Tag Archives: William D. Drake

April 2020 – EP reviews – MUMMY/Babyskullz/Mikrokosmos – ‘CONFINEMENT/release1’ (“the triumph of love over fear and torpor”)

10 Apr

Family. Extended. Play. For life partners Jo Spratley (she of Spratleys Japs) and the elusive/ubiquitous Christian Hayes, a.k.a. Bic (who’s played howling, whirling, stuttering textural/post-punk/psych guitars for Dark Star, Cardiacs and Levitation, as well as adding extra noisy or unearthly touchs to projects by Julianne Regan, Heidi Berry and Pet Shop Boys) – plus Jo’s son Jesse Cutts (Spratleys Japs bass player and Heavy Lamb mainstay) – coronavirus lockdown is providing an opportunity to get their musical lives in better order.

M U M M Y/Babyskullz/Mikrokosmos: 'CONFINEMENT​/_release1'

M U M M Y/Babyskullz/Mikrokosmos: ‘CONFINEMENT​/_release1’

Being stuck at home on the Sussex coast means the initiation of the Confinement Tapes. They’re unearthing sundry old recordings from hard drives, biscuit tins, gutted harmoniums or wherever else they may have stashed or forgotten them. They’re polishing them up, and getting them out into the world, while simultaneously raising a bit of money for the ongoing care of various ailing Cardiacs members. (All cash raised from this is going into the support funds for Tims Smith and Quy, as well as the recently beset Jon Poole – if you want to save the Confinementeers a bit of trouble, you can always donate directly via the latter links and just download this lot for free afterwards).

Clearly the Confinementeers see this as something of a resurrection – Jo, in particular, has kept a very low profile for the past year (despite the Spratleys’ triumphant return to action in 2016) and for the past decade or so Bic has been more noted for low-key backups within (or behind) other people’s projects, rather than his own. In their Bandcamp text, they make metaphorical allusions to pregnancy and labour, to inward journeys, the delivery – in all senses – of a new world, and the renewal of loving connections. In many respects, what they actually seem to be talking about is the triumph of love over fear and torpor, and the way in which music embraces and enables this. What you get as this process begins is a window onto the particular, vivid field of English psychedelia which the Confinementeers belong to, both separately and together, and the sense of rootedness and inspiration which offsets emotional paralysis and impels action. I guess that that’s one of the reasons why the first Confinement release is a trio of cover versions – drawing on inspirations and altered perspectives both English and American, and on the soothings, sympathy and compassion behind apparent nonsense and weirdness; and then providing their own synthesis.

Microkosmos is Bic on his own. I could argue that Bic’s work reached a luminous plateau during the short brooding mid-‘90s life of Dark Star (with their atmospheric tales of vision casualties and burnout cases) but he’d be entitled to argue back. Since then, he’s put out three Mikrocosmos albums – scattered meditative space-dust to Dark Star’s supernova, they shucked off the full-band musculature and had Bic revelling in wan-boy spindliness and a ghostly tenderness. In fact, Mikrokosmos both post- and pre-dates Dark Star. This EP’s echoey cover of Pink Floyd’s Matilda Mother dates back to half-forgotten tapes from 1993, when Bic lived and recorded in London’s skinniest house. It’s pretty much a note-for-note cover: while the fey precision of Syd Barrett’s tones have been replaced by Bic’s drowsy starveling keen (and the Floyd’s pattering remnants of beat-band rhythms have been replaced by drumless harmonium roll and wasp-buzzing noise effects), the melting sleepiness and neediness of the original are absolutely recaptured, from the dusky organ washes to the glissando acid harmony vocals. It’s still centred on childlike wonder, and the pang of interrupted sensation; a door-opener.


 
MUMMY is Bic with Jo. They brought out a couple of EPs three or four years ago; strange, slowed-down skeletal garage-goth songs, like the workings of a pair of fasting spiderborgs, or like a distracted feminised/de-brutalised Swans. In this 2015 outtake, they’re reworking an early Breeders song, Oh! (which also happens to share a title with a Spratleys song). The strumming spass-country feel of the original (melancholy fiddle, close-ups, and of-the-moment neophytery) is replaced by MUMMY’s use of drum machine, Gothic reverb and distant angle-grinder guitar sheeting. Jo’s abstracted alley-queen vocal, emotional but enigmatic, is also very different from Kim Deal’s just-rolled-out-of-bed slur. What can one do with the peculiar original lyric, apparently the words of an insect urging others to run and live despite overwhelming and incomprehensible perils? Relate it back to plague fears and to resilience, I reckon.


 
Babyskullz is Jo on her own: and although this is the first we’ve heard of this particular project, Abade is an eleven-year old track, so Jo’s been incubating her skulliness for a long time now. A 2009 take on a song by the Cardiacs psych-folk spinoff (and Spratleys Japs precursors) Sea Nymphs, this is the most directly familial cover on here. While the Breeders and Floyd covers may be the more familiar songs – and carry more of the psychedelic/indie kudos – this one is the most directly satisfying. Reinvented here as a trio of electronic harmonium, bossa-flavoured drum machine and throaty-to-celestial Jo chorale (punctuated by the surge of waves on Brighton beaches, and with a flurry of suspiciously Bic-ish feedback at the end), it keeps faith with the gentle walking pace and sympathy of the Sea Nymphs original. Its fractured lyric keeping step with the wounded, offering solidarity and – like Oh! – an offbeat encouragement. “And though he walks the mid-day sun / he carries his own vile dungeon around / with him and he’s of / all the more reason to be full of life, full of sound and fury. / Don’t be long, / where were we? / Where we belong.”


 

MUMMY/Babyskullz/Mikrokosmos: ‘CONFINEMENT/release1’
The Confinement Tapes, CONFINEMENT/release1
Download/streaming EP
Released: 8th April 2020
Get it from:
free or pay-what-you-like fundraising downloads from Bandcamp. (Update, 9th May 2020 – these tracks were made available in the short term and are currently unavailable – if and when they’re restored, I’ll also restore the soundclips. Other Confinement Tapes items are available in the meantime.)

MUMMY online:
Facebook Bandcamp

Babyskullz (Jo Spratley) online:
Facebook Twitter

Mikrokosmos online:
Bandcamp Last FM
 

June 2019 – assorted upcoming London gigs – Block4 and Lynda Beckett’s multi-media recorder concert (15th), Arch Garrison, Charles Bullen and Kavus Torabi play Clapham Library (15th); cellotronics-and-percussion improv with BirdWorld at Wigmore Hall (18th June); North Sea Radio Orchestra, John Greaves, Annie Barbazza and others reinvent Robert Wyatt in ‘Folly Bololey’ (27th)

11 Jun

Classical/experimental recorder quartet Block4 (featuring Emily Bannister, Lucy Carr, Katie Cowling and Rosie Land on a variety of instruments from bass to sopranino) are offering a mingled kids’ workshop and multi-media live concert – ‘The Art Of Sound’ – this coming Saturday down in Lewisham. Exploring links between music and visual art, the ‘Stargazing’ concert is a live collaboration with line artist Lynda Beckett, who’ll be creating spontaneous artwork (pursuing “sensual, the rhythmic and the non-binary” via line art in which “the glitch and the eternal return are welcome”) during the course of the show.

Block4 & Lynda Beckett: 'The Art of Sound' - 15th June 2019

While I’ve not got much info in terms of a programme, the music will be in keeping with Block4’s wide-spanning approach to genre, which in the past has mixed Renaissance and Baroque music with reinterpretations of Jimi Hendrix, “contemporary consort” ideas involving electronics, and more. It will include a new piece by Andrew Crossley, a composer whose inspirations include Zen Buddhism and a sheaf of hybrid forms of criticism (so expect something with plenty of silences and digressions, perhaps). Here’s an earlier electro-acoustic minimalist piece which Andrew wrote for sub-great bass recorder (travelling from borderline-subliminal low register to a resonant temple-horn call and back again), along with a couple of examples from Block4’s existing repertoire.

 

The workshop, taking place in the morning, ties in with the concept – allowing kids (from six-year-olds upwards) to “explore music performance, composition, drawing, and (to) creat(e) their own unique work of art to take home.” Best to book early for that one.

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Arch Garrison + Charles Bullen + Kavus Torabi, 15th June 2019The timing of the Block4 events also gives you time to slip across London (from the south-east to the south-west) on the same day, in order to take in one of the Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival gigs taking place in the atrium at Clapham Library. Back in April, they hosted the Peter Blegvad Quintet. This month, even as Craig Fortnam limbers up his North Sea Radio Orchestra for an upcoming Café Oto show, he and fellow NSRO-er James Larcombe slip on their guise as the Arch Garrison duo and head down Clapham-wards.

Arch Garrison take the implied baroque in folk baroque and draw it fully out into the light. Craig’s amplified gut-strung fingerstyle acoustic guitar playing has as much Spanish classical to it as it does bullish John Martyn counterpoint (though he’ll more readily cite African-Arabic inspirations like Ali Farka Touré), while James’ dextrous post-classical work on vintage-sounding monosynths makes joyously assured connections between chapel organ studies, progtronic flourishes and psychedelic sound webbings. The Garrison have sometimes been compared to Robyn Hitchcock and Nick Drake, and draw from Tim Smith’s eccentric, unlikely folk wellspring, but they don’t sound like anyone nearly as much as they sound like themselves. The songs, sung in Craig’s soft demotic Wyatt-esque sprawl, start with a lone walking man and travel downwards into conceptual strata of history, geography, familial relationships, art and ageing.



 
There will also be sidestepping solo support sets from Gong/Knifeworld expostulator Kavus Torabi (continuing to mine the unsettled psychedelic angst of his dark-sun guitar-and-harmonium solo EP ‘Solar Divination’ and a related upcoming solo album) and from Charles Bullen, one of the triumvirate behind Camberwell proto-punk experimentalists This Heat during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (and, more recently, behind the band’s recently-retired latter-day reimagining This Is Not This Heat). I’ve no idea whether Charles will be singing; whether he’ll be playing along with guitar, viola, a mess of programmed samples or his clarinet: whether and how the music will connect to This Heat’s experimental jazz-prog collage polemics, the pocket-dub work he explored with Lifetones or the bright and mellow synth-rock sparkle of his Circadian Rhythms project; or even whether he’s going to be starting anew with a completely fresh slate. Anticipate anything.

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North Sea Radio Orchestra/John Greaves/Annie Barbazza, 27th June 2019

Returning to Craig Fortnam – and indeed, to Robert Wyatt – his North Sea Radio Orchestra concert is on 27th June. It’s the live British debut of the NSRO’s ‘Folly Bololey‘ project, which also incorporates Henry Cow bassist/art-rock chansonnier John Greaves and rising prog/art-ensemble singer Annie Barbazza.

North Sea Radio Orchestra/John Greaves/Annie Barbazza, 27th June 2019‘Folly Bololey’ has been around in one shape or form for half a decade, being played at arts concert and Rock In Opposition events in continental Europe, but has only just now crossed the Channel to be performed in Britain. Gently picking up, re-arranging and re-performing various Wyatt works (centring on a complete performance of the ‘Rock Bottom’ song cycle), it sets Wyatt’s flowing, unspooling songs of love, grief, plaintive nonsense and recovery against the pastoral raincloud tug of NSRO’s alt.crossover sensibilities. The results are an interesting blending of Wyatt’s mouth-music jazzing and his deliquescing, playfully vulnerable search for meaningfulness against NSRO’s own softly-yielding Anglo-pastoral formalism (which in turn echoes the open-to-all concert music of another Fortnam forebear, David Bedford).

With Craig acting as master of ceremonies on guitar and Farfisa organ, rounding out the ensemble are NSRO reed and cello regulars Nicky Baigent, Luke Crookes and Harry Escott plus Greaves band member Laurent Valero on strings and recorders and William D. Drake (the former Cardiacs keyboard wizard who turned into a touchingly surreal, avuncular chamber-folkster). Handling the tuned and untuned percussion are Gong drummer Cheb Nettles and vibraphonist Tommaso Franguelli (from Piacenza percussion group Tempus Fugit).


 
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On Tuesday 18th, cello/electronics/percussion duo BirdWorld are playing an informal set at the Wigmore Hall’s Bechstein Bar. (When I last touched on them here, they were playing the Frome Festival three years back – too long ago.)

BirdWorld, 18th June 2019

Migrating between twin home-bases of London and Oslo, BirdWorld are cellist/effects twiddler Gregor Riddell and drummer/percussionist Adam Teixeira. For a while, guitarist Alex Stuart was also in the picture; but it’s always been about the core duo, who met in Canada, discussed electronic/acoustic blendings and built from there. Aspects of improvisation, jazz, field recordings and cross-cultural music – plus experimental rock and classical and a battery of kalimbas – wing lightly in and out of their work, which has included film scoring and radio work; and (as of this year) their five-year-delayed debut EP ‘TING TAR TID’, released (in keeping with BirdWorld’s folkloric leanings) on the vernal equinox.


 
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All dates:

Block4 & Lynda Beckett: ‘The Art Of Sound’
St Mary the Virgin Parish Church, 346 Lewisham High Street, Lewisham, London, SE13 6LE, England
Saturday 15th June 2019 – children’s workshop 10.00am, concert 3.00pm
(concert free for under-18 year olds) – information here

Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival presents:
Arch Garrison + Charles Bullen + Kavus Torabi
Clapham Library, 91 Clapham High Street, Clapham, London, SW4 7DB, England
Saturday 15th June 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

BirdWorld
Bechstein Bar @ Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 2BP, England
Tuesday 18th June 2019, 6.15pm
– information here and here

North Sea Radio Orchestra/John Greaves/Annie Barbazza play ‘Folly Bololey’ (Robert Wyatt’s ‘Rock Bottom’)
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Thursday 27th June 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

June 2018 – upcoming London rock gigs – gloriously complex experimental rock evenings – The Mantis Opera, Barringtone and New Born Animal (8th June); Lost Crowns with Sharron Fortnam and Kavus Torabi (June 14th)

27 May

Several of London’s more convoluted art-rock genii are emerging from the woodwork to play live in the early part of June, accompanied by assorted fellow travellers and burlesque pop sympathisers. Read on…

* * * * * * * *

The Mantis Opera + Barringtone + New Born Animal, 8th June 2018

If you’ve wondering what a band might sound like if it fused Henry Cow, Battles and early Scritti Politti, you’re in luck… and, to be honest, probably pretty marginal. Come over here and sit next to me.

Stemming from solo work by guitarist, singer and electronics meddler Allister Kellaway, The Mantis Opera now delivers his stirring, challenging constructions via a full electro-experimental synth-rock band, voicing a collection of “avant-garde grumbles” via a multiplicity of synth sounds and colliding pop tones. If this sounds inaccessible and snooty, it isn’t. It’s just that the tunes arrive in complicated cascading splinters, many parts urging in parallel towards an out-of-sight coda, while a dreamily precise atmosphere prevails: avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil.

The pieces themselves display an ambitious, orchestral thinking – Reykjavik, for example, is less a guitar clang with lofty ambitions and more of a cerebral/visceral string quartet piece transposed for rock band. Allister’s winding, philosophical lyrics, meanwhile, are very reminiscent of Henry Cow and of Rock in Opposition preoccupations, dissecting as they do themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.



 
Assuming that recent reports of a broken-wristed drummer haven’t entirely torpedoed their availability, Barringtone should be in support, continuing their live drive towards the release of their debut album on Onamatopoeia this summer. Released songs have been sparse over the past few years; but enjoy this new-ish brainy little post-power-pop conundrum, exhibiting Barry Dobbins’ own ambitions as he moves up from the band’s previous wry, ornamented motorik drive into much more castellated, conversational proggy territories while keeping their knuckly XTC-inspired edge intact.


 
Seven-piece big-pop band New Born Animal complete the lineup at this Friends Serene gig. Headed by singer/songwriter/arranger Thomas Armstrong, they’re a sonorous wall-of-drunken-sound effort who sound like Blur (during their music-hall period) dragging the Walker Brothers into a dressing-room tipple too far. If so, they also sound like the stage before it all turns nasty: slightly discombobulated singalongs where self-consciousness is just rags in the breeze, the emotional valves have been opened up and everyone in the room is temporarily your lifelong friend. If this in turn sounds sloppy, then I’d suggest that there’s a lot of craft going into something which sags and collapses so gloriously and visibly, but which never disintegrates. There’s longing, wonder and helpless laughter all brimming at the back of this.


 

On top of this, the whole evening’s free if you turn up soon enough…

Friends Serene presents:
The Mantis Opera + Barringtone + New Born Animal
The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, England
Friday 8th June 2018, 7.30pm
– free entry – information here and here

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Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 14th June 2018

The following week, Richard Larcombe’s Lost Crowns spearhead “an evening of songs with a lot going on in them”. In many respects, it’s a re-run of their triumphant London debut at the same venue back in January. No Prescott this time, sadly (though their instrumental ping-pong twitch would have been welcome), but Kavus Torabi is back with a guitar, a hand-pumped harmonium and more songs from his ongoing solo project. Launched the other month with the ‘Solar Divination’ EP, this might be 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.


 
As for the headliners, last time I anticipated Lost Crowns as likely to be (deep breath) “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.”

A tall order (even it was based on what Richard’s delivered in previous projects), but I wasn’t disappointed. With Lost Crowns, Richard’s created the most dynamic and surprising music of his career.

As before, the rest of the band’s lineup is a cross-section of London art-rock luminaries: Charlie Cawood, Nicola Baigent, Rhodri Marsden, Josh Perl, drummer “Keepsie”. Certainly the influence of Richard’s brother and usual collaborator James is missed (his genial, warm, embroidering effect on Richard’s work is underrated) but his absence allows both Richard and the band to stretch out in different directions – fiercer, more crammed, sometimes brutal in their complication.

A vortex of influences funnel around Richard, 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. As much at home playfully slagging off the precious venerations of synaesthesia as they are with nine-minute epics with titles like Housemaid’s Knee, Lost Crowns are a delightful self-assembling puzzle.

Frustratingly, with Richard still keeping everything close to his chest (outside of Lost Crowns’ welcoming gig environment), I’ve got nothing to show you. No embedded songs, no videos, nothing but those words and these words. Richard’s likely to keep everything culty, so the best way that you can find out whether I’m just lying through garlands here is to go to the gig yourself.

Originally this was to be a double-header with Lost Crowns’ other friends and allies, the revived psychedelic-acoustic band Lake Of Puppies (re-teaming North Sea Radio Orchestra’s Craig and Sharron Fortnam with William D. Drake, in order to build on the bouncing life-pop they cheerfully hawked around London together in the late ‘90s). Sadly, the Puppies have had to pull out of the show following Bill’s collision with pianist’s RSI in early May. Instead, Lost Crowns will play an extended set with Sharron woven into it as a special guest; while Kavus will be stretching out his own set, covering the remaining time that’s not taken up with snooker-ace-turned-avant-rock-uncle Steve Davis on DJ duty.

Lost Crowns (with special guest Sharron Fortnam) + Kavus Torabi + DJ Steve Davis
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 14th June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and
here
 

June 2018 – upcoming chamber-fusion and Rock In Opposition gigs in London – North Sea Radio Orchestra (2nd June); Lindsey Cooper Songbook with The Watts, John Greaves and Chlöe Herington (16th June)

24 May

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

North Sea Radio Orchestra are bringing their chamber-fusion sound to south London as part of the Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival. They’re a leafy and lambent confection of strings, reeds, nylon-strong guitar, boutique post-Stereolab keyboards and softened brass, fronted by the heartfelt disparate vocals of husband and wife team Sharron and Craig Fortnam (one a clarion carol, the other a papery whisper-croon).

Given the Festival’s context, they might pull out a few of the pieces with which they initially made their name a decade-and-a-half ago – garlanded, illuminated settings of Thomas Hardy, William Blake and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Either way, come for an evening which merges English country-garden airiness with German experimental rock boffinry and Zappa-styled tuned-percussion tinkles. Regular gigmate and sometime NSRO contributor William D. Drake was scheduled for a support slot, but since an injury put him out of action for the summer, he’s had to pull out. There may or may not be a suitable replacement.




