Tag Archives: Thumpermonkey

May/June 2019 – upcoming pop/rock gigs – VLMV and Thomas Stone (30th May); Daniel O’Sullivan and Tega Mendes (4th June); The Cesarians and The Silver Field (6th June), Thumpermonkey, Lost Crowns and Kavus Torabi (31st May)

27 May

VLMV + Thomas Stone, 30th May 2019

Purveyors of a limpid and extroverted dream pop, Pete Lambrou and Ciaran Morahan previously operated as ALMA. Now, since the advent of a certain “BBC-Sound-of-2018-nominated green-haired Finnish pop star, they’re known as VLMV. Apparently it’s pronounced much the same way, but murmured through hushed lips, presumably to sneak it past the lawyers (just because your lips are compressed, it doesn’t mean that you can’t thumb your nose at the same time).

At the tail-end of a European tour, VLMV are playing a London show at the Rosemary Branch Theatre. A former music hall (currently slanted towards hosting comedy and improv), within its recent history it’s frequently been the home of passionate gay drama, or of chansons – so, loosely speaking, there’s some kindred resonance with VLMV’s epicene falsetto romances; the kind of resonance you might not get at the Water Rats or the Underworld.

To be fair, you need theatres for this kind of music. No matter how many slo-mo/light-show pianos, loops and strings they pile under Pete’s voice, this is blushing drama-pop at root. If you’re taking in one of the Tim Bowness gigs this coming fortnight but suspect it still might not entirely slake your appetite for stricken empathetic romance, maybe you should give these guys a try too.



 

In support, Thomas Stone also serves as a signifier and reminder of VLMV’s experimentalist sympathies. An increasing presence on the London avant-instrumental scene (in which he won NonClassical Records’ Battle Of The Bands in 2015), he creates strong but delicate slow-reveal improvisations for contrabassoon, loop pedals, backup samples and (occasionally) bass guitar; tapping into the grace of classical chamber music and threnodic jazz, and stirring in noise, incidental distortion and other dysfidelities.



 
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Westking Music & Performing Arts, who are putting on next Wednesday’s ‘Overlaps‘ concert, are bookending it with a couple of other gigs as part of their Summer Series (which also includes performance showcases for various graduates).

On 4th June, it’s Daniel O’Sullivan supported by Westking alumna Tega Mendes.

Daniel O'Sullivan + Tega Mendes, 4th June 2019

It’s easy enough to own a varied music collection; to shuffle quickly and smoothly between folk music, noise, synthtronica, experimental psychedelia, arthouse sound design, prog, proto-punk, pseudo-Zeuhl and the rest. It’s quite another to work, as a creative musician, across all of these: inevitably some purist will call you out as a fraud or a daytripper. Daniel, however, has made a name for himself as one of the few people who can apparently flit and slide between the scenes without being stalled by suspicion or rejection. Formidable multi-instrumental skills help, as does his apparent willingness to be a utility man as often as a leader. Over two decades, he’s piled up a pyramid of projects – his own Mothlife and Miasma & the Carousel of Headless Horses; duo work with Miracle or Grumbling Fur; a stint effectively directing Guapo; contributions to live and studio work with Ulver, Sunn O))) and This Is Not This Heat; plus sound installations and soundtracks in the fine art and cinema worlds. During the course of this, no-one’s fingered him as an interloper; no-one seems to have frozen him out. It’s a rare talent to be so ubiquitous, so flexible – or so insidious.



 
Daniel’s most recent album, ‘Folly’, is the second one he’s released under his own name, pursuing something more intimate and personal. Written around the death of a friend and the birth of a son, it sees him continuing to tack away from the experimental rock he made his reputation with in favour of hushed, rich-textured chamber folk, burnished like a picture window by the warm depth of Thighpaulsandra’s production. Still ,a psychedelic perspective follows in its wake, like a contrail of blossom; easily found in the swirl of instrumentation and in the way that Daniel dips in and (more often) out of straightforwardness like a flying fish, offering transient reveals and kaleidoscopic digressions. Live, he’ll be performing solo and won’t be able to dodge behind the arrangements, but will be inviting up a couple of special guests to play along.

There’s some tie-in between Daniel’s work and Tega’s; they currently share a taste for a dreamy sheathing of instrumentation, but rather than chamber folk Tega follows on from the quiet storm soul-pop currently exemplified (in Britain, at least) by Lianne La Havas and Laura Mvula, and previously in the States by Roberta Flack and Minnie Riperton. On record, she displays a knack for deepening re-harmonisations of established songs; live, she works on a nourishing and playful full-band exploration of the assorted moods and genres that she touches on. It’s still early days for her, with not much more than a handful of Soundcloud songs to show yet, but even with her musicality still on a slow stir there’s a lot of promise here.

 
On 6th of June, The Cesarians are supported by The Silver Field.

The Cesarians + The Silver Field, 6th June 2019The musical love-child of onetime trash-rocker Charlie Finke (who sang sleaze with Penthouse in the mid-90s) and Justine Armatage (formerly pianist, composer and violinist with ill-fated ’90s theatrical indie types Gretchen Hofner), The Cesarians are virtually ambassadors for the hope of “older, wiser, sexier and funnier”. A loose troupe centred around houseboat life on the River Lea, they encompass showband horns, cabaret, puckish and sometimes self-deprecating wit, via enormous pop hooks which sweep glam, art-punk, chanson and singalong onto the table. They somehow manage to be down-to-earth while still being splendidly glamorous, by dint of turning their lives into theatre: following their songwriting inquisitiveness wherever it leads them and inviting you along.

For today’s crop of twentysomething band players, The Cesarians could (and should) be like anarchically cool uncles and aunts – the kind that zoom in and out of the family on their own orbits, winking as they swing past; cheerfully using inappropriate language and carrying handfuls of intrigue. They’re people whom you feel you could learn from: learn how to be naughty and to be wise; how to smoke and to make mistakes, but also how to become yourself. For us older dogs closer to their age, they’re more about an irrepressible spark persistently pushing up; there’s something luminous about them, as if they’d thrived on misspent youths and come through it all broader and happier as people. For what it’s worth, I get bored by musicians who embrace or act out too much debauchery, but occasionally I meet some whose mental vividness transcends the partying, and when I do I can’t stop talking to them; and generally, they turn out to be a lot like The Cesarians.

The songs? Well, the songs sound a bit like this…



 
The rural post-folk compositions for The Silver Field start off in Coral Rose’s bedroom. A digital delay inherited from her musician father serves as the cauldron for her own multi-instrumental inventiveness on a cupboardful of instruments, within which guitar, harmonica, mandolin, small drums and harmonium make room for cello, double bass, bagpipe chanter and electronics, plus loops captured on a rackety antique reel-to-reel tape recorder bought for a quid at a car boot sale. Assisted on occasion by Vanishing Twin’s Cathy Lucas and by Kiran Bhatt of Red River Dialect, It’s a kind of rough-edged chamber-folk shunting yard, in which plangent instrumental melodies are nudged by noise interference and spatial effects woven in from smartphone field recordings.

Live, Coral calls in more instrumentalist friends (Kiran again, plus Rachel Horwood from Bamboo and Trash Kit, Rachel Margetts from Yr Lovely Dead Moon) to help her recreate and reconsider her work: not absolute reproductions of what’s on record, but pickings-up and hand-ons, the instrumentation and looping shuffled under the requirements of necessity and community and of keeping the music as a living thing. Her debut album ‘Rooms’, meanwhile, comes complete with its own sonic metaphor of growing up, moving on and moving out; of both dispensing of childhood homes and coming to terms with departing from them.



 
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Closing off May, there’s a triple-threat art-rock show from Thumpermonkeyc, Lost Crowns and Kavus Torabi – all of whom I’ve already written about so frequently in here that I’m constantly, increasingly in danger of repeating myself. So I’m going to pre-empt myself by collaging some of the things I’ve already said into a new mashup, for the benefit of any of you who might be new readers or just new to any of these people…

Thumpermonkey + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 31st May 2019Thumpermonkey – “mordant, tricksy brilliance… the missing link between Mastodon and China Miéville (or perhaps between Peter Hammill and Neal Stephenson)… One of Britain’s most ambitious rock bands, deftly striding and shifting between different musical kernels from prog, dark pop or experimental metal to a kind of science-fiction cabaret, languidly licking up and stirring in any intriguing nugget or story fragment they birth or encounter… A latterday Thumpermonkey song’s more like a contemporary classical song: protracted, a lyric-driven musical wandering from thought to thought, but always with that solid rock foundation, that return to purpose… Michael Woodman’s voice (is) pure theatrical cordon bleu hambone, from the bottom of its ominous deep-tenor declamations to the top of its horror-struck falsetto…

“The music, meanwhile, is an ever-flexing full-spectrum crunch and hush, full of stalking shapes and hovering convoluted melodies… Unpacking their decade-plus back catalogue of recordings is like getting trapped in one of those clever-dick contemporary polymath novels written about everything and anything, stitched together with a little magic and mystique – they’ve sung about computer games, Nigerian fraudsters, Mexican acid westerns and strange diseases and made it sound as if it were all part of the same complex semi-submerged story… Game-playing geeks for sure, and clearly ones who are proud of their astonishingly broad armoury of sly references, veiled jokes and fantastical imagery; but also geeks who revel in their absolute mastery of those most un-geeky of rock qualities – muscle and poise… The particular genius of Thumpermonkey is that they can unroll these kind of parodic slipstream plots without ever toppling into cute whimsy.”


 
Lost Crowns – “a barrage of word-dense songs overflowing with full-on prismatic structures and outright rock drive, as if Lewis Carroll and Flann O’Brien had called on the massed forces of Henry Cow to help them hijack Battles… A vortex of influences funnel around (Lost Crowns leader) Richard Larcombe, including Chicago math, witty Daevid Allen psych rampage, contemporary classical music and skipping, tuneful folk singalongs. Shaped by his particular persona and thought processes – as well as his innate Englishness – it all emerges as a kind of prog, but one in which the fat and the posturing has all been burned off by the nerves and the detail, and in which his dry, melodious wit winds around the work playing mirror-tricks, theatrical feints, and the conspiratorial winks of a master boulevardier…

“If he is icing his work with gags, it’s partially because something so musically demanding needs a little judicious sugaring… Imagine a cocktail which didn’t dilute as you built it up, but instead made all of its ingredients stronger, brighter and brasher… A rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection… complex, artfully-meandering songs built from delightfully byzantine chords and arpeggios that cycle through ever-evolving patterns like palace clockwork; accompanied by rich, lazy clouds of hilarious, hyper-literate, wonderfully arcane lyrics; all sealed by an arch, out-of-time English manner which (in tone and timbre) falls into a never-was neverworld between Richard Sinclair, Stephen Fry, Noel Coward and a posh, Devonian Frank Zappa.”


 
Kavus Torabi – ” (His) dusky psych-folk EP ‘Solar Divination’…. perhaps draw(s) some influence from (his) other lives in Gong, Cardiacs, Guapo and others, but not nearly as much as it draws from ominous imagined dusk rituals and mysterious old ghosts on the darker hippy trails… A darker, more agrarian take on his psychedelic homeground, this time it’s drumless, bassless, hornless – rinsed clear of the capering squirrel energy he’s shown for twenty-odd years, in order to reveal muted, angsty bones… (It’s) a holiday from the jewelled and roaring intricacies of his main gig with Knifeworld, but it’s certainly not an escape from the psychedelic shadows which nightwing their way through the band’s apparently celebratory rainbow arcs.

“For this isolated, darker, more grinding work, Kavus strips the flash-bangs away and leaves us with the droning echoes: the meditative bruises, fears and queries, many of which nonetheless contain their own seeds of determination and a kind of celebratory acceptance…. Mostly based around slow, smoky-lunged harmonium stretches and sparse flotsam drags of guitar chording, this is a more foreboding turn of song, haunted by deaths, loss and disintegrations… (It’s a) sullen, trepidatious, post-nova ember-glow… trawling through shimmering webs of harmonium, effected drones and knell-clangs of acoustic guitar, exploring a forbidding hinterland of vulnerability and permeable spirit-space… the gravel-grain in Kavus’ voice welling up from deeper, ghostlier territories than before.”


 
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Dates:

VLMV & Nice Weather For Airstrikes present:
VLMV + Thomas Stone
The Rosemary Branch Theatre, 2 Shepperton Road, De Beauvoir Town, London, N1 3DT, England
Thursday 30th May 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Thumpermonkey + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi
The Victoria, 186 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, London, E17 4QH, England
Friday 31st May 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Daniel O’Sullivan (& special guests) + Tega Mendes
Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, England
Tuesday 4th June 2019, 6.30pm
– information here

The Cesarians + The Silver Field
Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, England
Thursday 6th June 2019, 6.30pm
– information here
 

May 2019 – upcoming gigs – theatrical rock and weirdtronica from Major Parkinson, Alwanzatar and Army Of Moths in London (2nd, 3rd); simmering avant-rock angles from Thumpermonkey and A Formal Horse in Southampton (2nd); eclectic music From My Octopus Mind and Daniel Inzani in Bristol plus a dance video premiere by Bethany Stenning (2nd)

23 Apr

Major Parkinson + Alwantazar + Army Of Moths, 2nd & 3rd May 2019The last time that Bergen rock dramatists Major Parkinson came to England, they amazed and were amazed – bringing an evening of dark-tinged theatrical music, and leaving grateful and a little thunderstruck at the attention they’d received and the energy and loyalty they’d stirred up. It had something to do with the fact that they’d unexpectedly tapped into the interests of Cardiacs fans, known for their family loyalty and their generally un-English zest for manic expressiveness and musical complexity. A perfect match, really. Fronted by Jon Ivar Kollbotn and massing up an armoury of violins, guitars and keyboards, Major Parkinson are a Jägerbomb of a band. Rich, heady, a little reminiscent of Cardiacs’ turbulent complexity, but with plenty of other things in the brew – a dash of Nick Cave’s Gothic cabaret, the huge dark orchestral-pop airs of Cousteau, the shipwreck timbers of black metal, the ambitions that come from staring at a shelfload of out-there music while still pawing over your childhood copy of ‘Sgt. Pepper’.

They’re back in England at the beginning of next month to play a London double – an official show at Tufnell Park’s Dome, plus (for Dome ticket holders) a pre-Dome warm-up at a secret location. No idea where the latter is. They’re selling it as some kind of thieves’ kitchen or secret cupboard, in which you’ll come as an audience member but helplessly spill onto the stage, presumably becoming one of the characters in a Parkinson tale. It’s all a mystery. Pick up a Dome ticket and be prepared to make an early weekend of it.



 
At the Dome show, there’s support from Alwanzatar, a solo “extraterrestrial world music” project from Krizla (who plays with Norwegian prog-psych-folkers Tusmørke). Founded around electronics, flute, synth gloop and incantations, it sounds a little like a reanimated Popul Vuh, raised up by dark rites and dragged into the world of bedroom electronica. Also on hand are Army Of Moths: usually a similarly theatre’lectrical racket to Major Parkinson themselves, playing an unhinged kind of power pop (great brick arches of song with a definite Cardiacs-y clamberosity involved, plus vocals scurrying around them like woozy wayward ivy or clamouring like a young Bowie). This time they’re playing in acoustic format.




