Tag Archives: We Are Kin

August 2016 – upcoming gigs – London goes prog-happy at the Lexington – The Gift + We Are Kin + Tiger Moth Tales’ Macmillan fundraiser (7th); the David Cross Band with David Jackson and Richard Palmer-James (9th)

5 Aug

I think I’ve previously described the Boston Music Room – one of my own local venues – as London’s current home of prog. If so, the Lexington, down in the hinterlands between Kings Cross and Angel, is making a good showing as a second home. Two imminent shows reinforce that reputation, making next week a good one for London’s prog village.

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The Gift/We Are Kin/Tiger Moth Tales @ The Lexington, 7th August 2016

Resonance, in association with Prog Magazine and Orange Amplification present
The Gift + We Are Kin + Tiger Moth Tales
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Sunday 7th August 2016, 6.30pm
– information here and here

The name that’s missing from the promoters’ line-up above is Bad Elephant Music: London’s ever-industrious cottage label for various types of prog, and home for two of the acts on the bill. In some respects, this is a shuffled and re-run of a similar gig back in February, in which The Gift’s mix of symph/prog/folk grandeur plus flashy AOR (and We Are Kin’s exploration of art rock shapes and northern English socialism) lined up with a pair of one-man bands in the shape of steampunk balladeer Tom Slatter and troubadour rocker jh. Now The Gift are back, and so are We Are Kin, with only the choice of one-man-band changed. Here’s the official blurb from the Elephant:

The Gift, fresh from their triumphant performance at An Evening Of Bad Elephant Music, will be headlining the event, bringing their own particular brand of symphonic progressive rock on stage. The band is currently working on the followup to 2014’s ‘Land of Shadows’, and may well be previewing a song or two here.


 
“Making the journey down to ‘that London’ all the way from Manchester, We Are Kin will be playing a selection of songs from their new album, ‘The Waiting Room’, as well as from their acclaimed debut, ‘Pandora’. Their twin vocal lineup wowed the audience at Abel Ganz’s Christmas party last year, and is sure to be a highlight of this event.


 
Tiger Moth Tales is the brainchild of Pete Jones, who will be performing solo for this event. His live shows have been widely acclaimed for their virtuosity, emotion and huge sense of fun. Pete’s two album releases ‘Cocoon’ and ‘Storytellers Part One’ will both be represented in his performance, and he may well throw in one or two cover versions of the prog classics!”



 

Just one final note – the gig’s a fundraiser for Macmillan Cancer Trust, emphasising a community that’s broader than just the prog one.

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David Cross Band @ The Lexington, 9th August 2016

The David Cross Band (with special guest David Jackson) + Richard Palmer-James
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Tuesday 9th August 2016, 7:30 pm
– information here and here

Despite nearly five decades in music, David Cross is still best known for his contributions to three albums at the start of his career. During a two-year early-‘70s stint with King Crimson (incorporating ‘Starless And Bible Black’, ‘Larks’ Tongues In Aspic’ and ‘Red’) David added “delicacy, and wood” to what some consider to be the band’s finest incarnation – part proto-punk-Mahavishu Orchestra, part stately electric-classical chamber group, and part droning/clattering/blaring building site. In its relatively brief and always restless lifespan, this particular Crimson lineup lay athwart the path of progressive rock, heavy metal and European improvisation like a splinter-ridden sleeper across the tracks: innovative, stern and ornery.

David’s amplified violin was a key part of the band’s powerful Euronoise, bringing in evocative melodies and moods which varied between Roma scurries, fall-of-Rome dramatics, foggy drones and angry squeals. As was the case with many of the departures from Crimson, David’s was passionate, painful and galling: progressively swamped by the band’s incremental climb towards avant-rock brutality, he was eventually forced out by its bruising, bristling volume and the implacable battering of its rhythm section. It took a few decades for him to salvage a more cordial relationship with Crimson leader Robert Fripp: nonetheless, the reconciliation has led to a return to the large extended Crimson family including guest spots and latterday Soundscape duets as well as recent electric chamber music with Crim-connected composer Andrew Keeling.)

