Tag Archives: Preston (England)

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

21 Jul

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

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

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

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

Gong, 2018

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

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



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



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

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

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



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



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

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



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

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



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



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



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

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

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

February/April/August 2018 – underground rock flowerings at the Tim Smith fundraiser gigs in Birmingham (21st February), York (27th April) and Preston (11th August)

15 Feb

Following on from the various posts I’ve done on Tim Smith fundraiser gigs, here’s details on the first three to go public this year (in Birmingham, York and Preston). They’ll be shows which are obviously of interest to fans who’ve followed Tim’s work in and out of Cardiacs, but in their lively breadth, they offer plenty for those who’ve never even heard of either Tim or the band.

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Die Das Der & The Catapult Club present:
A Tim Smith Fundraiser: The Courtesy Group + The Nature Centre + Ghosts of Dead Airplanes + The Crooked Hooks
The Cuban Embassy @ The Bulls Head, 23 St Mary’s Row, Moseley, Birmingham, B13 8HW, England
Wednesday 21st February 2018, 7.30pm
– pay-what-you-can event – information

Tim Smith Fundraiser, 21st February 2018The Birmingham event takes place at a Moseley joint generally better known for Latin music: hemmed in by rum posters and playing under the Cuban flag are various Brum-area acts with assorted mind-expanding sympathies, from the slightly fey to the outright bolshy.

I’ve encountered The Nature Centre before – light-touch “fololoppy” banjo-and-keyboards Anglopop meeting a Barrett-y/Partridge-y/Smith-y sensibility, while smuggling in strange tales of misogyny and telepathy under the cover of cuteness – but the other bands playing this pay-what-you-like gig are new to me. Shades of Captain Beefheart, The Fall and Ian Dury infest The Courtesy Group, thanks to Al Hutchin’s pop-eyed, pop-jawed declaiming over tunefully abrasive hubcap-guitar rock grooves (which travel from beaten-up armchair argument to deafening industry, and which deploy an extended armoury including baritone guitar and beatboxing).

 
More zig-zagging commentary and tossed-salad narrative come from The Crooked Hooks, who seem to have started from an electric folk groundpoint (with a flick of country fingerpicking) but then rapidly twisted and buggered it up with dirty art rock. They’ve ended up sounding like a collision between Kevin Rowland and Stump: admittedly, a Kevin who’s let the quest for soul slip through his fingers while he was sunk in esoterica about lost continents, nursery rhymes, insults and horses.

 
Finally, the sludgy jangle of self-deprecating trio Ghosts Of Dead Airplanes defines itself, variously, as “post-post-punk” , “paunch-core”, “noise-pap” and “stupid”. Lurching about all over the shop on a sprawling, surprisingly diverse noise-pop chassis, they formerly bit chunks from what sounded like everything from Pop Will Eat Itself, Nirvana and Gary Numan through to The Double; but more recently they’ve been sounding like anxious boys sticking their bewildered heads out of the billowing trailsmoke-ball of My Bloody Valentine.


 
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An Evening of Fadeless Splendour, 27th April 2018

Maeve Pearson, Jock Bray, Ian Hughes and Simon Piper present:
An Evening Of Fadeless Splendour: Kavus Torabi + Redbus Noface + Paul Morricone + Stephen Gilchrist
The Fulford Arms, 121 Fulford Road, York, Yorkshire, YO10 4EX, England
Friday 27th April 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Several actual Cardiacs (and honorary family members) are showing up at the York gig. Kavus Torabi will be including it as part of his upcoming tour of new solo material featuring a more serious change of tone, in which he’ll be applying his offbeat psychedelic imagination to sombre-yet-colourful acoustic guitar wrangles, ghostly harmonium drones and dark airs about preoccupations and mortality… as well as the odd Knifeworld piece. (Note – if you’re in London on 22nd February, he’ll also be previewing this tour set in Kings Cross.)

Stephen Gilchrist (a.k.a “Stuffy” or, more recently, “Stephen eVens”) will be playing some of his guitar/melodica/microsynth songs about wilful disappointments, bloody-mindedness, childhood holidays and other sardonic aspects of the human condition. For a man who’s ostensibly such a downbeat bastard, he’s always proved a very engaging live performer, clearly relishing his own gallows humour and the grin beneath the growl. (Having delivered one of the finest British songwriter albums of 2017 also helps, I suppose…)



 
Stephen also pops up as part of the lineup of Redbus Noface, the ongoing band project by Mark Cawthra (Tim Smith’s primary foil in the early Cardiacs lineups). Helping Mark and Stephen land the Redbus cargo of chunky art-rock and skewed perspective are Bob Leith (another Cardiac) and Mick Russon (sometimes of Cardiacs-inspired Midlands wonk-pop band 7shades, more on whom later). Bar sporadic gigs, Redbus has been pretty quiet since the release of debut album ‘If It Fights The Hammer, It Will Fight The Knife’ nearly seven years ago: perhaps they’ll have something new for us now.


 
Completing the evening’s entertainment is an appearance by main Scaramanga Six songwriter and frontman Paul Morricone, delivering a solo acoustic guitar package of Scaramanga songs and (perhaps) some additional work in progress. His main band, with their Yorkshire-Krays schtick and their tuneful swagger, might be one of the proudest live acts around; but even without them Paul’s presence is undiminished. He’s still got that big, carrying voice, plus two decades of tough, smart tuneful rock songs behind him – many of them mercilessly skewering toxic masculinity from an insider perspective, focussing not just on its frightening cruelties and callousnesses, but also on its footling self-delusions, its stunted fears and resentments, its swaggering nightmares.

