Tag Archives: Sharron Fortnam (& Sharron Saddington)

June 2018 – upcoming London rock gigs – gloriously complex experimental rock evenings – The Mantis Opera, Barringtone and New Born Animal (8th June); Lost Crowns with Sharron Fortnam and Kavus Torabi (June 14th)

27 May

Several of London’s more convoluted art-rock genii are emerging from the woodwork to play live in the early part of June, accompanied by assorted fellow travellers and burlesque pop sympathisers. Read on…

* * * * * * * *

The Mantis Opera + Barringtone + New Born Animal, 8th June 2018

If you’ve wondering what a band might sound like if it fused Henry Cow, Battles and early Scritti Politti, you’re in luck… and, to be honest, probably pretty marginal. Come over here and sit next to me.

Stemming from solo work by guitarist, singer and electronics meddler Allister Kellaway, The Mantis Opera now delivers his stirring, challenging constructions via a full electro-experimental synth-rock band, voicing a collection of “avant-garde grumbles” via a multiplicity of synth sounds and colliding pop tones. If this sounds inaccessible and snooty, it isn’t. It’s just that the tunes arrive in complicated cascading splinters, many parts urging in parallel towards an out-of-sight coda, while a dreamily precise atmosphere prevails: avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil.

The pieces themselves display an ambitious, orchestral thinking – Reykjavik, for example, is less a guitar clang with lofty ambitions and more of a cerebral/visceral string quartet piece transposed for rock band. Allister’s winding, philosophical lyrics, meanwhile, are very reminiscent of Henry Cow and of Rock in Opposition preoccupations, dissecting as they do themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.



 
Assuming that recent reports of a broken-wristed drummer haven’t entirely torpedoed their availability, Barringtone should be in support, continuing their live drive towards the release of their debut album on Onamatopoeia this summer. Released songs have been sparse over the past few years; but enjoy this new-ish brainy little post-power-pop conundrum, exhibiting Barry Dobbins’ own ambitions as he moves up from the band’s previous wry, ornamented motorik drive into much more castellated, conversational proggy territories while keeping their knuckly XTC-inspired edge intact.


 
Seven-piece big-pop band New Born Animal complete the lineup at this Friends Serene gig. Headed by singer/songwriter/arranger Thomas Armstrong, they’re a sonorous wall-of-drunken-sound effort who sound like Blur (during their music-hall period) dragging the Walker Brothers into a dressing-room tipple too far. If so, they also sound like the stage before it all turns nasty: slightly discombobulated singalongs where self-consciousness is just rags in the breeze, the emotional valves have been opened up and everyone in the room is temporarily your lifelong friend. If this in turn sounds sloppy, then I’d suggest that there’s a lot of craft going into something which sags and collapses so gloriously and visibly, but which never disintegrates. There’s longing, wonder and helpless laughter all brimming at the back of this.


 

On top of this, the whole evening’s free if you turn up soon enough…

Friends Serene presents:
The Mantis Opera + Barringtone + New Born Animal
The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, England
Friday 8th June 2018, 7.30pm
– free entry – information here and here

* * * * * * * *

Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 14th June 2018

The following week, Richard Larcombe’s Lost Crowns spearhead “an evening of songs with a lot going on in them”. In many respects, it’s a re-run of their triumphant London debut at the same venue back in January. No Prescott this time, sadly (though their instrumental ping-pong twitch would have been welcome), but Kavus Torabi is back with a guitar, a hand-pumped harmonium and more songs from his ongoing solo project. Launched the other month with the ‘Solar Divination’ EP, this might be a holiday from the jewelled and roaring intricacies of his main gig with Knifeworld, but it’s certainly not an escape from the psychedelic shadows which nightwing their way through the band’s apparently celebratory rainbow arcs. For this isolated, darker, more grinding work, Kavus strips the flash-bangs away and leaves us with the droning echoes: the meditative bruises, fears and queries, many of which nonetheless contain their own seeds of determination and a kind of celebratory acceptance.


 
As for the headliners, last time I anticipated Lost Crowns as likely to be (deep breath) “a rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection… complex, artfully-meandering songs built from delightfully byzantine chords and arpeggios that cycle through ever-evolving patterns like palace clockwork; accompanied by rich, lazy clouds of hilarious, hyper-literate, wonderfully arcane lyrics; all sealed by an arch, out-of-time English manner which (in tone and timbre) falls into a never-was neverworld between Richard Sinclair, Stephen Fry, Noel Coward and a posh, Devonian Frank Zappa.”

A tall order (even it was based on what Richard’s delivered in previous projects), but I wasn’t disappointed. With Lost Crowns, Richard’s created the most dynamic and surprising music of his career.

As before, the rest of the band’s lineup is a cross-section of London art-rock luminaries: Charlie Cawood, Nicola Baigent, Rhodri Marsden, Josh Perl, drummer “Keepsie”. Certainly the influence of Richard’s brother and usual collaborator James is missed (his genial, warm, embroidering effect on Richard’s work is underrated) but his absence allows both Richard and the band to stretch out in different directions – fiercer, more crammed, sometimes brutal in their complication.

