Tag Archives: Stroud (England)

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

21 Jul

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

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

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

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

Gong, 2018

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

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



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



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

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

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



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



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

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



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

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



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



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



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

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

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

April 2017 – upcoming ambient/textural gigs in London, Stroud and Berlin – two ‘A Gift for the Ephemerist’ shows with Andrew Heath, Anne Chris Bakker, Romke Kleefstra and Jan Kleefstra (14th & 15th); Luke Howard in London and Berlin (19th, 20th) plus Charlie Coxedge. Plus a nod to the Fat Out Festival in Salford (14th-16th)

6 Apr

Four upcoming shows from the more elegant, pianistic end of ambient (although guitar noise is never far away)…

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'A Gift For The Ephemerist', 14th & 15th April 2017

‘A Gift for the Ephemerist’: Andrew Heath & Anne Chris Bakker + Kleefstra|Bakker|Kleefstra

  • IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England, Friday 14th April 2017, 8:00information
  • Secret Garden @ The Museum in the Park, Stratford Park, Stratford Road, Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL5 4AF, England, Saturday 15th April 2017, 12.00-3.00pm – free event – information here and here

“In 2015, an invitation from Aqueous synthesist Andrew Heath to Anne Chris Bakker (to play in the UK as part of a Resound performance) cemented a friendship and mutual admiration of each other’s music. Early the following year, Andrew visited Chris in the north of the Netherlands for a week of inspired improvisation – spending their time gathering field recordings, composing and of course, cycling. Combining Bakker’s beautiful bowed guitar and Heath’s quiet and minimal piano and textures, the collaboration has produced no less than two exquisite albums – ‘The Ephemerist’s Collection’ and ‘Lichtzen’. Pause and contemplate, for here are immersive driftscapes which shimmer and pulse with fragile, half-glimpsed melodies.

“Combining improvised dark-ambient with spoken word, Kleefstra|Bakker|Kleefstra is the work of Anne Chris Bakker with fellow experimental guitarist Romke Kleefstra plus poet Jan Kleefstra. The trio have worked together for several years – following their debut album ‘Wink’ in 2009, they played throughout Europe and Japan. ‘The Wire’ wrote about the trio: “two guitarists construct an icy enclave out of frozen drones and amplifier crackle, a veritable Fortress Of Solitude whose isolation is further emphasised by the poet’s intimately close-miked tones and distant echoes, giving an acute impression of expanses and depths both internal and external.” K|B|K have also collaborated with Peter Broderick, Nils Frahm, Greg Haines and Machinefabriek.”




 

Note also that Kleefstra|Bakker|Kleefstra will be playing on the 16th April at the Fat Out Festival in Salford – a pretty stunning array of musical experimentalists, noiseniks, avant-jazzers and more, running between the 14th and the 16th, and featuring far more contributors and collaborators than I can hope to pin down in a single blogpost anymore, let alone a shared one. If you’re in the area and sufficiently clued up, you’ll know about this avant-art ferment already. If not, it’s not too late to jump in – all details are here.

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Luke Howard, 19th April 2017“Melbourne-born composer and pianist Luke Howard (joined by Australian jazz drummer Daniel Farrugia) presents a selection of solo piano and ambient works from his records ‘Sun, Cloud’ and ‘Two Places’.

“Luke studied classical piano as a child before graduating with honours from the Victorian College of the Arts. He was twice a finalist in the Montreux Jazz Festival Solo Piano Competition and has written music for both film and theatre. In 2013 he released the Australian Music Prize long-listed record ‘Sun, Cloud’. Luke’s score to ‘ Where Do Lilacs Come From ‘ won Best Music for a Short Film at the 2014 APRA/AMCOS Screen Music Awards. His second solo album, ‘Two Places’, was released in April 2016.

“Dividing his time between Europe and Australia, in recent years Luke has opened for Benjamin Clementine and Ben Frost, and performed with artists as diverse as Lior and Jeff Mills. His music has been described as “totally sublime” (‘Headphone Commute‘, February 2014), “absolutely heavenly” (Mary Anne Hobbs of BBC Radio 6, July 2013), and “cinematic in its approach” (‘The Age‘, October 2009).”