Immediately after Crimson, though, David had to follow a different winding path of his own. From mid-‘70s work with trans-Manche psych/prog/fusioneers Clearlight (and experiments with big-band improv whilst leading the sadly undocumented Ascend) he went on to a long learning process during which, by his own admission, he failed at jazz. On the other hand, he successfully honed an affinity with alternative improvisation and with other forms. Theatre, in particular, proved to be a natural home, with David working up on stage and behind the scenes as well as in the pit band or composer’s slot. Theatricality also bled through into his other musical work. A trio he formed with keyboard player Sheila Maloney and saxophonist Pete McPhail took to the arts centres to perform musical interpretations of Samuel Beckett plays, while from the turn of the 1980s David was carrying out interdisciplinary performances with dancers, painters and the like (something he’s continued up until the present day).

After a decade away, a return to fusion and avant-rock in the late 1980s saw David becoming a keystone of Geoff Serle’s Radius band; an interesting, if airlessly pastoral, British answer to Material’s electro-funk. He was also a quarter of one-shot project Low Flying Aircraft, in which he joined forces with Crimson-orbit jazz pianist Keith Tippett, drummer Dan Maurer and budding teenaged guitar whiz Jim Juhn in a leaf-storm of nervy electroacoustic frenzy and scattered early sampler sputters. (For my money, it’s probably his most interesting post-Crimson bandwork to date.). He’s stayed busy ever since – this year, for instance, saw the release of violin-and-electronica duo album with Sean Quinn of Tiny Magnetic Pets, plus a live album from Japanese dates in which he guested with Crimson spinoff trio Stick Men.


 

All of this suggests the work of a musician whose reputation should be broader and better respected. It’s probably only the taint of grand prog – and of the “wrong kind” of fusion – which keeps him from it. In experimental rock (or, more accurately, in the media commentary which covers it, particularly on the British side) there still seem to be very clear, if dubious and snobbish, rules about who’s allowed credibility, and why. It’s not easy to escape from those fencings; and without this side of his history, David might have had his due.


 

For better or for worse, David’s most enduring project has been his own David Cross Band. Anchored since the mid-’90s by cohorts and co-composers Mick Paul (bass) and Paul Clark (guitars), it displays his electric violin – by turns stately, romantic, gnarled or locustlike – coursing fluently over a grandiose, detailed bed of prog pomp, deep metal, and flaring jazz-rock gestures. This year, however, the band’s taken an intriguing and strategic left-turn. With their latest album ‘Sign Of The Crow’ barely out of the gate, they’ve unexpectedly replaced keyboard player Alex Hall with veteran avant-prog sax hero David Jackson, once of Van Der Graaf Generator.

David Jackson in full 1970s effect (photographer unknown)

David Jackson in full 1970s effect (photographer unknown)

Musically adventurous and visually iconic, Jackson spent his Van Der Graaf years festooned with multiple instruments, blowing double-horn brass sections through brain-buggering electronics and being described as “a Third Reich bus conductor”. Since then, he’s spent much of his time working on the gesture-to-MIDI Soundbeam electronic project (bringing out the musicality of disabled children) while sometimes venturing out for gigs on the strength of his experimental rock reputation. Since crossing paths with David Cross at one such gig in Verona years ago, Jackson has been one of his frequent improvisation partners, making him an overdue natural fit for something like this. Regarding their chemistry, here’s a lengthy fly-on-the-wall video of the two of them playing (alongside Yumi Hara and Tony Lowe) at a release show for the Cross/Fripp ‘Starless Starlight’ album of Crimson-inspired Soundscape duets. Covering the show from rehearsal to performance, it hints at some of what the Cross/Jackson duo might be bringing to bear on the band shows; something which might well be transformational, pulling the band up and out of its shiny prog-metal box and perhaps delivering David Cross some of the broader respect he deserves.


 

The new Cross Band lineup, completed by Space Cowboys singer Jinian Wilde and by poly-disciplinary drummer Craig Blundell (who displays a heartening taste for post-dubstep playing when people let him off the prog leash), made their live debut in Wolverhampton last month. While no videos have emerged from this, there have been enthusiastic reports; and as King Crimson tours as a grand septet with a long-denied, fervently-delivered battery of archived ’70s classics, the Cross band are studding their own set with live deliveries of 21st Century Schizoid Man and Starless.

The London gig’s also intriguing in that it features a rare-as-rocking-horse-shit British solo slot from Richard Palmer-James. Originally the embattled first guitarist and wordsmith for Supertramp (a long time before they hit big at the American breakfast bar), Richard was the long-distance lyricist for King Crimson during David’s tenure and has subsequently carried out the same favour for twenty years of various Cross bands. Based in Bavaria for forty-odd years, he’s spent most of it embedded in production and writing work for German pop: since the turn of the century, however, he’s revived his original love for playing blues and country guitar. Most likely it will be this side of him that we’ll see at the Lexington on Tuesday. Still, who knows what the sense of occasion might bring out?
 