A vortex of influences funnel around Richard, including Chicago math, witty Daevid Allen psych rampage, contemporary classical music and skipping, tuneful folk singalongs. Shaped by his particular persona and thought processes – as well as his innate Englishness – it all emerges as a kind of prog, but one in which the fat and the posturing has all been burned off by the nerves and the detail, and in which his dry, melodious wit winds around the work playing mirror-tricks, theatrical feints, and the conspiratorial winks of a master boulevardier. As much at home playfully slagging off the precious venerations of synaesthesia as they are with nine-minute epics with titles like Housemaid’s Knee, Lost Crowns are a delightful self-assembling puzzle.

Frustratingly, with Richard still keeping everything close to his chest (outside of Lost Crowns’ welcoming gig environment), I’ve got nothing to show you. No embedded songs, no videos, nothing but those words and these words. Richard’s likely to keep everything culty, so the best way that you can find out whether I’m just lying through garlands here is to go to the gig yourself.

Originally this was to be a double-header with Lost Crowns’ other friends and allies, the revived psychedelic-acoustic band Lake Of Puppies (re-teaming North Sea Radio Orchestra’s Craig and Sharron Fortnam with William D. Drake, in order to build on the bouncing life-pop they cheerfully hawked around London together in the late ‘90s). Sadly, the Puppies have had to pull out of the show following Bill’s collision with pianist’s RSI in early May. Instead, Lost Crowns will play an extended set with Sharron woven into it as a special guest; while Kavus will be stretching out his own set, covering the remaining time that’s not taken up with snooker-ace-turned-avant-rock-uncle Steve Davis on DJ duty.

Lost Crowns (with special guest Sharron Fortnam) + Kavus Torabi + DJ Steve Davis
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 14th June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and
here
 

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

24 May

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

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

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




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

* * * * * * * *

Lindsay Cooper Songbook, 16th June 2018

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May/June 2018 – gigs for Crayola Lectern in London and Brighton with Joss Cope, The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Husband and others t.b.c. (16th May, 1st June); ‘A Spring Symposium’ fundraiser for Tim Smith near Salisbury with Lake Of Puppies, Arch Garrison, Crayola Lectern, Bob Drake, Kemper Norton and Emily Jones (12th May)

1 May

Crayola Lectern + Joss Cope + The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Husband, 16th May 2018First things first: the murmuring, brass-dappled Crayola Lectern trio are making their way up for a rare London gig in the middle of May, followed by a Brighton launch show for the new Crayola Lectern album, ‘Happy Endings’, at the start of June. The vehicle for Chris Anderson’s tidal, sometimes melancholic, often softly funny songs – low-key dramas of reflection, resignation and not-quite acceptance – they’re powered by his piano, Al Strachan’s sleepy cornet and percussion and Brighton uberdrummer Damo Waters’ parallel skills on keyboards.

It’s not been confirmed yet who’s joining in at Brighton, though the whispers are that it’ll be someone – or several someones – drawn from Chris’ Brighton psychedelic circles, which includes driving psych-rock ensemble ZOFFF, Kemper Norton (more on whom shortly), CLOWWNS and Spratleys Japs. However, the London bill has its two support acts.

Psych-pop journeyman Joss Cope, armed with his strongest project yet (last year’s ‘Unrequited Lullabies’) will be along for the ride. I recently described the album as “a luscious living-room tranche of psych-pop with a sharp wit; dappled with dextrous pop guitars, carousel prog, fake horns and laps of Mellotron”. Live, you may get a little less of the texturing, but you’ll still get the songs: chatty, wry commentaries on a world wobbling off the rails. The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Husband also happens to be Nick Howiantz, who otherwise divides his time between running Brixton Hill Studios and fronting sporadic, noisy Brighton psych-pop rompers Ham Legion. I’ve no idea about what’s behind the genderswapping ecclesiastical mask, but he/she/they are being tagged as a “veritable modern day Syd Barrett”, so come along and see whether that’s a claim worth claiming or whether it falls interestingly wide of the mark.




 
Dates:

  • Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England, Wednesday 16th May 2018, 7:30pm (with Joss Cope + The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Husband) – information here, here and here
  • The Rose Hill, 70-71 Rosehill Terrace, Brighton, BN1 4JL, England, Friday 1st June 2018, 8.00pm (support t.b.c.) – information here

* * * * * * * *

A Spring Symposium (for Tim Smith), 12th May 2018
I was talking about Crayola – and William D. Drake – only a few posts ago, as regards their Worthing fundraiser for Tim Smith on 19th May. A week before that, both of them (in various permutations) will be joining another Tim fundraiser – this one an all-dayer in Coombe Bissett, nestled in the Wiltshire chalk downs south-west of Salisbury.

‘A Spring Symposium’ is the brainchild – or heartchild – of onetime Cornish folkie Emily Jones, who’s now joined the cluster of Cardiacs family musicians living around Salisbury. Her own songs of seal-wives, haunted bungalows, witchery and other glimpses beyond the vale will be part of the event, alongside contributions from various other characters well-known to Cardiacs followers or to aficionados of certain weird-folk, Rock in Opposition and hauntological camps.