 
Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival presents:
North Sea Radio Orchestra
Clapham Library, Mary Seacole Centre, 91 Clapham High Street, Clapham, London, SW4 7DB, England
Saturday 2nd June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

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Lindsay Cooper Songbook, 16th June 2018

There’s a tenuous but true link between NSRO and Yumi Hara’s Half The Sky project. On top of the existing ties of friendship, they’re both mostly-acoustic chamber music projects with prominent bassoon and an electric experimental rock component; both focus predominantly on a single composer; both lean (implicitly or explicitly) towards the ‘70s Canterbury scene and sound.

However, where NSRO has a core of sweetness Half The Sky is decidedly umami. Set up to curate, recreate and perform the work of the late Lindsay Cooper (and specialising in the repertoire she put out for the groups Henry Cow, News From Babel and Music for Films) theirs is a knottier, more querying sound: a winding road full of debate and pointings, animated but affectionate.

There have been shifts in the band recently. While Yumi continues on keyboards and lever harp alongside co-founder/former Cow drummer Chris Cutler, and singer Dagmar Krause was added as the primary vocalist for last year’s European dates, the band now features John Greaves on bass and keyboards and Tim Hodgkinson on reeds and lap steel, bringing its ex-Cow member count up to four (with Chlöe Herington still on hand to add more assorted reeds). They’ve kept the fifty-fifty male/female player ratio which reflected their original title, but have now taken up the more sober, less whimsical name of Lindsay Cooper Songbook. This will be the debut of the new crew, but here’s video of various previous lineups of the band in action in London and Japan…



 
The evening also features three support sets drawn from the ensemble. Making their British debut, The Watts unites Yumi Hara with Tim Hodgkinson and Chris Cutler in a post-Cow trio. John Greaves adds a solo performance of his own songs on voice and piano, and Chlöe Herington (following the development of her VALVE project into a collective female trio which, in some respects, echoes Lindsay’s work with FIG) will be returning to her own solo roots with music for bassoon and electronics. If there are any gaps left, staunch ‘Organ’-ista Marina Organ will be filling them with her DJ set, drawing on the horde of fringe-rock and experimental records she plays on her Resonance FM show.

Lindsay Cooper Songbook + The Watts + John Greaves + Chlöe Herington + DJ Marina Organ
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Saturday 16th June 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

There’ll be a second chance to catch them this summer – at the Zappanale in Bad Doberan Germany on 21st July. For those who missed my Lindsay summary last time, here’s a trimmed version:

“Long before the knot of current pop-culture wrangling over women’s control over the music they make, (Lindsay) was plugging away in her own corner, striving (and ultimately succeeding) for much the same thing in the often arid and unforgiving spaces of British art rock, improv and jazz… Pinning down the nature of a woman’s work in art – or women’s work in general – is not always an easy thing, nor even desirable. Even the most positive intentions can produce more restrictive categories, more unwanted boxings and demands to conform.

“In the case of Lindsay, whose career always foregrounded honest effort and end product over personality showboating, and which was tinted by doubt and determination, it’s probably best to concentrate mostly on the mind behind the music: to listen to the querying voice coming through. Operating over a set of times in which both contemporaries and colleagues had a tendency towards answers and stances, stated in both bald pronouncements and modernist-baroque ornamentations, she opted to bring a more questioning tone which nonetheless carried some of its possible answers in both action and presentation.

“Hers was a polymathic but purer musicality: an instrumental voice which voyaged alongside others’ often harsher pronouncements, détournements and doctrines and drew from them while never being subject to them, and which always kept a gentler, more accommodating side open to allow growing space and to consistently rebuild… She was responsible for most of the piled jazzy grandeur of the second side (of Henry Cow’s ‘Western Culture’) finding previously unexplored links between the music of New York, Canterbury and Switzerland)…

“In the late ’70s Lindsay had already formed the witty, subversive Feminist Improvising Group, or FIG (which) not only enabled previously sidelined female voices onto the improv scene but deliberately upturned expectations as to what such a scene could achieve. FIG were spontaneous, mutually supportive and – just as importantly – funny. With a strong and personal rooting in lesbian, class-based and feminist activism (plus parallel feelings of sidelining and denial on the part of others) but a suspicion of dogma, they expressed frustration and political challenge by drawing on a collective sense of the absurd and of the sympathetic… Men carped, frowned and cold-shouldered; women laughed, argued and sometimes welcomed; the group members continually challenged their own sense of self and role; but the work itself sounds joyously unshackled – something I would have loved to have been around to see…

“Post-Cow and FIG, Lindsay ran her own Film Music Orchestra to create and record arthouse soundtracks (often working in cinematic cahoots with Sally Potter). She rejoined Chris Cutler for the 1980s post-Marxist art-song project News From Babel (in which) Chris’ social and political musings would make a happier marriage with the pop-cabaret end of Lindsay’s music. She also contributed to the counter-cultural jazz colours of various Mike Westbrook and John Wolf Brennan bands, played with Pere Ubu ranter David Thomas, worked in theatre and (in the ’90s) composed a more formal chamber music which nonetheless retained the edge and inquiring spirit of her work in avant-rock and political art. She’d collaborate with Potter again for the Cold War song cycle ‘Oh, Moscow’ in the late ’80s, to which Chris Cutler also contributed. If encroaching multiple sclerosis (which had privately dogged her throughout her post-Cow career) hadn’t dragged her into early retirement in the late ’90s, there would have been more.

“(Lindsay Cooper Songbook) provide a welcome re-introduction to Lindsay’s work, performed by committed people whose sympathy with Lindsay Cooper’s music is absolute. However, they should also be viewed as a window onto the wider career of a quietly remarkable woman whose death in 2013 forced a premature coda onto the work of a mind whose personal humility had been more than balanced by its nimbleness, thoughtful and flexibility. Come along to these concerts and hear some of that mindwork and heartwork come alive again.”
 

May/June 2018 – gigs for Crayola Lectern in London and Brighton with Joss Cope, The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Husband and others t.b.c. (16th May, 1st June); ‘A Spring Symposium’ fundraiser for Tim Smith near Salisbury with Lake Of Puppies, Arch Garrison, Crayola Lectern, Bob Drake, Kemper Norton and Emily Jones (12th May)

1 May

Crayola Lectern + Joss Cope + The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Husband, 16th May 2018First things first: the murmuring, brass-dappled Crayola Lectern trio are making their way up for a rare London gig in the middle of May, followed by a Brighton launch show for the new Crayola Lectern album, ‘Happy Endings’, at the start of June. The vehicle for Chris Anderson’s tidal, sometimes melancholic, often softly funny songs – low-key dramas of reflection, resignation and not-quite acceptance – they’re powered by his piano, Al Strachan’s sleepy cornet and percussion and Brighton uberdrummer Damo Waters’ parallel skills on keyboards.

It’s not been confirmed yet who’s joining in at Brighton, though the whispers are that it’ll be someone – or several someones – drawn from Chris’ Brighton psychedelic circles, which includes driving psych-rock ensemble ZOFFF, Kemper Norton (more on whom shortly), CLOWWNS and Spratleys Japs. However, the London bill has its two support acts.

Psych-pop journeyman Joss Cope, armed with his strongest project yet (last year’s ‘Unrequited Lullabies’) will be along for the ride. I recently described the album as “a luscious living-room tranche of psych-pop with a sharp wit; dappled with dextrous pop guitars, carousel prog, fake horns and laps of Mellotron”. Live, you may get a little less of the texturing, but you’ll still get the songs: chatty, wry commentaries on a world wobbling off the rails. The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Husband also happens to be Nick Howiantz, who otherwise divides his time between running Brixton Hill Studios and fronting sporadic, noisy Brighton psych-pop rompers Ham Legion. I’ve no idea about what’s behind the genderswapping ecclesiastical mask, but he/she/they are being tagged as a “veritable modern day Syd Barrett”, so come along and see whether that’s a claim worth claiming or whether it falls interestingly wide of the mark.




 
Dates:

  • Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England, Wednesday 16th May 2018, 7:30pm (with Joss Cope + The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Husband) – information here, here and here
  • The Rose Hill, 70-71 Rosehill Terrace, Brighton, BN1 4JL, England, Friday 1st June 2018, 8.00pm (support t.b.c.) – information here

* * * * * * * *

A Spring Symposium (for Tim Smith), 12th May 2018
I was talking about Crayola – and William D. Drake – only a few posts ago, as regards their Worthing fundraiser for Tim Smith on 19th May. A week before that, both of them (in various permutations) will be joining another Tim fundraiser – this one an all-dayer in Coombe Bissett, nestled in the Wiltshire chalk downs south-west of Salisbury.

‘A Spring Symposium’ is the brainchild – or heartchild – of onetime Cornish folkie Emily Jones, who’s now joined the cluster of Cardiacs family musicians living around Salisbury. Her own songs of seal-wives, haunted bungalows, witchery and other glimpses beyond the vale will be part of the event, alongside contributions from various other characters well-known to Cardiacs followers or to aficionados of certain weird-folk, Rock in Opposition and hauntological camps.




 
Emily’s near-neighbours, Craig and Sharron Fortnam of North Sea Radio Orchestra, will be taking part in various permutations. Craig will be bringing along his Arch Garrison duo with James Larcombe, singing soft songs (on gut-strung acoustic guitar and buzzing organs and monosynths) about long walks, lost brothers, ancient roads, dogs, death and bereavement and the various gentle tug-of-wars between family and necessary solitude, compromise and truthfulness, art and earning. Craig and Sharron will both be playing in a second reunion of Lake Of Puppies, the rollicking, affectionate acoustic-psychedelic folk-pop band they formed with avuncular ex-Cardiac and alternative keyboard virtuoso William D. Drake over twenty years ago. During the mid-‘90s they’d play regular small gigs around London; bobbing up with their bouncy songs of life, good humour and growing things, like a rosy apple in a tub. Sadly, they went their separate and amiable ways after only a few years and no more than a couple of rough demos. Having reconvened in the summer of 2013 (for a lovingly received appearance at the Alphabet Business Convention), they promptly disappeared again, but have been working out a long-delayed debut album on the quiet. Some of that ought to show up at this concert. See below for a couple of dashes of their particular flavour. Large Life might be billed as Bill’s, but it’s Puppies to the bone, and their 2013 set from Salisbury should give you an idea as to how they are now.




 
I’ve already mentioned the Crayola Lectern set; there’ll also be one from Bob Drake (the onetime 5uus and Thinking Plague guy currently bouncing around the country on a tour of his own). Sit at Uncle Bobby’s feet; listen to his electric guitar jangle, pop and change its mind every other mid-phrase; and take in some loveably bizarre constantly changing one-minute songs about sinister meerkats, experiments gone wrong, and the way in which assorted eldritch beasts from dark dimensions annoyingly disrupt your life, your shopping and your evening’s relaxation. If Ogden Nash, Fred Frith, Roald Dahl and Neil Young had all crept up to H.P. Lovecraft’s house one larky summer’s evening with a pint of moonshine and some tall tales – and really made him laugh – it would have sounded something like this.


 
While there may be a couple of extra guests showing up as a surprise, the Symposium roster is formally rounded off by Kemper Norton and by Libbertine Vale – the former an electro-acoustic folk-culture miner of music and landscapes, (armed with instruments, electronics and field recordings to remap both physical terrain and song terrains), the latter the Omnia Opera/7shades singer who’s revealed herself as a rebel Midlands folkie, digging deep into the more macabre corners of the folk-song catalogue and coming back with “uncomfortable songs about death, a capella sqwarking that will kill or heal your ears, dependent on your disposition.” It’s tough to track Libby down on the web, but here’s a bit of Kemper.



 
There’s only ten days to go ‘til the event, but there’s still time to arrange to get there. There’ll be cakes and ale, there’ll be vegetarian food; Tim Smith himself will probably be in attendance, and Emily’s suggested that you caravan-camp out on the chalk downs. If this English May makes its mind up (and settles for being a good springsummer), it all ought to be lovely.

Emily Jones presents:
A Spring Symposium: Lake of Puppies + Crayola Lectern + Arch Garrison + Bob Drake + Kemper Norton + Libbertine Vale + Emily Jones
Coombe Bissett Village Hall, Shutts Lane, Homington Road, Coombe Bissett, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 4LU, England
Saturday 12th May 2018, 2.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

April/May 2018 – Worthing worthies – upcoming gigs at the Cellar Bar for The Golgis and My Giddy Aunt (20th April) and for Bob Drake (9th May) plus William D. Drake, Crayola Lectern and the mysterious Drones For Tim play St Pauls Church (19th May)… and a Gothic film showing for ‘Deep In The Woods’ (19th April)

18 Apr

I mentioned the burgeoning ambitions of Worthing’s Cellar Bar Club a few months ago. It’s been quietly setting itself up as a plucky regional rival to the riot of venues in Brighton ten miles away. I thought it was time to revisit it.

Fruitcakery first. Playing in a couple of days time (on 20th April) are The Golgis, described both as “an outrageous alt.folk pantomime band” and as “a revamped version of a band that were almost popular fifteen years ago”. All very Worthing so far, and we’re told to “expect catchy songs, a spot of juggling, audience participation, and some interesting and unique wind instruments.” Among other tunes, they’ll be playing their recent online single debut ‘Mr Fisher‘ and celebrating its failure to chart. There’s not much to link to yet, but here they are running through it live for the benefit of a phone cam.

 
Support act My Giddy Aunt features the singing and songwriting of Sue Chewter, who (back in the 1990s) was once the wildly imaginative pint-sized driver of ideas behind the remarkable, mostly-female London psychedelic-acoustic band The Wise Wound). Also featuring Shirley Paver, Luke Pritchard and another former Wise Wounder, Brian Madigan, My Giddy Aunt’s a lighter undertaking than Sue’s old firm, playing up the angle of yer ageing, slightly glammy relatives enjoying cake, sherry and semi-retirement by the sea.

The following promo gabble got tossed my way in a battered toby jug – “Come and listen to the Aunties and Uncles you prayed would never kiss you. Proudly we are supporting The Golgis. More fool themin order to get that authentic Friday feeling you must drink vodka from a teapot and get touched up by the Giddy Aunts . We are the lipstick on your teeth; a mental wet-patch of entertainment. David Bowie had Ziggy Stardust and Sue has Giddy Ass Dust. Bring on the talcum powder, it’s Friday night. Line ‘em up. Monty!” Sodding nonsense – and it tells me nothing about what they sound like. But anything with Sue’s songwriting attached is worth a listen.

On 9th May, the Arts Cellar sees something simultaneously more serious and even further off the wall in the shape of Bob Drake. For more ‘Misfit Cit’-tery on Bob, click here, but in the meantime, it’s enough to know that Bob was “a founding member of the band Thinking Plague in 1978, and has been a member of the 5uu’s, Hail, and The Science Group. He has engineered and mixed many albums on the Recommended and Cuneiform labels, and has worked with artists ranging from Ice Cube to the Art Bears, but it is with his series of solo recordings made between 1994 and the present that he has really found his own voice with individual, always highly melodic tales of unusually intelligent animals, hauntings, chemistry, geology and who knows what. He began doing solo shows in 2015, and is currently at work on what will be his tenth solo album.”

Here he is solo and live in London in 2016 – filmed all dark and grainy, but shooting off songs like a batch of crazy fireworks.


 
Both gigs are at The Cellar Arts Club, 70 Marine Parade (basement), Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3QB, England. Times and links as follows:

  • The Golgis + My Giddy Aunt, Friday 20th April 2018, 8.00pminformation
  • Bob Drake, Wednesday 9th May 2018, 7.30pminformation

* * * * * * * *

Also coming up in Worthing…

Expect to see a warm exodus of psych-speckled enthusiasts swimming over from Brighton on the 19th May when singer-songwriters William D. Drake (no relation) and Crayola Lectern‘s Chris Anderson play St Paul’s Church for a Tim Smith benefit gig promising to be full of pianos, wistful humour, soft voices and romantic drift. Bill will be bringing his own songbook of material criss-crossing his solo career and his work with Cardiacs and Sea Nymphs, with steepings of old poetry, Neverland folk and classical billows. Chris is celebrating the release of a brand new Crayola album, ‘Happy Endings’, which ought to build on its predecessor’s mixture of post burn-out hopefulness, psychedelic throb and sweet songs from the end of the road. All show profits for this show are going to the fundraising campaign for ailing Cardiacs leader Tim Smith’s ongoing care, which has achieved startling successes earlier this year since belatedly jumping into the world of crowdfunding.

Both Chris and Bill usually have friends in tow to help fill out the sound. These are all most likely coming together as part of “niche supergroup” Drones For Tim, specially conceived and formed for a one-off performance to make this particular gig special. Previous Drake and Crayola onstage allies have included Joss Cope, trumpeter Alistair Strachan, former Cardiacs Christian Hayes and Jon Poole, the Rodes brothers (from CLOWWNS and Spratleys Japs), ubiquitous art-rock drummer Damo Waters and the Larcombe brothers (Stars In Battledress, Lost Crowns, Arch Garrison) so you can make an educated guess as to who might be in the ranks, but you might still be surprised… Further standalone guests and DJs to be announced in due course, so keep an eye on the event pages…

Alternative Worthing and Musica Lumini present:
‘A Very Special Evening Beside The Seaside’: William D. Drake + Crayola Lectern + Drones For Tim
St. Paul’s Church Community Centre, 55B Chapel Road, Worthing, BN11 1EE, West Sussex
Saturday 19th May 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here





 
Fans of the Cardiacs/Brighton psych crossover may also be interested in yet another Cellar Arts Club occasion – a showing of Button Pressed Films‘ recent comedy short Deep In The Woods (written by onetime ‘Doctor Who’ writer Simon Messingham, directed by Mark Tew) on 19th April. According to the synopsis, the film also sports a “gothy rock/4AD type” soundtrack composed and performed by Chris Anderson and Christian Hayes, with additional spooky singing from Jo Spratley of the revived Spratley Japs.

The film showing is the jewel in the setting of a one-night-only goth shindig, with dressing up and wild-waif dancing encouraged to the usual soundtrack – early Cult, Cocteau Twins, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, Ghost Dance, Sex Gang Children, the lot. Perhaps inevitably, they’re calling it the ‘Sea Shells Sanctuary’… which is better than ‘Hair Of The Downs’, ‘She’s In Patching’ or ‘Tarring Couple Kill Colonel Mustard’, I guess.
 

 

March to September 2017 – upcoming gigs – North Sea Radio Orchestra out and about in England and Wales (sometimes with Crayola Lectern or William D. Drake)

23 Feb

Having bowed, hummed and carolled their way back into action with last September’s ‘Dronne’ album, plus a few end-of-the-year gigs, art-pop-touched chamber ensemble North Sea Radio Orchestra are casting a garland of assorted luminous live dates across England and Wales this year – starting in March, and continuing through April, July and September.

In keeping with their liking for ecclesiastical reverb, which suits their churchy acousti-tech sound (described recently as “sitting in a special place somewhere between Neu! and Arvo Pärt”), most of these gigs are taking place in current or former places of worship, some converted into community centres or arts spaces or (in the case of the Cardiff show) into acoustic recording studios.


 

  • St Paul’s Church, 55b Chapel Road, Worthing, BN11 1EE, England, Saturday 11th March 2017, 1.30pm (with Crayola Lectern) – information here and here
  • Gresham Centre @ St Anne & St Agnes Church, Gresham Street, Barbican, London, EC2V 7BX, Friday April 28th 2017, 7.30pm (with William D. Drake) – information here and here
  • Assembly Rooms @ Frome Memorial Theatre, Christchurch Street West, Frome, BA11 1EB England, Sunday 9th July 2017 (part of the Frome Festival – further details t.b.c.)
  • Sacred Trinity Church, Chapel Street, Salford, M3 5DW, England, Saturday 15th July 2017, 4.30pm (with William D. Drake) – information here and here
  • Acapela Studio @ Capel Horeb, Heol Y Pentre, Pentyrch, Cardiff, CF15 9QD, Wales, Saturday 23rd September 2017, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

The Worthing show (a fundraiser for MIND) features a support slot for Chris Anderson’s rumpled, brass-dabbed domestic/psychedelic song project Crayola Lectern, while the London and Salford dates have William D. Drake in tow (playing a solo piano set, which may or may not focus on the kind of instrumental studies collected on his ‘Yews Paw’ album).



 

There’s another Drake solo show taking place mid-tour in Greenwich, London – another solo piano set (details below). For news of Bill’s concurrent song tour – much of it a two-hander with another singer-songwriter friend, Stephen EvEns – check back on my earlier blog post from the 15th.