February 2016 – upcoming gigs – From Now On 2016 festival in Cardiff; Laura Cannell, Rhodri Davies, Milo Newman & Matt Davies bring ‘The Lost City Of Dunwich’ to Bristol; Paperface, Jim Ghedi & Toby Hay, Dearbhla Minogue (The Drink, The Wharves) all play Daylight Music; an evening of Bad Elephant music with The Gift, Twice Bitten, Tom Slatter, jh; Teeth of the Sea + Ramleh at Electrowerks; The Centrals + Picturebox in Whitechapel; the Jonny Gee Quartet play Archway jazz.

9 Feb

Looking for further news on shows by Laura Cannell (mediaevalist improviser on fiddles and double recorder, previously covered here), I came across this:

From Now On 2016

Shape and Chapter present:
From Now On Festival 2016 @ Chapter Arts Centre, 2 Market House, Market Rd, Cardiff, CF5 1QE, Wales
Friday 12th-Sunday 14th February 2016
more information

“From Now On returns for the third year to fill Chapter with adventurous, fresh and boundary pushing music. Over three days you will be able to delve into a multi-genred soundscape of analogue dance, ancient re-imaginings, improvisation, silky balladry and lo-fi punk. We have sourced significant international visitors and some of the most intriguing performers working in Wales and the UK today.

As part of the celebrations, Chapter Cinema will be screening a compelling programme of music film and we are proud to present our first artist in residence. Acts include US experimental pop luminary Julia Holter; surreal electronic trio Stealing Sheep; paradoxical medieval/improv fiddler Laura Cannell; Bas Jan, a new krautpop trio from Serafina Steer; ambient explorer Mark Lyken and minimalist synth duo Happy Meals. Meilyr Jones will be presenting new work informed by his recent exploits in film and theatre that will be made in residence in the week leading up to the festival. Anna Homler & Stephen Warwick present a dance- and film-led performance of ‘Breadwoman’, a version of Tim Parkinson’s anti-opera ‘Time With People’; and Sweet Baboo invites you to join his ‘Synthfonia Cymru’, a collaborative synth performance.

We also have an alternative Valentine’s Day orgy of bands and short films curated by Club Foot Foot. In the cinema H. Hawkline soundtracks ‘Gwaed Ar Y Ser’ and experimental Welsh music films from CAM Sinema.”

(Other acts confirmed include Apostille, Sleeper Society, Club Foot Foot, L’Ocelle Mare, and Laura J Martin.)

Laura plays From Now On during Saturday 13th February. On the following day she’ll be crossing the Severn to play this event:

The Lost City of Dunwich

Onomato Collective present:
‘The Lost City Of Dunwich’ (featuring Laura Cannell, Rhodri Davies, Milo Newman and Matt Davies)
Café Kino, 108 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RU, England
Sunday 14th February 2016, 8.00pm
more information

“Onomato are delighted to bring together four artists to sonically explore the mystery and intrigue that surrounds the submerged town of Dunwich on the coastal region of Suffolk, East Anglia.

Matt Davies and Milo Newman will construct an 8-channel sound installation of their on-going work ‘By the mark, the deep‘. Utilising their field recordings from the waters of Dunwich’s ruins they will create a sonic framework for Laura Cannell with her evocative over-bowed fiddle and recorder, and un-traditional harpist Rhodri Davies to respond to.

Hailing from the region, Laura Cannell’s music draws on ‘folkish mysteries and the stark landscapes of East Anglia’s coasts’ and the event will begin with a conversation about a shared fascination with Dunwich’s esoteric submerged town.”


 

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Back in London, here’s something a little lighter. I’ve grumbled before about the encroachments and exclusions which lurk in the ongoing gentrification of the city but there are positive sides too. In Archway, amongst the brush-ups and the shouldering aside of community resources for what looks like the usual drive towards more and more luxury flats (see here for some of the fallout from that) there are sundry encouraging pop-ups and lower-key investments.

