not one but two Amy Kohn gigs in London

One of the best things about Edinburgh is meeting up with other performers. Sometimes it’s a fleeting yet encouraging chat outside a venue (I met Alan Carr outside the Assembly Rooms where he was performing, and had a lovely chat and swapped encouragement for the fest) and other times it’s people who become top chums and you stay in touch with.

Amy Kohn is a friend of JazzShark‘s, who was playing up at Edinburgh, and who stepped into the role of Echoplex footpedal on Fringe Sunday and jammed along on accordian, on Amo Amatis Amare. She was down in London this weekend playing a couple of gigs so we went along. First up she was at The 12 Bar – an acoustic venue in central London, playing at an accordion night (oh yes, it’s not just bassists who get together for a geek-out once in a while!). Obviously for this gig she was just playing accordion and singing, but was fab. She writes very quirky songs, with lots of really odd harmony in them, and it takes a while to get drawn into Amy-world, but when you catch up with her, it’s beguiling stuff.

Monday’s gig was at Ray’s Jazz in Foyles – just a half hour in-store. But they had a piano, so I went along to see what Amy was like with piano instead of accordion. Damn, she’s a fantastic piano player! Scary stuff indeed. The Accordion is a great live tool, in that it gives her freedom to move around, it’s pretty original for a left-field singer/songwriter and is just makes a nice change, but Amy’s piano playing is on a whole other level. There are nods towards Tori and Kate Bush, but that’s just a tiny part of what Amy does. She’s as much Charles Ives as she is Tori Amos, and her background in musical theatre definitely creeps in there too… I picked up copies of both her albums, and have listened to the brand new so-new-it’s-only-an-advance-copy one, which is marvellous. Really really original and lovely. Top stuff.

Today’s been a day of two halves – the first half was spent shopping in Enfield with my auntie Babs. Well, she’s actually my third cousin Babs, but has always been auntie Babs… (maternal grandmother’s cousin). Anyway, I think I’ve probably blogged about Babs before – she’s 80 (I think), but looks about 20 years younger, has a more active social life than most people half her age, a great sense of humour, and is much fun to go out for lunch with. Today she needed the batteries in her smoke alarms changing, so that was a fine excuse for us to go out for lunch before heroic me shimmying up a ladder to swap said batteries over.

And now I’m listening to and playing through the songs for Duncan’s greenbelt gig. Lucky me – what a charmed life. 🙂

Gig last night…

Despite being exhausted, the promise of a chance to play a set with Orphy and a couple of friends from the States last night at the Red Rose was too tempting, so I headed off out again.

I took a much scaled down rig with me, as I knew I was only going to be playing for about 10 minutes, and really couldn’t be arsed to take the whole lot out again after setting it up and packing it down 12 days in a row at Edinburgh!

the Americans in question are Jeff Kaiser and Andrew Pask playing trumpet (jeff), sax and clarinet (andrew) through lots of delicious electronic processing (Andrew works for Cycling 74, so has written some glorious loop algorythms for Max/MSP).

They did about 25 minutes, and then Orphy and I joined them for a 10 minute improv thingie, which sounded lovely from where I was sat.

The rest of the evening was fun too – a solo trombone set from Alan Tomlinson was a mindblowing mixture of virtuosic free improv and clowning. Very funny indeed.

Then Evan Parker and John Coxon did a lovely guitar/sax duet, which ran the gamut from outnoisemadness to a bluesy mellow jazz bit in the middle and back to freakoutland. Very fine stuff.

And finally a quintet of Tony Bevan (bass sax), Mark Saunders (drums), John Edwards (bass), Ashley Wales (electronics) and Orphy (percussion etc.) finished off the night with more craziness.

And what’s more there was a huge crowd in – by far the biggest I’ve ever seen at the Red Rose, which was great especially for Jeff and Andrew, coming all this way. It was lovely to catch up with Jeff – he came to one of my gigs a couple of years ago in Ventura County, California, and loved it and we’ve been in touch ever since, so it was great to finally get to see him play live.