 
The month’s pair of dates:

  • Bush Hall, 310 Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush, London, W12 7LJ, England, Wednesday 19th April 2017, 7.30pm (with Charlie Coxedge) – information here and here
  • Lido Berlin, Cuvrystraße 7, 10997 Berlin, Germany, Thursday 19th April 2017, 8.00pm – information here and here

In London, support comes from Charlie Coxedge (a.ka Charlie Cocksedge of Money), who’ll be performing solo sets of looped guitar music.



 
The London Howard/Coxedge show is another of the gigs repositioned following the sad and sudden closure of the Forge in Camden (see also the BC Camplight show at St Pancras Old Church the following day). It’s comforting to see that the artists can be accommodated so quickly rather than just having holes blown in their schedules; although it doesn’t entirely make up for the loss of a great venue and the closure of all of the work that went into building it up.
 

September/October 2016 – upcoming gigs – Jane Siberry on tour in Britain and Ireland (9th Sep – 7th Oct) with The Blackheart Orchestra, Balsamo Deighton, Ruth, Delilah Montagu, LeeSun and Carol Laula

5 Sep

This week, Jane Siberry embarks on her first tour of the British Isles for a good while.

  • Whelan’s, 25 Wexford Street, Dublin 2, Ireland, Friday 9th September 2016, 8.00pm (with Ruth) – information
  • The Queens Hall, 85-89 Clerk Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9JG, Scotland, Friday 16th September 2016, 7.30pm (with Carol Laula) – information
  • The Convent, Convent Lane, South Woodchester, Stroud, GL5 5HS, England, Sunday 18th September 2016, 9.00pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • Henry Tudor House, Barracks Passage, Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury, SY1 1XA, England, Monday 19th September 2016, 8.00pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • The Trades Club, Holme Street, Hebden Bridge, HX7 8EE, England, Thursday 22nd September 2016, 8.00pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • The Greystones, Greystones Road, Sheffield, S11 7BS, England, Friday 23rd September 2016, 7.30pm (with Delilah Montagu) – information
  • Kitchen Garden Café, 17 York Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7SA, England, Sunday 25th September 2016, 7.30pm (withThe Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • St John’s Church, St John’s Street, Farncombe, Godalming, GU7 3EJ, England, Wednesday 28th September 2016, 7.45pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • The Stables, Stockwell Lane, Wavendon, Milton Keynes, MK17 8LU, England, Thursday 29th September 2016, 8.45pm (with LeeSun) – information
  • Brighton Unitarian Church, New Road, Brighton, BN1 1UF, England, Friday 30th September 2016, 7.30pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • Chapel Arts Centre, St Oaks Memorial Hall, Lower Borough Walls, Bath, BA1 1QR, England, Sunday 2nd October 2016, 8.00pm (with Balsamo Deighton) – information
  • St James Theatre, 12 Palace Street, Westminster, London, SW1E 5JA, England, Monday 3rd October 2016, 7.15pm (with The Blackheart Orchestra) – information
  • Stromness Town Hall, Church Road, Stromness, Orkney, KW16 3BA, Scotland, Friday 7th October 2016, 7.30pm (solo show) – information (note – this date is listed on some places but not currently on Jane’s own site, so check before committing)

Sometimes, to her chagrin, Jane’s been tagged as “the Canadian Kate Bush” – a tag which is at least as constrictive as it is helpful. Unfair as it might be, the comparison holds true and is a good place to start. Early musical developers, women of a similar age and independent-mindedness, Jane and Kate both realised their full powers and creative approaches during a boomtime of studio-bound 1980s art pop. Pioneering later self-propelled female studio auteurs, both kept absolute control of their songwriting and mastered enough of the necessary technology to dictate form as well as content, working as meticulous musical painters, dramatists and refractors. Both have favoured carefully-chosen instrumentation, sonorities and song structures, neither of which necessarily follow common practise or expectations (and neither of which they’ve felt obliged to stick to, preferring to change formulae whenever inspiration and craft took them there). Most crucially, both of them have a sweeping emotional effect on listeners, transcending both genre and gender.

The differences, though, are as significant and illustrative as the similarities. Genius notwithstanding, Kate’s creativity was cosseted in an indulgent arts-and-crafts family background, and the recording and development deal she’d gained by her mid-teens ensured that she didn’t have to slog her way up with hard gigging in parallel with grinding dayjobs. This, plus the overwhelming commercial success which came from her first single onwards, ensured the shape and circumstances of her work to come. Hers was a unfettered imagination fuelled by spliff and arts and cocooned in recording studios, voraciously processing mythology and literature to spin out detailed and immersive storydramas in pop form, all contained within a wary privacy she’s maintained to this day. In some respects Kate’s never left the book-lined bedrooms of her childhood: she’s simply extended them, and grown within the bigger space she made there.



