Tag Archives: The Memory Band

November 2017 – upcoming London folk gigs – Jack Cheshire and Robert Chaney at New Roots (23rd); Effra and Cynefin at Nest Collective (29th); Rif Mountain presents Bare Bones, Robert Sunday, Hold Music and Nancy Wallace at the Old Dentist (30th)

17 Nov

Three diverse types of folk show coming up in London: a selection of straight Americana, folk baroque fusion, Welsh archivism, post-rock-tinged acoustica, Appalachian-inspired imaginings, and hauntological dub/field recording-infused psychedelia. (One of the gigs, in Homerton, will be of particular interest to fans of psych folk ensemble The Owl Service…)

There’s quite enough existing press release verbiage for me to just quote in bulk, slip in a few audio/visual clips and waltz away…

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Jack Cheshire & Robert Chaney, 23rd November 2017

New Roots Promotions presents:
New Roots: Jack Cheshire + Robert Chaney
The Old Queen’s Head, 44 Essex Road, Islington, London, N1 8LN, England
Thursday 23rd November 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Jack Cheshire brings his four-piece band to New Roots at The Old Queens Head. His contemporary alt-folk sound with a post-rock twist has led him to share bills with luminary peers Songhoy Blues and Josh T. Pearson, and grace the stages of The Green Man Festival and Kings Place. The ghosts of Nick Drake and Syd Barrett skirt the edges of his songs, embellished by what ‘Uncut’ magazine calls an “Ian McCulloch-style croon”, with a “burnished psychedelia (that) takes this music to the skies”. He released his 2017 album ‘Black Light Theatre’ to universal press and radio acclaim, making fans of 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne and Tom Robinson along the way.

 
“A rising star on the London folk scene, American singer-songwriter Robert Chaney counts Townes Van Zandt, Hank Williams and Judee Sill as influences. A remarkable songwriter with a voice to send shivers down your spine, sown deep into his songs are threads of the dusty blues of the 20s and 30s, pulp noir tales of the 40s, the cable-knit folk revival of the 50s, and the French celluloid new wave of the 60s. His recently released debut album ‘Cracked Picture Frames’ garnered high praise in the music press, with Folk Radio UK making it their featured album of the month.”


 
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Effra + Cynefin, 27th November 2017

The Nest Collective presents:
Effra + Cynefin
The Old Queen’s Head, 44 Essex Road, Islington, London, N1 8LN, England
Wednesday 29th November 2017, 8.00pm
– information here and here

A monthly evening of the finest folk music live at the Old Queens Head in Islington.

“Described as “an immersive, trance-like musical treat” by ‘Songlines’, contemporary contemporary folk trio Effra are guitarist Alex Bishop, fiddle/mandolin player Tom Newell and accordionist Aidan Shepherd (accordion). Heralding from Bath, Shrewsbury and Canterbury respectively, they met in London in 2011. Although coming from rock, classical and jazz backgrounds, a strong connection was quickly formed, and they began meeting regularly to write and develop music that shared a common ground.Early performances were well received, and the band soon grew an identity of its own, fuelled by innovative ideas brought to the table by all three members. In 2012 after only a year since their first meeting, the band won the Bath Folk Festival ʻNew Shoots Competitionʼ on the strength of their compositions and high-energy performance, being hailed as “a trio of the highest order that, despite their young age, sound like they have always sat comfortably among the greatest of the folk scene.” In 2014 they released their debut album, ‘Lose An Hour’ and toured extensively through 2015-16 with performances at BBC Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’, Cambridge Folk Festival, and EFEx/Homegrown festival.

“In Spring 2017 Effra released their highly-anticipated second album, ‘Below Ground’, which captures the unseen subterranean world beneath our feet. The recording process saw the band trek to the source of London’s only fully concealed waterway (and their musical namesake) the Effra river, as well as venturing within ninety-six kilometres worth of tunnels underneath the UK’s largest limestone quarry, Box Freestone Mine. This gig at the Old Queen’s Head is their official album launch.