One such is the move of the Forks and Corks cafe from the edge of Parliament Hill to a new location, livening barren and wind-sucked plaza outside Archway station. Ensconsed in a former betting shop, twenty seconds walk from the tube station, they cook up deli food and serve craft beers, ciders and wines in an atmosphere of comfy sofas, child-friendliness and an encouraging make-do and mend spirit. Part of the latter includes a battered old piano, which in turn is leading to music evenings…

Jonny Gee Quartet @ Forks & Corks, 12th February 2016

Jazz in Archway presents:
The Jonny Gee Quartet
Forks & Corks, 2 Archway Mall, Junction Road, Archway, London, N19 5PH, England
Friday 12th February 2016, 8.00pm
– free event – more information

The Quartet are Jonny Gee (leader and double bass), Mick Foster (saxophone), Dan Hewson (piano) and Andrea Trillo (drums). From the photo, you can tell that they don’t take themselves too seriously, but don’t expect the same to apply to the music. Although you can expect a breezy, funky and accessible take on acoustic jazz, it’s going to be played by some serious musicians – most of them bandleaders in their own right – who don’t see why joy and sunniness can’t flood their playing. Between them they draw on years of experience with jazz, classical and dance forms (having collectively clocked up work with Stan Sulzmann, Ravi Shankar, Mike Garrick, Jacqui Dankworth, Zoë Rahman, The Sixteen, Pete King, the London Jazz Orchestra, Dave O’Higgins, Jon Toussaint, Jerry Dammers and Antonio Forcione). Not a bad collective draw for a scruffy, warmed-up concrete box in the middle of Archway…

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Still in London, on the 13th there’s the usual wash of Saturday gigs – acoustica, contemporary prog, electropsych and power electronics, and lo-fi pop.

In order of arrival…

Daylight Music 215, 13th February 2016

Daylight Music 215: Paperface + Jim Ghedi & Toby Hay + Dearbhla Minogue
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 13th February 2016, 12.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like event (suggested donation £5.00) – more information

Direct from the Daylight Music press mill:

Paperface has just released (from his lighthouse studio) his critically acclaimed debut album ‘Out Of Time’, inspired no doubt, by the choppy waters of the Thames lying in one direction, and the urban sprawl that lies in the other. He is probably up there hard at work on his next creation right now (weather permitting, of course).

We also welcome instrumental guitar duo Jim Ghedi and Toby Hay. Sheffield-based Jim’s influences range from African music, jazz and Eastern European folklore. Toby is from near Rhayader in mid-Wales: he is influenced by Indian Ragas, African Kora music and ancient Welsh harp music.


Dearbhla Minogue is a singer and guitarist in both The Drink and The Wharves. She will be playing electric guitar and doing some band songs as well as songs written to be played solo – and a couple of folk covers.

The brilliant The Leaf Library will be our in-between performer this week creating some weird and wonderful soundscapes – the icing on our Daylight Music sonic cake!”


 

(There’ll be more about Jim Ghedi and Toby Hay in the next post – this is a busy month for them…)

Meanwhile, Bad Elephant Music have been one of the most industrious of British cottage labels this past year, putting out a steady and careful stream of latterday prog, post-prog, folk rock and sophisticated AOR albums. This home gig should live up to the label’s familial reputation…

An Evening of Bad Elephant Music, 13th February 2016

Bad Elephant Music/House of Progression/Prog Magazine present:
An Evening of Bad Elephant Music: The Gift + Twice Bitten + Tom Slatter + jh
Boston Music Room, 178 Junction Road, Tufnell Park, London, N19 5QQ, England
Saturday 13th February 2016, 7.00pm
more information

Straight from the Elephant’s mouth:

“With their powerful and hypnotic songwriting, The Gift are supreme purveyors of the storytelling art and the perfect band to headline this event. The band will be staging a performance of their classic first album, ‘Awake And Dreaming’. 2016 sees the 10th anniversary of this long-deleted album, and to celebrate its birthday BEM will be reissuing it in a deluxe version, with brand new design. It is available for sale bundled with pre-ordered tickets for the evening, and also at the show. It won’t be on general release until later in the year, so this is a unique opportunity to get your copy and hear the album before it’s in the wild.

Twice Bitten will be making a rare live appearance, following BEM’s release of their first ever CD, ‘Late Cut’, in 2015. Formed in 1982, this legendary ‘heavy wood’ duo performed with most of the second-wave progressive rock bands of the Eighties, and will be well-known to anyone who frequented the Marquee back in the day. In keeping with their idiom, this appearance represents the launch event for ‘Late Cut’ – only six months after its release!

