the February performance, the Project Instrumental string quartet performance had an additional piece in the programme – ‘Tenebre’, written by Bryce Dessner, who divides his time between playing and composing for rock group The National and working the classical music and high-art world: curating Cleveland’s MusicNOW New Music festival, performing as part of classical improvisers Clogs and generating a large number of pieces for assorted classical ensembles. Although Project Instrumental might not be playing his work this month, a new Dessner composition is the centrepiece of the latest Britten Sinfonia At Lunch tour, which is on the road a little later in the month:

Britten Sinfonia presents ‘At Lunch Four’

Bryce Dessner (photo by Shervin Lainez)

Bryce Dessner (photo by Shervin Lainez)

Programme:

Béla Bartók – Selection of Duos
Bryce Dessner – EL Chan (world premiere tour)
Robert Schumann – Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op.47

Performers:

Thomas Gould (violin)
Clare Finnimore (viola)
Caroline Dearnley (cello)
Huw Watkins (piano)

“Bryce Dessner, known to many as the guitarist from The National, has been leading a double life as a prolific composer and curator in the realm of creative new music. His music, marked by a keen sensitivity to instrumental colour and texture, features in this hour-long programme alongside Bartok’s folklore-inspired pedagogical Duos and Schumann’s ever-popular Piano Quartet.”

The London gig includes a pre-concert discussion between Bryce Dessner and Dr Kate Kennedy at 12.15pm (free, but places must be booked in advance); the Cambridge gig includes a 2.15pm post-concert discussion led by a member of the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Music (free to ticket holders). More information here.

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At around the same time, London sees the premiere of a new work by British composer Julian Dawes (who recently had a retrospective concert of his work performed at The Forge). As with much of Julian’s work, it draws on Jewish themes and is performed by several outstanding British-Jewish musicians: in addition, it’s being performed at one of London’s most culturally-enthused and artistically open synagogues:


New London Synagogue presents:
Julian Dawes: ‘Pesach Cantata’
New London Synagogue, 33 Abbey Road, St John’s Wood, London, NW8 0AT, England
Sunday 10th April 2016, 7.30pm
more information

Pesach Cantata, 2016Set from a libretto by Rabbi Roderick Young, ‘Pesach Cantata’ is a new cantata for soloists, chorus and chamber ensemble in which the story of Pesach (Passover) is told by a grandfather to his grandchild, and which includes three other characters, Miriam, Aaron and Rabban Gamliel.

Performers:

Cantor Jason Green – Grandfather
Z’ev Green – Grandchild
Martha Jones – Miriam
Mark Nathan – Aaron
Julien Van Mellaerts – Rabban Gamliel
The New London Singers
The New London Chamber Ensemble
Vivienne Bellos – conductor

There’s a short ‘Pesach’ excerpt below:


 

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Coming up – news on the first Facemelter of the month, and more…
 

February 2016 – upcoming gigs – a classical sweep: Britten Sinfonia tour Debussy, Donatoni, Takemitsu, Jolivet and a Daníel Bjarnason premiere; the Hermes Experiment go audio-visual with Bennett, Kate Whitley, Soosan Lolavar, Ed Scolding and Giles Swayne; Busch Piano Trio play Brahms, Schubert and Loevendie; the latest of Susanne Kessel’s ‘250 Piano Pieces For Beethoven’ project brings premieres by Mike Garson, Ivo van Emmerik, Robert HP Platz, Claudio Puntin, Markus Reuter, Klaus Runze, Mateo Soto and Knut Vaage.

11 Feb

Some news on upcoming classical-and-related gigs spanning from Southampton to London to Cambridge to Norwich, and over to Bonn in Germany…

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The Hermes Experiment - 'Sonic Visions' @ The Forge, 16th February 2016

The Hermes Experiment presents: Sonic Visions
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Tuesday 16th February 2016, 8:00 pm
more information

“Described as “barmy but brilliant” by ‘Classical Music Magazine’ (and winners of both Park Lane Group Young Artists 2015/16 and of Nonclassical’s Battle of the Bands 2014), The Hermes Experiment is an ensemble of four young professional musicians who are passionate about contemporary and experimental music, and thus inspired to create something innovative and unique. Capitalising on their deliberately idiosyncratic combination of instruments, the ensemble regularly commissions new works, as well as creating their own innovative arrangements and venturing into live free improvisation.

The ensemble has established itself on the London contemporary classical scene with regular performances across the city for organisations including Nonclassical, Kammerklang, Listenpony and Bastard Assignments. Other highlights have included being selected to perform at the 2014 UK Young Artists Festival in Leicester, and giving a concert at Aubazine Abbey in France as part of the L’Aura des Arts festival. The Hermes Experiment is also dedicated to the value of contemporary music in education and community contexts, having taken part in the Wigmore Hall Learning’s ‘Chamber Tots’ and ‘For Crying Out Loud’ 2014/15 schemes.

So far, The Hermes Experiment has commissioned new work from thirty-one composers at various stages of their careers (including Giles Swayne, Stevie Wishart and Misha Mullov-Abbado). The ensemble also strives to create a platform for cross-disciplinary collaboration and has recently created a ‘musical exhibition’ with photographer Thurstan Redding.

The Sonic Visions show will explore ways in which aural experiences have been influenced by visual stimuli. The programme is led by new commissions that respond to a visual element, as interpreted by composers Kate Whitley and Soosan Lolavar; plus a new piece devised in collaboration with Giles Swayne based on a graphic score, and the premiere of an animation by Izabela Barszcz based on Ed Scolding‘s ‘Black Sea’. The Hermes Experiment will also be interpreting three other new graphic scores, devised by Deborah Pritchard, Andy Ingamells and Eloise Gynn as part of a competition linked to the event. The programme will be completed by arrangements that explore three very varied composers/songwriters that have been inspired by the world of visual art: Claude Debussy, Richard Rodney Bennett and Don McLean. This concert is supported by the Britten-Pears Foundation and the Hinrichsen Foundation.

Programme:

Kate Whitley – My Hands (setting of a poem by Nadine Tunasi – world premiere)
Soosan Lolavar – Mah Didam (world premiere)
Ed Scolding – Black Sea (with new animation by Izabela Barszcz)
Claude Debussy – Mandoline and Fantoche
Richard Rodney Bennett – Slow Foxtrot (from ‘A History of Thé Dansant’)
Don McLean – Vincent (new arrangement by The Hermes Experiment)
New semi-improvised piece by Giles Swayne & The Hermes Experiment
New graphic scores by Deborah Pritchard, Andy Ingamells and Eloise Gynn

Performers:

Oliver Pashley – clarinet
Anne Denholm – harp
Marianne Schofield – double bass
Héloïse Werner – soprano/co-director

Supported by
Hanna Grzekiewicz – co-director/marketing/development

Kate Whitley and Soosan Lolavar have both provided blog entries discussing the genesis of their Sonic Visions pieces (based on a poem setting and on an exploration of the links between Iranian music and Renaissance Counterpoint, respectively). The graphic score for Deborah Pritchard’s piece (which is apparently called ‘Kandinsky Studies’) showed up on Twitter recently, so I’ve reproduced it below:

Deborah Pritchard:  score for 'Kandinsky Studies', 2016

Deborah Pritchard: score for ‘Kandinsky Studies’, 2016

Also below are a couple of videos – one of the Hermes Experiment in the flow of free improvisation, the other of them performing William Cole’s ‘me faytz trobar’.



 
* * * * * * * *
The Britten Sinfonia return for the second of this year’s (and the third overall) ‘At Lunch’ concert series of mid-day performances across the east of England, this time managing to stretch as far as the south coast.

Britten Sinfonia presents ‘At Lunch Three’

Daníel Bjarnason (photo by Samantha West)

Daníel Bjarnason (photo by Samantha West)

Programme:

Claude Debussy – Syrinx
Franco Donatoni – Small II
Daníel Bjarnason – new work (world premiere tour)
Franco Donatoni – Marches
Claude Debussy – Sonata for flute, viola and harp (L137)

amended setlist for Southampton adds:

André Jolivet – Petite Suite
Toru Takemitsu – And Then I Knew ‘Twas Wind

Performers:

Emer McDonough (flute)
Clare Finnimore (viola)
Lucy Wakeford (harp)

“The combination of flute, viola and harp may not be the most familiar trio ensemble, but it is one that certainly lends itself to the rich exploration of colour and harmonies that is typical of Debussy’s output. A deeply expressive curiosity in soundscapes and association with visual art also features in the compositions of Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason, whose new work features alongside that of Debussy in this programme.”