 
Jane’s, on the other hand, has been a less charmed or settled road. An uneasy family life and childhood led to a voyage into a university degree which soon morphed, dissatisfied, from music to microbiology, then work as a waitress in order to self-fund a tightly-budgeted debut record. Perhaps it’s these elements which have inspired the elements of research quirk and observational stillness in parts of her songcraft, from the twinkling electronic dissections of beachlife on her first hit (Mimi On The Beach) to the moments, when in otherwise warm and involved musical landscapes she appears to pull back, tilting her gaze askance, casting a cool bright birdlike eye on the matter: not necessarily making conclusions, but grabbing a quick and open assessment of what’s going on, whether or not details have fallen into a conclusive pattern.


 
Certainly her songcraft reflects an edgier, more marginal, creative life; intelligent and existential, but fully in touch with the irrational and perverse. While Kate’s catalogue dramatizes odd states and situation, Jane’s songbook seems more of a recounting. She has, in moments of straightforward generosity or acceptance, delivered art-pop singalongs such as The Life Is The Red Wagon or the rapturous k.d. lang duet Calling All Angels; in bouncier times, she’s delivered songs about dogs and people or childhood hockey games. When certain moods have taken her, she’s carved out monumental, borderline-impenetrable audio-literary mysteries such as The Bird In The Gravel.



 
Yet she’ll also touch uneasily, obliquely, but always openly on subjects such as alcoholism and mental disturbance which might or might not be first-hand, and in ways which tide the listener into the heart of the situation – the compulsive, brittle, confessional dream-suite Oh My My which swallows up the second half of 1989’s ‘Maria’; the title track to ‘The Walking (and Constantly)’, which casts a heartbreaking light on the trudge and hysteria of grieving; or the disturbingly open-ended half-story of The Lobby (a incomplete, displaced female narrative with a chillingly sad tune, which might be about dementia, bereavement, social defiance or a mixture of all three).


 
Over thirty-five years Jane’s music has flowed and curved from her early folk-and-synths period to the grand studio-as-instrument art-pop shapings of ‘The Walking’ and ‘When I Was A Boy’ to the embracing of tones from Canadian country, big-band soul and Celtic fusion. In more recent years, you can hear her conceptual thumbprint (if only in the shape of an elusive transmitted meme and method) in the work of a newer crop of independent female songwriters such as Jenny Hval. Her latest record, the crowd-funded ‘Ulysses’ Purse’, takes elements of all of these strands only to strain and diffuse them into gentle atmospherics around a core of some of Jane’s finest songs to date.

As with form, so with content. As Jane turns sixty, the focus of her songcraft has turned towards the significant but under-explored passage out of middle-age, in which neither work or life is over and done yet, but old disagreements must be put to rest and the scattered aspects of personhood and affection allowed to settle into the character you’ll need to take you through the next stage. Perhaps committed to communicating the album’s simplicity in action as well as concept (and perhaps transforming her budget restrictions into a broadening of the message), Jane’s been touring it low-budget and solo, with the minimum of instruments. For the British gig, she’s even laid some troubadour plans to make the journey between gigs on foot (when possible), accompanied only by her dog.


 

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The range of Jane’s tour guests – straightforward, but telling in tone – suggest that she’s put active thought and choice into the arrangements.

In the studio, The Blackheart Orchestra‘s Chrissy Mostyn and Richard Pilkington sometimes make the mistake of corraling multi-instrumental skills into recordings which over-egg and over-slick the substance of their songs. Live, however, is where to catch them and where everything works: with Richard carrying out carefully-timed and layered instrumental changes under Chrissy’s storyteller guitar and full, mesmeric voice, their compelling, atmospheric storytelling pop comes into focus. They’re with Jane for around half of the tour dates, an arrangement and environment which seems set to bring out the best in them: maybe not so much a learning environment as one which might convince them to bring their leaner, more spontaneous live strengths fully back into their recordings.


 
In place for the Bath date, Balsamo Deighton (a spinoff duo from late Brit-country band The Storys, featuring sometime theatre-musical star Steve Balsamo and former Deighton Family singer Rosalie Deighton) have a confident, Gram-and-Emmylou/Alison Krauss-inspired West Coast sound, nicely reflecting Jane’s own rootsier country leanings (as well as providing a more traditional songwriting style for her to kick off from).


