Tag Archives: Oxford (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 – upcoming rock gigs in England from mathcore to magic, part 2 – The Display Team’s October tour (with Project Mork, The Mighty Bossmags, Masiro, Lonely Dakota, Mutant-Thoughts, Flag Fen, Spank Hair, Barringtone, Memory Of Elephants, Alter Ego and Vonhorn); a Jazz from Hell concert in Brighton including Son Of Ugly, BallPointKen and Fukushima Dolphin (23rd October); The Hare and Hoofe, The Galileo 7 and Ulysses in London (26th October)

1 Oct

The Display Team on tour, October 2019In the last post, I covered this month’s Octobear tour of assorted post-hardcore sproutings, plus the Portals All-Dayer of math rock, post-rock and similar.

At around the same time, London post-Zappa/post-Cardiacs jitterbugs The Display Team will be embarking on a brief east-to-west English tour of their own, delivering densely-written, yelling wrangles and conniptions of guitars, drums and heavy brass to various appreciative audiences.



 
At both of their East Anglian dates in Cambridge and Ipswich, The Display Team are playing with the same backup. One of the two bands in tow are Norwich-based Project Mork, who juggle a spasming, shape-shifting pulp-culture impasto of sung comic-book catchphrases, thrash-riffs, ska bumps, and stunt-metal guitars. The other are crunchy Warrington art punk/ska cabaret rockers The Mighty Bossmags, monster-mask-clad theatricals with leering “cirque du punk” stances and a taste for macabre chanson and heavy bursts.



 
There’s something of a different support set up in Bristol, where sleek proggy art rockers Mutant-Thoughts provide their glistening, synth-heavy groove explorations, and where Flag Fen provide psychogeographic drone. The latter is a “bio-electrical resistance project” developed by Adam Burrows and Keith Hall, featuring noise guitars atop a dirty flag of drone and rattling drums, with bits of folky recitation pulled through like a flaxen thread. There’s a backstory in there somewhere about a possibly occulted, potentially dangerous Bronze Age archaeological site with a tendency to firebug any situations connected to it. What’s less uncertain is that Adam and Keith are both former members of Bristol noise-beat outfit Big Joan, and pull in collaborators such as Mancunian industrial poet-rapper and Gnod associate Michael O’Neill, Steve James (from screeching Bristol flailers Geisha Noise Research Group) and My
Octopus Mind frontman Liam O’Connell.

 
In Oxford, support comes from post/tech metal act Masiro whom I’ve previously referred to as “a melange of prog, metal and funk grooves… if that makes them sound like early ’90s macho blokes in shorts, imagine a trio who went the other way, reframing and reappraising those elements from a confusing refracted perspective. As a listener, they make you work to get back to the sources, but it’s a compelling game of reconstruction.”. Also present are local rhythm-warping “twinkly emo-punk” trio Spank Hair. In Southampton, the support acts are straightforward London/Hampshire hard rockers Lonely Dakota and the rather more-difficult to track down Alter Ego: I’ve got something swaggering from the former, but sadly nothing from the latter.




 
In London, urban-baroque pop trio Barringtone open the show (plenty more on them, their Clor heritage and their journey from motoric cool to increasingly proggy enthusiasm is here), while Memory Of Elephants bring a multi-decker pink noise sandwich of joyous experimental metal along with them. While I can still get away with requoting myself, I’ve called them “a restless, conspiratorial mask-dance of a band” and as playing “a welter of restless multipolar mood changes and psych-cyclones with a bewildering delightful stockpile of guitar tones; from mechanistic hissing growls, fire-ribbon swishes and sudden injections of Detroit proto-punk to great woozy carousing fuzzwalls of MBV dreampop, Chinese orchestras and – at one point – what sounds like a gnarly old organ playing itself.”



 
In the late-nighter at Gloucester, support is by sharp Hereford-&-Worcester mutant-power-pop band Vonhorn. While drummer Dominic Luckman brings cult value (and a stylish precision) from his years in Cardiacs, frontman Adam Daffurn has been boinking around the Hereford scene for ages, previously leading Noughties-wave Britpop act The Dandelion Killers, who betrayed many of the same aspects as Vonhorn does: crunchy crisp pop with unexpected chords, rhythmic flicks and spiked-cream harmonies. Consider XTC and the more circus-y moments of The Beatles; consider latter-day clever-classic underground guitar pop acts like Flipron and The Downing Poole.


 
* * * * * * * *

Towards the end of their tour, The Display Team are also headlining Fresh Lenin’s Jazz From Hell night in Brighton, an “autumnal commie cocktail of jazz, prog, ska, punk, rock and psychedelia made with the help of trombone, sousaphone, bagpipes, saxophones, multiple pedals and all of the less weird instruments.”

'Jazz From Hell', 23rd October 2019

Plenty of Brighton musical fringery is springing into the spotlight for the occasion. The aforementioned bagpipes and sousaphone (stirred with a drumkit) come courtesy of pranky, deliberately obscure psychedelic wind trio BallPointKen (who are playing two sets). “Cinematic weirdcore” quintet Son Of Ugly are instrumentalists and Secret Chiefs 3 fans who’ve gobbled up and regurgitate “elements of 60’s and 70’s cartoons, spy action, noir jazz, surf and world music, sometimes in the same song.” In fact they’re less frenetic and Zorn-y than such a summary would suggest, being drawn more to the driving drama of theme songs and the glitter of exotica, thereby turning Brighton’s Lanes into swerving Prague alleyways and glittering dream-souks.

 
That just leaves Fukushima Dolphin – a full band last year, but now a drums-and-guitar loop duo fronted by the irrepressible Josh Butler (who stretches them toward a kind of energised, tuneful pure pop, whatever else happens or whatever tools they need to employ. In the current incarnation, Josh sometimes sounds surprisingly like a junior Mike Scott trying to sing his way out of a post-shoegazer’s cocoon of ‘90s indie-dance beats and dreampop echo. Earlier this year, Fukushima Dolphin were bulking up their setlist with an interleaved cover-version set, with textural art-rock versions of MGMT and Nirvana songs coming to the forefront alongside the band’s own urgent originals.


 
* * * * * * * *

For five or six years now, the various members of Kentish psychedelic troupe The Hare And Hoofe have incubated various tunes down in Folkestone, with an album finally bulging out last year. In the last week of October, they’ll be splurging it all over Islington in a London gig with fellow spirits The Galileo 7 and Ulysses.

What unites all three bands, I guess, is that they’re a collective love-letter to the glitter and stubble and mind-bubbles of a particularly British corner of ‘60s and ‘70s British rock – the clank and rough brinksmanship of garage bands, the rustle of the dressing-up box, the brickie harmonies of power-pop, the quivering flush of freakbeat. Various common enthusiasms loom large: Syd Barrett, Question Mark & The Mysterians, fuzz pedals. It’s all going to be pretty old-school, but expect enough of a surging, hairy, enthusiastic evening that nobody will mind about that.

The Hare And Hoofe + The Galileo 7 + Ulysses, 26th October 2019

Given their leader Allan Crockford’s lengthy background with those crowd-pleasing Medway garage-psych and mod-friendly bands who swirl, in a familial cloud around, The Prisoners and The James Taylor Quartet, The Galileo 7 are the least likely of the three bands to be caught fannying around dressed up as knights in armour, as wizards or Roxy Music’s vampire doppelgangers. Instead they deal in familiar bucketing Prisoners-esque ’60s musical purity: creaky electric organ swerves, fuzz pedals, tambourines and ooh-oohs. In contrast, brash Bathonians Ulysses swagger into view like the second coming of Roy Wood being cheered on by Slade (and are cute enough to confess to a liking for Wings and The Cars). They do like dressing up, and they bring with them hooky, stomping songs like rocking wooden cabinets buffed to a mighty sheen with golden syrup and sandpaper.



 
It’s got to be said that The Hare And Hoofe are the most outrightly magical and theatrical of the three, though – a kind of amicable collision of most of the above ingredients, topped by a meeting between Hawkwind, ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ and Steeleye Span (or, to pick a more recent example, Circulus on fizzing monkey drugs). If they’re garage, they’re the garage that gets transformed into Santa’s den. They’re all about jolly singalongs in which all manner of additions and interjections are poking through or going on behind. Lysergic guitar and spurting proggy keyboard figures crash around dopey harmonies, delirous mistrals of solo flute wind their way through folk singalongs; as psychedelic mixing and screeching echo froth is boosted to the max, the music changes shape and speed as if jerked into form by a solid brass gearshift. They’ll play heavy rhythm-and-blues version of eighteenth century English myths, and the second half of their debut album is a full-blown pocket rock opera of time-travelling scientists and giant laser-eyed robots. It’s called The Terror Of Melton.



 
Admittedly in magical terms all of this isn’t exactly cabalistic frenzy or New Weird hauntology. It’s more about capering blokes in pointy paper hats with moons-and-stars on. But The Hare And Hoofe are clearly enjoying the party too much to worry about this, and we sometimes need the kind of silliness which makes us nine years old again, happy, and laughing ourselves well.

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

The Display Team on tour:

  • The Stage Door, 78 West Marlands Road, Southampton, SO14 7FW, England – – Friday 18th October 2019, 7.30pm (with Lonely Dakota + Alter Ego) – information here and here
  • The Blue Moon, 2 Norfolk Street, Cambridge, CB1 2LF, England – – Saturday 19th October 2019, 8.00pm (with Project Mork + The Mighty Bossmags) – information here and here
  • The Steamboat Tavern, 78 New Cut West, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP2 8HW, England – Sunday 20th October 2019, 8.00pm (with Project Mork + The Mighty Bossmags) – information here
  • Port Mahon, 82 St Clement’s Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX4 1AW, England – Sunday 20th October 2019, 8.00pm (with Masiro + Spank Hair) – information here and here
  • The Crofters Rights, 117-119 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RW, England – Tuesday 22nd October 2019, 7.30pm (with Mutant-Thoughts + Flag Fen) – information here, here and here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England – Thursday 24th October 2019, 8.00pm (with Memory Of Elephants + Barringtone) – information here and here
  • Café René, 31 Southgate Street, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, GL1 1TP, England – Friday 25th October 2019, 11.00pm (with Vonhorn) – information here

Fresh Lenins presents:
Jazz from Hell (featuring The Display Team + Son Of Ugly + Fukushima Dolphin + BallPointKen)
The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton, BN1 4FQ, England
Wednesday 23rd October 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

The Hare And Hoofe + The Galileo 7 + Ulysses
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Saturday 26th October 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and
here
 

April/May 2019 – upcoming folk/experimental gigs – Sam Lee’s ‘Singing With Nightingales’ season

30 Mar

Details on the upcoming season of Sam Lee’s ‘Singing With Nightingales’ – slightly massaged press text follows…

'Singing With Nightingales', April/May 2019

“Join folk singer, song collector and nature lover Sam Lee in the forest, sit by the fireside and listen to intoxicating song, as some of the finest musicians in the land duet with the sweet sound of the nightingale. Immerse yourself in the folklore and ways of our native birds, savour the music of world-renowned guest artists from folk, classical, world music, and jazz arenas. Join us in a rare and thrilling journey as darkness falls upon the springtime woodlands of Kent, Sussex and Gloucestershire from 18th April to 26th May.