 

“Cynefin (a Welsh noun with no direct equivalent in English) is somewhat of a linguistic enigma. Originally a farming term used to describe the habitual tracks and trails worn by sheep in hillsides – the word has morphed and deepened over the centuries to conjure a very personal sense of place, belonging and familiarity. The artist Kyffin Williams describes it as ‘that relationship: the place of your birth and of your upbringing, the environment in which you live and to which you are naturally acclimatised.’

This particular ‘Cynefin’ is the musical brainchild of Clettwr valley native Owen Shiers and is a journey to discover the musical landscape and contours of Ceredigion and West Wales. Following a chance discovery of a long forgotten song by a local ballad singer, Owen was inspired to uncover more of the untold stories of the locals who’s voices have been lost over the centuries. A research scholarship from the Finzi Trust has further aided the project, enabling him to delve through unseen archive material, look through rare books as well as source songs from ballad singers and cultural historians.

“From the grumbles of millers past, musings of balladeers to the every day tales of ‘y werin’ (the common folk) – the resulting material is unique both in its originality (some of the songs have not been sung for over hundreds of years) but also in the arrangements which are ambitious and distinct.”


 
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Bare Bones + Hold Music + Robert Sunday + Nancy Wallace, 30th November 2017

Rif Mountain and The Old Dentist present
‘When The Night Falls’: Bare Bones + Robert Sunday + Hold Music + Nancy Wallace
The Old Dentist, 33 Chatsworth Road, Homerton, London, E5 0LH, England
Thursday 30th November 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Bare Bones are a duo of Jason Steel (solo, Hold Music, The Owl Service) and Dom Cooper (United Bible Studies, Circle/Temple, Unknown Heretic, Zensunni, Unit One, The Straw Bear Band, The Owl Service). Their latest release ‘Moon Phases’ is informed by improvisatory techniques, ethnographic field recordings, and the sonic spaces of dub; a narcoleptic Ennio Morricone soundtrack. The music is carved out of ritualistic drones, creating nuanced textured soundscapes. Tracks inhabit a moonlit world, reminiscent of the hazy pacing of Peter Fonda’s film ‘The Hired Hand’ or the fragmentary/searching writing of Fernando Pessoa’s ‘The Book of Disquiet’. Bare and layered, simple and nuanced, Moon Phases has a somnambulistic grace all its own.



 
Robert Sunday is a solo acoustic singer-songwriter who combines elements of traditional folk, Americana, poetry, and cinematic allusions. He played his first gig at Cecil Sharp House in March 2011 on the release of his debut EP ‘Butterfly Hairslide’ on the Rif Mountain label. Since then he has played regularly in London. ‘Halcyon Bloom’ and ‘Cold Little Roses are his latest EPs. The ever-chipper Mr. Sunday deliver more trademark lyrical gold, set to melodies that would make a hungover Kris Kristofferson blush (in his prime!). Sunday deals with concepts around memory, love and time. For fans of Bill Fay, Palace Music and Lee Hazlewood. Stark and quite wonderful.

 
Hold Music are Jason Steel (guitar, banjo, voice) and Daniel Gardner (percussion).The duo’s eponymous debut outing offers tightly wound compositions that twist & contort in unexpected directions; spare yet expansive, precise yet rambling. Gardner’s percussion is locked into Steel’s deft string work throughout. Consisting of four tracks over thirty minutes, recorded live with John Hannon (James Blackshaw, Chris Corsano). The lyrics touch on Appalachian murder ballads, original sin and poor grammar. At turns pretty – ritualistic – odd. A banger, for sure.

 
Nancy Wallace is a singer and musician from East London, having been born and raised in a folk-singing family in a Suffolk seaside town. She came to notice singing with the Memory Band and later as part of the cult alt-folk collective The Owl Service. A guitarist and concertina player (as were her father and grandfather before her), her approach to both instruments, and her interpretations of both traditional material and her own songs, set her apart on the contemporary folk scene. Her solo releases began with the critically acclaimed Young Hearts EP and her debut full length album, Old Stories, released to glowing reviews, garnering her a cover feature in fRoots magazine and a BBC Folk Awards nomination. She has performed throughout Britain and Europe, including at festivals such as The Green Man, Glastonbury, End Of The Road, Sidmouth Folk Week, The Big Chill and Towersey Folk Festival. She is currently writing and recording material for her next “proper” album.”