Tom Slatter‘s music is a listening experience like no other, with epic songs and deliciously dark storylines. Tom has eccentricity, inventiveness and mad genius at the core of everything he does – musician who is continually re-inventing himself. Tom is currently working on his fifth full-length album, a followup to ‘Fit The Fourth’, released by BEM in 2015. Tom certainly knows the meaning of ‘left field’ when it comes to the ideas and execution of his steampunk prog.

jh‘s uniquely British songwriting is a testament to his love of the album as an art form and his to his integrity as a musician. His eclectic yet cohesive music is full of melodies that will glue themselves inside your head. ‘Morning Sun’, an anthology of jh’s first three albums, has been a favourite for many visitors to the BEM store, and 2016 will see the release his first new collection of material since 2013′s ‘So Much Promise’.”

LATE UPDATE:

Unfortunately Rog Patterson – one half of Twice Bitten – has suffered a slipped disc in his neck, and is unable to even hold a guitar, let alone play one. Twice Bitten have, therefore, had to withdraw from An Evening of Bad Elephant Music. However… all is not lost! At the eleventh hour We Are Kin have stepped into the fray with a special acoustic performance of songs from their album ‘Pandora’.

 

Something a little noisier…

Teeth Of The Sea, 2016

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Teeth Of The Sea + Ramleh
Electrowerkz @ Islington Metal Works, 5 Torrens Street, Islington, London, EC1V 1NQ, England
Saturday 13th February 2016, 8.00pm
more information

Having just finished a British tour in support of their fourth album, ‘Highly Deadly Black Tarantula’, Teeth Of The Sea (returning to one of their London home-venues) have shown up in ‘Misfit City’ before. Their driving part-electronic instrumentals – packed with wailing guitars, rasping analogue synths and effected kaleidoscopic trumpet – owe equal debts to counterculture techno and to the aggressive end of psychedelic rock. ‘The Guardian’ has described their sound as “a more malevolent Morricone… widescreen and atmospheric throughout, but with a sense of dread running through its veins.” That’s close enough to nail it, though I’d also salute the four-to-the-floor beats, the cavernous space echo, and the dark pop shimmer that seals their overall appeal. Lurking epic dread notwithstanding, a Teeth Of The Sea gig is also a grand black-winged dance party – a huge Gothic laugh.

In support are Ramleh, whose lengthy and intermittent history dates back to the early ‘80s when they were launched as a solo power electronics project by founder and constant member Gary Mundy. As Gary and collaborator Philip Best developed, their sound generators, tunnelling shock-noise and lacings of screamed and hateful imagery gradually gave way to more flexible live instrumentation and more cryptically-inclined song-texts. Gary would become one of the key members of another crew of brutal noise-rock improvisers, Skullflower, whose explorations and personnel both contributed to Ramleh’s second and more psychedelic incarnation, which lasted through to the late ‘90s.

Since reuniting for a second time in 2009 (this time without Philip Best, now concentrating on the transcendently confrontational noise of his Consumer Electronics project) Ramleh have honed their sound to what you’ll hear on their newest album ‘Circular Time’ – dark guitar peals, blipping synth tones, pillared bass and supple, controlled-demolition drum-and-percussion flexings which can skulk in a kind of dubby minimalism or engage in furious death-spiral embraces of crowded noise. The Ramleh you see at this concert could be the rock trio version (Gary, Antony diFranco, Martyn Watts) or the drumless duo version of Gary and Anthony (I’m guessing that it’ll be the former…)


 

There’s just time to quickly mention this one too…

The Centrals + Picturebox @ The Union Bar, 13th February 2016

The Centrals + Picturebox
The Urban Bar, 176 Whitechapel Road, Whitechapel, London, E1 1BJ, England
Saturday 13th February 2016, 8.00pm
more information

The Centrals return to The Urban Bar in Whitechapel. Expect a fast-paced set full of catchy scrappy numbers that rarely break the 3min barrier. No messin’. Alongside them will be Picturebox, with their unique brand of lo-fi pop music from the cathedral city of Canterbury.”



 

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More very soon…

December 2015 – the last of the Christmas gigs – a happy Glasgow progmas with Abel Ganz, Tiger Moth Tales and We Are Kin; Harry Merry, John Callaghan, Sealionwoman and Tropic of Xhao in Colchester

17 Dec

Rush, rush. Last gigs before I give it a rest for the year. Here’s the expected random peppering, that lack of a consistent aesthetic, and all the other things you either love me for or despair over. They’re still mostly London shows, but for this first post of three, Glasgow and Colchester are getting a look in.