 
Emily’s near-neighbours, Craig and Sharron Fortnam of North Sea Radio Orchestra, will be taking part in various permutations. Craig will be bringing along his Arch Garrison duo with James Larcombe, singing soft songs (on gut-strung acoustic guitar and buzzing organs and monosynths) about long walks, lost brothers, ancient roads, dogs, death and bereavement and the various gentle tug-of-wars between family and necessary solitude, compromise and truthfulness, art and earning. Craig and Sharron will both be playing in a second reunion of Lake Of Puppies, the rollicking, affectionate acoustic-psychedelic folk-pop band they formed with avuncular ex-Cardiac and alternative keyboard virtuoso William D. Drake over twenty years ago. During the mid-‘90s they’d play regular small gigs around London; bobbing up with their bouncy songs of life, good humour and growing things, like a rosy apple in a tub. Sadly, they went their separate and amiable ways after only a few years and no more than a couple of rough demos. Having reconvened in the summer of 2013 (for a lovingly received appearance at the Alphabet Business Convention), they promptly disappeared again, but have been working out a long-delayed debut album on the quiet. Some of that ought to show up at this concert. See below for a couple of dashes of their particular flavour. Large Life might be billed as Bill’s, but it’s Puppies to the bone, and their 2013 set from Salisbury should give you an idea as to how they are now.




 
I’ve already mentioned the Crayola Lectern set; there’ll also be one from Bob Drake (the onetime 5uus and Thinking Plague guy currently bouncing around the country on a tour of his own). Sit at Uncle Bobby’s feet; listen to his electric guitar jangle, pop and change its mind every other mid-phrase; and take in some loveably bizarre constantly changing one-minute songs about sinister meerkats, experiments gone wrong, and the way in which assorted eldritch beasts from dark dimensions annoyingly disrupt your life, your shopping and your evening’s relaxation. If Ogden Nash, Fred Frith, Roald Dahl and Neil Young had all crept up to H.P. Lovecraft’s house one larky summer’s evening with a pint of moonshine and some tall tales – and really made him laugh – it would have sounded something like this.


 
While there may be a couple of extra guests showing up as a surprise, the Symposium roster is formally rounded off by Kemper Norton and by Libbertine Vale – the former an electro-acoustic folk-culture miner of music and landscapes, (armed with instruments, electronics and field recordings to remap both physical terrain and song terrains), the latter the Omnia Opera/7shades singer who’s revealed herself as a rebel Midlands folkie, digging deep into the more macabre corners of the folk-song catalogue and coming back with “uncomfortable songs about death, a capella sqwarking that will kill or heal your ears, dependent on your disposition.” It’s tough to track Libby down on the web, but here’s a bit of Kemper.



 
There’s only ten days to go ‘til the event, but there’s still time to arrange to get there. There’ll be cakes and ale, there’ll be vegetarian food; Tim Smith himself will probably be in attendance, and Emily’s suggested that you caravan-camp out on the chalk downs. If this English May makes its mind up (and settles for being a good springsummer), it all ought to be lovely.

Emily Jones presents:
A Spring Symposium: Lake of Puppies + Crayola Lectern + Arch Garrison + Bob Drake + Kemper Norton + Libbertine Vale + Emily Jones
Coombe Bissett Village Hall, Shutts Lane, Homington Road, Coombe Bissett, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 4LU, England
Saturday 12th May 2018, 2.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

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

3 Apr

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



 
* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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



 

REVIEW – Arch Garrison: ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ album, 2014 (“lay out its gears and bones”)

17 Jul

Arch Garrison: 'I Will Be A Pilgrim'

Arch Garrison: ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’

Crest the ridge, now. Slow down at the sitting-stone, park your bones and aching muscles there, and take stock. Look at the way the landscape spreads out from up here – all of the fields and rills and, beneath, the skeleton of the land, the rocks and water, the things which give it shape. Moving back up a few layers, there’s the earth and grass and moving animals; the places lived in; the crows’ feet, the salt-and-pepper…

First, let’s look at the shapes which are closest to hand. Pick them up; have a squint.

On his second album of latter-day folk-baroque at the head of Arch Garrison, Craig Fortnam moulds and reworks diverse old and new traditions to delightful effect. His dexterous fingers strip webworks of notes from his acoustic guitars – nylon and steel, telegraph and gut. Within these, home-grown (or at least home-brewed) elements travel from song to song in a loose continuum, stretching from Elizabethan lute ballads through Celtic-American folk to Davey Graham’s flowing Anglo-Arab fingerstyle and the febrile reinventions of John Fahey. Elsewhere, the slides and clinks of change-ringing rows are smuggled from English church bells onto keys and strings.

Other specks and strains within the music seem to have been picked up from other parts of the world. A vellum-dry recording and a staccato attack nod to Ali Farka Touré’s Malian folk-blues, with the debt explicit on two lilting instrumental vamps. That elegant lilting baroque figure which opens the record initially steps out like something broader (a koto flourish, or a banjo beginning) and is returned to for the coda; this time built upon by bobbing, sliding, Cluster-esque layers of electronic organ, the drift of stained-glass shadows on flagstones. Across the album, while Craig sings the songs into life in his thin hopeful straw of a voice, a feathering of psychedelic burr hangs in the air like the faint memory of a benign, long-ago acid trip – a touch of the Barretts.