 
For the Edinburgh show, Jane’s scored a coup by enticing her friend Carol Laula into a support slot. Carol’s one of those adult pop artists – thoroughly successful in their own sphere – who can slip clear away from the radar of younger, more experimentally-inclined listeners only to rush back in unexpectedly, a welcome gust of fresh air and vision. Noted for the warmth, engagement and humility of her gigs, Carol is another tourmate choice reflecting a past and current aspect of Jane – this time, the rapport with an audience through melodic and personal openness, the dedication to dynamiting preciousness in favour of rapport.


 
Kerry-based popster Ruth (who opens the first show of the tour at Whelan’s in Dublin) is less of an established quality, having only begun making a name for herself this year/ That said, her debut single Who Are You Living For? has already revealed prodigious depth and subtlety. Exploring anger, hurt, sympathy, reproach and concern in a single package, tied together with rapier-sharp insight: one to add to the list of big-hearted/let-down woman songs. While I suspect that Ruth might be turning up to the Siberry gig with minimal instrumentation, it also shows that she can flush a current dancetronic wallpaper-of-sound production style with the vivid intelligent personality of the expert singer-songwriter, moving from probing Wurlitzer-chime verses to explode into a grand CCM pop chorus. Ruth’s next single, out this month, is called Queen Of The Con. Clearly I’ll need to pay careful attention.


 
Similarly fresh on the scene but much, much more elusive is Delilah Montagu, who’s supporting at Sheffield and who keeps a bizarrely low media profile, with nary a song or a picture to be found to help build a profile. Apparently a gifted Joni Mitchell/Laura Marling-inspired singer and guitarist, she’s another early starter (first song written at eight, work being performed by choir and orchestra by the time she was eleven), and while she’s apparently been making a small, solid splash at selected regional folk festivals this year, her highest profile one seems to have been supporting similarly obscure art-folk trio Paradisia in a Stoke Newington pub cellar.

It seems as if this new support slot’s a jump up for Delilah… or maybe not. Despite the radio silence, she already comes garlanded with industry praise (from the likes of Simon Climie), and a little digging does reveal that she’s a scion of the eye-wateringly costly liberal-arts school Bedales, who’ve already rolled out pop alumni such as Marika Hackman, Lily Allen, baritone moodist Gabriel Bruce and blues-rocker Leah Mason – plus Cara Delevingne – and for whom she scored the school musical ‘Sound of The Night Feather’ before graduating). Everything about Delilah seems to mutter “carefully groomed for stealth success”, but, as ever, you can’t fake that kind of a thing in front of a cult audience like Jane’s; so I’m assuming that whoever picked her (and it could well be Jane herself) knows what they’re doing.

Amongst the tour guests, maybe the closest to Jane in terms of spirit is LeeSun, who’s supporting her at Milton Keynes. Korea-born, Canada-raised and now Leeds-based, Lee originally comes from witty, deceptively whimsical jazz-pop (if her Calgary-recorded, Wurlitzer-chiming 2011 debut, ‘Prime’, is anything to go by – check it out, since it’s a secret gem, and in line with Jane’s own lighter, perkier musings). Since then, changes in life and perspective have led her towards stretched-out, semi-spiritual chamber pop ballads which explore from the creche to the cosmos: swaddled but epic, tinted with rocking lullaby rhythms and touches of sleepy string jazz. I’m not sure what she’ll bring to the party at this point – hopefully some of the brave, open fragility of her recent singles, some of the Blossom Dearie wit of ‘Prime’, and some of the cool, defiant, musing commentary that’s evident from her podcasts in which she questions the way in which a patriarchal Western world distorts her situation (single mother, south-east Asian roots, self-possessed singleton) into that of some kind of resident alien.