The London and Cambridge gigs include an “in conversation” event (a pre-concert discussion on Daníel Bjarnason’s new work) before the concert at 12.15pm in London, or after the concert at 2.15pm in Cambridge. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance in London, and are only available to concert ticket holders in Cambridge.

* * * * * * * *

Back in Norwich, there’s a promising trio concert…

Busch Trio, 2016

(Norfolk & Norwich Chamber Music Festival presents:
The Busch Trio
John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, Colney Lane, Norwich, NR4 7UH, England
Saturday 20th February 2016, 7.30pm
more information

“Named after the legendary violinist Adolf Busch and inspired by trio member Mathieu van Bellen’s possession of Busch’s 1783 J.B. Guadagnini violin, the London-based Busch Trio – previously The Busch Ensemble – are emerging as one of the leading young piano trios among the new generation, receiving enthusiastic responses from audiences and critics across the UK and Europe. Recognised for their achievements and the “incredible verve” of their playing, they were winners of the 2012 Royal Overseas League Competition and went on to win several prizes including 2nd prize and the recording prize at the 2012 Salieri-Zinetti International Chamber Music Competition and the 3rd prize at the 2013 Pinerolo International Chamber Music Competition in Italy as well as the 2nd prize at the International Schumann Chamber Music Award in Frankfurt.

Since its formation in 2012 highlights of the Trio’s performances in the UK have included the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Sage Gateshead and a critically acclaimed appearance at Wigmore Hall. They have also given concerts in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Denmark. The trio enjoys the support of the Tunnell Trust, the Kirckman Concert Society, the Park Lane Group and the Cavatina Chamber Music Trust, as well as being awarded the MMSF Philharmonia Orchestra Ensemble Award. Most recently they have completed the prestigious ChamberStudio Mentorship Programme, which has offered them teaching from some of the world’s leading musicians. They are currently receiving guidance from members of the Artemis Quartet at the Queen Elizabeth Music Chapel in Brussels.”

This concert includes a pre-concert discussion with the trio members at 6.30pm. In addition to two familiar Romantic-era classics, the programme includes a performance of ‘Ackermusik’ by jazz/Eastern-cultures-inspired Dutch composer Theo Loevendie (which Loevendie notes is “written in a mosaic form of five repetitive elements” and which possibly, though not explicitly, pays tribute to the low, breathy vibrato clarinet stylings of late British trad-jazzer Acker Bilk).

Programme:

Theo Loevendie – Ackermusik
Johannes Brahms – Piano Trio No. 2 in C major Op. 87
Franz Schubert – Piano Trio No 2 in E flat D929

Performers:

Omri Epstein – piano
Mathieu van Bellen – violin
Ori Epstein – cello

Here’s a recent recording of the Busch Trio performing the third (Poc adagio) movement of Dvorak’s Piano Trio in F minor, op.65, as well as a previous performance of ‘Ackermusic’ by the Van Baerle Trio.


 

 

* * * * * * * *

Finally, news on an ongoing concert and commissioning series…

Susanne Kessel - 250 Pieces For Beethoven

Bonner Kunstverein presents:
Susanne Kessel: ‘250 Piano Pieces for Beethoven’
Klavierhaus Klavins, Auguststrasse 26–28, 53229 Bonn, Germany
Thursday 25th February, 2016, 7.30pm
more information.

“In the year 2020, the world will celebrate the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, who was born in Bonn. In partnership with German radio station WDR Köln, pianist and Bonn native Susanne Kessel has begun an international composition project, inviting composers from all over the world to write a short piano piece “for Beethoven” with a duration of four minutes or under.

Since the start of the project, Susanne has been performing all the pieces at a series of concerts in Bonn (with some pieces also being presented at Speicher am Kaufhauskanal in Hamburg). All pieces will subsequently be published in a “precious paper” sheet-music edition by Editions Musica Ferrum of London.”

As of February 5th of this year, Susanne has received fifty-seven of the planned two hundred and fifty pieces. The next of the concerts in the performance series takes place on February 25th, in the Bonn instrument store Klavierhaus Klavins, and will feature premieres of work by the following composers:

  • Ivo van Emmerik – Dutch composer and onetime student of, among others, John Cage, Brian Ferneyhough and Morton Feldman (regarding whom he’s sometimes been suggested as a successor) with a strong interest in multi-media musical staging, electronic music and computer applications.
  • Mike Garson – cross-disciplinary American jazz, rock and experimental pianist and arranger (best known for his mid-‘70s work with David Bowie).
  • Robert HP Platz – German composer and founder/conductor of Ensemble Köln, generally better known for large-scale projects which can include operatic works, children’s music, literature, poetry, audio tapes and visual arts.
  • Claudio Puntin – Swiss composer, clarinettist and loop musician best known for wild, beautiful and moody electronica and post-jazz as a member of ensembles including ambiq and Sepiasonic as well as work for film, television and theatre.
  • Markus Reuter – German cross-disciplinary composer, touch guitarist, teacher and instrument designer, known for his work with centrozoon, Stick Men and others (as well as for his recent full-scale orchestral piece ‘Todmorden 513’).
  • Klaus Runze – German “intermedia” artist, composer, educator and theorist (pursuing, amongst other things, structured improvisation, composition, sonic sculpture, and painting-while-performing)
  • Mateo Soto – award-winning Spanish composer and recent winner of YouTube CODE 2016 Series Call for Scores.
  • Knut Vaage – Norwegian composer and member of the ensembles JKL and Fat Battery, whose work explores the boundaries between composition and improvisations.

Five of the composers (van Emmerik, Platz, Puntin, Reuter and Vaage) will be attending and possibly speaking, as will German percussionist/composer/music professor Dennis Kuhn and Swiss composer-pianist Lars Werdenberg (founder of New Music platform Chaotic Moebius), both of whom have previously contributed pieces to the project.

News on the ongoing project can be followed here.

* * * * * * * *

More gig news shortly, including William D. Drake in Italy and Louis Barrabas on the rampage across Scotland and northern England.

February 2016 – upcoming gigs – interlocking British tours by Yorkston Thorne Khan, Toby Hay/Jim Ghedi and Laura Moody offer Anglo-Indian crossover folk, fingerstyle guitar, folk baroque and cello bewitchment.

10 Feb

I didn’t catch up with this next tour until a couple of its January dates had gone by, but it’s still worth catching up with the rest of it:

Yorkston Thorne Khan, 2015

Yorkston/Thorne/Khan are an experimental group that includes James Yorkston (hailed as one of the most “influential singer/songwriters on the Scottish folk scene”), Suhail Yusuf Khan (award winning sarangi player and classical singer from New Delhi) and Jon Thorne (best known as jazz double bass player with electro outfit Lamb). The trio are currently touring to support their collaborative debut album ‘Everything Sacred’, which was released in mid-January 2016.

This is Scottish-Irish-Indian-English music in the raw – Yorkston’s familiar steel guitar strings pulled, pushed and bent into more unfamiliar acoustic drones, the bass dropping anchors through the floor. Rather than world music per se, this sounds more idiosyncratic, a temporary structure bivouacking by the side of the indie-folk, art music tradition, while its widening horizons extend back to the Sixties heyday of the Incredible String Band, and forward to this singular album’s satellite orbit over the folk music, Indian classical and indie music of today – all these musical ley lines threaded into a new kind of eclectic, domestic setting.

James: “Playing together as Yorkston/Thorne/Khan, we tackle a wide array of different sounds and songs. Alongside pieces of our own, there’s a fair chunk of improvisation, plus covers of Ivor Cutler’s Little Black Buzzer and Lal Waterson’s Song For Thirza. Jon’s jazz background definitely comes to the fore, as does Suhail’s devotional singing and outstanding sarangi playing. I just do my best to keep up…”


 

Dates:

January 2016 – upcoming gigs – Fortuna Pop Winter Sprinter and Repeater alt/indie/noisepop mini-festivals (and Hannah Marshall/Korbik Lucas playing a LUME slot) in London; Britten Sinfonia At Lunch across the east of England (with an Anna Clyne premiere); David Cohen and friends play magical-journey chamber music by Michael Nyman, Schubert and Gavin Higgins in Norwich

3 Jan

Happy New Year everyone. While I sort myself out, put the review of 2015 together and decide which approaches to take with ‘Misfit City’ this year, here’s what I know about so far in terms of January shows. A couple of mini-festivals of indie pop/garage rock/punk/noise rock and indie folk in London; a lunchtime mini-tour of chamber music in London and the east of England; an afternoon of free improvisation in a Kentish Town record shop; plus one more interesting classical concert in unusual surroundings up in Norwich.