“Each year, for a few months from mid-April, a few thousand nightingales fly to the southern UK from Africa. They can be heard in just a small number of special locations, taking up songful residence after dusk. The territorial males serenade loyally each night for no more than six weeks among the blackthorn and forest margins, giving unbelievable privilege to those who know where to go. Inspired by infamous recordings of cellist Beatrice Harrison playing with nightingales as far back as 1924, Sam has been hosting reverent celebrations of this endangered bird each spring since 2014. These events have spanned multiple events at four different sites, a ‘Pick of The Year’ BBC Radio 4 documentary, a critically acclaimed adaptation for theatres and concert halls, and many broadcasts on BBC Radio 3.

“As well as the outdoor night shows, you can also enjoy the sound of the nightingales’ song in the comfort of concert halls across the UK from 14th April. After a hugely popular run in 2018, our ‘Singing With Nightingales: Live’ tour is back, bringing you diverse musicians in relaxed, low-lit settings improvising in collaboration with live birdsong via live broadcast feed from the countryside. Joining Sam on stage will be a duo (depending on the date) of either violin-playing jazz world/folk singer Alice Zawadzki plus kora-playing Senegalese Griot Kadialy Kouyate, or Welsh folk-singer/songwriter/harpist Georgia Ruth plus Bristolian post-jazz trumpeter/multi-instrumentalist Pete Judge. In addition, an abridged version of ‘Singing With Nightingales: Live’ will feature at London’s South Bank as the late show in the ‘Absolute Bird’ concert (a night of classical music inspired by birdsong).


 
“Brand new for this year, we are launching a mini festival experience with the nightingales at Fingringhoe Wick , Essex, on 27th April. Hosted by Sam, the night will feature three performances from Irish 10-string drone fiddler Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh and from experimental songwriters and instrumentalists Serafina Steer and Cosmo Sheldrake, all joined in song with the nightingale.

We’re offering return travel from London for selected events; and we’re very happy to say that we have received some funding from Arts Council England which means we’re able to put a number of concessions tickets on sale for selected events. These are strictly for people on low income. We also have a number of concession tickets available for our Singing With Nightingales Festival event at Fingringhoe Wick nature reserve, Essex on April 27th.”

Other musicians involved in the open air concerts come from a variety of different genres. There are classical and jazz flautists (Paul Cheneour; and Marsyas Trio‘s Helen Vidovich) and assorted polygenre players (eclectic South African cellist Abel Selaocoe, post-classical/post-folk chamberist Kate St John, Globe Theatre music director Bill Barclay, multi-instrumental composer Christo Squier). There are singers from various strands of contemporary folk (Lisa Knapp, Furrow Collective’s Lucy Farrell, ESKA) and soul-jazz singer-cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson. There’s the choral work of vocal trio Blood Moon Project (featuring Heloise Tunstall Behrens, Tanya Auclair and Luisa Gerstein). There are also representatives of music from further afield (Zimbabwean singer/mbira master Chartwell Dutiro, travelling shakuhachi-ist Adrian Freedman, Afghan music specialists John Baily & Veronica Doubleday and Dublin vocalist Fergus “Faró” Cahillane, the latter known for Irish and Irish/Viking acappella folk work with Anúna and M’anam).


 
Update, 13th April – in the latest development, ‘Singing With Nightingales’ is linking up in London with the Extinction Rebellion movement, on 29th April, for a “peaceful sit down intervention” in central London, called ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square‘:

“In the midst of the heightened attention to climate change and environmental catastrophe we want to bring people together in celebration of the musical beauty of the natural world. Poets, musicians and nature lovers will join together to perform the most romantic rebellion.

“Written in 1939, the renowned ballad tells of the impossible moment when a now critically endangered nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) sings in Mayfair’s famous garden square. Nightingales have not been heard in Central London, let alone Mayfair, for several hundred years. However, through the magical power of people and technology this April 29th, XR, Sam Lee, The Nest Collective and a pop-up flash mob of nature enthusiasts, musicians and supporters will gather to rewild nightingale song back into Berkeley Square.

“Through synchronised streaming of the nightingale’s mesmeric yet seldom heard courtship song via mobile phones and mobile speakers, our pop-up action will fill the park and surrounding streets with the song of a creature nearing extinction on this island. The birdsong will be accompanied by offerings from musicians, singers, poets and anyone who wants to collaborate with the finest singer in the world. This central London rewilding action aims to bring poetic focus to the shocking demise of our own native species and give Londoners the opportunity to hear a once ubiquitous songbird, now near extinct in the UK, in its mythic notional home.”

* * * * * * * *

Full dates for everything:

Open-air shows at Green Farm Kent, Church Lane, Shadoxhurst, Kent, TN26 1LS, England

  • Friday 19th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Bill Barclay) – information here and here
  • Saturday 20th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Paul Cheneour) – information here and here
  • Sunday 21st April 2019 (featuring Sam Lee & Christo Squier) – information here and here
  • Friday 17th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Helen Vidovich) – information here and here
  • Saturday 18th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Abel Selaocoe) – information here and here
  • Sunday 19th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Blood Moon Project) – information here and here

Open-air shows at a secret location near Spithurst, Lewes, Sussex, BN8 5EF, England

  • Thursday 25th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh) – information here and here
  • Friday 26th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh) – information here and here
  • Friday 3rd May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Lisa Knapp) – information here and here
  • Saturday 4th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Kate St John) – information here and here
  • Sunday 5th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Ayanna Witter-Johnson) – information here and here
  • Monday 6th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Lucy Farrell) – information here and here
  • Saturday 25th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee + ESKA + John Baily & Veronica Doubleday) – information here and here
  • Sunday 26th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Fergus Cahillane) – information here and here

Open-air shows at Highnam Woods, Highnam, Gloucestershire, GL2 8AA, England

  • Thursday 9th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Pete Judge) – information here and here
  • Friday 10th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Chartwell Dutiro) – information here and here
  • Saturday 11th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Adrian Freedman) – information here and here

‘Singing With Nightingales: Live’ (indoor concerts)

  • Ropetackle Arts Centre, Little High Street, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, BN43 5EG, England – Sunday 14th April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • The Old Fire Station, 40 George Street, Oxford, OX1 2AQ, England – Tuesday 23rd April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • Warwick Arts Centre, University Road, Coventry, CV4 7AL, England – Wednesday 24th April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 6EL, Tuesday 30th April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • Wyeside Arts Centre, Castle Street, Builth Wells, LD2 3BN, Wales – Wednesday 8th May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here
  • St Laurence’s Church, Church Street, Stroud, GL5 1JL, England – Wednesday 15th May 2019, … (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here.
  • Gulbenkian Theatre, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NB, England – Wednesday 22nd May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here
  • Junction II @ Cambridge Junction, Clifton Way, Cambridge, CB1 7GX, England – Thursday 23rd May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here
  • ’Absolute Bird: Translating Nature’ Queen Elizabeth Hall @ Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England – Friday 24th May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee, Alice Zawadzki plus selected members of City of London Sinfonia) – information here and here.

Singing With Nightingales: Festival (with Sam Lee + Serafina Steer + Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh + Cosmo Sheldrake)
Visitor Centre @ Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve, South Green Road, Colchester, Essex, CO5 7DN, England
Saturday 27th April 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Extinction Rebellion: ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’
Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London, W1J, England
Monday 29th April 2019, 6.00pm
– information here
 

February/March 2019 – upcoming British folk/experimental gigs – Bell Lungs on tour with Raiments (20th February to 2nd March, various) with appearances by Despicable Zee, Michael Clark, The Nature Centre, Halcyon Jane, Tara Clerkin Trio and various DJs. Plus sundry other Bell Lungs shows in March including a København evening with Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen, a show with David Toop and Rashad Becker, a date with Gaze Is Ghost.

16 Feb

Working with a multi-instrumental, device-heavy palette which includes guitar, harmonium, Omnichord, electric violin, lyre, bouzouki, saz, voice and a host of effects pedals, avant-folk singer/writer/sometime promoter Ceylan Hay (a.k.a. Bell Lungs) sits at the middle of a host of possible routes. Her sound incorporates post-folk and drone, dream pop, noise and free improv, psychedelia and site-specific realisations, while her psychohistorian subject matter takes in the ancient, the near-ancient and the presently numinous: probing prehistoric spaces, the ghosts of the industrial age, day-to-day feelings and the slide into a new virtual existence space via online culture.

Reflecting these overlaid levels (and what might be, at different perspective points, either shockingly near or completely occluded), her vocal delivery steps between ornamental trad-folk crenellations, feathery ambient warbles and horrific screams. You can never quite tell whether she’s going to lull you or scare you, but you know she cares about what she’s ferrying across to you.

With a new EP, the wintry ‘Wolves Behind Us‘, to promote (apparently it’s a return to folk and landscapes after recent science fiction/site-specific digressions, and is “Joan Aiken’s ‘Wolves of Willoughby Chase’, Olaf Stapledon’s ‘Last and First Men’, caravan living in the Highlands and the ancient cosmology idea of dividing the year into two halves; the opening and closing of the wolf’s mouth”), Bell’s embarking on five weeks of touring (primarily alongside Raiments) through Scotland, England, Wales, followed up by other Raiments-less shows in Scotland, England and Denmark. (She’ll also be playing in Wales next month, but more on that later…)




 
Before taking a look at the tour, let’s take a look at her tourmates. Formed on the Berlin avant-garde scene, Raiments are fronted by sing-murmurer/left-field guitarist Mano Camatsos, and they sound like a soft-stepping muttering blend of Lou Reed and Momus fronting a band that mixes lurking dark-jazz styling (hardwood clarinet burr and groove-pattering trashdrums) with the DIY rattle of Pram and the dark throb of Morphine. Mano’s wildcard guitar is a clinking noisemaker and pulse generator taking note of hip hop, of avant-garde classical extended techniques and of mysterious instruments and methods gleaned from ethnological recordings. His songwriting voice is a oddball surreal instinct leading inexorably towards songs about ants or baffling seductions.



 
Tracing their upcoming footsteps on the tour is a joy, like following a plough which turns up small treasures as it reveals what’s in the earth. It’s partly the succession of intriguing off-the-beaten-path venues – squatty art-pubs, recovered eighteenth-century coal basins, pocket cinemas and art centres, diehard folk rooms and out-of-the-way sipperys – but also the revealing of similarly off-the-wall musical talents and enthusiasts they join up with en route.

In Edinburgh, Bell and Raiments are playing with Claquer – previously three-piece improvisers Claque until they spun off their American drummer an unspecified time ago. Now it’s just the Edinburgh contingent: free/experimental guitarist Jer Reid and viola player/speaker Lisa Fannen. They deal in lo-fi clangs, loopings and scrapes and spoken word: momentary moment-music.


 
In Newcastle, the main support comes from the soft melody murmurs and drowsy, cushioned keens of ambient/improv folk duo Halcyon Jane, a Tyneside/Humberside teamup. Upfront with the voice, guitar and devices is Newcastle performance art polymath Jayne Dent, better known via her own electronic/noisy folk project Me Lost Me, in which she buffers and buffets her singing with concertinas and samplers: when she played Hull back in December, support came from local ambient electronic beatsman Halcyon Neumann, who’s worked with The Body Farmers and with Sarah Shiels and who carries out sonic explorations of “the technological vs. the archaic/the spiritual vs. the scientific/the supernatural vs. the psychological.” Together they tease out a semi-improvised border music, part weird electro-folk and part post-shoegaze wisp.

