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Haress + Tara Clerkin Trio

Haress / Tara Clerkin Trio, Sy ; Gigs, St.Alkmund’s Church, Shrewsbury, 23/05/2024

by Ian Mann

May 24, 2024


Ian Mann enjoys an eclectic mix of music with the dark, guitar driven avant folk of Haress followed by the Tara Clerkin Trio’s mix of song and electronica.

Haress / Tara Clerkin Trio, Sy; Gigs, St.Alkmund’s Church, Shrewsbury, 23/05/2024

Tonight represented my second visit to a performance in the “Letting The Light In” series of experimental music events presented by promoter Sy.Gigs.

Now in its second season “Letting The Light In” stages its events at two Shrewsbury churches, the 100 seat Unitarian Church and the larger St. Alkmund’s Church, which can accommodate 240. In March 2024 I reviewed an intriguing and enjoyable performance by the saxophonist and electronic musician Miles Spilsbury and his trio in front of a full house at the Unitarian. My account can be found here;

This evening’s presentation attracted a crowd of around 180 to see and hear this double bill featuring the locally based quartet Haress followed by the Tara Clerkin Trio from Bristol.

Chris Taylor of Sy; Gigs is keen to stress the importance of music to mental health and general well being. This, together with a love of nature, is at the heart of the Sy; Gigs ethos as Taylor continues to successfully build a community of adventurous music listeners in Shrewsbury.

The “Letting The Light In” series embraces various strands of music with jazz just one of the elements in an eclectic range of events that also incorporates folk, electronica, contemporary classical and avant pop / rock. A number of events are double bills so a single evening of music may encompass several of these. It’s a series of events that is likely to appeal to listeners of such BBC Radio 3 programmes as Late Junction, Unclassified and Night Tracks.

Tonight’s double bill represented an example of this eclecticism with the dark avant folk of Haress followed by the Clerkin Trio’s mix of song and electronica.


Elizabeth Still – guitar, vocals, melodica, shruti box, percussion,  Dave Hand – guitar, percussion, Chris Summerlin – guitar, Dave Smyth – drums, percussion

Haress are based in Bishop’s Castle in the Shropshire hills and is centred around the core duo of Elizabeth Still and David |Hand, who moved to the area from Liverpool more than a decade ago. Drawing inspiration from the beautiful countryside around them and from the English folk tradition they also have musical roots in rock music and the music of Haress is centred around the interplay between their guitars.

2022 was a particularly productive year for Haress and saw the release of two full length albums, “Haress” and “Ghosts”. For these releases, which had actually been recorded two to three years previously,  the group was expanded to a quintet with the addition of Dave Smyth on drums and Chris Summerlin on guitar, the latter exploring the Echoplex techniques pioneered by the late, great John Martyn. The recordings also feature the singing of the Robert Wyatt inspired vocalist Thomas House.

For this performance at St. Alkmund’s Haress was a quartet with Still and Hand joined by Summerlin and Smyth and with Still handling such vocal duties as there were.

The quartet commenced with the instrumental piece “Blood Moon”, which began in atmospheric, ambient fashion with eerie, shimmering guitar effects enhanced and punctuated by the tolling of a handbell, appropriately rung by Hand, and the delicate thunder of Smythe’s mallets on cymbals. The use of extended guitar techniques included the utilisation of feedback by both Hand and Summerlin and the use of a bow by Still, her guitar upturned on her lap. Glissando guitar techniques were also deployed before Hand eventually began to pick out shards of folkish melody from the ambient haze, with Smyth responding by establishing a more regular drum pattern. This acted as the platform for the spiralling guitar interplay of Still, Hand and Summerlin, the music gradually becoming more anthemic, with the addition of sampled voices enhancing this quality. Gradually the music subsided back into ambient, feedback drenched guitar drones, these underpinning Still’s playing of the melodica. Clocking in at around fifteen minutes this opening piece represented intriguing and immersive listening and was very positively received by the Shrewsbury audience.

On entering the church we had been presented with a card bearing the words of a poem by Margaret L. Robinson;

“Far above the skylark sings,
And beats the air with joyful wings,
Till all the sky with music rings,
At high noon of the day.”