* * * * * * * *

Several of the characters who showed up for the Arrivée/Départ II festival last month are also showing up for this next one: it’s a similar aesthetic, and involves many of the same musical and professional friendships.

Fortuna Pop Winter Sprinter, January 2016

The 6th Annual Fortuna POP! Winter Sprinter (2016) (The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England, Tuesday 5th to Friday 8th January 2016, various times) – £10.45 (or £32.70 for four-day pass) – informationtickets

It’s happening again… The 6th Annual Fortuna POP! Winter Sprinter 2016 is Go! Four nights, twelve bands, DJs… the perfect antidote to the post-Christmas blues with the creme de la creme of the Fortuna POP! roster – including former members of Broken Family Band and The Loves – plus special guests.

Tuesday 5th January – Steven James Adams + Simon Love + The Leaf Library plus DJ Paul Wright (The Track & Field Organisation).



Wednesday 6th January – Tigercats + Flowers + Chorusgirl plus DJ Paul Richards (Scared To Dance).



Thursday 7th January – Withered Hand (full band) + Evans The Death + Pete Astor, plus DJ Darren Hayman.



Friday 8th January – Martha + Milky Wimpshake + Bleurgh (a Blur covers band featuring members of Allo Darlin’‎, Fever Dream, Night Flowers and Tigercats) plus DJs Sandy Gill & Karren Gill (Stolen Wine Social Club Night).


* * * * * * * *

Overlapping the Winter Sprinter is something a little noisier, over in Shacklewell…

Repeater Festival, January 2016

Repeater Festival (Bad Vibrations @ The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, England,
Thursday 7th to Saturday 9th January 2016, various times)
– free entry – information

To break in the new year, Bad Vibrations will be putting on a 3-day residency of free-entry gigs at The Shacklewell Arms featuring a selection of garage, noise-rock and indie-folk bands. People playing include Taman Shud, The Wharves, Strange Cages, Virgin Kids, The Eskimo Chain, Honey Moon, Lucifer’s Sun, Night Shades and St. Serf. The usual strip of soundclips and video is below.








 

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A recent trip to Norwich (still a prime ‘Misfit City’ stomping ground, partly thanks to all of those hometown Burning Shed concerts in the past decade or so) brought me into touch with the next set of gigs. The classical ensemble Britten Sinfonia has close links with the east of England and is honouring that with its At Lunch mini-tours, which swing in a loose arc between Norwich, Cambridge and London, bringing sturdy classical repertoire plus new premieres with them. Here’s information on the second of these tours (sorry, I missed the first one) which takes place mid-month:

Anna Clyne (photo by Javier Oddo)

Anna Clyne (photo by Javier Oddo)


Britten Sinfonia presents ‘At Lunch Two’

  • St Andrew’s Hall @ The Halls, St Andrews Plan, Norwich, Norfolk, NR3 1AU, England, Friday 15th January 2016 – £3.00 to £9.00 plus booking fee – tickets
  • West Road Concert Hall, 11 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DP, England, Tuesday 19th January 2016, 1.00pm – £3.00 to £9.00 – information & tickets
  • Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 2BP, England, Wednesday 20th January 2016, 1.00pm – £11.00 to £13.00 – information & tickets

Programme:

Johann Sebastian Bach – Gott versorget alles Leben (from Cantata BWV187)
Domenico Scarlatti (arr. Salvatore Sciarrino) – Due arie notturne dal campo
Arvo Pärt – Fratres (for string quartet)
Johann Sebastian Bach – Seufzer, Tranen, Kummer, Not (from Cantata BWV21)
György Ligeti – Continuum
Anna Clyne – This Lunar Beauty (world premiere tour)
Johann Sebastian Bach – Tief gebückt und voller Reue (from Cantata BWV199)

Performers:

Julia Doyle (soprano)
Maggie Cole (harpsichord)
Jacqueline Shave, Miranda Dale (violins)
Clare Finnimore (viola)
Caroline Dearnley (cello)
Marios Argiros (oboe)

A pre-occupation with texture permeates this programme, beginning with two arias from the grand master of counterpoint, J. S. Bach. Ligeti’s ‘Continuum’ tests not only the limits of the soloist but also the exhilarating knife-edge between hearing individual notes and continuous sound. A world premiere from Grammy-nominated composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic music, Anna Clyne, whose music seeks to explore resonant soundscapes and propelling textures, completes the journey from the baroque to present day.

* * * * * * * *

LUME, whose London jazz and free improvisation events I tracked during 2015, are continuing to expand their efforts. While they seem to have found themselves a more regular slot at the Vortex, early 2016 shows are taking place at assorted venues around the capital – galleries, shops, any suitable space. The first of these is in a heavy-duty experimental record shop in Kentish Town, which – although it’s only a short walk or bus hop away from the ‘Misfit City’ flat – I’ve not noticed up until now. I should visit it and go through my usual masochistic experience of being intimidated by serried racks of music made by people I’ve not heard of before; or perhaps I should just go to this show.

Hannah Marshall + Kordik Lucas (LUME @ Electric Knife Records, 16b Fortess Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 2EU, England, Saturday 16th January 2016, 1.30pm) – pay-what-you-like, £5.00 minimum

The first LUME gig of the year features a solo set from improvising cellist Hannah Marshall (whose collaborators have included Veryan Weston, Evan Parker, Lauren Kinsalle, Alex Ward and former Henry Cow members Tim Hodgkinson and Fred Frith), followed by a performance by the improvising duo Kordik Lucas duo (Slovakian analogue synth player Daniel Kordik and trombonist Edward Lucas, who also run the Earshots concert series and record label). This will be an in-store show so space is limited. There’s not much more information available on the evening at present, so keep an eye on the LUME and Electric Knife sites for updates (if anything new shows up, I’ll add it in here…)


* * * * * * * *

David Cohen (photo by Daniel Herendi)

David Cohen (photo by Daniel Herendi)

Finally, back to Norwich to drop in on a classical chamber music series assembled by acclaimed Belgian cellist David Cohen and assorted friends. Usually when I cover classical or modern classical concerts it’s because they feature premieres of new pieces or intriguing new interpretations and juxtapositions. While this one does feature a premiere (Gavin Higgins’ ‘Howl’) as well as a recent Michael Nyman string quartet from 2011, in this case I was intrigued by the venue – the John Innes Centre, a long-established plant and microbial research centre which lends its lecture theatre for these concerts. If you’re of an intellectual, associative and site-specific mindset, you can listen to the structures in the music unfold while simultaneously considering that you’re surrounded by the echoes of people thinking about – and unravelling the shape of – vegetable genomes.

Cello Con Brio ‘Magical Journeys’ (Norfolk & Norwich Chamber Music @ John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park, Colney Lane, Norwich, NR4 7UH, England, Sunday 17th January 2016, 7.30pm) – £1.50 to £25.50 – informationtickets

Programme:

Michael Nyman – String Quartet No. 5 (‘Let’s not make a song and dance out of this’)
Gavin Higgins – Howl (for solo cello & string quartet) – world premiere
Franz Schubert – String Quintet in C

Performers:

David Cohen (cello)
Henri Sigfridsson (piano)
Corinne Chapelle (violin)
The Smith Quartet (strings)

Music performed by the ensemble on the other two days of the residency (15th and 16th January) includes chamber works by Brahms, Arensky, Schnittke, Beethoven and Paganini – the full listing is here.

* * * * * * * *

More gig news next time, including shows by Laura Cannell, Ichi and Tom Slatter.
 

November 2015 – upcoming gigs – Illuminations London present Holly Herndon, Jam City and Claire Tolan in Bethnal Green and Josh T. Pearson, Richard Dawson, Briana Marela and Let’s Eat Grandma in Hackney; Laura Moody plays solo in Cardiff and Sheffield; Jenny Hval and Briana Marela tour the UK

2 Nov

Some more concert dates for the current week. If you’re thinking that these have a definite female slant to them, you’re right. I’m indulging my latent X as well as stretching my perspective.

Holly Herndon expanded A/V show (featuring Mat Dryhurst and Colin Self) + Jam City + Claire Tolan (Barbican & Rockfeedback present Illuminations  @ Oval Space, 29-32 The Oval, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9DT, UK, Wednesday 4th November 2015, 7:30pm) – £15.00

Having already made a showing at Liverpool and Bristol during October, peripatetic techno-pop/IDM composer Holly Herndon brings her expanded show to London. This is a full multi-media experience including the usual music, visuals and dance elements but with an interactive component that goes far beyond Holly’s onstage collaborations with programmer/life partner Mat Dryhurst and with interpretative dancer/additional singer Colin Self. In particular, Mat’s adaptive and conceptual SAGA software reaches out beyond the stage to work – consensually – with the audience members’ own browser histories and Facebook content; mixing it all into the visuals (and, potentially, the sounds) as a communal mashup, both representational and communicatory.

