Tag Archives: The Hangover Lounge (event) – London – England

January 2016 – upcoming gigs (mostly London) – Daylight Music brings classical on the 23rd (Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Experience Ensemble/Roger Doyle/Ok Bertie!/Jim Bishop) and pop on the 30th (The Wave Pictures/The Leaf Library/Citizen Helene); Martin Creed/William D. Drake/Stephen Evens in Brixton; jazz/Indo/groove/lyrical shapes at Cafe Oto with Emanative & Collocutor Duo/Earl Zinger/Sarathy Korwar/Sealionwoman; Medway garage, film snaps, Paris pop and hauntological folk in Putney (The Senior Service/French Boutik/Of Arrowe Hill). Plus Nerve Toy Trio in Warrington.

22 Jan

This should be the last of the January gig updates, though I always speak too soon… Don’t forget that The Bleeding Hearts Club Winter Escape is still on in Brighton on the 23rd.

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Daylight Music 212

(Daylight Music presents)
Daylight Music 212 – Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Experience Ensemble + Roger Doyle + Ok Bertie! + Jim Bishop
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 23rd January 2016, 12.00pm
– free entry – more information

“Three decades ago, a group of London musicians took a good look at that curious institution we call the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and decided to start again from scratch. The Ann & Peter Law Experience Scheme gives talented young musicians a chance to perform with the Orchestra. In this concert the musicians on the scheme perform together, by themselves, for the first time, just a few weeks after finishing at the OAE Academy. It looks as if we’re going to be treated to some Haydn (Symphony No. 85 ‘La Reine’, the nickname originating because the work was a favorite of Marie Antoinette) plus the Romance written by his original London sponsor, Johann Peter Salomon.

Roger Doyle is known for his pioneering work as composer of electronic music. He has worked extensively in theatre, film and dance, in particular with the music-theatre company Operating Theatre, which he co-founded.

Ok Bertie is the moniker of Robert Szymanek, a singer-songwriter, composer, and visual artist living in London. Bertie’s debut album of songs is called ‘Music From A Crowded Planet’, and is due for release in 2016. It’s accompanied by the ground breaking Crowded Planet iOS app, created in collaboration with developer Matthew Hasler.

Sonic Brute mainstay Jim Bishop will also join us to take the Henry Willis organ out for a spin and bring us some time travel themed melodies: it’s time to go Bach to the Future!”

…or in my case, back to the past. Jim Bishop was at University with me long ago, and set some of my words to music for a body-issues revue at the Edinburgh Fringe. Jaunty.

More Daylight news further down…

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Martin Creed/William D. Drake/Stephen Evens, 26th January 2016

(Brixton Hill Studios presents)
Martin Creed & His Band + William D. Drake + Stephen Evens
The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England
Tuesday 26th January 2016, 8.00pm
more information

“As part of Independent Venue Week, tonight our lovely neighbours Brixton Hill Studios take over the venue with some special guests!

Perhaps best known for winning the Turner Prize back in 2001, Martin Creed has been actively making music since the early ’90s. Creed writes direct, compelling songs with the ability to both perturb and amuse. Think the rhythmic punk of Ian Dury and the wit and pop nous of Glasgow’s Postcard Records. He has released records on both Moshi Moshi and his own Telephone Records label.

 
William D. Drake is a keyboardist, pianist, composer and singer-songwriter. He is best known as a former member of the cult English rock band Cardiacs, whom he played with for nine years between 1983 and 1992. He has also been a member of The Sea Nymphs, North Sea Radio Orchestra, Nervous, Wood, Lake of Puppies and The Grown-Ups, as well as pursuing a career as a solo artist. His fifth album ‘Revere Reach’ came out in summer 2015.

Armed with a battered guitar, a Casiotone and a few pedals, Stephen Evens (better known as Steve “Stuffy” Gilchrist, erstwhile leader of Stuffy/The Fuses and drummer with Graham Coxon, Cardiacs, Charlotte Hatherley and The Scaramanga Six) presents songs that mix the likes of Yo La Tengo & Ivor Cutler with broken friendships and human error.”

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Emanative Collocutor Duo, 2015

(Baba Yaga’s Hut presents)
Emanative & Collocutor Duo featuring Earl Zinger + Sarathy Korwar + Sealionwoman (+ more tbc)
Cafe Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Friday 29th January 2016, 8.00pm
more information

Baba Yaga’s Hut bring us an evening of cosmic jazz explorations.

Emanative & Collocutor Duo is a teamup between saxophonist/flautist Tamar Osborn and drummer/mixologist Nick Woodmansey. Tamar’s history includes work with Africa Express, Dele Sosimi and The Fontanelles: she currently leads eclectic, hypnotic modal septet Collocutor (with Josephine Davies, Simon Finch, Marco Piccioni, Suman Joshi, Maurizio Ravalico and Afla Sackey) which mixes jazz and minimalism with Afrobeat and Ethiopian ideas, Indian classical and polyphonic choral music. In recent years, Nick’s work as leader of the Emanative project has seen him take the helm for British cosmic jazz. The Duo allows Nick and Tamar to take and blend aspects and ideas from both projects in a slimmer, tighter context. Guesting with the Duo on chants and vocals is Earl Zinger, the reggae-toaster-inspired alter ego of acid-jazz veteran and former Galliano frontman Rob Gallagher (whose post-Galliano work has included jazz band Two Banks Of Four and who’s also currently working as William Adamson).

