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November 2015 – upcoming London gigs – The End Festival 2015 in Crouch End, part 1

11 Nov

The End Festival, 2015

When I was growing up in north London, Crouch End was the “next village over”. It was the place where I went to primary school and first heard song by Neil Young, Steve Winwood and The Kinks (strummed out and sung in assemblies alongside battling hymns from the civil rights movement) and where I began sharpening my hunger for musical knowledge on the rich ranks of vinyl LPs in Hornsey Library. Over the years, I’ve continued to associate the neighbourhood with music – other people’s memories of old art-rock and punk gigs at the Hornsey College of Art; the star traffic through the Church Studio at the bottom of Crouch Hill (owned in turn by Eurythmics and Paul Epsworth), where you might find Erasure or Sisters of Mercy catching a mid-session coffee in the local café; and the Gareth Malone wet-dream of the Crouch End Festival Chorus, a local choir with a national reputation.

That said, Crouch End’s day-to-day music scene has always struck me as lacking. There have been exceptions to the rule – the steady reservoir of blues and roots playing at the Kalamazoo Club; the string of house concerts that Jenni Roditi ran at her loft between 2002 and 2009; more recently, a flowering of rootsy events at the Earl Haig Hall. But generally speaking, Crouch End has always seemed to me to export or traffick in music rather than play it, becoming an increasingly upmarket and bijou neighbourhood where shoppers vastly outnumber giggers; easily eclipsed by the musicality of other London neighbourhoods like Camden Town, Dalston, Shoreditch, even Tooting.

Well, more fool me. It turns out that I’ve regularly been overlooking and missing The End – an annual, musically expansive Crouch End festival that turns all of my gloomy observations about the neighbourhood’s gig shortcomings to dust – at least, for two weeks. As my penance, here’s the first half of an overview of everyone playing at this year’s festival, which starts tomorrow (all ticket details are to be found via the info links or at the festival website).

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Lowpines + Forced Random + Ylja (Earl Haig Hall, 18 Elder Avenue, Crouch End, London, N8 9TH, UK, Thursday 12th November, 7:30pm) – £8.80 – information

The festival kicks off with a concert navigating the blurry margins of folk and lo-fi alternative rock, with headliners good enough to warrant a post all of their own. The crepuscular but lovely Lowpines have been racking up an unending stream of plaudits for their Anglo-Americana atmospherics, which recall old phonographs playing whispered, heartspilling songs in dusty basements, laced with judicious drums, intricate campfire fingerpicking and stargazing whistles of feedback like psychedelic pedal steel lines. Support comes from Oliver Girdler’s one-man lo-fi project Forced Random (which drifts ghostlike from instrument to instrument and from one slow soft-edged song to another) and from Reykjavík folk-rock trio Ylja (initially based around female harmonies and lap-style slide guitar but expanding into a broader palette that encompasses and recalls not just Fairport Convention, early Clannad and Pentangle but also the glowing starfield details of Sigur Rós and 1972 Pink Floyd).



 

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The Fierce & The Dead + a.P.A.t.T + Markers (Downstairs @ The Kings Head, 2 Crouch End Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 8AA, UK, Friday 13th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £8.80 – information

The first of several events at The Kings Head hosts assorted sprigs from the thornier of British art-rock. Headlining are prog-punk quartet The Fierce & The Dead (no strangers to this blog) who bring the rumbling immediacy of their quick-flaring complicated avant-garage instrumentals to the valley for the evening. In support, hazmat-suited Liverpudlian performance art troupe a.P.A.t.T, play “progressive pop that owes as much to Kurt Schwitters and the Chapman Brothers as it does to ABBA and Zappa”, drawing on a shifting tag-team of ‘Pool talent and bring strong flavours of the absurd, the deceptive and the cunning to whatever they do.


Opening the evening, Markers reunites two old friends from the omnivorous ferment of the 1990s London math rock scene – Jodie Cox (Ursa, Narrows, Exes, Rohame and Earth) and Jason Carty (Geiger Counter, Foe, Art Of Burning Water) as two electric guitarists without a singer, a rhythm section, any other instruments or much in the way of signal processing. Expect carefully poised, bare-branching instrumentals somewhere between Slintian maths, precise Fripp and Summers interplay, and the minimum-lines/maximum-impact approach of a Japanese ink painting or minimalist film.