Also playing is Michael Clark, providing slurred, wise, trepidatious and crepuscular folk music with fogrolls of noise behind an acoustic guitar. Despite being a Londoner, he sounds more like a moor-dweller; or like someone who lives in the kind of port city London used to be, one in which strange tales and intimation billow up the streets with the dock mist: this time out, his strange tales are backed up by a full band.

 
I’ve encountered The Nature Centre before. Headlining the Club Integral-hosted Birmingham show above Bell Lung and Raiments, they’re an affable rural/suburban pop quartet like a four-person one-man band, sprouting banjos and clarinets and found percussion alongside their drum kit and guitars. Drawn to playing at weirder gigs, they’ve shared bills with people like Bob Drake and have their own batchful of three-minute pop songs avidly reflecting the off-kilter visions of previous English songwriter eccentrics (the Syd Barretts, Robyn Hitchcocks and Tim Smiths). Handling the in-between-bands slot is someone new to me but not new to Brum’s vinyl-istas: Moseley Folk Festival’s house DJ and Moseley Record Fair co-organiser DJ Rome, promising his own selection of crate-dug oddities and inspirations.


 
In Bristol, the DJ backup comes from “bleary-eyed staggerer” Siegfried Translator of the Grey Area radio show (another haven for intriguingly weird music from all over the globe), but the gig predominantly features the Tara Clerkin Trio: the DIY musical brainchild of a ceramicist who also seems to have a yen for gamelan/minimalist-sounding pattern tinkling sprinkled with voiceloops, friendly saxophonic intrusions and other pitch-ins from whichever musical friends she can rope in for the occasion. (At other times, she creates her own slumberous take on experimental countrified pop.)

 
The Oxford show (promoted by Divine Schism) is primarily a launch event for the second EP by Zahra Haji Fath Ali Tehrani, a.k.a. Despicable Zee – a live-looper, improviser and conscious patterner of fifteen years standing, mixed Anglo/Irish/Iranian heritage, and a history of drumming in Oxford bands since her teens. Now the drums (plus loopstations and recordings) are used to create live solo tracks in which Zee employs a lo-fi, lo-technique approach to overlapping rhythm garlands and triggered conversations. As an artist (as well as an educator and mother), Zee’s increasingly conscious of the female lines she carries within her: the patched-in samples which wobble her current project along feature the voices of her mother and grandmother, mingling with Zee’s own sing-speak-raps as if they’ve dropped by for some kind of experimental music cross-cultural kaffee klatsch.


 
The London show (at Paper Dress Vintage) is an evening of music and spoken word put together by promoters Spilt Milk in order to raise money and awareness for North London Action for the Homeless. Shapeshifter experimental pop poet Alabaster dePlume comperes: also in the corner is Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business, who showed up in ‘Misfit City’ a little over a year ago.

Jenny’s another artist whose field extends from the visual and situational into action and music: the Mystic Business involves pulling together friends and strangers into a collective performance event that’s part communal clapalong choir, part percussion workshop and good-natured culture-jamming protest (with food). Guileless and charming, but nonetheless political and détournementational, it’s an attempt to get collective conscience back into the body, containing and encouraging a cheerful but insistent protest.



 
The Conventry and Brighton gigs appear to feature just Bell Lungs and Raiments on their own, but news just coming in re. the Liverpool date (at dockside art-pub Drop the Dumbulls) says that support there comes from Merseyside “synthwhisperer” and outsider synthpopper Claire Welles. She’s been rolling out her contrary songs for over a decade now, singing increasingly unsettling lyrics in a deep deadpan tone with a sarcastic medicated edge, while the backings deliquesce from elegant ageless Europop into something a little misshapen. It all becomes something like those conversations during which you wake up a third of the way in, not quite sure how you got into them, not quite believing that you’re stuck in there and will just have to ride it out.



 
* * * * * * * *

Following the Raiments tour, Bell heads off separately for other shows. A mid-March showing at Manchester’s Peer Hat is a solo gig, but there’s also an Argyll event (in the enchanting recording-studio-as-art-nook surroundings of St Marys Space) at which she’s supporting baroque poptronic project Gaze Is Ghost: itinerant Northern Irish singer/songwriter/post-classical composer Laura McGarrigle, noted for “spectral vocals and impressionist piano playing” as well as drifts into harmonium and ambient atmospherics. In recent years Laura’s let Zed Penguin drummer/artist Casey Miller into the project and (following a number of pre-Casey singles), Gaze Is Ghost are finally readying a debut album as a duo.

 
A return to Glasgow on 28th March sees Bell performing on a talk’n’play bill with musicologist and audio culturer David Toop and Berlin sonicist Rashad Becker (who, having polished over a thousand records by other people spanning noise to techno, has begun stepping out into music creation of his own with the resonant faux-ethnological synthwork of ‘Traditional Music of Notional Species, Vol. I’).

On the 30th she’s back in Edinburgh to support another experimental folker, looper and performance artist: David Thomas Broughton, whose brilliantly wayward path has included looping his own heckles, blurring the line between song performance and experimental theatre. Along the way he’s released eight albums of accessible, tremulous, oddly haunting alt.folk delivered in an arresting genderless vocal tone a little reminiscent of Anthony/Anohni, and won the respect and collaborative contributions of (among others) Beth Orton, Sam Amidon, and Aidan Moffat. David will be in the early stages of his own tour, which I really should cover on its own.





 
Before any of these, though, she’s crossing the North Sea to perform at an experimental folk event in København. Part of the city’s Fanø Free Folk Festival, it’s hosted by local label Dendron Records, specializers in “small runs of abstract electronics, ghostly folk songs and surprisingly hummable tunes.” The concert will also feature two København-based British emigres Hugh Tweedie and Tanja Vesterbye Jessen. Hugh’s been operating for years under various names including The Weave And The Weft and Taiga Taiga, creating shadowy understated mostly-acoustic songs with a literary bent, and he regularly helps out with David Folkmann Drost’s homemade folk project Moongazing Hare. Previously known as a radical electric guitarist in Vinyl Dog Joy, Amstrong and Distortion Girls, Tanja recently struck out on her own with a solo debut, ‘Feeling Love’ in which she embraces and deconstructs pop songs, writing them acoustically before bringing assorted damaged amplification and effects-pedal interference to bear on them, resulting in songscapes covering a field from heavy-lidded noise-folk to cataclysmic “drone-metal disco”.




 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

Bell Lungs & Raiments tour:

  • Henry’s Cellar Bar, 16A Morrison Street, Edinburgh EH3 8BJ – Wednesday 20th February 2019, 7.00pm (with Claquer) – information here
  • Cobalt Studios, 10-16 Boyd Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE2 1AP, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.00pm(with Michael Clark + Halcyon Jane) – information here
  • The Edge, 79-81 Cheapside, Digbeth, Birmingham, B12 0QH, England – Friday 22nd February 2019, 8.00pm (with The Nature Centre + DJ Rome) – information here and here
  • Cube Cinema, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England – Sunday 24th February 2019, 8.00pm(with Tara Clerkin Trio + The Grey Area DJs) – information here and here
  • Fusion Arts, 44b Princes Street, Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1DD, England – Monday 25th February 2019, 7.30pm(with Despicable Zee) – information here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England – Tuesday 26th February 2019. 7.30pm (with Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business + Alabaster dePlume) – information here and here
  • The Rose Hill Tavern, 70-71 Rose Hill Terrace, Brighton, West Sussex, BN1 4JL, England – Thursday 28th February 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • The Tin @ The Coal Vaults, Unit 1-4 Coventry Canal Basin, St. Nicholas Street, Coventry, CV1 4LY, England – Friday 1st March 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Drop the Dumbulls @ The Bull, 2 Dublin Street, Liverpool, L3 7DT, England – Saturday 2nd March 2019, 7.00pm (with Claire Welles) – information here

Bell Lungs standalone dates with various others (tbc):

  • Fanø Free Folk Festival @ Alice, Norre Alle 7, DK-2200 København N, Norway – Monday 4th March 2019, 7.00pm(with Hugh Tweedie + Tanja Vesterbye Jessen) – information here
  • St Marys Space, Fasnacloich, Argyll, Scotland, PA38 4BJ – Saturday 9th March 2019, 7.00pm(supporting Gaze Is Ghost) – information here
  • The Peer Hat, 14-16 Faraday Street, Manchester M1 1BE – Thursday 14th March 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Stereo/The Old Hairdressers, 20-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 5AR, Scotland – Thursday 28th March 2019, 7.00pm (with David Toop + Rashad Becker) – information here and here
  • The Waverley, 3-5 St. Mary’s Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1TA, Scotland – Saturday 30th March 2019, 9.00pm (supporting David Thomas Broughton) – information 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

 

February/March 2017 – upcoming gigs – Bob Drake, William D. Drake, Stephen EvEns and friends scramble up and down Britain (19th February – 24th March, variously)

15 Feb

During February and March, three tours sprawl across the country from London to Preston to Tyneside, Brighton to Birmingham, Glasgow to Cardiff and points elsewhere.Occasionally they intermesh, like a trio of amiably warped combs. I’ve been trying to keep track of their plans for the last few weeks, but they keep getting excited and running off to snag in more dates and further musicians (both the like-minded and a set of relatively innocent bystanders.)

One of the three tourers is bear-suit-wearing avant-prog polymath Bob Drake, who enjoyed his one-man-one-guitar “Nameless” British tour last November so much that he’s immediately repeating it, bringing his continually morphing musical tales of strange beasts and weird events for another spin around the island. Another is Stephen Gilchrist: indie-rock journeyman who’s drummed behind Graham Coxon and The Scaramanga Six and led art-garage popsters stuffy/the fuses, but most recently has been trading as solo singer-songwriter Stephen EvEns, peddling a craftily embittered set of finely-honed art-pop songs in the Kinks tradition. The third is ‘Misfit City’ favourite William D. Drake – keyboard virtuoso, former Cardiac and (increasingly) the architect of a charming antiquarian pop styling which moves ever closer to a particular unity of classical, folk and the psychedelic.

Video samples below, followed by a slew of gig details and support act info/noises for the curious and for the unconvinced…




 
Stephen Evens’ Cardiff show on 19th February is probably the straightest show of the lot, with him sitting in the middle of an indie-slanted bill with hooky, cheekily-named Chester girlpop trio Peaness (“for fans of Belly, Letters To Cleo and indie pop songs about George Osbourne”) and Rhondda Valley emergents The Vega Bodegas (who provide a blessed fuzzy-pop escape for post-hardcore refugee and former Future Of The Left guitarist Jimmy Watkins).



 
At Bob Drake’s Harrison show on 24th February (which features a Stephen Evens support slot) there are a few more familiar names – Kavus Torabi brings another of his recent string of solo sets, belting out songs he wrote for Knifeworld and The Monsoon Bassoon on an acoustic guitar; and Arch Garrison play their delicate, summery mediaeval-tinged pop, full of pilgrimages, parenthood and psychogeography.