While Arch Garrison aren’t quite as numerous as they once were, Craig isn’t alone on his voyage. Over at his right hand, James Larcombe plays buzzing monosynths and gently teetering Philicorda, fusing the meticulous discipline of a classical organ scholar with a blend of Krautrock tangents. His playing can carry hints of wilful trance and of conscious airy detachment, but he also has the focus to draw an assured bead on what the moment requires and to nail it. On ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’s title track, the duo reach a pinnacle of mutual intricacy and involvement. James builds up a musing Philicorda fanfare (part kosmische, part chapel) amongst strands of piano, synth and swirling cymbal. Craig’s screw-threaded clawhammer guitar bursts through this massing kaleidoscope of psychedelic refractions to launch the song proper, whereupon Arch Garrison twirl deftly through knotwork prog breaks, rough-dancing harmonised vocals and capering mediaeval percussion (constantly pinned to a kind of Gothic lysergia via glimmering, echoed guitar counter-melodies).

The business of unpicking this intricate little treasure-box of an album can be fascinating: you can lay out its gears and bones, and marvel at how Appalachia, Forst, Tombouctou and Wiltshire can be encouraged to dance together. But getting distracted by the spread of ingredients on show would be missing the deeper points. On this set of songs, skilled fingerwork and compositional complexity sit in support of finer gravities of heart and of belonging. On Arch Garrison’s previous album, ‘King Of The Down’, Craig sketched the opening lines of a personal landscape – stretches and twinges, journeys and feelings, embraces and aches. It was even there in the album title, which encompassed Craig’s beloved southern English hills and his own wounded doubts. But it’s only now, with ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’, that he’s fully realised the craft of mapping these outer and inner geographies together, growing deeper into his own voice as he does so.

Craig has spent much of his musical history in the charismatic, ever-present shadow of his wife and bandmate Sharron. In their teamwork within The Shrubbies and North Sea Radio Orchestra (as with briefer work with the fFortingtons and Lake of Puppies), his writing set out most of the musical substance, but it was her striking vocal and personal anneal of post-punk bounce, classical soprano and folk chirp which set the tone. Voluntary as all of this was, in recent years the balance has shifted, with Craig singing several NSRO pieces in a smaller version of the band. While Sharron initially came along for Arch Garrison on bass guitar and harmonies, it was Craig who took the vocal lead. Now the Garrison trio’s reduced to a duo, and the older alliance is temporarily severed. Sharron is on leave-of-absence, away on the same maternity break that has currently put NSRO into mothballs. Although James provides conversational hums of backup vocal as well as his multi-jointed keyboards, Craig’s singing alone as he never has before.

Serendipitously, this has happened at the perfect time. ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ is the album on which both Craig’s songwriting and his growing hunger (after NSRO’s sculpted Edwardianisms) for direct expression fully mature. Fragile tones notwithstanding, you can’t imagine anyone else singing these songs, let alone singing them better. Just as Craig’s voice has come into focus, so too have his lyrics, with every song now an open, expanding kernel of idea and a signpost for an open road. The picture that emerges is of the restlessness that beats and tugs at men in the middle passage of life, turning them into helpless sails for every fearful yaw or sneaking gust of emotion.

Over the course of eight songs and three instrumentals, ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ explores parenthood, competition, faith, engagement with art and the ambivalence of loneliness. Its core – both symptoms and solutions – is centred round the act of walking. Propelled by his sinewy melodies and striding harmonic progressions, which roll across the album the way old wire fences roll across hills, Craig is constantly journeying, pressing currents of angst and uncertainty underfoot. From being a fragmented and distracted modern man, he strides back into connection, rediscovering himself in subconscious acceptance of history and place. Here and there, from song to song, a line recurs – “chalk under the bone” – as Craig acknowledges and encourages this strata of belonging. When he sings “never more known” he’s talking about both the hidden and the savoured.

Two river songs roll the point home. On The Oldest Road Craig has a full-on metaphysical vision of the Downs hills in a state of historical flux, and explores them in tones that echo William Blake and Edward Thomas as well as his old mentor Tim Smith. “Chalk arises overhead, up above alluvial. / Is it true what you said, chalk springs the fluvial? – / flows into town, / scatters people all around. / Do they feel it, do they know / chalk under the bone?” While landscape offers him escapism (“disappear into the haze – / happy days,”) he also greets the growing sense of heritage that it brings to him (“I was born with flint in hand, / write my name upon the land,”) and ends up celebratory, an open-ended bounds-walker freed from linear time altogether. “It only takes an hour, / even in an hour / feel the time unwind, boy… / I have walked the open road, made ten thousand years ago. / And when the earth explodes, / atomise the oldest road, never more known.”

On the title track (amidst James’ stitchwork of keyboards and the rattling percussion) Craig begins another journey – this time in London, tracing his beloved River Thames outwards “from the Cheap to the Fleet to the Strand, / then up to the fields, / then over the land, the grey-green and brown. / Oh the city, city wide, / beautiful river rolling by.” A former Londoner himself, perhaps he starts off by retracing his own path; but as soon as the city falls behind him the song opens out into more universal territories. Specific details and place-names dissolve; the journey becomes as permeable as dreams and as material as aching feet. Sadness and inspiration, solitude and engagement alternate and counterbalance each other. “In the morning, don’t be low. / There’s a ribbon of road. / Early morning – the giant stride. / The steeper the hill, then the faster walk I. / I will never, never tire.”