 

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Kate Jackson & The Wrong Moves + Oh800 + YLJA (The Crypt Studio, 145a Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9QH, UK, Friday 13th November 2015, 9.30pm) – £8.50 – information

Kate Jackson (the former Long Blondes singer (and sometime British Electric Foundation/Heaven 17 collaborator) brings her current band The Wrong Moves to The End. She’ll be playing music from the upcoming “mysterious” album she’s been writing and recording with Bernard Butler over the past six years (though from what I’ve heard of it it’s more assured than mysterious – a muscular, classic pop rock mix with Kate’s big vocals and Bernard’s bright, sometimes startling guitar work).

Also on the bill are Oh800, a currently secretive new supergroup featuring Eoin “Oh Ruin” O’Ruainigh plus members of The Duke Spirit and F.U.R.S. The project is still enough under wraps not to have any tracks available to share, so you’ll just have to guess what they sound like, though it’s possible that the old Oh Ruin ingredients of blues, campfire tunes, Irish folk and fingerpicking will get a look-in. In addition, Ylja will be playing their second support slot of the festival, following the previous day’s appearance with Longpines.

 

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Joseph & Maia + Charlotte Carpenter + Annalie Wilson + Storme (Rileys The Ice Cream Café, 32 The Broadway, Crouch End, London, N8 9SU, UK, Friday 13th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £5.50 – information

An intimate gig of classic pop styles in one of Crouch End’s favourite drop-in cafes. New Zealand duo Joseph & Maia headline, playing songs from their debut album ‘Sorrento’ (a record which shows both their indebtedness to American songbook player-writers both old and new – Buckingham and Nicks, Ryan Adams, Paul Simon, Patsy Cline, Noah Gundersen – and their absolute assurance in working the same seams). Armed with a deeper and more ambiguous folk-blues approach, Northamptonshire-born Charlotte Carpenter sings songs of doubt and connection, softly, but with great emotional power held in check (like a surge pushing at a levee).


Rounding out the bill, acoustic festival favourite and all-round performer Annalie Wilson brings straight-ahead conversational, coffee-house songs on piano and guitar: while concert opener Storme (a Swedish singer-songwriter who’s come over to London to develop her songs, reversing the usual trend) is bold and dramatic enough to be a headliner, since her heavy-weather synth-pop aims for the same stadium-friendly altitudes as Florence + The Machine, Chvrches or even the more crowdpleasing moments of Björk .


 

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Becky Arundel + Nora Grefstad + Kloak (Kiss The Sky, 18-20 Park Road, Crouch End, London, N8 8TD, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 3.00pm) – free

The first of the Saturday gigs is a celebration of young female songwriters. Becky Arundel writes and delivers muscled, determined folk-rock in the Melissa Etheridge vein, moving from unplugged strum to bursting electric explosions. Norwegian singer Nora Grefstad , who generally trades as Noraslittleworld, slides her path midway between Elkie Brooks and Beth Gibbons (offering slightly wonky, jazzy trip-hopped pop or full-diva piano balladry – in each case with a hint of smeared-lipstick, morning-after feeling). While there seem to be plenty of people contributing to Kloak, in essence they’re two sassy-wise white girls – Georgia Meek and Gabrielle Mallett – putting together R&B-tinged electropop with a strong flavour of Eartha Kitt (those bent notes and divan stretches; that conversational yawp in the voice).



 

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Cortes + Bea Munro + Orfan (ThisIsWIRED @ Rileys The Ice Cream Café, 32 The Broadway, Crouch End, London, N8 9SU, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £7.70 – information

Showcase night ThisIsWIRED (which, since its initiation in Shoreditch seven years ago has incubated the early budding careers of musicians including Ellie Goulding, Raleigh Ritchie and Michael Kiwanuka) rolls up to a Crouch End ice cream parlour for a north London jaunt. Tonight’s players include crisp power-poppers Cortes and belting 22-year-old ‘60s-rock-siren revivalist Bea Munro; but for my money the likely star in the pack is gig opener Orfan, who uses his multi-instrumental skills to hone captivating yearning songs which touch bases with such odd-bedfellow influences as Nico, Prince and Boo Hewerdine.