William D Drake – The Prince Of Greenwich, 72 Royal Hill, Greenwich, London, SE10 8RT, England, Friday 17th March 2017time & further information t.b.c.
 

February/March 2017 – upcoming gigs – Bob Drake, William D. Drake, Stephen EvEns and friends scramble up and down Britain (19th February – 24th March, variously)

15 Feb

During February and March, three tours sprawl across the country from London to Preston to Tyneside, Brighton to Birmingham, Glasgow to Cardiff and points elsewhere.Occasionally they intermesh, like a trio of amiably warped combs. I’ve been trying to keep track of their plans for the last few weeks, but they keep getting excited and running off to snag in more dates and further musicians (both the like-minded and a set of relatively innocent bystanders.)

One of the three tourers is bear-suit-wearing avant-prog polymath Bob Drake, who enjoyed his one-man-one-guitar “Nameless” British tour last November so much that he’s immediately repeating it, bringing his continually morphing musical tales of strange beasts and weird events for another spin around the island. Another is Stephen Gilchrist: indie-rock journeyman who’s drummed behind Graham Coxon and The Scaramanga Six and led art-garage popsters stuffy/the fuses, but most recently has been trading as solo singer-songwriter Stephen EvEns, peddling a craftily embittered set of finely-honed art-pop songs in the Kinks tradition. The third is ‘Misfit City’ favourite William D. Drake – keyboard virtuoso, former Cardiac and (increasingly) the architect of a charming antiquarian pop styling which moves ever closer to a particular unity of classical, folk and the psychedelic.

Video samples below, followed by a slew of gig details and support act info/noises for the curious and for the unconvinced…




 
Stephen Evens’ Cardiff show on 19th February is probably the straightest show of the lot, with him sitting in the middle of an indie-slanted bill with hooky, cheekily-named Chester girlpop trio Peaness (“for fans of Belly, Letters To Cleo and indie pop songs about George Osbourne”) and Rhondda Valley emergents The Vega Bodegas (who provide a blessed fuzzy-pop escape for post-hardcore refugee and former Future Of The Left guitarist Jimmy Watkins).



 
At Bob Drake’s Harrison show on 24th February (which features a Stephen Evens support slot) there are a few more familiar names – Kavus Torabi brings another of his recent string of solo sets, belting out songs he wrote for Knifeworld and The Monsoon Bassoon on an acoustic guitar; and Arch Garrison play their delicate, summery mediaeval-tinged pop, full of pilgrimages, parenthood and psychogeography.



 

Heading up to Preston on 25th February, Bob’s playing on a bill with a gang of Fylde Coast kindred spirits: sunny, doo-wop skronker schizophonics Condor Moments, whom he helped record their 2007 debut album vigorous, bursting Burnley art-rockers All Hail Hyena, plus the dubious Bonanza Tungsten Ladies. (Allegedly, the last are a trio of stranded Preston-based Peruvian exchange students who move between sofa-surfing and eking out a precarious existence in a haunted train tunnel. I suspect lies, and probably treachery.)



 

Back down in Brighton on the 26th, Bob’s playing a pay-what-you-like show with support by T. House, frontman of ominous surreal post-punkers, Sweet Williams. T.’s songs are subtly alarming. I dare you not to put any money in the hat.


 
Bob’s Glasgow gig on 2nd March seems to have brought out support opportunities for half of the undersung freaks in an art-rock town’s artiest corners. Luminous Monsters bring us the gift of “ersatz fuzz-ragas and igneous doom from beyond the ragged veil of terror” (though I’d’ve settled for a badly-carved figurine.) Presenting themselves as “reptilian” Southside doom-droners, they’re a cut or two above the usual arrant sludge-mongering, since there’s more than a touch of flamenco to leaven the grinding distortions and the Mogwai cascades – presumably those are the “freeform ecstasies” and “ersatz arabesques” mentioned further down the parchment. (Aye, ftagn, caramba.) Herbert Powell claim to offer “twisted evil-doings of mental brainwrongs influenced by the likes of Captain Beefheart, This Heat and Aleister Crowley” ; Glasgow blog ‘Blues Bunny’ laconically tags them as “contrived angularity”, “Postcard guitar pop” and “the check-shirted sound of the street”. Come along and see who’s telling the truth – their Bandcamp page is a yawning void, but I did manage to locate a retina-frying live video.



 
Also on the Glasgow bill, faux-masculinist avant-rock bastards Bloke Music are rooted in other local heroes-of-obscurity such as Elastic Leg Party, Bo Deadly, Super Adventure Club and Gastric Band. They’ve just put out a debut EP packaged with a trowel, riddle their press-sheets with Homebase jargon, deliberately confuse DIY music with handyman work, and grunt out song titles like Mortise And Tenon or It’s Yer Ballcock’s Gone Hen. In person, they’re actually a lot feyer, lampshading nods to prog, contemporary classical and (allegedly) Michael McDonald while coughing up part-digested fragments of lounge jazz and ice-cream van. Singer Chris Flynn carols and quavers his way over his bandmates’ knotty guitar fletchings like an avant-pop Jimmy Scott (or rants like a Glaswegian fraternal twin of Joeyfat’s M. Edward Cole). The group’s flakey nerviness and hints of teatime haunted-house shows suggest dEUS or Pavement reworking a soundtrack for ‘Scooby Doo’, or Beefheart getting a gig with ‘The Munsters’. Should be promising, as long as they don’t drop a hammer and smash their own kneecaps.


 
In Birmingham on 3rd March, Bob reunites with two lightly lysergic sets of local gigmates from last year’s tour for a sweet spring shower of a show. Quizzical, pranky cutepop trio Kate Goes recall Victoria Wood heading up a girl gang with an ever-shifting nature (first West Coast beat-poppers; then The Slits; then The Ronettes, with a sideways dash into jaunty Cardiacs territory) but also the quirky sunshine folk-pop of The Bush The Tree & Me. The Nature Centre innocently cite Syd Barrett and “fololoppy pop” as pointers (you can add XTC and Cardiacs to the list, if they hadn’t been implied already), but underneath their sprightly, jouncing banjo/keyboard tunes the band are conducting little philosophical investigations both cute and serious (the comedy of telepathic entanglements on We Are All Friends Of The Master Brain, but a semi-occult tale of madness and misogyny on Amongst The Shielings).



 
Bob’s second London show – at The Others on 5th March – is his last tour date for now. It’s also a Depresstival date at which he’ll be joined by haughty, theatrical pop tyrant and multi-media demagogue Bing Selfish, plus a host of Others-friendly acts including cowpunk trio Lonesome Cowboys From Hell, the Sanshin Sisters, dada musical comedy trio Consignia, Takeru Brady, Birthday Bread Man, Laminate Everything and Alain Man. It’s tough to keep track of all of these people, but for now here’s two sides of the Bing…



 
Stephen EvEns and Bill Drake, however, continue a two-man waltz for four more gigs together. For Stephen’s London album launch gig on March 9th, they’re joined by various friends from Onamatopoeia Records. The Gasman’s DJ set will presumably provide a window into the thinking behind his odd hyperactive electronica, but voice-and-upright-piano duo Rolf & Sam are a bit of a mystery (or possibly a prank – all I know is that one of them is Stephen’s piano tuner). Barringtone are more of a known quality – driving art pop from former Clor-ster Barry Dobbin which flies the route between XTC’s Swindon and Neu’s Dusseldorf. I know that they’ve got enough material to play full sets. I’ve even heard that they’ve recorded some more of it. Please could someone ask them put it out, so that I’m no longer posting and reposting the same two songs from several years ago? Here’s one of them again…


 
Up under the Gateshead railway arches on 12th March, Stephen and Bill will be joined by another affectionate dramatist of the constrained and absurd – Tyneside urban folk veteran: songwriter and 12-string guitarist Nev Clay, who’s been toting his tragicomic songs of fumbled ambitions, criminal families and hard lines around the area for two decades. At their rather posher Leatherhead gig on the 22nd (look, a Victorian private school chapel!), they’re reunited with Arch Garrison. This should be tremendously genteel and cultured, with everyone’s cordial Englishness brought to a simmer. Stephen will probably feel obliged to lower the tone – and quite right too, since chapels are always improved by a public glower or two. Ask any Calvinist.


 
When Stephen plays Brighton on 23rd March, he’ll be minus Bill but topping a Club Stramonium bill featuring other three psych-tinged sets of performers – hedge-magick Cornish folkie Emily Jones, the dark whisper-pop project MUMMY (featuring Bic Hayes and Jo Spratley), and what seems to be an unexpected reappearance of Jo’s Spratleys Japs revival (a Cardiacs spin-off who played three ecstatically-received comeback gigs on either side of the New Year, giving a new lease of life to a batch of undersung Tim Smith work). People who followed those shows at the time will note that this is pretty much a reshuffled version of the playing order at the first of the SJ Brighton shows, with the intriguing twist that Spratleys Japs themselves will be playing acoustically. (UPDATE, 1st March 2017 – sadly, this show appears to have been cancelled, but here’s a taste of what might have been, starting with one of Emily’s tracks…)




 
Finally, on 24th March, Stephen plays Oxford – minus Bill, but plus Ally Craig, his once-and-current bandmate in Bug Prentice (the Oxford avant-punk trio whose influences range from American hardcore to British psycheccentricity to arty ’50s jazz, and whose lineup’s rounded out by up-and-coming jazz bassist Ruth Goller).


 
There’s a smattering of other Bill or Stephen shows this spring, but I’ll cover those in the next few posts, since this one’s bursting at the seams.

Here’s the basic tour details:

  • Peaness + Stephen EvEns + The Vega Bodegas – Clwb Ifor Bach, 11 Womanby Street, CF10 1BR, Cardiff, Wales, Sunday 19th February 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Bob Drake + Arch Garrison + Stephen EvEns + Kavus Torabi – The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England, Friday 24th February 2017, 7.00pminformation
  • Condor Moments + Bob Drake + All Hail Hyena + Bonanza Tungsten Ladies – The Ferret, 55 Fylde Road, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2XQ, England, Saturday 25th February 2017, 8.00pminformation
  • Bob Drake + T House – The Caxton Arms, 36 North Gardens, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 3LB, England, Sunday 26th February 2017, 8.00pminformation (free event with collection on door)
  • Bob Drake + Bloke Music + Herbert Powell + Luminous Monsters – Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, 421 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, Scotland, Thursday 2nd March 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Bob Drake + Kate Goes + The Nature Centre – ORT Cafe, 500-504 Moseley Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham, B12 9AH, England, Friday 3rd March 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Bob Drake + Bing Selfish + Lonesome Cowboys From Hell + Sanshin Sisters + Consignia + Takeru Brady + Birthday Bread Man + Laminate Everything + Alain Man + others – The Others, 6-8 Manor Road, Stoke Newington, London, N16 5SA, England , Sunday 5th March 2017, 7.00pminformation
  • Stephen EvEns (full band show) + Barrington + William D. Drake + Rolf & Sam + The Gasman (DJ set) – The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England, Thursday 9th March 2017, 8.00pminformation
  • William D. Drake + Stephen EvEns – The Ferret, 55 Fylde Road, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2XQ, England, Saturday 11th March 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • William D. Drake + Stephen EvEns – Prohibition Bar, Arch 3, Brandling Street, Gateshead, NE8 2BA, England, Sunday 12th March 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • William D. Drake + Stephen EvEns + Arch Garrison – Old Chapel @ St Johns School, Epsom Road, Leatherhead, KT22 8SP, England, Wednesday 22nd March 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • Stephen EvEns (full band show) + MUMMY + Emily Jones + Tesla Girls DJs – The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton BN1 4FQ, England, Thursday 23rd March 2017, 7:30pm – information here and here (CANCELLED)
  • Stephen EvEns + Ally Craig (Bug Prentice) – The Albion Beatnik Bookstore, 34 Walton Street, Oxford, OX2 6AA, England, Friday 24th March 2017, 7.45pm – more information t.b.c.

 

November/December 2016 – upcoming British gigs – William D. Drake plays Preston (with Paul Morricone and All Hail Hyena!), and London (18th November, 1st December); Bob Drake unveiled in London, helped by Kavus Torabi and The Beetles (9th December)

17 Nov

For Cardiacs fans (plus any interested fans of psychedelic folk, multi-mood cut-up pop and perhaps a touch of Rock In Opposition) even if the Spratleys Japs show I posted about earlier is sold out, there’s still room in the audience for when William D. Drake fits in a final couple of shows for 2016, and for when various Knifeworlders help American avant-rocker Bob Drake to touch down in London.

(Yes, two Drakes. A coincidence. It’s not actually family, but it’s sort of familial anyway…)

* * * * * * * *

I’ve written plenty about William D. Drake over the months and years, to the extent that I sometimes wonder whether I’ve written myself out. So instead, I’ll rummage through the immediate press kit clippings written by other people, which hail him as “one of the most gifted and diverse composers of the modern age”, “a master of both modern classical piano composition and of experimental popular music” and the possessor of “a unique and prodigious skill as a composer and arranger of complex, intelligent and eccentric musical psychedelia; creating a cornucopia of diverse melodic styles whilst playing a plethora of keyboards and synthesizers.”

William. D Drake on the Millennium BridgeThe same one-sheets heap praise on his music – “an homage to lost music of the past, whilst taking a very English approach to composition which touches on the work of Robert Wyatt and Peter Hammill”, “weaving layers of textured melody with rock undertones… journey(ing) through the surreal and psychedelic, telling curious tales with sideways humour” and “jerk(ing) wildly from the gloriously epic to the intimately prophetic.”

PR to die for, really: and yet none of it mentions the other main draw, which is the warmth. Many attempts to bridge rock, folk and classical builds on pomp and posturing which verges on the desperately anxious, as if in dread of some grand and booted critic rising up, kicking down a cardboard set, pointing at the cowering artist and bellowing “naked! Fraud!” Others (especially from the classical side) skate around the business of integration by ironing half of the ingredients flat before inserting them – an ostentatious patina of orchestral papier-mache; or stiff, ungenerous impressions of rock beat and noise (or communal folk storytelling) fed into an ensemble piece with looseness of rhythms and fervency of engagement extracted.

Bill, in contrast, approaches it all with a laugh: the music’s all manuscript on the same rough paper, to be shuffled and interpreted for pleasure, or a rough tasty stew cooked up from memory, free to be meddled with and added to. For all of the impressive content and heart, it keeps its amateur edge in the best possible way -the enthusiasm of putting a family puzzle together; of teaching your nephew a song you’ve found in a street market; of suddenly remembering something intricate, odd, charming and half-forgotten from your childhood, then tracking it down to the back of a cupboard and finding that not only does it still work, it fits in beautifully with something else you’re working on.

This also translates to the shows. At a Bill gig, it sometimes feels if everyone’s crammed cheerfully into a slightly messy Edwardian parlour, eating jam with a spoon. Or, according to those press sheets, you get “a feast of gorgeous instrumentation, masterful piano, ancient grinding hurdy-gurdy, harmonium, clarinet, guitar, drums… topped with growly vocals and angelic choral singing.” I can vouch for that too.

Meanwhile, here’s a range of Bill pieces (probably over-familiar to ‘Misfit City’ readers, but what the hell) – a waltzing live-in-the-studio session full-band jaunt, a larky official video full of theatrical gestures and in jokes, and last month’s seizing of the Union Chapel’s grand Willis organ for a song of shipwreck.




 

It looks as if the London gig will be just Bill plus band, but the Preston show features a couple of guest slots. Paul Morricone is best known for his work as the more prolific and dramatically brooding of the two songwriting brothers in Huddersfield rock dramatists The Scaramanga Six, who “lurch wildly from dark and lurid ballads to visceral punk tinged psychedelia.” In recent years, Paul has taken to occasional acoustic solo gigs in which he sings songs from the twenty-year-old Scaramanga back catalogue (with its tales of fools, brutes and people stuck in between the two) and sometimes tries out unreleased, unrecorded and work-in-progress songs for size. See below for a full forty-minute set from such a gig, as well as a growling stop-start hard-math-pop burst from the third act on the bill – Burnley band All Hail Hyena!, who promise “a selection of frenetic psych-pop frenzies, intersected with melodic brilliance, punctuated by attitude and melting into rapture. A seething mass of unpredictability which will leave your brain reeling like a fish on a hook.”



 

  • They Eat Culture @ The New Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston, PR1 8JP, England, Friday 18th November 2016, 8.00pm (with Paul Morricone + All Hail Hyena!) – information here and here
  • The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England, Wednesday 1st December 2016, 7.30pm (no support)- information

* * * * * * * *

Bob Drake’s last appearance in London (as far as I know) was a startling, affectionate and consensual stage invasion at the very start of a Knifeworld gig at Bush Hall. Clad in the surprisingly convincing snow-white bear suit he’s made famous from capering behind the drumkit at Thinking Plague gigs, he seized the mike and propelled what was already set to be a triumphant show up to a different level of vim and laughter.

It’s in keeping with what the man does. A veteran of the more rattling, curious end of American prog (not only with the Plague but with 5uus, his own Cabinet of Curiosities and plenty more), Bob’s equipped with all of the production nous and polyinstrumental expertise to act as his own ensemble on record; but he balances his impressive technical skill with just the right dose of lo-fi get-it-done-now irreverence to hit that elusive sweet spot between prog precision and friendly spontaneity. In doing so, he not only gives himself space to indulge an affably friendly musicality but knocks down any of the strict confining fences which might restrict both his freedom and the warm buzz of his audience’s involvement. If something off-beat and of-the-moment isn’t happening at one of Bob’s gigs, then it’s something that’s missing: or to put it another way, if something isn’t going slightly wrong, then the gig’s not going right.

This has nothing to do with prog spoofery, or comedy rock. It’s got more to do with Bob’s records and shows being intricate shaggy-dog (or perhaps shaggy-bear) stories in which the digressions on the journey, the ragged human edges and distractions, are more important than awe-inspiring structures or a revelatory destination. There’s plenty of nifty fingerwork – and plenty of irregular musical gems and twists that probably took more work and planning than he’s letting on – but what seems to matter the festooning of structure with invention… and with humour, the key to knowing that the moment is here and now, and knocks against expectation and time, and that a laugh isn’t necessarily a punchline, but the acknowledgement of an enthusiasm shared.

There are plenty of little musical signposts to point the way to Bob – there’s Yes (he got into all of this through a fascination with Chris Squire’s high-stepping buzz-bomb basslines), Henry Cow (for deliberately imperfect noise, and for toppling eagerly over the edge of the comfort zone in search of adventure), Stateside folk and bluegrass (plus the baroque Americana of The Beach Boys), the swivelling dial of midwestern classic rock radio and the mix-and-match repertoire of the zillion bar bands he played in on the way up; and probably the shadow of Zappa. There are other islands in the soup which may be coincidental – the convoluted indie rock of Guided By Voices, the fact that some of his songs sound like a ragged Jellyfish, or as if he’s roughed up an English cabaret star in a trucker’s joint; the possibility that his time in Los Angeles engineering hip hop tracks may have reinforced his interest in cut’n’paste textures. Yet ultimately Bob is Bob; moment by moment; grabbing hold of what’s there, spinning out what comes. Here are a few examples, including a snippet of a Cabinet of Curiosities gig where the theatre of the furry absurd is in full effect.




 

For this particular show (presented with fondness by Knifeworld’s resident reed avant-gardist Chlöe Herington), you just get Bob and his acoustic guitar – skill, repertoire and atmosphere probably more than compensating for the lack of a full band. In support is Kavus Torabi, fresh off a Gong tour, also feeding his songs through an acoustic – plus the unknown but immediately intriguing quality of Beetles, featuring ever-restless London avant-garde popsters Laila Woozeer and Tom O.C. Wilson, and who play “intricate, skeletal pop songs influenced by Regina Spektor, Lennon and McCartney and Kurt Cobain.” All of this is happening in a little basement room in a Kings Cross bar, so if you want to get a place there before a hundred London freaks swoop, get a move on.