 

November/December 2016 – upcoming music theatre – sounds from Billy Bottle & The Multiple’s ‘The Other Place’ and a rundown of the other shows in the All The Right Notes multi-media music theatre festival (15th November to 3rd December)

15 Nov

This just in – Lee Fletcher, touring soundwizard for Billy Bottle & The Multiple, just tipped me off about this Bandcamp montage he’s just made of their currently touring show ‘The Other Place’.

There should be a YouTube version shortly, which I’ll paste in when it’s available. Meanwhile, there’s more on the show in general here, and more on its current dates here.

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One of the ‘Other Place’ dates is in London this weekend – taking place at Camden People’s Theatre, as part of their ‘All The Right Notes’ “gig-theatre” festival exploring the interaction, interweaving and intersectionality of theatre and music on the fringes. While on the subject, I should post up a little more about the festival, since it’s starting today.

So here’s a rapid rundown of what’s on offer in ‘All The Right Notes’ between 15th November and 3rd December. Most of the text is stripped and compressed from the homepage (where there’s full dates, times and details if you want to pursue the shows in depth). I’ve added or rearranged a few things where necessary, including some personal impressions. Because performance artists aren’t the only people who can mash up texts… oh yeah… (postures)

Some of the shows are pretty much straight musical gigs, with the theatre inherent in the performance rather than explicitly mounted as part of the staging. Digifolk musicians and quixotic archivists The Memory Band (who, in their own words, “navigate a dream landscape of fading identity, dredging up forgotten histories from old maps” and “the ghost-lit back-roads of British traditional music where digital machinery and acoustic musicians congregate to make old music from the future”) offer a performance previewing their upcoming fifth album ‘A Fair Field’, which spans a world of folk word and song from the fourteenth-century narrative epic ‘Piers Plowman’ to the generation of unaccompanied English folk singers who passed in the mid-twentieth century to Northumbrian modernist poet Basil Bunting. It’s best to let them map out their own album description too – “the music was fed by stories of magical hares and the recollections of ballad sellers bearing placards at the great fairs of times past, the fields of which now lie buried beneath leisure centres, electricity substations and retail parks. It traces the connection between the headstone of a man killed in Norfolk by the sails of a windmill, the first observations of solar flares, incendiarism, council estates and an old man’s recollection of ploughing the land by starlight in another time.” Later in the season, Daniel Marcus Clark‘s ‘Between’ looks for “the story in every song and the song in every story” in a solo set delivered by beat-up old voice and a pair of guitars via a mood and method compared variously to Marc Ribot, Mississipi John Hurt and Vincent Price.



 
As you’d expect from a theatre space preoccupied with fringe activity and political art, there’s a strong representation of standalone and intersectional aspects within the broad church of contemporary dance music and the cultures which make it up, taking in hot and fluid topics of race, feminism, class, communality and chosen ways of self-expression. Accompanied by beatboxer/vocalists Kate & Nate (from Battersea Arts Centre’s Beatbox Academy), actor-writer Lauren Gauge will present her raw feminist comedy-with-music ‘The Unmarried’, a drama of raucous, brassy, party-friendly resistance to patriarchy, rhythmically underscored by a live mix of beat-boxing, ‘90s dance hits and old-school UK garage tunes – “gig theatre… theatre you can rave to.” Earlier in the season, reknowned London grime MC Flowdan will present a special performance of his lyrics (stripped from their soundsystem context and performed with voice alone under a spotlight), while the festival will close with musician-performer Will Dickie’s live-art DJ set ‘The Rave Space’ (a staged rave which explores the ideals and situation of unity through dance culture, and which overlaps the boundaries of dance party communion and theatre-space performance, although Will’s keeping schtum about precisely how this occurs…)