 

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Farrago + Ylja + Frida Wallin + YLJA (Before the Gold Rush @ The Haberdashery, 22 Middle Lane, Crouch End, London, N8 8PL, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £5.50 – information

In keeping with The End’s origins, peripatetic roots night Before The Gold Rush curate an outright folk & Americana evening. A truly enchanting set looks likely from Farrago, the psychedelic folk vehicle for the lucid, highly literate work of London songwriter Ian Bennett – vivid short stories couched in rich, longing arrangements and with colourful, falling poetic imagery. There’ll be a third appearance by Ylja, perhaps opening up to their lusher dream-folk tendencies. With flavours of honky-tonk and Grand Ol’ Opry, rising festival favourite Frida Wallin brings us the End’s most straightforward country music set to date. (She’s actually Swedish. Don’t let on or anything…)



 

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The Battles of Winter + Metro Verlaine + MOSES (The Crypt Studio, 145a Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9QH, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.30pm) – £5.50 – information

While Before The Gold Rush keeps the Americana and folk covered for the evening, the people at the Crypt hold down the indie and punk rock side of things. The Battles Of Winter embrace a driving post-punk indie sound compared to Echo & The Bunnymen, Interpol and The Doors. French “pop sauvage” trio Metro Verlaine are noisy electric romanticists inspired by the rush of Patti Smith/Richard Hell punk and the latterday spark of The Kills, as well as drawing on the original poète maudit fury of their namesake. The evening is opened by guttural punky rock’n’roll noise from M O S E S, who draw a London parallel to Wolf Mother and The Subways.



 

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The Wave Pictures + The Oreilles + Victor Lovlorne + Beverly + Pony & Trap + Nadine Khouri + Kindling + Annie Rew Shaw + Ryder Havdale + Kloak + Aphty Khea + Hudson Scott + Esther Joy Lane + others tbc (Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre, The Broadway, N8 9JJ, London, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £16.50 – information

The big one. For this concert, at least thirteen performers will be taking up temporary residence in the battered but still beautiful Art Deco rooms of the former Town Hall, running quick-changeover mini-sets in the Supper Room, Committee Room and Council Chambers. Like a spontaneous party, the actual participants and their playing order seem to be in constant flux – as I quickly put this post together, the following seems to be the current setup.


Two bands are down from Yorkshire – The Wave Pictures (rattling Byrds-and-Motown garage-indie from Wymeswold) and teenaged Halifax trio The Orielles (a surf pop band from a landlocked town, teetering on the balance of their love of Riot Grrrl and the la-la-la). From America, buzz-pop Brooklyneers Beverly can’t quite make up their minds over whether to stick with Slowdive or Lush or to hit the accelerator pedal towards Surfin’ USA; pellmell Massachusetts indie-punks Kindling provide some rocket-powered shoegaze pop of their own. From Canada via Berlin, Ryder Havdale of The Mohawk Lodge might or might not come good on his promise to salt the lonesome indie-country rock of his main band with some Berlin-inspired electronics.



Several performers bring in captivating moods and stories. The blend of murmur, smouldering torch and cool eyed-vision in the work of Lebanese-British songcrafter Nadine Khouri has drawn comparisons with Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and Mazzy Star. Athenian-in-London singer Aphty Khea (a.k.a. MantRah) deals in self-produced slow-drag abstract soul and hip hop ideas; Texan gospel choir escapee and human love-wreck Victor Lovlorne in unsettling lo-fi basement ballads in a Will Oldham, Sparklehorse, Beefheart or Redbone vein. Piano singer Annie Rew Shaw mingles Christine McVie melodicism and wit with an eerie ghost-haunted songwriting style.