Intriguing as this factor is, it’s an adjunct to Holly’s music; which remains the core material of the show. Continually glitched, tweaked and deconstructed, her compositions are a cool, complex, thoughtful and exhilarating mixture. They’re informed by post-classical forms, dance techno, and anthemic synth pop; they utilize experimental textures and broad vocal stylings (from standard singing to semi-voluntary sounds) and they bury philosophical queries deep within their tunes. Holly’s soundwork is as immersive as her stagings, full of implied questions and reflections regarding our access to and immersion in technology and how this affects the way in which we think and express ourselves, leaving comet-trails of information, interaction and yearnings.

All of these additional subtexts and pointers are there if you want them, but Holly is first and foremost a communicating musician, and her pieces are as melodious and accessible as they are multi-layered. Drawing on her ongoing music studies (doctorate level at Stanford) , her time as a precocious and enquiring teenager steeped in the heat and fun of the Berlin club scene, and her work with everything from choirs to customised laptop software, they sometimes sound like particularly complicated pop songs, stuttering their way through myriad changes of attention and focus. Sometimes they sound like accelerated dream-state dances; sometimes like madrigals sung during earthquakes (see Unequal, below). At other times, they’re like the chatter of path-switching in a circuit; or like carefully-directed cultural channel-surfings which quick-step deftly back and forth across a breadth of urban art and experience (from grand opera house to downloads in cramped bedsits). Brain food which encourages you to wander.

Also on the bill are Jam City and Claire Tolan, both of whom share Holly’s interest in interactions and in the results of our being embedded within a dense informational culture, although each has their own way of approaching the situation.

Jam City is the alias of dance-electronica producer and deconstructionist Jack Latham. Though Jack’s background in fashion and “corporate espionage” sounds almost too good to be true, as if it’s been dream-tailored for counter-cultural media discussions and for high-end elitist posing, he doesn’t use it that way. As a musician, he’s evolved from collaging various dubstep tropes towards using his work to develop and express questioning, outright political critiques of neoliberal capitalism (such as the Unhappy single, which explores the dulled angst of online porn consumers while juxtaposing it with riot footage). In the process, Jack’s also developed as a performer – backgrounding the laptops and the passive role of the standard electronica performer in order to retake the stage as guitarist and singer, and delivering a new phase of material described as sounding like a Prince record constructed from cold, chunky industrial sounds”.

Claire Tolan is an artist, programmer, sampler, writer and soundscaper specializing in autonomous sensory meridian r – a psychological process in which carefully-arranged sound and speech – usually a blend of themed, targeted whispers and quiet diegetic noises (scratches, scuffs, intimate room sounds) – triggers euphoric physical and mental reactions in the listener. With sharp wit, Claire links all of this to new developments in programming and acoustic surveillance technologies, exploring the question of how it might be applied: from simple mood enhancements and healing systems through to neurolinguistics and perception and to the potential manipulation and control of people. Her recent Holly Herndon collaboration Lonely At The Top (see below) might give some clues as to her concert performance. A cosseting monologue, coffee-pot dribbles and the close-up noises of small rooms are interspersed with the rubs and slaps of massage, fingernails ticking on keyboards and screens, and increasingly intimate sounds of hand and mouth: the language, desires and end results of relaxation tapes, executive relief, socially-reinforced senses of entitlement and prostitution blend and overlap to sardonic, disturbing effect.

Information and tickets for the concert are here  while the Facebook event page is here. At the end of the month, Holly will also be appearing at All Tomorrow’s Parties at Prestatyn.

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There are some similarities between Holly Herndon and Laura Moody  – not least an overlap with classical music and a sense of being on the outcrops of songcraft, delving up malleable truths and questions. Yet whereas Holly’s a post-classical theoretician (reconciling her education with her human instincts, and with life outside the college bubble) and works primarily on computer, Laura comes from older and more familiar traditions, and is almost exclusively an acoustic performer. Possessing outstanding talent both as a singer and as a cellist – and able to cover both fields simultaneously, as well as beatboxing and cello-drumming – she pounces into her own music with the terrifying, exhilarating technical skills of a top-drawer classical soloist.

Laura’s songwriting instinct, meanwhile, seem to come from multiple directions at once. Tense twentieth-century string figures (from her earlier years playing avant-garde pieces with the Meredith Monk Ensemble, and her current work with the Elysian Quartet); ancient, eerie folk airs; expressionist opera; P.J. Harvey’s cleaver intensity; the clever, idiosyncratic and individual art pop of a Kate Bush, a Tom Waits or a Bjork. Everything that she delivers sounds immediate, whether it’s the savagely equivocal hormonal take-down of an older man on Creeping Alopecia, the raindrop attenuations of Call This Time Love, or the stormy dissections of love-gone-wrong and betrayal on Turn Away and We Are Waiting.

The live gigs are enthralling wonders: supple switchings between Laura’s own welcoming personality and the performance persona which handles the songs, blurring the line of physicality which separates woman and cello. She’s out on a brief tour now, playing outside London for a few events. Go see for yourselves.

Laura Moody:

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For many female pop musicians, an increasingly outright or explicit public sexuality is both a marketing point and the prime hook. To an extent, this is also true of Jenny Hval. Many people will have initially heard about her thanks to what seemed to be a head-turningly saucy lyric:“I arrived in town with an electric toothbrush pressed against my clitoris.” Curious (and possibly a little numbed by Rihanna, plus memories of lubricious Prince party-funk), many of us will have followed this expecting a licentious slow jam, only to find something very different – the opening line of a mirror-calm songscape of hovering bells, limpid murmurs and breathed-on acoustic guitars which dealt with the secret worlds of strangers within cities and, in particular, their self-reliance.

A polymath whose methods blur as artfully as her perspectives, Jenny doesn’t write songs so much as drop carefully-charged texts and pointers, and then explore and adorn these recitatives with chantlike melodies and poised minimal instrumental textures, pulling them apart and working in and out of the word-rhythms. Her guitars, keyboards and samplers (as well as her heavy-lashed, light-tongued vocals) work like soft-edged sculpting tools. Her lyrics are the lines of resistance.

For both new listeners and previous converts, sexuality remains a prime Hval hook. It’s what we expect to hear from her, although we’ve quickly learnt to appreciate that she turns the expected approaches on their heads and back-to-front. She revels in the unfixed: in the course of a single song, lovers will pass fluidly from mysterious passion to friendship to absence, and between gender, ages, species or state. Even when singing of cupping her own cunt (while cupping the blunt, unadorned and troublesome word itself, delivered throughout her songbook without a hint of shame, taboo or aggression and with a succinct matter-of-fact poise) she’ll let the action lead her somewhere that doesn’t fit the usual expectations and commodities – appreciating its centrality at her body’s core; being inspired to cup in turn a lover’s “soft dick… accepting restlessness, accepting no direction, accepting this fearful wanting that isn’t desire… can we just lie here being?”; or imagining a world of peaceful masturbators (“a million bedrooms with hands softly lulling… without telling anyone, a million ships come alone out on the calmest seas”) while asking, with a sense of disquiet “are we loving ourselves now? Are we mothering ourselves?”

Also running through Jenny’s work (whether entwined with or separate from the sexual themes), are ambiguous accounts of bodily disintegration. Opening her second album ‘Innocence Is Kinky’ with an account of watching online porn, she moves from commodified enervation into an eerie and exultant dream of escape, relinquishing her own body and its passive needs, and finally symbolically destroying the eyes with which she consumes the images. Yet this song and its sisters aren’t quite nightmares. Sometimes they’re triumphs – disassociative fantasies of freedom in which the wrack and ruin seem to be the natural rites of passage of a cool mind walking free, unconcerned, its passions become processes.