 
Several pieces operate within the publically settled, privately fragile area of contemporary early adulthood and its codes of faith,behaviour and expectations which end up being kicked around by our own doubts and insecurities and by the challenges and occasional perversities of our individual drives and experiences. Songwriter, actress and theatre maker Isobel Rogers performs her open-mic drama ‘Elsa’, about a woman working in a coffee shop while pursuing her dreams on the side. As she drifts in and out of the characters who come into the cafe, Elsa is confronted with different characters from both literature and reality and begins to lead the lives of Nina, Miranda, Lillian and Grace in her own head. Keeping a part of herself elsewhere through song, Elsa plays a trick on a world that keeps telling her how to “be”.

Heavier notes are provided by Rachel Mars and Alicia Jane Turner. The former (with musical support from singer-songwriter Louise Mothersole of Sh!t Theatre) performs her proudly spiky, witty work ‘Our Carnal Hearts’, “a gleeful, thrilling and murky celebration of envy, competitive spirits and all the times we fuck each other over… performed with a live surround-sound choral score, it is born from the suspect parentage of an ideological rally, a drunken sing-song and a seductive dream.” The latter uses her skills as composer, performance artist and multi-instrumentalist to present ‘Breathe (Everything Is Going To Be Okay)’ – “a full-body immersion of soaring strings and spiralling sound in a daringly vulnerable solo performance exploring the relationship between our bodies and minds… blending visceral live music with intimate confessions, Breathe is an unflinchingly honest dissection of our daily anxieties and fears.”

 
As you’ll guess from the above in particular, not everything in the festival is kid- or family-friendly, but there are some exceptions. Moths (performer/musician Joe White and theatre maker Tanya Stephenson, both of whom also work with perennial percussion-fest STOMP) present ‘Pale Phoebe’ – a performance mingling storytelling, clever lighting and projection effects and percussive, androgynous contemporary synth pop to tell the dreamlike story of an imagined journey to the moon. In ‘The Castle Builder’, punky, childlike, lo-fi electropopper Kid Carpet and actor-storyteller Vic Llewellyn join forces for a playful, uplifting show based around true tales of unlikely people who created extraordinary outsider art just for the pleasure of it. In the process, they ask questions about art, who it’s for and what mark it leaves on the world. In addition, each performance will feature a different maker, who at the end of the show will present the audience with something they build or create using the debris from the show and anything else they find scattered around the stage.



 
If you’re after more esoterically cerebral (or potentially baffling) performances, a couple of those are waiting in the wings. Perhaps coincidentally, both are two-handers featuring frenetically active male text’n’context shredders and reknowned female experimental violinists who blur the boundaries between being muses, partners and upsetters. In ‘Within The Context Of No Context’ Tim Parkinson and Angharad Davies explore the crossover between theatre-as-sound and sound-as-theatre via prepared-violin music drama interpretations of avant-garde compositions by Louis D’Heudieres, Stefan Thut, Alison Knowles, John Cage and others (with a title inspired by George S Trow’s influential essay about the decline of society in the new age). In ‘Seeping Through (CPT)’, regular collaborators Aisha Orazbayeva and Tim Etchells perform an intense, rolling two-hour improvisation in spontaneous fragments, with text and music treated as fluid forces in the same space, fading in and out of each other, breathing together, cutting and cancelling each other, creating a dynamic and always unstable landscape. Tim collages and constructs the show’s verbal content from diverse fragments of notebook scribbles, past performance text and works in progress, creating collisions, loops, and unexpected connections between different spoken materials; while Aisha plays vigorously deconstructed classical violin using extended technique, strange sounds, and “radically remixed and quoted” elements from the classical repertoire. (As an example, below is an earlier Etchells/Orazbayeva work: nearly six excruciating yet compelling minutes of the duo wringing as many disrupted nuances as possible from brief sentences and clauses recited over grinding string noise.)