Three tastes of the project are below – a duo version of Albert Ayler/Mary Maria Parks’ ‘Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe’;an Emanative remix of a Collocutor track; and an Emanative track from last year with strong Collocutor contributions.



This is (I think) the second gig for the Duo – there’s been at least one other well-received show in July 2015, at The Waiting Room in Stoke Newington). That gig also featured Sealionwoman, the playful, driving voice-and-double-bass duo whose shape-changing jazz and blues songs have enchanted ‘Misfit City’ for several years now. They’re making a return appearance at this gig too. (Here’s my my 2013 eyewitness account of them, again; plus a chunk of video from the very same show.)

In between Sealionwoman and the Duo comes Indian classical/fusion percussionist Sarathy Korwar. Dividing his time between London and Pune, Sarathy trained as both tabla and drum kit player and specialises in applying Indian classical rhythmic ideas to non-Indian percussion instruments, blending in aspects of improvisation and intuition.

More people may be added to the bill at the last moment…

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Daylight Music 213

(Daylight Music & The Hangover Lounge present)
Daylight Music 213: The Wave Pictures, The Leaf Library + Citizen Helene
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 30th January 2016, 12.00pm
– free entry – more information

The Wave Pictures will be launching their brand new, vinyl-only album ‘A Season In Hull’ at the Union Chapel on 30th January. The album was recorded on acoustic guitars in one room, with a bunch of their friends, live in to one microphone on singer Dave Tattersall’s birthday, January 28th, 2015. The songs were written as quickly as possible and the recording captures that specific moment in all its spontaneous, thrilling and immediate glory. As Tattersall elaborates: ‘That’s what this is – a one-microphone happy birthday recording.’

London quintet The Leaf Library (who create “droney, two-chord pop that’s stuck halfway between the garage and the bedroom, all topped with lyrical love songs to buildings, stationery and the weather”) have just released their debut full-length album ‘Daylight Versions’. The record is full of wonderfully woozy, drone-pop tunes about meteorology, the seasons and the incoming sea; from songs about the ghostly Suffolk coastline to the slowly rising waters of London marshes.

Citizen Helene is a singer, songwriter and guitarist from London whose blend of sunshine pop, psychedelic folk and jazz has been described as ‘baroque and beautiful’ by Darian Sahanaja (of the Brian Wilson band) and ‘like the love child of Karen Carpenter and Brian Wilson’ by ‘Word’ magazine.”

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On the evening of the same Saturday, there’s an evening with shades of garage, mod, Parisiana and spooky folk.

(Retro Man Blog & Damaged Goods Records present)
The Senior Service + French Boutik + Of Arrowe Hill
The Half Moon
, 93 Lower Richmond Road, Putney, London SW15 1EU, London, England
Saturday January 30th 2016, 7.30pm)
more information

Playing ‘60s-styled instrumentals, The Senior Service feature four musicians who, between them, have moved through many of the garage bands from the Medway scene – including The Prisoners, The James Taylor Quartet, The Solarflares, The Masonics, and assorted Billy Childish bands. Jon Barker (Hammond organ), Graham Day (guitar), Darryl Hartley (bass guitar) and Wolf Howard (drums) are inspired by John Barry/Ennio Morricone/Barry Gray soundtracks, Stax rhythm’n’blues (Booker T & The MGs) and early Mod (Small Faces). Damaged Goods Records release their debut single, Depth Charge, this month (with a full album to follow).

Senior Service/French Boutik/Of Arrowe Hill @ The Half Moon, Putney, 30th January 2016
In support are French Boutik, who (inspired by their Paris home) blend ideas from 1960s French pop such as Serge Gainsbourg and Yé-yé with classic Motown and Burt Bacharach, all with a modernist pop twist.

Opening the evening are Of Arrowe Hill – Adam Easterbrook’s “hauntological” rock group who are now midway through their second decade of work. Expect their usual mix of country blues and acid folk with lo-fi psychedelia, with Adam backed by ex-Aardvarks rhythm section Ian O’Sullivan and Jason Hobart.

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Finally, further north (much further north) there’s this:

(Marpexke Productions presents)
Nerve Toy Trio
The Saracen’s Head, 381 Wilderspool Causeway, Warrington, WA4 6RS, England
Saturday 30th January 2016, 9.00pm

Nerve Toy Trio, 30th January 2016Nerve Toy Trio (guitarist Tony Harn, bass player/pedalist David Jones and drummer Howard Jones) are playing their first gig of the year, back in their hometown. Although I’ve posted about Tony before (covering his first three albums as a solo player – start here and work backwards) I don’t think I’ve posted about the Trio before. All are veterans of an underrated and overlooked Warrington art-rock scene of the 1980s which (although notable for launching Tim Bowness) was squeezed between and overshadowed by neighbouring ferments in Manchester and Liverpool. They spin out an echoed, textured fusion-rock which spans from delightfully airy to tight-and-bumptious, and which thrives on understated juxtapositions which are always earnest, cheeky or interesting, – setting a pinch of Hendrix squall against Cheshire pastoralism; Pat Metheny harmonic glitter alongside romantic Steve Hackett peals; Rush power riffage in alternation with Robin Guthrie spangle.