Jenny’s writing casts a wide net – violent upsets echoing classic French surrealism; deep-running strands of myth both classical and original (from the “Oslo Oedipus” of Innocence Is Kinky to the dark, quasi-pagan tree-figure in Amphibious, Androgynous that stands as lover, doppelganger and the next phase of self); and musings on the ambiguous trap of language (“the tongue is upon for the restless /An indecipherable alphabet / Each word an island less… And we speak in tongues from part to parts, broke all to parts / From invisible state, to invisible state…”). Most recently, on her latest album ‘Apocalypse, Girl’ the political subtexts have broken cover to become direct challenges (“You say I’m free now, that battle is over, / and feminism is over and socialism’s over. / Yeah, I say, I can consume what I want now..”). So too have preoccupations with ageing and survival (in the breathless narrative of Heaven, surrounded by loops and fractures of cemeteries and childhood choirs, Jenny wrestles with the pull of memory and the drag of mortality) and a increasingly solid approach to identity. “What is it to take care of yourself? Getting paid? Getting laid? Getting married? Getting pregnant? Fighting for visibility in your market? Realizing your potential? Being healthy, being clean, not making a fool of yourself, not hurting yourself? Shaving in all the right places?”

All of the above – the obliqueness and the rapier hits – makes listening to Jenny’s records akin to haunting her apartment at 2am (or some similar time  when manners and manneredness come unstuck and the shapes of other truths come walking). I’ve not been fortunate enough to see what her music is like live – though I know that past concert showings have seen her play bolstered with  guests or simply alone, surrounded by laptops, devices and ideas. On the five quick dates of her current UK tour, you’ll be able to see for yourselves.

Jenny Hval:

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On the Glasgow, Manchester and Bristol dates, Jenny will be joined by her on-off tourmate Briana Marela, a singer-songwriter from the Pacific North-West who’s currently working a string of European tour dates in support of her second album ‘All Around Us’. As you might expect from something recorded in Iceland and co-produced with Sigur Rós associate Alex Somers, ‘All Around Us’ is ghosted and garnished with touches of Hopelandic enchantment (with beautiful smeared, paper-thin sounds intruding on the edge of the mix, like lost amnesiac ghosts or distant pipes), but it’s very much Briana’s inspiration – a luminous, thoughtful work blending layered melodic sample-patches and banking her petal-delicate vocals into choirs and a capella counterpoint.

Though Briana cites Björk, Laura Veirs, Vashti Bunyan and Meredith Monk as influences (she has something in common with Laura Moody, then), I can also hear the same kind of all-round sound-mastery that’s on display and working away in the songs of Imogen Heap; deep-level sonic exploration and sound curation tied to the urge to tell you a story and sing you a straight earworm. In the album’s lead single Surrender I can even hear something of the pure pop of ABBA, while the midnight lushness of the follow-up, Dani, recalls a Julee Cruise ‘Twin Peaks’ ballad.

Though Briana’s voice is soft, it’s never wispy – never insubstantial. If there’s a hint of girl-next-door to what she does, she’s the quiet, observant girl full of thoughts, going her own way but ready to let you walk alongside.  Like Jenny, though less explicitly, she explores possibilities of intimacy. Her songs hover carefully on the borderline between selfhood and loneliness, a delicate staking out of possible togetherness, subtly resisting the pressures to put out or submit, to be deformed by needs and expectations (“What does love mean in this day and age? /  To me it’s a moment where we resonate at two frequencies close in phase… /  It’s not a competition /  Everyone has music within them.” ). Meanwhile, the perfectly-pitched American-visionary tone of the album (its hallucinatory fairy-tale sonics, leaflike piano falls and misty country swells) suggests that there’s common ground between Briana’s dream pop and the ostensibly cleaner work of breakthrough CCM-pop singers like Lexi Elisha, which in turn suggests that there’ll be a lot of people who’ll end up liking this.

* * * * * * * *

In between dates with Jenny Hval, Briana Marela will also be joining the bill at another Illuminations concert in London, this one a stew of assorted flavours which also includes the battered Americana of Lift To Experience frontman Josh T. Pearson  and the skewed Tyneside noise-troubadour work of Richard Dawson.

Probably because of the female orientation of this particular post, I’ve got to admit that I’m more intrigued by the youngest act on the bill, and the only other female one. It’s difficult to work out just how tongue-in-cheek the psychedelic rag-doll sludge-pop” duo Let’s Eat Grandma are, assuming that they’re joking at all. Eyes down, singing from beneath and behind tumbling pre-Raphaelite locks, and tucked into stolen Stevie Nicks dresses, Rosa and Jenny rummage with various instruments like toybox-divers and play songs as if it’s only occurred to them to do so. Two Norwich teenagers who’ve known each other since childhood, they’ve sustained, into near adulthood, that mysterious blankness of two little girls who are ignoring your interruptions to their game. The songs themselves are tangled musical fairy stories, or (as with ‘Eat Shiitake Mushrooms Into Chocolate Sludge Cake’) extended wooden-legged instrumental mantras owing more to Faust or Beefheart: spontaneous-seeming, utterly absorbed in themselves. The band feels like a musical chrysalis twitching what might become an astounding breadth of wing. It’s all to discover.

Josh T. Pearson/Richard Dawson/Briana Marela/Let’s Eat Grandma (Rockfeedback present Illuminations @ St. John Church at Hackney, Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, London, E5 0PD, UK, Saturday 7th November 2015, 6.00pm) – £20.00 –  informationtickets

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More concert previews coming shortly for November…

January 2014 – live reviews – half of a Lost Weekend: Daylight Music presents The Middle Ones/Freschard/The Pictish Trail @ Union Chapel, Islington, London, 18th January 2014 (“the weekend swallowed us”)

23 Jan

What a pulsating Union Chapel hangover might be like...

What a pulsating Union Chapel hangover might be like…

You reckon that lost weekends are just for drunks? Try parenthood. Joyous as it may be, it can also be a swirl of cash-and time-poverty, torn-up plans, and utter confusion, much of which homes in on the weekend and turns it upside down. It’s the same, I tell you. The smear of lost hours, the existential dread, the sensation that you’ve fallen into a pocket outside of the real world; not to mention the worry that you won’t make it through to the end…

Regular ‘Misfit City’ readers know that my family and I tend to use Daylight Music’s Saturday concert afternoons (at the Union Chapel, up in the neck of Islington), as a way of finding ourselves again and of giving our weekends a bit of shape. Child-friendly and refreshing – and free – it’s something of a life-saver. So here we are again, slightly blurred and bleary. On this occasion, Daylight Music are doing their own Lost Weekend, teaming up with musical-comedown club The Hangover Lounge (another cultured and kid-friendly free event a few streets away in Pentonville) for a concert which sprawls over two days rather than one. Sounds interesting. Let’s see what we can make of it, starting at the Chapel… and come on, I shouldn’t be moaning. Just in order to be here, everyone playing today has travelled a lot further than we have.

Take the two women who make up The Middle Ones. Originally from different bits of the north of England, Anna Nols (voice, guitar, knee-socks) and Grace Denton (voice, occasional accordion, sceptical warmth) met up in Norwich, over to the east. These days, they’re separated between east and west – while Anna’s stayed put, Grace now lives and works in Bristol. Any Middle Ones activity now must involve clambering into a bus, a train or a tiny car, then driving a couple of hundred miles (quite a substantial, exciting deal in a country the size of England), and piling straight into playing or recording.

Anna Nols of The Middle Ones.

Anna Nols of The Middle Ones.

They don’t let this slow them down. I suspect that they thrive on it. If it turns out that Grace and Anna are smart, economical and unromantic (the kind of band who just email each other soundfiles over their iPhones) I’ll be broken-hearted. I prefer to think of The Middle Ones as being as spontaneous and goofy as their onstage chemistry suggests, like a happy hen-party stumbling across a pier. Beneath the horseplay, just as affectionate and committed to each other as they ever were, even if they now live leagues and leagues apart.

On record Anna and Grace are artful, exploratory and spontaneous, recording ad-hoc and lo-fi in churches, kitchens and staircases. Wrapped and soused in ingenious bumblescapes and immediate invention, their songs embrace slopped kitchen metals, slurred kid’s-band horns, and drunken drones, staggering enthusiastically through their rumpled mixes. Live, The Middle Ones trim themselves back to semi-acoustica: just an enthusiastic down-strummed indie guitar, that accordion and the sweet undubbed snag of their paired voices.

That Faust/Raincoats side to their work takes a back seat as a consequence, but another strand from their skein jumps right up to take its place. It’s the post-punk folkswoman tradition: the one which ladders down through Marine Girls, Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays, the fizzing, intermittent charms of The Bush The Tree & Me and many others. Anna and Grace might be less finessed than any of the above, but they make a virtue out of it. Gawky and charming, they twinkle at the Chapel’s imposing space; chuckle about their own shyness; lose track of their thoughts, and make jokes about being hemmed in by the mikes.