With his work given a new uncomfortable resonance in these days of exposed misogyny, Paul frequently offers grim theatre, with clear lessons beneath the tunes and the dark characterisations. Thankfully, the wider wit and elan of his songwriting – its other varied subjects include stagefright, dreams, and the battle for independence of mind and action, often addressed with dark and melodramatic humour – ensure that an audience with him is far from being a brutal drag-down.


 
Further details on the show are yet to be confirmed but the planned visuals by Kandle Voodoo, plus the efforts of assorted DJs, will help grease the brain and ensure that everything should roll on until two in the morning.

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Hyena Inc. presents:
The Whole World Window 2:
The New Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 8JP, England
Saturday 11th August 2018, 12:00pm
– information here and here

Whole World Window 2, 11th August 2018By far the biggest of the three events is the Preston one – a twelve-hour all-dayer happily yomping along in the footsteps of a previous attempt back in 2016.

In some respects it’s a rerun, with plenty of the same faces showing up. Promoter Greg Brayford is bringing his own mutant power-pop trio All Hail Hyena (whom I described back then as “Bo Diddley rocking an birthday-cake castle”). Prime Cardiacs acolytes 7Shades are still probably as close to the punchy, cartwheeling late-‘80s Cardiacs sound as you’re going to find without a time machine. Also making return appearances are odd-fit acapella jazz’n’Latin pop singer Asha Hewitt (a.k.a. “Moon Ahsa”, sometimes part of Solana) and the deafening hardcore tinkle of Britney (I’m sorry, but I can’t top my 2016 description of them as “one-and-a-half-minute bursts of earsplitting rock numbers plastered with crumpled ice-cream-van melodies…”)





In other respects, WWW2 is a monstrously ambitious jump-up from the last time around, with Cardiacs-community names coasting in from all over the country and from further afield in Europe. The last of the 2016 returnees is Sterbus, bringing his lovingly boiled-up jam of Smith, Fripp, Zappa and ‘90s rock influences over from Rome (and travelling in cahoots with Dominique d’Avanzo, his usual clarinet-and-voice foil). As with the York gig, Kavus Torabi will play a mostly-acoustic solo set; also in attendance are his fellow Londoners The Display Team with their brass-heavy, complicated-but-catchy avant-rock songbook.



 
Continuing his ongoing journey from the American underground to the hearts of an increasing number of unsuspecting British freaks, former Thinking Plague/5uu’s polyinstrumental wildcard Bob Drake pops across the Channel from his south-of-France home with a cavalcade of lighthearted weird-fiction tales for guitar, voice and funnybone. From Tyneside and Northumberland, the recently reunited Sleepy People (complete with original frontman and ongoing Ultrasound icon Tiny Wood) will be bringing their pumping, spiralling kaleidoscopic psych-pop for strange city corners; while twilight-folk singer Emily Jones, from Cornwall, will be unpacking her own tales of sea-wives, suspect fairies and haunted post-war bungalows.




 
The rest of the bill features some rich north-western and Midland pickings which have caught Greg’s eye. Former Polyphonic Love Orchestra members David Sheridon and Debz Joy are making what I think is their first live appearance in their new post-punk fabulist guise as Army Of Moths; Telford-based punk-pop absurdists A Pig Called Eggs sound like John Otway and Syd Barrett happily sharing a single body, but struggling for control of a jouncing mathcore band. Rounding the bill off are Mancunian loop-pedal-pushing lo-fi noise-pop soloist RoBotAliEn (a moonlighter from frequent Hyena-gig guests Sweet Deals On Surgery) and folk-singer Cassandra Payne, whose 2016 debut EP ‘Sheltering Tree’ blends a Northern English folk heritage with lessons and Americana ideas picked up from journeys through the Appalachians, the wilds of Vermont and the bohemian idyll of Cape Cod’s Provincetown.





 
Greg has also promised a rash of zines, merchandise and commemorative souvenirs, plus a couple of mysteries in the shape of Hannah’s Storey (a top-secret duo being assembled especially for the event) and a similarly secret headliner (which, given the calibre of the people he’s already managed to sign up, ought to be very special indeed…) Meanwhile, for a peek at the previous Whole World Window concert in 2016, see below.


 

November 2017 – upcoming free rock gigs – Tonochrome back in action in London (25th November); All Hail Hyena host a quadruple-headed evening in Preston with Dirty Bare Feet and Soldato plus the return of Sleepy People for their first gig in sixteen years (11th November)

2 Nov

Tonochrome, 25th November 2017

Tonochrome
The Spice of Life, 6 Moor Street, Soho, London, W1D 5NA, England
Saturday 25th November 2017, 7.30pm
– free entry – information

London progressive pop band Tonochrome have been away for a while – they were last onstage towards the end of 2013. This new gig towards the end of the month is something of a return and reshuffle – it’s their first with the newest in a run of bass players (Andres Castellanos), and an opportunity for singer Andres Razzini and his other cohorts (keyboard player Steve Holmes, drummer Jack Painting and, on guitar, transdisciplinary musical wanderer Charlie Cawood) to show us the latest developments for a promising band. Over an increasingly interesting pair of EPs, Tonochrome have explored glam pop, aspirational indie and a touch of expansive prog, building towards a definitive, textured statement. I don’t know if they’ve got there yet, but this show is free, so get in and see what they have to offer.


