Tag Archives: Stephen Gilchrist

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.

* * * * * * * *

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 2016 – upcoming gigs – Spratleys Japs recreated live in Brighton, co-starring Stephen Evens, Emily Jones and sundry Brighton psychedelic talent (19th November)

16 Nov

'Spratleys Japs Live', 19th November 2016Though it’s long sold out (Facebook and local word-of-mouth rendering any blog efforts unnecessary), I thought I’d tip the hat to Saturday’s Brighton revival-cum-recreation of the obscure and short-lived Spratleys Japs, the first full live outing that the project’s songs have ever had.

Nominally a band, one which first wormed its way out into the light back in 1999, Spratleys Japs were one of the more enigmatic branches of the Cardiacs family. Head Cardiac Tim Smith composed the cryptic bulk of it, played bass guitar and organ, and added scratchy vocals; his then-girlfriend Jo Spratley sang bright and artless (like an urchin sparrow) and dabbled in theremin and flugelhorn. Tone and shape was inspired by a gloriously malfunctioning Mellotron keyboard on loan from ‘Tron historian Andy Thompson – its antique tape-replay system disrupted; its brass and string sounds invaded and polluted by grand staggers, stammers and dark blarts.

The rest of the instrumental roles were filled by the Rev-Ups, a Mexican desert band transplanted across the Atlantic and camping out in the New Forest. Dibbling around in Spratleys history brings you more information, albeit in baffling crepuscular fashion. There are stories of cutlery-hoarding obsessives hunched over humming home-made electronics; of a dilapidated old valve-tech recording studio buried deep in the Hampshire woods (“a bit rotten and a bit covered in leaves and rats, and rats spiders… ‘Doctor Who’ stylee control room… wiring swung between olden telegraph poles…”); and of vocals recorded “at dusk, in the drizzle”, bounced off the surface of a stagnant pond.


 
All very interesting, but probably spurious. It’s true about the ailing ‘Tron (and some elements of the dank forest sessions story might even be based on reality) but Spratleys were, in all likelihood, a Jo and Tim duo project: something cooked up through Smith production wizardry and swathed with the usual Cardiacs thicket of playful disinformation and purposefully eccentric mythology. In the decade following the album release, there was occasional talk about taking Spratleys to the stage, none of which came to anything: Tim’s near-fatal stroke and heart attack in 2008 finally put paid even to the talk.

What was left was the music – one album, one single with extra scraps – and very interesting it was too, be it the twinkling, seething, termite’s-nets funk of Fanny, the nursery piano and Wagnerian choir of Sparrows or Tim whispering an endless meandering verse over a strummed bass in Oh. Half of Cardiacs’ songbook had always been weirdly Arcadian, yearning out and away from regimented urban suburbia into a half-imagined clotted English greenwood full of growing things. Spratleys suggests what might have happened if Cardiacs had escaped there only to find out that it was a swamp, vegetation, trash and identity alike inexorably decaying into fertile sludge.


 
The grand, precarious staircases of extended harmony are pure Smith: parkour chord progressions racing on to destination unknown, delighting in the unpredictable terrain underfoot. The glue and ingredients which surround them are different, or at the very least repurpose and re-examine previous Smithian influences. Looking back at it now, it resembles nothing so much as various Cardiacs urges bumping up against the make-do, repurpose-and-discover influence of Faust, recoiling a little dazed and reconsidering. Creatures rustle; flashes of crude bayou guitar and ’50s rock’n’roll lick set up home with spluttering electronics. Vinyl pops; lyrics torn from malfunctioning phrasebooks float and spin in the eddies; all of the vocals sound as if they’ve been transposed from worn vellum. Jo, too, leaves her mark on proceedings – tugging Tim’s obsessive tendencies into more abstract, wandering territories, her childlike voice and delivery a perfect foil for his.

Regards this weekend’s recreation, Jo is the only original Spratley left standing. Though he’s recovered sufficiently to recently disinter and prepare a long-shelved Sea Nymphs album for release, Tim is still a long, long, unlikely way from playing live again. The Rev-Ups have long since dispersed and disappeared (probably back into the realms of Tim’s imagination); and as for the crumbling Mellotron, Andy Thompson (the entirely entitled bastard) has long since callously repaired it without a thought to history. There have been efforts to keep the project in the family, one way or another: Jo’s son Jesse Cutts (of Heavy Lamb) is backing her on guitar, and remaining roles are filled by sundry Brighton multi-instrumentalists and Cardiacs sympathisers. In the bag for the band are Étienne Rodes of Clowwns, his brother Adrien Rodes (once of Rect.angle, now playing with Étienne in Brother Twain) and the frighteningly busy Damo Waters (drummer for Clowwns, ZOFFF, Brother Twain and Slug; organist for Crayola Lectern; sessioneer for Field Music, British Sea Power, Chris T-T and plenty of others; everything-ist for his own project Muddy Suzuki when he has a spare moment).

At the moment, it’s not yet clear whether all of this is going to be a one-off amplified and extended celebration; or whether it’s going to become part of that eagerly growing body of post-Cardiacs musical life, joining the massing bands and solo artists which throng the increasingly regular Tim Smith fundraisers. Meanwhile, some indication as to what’s coming on the night could be found here – a kind of dry run, as Jo and Heavy Lamb take a rockier, punkified crack at the Spratleys song Vine at last year’s Alphabet Business Convention.


 

‘Spratleys Japs Performed Live’ (featuring members of Spratleys Japs, Crayola Lectern, Clowwns, Brother Twain, Muddy Suzuki) + Stephen Evens + Emily Jones
The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton BN1 4FQ, England
Saturday 19th November 2016, 7.30pm
– information here and here

In support are Stephen EvEns (the current solo project by thoughtfully-hangdog drummer and multi-instrumental songwriter Steve Gilchrist – that’s Jo playing the therapist in his video below) and Cornish psychedelic folkie Emily Jones, whose own work shows a (possibly accidental) affinity with the softer end of Smithiana both in its occasional odd-corner harmonies and changeability, and in its occasional fascination with small, obscurely significant things.



 
If you’re not discouraged by that “sold-old” sign, see links above for the tickets that might become available… or just show up on the door with some cash on the night and hope for the best. If the Green Door Store has windows, crane up against them; fog them with sorry breath; make the kind of forest-creature creeling noises which you’d suspect might be just out of earshot on the Spratleys Japs album. They might take pity on you, and let you in.


 

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.





 

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