We had been promised that there would be audience participation and these words were subsequently sung by the audience, or ‘congregation’, if you will, as part of the Haress piece “Skylarks”. Another ambient intro now saw Hand with the guitar flat on his lap and using a beater on the strings. The sounds of bells and other small percussion were again heard as were the sounds of Smythe’s mallets on skins and metals. The drummer deployed mallets almost throughout, the sharper, more incisive sound of sticks would have punctured Haress’ carefully constructed ambience, but the softly rolling thunder of the mallets suited the music to a ‘T’. This piece also saw Still featuring on melodica once more, and also using her foot to manipulate a shruti box, the drone of which underpinned Still’s and the audience’s singing of Robinson’s words. Still instructed us to keep singing, the voices of the audience providing the platform for the spiralling guitars of Hand and Summerlin as they entwined alternative melodies around the song. Once again this was a fascinating and immersive musical experience, and we had actually been a part of it.

The group’s third piece was “Honey Guide”, the final track from the “Haress” album. Still strummed a folk like melody on the guitar that became the centre of a hypnotic, mantra-like groove, driven by the mallet wielding Smythe, that underscored the increasingly clangorous guitar explorations of Hand and Summerlin.  The music grew increasingly anthemic and powerful before resolving itself in an eerie coda featuring the distinctive, Fripp like sound of Summerlin’s guitar. At first I thought he was using an e-bow but Still later told me that he had recorded a backwards guitar solo at his home studio and tonight had played that through the guitar pick up using a dictaphone! Ingenious stuff.
But Haress weren’t quite finished as Still went straight into a vocal rendition of the folk song “Somerset Girls”, a cautionary tale that presumably helps to give the band’s label, Lancashire & Somerset Records, its name.

I was impressed by Haress’ innovative blend of folk song with modern guitar technology, a fascinating contrast. Their music has variously been described as “avant-folk”, “dark-folk” and “weird-folk” and I guess there’s something of all three in there. They regard themselves as part of the “New Weird Britain” movement which sees creative artists from numerous disciplines moving to rural locations in order to pursue “a new way of presenting creative endeavours, outside of the machinations of industry and commerce”. It’s tempting to think of Sy; Gigs as being a part of that movement too.

The band’s music reflects the openness and wildness of the landscape of the Welsh Borders, qualities I also hear in the music of the guitar & voice / cello duo of Charlie Beresford and Sonia Hammond, two more artists who would be ideal candidates for an Sy; Gigs slot. Haress’ love of the landscape and the nature around them is also reflected in their tune titles, and especially by tonight’s rendition of “Skylarks”.

Unfortunately both Haress albums have sold out in their physical incarnations and are only available digitally via their Bandcamp page. I’ve been listening via Bandcamp as I’ve been writing this and have enjoyed what I’ve heard. Do please check them out.

However I was able to treat myself to a copy of Elizabeth Still’s limited edition CD “Going For Home”, a collection of solo guitar performances ingeniously augmented by field recordings, these giving the album a real sense of place as well as filling out the sound and providing additional textural and sonic interest. The album was variously recorded at home and at an isolated church in the village of Myndtown in the Shropshire Hills with Nick Jonah Davis engineering. Occasionally additional instrumentation is added, including the harmonium in the church. It‘ s an engaging listening experience and is very much in keeping with the Haress spirit.

My thanks to Elizabeth Still for speaking with me during the interval and providing details of her fellow band members and for talking me through the set list.


Tara Clerkin – vocals, keyboards, clarinet,  acoustic guitar, electronics, Patrick Benjamin- keyboards, electronics, melodica, Sunny Paradiso – drums, cello, percussion, keyboards, electronics

The Bristol based Tara Clerkin Trio features two musicians, Benjamin and Paradiso, with strong Shrewsbury connections. Benjamin was born in the town, Paradiso, his step brother, visited regularly and is now Clerkin’s partner. It’s a proper ‘family band’ and that Shrewsbury connection helped to make them a natural fit for Sy; Gigs. Interestingly Miles Spilsbury has familial links with Shrewsbury too.

The Clerkin Trio has been making something of a stir on the alternative music scene and has released four recordings to date, “Tara Clarkin Trio” (2020) and the EPs “In Spring” (2021) and “On The Turning Ground”(2023). “Retro Cranial Kit”  (2021) features a series of remixes of songs from the debut made using mainly jazz based samples. The trio’s recordings are available here;

The Tara Clerkin Trio band name has helped the group get bookings in jazz venues but TCT are not really a jazz act, although improvisation does form a part of their live performances.

