Tag Archives: The Montague Arms (venue) – Peckham – London – England

March 2017 – upcoming London gigs – Ghost Car, Secret Tongues and Strange Lipsticks in Peckham (11th); Hanging Valleys and Swan Levitt in Camden (21st)

4 Mar

Ghost Tongues (photo © Maria Dela O Garrido)

Ghost Tongues (photo © Maria Dela O Garrido)

Ghost Car + Secret Tongues + Strange Lipsticks
The Montague Arms, 289 Queens Road, Peckham, London, SE15 2PA, England
Saturday 11th March 2017, 7.00pm
– information here

What’s on the invite:

Ghost Car are inviting you to the launch party celebrating their debut single ‘Stuck In The Mud’ (released on New York label Greenway Records), on Saturday 11th of March at The Montague Arms, with support from Secret Tongues and Strange Lipsticks.”

What you get:

From Ghost Car – careening, shifting, minor-key garage rock with sweet’n’sour organ punches plus flavours of bolshy girl-group and of honey-and-yoghurt Gallic pop (despite the fact that, although the members hail from a wonderful pre-Brexit splatter of Spanish, Irish and British roots, none of them are French). The video for ‘Stuck In The Mud’ is a little low-budget hymn to female tensions – office-girl restlessness, transposed rage at impenetrable masculine spaces. It’s a collage of impeccable makeup methods, fusty corridors, and slammed or locked doors, with a nod to the way in which the women’s toilets can double as a sanctuary, a place to compose yourself, even a rallying zone.


 
From Secret Tongues, you get relatively conventionally dreampop indie. Permeated with a lazy but lipsmacking eroticism, it switches between languorous, scenic verses and upbeat, jouncy choruses. Recent single ‘Glass Beach’ is typical of their work – a song of arousal, of “pheromones playing with our hormones” (and it comes with a sloppy-sensual video full of orality and come-hither eyes).


 
For my money, the most persuasive reason to pitch up for the gig is for show opener Strange Lipsticks, a.k.a. singer-songwriter Mary Fritz. Over the times during which she’s shuttled between London and Boston, her music’s evolved from lo-fi tick/echo/strum songcraft (orchestrated with tremolo, warble and skate) to a shifting, half-moored folk sound interpolated with background noises and a wan tone of solitary council-estate psychedelia. Mary’s weary folk-chant of a voice (a little reminiscent of the unsettling intonation of Scottish post-folker Pinkie Maclure) remains the key note: breeding her songs’ atmospheres of ill-health and of a disturbed, distracted intelligence feeling its way around, angling for clarity.



 

* * * * * * * *

Hanging Valleys + Swan Levitt, 21st March 2017Hanging Valleys + Swan Levitt
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Tuesday 21 March 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here

What’s on the other invite:

Hanging Valleys is an alternative band founded by Thom Byles in 2016, in which he’s joined by Mike Phillips (guitar, vocals) and Alexis Meridol (beats, synthesizer). Their music is centred around soaring falsetto vocals accompanied by ethereal atmospheric phrasing on electric and acoustic guitars, which combine to create a rich shifting soundscape. An unusual percussive playing style on the acoustic is blended with percussion and self-produced samples to create pulsing rhythms with captivating crescendos. The band’s debut EP will be released on 10th March 2017.

Swan Levitt is an English singer-songwriter from the Isle of Wight, UK. Blending together acoustic folk with refreshingly modern themes, his emotionally charged voice lets you in on a personal level, taking intricate melodies and crafting them into a fully cinematic experience. Uniquely adept at songwriting, Swan Levitt carries the listener on a character building journey. Using his personal struggles and his passion for science to create music that is acoustic at heart, yet interwoven with subtle electronic atmospheres. Levitt is currently recording his debut album at Studio Humbug on the Isle of Wight with accomplished production duo, Boe Weaver and Organ Records.”