 
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Dirty Bare Feet + All Hail Hyena + Sleepy People + Soldato, 11th November 2017Hyena Inc. presents:
Dirty Bare Feet + All Hail Hyena + Sleepy People + Soldato
Ships And Giggles, 3 Fylde Road, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2XQ, England
Saturday 11th November 2017, 7.00pm
– free entry – information here and here

Meanwhile, up in Preston, herky-jerky odd-rock band All Hail Hyena (who’ve made an initial name for themselves by storming and/or organising assorted Tim Smith benefit gigs) continue their work as promoters Hyena Inc. via a free DIY gig celebrating “one night of pop-punk-rap-reggae-soul-psychedelic space ska nursery-rhymes rock lo-fi metal bossa-nova prog tri-fi music from four diverse and very different brilliant northern bands”. As well as putting on the night and providing the lollipops, they’re performing themselves, bringing new songs of “neon lipstick, the thrill of a stolen kiss, and powerful pop ballads infused with filthy guitars and hot sex”. The gig will be closed by another growing Preston institution, Dirty Bare Feet, playing an audience pleasing “myriad of rap, soul, reggae, dance, pop, disco and jazz”; and opened by Chorley hard rockers Soldato (“four hairy northerners making noise with wood and wire”).




 
Of most interest to me, however, is that this gig marks a long-overdue return to live action by Tyneside underground heroes Sleepy People. Teasers and tinkerers at the coalface of psychedelic pop, they’ve always been a wilfully eccentric bunch; mingling the countercultural clowning and cosmic glissandi of Gong with bursts of twinkling synth melody, pulses of ska and post-punk guitar chug, set off by moonstruck flute and held together by Paul Hope’s odd yet jaunty songs (which chunter along like sugar-frosted tank engines). The last time they trod the boards was back in 2001: reunited with original singer Tiny Wood (better known as the frontman for ongoing cult-glamsters Ultrasound) they’re seeing what the contemporary world offers them, and vice versa.

Sleepy People, 11th November 2017Despite a strong work ethic Sleepy People never got as far as they should have done during their first lease of life; partly thanks to a constant stop-start of personnel turnover (with Paul and Rachel Hope the only consistent members) but also due to their continual goofiness and repeated nose-thumbing at any conception of cool. Daevid Allen might well have applauded, but the insouciant clowning tended to obscure surprisingly thoughtful songwriting which – while it happily dipped into a soup of esoterica from Gurdjieff to Freemasonry – frequently raised an arch, quizzical eyebrow at contemporary concerns. Among the tales of the frieze of myth and of men turning themselves into birds, the Sleepies also sang about the encroachment of shopping malls, about futile attempts at freezing yourself into immortality, or about modern-day nightmares in orphanages and retirement homes. At other times they’d cast numinous halos of wonder around everyday occurrences (a winter walk home which slowly becomes freighted with significance; the joy of a child running across a beach; or, perhaps on the same beach, the uncomprehending travails of a newly-hatched turtle perilously navigating by the moon).

Things can only be improved by the ongoing reunion with Tiny (who actually rejoined for part of the band’s final stint as Blue Apple Boy around 2002 before they called it a day). Striving to be Wakefield’s own David Bowie and its David Thomas; possessed of a hulking, dramatic stage presence; singing in foreboding and flinty tones like a pop crooner reincarnated as a battlefield crow… he’s always been the best, and the edgiest, foil for Paul’s songwriting. The tail end of the Blue Apple Boy period saw them writing together, Tiny’s more personalised art-punk anguish proving the perfect sour complement to Paul’s sweet, playful tunefulness: let’s hope that they’ve kept that up for the revival.

As for Sleepy People on the web, they’ve still got much to improve on their Facebook page (you’re better off checking them out on Wikipedia) and embeddable delights are few and scattered. Here’s what I could come up with, though – a twirl through Halfway World (with Tiny’s original replacement Phil Sears); recent rough’n’ready rehearsal footage of Every Wave Is Higher On The Beach and Nicky’s Little Army; and half an hour of grainy, raucous footage of a Tiny-fronted band lineup in 1993 (complete with three-fifths of the original Ultrasound).





 

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 M U M M Y (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) + M U M M Y + 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.

 

November/December 2016 – upcoming British gigs – William D. Drake plays Preston (with Paul Morricone and All Hail Hyena!), and London (18th November, 1st December); Bob Drake unveiled in London, helped by Kavus Torabi and The Beetles (9th December)

17 Nov

For Cardiacs fans (plus any interested fans of psychedelic folk, multi-mood cut-up pop and perhaps a touch of Rock In Opposition) even if the Spratleys Japs show I posted about earlier is sold out, there’s still room in the audience for when William D. Drake fits in a final couple of shows for 2016, and for when various Knifeworlders help American avant-rocker Bob Drake to touch down in London.