 

September 2016 – upcoming gigs – Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Andrew Heath and Christopher Chaplin in Stroud (15th); Daylight Music returns to London with Michele Stodart, Alright Gandhi, Alev Lenz and Joli Blon (17th)

1 Sep

Towards the middle of the month, there are opportunities to see a German kosmische pioneer playing up in the quiets of Gloucestershire, and to catch the return of Daylight Music semi-acoustica to London. Read on…

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Hans-Joachim Roedelius

Stroud Valleys Artspace/Resound presents
Hans-Joachim Roedelius + Andrew Heath + Christopher Chaplin
The Brunel Goods Shed, Station Approach, Stroud, GL5 3AP
Thursday 15th September 2016, 8.00pm
– information here and here

“Resound presents a fantastic opportunity to see a true pioneer. Hans-Joachim Roedelius – the Godfather of Ambient – is a pioneer in the field of the exploitation of electrically generated tones, sounds and noises. One of the founders of contemporary popular electronic music, he was a key player at the birth of kosmische, Krautrock, synthpop and ambient music. Onetime collaborator Brian Eno describes him as “one of the true originals of modern music. His delicate and wistful compositions seem to come from some long and secret musical tradition – like the meditations of Sufi poets, or the haikus of Zen monks.”

Hans-Joachim Roedelius

Hans-Joachim Roedelius

Roedelius’ collaborations with Eno, Dieter Moebius, Michael Rother and many others (in groups such as Cluster, Harmonia, Geräusche and PlusMinus) are at least the equal of the more well-known innovations of German cohorts Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and Can. His forty-plus solo albums are just as radical in seeking an unlikely reconciliation with the past – cross-wiring Krautrock’s brutalist modernism with an earlier strain of Teutonic enquiry, melding weird improvised electronica with folk, jazz and classical sounds to often stunning effect.

Roedelius has also worked as nurse, physiotherapist, masseur, escort of the dying, writer, poet, photo-collage-artist, producer and curator.”

Playing at Stroud’s Goods Shed for the second time (the first was in 2012), Roedelius will be joined by two of his latterday collaborators.


 
Andrew Heath initially came to attention as half of the ’90s ambient keyboard duo Aqueous (who recorded 1997’s ‘Meeting The Magus‘ with Roedelius) in which he was the digitally-inclined partner of quixotic analogue player Felix Jay. Following Felix’s retirement, Andrew has continued various aspects of the Aqueous project in both visual and musical forms, seeking to “introduce both the listener and the viewer, to a sonic and visual hinterland… a dreamlike state that lies somewhere between sleeping and waking.”


 
Christopher Chaplin spent most of his early career as an actor (in keeping with his family heritage – he’s one of the sons of Charlie Chaplin). However, his personal artistic roots are as a pianist – having studied, as a young man, under Irène Dénéréaz in Vevey. In 2005, Christopher reorientated towards work as a composer and musician, working variously on theatre music and orchestral string pieces, but also with Viennese electronic musician Kava. In 2011, he was personally chosen by Roedelius to record and remix one of the latter’s live piano sets: the results led to further collaborations including the ‘King Of Hearts’ album in 2012 and further concerts played around the world. In October 2016, he releases his solo album debut, ‘Je suis le Ténébreux’.



 

* * * * * * * *

Daylight Music #232A couple of days later, in London, ‘Misfit City’ favourite Daylight Music starts up its autumn season of pop, acoustica, classical crossover and electrophonic treats, all packaged up for the Saturday lunchtime crowd.

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 232: Michele Stodart + Alright Gandhi + Alev Lenz + Joli Blon
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 17th September 2016, 12.00pm
– free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information

What they’ve told us, so far, about the lineup…

Michele Stodart has taken temporary leave of The Magic Numbers to release her second solo album. Brushed with country and blues, her beautiful, intimate music will hold you close while breaking your heart.

Alright Gandhi came together in 2014, meeting and meshing during chaotic underground jam sessions in Berlin; rather than making experimental music, they claim they’re making music that likes to experiment.

Alev Lenz is a remarkable songwriter, composer and singer, whose music fuses filmic, world and classical influences. Her bittersweet voice and utterly personal lyrics combine with inspiring hooks that take you by surprise.

Joli Blon are a British Cajun band, who’ll have you tapping your toes with traditional Louisiana dance tunes.”


 

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

13 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

Eppyfest 5, 2016

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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


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



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


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



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


 

July 2016 – upcoming nu-folk gigs in England – Felix M-B on tour with Lorkin O’Reilly and Lewis Barfoot (July 10th to 17th); plus a note on Sylva Kay

9 Jul

Some notes previewing a Tigmus acoustic tour passing through England this coming week…

* * * * * * * *

Still only eighteen, Derby singer-songwriter Felix Mackenzie-Barrow – better known as Felix M-B – is already tipped as a future star of acoustic rock, and it’s not difficult to see why. The Jeff Buckley comparisons have come flocking, as they always do for good-looking young-white-male hopes with an acoustic guitar and a way with a commanding falsetto when they need it.