The London Improv scene is fascinating – it’s got a pretty unique sound to it, and a fairly broad spread of contributors. There are elements to it that come across as over-zealous in their rejection of all things tonal, and other players who seem to embrace just about anything and everything. It’s not a scene I could inhabit all year round – I’d start to feel guilty about playing so much inside music, and that’s insane – but it’s one that I feel enriched and inspired by whenever I get a chance to see those guys play. The time and energy and focus that players like John Edwards and Tony Bevan have put into exploring the outer reaches of what’s possible with their instruments is awe inspiring.

And now I’m exhausted. Today I’m going to have to tidy up the mess from Edinburgh – my office looks like the stock room at a badly organised high-end bass shop, so I need to whip it into shape before teaching tonight.

SoundtrackAvishai Cohen, ‘Lyla’ (a pressie to educate me from JazzShark – and a fabulous album it is too!)

Monday night

Another fine gig – I thought the crowd was going to be a bit smaller given that it was a Monday, but once again we were over 35 (36, to be precise). The audience-vocal-percussion-loop track went very odd thanks to the jazzshark starting the loop with a couple of (albeit very accurate) dog barks. The sounds that followed were equally strange, and the whole thing went very odd. But it worked, and went down v. well. I’m getting into a bit of a stride with the show, which feels good (though apparently last night I slipped back into an old habit of twiddling on the bass with the sound off while I was talking – a bit distracting for the audience, and one that I thought I’d got out of… must try harder).

Flyering is becoming more fun, as more people stop to say they’ve had the show recommended to them by friends. Weird flyering moment of the day was when the owner of The Pleasance (huge venue complex on the fringe) came out to ask me not to flyer outside his venue. I was about to get all defensive and tell him it was a public street and I could do what I like, when he said I’m happy for you to go inside and flyer in the bar if you like’! What a nice man. The spirit of the festival, indeed.

Still haven’t got to see any shows. Tonight will be an interesting one in terms of how hard we have to keep working, given that the last two nights have had a ‘two for one’ ticket promotion running, and now we’re back to normal, so we’ll see if the numbers stay up, or if we drop back again.

Met a lovely lady in the Fringe Press office who will hopefully help point press peoples my way. I’ve not had any reviews so far at all, which is odd given how well the show is going. Must work harder to make that happen (if you’re a press peoples reading this, PLEASE COME TO THE SHOW!)

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and on a lighter note

Had a fun weekend, though not got as much work done as I should have.

Starting Friday lunch-time, it was yet another ‘last ever’ gig for the RFH Foyer as booked by JazzShark. It was a particularly fitting booking, as it was Rebecca Hollweg, a fabulous singer/songwriter, with a great lil’ quartet, featuring Andy Hamill on bass – one of my favourite bassists in the country. It was a lovely gig, with yet another ‘thanks, Sue!’ speech at the end, and a great rendition of ‘How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You’, with Winston Clifford changing the words to ‘How Sweet It Is To Be Booked By Sue’!

Friday night was a Soul Space meeting, planning the next service, which I won’t be at. They’re doing a Labyrinth service, which are always fun – see labyrinth.org.uk for more on what they are (and do the online version – it’s very chilled and lovely.)

Saturday started with teaching, and then in the afternoon it was Malcolm’s ordination at St Paul’s Cathedral. Malcolm (and his other half, Meryl) have been at St Luke’s for ages, and have had a pretty huge influence on the way the church looks, feels and thinks. Very lovely peoples. Malcolm has been at Vicar Hogwarts for a couple of years, and was ordained on Saturday. I got there 10 minutes before the service started and already all the seats were gone – seems there are lots of people in London who like the high-camp of some C of E pomp and ceremony on a Saturday afternoon. So I stood at the back, gave Malcolm a wave as he came in, and left after about half an hour, and headed over to The RFH, to go to the Patti Smith gig at Meltdown.

Was there very early, so was following the score in the Tennis. Murray was two sets to love up, looking good for another upset. Fell apart in the third, lost it 6-0. Was a break up in the fourth, all going v. well, but the length of the match got the better of him, and he still lost. It was a very odd experience just following the score – no news, no report, no audio. Just the score changing on my phone screen as I hit refresh… Very sad to see him lose.