(Yes, two Drakes. A coincidence. It’s not actually family, but it’s sort of familial anyway…)

* * * * * * * *

I’ve written plenty about William D. Drake over the months and years, to the extent that I sometimes wonder whether I’ve written myself out. So instead, I’ll rummage through the immediate press kit clippings written by other people, which hail him as “one of the most gifted and diverse composers of the modern age”, “a master of both modern classical piano composition and of experimental popular music” and the possessor of “a unique and prodigious skill as a composer and arranger of complex, intelligent and eccentric musical psychedelia; creating a cornucopia of diverse melodic styles whilst playing a plethora of keyboards and synthesizers.”

William. D Drake on the Millennium BridgeThe same one-sheets heap praise on his music – “an homage to lost music of the past, whilst taking a very English approach to composition which touches on the work of Robert Wyatt and Peter Hammill”, “weaving layers of textured melody with rock undertones… journey(ing) through the surreal and psychedelic, telling curious tales with sideways humour” and “jerk(ing) wildly from the gloriously epic to the intimately prophetic.”

PR to die for, really: and yet none of it mentions the other main draw, which is the warmth. Many attempts to bridge rock, folk and classical builds on pomp and posturing which verges on the desperately anxious, as if in dread of some grand and booted critic rising up, kicking down a cardboard set, pointing at the cowering artist and bellowing “naked! Fraud!” Others (especially from the classical side) skate around the business of integration by ironing half of the ingredients flat before inserting them – an ostentatious patina of orchestral papier-mache; or stiff, ungenerous impressions of rock beat and noise (or communal folk storytelling) fed into an ensemble piece with looseness of rhythms and fervency of engagement extracted.

Bill, in contrast, approaches it all with a laugh: the music’s all manuscript on the same rough paper, to be shuffled and interpreted for pleasure, or a rough tasty stew cooked up from memory, free to be meddled with and added to. For all of the impressive content and heart, it keeps its amateur edge in the best possible way -the enthusiasm of putting a family puzzle together; of teaching your nephew a song you’ve found in a street market; of suddenly remembering something intricate, odd, charming and half-forgotten from your childhood, then tracking it down to the back of a cupboard and finding that not only does it still work, it fits in beautifully with something else you’re working on.

This also translates to the shows. At a Bill gig, it sometimes feels if everyone’s crammed cheerfully into a slightly messy Edwardian parlour, eating jam with a spoon. Or, according to those press sheets, you get “a feast of gorgeous instrumentation, masterful piano, ancient grinding hurdy-gurdy, harmonium, clarinet, guitar, drums… topped with growly vocals and angelic choral singing.” I can vouch for that too.

Meanwhile, here’s a range of Bill pieces (probably over-familiar to ‘Misfit City’ readers, but what the hell) – a waltzing live-in-the-studio session full-band jaunt, a larky official video full of theatrical gestures and in jokes, and last month’s seizing of the Union Chapel’s grand Willis organ for a song of shipwreck.




 

It looks as if the London gig will be just Bill plus band, but the Preston show features a couple of guest slots. Paul Morricone is best known for his work as the more prolific and dramatically brooding of the two songwriting brothers in Huddersfield rock dramatists The Scaramanga Six, who “lurch wildly from dark and lurid ballads to visceral punk tinged psychedelia.” In recent years, Paul has taken to occasional acoustic solo gigs in which he sings songs from the twenty-year-old Scaramanga back catalogue (with its tales of fools, brutes and people stuck in between the two) and sometimes tries out unreleased, unrecorded and work-in-progress songs for size. See below for a full forty-minute set from such a gig, as well as a growling stop-start hard-math-pop burst from the third act on the bill – Burnley band All Hail Hyena!, who promise “a selection of frenetic psych-pop frenzies, intersected with melodic brilliance, punctuated by attitude and melting into rapture. A seething mass of unpredictability which will leave your brain reeling like a fish on a hook.”



 

  • They Eat Culture @ The New Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston, PR1 8JP, England, Friday 18th November 2016, 8.00pm (with Paul Morricone + All Hail Hyena!) – information here and here
  • The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England, Wednesday 1st December 2016, 7.30pm (no support)- information

* * * * * * * *

Bob Drake’s last appearance in London (as far as I know) was a startling, affectionate and consensual stage invasion at the very start of a Knifeworld gig at Bush Hall. Clad in the surprisingly convincing snow-white bear suit he’s made famous from capering behind the drumkit at Thinking Plague gigs, he seized the mike and propelled what was already set to be a triumphant show up to a different level of vim and laughter.

It’s in keeping with what the man does. A veteran of the more rattling, curious end of American prog (not only with the Plague but with 5uus, his own Cabinet of Curiosities and plenty more), Bob’s equipped with all of the production nous and polyinstrumental expertise to act as his own ensemble on record; but he balances his impressive technical skill with just the right dose of lo-fi get-it-done-now irreverence to hit that elusive sweet spot between prog precision and friendly spontaneity. In doing so, he not only gives himself space to indulge an affably friendly musicality but knocks down any of the strict confining fences which might restrict both his freedom and the warm buzz of his audience’s involvement. If something off-beat and of-the-moment isn’t happening at one of Bob’s gigs, then it’s something that’s missing: or to put it another way, if something isn’t going slightly wrong, then the gig’s not going right.

This has nothing to do with prog spoofery, or comedy rock. It’s got more to do with Bob’s records and shows being intricate shaggy-dog (or perhaps shaggy-bear) stories in which the digressions on the journey, the ragged human edges and distractions, are more important than awe-inspiring structures or a revelatory destination. There’s plenty of nifty fingerwork – and plenty of irregular musical gems and twists that probably took more work and planning than he’s letting on – but what seems to matter the festooning of structure with invention… and with humour, the key to knowing that the moment is here and now, and knocks against expectation and time, and that a laugh isn’t necessarily a punchline, but the acknowledgement of an enthusiasm shared.