Eventually, Craig’s progress becomes open-ended; a pick-up-the-pace walk song in which he threads in and out of other people’s lives – ever the visitant. “I spring out of the sun, feel sigh. / Oh, people ringing… / In a pilgrim’s high… / oh pilgrim, wander by… / Oh, the lonely, lonely road. / Chalk under the bone.” Running alongside this wandering engagement is a sense of displacement; of letting oneself fall loose from the world of family and neighbours, tugging at the lead, tempted to drift away under a vague compulsion and never knowing whether it’s the right thing to do. “By the evening, don’t be low, there’s a light in a window,” Craig sings softly, grasping after a sense of home and fulfilment in the midst of wandering.

In contrast, the album’s opening song – Where The Green Lane Runs – sees him preparing to set it all aside. It’s more than a little unsettling to open your record with a vision of your own death, but that’s what this is. In a careful picking-out of parts and purposes (part march, part folk dance, meticulously lined on nylon-string guitar and a thin wheedle of organ) Craig sets out his exit. “I’ll make my own bed when the time comes / under a tree where the green lane runs. / You’ll never find me, I hope you wouldn’t look. / I’ll leave our home without a jacket on, / head to the west and the setting sun… / I’ll do a Captain Oates and step outside, / checking out the great divide.” If the river songs placed him on the landscape, this one sees him finally merging with it, plotting out a resting place which echoes his own increasingly blurred position between modernity and antiquity: “where the green lane divides… / between the A road and the river that flows.” There’s much to mull over here, not least the uneasy mixture of feelings – defiance (with a flicker of warrior spirit in the pledge to “look for high ground, / there I’ll make my stand,”), self-sacrifice (the evocation of the wounded Oates, wandering away to die alone rather than bring others down with him) and the underlying course of loneliness; the hooded, blurred reason for the walking-away and that final solitary end.

Meanwhile, while still earthbound, there’s still the business of living and of making day-to-day sense. Three songs deal with the frustrations of making art and the fluctuations of faith. On Everything All (a flourishing blues-y hop, with James blending in crayon synth and cheerful monkey-bar clamberings of piano) Craig’s reflections are weary, beaten by the grind and by other people’s indifference. They tend towards sadness and hints of retirement. “Sometimes it’s everything all / moving the air in a room or a hall / Trying to explain what I don’t understand, / The song is a mirror / I’m taking it down.” Other People, a tickling float of flamenco plucking resolving into a more classical structure, casts an uneasier look at competition and the perils of letting life slip out of your grasp. “You’re not other people – / if you were, they’d look you in the eye, / but they’re active, pushing along the road, / and you’re passive with the flow… / We used to live together, but they’re active – up the ladder, watch them go.”

As with the rest of the record, Craig keeps us guessing as to where he’s aiming his reflections. His gentle chiding could be a nudge at a torpid friend, or a dialogue with himself – a dose of pragmatism while stuck somewhere along the road. “You’re not undeserving of course, but there’s something you should know. / Life’s out selling, and you’re passive with the flow – / you go, go, go – / and the world is active – look, the spinning globe.” By the time he gets to Six Feet Under Yeah, he’s cemented some resolution. Accompanied by beautiful Tudoresque chording (festooned with joyfully quilled keyboard lines and fugues atop a sliding bass) he prods and encourages, and finally celebrates the struggle in a rousing gain-in-spite-of-pain anthem. “You don’t appreciate / the beauty of what you make… / Don’t be dissatisfied / keep your eye on the prize / Create it, then get it out – / yeah, get it out. / It ain’t over / ‘til it’s over.”

In spite of the darker veins that cross its vision (those vagabond drifts away from home, the spectre of lonely death, the cracks which erode confidence), ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ ultimately emerges onto the uplands of optimism. It’s not just about Six Feet Under Yeah’s concluding reclamations of course and momentum: in Bubble, Craig sets aside solitary thoughts and immerses himself in a simple celebration of parenthood. A squiggled bass riff boinks, a busy trio of guitars stand for family, and while James floats streamers of monosynth over everything (like a playful uncle) Craig sings unguardedly of little hats and tiny hands, chuckling over the chaos of cheerful, burgeoning family life – “we’ve skidded again… Blessed are we now, we’ll never be the same.”

All of this is capped, as it should be, by Craig’s reunion with Sharron on So Sweet Tomorrow; an old fFortingtons country tune turned nursery-rhyme on which the two harmonise, take turns and all but curtsey to each other. A soft mule-trudge rhythm, dappled with deceptively Christmassy bells, it has some of their old wide-eyed Shrubbies feel to it (“after today / we’ll ring a true bell, / when all is well”), but its heady couple-sung doggerel taps into older rituals of season and celebrations of survival. “Oh come along you, to light a spire, / wash out the mire, and raise the shadow, / dig under belly-o.” Spectres still flit around the edges, but the overall flavour is one of resilience. “Bring out your dying, and near-to-dead, / but still the final breath is left.”