Chlöe Herington presents:
Bob Drake + Kavus Torabi + Beetles
The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England
Friday 9th December 2016, 7.00pm
information
 

October 2016 – upcoming London gigs – ‘Organ Reframed’ covers all manner and method of pipes and sounds at Union Chapel (7th-9th)

6 Oct

Tomorrow, London’s Union Chapel begins a celebration of a number of things (its performance acoustic, its appeal to a diverse body of musicians and audiences, its innovative cultural spirit, and not least its grand 1877 pipe organ) via the ‘Organ Reframed’ mini-festival. A three-day four-concert occasion, it “release(s the organ) from its traditional roots with a varied programme of film, intimate solo sets, ensemble improvisations and large scale commissions. This festival of experimental music will challenge perceptions and show this extraordinary instrument in a new light.”

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Organ Reframed, 7th-9th October 2016

Organ Reframed: James McVinnie/Irene Buckley/Robert Ames/Laura Moody perform new live score for ‘Nosferatu’
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Friday 7th October 2016, 7.00pm
information

Known for multiple theatre, dance and film projects – as well as for orchestral works such as ‘Stórr’) and her live work in the electronic/improv fields via Crevice (with Elaine Howley and Roslyn Steer) and Wry Myrhh (with Ellen King) – composer Irene Buckley has written a number of live film rescorings. These have included one for Carl Dreyer’s ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ and one for Jean Epstein’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.

Her latest such commission is for ‘Organ Reframed’ – a new score for F. W. Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu (A Symphony of Horror)‘ – “an iconic film of the German expressionist cinema, and one of the most famous of all silent movies (which) continues to haunt — and, indeed, terrify — modern audiences with the unshakable power of its images. By teasing a host of occult atmospherics out of dilapidated set-pieces and innocuous real-world locations alike, Murnau captured on celluloid the deeply-rooted elements of a waking nightmare, and launched the signature ‘Murnau-style’ that would change cinema history forever.”

The film will be screened with a live performance of the score carried out by a quartet ensemble: leading New Music pipe organist James McVinnie, viola player Robert Ames (co-artistic director and conductor of the LCO), polystylistic cellist Laura Moody (see multiple past ‘Misfit City’ posts for more on her), and Irene herself contributing live electronics. To give you a hint of what it might be like, here’s an excerpt from Irene’s ‘…Joan Of Arc’ score, back in 2012:


 
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Daylight Music 235: Organ Reframed – Lætitia Sadier + Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch + Kieran Brunt + Angèle David-Guillou + Adrian Crowley + Gill Sandell + Ed Dowie + William D. Drake
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 8th October 2016, 12.00pm
free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information

The second concert in the series is a free (or donation-based) lunchtime show run in conjunction with Union Chapel regulars Daylight Music, offering “a stripped-down approach… eight sets of artists and accompanists across different genres and styles. These musicians, singers and composers — who are at various stages of their careers — will explore the very physical relationship between voice and pipes: in many cases, for the first time.”

Performers will include three Franco-London women who specialise in avant-pop/dream-pop/classical crossovers of one kind or another – Stereolab/Monade’s Lætitia Sadier (who, four days earlier, will have been part of Miles Cooper Seaton’s ‘Transient Music’ ensemble at Café Oto), Angèle David-Guillou (of Klima and Piano Magic), and electro-acoustic film soundtracker Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch. Also involved is frequent Daylight guester Ed Dowie (usually a purveyor of genteel avant-parlour-pop, having passed through Brothers in Sound, Redarthur and The Paper Cinema).

The Daylighters specialise in late and interstitial additions to already interesting bills. This concert is no exception, with a bumper set of extra guests signing up and recently being unveiled. Joining in alongside the people I’ve already mentioned are Irish singer-songwriter Adrian Crowley (who specializes in what might be described as a baroque-minimal pop style), singer Kieran Brunt (who divides time between classical choral and solo projects and his pop band Strange Boy), multi-instrumental folk singer Gill Sandell (previously of Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo) and singer-songwriter/general keyboard magician William D. Drake (once a Cardiac, now a baroque-pop solo artist with his own cross-era style – as with Laura Moody, see plenty of previous posts…).

Given the varied pop, folk, rock and classical stylings involved (and some of the signature tones of the musicians involved) it’s not clear whether there are going to be specific collaborations or mashups involved, or whether everyone’s playing solo/bringing their own backup. It’s also unclear as to whether the pop culture/pop music side of things will be honoured by Farfisa, Hammond or even Lowrey organs onstage to share musical space with the grand pipe organ; although given the emphasis on “the very physical relationship between voice and pipes”, I’m guessing perhaps not. (NOTE – since I posted that, I’ve found out that Angèle David-Guillou will be playing a new organ-and-voiceloops composition called ‘Too Much Violence’; that there will be at least one duet from Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch and Kieran Brunt; that Ed Dowie has a couple of covers and one new piece; and that the Daylighters are scouring the Twittersphere looking for a last-minute pump organist. Knowing them, they’ll find one…)

Daylight Music 235, 8th October 2016

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Organ Reframed: ‘Spire’ featuring Charles Matthews + Fennesz + Philip Jeck + Simon Scott + Claire M. Singer + John Beaumont + The Eternal Chord
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 8th October 2016, 6.00pm
information

Spire is an ongoing concert series for organ and electronics, curated by Mike Harding (creative producer of the Touch organisation (which covers musician promotions, licensing, mentoring and everything but the business of being a record company association) and by dedicated organist and keyboardist Charles Matthews (one of those exemplary musicians whose work spans everything from church services and teaching to a globetrotting concert schedule and advanced curatorship). Now into its twelfth year, and with sixteen concerts plus four CD recordings behind it, Spire returns to Union Chapel to link up with ‘Organ Reframed’.

Music played at previous Spire events has included the ancient, salvaged fourteenth-century organ manuscript The Robertsbridge Codex (the oldest surving keyboard score in the world) and twentieth-century pieces such as ‘In Nomine Lucis’ (by the pioneering and mystic single-pitch/multiple-approach composer Giacinto Scelsi), Henryk Gorécki’s ‘Kantata’, Liana Alexandra’s ‘Consonances III’ and André Jolivet’s ‘Hymne à l’Universe’. The series has also premiered new works by resident Spire composer Marcus Davidson (such as ‘Opposites Attract’ and ‘Standing Wave’), as well as improvisations and collaborations by its associated musicians.

Spire also takes into account the architectural qualities of the church organ: how our perception and experience of it is coloured by its monolithic size, volume and presence compared to other instruments. As Mike and Charles put it, “the organ has the greatest frequency range of any acoustic instrument, but this is rarely exploited; the unique sound of the mechanical organ has often been limited and controlled and Spire aims to liberate it from its history without denying that history… combining organ works ancient and modern (while) other performers use the organ and organ works as a basis for their own compositions, using piano, voice, record players, samplers and other electronic devices.”

Past Spire performers have included laptop-and-guitar noisescaper Fennesz and turntablist/electronicist Philip Jeck, both of whom are joining Charles Matthews for performances this time round. Also joining in are newer Spire associates – Simon Scott (Slowdive drummer, multi-instrumentalist, sound ecologist and deep listener) and John Beaumont (whose life within Anglican church and choral music has seen him rise from treble chorister at Wakefield to tenor songman at York Minster and continuing work in London’s great cathedrals and abbeys, alongside his current work as a “story tenor” mingling classical repertoire with a bardic sensibility). Also joining in is Union Chapel’s organ director and artistic director of ‘Organ Reframed’, Claire M. Singer – a musician, composer and cross-media artist whose work extends from composition to installation via live performance, mostly based around organ, cello and electronics.

Among other pieces, the programme will feature a performance of Spire mainstay ‘The Eternal Chord‘, a Mike Harding-originated conceptual and improvised organ piece which “can take anything from eight minutes to eternity” and which is open to any number of players from a duo upwards. There have been eleven iterations of the piece so far, of which two can be heard below, including one from last year at the Union Chapel.



 

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Organ Reframed: Five new commissions for James McVinnie & the London Contemporary Orchestra
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Sunday 9th October 2016, 6.30pm
information

Having already helped to open the festival (via their contribution to the ‘Nosferatu’ live score), James McVinnie and Robert Ames return for the final concert in which James joins forces with the London Contemporary Orchestra (conducted/facilitated by Robert) to premiere five new contemporary classical or classical fusion works.

There’s not much information on the new piece by Mark Fell although it’s likely that it’ll be droning, mathematical and algorithmic (in keeping with his existing work, which is infused with electronica and club music ideas and further informed by his extension into the worlds of moving image, dance, text and son-et-lumiere). Similarly, all I can tell you about acoustic/electronic/theatrical composer Alex Groves‘ piece is that it’s called ‘On Colour’ and is six minutes long. Some pointers towards what to expect might come from Alex’s previous piece ‘Patience’ (for viola da gamba and organ), premièred as part of the Daylight Music series at the Union Chapel back in December 2014. (There’s some footage of that show below. I’m hoping that it’s Alex’s piece…)


 
There’s no doubt that one composer who’ll have no problems filling the Chapel with grand sound is Craig Armstrong, whose music has been well known to a popular audience since the 1990s thanks to his use of luscious, near-decadent massed strings and club beats (as well as his work on hefty-selling records by Massive Attack. Madonna and U2 plus film soundtracks including ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’, ‘Plunkett & Macleane’ and Baz Luhrman’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’).

Almost at the other end of the spectrum is collagist-composer, cultural commentator and musical wit Caroline Haines, who records (as Chaines) for the small Berlin arts label Slip Imprint and has put out a series of restless, splice-styled, information-packed music packages in which everything from sound sources to manufacturing materials has an integral significance. When she chooses to be, Catherine is also a spirited piss-taker, using her existing methods of collagery and radio broadcast (up to and including the comedy sketch show). For evidence, see ‘WUB’, her quick and merciless takedown of pretentious, dishonest conservatoire slummers who parasitize other more media-friendly musical forms without comprehension, respect or indeed much genuine interest.

Dropped hints suggests that Caroline will be performing alongside the orchestra herself: other hints suggest that her contribution is a version of ‘OST‘ (last years’ hallucinogenic audio portrait of the north-east English industrial imprint). I’m guessing that for her second large-scale premiere with LCO (following August’s Curtain Call concert) her restless mind will have come up with something else.

American-born/Berlin-based composer and violist Catherine Lamb has a taste for adding liminal electronics and an interest in “exploring the interaction of elemental tonal material and the variations in presence between shades and beings in a room.” Her approach is inspired by Hindustani classical music and the just intonation system (with added influences from her studies with James Tenney and Michael Pisaro). Catherine’s ‘Organ Reframed’ piece is ‘Cumulus Totalitas’ – possibly a sister piece to ‘Curvo Totalis’, her “meditation on sound” premiered last month in New York by percussion-and-piano quartet Yarn/Wire.

Although the evening’s billed as five pieces, it seems that there’ll be a bonus from the LCO’s recent repertoire in the shape of the thirteen-minute string orchestra piece ‘Between Rain’. Composed by Edmund Finnis (whose work flows from the luminously minimal to frenetically eerie orchestral jousts) this will be being performed for the first time since the LCO premiered it at Imogen Heap’s 2014 Reverb festival at the Roundhouse, although it’s not clear whether Edmund’s tweaked it since then to include an organ part.

Event co-sponsors ‘Drowned In Sound‘ have an interview with Robert Ames expounding on this part of the project.

* * * * * * * *

At each event, you’ll also be able to hear sound artist Bill Thompson’s installation ‘A Knowing Space’, which “explores the idea of resonance using durations and timings derived from prime numbers as well as the pitches of organ pipes. The installation is played through seven organ pipes, using transducers that vibrate and fill the space.” Here’s an early taste:


 

You can also catch ongoing discussion about the whole ‘Organ Reframed’ event at the Facebook page

event-20161007to09-organreframed-2
 

September 2016 – upcoming gigs, Aldershot and London – Knifeworld’s “prog all-dayer” with William D. Drake, Prescott, Eschar, Barringtone and others; Laura J. Martin, Oly Ralfe and Duotone at Daylight Music; Muscle and Marrow, Father Murphy and Tolerance Manoeuvre at New River Studios (all 24th)

20 Sep

A nicely-filled Saturday coming up…

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Knifeworld all-dayer, Aldershot, 24th September 2016
Knifeworld + William D. Drake + Prescott + Eschar + Barringtone + others tbc
West End Centre, Queens Road, Aldershot, GU11 3JD, England
Saturday 24th September 2016, 2.00pm
information

Fresh off his solo show in Glasgow on Thursday (and the band’s appearance at ArcTangent in August), Kavus Torabi leads his Knifeworld octet over to Aldershot, curating and headlining what the venue’s calling a “prog all-dayer”. In a pleasing echo of Kavus’ Roastfest mini-festival from a few years ago (with which this particular show shares a few acts and sensibilities), the remit actually stretches out a good deal further than that. I’m not sure whether this is slightly sloppy marketing on the part of the West End Centre, or whether it’s a further sign that prog’s finally slipped out of its straitjacketing… at any rate, the day also features revitalized elements of latterday psychedelic rock, motorik pop, alt.jazz fusion and art punk cheek and coffee house tunes (old Regency coffee houses from a couple of centuries ago, that is; not latterday beard-and-espresso joints) as well as record stalls and “questionable company.”


 
It seems almost redundant summing Knifeworld up here, since I’ve covered them so often in previous posts; and more so in that their dazzling, goofy-but-serious voyages of complex guitar, voice and brass interplay are making increasing inroads into a bigger potential audience. The same goes for the second act on the bill, William D. Drake, who continues to carve out a subgenre of his own. There’s not yet a word for music which combines acoustic psychedelia and friendly, frowsty pop with echoes of Georgian parlours, sixteenth-century catches and never-were folk tunes. I keep trying to think of one that doesn’t sound twee, rather than encompassing the beaming English warmth which Bill’s music embodies. While I continue to fail to do that, here are a couple more of his tunes from recent live shows – one jaunty bounce, one unrolling magic-carpet reverie.



 
Prescott aren’t strangers to this blog either – a hiccuping, percolating instrumental team of four smart, oblique talents who’ve all been round the block more than a few times (lending their individual skills to a bagful of other artists and bands including Pere Ubu, Stump, Snorkel, Scritti Politti, The Keatons and Frank Sidebottom). Kev Hopper, Rhodri Marsden, Frank Byng and Keith Moliné are all far too grounded to do anything other than laugh off the idea of being a supergroup, yet they do form something considerably more powerful when they come together: rubbery, convoluted groove-rock improvisations which come across as part particle accelerator, part mutant squash court, and part horse-laugh. From another angle, they’re a post-punk upending of 1980s jazz-fusion powered by a wry/awry sensibility, creating something pretty serious out of a very English irreverence and inquisitiveness. They’re what you’d expect to get if those smart skeptical bastards raising eyebrows at the backs of every other arty gig were challenged to get together and do better, and actually did.



 
New to both ‘Misfit City’ and to general Knifeworld entanglements are Woking instrumental rockers Eschar, who play an exuberantly tuneful and metallic take on psychedelic post-rock. Filtering sunny melodies and joyous little tempo curlicues through a jackhammering heavy attack, they sound like a grinning, breakdancing road-mender. A little more familiar is Barringtone, sequel to briefly-glowing mid-Noughties electro/oddpop stars Clor. Pumping out a motoric yet shapeshifting art-pop somewhere between Neu! and XTC (and compared, in their peripatetic shifting of tone, structure and subject matter to Todd Rundgren’s Utopia), they’ve been at it for eight years now but are yet to drop a full album. Instead they’ve fired off an intermittent series of quick releases on a succession of labels, popping briefly in and out of view like a stealth submarine to flash a bit of technique and invention before slipping under again.



 

More bands are being added to this bill in a last-week squeak of hope and enthusiasm. I’ve no idea of who these are likely to be (keep checking on the Facebook event page for periodic news shouts) but it’s reasonable to expect that a complicated ArcTangent ethos/Torabi-esque “funny music” atmosphere is going to prevail.

If the above doesn’t do it for you, you could stay in London for another free/donation-only folk-and-songwriter-filled noontime gig by Daylight Music, plus an evening gig from Chaos Theory which addresses the more expansive and heterogenous side of post-rock. As usual, both have provided their own press releases, so I’ll use those (only working in extra information where it might be necessary…)

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Daylight Music 233

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 233: Laura J Martin + Oly Ralfe + Duotone
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 24th September 2016, 12.00pm
– free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information

“Liverpudlian singer-songwriter Laura J. Martin is a “musician of startling originality”, according to The Sunday Times. Her extraordinary, eclectic music speaks of disconnection and England’s blandification: some of the tracks on her third studio album, ‘On The Never Never’, tell of her feelings when returning home to Liverpool to find that all of the town’s individuality seemed to have been erased and replaced by gleaming empty flats.

“Shot through with wit and humour alongside the sociopolitical themes (one of the characters talks of bleaching toilets and taking trips to Lanzarote) ‘On The Never Never’ skips through waltz timings, bears influences from Scott Walker to the Compass Point Allstars and picks up a guest vocal from Benjamin Zephaniah along the way. The album itself was recorded in Nashville with renowned Lambchop/Bonnie Prince Billy producer Mark Nevers and features members of Lambchop, Silver Jews and The Jesus Lizard. Laura has produced a hopeful record, full of joy, beauty and tongue-in-cheek looks at those in charge.


 
Duotone is the alias of songwriter Barney Morse-Brown, cellist with multi-platinum artist Birdy, Chris Wood, Eliza Carthy, Jackie Oates and BBC Folk Award winners the Imagined Village, His mesmerising solo performances move seamlessly between riotous energy and heartfelt intimacy: his debut album ‘Work Harder & One Day You’ll Find Her’ and the critically acclaimed second LP ‘Ropes’ saw him navigating his way through a personal loss.

“Barney’s new album ‘Let’s Get Low’, is an intelligent and thoroughly modern record, infused with the melodic structures of ’80s pop and the emotional honesty of the best of the classic singer-songwriter era; a remarkably optimistic collection of songs, it presents a new perspective on his experiences and explores the meaning of home and his sense of place. Written at home on his narrowboat over a period of two years, it further reveals a songwriter who is unafraid to explore real-life experiences that are often hidden from view.


 
“This is a particularly special Daylight Music as it features the London premiere of Oly Ralfe’s new instrumental piano project, accompanied by Barney on cello. A musician, artists and filmmaker, Oly made significant contributions to the work of The Mighty Boosh both onscreen and in print (including songs, poem cameos and direction) as well as creating the Dylanologist documentary ‘The Ballad Of AJ Weberman’.

“For a decade or so, he’s led his own pop-folk ensemble The Ralfe Band, whose three albums and soundtrack for the film ‘Bunny & The Bull’ have been variously described as “moon-eyed beauty”, “regally drunk” and “alternately sweetly hushed, spooky and sad.” Mark Radcliffe of BBC 6 Music has been a long-time champion of Oly’s music, saying “there is something of the strange and beautiful in everything he does, like the mood created by the darkest of fairy tales. I’m a big fan…””.


 
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Father Murphy, 24th September 2016

Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
Father Murphy + Muscle And Marrow + Tolerance Manoeuvre
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Saturday 24th September 2016, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“A special event at the amazing artist community venue that is New River Studios in north London, in which two wildly exciting duos from dark experimental label The Flenser will join us from the USA and Italy to present us with their latest terrifying works. This will be a stimulating experience.

“After Father Murphy captivated us with their EP ‘Pain Is On Our Side Now’ (and terrified us all at the launch of their phenomenal and stimulating album ‘Croce’ last year), the hairs are already standing up on the backs of our necks in anticipation of working with the Stephen O’Malley, Jarboe and Michael Gira-endorsed visionaries once more.

One of the most mysterious and enigmatic musical entities to come out of Italy in recent years, Father Murphy are known for their collection of dark psychedelic/industrial cabaret, written as a response to living in a deeply Catholic environment. Merging shadowy, muddy and murky atmospheres with unexpected blurts of impossibly catchy noise pop, their sound is both textural and nuanced but also noisy and chaotic. Identified by Simon Reynolds and Julian Cope as part of the “new Italian Occult psychedelia”, Father Murphy are the sound of the Catholic sense of guilt – a downward spiral aiming at the bottom of the hollow, and then digging even deeper.


 
Muscle And Marrow – a duo from Portland, Oregon – write music that is intense and vaporous. Formed in 2013 by Kira Clark (voice, guitar) and Keith McGraw (drums, sounds), Muscle And Marrow quickly discovered their distinctive sound. Taking inspiration from visual and feminist art, as well as contemporary poetry and literature, they are an entity that is as thoughtful as it is fervent and as experimental as it is immediate.