 

Also on the festival bill are a pair of straight (well, relatively straight) musicals. “Misguided and aspirational” performance art group mingbeast present their “uplifting musical” ‘Awful Things Can Happen At Any Time’ (in which two barely-prepared pop wannabes struggle to get their act and songs together on a shared and battered iPad, jostling the business of dreaming about being in a band and actually becoming one).There’s a work-in-progress showing of Duckie star Boogaloo Stu’s ‘The Regeneration Game’, a comedy musical taking well-deserved sideswipes at the property racket currently turning scores of community pubs into community-detached luxury flats. See landlord and landlady Kev and Babs, from closure-threatened pub The Dog & Dumplings, plan to take on the big boys in a tale of “a boozer in decline, dodgy developers and dogging…”

A couple of pieces embark on voyages into the family and the circumstantial shocks and resolutions to be found within it. Armed with voice and electronic drumkit, poet-musician Antosh Wojcik performs his innovative, touching ‘Building A Voice-Percussion Gun To Kill Glitches In Memory’, in which he explores “the effects of dementia on speech, memory and motor skills. Assigning rhythms to family members, Antosh attempts to build a ‘voice-percussion gun’ to destroy inherited Alzheimer’s. Poems become beats become glitches in time in this poignant and mesmeric display of live drumming and spoken word.” Ziad Nagy’s ‘Too Human’ is “an interdisciplinary exploration into the chasms of family constellations, the fragmentary structures that make us who we are, and the insatiable desire to make things better. Through the disjointedness of live collage making, experimental music production, and confessional storytelling, Ziad lays bare what at first seems idiosyncratic and slowly transforms into the poetically ubiquitous.” (As you can see, I didn’t much feel like paraphrasing all that.)

Other events include a panel session discussing why live music and theatre are converging (featuring contemporary music theatre driver Patrick Eakin Young, journalist/editor Andrzej Lukowski of ‘Time Out‘ and ‘Drowned In Sound‘, and punk singer/theatre maker Racheal Clerke); and ‘Controlled Madness’, in which DJ, party promoter and acid house philosopher-celebrity Andy Blake engages in a late-night quasi-symposium (lit and soundtracked to conjure up a backstreet backroom atmosphere) with cultural commentators Ben Bashford and Joe Muggs, dealing on party culture and its role (questioned or otherwise) in contemporary society.

The ‘Big Bang’ evening features four work-in-progress shorts and excerpts – a love monologue from poet Ross Sutherland (compiled from actual outbursts he’s shouted at drum and bass DJs mid-set); ‘High Rise Estate Of Mind?’ (a tower-block, housing-crisis, class-and-character study in beatbox, rap and spoken word by Paul Cree and Conrad Murray of Beats & Elements); a scratch performance of sleepwalking, sleeptalking husband-and-wife dream drama by Lillian Henley and Tom Adams; and Nima Séne’s ‘I Belong’, in which Nima and her alter ego Beige Bitch explore the concept of belonging (nostalgia, deluding, seductive and political) via a melange of theatrical tricks, electronic sound, pop culture and autobiography.

 
Probably a good place to start (assuming that you can clear your evening) is tomorrow’s special night-after-opening night show ‘Note Form’. This features music-heavy excerpts from ‘Awful Things Can Happen At Any Time’, ‘High Rise Estate Of Mind?’ and She Goat’s ‘DoppelDänger’ (a “theatrical live-music gig of original music and unlikely cover songs with synth-pop, electronic textures and baroque harpsichord”); plus a standalone piece – ‘The Beginning Of The End Of The Heroic Child’, a “secular ecstatic ritual” by Nwando Ebizie‘s Afro-Anglo-Caribbean goddess persona Lady Vendredi which “transform(s) pain into beauty via the medium of discarded remnants of empty trash signifiers. Moving from the sea beneath the waters of the past through the fourth dimension and passing to a glimpse of a forgotten future. A rite for all of those who wish to take part in an inter-dimensional breakdown. A wild ride down a rabbit hole of splintering realities. Dogmas challenged, desires and dreams unravelled.” I think that pretty much covers everything – and so does this.
 

