TRUST-THE-DOC: MUSICAL MUSINGS

by Neil March (Edition 5, 16th June 2018)

SO MUCH HAPPENING IN NEW MUSIC !!!

Well it’s a ten-pager folks! But that just underlines how much happens in half a month in new music. And this blog naturally is just the tip of the iceberg. So what do we have in store? As always there are sections on contemporary classical and leftfield, jazz, folk and pop (including indie, urban etc.). Highlights include:

✦ Backspace: Seriously young and seriously promising

✦ Rothko: 21 years of enigmatic ambient explorative soundscapes

✦ Marc Yeats: New recording of outstanding piece for Chamber Ensemble

✦ Demerara Records: Shameless plug for my label, new music hub & gig series

✦ Neil March: My first solo EP since playing the BBC Introducing stage at Latitude

✦ Sarah McQuaid: Fresh from more tour dates & a new album

✦ Starseedz: Consistent, eclectic and made the Listening Post on first attempt

✦ Mayfield Records & Studio: South Coast Soul & Portsmouth Pop

✦ Morning Myth: Alt/Dream Pop duo release stunning debut EP

✦ Half Hour at the Hilton: Exciting news about band featured in Edition 4

✦ More exciting bands & artists discovered through my Fresh on the Net role

Contemporary Classical & Leftfield

The uniquely gifted British Composer Marc Yeats has a new recording of his piece Observation 6 [which follows the series which I was privileged to release recordings from on Demerara Records compilation This is Tomorrow Calling in 2015). The new piece is for Piccolo, Soprano Saxophone, Piano and Percussion and is performed by the amazing and virtuosic Ensemble Suono Guillo. As with all Marc’s music, the harmonic language is elusive and fluid while the rhythmic content is complex and ametrical, creating a visceral and exciting soundworld. Check out the recording at https://soundcloud.com/ensemble-suono-giallo. This work is a welcome reminder of Marc’s outstanding contribution to the evolution of contemporary art music and the continuing individuality and inventiveness that characterizes his composing. Our conservatoires and HE music departments would do well to include more of Marc’s music in [particularly postgraduate] composition modules.

What is it with my having talented musician friends called Marc? Or in this case Mark? Because it is a little known trivia fact that a quarter of a century ago Rothko’s founder and quiet genius Mark L Beazley and I were flatmates. Even then Mark would take his Bass Guitar with him from one room to the next, often playing it while chatting and even when listening to other people’s music. Wind the clock on and the Bass Guitar-dominated band he formed in the late nineties are still pumping out albums (or at least Mark is under the same Rothko monicker). That’s when he isn’t touring as Bassist for the Band of Holy Joy or composing music for US TV programmes. But the current incarnation of Rothko is a reminder that Mark has moved a long way on from that bass-dominated template.

2018 sees Rothko (https://soundcloud.com/user-646013394) back in the spotlight with the new album Blood demands more blood and there is no sign of his having lost any of his passion for exploring the relationship between music, sound and technical innovation. His writing is thoughtful and questioning; presenting oblique and futuristic [dystopian] soundscapes that evoke and provoke, prodding the listener to consider what they convey while the titles offer a powerful pen picture of a troubled world - One Million Drops of Death in the Seas, Famine Drought Famine Flood Famine Death Repeat and There is no end to War being among them while The Peace Process may or may not offer a glimmer of hope. This is a poignant musical and intellectual response to the desperate situations we feel powerless to rescue our planet from. But in keeping with Mark’s approach to most things it is not preachy or clichéd and the listener is left to develop his or her own personal relationship with the music.

The biggest change since the early Rothko albums is that this album sees a great deal more emphasis on sound synthesis and slow-burning ambience. It is as much a work of sound art as it is one of music. For me this is also Mark’s finest to date. It is genuinely really exciting to observe how his music is blossoming into something so rich in substance, originality and invention. It is no wonder this has already been picked up by Late Junction (BBC Radio 3). I will be spending considerable hours listening to this fantastic album.   

Late Junction [with the amazing Nick Luscombe in the presenter’s seat] also recently featured a stunning work by Joji Yuasa entitled Cosmos Haptic. In addition to offering striking piano chords, ametrical rhythmic passages, fluid upper register soundbites and rich harmonic language, it particularly reflected a strong influence from my favourite composer Olivier Messiaen. It is great to see how his unique and breathtaking modal language and groundbreaking approach to metric organisation are inspiring young composers today.

Sticking with Late Junction marvellous  Max Reinhardt played Canadian Composer Sarah Davachi’s At Hand which utilises Mellotron and Organ to create a beautiful mystical pattern of chords and sounds that are, as Max rightly said, ‘mesmerising’. The following week Max also played an enthralling piano trio by Norwegian composer Julian Skar entitled Exhaust/Renew II which, like a lot of the best contemporary art music, mixed influences and harmonic languages in a skillful and unpredictable way that kept me listening.

Shameless Plug: New Neil March EP!!

I am releasing a new EP as Neil March (as opposed to one of my alter-egos or other projects) entitled Sounds Converge in early July on Demerara Records. It sees me return to the more experimental style that I showcased on the BBC Introducing stage at Latitude 2017. That is what Late Junction’s Max Reinhardt calls my ‘... combination of avant-garde tendencies and pop sensibilitites’. I see this as the proper sequel to last year’s Music To Plan Towns By EP. Once again it makes substantial use of recorded environmental noise both for the purposes of identifying pitch and using it melodically and harmonically [juxtaposed against notated music] and for the purpose of sound concepts. The EP consciously brings music and sound art together. Track 3 is based purely on environmental sounds and has no notated instrumental parts at all. You can hear all four tracks from the Sounds Converge EP as a setlist at https://www.soundcloud.com/trust-the-doc.