Grace Denton of The Middle Ones.

Grace Denton of The Middle Ones.

If that makes The Middle One sound like a pair of simpering dollies, you’re getting the wrong idea. When they stumble and laugh, I see no defensive, please-like-me gush; no apologies for being on a bigger stage than they think they deserve. I see two women well aware of how ludicrous performance can be, and of the inevitable clumsiness of gestures under a spotlight. I see them accept and forgive it all, happy to be nobody’s stars and nobody’s muses. Here’s a particularly female state of mind in which everything is both serious and funny at the same time, and where fresh insight sprouts in fertile terrain far away from narcissism. (As a dogged, navel-gazing writerbloke I’ve got to confess that I envy it.)

Their onstage demeanour, in fact, reveals what they’re really about as artists as well as performers. As they gently josh or beam at each other – or bend double over a shared joke – their songs celebrate the spectrum of sympathy and friendship in all of its impossibility, unlikeliness, awkward junctures and rebounding. In Quite Something (an indie jig underpinned and smeared about with Grace’s wayward accordion), they chew this over, singing “My lover, my love in a hundred different ways. / Still, you’re right – we could never quite both be the same.” Another song deals with the fluttering nerves of a faltering first date: cutting rapidly between the viewpoints of boy and girl, it puts them and their choices into a perspective of unrolling time. “She is lying on the grass, with her arm across her waist, / she is trying to be brave but I know what she won’t say… I don’t want to look back and think ‘why didn’t I say that?’ / I don’t want to look back and think ‘I should have shown him that – I should have shown him more.’”

Anna and Grace sing about the saddest or sweetest of things with the same bright earnestness. It makes them look straightforward. Actually, it distracts from their complexities. Like plenty of songwriters (or short-story stylists, come to that) The Middle Ones deal mostly with variants of the same situation, but shift around the factors – characters, memory, the weather. “This is something like faith, but a bit more real-life,” they announce on Courage, a clarion call for passion on the upswing. “It is the rehearsal that will make this – / we were not born to fit together. / Sleeping side by side, occasionally entwined, / there is a design but it’s not so divine… I like to see your name written down, the warmth is folding round… / looks like you’re coming home with me.” As regards relationships what seems to fascinate them is not so much individual feelings but the way in which people overlap and merge, sometimes imperfectly, sometimes not. At one point, they sing “we are two thoughts that fade together,” and this idea of wobbly unity is reflected in the way their voices interlace: an untutored, empathic harmony.

In the lyrics, this can become an echo of overlapped, stumbling thoughts. Upbeat and enthused – positively illuminated – I Liked You Straight Away sees their singing become a shingled babble of thoughts and joy-jets. “I liked you straight away (who wouldn’t?) / I like to think I’d say (I suddenly) / knew there’d come a day when I would think of little… yes,/ but how the light (a miracle) / round your mouth and eyes (a miracle) / make me sad, and I will always find something… / In supermarket aisles I’ll see you / laugh to look like fire (I’m dancing). / Dearest friend of mine, you were a perfect stranger – / I wish that I could see / the moment when it first hit me.” As it peaks, the song races away in a delighted game of shifting grammar and ecstatic time-travelling adoration, while Grace and Anna frisk onstage. “Oh, love, I should have known it then. / Love, I should have known you then. / Oh, love, didn’t I know back then. / Love, if I had know you then.”

The Middle Ones.

The Middle Ones.

While The Middle Ones are great at sprinkling insight into this breathless, puppy-tumbling eroticism, they’re just as good when tackling other kinds of involvement. Portraying a younger woman’s friendship with an elderly man (on Young Explorer), they work out its strands and its development without ever needing to hammer home detail. They don’t reveal whether he’s friend, neighbour or relative. What’s important is that he’s one of her fixtures – one who’s about to be swallowed by time, one who’ll be missed. “I thought the old houses would all fall down / I thought the cobblestones would surely overturn / before they came and took and moved you out / to someone else’s road, / and someone else’s strange white clothes.” Over the course of the song, an initial childlike affection shades into deeper understanding (“your clever words struggled to be heard, / but your eyes still shine like in older times / when you were crossing borders, stranger waters … / With your luggage tied around the handle bars, / you don’t know where you’re going but you’re headed pretty far,”) and eventually an unexpected torch is passed as his long-ago young-man’s efforts inspire her own present-day awakening. Empathy blossoms like roses in the final harmonies: while the sentences tumble, the joy and fellow-feeling are daylight-clear. “The words, these are the words that you said. / Here we stand, up, up here, / and I can see you. / I can see you from up, up here. / I can see, oh / so much more now.”

Again and again, The Middle Ones’ songs delve into time – its chemistry and alterations, its revelations and decodings. In Hannah, they look at long-standing female friendships and how they simultaneously decay and sustain themselves: Passing years, marked through correspondence, see illnesses wax and wane, marriages arrive, and old bonds gradually fade to early chapters. “You’re the sweetest girl I’ve ever known… / I know you have shaped me, / just like I know we both keep changing, / but I’ll always be grateful – but I was twenty, and with you… I looked at myself and I saw you.”

Ironic, then, that Anna and Grace seem so untouched by time themselves. Edging towards their thirties, each woman still looks and acts like the half of the undergraduate duo they once were. Anna – pencil-slender, blinking and beaming through her glasses as she pecks happily away at her guitar – is the spit’n’archetype of the bohemian homespinner: all thrift-shop ingenuity, universally adored. Keying the accordion while punctuating the songs with delicate frowns and bursts of baffled humour, Grace is her unlikely travelling companion: the Thirties screen-queen lookalike, the one who’d frankly rather be Anna’s kind of bohemian. All of this might be camouflage for those keen songwriting minds – but I think not. For all of their onstage bumps and stumbles, they seem so comfortable in their skins that I can’t see it as anything other than genuine. They’re the odd couple who turn out to be the natural couple. They’ve come a long way. I can imagine them still travelling it, still chuckling along it, in fifty years time, with purple ribbons threaded into the accordion.

Plenty of hints are dropped today that most of the crowd has come for Clémence Freschard. I can see why. She ticks plenty of boxes for the kind of person who carefully, calculatedly chooses cooler brands of cigarette and songwriter. Her personal travelogue alone (which stretches from her beginnings in rural France through Parisian trottoirs, a spell in New York as a Brooklyner, and her present-day arty-émigré berth in Berlin) is more than enough to tickle the taste of a landlocked London hipster.

Clemence Freschard.

Clémence Freschard.

Added to that, there’s her lean, quiet singing – with its slight falling quality and its accented European English – and her eerie agelessness, in which those glints in her fall of bark-brown hair could be spotlight reflections or strands of early silver. Most of all, there’s her imperturbable presence. She delivers few, if any stage announcements. She doesn’t try to win us over with jokes. Whichever scenarios are played out in her lyrics (and, by implication, in her history) never ruffle her still expression. In both person and in song, she suggests an apparently blank slate – one which slowly and softly reveals its secret etchings.

Yet though she’s doll-like in her impassivity, she’s certainly not trying to be anyone’s toy. I couldn’t really call her Stepfordian (any more than I could call her Clémence – that “Freschard” mask is a perfect fit) but there’s an eerie automatic quality to her movements and playing, and to the mood that she projects. She smiles quite often. Her gaze maintains a bright, slightly absent sheen throughout her set, only warming a little when she spots a songwriter ally up in the gallery and invites him to sing along with her.

I remember that Laurie Anderson once described herself as a spy. It’s tempting to wonder whether Freschard might be following the same path. It’s certainly easy to imagine her sitting motionless in the same chair forever, with people coming and going around her in a shuffled, speeded blur, while all of the time she’s watching, observing.

Clemence Freschard.

Freschard – the impassive spy.

Sometimes she seems to be nothing but poise. Minus even the minimal arrangements of her records (the clipped touches of horn and mandriola, the bare and drowsy bossa percussion) she’s left with the classic, cloudy ring of her black guitar and those slight, faint-lined songs. Even these seem to have carefully combed and stripped before she came to play. Everything deemed surplus to requirement has long since floated away; unregarded; long stray hairs of songcraft coiling off, abandoned, on silent air currents.

It’s often difficult to make out what she’s left behind to hold on to. There’s plenty of falling rain, for sure, and plenty of inbetween moments. Too much of either, in fact. Aimless, distracted and lonely, I Miss You leans on First Avenue scenery for support, but does nothing with it. When Freschard murmurs about swamp water, dry whisky, Cajun stations and woozy kisses (on Sweet Sweet South) it feels as if she’s listlessly shuffling through antique Dixie postcards in a flea market before dropping them back, unbought. When she attempts to conjure the ennui of abandonment via a song about drumming fingers and staring out of windows, she skirts self-parody.