“In April 2016 the band released their new album ‘Love’: a more powerful record than their previous release, with elements of joy, strength and anger present. During the album’s writing process Kira lost a family member, and much of the lyrical content focuses on loss, but also on love in general: how to love better, more and at all, and what happens when someone else loves you — the trap of that love but also the freedom it affords. Additionally, ‘Love’ touches on feminism and female archetypes, a topic that Kira is very interested in. These new songs are just as beautiful and complex as those on the band’s debut, but on ‘Love’, Muscle And Marrow push their craft further, bringing them to the frontier of avant-garde dark music.


 
“Having heard murmurings about Tolerance Manoeuvre for some time, we stood up and paid attention when they performed a brilliant live set on deXter Bentley’s Hello Goodbye Show on Resonance 104.4fm. With a unique combination of guitar, cello, trumpet and vocals, Tolerance Manoeuvre furrow a particularly British seam of post-rock previously mapped by the likes of Talk Talk and Bark Psychosis, but with their own, highly-personalised take. Managing to fuse stark yet luscious melody with ornate orchestration, the trio meticulously unfold and reconfigure space and structure to create a beguiling tapestry that is simultaneously dense and delicate.

“A mainstay on the London underground music scene since 2011, Tolerance Manoeuvre have played at venues as diverse as The Hundred Years Gallery, the Servant Jazz Quarters and the Macbeth, have appeared on MTV Greece, have shared the stage with acts such as The Wytches, Seward, Cara Sebastian, O-Arc and Fear Of The Forest, and have a vinyl LP available at all good record shops courtesy of Flashback Records.”


 

July 2016 – a pair of one-day English festivals on the 16th (EppyFest 5 in Stroud, The Whole World Window in Preston)

13 Jul

This Saturday sees a couple of interesting pocket festivals taking place in the west and north-west of England – there’s still a chance for last-minute tickets or walk-ups for each of them.

The fifth in the series of EppyFests is happening this Saturday in Stroud, Gloucestershire. As with the previous four, it’s the brainchild of Stroud-based psychologist and music enthusiast Ian Fairholm and is a spinoff of his well-respected Epileptic Gibbon music podcast, whose remit rambles enthusiastically across “prog rock, art rock, post rock, prog metal, jazz rock, folk rock, math rock, downtempo, chill-out, ambient electronica, IDM, chamber pop, folktronica, psychedelia , neo-classical , film and TV soundtracks and experimental/avant garde music”.

EppyFest is an attempt at translating the podcast’s flavour into live music and live socializing. A well-run, self-starting pocket occasion (complete with its own T-shirts and integral dinner options) its previous events have featured ferocious British post-prog (Thumpermonkey, The Fierce & The Dead, Trojan Horse), latter prog/jazz-rock/jam acts (Sanguine Hum, Schnauzer, Henry Fool, Unto Us, Flutatious and Andy Pickford) and (in the case of Stackridge and The Korgis), a 70s prog outfit and a band of Britpop precursors sharing a last hurrah in the same body. Also in the mix has been loop guitar (Matt Stevens), classical/world chamber-fusion (Firefly Burning) and folk performers with extra ingredients stretching from neo-Celticana to chalkhill psychedelia, European electronica or Balkan jazz (Sheelanagig, I Am Your Autopilot, Tinker’s Cuss, Arch Garrison). As you might expect from a thoughtful curator married to an accomplished female musician, Eppyfest has also featured a healthy proportion of women players including bandleaders and solo artists (such as Becky Rose, Candythief and She Makes War).

Assuming that you’re not already committed to attending the Felix M-B gig down the road on the same day, EppyFest 5 looks set to carry on the tradition in fine form. (I’m jealous. I wouldn’t mind running something like that myself. It’s time to start thinking about empire, or benevolent despotry…)

The Epileptic Gibbon Podcast presents:
‘EppyFest 5’: William D. Drake + Judy Dyble & Her Band of Perfect Strangers + Marvyn B. Naylor + Darkroom (with Elif Yalvac) + Tom Slatter + Sirkis/Bialas International Quartet
Lansdown Hall, Lansdown, Stroud, GL5 1BB, England
Saturday 16th July 2016 , 4.00pm to 11.00pm
information & tickets

Eppyfest 5, 2016

Over the years, I’ve said plenty about this year’s EppyFest headliner William D. Drake over the years, and will probably say more. Woody-throated singer and former Cardiac; the organic keyboard wizard who turns television sets into organs; the man you might find if you went looking for the place where baroque pop meets Punch-and-Judy professor. Bill’s songs suggest a parallel English music: one in which antique pop songs on crackling wax cylinders mingle seamless with both Henry Purcell and Frank Zappa.

In his mid-fifties, and with the release of his fifth album ‘Revere Reach’, Bill’s reached a crucial point in his career, in which the jolly avuncular eccentricities of his earlier work have finally given way to the blossoming kernel of beauty within his compositions. He’s probably far too rounded a person and songwriter to entirely give into it, though. Expect the full range of glorious pastoralism and bouncy humour from a full chamber pop band including members of Stars In Battledress and North Sea Radio Orchestra.

 

I’ve also said plenty about Darkroom , the textural electro-morphic partnership of sometime No-Man/Samuel Smiles/Henry Fool guitarist Michael Bearpark and loop/synth/woodwind/patch-man Andrew Ostler. Over two decades Darkroom have delivered a massively underrated body of work straddling gigantic cosmic soundscapes like deliquescing Hubble images, intricate cerebral dance rhythms, broodingly beautiful guitar tones and (recently) cryptic bass clarinet and flute strands, touching upon influences as diverse as OMD, Autechre, Robert Fripp, Neil Young, Delia Derbyshire, Can and Bennie Maupin.

For this concert their polyglot electronica is augmented by a special guest, Turkish electronic guitarist Hazal Elif Yalvaç an Istanbul-based composer, musician and linguist. We’ll have to see whether Elif’s work (much of it glitching, grumbling guitartronic abstractions) brings out Darkroom’s more abstract instincts; or whether Os and Michael’s knack for direct expressiveness brings out that proggier aspect which Elif’s threatening to reveal in her forthcoming Light Curve project.


Show opener Tom Slatter also shows up in ‘Misfit City’ quite often. He’s a Victorian town-crier with a guitar and a slew of fantastical tales about monsters of air, land and sea, strange goings on in laboratories, haunted gentlemen and master criminals loose on the railways. On record he’s a multi-instrumental steampunk proggie, building himself instrumental Rube Goldberg machines (and occasionally collaborating with one). Live, he’s mostly unplugged and solo, letting his charm make up for the shortfall in instrumentation. One day he will build himself a bicycle-powered, bat-winged portable orchestrion out of old tuba piping and traction engine spares, to allow him to merge both situations. It will probably go off course and fly him somewhere horrible.

One of the prime strengths of jazz players is that they can come from anywhere in the world, meet each other for the first time and immediately speak a common improvising language of immediate flexibility. The four musicians who make up the Sirkis/Bialas International QuartetAsaf Sirkis (drums, Israeli, Londoner), Sylwia Bialas (voice, Polish, currently a Londoner but only recently a Würzburg resident), Kevin Glasgow (bass guitar, a Scottish Londoner via Ireland, but Invernessian rather than actual Glaswegian, replacing an Englishman who originally reached the band via Australia, Scotland and the United States) and Frank Harrison (keyboards, English, surprising lack of other complications) – make more of their scattered nature than most.

With all of that in mind, you’d expect a riotous mix of cultures, making hay out of clashes. What you actually get is aquamarine almost-acoustic jazz, cupped and propelled by Asaf’s winds-of-the-forest percussion subtleties, sung in Polish or vocalese, sheathed in softness and in smoothly-flowing instrumental gestures. The lightness of touch and the Northern hemisphere reserve hearken towards both Pacific Northwestern new age and ECM atmospherics; the light-as-a-feather scatting, twirling Rhodes piano and lissom six-string electric bass suggests a hushed Kurpie version of Flora Purim’s time with Return to Forever.

While the pure, piping soprano tones of co-headliner Judy Dyble might distract you from her full story, they do tie her firmly to the 1960s folk revival. It’s a true tie, as well – teenage friendships with Ashley Hutchings and Richard Thompson led her to spend a year as the singer for the original lineup of Fairport Convention. This auspicious start was followed by a brief, obscure stint in King Crimson prelude band Giles, Giles & Fripp, a more celebrated year as half of much-touted psychedelic folk duo Trader Horne; and finally a handful of gigs in the company of Canterbury characters Lol Coxhill, Steve Miller and Phil Miller.

A gentle, often reticent character, Judy’s musicality wasn’t enough to keep her comfortably engaged with the bruising demands of the music business; and in 1973, after six years of flitting nervously in and out of the spotlight, she retired from music into a quiet life of family and library work while still barely into her twenties. Perhaps it wasn’t as mysterious or dramatic a withdrawal as that of peers such as Anne Briggs or Vashti Bunyan, but it was enough to reduce her reputation to a shadow for all except those who dug up her handful of recordings in search of half-forgotten treasure and found something that didn’t deserve to be overshadowed.

Bar a couple of flitting, fitful Fairport reengagements at Cropredy in the early ‘80s, little was heard from Judy for three decades until – widowed and empty-nested – she was inveigled back into recording by Astralasia’s Mike Swordfish in 2002. Since then she’s pursued a quiet but exploratory revival of her musicality, working in fields fromfolk-rock to trancetronica and experimental art pop, and with collaborators including Dodson & Fogg, Tim Bowness, Sand Snowman, Joxfield Projex, Fuxa and Thee Faction. Her regular home, however, is with her Perfect Strangers ensemble (mostly drawn from co-writer Alistair Murphy’s Cromerzone project) with whom she’ll be performing at EppyFest. Throughout all of this, Judy’s signature tone has remained intact – the folk sweetness, the subliminal hint at hesitancy and tremble which betrays the nerviness and unsurety which has both interrupted her career and given her work its humanity and honesty. As she heads towards her seventies, both tone and temperament have become allied to a longer perspective of value, loss and change – something which, strengthened and deepened by time, she’s grown into and fleshed out with natural experience.

Completing the bill is another, even less well-known hidden treasure. Winchester singer-songwriter Marvyn B. Naylor has been delivering music for twelve underappreciated years now. His mixture of intricate, allusive psychedelic pop songs and pulsating 12-string guitar folk instrumentals tip nods to and shake hands with inspirations including the early David Bowie, Edward Elgar, the Beatles, Joyce Kilmer, Frank Sinatra, Francisco Tarrega and Guy de Maupassant: but he’s a whole meal in himself.


 

* * * * * * * *

There’s just one former Cardiac on the bill at EppyFest. Technically speaking – unless it’s true that Kavus Torabi is DJ-ing – there are no former Cardiacs at The Whole World Window, which takes place on the same day as EppyFest but five counties up (in Lancashire). In spite of this the bill, spread across two stages, is suffused with Cardiacs enthusiasm. Unsurprising, since it’s the latest in a series of benefits for the band’s stroke-felled leader Tim Smith.

Greg Braysford presents:
‘The Whole World Window – A Benefit for Tim Smith’: Britney + All Hail Hyena + 7Shades + The Scaramanga Six + Sweet Deals On Surgery + Sterbus + Trojan Horse + Adam Shaw + The Jackpot Golden Boys + Sean Keefe + Ahsa + others tbc (or fibbed about)
The New Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston PR1 8JP, England
Saturday 16th July 2016, 2.00pm
– information here – tickets here and here

The Whole World Window, 2016Bellowing Scots Britney are as garish and hardcore as a fairground teddy-grabber covered in backstreet tattoos. They’re given to one-and-a-half-minute bursts of earsplitting rock numbers plastered with crumpled ice-cream-van melodies. The latter trait, something of a Cardiacs stock-in-trade, tinkles through several of the other bands on the bill – be they outright disciples 7Shades (who lovingly pillage the ornate Cardiacs style wholesale) or pyjama-clad Burley power-pop trio All Hail Hyena (who sound like Bo Diddley rocking an birthday-cake castle).


Something more grandiose is offered by Huddersfield rock bullies The Scaramanga Six. They’ve devoted twenty-one years and enormous musical flair to hammering out poperatic tunes and bursts of garage gonzo, providing tragicomic insight into the flawed and unsettled ethics of everyday men (all carried out with assured baroque brutality and gallows humour). Self-styled “noisy prog rock bastards” Trojan Horse might not be returning to EppyFest this year, but they are bringing their omnivorous Salfordian rock cocktail to Preston: a catalogue of work which plunges into swaggering ‘70’s funk, belting avant-garage moments, broad-spectrum Beatles-pop and audacious psychogeographic experiments. Power-poppers Sweet Deals On Surgery lean towards the punkier side, bucketing towards the end of a song as if it were a race, but distractedly bursting into different versions halfway. For God’s sake, keep them off the Haribos…



All the way from Italy, Sterbus (Smith/Fripp/Zappa obsessive and noblest-Roman-of-them-all) will be coming to either yomp through some of his triple-jointed proggy power pop or to play leafy psychedelic summer-lounge acoustica (which may or may not include some of his takes on Cardiacs, Spratleys Japs and other limbs of Smithiana). If he doesn’t hold up the acoustic end, rest assured that Ivan Campo frontman Adam Shaw will, as he brings along his light-touch, thoughtful folk pop for us to unravel.


The rest of the bill’s made up of bands which predominantly reflect the humour (if not necessarily the horse-laughs and art-punk prankery) of the Cardiacs world. Silly-goodtime pop culture obsessives The Jackpot Golden Boys throw assorted metal, pop and funk chops at things from TV theme tunes to geek topics and hope that a few of them stay embedded. Militant hat wearer, slide guitarist, Strumstick player, comedy yarner and genre-mash novelist Sean Keefe – brings along his own version of honky-tonk Americana.



 
The (known) lineup is completed by acapella singer Asha Hewitt (seen below performing with Gummo Cleyre and Alex Dickinson as Yorkshire Latin pop band Solana). Asha might be the last kind of musician you’d expect to see getting up at a Smith benefit gig; but her presence is proof positive that the happy skewed tastes of the Cardiacs audience let in all kinds of light. Once they’ve stopped cheerfully bawling for their mashed-up chord sequences, that is…


 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – North Sea Radio Orchestra play London and Salisbury (12th, 26th) with Daisy Chute and William D. Drake (and maybe some other people…)

30 May

After a four-year hiatus (punctuated only by a brief 2014 showing at a Robert Wyatt tribute evening in France) North Sea Radio Orchestra – the pocket alt.chamber ensemble formed by husband-and-wife art-rock refugees Craig and Sharron Fortnam – are returning to action with a couple of warm, low-key English shows in London and Salisbury during June.

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2016

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2016

Based around Craig’s aerial compositions (propelled by a fine lattice of nylon-string guitar or gestural piano) and fronted by Sharron’s grand, pealing mezzo-soprano, NSRO emerged fifteen years ago via a series of church concerts in the City of London. A familial, twenty-strong English-gala-on-legs, sporting a rugged/ragged choral section, they blended the feel of a market-town classical festival with the more omnivorous preoccupations of world-city musicians flitting between concert halls, experimental rock clubs and eclectic podcasts.

Notoriously, Craig’s tune-sense drew on a romantic-futurist melding of Britten, Zappa, Vaughan Williams, Peter Warlock, traditional and psychedelic folk, Victorian poetry and the bassoon-laden locomotional soundtracks of Smallfilms’ Vernon Elliott: while the musician-and-singer pool drew not only on moonlighting classical and film-score people, but also on London art-rockers with broad skills and wide-open ears. In retrospect, there are some superficial similarities not just between the NSRO and one of their clearest equivalents – the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, who enjoyed a comparable tidy balance between cosmopolitan genres and methods – but also between the NSRO and that ongoing wave of enjoyable pop-up community choirs who roll around with Beach Boys, Bjork and Pulp songs stuffed in their pockets. Certainly both of the latter share a “get-up-and-do-it” communal warmth which endear them to audience, plus a pleasing lack of collegiate polish (the NSRO’s choral parts managed to be disciplined and soaring and loveably rough’n’baggy, while Sharon’s lead singing has muscled in on uncolonized areas between classical diva, ’60s coffee-house folk and Yorkshire punk).

Having said that, the NSRO have always been a more serious endeavour, treating their inspirations and ongoing creative paths with a discreet and earnest gravity; something typified by their third album’s pre-hiatus digression into a more compacted style, in which minimalist and Krautrock influences subsumed their initial romanticism (and in which self-penned lyrics of connection, loss and retreat replaced their earlier settings of Tennyson and Blake).

Today’s NSRO are a more streamlined affair than they once were: a compact mostly-instrumental nonet with Sharron’s voice still to the fore. Many members may have gently fallen away (if not too far away), but most of the original players remain in place alongside the Fortnams. Percussionist Hugh Wilkinson, organist/monosynther James Larcombe, string players Harry Escott and Brian Wright, and Luke Crooks and Nicola Baigent on reeds are still all on board, Despite being absent for these shows (he’ll be back in the autumn) the ensemble’s newest recruit, percussionist and viola player Stephen Gilchrist, fulfils the usual NSRO criteria of strolling or scrambling across genre lines: as “Stuffy” Gilchrist, he’s best known for thrashing the drums behind Graham Coxon or Art Brut, or for doling out his pop-eyed alt.rock as Stuffy/the fuses or Stephen Evens.)

These new shows should contain material from the NSRO’s upcoming fourth album ‘Dronne’, due out in early September. The first signs of the album came from a minute-and-a-half of dreamy domestic phase music uploaded to their Facebook page back in January (see above). Various other hints which have seeped out suggest a further change of course, perhaps influenced by the inspired psychedelic folk course which Craig and James Larcombe have been following with their parallel project Arch Garrison . In James’ words: “the new NSRO album’s amazing – in my opinion rather further down the psychedelic avenue, particularly the long instrumental title track. The song we’ve recently done a video for (‘Vishnu Schist’) is without a doubt my new favourite NSRO song… I’ve been listening to it loads. There’s a Robert Wyatt cover on it too, which is lovely.”

Regarding the gigs…

Tigmus presents
North Sea Radio Orchestra + Daisy Chute
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Sunday 12th June 2016, 1.30pm
– more information here and here

In support at the Forge is Daisy Chute. Though she’s undoubtedly best known as one-quarter of glossy-teen pop/classical fusion queens All Angels, Daisy vigorously and actively pursues a broad sweep of additional music including theatre, education and modern folk. In addition to her frontline work as a singer, she’s an accomplished composer, arranger, orchestrator and multi-instrumentalist (guitar, piano, ukelele, banjo and pixiphone), and a member of varied other bands including Camberwell folk-pop quartet threeandme. On this occasion she’s going out under her own name, singing a set of self-penned folk-and-jazz inspired songs and fronting a quartet of Tristan Horne (cello), Will Collier (double bass) and Zara Tobias (harmonium and backing vocals).


* * * * * * * *

Salisbury Arts Centre presents:
Transplant Music Night: North Sea Radio Orchestra + William D. Drake + special guests
Salisbury Arts Centre, Bedwin Street, Salisbury, SP1 3UT, England
Sunday 26th Jun 2016, 8.00pm
more information

This one’s billed as “a special night of music to accompany Salisbury Arts Centre’s ‘Transplant’ exhibition” (more on that in a moment…) For this show, the support act is onetime Cardiacs member William D. Drake, who forged his own belated solo career alongside NSRO’s (simultaneously putting in time in the latter as both choir singer and occasional composer/pianist). Building on from his interest in Early Music, his stint as the classically-inspired keyboard wildcard amongst Cardiacs’ polystylistic punk tumult and his subsequent immersion in rootsier work, Bill has developed his own idiosyncratic approach to songwriting: baroque, playful and soulful. It’s culminated in his latest – and greatest – album, ‘Revere Reach’, which lovingly threads folk, rock, classical and mythic elements together in a compelling and timeless act of musical bridging.