The End Festival in Crouch End, part 2 (November 16th-23rd 2015)

15 Nov

As promised, here’s the second rundown of people playing Crouch End’s The End Festival here in London this month (in fact, this week). It’s serving as my self-imposed penance for having been stupid enough to have missed the festival’s existence for so many years, especially as it’s been only a fairly short walk from where I live.

In case you’re interested at who’s already played this year, last week’s rundown is here (from math-rock heroes to underground pop hopefuls to assorted folk noises), but here’s who’s performing from tomorrow until the end of next Sunday…

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The Mae Trio + Patch & The Giant + Elephants & Castles (Downstairs @ The Kings Head, 2 Crouch End Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 8AA, UK, Monday 16th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £10.75 – information

Much-garlanded Melbourne chamber-folksters The Mae Trio are a great example of can-do Australian vivacity – three women who juggle multiple instruments (banjo, ukulele, guitar, marimba, violin, cello and bass). While delivering spring-fresh, sparkling three-part harmonies and witty stage banter, they also volley songs at us which merge the whip-smart compassionate edge of Indigo Girls, and the dizzy chatter of The Bush The Tree And Me. Londoners aim plenty of jokes at Aussie visitors, but if they will keep on coming here and showing us up like this… Well, the city’s home-grown alt.folk scene is at least holding its own, since it can produce bands like Patch & The Giant, another gang of multi-instrumentalists (throwing cello, accordion, flugelhorn and violin in with the usual mix) who come up with a ‘Fisherman’s Blues’-era Waterboys mingling of Irish, Balkan and American country influences plus New Orleans funeral-band razz, rolling off heady spirit-in-the-everyday songs for a potential singalong everywhere they go.


The second of the two London bands, Elephants & Castles, might not share the direct folkiness of the rest of the night’s bill (being more of a brash and perky power-pop idea at root, with fat synth and chatty peals of electric guitar) but the band does have an acoustic side (which they might be bringing along on this occasion). Also, a closer look at their songs reveals a strand of outrightly folky protest and character witness, with songs about gentrification, the lot of manufacturing workers and the ordeals and victimhood of Justin Fashanu showing up in their setlist.

 

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Howe Gelb (The Crypt Studio, 145a Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9QH, UK, Monday 16th & Tuesday 17th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £22.00 – information

Tireless alt.country legend and multi-project workaholic Howe Gelb (the frontman for Giant Sand, Sno Angel and Arizon Amp & Alternator) takes in two dates in Crouch End as part of his ongoing tour. The first of Howe’s dates will be solo, but Nadine Khouri (fresh from her Hornsey Town Hall megagig appearance on the preceding Saturday) will be playing support on the 16th, with an extra surprise guest promised at some point in the proceedings.


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Romeo Stodart & Ren Harvieu (Earl Haig Hall, 18 Elder Avenue, Crouch End, London, N8 9TH, UK, Thursday 19th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £13.75 – information

Romeo Stodart (half of the frontline for familial, Mercury-nominated, cuddly-bear band The Magic Numbers) has been taking time out from his main group to write and sing with Salford soul-pop singer Ren Harvieu as R N R. This performance gives both singers a chance to show us what they’ve come up with. Expect a full-potential set: reinterpretations of both Ren songs and Magic Numbers numbers, reworkings of standards (as defined and chosen by the duo) and the full song fruits of their new partnership. One or two examples of the latter have sneaked out into the public eye previously, so here’s a taste – via YouTube – of what’s on offer.

 

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Before the Goldrush presents Green Diesel + Tom Hyatt + Horatio James (The Haberdashery, 22 Middle Lane, Crouch End, London, N8 8PL, UK, Friday 20th November 2015, 8.00pm) – £5.00 – information

Kentish folk-rock sextet Green Diesel happily embrace a spiritual descent from an earlier ‘70s wave of English folk-rockers – Fairport Convention, Mr Fox, The Albion Band, Steeleye Span). As those bands did, they conflate dazzling electric guitar, a mass of acoustic folk instrumentation and a sheaf of traditional tunes mixed in with new songs (“old-fashioned, new-fangled”). In the same spirit, they’re enthusiasts and honourers of the old forms, but are never shy of splicing in others (“a reggae twist into an old sea shanty… spicing up a jig with a touch of jazz funk”) in order to communicate the songs to a fresher and perhaps less reverent audience during one of the frenetic and joyous live gigs which they’re becoming increasingly famous for.

If you’re a bunch of Londoners going for that country-flavoured Neil Young lonesomeness, then you’ll need the conviction, you need a certain selflessness and freedom from posing, and you’ll need the songs. Horatio James have all of this, carrying it off without slipping either into pastiche or into a faux-Laurel Canyon slickness, offering “songs of estrangement, heartbreak and malevolence” floating like dust off a pair of snakeskin boots. A cut-down version of the band charmed me at a Smile Acoustic live session in Shoreditch: the full band ought to be even better.


Tom Hyatt tends to work solo, delivering his clarion tenor voice and songs from behind a propulsive, percussive acoustic guitar or from the stool of a fluid, contemplative piano. There are strains of Tim Buckley and John Martyn in what he does, perhaps a little of the young Van Morrison (and, judging by his taste in covers, a dash of ABBA as well) but with their boozy, visionary slurs and blurs replaced by a clear-headed, clear-witted take on matters. Some might reckon that this was missing the point: if you don’t, Tom – heart and mind engaged – is certainly your man:. At this gig, he’ll be playing with a regular collaborator, cellist Maya McCourt (also of Euro-American folk collision Various Guises and bluegrass belle Dana Immanuel’s Stolen Band).


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The Apple Of My Eye + Michael Garrett + The August List(SoftlySoftly @ Kiss The Sky, 18-20 Park Road, Crouch End, London, N8 8TD, UK, Sunday 22nd November 2015, 3.00pm) – £4.40/£5.00 – information

Of course SoftlySoftly – who present regular unplugged folky gigs in Crouch End – fit perfectly into the festival, and present one of their acoustic afternoons (which are adults only, for reasons of booze rather than scabrousness) with barely a blip in their stride Offering “folk music for the drunk, the drowned and the lost at sea”, Bristolian-via-London sextet Apple Of My Eye write thoughtful, contemplative alt.folk songs tinged with country harmonies and displacement (mellow but slightly homesick, in the manner of the itinerant and accepting). Michael Garrett is another rising star on the London acoustic scene, usually performing with a backing band of Chums to back up his voice and guitar with viola, cello and cajon although this occasion looks as if it may well be a solo gig. There’s not much of Michael’s open, unaffected songcraft online, although I did find a video of him taking on Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years, as well as a brief homemade clip of one of his own songs. Husband-and-wife duo The August List belt out a take on Carter-classic stripped country with honey-and-bitter-molasses vocals, shading into occasional rock clangour and odd instrumentation stylophones – hardbitten songs of hardbitten ordinary folk, sometimes driven into cruel situations.


 
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The Feast of St Cecilia: The Memory Band + The Lords Of Thyme + Elliott Morris + The Mae Trio + You Are Wolf + Collectress + Spectral Chorus + DJ Jeanette Leech (Earl Haig Hall, 18 Elder Avenue, Crouch End, London, N8 9TH, UK, Sunday 22nd November 2015, 1.00pm) – £11.00 – information

The second and last of The End’s big gigs is also the festival closer. Apart from The Mae Trio (making a mid-bill return after their Monday performance) it’s a once-only grouping of End talent – “a fitting folk finale, a weird folk all dayer” with a wealth of bands tapping into or springing out of folk forms across the spectrum, plus DJ-ing by Jeanette Leech (scene authority and writer of ‘The Seasons They Change – The Story of Acid and Psychedelic Folk’).