The trio’s music combines songs with instrumental passages and they have described themselves as “avant pop” but with influences ranging through “jazz, folk, modern composition, trip hop and downtempo electronica”

It’s certainly music that is difficult to categorise as fully formed songs are segued with lengthy instrumental passages. The instrumental palette embraces both acoustic and electric sounds with voice, clarinet, cello and percussion deployed alongside ranks of Korg synths and sundry other electronic devices. Live looping and real time sampling is vital to the group’s process as both Benjamin and Clerkin are constantly involved in manipulating the band’s sound, with Paradiso periodically stepping away from the drum kit to join them.

Opener “Any of These” from the group’s eponymous debut featured the sounds of burbling synths, treated vocals and Clerkin’s declaration “the feeling was strong, whether right or wrong”. Paced by Paradiso’s stuttering drum groove the lineage of Bristol born trip-hop was discernible, but as part of a gentler, more ethereal version for the 21st century.

From the “In Spring” EP “Done Before” commenced with the sound of unaccompanied piano, with Benjamin’s keyboard on an ‘acoustic’ setting. This was subsequently looped and provided the basis for the rest of the track as Clerkin’s voice and lyrics were added – “Done before, And I’ll do it again,  Ringing in my head , While I try To feel, It’s easy”. 
The sound of Clerkin’s ethereal, subtly layered vocals allied to that looped piano figure were augmented by the versatile Paradiso, now playing cello, before eventually returning to the drum kit towards the close of the song. Clerkin was also featured briefly on clarinet on a song that sometimes suggested the influence of Minimalism.

Introduced by brush drums and with the keyboards generating vibraphone like sounds the atmospheric “Brigstowe” is the opening track on the “Turning Ground” EP. You don’t go to many gigs where both bands feature a melodica, but that was the case here with Benjamin adding the sounds of an eerie melodica solo to those of Clerkin’s acoustic guitar as Paradiso variously doubled on drums and keyboards.

From the same EP “Once Around” featured the sampled sounds of acoustic guitar, these underpinning the sounds of Paradiso’s cello, variously bowed and plucked.

This segued into the song “In Spring”, the title track of the trio’s previous EP release. Clerkin’s vocals, sample lyric “In Spring, Again, But it’s true this time”, were looped and layered and mixed with woozy keyboards, but the music still exhibited something of a jazz sensibility, something enhanced by her clarinet playing. However the immersive keyboard soundscapes generated by Benjamin and Clerkin were something else entirely.

Also from the “Turning Ground” EP a segue of the songs “Marble Walls” and the title track was another item to feature sampled acoustic guitar sounds, these allied to an electro-acoustic groove variously generated by Benjamin’s synths and Paradiso’s drum kit. These supported a wistful Clerkin vocal on an item that was the most obviously ‘indie pop’ or ‘avant pop’ moment.

Benjamin was kind enough to give me a set list but I can’t quite make out the title of the band’s final number, it doesn’t seem to be a piece that they have recorded yet. This saw Clerkin and Paradiso together at the keyboard and generating some furiously pulsing electronic beats. Paradiso returned to his drum kit to generate real time samples variously generated on cow bell, cymbal and triangle,  these all adding to the jungle of beats, and later augmented by the most full on kit drumming of the set. It was the most powerful performance of the evening and elicited a hugely positive response from the audience.

My thanks to Sunny and Patrick for speaking with me after the performance. However I have to confess that of the two bands this evening I actually preferred Haress, who were notionally the ‘support act’.

I found the Clerkin Trio’s music interesting,  and they have certainly carved out an interesting niche for themselves.  But on the whole I found their music to be less involving than that of Haress. For me there was too great a reliance on electronics and the use of pre-programmed beats and samples. There were also moments when I found it all rather twee and in general I preferred the harder, darker edge offered by Haress’ music.

However I suspect that I’m a bit too old to be considered as part of TCT’s target demographic. One suspects that their brand of avant-pop is really aimed at a younger audience, and as the last number confirmed they can switch over into full on electronic dance mode if they wish.

But musical variety is what Sy; Gigs is all about and tonight’s event presented two innovative and distinctive bands playing original,genuinely experimental music. It’s something to be championed and thanks are due to Chris Taylor for bringing such music to Shrewsbury and to his loyal community of music lovers for turning out in such impressive numbers.

Sy;Gigs’ “Letting The Light In” series continues with;

June 28th -Group Listening + Bazmatron, Unitarian Church

July 24th - Greg Foat & Ayo Salawu  supported by Ocean Ivy, St. Alkmund’s Church

For more information please visit;


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