 
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It’s going to be a busy Thursday for this kind of tuneful, extravagant fringe rock. Also on the 2nd – balefully powerful London avant-prog band Thumpermonkey up sticks for an evening and roll their dark laughter, their constantly shapeshifting compositions and their baffling, brainiac-surreal perspective out of London, taking the road down to Southampton to play for the determined diehards at Solent Area Prog.

Thumpermonkey + A Formal Horse, 2nd May 2019Like Major Parkinson, Thumpermonkey are a heady brew of ideas and drama. In their way, they’re one of Britain’s most ambitious rock bands, deftly striding and shifting between different musical kernels from prog, dark pop or experimental metal to a kind of science-fiction cabaret, languidly licking up and stirring in any intriguing nugget or story fragment they birth or encounter. Unpacking their decade-plus back catalogue of recordings is like getting trapped in one of those clever-dick contemporary polymath novels written about everything and anything, stitched together with a little magic and mystique – they’ve sung about computer games, Nigerian fraudsters, Mexican acid westerns and strange diseases and made it sound as if it were all part of the same complex semi-submerged story. Their most recent album, ‘Make Me Young, etc.’ is a surprisingly sober banking-down of the usual playful creative fires: a crepuscular meditation on the end of the world as observed through dreams, portents, reality and intimations.



 
Once a concoction of pointy elbows and sudden shifts, Southampton avant-rockers A Formal Horse (playing in support) are growing up, out and a little away from their post-prog beginnings, powered by Hayley McDonnell’s strong carolling tones. More recent songs (like 2018’s Bird) yearn toward a kind of florid dream-folk, even as the drumming nails mozaics into the floor and the guitar describes steely math-rock machinery forms. A couple of years ago, I described them as “a bounding conceptual glitterball”. In some respects, they’ve calmed down a little since then, but only in order to apply more considered forms of straining at their genre. At the moment, they’re like a muscle developing – over-straining, gently tearing, but with the intention and ability to rebuild and go further.



 
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In contrast to the journeys being carried out by Major Parkinson and Thumpermonkey next week, My Octopus Mind are staying happily at home in Bristol for their own 2nd May gig. Following their jaunt around the country back in February (and a brief vigorous five-date sizzle through France and Belgium earlier this month) this time they’re choosing to draw the wider world over to themselves.

Here’s what I wrote about them last time, which they’ve liked enough to quote themselves, and which I might as well requote myself – “My Octopus Mind occupy a pleasing position, settled in their own web of connections between a number of different influences but reliant upon none of them. There’s a jazzy rattle, predominantly via the gloriously noisy effected double bass of Izy Ellis (a growling, punchy, conversational art-box; upfront timber and raw electronic treatments). The whole band’s informed by post-Radiohead/Mars Volta art rock and by the mating of contrasts implicit in assorted culture collisions (such the Hindustani-classical meets New-York-loft-music teaming achieved in one particular favourite, Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar’s ‘Passages’). Frontman singer and guitarist Liam O’Connell cites the sonic and psychological crescendos of Jeff Buckley and Josh Homme’s mix of heaviness and irony, but also the restraint of Jose Gonzales. Ex-Lambhorneer Oliver Cocup adds refreshed drum bounce, and racing through the whole thing is a rivulet – or, more accurately, an unstoppable jet of skittish Balkan folk.”

While going out on tour, My Octopus Mind are a trio. On home turf, they’re a sextet. They’ve had an extra pair of plug-in string players for a while, but the sixth member remains a mystery for the moment. The other thing they’ll be unveiling at this gig is their second video release: a “magical” piece of stop-motion animation by Roos Mattaar, part of Bristol’s crop of world-class animators, and the woman previously responsible for most of the video for Father John Misty’s Things It Would Have Been Helpful To Know Before The Revolution.


 
More music visuals come from Bethany Stenning, whose “tender genderless, measureless, dimensionless” Stanlæy project has migrated between Paris, Ireland and Bristol in various shapes and forms since 2016 (with Bethany constantly at the core of the catherine wheel, throwing off strands of violin, piano, guitar, voice, synth and found sound). As musician and multi-instrumentalist, Bethany starts from a perspective of “ethereal gypsy punk-pop” and moves outwards from there into the kind of neverland/neverwas experimental folk music that we used to hear from Joanna Newsom; with her fey, unusual, offbeat-beautiful voice and lyrics exploring “human life in the modern world…our ancient relationships to nature… contemplations about consciousness and free will” while nestling in sparse yet evocative post-classical, free-sounding arrangements.

Stanlæy’s current incarnation (a spacious acoustic quartet) would fit right into the night’s gig lineup; but instead we’re getting a look at Bethany’s broader artistic concerns and abilities. Her involvement tonight has more to do with her visual art side and her passion for painting, illustrating, observing and questioning the human body via story and dance. In collaboration with cinematographer Rob Ellis, she scripts and directs video art, something which first came substantially together in 2017’s ‘The Human Project’ (“seven elements embodied within seven sonic visuals… seven hues, revealing the body as a canvas to represent natural elements as a metaphor for cognitive states of mind, and the evolution of the body. The human body transforms itself into a real life canvas.”) On this occasion, she’s presenting ‘Wear The Line’, a twenty -minute short film that’s “a thought-provoking and uncannily realised representation of the current climate of gender roles and their ambiguity. Set in a universe much like our own where one word or concept can have as many meanings as there are people, the film explores the formula of femininity. It features lead performances by Flora Whitmarsh, Taylor Young and Phoebe Hopwood.” Bethany also provided the music for the film – from what I’ve heard, a hypnotic and open-ended chamber-classical ambience.



 
Also on board for the evening is Daniel Inzani, playing a mid-bill set of piano pieces. Though he’s perhaps best known at the moment for the classical/jazz/folk chamber fusion music (simultaneously luxuriant, ghostly and sprightly) which he composes for his Spindle Ensemble quartet, Daniel’s work has also embraced vigorously visual Ethopian jazz fusion with his Tezeta octet; the performance of ska, rocksteady and Mahavishnu Orchestra music; and support work in a pair of Bristolian psychedelic assemblages (Graeme Smith’s blues-reggae-meets-lounge project Dubi Dolczek and Conrad Singh’s buzz/drone Americana folk-pop array Cloudshoes). His piano solos catch up and rework bits of his own compositions, rearrangements for different spaces.


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Major Parkinson:

  • (secret location, London) – Thursday 2nd May 2019, time t.b.c. – special warm-up gig available to ticketholders for the Dome show
  • The Dome, 2a Dartmouth Park Hill, Tufnell Park, London, NW5 1HL, England – Friday 3rd May 2019, 7.00pm – information here, here and here

Solent Area Prog presents:
Thumpermonkey + A Formal Horse
The Joiners, 141 St Mary Street, Southampton, SO14 1NS, England
Thursday 2nd May 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

My Octopus Mind + Daniel Inzani + Bethany Stenning’s ‘Wear The Line’ (video premiere)
Cube Microplex, 4 Princess Row, Bristol, BS2 8NQ, England
Thursday 2nd May 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

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

21 Jul

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

Gong, 2018

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

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



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



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

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

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



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



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

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



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

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



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



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



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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

May 2018 – upcoming London and Brighton esoteric heavy rock gigs – Memory Of Elephants, Codices, Rad Pitt at Facemelter (4th May); The Display Team, Magnus Loom, Ms Mercy (11th May); Poly-Math, InTechnicolour, Thumpermonkey (12th May)

27 Apr

Making a temporary shift from their usual Camden base at the Black Heart, the upcoming month’s Chaos Theory gigs continue to showcase colourfully noisy guitar rock of the post-, math-y and metallic kind (at the Facemelter nights) and mushroom outwards into avant-rock territories elsewhere.

* * * * * * * *

Memory Of Elephants + Codices + Rad Pitt, 4th May 2018

Chaos Theory Music Promotions presents:
The Facemelter: Memory Of Elephants + Codices + Rad Pitt
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Friday 4th May 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Bristol trio Memory Of Elephants are “insanely brilliant at making technically perfect math-rock sound like noise and making noise-rock sound like progressive perfection”. Already an established Facemelter act, their music’s a welter of restless multipolar mood changes and psych-cyclones with a bewildering delightful stockpile of guitar tones; from mechanistic hissing growls, fire-ribbon swishes and sudden injections of Detroit proto-punk to great woozy carousing fuzzwalls of MBV dreampop, Chinese orchestras and – at one point – what sounds like a gnarly old organ playing itself.


 
Codices (spotted by CT last year playing with Lost In The Riots) offer more pared-down, quick-on-its-feet, jump-and-feint riffage. Studded with bursts of spoken-word metaphysics, they’ve got an appealing heavy/light touch; changing between tearing distortion and sighing post-rock chimes like a rapier fighter who suddenly brings out gobbets of flamethrower blast.


 
Opening (and replacing Midlands slamcore duo A Werewolf!) are the gnarly pop-culture bawls and in-jokes of Colchester post-hardcore rabble Rad Pitt. Showcasing the Facemelter’s more mischievous side, they’re described by ‘Louder Than War’ as “like Enter Shikari without the disco beats and Extreme Noise Terror with some catchy verses attached to the mayhem” and by Chaos Theory’s Kunal as “plenty of screams and big riffs. Ridiculous fun, awesome lyrics, and a band we’ve been dying to work with for ages.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The Display Team + Magnus Loom + Ms Mercy, 11th May 2018

Match ‘n’ Fuse & Chaos Theory Music Promotions present:
The Display Team + Magnus Loom + Ms Mercy
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Friday 11th May 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

A week later, Chaos Theory team up with Match’n’Fuse Festival (long-standing promoters of avant-garde jazz, prog and all manner of genre-colliding music) to bring you “a one-off event, a lineup of audio oddities filled with weird and lively sorts. Just because.”

Chaos Theory call London trick-rock squad The Display Team a “prog-punk orchestra creat(ing) a heavy assault of surprisingly upbeat, melodic nonsense, resulting in something like a cross between The Specials and Mr Bungle”. Certainly, as they tumble through their brass-plastered tunes (like a Blackpool drunk being cannon-fired, with suspicious accuracy, through a line of deckchairs), they initially seem like another entry in the long roll of prodigious Zappa-esque loon bands, employing powerful and assertive technique in a circus-act of absurd flamboyance.

Beyond the parping and razzing, though (and beyond the slightly unhinged yell-singing of drummer-leader Chuckles), there’s a steely assurance to them; a determination to navigate to the end of the tangled charts and wrangled music, and to triumph. Ironically, this makes them more Zappa-esque than they’d be if they just larked around. Despite the ska breaks and the post-prog riff blitzing, the looning is secondary – to the point of almost being invisible – and what you’re left with is the vigour of the loops, feints and dives. Regular readers may be surprised to hear that I’m actually quite skeptical about these kind of bands. Not this one. Eyes on the prize.



 
In the middle there’s something similarly diverse but riddled with deliberate cracks, as sometime Echo Pressure saxophonist Joe Murgatroyd provides “avant-glam-punk cabaret” in his solo guise as Magnus Loom. His songs are a tossed salad of art-rock, post-punk, bizarre ’60s pop and Moonshake-style post-rock: some of them blurting skeletons of manically yawing subbass, oil-tub drum rattle and glockenspiels that sound like eighteenth-century jailers’ keys); others acidic sheets of synth buzz and guitar snag, generally carrying a topping of samples like a small tsunami that’s swept though a warehouse for unwanted toys.

Joe’s voice and songwriting match the vim and brittle wit of his instrumentation. Defiant, slightly lost and only slightly tongue-in-cheek, all of it filters honest angst through defensive satire; capturing the mixture of listlessness and energetic restlessness that gets us through the day while our consumer anxiety, our boredom, our mortality, our unsureties and our appetites keep bouncing off our own noggins.



 
Launching at this particular gig, show openers Ms Mercy are “a new noise project of total chaos, rock, metal, noise, prog, punk and more…. a brilliant Faith No More/System Of A Down/Bungle-esque experience.” It’s hard to disagree with that as you hear them hurtling through their cut-and-shunt of hard-edged musical fragments; their vocals a pugnacious, hard-eyed, Patton-ish pummel of semi-operatic theatrics through to rap. They sound like a snarling, barking pack of rabid wolves, but one that’s rather enjoying its own crazed death spiral.


 
* * * * * * * *

While Chaos Theory aren’t organising the third gig in the post (that’s down to the folk at the Brighton Electric studios) their cheery collective thumbprint’s certain on it – all of the bands taking part either fit the Facemelter template or will do, and Kunal is heading down to run the DJ sets…

Polymath, 2018

Brighton Electric and Chaos Theory Music Promotions present:
‘Help Dan Beesley Beat Cancer’: Poly-Math + InTechnicolour + Thumpermonkey
Brighton Electric, 43-45 Coombe Terrace, Brighton, West Sussex, BN2 4AD, England
Saturday 12th May 2018, 7.00pm
– information here

Well-loved guitar-messer Dan Wild-Beesley (from Cleft and GUG) has recently conquered the mountain by apparently winning his battle with stage four brain cancer, but he’s still got the journey back down to contend with. There’s ten grand’s worth of medical bills, for which he’s only got about eighty per cent of the costs covered. With a JustGiving campaign in full swing (more on all of that here), quite a bit of what Dan’s needed has been raised by his friends in the math-rock and post-progressive rock community, and the efforts continue with this Brighton show.

Homeboys Poly-Math headline with their cosmic post-prog instrumental landscapes. While it’s tempting to tag them as something like “colourful, heroic NASA-metal”, I should be more careful before flinging the space-rock adjectives around. 2015’s mini-album ‘Reptiles’ implied themes of evolution and metamorphosis and more recently Poly-Math have been turning their impressionistic attention toward the hard knuckles of history. As of the end of last week, they’ve got a new double album out – ‘House Of Wisdom | We Are The Devil’, for which this show is the formal launch.

Hailed by West Midlands zine and promoters ‘Circuit Sweet’ as “thought provoking, intelligent and supremely executed music”, the album’s inspired by the 1258 Mongol siege and overrunning of Baghdad and its caliphate, and the consequential dooming of the enlightened university which lay within the city walls; from which so many pillaged books were cast aside into the River Tigris that the waters turned black with ruined and dissolving ink. Aesthetically speaking, there’s a terrific dark-fairytale ring to that story; but in terms of genuine history it marked the end of the Golden Age of Islam (with its giant forward strides in philosophy, science and cooperation) and the treading under, by brute force and proto-fascism, of its culture of curiosity and education. Bring your own present-day analogy: you’ll have to, since whatever meaning Poly-Math themselves intend is encoded between the notes and sonic surges of their burgeoning instrumentals.



 
Mid-bill comes the grand, quaveringly hallucinatory post-grunge stoner rock of InTechnicolour. Formed by assorted members of math-rockers Delta Sleep, experimental rockers Physics House Band and the live array for guitar-droners LUO, they regularly assemble to play a speaks-for-itself mass of heavy riffs and doodles through a pink haze.