With their melodic, rococo flourishes and outright proggy roots, sometimes the Trio come across as uncertain time travellers – hopping and picking across four decades of art rock and fusion while still ultimately homesick for the treasures of their teenage listening – but for me that just adds to their charm. The clip below shows their mellower side and a flash of their muscle: the gig’s in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support if that’s any more of a draw. Nerve Toy Trio still seem like a band who’ve not quite found their audience yet. If you’ve read this far and are still interested, perhaps it’s you they’re looking for.

 

Upcoming London gigs this weekend – Daylight Music on Saturday (with Lucy Claire & Imogen Bland/HART/Thomas Stone/Laish); Hangover Lounge on Sunday (David Callahan/The Left Outsides)

25 Jun

Two good-looking free gigs from Daylight Music and The Hangover Lounge are happening in London over the weekend. Details below.

Daylight Music 195: Lucy Claire & Imogen Bland + HART + Thomas Stone, with Laish (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN – Saturday 27th June, 12pm to 2pm) 

A Daylight Music exclusive, with the premier performance of musician Lucy Claire and dancer/choreographer Imogen Bland’s ‘Moon/Yew‘. The pair present a stark and beautiful music-and-movement exploration of Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Moon and the Yew Tree’. The music is a mix of classical ambience, field recordings and glitchy electronics. An ethereal atmospheric sound, warm and comforting yet strange and haunting with choreography telling a tale of isolation, ritualistic acts and unclear paths ahead. It’s the first time that Daylight has welcomed a dancer to the stage, making this an even more special occasion.*

HART is the ethereal shoe-gazing dream-pop/folk project of singer/songwriter Daniel Pattison. His debut EP is out in May 2015 and features string arrangements from the acclaimed American composer Nico Muhly.

Thomas Stone creates his immersive music using contrabassoon, samplers and activated percussion, exploring themes of ritual and presence while blurring the boundaries of electronic and acoustic sound production. An enforced simplicity runs throughout the compositions – long tones underpinning slowly evolving motifs punctuated by cyclic rhythms, and gentle dissonances breaking to moments of fragile beauty.

In between the main performances this week will be shorter ones from Daniel Green, a.k.a. Laish.  A member of Brighton-based acoustic revivalists The Willkommen Collective, he’s made a name for himself as a writer and deliverer of captivating stories in song: on this occasion, however, he’ll be treating us to improvised guitar sets.

There’s a Soundcloud preview here.

Free entry, but donations are (as ever) encouraged.

Up-to-date information on the event is here.

* Actually, it’s not the first time – they had a flamenco dancer onstage last year with Ida y Vuelta. It says a lot about just how much happens at Daylight Music that they can actually forget things like that while writing their own blurb.

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In spite of fairly frequent visits to Daylight Music, so far I’ve not made it down the road to visit the affiliated Hangover Lounge (part distant cousin, part slightly-more-rumpled neighbour). If they’re going to put on more free bills like the one on this Sunday, I’ll have to make more of an effort.

David Callahan + The Left-Outsides @ The Hangover Lounge, 28th June 2015

David Callahan + The Left Outsides (The Hangover Lounge @ The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9JB, Sunday 28th June 2015, 3.00pm – free)

David Callahan is best known as the frontman – or co-frontman – of two bands. The first of these, The Wolfhounds, was a mid-’80s post-punk band associated (for good or ill) with NME’s infamous C86 cassette to which they contributed alongside The Wedding Present, a young Primal Scream, The Pastels and others. While C86 set up and juxtaposed what were to become British indie archetypes (on the one side a parochial pop of jangling guitars and under-achievement, on the other an abrasive noisiness and surreal tendencies), The Wolfhounds were always a cut above, aided by a jagged garage-noisy way with a melody and their broader conceptual focus, plus David’ smart pointed way with a lyric and his arresting vocal (a precise, razoring punk sneer a few shades away from bitter blues – imagine a less theatrical Matt Johnson, if that helps). ‘If You Know What I Mean’ has described them as “the Stooges tempered by Big Star poetics” – read some more about that here.

Much of this carried over into David’s next project, Moonshake: one of a number of diverse but loosely-affiliated East London post-rock and indietronica bands (also including Stereolab, Disco Inferno, Bark Psychosis and A.R. Kane) who, for a few years, vigorously stripped out and rebooted pop and rock forms with experimental techniques. For the first few Moonshake albums (an exciting mangle of dub bass, guitar-noise and sample barrages owing equal amounts to hip hop and musique concrete), David worked in an exciting, two-headed arrangement with an equally distinctive singer-songwriter, Margaret Fiedler. When this ended in acrimony (and after Margaret wheeled away with half of the band to form Laika), David led Moonshake on his own for two further albums, adopting an increasingly cinematic and introspective approach (I’ve got a review of the last one here).

Since reuniting with a reinvigorated Wolfhounds in 2005 (a belated reunion album, ‘Middle Aged Freaks’, arrived nine years later), David has reverted to a more guitar-based sound but continued to write and record, with his broad and trenchant perspective intact. This Sunday’s solo appearance looks as if it’s going to be a rare acoustic set from him – featuring “all-new songs, sometimes in funny tunings” – but as he recently dug out his old Moonshake sampler for work with Manyfingers, he might surprise us with something a little more torrential and noisy.