There are plenty of little musical signposts to point the way to Bob – there’s Yes (he got into all of this through a fascination with Chris Squire’s high-stepping buzz-bomb basslines), Henry Cow (for deliberately imperfect noise, and for toppling eagerly over the edge of the comfort zone in search of adventure), Stateside folk and bluegrass (plus the baroque Americana of The Beach Boys), the swivelling dial of midwestern classic rock radio and the mix-and-match repertoire of the zillion bar bands he played in on the way up; and probably the shadow of Zappa. There are other islands in the soup which may be coincidental – the convoluted indie rock of Guided By Voices, the fact that some of his songs sound like a ragged Jellyfish, or as if he’s roughed up an English cabaret star in a trucker’s joint; the possibility that his time in Los Angeles engineering hip hop tracks may have reinforced his interest in cut’n’paste textures. Yet ultimately Bob is Bob; moment by moment; grabbing hold of what’s there, spinning out what comes. Here are a few examples, including a snippet of a Cabinet of Curiosities gig where the theatre of the furry absurd is in full effect.




 

For this particular show (presented with fondness by Knifeworld’s resident reed avant-gardist Chlöe Herington), you just get Bob and his acoustic guitar – skill, repertoire and atmosphere probably more than compensating for the lack of a full band. In support is Kavus Torabi, fresh off a Gong tour, also feeding his songs through an acoustic – plus the unknown but immediately intriguing quality of Beetles, featuring ever-restless London avant-garde popsters Laila Woozeer and Tom O.C. Wilson, and who play “intricate, skeletal pop songs influenced by Regina Spektor, Lennon and McCartney and Kurt Cobain.” All of this is happening in a little basement room in a Kings Cross bar, so if you want to get a place there before a hundred London freaks swoop, get a move on.

Chlöe Herington presents:
Bob Drake + Kavus Torabi + Beetles
The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England
Friday 9th December 2016, 7.00pm
information
 

July 2016 – a pair of one-day English festivals on the 16th (EppyFest 5 in Stroud, The Whole World Window in Preston)

13 Jul

This Saturday sees a couple of interesting pocket festivals taking place in the west and north-west of England – there’s still a chance for last-minute tickets or walk-ups for each of them.

The fifth in the series of EppyFests is happening this Saturday in Stroud, Gloucestershire. As with the previous four, it’s the brainchild of Stroud-based psychologist and music enthusiast Ian Fairholm and is a spinoff of his well-respected Epileptic Gibbon music podcast, whose remit rambles enthusiastically across “prog rock, art rock, post rock, prog metal, jazz rock, folk rock, math rock, downtempo, chill-out, ambient electronica, IDM, chamber pop, folktronica, psychedelia , neo-classical , film and TV soundtracks and experimental/avant garde music”.

EppyFest is an attempt at translating the podcast’s flavour into live music and live socializing. A well-run, self-starting pocket occasion (complete with its own T-shirts and integral dinner options) its previous events have featured ferocious British post-prog (Thumpermonkey, The Fierce & The Dead, Trojan Horse), latter prog/jazz-rock/jam acts (Sanguine Hum, Schnauzer, Henry Fool, Unto Us, Flutatious and Andy Pickford) and (in the case of Stackridge and The Korgis), a 70s prog outfit and a band of Britpop precursors sharing a last hurrah in the same body. Also in the mix has been loop guitar (Matt Stevens), classical/world chamber-fusion (Firefly Burning) and folk performers with extra ingredients stretching from neo-Celticana to chalkhill psychedelia, European electronica or Balkan jazz (Sheelanagig, I Am Your Autopilot, Tinker’s Cuss, Arch Garrison). As you might expect from a thoughtful curator married to an accomplished female musician, Eppyfest has also featured a healthy proportion of women players including bandleaders and solo artists (such as Becky Rose, Candythief and She Makes War).

Assuming that you’re not already committed to attending the Felix M-B gig down the road on the same day, EppyFest 5 looks set to carry on the tradition in fine form. (I’m jealous. I wouldn’t mind running something like that myself. It’s time to start thinking about empire, or benevolent despotry…)

The Epileptic Gibbon Podcast presents:
‘EppyFest 5’: William D. Drake + Judy Dyble & Her Band of Perfect Strangers + Marvyn B. Naylor + Darkroom (with Elif Yalvac) + Tom Slatter + Sirkis/Bialas International Quartet
Lansdown Hall, Lansdown, Stroud, GL5 1BB, England
Saturday 16th July 2016 , 4.00pm to 11.00pm
information & tickets

Eppyfest 5, 2016

Over the years, I’ve said plenty about this year’s EppyFest headliner William D. Drake over the years, and will probably say more. Woody-throated singer and former Cardiac; the organic keyboard wizard who turns television sets into organs; the man you might find if you went looking for the place where baroque pop meets Punch-and-Judy professor. Bill’s songs suggest a parallel English music: one in which antique pop songs on crackling wax cylinders mingle seamless with both Henry Purcell and Frank Zappa.

