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Under the Radar
I blame John Peel. All those nights locked away in my room, headphones on and listening to his programme, a copy of 'The Lord of the Rings' by my side.
Many a night you might doze off and miss something really special. One such night in maybe 1971 or '72 I had slipped into a light sleep only to be awoken by an amazing piece of spoken word/electronics. This turned out to be 'Still', the first solo work by Pete Sinfield, who was the lyricist with King Crimson. I was overwhelmed by it, and it's only now, 40-odd years later, that I realise that this moment in time was what sent me on a journey of sonic exploration.
Nowadays, with the advent of Soundcloud and Bandcamp, access to the most incredible array of musical diversity is available at the click of a mouse button. I know there are those curmudgeonly beings who argue over their real ales that there is no good music around. You lot: listen up.
Pefkin (who normally goes by the name of Gayle Brogan) came to light through the label Sonido Polifonico (as recounted in a previous Radar column in these pages). Her magical 'Last Rays of Summer' was a delightful record and further investigations revealed a fascinating past history. Gayle ,it appears, is one half of Glaswegian electronic explorers Electroscope. Artistically speaking, she morphed into Pefkin in 1999. She also collaborates with Kitchen Cynic Alan Davidson.
Electroscope existed between 1996-2000 and released over 100 titles in what must have been a very fertile few years. Hailing from Glasgow, the band consisted of Gayle and John Cavanagh. The pair appear to have picked the mantle of British experimental electronic and natural sound collages and seem pretty fearless in their experimentation. They are certainly impossible to categorise - it would be a mistake to even try.
As Pefkin Gayle Brogan continues this journey into the unknown. She takes the road less travelled. She produces what seem to be psychedelic folk hymns but she is impossible to pin down. Her recordings are infused with mysterious atmospheres that can be as unsettling as they are beautiful.
Her compositions are unhurried tone poems with gentle vocals, lyrics and poetry. Tranquil meditations conjure up lost moorlands and forgotten habitats. Birdsong interplays across soft chants, the voice often overlaid and blurred. Her recordings - and there are many - are as lo-fi as you could wish for.
It's a million miles from the glossy supposedly “Celtic” offerings of Enya or Clannad. A Pefkin “song” can feature anything from shimmering electric guitar sequences to harmonium drones laced with percussion, birdsong and treatments from some ancient instrument she discovered in a junk shop. Her own vocal treatments are esoteric chants floating on the breeze in a secret glade of silver birch trees. A Pefkin release will always surprise and enchant the listener.
With the release of her latest recording, 'Murmurations' I was fortunate enough to catch a house gig on her latest short tour with the equally impressive Bell Lungs. Her performance as Pefkin was enchanting. Surrounded by an array of effects pedals, a mini keyboard and a single microphone, she conjored up the wild places and open skies in a front room. A real privilege.
Her touring companion should not go unmentioned. Bell Lungs was sat at the kitchen table finishing the handmade art work to her delightful tour EP and while Pefkin soundchecked in the lounge she confessed to being just a little nervous at the prospect of such an intimate performance. Neither of them should have worried: both gave the small invited audience a night to remember.
Check out Pefkin and Bell Lungs on Bandcamp.
Commenting On: Under the Radar - Pefkin/Bell Lungs
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In the latest in his column 'Under the Radar', in which he examines the great but often under-rated, Keith How introduces us to Pefkin and Bell Lungs, two enchanting Scottish experimental musicians
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