  
I’ve said plenty about concert openers Thumpermonkey over the last few years, but thanks to their unceasing wit and creativity there’ll always be more to roll out. The missing link between Mastodon and China Miéville (or perhaps between Peter Hammill and Neal Stephenson), they play plenty of heavy rock gigs rubbing shoulders with the psych-y, the math-ridden and the screamy, and always fit in well; while simultaneously seeming to float above the fray, looking down with affable amusement at both themselves and their billmates. Partially it’s Michael Woodman’s voice – pure theatrical cordon bleu hambone, from the bottom of its ominous deep-tenor declamations to the top of its horror-struck falsetto. Partially it’s the baffling range of esoteric topics which slow-cook throughout the lyrics: a baroque, tongue-in-cheek, post-imperial melange of eldritch secrets, trans-dimensional catastrophes and strange surreal ennuis being visited on hapless pith-helmeted explorers and unwary academics, seasoned with nightmare flashes into surreal Jodorowskian dreamscapes, angsty post-grunge horror or delicately unfolding post-rock gags about Nigerian scam emails.


 
The music, meanwhile, is an ever-flexing full-spectrum crunch and hush, full of stalking shapes and hovering convoluted melodies. Game-playing geeks for sure, and clearly ones who are proud of their astonishingly broad armoury of sly references, veiled jokes and fantastical imagery; but also geeks who revel in their absolute mastery of those most un-geeky of rock qualities – muscle and poise. 
 

 

October 2017 – upcoming London gigs – heavy art rock with Thumpermonkey, The Fierce & The Dead and Ham Legion; another Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree with Beth Jones, WondRwomN and others (both 6th October)

1 Oct

A couple of London choices for this Friday…

* * * * * * * *

Thumpermonkey + The Fierce & The Dead + Ham Legion, 6th October 2017

Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
The Facemelter: Thumpermonkey + The Fierce & The Dead + Ham Legion
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Friday 6th October 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

There’s still a few grab-’em-while-you-can tickets for this friendly clash between these three varied exemplars of British art rock. I keep posting odds and ends about them and always fear running out of something new to say, but here goes…

Described, this time out, as a “merry band of loony pronk heroes”, Thumpermonkey are better pegged as arch New Weird rockers, or as geeks-made-good. Bright, sharp, literate tale-tellers and brain-twisting scenarists, they roll out blistering tales and portraits of strange perspectives and stranger goings on festooned in kinked, scree-slipping riffs and grand declamatory vocals with an ever-present tinge of dark laughter. Unpicking the puzzlebox machinery of a typical Thumpermonkey song is a route to mingled glee and frustration, since singer, lyricist and concept director Michael Woodman packs in tight multi-dimensional digressions and inferences with the skill of a master.

This gig is a launch party for Thumpermonkey’s new EP ‘Electricity‘, inspired by “the luminous magnificence of human foolishness” and the story of “Victorian MP and visionary Lord James Badger… atomized by technology he hoped would transform the canals of the Euphrates, all because he followed the instructions of an angelic visitation.” The particular genius of Thumpermonkey is that they can unroll these kind of parodic slipstream plots without ever toppling into cute whimsy. If you’re looking for the missing link between Mastodon, Zappa, China Miéville, Van der Graaf Generator, Alejandro Jodorowsky and the harder end of the Mighty Boosh (and God knows that if you’re looking for something like that, you’re pretty specific), you’ll find it here. Clever bastards.


 

Currently riding along on the scaly back of their recent live album ‘Field Recordings’, The Fierce & The Dead are heading towards their seventh year as an imposing, boundary-squatting instrumental rock band, forcibly blending post-hardcore, instrumental prog, post-punk immediacy and experimental noise. Despite their music being sweetened by the inclusion of tuneful loop-guitar honeybear Matt Stevens in the lineup, they sport a brutal, angular, drawer-popping rifftastic sound which variously resembles Led Zeppelin and Black Flag simultaneously shaking down a post-rock band, a hotel kitchen getting a forcible mid-meal remodelling by Archaos, or a carhenge attempting to twerk along to highlife. Have a listen to Dancing Robots below for a dose of their live crunch and down-to-earth banter – or, if you prefer, there’s a free Bandcamp download sampler available.


 
Intermittently active Brightonian trio Ham Legion will open the show with a set of their cramped, restless heavy art-pop, matching the other two bands blurt-for-blurt and switch-for-switch.


 
* * * * * * * *

If all of the above is not for you – or if your Friday funds only stretch to a Tube journey and a drink – cabaret art-poppers Society of Imaginary Friends are putting on another free soiree in Wood Green (see passim). As ever, there’s a theme and a new bit of performance art jiggery-pokery from the Society themselves.

Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree, 6th October 2017

Society Of Imaginary Friends present:
Society of Imaginary Friends Soiree: “It’s Our Home County Amateur Dramatic Class Soiree” (featuring Society Of Imaginary Friends + Beth Jones + WondRwomN + Martin Wakefield + Cian Binchy + Lord Buckley + Ted Sawyer/Frank Frenzy DJ sets)
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 6th October 2017, 8.00pm – free event
information

“From Tring to Crawley, Amersham to Reigate, the dusky Downs resound to the sound of dramatis personae… for this is the time of preparation… the drawing-in of the nights can mean only one thing to these outcasts… Panto season is approaching.

“Our October Soiree is dedicated to London’s cultural refugees who dwell beyond the M25 where things are quite different… in a quiet cul-de-sac of the mind they float… there is no music other than ’80s power-synth ballads or Gary Numan… the Am Dram village hall is at the centre of the Home Counties mock-Tudor universe… As a mark of deep respect for this tradition, Society of Imaginary Friends will be performing the premiere of their ‘Home Counties’ song cycle featuring their cosy pub classic Please Put That Hammer Away and It’s My Home Counties Amateur Dramatic Class.”

Also on the bill is the usual swirl of other words and music – bluesy singer-songwriter Beth Jones ; poet/raconteurs Martin Wakefield and Cian Binchy, emerging Tottenham groove goddess WondRWomN with a cocktail of psychedelic soul, funk, rap and “grit pop”; and the “deranged and strange” Lord Buckley (presumably a tribute act to the hipsemantic beat standup from the 1950s, unless SOIF have mastered necromancy this year and brought us back the real thing). There’s also a double DJ helping from Ted Sawyer (Northern Soul) and Frank Frenzy (that 1980s power disco sound mentioned earlier) plus Karamel’s usual prizewinning vegan food (this time “reimagining the ’70s classics like prawn cocktail and Boeuf Bourguignon as a death free feast”).

See below for the Society’s poperatic tribute to social media, a harmonica-laden song about infidelity from Beth, and a couple of drum-and-‘bone-assisted joints from WondRwomN…


 

August 2017 – Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place UK tour (22nd-26th August)

11 Aug

Rob Crow's Gloomy Place UK tour, 22-26 August 2017Rob Crow was once the man who seemed to do everything all the time. Best known as one of the two multi-instrumental frontmen for American cult rockers Pinback, he’s also been the driving force behind a host of projects. To the uninitiated, you could describe him as an kind of unfettered one-man Pavement – he does, after all, write long and delightfully noodly songs which build up like mushrooming musical favelas – but without Malkmus and co’s detached preppiness and their relatively narrow college-rock framing.

Instead, Rob voyages off into odd avenues of punkified folk-naive, semi-sloppy wandering garage meditations, stream-of-chat lyrics, and omnivorous lo-fi post-Sonic Youth psychedelia punctuated by dirty guitar blasts. For a while, it seemed as if every other convoluted mid-paced meander spilling from American underground rock had a Crow fingerprint on it somewhere. Listening across his catalogue, you can find slippery reincorporations of math rock and pop into each other’s spheres (on Other Men’s ‘Wake Up Swimming‘), apparent mixtures of thrash metal, grunge and line-dancing (viz the opening songs on his Ladies album ‘They Mean Us‘) or pretty much everything that flashes across his mind and memory (most Heavy Vegetable and Thingy records) – and that’s before you get to the toy-play of Optiganally Yours and the parody doom/drone/pop culture metal of Goblin Cock. In general, Rob treats genres as if they’re all bedrooms in one single-floor dormitory block and all he has to do is amble up in a friendly way and knock on the door.

A couple of years ago, Rob downed tools and walked away. Burnt out, broke and unhealthy, for a while it seemed as if he’d become an unwilling example of the costs and practical futility of doing committed but marginalised DIY quirk-rock for too long without proper support. Actually, the way it’s turned out has been less pathetic and more sensible: all Rob needed were better plans in which to cradle his existing energies. With his dark patch behind him, and his home life and lifestyle repaired, he’s back in business with a number of new projects.

Prime amongst these is the relatively new Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place, a shifting collective based around him and his guitar. Rather than tote an expensive band around full time, he’s now (like a strapped but shrewd jazzman) in the position of being able to assemble one around whichever sympathetic souls are available wherever he happens to touch down. For his upcoming British tour, he’s been able to mine a particular strand of DIY musical gold thanks to a cluster of particularly talented Crow enthusiasts – Kavus Torabi on second guitar, Craig Fortnam on bass, Rhodri Marsden on keyboards, and the mysterious “Loz Bozenge” (apparently current Gong drummer Cheb Nettles, shuffling his Chinese box of pseudonyms). Expect further but wiser wrangles on the expansive Rob template, as laid out on the Gloomy Place debut ‘You’re Doomed. Be Nice‘.


 
The London gig also sports the sly, tremendous heavy-art-rock of Thumpermonkey – long-running nice-boy brainiacs who bring to the table deft slabs of intricate stunt-riffing, grand lyrical puzzles and intimidating songwriter wit (like the geek who can also and effortlessly beat all comers at arm-wrestling). In Glasgow, the support slot’s filled by Herbert Powell (described as an “amazing hi-NRG needling jogathon for fans of This Heat and Povlo”). It’s been a bit trickier finding out who’d be along for the ride in Manchester, but it turns out to be sarcastic Mancunian noise-poppers Sweet Deals On Surgery, who offer “short, snappy, stupidly-titled insights into Jeremy Kyle Britain, social decline, alcohol, drug abuse, sour family histories, serial killers and an ungrounded dislike for Elvis Costello.” Fine as these gigs promise to be, in Salisbury Rob and co. will be headlining something much bigger – a cavalcade of bands honouring and emulating the peculiarly rich musical vision of Cardiacs’ Tim Smith as part of the biennial Alphabet Business Convention. More on that next time – in many respects, it’s a natural home for Crowery.


 
The full set of dates:

  • The Deaf Institute, 135 Grosvenor Street, Manchester, M1 7HE, England, Tuesday 22nd August 2017, 8.00pm (+ Sweet Deals On Surgery) – information here and here
  • Stereo, 22-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 6PH, Scotland, Wednesday 23rd August 2017, 7.30pm (+ Herbert Powell & guests) – information
  • Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, 2-4 Hoxton Square, Hoxton, London, N1 6NU, London, England, Thursday 24th August 2017, 8.00pm (+ Thumpermonkey) – information
  • Alphabet Business Convention @ Salisbury Arts Centre, Bedwin Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP1 3UT, England, Saturday 26th August 2017, 5.30pm – information here and here

 

September 2016 – upcoming London gigs – ANTA + Lords Of Bastard + Thumpermonkey at the Black Heart (2nd)

28 Aug

Here’s very quick news on another psychedelic, proggy, metallic Facemelter show in London at the end of the week… Since I’m in a hurry, all rushing, enthusiastic verbiage below is courtesy of Chaos Theory…

Facemelter, 2nd September 2016
Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
The Facemelter: ANTA + Lords Of Bastard + Thumpermonkey
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Friday 2nd September 2016,
– information here and here

“A fantastic lineup for fans of modern and classic prog, with ’70s psychedelic twists, off-kilter melodies, seriously heavy bass, stoner rock riffs and heavy organ sounds.

ANTA are a truly thunderous modern prog band, driven by heavy organ and bass sounds, vast soundscapes calling back to classic 70’s progressive rock, yet maintaining a distinctly modern sound that remains very much their own. We’ve been fans for many years, having seen them perform crushingly heavy sets at gigs in London and at ArcTanGent, and they’ve shared the stage with legends such as Mugstar, Trans Am, Chrome Hoof, Thought Forms and Bardo Pond. We continue to play their extraordinary albums ‘Centurionaut’ and ‘The Tree That Bears The Equine Fruit’ to this day, but they serve only as a reminder of the velvetine cosmic textures delivered as a hammer blow to the soul that ANTA are capable of when in front of you on stage. A genuine experience and we can’t wait to hear some new material that they’re recording as we speak…


 
Lords Of Bastard are a four-piece heavy psychedelic rock band from Edinburgh, most recently described as “out of the box, out of your mind, psychedelic stoner sludge” as well as “Scottish”. Following the global success of their 2nd album, ‘Cuddles’ in 2012, they released an EP entitled ‘I’m Fun’ last year, to international rapture. As writing new material for their next album is going so well, they’re taking a break to travel down and play for you southerners.


 
Thumpermonkey are a hugely acclaimed band who’ve spent years arguing between themselves about whether to play prog, punk or art-rock, and never seem to have quite settled. After a hugely successful show with them supporting The Display Team during their album launch, we are super uber mega stoked to have them grace the stage of The Facemelter.


 
“We’ve been waiting a long time to get these people down to The Facemelter, and their live shows are rare, so this is a great chance to catch all three bands together in a spectacular show.”

There’s more on ANTA and on Thumpermonkey elsewhere on the blog…
 

April 2016 – upcoming gigs – London rock entanglements this week: mystery superstar(s) sneak into Deptford, supported by Nøught, First and The Kill Raimi’s; Knifeworld go acoustic in Shoreditch; The Display Team, Thumpermonkey and A Formal Horse twist some metres in Bethnal Green.

18 Apr

The folk running the Birds’ Nest in deepest Deptford are wildly, inordinately excited about whom they’ve got to fill their postage-stamp-sized stage at the start of this week, but they won’t tell us who it is

Nøught + First + The Kill Raimi’s  + mystery guests, 19th April 2016Birds Nest TV presents:
(extra special guest band) + Nøught + First + The Kill Raimis
The Birds Nest, 32 Church Street, Deptford, London, SE8 4RZ, England
Tuesday 19th April 2016, 8.00pm
– free entry – more information

“A marvellous occasion is about to happen at the Birds Nest pub, Deptford. We cannot express the sheer excitement at being able to host a night of great local bands and international legends: music conceptualists that have inspired countless bands and still continue to inspire generations of new talent. This is the event we have been waiting for. Get down early to this one as once the venue is full we won’t be letting any more people in.”

We do know that Nøught are playing. After years of being mostly out of the picture while leader James Sedwards ran around playing with everyone bar his main band – including work with shapeshifting prog confounders Guapo, improv blaster Alex Ward, Country Teasers spin-off The Devil, and Thurston Moore (…hmmm?…) – Nøught plunged back into action earlier this year with a Café Oto headliner and a Lydia Lunch support slot, continuing to demonstrate their one-band-fits-all approach of wedding classically precise John McLaughlin/King Crimson-esque jazzprog riffage to blocks of Sonic Youth/Big Black/post-hardcore noise, and how it bridges a stylistic credibility gap which others founder at or don’t even dare to take on.