Anyway, Juliet turned up, and we went in to see John Cale – who was on startling form. The opening tune was a spooky surreal monologue in the style of Velvet Underground’s ‘The Gift’, which some fantastic spacey noises.. and a very recogniseable bass sound… …which I soon recognised as being Flea from the Chili Peppers. I’m still not sure if I really dug what he was doing… it was a lot more pentatonic/obvious lick-based stuff than the rest of the band, but maybe in needed that to ground it… hmmm

Anyway, the rest of the set blended so many fantastic elements, from the spookiness of the opener, to some really straight ahead piano-playing singer-songwriter stuff through to full on Neil Young stylee guitar-rage in the last track. A sublime set. Always good to see the old guys rock out!

during the break, we realised we were sat next to Roy Harper, a genial chatty bloke, for sure, who amusingly kept throwing plastic cups at the losers in front of us who kept blocking our view by standing in stupid places.

Patti’s gig was very fine too – she played through the whole ‘Horses’ album, start to finish, and then did ‘My Generation’ as cover at the end, not wholly convincingly, with a ‘rise up and take the streets’ rant in the middle… A fine sentiment, but a tricky one to deliver in the middle of a song without looking like a raving polemicist. Discourse works better than shouting, methinks. Or am I just getting old?

Anyway, I was very pleasantly surprised by her set – most of Rock’s sacred cows have no place, in my humble opinion, being on the throne they are on, but she was entertaining, engaging, intelligent and captivating.

Sunday – church in the morning (sermon was way too long and I can’t can’t handle full-on exegesis on a Sunday morning…), followed by coffee in Highgate with Steve and Lorna, after which the three of us meet up with Harry, Karen and Juliet for more cakes. Too much cake.

And finally, last night, called round to Orphy’s to drop off a copy of Jazz Review (he does the blindfold test this month), and ended up helping him register orphyrobinson.com and getting orphyrobinson.blogspot.com set up as well, so he’s now got a news page, and an atom feed – here.

Soundtrack – Ali Farka Toure and Ry Cooder, ‘Talking Timbuktu’.

Weekend of musical friends

So, Friday was the last commuter jazz gig (or ‘computer jazz’, if you’re the chief exec. of the South Bank) before the big refurb kicks in at the end of Meltdown at the end of June. Peter King was playing, and was marvellous – very fine saxophonist, even if he does play alto (not a big fan of alto, generally – it’s just a tenor sax for kids) – and the aforementioned malapropism-prone chief exec. did a lovely speech about lady jazzshark who as previously mentioned has been booking bands at the RFH since prehistoric days, and will be much missed.

So, naturally, sharky person had a big party afterwards, at a friend’s GORGEOUS flat overlooking the Thames along by Blackfriars bridge. That’s one hell of a view to wake up to each morning, for sure. Much celebration took place, and by all accounts no small about of debauchery, though I left at 10.30, so thankfully missed all that.

Saturday was a fun day – started by meeting up with the wonderful Todd Reynolds – an outstanding violinist, and truly lovely wonderful person. Todd and I have exchanged emails and been reading eachother’s posts to Loopers Delight for years, but hadn’t met, so it was great to put a face to an email address and spend the day filling in the gaps. We went back down to the RFH Foyer for the last Saturday gig before the closure (and therefore JazzShark’s last saturday gig) – many fragile hung over people there from the party the night before (fools… ;o) ) – and a lovely short film about a couple in their 70s who meet at the free gigs in the foyer to dance together.

After that, gave Todd the shortened tourist trip round central London (interesting that my tourist trips never take in Buckingham Palace – maybe my anti-royalist sentiments are spilling over into my appreciation of what’s valuable to see in town. I always take people past Downing Street and along Whitehall (the seat of our sham-democracy) and Trafalgar Square (site of many a kick-ass protest) and down to the South Bank (home of the arts), but ignore any of the Royal nonsense, unless it’s for a quick walk round St James’ Park.

I digress… A fantastic day spent wandering round with Todd, all in. Top bloke, fun day.

Then home, to pick up TSP to head out to Lizzie’s leaving do, only TSP is behind on writing work (TSP is high powered celeb journo, interviewing the great and good about all things healthy), so I leave cinderella at home and head off to the ball on my own.