Pull back and reflect. If there’s a final form to that psychic landscape – the one which we were scouting out from that hill-brow, back then when we first sat down, and the one which Craig’s been limning throughout the record – it’s here. Ghost-thoughts and dark loomings might protrude through the weak points, but the weak points aren’t everything; nor are they the defining features, just as a walk isn’t entirely defined by the blisters it raises. Walks are terrain, no less. Smoothnesses disrupted; routes which are more difficult and more revealing than the maps which you started with; stumbles leading to unexpected vistas. ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ is a record which (in its soft-spoken revealings and sway-back moods) ultimately embraces those stones in the shoes, the crows-feet and skiddings and the salt-and-pepper, the simple actions which maybe ache a little more than they used to. While it doesn’t make a meal of the fact, it’s also a record which absorbs something important – the point that pilgrimage isn’t just the journey or the destination, it’s the chance to discover yourself along the way.

All right, now. Rest-time is over, and there are roads to tread. Come on – ease yourself up. Put your pack back on; check your shoes. Comfortable enough. You’ll make it. Go.

Arch Garrison: ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’
The Household Mark, THM003
CD/download album
Released: 19th May 2014

Get it from:
Amazon or iTunes or Wayside Music.

Arch Garrison online:
Homepage MySpace

CONCERT REVIEW – North Sea Radio Orchestra @ St Clement Eastcheap, Monument, London, 15th March 2003 (“a polished Victorian never-never land of intricate miniatures and toymaker’s details”)

15 Apr

Once you’ve found it (tucked away in the cramped, confusing whorls of buildings and alleyways near the Monument) the diminutive Christopher Wren church of St Clement Eastcheap is like an old-fashioned kid’s treasure-box, hidden in a chest-of-drawers. Small but perfectly-formed (and bearing the decorous marks of its mid-Victorian refurbishment), it perches pertly between two well-known architectural schools – “enchanting” and “cute”. Tidy pillars spring up hopefully at the sides of its nave. That creamy yellow tint in the immaculate plasterwork of the walls sets off the lovingly-worn mahogany of choir stalls, pews and the massive pulpit. It’s tiny enough for a smallish art-rock audience to squeeze into and feel cosy: and there’s a nursery-rhyme connection too, if you know your oranges and your lemons.

Really, the North Sea Radio Orchestra couldn’t have picked a more appropriate venue. For the music of this retrofitted, romantic-progressive chamber ensemble, St Clements fits like a glove. It shares those hints of modestly-mingled English eras of scaled-down splendour, the atmosphere of nostalgic time travel and aan affectionate polish of traditional heritage. Once you’re inside, both of them also tempt you to blissfully engulf yourself in a luxurious dream of old England – open fields, spinneys, bright stars, sunlight and green thoughts – while all around you the ruthlessness, frenetic urban pace and concrete encroachment looms and sprawls. This may all be an imaginary, selective stance. On a superficial level, you could also get suspicious of well-spoken contemporary white musicians in London warding off angst by cooking up a hand-crafted pre-industrial daydream. But this does the NSRO a disservice. You could accuse them of forcing their innocence – and maybe yours as well – but whatever else they’re doing here is done entirely without malice.

Twenty people settle onstage and get a grip on their violas, cellos, trombones, bass clarinets or whatever. Familiar London art-rock faces abound. Conductor-composer Craig Fortnam and the ensemble’s soprano singer Sharron Saddington used to bob up and down on the fringes of the Cardiacs scene, first in the psychedelic tea-party of William D. Drake’s short-lived Lake Of Puppies and then in the bumptiously charming folk-pronk of The Shrubbies. James Larcombe (Stars In Battledress’ elegantly-tailored smoothie of a keyboard player) is soberly fingering a chamber organ. His brother and bandmate Richard is boosting the numbers in the eight-strong choir, right next to the wild Persian afro of onetime Monsoon Bassoon-er (and current Cardiac) Kavus Torabi. Out in the audience, the aforementioned Mr Drake sits next to Tim Smith, his old friend and former boss in Cardiacs. Across from them, there are various Foes and Ursas and Sidi Bou Saids. There’s a sense of occasion. We get a beautifully designed arts-and-crafts-styled programme to take home. It’s a long way from Camden pub gigs.

This isn’t solely because of the surroundings. North Sea Radio Orchestra might carry their assorted historical splinters of psychedelic rock, folk, and even punk along with them, but they are unabashedly classical in intent. Even the twistiest and most abrasive of the art-rockers in the lineup are sporting the sober concentration of churchgoers, and Sharron has traded her former outfit of cosy specs and jumpers (though not her artlessly warm smile) for a modest diva gown. Craig, his back turned, conscientiously conducts the ensemble. When he sits aside to strum a little polite guitar, he has to crane his neck round anxiously, making sure that the music is still running smoothly.