I know less about the opening act, The Left Outsides, so the following is stolen straight from their Facebook page:

The Left Outsides are Mark Nicholas and Alison Cotton, a duo from Walthamstow, London who have been playing together since the winter of 2003. Both are former members of The Eighteenth Day of May and Mark is a former member of acid expressionists Of Arrowe Hill. Alison’s considerable viola skills have been put to good use in numerous bands including Saloon and Mathew Sawyer & The Ghosts. Their debut EP ‘Leaving The Frozen Butterflies Behind’ was released on the I Wish I Was Unpopular label in January 2006 and their album (titled ‘And Colours In Between’) was released in May 2007 on Transistor Records. A live album titled ‘Live At The Drop Out’ was self-released in January 2008. A 7″ single ‘The Third Light’ was released on the Hi-Beat Records label in July 2008. The Left Outsides are currently awaiting the release of their most recent album.

Up-to-date information on the Hangover Lounge gig is here.

CONCERT REVIEW – half of a Lost Weekend – Daylight Music presents The Middle Ones/Freschard/The Pictish Trail @ Union Chapel, Islington, London, 18th January 2014 (“the weekend swallowed us”)

21 Sep

What a pulsating Union Chapel hangover might be like...

What a pulsating Union Chapel hangover might be like…

You reckon that lost weekends are just for drunks? Try parenthood. Joyous as it may be, it can also be a swirl of cash-and time-poverty, torn-up plans, and utter confusion, much of which homes in on the weekend and turns it upside down. It’s the same, I tell you. The smear of lost hours, the existential dread, the sensation that you’ve fallen into a pocket outside of the real world; not to mention the worry that you won’t make it through to the end…

Regular ‘Misfit City’ readers know that my family and I tend to use Daylight Music’s Saturday concert afternoons (at the Union Chapel, up in the neck of Islington), as a way of finding ourselves again and of giving our weekends a bit of shape. Child-friendly and refreshing – and free – it’s something of a life-saver. So here we are again, slightly blurred and bleary. On this occasion, Daylight Music are doing their own Lost Weekend, teaming up with musical-comedown club The Hangover Lounge (another cultured and kid-friendly free event a few streets away in Pentonville) for a concert which sprawls over two days rather than one. Sounds interesting. Let’s see what we can make of it, starting at the Chapel… and come on, I shouldn’t be moaning. Just in order to be here, everyone playing today has travelled a lot further than we have.

Take the two women who make up The Middle Ones. Originally from different bits of the north of England, Anna Nols (voice, guitar, knee-socks) and Grace Denton (voice, occasional accordion, sceptical warmth) met up in Norwich, over to the east. These days, they’re separated between east and west – while Anna’s stayed put, Grace now lives and works in Bristol. Any Middle Ones activity now must involve clambering into a bus, a train or a tiny car, then driving a couple of hundred miles (quite a substantial, exciting deal in a country the size of England), and piling straight into playing or recording.

Anna Nols of The Middle Ones.

Anna Nols of The Middle Ones.

They don’t let this slow them down. I suspect that they thrive on it. If it turns out that Grace and Anna are smart, economical and unromantic (the kind of band who just email each other soundfiles over their iPhones) I’ll be broken-hearted. I prefer to think of The Middle Ones as being as spontaneous and goofy as their onstage chemistry suggests, like a happy hen-party stumbling across a pier. Beneath the horseplay, just as affectionate and committed to each other as they ever were, even if they now live leagues and leagues apart.

On record Anna and Grace are artful, exploratory and spontaneous, recording ad-hoc and lo-fi in churches, kitchens and staircases. Wrapped and soused in ingenious bumblescapes and immediate invention, their songs embrace slopped kitchen metals, slurred kid’s-band horns, and drunken drones, staggering enthusiastically through their rumpled mixes. Live, The Middle Ones trim themselves back to semi-acoustica: just an enthusiastic down-strummed indie guitar, that accordion and the sweet undubbed snag of their paired voices.

That Faust/Raincoats side to their work takes a back seat as a consequence, but another strand from their skein jumps right up to take its place. It’s the post-punk folkswoman tradition: the one which ladders down through Marine Girls, Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays, the fizzing, intermittent charms of The Bush The Tree & Me and many others. Anna and Grace might be less finessed than any of the above, but they make a virtue out of it. Gawky and charming, they twinkle at the Chapel’s imposing space; chuckle about their own shyness; lose track of their thoughts, and make jokes about being hemmed in by the mikes.

Grace Denton of The Middle Ones.

Grace Denton of The Middle Ones.

If that makes The Middle One sound like a pair of simpering dollies, you’re getting the wrong idea. When they stumble and laugh, I see no defensive, please-like-me gush; no apologies for being on a bigger stage than they think they deserve. I see two women well aware of how ludicrous performance can be, and of the inevitable clumsiness of gestures under a spotlight. I see them accept and forgive it all, happy to be nobody’s stars and nobody’s muses. Here’s a particularly female state of mind in which everything is both serious and funny at the same time, and where fresh insight sprouts in fertile terrain far away from narcissism. (As a dogged, navel-gazing writerbloke I’ve got to confess that I envy it.)

Their onstage demeanour, in fact, reveals what they’re really about as artists as well as performers. As they gently josh or beam at each other – or bend double over a shared joke – their songs celebrate the spectrum of sympathy and friendship in all of its impossibility, unlikeliness, awkward junctures and rebounding. In Quite Something (an indie jig underpinned and smeared about with Grace’s wayward accordion), they chew this over, singing “My lover, my love in a hundred different ways. / Still, you’re right – we could never quite both be the same.” Another song deals with the fluttering nerves of a faltering first date: cutting rapidly between the viewpoints of boy and girl, it puts them and their choices into a perspective of unrolling time. “She is lying on the grass, with her arm across her waist, / she is trying to be brave but I know what she won’t say… I don’t want to look back and think ‘why didn’t I say that?’ / I don’t want to look back and think ‘I should have shown him that – I should have shown him more.’”