For me, though, the comparisons are a little off beam. Felix is by no means enslaved to the wail; not another in the line of anxious high-tenor clones aiming for its flaming hoops. If he has to be Jeffified, let it be for his boiling post-Page rhythm guitar with its flint-and-harps tone; for the way he can dance that guitar, like an elegant fencer, around some of the shifting, bullish meters within his songs. As a singer, he’s slightly – and thankfully – short of that assertive, archangelic (and to me, sometimes cold) Buckley edge. Under its smooth edges, it’s warmer and less elevated, closer at times to the incantatory yearnings and yelps of a Mike Scott or Van Morrison, or (whenever a little country seeps in) to Gram Parsons; or to a less pickled take on Chris Thompson of The Bathers. Whenever Felix wraps his melodic threads in a rippling transported melisma, he’s also much more reminiscent of Tim Buckley than of his gilded son.

As for the songs, so far they’re remarkably mature – involved, ruminative and harmonically adventurous explorations of love, connection and conscience rather than the gawky narcissistic three-chord blasts you’d expect from a teenage early starter. As of yet, it’s unclear where this surprising depth comes from. Perhaps it’s self-demurral at play, but Felix’s backstory doesn’t seem much more than “nice boy learns piano for many years, picks up guitar in mid-teens and two years later makes a record”. Perhaps he’s just one of those diffident, delightful natural songwriters, able to pick up on stories and ideas from elsewhere and magically transform them without letting himself get in the way.

Perhaps the answer lies in other background textures. Felix grew up with parents who ran the self-sufficient mobile theatre company Oddsocks (who used to tour Britain on the back of a transforming, swiss-army-knife of a cart which doubled as transport and ever-morphing play set), while he himself is a thoughtfully precocious alumnus of Derby Youth Theatre. It might be this that’s made him such a canny transmuter of tradition and style; such a promising inhabiter of diverse stories.


Felix’s current Tigmus-boosted tour dates are as follows:

As noted above, Felix is teaming up with other young songwriters en route – so here’s some more about them.

22 year old Lorkin O’Reilly released his debut EP, ‘After The Thaw’, last year. Nominally Scottish, with a youth spent on one side or the other of the Borders (with rangings into the Highlands plus a stint down in Brighton), he’s now made a home and a marriage in Poughkeepsie, New York State.

It’s difficult not to notice how Lorkin’s peripatetic shifting life (partly brought on by an unsettled and shifting adolescence) has fed into his music, which is partly inspired by that of John Martyn (another songwriter divided between Scotland and England to traumatic effect and artistic impact). His song Alba explores his ambivalence about the recent deepening schism between the two countries: he describes and delivers it more as an abstract “storm warning” than a rallying call or hand-wringing tract. Nick Drake, Phil Cook, American country-blues and British folk also inform his work, in which his softly mesmeric voice and lone guitar move through slow, Scottish moodclouds at a slithering, sliding pace, sometimes gently gilded by slide and resonator.



 
Despite her own Irish/English background, there don’t appear to be similar complexities in the work of Lewis Barfoot. On spec and on evidence, her debut EP ‘Catch Me’ is singer-songwriter fare pitched at an assured soft and wholesome level – not bland as such, but undeniably comfortable in itself. She works with an uncomplicated loveliness of sound that’s smoothly crafted, waxed and finished, and which follows an unruffled mood (lightly decorated by its Irish roots and, on one occasion by some throw-rug drapings of Maori choir). As edgeless as a high-street cafe-latte, it also makes the ideal soundtrack to one. There’s an underlying murmur of stability in these songs, whether they’re dealing with love or landscape,


 
A little more delving reveals that Lewis is more substantial than these songs suggests. A busy polymath, she’s self-propelled and organised enough to have her own “summer of Sundays” tour dovetailing into this one. Before going solo three years ago, she was a member of Gaelic a cappella quintet Rún; and like Felix, she’s also got a theatrical background, maintaining a parallel career as an actress on film, television and fringe theatre (using the latter to fertilise her theatrical writing and conceptualising). With all of this behind her, it seems a shame that what she’s currently offering is lovely but cosy acoustic-evening entertainment with a high-boutique gloss to it: certainly these initial songs lack the playful wit and sense of enquiry which goes into her original stage work.