Filling out the bill are two Deptfordian power trios. First are a third-decade third crack at warm, crunchy Bolanesque grunge-pop by former Stony Sleep/Serafin singer-songwriter Ben Fox Smith (a.k.a. “Young Sawbones”), while The Kill Raimi’s last showed up in here as part of a Thumpermonkey support in December. First’s drummer Jim Devese also happens to play guitar for The Display Team, which ties nicely into events later in the week… read on…



 

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Knifeworld (acoustic set)
Flashback Records, 131 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London, E2 7DG, England
Friday 22nd April 2016, 7.00pm
more information

Knifeworld: 'Bottled Out Of Eden'

Knifeworld: ‘Bottled Out Of Eden’

I hardly need to introduce Knifeworld these days. They’ve never been strangers to this blog (ever since their first releases, and further back if you’re counting coverage of head Knifer Kavus Torabi’s 1990s work as half of the mainspring of The Monsoon Bassoon), but an ever-building profile is beginning to make them, if not a household name, at least not the kind of name which you end up repeating to a succession of nonplussed faces. The world seems to be waking up to the cartwheels and streamers of their music, their meticulous complexity and at least some of the elusive substance lurking behind Kavus’ daffy freak-flag charm.

To celebrate this week’s release of ‘Bottled Out Of Eden’ – their third album proper, and the first to be group-composed – Knifeworld are playing a special acoustic gig at the Shoreditch branch of Flashback Records: perhaps a nod, in part, to Flashback’s role in nurturing that effusive London psychedelic rock tradition in which Knifeworld swim (and which they themselves have a strong role in promoting and sustaining). For plenty of bands, an acoustic session is an excuse to steal a little bit of Proms respectability – some string quartet garnishing, a dig at some previously scorned rootsiness. For Knifeworld, it’s simply a matter of bringing forward what’s integral to the group already. Effectively an electrified chamber octet transfixed by a flaming psychedelic spear, they’re already half-acoustic with their three-line, reeds’n-air whip of saxophones, clarinet and bassoon, with Ben Woolacott’s spacious airy drumming and with their chatty, ever-expanding cloud of harmony vocals. It’ll be interesting to see how full acoustica works on recent tracks like High Aflame, but I can already imagine how it might add a new glint to older songs like The Prime Of Our Decline…

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For the fleet-footed, there might be a chance to catch both the Knifeworld show and part of this next one, which is just in the next neighbourhood over on the same night. Knifeworld finish at 8pm, so the chances are high (as are the chances that you’ll be racing the band – fans themselves – along Bethnal Green Road and Squirries Street to get to the second gig).

The Display Team + Thumpermonkey + A Formal Horse, 22nd April 2016

Chaos Theory presents:
The Display Team + Thumpermonkey + A Formal Horse
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England, Friday 22nd April 2016, 7.30pm
more information

Over to the Chaos Theory publicity factory:

“A frenzied night of prog, punk, ska and rock madness, with bands hiding immense technical prowess under gloriously unhinged music,

Local heroes The Display Team are a band we’ve loved for years but found really hard to place on a lineup! Sounding like a cross between The Specials and Mr Bungle, this prog-punk orchestra create a heavy assault of surprisingly upbeat, melodic nonsense. They’ve impressed DIY audiences all over the UK and beyond with their riotous live shows and their last album ‘Drones’, so after seven years it’s high time for their latest sounds to be captured on another album – ‘Shifts’, which they’re launching this evening.


 

Thumpermonkey are a hugely-acclaimed band who’ve spent years arguing between themselves about whether to play prog, punk or art-rock, and never seem to have quite settled. This creative process somehow produces music that is heavy, delicate, classically and dramatically influenced, sardonic and divisive.


 

Nominated for a Progressive Music Award, A Formal Horse are a progressive quartet hailing from Southampton with a thoroughly uplifting rock sound, playing dense instrumental passages inspired by the sonic worlds created by Mahavishnu Orchestra and Queens Of The Stone Age, whilst still taking cues and colours from twentieth-century art music.”


 

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Next time, some latecoming news on various folk-related tours in England which kick off this week…
 

December 2015 – upcoming gigs, London & elsewhere – Serafina Steer & Bas Jan at Kings Place; assorted Others cabaret from punk to accordiana with The Bohemianauts and Bad Fractals; a Lost Map afternoon with The Pictish Trail/Seamus Fogarty/Tuff Love/Kid Canaveral at Daylight Music; Thumpermonkey, The Mayors Of Miyazaki and Lolita Laytex hit The Albany in Deptford; and the 2015 London Contemporary Music Festival part 1 (sounds for and from London, West Coast America and the time continuum). Plus the return of Mark Mulholland and Craig Ward in a Scottish village hall; Olga Stezhko in a Staffordshire chapel; and Rocket From The Tombs in London and Leeds.

6 Dec

The end of the month, and the year, is nigh – so what are we looking forward to this week?

Mulholland, Ward, Sissoko & D'Hoine @ Ford Village Hall, 8th December 2015

Mark Mulholland, Craig Ward, Yacouba Sissoko & Hannes D’Hoine (Ford Village Hall, Ford, Argyll, Scotland, Tuesday 8th December 2015, 7.30pm) – £5.00 minimum – information – tickets on the door

Back in 2012, two wandering Scottish singer-songwriter-guitarists – Mark Mulholland (ex-Two Dollar Bash) and onetime dEUS member Craig Ward – quietly released one of the finest records of the year. A compelling murmur of acoustic guitar folk, ‘Waiting For The Storm’ was soaked in the Scottish and British folk-baroque of Davey Graham, Pentangle and John Martyn but, in its settings of moist heat, tin roofs, typhoons and dark forces, it was also informed by the Haitian setting of Port-au-Prince, Mark’s home for the previous two years. Some of you may remember that I liked it.

With Mark now relocated to Mali and Craig settled in the little Argyll village of Ford, the duo are collaborating on a follow-up (provisionally called ‘The Darkness Between The Leaves’) on which they’ll be joined by Flemish double bass player Hannes D’Hoine – who played the Danny Thompson anchor-cable role on ‘Waiting For The Storm’ – and by Mark’s newest collaborator, the Malian djely and multi-instrumentalist Yacouba Sissoko, a master kora and ngoni player. The quartet have been preparing and recording in a number of different countries, and the end of the Scottish sessions will be marked by a Ford performance both taking place in and raising funds for Ford Village Hall, with prices set on a pay-what-you-like basis starting from five pounds.

In its quiet way this should be one of the gigs of the year, so if you’re in western Scotland and have a free Tuesday evening, consider heading over to Ford (at the south-western end of Loch Awe, north-west of Glasgow, with the nearest substantial town being Kilmartin.) If you miss this one, they’re playing again in Glasgow at 7.00pm on Wednesday 9th; a low-key gig at the Hidden Lane Gallery in Finnieston.

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After that – for me – the week doesn’t pick up until a very busy Friday and weekend. Too subjective, probably. Here we go, anyway.

Serafina Steer & Bas Jan (Hall Two @ (Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England, Friday 11th December 2015, 8.00pm) – £9.50-£12.50 – information & tickets

The hitherto independent worlds of contemporary harp music and experimental kraut-pop will collide – or at least bump each other – in this concert of two halves by harpist/songwriter Serafina Steer and her new band Bas Jan.

After a few years of mainly only using the harp for her own writings, Serafina went on a roadtrip around Eastern Europe busking, discovering and rediscovering pieces along the way. The result of this experience will form the first half of the programme, which will feature compositions by Richard Barratt (‘tendril’), Benjamin Britten (‘Suite For Harp’), Stephen Dodgson (‘Fantasy’), Rhodri Davies (‘Aqcua Alta’) and Serafina’s own father Michael Maxwell Steer (‘Grovelly Wood’)

The second half of the show will be a performance by Bas Jan, Serafina’s latest collaborative project in which she plays bass guitar and keyboards and writes minimally arranged songs about the Essex coast, the Anglo-Saxons, sex, part-time work and love; with sound artist Sarah Anderson playing violin and OP1 mini-synthesizer and performance visual artist Jenny Moore playing drums (all three women also sing). Bas Jan’s first gig was to six thousand people at Brixton Academy and since then they have gone on – via support slots for Xylouris White and The Decemberists – to entertain smaller and smaller audiences.


 

On the same night, one of ‘Misfit City’s favourite classical musicians is spreading her own particular musical gospel up in Staffordshire:

Olga Stezhko (Abbotsholme Arts Society @ Abbotsholme School Chapel, Rocester, Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, ST14 5BS, England, Friday 11th December 2015, 8.00pm)information – limited number of tickets available, phone 01543 263 304 for details

Olga Stezhko, 2015Following up her recent debut performances at both the Wigmore and Bridgewater Halls (at which she performed full or partial versions of her ‘Lucid Dreams‘ assemblage, a programme of music exploring people’s changing perception of reality from childhood through to adulthood), classical pianist and multi-disciplinary thinker Olga Stezhko is bringing her sophisticated, metaphysical perspective and repertoire to the audience at Abbotsholme.

On this occasion, her choice of music is a little more conventional (leaning on well-established favourites by Mozart, Bach and Prokofiev rather then stretching to the Sophia Gubaidulina pieces she was playing last month). However, there’s still room in the programme for work by one of her compositional touchstones, Alexandr Scriabin; and you can be assured that whichever pieces Olga plays will have been carefully thought out and put into context as part of a programme intended to inspire thought and broader conceptual connections as well as straightforward musical enjoyment.

Programme:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Sonata in B flat major, K.570
Johannes Brahms – Six Pieces, Op.118
Alexandr Scriabin – Two Dances Op.73; Five Preludes Op.74; Vers la flamme Op.72,
John Adams – China Gates
Sergei Prokofiev – Sonata no.4 in C minor, Op.29

Back in London, meanwhile, there’s cabaret afoot, plus breathless press releases.

Bad Fractals vs Bohemianauts @ The Others, 11th December 2015

The Bohemianauts + Bad Fractals (Bohemiocracy @ The Others, 6-8 Manor Road, Stoke Newington, London, N16 5SA, England, Friday 11th December 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.00-£10.00 –  information & tickets here and here

An epic face-off between two amazing, unique and bizarre bands.

Bad Fractals are shaman gangsters shooting bullets of love, tearing their way through acid punk, malevolent music hall and trailer-trash blues in a world gone mad. Join us at the crossroads, in a theatre of the absurd: hear story and song shift with the wild wonder of fractals! Watch psychedelic punks get drunk with clown kings! Glare at artificial angels dancing with deadbeat demons! Gasp as astral travellers gather in galactic taverns!

The Bohemianauts are decadent divas of demi-monde carnivalism, playing weird waltzes, pithy polkas and rollicking rhumbas: they will take you on a theatrical musical journey through strange landscapes with absurd humour, exquisite noise and songs of unrequited dread. Tonight they will unleash their female alter-egos, as they parade in their geezer-bird finery, performing for your pleasure as the rarely-seen Bohemianauts – Drag-ed on Stage. (Trigger warning: Bearded Drag.)

PLUS – Visuals and projections from Jaime Rory Lucy‘s Rucksack Cinema and half-time performance interventions from Oleg the Mystic.


 

Friday also sees the start of the London Contemporary Music Festival, which (as if it were part of a conspiracy theory) is lurking in a giant underground bunker near Baker Street…

LCMF 2015: ‘Collective Capital’

LCMF 2015: ‘Collective Capital’ (London Contemporary Music Festival 2015 @ Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS, England, Friday 11th December 2015, 6.30pm) – £11.25 – information – tickets

London takes centre stage in our opening night, as we celebrate the exploratory fringes of the city’s music scene and the collective imperative that has been a spur to some of the capital’s greatest experiments. The proliferation of collectives among young musician-composers is reflected in new commissions from some of the most adventurous of these musical laboratories. The night will include premieres from Charlie Hope and Jamie Hamilton   (a.k.a. Topophobia), Neil Luck (performing with his Squib Box ensemble) and John Wall & Tom Mudd (Utterpsalm and Contingent Events). We hear recent work by composers Edward Henderson (Bastard Assignments), Shelley Parker and the artist duo Claudia Hunte. We welcome an iconic figure and chronicler of London’s musical edgelands, David Toop, and offer a live improvisation from Poulomi Desai (Usurp), who started the Hounslow Arts Co-op at the age of 14.

We also offer a world premiere from artists Richard Wilson and Anne Bean. In the 1980s, Anne, Richard and Paul Burwell formed the legendary Bow Gamelan Ensemble, enthralled by the aural poetry and parallel visions of the Thames. Now, Wilson and Bean enter the territory as W0B. Theirs is a world that cracks and splinters and grinds into being as it races backwards and forwards through friendships of forty years. ‘NALEMAG’ becomes the totemic incarnation of their endless scrabbling around boat-yards, scrap-yards, gas depots, pyrotechnic munitions, voyages on many rivers in countless vessels and a frenzy of carrying, welding, investigating and making across the planet. The trajectory culminates with a landmark new AV performance from south London’s Visionist, whose singular language emerges from the fragmentation of dubstep and grime.

Programme:

David Toop – Many Private Concerts
Anne Bean/Richard Wilson – NALEMAG (world premiere)
Poulomi Desai – Vermillion Sands (world premiere)
Neil Luck – Via Gut (world premiere – LCMF commission)
Jamie Hamilton/Charlie Hope – New work (world premiere)
Edward Henderson – Tape Piece
Claudia Hunte – The Elephant In The Room Is Afraid Of Dying
Shelley Parker – Live set
John Wall – Live set
Tom Mudd – Live set
Visionist – Live set (AV)

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On Saturday, there’s what looks like a particularly engaging Daylight Music afternoon, with the return of a familiar face…

The Pictish Trail & other Lost Map artists at Daylight Music, 12th December 2015

Daylight Music 210 – The Pictish Trail + artists from the Lost Map label: Seamus Fogarty + Tuff Love + Kid Canaveral (Union Chapel, Saturday 12th November 2015, 12.00pm) – free (suggested donation £5.00) – information

Wrapping up this season of Daylight Music are Lost Map; a loose-knit DIY label/collective from the Hebrides founded by alt-folk troubadour, Johnny Lynch, a.k.a. The Pictish Trail. For this special Christmas show, Johnny will be ice-skating back to the mainland, bringing a selection box of pals from his Lost Map roster, for a cosy festive afternoon of stripped back acoustic merriment, frost-bitten Casio hymns, and mulled-tea fuelled carols.

While The Pictish Trail often comes across on record as an eerie digifolk creation (like a Scottish oil-town-and-fishing-port David Lynch, with that surreal supernatural undertow suffused by Gaelic angst rather than Americana), anyone who’s caught one of the live acoustic shows will know that Johnny has an altogether more joyous side as unplugged strummer. Many of his tales may be based on shyness, grief and confusion, but I’ve seen few people who take such unalloyed pleasure in warming up and including an audience the way he does. For a reminder of this, have a read of my review of his last Daylight Music appearance back in January… and see below.