Angel finally tips the scale from delicate to dreary. Probably it’s a love song; perhaps something more morbid and sinister; but as its grey lines meander tiredly and tracelessly through my attention, it feels the same either way. That’s hard to forgive. Sometime it seems as if Freschard is no more than we choose to project onto her; and that if we really got bored, she might just cruise to a halt, staring blankly ahead until we had another idea.

Gradually, as better songs and better implications make a virtue of that impassive calm, she becomes more compelling. She begins to draw me into her unrippled world: one tune, mingling drowsy funk and Russian folk tune (dotted with hums and a languid hint of sex) curls insistently around my ears like a preening cat. Another – Boom Biddy Boom – maps eerie Eastern European folk inflections onto old rhythm-and-blues bop. It’s part-Diddley, part-John Lee Hooker, and either would have added a twist of salaciousness or solace to the swing. Freschard plays it as blank as a catwalk dancer, as a sleight-of-sashay, presenting fleeting and enigmatic visions of desperation in between the sways. “But’s and no, yes’es and no’es, / her hands on her hips, here she goes… / She’s a shout, she’s mighty fine. / Spit it out – she’s dynamite… / She’s sick sometime, / bound to lose. / Didn’t choose, didn’t plan. / Get the bouncing shoes… / It’s easy to start, it’s easy to let go. / Cross my heart, kiss my elbow.”

Wit and wickedness are welcome developments, and Freschard’s songs pick up when she allows herself to exercise them. Inside the thrumming pulse of Investigate, she probes themes of faithlessness and obsession with dry, vengeful precision. “When I’m not sleuthing, I’m gumshoe-ing, / I follow your every movement… / You think murder is my favourite crime, because it’s different every time / I have to tell you that’s not true / I just guess who loves who.” Fans and skeptics alike warm up a little. Her faint smile turns a little more mischievous.

But it’s two other songs that really slip out from beneath Freschard’s imperturbable gloss, fleshing out her stillness while making the best use of it. Where Did You Go – agoraphobic and lonely, absent and chilling – suggests that quietness is sometimes a deflated scream. “Household’s dry / like a river run dry… / I keep heading for the window like a locked-up fly, / with the birds buzzing in my head,” she sighs, with tired dysfunctionality seeping out from every line. “Didn’t make a difference – just to know,” she admits, before murmuring “I hit my head on the window pane” over and over again; a deadened mantra of acceptance. The song winds towards a conclusion of utter pathos – “if you come back I’ll put on an act, and you will never see / how I’ve fallen apart, and how sentimental I can be.” If you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss the vein of madness in the unmoving flesh, the pool of darkness spreading underneath the song. But then, that’s the point.

On her set-closer, High Tides, Freschard leafs through bittersweet recent memories, mapping the last dissolving phase of a love affair in which people fade from being ex-lovers to baffled friends grown thin and insubstantial. Shuffling disappointments without slipping under them, the song suggests a shaping, an accommodation; something to help with living alongside the letdowns. “You let salt water come between us. / We haven’t been wet; salt’s for peanuts,” she chides, softly. “But you know what? I don’t mind. / At least we cared, at least we tried.” Drawing happier times into the present, she lets them slip and fade away into a wistful dusk. “Told me, when you came around, my sun was sinking into the ground. / I found it cute, but it was true. / I thought of my first trip with you, / and the part I liked the most was the drive along the coast. / The driver’s jokes, the rear-view glances – / he called us ‘Mr and Mrs.’”

What’s left are those small signs of regret, the other small signs of tenderness, and in them there’s a kind of forgiveness. “Cleaning out my closet, I found your shirt / I wondered whose it was at first – / and when I go to bed, I wear it. / I know it’s strange, but I like the smell of it.” She breathes in and, at last, breaches her facade for us.

“There’ll be a lot of miserable songs,” warns Johnny Lynch, about a third of the way into his set. He eyes us – mock-beady, mock-bullish – over his tuning pegs. “I’m in a foul mood. I’m taking it out on you. If I’ve made one person cry, it’s been worth it.”

The Pictish Trail.

Johnny Lynch, a.k.a, The Pictish Trail.

We Londoners are happy to lap up Freschard’s blend of continental mystique and Brooklyn cool, but we’re also suckers for this kind of thing. Contrary to what you’d believe, we love being the butt of classic passive-aggressive Scottish wit… just as long as it growls at us with a twinkle in its eye. Johnny’s already got us in the palm of his hand, and he knows it. You’d expect the man behind The Pictish Trail‘s lo-fi folktronica to be shy and hunched. Instead, he’s ebullient – a natural, friendly showman who squanders half of his set on stand-up comedy and comes off none the worst for it.

The lone bloke on the bill today, he’s a manic sweating ball of cheerful energy: a short-legged fisherman figure, bobble-hatted, bristling of beard, remarkably charismatic. He’s dressed less for the Chapel’s mild wintery chill than for stiff sea breezes. He teases us with wry digressions. We tease him with friendly heckles, which he cheerfully fields and slings back at us. It feels as if we’re in a conspiracy together. He might want to make us blub, but he’s also got some bobble-hats to sell us; and, perhaps, some more things to share.

Having spent a heroic decade up in Fife (helping his erstwhile buddy King Creosote to run the D-I-Y folk initiative Fence Collective), Johnny moved on a year or so ago when the wheels came off Fence’s cart. Precisely what happened, and who’s in or out (or indeed, exactly what “out” means) is still a little vague – a gentleman’s disagreement, it seems, involving a metaphorical exchange of keys and a certain amount of clumping around before it was settled. Now Johnny’s on the other side of Scotland: settled on the Isle of Eigg, building his own house and his own new label, Lost Map. Expect no backbiting. Any scars from Fence seem to have been shrugged off. He’d prefer to show us his engagement ring, joke about London trains, and enthuse about Reeves and Mortimer’s bollock-tugging. He seems to enjoy sharing. Johnny’s come the best part of six hundred miles to entertain us for free. He seems happy with that too.

Cheerfulness – even that particular, mordant, Scottish cheerfulness-with-an-edge – isn’t something you’d usually associate with The Pictish Trail. On record, Johnny squashes cheap, startling synth-and-drumbox noises into his homemade recordings, ending up just as crumpled and experimental as The Middle Ones are. Suggestive and disfocussed, Pictish songs usually sound as if they’ve been recorded onto rubberized burlap. Blipping, spurting, gacking and murmuring from the shadows, they’re often both sinister and exhausted. When Johnny rolls them out in this more portable live setup (just voice and steel-string guitar) he has to steer them back towards traditional singer-songwriter territory. Fortunately, they make the crossing with some of their eerie magic intact. Settling back onto the barer uplands of acoustic folk, they touch down lightly but tellingly: a drift of plastic supermarket bags with freshly-scrawled stories on them.

Johnny’s voice – a high, carrying thing – comes across far better than it does when it has to wend its way through the fuzz and interruptions of his gizmos. It lifts and drops like a dying wind, going from thistledown-tender to elevated keen. While this wood-and-bare-wires version of his work has a few stray echoes of John Martyn in its brooding fingerpicking dynamism (and in Johnny’s own stealthy charisma) he shares with Alisdair Roberts a reluctance to play the polished singer-entertainer offering up something bonneted and twee, preferring instead to go and dig for ghost-songs and ancient patterns and to float them back into the present. I can also hear faint echoes of the Celtic impressionism which feeds, variously, Van Morrison, The Bathers and The Blue Nile – songs evanescing out into misty thinness without ever losing their emotional impact; or those deliberate, savouring steps that Johnny takes away from the expected path or the finishing point. It’s also there in that dusting of pervasive melancholia, settling without ever hardening into crude sentimental crusts.

Banter aside, Johnny’s working in serious territory. His songs carry plenty in them – much of it sorrowful – but much of it contained in verbal texture and suggestion rather than a straightforward lyric. He gives us deliberately blurred, inconclusive tales and narratives, dissolved down to elusive scraps and evocative fragments. Often, the songs seem to be rolling over in bed, as if driven by unquiet sleep. The Handstand Crowd, a sad soft account of isolation (“a party that everyone’s going to… / I’m staying at home… / you shouldn’t expect the worst, / it’s what you deserve,”) gradually deepens from its lonesome indie-folk mope and saturates with hallucinatory paranoia, like a napkin filling with dark water. “I can’t hide – / there’s no reason to your shadows closing in. /Oh, sordid silhouettes appear tonight… / he is tapping at my window.”