What you get:

Beyond the initial hype (and the little cloud of thumbs-ups from various people at BBC Radio 6), you get two acts coalescing from their initial post-folk vagueness. For the past year or so, as they built themselves up from being Thom’s solo project into being an actual band, Hanging Valleys have been dotting Bandcamp and Soundcloud with individual tracks. On the positive side, they’ve got an exquisite, downy, murmuring sound which – if anything – their press releases undersell. On the other, they’ve sometimes used it to be over-evasive, apparently more interested in capturing the perfect curve of a shadow-croon or the glint of a guitar-string harmonic over anything requiring a commitment of story or setpiece. Their most recent track, ‘T.B.D’, seems to indicate that they’re finally hitting the right balance.



 
As for Swan Levitt, he initially came to general attention last year thanks to two softly pained, quietly dramatic post-Damien Rice-ish singles – ‘Alive’ and ‘Singularity’ – which sounded gorgeous but also on the lazy side of sparse: as with the early Hanging Gardens stuff, songs which seemed to prioritise furnishing over content. His third single, ‘You Were Human’, is a big step forwards; a mourning, brush-drummed lament with an offbeat, unsettling perspective, casting an eye on the destructive vortex of male desire and sentimentality while weaving together ideas of artificial intelligence and human feeling cribbed from ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Ex Machina’ (and blurring the lines between lovesong and murder-ballad). He’s a lot more interesting now that he’s come out as a questioning geek instead of just being a beautiful attic voice.



 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – Merz’s English tour with Julian Sartorius (12th-19th) plus The Sound Book Project, Hayley Ross, Megan Carlile and Christopher Anderson

9 Jun

In 1999 Merz popped up, apparently out of nowhere, with the Many Weathers Apart single. It was delightfully bizarre – there were deck scratches, a warbling rubber-guitar lick, a screaming soul sample. Merz himself was a crowy, androgynous pop squawk riding on a reverbed conga boom as big as the circling horizon. A hippy priest with a boombox, plugged into the metaphysical mainline, he sang in fluttering scraps about separation, connection and rainstorms and somehow tied them all together. The equally out-there follow-up, Lovely Daughter, was a sideswipe at subjugation and exploitation – ostensibly about young brides, but perhaps also about outflanked cultures. It sounded like Anthony Newley trapped in a tropical aviary, sprinkled with reggae-dust while tussling with Prince and Beck. Refreshingly, both songs were modest hits.

A bold debut album followed, on a Sony subsidiary. Merz surrounded the darting, hummingbird heart of his songcraft with paper-chain folk guitar, string orchestras and rain-dewed colliery brass bands, as well as what sounded like tips of the hat to Public Enemy, Sinatra and Van Morrison. He also added psychedelic flourishes, looted with elan, from a range of sources (be they worldbeat, Eurodance, the buccaneering edges of late-‘90s club culture, or acid-fuzzed corners of the Incredible String Band’s cottage). Unfortunately, 1999 wasn’t the best year for innovative eclectic-pop. However unfairly, Merz seemed to be at the tail end of a wave of experimentalists riding in Björk’s cooling wake. In the face of a much bigger wave of Latin disco and lighter entertainment, the hoped-for bigger hits didn’t happen for him. The album sold indifferently, the record deal foundered, and Merz walked. In music business terms that should have been the end of a familiar and often-repeated story. A&R takes a punt on something unusual; it rapidly runs out of steam; and the pet eccentric promptly drops back into obscurity, a footnote for geeks.

Merz (photo by Tabea Hubeli)

For Merz, in fact, all of this was simply one chapter of work; and it hadn’t even been the first chapter. Under his real name, Conrad Lambert, he’d been recording and releasing songs for over a decade before Many Weathers Apart broke cover. Even though that stage monicker turns out to have been a chance appropriation (rather than a nod to Kurt Schwitters), Merz had, from an early age, followed the connective prompts of a Bahá’í upbringing and a personal artistic bent (which had had him picking up the bagpipes as a first instrument at the age of six). His own restless nature spurred him on to early travelling, and would later drive the adult Conrad to make homes from town to town and from country to country. Ultimately, parting company with Sony and with an audience of turn-of-the-millennium hipsters just seems to have been another thing to shrug off. Merz had different things to do. Even if he didn’t quite know what they were yet. Then, as now, open possibilities beckoned… and security was a straitjacket.