Mayo-born but London-based, Seamus Fogarty plays and sings his own soulful version of contemporary Irish folk, dabbled with electronic found sound. His output’s been described as “songs about mountains that steal T-shirts, women who look like dinosaurs and various other unfortunate incidents” and as “summoning all manner of odd noises and audio ghosts”. Taken from his current album ‘God Damn You Mountain’, here’s Rita Jack’s Lament, which showcases all of his various tendencies to the maximum.


 

Glaswegian fuzzy-pop duo Tuff Love represent Lost Map’s more-out-and-out indie rock side, although their cottage-industry approach (recording and producing everything at home themselves rather than chasing studios and jaded professional engineers) reflects the label’s d-i-y philosophy. Julie Eisenstein and Suse Bear (augmented for concerts by Phantom Band drummer Iain Stewart deliver “dazzling, sun-streaked guitar pop songs with mesmerising lyrics, heart-wrenching vocals and dreamy melodies like the sound of pure summer.” Over a scant few years of existence, they’ve already supported Paulo Nutini and Ride and played several overflowing handfuls of rock festivals. ‘Resort’ – a not-quite-debut album pulling together the three EPs that Tuff Love have put out so far – is out in January, but meanwhile here’s what will either be a reminder of their existing delights or an introduction to their world: somewhat shoegaze-y but with mischievous glimpses up through the eyelashes.

Edinburgh four-piece Kid Canaveral (whom Lost Map described as “ADHD pop splendour”) met at university in St Andrews and have been playing together ever since. Imaginative alternative pop, they manage to recall the early-‘80s cleverness of Postcard Records pop or the ramshackle poignancy of Belle & Sebastian without actually sounding much like either. It’s more a matter of spirit, a discreet but inclusive sophistication which reaches out, brushes your arm and invites you along. Two albums in, with a third in preparation, they’re a delightful discovery whenever you happen to encounter them. Their clever videos are a treat, too – here are a couple of tastes below, the first of which had my four-year-old son continually tapping the replay button.


(For anyone who wants a more substantial dose of Kid Canaveral, note that they’re playing a full set at the Shacklewell Arms on the evening of the same day.)

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On the Saturday evening, you’ve got your pick of twisty London rock and West Coast American art music (plus Rocket From The Tombs, but I’ll come to them shortly…)

Thumpermonkey @ The Islington, 30th July 2015

Thumpermonkey + Mayors Of Miyazaki + Lolita Laytex (Something’s Gonna Happen @ The AlbanyDouglas Way, Deptford, London, SE8 4AG, England, Saturday 12th December 2015, 7.30pm) – £3.00-£5.00 – information – tickets on the door

Welcome back everybody: and once again we have two superb outfits centre stage, Thumpermonkey (heavy progressive music) and Mayors Of Miyazaki (DIY 3-piece based in south London, guaranteed to spit and sweat on us at close quarters). The lovely Lolita Laytex will be joining us to add the flavour of burlesque. Yes, people of the universe, with all those ingredients in store, you know the score: £3.00 concessions and a fiver on the door. Bring ya skin!

I’ve said quite a bit about Thumpermonkey over the course of the year. Grand, clever and atmospheric, they also have enough sly, self-aware wit and humour to undercut all of the previous. They’re also tricky to pigeonhole – a band who create intricate catastrophe epics (part Radiohead, part Van der Graff Generator) but also trill the occasional Mastodon cover in the style of early Kate Bush; a prog band with a singer who sounds like an old-time theatrical knight, but also a noise band who happen to wrap their wildness into tightly-composed structures; geeky popcorn information omnivores drawing from Jodorowsky to Lovecraft to William Gibson, but salting it with Chomsky and science magazines before whipping it up into artful tornados of song. This little sample here is both characteristic and unique within what Thumpermonkey do, which in itself probably tells you all you need to know.


 

I don’t think Mayors Of Miyazaki have been in here before, but they should have been. In their way, their music’s as grand and complex as that of Thumpermonkey and even more enthused by its options. It’s punk with all the chains blown off, joyriding math-rock, de-Ritalined bratprog. A typical song sounds like both chase sequence and protracted explosion: spiky, switch-and-swap assemblages of guitar parts doubling back through alleys and charging halfway up walls, over which sibling team Gareth and Claire Thomas declaim a punky boy-girl barkathon, a speaky-drawl of sparking thoughts. Fugazi and The Fall both might be in there, though you could also pull Bis and long-lost ‘90s psych tanglers The Monsoon Bassoon out of the root cluster.


 

I don’t know much about Lolita Laytex except that she’s a fetish model as well as an alternative burlesque performer and fetish model. Not much information about a third-stream digression into music: so perhaps you should expect something sensual and mobile, which squeaks a little when it flexes. (UPDATE, 10th December – Well, that’s that laboured gag wasted. Lolita’s off the bill, replaced by Deptford punk-poppers The Kill Raimi’s. Some video evidence below…

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The second London Contemporary Music Festival night sees the series take a broad stylistic and historical sweep across twentieth and twenty-first century California (with one digression to Alaska, so it’s not all sun.)

LCMF 2015: ‘West Coast Night’

LCMF 2015: ‘West Coast Night’ (London Contemporary Music Festival 2015 @ Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS, England, Saturday 12th December 2015, 6.30pm) – £11.75 – information – tickets 

The second night of LCMF 2015 is dedicated to the music of the American West Coast, an exploration of 100 years of musical non-conformism, from the piano insurrections of Henry Cowell to the deep listening of Pauline Oliveros (performing her own music on v-accordion). Oliveros is joined by another founding legend of the pioneering San Francisco Tape Music Center, Morton Subotnick, who presents a solo Buchla set and the UK premiere of a 1960s Tape Center composition with a film by Tony Martin. Another composer associated with the Tape Center was Terry Riley, whose ‘Keyboard Study No. 2’ gets a rare outing.

Alongside this we zig-zag through the experimental landscape, calling on John Cage‘s concussive ‘First Construction (In Metal)’, which premiered in Seattle in 1939, John Luther Adams‘s monumental ‘Among Red Mountains’ and Catherine Lamb‘s subterranean ‘Frames’. We excavate two gems from California’s 1980s computer music scene, Maggi Payne‘s ‘Flights Of Fancy’ and Carl Stone‘s ‘Wall Me Do’. On the fiftieth anniversary of the Watts Uprising we present an extremely rare performance from Otis O’Solomon, whose collective The Watts Prophets emerged from the rubble of that uprising and helped lay the foundations for hip-hop.

Programme:

Henry Cowell – The Banshee (for piano) – performed by Gwenaëlle Rouger
John Cage – First Construction (in Metal) (for percussion ensemble) – performed by PERC’M and Serge Vuille
Morton Subotnick/Tony Martin – PLAY! No. 3 (1965) (UK premiere)
Terry Riley – Keyboard Study No. 2
Maggi Payne – Flights of Fancy
Carl Stone – Wall Me Do
John Luther Adams – Among Red Mountains (for piano) – performed by Gwenaëlle Rouger
Catherine Lamb – Frames for cello & bass recorder (UK premiere) – performed by Anton Lukoszevieze/Lucia Mense
Otis O’Solomon – Selected poems
Pauline Oliveros – Pauline’s Solo (1992)
Morton Subotnick – solo Buchla set

 

 

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On Sunday, the third LCMF event has a polycultured and temporal feel:

LCMF 2015: ‘Five Ways to Kill Time’

LCMF 2015: ‘Five Ways To Kill Time’ (London Contemporary Music Festival 2015 @ Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS, England, Sunday 13th December 2015, 6.30pm) – £11.75 – information – tickets 

Time is stretched, bent and finally dissolved in ‘Five Ways To Kill Time’. Sound artist Ellen Fullman opens the night with a UK premiere of The Watch Reprise, which will be performed on her 50-foot Long String instrument that one writer compared to “standing inside a giant grand piano.” Ethiopian composer, pianist and nun Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou makes her first visit to the UK to perform a selection of her intimate piano miniatures that seem to drift through space. Plus Minus Ensemble, meanwhile, offers up the intricate and disorientating world of Bryn Harrison‘s ‘Repetitions In Extended Time’ (conducted by Mark Knoop and featuring strings, organs, piano, guitar and clarinet). Mixing spoken text and music, theatre maker Tim Etchells (Forced Entertainment) and violinist Aisha Orazbayeva offer a set of fragmentary improvisations in ‘Seeping Through’, a work fresh from a critically acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Fringe. We end with a time-obliterating live set from doom pioneer Stephen O’Malley, whose work within and beyond his seminal group Sunn O))) exists in a kind of transcendent stasis.

Programme:

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou – selected piano works
Bryn Harrison – Repetitions in Extended Time
Tim Etchells/Aisha Orazbayeva – Seeping Through
Ellen Fullman – The Watch Reprise (world premiere)
Stephen O’Malley – live set


 
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And finally…

Rocket From The Tombs, 2015

Rocket From The Tombs + Luminous Bodies (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ The Brewhouse, @ London Fields Brewery, 369-370 Helmsley Place, South Hackney, London, E8 3SB, England, Saturday 12th December 2015, 8.00pm) – £19.25 – informationtickets

Rocket From The Tombs (Brudenell Social Club, 17 Brudenell Road, Leeds, LS6 1HA, England, Sunday 13th December 2015, 8.00pm) – £17.60 – informationtickets

In their initial lifetime they never got past a series of scorching mid-‘70s gigs in their Cleveland hometown (plus a handful of demos and radio sessions). Yet Rocket From The Tombs have long been counted as proto-punk ancestors, kicking up a frumious Velvets-and-Stooges racket long before every other garage band was doing it. These days, onstage rock rage is quotidian; when Rocket From The Tombs brought it to the gig, it was a revelation. Following a headstrong and punchy split, they even spawned several other key bands. Main ranter David Thomas, doomed-and-driven guitarist Peter Laughner and soundman-turned-bass-player Tim Wright would create the first lineup of Pere Ubu. Second guitarist Cheetah Chrome and drummer Johnny Blitz hooked up with Stiv Bators and others to form hardcore punk pioneers Dead Boys. The rest was bootlegs and rumbling mythology. Rocket From The Tombs became one of the ur-bands, a surviving impression holding its ghostly mark but pushing onwards, providing inspiration above and beyond its initial ideals.

Rocket From The Tombs/Luminous Bodies @ Baba Yaga's Hut, December 2015By the ex-members’ accounts, being in the band had been a short, brutal and vivid experience; but it seems that there may also have been an unspoken, slow-burning sense of unfinished business. Twenty-eight years later, in their grizzled early fifties, and with plenty of other experience clocked up, most of the surviving band members (minus the retired Blitz and the long-dead Laughner) reunited for piss-and-vinegar-fuelled gigs, a long-delayed debut album and an actual afterlife. Although Laughner’s initial replacement (ex-Television guitar star Richard Lloyd), left in 2011 and a tour-burned Cheetah Chrome is now opting to sit out the live gigs, Rocket From The Tombs are still going – very much the garage end of Cleveland’s infamous avant-garage, making the most of this ornery self-driven second shot while bleeding in lessons learned from Pere Ubu and elsewhere.

The band have never played in Britain before, something which is being remedied with these two gigs in Leeds and London. In an interview with ‘The Guardian’ earlier this year, a currently chair-bound David Thomas growled “I’m approaching the end of my life, I’ve got my foot to the floor and I’m going to be going full speed ahead when I hit the wall.” It’s probably worth your while coming to one of these shows to check out his main accelerant.

There’ll be no support band at the Leeds gig, but in London things will be warmed up by Luminous Bodies, a “knuckle-dragging rock & roll” supergroup stealing members from Part Chimp, Terminal Cheesecake, Ikara Colt and others. See below.

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And that’s that. More coming shortly with the remaining December gigs and the seasonal parties… keep warm…

 

November 2015 – upcoming gigs – Julia Holter’s experimental pop tours the UK; chamber music at the Forge (Ensemble Perpetuo’s galactic tour, CHROMA’s British Music Collection show with Martin Scheuregger & David Gorton premieres); Baba Yaga Hut London rocktronica double (Tropic of Cancer, Shift Work and Telefon Tel Aviv down south; Teeth of the Sea and Charles Hayward’s Anonymous Bash out east); Olga Stezhko takes her Lucid Dream piano concert to the Wigmore & Bridgewater Halls; Vôdûn rocks out Afro-psych-metal at Westminster Kingsway; Dub Trio and Thumpermonkey mix it up at The Underworld; Haiku Salut, Camden Voices and Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch bring post-folk, soundtrack classical and community chorale to Daylight Music

8 Nov

Since when did November become so generous? There’s plenty to see and hear this coming week, including the continuing Jenny Hval/Briana Marela tour (with Bristol and London dates), Laura Moody following up recent shows in Cardiff and Sheffield with a house concert in Edinburgh on the 12th (email her directly in case tickets are still available) and, in London, the opening dates of the London Jazz Festival and the End Festival. Plus the following:

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With Briana Marela, Jenny Hval and Holly Herndon all touring or playing in Britain this month – and with Joanna Newsom having already sold out her lone British date at the Eventim Apollo on Monday – it’s a good month for seeing art-pop with a distinctly female hue or ethos (although to be honest there’s always a wealth of such things around, if you look hard enough and dip under the radar).

To the above, add  Julia Holter, who’s working a short British tour over the course of the week. It’s an opportunity to see how rapidly Julia’s exploratory, highly literary work has evolved and altered over a decade of recording time: from the Debussy-an glistenings of 2006’s ‘Eating The Stars’ to the oblique sonic and textual puzzles of 2011’s ‘Tragedy’ (mixing transfigured Greek drama, disorientating found sound and transparent barely-there parings of songcraft) and the impressionistic jazz-novel assemblage of ‘Loud City Song’ in 2013 (which drew on Collette, MGM musicals and belle-epoque).

Julia’s newest album, this year’s ‘Have You In My Wilderness’, is something of a step into the known. Her once-baffling minimal musical stylings – which, on ‘Tragedy’ in particular, hung precariously on the edge of what might be described as “song” – have by now transformed themselves into what sounds like dreamy, distracted takes on late-‘60s/early-‘70s Brill Building songwriter pop. That said, the album’s meditations on solitude and companionship (real, imagined, rejected or deconstructed) retain Julia’s distinctive tone of lateral thinking and musing, and if the songs seem more conservative on the outside they soon reveal themselves as different, more fluid creations, if Carole King had been enticed into French surrealism (note the nods to Dali, Bunuel, Germaine Dulac and Gérard de Nerval in the video for ‘The Sea Calls Me Home’, above). It’s also clear that if ‘Have You In My Wilderness’ does invite a broader audience by way of its more comfortable textures, it’s not a sell-out: keeping firmly in touch with her earlier impulses and schemas, Julia has included a re-recording of Betsy On The Roof (a pre-‘Tragedy’ song best known from her rare 2010 live tapes).