There are also additional “special guests” mentioned on the bill. This could mean anything; but it’s worth speculating on location, on confirmed attendees and on similar associations including the ‘Transplant’ exhibition itself:

promo-mattcuttssculpture2016“Celebrating the interconnectedness between art forms emerging from the festival scene and the joy of being outdoors in nature, ‘Transplant’ brings together sculpture, image, music, poetry and living plants. Forming the heart of the exhibition, Matt Cutts’ wooden sculptures sit in ‘fields’ of wild flowers and trees. Accompanying them are huge batik paintings by Sarah Jones reflecting the beauty of trees. A soundtrack for the exhibition has been created from new music and field recordings by Sarah Jones and William D. Drake. The exhibition opens on Midsummers Eve (Tuesday 21st June) for a 6-8pm viewing, prior to the exhibition proper running from the 22nd to the 25th.”

Citing the fond connections between the world of Cardiacs and that of Salisbury is a pretty easy game. Not only have many former Cardiacs members and affiliates (the Fortnams included) ended up living around Salisbury, but the band recorded their reknowned ‘All That Glitters Is A Mare’s Nest’ concert film in the Arts Centre itself seventeen years ago. Bill Drake’s contributions to both Transplant concert and exhibition further binds the worlds together, but a closer look reveals yet more links. A long time ago (before the batiks), Sarah Jones was Sarah Smith, blowing a puckish saxophone and frail silvery backing vocals in Cardiacs. Before that, she was Sarah Cutts; born into an artistic Forest of Dean family and sister to Matthew Cutts, who himself put in a long stint as a Cardiacs roadie before returning to his sculpting work.

Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones

Whatever the main intentions, it’s clear that a nodding, benevolent Cardiacs spectre looms over the whole event, sealed by the nature-saturated green-fuse inspirations which collectively permeate the artworks of Transplant, North Sea Radio Orchestra’s pastoral heart, and the undergrowth of Cardiacs songs (with their fascination with life and damp and greenery). It could, in fact, be part of one of the ever-more regular waves of Cardiacs-related activity which ripple through English crannies and corners each year in the band’s absence, keeping alive their loving and cheerfully prickly approach to music, friendship and existence (see also the upcoming ‘Whole World Window’ benefit gig in Preston next month, which I’ll flag up again later in the summer). It may give some clues as to who else might turn up; or it might not.

However, I’ll leave any speculation there. Moving back to certainties, here are a few video clips of NSRO in the past – from their choral triumphs to their airborne or churchbound meditations – to pave the way for whatever they’ve got ready for us now.




February 2016 – upcoming gigs – airy and almost acoustic: William D. Drake in Italy, Louis Barrabas plays across Scotland and the north of England, Daylight Music brings us Alex Mendham’s 1930s dance tunes, Ben See’s a capella and more…

16 Feb

William D. Drake, 2016

Here’s some news on a brief three-date set of Italian shows by William D. Drake. Approximate blurb translation follows:

“Cristiano Roversi (in collaboration with Arci Tom, Pietro Rubini & Guido Bellachioma ) is happy and proud to announce the William D. Drake Italian 2016 Minitour. One of the most exciting acts on the contemporary London underground music scene, the amazing virtuoso songwriter, keyboardist and piano artist (reknowned for having been both keyboard player and co-composer in Cardiacs) presents songs from his latest studio album ‘Revere Reach’ plus a selection of old numbers. William will share the stage with Mr.James Larcombe (keyboards, backing vocals & hurdy-gurdy, from Stars In Battledress) and Mrs. Nicola Baigent (clarinet, from North Sea Radio Orchestra).”

Dates:

  • Arci Tom, Piazza Tom Benetollo, 1, 46010 Mantova MN, Italy, Friday 19th February 2016 – more information here
  • Metricubi, Campiello delle Erbe 2003 San Polo 30125 Venezia, Saturday 20th February 2016 – more information here
  • Planet Live Club/Discoteca Planet, Via del Commercio, 36, 00154 Roma, Italy, Sunday 21st February 2016, 8.00pm (with Sterbus) – more information here or here

Italian musician and songwriter Sterbus (whose ‘Smash The Sun Alight‘ mini-album features in one of ‘Misfit City’s most-read reviews) will be playing a support slot at the Rome date. Promising a mixture of originals plus “some familiar surprises”, he’s fielding a semi-unplugged trio of himself on voice and guitar, regular sidekick Dominique D’Avanzo on vocals, clarinet and harmonica and Noel Storey (of St Albans lo-fi indie pop band The Pocket Gods) on piano and synth.

Three video clips (two Drakes, plus a Sterbus) are below. The first is a full-band Drake recording – live in the studio – of To My Piano, capturing the folk, Early English and chapel-songbook aspects of his baroque pop songwriting to full effect (as well as some of the warmth of his live shows). The second is a recording of him playing his solo piano study The Moth Surrenders To The Flame, a deeper immersion in his classical side.


The third is Sterbus’ recent cover of the Cardiacs song Gina Lollabridgida, which eases away the original’s frenetic New Wave rush in favour of a summery acoustic coo while keeping all of its intricacies intact. Sterbus unveiled this version of the song at a London fundraiser for Tim Smith last autumn, while the video itself is a mash-up of some of the finest visual moments from Gina herself on film… so that’s three or four layers of tribute right there. Enjoy.


 

* * * * * * * *

Louis Barrabas plays Santa...The perpetual vigour and drive of theatrical, multi-disciplinary songwriter Louis Barabbas has seen him dubbed “the hairy Bez of blues harp”, put him to work with Dr. Dog and John Otway, and made him busy with mentoring developing artists, running a record label, and fronting radio shows plus at least three simultaneous bands. He’s currently engaged in a long and winding British tour over the next few months, spattering through spring and into a few bigger summer dates.

For now, here are the dates for Louis’ February shows, all of which take place in Scotland and the north of England and all of which are solo (although some subsequent dates will see Louis playing with his Bedlam Six and Ceaseless Horror Band projects).

Dates:

  • The Doghouse Cellar Jazz Bar, Kay Brow Yard, Kay Brow, Ramsbottom, BL0 9AY, England, Friday 19th February 2016 – free event
  • Stacoustic @ The Star Inn, 2 Back Hope Street, Salford, M7 2FR, England, Saturday 20th February 2016 – more information
  • The Ferret, 55 Fylde Road, Preston, PR1 2XQ, England, Tuesday 23rd February 2016
  • Siempre Bicycle Café, 162 Dumbarton Road, Glasgow, G11 6XE, Scotland, Thursday 25th February 2016
  • St Andrews Sessions @ St Andrews Church, Church Street, Innerleithen, EH44 6JA, Scotland, Friday 26th February, 2016, 8.00pmmore information
  • Woodland Creatures, 260-262 Leith Walk, Edinburgh, EH6 5EL, Scotland, Saturday 27th February, 2016
  • Argyle Rooms (house concert), Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumbria, England, Sunday 28th February, 2016
  • Heaton Perk, 103-105 Heaton Park Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE6 5NR, England, Monday 29th February 2016

Since most of these are café gigs, check at the venues for more information on times, prices etc or check via Louis’ homepage. The tour will continue into March and April, with further summer gigs to come. I’ll post information about those shows closer to the time. Meanwhile, here’s the man himself, in action…



 

* * * * * * * *

There’s a wealth of shows on Saturday 20th February, but for now I’ll just mention the acoustic one which comes with 1930s arrangements and voice-dancing…

Daylight Music 216, 20th February 2016

Daylight Music presents:
Daylight Music 216: Alex Mendham & His Orchestra, Ben See + Rory McVicar + Gemma Champ
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 20th February 2016, 12.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like event (suggested donation £5.00) – more information

Alex Mendham & His Orchestra are a truly authentic Golden Age 1920s and 1930s British dance band formed in 2010. These young musicians have been stunning audiences all across Europe, as they perform with boundless passion and energy, with impeccable attention to period detail not only in their music and vocals, but in everything from their original instruments to their hair and attire.

Ben See is a singer and composer from London. He specialises in vocal music, and more specifically contemporary a cappella. Ben’s musical influences range from the scores of Benjamin Britten to the ever-eccentric Björk, with a small detour via the beautiful song-writing of Brian Wilson and the vocal wizard Bobby McFerrin.

Rory McVicar is a musician and songwriter who has been releasing music under his own name since 2005. His first demo found its way into Radio One’s Festive Fifty after heavy rotation on the Huw Stephens and Rob da Bank shows. Since then, he’s released two long players and a clutch of singles, splits and EPs on various indie labels.

This week Gemma Champ will return to provide the matinee music in-between on the piano.”

* * * * * * * *

Noisier events coming right up…
 

January 2016 – upcoming gigs (mostly London) – Daylight Music brings classical on the 23rd (Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Experience Ensemble, Roger Doyle, Ok Bertie! and Jim Bishop) and pop on the 30th (The Wave Pictures, The Leaf Library and Citizen Helene); plus Martin Creed, William D. Drake and Stephen Evens in Brixton.

22 Jan

This should be the last of the January gig updates, though I always speak too soon… Don’t forget that The Bleeding Hearts Club Winter Escape is still on in Brighton on the 23rd.

* * * * * * * *

Daylight Music 212

(Daylight Music presents)
Daylight Music 212 – Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Experience Ensemble + Roger Doyle + Ok Bertie! + Jim Bishop
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 23rd January 2016, 12.00pm
– free entry – more information

“Three decades ago, a group of London musicians took a good look at that curious institution we call the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and decided to start again from scratch. The Ann & Peter Law Experience Scheme gives talented young musicians a chance to perform with the Orchestra. In this concert the musicians on the scheme perform together, by themselves, for the first time, just a few weeks after finishing at the OAE Academy. It looks as if we’re going to be treated to some Haydn (Symphony No. 85 ‘La Reine’, the nickname originating because the work was a favorite of Marie Antoinette) plus the Romance written by his original London sponsor, Johann Peter Salomon.

Roger Doyle is known for his pioneering work as composer of electronic music. He has worked extensively in theatre, film and dance, in particular with the music-theatre company Operating Theatre, which he co-founded.

Ok Bertie is the moniker of Robert Szymanek, a singer-songwriter, composer, and visual artist living in London. Bertie’s debut album of songs is called ‘Music From A Crowded Planet’, and is due for release in 2016. It’s accompanied by the ground breaking Crowded Planet iOS app, created in collaboration with developer Matthew Hasler.

Sonic Brute mainstay Jim Bishop will also join us to take the Henry Willis organ out for a spin and bring us some time travel themed melodies: it’s time to go Bach to the Future!”

…or in my case, back to the past. Jim Bishop was at University with me long ago, and set some of my words to music for a body-issues revue at the Edinburgh Fringe. Jaunty.

More Daylight news further down…

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Martin Creed/William D. Drake/Stephen Evens, 26th January 2016

(Brixton Hill Studios presents)
Martin Creed & His Band + William D. Drake + Stephen Evens
The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England
Tuesday 26th January 2016, 8.00pm
more information

“As part of Independent Venue Week, tonight our lovely neighbours Brixton Hill Studios take over the venue with some special guests!

Perhaps best known for winning the Turner Prize back in 2001, Martin Creed has been actively making music since the early ’90s. Creed writes direct, compelling songs with the ability to both perturb and amuse. Think the rhythmic punk of Ian Dury and the wit and pop nous of Glasgow’s Postcard Records. He has released records on both Moshi Moshi and his own Telephone Records label.

William D. Drake is a keyboardist, pianist, composer and singer-songwriter. He is best known as a former member of the cult English rock band Cardiacs, whom he played with for nine years between 1983 and 1992. He has also been a member of The Sea Nymphs, North Sea Radio Orchestra, Nervous, Wood, Lake of Puppies and The Grown-Ups, as well as pursuing a career as a solo artist. His fifth album ‘Revere Reach’ came out in summer 2015.

Armed with a battered guitar, a Casiotone and a few pedals, Stephen Evens (better known as Steve “Stuffy” Gilchrist, erstwhile leader of Stuffy/The Fuses and drummer with Graham Coxon, Cardiacs, Charlotte Hatherley and The Scaramanga Six) presents songs that mix the likes of Yo La Tengo & Ivor Cutler with broken friendships and human error.”

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Daylight Music 213

(Daylight Music & The Hangover Lounge present)
Daylight Music 213: The Wave Pictures, The Leaf Library + Citizen Helene
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 30th January 2016, 12.00pm
– free entry – more information

The Wave Pictures will be launching their brand new, vinyl-only album ‘A Season In Hull’ at the Union Chapel on 30th January. The album was recorded on acoustic guitars in one room, with a bunch of their friends, live in to one microphone on singer Dave Tattersall’s birthday, January 28th, 2015. The songs were written as quickly as possible and the recording captures that specific moment in all its spontaneous, thrilling and immediate glory. As Tattersall elaborates: ‘That’s what this is – a one-microphone happy birthday recording.’

London quintet The Leaf Library (who create “droney, two-chord pop that’s stuck halfway between the garage and the bedroom, all topped with lyrical love songs to buildings, stationery and the weather”) have just released their debut full-length album ‘Daylight Versions’. The record is full of wonderfully woozy, drone-pop tunes about meteorology, the seasons and the incoming sea; from songs about the ghostly Suffolk coastline to the slowly rising waters of London marshes.

Citizen Helene is a singer, songwriter and guitarist from London whose blend of sunshine pop, psychedelic folk and jazz has been described as ‘baroque and beautiful’ by Darian Sahanaja (of the Brian Wilson band) and ‘like the love child of Karen Carpenter and Brian Wilson’ by ‘Word’ magazine.”

October 2015 – upcoming London gigs (12th to 18th) – an art rock blitz with Sax Ruins and Richard Pinhas; new classical music with Darragh Morgan & Mary Dullea; William D. Drake, Bill Pritchard and Bill Botting make a trio of songwriting Bills for Daylight Music; Sex Swing, Early Mammal and Casual Sect make a racket; Laura Moody and a host of others play at Match&Fuse

7 Oct

And October rushes on…

Sax Ruins + Richard Pinhas @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 12th October 2015Sax Ruins + Richard Pinhas (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ Corsica Studios, 4-5 Elephant Road, London, SE17 1LB, UK, Monday 12th October 2015, 7.30pm) – £11.00

Ruins (in both their original configuration and their various spinoffs) are among the best-known and most influential of Japanese experimental rock bands, with their complex rhythmic ideas and expression stretching across progressive rock, Rock in Opposition, jazz and punk. Founded in 1985, their stretchy, power-flurried drums-and-voice/bass guitar/nothing else approach has been described as “a palace revolt against the established role of the rhythm section” and set the initial format for any number of loud-bastard bass-and-drums duos. Since 1994 they’ve also run assorted noise-rock and improv collaborations including Ronruins (a romping trio alliance with multi-instrumentalist Ron Anderson) and longstanding hook-ups with Derek Bailey, Kazuhisa Uchihashi and Keiji Haino. Post-2004, Ruins has given way to Ruins-alone: a solo project in both practical and actual terms, with Tatsuya Yoshida (Ruins’ drummer, jabberer, main composer and only consistent member) opting to tour and record solo as a drums-and-tapes act.

Active since 2006, Sax Ruins is yet another iteration of the Ruins concept – a musical tag team in which Yoshida spars happily with Nagoya-based saxophonist Ryoko Ono of Ryorchestra (an all-round improviser steeped in jazz, rock, funk, rhythm & blues classical and hip hop. Their recordings are “extremely complex with irregular beats, frequent excessive overdubbing, and restructured orchestration. The result sounds like a big band playing progressive jazz hardcore. For live performance of Sax Ruins they make hardcore sound like a huge band by full use of effects, also incorporating improvisation. Their shows unfold as a vehement drama.” For further evidence, see below.

Composer, guitarist and synthesizer player Richard Pinhas has often laboured under the reductive tag of “the French Robert Fripp”. This is unfair to him; he may have begun as an admirer of both Fripp and Brian Eno, but whatever he’s learned from them he took in his own direction. Starting out in the early ‘70s with a Sorbonne philosophy doctorate, a keen interest in speculative science fiction and a brief stint heading the post-Hawkwind psych outfit Schizo, Pinhas went on to lead the second-generation progressive rock band Heldon for four years between 1974 and 1978. Geographically and conceptually, Heldon sat bang in the ‘70s midpoint between the artier end of British prog, the proggier end of British art-pop and the chilly sequenced robo-mantras of German electronics. Initially inspired by King Crimson, Eno and Tangerine Dream, they also shared both musicians and ideas with Magma, and at times squinted over the Atlantic towards Zappa and Utopia: no passive followers, they always brought their own assertive, inquiring spin to the party. (A late ‘90s revival version of the band brought in the psychedelic punk and techno imperatives of the dance movement).

Since Heldon, Pinhas has pursued an ongoing and diverse solo career. It’s taken in collaborations with Scanner, Peter Frohmader, Merzbow, Råd Kjetil Senza Testa, Wolf Eyes and Pascal Fromade, plus assorted words-and music projects involving speculative writers and philosophers such as Maurice Dantec, Philip K. Dick, Gilles Deleuze, Norman Spinrad and Chloe Delaume (these include the cyberpunk-inspired Schizotrope). When performing solo, Pinhas uses a loops-layers-and-textures guitar approach which parallels (and to some ears, surpasses) the densely processed and layered Soundscapes work of his original inspiration Fripp. I guess it’s most likely that he’ll employ this at Corsica Studios on the 12th (although as Tatsuya Yoshida has been another of Pinhas’ collaborators over the years, perhaps you might expect another spontaneous team-up…)

Up-to-date info on the concert is here, with tickets available here.

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During the midweek, there’s a set of new or rare contemporary classical pieces being performed in Camden Town.

Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea, 2015

Picking Up The Pieces: Darragh Morgan & Mary Dullea (The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, UK, Wednesday 14th October 2015, 7.30pm) – £10.00/£12.00

Here’s what the Forge has to say about it:

Described by BBC Music Magazine as ‘agile, incisive and impassioned’ violinist Darragh Morgan and pianist Mary Dullea are renowned soloists of new music as well as members of The Fidelio Trio, one of the UK’s leading chamber ensembles. ‘Picking up the Pieces’ explores new and recent repertoire, much of it written for this duo, by a diverse selection of composers. Among the program items, Richard Causton’s ‘Seven States of Rain’ (dedicated to Mary and Darragh) won the first ever British Composers’ Award; while Gerald Barry’s ‘Midday’ receives its world premiere alongside other London premieres from Camden Reeves and Benedict Schlepper-Connolly.

Programme:

Richard Causton – Seven States of Rain
Gerald Barry – Midday (world premiere)
Benedict Schlepper-Connolly – Ekstase I (UK premiere)
Dobrinka Tabakova – Through the Cold Smoke
Kate Whitley – Three Pieces for violin and piano
Sam Hayden – Picking up the Pieces
Camden Reeves – Gorgon’s Head (London premiere)

Here’s the original premiere recording of Darragh and Mary playing ‘Seven States of Rain’.

Tickets and up-to-date information are here. This concert is being recorded by BBC Radio for future transmission on Hear & Now.

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On the Saturday, it’s a triple bill of Bills at Daylight Music. Now that’s cute, even for them. Here are the words direct from the top…

Daylight Music 203, 17th October 2015

Daylight Music 203: William D. Drake + Bill Pritchard + Bill Botting (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, UK – Saturday 17th October 2015, 12.00pm-2.00pm) – free entry, suggested donation £5.00

For his fifth solo excursion, former Cardiacs keysmith William D Drake takes us on a serpentine path through the inner regions of ‘Revere Reach’, a part-imagined landscape composed of memory and fantasy. At once heart-felt, hearty and absurd, its heady reveries blend ancient-seeming modal folk melody with an obliquely-slanted rock thrust.

Bill Pritchard is a beloved cult British-born singer/songwriter. You may remember. You may not. He started writing songs for various bands at school but it wasn’t until he spent time in Bordeaux as part of a college degree that his style flourished. He did a weekly show with two friends on the radio station La Vie au Grand Hertz (part of the burgeoning ‘radio libre’ movement) and was introduced to a lot of French artists from Antoine to Taxi Girl. In 2014 Bill released – Trip to the Coast (Tapeste Records). He’s recently resurfaced with a cracking new album, the songs of which are classic Bill Pritchard. Guitar pop, hooky chorus’, melodic ballads and personal everyday lyrics about love, loss, and Stoke-On-Trent.

Our final Bill is Bill Botting – best known as the bass player from Allo Darlin with the encouraging face, or as one half of indie electro wierdos Moustache of Insanity. Bill returned to playing his own music sometime in 2014. What started as a solo act has now grown into a complete band featuring members of Owl and Mouse, Allo Darlin and The Wave Pictures. A 7-inch single out later in the year on the wiaiwya label has a country slant but an indie heart.