 

Heading up to Preston on 25th February, Bob’s playing on a bill with a gang of Fylde Coast kindred spirits: sunny, doo-wop skronker schizophonics Condor Moments, whom he helped record their 2007 debut album vigorous, bursting Burnley art-rockers All Hail Hyena, plus the dubious Bonanza Tungsten Ladies. (Allegedly, the last are a trio of stranded Preston-based Peruvian exchange students who move between sofa-surfing and eking out a precarious existence in a haunted train tunnel. I suspect lies, and probably treachery.)



 

Back down in Brighton on the 26th, Bob’s playing a pay-what-you-like show with support by T. House, frontman of ominous surreal post-punkers, Sweet Williams. T.’s songs are subtly alarming. I dare you not to put any money in the hat.


 
Bob’s Glasgow gig on 2nd March seems to have brought out support opportunities for half of the undersung freaks in an art-rock town’s artiest corners. Luminous Monsters bring us the gift of “ersatz fuzz-ragas and igneous doom from beyond the ragged veil of terror” (though I’d’ve settled for a badly-carved figurine.) Presenting themselves as “reptilian” Southside doom-droners, they’re a cut or two above the usual arrant sludge-mongering, since there’s more than a touch of flamenco to leaven the grinding distortions and the Mogwai cascades – presumably those are the “freeform ecstasies” and “ersatz arabesques” mentioned further down the parchment. (Aye, ftagn, caramba.) Herbert Powell claim to offer “twisted evil-doings of mental brainwrongs influenced by the likes of Captain Beefheart, This Heat and Aleister Crowley” ; Glasgow blog ‘Blues Bunny’ laconically tags them as “contrived angularity”, “Postcard guitar pop” and “the check-shirted sound of the street”. Come along and see who’s telling the truth – their Bandcamp page is a yawning void, but I did manage to locate a retina-frying live video.



 
Also on the Glasgow bill, faux-masculinist avant-rock bastards Bloke Music are rooted in other local heroes-of-obscurity such as Elastic Leg Party, Bo Deadly, Super Adventure Club and Gastric Band. They’ve just put out a debut EP packaged with a trowel, riddle their press-sheets with Homebase jargon, deliberately confuse DIY music with handyman work, and grunt out song titles like Mortise And Tenon or It’s Yer Ballcock’s Gone Hen. In person, they’re actually a lot feyer, lampshading nods to prog, contemporary classical and (allegedly) Michael McDonald while coughing up part-digested fragments of lounge jazz and ice-cream van. Singer Chris Flynn carols and quavers his way over his bandmates’ knotty guitar fletchings like an avant-pop Jimmy Scott (or rants like a Glaswegian fraternal twin of Joeyfat’s M. Edward Cole). The group’s flakey nerviness and hints of teatime haunted-house shows suggest dEUS or Pavement reworking a soundtrack for ‘Scooby Doo’, or Beefheart getting a gig with ‘The Munsters’. Should be promising, as long as they don’t drop a hammer and smash their own kneecaps.


 
In Birmingham on 3rd March, Bob reunites with two lightly lysergic sets of local gigmates from last year’s tour for a sweet spring shower of a show. Quizzical, pranky cutepop trio Kate Goes recall Victoria Wood heading up a girl gang with an ever-shifting nature (first West Coast beat-poppers; then The Slits; then The Ronettes, with a sideways dash into jaunty Cardiacs territory) but also the quirky sunshine folk-pop of The Bush The Tree & Me. The Nature Centre innocently cite Syd Barrett and “fololoppy pop” as pointers (you can add XTC and Cardiacs to the list, if they hadn’t been implied already), but underneath their sprightly, jouncing banjo/keyboard tunes the band are conducting little philosophical investigations both cute and serious (the comedy of telepathic entanglements on We Are All Friends Of The Master Brain, but a semi-occult tale of madness and misogyny on Amongst The Shielings).



 
Bob’s second London show – at The Others on 5th March – is his last tour date for now. It’s also a Depresstival date at which he’ll be joined by haughty, theatrical pop tyrant and multi-media demagogue Bing Selfish, plus a host of Others-friendly acts including cowpunk trio Lonesome Cowboys From Hell, the Sanshin Sisters, dada musical comedy trio Consignia, Takeru Brady, Birthday Bread Man, Laminate Everything and Alain Man. It’s tough to keep track of all of these people, but for now here’s two sides of the Bing…



 
Stephen EvEns and Bill Drake, however, continue a two-man waltz for four more gigs together. For Stephen’s London album launch gig on March 9th, they’re joined by various friends from Onamatopoeia Records. The Gasman’s DJ set will presumably provide a window into the thinking behind his odd hyperactive electronica, but voice-and-upright-piano duo Rolf & Sam are a bit of a mystery (or possibly a prank – all I know is that one of them is Stephen’s piano tuner). Barringtone are more of a known quality – driving art pop from former Clor-ster Barry Dobbin which flies the route between XTC’s Swindon and Neu’s Dusseldorf. I know that they’ve got enough material to play full sets. I’ve even heard that they’ve recorded some more of it. Please could someone ask them put it out, so that I’m no longer posting and reposting the same two songs from several years ago? Here’s one of them again…


 
Up under the Gateshead railway arches on 12th March, Stephen and Bill will be joined by another affectionate dramatist of the constrained and absurd – Tyneside urban folk veteran: songwriter and 12-string guitarist Nev Clay, who’s been toting his tragicomic songs of fumbled ambitions, criminal families and hard lines around the area for two decades. At their rather posher Leatherhead gig on the 22nd (look, a Victorian private school chapel!), they’re reunited with Arch Garrison. This should be tremendously genteel and cultured, with everyone’s cordial Englishness brought to a simmer. Stephen will probably feel obliged to lower the tone – and quite right too, since chapels are always improved by a public glower or two. Ask any Calvinist.


 
When Stephen plays Brighton on 23rd March, he’ll be minus Bill but topping a Club Stramonium bill featuring other three psych-tinged sets of performers – hedge-magick Cornish folkie Emily Jones, the dark whisper-pop project MUMMY (featuring Bic Hayes and Jo Spratley), and what seems to be an unexpected reappearance of Jo’s Spratleys Japs revival (a Cardiacs spin-off who played three ecstatically-received comeback gigs on either side of the New Year, giving a new lease of life to a batch of undersung Tim Smith work). People who followed those shows at the time will note that this is pretty much a reshuffled version of the playing order at the first of the SJ Brighton shows, with the intriguing twist that Spratleys Japs themselves will be playing acoustically. (UPDATE, 1st March 2017 – sadly, this show appears to have been cancelled, but here’s a taste of what might have been, starting with one of Emily’s tracks…)




 
Finally, on 24th March, Stephen plays Oxford – minus Bill, but plus Ally Craig, his once-and-current bandmate in Bug Prentice (the Oxford avant-punk trio whose influences range from American hardcore to British psycheccentricity to arty ’50s jazz, and whose lineup’s rounded out by up-and-coming jazz bassist Ruth Goller).


 
There’s a smattering of other Bill or Stephen shows this spring, but I’ll cover those in the next few posts, since this one’s bursting at the seams.

Here’s the basic tour details:

  • Peaness + Stephen EvEns + The Vega Bodegas – Clwb Ifor Bach, 11 Womanby Street, CF10 1BR, Cardiff, Wales, Sunday 19th February 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Bob Drake + Arch Garrison + Stephen EvEns + Kavus Torabi – The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England, Friday 24th February 2017, 7.00pminformation
  • Condor Moments + Bob Drake + All Hail Hyena + Bonanza Tungsten Ladies – The Ferret, 55 Fylde Road, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2XQ, England, Saturday 25th February 2017, 8.00pminformation
  • Bob Drake + T House – The Caxton Arms, 36 North Gardens, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 3LB, England, Sunday 26th February 2017, 8.00pminformation (free event with collection on door)
  • Bob Drake + Bloke Music + Herbert Powell + Luminous Monsters – Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, 421 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, Scotland, Thursday 2nd March 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Bob Drake + Kate Goes + The Nature Centre – ORT Cafe, 500-504 Moseley Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham, B12 9AH, England, Friday 3rd March 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Bob Drake + Bing Selfish + Lonesome Cowboys From Hell + Sanshin Sisters + Consignia + Takeru Brady + Birthday Bread Man + Laminate Everything + Alain Man + others – The Others, 6-8 Manor Road, Stoke Newington, London, N16 5SA, England , Sunday 5th March 2017, 7.00pminformation
  • Stephen EvEns (full band show) + Barrington + William D. Drake + Rolf & Sam + The Gasman (DJ set) – The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England, Thursday 9th March 2017, 8.00pminformation
  • William D. Drake + Stephen EvEns – The Ferret, 55 Fylde Road, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2XQ, England, Saturday 11th March 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • William D. Drake + Stephen EvEns – Prohibition Bar, Arch 3, Brandling Street, Gateshead, NE8 2BA, England, Sunday 12th March 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • William D. Drake + Stephen EvEns + Arch Garrison – Old Chapel @ St Johns School, Epsom Road, Leatherhead, KT22 8SP, England, Wednesday 22nd March 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Stephen EvEns (full band show) + MUMMY + Emily Jones + Tesla Girls DJs – The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton BN1 4FQ, England, Thursday 23rd March 2017, 7:30pm – information here and here (CANCELLED)
  • Stephen EvEns + Ally Craig (Bug Prentice) – The Albion Beatnik Bookstore, 34 Walton Street, Oxford, OX2 6AA, England, Friday 24th March 2017, 7.45pm – more information t.b.c.

 

October 2016 – upcoming gigs – a busy Saturday (29th) – Vels Trio + Adam Betts + Sneaky at Jazz Market (London); Lucid Brain Integrative Project + PREHISTO’ZIK + Georgina Brett at Tuesdays Post (London); The Travelling Band + A. Dyjecinski + Arch Garrison + The Great Western Tears via Tigmus in Oxford

25 Oct

Well… another busy Saturday if you’re in London or the Home Counties. Sorry – despite the past weekend’s splurge on Bristol, I need to pick up on more of my coverage of events outside of the south-east. In the meantime, though, there’s these…

* * * * * * * *

Jazz Market, 29th October 2016Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
Jazz Market: Vels Trio + Adam Betts + Sneaky
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Saturday 29th October 2016, 7.30pm

“We’ve got some stunning gigs coming up for all tastes, and this one is no exception. The Jazz Market at New River Studios features world-class musicians bringing us their brands of electronica, math rock, jazz, hip hop, fusion and serious grooves.

“After we saw the three young experimental jazz musicians of Vels Trio playing with Mouse On The Keys and Luo for Small Pond, we knew we needed more. Born out of collective obsession, emotion and improvisation, Vels Trio sculpt contagiously frenetic composition, channelling ingrained deep grooves, progressive soundscapes and contemporary hip hop productions. A band to challenge the psyche of jazz lovers and curious, broadminded and savvy music lovers.



 
Adam Betts is the drummer behind phenomenal math rock pioneers, (and Brian Eno’s favourite experimentalists) Three Trapped Tigers. Watch Adam flawlessly play intricate beats to perfection, while triggering his pre-programmed instruments live via Ableton: his appropriately titled album ‘Colossal Squid’, recorded in one live take, is out at the end of November, with a single out in October.