Julia Holter:

Note that the Leeds gig at the Brudenell is part of their High & Lonesome Festival in which Julia will be sharing a stage with Josh T. Pearson, Neil Halstead &and many others.

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There are two chamber music concerts coming up at The Forge in London:

Ensemble Perpetuo

Ensemble Perpetuo presents: Heavenly Sights (The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, UK, Monday 9th November 2015, 7.30pm) – £10.00 to £12.00 – information & tickets – more information

Founded in 2013 by English oboist James Turnbull, Ensemble Perpetuo is a dynamic and versatile collective of musicians who perform a wide variety of traditional and contemporary chamber music in new settings; bringing it to new audiences through exciting collaborations and innovative repertoire choices; and seeking new pathways in which to experiment and augment the concert experience through multi-art form collaborations. Perpetuo has embarked on a number of exciting mini-residences throughout the UK and is taking music to new venues including concerts in theatres, museums, cafes, found spaces and other unexpected locations.

Join Perpetuo for the final event in their groundbreaking series of chamber music concerts for 2015 – an evening of incredible music that takes you on a journey to the furthest reaches of the galaxy. ‘Heavenly Sights’ is an evening of music inspired by space, flight and motion. Featuring music from Beethoven and Piazzolla to Weir and Muhly, experience over two hundred years of chamber music in one evening.

Programme:

Robert Schumann – Mondnacht (arr. Colin Matthews)
George Benjamin – Flight
Nico Muhly – Motion
Judith Weir – Airs From Another Planet
Anthony Powers – In Sunlight
Charlotte Bray – Trail Of Light
Astor Piazzolla – Milonga del Angel
Ludwig van Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata
Cheryl Frances-Hoad – My Fleeting Angel

 

CHROMA ensemble

CHROMA: Gorton, Scheuregger and British Music (The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, UK,Wednesday 11th November 2015, 7.30pm) – £10.00-£12.00 – information & tickets – more information

Founded in 1997, the critically acclaimed CHROMA is an acclaimed, London-based, flexible chamber ensemble dedicated both to new music and to revisiting classic repertoire in fresh and exciting contexts; mentoring the next generation of composers, and involving audiences in compelling, inspirational experiences. Closely associated with the performance of contemporary music the ensemble has forged close links with many prominent British composers through many commissioned premières and collaborations (including work with Luke Bedford, Michael Nyman, David Bruce,  Tarik O’Regan,  Michael Zev Gordon, Raymond Yiu, Claudia Molitor, Julian Grant, Arlene Sierra, and Marcus Barcham-Stevens) .

CHROMA has a lively strand of intimate chamber concerts combining music and storytelling, which has resulted both in its first own-label album ‘Folk Tales’ and in various opera stagings in association with the opera festival  Tête à Tête,  the Linbury Studio Theatre and others.  The ensemble’s mentoring programme includes ongoing work with student composers at the Royal Academy of Music, Royal Holloway University of London and Oxford University.

This concert (featuring Roderick Chadwick on piano) is the culmination of composer Martin Scheuregger’s residency at the British Music Collection. Martin’s new work, ‘Harlequin’, and ‘Burgh Castle’ by David Gorton form the centre of the programme. Harlequin engages with and reflects on the themes and ideas Martin has been exploring through the music of The Collection, whilst ‘Burgh Castle’ – a CHROMA aural-visual commission for piano and ensemble – is inspired by the landscape of the East Anglian Fens. Pieces from the BMC – from both lesser-known and established composers – place these new works in the context of Martin’s residency and the music with which he has surrounded himself for the last 18 months.

Programme:

Philip Cashian – Horn Trio
Helen Grime – Snow and Snow
Martin Scheuregger – Harlequin (world premiere)
David Gorton – Burgh Castle (world premiere)
Anthony Powers – In Sunlight
Sadie Harrison – The Bride’s Journey In Three Songs And A Memory

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On the 12th November, Baba Yaga’s Hut are presenting a double event in London: simultaneous gigs in the east and the south, each blending rock and electronica in different ways and at different intensities.

event-20151109-tropicofcancTropic of Cancer + Shift Work + Telefon Tel Aviv (DJ) (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ Corsica Studios, 4-5 Elephant Road, London, SE17 1LB, UK, Thursday 12th November 2015, 8.00pm) – £10.00 – informationtickets

Gauzy, morbid-romantic dream pop project Tropic of Cancer (comprising murmurer and instrumentalist Camella Lobo plus collaborators) return to London for another set of blurred lyrics and slow-burner Gothic psychedelic-tinged tunes. Expect lapping echoes, grey-draped music and a numbed atmosphere with concealed drama: self-confessed romantic and “hyperbolic dramatist” Camella admits that the driving concept behind most of her songs is “a love so supernatural it lasts beyond death, but also a love that is sometimes not strong enough to conquer human weakness in the living.” 

The live Tropic Of Cancer band now includes Joshua Eustis of Telefon Tel Aviv (and also Sons of Magdalene, Puscifer and the Nine Inch Nails tour band) who’ll apparently be playing a DJ set under his TTA moniker.  Further support comes from London dance-electronica minimalists Shift Work.

 

event-20151112-teethoftheseTeeth of the Sea + Anonymous Bash (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ The Brewhouse, London Fields Brewery, 369-370 Helmsley Place, South Hackney, London, E8 3SB, UK, Thursday 12th November 2015, 8.00pm) – £9.00 – informationtickets

At this gig, the increasingly acclaimed Teeth Of The Sea launch their fourth album – the subtly-titled ‘Highly Deadly Black Tarantula’.

The London band’s assured and stormy concoction of spacey psychedelic guitar rock  dramatics, heavily-processed Fourth World trumpet, counter-culture festival techno,  electronica and drone music – plus their assured-to-arrogant stage presence and mastery of performance – has been winning them a wide range of fans from across the board. The clips below should give you an idea of what to expect both on record and onstage.

Support comes from Anonymous Bash, featuring veteran experimental drummer Charles Hayward (of This Heat, Camberwell Now, Massacre and the myriad collaborations of Accidents + Emergencies). Based on the music springing from last year’s four-week Hayward residency at Salford’s Islington Mill (during which Charles collaborated with over twenty musicians from the Manchester regions), the project features a taut, dubby experimental sound centred around the sonic marriage of his own percussion, melodica and vocals with shifting, abrasive rock aspects brought in by his collaborators.  The Salford-based Gnod ensemble (a mixture of  kosmiche and cult-spoofery) played a substantial role in the Anonymous Bash album, and join Charles in the ongoing live lineup.

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Olga Stezhko, 2015Increasingly a ‘Misfit City’ regular, the Belarusian classical pianist Olga Stezhko (whose superb technique is equalled by her audacious, densely intellectual approach to programming her repertoire) chalks up two landmark concerts at two British classical music institutions this week as she makes her debut at both the Wigmore Hall and the Bridgewater Hall. To each venue, Olga is bringing her ‘Lucid Dreams’ programme – a selection of pieces exploring ideas of childhood and children’s music.

Olga comments “this programme is deeply personal to me. It is a conscious attempt to rediscover those things that were central to the development of my musical identity. Inevitably this can appear to be a sort of light musical psychoanalysis, but as I recall my childhood I remember vividly being surrounded by magic, with all its signs and symbols, which greatly affected how I felt towards the world around me at the time. To some extent, I have never lost touch with my younger self thanks to my extensive teaching work with children. Their distinctive personalities are an endless source for artistic inspiration; I wish therefore to dedicate my concert to those boys and girls.

“The narrative of the programme reflects the development of our perception of reality during different stages of life. It moves from the magical realism of a child’s worldview in the first half (Toys & Dances) to the broader metaphysical questions we all face at some point in life in the second part (Images & Visions).”

Olga Stezhko: ‘Lucid Dreams’ piano recital (Kirckman Concert Society @ Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, London, W1U 2BP, UK,  Tuesday 10th November 2015, 7:30pm) information & tickets

Programme:

Part One: Toys & Dances

Sergei Prokofiev – Old Grandmother’s Tales Op. 31
Sofia Gubaidulina – Musical Toys
Dmitri Shostakovich – Three Fantastic Dances Op. 5
Claude Debussy – Suite Bergamasque: Menuet
Lev Abeliovich – Tarantella
Aleksandr Skriabin – Deux Danses Op. 73

Part Two: Images & Visions

Claude Debussy – Images, Series 1
Aleksandr Skriabin – Cinq préludes Op. 74
Claude Debussy – Images, Series 2
Aleksandr Skriabin – Vers la flamme, poème Op. 72

Olga Stezhko (The Manchester Mid-day Concerts Society  @ Bridgewater Hall, Lower Mosley Street, Manchester, M2 3WS, UK, Thursday 12th November 2015, 1:10pm) – £7.00-£11.50 – informationtickets

Programme:

Sergei Prokofiev – Old Grandmother’s Tales Op. 31
Sofia Gubaidulina – Musical Toys
Claude Debussy – Images, Series 1
Aleksandr Skriabin – Vers la flamme, poème Op. 72

(Note that the Manchester concert features a much shorter version of the ‘Lucid Dreams’ programme.)

Throughout the programme, Olga explores the further deeper brought up in her music choices, investigating Debussy’s complex psyche and relationship with his daughter, the cognitive differences between children and adults (including the former’s belief, often shared with adult musicians, that they shape the world by thought and action), her own childhood impulses as a pre-teen musician, and the roles of parent figures in successive generations of composers. She also challenges the subordinate role that children’s music seems forced to play, arguing “what is the definition of children’s music anyway? I believe when these works emerge as an innermost urge from a mature master, it epitomizes their most sincere and unpretentious artistic output.

“Such music as Gubaidulina’s Musical Toys (part of my future recording project ‘Toys & Tales’) or, for example, Debussy’s Children’s Corner (to be included into my next all-Debussy album) is as rich with imagery, colour, trepidation, emotion and symbolism as any symphonic masterpiece. Moreover, it is perhaps the most accurate musical description of any composer and their inner worlds. Both performers and listeners can relate to this kind of music precisely because there is something universal about it as we all were children once, authentic and genuine in our relationship with the world.”

Olga’s full thoughts behind ‘Lucid Dreams’ (from which the above notes and quotes are taken) can be found here, and are well worth reading.

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Another couple of London rock gigs show up midweek and at the end of the week. Summaries below:

Vôdûn + support t.b.c. (WestkingMusic Live @ Westminster Kingsway College Theatre, 211 Grays Inn Rd, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, UK, Thursday 12th November 2015, 6.30pm) – £2.00-£5.00 – information

Emerging out of a cloud of voodoo-scented bombast (in the centre of which you’ll find former Do Me Bad /Chrome Hoof singer Chantal Brown) Afro-psych/doom metal band Vôdûn bring a welcome taste of old-school Black Rock Coalition determination back to the party along with their artfulness. A churning bass-less power trio – multi-racial, two-thirds women, and taking on the names of loa spirits – they set wall-of-noise guitar against galloping drums and full-throated soul-power vocal melisma.

The band make much of West African spirit power, possession and cosmology: but from what initially seems like a stew of schtick brewed from heavy metal and voodoo swagger, various Afrocentric and feminist images bubble up (not least in the assertive vigour of the female players, and in the way they remind us of the passionate feminine component in the rituals and worldview of the original vodun culture). The current Vôdûn single Mino’s Army is a tribute to the fearsome all-female musket regiment which (by the nineteenth century) made up a third of the Dahomeyan army, played a leading role in the nation’s military policy, and honed female ferocity into a powerful fighting force which dismayed and won the admiration of male opponents (including the French, whom the Mino repeatedly mashed in early stages of the colonial wars). The blood-and-fire video pays tribute to this, and to the acres of severed heads which the victorious Mino left behind them, though perhaps not to the fact that the Mino came to strive against slavery in their own nation as well as the slavery fostered by the Europeans.

Inevitably, Vôdûn are going to be inspiring questions and challenges about the African traditions they’re playing with, and perhaps a deeper approach to storytelling doesn’t currently fit the spontaneous and immediate nature of the band as it stands. But in spite of this, and behind the surface theatrics, the signs are promising. One to watch…

Thumpermonkey, 2015

Dub Trio + Thumpermonkey (Nightshift/Rock-A-Rolla @ The Underworld, 174 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 0NE, Sunday 15th November 2015,…. ) – price – information – tickets

Later in the week,  Dub Trio return to London, bringing their live dub/rock skills and their interdependent mutually-looping interactions back to the stage of the Underworld. Here’s a long clip of a full, relatively recent show to get you in the mood.

In support are London’s Thumpermonkey (another bunch of ‘Misfit City’ regulars) whose intricately-constructed heavy post-progressive sound is in some ways the antithesis of Dub Trio’s semi-spontaneous instrumental tightrope act. I’d argue that that was the joy of a well-arranged rock gig – in this case, the contrast between two equally deft, clever and complementary bands keeps one’s brain fizzing away happily, and you leave the gig feeling smarter and more alive than you did when you arrived. Certainly Thumpermonkey’s crammed and ingenious musical constructions, topped off with Michael Woodman’s theatrical songlines and multi-layered lyrics, remain one of the current underrated treasures of British rock.

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On the Saturday there’s another Daylight Music – a typically involved crossover gig of post-rock, soundtrack classical and communal musical spirit. Details and promo blurb below…

Haiku Salut, 2015

Daylight Music 206 – Haiku Salut + Camden Voices & Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 12.00pm–2.00pm) – free (£3.50 donation suggested) – information

The wonderful Haiku Salut are best described as an instrumental dream-pop-post-folk-neo-everything trio from the Derbyshire Dales, and their talent for combining joyous folk, intricate electronica and spellbinding neo-classical has seen them compared to everyone from Beirut and múm to Sigur Ros and Aphex Twin. Their second album ‘Etch And Etch Deep’ has received acclaim from ‘Uncut’ (who called it “both warmly familiar and completely, fearlessly new”) and ‘Popmatters’ (“vividly coloured sonic canvas”), while ‘The Line Of Best Fit’ described the opening track and recent single, Bleak And Beautiful (All Things), as “uniquely stunning… isn’t afraid to tear up the rulebook and begin fresh.”

Formed in 2013, Camden Voices is a choir of thirty passionate singers, instrumentalists and teachers, as well as those working outside of the music world. Rehearsing weekly in the heart of Camden Town, they aim for high musical standards whilst keeping a friendly and fun sense of community at our heart. With groove and harmony as their foundation, they develop new approaches to ensemble singing; using new arranging talent, they dust off neglected gems from the worlds of jazz, soul, gospel, and a cappella with a vibrant contemporary twist.

You can also hear the elegant, beautiful music of Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, an award-winning French pianist/composer currently living in London. Spanning film score, bespoke composition and art installations, her work is connected by both its high quality and evocative, meticulous craft – a common sensibility of elegant, instinctual composition. In 2015, she created a sound-walk for London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and her debut album ‘Like Water Through The Sand’ is set for a November release on FatCat’s post-classical imprint 130701.

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If ‘ve got a moment over the next few days, I’ll post up something on the London Jazz Festival and on The End – failing that, more November gig news to follow.