Anna and Grace sing about the saddest or sweetest of things with the same bright earnestness. It makes them look straightforward. Actually, it distracts from their complexities. Like plenty of songwriters (or short-story stylists, come to that) The Middle Ones deal mostly with variants of the same situation, but shift around the factors – characters, memory, the weather. “This is something like faith, but a bit more real-life,” they announce on Courage, a clarion call for passion on the upswing. “It is the rehearsal that will make this – / we were not born to fit together. / Sleeping side by side, occasionally entwined, / there is a design but it’s not so divine… I like to see your name written down, the warmth is folding round… / looks like you’re coming home with me.” As regards relationships what seems to fascinate them is not so much individual feelings but the way in which people overlap and merge, sometimes imperfectly, sometimes not. At one point, they sing “we are two thoughts that fade together,” and this idea of wobbly unity is reflected in the way their voices interlace: an untutored, empathic harmony.

In the lyrics, this can become an echo of overlapped, stumbling thoughts. Upbeat and enthused – positively illuminated – I Liked You Straight Away sees their singing become a shingled babble of thoughts and joy-jets. “I liked you straight away (who wouldn’t?) / I like to think I’d say (I suddenly) / knew there’d come a day when I would think of little… yes,/ but how the light (a miracle) / round your mouth and eyes (a miracle) / make me sad, and I will always find something… / In supermarket aisles I’ll see you / laugh to look like fire (I’m dancing). / Dearest friend of mine, you were a perfect stranger – / I wish that I could see / the moment when it first hit me.” As it peaks, the song races away in a delighted game of shifting grammar and ecstatic time-travelling adoration, while Grace and Anna frisk onstage. “Oh, love, I should have known it then. / Love, I should have known you then. / Oh, love, didn’t I know back then. / Love, if I had know you then.”

The Middle Ones.

The Middle Ones.

While The Middle Ones are great at sprinkling insight into this breathless, puppy-tumbling eroticism, they’re just as good when tackling other kinds of involvement. Portraying a younger woman’s friendship with an elderly man (on Young Explorer), they work out its strands and its development without ever needing to hammer home detail. They don’t reveal whether he’s friend, neighbour or relative. What’s important is that he’s one of her fixtures – one who’s about to be swallowed by time, one who’ll be missed. “I thought the old houses would all fall down / I thought the cobblestones would surely overturn / before they came and took and moved you out / to someone else’s road, / and someone else’s strange white clothes.” Over the course of the song, an initial childlike affection shades into deeper understanding (“your clever words struggled to be heard, / but your eyes still shine like in older times / when you were crossing borders, stranger waters … / With your luggage tied around the handle bars, / you don’t know where you’re going but you’re headed pretty far,”) and eventually an unexpected torch is passed as his long-ago young-man’s efforts inspire her own present-day awakening. Empathy blossoms like roses in the final harmonies: while the sentences tumble, the joy and fellow-feeling are daylight-clear. “The words, these are the words that you said. / Here we stand, up, up here, / and I can see you. / I can see you from up, up here. / I can see, oh / so much more now.”

Again and again, The Middle Ones’ songs delve into time – its chemistry and alterations, its revelations and decodings. In Hannah, they look at long-standing female friendships and how they simultaneously decay and sustain themselves: Passing years, marked through correspondence, see illnesses wax and wane, marriages arrive, and old bonds gradually fade to early chapters. “You’re the sweetest girl I’ve ever known… / I know you have shaped me, / just like I know we both keep changing, / but I’ll always be grateful – but I was twenty, and with you… I looked at myself and I saw you.”

Ironic, then, that Anna and Grace seem so untouched by time themselves. Edging towards their thirties, each woman still looks and acts like the half of the undergraduate duo they once were. Anna – pencil-slender, blinking and beaming through her glasses as she pecks happily away at her guitar – is the spit’n’archetype of the bohemian homespinner: all thrift-shop ingenuity, universally adored. Keying the accordion while punctuating the songs with delicate frowns and bursts of baffled humour, Grace is her unlikely travelling companion: the Thirties screen-queen lookalike, the one who’d frankly rather be Anna’s kind of bohemian. All of this might be camouflage for those keen songwriting minds – but I think not. For all of their onstage bumps and stumbles, they seem so comfortable in their skins that I can’t see it as anything other than genuine. They’re the odd couple who turn out to be the natural couple. They’ve come a long way. I can imagine them still travelling it, still chuckling along it, in fifty years time, with purple ribbons threaded into the accordion.

Plenty of hints are dropped today that most of the crowd has come for Clémence Freschard. I can see why. She ticks plenty of boxes for the kind of person who carefully, calculatedly chooses cooler brands of cigarette and songwriter. Her personal travelogue alone (which stretches from her beginnings in rural France through Parisian trottoirs, a spell in New York as a Brooklyner, and her present-day arty-émigré berth in Berlin) is more than enough to tickle the taste of a landlocked London hipster.

Clemence Freschard.

Clémence Freschard.