Of the rest, Kloak make a repeat appearance (this time unplugged) following their slot at Kiss The Sky earlier in the afternoon; Pony & Trap mix crisp girl-about-town rhythm-box funk with buzzy post-punk guitar hooks); and Oxford electropop diva Esther Joy Lane puts in an appearance, as does the elusive and underplugged Hudson Scott (at the moment, just a name on a wobbling list…)


 

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Emma Pollock + Ylja (Earl Haig Hall, 18 Elder Avenue, Crouch End, London, N8 9TH, UK, Sunday 15th November 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.50 – information

The last gig of the week features Scottish alternative rock heroine and onetime Delgados songwriter Emma Pollock, now three records into a solo career as well as being branched out into poly-genre supergroups (The Burns Unit) and socially-minded collective projects (The Fruit Tree Foundation), with her varied collaborations stretching well beyond her bright indie-pop beginnings to involve folk music, theatre work and string quartets. If you’re good, she might play you some songs from her upcoming album ‘In Search Of Harperfield’. Ylja, who by now are starting to look like the End’s house band, will play their fourth and final support slot of the festival at this gig.



 

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That’s all for this week, but I’ll try to put together a rundown of next week’s End gigs over the weekend…

 

December 2002 – album reviews – Various Artists: ‘House of Stairs Volume 1: Useless in Bed’ compilation (“happily balanced on the rougher brinks and fringes”)

4 Dec

Various Artists: 'House of Stairs Vol. 1 - Useless in Bed'

Various Artists: ‘House of Stairs Vol. 1 – Useless in Bed’

Placing yourself on faultlines, rather than easily marketable turf, brings risks but inspiration – ask a San Franciscan. That the three London art-rock bands who originally set up the House of Stairs label (The Monsoon Bassoon, Geiger Counter, and Ursa) have all now split or mutated into something else is perhaps proof of both.

Regardless, ‘Useless In Bed’ – the first House of Stairs release – is a declaration of brotherhood. Compiling the work of musicians dwelling on various faultlines (though still mostly centred on London art-rock, it also takes in music from Chicago, Atlanta and Bordeaux), it both defines the edges of prog, jazz, art-rock, hardcore, electronica, folk, improv and noise rock, or encourages people to spill across them.


 
Hard-rocking math-proggers Foe – sprung from the wreckage of Geiger Counter – offer the most urgent track. ‘Triangulator’ is full of furious refracting guitar lines over Crawford Blair’s piano-growl of bass. For six minutes it swings, chops, drops down trapdoors, executes perverse King Crimson leaps between mordantly grim chords, and savages minor keys like The 5uu’s on far too much coffee. Geiger Counter’s posthumous statement is ‘Drink Your Milk’ – less obviously wired than ‘Triangulator’, it still carves up its grunge-y math riffs with heavy enthusiasm, embracing sweeter interludes of short-lived luminous peace as it does so. Nouveau Metal is spreading…

The Monsoon Bassoon‘s own posthumous offering is a explosive and complicated song from when their mingling of Henry Cow and gamelan-Crimson art-rock ran full tilt into their love of American alt.rockers like Shudder To Think. The psychedelic squeal of guitars on ‘Stag’ marches from plateau to jagged plateau in a skirl of trippy flute and meshing riffs, held together by the band’s tight discipline.


 
These days various Bassooners have regrouped in Miss Helsinki, who deliver a sparkling piece of progressive pop called ‘I Felt Your Arms Around Me’. Less surreal than most Bassoon confections, it’s still an acid-flavoured love song whose rattling good XTC jangle and tootling clarinets don’t stop it hurtling delightedly into a complex, storm-tossed middle section in which they see just how much you can rock the train without slinging it off the rails.

 
If you’d prefer to stick with the Bassoon’s skronkier legacy, Chicago’s Sweep the Leg Johnny are still juggling that torch. With the superb ‘Only in a Rerun’, they’re obviously on a roll – it’s a rich mixture of harsh Schizoid Man tones and flamboyant jazz-metal attack from the raw husky wail of Steve Sostak’s alto sax and Chris Daly’s bloodthirsty roar of guitar, tossing Sostak’s airy vocal like a bull tossing a skinny matador. Slewing between dEUS busyness and violent post-Slint minimalism, this is a rough bareback ride to put a wicked smile on your face.


 
Manic Glaswegian pranksters Lapsus Linguae provide ‘Olestra (There’s Only One Drinking Fountain in Heaven)’. A stab of theatrical art-metal somewhere between Faith No More and Beck (with a Resident eyeballing it from the director’s chair) it has all you need to storm the castle of pomp. There’s a man called Penelope Collegefriend singing in a rampant bellow like a punk Freddie Mercury; there’s an inexplicable strings break and a rolling piano line continually chopped off with guillotine precision; there are namechecks for Hermann Hesse and Charlton Heston, and choicely bizarre lyrics like “More I eat, the hungrier I feel – / I lick menus, ignore the meals.”