July/August 2015 – upcoming gigs – Thumpermonkey/The Earls Of Mars/Ham Legion in London; Holly Penfield’s Judy Garland show hits the Hippodrome; The Luck Of Eden Hall tour the UK

25 Jul

Next week sees the first gig (for some time) for one of the most interesting of current British rock bands; some high-gloss cabaret; and the start of a psychedelic pop roadshow travelling around the UK. Read on…

Thumpermonkey @ The Islington, 30th July 2015

Thumpermonkey + The Earls Of Mars + Ham Legion (Guided Missile Special People Club, The Islington, 1 Tolpuddle Street, N1 0XT, London, UK, Thursday 30th July, 8.00pm) – £7.00/£6.00

Thumpermonkey don’t get as much attention as they deserve. It’s possible that this is because they don’t seem to take things seriously, addressing almost everything with a skewed and multi-levelled sense of cryptic grand-baroque geek humour. Just to illustrate this – a current work-in-progress Thumpermonkey song is “something which we’re calling Giraffes, which includes some vague narrative about doing a conga during an asteroid-based extinction-level event.” One of their older albums is called ‘Chap With The Wings, Five Rounds Rapid’ – a wry kill-the-monsters line filched from ‘Doctor Who”s laconic and unflappable Brigadier. In the same spirit as that reference, I’d suggest that while they are serious about what they do, they’re not necessarily serious about the way they do it – like many of my favourite things.

If what I’ve written so far leads you to expect strained, fey, sub-Zappa wackiness, then think again. Both in the flesh and on record, Thumpermonkey are a brooding and atmospheric proposition – seriously musical, travelling from blitzingly heavy quasi-metal riffs to spidery post-rock, from threshing post-hardcore to theatrical mane-tossing prog at a moment’s notice while Michael Woodman’s grand edgy vocals and complex multi-levelled lyrics ride on top like an arcane mahout with an arched eyebrow. They’ve been called “a sustained victory for intuitive cross-pollination” by ‘Prog’ magazine and every gig they play confirms this particular accolade. Here they are playing 419 (a song which at first appears to be one of their more delicate offerings, revealing its intensities later).

The other two bands on the bill are less well known to me, but aren’t short of blurb:

The Earls Of Mars are probably the most original thing you’ll hear all year. At their heart, the band are a ’70s-influenced rock band bringing together jazz, prog, space rock, doom and blues and forming it into a barking mad noise that you’ll either get or you won’t. If you don’t get it then close the door on your way out of the spaceship, as those of us who want to stay are off on a fantastical journey to who-knows-where, with The Earls Of Mars steering the ship. Enjoy the trip, ladies and gentlemen, as it’s going to be a fun ride.

Ham Legion‘s noisy lo-fi pop is punctuated with proggy outbursts, psychedelic breakdowns and passages of cod-metal joy. Tangy and tart guitar, egg noddle bass lines and light crispy drums are smothered in gooey boy/girl harmonies. Eat in or take away. For fans of Cardiacs, Deerhoof, They Might Be Giants, Split Enz, Heavy Vegetable.

Judge for yourselves – here are the videos for the Earls’ ‘Astronomer Pig’ single from last year, followed by some footage of a Ham Legion gig in Brighton a couple of years ago. As for tickets, they’re available here.

 

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The day after the Thumpermonkey gig, Holly Penfield plays one of her biggest gigs of the year…

Holly Penfield as Judy Garland

Holly Penfield sings Judy Garland, The Hippodrome Casino, Cranbourn Street, Leicester Square, London, WC2H 7JH, UK, Friday 31st July 2015, 8.00pm) – £15.00 and upwards

Following a triumphant debut last year, Holly returns to the London Hippodrome, singing the songs of the legendary Judy Garland in her own inimitable style. Holly will be joined by her musical director Sam Watts and his magnificent seven-piece band. An unmissable evening for Holly and Judy fans alike, set in the glorious Matcham Room, located inside the Hippodrome Casino – formerly known as The Talk Of The Town, this is the venue of legends and home to Judy’s final London concerts.

Longer-term readers will know that I got to know Holly years ago via her own original ‘Fragile Human Monster Show‘ and the ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album (which I wrote about ages ago – that review’s due a revamp and remount, I think). Both of those, though original songwriter pop, had their own theatrical and psychodynamic aspects which pointed towards Holly’s current work in vivid cabaret (and, latterly, as half of swing revivalists The Cricklewood Cats). As for Holly’s interpretations, she can and does cover cute showbiz camp and heart-tugging pathos within the same performance – you can see a couple of examples below.

Up-to-date information on the Judy concert is here and here, while tickets are available here. A mischievous part of me fancies swapping the audience from Holly’s show with the one from the Thumpermonkey/Earls/Ham Legion gig, and vice versa. I suspect that they all might enjoy it more than they’d expect to…

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The Luck Of Eden Hall, 2015

On the same night that Thumpermonkey and co. play, The Luck Of Eden Hall are over from Chicago to play the first of two London gigs, launching a Kickstarter-funded UK tour which will take them to a wide array of venues and mini-festivals around England, Scotland and Wales, accompanied by a shifting cast of local psych heroes, left-field blues artists and quirky alt.pop shoegazers.

As for the headliners, you can expect clear-voiced, well-made classic pop beset by sudden gusts of psychedelic blizzarding. The Luck Of Eden Hall remind me of the drawn-out trucker-and-motorist tussle in ‘Duel’ – they come across like a more sombre Neil Finn or Andy Sturmer being stalked, dogged and sideswiped by Hawkwind, Ride or ‘Saucerful’-era Pink Floyd. Here’s a little evidence:


 

Full tour dates below:

The Luck Of Eden Hall UK tour

 

June 2015 – some videos – Tim Bowness, William D. Drake, Thumpermonkey

2 Jun

A few videos to pass the time.

Firstly, here’s the newest video from Tim Bowness, promoting the lead single from next month’s ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’ album. The Great Electric Teenage Dream features a cut’n’paste scratch effort built up from fragments from the Prelinger archive.

While I’m limbering up for a big William D. Drake catchup (reviews of this month’s ‘Revere Reach’ album and its predecessor ‘The Rising Of The Lights’), here’s the uproarious Chaos Engineers video from the former’s lead single. ‘Distant Buzzing’ features appearances, on- or off-video, from assorted Drake associates – the Larcombe Brothers (from Stars In Battledress), Dug Parker (from North Sea Radio Orchestra), Stuffy Gilchrist and many others…including a certain sordid, waxy tyrant from the 1980s. And a donkey.

Finally, do you ever hear anyone complaining bitterly that all of the artistry has gone out of rock vocals? If so, play them this video of Thumpermonkey‘s Woody recording voicework for the band’s upcoming album, and watch a grin breaking like sunrise across their face. (I don’t cover Thumpermonkey enough in this blog. That’s going to change.)

November 2011 – live reviews – RoastFest music festival @ The Unicorn, Camden Road, London, 12th November (featuring Arch Garrison, Matt Stevens, Stars in Battledress, Redbus Noface, Thumpermonkey, William D. Drake, Knifeworld, Sanguine Hum, Admirals Hard) (“trailing bright scraps of music”)

18 Nov

It’s a bit like coming home. My first venture out into gigworld for a while, and I’m walking into a rough-looking rock pub out on the elbow of Tufnell Park. Not so many years ago, the Unicorn was a genuine trouble dive in the industrial frownage north of Kings Cross – just a spit away from the troubled estates around Caledonian Park. Reinventing itself as a part-time heavy metal venue a few years ago turned out to be its salvation. Now it’s been turned around to become a friendly local. The only blood’n’guts making an appearance is on the death-metal flyers by the door.

Today The Unicorn is packed out with a warm crowd of allsorts-people whom you could never easily pin down as a clear scene. Arcane T-shirts stretch around comfy bodies; hairstyles range from metallic red to casually balding, The people here are as likely to be agricultural workers or car-hire operators as hipsters or metalheads, and they’re almost as likely to have flown in from Italy or Poland as have driven or walked in from Worcester or Camden Town. In between acts, the PA spits out recordings as diverse and potentially divisive as John Adams, The Melvins, King Crimson or early ’90s agit-samplers Disco Inferno. Nobody seems in the least bit disorientated, nor do they pester the DJ for Kasabian. In any stylistic sense, confusion reigns. In an emotional sense there’s the warm, scruffy feeling of a tribe who coalesce only occasionally, but always feel very much at home when they do so.

I’ve been here before. This is the Cardiacs flavour. Although Cardiacs as a band are now several years gone-to-ground, as a culture their rampaging jigsaw of unorthodox sensibilities and connections survives – even thrives – through a network of enthusiasts and musical heirs. Uber-fan and hitchhiking hero Adrian Bell is bouncing around the Unicorn swapping stories, spilling his beer and enthusiastically flogging his Cardiacs book. Snooker star-turned-prog champion Steve Davis is here, proving once again that his enthusiasm stretches much further than simply supporting ’70s legends over at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. That silver-tongued James-Bond figure also doing the rounds (plugging a dedicated Cardiacs disco at “battle volume” for next January) turns out to be Dominic Luckman: he’s evidently taken plenty of lessons in suave since his gurning, flour-covered years behind the Cardiacs drumkit. Other former Cardiacs will be performing in various permutations throughout the day: although to be honest this is less to do with tributes or fan-service than it is to do with the tendency of certain musicalities to continue beyond the brand name.

The whole kit and caboodle of Roast Fest itself has been put together by Kavus Torabi. Recently a Cardiac (and before that, in The Monsoon Bassoon) he’s currently heading up both his own band – Knifeworld – and the Believers Roast label that’s hosting the event. This also means that he’s today’s overburdened one-man juggling act. When I first catch sight of him, he’s boggle-eyed with worry, stapling a merchandise board together and hoping that everything will stay together. A self-styled (or self-slandered) psychedelic flake, Kavus seems to half-expect chaos round the corner and for all of this to come tumbling down around his ears. As ever, he’s doing himself down. While he’s relatively new to the full weight of carrying a cottage industry (let alone two, plus the bottled randomness of a mini-festival), his instincts are true and his audience sound. This feels as if it’s going to go well.

It also starts quietly as Craig Fortnam makes his first appearance of the day in Arch Garrison, a solo project which has a tendency to flit between one man-band and acoustic trio. On this occasion it’s a duo, with Craig joined by James Larcombe (today’s man-of-many-bands) on a variety of reedy little keyboards. Initially their sound is ornate and a little introverted, with James drawing angular pipelines of awkward tune across the artful spinning cogs and involved strums of Craig’s acoustic guitar. Together they build up a succession of gangling, summery blueprints; intricate and skeletal folk-baroque miniatures which scroll across time and pitch like attenuated Heath Robinson gizmos.

Some of the wedding-cake decorativeness of Craig’s main project (the retrofitted chamber ensemble North Sea Radio Orchestra) is present and correct, as is a taste of the baroque side of Michael Nyman. Yet Arch Garrison is less formal than either of these, and although seemingly delicate and fey to the point of flimsiness, the music is actually underlaid by an assured, precise musicality. Craig’s acoustic guitar-playing, in particular, is tremendously strong: part Renaissance lutenist, part gutsy Nick Drake fingerpickery, and part atomic clock. Sometimes he also sings – in an easy and distracted murmur, as if daydreaming in his front room.

In spite of this air of detachment (and with the help of an audience that’s warm and receptive from the start), musicians and crowd move closer together as the set progresses, and as the songs take on life from their elegantly quilled and tapestried beginnings and shamble out into the room. Arch Garrison’s music clambers off the Unicorn’s shabby stage like a hung-over peacock emerging from a cardboard box – bedraggled but with flashes of finery. Wreathed in compassion and energetic flourishes, a sweet-natured, gently chiding call to art and arms called Six Feet Under Yeah comes across especially well. Borderline precious they may be, but by the end of the set this band’s earned the kind of affection you’d give to a battered family heirloom.

I’ve heard plenty of loop musicians in my time. Once you’ve seen one they’re like gateway drugs to hundreds of others. (I’m sorry – I’ve battled my addiction for years, but it keeps coming back…) Most of them are sit-down sound brewers: reserved in aspect, slowly adding detail to their patterns, absorbed in their banks of effects pedals.

Matt Stevens cooking up a loopstorm, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

Matt Stevens cooking up a loopstorm, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

Matt Stevens isn’t like that. A hulking figure – wild of hair and beard and with the imposing build of a rugby forward – he’s also afire with nervous energy, hailing his audience with a delighted sportsman’s roar. As regards potential gear-fiddling, he looks more likely to hurl himself onto his pedals and roll across the stage, wrestling with lashing cables and flying components, rather than indulge in prissy fondling. In the event, he settles for stabbing owlishly at his pedalboard as he hacks into his set with furious enthusiasm, attacking a battered acoustic guitar with the energy of a born-again busker.

Even if Matt is an extroverted bear in a loopers’ community of aloofness, he’s still obliged to spend some onstage time engrossed in loop-science. This he does both with earnestness and the air of a smouldering volcano. Bashing aggressively-strummed chords into the loop in order to build up his layered compositions, he crams in his extra details later, subverting his acoustic noises with wah-wah or strange compressions which bring out new instrumental parts like falls of slate or torn hunks of burnished copper. Throughout, a powerful rhythmic momentum is key (whether it’s expressed via out-and-out rockiness, a stuttered systemic pulse or a slither of percussive noise) as is Matt’s total involvement in what he’s doing. If he couldn’t squeeze the next loop idea out, you feel that he’d burst. His joy when things fall into place is palpable.

That said, Matt’s seasoned enough not to dissolve into petulance when things don’t go right. There’s not an error that can’t be turned into an opportunity, not a glitch that can’t be an excuse for a new bit of fun. Even when a string snaps with a whip-like crack, its echoed ghost is built so assertively into Matt’s wall of sound that the piece would ultimately have been less without it. Plenty of loopers reference the more academic touchstones of the genre – Shaeffer and Stockhausen, Fripp and Eno. Matt Stevens has some of that too, but he most definitely grabs us by the scruff of our collective neck to drag us back to the roughneck folk days of John Martyn and his rattling Echoplex (now there was a man who knew something about chance and hazard…) And as he tears us off a Moebius strip, we love him for it.

Fighting an unsympathetic sound mix, Stars in Battledress aren’t having it easy. Of course, life isn’t generally easy for massively over-educated brothers who form art-rock duos, mix up rolling minimalism with genteel English folk and a jigsaw of elaborate lyrical conceits, and then act as if they’ve teleported in from a 1930s gentleman’s club.

If Stars in Battledress were, in fact, playing all of these factors up for laughs (as if they were some kind of parody lounge act), they might be quids-in for a while. The problem is that while they’re flushed with a vein of dense and playful humour, they’re also entirely sincere. Almost everything that makes them remarkable – even wonderful – also makes them hard to sell in England. It’s probably one of the reasons why their gigs are rare these days.They’re willfully out of time; hothouse blooms in a climate that doesn’t favour greenhouses. Even the reviews they inspire turn artful and drip sepia.