 
Sneaky (an extraordinary upright bassist who plays a gorgeous instrument designed by Mo Clifton, who also designed one for Lamb bassist Jon Thorne), was classically trained on double bass and cello and completed a music degree before getting involved with Manchester’s club scene alongside musicians like James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco, Mr Scruff, Andy Votel and Mark Rae. After moving in with DJ, turntablist and beatsmith Peter Parker, various jam sessions led to them forming the unlikely band Fingathing, playing with beats, basslines and electronics to make ultimately danceable music.

“After seven years of worldwide touring, three albums, several singles and EPs released through Grand Central and Ninja Tune records, Sneaky moved to Berlin in 2007 to further his musical inspiration and has been making his solo mark ever since… ‘Feel Like A King…Pluck A String’ was released in 2009 on the Big Chill Label and follow up ‘Feel Like A Remix’ in 2010. Whether you’re after impeccable playing or a headnoddingly groovy beat, Sneaky and accompanying drummer Gianpaolo Camplese will deliver.”


 

* * * * * * * *

Tuesdays Post, 29th October 2016

Tuesdays Post present:
Tuesdays Post: Lucid Brain Integrative Project + PREHISTO’ZIK + Georgina Brett
The Muse Gallery, 269 Portobello Rd, Ladbroke Grove, London, W11 1LR, England
Saturday 29th October 2016, 7:30pm
information

“Emmanuel Reveneau is a French artist involved in music, video and theatre, whose work is deeply informed by self-organization theories, situationism and irony. As The Lucid Brain Integrative Project, he currently uses self-designed looping software, Noundo, to improvise wacky atonal groovy soundscapes influenced by free jazz and and the Canterbury scene. Emmanuel headlined at the Y2K International Live Looping Festival (Santa Cruz, California) in 2014 and curates loop festivals in France since 2013, notably the Loop Jubilee series.


 
“Before being a clarinetist, Nelly Meunier was an archaeologist: ever since, she has been searching for links between past and present. She currently plays with the collective Orkestronika and the circus company Tewhoola (amongst others) as well as developing her solo project PREHISTO’ZIK, in which she makes her own instruments (based on actual archaeological and ethnological knowledge) and loops them with a RC505 to create ancestral landscapes. As she puts it: ‘In music sets of PREHISTO’ZIK, I try to create an anachronistic mixture: one side is the looper, modern ethnocentric equipment of occidental culture, and the other side the timeless and universal sounds of materials like clay, wood, stone, bone.’


 
Georgina Brett’s music is created using her voice and effects pedals, creating instant choirs of sound, often in an hypnotic style. Georgina’s music adheres to some avant-garde principles, using harmonious parameters instead of the more dissonant style of its post WWII exponents. Georgina’s music is also gradually becoming a great vehicle for more experimental work, delving into expressive work which plays with the rich world of the media, politics and history using matrices, semiotics and phonetics. Her latest release, ‘The Eclipse Collaborations’, is an album featuring sixteen collaborative pieces: Georgina’s work also features in the recent movie ‘The Killings of Tony Blair’.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Finally, various Tigmus-affiliated artists (on tour or fancying a one-off) coalesce in Oxford for an evening of latterday folk directions.

Travelling Band @ The Bullingdon, Oxford, 29th October 2016

Tigmus presents:
The Travelling Band + A. Dyjecinski + Arch Garrison + The Great Western Tears
The Bullingdon, 162 Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1UE, England
Saturday 29th October 2016, 7.00pm
information

Manchester indie-folkers The Travelling Band are on an eighteen-date tour to celebrate ten years of existence and to map out future directions following the departure of founding guitarist Steve Mullen. The band have spent much of 2016 touring as support act and backing band to American country-rock singer Lissie.


 
The band’s main guest here (as on all current tour dates) is London-based Canadian A. Dyjecinski, frontman for garage-rockers Dracula Legs and current purveyor of gnarly backwoods alt.Americana: his debut solo album ‘The Valley Of Yessiree’ is out on The Travelling Band’s own label Sideways Saloon.


 
A gentler Anglo-psychedelic approach is offered by Arch Garrison, the compact song vehicle of North Sea Radio Orchestra‘s Craig Fortnam, who’s been singing nylon-string guitar songs about lost people, childhood and chalkhill psychogeography for two albums now. Usually accompanied by the knowing baroque-modern keyboard stylings of James Larcombe, on this occasion Craig’s playing solo and acoustic.


 
The opening slot on the show is taken by Oxford acoustic-country duo The Great Western Tears, augmented by pedal steel player Kurt Hamilton and backup harmoniser Fern Thornton. Expect an authentic dip into American roots music and the Ameripolitan ethos (or as authentic as you can get in Oxfordshire), citing Steve Earle, Willie Nelson, old time country tunes and late ’60s West Coast acoustica as its inspiration.


 

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.

 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – Kiran Leonard tours Britain again (March into April) and reveals new single; London gigs from Whispers & Hurricanes (with Madam, Kat May and RobinPlaysChords) and a guitar double from Dean McPhee and Seabuckthorn

23 Mar

Details on two London shows from a packed upcoming weekend: but first, an extended British tour from a major talent…

* * * * * * * *

Tomorrow, explosively gifted singer-songwriter Kiran Leonard charges off on another British tour with his all-star quartet of Manchester art rock luminaries (completed by Dan Bridgwood Hill, Dave Rowe, and Andrew Cheetham – see the note on his previous tour for their credentials). Support on most of the tour comes from dark-glam Manchester pop act Irma Vep, although some dates feature folk musicians Richard Dawson and Salvation Bill (in Newcastle and Oxford respectively) and Bristolian “jazz/rock/post-op pop” quartet The Evil Usses (who fill the bill in Bath), with other acts to be confirmed (though they might have been added to the individual gig pages by now…)





Meanwhile, here’s Kiran’s brand-new nine-and-a-half-minute single – a terrific and spontaneous-sounding interweaving of otherworldly folk baroque, chamber prog, post-hardcore racket and kitchen-warrior percussion. The parent album, ‘Grapefruit’, is out on Moshi Moshi on Friday.


 

* * * * * * * *
In London, at the weekend, there’s a third-outing triple bill for Whispers & Hurricanes (the quieter wing of Chaos Theory Promotions, for when they fancy putting on an act that doesn’t sound like a giant metallic jazz centipede in manga boots)…

Whispers & Hurricanes, 26th March 2016

Chaos Theory presents:
Whispers & Hurricanes: Madam + Kat May + RobinPlaysChords
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Saturday 26th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

“A five-piece London based band, fronted by charismatic singer-songwriter and composer Sukie Smith, Madam create nocturnal, intricate-yet-cinematic soundscapes showcasing songs that are at once confessional and a call to arms, and have been compared to both Mazzy Star and Cat Power. The band has amassed a loyal legion of fans at home and abroad, showcasing their smoky sound at intimate gigs and packed venues across Europe. Tonight they will launch their haunting single When I Met You, taken from their upcoming album ‘Back To The Sea’.” (Meanwhile, here’s an earlier track from their previous album, ‘Gone Before Morning’; plus their darned slinky cover of Oscar Brown’s tale of treachery, ‘The Snake’ – a welcome antidote to the song’s recent co-opting by Donald Trump.)



 

Whispers & Hurricanes, 26th March 2016“After many years we are reunited with the extraordinary singer-songwriter Kat May, who is inspired by the melancholy of Scandinavia, the urban textures of her base in London and the literary song-writing of her native France. Her atmospheric indie folk-pop has been hailed by France’s biggest music magazine, ‘Les InRocks’, as “cathartic and elegant”, and by ‘Lomography’ as “visually dreamy, melancholic and emotionally arresting all at the same time.” We caught the launch of her debut album ‘Beyond The North Wind’ at St Pancras Old Church back in 2014, and it’s still a regular feature on our playlists. Tonight she will perform her music on piano and voice, with violin and cello accompaniments.


 

Robin Jax’s exploits as RobinPlaysChords have been built on a slow but steady sonic development. Hailing from his remote country abode near Leamington Spa, the solitary songwriter uses his guitar and loopstation to create percussion, shimmering ambience and distorted hooks for him to place his honest lyrics over. Garnering comparisons to David Bowie and Patrick Wolf, RobinPlaysChords has previously won over audiences when opening for The Irrepressibles, Larsen, Thomas Truax and others, as well as undertaking his first shows in continental Europe in 2015.”


 

* * * * * * * *

Finally for now, a doubled gig of textured, looped and echoed guitar, but with a pastoral edge…

Dean McPhee + Seabuckthorn
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX, England
Saturday 26th March 2016, 8.30pm
more information

“West Yorkshire based solo electric guitarist Dean McPhee plays a Fender Telecaster through a valve amp and effects pedals, combining clean, chiming melodic lines with deep layers of decaying delay and cavernous echo. Over years of improvisation and experimentation he has developed a unique style of playing which draws together influences from British folk, dub, kosmische, post-rock, Mali blues and modal jazz. His releases on the Blast First Petite, Hood Faire and World in Winter labels have been critically acclaimed by ‘The Wire’, ‘Uncut’, ‘Record Collector’, ‘Music OMH’, ‘Dusted’, ‘Brainwashed’, ‘The Out Door’, ‘Drowned in Sound’ and ‘The Quietus’ amongst others. He has supported artists/bands including Thurston Moore (as UK tour support), Acid Mothers Temple, Wolf People, James Blackshaw, Emeralds, Josh T Pearson, The Magic Band, Sharon Van Etten, Michael Hurley, Josephine Foster, Meg Baird, Bohren and der Club of Gore and Charalambides. Dean is currently working on a new album which uses a kick drum pedal to introduce a pulsing, percussive undercurrent to his most recent compositions,


 

Seabuckthorn is the solo project of UK acoustic guitarist Andy Cartwright. Releasing 6 albums since 2008 he explores alternative terrains on six to twelve strings, often with minimal layered accompaniments to form musical landscapes. Cartwright uses the techniques of finger picking & bowing combined with various open tunings to create a well curated mixture of approaches. Falling into the cinematic and soundtrack genres, his music is evident of influences ranging from the traditional styles of Robbie Basho and Jack Rose, to more modern players like Ben Chasny, Zak Riles, and Gustavo Santaolalla with whom Cartwright shares an emphasis on atmospheric and multi-instrumental compositions. Sometimes quietly ambient, often powerfully expressive. As well as live performances around the UK, Cartwright has performed in numerous shows & festivals all over France & the southern deserts of Tunisia.


 

Dean McPhee and Seabuckthorn are recording a split 7″ single to be released later this year.”

* * * * * * * *

News on more London weekend shows are coming up next time…
 

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:

October 2015 – upcoming London gigs – Arch Garrison & Lisa Doscher, October 3rd

29 Sep

…and this would have been in the previous post about first-week-of-October gigs had I found out about it sooner. For a while now, I’ve been a fan of Tigmus‘ portable crowdfunding formula for making gigs happen, so it’s good to be spurred into plugging one such gig – especially since it features Arch Garrison (whose wonderful second album gained an extensive ‘Misfit City’ review last year) and takes place in such an unusual location…

Arch Garrison +Lisa Doscher, October 3rd 2015

Arch Garrison + Lisa Doscher (Tigmus @ Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare, Hampton Court Road, Hampton, London, TW12 2EN, UK, Saturday 3rd October 2015, 7.00pm) – £10.00

Over to Tigmus:

The second concert in our autumn series at the Garrick Temple to Shakespeare features the beautiful sounds of Arch Garrison and Lisa Doscher.