 
Holding up the genteel-er proggie end are the whimsical and witty projects of the Larcombe brothers. With ‘Sand (Blowing About)’, Stars in Battledress provide a beautiful dance of fluent piano and autoharp: but beyond the divertimento prettiness, James Larcombe leads the duo through eddies of suggestive Debussyan chords.

Richard Larcombe goes on to turn in a conceptual tease on Defeat the Young‘s wonderful ‘I’m Ruining Something’ – an absurdist essay on the corruptions of power which blends Gentle Giant with Lewis Carroll and Stravinsky. Larcombe greets his ensemble of actors, trombone, and full-blown operatic chorus as a lounge-lizard lord of misrule, sighing a manifesto of playful destruction in his arch, refined tones. “I’m recognised as your one sovereign Lord Protector / Trust me – I’ve learned of your country by tape and slide projector. / Each day I’ll go out of my way to spoil, deface and tarnish, / like he who ruins carpentry by swapping glue for varnish.” Oboe, piano and hammer dulcimer float in a dreamy arrangement like an August haze. Apparently there’s a whole album’s worth of this story in the Larcombe shed – ‘The Golden Spike’ – and it’s only one of their dastardly plans.

Both of House Of Stairs’ lo-fi electronica boffins seem to grab inspiration from bargain-bucket electrical goods. Desmotabs create an appealing Stylophone fanfare buzz on ‘Gaseous Exchange at the Alveoli’, let their drum machine go nuts and assault a heart monitor, and squiggle some demented Mini-Moog solos before the entire track melts like a Dali model. Max Tundra (the Frank Zappa of the techno world) continues his marvellous and bizarre mission to fuse hardcore dance music with prog rock. ‘Life in a Lift Shaft’ equals Desmotabs buzz-for-buzz while festooning tough and hilariously uptight Tundra beats with jittery robot piano and fat sub-bass from the tar-pits. Alarm-clocks fly past on tiny wings trying to take bites out of the zany, sunny tune.

The free-er bands – as usual – have a harder time. Gnarly bass-and-drums duo Guapo can be the missing link between ‘Red’ and Ruins when they want to be. However, their grinding ‘Pharoah’ – despite Dave Smith’s excellent Brufordian snarework – is mostly as subtle as a flying breezeblock. Dragging large chunks of pyramid across the desert and insisting that you appreciate each tortuous step, they occasionally snap, shoot off the flywheel and go ape with some fearsome tattoo riffs. Hardcore acoustic fusioneers Cheval de Frise hop up and down with impatience on ‘Chiendents’, banging their heads against their own lo-fi envelope, manically coiling up tighter and tighter acoustic guitar scrabbles against the tussling drums. Compression to destruction, breaking out in wild slashes.


 
And finally there’s the hardcore department, with the recently defunct Ursa demonstrating why they’ll be a sad loss to the British heavy scene. Avoiding hardcore’s usual fixed, deafening riffage and reductive howling, ‘The Blooding’ begins with a studied ponderousness and heaviness which gives way to an inspiring controlled demolition. Galloping punked-up Iron Maiden guitar runs charge under giant toppling riffs, the band dodging falling masonry via nifty turn-on-a-dime spins while losing none of their brute power. American Heritage, likewise, execute proggie timeswitches with rapid and brutal thrash flair, their sound a bleak, bare cliff of thick guitar noise. It’s anyone’s guess as to why they’ve called their track ‘Phil Collins’ – it’s an unlikely tribute, whether it’s aimed square at the Genesis drumstool or at the white-soul crowdpleaser.


 
Anyhow… here’s a house of many doors, happily balanced on the rougher brinks and fringes and demonstrating the breadth of personalities camped out in even one small part of today’s art-rock community. Admirable.

Various Artists: ‘House of Stairs Volume 1: Useless in Bed’
House of Stairs, HOS001 (5030094077829)
CD-only compilation album
Released: 2nd December 2002
Get it from:
(2020 update) best obtained second-hand
 

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