Added to that, there’s her lean, quiet singing – with its slight falling quality and its accented European English – and her eerie agelessness, in which those glints in her fall of bark-brown hair could be spotlight reflections or strands of early silver. Most of all, there’s her imperturbable presence. She delivers few, if any stage announcements. She doesn’t try to win us over with jokes. Whichever scenarios are played out in her lyrics (and, by implication, in her history) never ruffle her still expression. In both person and in song, she suggests an apparently blank slate – one which slowly and softly reveals its secret etchings.

Yet though she’s doll-like in her impassivity, she’s certainly not trying to be anyone’s toy. I couldn’t really call her Stepfordian (any more than I could call her Clémence – that “Freschard” mask is a perfect fit) but there’s an eerie automatic quality to her movements and playing, and to the mood that she projects. She smiles quite often. Her gaze maintains a bright, slightly absent sheen throughout her set, only warming a little when she spots a songwriter ally up in the gallery and invites him to sing along with her.

I remember that Laurie Anderson once described herself as a spy. It’s tempting to wonder whether Freschard might be following the same path. It’s certainly easy to imagine her sitting motionless in the same chair forever, with people coming and going around her in a shuffled, speeded blur, while all of the time she’s watching, observing.

Clemence Freschard.

Freschard – the impassive spy.

Sometimes she seems to be nothing but poise. Minus even the minimal arrangements of her records (the clipped touches of horn and mandriola, the bare and drowsy bossa percussion) she’s left with the classic, cloudy ring of her black guitar and those slight, faint-lined songs. Even these seem to have carefully combed and stripped before she came to play. Everything deemed surplus to requirement has long since floated away; unregarded; long stray hairs of songcraft coiling off, abandoned, on silent air currents.

It’s often difficult to make out what she’s left behind to hold on to. There’s plenty of falling rain, for sure, and plenty of inbetween moments. Too much of either, in fact. Aimless, distracted and lonely, I Miss You leans on First Avenue scenery for support, but does nothing with it. When Freschard murmurs about swamp water, dry whisky, Cajun stations and woozy kisses (on Sweet Sweet South) it feels as if she’s listlessly shuffling through antique Dixie postcards in a flea market before dropping them back, unbought. When she attempts to conjure the ennui of abandonment via a song about drumming fingers and staring out of windows, she skirts self-parody.

Angel finally tips the scale from delicate to dreary. Probably it’s a love song; perhaps something more morbid and sinister; but as its grey lines meander tiredly and tracelessly through my attention, it feels the same either way. That’s hard to forgive. Sometime it seems as if Freschard is no more than we choose to project onto her; and that if we really got bored, she might just cruise to a halt, staring blankly ahead until we had another idea.

Gradually, as better songs and better implications make a virtue of that impassive calm, she becomes more compelling. She begins to draw me into her unrippled world: one tune, mingling drowsy funk and Russian folk tune (dotted with hums and a languid hint of sex) curls insistently around my ears like a preening cat. Another – Boom Biddy Boom – maps eerie Eastern European folk inflections onto old rhythm-and-blues bop. It’s part-Diddley, part-John Lee Hooker, and either would have added a twist of salaciousness or solace to the swing. Freschard plays it as blank as a catwalk dancer, as a sleight-of-sashay, presenting fleeting and enigmatic visions of desperation in between the sways. “But’s and no, yes’es and no’es, / her hands on her hips, here she goes… / She’s a shout, she’s mighty fine. / Spit it out – she’s dynamite… / She’s sick sometime, / bound to lose. / Didn’t choose, didn’t plan. / Get the bouncing shoes… / It’s easy to start, it’s easy to let go. / Cross my heart, kiss my elbow.”

Wit and wickedness are welcome developments, and Freschard’s songs pick up when she allows herself to exercise them. Inside the thrumming pulse of Investigate, she probes themes of faithlessness and obsession with dry, vengeful precision. “When I’m not sleuthing, I’m gumshoe-ing, / I follow your every movement… / You think murder is my favourite crime, because it’s different every time / I have to tell you that’s not true / I just guess who loves who.” Fans and skeptics alike warm up a little. Her faint smile turns a little more mischievous.

But it’s two other songs that really slip out from beneath Freschard’s imperturbable gloss, fleshing out her stillness while making the best use of it. Where Did You Go – agoraphobic and lonely, absent and chilling – suggests that quietness is sometimes a deflated scream. “Household’s dry / like a river run dry… / I keep heading for the window like a locked-up fly, / with the birds buzzing in my head,” she sighs, with tired dysfunctionality seeping out from every line. “Didn’t make a difference – just to know,” she admits, before murmuring “I hit my head on the window pane” over and over again; a deadened mantra of acceptance. The song winds towards a conclusion of utter pathos – “if you come back I’ll put on an act, and you will never see / how I’ve fallen apart, and how sentimental I can be.” If you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss the vein of madness in the unmoving flesh, the pool of darkness spreading underneath the song. But then, that’s the point.

On her set-closer, High Tides, Freschard leafs through bittersweet recent memories, mapping the last dissolving phase of a love affair in which people fade from being ex-lovers to baffled friends grown thin and insubstantial. Shuffling disappointments without slipping under them, the song suggests a shaping, an accommodation; something to help with living alongside the letdowns. “You let salt water come between us. / We haven’t been wet; salt’s for peanuts,” she chides, softly. “But you know what? I don’t mind. / At least we cared, at least we tried.” Drawing happier times into the present, she lets them slip and fade away into a wistful dusk. “Told me, when you came around, my sun was sinking into the ground. / I found it cute, but it was true. / I thought of my first trip with you, / and the part I liked the most was the drive along the coast. / The driver’s jokes, the rear-view glances – / he called us ‘Mr and Mrs.’”