Having garnered much critical acclaim for his larger-scale compositions and songs with North Sea Radio Orchestra, Craig Fortnam also writes and performs in singer-songwriter mode, alongside James Larcombe (NSRO/Stars in Battledress/William D. Drake) on keyboards as  Arch Garrison, who have released two albums; ‘King of the Down’ (2010) and the latest work ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ (2014).

‘…Pilgrim…’ details Fortnam’s attachment to the chalk downland of Southern England; a landscape criss-crossed with ancient trackways, droves and green lanes, and dotted with Neolithic mounds and barrows, evidence of the Great Stone Culture – all calling him to pull on his walking boots, whistle for the dogs and hit the road, to undertake a pilgrimage to nowhere. He walks the ancient paths as an act of connecting to something intangible but present in the marks left by man, be they burial mounds or pylons – it’s all the same really – all grist to the songwriting mill – walk walk hum sing walk…

Originally from New Hampshire, USA, but now settled in Oxfordshire, England, Lisa Doscher creates soulful vocals with lovely cosy harmonies. Indie-folk peppered with gospel, Americana and urban rhythms; uplifting songs from the heart and soul-powered rhythms for sharing around the campfire and joining in. In her first full-length album, aptly titled ‘Return Home’, she charts her last ten years of diverse musical experience with introspective songwriting and her atmospheric alt-folk sound. The songs each provide a landscape for some discovery that is essential for understanding one’s place in the world.

Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare is a small garden folly erected in 1756 on  the north bank of the River Thames at Hampton, London. It was built by the actor David Garrick to honour the playwright William Shakespeare, whose plays Garrick performed to great acclaim throughout his career. After a campaign supported by distinguished actors and donations from the National Lottery’s “good causes” fund, it was restored in the late 1990s and reopened to the public as a museum and memorial to the life and career of Garrick. It is reputedly the world’s only shrine to Shakespeare.

Up-to-date info on the gig is here, and tickets are available here.

November 2011 – live reviews – RoastFest music festival @ The Unicorn, Camden Road, London, 12th November (featuring Arch Garrison, Matt Stevens, Stars in Battledress, Redbus Noface, Thumpermonkey, William D. Drake, Knifeworld, Sanguine Hum, Admirals Hard) (“trailing bright scraps of music”)

18 Nov

It’s a bit like coming home. My first venture out into gigworld for a while, and I’m walking into a rough-looking rock pub out on the elbow of Tufnell Park. Not so many years ago, the Unicorn was a genuine trouble dive in the industrial frownage north of Kings Cross – just a spit away from the troubled estates around Caledonian Park. Reinventing itself as a part-time heavy metal venue a few years ago turned out to be its salvation. Now it’s been turned around to become a friendly local. The only blood’n’guts making an appearance is on the death-metal flyers by the door.

Today The Unicorn is packed out with a warm crowd of allsorts-people whom you could never easily pin down as a clear scene. Arcane T-shirts stretch around comfy bodies; hairstyles range from metallic red to casually balding, The people here are as likely to be agricultural workers or car-hire operators as hipsters or metalheads, and they’re almost as likely to have flown in from Italy or Poland as have driven or walked in from Worcester or Camden Town. In between acts, the PA spits out recordings as diverse and potentially divisive as John Adams, The Melvins, King Crimson or early ’90s agit-samplers Disco Inferno. Nobody seems in the least bit disorientated, nor do they pester the DJ for Kasabian. In any stylistic sense, confusion reigns. In an emotional sense there’s the warm, scruffy feeling of a tribe who coalesce only occasionally, but always feel very much at home when they do so.

I’ve been here before. This is the Cardiacs flavour. Although Cardiacs as a band are now several years gone-to-ground, as a culture their rampaging jigsaw of unorthodox sensibilities and connections survives – even thrives – through a network of enthusiasts and musical heirs. Uber-fan and hitchhiking hero Adrian Bell is bouncing around the Unicorn swapping stories, spilling his beer and enthusiastically flogging his Cardiacs book. Snooker star-turned-prog champion Steve Davis is here, proving once again that his enthusiasm stretches much further than simply supporting ’70s legends over at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. That silver-tongued James-Bond figure also doing the rounds (plugging a dedicated Cardiacs disco at “battle volume” for next January) turns out to be Dominic Luckman: he’s evidently taken plenty of lessons in suave since his gurning, flour-covered years behind the Cardiacs drumkit. Other former Cardiacs will be performing in various permutations throughout the day: although to be honest this is less to do with tributes or fan-service than it is to do with the tendency of certain musicalities to continue beyond the brand name.

The whole kit and caboodle of Roast Fest itself has been put together by Kavus Torabi. Recently a Cardiac (and before that, in The Monsoon Bassoon) he’s currently heading up both his own band – Knifeworld – and the Believers Roast label that’s hosting the event. This also means that he’s today’s overburdened one-man juggling act. When I first catch sight of him, he’s boggle-eyed with worry, stapling a merchandise board together and hoping that everything will stay together. A self-styled (or self-slandered) psychedelic flake, Kavus seems to half-expect chaos round the corner and for all of this to come tumbling down around his ears. As ever, he’s doing himself down. While he’s relatively new to the full weight of carrying a cottage industry (let alone two, plus the bottled randomness of a mini-festival), his instincts are true and his audience sound. This feels as if it’s going to go well.

It also starts quietly as Craig Fortnam makes his first appearance of the day in Arch Garrison, a solo project which has a tendency to flit between one man-band and acoustic trio. On this occasion it’s a duo, with Craig joined by James Larcombe (today’s man-of-many-bands) on a variety of reedy little keyboards. Initially their sound is ornate and a little introverted, with James drawing angular pipelines of awkward tune across the artful spinning cogs and involved strums of Craig’s acoustic guitar. Together they build up a succession of gangling, summery blueprints; intricate and skeletal folk-baroque miniatures which scroll across time and pitch like attenuated Heath Robinson gizmos.

Some of the wedding-cake decorativeness of Craig’s main project (the retrofitted chamber ensemble North Sea Radio Orchestra) is present and correct, as is a taste of the baroque side of Michael Nyman. Yet Arch Garrison is less formal than either of these, and although seemingly delicate and fey to the point of flimsiness, the music is actually underlaid by an assured, precise musicality. Craig’s acoustic guitar-playing, in particular, is tremendously strong: part Renaissance lutenist, part gutsy Nick Drake fingerpickery, and part atomic clock. Sometimes he also sings – in an easy and distracted murmur, as if daydreaming in his front room.

In spite of this air of detachment (and with the help of an audience that’s warm and receptive from the start), musicians and crowd move closer together as the set progresses, and as the songs take on life from their elegantly quilled and tapestried beginnings and shamble out into the room. Arch Garrison’s music clambers off the Unicorn’s shabby stage like a hung-over peacock emerging from a cardboard box – bedraggled but with flashes of finery. Wreathed in compassion and energetic flourishes, a sweet-natured, gently chiding call to art and arms called Six Feet Under Yeah comes across especially well. Borderline precious they may be, but by the end of the set this band’s earned the kind of affection you’d give to a battered family heirloom.

I’ve heard plenty of loop musicians in my time. Once you’ve seen one they’re like gateway drugs to hundreds of others. (I’m sorry – I’ve battled my addiction for years, but it keeps coming back…) Most of them are sit-down sound brewers: reserved in aspect, slowly adding detail to their patterns, absorbed in their banks of effects pedals.

Matt Stevens cooking up a loopstorm, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

Matt Stevens cooking up a loopstorm, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

Matt Stevens isn’t like that. A hulking figure – wild of hair and beard and with the imposing build of a rugby forward – he’s also afire with nervous energy, hailing his audience with a delighted sportsman’s roar. As regards potential gear-fiddling, he looks more likely to hurl himself onto his pedals and roll across the stage, wrestling with lashing cables and flying components, rather than indulge in prissy fondling. In the event, he settles for stabbing owlishly at his pedalboard as he hacks into his set with furious enthusiasm, attacking a battered acoustic guitar with the energy of a born-again busker.

Even if Matt is an extroverted bear in a loopers’ community of aloofness, he’s still obliged to spend some onstage time engrossed in loop-science. This he does both with earnestness and the air of a smouldering volcano. Bashing aggressively-strummed chords into the loop in order to build up his layered compositions, he crams in his extra details later, subverting his acoustic noises with wah-wah or strange compressions which bring out new instrumental parts like falls of slate or torn hunks of burnished copper. Throughout, a powerful rhythmic momentum is key (whether it’s expressed via out-and-out rockiness, a stuttered systemic pulse or a slither of percussive noise) as is Matt’s total involvement in what he’s doing. If he couldn’t squeeze the next loop idea out, you feel that he’d burst. His joy when things fall into place is palpable.

That said, Matt’s seasoned enough not to dissolve into petulance when things don’t go right. There’s not an error that can’t be turned into an opportunity, not a glitch that can’t be an excuse for a new bit of fun. Even when a string snaps with a whip-like crack, its echoed ghost is built so assertively into Matt’s wall of sound that the piece would ultimately have been less without it. Plenty of loopers reference the more academic touchstones of the genre – Shaeffer and Stockhausen, Fripp and Eno. Matt Stevens has some of that too, but he most definitely grabs us by the scruff of our collective neck to drag us back to the roughneck folk days of John Martyn and his rattling Echoplex (now there was a man who knew something about chance and hazard…) And as he tears us off a Moebius strip, we love him for it.

Fighting an unsympathetic sound mix, Stars in Battledress aren’t having it easy. Of course, life isn’t generally easy for massively over-educated brothers who form art-rock duos, mix up rolling minimalism with genteel English folk and a jigsaw of elaborate lyrical conceits, and then act as if they’ve teleported in from a 1930s gentleman’s club.

If Stars in Battledress were, in fact, playing all of these factors up for laughs (as if they were some kind of parody lounge act), they might be quids-in for a while. The problem is that while they’re flushed with a vein of dense and playful humour, they’re also entirely sincere. Almost everything that makes them remarkable – even wonderful – also makes them hard to sell in England. It’s probably one of the reasons why their gigs are rare these days.They’re willfully out of time; hothouse blooms in a climate that doesn’t favour greenhouses. Even the reviews they inspire turn artful and drip sepia.

The precision brotherhood: Stars In Battledress, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

The precision brotherhood: Stars In Battledress, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

As ever, Richard Larcombe cuts an intriguing figure – a pocket-sized handsome devil, part scholarly fop, part English pop eccentric (as if the two have never been known to overlap). Occasionally, you feel that his air of genteel amusement will slip away and he’ll suddenly go for your neck. Until then, he plays master-of-ceremonies with mixed breeziness and nerves, darting his head like a kestrel, picking fastidiously at his big jazzman’s guitar. His wicked grin and arched eyebrow seep into his vocal tone – a well-spoken tenor, moving between rich warm folk-drone and spooked falsetto. Smiling kindly behind his keyboard, James Larcombe is the obliging laid-back Swann to his brother’s sardonic Flanders: playing fluidly, bringing the solidity to support Richard’s genial spikiness.