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The Prog Before Xmas, 18th December 2015

The Prog before Xmas: Abel Ganz + Tiger Moth Tales + We Are Kin (Saramago @ Centre for Contemporary Arts, 350 Sauchiehall Street, G2 3JD Glasgow, Scotland, Friday 18th December 2015, 7.30pm) – £13.00 – information here and here  – tickets

I probably can’t get away with calling Abel Ganz “veteran neo-proggers”. Although they’ve had no shortage of line-up changes and lengthy hiatuses since forming in Glasgow back in 1980, in recent years they’ve become an almost entirely new band, with the last founder members finally stepping down a year or two ago in favour of new musicians. Not so unusual, perhaps; but oddly, Abel Ganz has thrived in these new circumstances: in 2015, they’ve enjoyed their most successful band year in three-and-a-half decades, and are in the mood to celebrate.

“We really wanted to end what has been a fantastic year for us with a special show in our own home town – and to help us celebrate we have invited along not one, but two of our very favourite bands to join us. Amazingly, they have both agreed! First of all, we are absolutely overjoyed to welcome along the man who is behind the brilliant Tiger Moth Tales: Peter Jones! Anyone who has not heard Pete’s albums ‘Cocoon’ and ‘Story Tellers’ is really missing out! The reaction to these astonishing works has been nothing less than ecstatic with many reviewers – quite rightly – hailing the man’s arrival on the prog scene as a major talent!

Secondly, we have been watching with great interest the growing roster of fantastic artists that have been gradually collected by perhaps the most important and influential independent prog record label around at the moment: Bad Elephant Music. Amongst their many stand-out releases in 2015, there is one in particular that we keep coming back to: ‘Pandora’, by young Manchester band We Are Kin. Rave reviews describe this fresh band’s atmospheric approach as music that “transcends genre and sound to become something timeless, original and new”. So – there you have it. We are really, really excited about this! Three bands on one Xmas party night. We are so pleased that Tiger Moth Tales and We Are Kin will join us on this special occasion, and we are very proud to be bringing them both to Scotland for their first shows north of the border.”



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Over in Colchester, one of the town’s leading alternative venues (and one of its more eccentric promoters) has something for you.

A Harry Merry Christmas @ The Waiting Room, Colchester, 19th December 2015

A Harry Merry Christmas with John Callaghan + Sealionwoman + Tropic of Xhao (Mother Popcorn @ The Waiting Room, The Old Bus Station, off Queen Street, Colchester, Essex CO1 2PQ, Saturday 19th December 2015, 7.00pm) – pay-what-you-like – information

Harry Merry returns to Colchester for the final Mother Popcorn gig of 2015. Last time he was here was a few years back (when what is now Tribal was still Molly Malones). If you were there then you know what went down. If you weren’t, don’t miss this opportunity to see a Rotterdam legend do his thing in Colchester! Harry has toured extensively with his good friend Ariel Pink (who covered his song ‘Stevie Storm’) and has shared the stage with R. Stevie Moore, Quintron & Miss Pussycat and Colchester Arts Centre regular (via the Faroe Islands) Goodiepal. Here’s what ‘The Weirdest Band In The World’ blog has to say about Harry:

“Harry Merry is a living underground legend from the Dutch harbor city of Rotterdam. Dressed up in a sailor’s tunic and styled with an iconic haircut, he is out there to flabbergast with his unique brand of entertainment. His favourite keyboard is subjected to his own wild arrangements, full of odd chord changes and a tone scale of its own. Add Harry Merry’s unique, heavily accented voice and your ears will witness a match made in weirdo heaven.”

In support is John Callaghan (“an unusual songwriter / performer of thoughtful and spiky electronica from Birmingham… king and fool of the Eccentronica Microscene”), who played for Ma Popcorn back in May and made such an impression on Colchester that he was invited back for the Free Festival in August.

Tropic of Xhao, that weird psychedelic drum ‘n’ bass lot from Essex’s only tropical island St. Xhao (and featuring Captain Mother Popcorn) will be playing as well. We invite you to come and do weird dances with us.

Really happy to say Sealionwoman have just been confirmed to complete the line-up and open the show! This will be their first Mother Popcorn but the third time I’ve seen them, and I already want to book them for more next year. Double bass and vocal, both at the top of their game in terms of musicianship, just an incredible force to watch and hear. They list their band influences as “gin, jazz and noise” which sums them up better than anything I could write.

As usual pay what you can afford. All the money goes to the bands so please give generously if you can.