In his mid-fifties, and with the release of his fifth album ‘Revere Reach’, Bill’s reached a crucial point in his career, in which the jolly avuncular eccentricities of his earlier work have finally given way to the blossoming kernel of beauty within his compositions. He’s probably far too rounded a person and songwriter to entirely give into it, though. Expect the full range of glorious pastoralism and bouncy humour from a full chamber pop band including members of Stars In Battledress and North Sea Radio Orchestra.

 

I’ve also said plenty about Darkroom , the textural electro-morphic partnership of sometime No-Man/Samuel Smiles/Henry Fool guitarist Michael Bearpark and loop/synth/woodwind/patch-man Andrew Ostler. Over two decades Darkroom have delivered a massively underrated body of work straddling gigantic cosmic soundscapes like deliquescing Hubble images, intricate cerebral dance rhythms, broodingly beautiful guitar tones and (recently) cryptic bass clarinet and flute strands, touching upon influences as diverse as OMD, Autechre, Robert Fripp, Neil Young, Delia Derbyshire, Can and Bennie Maupin.

For this concert their polyglot electronica is augmented by a special guest, Turkish electronic guitarist Hazal Elif Yalvaç an Istanbul-based composer, musician and linguist. We’ll have to see whether Elif’s work (much of it glitching, grumbling guitartronic abstractions) brings out Darkroom’s more abstract instincts; or whether Os and Michael’s knack for direct expressiveness brings out that proggier aspect which Elif’s threatening to reveal in her forthcoming Light Curve project.


Show opener Tom Slatter also shows up in ‘Misfit City’ quite often. He’s a Victorian town-crier with a guitar and a slew of fantastical tales about monsters of air, land and sea, strange goings on in laboratories, haunted gentlemen and master criminals loose on the railways. On record he’s a multi-instrumental steampunk proggie, building himself instrumental Rube Goldberg machines (and occasionally collaborating with one). Live, he’s mostly unplugged and solo, letting his charm make up for the shortfall in instrumentation. One day he will build himself a bicycle-powered, bat-winged portable orchestrion out of old tuba piping and traction engine spares, to allow him to merge both situations. It will probably go off course and fly him somewhere horrible.

One of the prime strengths of jazz players is that they can come from anywhere in the world, meet each other for the first time and immediately speak a common improvising language of immediate flexibility. The four musicians who make up the Sirkis/Bialas International QuartetAsaf Sirkis (drums, Israeli, Londoner), Sylwia Bialas (voice, Polish, currently a Londoner but only recently a Würzburg resident), Kevin Glasgow (bass guitar, a Scottish Londoner via Ireland, but Invernessian rather than actual Glaswegian, replacing an Englishman who originally reached the band via Australia, Scotland and the United States) and Frank Harrison (keyboards, English, surprising lack of other complications) – make more of their scattered nature than most.

With all of that in mind, you’d expect a riotous mix of cultures, making hay out of clashes. What you actually get is aquamarine almost-acoustic jazz, cupped and propelled by Asaf’s winds-of-the-forest percussion subtleties, sung in Polish or vocalese, sheathed in softness and in smoothly-flowing instrumental gestures. The lightness of touch and the Northern hemisphere reserve hearken towards both Pacific Northwestern new age and ECM atmospherics; the light-as-a-feather scatting, twirling Rhodes piano and lissom six-string electric bass suggests a hushed Kurpie version of Flora Purim’s time with Return to Forever.

While the pure, piping soprano tones of co-headliner Judy Dyble might distract you from her full story, they do tie her firmly to the 1960s folk revival. It’s a true tie, as well – teenage friendships with Ashley Hutchings and Richard Thompson led her to spend a year as the singer for the original lineup of Fairport Convention. This auspicious start was followed by a brief, obscure stint in King Crimson prelude band Giles, Giles & Fripp, a more celebrated year as half of much-touted psychedelic folk duo Trader Horne; and finally a handful of gigs in the company of Canterbury characters Lol Coxhill, Steve Miller and Phil Miller.

A gentle, often reticent character, Judy’s musicality wasn’t enough to keep her comfortably engaged with the bruising demands of the music business; and in 1973, after six years of flitting nervously in and out of the spotlight, she retired from music into a quiet life of family and library work while still barely into her twenties. Perhaps it wasn’t as mysterious or dramatic a withdrawal as that of peers such as Anne Briggs or Vashti Bunyan, but it was enough to reduce her reputation to a shadow for all except those who dug up her handful of recordings in search of half-forgotten treasure and found something that didn’t deserve to be overshadowed.

Bar a couple of flitting, fitful Fairport reengagements at Cropredy in the early ‘80s, little was heard from Judy for three decades until – widowed and empty-nested – she was inveigled back into recording by Astralasia’s Mike Swordfish in 2002. Since then she’s pursued a quiet but exploratory revival of her musicality, working in fields fromfolk-rock to trancetronica and experimental art pop, and with collaborators including Dodson & Fogg, Tim Bowness, Sand Snowman, Joxfield Projex, Fuxa and Thee Faction. Her regular home, however, is with her Perfect Strangers ensemble (mostly drawn from co-writer Alistair Murphy’s Cromerzone project) with whom she’ll be performing at EppyFest. Throughout all of this, Judy’s signature tone has remained intact – the folk sweetness, the subliminal hint at hesitancy and tremble which betrays the nerviness and unsurety which has both interrupted her career and given her work its humanity and honesty. As she heads towards her seventies, both tone and temperament have become allied to a longer perspective of value, loss and change – something which, strengthened and deepened by time, she’s grown into and fleshed out with natural experience.