 
For now, go along for the sleek craft and gently-cupped warmth, and hope that more of Lewis unfolds into her music over time. Here are her remaining summer dates beyond this tour:

  • The Horniman Museum, 100 London Road, Forest Hill, London, SE23 3PQ, England, Sunday 10th July 2016, 12.00 pm (noontime show, following which she’ll sprint to Bristol to catch up with Felix and Lorkin for the evening gig)
  • The Bicycle Shop, 17 St Benedicts Street, Norwich, NR2 4PE, England, Sunday 17th July 2016
  • The Blue Man, 8 Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3WA, England, Sunday 24th July 2016

* * * * * * * *

It was a shame to see that Silva Kay has had to pull out of the tour… but it would also be a shame to waste what I wrote about her before she dropped off the billing.

A singer, guitarist, looper and occasional drummer, Sylva has been creating songs since childhood, growing up as she did in the bosom of an artistic family (and being encouraged by writers, photographer and crafters of all stripes). A self-taught self-producer and a youthful veteran of several bands on both sides of the Atlantic and on both coasts of America (including Ra Ra Rabbit, IC and American City), she performs songs which touch on the territories of Joanna Newsom, Ash Ra Tempel, Dayna Kurtz and the dream-permeable moods of My Bloody Valentine. Often performing while surrounded by an arc of miscellaneous percussion, pedals, sound sources and electronics, her music remains centred around her voice and guitar, changing the moods and patterns within its dreamy folktronic format, using cunning loop-pedal work to establish a folk chorale of spontaneous backing vocals and to shift back and forth into trance-like psychedelic moods, moments of skipping indie-pop and stretches of acoustic soul/r’n’b grooves.

Unusually for a latterday loop musician, there’s plenty of space in the performance. The looped parts sound as if they’ve been thought out architecturally on the fly; a semi-spontaneous foundation on which Silva can mount wandering explorations of situations, reflections and reaction. Within the space of a single song, she can sound both independent and love-lorn, interiorised and reaching out, mysterious and readable.

The good news is that, like Lewis, Sylva is determinedly self-propelled, touring out in monthly ripples from her Oxford base: so despite her having withdrawn from this tour, it won’t be too long before there’s an opportunity to see her again.


 

April 2016 – upcoming gigs – two types of British folk tour: Michael Chapman and Moulettes, plus a menagerie of support acts (United Sound of Joy, Richard Moss, Marcus Bonfanti, The Brackish, The Horse Loom, Dirty Old Folkers, Colour Trap)

19 Apr

Two British tours start this week, reflecting – in their way – very different aspects of British folk music.

Recently celebrated by ‘Mojo’, Michael Chapman isn’t just one of the sturdiest and most independent of the singer-songwriters coming out of the homegrown British folk revival of the 1960s: he’s also one of the last acoustic guitar masters standing from the generation which included Bert Jansch, Davy Graham and John Renbourne (all of whom are now gone). His playing reveals a fascination with Southern blues, folk, slide and ragtime jazz styles (all of which he’s mastered), while his pursuit of sound and setting has drawn him towards drones, delay, and loop effects (all of which he’s used as an adjunct to his unadorned playing, rather than as a replacement or distraction). As a singer and songwriter, there are parallels with J.J. Cale; and, rightly or wrongly, I can also hear echoes or anticipations of fellow Cale devotee Mark Knopfler in there, in terms of the husk, the fingerpicking clarity and the unprecious observational skills. (For what it’s worth, the two are connected by time in Leeds and both shared, however fleetingly, original Dire Straits drummer Pick Withers, whose jazz-influenced drummer kept the band both grounded and textured in the days before stadiums and weariness).

Here’s the press release for the upcoming tour:

“2016 marks noted guitarist & songwriter Michael Chapman’s 75th birthday and fifty years since he went on the road professionally in 1966. To coincide with the celebrations, Michael’s new instrumental album, ‘Fish’ has just been released on US imprint Tompkins Square & is already gathering much praise. To mark this important milestone in his life and career Michael Chapman tours in the UK as part of a stripped-back trio also featuring two longstanding allies – pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole (whose association with Chapman goes back a long, long way to the early 1970s) and Sarah Smout on cello (Chapman’s favourite musical instrument, which many fans will recall featured strongly on his classic 1970 album ‘Fully Qualified Survivor’.). The trio will be playing material from Michael’s incredible five-decade performing history as well as some new and experimental music.”