He needn’t worry. Despite the shades of complex tonality which inform the NSRO’s compositions (Frank Zappa, Benjamin Britten and Tim Smith have all left their mark on Craig’s inspiration), the music flows readily. Sometimes it’s a simple organ drone as a base for Dan Hewson’s trombone expositions. At the other end of the measure, there’s the rollicking Occasional Tables: a dancing interplay between clarinets with a gloriously drunken, attention-switching Frank Zappa/Henry Cow approach. With its mediaeval echoes, and an additional infusion of the peculiar darkness of post-Morton Feldman Californian conservatoire music, it’s given an edge by the astringent, atonal vibraphone shiver (and by Craig’s strict, almost military turn on bongos).

Intriguing as these are, it’s the NSRO’s orchestration of poems which connect deepest with the audience. Mostly these are Tennyson settings (with a sprinkling of Thomas Hardy and other contemporaries) but even Daniel Dundas Maitland’s modern Sonnet looks back to ornate Victoriana. So does Craig’s music, swirling its Early Music and contemporary classical influences together to meet halfway in a polished Victorian never-never land of intricate miniatures and toymaker’s details. Sharron’s vocals – sometimes piping, sometimes emoting in keen, theatrical wails – make for exquisitely brittle sugar-sculpture shapes, while rivulets of strings and woodwind launch themselves from the melody.

The heavenly sway of Move Eastward Happy Earth sets Sharron’s winsome soprano against the lazy, streaming clarinet of Nick Hayes and against Ben Davies’ slow waltz of trimmed-down piano. The choir (with a hearty, clever enthusiasm that reminds me of nothing so much as Gentle Giant) leaps in for stepped, skipping choruses and glorious vocal resolutions. For The Flower, drifts of strings slip from the vocal line and weave busily like something out of Schubert’s Trout Quintet. Onstage, everyone who isn’t smiling looks happily dazed, as if drunk on the sunny harmonies.

And so it continues, with parts of the NSRO dropping in and out to suit the music. For Thumb Piano, Craig trims it down to a revolving arpeggio of guitar harmonics in trio with the blues-tinged fluting of Hayes’ sweet’n’wild clarinet and Katja Mervola’s pizzicato viola. Harry Escott provides a cello improvisation, impressively-voiced chordal melodies sliding on top of a slithering bass drone. James Larcombe sketches out a collage of beady, kaleidoscopic chord progressions in his studious organ solo. The chorus, for their part, sing lustily in a London melting-pot of diverse accents. For the canon setting of Yeats’ He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven, the whole orchestra sings its way through Craig’s pop-folk melodies.

When the whole ensemble is running at full strength, St Clement brightens with music. Shelley’s Skylark, in particular, is profoundly ambitious – semi-connected cello lines swing like foghorns, thick Michael Byron-ish string parts disgorge dominant melodies, and the chorus is a rich blur of voices, pumping resolution into Hardy’s words. But best of all is a generous Fortnam orchestration of a piece by his former bandleader William D. Drake – a setting of William Johnson Cory’s Mimnermus In Church. With Richard Larcombe stepping out from the chorus to duet with Sharron, and the North Sea Radio Orchestra performing at its fullest stretch, the results are captivating. The voices of Sharron and Richard move around each other in dusty, reedy, yearning harmonies (he floating up to countertenor) while strings, piano, clarinets and brass open out like a delicate night-bloomer, fragrantly illustrating Cory’s salute to flawed and transient life in the face of a perfect yet chilly heaven. “All beauteous things for which we live by laws of time and space decay. / But O, the very reason why I clasp them is because they die.”

Yes, in pop culture terms it is music for an ivory tower, or for a detached oasis where you can secrete yourself away from the world. Only a mile or two to the west, I’m sure that electric guitars are roaring out rock, garage clubs are spinning off beats and bling, and someone’s delivering tonight’s definitive urban hymn. But emerging into the City of London – all higgledy-piggledy with glass skyscrapers, Renaissance guildhalls and mediaeval street names, a ragbag of congealed history in parallels – I couldn’t care less.

Like the best musicians, North Sea Radio Orchestra tap into timeless things (beauty, transient joys, the shift of seasons). But like the stubbornest, they also know the colours and shades of the times which they’ll want to employ, finding a way to make them mean something whenever and wherever they’re played. And though an antique church and a Victorian altar cloth made a beautiful frame tonight, this music – at its peak – would’ve sounded good even if the whole ensemble had been balanced atop a Docklands trash-heap.

North Sea Radio Orchestra online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace

St Clement Eastcheap online:
Homepage

REVIEW – North Sea Radio Orchestra: ‘North Sea Radio Orchestra’ demo EP, 2002 (“the bluffness and friendly beauty of English music – all clotted cream and cider”)

28 Feb

North Sea Radio Orchestra: 'North Sea Radio Orchestra' demo EP

North Sea Radio Orchestra: ‘North Sea Radio Orchestra’ demo EP

Though it isn’t a patch on their ornately gilded live performances, there’s still much on the North Sea Radio Orchestra’s debut recording to give you an idea of their fledgling fragility and freshness. Making strikingly pretty voyages into English chamber music, the NSRO are a vehicle for the Frank-Zappa-meets-Benjamin-Britten compositions of the former Shrubbies/Lake Of Puppies guitarist Craig Fortnam. They feature a cross section of classical musicians and serious moonlighters from latter-day London art-rock bands like Cardiacs and Stars In Battledress; and they mingle a palpable innocence of intent with a taste for engagingly convoluted melodic decoration. All this plus eminent Victorian poetry too. At this rate, Craig will wake up one day to find out that the National Trust has staked him out.