Completing the bill is another, even less well-known hidden treasure. Winchester singer-songwriter Marvyn B. Naylor has been delivering music for twelve underappreciated years now. His mixture of intricate, allusive psychedelic pop songs and pulsating 12-string guitar folk instrumentals tip nods to and shake hands with inspirations including the early David Bowie, Edward Elgar, the Beatles, Joyce Kilmer, Frank Sinatra, Francisco Tarrega and Guy de Maupassant: but he’s a whole meal in himself.


 

* * * * * * * *

There’s just one former Cardiac on the bill at EppyFest. Technically speaking – unless it’s true that Kavus Torabi is DJ-ing – there are no former Cardiacs at The Whole World Window, which takes place on the same day as EppyFest but five counties up (in Lancashire). In spite of this the bill, spread across two stages, is suffused with Cardiacs enthusiasm. Unsurprising, since it’s the latest in a series of benefits for the band’s stroke-felled leader Tim Smith.

Greg Braysford presents:
‘The Whole World Window – A Benefit for Tim Smith’: Britney + All Hail Hyena + 7Shades + The Scaramanga Six + Sweet Deals On Surgery + Sterbus + Trojan Horse + Adam Shaw + The Jackpot Golden Boys + Sean Keefe + Ahsa + others tbc (or fibbed about)
The New Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston PR1 8JP, England
Saturday 16th July 2016, 2.00pm
– information here – tickets here and here

The Whole World Window, 2016Bellowing Scots Britney are as garish and hardcore as a fairground teddy-grabber covered in backstreet tattoos. They’re given to one-and-a-half-minute bursts of earsplitting rock numbers plastered with crumpled ice-cream-van melodies. The latter trait, something of a Cardiacs stock-in-trade, tinkles through several of the other bands on the bill – be they outright disciples 7Shades (who lovingly pillage the ornate Cardiacs style wholesale) or pyjama-clad Burley power-pop trio All Hail Hyena (who sound like Bo Diddley rocking an birthday-cake castle).


Something more grandiose is offered by Huddersfield rock bullies The Scaramanga Six. They’ve devoted twenty-one years and enormous musical flair to hammering out poperatic tunes and bursts of garage gonzo, providing tragicomic insight into the flawed and unsettled ethics of everyday men (all carried out with assured baroque brutality and gallows humour). Self-styled “noisy prog rock bastards” Trojan Horse might not be returning to EppyFest this year, but they are bringing their omnivorous Salfordian rock cocktail to Preston: a catalogue of work which plunges into swaggering ‘70’s funk, belting avant-garage moments, broad-spectrum Beatles-pop and audacious psychogeographic experiments. Power-poppers Sweet Deals On Surgery lean towards the punkier side, bucketing towards the end of a song as if it were a race, but distractedly bursting into different versions halfway. For God’s sake, keep them off the Haribos…



All the way from Italy, Sterbus (Smith/Fripp/Zappa obsessive and noblest-Roman-of-them-all) will be coming to either yomp through some of his triple-jointed proggy power pop or to play leafy psychedelic summer-lounge acoustica (which may or may not include some of his takes on Cardiacs, Spratleys Japs and other limbs of Smithiana). If he doesn’t hold up the acoustic end, rest assured that Ivan Campo frontman Adam Shaw will, as he brings along his light-touch, thoughtful folk pop for us to unravel.


The rest of the bill’s made up of bands which predominantly reflect the humour (if not necessarily the horse-laughs and art-punk prankery) of the Cardiacs world. Silly-goodtime pop culture obsessives The Jackpot Golden Boys throw assorted metal, pop and funk chops at things from TV theme tunes to geek topics and hope that a few of them stay embedded. Militant hat wearer, slide guitarist, Strumstick player, comedy yarner and genre-mash novelist Sean Keefe – brings along his own version of honky-tonk Americana.



 
The (known) lineup is completed by acapella singer Asha Hewitt (seen below performing with Gummo Cleyre and Alex Dickinson as Yorkshire Latin pop band Solana). Asha might be the last kind of musician you’d expect to see getting up at a Smith benefit gig; but her presence is proof positive that the happy skewed tastes of the Cardiacs audience let in all kinds of light. Once they’ve stopped cheerfully bawling for their mashed-up chord sequences, that is…


 

February 2016 – upcoming gigs – airy and almost acoustic: William D. Drake in Italy, Louis Barrabas plays across Scotland and the north of England, Daylight Music brings us Alex Mendham’s 1930s dance tunes, Ben See’s a capella and more…

16 Feb

William D. Drake, 2016

Here’s some news on a brief three-date set of Italian shows by William D. Drake. Approximate blurb translation follows:

“Cristiano Roversi (in collaboration with Arci Tom, Pietro Rubini & Guido Bellachioma ) is happy and proud to announce the William D. Drake Italian 2016 Minitour. One of the most exciting acts on the contemporary London underground music scene, the amazing virtuoso songwriter, keyboardist and piano artist (reknowned for having been both keyboard player and co-composer in Cardiacs) presents songs from his latest studio album ‘Revere Reach’ plus a selection of old numbers. William will share the stage with Mr.James Larcombe (keyboards, backing vocals & hurdy-gurdy, from Stars In Battledress) and Mrs. Nicola Baigent (clarinet, from North Sea Radio Orchestra).”