As for the obscurity, that’s a matter of perspective. Merz seems to been quietly and steadily embraced by continental Europe (perhaps one of the reasons why he now makes his home in the Swiss Alps). His albums – including last year’s ‘Thinking Like A Mountain’ – are persistently and publically hailed across magazines and online review sites as the welcome surfacings of an inventive, tuneful and touching mind. If, in spite of this, he still remains cult it’s partly because it seems to suit him. Musically, he’s mellowed without slackening. As with Geddy Lee, what was once a strident corvine vocal has matured into a warmer, more human sound without losing its fundamental chirp. Across time he’s delivered songs which might only rarely touch the earth but which flutter and roost in stray corners of the mind for years; from the Northern-brass love-call of Lotus to the offset rhythms and flamenco fairing of Goodbye My Chimera, the melding of baroque harpsichord waltz and bubbling phuture-pop on Dangerous Heady Love Scheme, and the melding of Buckleylalia with blootering, breakneck industrial techno in the recent Ten Gorgeous Blocks.


At the core, today’s Merz is a roaming twenty-first century folk troubadour – centred around voice, a keyboard or laptop and a single fingerpicked guitar, making the most of both local ingredients and things intercepted en route. He’s based around instinctive heart rather than roots, and around spontaneous initiative rather than the solidity of tradition; spurred on by intuitive choices of collaborators, such as British electro-concrète producer Matthew Herbert. His current musical foil, wingman and licensed disruptor is Swiss drummer and sound artist Julian Sartorius, whom Merz met while recording his ‘No Compass Will Find Home’ album, and whom he subsequently allowed to strip out and repurpose his songs to form a further album’s-worth of startling drum-and-vocal renditions

As for his tours, they manage to be both quietly exhilarating and easy to miss. Ducking around and under the radar, they mount a clear challenge to the business of tired pop promotion. He seeks to make concerts – like live art works – unique and permanently memorable to the attendees, taking care over matters like time, place and involvement. In addition to fairly familiar arty venue types (picture galleries, music churches and house concerts), last year’s ‘In Intimate’ tour took in a village chapel, a working-men’s club and an Air Force Legion hall: even a cow barn, a Scottish castle, a yurt, a forest clearing, a railway arch, and a snooker club. This season’s tour isn’t quite as unusual, although it returns to a couple of In Intimate venues (in Middlesbrough and Oswestry). Elsewhere, Merz seems to have gone where he was invited… and made sure that it was either somewhere interesting or somewhere that strives (sprouting rock clubs in transient locations, or the sites of hopeful songwriter nights).

For many of the shows Merz will be playing as a duo alongside Julian Sartorius, who’ll also be playing a solo drumkit set to open the concert. On some evenings, support acts will be drawn from more straightforward singer-songwriter turf – in Hinckley, sixteen-year-old local open-mic promoter Megan Carlile; in Newcastle, local acoustic bard-of-observations Christopher Anderson; in Brighton, Hayley Ross (who leans towards a classic ‘70s style and expression but with a darker, cruel-hinting edge and occasional bursts of garage rock).


 
To counterbalance, at Oswestry support comes from the altogether stranger Sound Book Project, a sextet of multimedia artists and musicians (including a pair of Pram members) who use books as noisemakers and instruments – “wound, sprung, strummed, slapped and thrown” as well as being modified or miked-up – in an experimental, slightly fetishistic celebration of the sensuality of bound text as opposed to digital media, and the way in which sounds trigger memories and associations.

Similarly, the opening show at Middlesbrough’s MIMA is somewhat different from the others: it marks the closure of ‘When Now Becomes Then: Three Decades’, MIMA’s exhibition of the work of British abstract/gestural painter and printmaker Basil Beattie. Over two hours spread across the ground floor galleries, Merz will play songs from his repertoire which “allude to Beattie’s paintings both from a visual and spiritual point of view” and promises “a roving and impressionistic solo set.”
 

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