With the audience on their side despite the sound flutters, Stars In Battledress treat us to a five-song set, forging a path through shellac-scented easy listening, deep English folk music and Canterbury-esque whimsy, all laced together with strands of Chicago art-rock, cycling piano lines and a dab or two of prog-rock glue. On spec, this sounds like a pile-up. In fact, every song is carefully thought through: lovingly hand-crafted and loaded with the kind of shrewd, floridly verbose lyrical wit that plays a circling game with its listeners. A blowsy chunk of psychedelic antiquarianism, Come Write Me Down references both copperplate and the Copper Family. If Morrissey had been forcibly cut-and-pasted into an Ealing comedy, he’d probably have riposted with something like Fluent English (in which Richard spirals defiantly through levels and levels of social awkwardness, a passive-aggressive cad-seeking missile).

More touchingly, Richard dedicates the brand-new Matchless Bride to his own wife (clambering over and dismissing both Cleopatra and Helen of Troy en route) and behind the dry theatrical wit, the Larcombes occasionally demonstrate a more elusive side. Pinocchio Falls In Love takes Disney and pulls it somewhere towards Syd Barrett in chapel, losing itself in hypnotic circles. The roaring distorted guitar fanfare of Remind Me Of The Thames Or Else, meanwhile, reminds us that this is a band that listens to Battles and Voivod as eagerly as it does to Northumbrian bagpipe reels.

Though it’s been nearly thirty years since Mark Cawthra was a Cardiac, you could still describe him as the band’s second severed head. In early lineups he’d hop around between keyboards, drums and singing, egging Tim Smith on to greater and greater heights of manic invention. These days, he’s still multi-instrumental, but the jibber and twitch of the early years has been replaced by something more relaxed and thoughtful.

Mark Cawthra of Redbus Noface plays a wry and mournful chord, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

Mark Cawthra of Redbus Noface plays a wry and mournful chord, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

On record, Mark’s Redbus Noface project stretches slightly askew of classic English mainstream pop, ending up like a slightly more psychedelic Chris Difford. Live (with a pickup band of assorted Cardiacs and other friends) Redbus Noface are considerably chunkier. They present a drenched crash of solid rock musicianship, run through with a soft vein of melancholy – and, on this occasion, substantial technical hitches. Mark, fronting the band on guitar, deals with his setbacks with patience; which is something that could also be said for the majestically glum music.

It’s not that the band are miserable, per se. It’s more that they’re operating under a glimmering halo of resignation; of acceptance, of carrying on. Hard to put your finger on, though if you’re carrying a few more years it becomes easier. Compared to the jumping-jack of the Cardiacs years, the current Mark is soberer, but if the energy is reduced, the wisdom is broader. The Redbus cover of an early Cardiacs song, Let Alone My Plastic Doll, takes the stubborn heels-dug-in-tone of the original and fills it with grime, sand and saturated weight. In the process, it makes it weightier, more substantial. Mark Cawthra is not what he was. He’s more – and it’s neither show nor tell. It’s feel.

Usually Thumpermonkey can rely on various supports. On record, it’s the studio playground in which Michael Woodman can shore up his ambitious musical constructions with assorted sound trickery. Out live (and minus the gracings of harmonies, samplers, mandolins or keyboards) it’s at least helpful to have a bass player to pin down the foundations of their brooding new-prog grind. (Think Killing Joke meets Van Der Graaf Generator meets Tool, and then get frustrated at how poorly that captures their music’s sly muscularity and brainpower.)

Tonight they have neither of these things. Instead, Thumpermonkey are appearing as a two-guitarred power trio with the basslines covered by octave pedals and a Rush-like determination to dance their way over the personnel gaps by sheer skill and musical ingenuity. Fortunately Michael and his main foil, Rael Jones, have this in spades. They also have a batch of complex, restless songs which roar out from the stage: a slowly swirling mass of ever-altering metallic riffs in shades of grunge-baroque, hardcore punk and ermine cape, all staked into shape by Ben Wren’s needle-sharp drumming and topped off by Michael’s rich baronial voice.

Thumpermonkey get mean, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

Thumpermonkey get mean, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

The latter’s a sound which demands attention. Scorning both sterile heavy-metal strutting or the self-righteous monotone screech of hardcore (though he can roar and scream with the best of them) Michael unleashes a vocal ever bit as striking and expressive as his Escher-knot of instrumental patterns. As he and Rael crash and chisel out the guitar lines, Michael treats us to a series of hard-rock soliloquies: heady declamation, musings, ominous mutters and runaway wails adding the muscle to his intricate lyrics.

In turn, this fits neatly into the undulating, stuttering landscape of Thumpermonkey’s music. Even when the band’s stripped down, the music thrives – catching at your ears, presenting tantalising gaps of rhythm and tension. Thumpermonkey know that if there are enough good ingredients in the stew, then there’s no such thing as overcooking. They may have always been a band with too many ideas, but they’ve become brilliant at blending and poising them all. They also visibly enjoy their arch humour, a witty blend of pastiches from cyberpunk to Gothic melodrama to art cinema oddity.

It’s got to be said that as metallers (even of the brainiac kind), they don’t quite look or act the part. Few obvious tattoos are in evidence; and they could shed their roles as easily as their T-shirts. Rael – part bespectacled boffin, part spindly golden eagle – prowls the stage with the barely-suppressed excitement of a toddler at Christmas, while Michael – even in full yell – has the cuddly softness of a plush-doll Paul McCartney, complete with smile and shaggy moptop. Look them in the eye, though, and see the twinkling confidence of men with total self-belief and the humour to enjoy it all the way to the end of the set and home. Ultimately it’s the music which sets Thumpermonkey’s ranking, and on every bit of evidence here, that’s pretty high.

William D. Drake comes complete with a throng of “So-Called Friends”, including the Larcombe brothers, Mark Cawthra (back behind the drumkit) and the Trudy’s Jon Bastable on bass. With singer Dug Parker and clarinetist Nicola Baigent also squeezed in, there are almost too many people to fit onstage. Richard Larcombe has to comically mountaineer his way back and forth between songs, a guitar swivelling around his body like a slapstick plank – you’d almost expect a Spike Jones soundtrack of thwacks, boings and yelps.

Such is the geniality onstage, however, that any clouts from a straying instrument would be taken in good heart. Squeezed they might be, but the seven-piece band do some sprawling justice to the clutch of Drakesongs on offer tonight. Each of them spring gently open when played, an overstuffed old trunk full of homemade melodies and worn-down reeds. Another onetime Cardiac, Bill Drake used to exude jollity and warmth around a chubby smile even when he was slathered in smeary slap and rolling out a convulsed fugal organ line. Two decades on, the freak trappings have long since washed off but the warmth has blossomed.

William D. Drake (and the Larcombes throwing shapes), RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

William D. Drake (and the Larcombes throwing shapes), RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

Upfront at his piano, Bill’s like the avuncular monk in charge of the brewery. For a while, the November evening turns to a leaf-strewn end-of-summer afternoon as he sings in his split, woody voice – a kind of innocence in itself, straining heartily against its natural restrictions to break out into a flattened earnest roar or into a conversational softness. His songs thrive on ripples of piano and clarinet, on the hoppity bounce of half-forgotten novelty records; on hushed moments of old English reverie. It’s as if they’ve sprung up from a snowed-in village, put together by a group of people enjoying the warmth of companionship. One of the newer songs – Homesweet Homestead Hideaway – travels sedately from happy plonk to sea music, and from chamber music to music hall, all in a single unrolling skein.

The So-Called Friends nearly overwhelm the stage: Knifeworld transcend it. Tonight, they’re the only band that really do. Maybe it’s because they’re Kavus’ own band, briefly releasing him from organiser’s headaches, letting him take up his white Gretsch guitar and fire off a little compositional lightning. At any rate, Knifeworld take their set at full-tilt, as if they’re playing on excited tiptoe prior to leaping through the ceiling. Even the sonic missteps or rough patches don’t slow them down – any occasional keyboard plunk or fluffed vocal note is scooped up and along to fuel their energy.

In more than one respect, the band bristle. Grown to a six-piece (and swallowing up a couple of Chrome Hoof members along the way), they now have electric pianos and bassoons poking out of them like crazy hairpins. Kavus’ veering and breathless songs need no less these days. Crammed with escapologist riffs, abrupt time-changes and flagrant decorations, they’re like manically accelerated conversations complete with excited table-bangings. They’re also like mashed-up city traffic – dozens of different ideas like wandering cars, edging into narrow streets, getting squeezed into a bigger and more diverse picture, but somehow managing to manoeuvre and thrive.

Knifeworld roar into action, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

Knifeworld roar into action, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

Up at the front Kavus’ gruff and friendly bark of voice mingles with that of his vocal foil Mel Woods. They sing with a chatty roughness which almost, but not quite, disarms the furious musical mechanisms churning away behind them: part prog, part Rock-In-Opposition, part surreal shanty. Chloe Herrington’s steely bassoon playing is the newest Knifeworld ingredient, as tart as molasses and threading a new dark vein through the songs, most of which are newer work, including the benign lurches of In A Foreign Way and the chittering pump-riffage of Pilot Her.

The best comes last. Fully warmed up, Knifeworld lock in a few more gears, summon up a few more notches of the power and launch into The Prime Of Our Decline, a piece so new that it’s still glistening. It rampages past our ears and through our brains in a blizzard of lights and joy. It’s a streaking Mediterranean storm of flamencoid prog pulse and haul song, flashing out memories of John McLaughlin, Yes and Fred Frith (each at the peak of their communicative powers), but it also sustains along its entire length, the heart-racing punch of a top pop hook. I feel my jaw drop. For five minutes, the entire band seem to be leaning into an ecstatic curve; or levitating an inch above the Unicorn’s scruffy stage carpet. It’s not often that I see a band suddenly move up a level, right in front of me. It takes my breath away when it actually happens.

It does strike me that, were most of these bands American, they’d be getting proper respect. All credit to them for coming together to light up this obscure little corner of North London, but they’re still running along in a distant neglected parallel, some way out of the club of the British musicians who are properly celebrated, who are held up as the exemplars of what we ought to be doing as a musical nation. Some of them have been at it for years in one form or another, and to see their clear talent unrewarded is hard.

It’s something to do with a pop aesthetic worn down to a neurotic sliver, I suppose. An idea is always easier to sell if it’s been pre-formed and pre-warmed; and not only does the emphasis on the shape of the British pop song often end up as a straitjacket, British musical jingoism has a flipside of fawning insecurity. From a British perspective, it often seems as if it’s only Americans who are allowed to experiment, to embrace their own whimsy to the hilt, to draw in something less urban and less in cahoots with fashion; and in Britain it’s only American musicians who are allowed to be celebrated for this. The Roastfest roster – profoundly British, without a pop art flag in sight – flip a cheerful collective finger at this notion.

Still, I have to admit that coping with Roastfest’s rich stew of acts in relentless succession does eventually take it out of you. I’m flagging by the time Sanguine Hum arrive onstage. Not too long ago, they were called The Joff Winks Band, and they used to lie to people. Travelling under a classic-pop flag to mislead people, they played beautifully, wrote intricate Canterbury-mellow prog-rock songs while pretending not to, and made the kind of tasteful support-band ripples you’d expect if you spent your time opening for people like Joseph Arthur and Regina Spektor.

Prog of a more delicate stripe... Joff Winks of Sanguine Hum, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

Prog of a more delicate stripe… Joff Winks of Sanguine Hum, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

In parallel, Joff and his bandmates also had alter-egos. They explored a lighthearted, Anglicised post-rock as Antique Seeking Nuns, and pegged out some spacey textural music as Nunbient. Maybe proving themselves in these fields has given them the confidence of finally making themselves over as an overt prog band. Hurray for that.

During the course of their set I drift around the pub, a little dazed by standing and by keeping myself fuelled on bar snacks. Consequently Sanguine Hum’s airy prog blend – in which Rhodes-propelled Camel mellowness blends with occasional Zappa seizures – doesn’t grab enough of my wandering attention. By the end of the evening my impression of the band is hazy, and my notes too vague to be of much use. Sanguine Hum seem cleaner and more polite than anyone else on offer – they’ve kept the classic ’70s pop sheen, for certain – and I have to nod to both Matt Baber’s bright, dazzling keyboard touch and Joff’s sweet-natured frontman work. The rest of what they are will have to wait until we next cross paths. Sorry, Joff. Not your fault. I just wasn’t quite up to it this time.

The evening ends with a big, scrappy folk noise. Admirals Hard don’t pretend to be anything other than what they are – émigré Plymouth art-rockers gone acoustic (plus a few London friends), indulging hometown roots with a string of traditional sea-shanties. The affable Andy Carne fronts this busman’s holiday, but both of the Larcombe brothers are back onstage too, along with chunks of The Monsoon Bassoon (Dan Chudley on bass and fur cap, while Kavus, letting his hair down at the end of the night, jangles a mandolin). Onetime Foe drummer Paul Westwood plays harmonium and hammered dulcimer; Tungg! singer Becky Jacobs joins in too.

In fact, everyone sings – not just the whole band (with the affable Carne performing as much as an MC as lead vocalist) but the audience. While Admirals Hard have been known to fling in shipworm-friendly covers of Cardiacs and Iron Maiden (their take on Stranger In A Strange Land is surprisingly convincing as well as funny), these aren’t needed tonight. At the end of a day of invention, the trad songs cheerfully mop up. An international audience of music obsessives let down hair and inhibitions, drink the last of the bar dry and sing along to All For Me Grog, Eddystone Light and Thou Hast Drunk Well Man; the roaming Janners and honorary Janners onstage let their accents broaden, strum out a sound like a skinny Pogues and imagine a rolling deck. With the bar drunk dry, that’s probably not too much of a stretch by now.

Finally we disperse into the November night, trailing bright scraps of music as we go. I head for Archway, humming something complicated, or something simple. Something warm. Something welcome.

Buy a memento:
Various Artists: ‘The Central Element’ (compilation album with one track from each Roastfest band) – available from Genepool.

Arch Garrison online:
Homepage MySpace

Matt Stevens online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp LastFM YouTube

Stars In Battledress online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp LastFM

Redbus Noface online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace

Thumpermonkey online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp LastFM YouTube

William D. Drake online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp LastFM

Knifeworld online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp

Sanguine Hum online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace Bandcamp LastFM Soundcloud

Admirals Hard online:
MySpace

The Unicorn, Camden online:
Facebook Twitter

REVIEW – Holy Roman Empire: ‘Dante’s Inferno’ single, 2001 (“a glorious Moulin Rouge gesture”)

27 Apr
Holy Roman Empire: 'Dante's Inferno'

Holy Roman Empire: ‘Dante’s Inferno’

“Well, you got so down you went to town and bought a brand-new top. / They can take your will to live but not your will to shop. / Try to eat more ‘cos you’re hungry, and less because you’re lonely, / and don’t let that feeling fade away…”

Oxford pop pixies Holy Roman Empire seem cheerful to sell themselves as being crap. Their press-kit is full of reviews slating their appalling clothes, their mimed performances, their (allegedly) pitiful singing and their clunky tape recorders hidden inexpertly under keyboard stands. Yet they don’t half shoot themselves in the foot by coming up with such good songs.

Bloody hell – if this had shown up in 1989 it would have swept all before it. Not every song blends – so successfully – lyrics like a playful junior Morrissey with mock-pomp Carter USM Casio orchestrations and rounds it off with the cruising freeway feel of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game. Back then this would have been a small Holy Grail for student radio, ghosting through every university bar across the land. Here and now it can only settle for being classic, timeless pop – whatever the clothing.

In case I’ve not made my point yet – Dante’s Inferno is marvellous. It’s one of those rare songs which fey critics, hung-up on the sublime disposability of pop, always whiffle on about. Well aware of the ludicrousness that lies at the heart of obsessive passion – and of the dramatic pretensions of pop music – it still goes at it full-tilt because it knows that that’s all that matters. (As a bonus, I can still believe in the song even as I reel off this kind of posturing shite… that’s high camp for you.)

Holy Roman Empire ‘s Ste Fleming and his two foils sigh as milkily as Prefab Sprout and deftly nail the paradox of all-consuming unrequited love. “You go to the doctor, and the doctor feeds you pills. / You know you need them, but you need the pain they kill. / All because you lost somebody, but never lost the feeling, / and daren’t let that feeling fade away.” Inevitably the other two songs are anticlimactic after this glorious Moulin Rouge gesture. After all, how do you follow up a song which has a ringmaster on the chorus?

Still, Holy Roman Empire can quick-march a long way on what they’ve got. What they’ve got happens to be a batch of cheesy keyboard puffs, an upbeat chirp of melody, a vocal style best compared to a pomp version of Rod, Jane & Freddy, and some of the sharpest lyrics this side of Paddy McAloon’s teenage-fluff drawer. I Bleed Petrol (punctuated by cute car-crash sound effects) could almost be a children’s singalong. Then again, there are lines like “city kids with sicknesses, and flowers placed by roads, / melting polar icecaps and the flooded southern coasts”, suggesting that the trio have made a noose out of a skipping rope and are trotting out in search of a symbolic motorist to lynch.

No Tomorrow is a bizarrely happy-sounding love song about… yes… everything turning out shit in the end. It’s a fiddling-about with goodbye ribbons as the city burns. “I was sort of wishing – yeah, I was kind of hoping, / as the ground got closer, that my parachute would open (but no…) / ‘You have to be strong now: you have to let me go,’ / so it’s off with my head and it’s on with the show.”

You have to reckon that as long as that tinselly backcloth is still there, Ste Fleming will stay happy. Supercheese wins out, then – and mighty tasty it is too.

Holy Roman Empire: ‘Dante’s Inferno’
Bluefire Records, BLU017
CD single
Released: 2001

Get it from:
Best obtained second-hand.

Artist online:
MySpace

July 1999 – EP reviews – Cardiacs/Camp Blackfoot’s ‘Cardiacs Meet Camp Blackfoot’ EP (“an explosion in a fairground repair shop… a belting mixture of howling-for-vengeance free-jazz saxes, prog-from-hell and hardcore trash-blues”)

7 Jul

Cardiacs/Camp Blackfoot: 'Cardiacs Meet Camp Blackfoot' EP

Cardiacs/Camp Blackfoot: ‘Cardiacs Meet Camp Blackfoot’ EP

You already know Cardiacs, or you ought to. They’re that gang of besuited gentlemen from Chessington, Kingston and Milton Keynes – upsetters of pop rules known for busting out of tight waistcoats, with a sound like an explosion in a fairground repair shop. And who specialise in hatefully brilliant singles midway between masochism and ecstacy, as pleasurable as scratching a really luxurious, pestilential itch.

Sleep All Eyes Open doesn’t let that line of guilty pleasures down, tying knots in Super Furry Animals and The Glitter Band to make a glammy mess of noisy guitars and monkey-gland logic. Here’s something that really enjoys how gloriously dumb-to-the-max it is – listen to those handclaps, and that dum-dum riff bouncing its knuckles along the ground. Yet it evolves fast, ideas yomping around, running off into ever-more crowded angles and arguments while Tim Smith yelps like a circusful of trampolining dogs. Cardiacs always cram their songs to bursting point but never lose any of it to blind alleys or prog meandering. And if I still haven’t a clue what they’re singing about, I think there’s something in the back of my head which does, whooping and waving a flag whenever I hear them let something like this out of the box.


 
The five-year-old bonus tracks (from the mind-boggling ‘Sing to God’ album) haven’t worn badly either. Dirty Boy hammers and claws through seven minutes of huge black-metal guitars and ends up flailing against the wall in an ecstatic stuck groove of wailing choir and electric-shock organ. Foundling is a mediaeval creak of sleep, death and aching men’s feet, worthy of Robert Wyatt. And there’s a celebratory, singalongaTim instrumental mix of Insect Hooves on Lassie- and that’s so tuneful it could get a corpse up and idiot-dancing within seconds. These guys are old enough to be Blur’s granddads, for God’s sake – how come they still make almost any other British rock group sound half-hearted and half-asleep?




 
Camp Blackfoot, hanging onto the other half of this EP, grab the challenge with both hands and a ravening mouthful of teeth. It says here that they’ve chewed their way out of the corpse of Thirteen Ghosts (Oxford’s finest in thrash-improv… hmmm), and they don’t bother with all that business of the dichotomy between social discipline and chaotic emotions. They just hit the record button and scream. A belting mixture of howling-for-vengeance free-jazz saxes, prog-from- hell and hardcore trash-blues comes tumbling out onto the carpet and burns a huge hole in it. Somewhere, Lester Bangs is laughing his head off.


 
If you wanted to hear serious avant-garde psychobilly locked into a no-holds-barred deathmatch with art-noise, you’ve come to the right place. Ruins forcibly manhandling the Blues Explosion into a blender wouldn’t even come close to The Blue Hood’s shredding monster-movie music; while The Other Giaconda is what might’ve happened had King Crimson ever really exploded onstage in squalling Stooges style, neurotic precision blowing the safety valve a foot deep into the ceiling. And The Red Mist tops the lot- squiggly Morricone noises that burst into enormous barbed- wire riffing and an epically hallucinating murder song, a weird doomed narrative which sees a desperate man’s mutter rising to a horrified scream: “The street melts under my feet… I’m drowning in a boiling sea of salt,/ faces are ugly / I – Mother of God!”



 
Songs to crash your car to, and the soundtrack to strutting away from the blaze looking cooler than ever. Not really something that works with Coldplay, I think.

Cardiacs/Camp Blackfoot: ‘Cardiacs Meet Camp Blackfoot’
Org Records, ORG 056CD (5 028151 010568)
CD-only EP
Released: 5th July 1999

Get it from: (2020 update) Limited edition of 1,000 – best obtained second-hand.
Cardiacs online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Google Play Pandora Amazon Music
Camp Blackfoot online:
Homepage MySpace Last FM YouTube Amazon Music