Live reviews

Robocobra Quartet + Archipelago at Kings Place (EFG LJF 2021)

Robocobra Quartet + Archipelago
(Kings Place Hall Two. 13 November 2021. EFG LJF. Live review by Peter Slavid)

Chris Ryan of Robocobra. Photo copyright Monika S. Jakubowska

This was a very enjoyable double-bill from two bands who had a fair bit of travel to arrive in London. From Northern Ireland, the Robocobra Quartet and from Newcastle, Archipelago. Both bands seem to have brought a group of travelling supporters judging by the cheers and whoops that came from the enthusiastic audience. Both bands were led by artists who had been part of the Serious “Take 5” scheme back in 2019.


Faye MacCalman. Photo credit Monika S. Jakubowska

Fronted by multi-instrumentalist Faye MacCalman (composer/reeds/voice/synth) and completed by John Pope (Bass/FX) and Christian Alderson (Drums/Percussion), Archipelago is part of an exciting new jazz scene in the North East of England. Recently nominated as Jazz Act of the Year in the JazzFM awards, the band has now started getting nationwide recognition. Most of the music played came from their fine recent album Echoes to the Sky released via New Jazz and Improvised Music Recordings.

Christian Alderson. Photo credit Monika S. Jakubowska

This is a well matched trio underpinned by some mighty drumming from Alderson (although I might have been wiser not to sit directly in front of his drumkit), and imaginative bass lines from Pope, an established bandleader in his own right. MacCalman sings a little, manipulates the synth – often as a warbling drone, and plays a fine tenor sax. Her style is sometimes melodic, at others full on improv. Equally impressive was her delicious clarinet playing which is not something you often hear over a heavy rock rhythm.

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Robocobra Quartet

Robocobra. Photo credit Monika S. Jakubowska

Robocobra Quartet is definitely a band to be seen live. They deliver a full on entertainment performance that’s much more than just the music. Drummer-vocalist Chris Ryan quickly establishes an easy rapport with the audience, riffing on the political implications of an audience that was part standing and part seated.

Throughout the show he talks, gurns and shouts his way through a series of statements and rants which have been described as post-punk. For me they were almost operatic in the way that phrases were repeated multiple times with different phrasing, different emotions and exaggerated facial expressions and physical movements. Meanwhile the other instruments improvise ferociously around the words, while Ryan’s drumming switches without notice from a subtle underpinning to a ferocious rock beat.

The line-up of other musicians changes frequently from a core of six musicians. On this occasion Nathan Rodgers on bass lays down a solid foundation, Ryan Burrowes on sampler and keys contributes everything from individual notes to background drones, and interacts well with the very impressive Thibault Barillon on tenor saxophone.

I’ve been a big fan of the Take 5 initiative since it started, as well as its predecessor the Jerwood Rising Stars, and it has helped develop some of our finest young musicians into national and international stars. These two bandleaders, and many of the others in the 2019 cohort, look like they are heading in the same direction.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Jazz on and various internet stations

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