Up-to-date info on this particular Daylight Music afternoon is here.

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On the Saturday evening, Baba Yaga’s Hut is running another gig, much of it apparently based around the noise-and-sludge projects which record at south London’s Dropout Studio in Camberwell. I’ve got to admit that I’m quite ambivalent about the hit-and-miss nature of noise-rock – I suspect that it’s too much of a haven for charlatans, and if I can’t drag out anything interesting to say about the noise they produce bar a slew of reference points, then what am I doing if not reviewing my own boredom? – but I like BYH’s omnivorous, ambitious and sharing attitude as promoters, so I’m happy to boost the signal on this one.

Sex Swing + Early Mammal + Casual Sect (Baba Yaga’s HutThe Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, UK, Saturday 17th October 2015, 8.00pm) – £7.00

Sex Swing + Early Mammal + Casual Sect @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 17th October 2015
Sex Swing are “a drone supergroup” featuring South London noisenik Tim Cedar (one of Dropout Studio’s owner/producers, previously a member of both Ligament and Part Chimp), Dethscalator’s Dan Chandler and Stuart Bell, Jason Stoll (bass player with Liverpool kraut-psych band Mugstar) and skronkophonist Colin Webster. On aural evidence, they inhabit a post-Can, post-Suicide hinterland of hell, spring-echoed and tannoy-vocaled – a sinister quotidian landscape of blank anomie and oppression; a Los Alamos penal colony haunted by uranium ghosts, ancient Morse telegraphs, metal fatigue and the zombie husks of Albert Ayler and Ian Curtis. (Well, that’s certainly someone’s perfect birthday present.)

Described variously as raw power, psych-blues, primitive lysergia and threatening backwoods jams, Early Mammal are another Dropout-affiliated Camberwell band. They’re a stoner rock three-piece who’ve drawn further comparisons not just to latterday stoner crews like White Hills or Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, or to predictable perennial touchstones like Captain Beefheart and Hawkwind parallels; but also to broody Harvest Records psych (Edgar Broughton and the ‘Obscured by Clouds’ Pink Floyd), Irmin Schmidt and (a rare and welcome cite, this) the grand dramatics of Aphrodite’s Child (the late-‘60s Greek prog band which skirted the 1966 Paris riots and served as an unlikely launch pad for both Vangelis and Demis Roussos).

Past incarnations have seen Early Mammal stir in some “Turkish-flavoured synth”, but the current lineup is a power trio of ex-Elks guitarist Rob Herian and 85bear’s Ben Tat and Ben Davis, adding baritone guitar and drone box to the usual guitar/bass/drums array.

I’m less sure about the south London/Dropout associations as regards Casual Sect, who seem to be north-of-the-river people; but, armed with their own hardcore noise-punk, they’ll either clatter away like wind-up toys or belly-sprawl on great bluffs of surly noise. They seem to love both citing and mocking conspiracy theory, so I’ll let them yell away on their own behalf – see below…


 
Up-to-date info on this gig is here, and tickets are available from here.

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Laura Moody’s captivating cello-and-voice songcraft (which edges along the boundary lines of avant-garde classical, art pop and heart-on-sleeve folk music, while demonstrating a daunting mastery of both vocal and instrument) has been a favourite of mine for a while. On this particular week, she’s performing as part of the Match&Fuse Festival in London on 17th October, which I’d have made more of a noise about had I cottoned on to it earlier. She’ll be following up her London show with a date on 20th October at Leeds College of Music: unfortunately, this concert (which also features a talk) is only for LCM students/staff, but if you happen to be attending the college, grab the chance to go along.

There’ll be more on Laura shortly, as she’s embarking on a brief British tour next month which dovetails quite neatly with some other brief tours I’d like to tie together in a post. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, I might as well provide a quick rundown of the Match&Fuse events. This will be a short and scrappy cut’n’paste’n’link, since I’m honouring my own last-minute pickup (and, to be honest, because I exhausted myself listing out all the details of the Manchester Jazz Festival events earlier in the year).

By the sound of it, though, the festival deserves more attention than I’m providing. Even just on spec, it’s a delightful bursting suitcase of British and European music; much of which consists of various forms of jazz and improvisation, but which also takes in electronica, math rock, accordion-driven Tyrolean folk-rap, vocalese, glam punk, the aforementioned Ms. Moody and what appears to be a huge scratch ensemble closing the events each night. It’s spread over three days including a wild triple event on the Saturday. Tickets are starting to sell out; so if you want to attend, be quick.

Match&Fuse Festival, London, 2015

Committed to the composers and bands who propel, compel and challenge, Match&Fuse turns it on and ignites the 4th London festival in October. Dissolving barriers between genres and countries, it’s a rare chance to hear a spectrum of sounds from underground European and UK artists. On Saturday 17th October our popular wristband event will give you access to three Dalston venues and about thirteen artists and bands. Strike a match…

The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ, UK, Thursday 15th October 2015, 7.30pm – £9.90

Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London E1 6LA, UK, Friday 16th October 2015, 7.30pm – £13.20

The Vortex/Café Oto/Oto Project Space/ Servant Jazz Quarters simultaneous event, Saturday 17th October 2015, 8.00pm – £11.00/£16.50

Café Oto/Oto Project Space, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, UK

Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, UK

The Vortex Jazz Club/Vortex Downstairs, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ, UK

Full details of Match&Fuse London 2015 are here and here, with tickets (including wristbands) available here. There’s also a playlist available – see below.

 
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More October gig previews coming up shortly, plus some more for November…
 

October 2015 – upcoming London gigs – Arch Garrison & Lisa Doscher, October 3rd

29 Sep

…and this would have been in the previous post about first-week-of-October gigs had I found out about it sooner. For a while now, I’ve been a fan of Tigmus‘ portable crowdfunding formula for making gigs happen, so it’s good to be spurred into plugging one such gig – especially since it features Arch Garrison (whose wonderful second album gained an extensive ‘Misfit City’ review last year) and takes place in such an unusual location…

Arch Garrison +Lisa Doscher, October 3rd 2015

Arch Garrison + Lisa Doscher (Tigmus @ Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare, Hampton Court Road, Hampton, London, TW12 2EN, UK, Saturday 3rd October 2015, 7.00pm) – £10.00

Over to Tigmus:

The second concert in our autumn series at the Garrick Temple to Shakespeare features the beautiful sounds of Arch Garrison and Lisa Doscher.

Having garnered much critical acclaim for his larger-scale compositions and songs with North Sea Radio Orchestra, Craig Fortnam also writes and performs in singer-songwriter mode, alongside James Larcombe (NSRO/Stars in Battledress/William D. Drake) on keyboards as  Arch Garrison, who have released two albums; ‘King of the Down’ (2010) and the latest work ‘I Will Be A Pilgrim’ (2014).

‘…Pilgrim…’ details Fortnam’s attachment to the chalk downland of Southern England; a landscape criss-crossed with ancient trackways, droves and green lanes, and dotted with Neolithic mounds and barrows, evidence of the Great Stone Culture – all calling him to pull on his walking boots, whistle for the dogs and hit the road, to undertake a pilgrimage to nowhere. He walks the ancient paths as an act of connecting to something intangible but present in the marks left by man, be they burial mounds or pylons – it’s all the same really – all grist to the songwriting mill – walk walk hum sing walk…

Originally from New Hampshire, USA, but now settled in Oxfordshire, England, Lisa Doscher creates soulful vocals with lovely cosy harmonies. Indie-folk peppered with gospel, Americana and urban rhythms; uplifting songs from the heart and soul-powered rhythms for sharing around the campfire and joining in. In her first full-length album, aptly titled ‘Return Home’, she charts her last ten years of diverse musical experience with introspective songwriting and her atmospheric alt-folk sound. The songs each provide a landscape for some discovery that is essential for understanding one’s place in the world.

Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare is a small garden folly erected in 1756 on  the north bank of the River Thames at Hampton, London. It was built by the actor David Garrick to honour the playwright William Shakespeare, whose plays Garrick performed to great acclaim throughout his career. After a campaign supported by distinguished actors and donations from the National Lottery’s “good causes” fund, it was restored in the late 1990s and reopened to the public as a museum and memorial to the life and career of Garrick. It is reputedly the world’s only shrine to Shakespeare.

Up-to-date info on the gig is here, and tickets are available here.

July 2015 – upcoming London gigs on Saturday and Tuesday – the Independent Label Market; Tom Slatter & jh’s free gig in Bethnal Green; William D. Drake with Stars In Battledress and Steven Evens

10 Jul

The Carvery at the Independent Label Market

If your musical instincts include any crate-digging, hoarding or hunter-gathering aspects, you could try checking out the Independent Label Market this Saturday, 11th July, at Old Spitalfields Market in east London. I got my own heads-up about this via The Carvery, who say:

We will be representing a strong and eclectic mix of labels we work with… There will be a limited amount of stock hand picked by each label at a reduced price for one day only. Expect releases and limited edition items from Sofrito, Tropical Discotheque, Matsuli Music, Numero Group, Five Easy Pieces, Names You Can Trust, Bastard Jazz, Paradise Bangkok, Rhythm Section, High Focus, Faux Discx Records, ALTER, NICE UP! Records and Reggae Roast.

No, I know none of these labels. Expect many others, plus other mastering companies and record manufacturers, to be there on the day selling independent-label music at bargain prices. For anyone who attends, the event is likely to be an education in itself. It starts at 11am, goes through until 6 in the evening.

Later on, but not very far away, there’s this…

Tom Slatter @ St Margaret's House, 11th July 2015

Tom Slatter + jh (The Chapel, St Margaret’s House, Old Ford Road, London, E2 9PL, UK, Saturday 11th July, 7.30 pm)– free

Disarmingly, Tom describes his work as “the sort of music you’d get if Genesis started writing songs with Nick Cave after watching too much ‘Doctor Who'”, while one of his occasional collaborators, Jordan Brown of airy London prog-poppers The Rube Goldberg Machine, calls him “a sci-fi storyteller with a penchant for odd time signatures and soundscapes.” Both descriptions ring true but fail to pinpoint the cheerfully pulpy weird-fiction exuberance of Tom’s work as a one-man band. He’s a man not just happily out of his time, but making a virtue of it – a latter-day Victorian street-theatre barker with a guitar promising tales of mystery, imagination, ‘orrible murders and bloody great waving tentacles.

This gig’s an acoustic show, with Tom mostly playing versions of songs from his recent ‘Fit The Fourth‘ album (out on Bad Elephant Music last month). Part of me hopes that he’ll take his taste for Victoriana a step further and rig himself up like a phoney spiritualist – little bits of prestidigitation, a tambourine between the knees, plus additional instruments and sound effects triggered by fishing line attached to thighs and elbows. We probably won’t get all of that, but what we will get is a performer who’s blissfully committed to the inherent fun and theatricality of his material. Something to treasure. Here he is at play in the video for his recent single, ‘Some Of The Creatures Have Broken The Locks On The Door To Lab 558’ (for better or worse, the title says it all), plus another video taken from an acoustic show he did amidst the wheels, pistons and cams of the London Museum of Water & Steam down at Kew Bridge.

Playing support is Tom’s fellow Bad Elephanteer jh in a similar acoustic slot, promoting his ‘Morning Sun‘ compilation and the upcoming Bad Elephant release of his back catalogue. With the soul of a confessional busker but the expansive sound-draping instincts of an electric-Eden acid rocker, jh (on record, at least) is the missing link between Joe Strummer and Roy Harper with a touch of prog pastoral thrown in. Live and unplugged, he’s likely to be wirier and relying on his narratives to hold your attention. Personally, I warm to a man who can write an eighteen-minute Anglo-prog epic (complete with Michael Caine references and conversational swearing) and call it ‘Making Tea Is Freedom’.

Up-to-date info on the concert should be here, while tickets can be reserved here (as I post, there are twenty-nine left).

Tom Slatter gig flyer 11th july 2015

On the following Tuesday, William D. Drake follows up last Sunday’s launch gig in Brighton for his new ‘Revere’s Reach’ album with a second launch gig in London. I’ve been putting up plenty of posts about his exuberant music and its clever, affecting mash-up of folk, rock and classical; its beguiling nonsense, its striking beauty and its deceptive humanity. Expect a few more of those shortly. Support comes from a rare appearance from Stars In Battledress (the Larcombe brothers’ cryptic, witty psychedelic folk duo – read an account of them onstage here) and the mysterious Steven Evens, about whom I know nothing (update – ah, it’s a new incarnation of Stuffy Gilchrist!). Current event info is here, tickets are here, and the basic info plus a brace of videos are below.

William D. Drake + Stars In Battledress + Stephen Evens (The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, N1 9JB, London, UK, Tuesday 14th July, 7.30 pm)– £11.00

UPDATE, JULY 13th – sadly, the William D. Drake gig has had to be postponed due to bereavement. I’ll repost about it once it’s been rescheduled.

July 2015 – upcoming weekend gigs – Daylight Music in London on Saturday (Piney Gir/Rodney Branigan/Player Piano with Gemma Champ); William D. Drake/Crayola Lectern/Heavy Lamb in Brighton on Sunday

1 Jul

This weekend you could choose some unorthodox transplanted Americana, or some equally unorthodox English nooks and crannies. Or (as long as you were somewhere around London or Brighton) you could feasibly enjoy both of them, given that you’ve got more than twenty-four hours to cover the fifty miles between the options. (It’s bright. It’s hot. Enjoy the weekend out. Go on…)

First, the Saturday show in London…

Daylight Music, July 4th 2015

Daylight Music 196: Piney Gir + Rodney Branigan + Player Piano, with Gemma Champ (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN – Saturday 4th July, 12pm to 2pm)

Blurb follows…

July brings an American Independence day special to Daylight Music.

Piney Gir hails from the American Midwest, home of wide-open plains with sunflowers that go on as far as the Earth curves. The “you’re not in Kansas anymore” jokes never wear thin, because Piney embraces her heritage bringing it with her to the UK, where she’s lived in London for over a decade now (yes, she does have a sparkly red shoe collection and yes, she wears a lot of gingham). She is celebrating the recent launch of her sixth album ‘mR hYDE’S wILD rIDE’, released on Damaged Goods Records on June 8th.

Texan guitar virtuoso Rodney Branigan is a multi-intrumentalist who learned to play in Austin, perform in Los Angeles, craft songs in Nashville and put it all together in London. His current album ‘Sketches.’ (written on the road in China, India, Europe, the US and the UK) reflects this diversity, combining laid-back blues and acoustic folk with undertones of rock, flamenco, classical, bluegrass and jazz. His lyrics have an abundance of imaginative substance to them that eclipse many of his songwriting peers. With vocals compared to Jeff Buckley and playing compared to Rodrigo Y Gabriela, the album has been written, arranged and recorded around his renowned ambidextrous live performance.

Player Piano is the musical vessel of Jeremy Radway, a refugee from Indianapolis, USA (home of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., after whose first published book the group was named). On his previous EP ‘Into The Dark’ (released on the Fife-based Fence Records label), there was a mix of rich strings and glam-pop pomp, inspiring the ‘Sunday Times’ to write “evoking solo-Lennon string arrangements, the unfettered creativity of early Bowie and the Walker Brothers, and the vocal plangency of Chris Martin and Rufus Wainwright, it tugs at the heartstrings and ensnares you with the scope of its ambition.” Radway continues to explore new sounds and forms, trading strings for synths and moving in a more upbeat progressive direction, still staying grounded in melody and harmony. He’ll be releasing his new album ‘Radio Love’ this summer on State51 Records (home to gUiLLeMoTs and Psapp),

In between, Gemma Champ will play melodies jammed full of stars and stripes; and yes, there will be cookies!

There’s a Soundcloud preview here.

Free entry, but donations are (as ever) encouraged.

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On Sunday, down in Brighton, there’s this…

William D. Drake/Crayola Lectern/Ham Legion, Komedia Brighton, July 3rd 2015

William D. Drake/Crayola Lectern/Heavy Lamb (Komedia Studio Bar, 44-47 Gardner Street, Brighton, BN1 1UN, UK, Sunday 5th July 2015, 7.30pm – £7.00)

Bill Drake (the onetime Cardiacs keyboard player turned baroque-solo singer-songwriter) celebrates the mid-June release of his new album ‘Revere Reach’ with what promises to be a typically joyous concert, unfolding new/old sounding original songs both complex and sweet, rampant keyboarding, hurdy-gurdys and assorted friends. A couple of examples are below.

In support is Crayola Lectern – Chris Anderson’s songwriting project which sweeps from solemn cellar melancholia to a flickering psychedelic noon via piano, trumpet and shimmering electronics. See these…

Also playing support are Heavy Lamb, a self-styled “loud demented pop” band. See below for a demo track and for a video of them playing a joyfully received Spratleys Japs cover at the Alphabet Business Convention earlier this year.

Tickets for Drake and co. are available here.

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.)

May 2015 – upcoming London gigs – ‘William D.Drake Pawformance’ – Friday 22nd May 2015. London. Schott Music Shop.

22 May

If you’re free and easy in London tonight – and fancy an evening of intriguing piano music – try this. In spite of some of the more ominous language used in the Subba-Cultcha review, Bill’s music is as full of light, flight and green-leafed freshness as it is of strange chords and left-field turns. Fans of post-modernist dissonance, polystylism and mongrel English romanticism will all be well satisfied. As a bonus, you get extra listening pleasure via James Larcombe (of Stars In Battledress and Arch Garrison) fingering one of his collection of tuneful antiques.

William D Drake

yewspawlpcoverGrabwebYou are most warmly invited to an evening performance of ‘Yew’s Paw’ in the intimate surroundings of Schott Music Shop in Central London.

Glass of wine and nibbles will be provided with Mr Drake’s compliments.

Be sure to arrive early to enjoy Mr James Larcombe performing on his marvellous melodeon.

Yew’s Paw is an album of piano pieces written and performed by Mr Drake at his pianoforte, and released in February 2007.

Listen to tracks and buy the album here.

Friday 22nd May 2015.  7.30-9.30pm

Tickets £10 – Buy in person from Schott Music Shop or by telephone 020 7534 0710.

Schott Music Shop (Recital Room), 48 Great Marlborough Street, London. W1F 7BB

‘YEW’S PAW’ – ALBUM REVIEWS

Subba-Cultcha. February 2007 – Jonathan Sebire

‘Yew’s Paw’ consists of thirteen solo piano pieces, a macabre soundtrack that draws forth a huge swell of foreboding and tempered power across its…

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May 2015 – through the feed – free single/upcoming crowdfunder from The Duke Of Norfolk; Cardiacs and Knifeworld reissues; a new Tim Bowness album; disinterring lost Levitation

21 May

I can tell I’ve not kept my eye on the ball – nothing makes a person feel less alert than suddenly finding that three of his favourite musical projects (plus one new recent favourite and one older interest) are suddenly pouncing out new releases and. I step out for a moment, for another writing project, and someone moves all of the furniture around.

The Duke Of Norfolk: 'A Revolutionary Waltz'

The Duke Of Norfolk: ‘A Revolutionary Waltz’

So… let’s start with news of fresh work from The Duke of Norfolk, a.k.a transplanted Oklahoman folkie Adam Howard, now resident in Edinburgh. He’s currently offering a free single – A Revolutionary Waltz – in part-promotion, commenting “I am launching a Kickstarter project in two weeks to fund the making of a live video EP, and would like to give you this recording in the meantime. It’s just a wee sonic experiment, but I hope you enjoy it!”

If you’re wondering whether there’s a Scottish Nationalist tie-in here, given recent political events in Britain, Adam’s adopted hometown, and that beautifully sympathetic and country-tinged setting of Robbie Burns’ Ae Fond Kiss on which he duets with Neighbour, think otherwise. In fact, this song is a darker cousin to An Evening Waltz (from his 2013 album ‘Le Monde Tourne Toujours’): a foreboding meditation on the inexorable turn of fate’s wheel, tying together three histories of power, betrayal and fall. Despite its timeless trad-folk lyric, Adam’s busking roots (and the lusciously acoustic sound of much of his other material) it’s also a rough-and-ready take on digital folk, either demo-rough or intended to display Adam’s other roots in sound design. A clipped electrophonic waltz picks its way across a murky psychedelic smudge and a droning feedback pibroch: its characters sea-waltz to the grim, dry beat of a hand drum and a scattering of cowrie-shell percussion. It’s well worth a listen. As for progress on the Duke Of Norfolk video Kickstarter campaign, it’s probably best to keep tabs on his Facebook page.

