IRREGULAR FOLKS SUMMER SESSION, Victoria Arms, Old Marston, 1/7/17
Irregular Folks say they don’t do headliners, and when the very first act on the bill is the outstanding Yorkston Thorne Khan, we’re apt to believe them. As we’re alternately buoyed up by Moving Shadow influenced double bass swells and snarled in dense brambles of sarangi we watch a special gazebo being set up to stop anyone mooring up a punt and getting in for free, which has to be the most Oxford piece of security ever – we feel bad about sneaking in drugs inside our Brideshead teddy bear, now. If we wanted accompaniment to such well-heeled crime capers Jack Cheshire’s artful, bucolic English prog is the perfect choice, a gyroscopic blur of prog-pop that spins jazzily somewhere between Wilco and Fridge. Occasionally a tiny bit prissy, but overall entrancing, and all enhanced by some Stornobass.
A bugbear of ours is journalists who only ever compare female musicians to other woman performers, but there are no male equivalents to the tastefully breathy kookstimme of someone like Joanna Newsom, let’s not beat around the Bush. Laura J Martin’s tastefully looped pop tapestries are actually at their best when she swaps the wide-eyed vocals for some percussively cheeky Herbie Mann flute workouts, anyway.
Oly Ralfe’s meandering piano fripperies are the only mis-step in the musical schedule, but he does allow us to recline on the satiny cushions of the bordello-kino on Mini-Movie Island, a home for short films whose highpoints are leftfield comedies, reminding us that Buxton and Serafinowicz are as responsible for bringing as much quirkily literate originality to British popular culture of the past quarter century as Welsh or Cocker. Not that the Brits have cornered the market, as proved by a talk in the consistently excellent Odditorium lecture-yurt about cartoonist B Kliban, forgotten influence on the syndicated surrealism of Gary Larson or Rupert Fawcett. And of course there is the genius of Paul Foot, who MCs the whole day with the spiralling manic desperation of a teaching assistant failing their workplace assessment.
With her sparse programmed backing Hannah Bruce at first reminds us of fellow Oxonian Esther Joy Lane but soon has us thinking of mid-80s Carly Simon and the airbrushed windswept vistas of vintage Chris Isaak, and so keeps us fascinated even when we’re not entirely convinced. There’s more stately, minimal pop from Rozi Plain which would probably sound harmlessly pleasant if you were enjoying the sun and the Vicky Arms’ ales, but which is spellbinding when you give yourself up to it: we’ve heard of acts rewarding close attention, but Rozi Plain pays out like a banjaxed one-arm bandit, their dinner party kraut subtlety drawing us in more with every track, until they sound like The Sundays played by To Rococo Rot. Doing a Sun Ra cover makes you awesome; doing one so it sounds like The Cardigans languorously evaporating in a greenhouse made of spun sugar makes you the best act of the day.
Go Dark is the new act featuring Doseone, alt hip hop yarnspinner and abstract geek hyper-poet whose style is ADHD meets AD&D. Musically the duo, with fellow button puncher and mike wrangler Crash, is brasher than much of Doseone’s older work, supplying stuttering glitch treatments of shiny sass-pop that sounds like a Flying Lotus remix of Gwen Stefani’s greatest hits or a version of Basement Jaxx’s Kish Kash made on a cubist SNES, and the presentation is more brazen by a factor of about one squillion – the camp stagewear with rainbow arm insignia is as much Bucks Fizz as it is Buck Rogers. No wonder the event programme writes the band’s name ALL IN CAPITALS, you can’t miss this Dayglo sonic explosion, and you shouldn’t miss next year’s Irregular Folks session, either – how many gigs feature great acts and a fireworks display and a TED talk on werewolf erotica, eh? Book your getaway punt now, and join us in 2018.