(Photo from The Wire.)
I’ve got a thing for the weirder end of the British folk spectrum. It seems like there’s an ingrained tolerance for the strange over there in England, like everyone has an uncle from the hills with antisocial habits and overintellectual bent and a scraggly beard, lovable but gone. There’s also a very academic approach to the avant garde that doesn’t really achieve the same kind of crossover here in the U.S., that somehow avoids being bogged down with stuffiness. So anyway yeah, I love stuff like Alex Neilsen, Astral Social Club, Directing Hand, Vibracathedral Orchestra, David Thomas Broughton, and on and on.
So it was with delight that I read about the Singing Knives camp in the December issue of The Wire, a group of Sheffield-based folks/musicans active in a loose, psychedelic and, yes, folky version of free improvisation. It’s the kind of stuff I just love, similar to the shambling freeisms of Sunburned Hand of the Man or the ramshackle folksiness of Avarus and other Finnish freaks. I admit I had a moment of disappointment that this was new to me, that I hadn’t heard of these wonderful bands (and after many of the shortrun cassettes/CD-Rs have slid out of print) but I’ve been catching up. My personal favorite is The Hunter Gracchus which seems anchored by a style of free jazz/improv percussion with roots in that tradition, fused with an Art Ensemble-like predilection for tiny instruments, and the wandering restlessness of Don Cherry’s Mu. I suspected before really hearing it that a lot of this music would culminate in a sort of clattering drone, which does occur on occasion, but for the most part the obsession is with the folkier aspects, the drone is secondary, emphasis on clatter.
Nice to see some MV&EE on the label. And Singing Knives put on tons of shows in the Sheffield area.
mp3s of various Singing Knives bands from The Wire article here.