The precision brotherhood: Stars In Battledress, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

The precision brotherhood: Stars In Battledress, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

As ever, Richard Larcombe cuts an intriguing figure – a pocket-sized handsome devil, part scholarly fop, part English pop eccentric (as if the two have never been known to overlap). Occasionally, you feel that his air of genteel amusement will slip away and he’ll suddenly go for your neck. Until then, he plays master-of-ceremonies with mixed breeziness and nerves, darting his head like a kestrel, picking fastidiously at his big jazzman’s guitar. His wicked grin and arched eyebrow seep into his vocal tone – a well-spoken tenor, moving between rich warm folk-drone and spooked falsetto. Smiling kindly behind his keyboard, James Larcombe is the obliging laid-back Swann to his brother’s sardonic Flanders: playing fluidly, bringing the solidity to support Richard’s genial spikiness.

With the audience on their side despite the sound flutters, Stars In Battledress treat us to a five-song set, forging a path through shellac-scented easy listening, deep English folk music and Canterbury-esque whimsy, all laced together with strands of Chicago art-rock, cycling piano lines and a dab or two of prog-rock glue. On spec, this sounds like a pile-up. In fact, every song is carefully thought through: lovingly hand-crafted and loaded with the kind of shrewd, floridly verbose lyrical wit that plays a circling game with its listeners. A blowsy chunk of psychedelic antiquarianism, Come Write Me Down references both copperplate and the Copper Family. If Morrissey had been forcibly cut-and-pasted into an Ealing comedy, he’d probably have riposted with something like Fluent English (in which Richard spirals defiantly through levels and levels of social awkwardness, a passive-aggressive cad-seeking missile).

More touchingly, Richard dedicates the brand-new Matchless Bride to his own wife (clambering over and dismissing both Cleopatra and Helen of Troy en route) and behind the dry theatrical wit, the Larcombes occasionally demonstrate a more elusive side. Pinocchio Falls In Love takes Disney and pulls it somewhere towards Syd Barrett in chapel, losing itself in hypnotic circles. The roaring distorted guitar fanfare of Remind Me Of The Thames Or Else, meanwhile, reminds us that this is a band that listens to Battles and Voivod as eagerly as it does to Northumbrian bagpipe reels.

Though it’s been nearly thirty years since Mark Cawthra was a Cardiac, you could still describe him as the band’s second severed head. In early lineups he’d hop around between keyboards, drums and singing, egging Tim Smith on to greater and greater heights of manic invention. These days, he’s still multi-instrumental, but the jibber and twitch of the early years has been replaced by something more relaxed and thoughtful.

Mark Cawthra of Redbus Noface plays a wry and mournful chord, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

Mark Cawthra of Redbus Noface plays a wry and mournful chord, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

On record, Mark’s Redbus Noface project stretches slightly askew of classic English mainstream pop, ending up like a slightly more psychedelic Chris Difford. Live (with a pickup band of assorted Cardiacs and other friends) Redbus Noface are considerably chunkier. They present a drenched crash of solid rock musicianship, run through with a soft vein of melancholy – and, on this occasion, substantial technical hitches. Mark, fronting the band on guitar, deals with his setbacks with patience; which is something that could also be said for the majestically glum music.

It’s not that the band are miserable, per se. It’s more that they’re operating under a glimmering halo of resignation; of acceptance, of carrying on. Hard to put your finger on, though if you’re carrying a few more years it becomes easier. Compared to the jumping-jack of the Cardiacs years, the current Mark is soberer, but if the energy is reduced, the wisdom is broader. The Redbus cover of an early Cardiacs song, Let Alone My Plastic Doll, takes the stubborn heels-dug-in-tone of the original and fills it with grime, sand and saturated weight. In the process, it makes it weightier, more substantial. Mark Cawthra is not what he was. He’s more – and it’s neither show nor tell. It’s feel.

Usually Thumpermonkey can rely on various supports. On record, it’s the studio playground in which Michael Woodman can shore up his ambitious musical constructions with assorted sound trickery. Out live (and minus the gracings of harmonies, samplers, mandolins or keyboards) it’s at least helpful to have a bass player to pin down the foundations of their brooding new-prog grind. (Think Killing Joke meets Van Der Graaf Generator meets Tool, and then get frustrated at how poorly that captures their music’s sly muscularity and brainpower.)

Tonight they have neither of these things. Instead, Thumpermonkey are appearing as a two-guitarred power trio with the basslines covered by octave pedals and a Rush-like determination to dance their way over the personnel gaps by sheer skill and musical ingenuity. Fortunately Michael and his main foil, Rael Jones, have this in spades. They also have a batch of complex, restless songs which roar out from the stage: a slowly swirling mass of ever-altering metallic riffs in shades of grunge-baroque, hardcore punk and ermine cape, all staked into shape by Ben Wren’s needle-sharp drumming and topped off by Michael’s rich baronial voice.

Thumpermonkey get mean, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

Thumpermonkey get mean, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

The latter’s a sound which demands attention. Scorning both sterile heavy-metal strutting or the self-righteous monotone screech of hardcore (though he can roar and scream with the best of them) Michael unleashes a vocal ever bit as striking and expressive as his Escher-knot of instrumental patterns. As he and Rael crash and chisel out the guitar lines, Michael treats us to a series of hard-rock soliloquies: heady declamation, musings, ominous mutters and runaway wails adding the muscle to his intricate lyrics.

In turn, this fits neatly into the undulating, stuttering landscape of Thumpermonkey’s music. Even when the band’s stripped down, the music thrives – catching at your ears, presenting tantalising gaps of rhythm and tension. Thumpermonkey know that if there are enough good ingredients in the stew, then there’s no such thing as overcooking. They may have always been a band with too many ideas, but they’ve become brilliant at blending and poising them all. They also visibly enjoy their arch humour, a witty blend of pastiches from cyberpunk to Gothic melodrama to art cinema oddity.

It’s got to be said that as metallers (even of the brainiac kind), they don’t quite look or act the part. Few obvious tattoos are in evidence; and they could shed their roles as easily as their T-shirts. Rael – part bespectacled boffin, part spindly golden eagle – prowls the stage with the barely-suppressed excitement of a toddler at Christmas, while Michael – even in full yell – has the cuddly softness of a plush-doll Paul McCartney, complete with smile and shaggy moptop. Look them in the eye, though, and see the twinkling confidence of men with total self-belief and the humour to enjoy it all the way to the end of the set and home. Ultimately it’s the music which sets Thumpermonkey’s ranking, and on every bit of evidence here, that’s pretty high.

William D. Drake comes complete with a throng of “So-Called Friends”, including the Larcombe brothers, Mark Cawthra (back behind the drumkit) and the Trudy’s Jon Bastable on bass. With singer Dug Parker and clarinetist Nicola Baigent also squeezed in, there are almost too many people to fit onstage. Richard Larcombe has to comically mountaineer his way back and forth between songs, a guitar swivelling around his body like a slapstick plank – you’d almost expect a Spike Jones soundtrack of thwacks, boings and yelps.

Such is the geniality onstage, however, that any clouts from a straying instrument would be taken in good heart. Squeezed they might be, but the seven-piece band do some sprawling justice to the clutch of Drakesongs on offer tonight. Each of them spring gently open when played, an overstuffed old trunk full of homemade melodies and worn-down reeds. Another onetime Cardiac, Bill Drake used to exude jollity and warmth around a chubby smile even when he was slathered in smeary slap and rolling out a convulsed fugal organ line. Two decades on, the freak trappings have long since washed off but the warmth has blossomed.

William D. Drake (and the Larcombes throwing shapes), RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

William D. Drake (and the Larcombes throwing shapes), RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

Upfront at his piano, Bill’s like the avuncular monk in charge of the brewery. For a while, the November evening turns to a leaf-strewn end-of-summer afternoon as he sings in his split, woody voice – a kind of innocence in itself, straining heartily against its natural restrictions to break out into a flattened earnest roar or into a conversational softness. His songs thrive on ripples of piano and clarinet, on the hoppity bounce of half-forgotten novelty records; on hushed moments of old English reverie. It’s as if they’ve sprung up from a snowed-in village, put together by a group of people enjoying the warmth of companionship. One of the newer songs – Homesweet Homestead Hideaway – travels sedately from happy plonk to sea music, and from chamber music to music hall, all in a single unrolling skein.

The So-Called Friends nearly overwhelm the stage: Knifeworld transcend it. Tonight, they’re the only band that really do. Maybe it’s because they’re Kavus’ own band, briefly releasing him from organiser’s headaches, letting him take up his white Gretsch guitar and fire off a little compositional lightning. At any rate, Knifeworld take their set at full-tilt, as if they’re playing on excited tiptoe prior to leaping through the ceiling. Even the sonic missteps or rough patches don’t slow them down – any occasional keyboard plunk or fluffed vocal note is scooped up and along to fuel their energy.

In more than one respect, the band bristle. Grown to a six-piece (and swallowing up a couple of Chrome Hoof members along the way), they now have electric pianos and bassoons poking out of them like crazy hairpins. Kavus’ veering and breathless songs need no less these days. Crammed with escapologist riffs, abrupt time-changes and flagrant decorations, they’re like manically accelerated conversations complete with excited table-bangings. They’re also like mashed-up city traffic – dozens of different ideas like wandering cars, edging into narrow streets, getting squeezed into a bigger and more diverse picture, but somehow managing to manoeuvre and thrive.

Knifeworld roar into action, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

Knifeworld roar into action, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

Up at the front Kavus’ gruff and friendly bark of voice mingles with that of his vocal foil Mel Woods. They sing with a chatty roughness which almost, but not quite, disarms the furious musical mechanisms churning away behind them: part prog, part Rock-In-Opposition, part surreal shanty. Chloe Herrington’s steely bassoon playing is the newest Knifeworld ingredient, as tart as molasses and threading a new dark vein through the songs, most of which are newer work, including the benign lurches of In A Foreign Way and the chittering pump-riffage of Pilot Her.

The best comes last. Fully warmed up, Knifeworld lock in a few more gears, summon up a few more notches of the power and launch into The Prime Of Our Decline, a piece so new that it’s still glistening. It rampages past our ears and through our brains in a blizzard of lights and joy. It’s a streaking Mediterranean storm of flamencoid prog pulse and haul song, flashing out memories of John McLaughlin, Yes and Fred Frith (each at the peak of their communicative powers), but it also sustains along its entire length, the heart-racing punch of a top pop hook. I feel my jaw drop. For five minutes, the entire band seem to be leaning into an ecstatic curve; or levitating an inch above the Unicorn’s scruffy stage carpet. It’s not often that I see a band suddenly move up a level, right in front of me. It takes my breath away when it actually happens.

It does strike me that, were most of these bands American, they’d be getting proper respect. All credit to them for coming together to light up this obscure little corner of North London, but they’re still running along in a distant neglected parallel, some way out of the club of the British musicians who are properly celebrated, who are held up as the exemplars of what we ought to be doing as a musical nation. Some of them have been at it for years in one form or another, and to see their clear talent unrewarded is hard.

It’s something to do with a pop aesthetic worn down to a neurotic sliver, I suppose. An idea is always easier to sell if it’s been pre-formed and pre-warmed; and not only does the emphasis on the shape of the British pop song often end up as a straitjacket, British musical jingoism has a flipside of fawning insecurity. From a British perspective, it often seems as if it’s only Americans who are allowed to experiment, to embrace their own whimsy to the hilt, to draw in something less urban and less in cahoots with fashion; and in Britain it’s only American musicians who are allowed to be celebrated for this. The Roastfest roster – profoundly British, without a pop art flag in sight – flip a cheerful collective finger at this notion.

Still, I have to admit that coping with Roastfest’s rich stew of acts in relentless succession does eventually take it out of you. I’m flagging by the time Sanguine Hum arrive onstage. Not too long ago, they were called The Joff Winks Band, and they used to lie to people. Travelling under a classic-pop flag to mislead people, they played beautifully, wrote intricate Canterbury-mellow prog-rock songs while pretending not to, and made the kind of tasteful support-band ripples you’d expect if you spent your time opening for people like Joseph Arthur and Regina Spektor.

Prog of a more delicate stripe... Joff Winks of Sanguine Hum, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

Prog of a more delicate stripe… Joff Winks of Sanguine Hum, RoastFest 2011 (photo by Ashley Jones @ Chaos Engineers)

In parallel, Joff and his bandmates also had alter-egos. They explored a lighthearted, Anglicised post-rock as Antique Seeking Nuns, and pegged out some spacey textural music as Nunbient. Maybe proving themselves in these fields has given them the confidence of finally making themselves over as an overt prog band. Hurray for that.

During the course of their set I drift around the pub, a little dazed by standing and by keeping myself fuelled on bar snacks. Consequently Sanguine Hum’s airy prog blend – in which Rhodes-propelled Camel mellowness blends with occasional Zappa seizures – doesn’t grab enough of my wandering attention. By the end of the evening my impression of the band is hazy, and my notes too vague to be of much use. Sanguine Hum seem cleaner and more polite than anyone else on offer – they’ve kept the classic ’70s pop sheen, for certain – and I have to nod to both Matt Baber’s bright, dazzling keyboard touch and Joff’s sweet-natured frontman work. The rest of what they are will have to wait until we next cross paths. Sorry, Joff. Not your fault. I just wasn’t quite up to it this time.

The evening ends with a big, scrappy folk noise. Admirals Hard don’t pretend to be anything other than what they are – émigré Plymouth art-rockers gone acoustic (plus a few London friends), indulging hometown roots with a string of traditional sea-shanties. The affable Andy Carne fronts this busman’s holiday, but both of the Larcombe brothers are back onstage too, along with chunks of The Monsoon Bassoon (Dan Chudley on bass and fur cap, while Kavus, letting his hair down at the end of the night, jangles a mandolin). Onetime Foe drummer Paul Westwood plays harmonium and hammered dulcimer; Tungg! singer Becky Jacobs joins in too.

In fact, everyone sings – not just the whole band (with the affable Carne performing as much as an MC as lead vocalist) but the audience. While Admirals Hard have been known to fling in shipworm-friendly covers of Cardiacs and Iron Maiden (their take on Stranger In A Strange Land is surprisingly convincing as well as funny), these aren’t needed tonight. At the end of a day of invention, the trad songs cheerfully mop up. An international audience of music obsessives let down hair and inhibitions, drink the last of the bar dry and sing along to All For Me Grog, Eddystone Light and Thou Hast Drunk Well Man; the roaming Janners and honorary Janners onstage let their accents broaden, strum out a sound like a skinny Pogues and imagine a rolling deck. With the bar drunk dry, that’s probably not too much of a stretch by now.

Finally we disperse into the November night, trailing bright scraps of music as we go. I head for Archway, humming something complicated, or something simple. Something warm. Something welcome.

Buy a memento:
Various Artists: ‘The Central Element’ (compilation album with one track from each Roastfest band) – available from Genepool.

Arch Garrison online:
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Matt Stevens online:
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Stars In Battledress online:
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Redbus Noface online:
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Thumpermonkey online:
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William D. Drake online:
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Knifeworld online:
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Sanguine Hum online:
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Admirals Hard online:
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The Unicorn, Camden online:
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