What’s left are those small signs of regret, the other small signs of tenderness, and in them there’s a kind of forgiveness. “Cleaning out my closet, I found your shirt / I wondered whose it was at first – / and when I go to bed, I wear it. / I know it’s strange, but I like the smell of it.” She breathes in and, at last, breaches her facade for us.

“There’ll be a lot of miserable songs,” warns Johnny Lynch, about a third of the way into his set. He eyes us – mock-beady, mock-bullish – over his tuning pegs. “I’m in a foul mood. I’m taking it out on you. If I’ve made one person cry, it’s been worth it.”

The Pictish Trail.

Johnny Lynch, a.k.a, The Pictish Trail.

We Londoners are happy to lap up Freschard’s blend of continental mystique and Brooklyn cool, but we’re also suckers for this kind of thing. Contrary to what you’d believe, we love being the butt of classic passive-aggressive Scottish wit… just as long as it growls at us with a twinkle in its eye. Johnny’s already got us in the palm of his hand, and he knows it. You’d expect the man behind The Pictish Trail‘s lo-fi folktronica to be shy and hunched. Instead, he’s ebullient – a natural, friendly showman who squanders half of his set on stand-up comedy and comes off none the worst for it.

The lone bloke on the bill today, he’s a manic sweating ball of cheerful energy: a short-legged fisherman figure, bobble-hatted, bristling of beard, remarkably charismatic. He’s dressed less for the Chapel’s mild wintery chill than for stiff sea breezes. He teases us with wry digressions. We tease him with friendly heckles, which he cheerfully fields and slings back at us. It feels as if we’re in a conspiracy together. He might want to make us blub, but he’s also got some bobble-hats to sell us; and, perhaps, some more things to share.

Having spent a heroic decade up in Fife (helping his erstwhile buddy King Creosote to run the D-I-Y folk initiative Fence Collective), Johnny moved on a year or so ago when the wheels came off Fence’s cart. Precisely what happened, and who’s in or out (or indeed, exactly what “out” means) is still a little vague – a gentleman’s disagreement, it seems, involving a metaphorical exchange of keys and a certain amount of clumping around before it was settled. Now Johnny’s on the other side of Scotland: settled on the Isle of Eigg, building his own house and his own new label, Lost Map. Expect no backbiting. Any scars from Fence seem to have been shrugged off. He’d prefer to show us his engagement ring, joke about London trains, and enthuse about Reeves and Mortimer’s bollock-tugging. He seems to enjoy sharing. Johnny’s come the best part of six hundred miles to entertain us for free. He seems happy with that too.

Cheerfulness – even that particular, mordant, Scottish cheerfulness-with-an-edge – isn’t something you’d usually associate with The Pictish Trail. On record, Johnny squashes cheap, startling synth-and-drumbox noises into his homemade recordings, ending up just as crumpled and experimental as The Middle Ones are. Suggestive and disfocussed, Pictish songs usually sound as if they’ve been recorded onto rubberized burlap. Blipping, spurting, gacking and murmuring from the shadows, they’re often both sinister and exhausted. When Johnny rolls them out in this more portable live setup (just voice and steel-string guitar) he has to steer them back towards traditional singer-songwriter territory. Fortunately, they make the crossing with some of their eerie magic intact. Settling back onto the barer uplands of acoustic folk, they touch down lightly but tellingly: a drift of plastic supermarket bags with freshly-scrawled stories on them.

Johnny’s voice – a high, carrying thing – comes across far better than it does when it has to wend its way through the fuzz and interruptions of his gizmos. It lifts and drops like a dying wind, going from thistledown-tender to elevated keen. While this wood-and-bare-wires version of his work has a few stray echoes of John Martyn in its brooding fingerpicking dynamism (and in Johnny’s own stealthy charisma) he shares with Alisdair Roberts a reluctance to play the polished singer-entertainer offering up something bonneted and twee, preferring instead to go and dig for ghost-songs and ancient patterns and to float them back into the present. I can also hear faint echoes of the Celtic impressionism which feeds, variously, Van Morrison, The Bathers and The Blue Nile – songs evanescing out into misty thinness without ever losing their emotional impact; or those deliberate, savouring steps that Johnny takes away from the expected path or the finishing point. It’s also there in that dusting of pervasive melancholia, settling without ever hardening into crude sentimental crusts.

Banter aside, Johnny’s working in serious territory. His songs carry plenty in them – much of it sorrowful – but much of it contained in verbal texture and suggestion rather than a straightforward lyric. He gives us deliberately blurred, inconclusive tales and narratives, dissolved down to elusive scraps and evocative fragments. Often, the songs seem to be rolling over in bed, as if driven by unquiet sleep. The Handstand Crowd, a sad soft account of isolation (“a party that everyone’s going to… / I’m staying at home… / you shouldn’t expect the worst, / it’s what you deserve,”) gradually deepens from its lonesome indie-folk mope and saturates with hallucinatory paranoia, like a napkin filling with dark water. “I can’t hide – / there’s no reason to your shadows closing in. /Oh, sordid silhouettes appear tonight… / he is tapping at my window.”