Johnny Lynch, a.k.a. The Pictish Trail.

Pictish brood.

Earlier on, Johnny’s been singing unsettling suggestions which spiral straight out of childhood nightmares – “You know what’s good for you? /To leave the puppets in their cupboard with white sheets around their stomachs, / like they’re standing up in bed – are you sure they’re not dead?” Getting through these hauntings seems to be the greatest triumph (“Good morning, I don’t care… / I’m still alive, / I’ve waited the longest night.”) A little later, Johnny will introduce The Lighthouse as a tale “about a lighthouse keeper – he starts turning off the light and watching people die.” We chuckle along with him at the cheesy Gothic suspense story this brings to mind. The song – when it arrives – is a vision of the paralysis which chews away at a person’s responsibility and sense of connection. “I collect these thoughts…, / my lighthouse keeping the sun switched on… / My days I sleep alone; my nights I turn to stone… / and I watch you struggle – oh, I watch you struggle.”

A fervent, thoughtful cover of Graham Coxon’s A Day Is Far Too Long fits right into this lowering milieu, like a stone sunk into a wet beach. “On sticks and sand, lost my money, lost my hand. / Blood on my brain, too much salt in my veins, / and I thought pain was clean, and I thought hearts were strong, / but bones aren’t sticks anymore, and a day is far too long.” On I Will Pour It Down, the story that Johnny’s telling meets a flood of rural imagery and blurs right into it – “to the edge of time, I ride my bike to the sea – the colours of the fields, the glow when they start burning. / I’m calling in the cows, the horses and the sheep; / I’m calling in the light and the years.” Merging into a psychedelic tributary to a mass of time and landscape, it doesn’t quite dissolve to the point where Johnny’s hints of reproach dissolve as well. “If I was the sun I would not hide behind the cloud. / If I could rain, I would pour it down, / I would pour it down. / I would pour it down on your town.”

The Pictish Trail, ensconced in the Chapel.

Lynch faces the mob…

This afternoon’s all-acoustic version of Wait Until is dedicated to Trigger from ‘Only Fools and Horses’. Another gag. We probably need it. It’s one of the first songs that Johnny wrote after the death of his mother – one which seems to mingle a helplessly dependent love song with a dreamscaped murder ballad. The original electrobeat-chiller version (with its stark, unsettling video of a stricken and glowering Johnny presiding over a basement full of hard-faced dancing schoolchildren) is almost too much to take on. Today, unplugged and unpropped, Johnny quietly underplays it; and while some of its furious edge melts away, its shifting painful core remains. “Wait until I arrive to tell me you’re going away / to tell me you’re so sorry. / Can we wait for water one last time / until the water covers our mouths? and our eyes, our eyes, our eyes. / Wait until your last chance to say goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.” Grief and violence thread inexorably together, betrayal merges with extinction. “I’m pushing you over so I can’t get up, I’m pushing you in fast so I can’t pull you out… / Oh the crime, the crime – / cover for me, cover me in your love, your love. / Tell me of your love, stay here my love.”

If you’re listening to the noises, it’s no more than a sad and sorry breath in the heather. If you tune in properly, it’s a primal scream. Maybe Johnny’s stand-up act – all of that friendly swashbuckling wit – isn’t just charm, but necessity. Maybe the gags and the friendly buffets are there to stop him, and us, from falling into the songs. In between two numbers, he delivers another quip: we laugh, and he grins like a flying cannonball. In another song, he asserts “I will just talk behind my stories and tell my life, spill my guts / I couldn’t live more, feel nothing at all – I live, or not.”

On the other hand, maybe he’s bearing witness rather than using his audience as a confessional. Those Scots intonations, soft and human, are rolling over a greater darkness – rain-stippled postcard beauty hunched on top of frowning granite. As with Iceland, the Hebrides (and Eigg in particular) have a reputation for hard-bitten common sense coexisting with the numinous and dangerous. I don’t know how much of that is true – you’d have to ask Johnny, and what’s true for Eigg might be less true in Fife, where some of his stories were born. It’s certainly true that Pictish Trail songs, however vague or mumbled, have been striped through with a fearful beauty and with a sense of inexplicable forces. The characters within them, even when they’re from this day and age, seem to tread old grooves of ritual and remembrance, weather and wake. Their new sorrows fall, naturally, into ancient places.

As Daylight Music ends for today, Johnny’s out at the front doing the meet-and-greet. People – little children, grandparents, students, young mothers – flock around him like happy birds. Some of them seem to have bought his bobble-hats, some haven’t. He looks overjoyed either way, as if there’s nowhere he’d rather be than here, enthusiastically making contact. Whatever ghosts and forces may have reared up as he sang, he himself looks far from haunted.

***

What? Oh yes…

The other half of the Lost Weekend, in which three other bands played on the following day down at the Hangover Lounge? We didn’t make it. Sorry – the weekend swallowed us again. I could try to make some comment about conceptual continuity here, and pretend to be pleased with it, but I’m too annoyed and embarrassed that we didn’t try to travel a little further, just this one time. It’s not as if we didn’t have some good examples to follow. We chickened out. I’m going to have to blame it on those bloody weekend timewarps.

(What a lame ending for a review. I need a drink.)

The Middle Ones online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp

Freschard online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace Bandcamp Last FM

The Pictish Trail online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud

Daylight Music online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud

The Hangover Lounge online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter

Thanks to Andunemir for all of the videos.

March 1999 – EP reviews – Subvert’s ‘My Greater Energy’ (“you’re pulled some of the way into their siege, but finally you’re left stuck in the murk”)

15 Mar

Subvert: 'My Greater Energy'

Subvert: ‘My Greater Energy’

Choked, Device, Straitjacket – going on song titles alone, Norwich punks Subvert don’t just fear having to go down struggling, they’re positively certain of it. And with a final song declaring itself as My Greater Energy, they’re expecting some sort of victory at the end of it. Though as singer Jim Marten opts for an angst-lacerated, word-mangling punk howl most of the time, it’s difficult to work out exactly what form that takes. Steeped in the unforgiving heaviness and relentlessness of metalcore but rebelling against it from the inside, Subvert demand a lot of ear-time.

Subvert don’t behave quite as you’d expect. They hollow spaces out of punk structures; mostly via Nick Barker’s crafty drumming, which anchors songs in tommy-gun rattles and crushing rolls but constantly tugs at those anchors, creating gaps and new shapes for the band to exploit for atmosphere. Not that these are a relief – Subvert let the shadow of the world creep in behind their broken-up instrumentation. Clouds of heavy brown exhaust stain the light and lurk overhead like malignant genies. If you listen enough to their disaffected and resentful music, you’re pulled some of the way into their siege, but finally you’re left stuck in the murk.

My Greater Energy itself goes from a Motorhead crunch to a distorted and springy polyrhythmic challenge, spitting snakey cymbals. Jim’s demand of “why don’t you take another piece of me? / Have what you want, just get away from me” could’ve been a standard punk exploited-man’s challenge. When he follows it up with a bitter plea of “will someone save me from my friends?”, it’s clear that the struggle is much more central that that. As he grates “I don’t care… just want to run away from everyone… my thoughts are so distorted” over the slow pulsing grind of Choked, it’s obvious that we’re in a more deeply wounded place than the battlefield where we usually find our battered-but-unbowed punk heroes.

Subvert aren’t the first punks to find the blows that they’re delivering curling back in to become desperate blockages; the fight jumping inwards. But they’re damn honest about the panic of the struggle. Reuben Gotto’s thrashing counterpoint guitar riffs in Device are a helpless backward tumble – an arch in a constricting box, trapped with the knucklebone drums and bass – and are set off by the same sort of jarring chorus as Nirvana’s Blew or Radiohead‘s My Iron Lung. The same yank on the shoulder.

There’s a little respite in Blank Canvas: sullen bastard it may be, but it yearns towards anthems, unexpectedly breaks into hip-hop beats and anxious minor-chord strumming as Jim roars “d’you think that you know it all?…/ It made me so angry.” Still, as you’re drawn deeper into the heart of this EP, a conviction grows. At the very centre is a bleak testing-yard in which a man is roaring into the angle of a wall and gradually smashing himself into bits.

Subvert: ‘My Greater Energy’
Blank Canvas Records, CANVAS 01CD (no barcode)
CD-only EP
Released:
15th March 1999
Get it from: best obtained second-hand, or via Amazon
Subvert online:
Last FM
 

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