(Just to add a little to the blurb on Sealionwoman: if you want to read my own live review of them from a few years ago – also featuring Liam Singer, Foxout! and a moonlighting Laura Moody – it’s here. And to add to the blurb on John Callaghan: while I’ve yet to make it to one of his shows, I know his music, we’ve conversed, and he’s one of the wisest men I’ve met but cunningly disguised as one of the silliest.)

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Back to London next time…

January 2015 – singles & track reviews – Nocturne Blue’s ‘Bottle Rocket Butterfly’; Doldrums’ ‘Hotfoot’; We Are Kin’s ‘Home Sweet Home’

14 Jan

In the sensual slo-mo video for ‘Bottle Rocket Butterfly’ a long-limbed, model-glossy woman rotates on a rope swing, or inside a net. Circus glamour, catwalk slink, passive heat – Nocturne Blue is clearly aiming for all of these things. The musical sideline of video artist Dutch Rail, it curves and strokes its own well-toned musical hips, a perfect solipsistic pearl. I don’t know whether to admire its sheen or to stay quiet and watch it stalk – slap-bang – straight into a doorframe.

Though it’s honed for club play, there’s a strong affinity for the more polished, aloof side of art-pop here – and despite Nocturne Blues’ Los Angeles origins, the project rapidly settles into a European home. All is textural – there’s a sultry, light-stepping beat; there’s bass rumble, silk-vapours and distant, tearing fuzz. Left to themselves, parts build and crystallise. A lone, calculated antique synth pyrographs a wheeling electronic line – a ‘70s nod to psychedelic German sequencing, or to Pink Floyd’s ‘On The Run’. There’s a little echo of centrozoon’s evasive, bumpy pop phase in here: appropriate, as Markus Reuter guests on stacked layers of touch guitar, building himself a stepped, dissolving tower of bluesy bass growls, ambient hums and looped Europop trills. There’s a pinch of Summer-and-Moroder disco trance, as well as a dash of Bowie’s Berlin.

‘Bottle Rocket Butterfly’ also bears a passing, slowed-down resemblance to ‘Only Baby’, no-man‘s criminally-ignored dance-floor symphony from 1993. Yet where no-man blazed with an urgent sexual heat beneath their violins-and-cream sophistication, Dutch prefers to sit alone crushing grapes against his palate and murmuring rapturously to us about the taste. Both songs sing about breath and imply transcendence; both involve a shadowy other around which to wrap emotion (in one of his purpler patches, Dutch asserts “the sweetest flowers bloom late at night / but you and I were born to break free into the light..”). Ultimately, however, the Nocturne Blue trail is a solo journey, with Dutch dreaming of an explosive transformation while describing slow, langorous circles around his own stalled obsession. “My eyes may never see the sun / Paper-thin, don’t know where I’ve been / Sleepwalking circles into what I might become,”, he murmurs.“My darkest deeds, my secret needs / A thousand fingers feeling every possibility. / I was crawling down, digging around, / diving deep to dreams within my dreams.” But he emotes so softly, with so much of an immaculate and poised façade, that he makes any dirt and frustration feel as smooth as patent leather.

* * * *

Doldrums are equally club-bound, but far more ostentatiously fucked-up. Their sound is twentieth-century pre-millennial angst of the kind that just won’t go away and get smoothed down – a Montreal hybrid of dirty warehouse techno, KAOSS pad tangents and the spattering, visual-art-inspired synth-pop of Grimes and co. ‘Hotfoot’ is a knocking bit of electronic rabble-rousing, filled with splurging ripped-speaker synth-bass, sundry distortions and barking vocals. A couple of tussling rhythm tracks battle it out in stop-time. The main riff sounds like a plastic bottle, tuned to baritone, being kicked around in an elevator. Rather than an elevating rush, the breakdown is a numbing blurt of hooting overload. In its dull, hopeless tyranny, it could be the klaxon announcing that another reactor has just hit meltdown.

Meanwhile, tousle-topped frontman/turntablist/sound-smearer Airick Woodhead drawls on about “keeping up an unnatural pace”, “sleeping in, in the age of unrest,” and “vampires who can’t compete.” Watch your back. While ‘Hotfoot’ does send you careening around the room in a wild spurt of dance energy, flailing your elbows and heels, it’s also manic and asocial. “If I can’t pull myself back up, I’m gonna go deeper down in the mud,” warns Airick, scribbling himself notes which he immediately shreds and tosses. “Hey problem, spin around. / Don’t stop smiling ’til you hit the ground.”