He could use some backup, to tell the truth. This time, budget constraints mean that the NSRO’s flexible little company of clarinets, piano, violin, organ, cello and harmonium (plus Craig’s own nylon-strung electric guitar) gets squeezed into a recording vessel too small to give them justice. It’s a measure of the music’s innate charm that it transcends these cramped conditions, aided in part by the loving assistance of head Cardiac Tim Smith at the console.

Music For Two Clarinets And Piano, in particular, strides out in delicious pulsating ripples as it evolves from a folky plainness to an increasingly brinksman-like disconnection. The clarinets hang off the frame of the music like stunt-riders, chuckling and babbling cheerfully at each other, held up by bubbling piano. The keyboard trio of Nest Of Tables also overcomes the plinking tones of the necessarily-synthesized vibraphone and harp to embark on a long, waltzing journey over a stack of tricky chords: leaning on the piano, the benevolent spectres of Tim Smith and Kerry Minnear nod approval in the background like a pair of proud godfathers. Organ Miniature No. 1 (written and delivered by SIB’s James Larcombe) manages to find a convincing meeting point for relaxed Messiaen, strict chapel and the better-groomed end of Zappa.

For many it’ll be the three Alfred Lord Tennyson settings which encapsulate the heart of the North Sea Radio Orchestra’s appeal. Featuring the soprano vocals of Sharron Saddington (Craig’s longtime musical and romantic partner), they’re as tart and sweet as freshly pressed apple juice. Somehow they manage to dress the poems up in artful, beautifully-arranged chamber flounces and frills without swamping them in too much chintz. It’s a fine line, which the NSRO tread by matching Tennyson’s blend of mellifluous personal introspection and cosmological scenery with similarly perfumed and illuminated music. Soft but increasingly detailed puffs of chamber organ gently rock Sharron’s summertime lament on The Lintwhite, from where it’s cradled in its bed of harmonium. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Craig chooses to orchestrate The Flower (a fable of beauty, nurture and prejudice which conceals a sharp judgmental barb) with a muted brass arrangement reminiscent of another sharp musical fabulist, Kurt Weill.

The crowning glory is Move Eastward Happy Earth, where Sharron sings a hymnal wedding waltz over joyfully welling piano. Refusing to sing in either classical bel canto or pure pop, Sharron comes up with her own tones in a full sweep of approaches between urchin, candyfloss and diva: here, she carols in a kind of beautifully-mannered choirboy ecstasy. She’s backed up by an exuberant miniature chamber choir who sweep between yo-ho-ho-ing madrigal accompaniment and full-throated burst festive celebration via a set of boldly harmonised canons. It’s a little trek through the bluffness and friendly beauty of English music – all clotted cream and cider.

Perhaps that last idea is as fancifully romantic of me as is Tennyson’s own image of the spinning planet, racing him on towards his marriage day. Or perhaps underneath it all I’m being as phoney as John Major, last decade, waxing corny about a vintage Albion of cycling spinsters and cricket whites on the village green. Dreams of English innocence and cleanliness can end up trailing their roots through some pretty murky places unless you’re careful. Nonetheless, for three-and-a-half minutes North Sea Radio Orchestra could restore your faith in its well-meaningness – all without a trace of embarrassment, or recourse to snobbery. They earn their right to their genuine dreamy innocence, and (for all of their blatant nostalgia) to their sincerity too.

Shoebox recording or not, here’s a little piece of wood-panelled chamber magic for you.

North Sea Radio Orchestra: ‘North Sea Radio Orchestra’ demo EP
North Sea Radio Orchestra (no catalogue number or barcode)
CD-only EP
Released: 2002

Buy it from:
Best obtained second-hand.

North Sea Radio Orchestra online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace

ATTN:Magazine

Not from concentrate.

Xposed Club

improvised/experimental/music

I Quite Like Gigs

Music Reviews, music thoughts and musical wonderings

Make Weird Music

Because 4 chords aren't enough

A jumped-up pantry boy

Same as it ever was

PROOF POSITIVE

A new semi-regular gig in London

We need no swords

Static and debris. Skronk and wail. This is music?

:::::::::::: Ekho :::::::::::: Women in Sonic Art

Celebrating the Work of Women within Sonic Art: an expanding archive promoting equality in the sonic field

Ned Raggett Ponders It All

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Headphone Commute

honest words on honest music

Yeah I Know It Sucks

an absurdist review blog

Pop Lifer

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

Archived Music Press

Scans from the Melody Maker and N.M.E. circa 1987-1996

The Weirdest Band in the World

A search for the world's weirdest music, in handy blog form

OLD SCHOOL RECORD REVIEW

Where You Are Always Wrong

Fragile or Possibly Extinct

Life Outside the Womb

a closer listen

a home for instrumental and experimental music

Bird is the Worm

New Jazz: We Search. We Recommend. You Listen.

Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

eyesplinters

Just another WordPress.com site

FormerConformer

Striving for Difference

musicmusingsandsuch

The title says it all, I guess!

%d bloggers like this: