Tag Archives: Robert Wyatt

Video premiere – North Sea Radio Orchestra’s cover of Robert Wyatt’s ‘The British Road ‘

27 Jul

It’s nice to have a ‘Misfit City’ premiere once in a while. This is the brand new video clip for The British Road, North Sea Radio Orchestra‘s cover version of a Robert Wyatt song. It’s from NSRO’s new album ‘Dronne’ which is coming out on the band’s own label The Household Mark on 9th September. The song itself will be out as a download single on August 5th: the video’s another genius pocket production by Chaos Engineers.


 

Singalong time:

Those foreigners are at it again
When will they learn to fight like our men?
There’s nothing new under the mirror
And it’s time for one more bedtime story
Get beauty sleep for morning glory
How can I rise if you don’t fall?

Robert Wyatt originally recorded The British Road for his 1985 album ‘Old Rottenhat’: it’s also on the ‘Mid Eighties’ compilation. It’s part of a set of songs composed in “a conscious attempt to make un-misusable music” which was done in the face of covertly (or nakedly) aggressive right-wing politics appropriating or co-opting songs for cheerleading or for broadcast padding. The song itself is a typically cryptic Wyatt threading of oblique satire and Dada-jazz playfulness over a friendly, ever-so-slightly plaintive melody, taking glancing swipes at petty nationalism and irritable torpor as it rolls along. (If you’re weary of all of the recent Brexit sabre-rattling and bottlecough, it’s a real restorative.)

North Sea Radio Orchestra: 'Dronne'

North Sea Radio Orchestra: ‘Dronne’

The NSRO take on The British Road immediately bears their own stamp. Elements are blended in from early English airs to Germanic-electronic organ haze; there are dewdrop metallophones and passionate bird-flight string parts; there’s budding pastoralism charged with bursts of motoric minimalism; and there’s a kernelled heart in Craig and Sharron Fortnam’s softened everyperson vocals, ever-so-slightly shaded by a touch of Wyatt Cockney. It originally stems from a 2014 concert night performance of Wyatt’s music for the Nuits de Fourviere Festival in Lyon, which Craig was invited to direct and arrange. As well as producing both this and other NSRO arrangements of assorted Wyattisms, the event had a profound effect on Craig’s approach to the rest of ‘Dronne’:

“Being the composer and producer has led to me having total control over all aspects of making NSRO records. This way of working is, of course, a double-edged sword, as spontaneity and inspiration can be lost under all that control. Robert Wyatt seems to tread the line between the two with great skill, incorporating lots of elements of chance into his albums. Re-working his songs while trying to maintain freedom within the arrangements has been a great inspiration while making ‘Dronne’. This record features lots of improvising which I have edited and manipulated; certain accidents within have been left intact – these elements of chance are a real antidote to the necessary microscoping and control-freakery needed to create NSRO records.”

If you’re interested, French experimentalist Pascal Maupeu recorded another version of this song six years ago, under his Mop Meuchiine alias – part grinding industrial underpass music, part Krautrock ice-cream van, part rough-edged chamber ensemble (while still finding space for a banjo). Here it is.

If you can’t wait to get your hands on ‘Dronne’, you can pre-order it now from Rough Trade, Piccadilly Records, iTunes and Amazon.

For more ‘Misfit City’ coverage on North Sea Radio Orchestra and its related bands (including some very early NSRO work indeed), click here.
 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – North Sea Radio Orchestra play London and Salisbury (12th, 26th) with Daisy Chute and William D. Drake (and maybe some other people…)

30 May

After a four-year hiatus (punctuated only by a brief 2014 showing at a Robert Wyatt tribute evening in France) North Sea Radio Orchestra – the pocket alt.chamber ensemble formed by husband-and-wife art-rock refugees Craig and Sharron Fortnam – are returning to action with a couple of warm, low-key English shows in London and Salisbury during June.

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2016

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2016

Based around Craig’s aerial compositions (propelled by a fine lattice of nylon-string guitar or gestural piano) and fronted by Sharron’s grand, pealing mezzo-soprano, NSRO emerged fifteen years ago via a series of church concerts in the City of London. A familial, twenty-strong English-gala-on-legs, sporting a rugged/ragged choral section, they blended the feel of a market-town classical festival with the more omnivorous preoccupations of world-city musicians flitting between concert halls, experimental rock clubs and eclectic podcasts.

Notoriously, Craig’s tune-sense drew on a romantic-futurist melding of Britten, Zappa, Vaughan Williams, Peter Warlock, traditional and psychedelic folk, Victorian poetry and the bassoon-laden locomotional soundtracks of Smallfilms’ Vernon Elliott: while the musician-and-singer pool drew not only on moonlighting classical and film-score people, but also on London art-rockers with broad skills and wide-open ears. In retrospect, there are some superficial similarities not just between the NSRO and one of their clearest equivalents – the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, who enjoyed a comparable tidy balance between cosmopolitan genres and methods – but also between the NSRO and that ongoing wave of enjoyable pop-up community choirs who roll around with Beach Boys, Bjork and Pulp songs stuffed in their pockets. Certainly both of the latter share a “get-up-and-do-it” communal warmth which endear them to audience, plus a pleasing lack of collegiate polish (the NSRO’s choral parts managed to be disciplined and soaring and loveably rough’n’baggy, while Sharon’s lead singing has muscled in on uncolonized areas between classical diva, ’60s coffee-house folk and Yorkshire punk).

Having said that, the NSRO have always been a more serious endeavour, treating their inspirations and ongoing creative paths with a discreet and earnest gravity; something typified by their third album’s pre-hiatus digression into a more compacted style, in which minimalist and Krautrock influences subsumed their initial romanticism (and in which self-penned lyrics of connection, loss and retreat replaced their earlier settings of Tennyson and Blake).

Today’s NSRO are a more streamlined affair than they once were: a compact mostly-instrumental nonet with Sharron’s voice still to the fore. Many members may have gently fallen away (if not too far away), but most of the original players remain in place alongside the Fortnams. Percussionist Hugh Wilkinson, organist/monosynther James Larcombe, string players Harry Escott and Brian Wright, and Luke Crooks and Nicola Baigent on reeds are still all on board, Despite being absent for these shows (he’ll be back in the autumn) the ensemble’s newest recruit, percussionist and viola player Stephen Gilchrist, fulfils the usual NSRO criteria of strolling or scrambling across genre lines: as “Stuffy” Gilchrist, he’s best known for thrashing the drums behind Graham Coxon or Art Brut, or for doling out his pop-eyed alt.rock as Stuffy/the fuses or Stephen Evens.)

These new shows should contain material from the NSRO’s upcoming fourth album ‘Dronne’, due out in early September. The first signs of the album came from a minute-and-a-half of dreamy domestic phase music uploaded to their Facebook page back in January (see above). Various other hints which have seeped out suggest a further change of course, perhaps influenced by the inspired psychedelic folk course which Craig and James Larcombe have been following with their parallel project Arch Garrison . In James’ words: “the new NSRO album’s amazing – in my opinion rather further down the psychedelic avenue, particularly the long instrumental title track. The song we’ve recently done a video for (‘Vishnu Schist’) is without a doubt my new favourite NSRO song… I’ve been listening to it loads. There’s a Robert Wyatt cover on it too, which is lovely.”

Regarding the gigs…

Tigmus presents
North Sea Radio Orchestra + Daisy Chute
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Sunday 12th June 2016, 1.30pm
– more information here and here

In support at the Forge is Daisy Chute. Though she’s undoubtedly best known as one-quarter of glossy-teen pop/classical fusion queens All Angels, Daisy vigorously and actively pursues a broad sweep of additional music including theatre, education and modern folk. In addition to her frontline work as a singer, she’s an accomplished composer, arranger, orchestrator and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, piano, ukelele, banjo and pixiphone), and a member of varied other bands including Camberwell folk-pop quartet threeandme. On this occasion she’s going out under her own name, singing a set of self-penned folk-and-jazz inspired songs and fronting a quartet of Tristan Horne (cello), Will Collier (double bass) and Zara Tobias (harmonium and backing vocals).


 

* * * * * * * *

Salisbury Arts Centre presents:
Transplant Music Night: North Sea Radio Orchestra + William D. Drake + special guests
Salisbury Arts Centre, Bedwin Street, Salisbury, SP1 3UT, England
Sunday 26th Jun 2016, 8.00pm
more information

This one’s billed as “a special night of music to accompany Salisbury Arts Centre’s ‘Transplant’ exhibition” (more on that in a moment…) For this show, the support act is onetime Cardiacs member William D. Drake, who forged his own belated solo career alongside NSRO’s (simultaneously putting in time in the latter as both choir singer and occasional composer/pianist). Building on from his interest in Early Music, his stint as the classically-inspired keyboard wildcard amongst Cardiacs’ polystylistic punk tumult and his subsequent immersion in rootsier work, Bill has developed his own idiosyncratic approach to songwriting: baroque, playful and soulful. It’s culminated in his latest – and greatest – album, ‘Revere Reach’, which lovingly threads folk, rock, classical and mythic elements together in a compelling and timeless act of musical bridging.

 

There are also additional “special guests” mentioned on the bill. This could mean anything; but it’s worth speculating on location, on confirmed attendees and on similar associations including the ‘Transplant’ exhibition itself:

promo-mattcuttssculpture2016“Celebrating the interconnectedness between art forms emerging from the festival scene and the joy of being outdoors in nature, ‘Transplant’ brings together sculpture, image, music, poetry and living plants. Forming the heart of the exhibition, Matt Cutts’ wooden sculptures sit in ‘fields’ of wild flowers and trees. Accompanying them are huge batik paintings by Sarah Jones reflecting the beauty of trees. A soundtrack for the exhibition has been created from new music and field recordings by Sarah Jones and William D. Drake. The exhibition opens on Midsummers Eve (Tuesday 21st June) for a 6-8pm viewing, prior to the exhibition proper running from the 22nd to the 25th.”

Citing the fond connections between the world of Cardiacs and that of Salisbury is a pretty easy game. Not only have many former Cardiacs members and affiliates (the Fortnams included) ended up living around Salisbury, but the band recorded their reknowned ‘All That Glitters Is A Mare’s Nest’ concert film in the Arts Centre itself seventeen years ago. Bill Drake’s contributions to both Transplant concert and exhibition further binds the worlds together, but a closer look reveals yet more links. A long time ago (before the batiks), Sarah Jones was Sarah Smith, blowing a puckish saxophone and frail silvery backing vocals in Cardiacs. Before that, she was Sarah Cutts; born into an artistic Forest of Dean family and sister to Matthew Cutts, who himself put in a long stint as a Cardiacs roadie before returning to his sculpting work.

Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones

Whatever the main intentions, it’s clear that a nodding, benevolent Cardiacs spectre looms over the whole event, sealed by the nature-saturated green-fuse inspirations which collectively permeate the artworks of Transplant, North Sea Radio Orchestra’s pastoral heart, and the undergrowth of Cardiacs songs (with their fascination with life and damp and greenery). It could, in fact, be part of one of the ever-more regular waves of Cardiacs-related activity which ripple through English crannies and corners each year in the band’s absence, keeping alive their loving and cheerfully prickly approach to music, friendship and existence (see also the upcoming ‘Whole World Window’ benefit gig in Preston next month, which I’ll flag up again later in the summer). It may give some clues as to who else might turn up; or it might not.

However, I’ll leave any speculation there. Moving back to certainties, here are a few video clips of NSRO in the past – from their choral triumphs to their airborne or churchbound meditations – to pave the way for whatever they’ve got ready for us now.





 

Through the feed – ‘The World of Robert Wyatt’ tribute concert in Lyons tonight (and hopes for a UK followup)

12 Jul

The World of Robert Wyatt

The World of Robert Wyatt

If you’re free tonight – and are in France in the vicinity of Lyons – here’s something for you which I wish that I’d known about earlier. Les Nuits de Fourvière (a seven-decade old French arts festival currently running its sixty-eighth programme) is presenting ‘The World of Robert Wyatt‘ tonight, featuring a full tribute performance of Wyatt’s 1974 classic ‘Rock Bottom’. Also on the menu is a selection of other Wyatt classics such as Moon in June, Shipbuilding and O Caroline.

Wyatt himself won’t be performing – instead, the honours will be done by a group of musicians led by Craig Fortnam (of North Sea Radio Orchestra, and whose second album as Arch Garrison I’m currently striving to finish a review of). Apparently some iteration of North Sea Orchestra will be the backbone of the ensemble – sadly minus lead singer Sharron Fortnam, but including Craig and William D. Drake amongst others. The ranks will be swelled by several outstanding French musicians – pianist Pascal Comelade and singers Silvain Vanot and Élise Caron (the latter of Groupe de Recherche et d’Improvisation Musicale and Orchestre National de Jazz. In addition, John Greaves (Wyatt’s longstanding Canterbury scene friend and collaborator, who played on his 1975 album ‘Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard’ as well as alongside him in one of the varied lineups of Henry Cow) will be contributing.

From the programme:

“Thank you for bringing a breath of fresh air to my music. To hear it played by other musicians makes me feel like a grandfather. It’s now leading a life of its own – but we, the grandparents, we also see ourselves in it somehow. It’s a wonderful feeling.” These were the words of Robert Wyatt when he welcomed the idea of creating a show around his work at Fourvière. Showing great modesty, these words shouldn’t minimize his essential contribution to the history of pop music. Because in his collaborative projects (Soft Machine, Matching Mole and more) as well as in his solo career, the Englishman is indeed a model: hasn’t he been a source of inspiration for personalities as well-known as Elvis Costello, Alain Bashung, Mark Hollis (Talk Talk), Björk and PJ Harvey? Fed on classical music and bebop songs as much as songs by Ray Charles and Burt Bacharach, Wyatt was swept by a never-ending desire to escape – perhaps this was reinforced by the accident that nailed him to a wheelchair for life in 1973. An eternal wanderer, he struts his imagination and his high-pitched voice, playing with the barriers between pop, jazz, Latin sounds and electronic music. An art of fugue brought to its poetic peak in the album Rock Bottom (1974), a “song of love and curiosity” intended for his wife and muse Alfie: here, as others put boats into bottles, Robert Wyatt has managed to fit an entire world, his personal world, into his songs. The fortieth anniversary of the release of this unparalleled album is the perfect opportunity to celebrate its maker.”

Hopefully there’ll be enough life in the tribute to float it over the channel to Britain in the near future. In a year when Henry Cow are reuniting for concerts in London and Huddersfield (to pay tribute to their late former member and comrade Lindsay Cooper), the time is ripe for more reflowerings from various Canterbury buds. Surely there’s a slot at the Purcell Room, The Ballroom, even Conway Hall if they’re feeling more modest and left-leaning… Suggestions are welcome (although they’re better off going to Craig Fortnam or to anyone who can help him fund it).

Meanwhile, if anyone out there can make it to the concert, please do tell us what it was like. Comments below…

Robert Wyatt online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace Last FM

Craig Fortnam/North Sea Radio Orchestra online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace

Les Nuits de Fourvière Festival online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter

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