It’s not just his punky sneer which gives the song its edge. It’s the death-disco sentiments: a party gone sour, nihilistic, borderline cannibalistic as Airick spits “my best friends all see me drown / my best friends all – c’mon – talk about it.” Halfway through, he’ll implore “Lady, won’t you come and swallow me?”, as if he’s courting Death for a final blowjob. Certainly he seems resigned to the fatal gravity well he’s worked himself into. “Guess I can’t pull myself back up, / I couldn’t grow deeper down any further / Fit right in, make some friends…/ fall asleep in the deep end.” He’s going to go down dancing, or nodding, or with some kind of hopeless swagger.

* * * *

After that, it’s something of a relief to change gears with some elegant Manchester progressive rock, courtesy of We Are Kin. Though it’s easier to be prog now than it used to be, those bad old off-the-peg snarkings about adolescent hang-ups on fairies and hobbits still sometimes hang around like a bad smell. I’d argue that what prog (especially British prog) actually tends to get hung up on is Victoriana. Shuddering flamboyantly on the cusp of romanticism and modernism, it often lolls back into the former, taking comfort in or shape from the trappings of an industrious imperial world in which even the mass-produced now seems to have to hearkened back to hand-craftsmanship, and in which running your hand over an antique street railing in the here-and-now triggers a kind of time-travel.

We Are Kin seem to fit into the same latterday Britprog school as Big Big Train – nostalgic for a history drawn from dips into books and museums and bits of folk history while quietly assembling its meaning on their own; building flesh around paper skeletons and guide pamphlets and tales handed down from elderly relatives. This isn’t as immediately credible as rattling history’s cage with upfront arguments about the present, but although it’s a gentler approach it’s not automatically naïve. Emblems and preoccupations of Victorian times still wash back and forth through the Western psyche in slicks of gold leaf or grime – empires of one kind or another, ideas about the deserving or unworthy poor, innovations and the turnover of new elites.

Prog musicians, like novelists, sometime lie on the wash of this wave and see where it takes them. ‘Home Sweet Home’ seems to be an overture to just this kind of journey. We Are Kin’s superstructure might be 1970s antique (a stately, tuneful Genesis sway of velvet-curtain Mellotrons, small bridges of jazz chording, the bowed and angular interplay of shifting time signatures and guitar escapements) but their intent might not be. Over three brief, lilting verses, singer Hannah Cotterill and lyricist Dan Zambas are describe three settlements – plains village, sea town, valley city – each with its own character and rhythm, its own buildings and way of life. In another sense, they might be describing the same place, or at least the same culture, swelling as history passes. Its buildings grow larger, casting greedy looming shadows. The ease of sustainable trade metastasises into a grotesque over-stimulated scrabble.

All right, the language is, ever-so-slightly, fairytale Gothic – but fairytales and fables work because they pare down the vital into simple, memorable lines. Through the fountains and courtyards (and the stone houses, with their “dwellers”) you can still see us, you can still see now, rocked by the same currents and the same shocks. If twenty-first century austerity really is 1930s repression revisited, and we’re sleepwalking back into repeating old history, prog’s retrofitted antiquarian stylings might have a place in telling the old stories and delivering the new warnings. If this is a taste of a longer tale, I’d like to hear more of it.

Nocturne Blue: ‘Bottle Rocket Butterfly’
Nocturne Blue (no barcode or catalogue number)
Stream-only single (released 12th January 2015)

Doldrums: ‘Hotfoot’
Sub Pop Records (no barcode or catalogue number)
Download/stream single (released 13th January 2015)

We Are Kin: ‘Home Sweet Home’
Bad Elephant Music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only single (released 12th January 2015)

Get them from:

Nocturne Blue: ‘Bottle Rocket Butterfly’ – Bandcamp or iTunes.
Doldrums: ‘Hotfoot’ – Bandcamp; stream-only audio at Soundcloud, stream-only video at YouTube; or order from Sub Pop as part of ‘The Air Conditioned Nightmare’ album.
We Are Kin: ‘Home Sweet Home’ – Bandcamp (pay-what-you-like download).
Swim Mountain: ‘Love On Top’ – stream-only at Soundcloud.

Nocturne Blue online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace Soundcloud Tumblr Bandcamp YouTube

Doldrums online:
Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Tumblr Bandcamp Last FM

We Are Kin online:
Facebook Twitter Bandcamp Last FM YouTube

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