Cardiacs: 'Guns'

Cardiacs: ‘Guns’

Following the success of their double vinyl LP reissue of 1995’s ‘Sing To God‘ album, Cardiacs are doing the same with its 1999 follow-up, ‘Guns’. While it’s not the magnificent sprawler that ‘Sing To God’ is, ‘Guns’ offers a more concise take on the pepper-sharp 1990s Cardiacs quartet that featured Bob Leith and gonzo guitarist Jon Poole alongside the band-brothers core of Tim and Jim Smith. As Cardiacs albums go it’s an even brasher beast than usual, hiding its gnarly depths under brass-balled upfront confidence and strong seasonings of glam-bang, pell-mell punk, whirring Krautrock, and jags of heavy metal looning.

‘Guns’ is also one of the most obscure Cardiacs works. Drummer Bob joined Tim on lyric duties, helping to turn the album’s words into a dense hedge-witch thicket of allusion and play, in which typically naked Cardiacs preoccupations (dirt, wartime, suspicion, indeterminate life and death) are tied up into an almost impenetrable web, driven along by the music’s eight-legged gallop. The fact that Tim and Bob were slipping in random borrowings from ‘English As She Is Spoke‘,  a notoriously bungled Victorian phrasebook with its own wonky and unintentional poetry, only added to the tangle.

You can pre-order the ‘Guns’ reissue here for end-of-June shipping. It’s a single vinyl record, with no extra thrills or treats, but does come with the promise of beautiful packaging and pressing. You can expect to hear news on more Cardiacs reissues over the next few years. The current plan is to reissue the band’s whole back catalogue on vinyl after years of exile (predominantly spent huddled exclusively on iTunes).

Meanwhile, see below for a taste of ‘Guns’ magnificent oddness. Here’s the grinding drive of Spell With A Shell (which encompasses the lives of pets, the terror and wonder of transformation, and the cruelty, loneliness and confused loyalties of childhood). Here’s a collision of outsider folk and reggae in Wind And Rains Is Cold (via a fan video of clips from ‘Night Of The Hunter’, from which Cardiacs frequently filch scraps of lyric). Finally, here’s the scavenged, scratchy prog of Junior Is A Jitterbug with its prolonged and celebrated unravelling coda.

Cardiacs: 'Day Is Gone'

Cardiacs: ‘Day Is Gone’

For those without turntables, there’s been a relatively recent CD reissue of Cardiacs’ 1991 EP ‘Day Is Gone’ – which I somehow managed to miss when it was first announced – and which includes the original three B-sides (No Bright Side, Ideal and concert favourite Joining The Plankton). This is from the pre-‘Sing To God’ lineup: another quartet but with Dominic Luckman on drums and, ostensibly, Bic Hayes on second guitar (prior to his explosive stints in Levitation and Dark Star, and to his current position etching dark psychedelic guitar shadings in ZOFFF).

Actually, since this was a time of shuffle and change in the band it’s unclear as to whether Bic or Jon Poole is providing the extra galactic bangs and shimmerings on the EP. However, for Day Is Gone itself the attention should be on Tim Smith’s grand bottle-rocket of a solo, capping what’s both one of Cardiacs’ most autumnal songs and one of their most headrushing cosmic efforts – a bout of November skygazing gone bright and vivid. See below for the original video in all of its low-budget saucer-eyed glory, and pick up the CD here.

Cardiacs: 'Heaven Born And Ever Bright'

Cardiacs: ‘Heaven Born And Ever Bright’

Note also that a couple of other early-‘90s Cardiacs recordings have made it back on CD in the past six months. ‘Heaven Born And Ever Bright’ (the parent album for Day Is Gone) shows Cardiacs at their brightest and bashing-est, but hiding a wounded heart. ‘All That Glitters Is A Mares Nest’ – the recording of a raucous 1990 septet concert at the Salisbury Arts Centre – was both the last hurrah of the 1980s lineup (with carousel keyboards, saxophone and half-a-scrapyard’s-worth of percussion rig) and, for my money, is also one of the greatest live rock recordings ever made. See if you agree.

Cardiacs: 'All That Glitters Is A Mares Nest' (2014 reissue)

Cardiacs: ‘All That Glitters Is A Mares Nest’ (2014 reissue)


‘Mares Nest’ also made a welcome resurfacing on DVD a couple of years ago – see below for a typically quaking example of the band in action. It’s also worth repeating that all of the profits from the recording sales continue to go towards palliative care and physical therapy for Tim Smith, who’s still engaged in the slow painful recovery from his crippling stroke of 2008.

Knifeworld: ‘Home Of The Newly Departed’

Knifeworld: ‘Home Of The Newly Departed’

Meanwhile, Knifeworld – who feature an ex-Cardiac and, while being very much their own eclectic and tuneful proposition, carry a certain continuation of the Cardiacs spirit along with them – have collated early, interim and now-unavailable tracks onto a full-length album, ‘Home Of The Newly Departed’. The seven tracks (dating from between 2009 and 2012) bridge the space between their ‘Buried Alone: Tales of Crushing Defeat’ debut and last year’s tour-de-force ‘The Unravelling’.

If you want to read my thoughts on the original releases, visit the original ‘Misfit City’ reviews of the ‘Dear Lord, No Deal’ and ‘Clairvoyant Fortnight’ EPs from which six of the tracks are taken. (I’ve just had a look back myself and discovered that I’ve previously described them as a band who could drag up exultation with their very fingernails, as starchildren weighed down by dark matter, as possessing “a knack of dissecting difficult feelings via swirling psychedelic sleight-of-hand” and as “an almighty and skilful art-rock mashup, with horns and bassoons poking out of it every which-way and strangely kinking, spiraling spines of rhythm and harmony locking it all together.” I must have been pretty excitable, on each occasion.)

Alternatively, have a look at the videos below. Also, if you’re in England during the end of May, the band (in full eight-person glory) are out on a short tour featuring the debut of new music.

Tim Bowness: 'Stupid Things That Mean The World'

Tim Bowness: ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’

With his erstwhile/ongoing no-man bandmate Steven Wilson going from strength to strength as a solo act, Tim Bowness also continues to concentrate on work under his own name – sleek, melancholy art-pop with a very English restraint, fired with a desperate passion and shaded with subtleties and regrets. His third album, ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’, is due for release on July 17th; barely a year after his last effort ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ (one of my own favourite records of 2014).

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’ features the ‘Abandoned…’ core band of Tim plus his usual cohorts Michael Bearpark, Stephen Bennett, and Andrew Booker, and on spec sounds as if it’ll be a smooth progression and development from the previous album. It also features guest showings from three generations of art rock (Phil Manzanera and Peter Hammill; David Rhodes and Pat Mastelotto; Colin Edwin, Bruce Soord, Anna Phoebe and Rhys Marsh) and string arrangements by art-rock-friendly composer Andrew Keeling.

Expect a typically Burning Shed-ish range of format options: the double CD mediabook edition (with companion disc of alternate mixes and demos including an unreleased no-man demo from 1994), and LP versions in either black vinyl or transparent vinyl (CDs included with each). Pre-ordering gets you a downloadable FLAC version of the 5.1 mix, plus the usual cute postcard. Sorry – I have no early tasters for ‘Stupid Things…’, but here’s a taste of one of the slower, lusher tracks from ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ for the benefit of anyone who missed it last year.

Earlier on, while discussing Cardiacs, I briefly mentioned Bic Hayes and his time in Levitation. For those of you who are unfamiliar with them – or who weren’t around in early ’90s Britain to witness their brief, Roman candle of a run – they were a band who eagerly fused together an enormous sound, leashing and running with a frenzied and energized take on psychedelic rock, driving post-punk noise and earnest, distressed chanting from their singer, the former House of Love guitar star Terry Bickers. Sadly, they’ve become best known as the springboard by which Terry catapulted himself first into frontmanhood, then into the uncharted and finally (via some tortured decisions and unfortunate outbursts) into the obscure.

In truth, Levitation were an equal conspiracy of five. As well as Terry and Bic, there was Robert White (a baby-faced free-festival veteran and secret-weapon multi-instrumentalist, who’d later lead The Milk & Honey Band), an undersung alt.rock bass hero called Laurence O’Keefe and David Francolini, an astounding and slightly demonic drummer who could run the gamut from pattering rain to pneumatic drill in a single roll round his kit (and who, within Levitation, had the perfect opportunity to do so). Fuelled equally by inspiration, drugs and sheer hard work, they strived for three intense years while living on the outside of their skins, and briefly came close to making some very unfashionable sounds current again.

While they were certainly a “head” band – hippy punks who joined floating threads of British counter-culture, spontaneity and resistance together – it’s vital to remember that Levitation were never your average festival band. They were never complacent, never entitled. More Yippie than trustafarian, they seemed (Bickers, in particular) to be desperately chasing revelations just over the rim of the horizon. Their ethos and experience was best summed up – or, more accurately, caught in a passing flare – in a lyric from their song Against Nature ), with Terry choking out “there is an answer, but I’ve yet to find out where” over a raging foam of guitars. Fingers (and not a few minds) got scorched along the way. In May 1993, it culminated in Terry’s wracked, brutal self-ejection from the band – in a spurt of slogans and despair – during a concert at the Tufnell Park Dome, just a short walk from Misfit City’s current home.

There have been some reconcilations since then (not least Bic, David and Laurence reuniting in the wonderful but equally short-lived Dark Star five years afterwards) but there have been no reunion, and no-one has ever seemed to want to go back. However, on Monday this week – Record Store Day 2015 – the Flashback label released the first Levitation music for twenty years – ‘Never Odd Or Even’, a vinyl-only EP containing three tracks from the band’s lost 1992 album ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ (these being Never Odd Or Even, Greymouth and Life Going Faster). More information is here, although if you want to pick up one of the five hundred copies you’d better find your nearest participating British record store here: they might have some left. (There’s an earlier version of the title track below, in perhaps a rawer form.)

I’ve described ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ as a lost album, which isn’t strictly true. Although the record was recorded prior to Terry’s explosive departure, there was life after Bickers, For just over a year, singer Steve Ludwin took on the frontman role; during this time the band took it upon themselves to partially re-work the album with Ludwin’s vocals rolled out firmly over Terry’s. The resulting version of ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ was only released briefly in Australia. Following the split of the Ludwin lineup and the final end of the band, it’s always been regarded (rightly or wrongly) as something of a bastard appendix to the Bickers-era albums.

The happier news is that, following up ‘Never Odd Or Even’, Flashback are about to give ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ its own new lease of life with the active collaboration of the original lineup (including Terry Bickers). The album’s original vocals have been restored, the songs polished to satisfaction and a final tracklisting agreed upon. Although former album tracks Graymouth and Life Going Faster have been ceded to the ‘Never Odd…’ EP, the 2015 version of ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ keeps four of the tracks familiar from the Ludwin version (Food For Powder, Gardens Overflowing, Even When Your Eyes Are Open and the vaulting soar of King of Mice) and adds five songs previously only available via bootlegs (Bodiless, Imagine The Sharks, Evergreen, I Believe, Burrows and Sacred Lover). Apparently, it’ll be out sometime in “summer 2015” as a single CD and limited-edition double LP, each coming with gatefold sleeve and new artwork by original Levitation cover artist Cally.

It’s probably best to keep track of progress on the ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ release here; but meanwhile here’s the Bickers version of Even When Your Eyes Are Open (the last single the band released before he quit) and a bootleg-sourced version of the startling post-psychedelic stretchout Burrows – just to whet the appetite.

The Duke Of Norfolk online:
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Cardiacs online:
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Knifeworld online:
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Tim Bowness online:
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Levitation online:
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July 2014 – through the feed – ‘The World of Robert Wyatt’ tribute concert in Lyons tonight (and hopes for a UK followup)

12 Jul

The World of Robert Wyatt

The World of Robert Wyatt

If you’re free tonight – and are in France in the vicinity of Lyons – here’s something for you which I wish that I’d known about earlier. Les Nuits de Fourvière (a seven-decade old French arts festival currently running its sixty-eighth programme) is presenting ‘The World of Robert Wyatt‘ tonight, featuring a full tribute performance of Wyatt’s 1974 classic ‘Rock Bottom’. Also on the menu is a selection of other Wyatt classics such as Moon in June, Shipbuilding and O Caroline.

Wyatt himself won’t be performing – instead, the honours will be done by a group of musicians led by Craig Fortnam (of North Sea Radio Orchestra, and whose second album as Arch Garrison I’m currently striving to finish a review of). Apparently some iteration of North Sea Orchestra will be the backbone of the ensemble – sadly minus lead singer Sharron Fortnam, but including Craig and William D. Drake amongst others. The ranks will be swelled by several outstanding French musicians – pianist Pascal Comelade and singers Silvain Vanot and Élise Caron (the latter of Groupe de Recherche et d’Improvisation Musicale and Orchestre National de Jazz. In addition, John Greaves (Wyatt’s longstanding Canterbury scene friend and collaborator, who played on his 1975 album ‘Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard’ as well as alongside him in one of the varied lineups of Henry Cow) will be contributing.

From the programme:

“Thank you for bringing a breath of fresh air to my music. To hear it played by other musicians makes me feel like a grandfather. It’s now leading a life of its own – but we, the grandparents, we also see ourselves in it somehow. It’s a wonderful feeling.” These were the words of Robert Wyatt when he welcomed the idea of creating a show around his work at Fourvière. Showing great modesty, these words shouldn’t minimize his essential contribution to the history of pop music. Because in his collaborative projects (Soft Machine, Matching Mole and more) as well as in his solo career, the Englishman is indeed a model: hasn’t he been a source of inspiration for personalities as well-known as Elvis Costello, Alain Bashung, Mark Hollis (Talk Talk), Björk and PJ Harvey? Fed on classical music and bebop songs as much as songs by Ray Charles and Burt Bacharach, Wyatt was swept by a never-ending desire to escape – perhaps this was reinforced by the accident that nailed him to a wheelchair for life in 1973. An eternal wanderer, he struts his imagination and his high-pitched voice, playing with the barriers between pop, jazz, Latin sounds and electronic music. An art of fugue brought to its poetic peak in the album Rock Bottom (1974), a “song of love and curiosity” intended for his wife and muse Alfie: here, as others put boats into bottles, Robert Wyatt has managed to fit an entire world, his personal world, into his songs. The fortieth anniversary of the release of this unparalleled album is the perfect opportunity to celebrate its maker.”

Hopefully there’ll be enough life in the tribute to float it over the channel to Britain in the near future. In a year when Henry Cow are reuniting for concerts in London and Huddersfield (to pay tribute to their late former member and comrade Lindsay Cooper), the time is ripe for more reflowerings from various Canterbury buds. Surely there’s a slot at the Purcell Room, The Ballroom, even Conway Hall if they’re feeling more modest and left-leaning… Suggestions are welcome (although they’re better off going to Craig Fortnam or to anyone who can help him fund it).

Meanwhile, if anyone out there can make it to the concert, please do tell us what it was like. Comments below…

Robert Wyatt online:
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Craig Fortnam/North Sea Radio Orchestra online:
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Les Nuits de Fourvière Festival online:
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May 2014 – through the feed – Tim Bowness/Stars In Battledress pre-orders

9 May

News on two long-awaited second albums, both now available for pre-order.

(Brief rant first. Up until now ‘Misfit City’ has avoided reproducing or paraphrasing current news releases, apart from the odd crowdfunding mention. Too many music blogs are rolling shills, just throwing out links and one or two lines of PR blurb – fine if you only want a quick squirt of info, but I prefer to provide something to read and reflect on. Now I’m relaxing my stance: partly because release schedules are moving too fast for me to keep up with them properly, and also because ‘Misfit City’ readers probably appreciate the opportunity to pursue a few things on their own. Hence this first “through the feed” post, passing on and personalising info on promising upcoming releases or events which I’ve heard about. This will flesh out the City’s posting schedules and also allow me to indulge myself as pure enthusiast, minus the more sober and serious responsibilities that come with in-depth reviewing. Having unbent myself a little, I’ve found I’m enjoying it. Wheedling rant over. Now…)

Tim Bowness: 'Abandoned Dancehall Dreams'

Tim Bowness: ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’

On 23rd June, Tim Bowness releases ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ on Inside Out Music. I know I wasn’t alone in hoping for Tim to release a new no-man album this year, but thanks to bandmate Steven Wilson’s ongoing commitments to his own solo career, we get this as an alternative: a might-have-been no-man album reworked as a Bowness solo effort. The album features contributions from the no-man live band (including Darkroom‘s Mike Bearpark and Henry Fool‘s Stephen Bennett) plus a scatter of interesting guest players (King Crimson’s Pat Mastelotto, Porcupine Tree’s Colin Edwin, Anna Phoebe from Trans-Siberian Orchestra, composer/string arranger Andrew Keeling).

Those who’ll still miss the presence of Steven Wilson can console themselves by the fact that he’s done the album mix, but it’s always worth pointing out that no-man is an equal partnership for a very good reason – and that Tim’s work outside no-man during the band’s lengthy absences over the past decade has flowered into much broader areas and accomplishments. For ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’, expect plenty of violins, choirs, an edgy croon and some immediate art-rock songs which should effortlessly combine the wracked, the sleek and a very English blend of wryness and longing. One song, The Warm-Up Man Forever, was premiered as a highlight of the no-man tour back in 2012.

A download version comes later, but as regards the solid options the usual Burning Shed boutique format options apply for the pre-order. For turntable worshippers, there’s not only a vinyl version but also a very limited white vinyl edition, both of which come with a free CD version. For musical completists and sleeve-note fans, the double CD version comes with alternate/outtake versions plus remixes by Richard Barbieri, UXB and Grasscut, as well as a nice fat 16-page essay booklet (of the kind I used to write, once upon a time). Sweet. Some live dates follow in July, featuring members of the erstwhile Bowness band, the no-man live band, and Henry Fool (all of whom appear to have morphed together into an overlapping art-rock amoeba). Loop-guitar thresher Matt Stevens and silky Italian art-rockers Nosound appear as support at some dates.

Stars In Battledress: 'In Droplet Form'

Stars In Battledress: ‘In Droplet Form’

The week before that, on June 16th, sibling duo James and Richard Larcombe – a.k.a Stars In Battledress – release their own second album ‘In Droplet Form’ on Believers Roast. Their debut album was one of 2003’s hidden, intricate gems – a marvellous multi-levelled faux-antique toybox of sepia-ed wit, sophisticated arrangements, sly poetry and clambering harmony. Fans of Neil Hannon, Robert Wyatt, Stephen Merritt and Cyril Tawney should all have had a field day with it, but for a variety of reasons, it remained hidden. (I’m sure that my own wretched inability to complete a review at the time didn’t help…)

Since then Stars In Battledress have only reappeared sporadically, although the brothers have kept busy both separately and together. Both have worked as ensemble members of North Sea Radio Orchestra and of William D. Drake & Friends: James has played keyboards in Arch Garrison and Zag & The Coloured Beads; Richard has kept himself busy with his Sparkysongs project for children, no less of a challenge than keeping cranky art-rock fans happy. Yet absolutely nothing else that the Larcombes do can top the particular magic they cook up when they’re together and completely in control of their own songs.

With an eleven year gap between albums, some of these songs have been around for quite a while. The romping wit of Hollywood Says So, the rambling melodic spikes of Fluent English (an oblique essay on rebellion, Empire, personal misplacement and embarrassment) and the haunting cadences of The Women From The Ministry – all of these were highlights of Battledress sets back in the early Noughties, so it’s lovely to finally have them arriving in recorded form. If you want some idea of what Stars In Battledress are like live, here’s a review of them at Roastfest in 2011. As a taster for the new album, here’s their video for the opening track A Winning Decree (directed by Ashley Jones of Chaos Engineers).

‘In Droplet Form’ is a CD-only release for now, and can be pre-ordered here, with a London album launch (also featuring Arch Garrison and Prescott) downstairs at the Roundhouse on April 13th.

Also in June, the Laura Moody debut album should be appearing. I’m really looking forward to that one too.

Tim Bowness online:
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Stars In Battledress online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp LastFM

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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