 

Dates are as follows:

A diverse set of interesting support acts are showing up at points during the tour, reflecting both the breadth of Michael’s musical references and the way in which venue promoters feel that they can successfully fit others around him on a bill. At Blackburn, the evening will be opened by Richard Moss: Lancashire singer-songwriter, fingerstyle guitarist, mandolin player and member of Anglo-Malaysian guitar duo Squirrels In Space, Irish music band Drop The Floor and the Union Street Country Dance & Ceilidh Band. At the Sinderhope show, support comes from hardcore punk escapee turned folk-baroque guitarist Steve Malley, otherwise known as The Horse Loom.



 

At the first gig of the tour (up in Hull), it’s Bristolian post-punk/psych/jazz band The Brackish who sound like an artfully spilled bookshelf of three decades worth of vinyl. Their muscly, slightly boggled tone mixes in urban blues, Ventures-tinged surf tunes, Frank Zappa air-sculptures and a few of Captain Beefheart’s broader brushstrokes (plus a tooth-in-the wind guitar edge which recalls the rawest work of Adrian Belew, at his analogue-screaming decennial point midway between Zappa and King Crimson).


 

* * * * * * * *

Although they’re also a product of the British folk tradition, Moulettes come from a different angle – one which is more fanciful and playful, in which authenticity is less the Holy Grail and more of a switchable ingredient. Like Rose Kemp, their take on folk draws on heavier sounds and on nearly fifty years of extraordinary, fanciful rock music. A Moulettes song comes at you like a dose of multi-instrumental chamber prog, adding cello, bassoon and autoharp to the guitars, bass and drums and the triple-decker lead vocals. Their storytelling itch, sense of mischief and enjoyment of each other’s company just glows out of both of these video clips below:



 

Dates are as follows:

  • The Brook, 466 Portswood Rd, Southampton, SO17 3SD, England, Thursday 21st April 2016
  • The Cellar, Frewin Court, Oxford, OX1 3HZ, England, Friday 22nd April 2016
  • Islington Assembly Hall, Upper Street, London, N1 2UD, England, Saturday 23rd April 2016, 7.00pm (with United Sounds Of Joy)
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EJ, England, Sunday 24th April 2016
  • The Apex, 1 Charter Square, Bury Saint Edmunds, IP33 3FD, England, Tuesday 26th April 2016
  • The Dark Horse, Alcester Road, Moseley, Birmingham, B13 8JP, England, Wednesday 27th April 2016, 7.00pm (with Marcus Bonfanti + The Dirty Old Folkers)more information
  • The Musician, 42 Crafton St West, Leicester, LE1 2DE, England, Thursday 28th April 2016
  • The Mash House, Hastie’s Close, 37 Guthrie Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1JQ, Scotland, Friday 29th April 2016 (with Colour Trap)more information
  • The Duchess, Stonebow House, The Stonebow, York, YO1 7NP, England, Tuesday 3rd May 2016 (support tbc) – more information
  • The Greystones, Greystones Road, Sheffield, S11 7BS, England, Wednesday 4th May 2016
  • Band On The Wall, 25 Swan Street, The Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 5JZ, England, Thursday 5th May 2016 (support t.b.c.) – more information
  • The Convent, Convent Lane, Stroud, GL5 5HS, England, Friday 6th May 2016more information
  • The Tolmen Centre, Fore Street, Constantine, near Falmouth, TR11 5AA, England, Saturday 7th May 2016, 7.30pmmore information

As with Michael Chapman, the support slot arrangements fan out over a diverse range of styles: in fact, even more diverse than the Chapman tour. The London gig features United Sounds Of Joy, the slow-burn sensual pop-noir duo reuniting Michael J. Sheehy and Alex Vald (who, during the 1990s, alternately spat savage vindictive rock filth or crooned a creased and seedy London romanticism with Dream City Film Club).



 

At Birmingham, support comes from straightahead London blues guitarist Marcus Bonfanti and from wisecracking locals The Dirty Old Folkers (who describe themselves as “a Viz comic, being narrated by the Pogues” and deliver a raucous, sometimes smutty set which might be good-time but which still draws heavily on bad times and working-class resilience).



 

In Edinburgh, Moulettes are joined by local trad-indie rockers Colour Trap, who look back to golden-age British rock and Britpop scenes of the ‘60s and ‘90s.

 

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