Johnny Lynch, a.k.a. The Pictish Trail.

Pictish brood.

Earlier on, Johnny’s been singing unsettling suggestions which spiral straight out of childhood nightmares – “You know what’s good for you? /To leave the puppets in their cupboard with white sheets around their stomachs, / like they’re standing up in bed – are you sure they’re not dead?” Getting through these hauntings seems to be the greatest triumph (“Good morning, I don’t care… / I’m still alive, / I’ve waited the longest night.”) A little later, Johnny will introduce The Lighthouse as a tale “about a lighthouse keeper – he starts turning off the light and watching people die.” We chuckle along with him at the cheesy Gothic suspense story this brings to mind. The song – when it arrives – is a vision of the paralysis which chews away at a person’s responsibility and sense of connection. “I collect these thoughts…, / my lighthouse keeping the sun switched on… / My days I sleep alone; my nights I turn to stone… / and I watch you struggle – oh, I watch you struggle.”

A fervent, thoughtful cover of Graham Coxon’s A Day Is Far Too Long fits right into this lowering milieu, like a stone sunk into a wet beach. “On sticks and sand, lost my money, lost my hand. / Blood on my brain, too much salt in my veins, / and I thought pain was clean, and I thought hearts were strong, / but bones aren’t sticks anymore, and a day is far too long.” On I Will Pour It Down, the story that Johnny’s telling meets a flood of rural imagery and blurs right into it – “to the edge of time, I ride my bike to the sea – the colours of the fields, the glow when they start burning. / I’m calling in the cows, the horses and the sheep; / I’m calling in the light and the years.” Merging into a psychedelic tributary to a mass of time and landscape, it doesn’t quite dissolve to the point where Johnny’s hints of reproach dissolve as well. “If I was the sun I would not hide behind the cloud. / If I could rain, I would pour it down, / I would pour it down. / I would pour it down on your town.”

The Pictish Trail, ensconced in the Chapel.

Lynch faces the mob…

This afternoon’s all-acoustic version of Wait Until is dedicated to Trigger from ‘Only Fools and Horses’. Another gag. We probably need it. It’s one of the first songs that Johnny wrote after the death of his mother – one which seems to mingle a helplessly dependent love song with a dreamscaped murder ballad. The original electrobeat-chiller version (with its stark, unsettling video of a stricken and glowering Johnny presiding over a basement full of hard-faced dancing schoolchildren) is almost too much to take on. Today, unplugged and unpropped, Johnny quietly underplays it; and while some of its furious edge melts away, its shifting painful core remains. “Wait until I arrive to tell me you’re going away / to tell me you’re so sorry. / Can we wait for water one last time / until the water covers our mouths? and our eyes, our eyes, our eyes. / Wait until your last chance to say goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.” Grief and violence thread inexorably together, betrayal merges with extinction. “I’m pushing you over so I can’t get up, I’m pushing you in fast so I can’t pull you out… / Oh the crime, the crime – / cover for me, cover me in your love, your love. / Tell me of your love, stay here my love.”

If you’re listening to the noises, it’s no more than a sad and sorry breath in the heather. If you tune in properly, it’s a primal scream. Maybe Johnny’s stand-up act – all of that friendly swashbuckling wit – isn’t just charm, but necessity. Maybe the gags and the friendly buffets are there to stop him, and us, from falling into the songs. In between two numbers, he delivers another quip: we laugh, and he grins like a flying cannonball. In another song, he asserts “I will just talk behind my stories and tell my life, spill my guts / I couldn’t live more, feel nothing at all – I live, or not.”

On the other hand, maybe he’s bearing witness rather than using his audience as a confessional. Those Scots intonations, soft and human, are rolling over a greater darkness – rain-stippled postcard beauty hunched on top of frowning granite. As with Iceland, the Hebrides (and Eigg in particular) have a reputation for hard-bitten common sense coexisting with the numinous and dangerous. I don’t know how much of that is true – you’d have to ask Johnny, and what’s true for Eigg might be less true in Fife, where some of his stories were born. It’s certainly true that Pictish Trail songs, however vague or mumbled, have been striped through with a fearful beauty and with a sense of inexplicable forces. The characters within them, even when they’re from this day and age, seem to tread old grooves of ritual and remembrance, weather and wake. Their new sorrows fall, naturally, into ancient places.

As Daylight Music ends for today, Johnny’s out at the front doing the meet-and-greet. People – little children, grandparents, students, young mothers – flock around him like happy birds. Some of them seem to have bought his bobble-hats, some haven’t. He looks overjoyed either way, as if there’s nowhere he’d rather be than here, enthusiastically making contact. Whatever ghosts and forces may have reared up as he sang, he himself looks far from haunted.

***

What? Oh yes…

The other half of the Lost Weekend, in which three other bands played on the following day down at the Hangover Lounge? We didn’t make it. Sorry – the weekend swallowed us again. I could try to make some comment about conceptual continuity here, and pretend to be pleased with it, but I’m too annoyed and embarrassed that we didn’t try to travel a little further, just this one time. It’s not as if we didn’t have some good examples to follow. We chickened out. I’m going to have to blame it on those bloody weekend timewarps.

(What a lame ending for a review. I need a drink.)

The Middle Ones online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp

Freschard online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace Bandcamp Last FM

The Pictish Trail online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud

Daylight Music online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud

The Hangover Lounge online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter

Thanks to Andunemir for all of the videos.

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