The Memory Band is a folktronica project with a difference. Rather than clothing old or new folk songs in electronic textures, Stephen Cracknell builds new folk pieces up from scratch, assembling them via computer and a virtual “imaginary band” succession of guest players, Instead of smoothing the gaps, though, he makes the most of the eerie collage effect of digital sampling and patchwork. Some Memory Band pieces are familiar guitar and slap hollers with a folk baroque smoky swirl – hard-drive recordings with a trad air. Others are tapescape instrumentals, like an English-folk translation of Bomb Squad hip hop techniques: old-sounding folk airs carried on acoustic instruments against drones and percussion snippets like jingling reins, while backing tracks are made entirely out of ancient tune snatches and Sussex field recordings (hedgerow birds and bleating sheep, tractors, skyborne seagulls, landscape echoes; the tracery of air, wind and sky over downs). The live arrangements may lean more towards the acoustic and traditional style, but if they capture any of the vivid reimaginings of the recorded efforts they’ll still be well worth seeing.


The Lords Of Thyme are what you get when musicians from the wild psychedelic folk cyclone of Circulus decide that they want to slow down a little but go deeper. Joe Woolley, Tali Trow and Pat Kenneally (three Circulus players, former or current – it’s always hard to tell which) bonded with singer Michelle Griffiths over shared musical loves and have gone on to play and record songs which draw and build on the quartet’s steepings in both psychedelic esoterica and better known touchstones: Wizz Jones and Nick Drake, Sandy Denny’s Fotheringay, Nico, Davy Graham, early ’70s prog (Soft Machine and Yes) and even New York post-punk (Television). The results are a shimmering but solid acid-folk songbook, perfect for recapturing the tail-end of a half-imagined, cider-golden summer in these dank November days.


 

Celtic Connections award-winner Elliott Morris is the kind of young folk musician who makes both his peers and older musicians wince ruefully into their beers. Not only does he play fingerstyle guitar with the dazzling, percussive, ping-pong-match-in-a-belfry attack of Michael Hedges, Antonio Forcione or Jon Gomm, but he simultaneously sings with the controlled passion of a teenaged Martin Furey and writes like a youthful John Martyn. There’s something quite magical here.

Like The Memory Band, Kerry Andrew – who works as You Are Wolf – is a folk reinventor, taking ideas from current technology, leftfield pop, contemporary classical music and spoken word recording and then applying them to folk music. Her current album, ‘Hawk To The Hunting Gone’ is an invigorating cut-up of melodies and Kerry’s extensive vocal and production techniques, sounding like lost ethnology tapes of Anglo-American folk strands from a parallel history.

To call Collectress an alternative string quartet sells them too short – it suggests that the London-Brighton foursome can be summarised as an English take on Kronos. Aside from the fact that that any such position has already been taken (and reinvented, flipped and superseded) by the Smith and Elysian Quartets, Collectress just don’t play the same pattern as regards repertoire or instruments. They’re more of a quartet-plus, with musical saw, keyboards, woodwind, guitar, software, field recordings and singing as much in their armoury as their strings. Citing the Necks, Rachels, Bach and John Adams in their puzzlebox of influences, the group offer four very individual women musicians, a knack for full improvisation, and a sense of narrative that imbues everything from their songs to their suggestive spontaneous pieces.



 

Finally, Merseyside trio Spectral Chorus seem to have emerged from a post-dole background of disintegration, drifting and life lived one long ominous step away from the black. Their tale of sharing one hovel and a single bed as they honed their craft, living off pawn money from putting their instruments in and out of hock, and of nourishing themselves solely with spare hotel breakfasts from one member’s work as a caterer sounds like a grim joke: in these unsparing days, of course, it could well be true. Now homed at Skeleton Key Records (the Liverpool-based label-of-love set up by The Coral), they’re releasing their spooky semi-hymnal urban folk songs – part Shack and part Brendan Perry – to a waiting world, and there’s evidently enough in the kitty for live appearances too.

* * * * * * * *

And that’s it. More on the End Festival next year, when I’ll know what to expect.

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