Dates:

  • Arci Tom, Piazza Tom Benetollo, 1, 46010 Mantova MN, Italy, Friday 19th February 2016 – more information here
  • Metricubi, Campiello delle Erbe 2003 San Polo 30125 Venezia, Saturday 20th February 2016 – more information here
  • Planet Live Club/Discoteca Planet, Via del Commercio, 36, 00154 Roma, Italy, Sunday 21st February 2016, 8.00pm (with Sterbus) – more information here or here

Italian musician and songwriter Sterbus (whose ‘Smash The Sun Alight‘ mini-album features in one of ‘Misfit City’s most-read reviews) will be playing a support slot at the Rome date. Promising a mixture of originals plus “some familiar surprises”, he’s fielding a semi-unplugged trio of himself on voice and guitar, regular sidekick Dominique D’Avanzo on vocals, clarinet and harmonica and Noel Storey (of St Albans lo-fi indie pop band The Pocket Gods) on piano and synth.

Three video clips (two Drakes, plus a Sterbus) are below. The first is a full-band Drake recording – live in the studio – of To My Piano, capturing the folk, Early English and chapel-songbook aspects of his baroque pop songwriting to full effect (as well as some of the warmth of his live shows). The second is a recording of him playing his solo piano study The Moth Surrenders To The Flame, a deeper immersion in his classical side.


The third is Sterbus’ recent cover of the Cardiacs song Gina Lollabridgida, which eases away the original’s frenetic New Wave rush in favour of a summery acoustic coo while keeping all of its intricacies intact. Sterbus unveiled this version of the song at a London fundraiser for Tim Smith last autumn, while the video itself is a mash-up of some of the finest visual moments from Gina herself on film… so that’s three or four layers of tribute right there. Enjoy.


 

* * * * * * * *

Louis Barrabas plays Santa...The perpetual vigour and drive of theatrical, multi-disciplinary songwriter Louis Barabbas has seen him dubbed “the hairy Bez of blues harp”, put him to work with Dr. Dog and John Otway, and made him busy with mentoring developing artists, running a record label, and fronting radio shows plus at least three simultaneous bands. He’s currently engaged in a long and winding British tour over the next few months, spattering through spring and into a few bigger summer dates.

For now, here are the dates for Louis’ February shows, all of which take place in Scotland and the north of England and all of which are solo (although some subsequent dates will see Louis playing with his Bedlam Six and Ceaseless Horror Band projects).

Dates:

  • The Doghouse Cellar Jazz Bar, Kay Brow Yard, Kay Brow, Ramsbottom, BL0 9AY, England, Friday 19th February 2016 – free event
  • Stacoustic @ The Star Inn, 2 Back Hope Street, Salford, M7 2FR, England, Saturday 20th February 2016 – more information
  • The Ferret, 55 Fylde Road, Preston, PR1 2XQ, England, Tuesday 23rd February 2016
  • Siempre Bicycle Café, 162 Dumbarton Road, Glasgow, G11 6XE, Scotland, Thursday 25th February 2016
  • St Andrews Sessions @ St Andrews Church, Church Street, Innerleithen, EH44 6JA, Scotland, Friday 26th February, 2016, 8.00pmmore information
  • Woodland Creatures, 260-262 Leith Walk, Edinburgh, EH6 5EL, Scotland, Saturday 27th February, 2016
  • Argyle Rooms (house concert), Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumbria, England, Sunday 28th February, 2016
  • Heaton Perk, 103-105 Heaton Park Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE6 5NR, England, Monday 29th February 2016

Since most of these are café gigs, check at the venues for more information on times, prices etc or check via Louis’ homepage. The tour will continue into March and April, with further summer gigs to come. I’ll post information about those shows closer to the time. Meanwhile, here’s the man himself, in action…



 

* * * * * * * *

There’s a wealth of shows on Saturday 20th February, but for now I’ll just mention the acoustic one which comes with 1930s arrangements and voice-dancing…

Daylight Music 216, 20th February 2016

Daylight Music presents:
Daylight Music 216: Alex Mendham & His Orchestra, Ben See + Rory McVicar + Gemma Champ
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 20th February 2016, 12.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like event (suggested donation £5.00) – more information

Alex Mendham & His Orchestra are a truly authentic Golden Age 1920s and 1930s British dance band formed in 2010. These young musicians have been stunning audiences all across Europe, as they perform with boundless passion and energy, with impeccable attention to period detail not only in their music and vocals, but in everything from their original instruments to their hair and attire.

Ben See is a singer and composer from London. He specialises in vocal music, and more specifically contemporary a cappella. Ben’s musical influences range from the scores of Benjamin Britten to the ever-eccentric Björk, with a small detour via the beautiful song-writing of Brian Wilson and the vocal wizard Bobby McFerrin.

Rory McVicar is a musician and songwriter who has been releasing music under his own name since 2005. His first demo found its way into Radio One’s Festive Fifty after heavy rotation on the Huw Stephens and Rob da Bank shows. Since then, he’s released two long players and a clutch of singles, splits and EPs on various indie labels.

This week Gemma Champ will return to provide the matinee music in-between on the piano.”

* * * * * * * *

Noisier events coming right up…
 

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