Lizzie is one of life’s lovely people – a fantastic photographer/photo journalist, and very funny lady. Party was full of lovely people, naturally, with no repeats of Friday night’s debauchery (totally different group of friends here…) So good send off for Lizzie, but crap that she’s moving (only to Bristol, so we’ll still see lots of her, but still…)

Sunday – head off to church, but it’s an ‘away match’ (meaning that a family from outside the church are having a christening – though it turns out they were from the church, I just didn’t know them – major black mark against my name for not having said hi to them!!) anyway – decide to go for fry-up at nice cafe on the Holloway Road was Gawain instead. Gawain is a marvellous producer/programmer/musician who has got heavily into community music education and is doing amazingly well. Very inspiring to talk to, with lots of plans for collaborative stuff.

Then home, domestic stuff, drop mixing desk off at St Luvvies to be used at Soul Space service before heading to Finsbury Park tube to meet up with BJ and Juliet to go to Joe Jackson/Todd Rungren gig at Hammersmith homebrew Apollo or whatever it’s called this week.

The reason BJ and I are at the gig is that the lovely Todd Reynolds who I met up with on Saturday is playing with his amazing string quartet Ethel as opening act and collaborator with Joe and Todd (BJ played with Todd in John Cale’s band in the 90s). Juliet had a ticket anyway, so Todd got her an aftershow pass and we all piled down to the gig together.

Ethel kicked out – wow. Incredible energy and performance, and great gig. They looked great, played great, the music was magic and the audience were captivated.

Then Joe Jackson came on – now I’m quite a fan of Joe’s singles collection (playing at the moment, in an attempt to rescue my memory of his music), but the gig was poor. Very poor. The sound was very compressed, and solo voice and piano versions of his uptempo stuff didn’t, to my ears, work at all. The new material was particularly bad. Some of his piano playing was lovely, but the overall feeling was one of big disappointment.

So a lot was rest on Todd Rungren’s shoulders. And he didn’t rise to the occasion either. The songs all sounded thrown away, I couldn’t remember one snippet of melody at the end of any of them, his guitar sound was possibly the worst I’ve ever heard at a ‘big’ gig, and again I was left contemplating self harm as a more pleasant sensory experience than the assault my ears were currently being subjected to.

Then, all change once again. Ethel come back on, and we’re back to the gig being amazing – a Gilbert and Sullivan tune, a couple each from Joe and Todd and an encore of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (after Todd’s solo set I wanted to rename it ‘While My Guitar is Gently put through a wood-chipper’) – I’ve never seen a couple of aging rock stars so outrageously upstaged by a string quartet in my life. If the gig had been 40 minutes of Ethel, followed by 80 minutes of all five of them on stage playing a mixture of hits and misses, it could have been a breathtaking gig. As it was, it was two hours of dire self-indulgent horse-shit topped and tailed by two exquisite but far too short sets.

Ethel were a revelation, and are destined for hugeness. Please go and buy their CD, I guarantee you won’t regret it.

After all-too-brief chat with Todd after the gig, with just enough time to introduce him to Juliet and blag a copy of the Ethel album, it was time to hop on the last tube home.

Soundtrack – Joe Jackson, ‘Stepping Out – The Best Of’.

Another fine Theo gig… and our last at the RFH for a while.

Yesterday’s gig went very well – playing with Theo is about the most relaxed and simple musical setting I’ve ever been in, knowing that whatever I do, he’s going to play something very cool to go with it. We did a couple of big improv things in the first set that came out very well indeed, and played all the usual stuff off the album very well too – we really need to do a live album to document how far the tunes have come, and also get the other stuff we do out there. We do a duet version of ‘Amo Amatis Amare’, from Not Dancing For Chicken, and a duet version of ‘All I Know’, which is from Theo’s ‘Heart Of The Sun’ album (a marvellous album).

What made the gig more special is that it was our last gig in the RFH Foyer for a couple of years, due to the refurbishment, and the last one booked by SueAKATheShark – she’s been booking music for the RFH Foyer for almost a century, since well before she was born, and is now moving to NYC. The Shark has booked some amazing music there over the years, and is a huge supporter, fan and friend to live music in London… Let’s hope she’s trained up some apprentices to carry on the jazz-evangelism on The South Bank.

Tonight is an even more auspicious occasion, in that it’s Sue’s last ever commuter jazz gig – every Friday since the end of the Napoleonic wars, Sue has booked a band to play after work in the RFH Foyer – again, more amazing music to a hugely appreciative crowd. So there’s a party afterwards tonight.

SoundtrackEric Roche, ‘The Perc U Lator’; Nirvana, ‘Nevermind’.