Demerara Records Presents …. @ Ivy House

I am excited to announce that tickets went on sale on 31st May for the first in our series of Demerara Records Presents … gigs at the beautiful Ivy House in Nunhead, South East London. The gig on Thursday 2nd August features live sets by Jon Samsworth (featured in Ed 3 of this blog), Kerry JK (fellow Fresh on the Net moderator/reviews writer and gender/genre-fluid musician) and Nielstromm (my Ambient Electro-Classical alter-ego for which I am joined on stage by pianist and composer Helena Gascoyne).

The concept of Demerara Records Presents … is evenings of live music occupying the wide space where contemporary classical, experimental, electronic, ambient and alternative genres converge. At the moment the gigs are bi-monthly and take place on the first Thursday of August, October and December but, depending upon how these first three gigs go, we have the option to move to monthly gigs in the new year. For details of all our gigs and the concept of Demerara Records Presents ... and to buy tickets go to https://www.demerararecords.com/demerara-records-presents

A New Music Hub

Also our website offers a hub for new music. As well as listing current single, EP and album releases, there is the Guide to Managing your music; this blog (all editions); articles [both academic and non-academic] about music; pages about composers and artists linked to the label plus other links and information. So how about paying us a visit - https://www.demerararecords.com - and using the extremely user-friendly menu to find your way around.

A Quick Moan!

Looking at the BBC Radio 3 schedule I noticed Through the Night was broadcasting the European Premiere of a new work by Mark Anthony Turnage. All fine except Mark is one of our foremost living composers. So why does his new work get shoved onto the wee hours schedule when most of us are asleep? It should be a prime time flagship moment. Following on from my piece in Edition 4, this underlines the imbalance on Radio 3 between new and old music. A world-renowned British Composer ought to be able to count on better support from his own public service broadcaster. I’ve raised this with the station. I will let you know if I get a response.

Folk Findings

The Folk-Indie [for want of a more convenient catch-all term] scene continues to thrive and this half-month I am focusing on two distinct acts. Sarah McQuaid (http://www.sarahmcquaid.com/) is a talented and hard-working singer/songwriter who was born in Spain [of Spanish and American parents] and after being raised in Chicago, lived in Ireland for a number of years and has subsequently spent more than a decade in Cornwall. Sarah has just completed another in her continuous itinerary of tours. She also had an album out in March. If we dig any deeper it could get dangerous showcases the breadth of her influences and continues to win fans having been made album of the month [this month] by British music blog Across the Universal Soundscape. It had previously been a featured album in Stereo Embers,

April saw a Brett Harvey-produced video of the touching Slow Decay, Sarah’s tribute to an old man who cycled 1,400 miles to hear his daughter’s heart beat again in the body of its recipient in a transplant operation. It’s a shining example of Sarah’s strong and distinct alto voice and resonant picking guitar. At the risk of cliché it does remind me at times of Joni Mitchell in Hejira era [which by the way is certainly no bad thing] though there is nothing remotely derivative about Sarah’s stamp on that Singer-Songwriter tradition.

It is exciting that Sarah has recently seen two of her tracks Cot Valley and One Sparrow Down selected for compilations by the Featured Artist Coalition on Spotify and Wire Magazine respectively. These achievements underline her growing status within the industry. Her website features impressive video footage of Sarah performing her song Break me which is intense and compelling, tailor-made for her powerful and appealing voice. Again her picking guitar style and cleverly sporadic use of full chords is strongly in evidence. There is plenty more where that came from plus a video taster for the new album. If there was more space I could go on at length but you get the picture. Sarah McQuaid is going places and clearly she intends taking a growing body of admirers with her on the journey.

Starseedz (https://soundcloud.com/starseedz) are a St Albans-based duo consisting of Catrine O’Neill, an old friend who was part of the same local music scene as me back in the day, and Jon Willoughby. The core of their sound stems from a simple but solid tradition of two harmonising voices with shimmering guitars and it is the clear chemistry between them that makes their music so infectious and immediate.

Their new single #Luv made it to the Fresh on the Net Listening Post at the start of this month but narrowly missed out on the top ten Fresh Faves. It captures Starseedz at their poppiest, Catrine’s very pure and engaging voice contrasted by Jon’s fuller textured tone and the song exuding infectious melody and a bubbly energy.

Their Soundcloud page reinforces the depth of their material. Previous single Made That Way is Country-influenced and has an aura of melancholy behind its uptempo swing. Little Bird is a few years older but is a delicious slice of thoughtful, reflective Folk-Indie. Plastic Elvis, on the other hand, is practically Indie Rock with shades of The Breeders in its spy movie guitar and driving chords. Kiss me and cry also sees the duo flirting with less obvious influences, on the one hand quite jazzy in an almost Bacharachish way and yet there is a hint of Radiohead! Then We Fell is slower and has a beautiful acoustic guitar part that sits proudly behind Catrine’s lovely vocals and the legato keys that add colour to the rich soundscape. It is beautifully done.

Starseedz have no shortage of lovely songs which combine diverse influences and plenty of contrast. They also retain an incredibly busy live schedule. If anyone deserves some recognition from the wider industry and media, they do. If you can be in the area catch them at The Mermaid (https://www.lemonrock.com/mermaid) in St Albans on 4th July or on 28th July at a festival in Hemel Hempstead’s Nash Mills Village Hall (http://www.nashmillsvillagehall.co.uk/); two fine venues which I have played at many times in my younger years.

Jazz Journeys

This month saw Bristol’s elusive and impressively individual Jazz Futurist trio Hippo (https://soundcloud.com/hippobristol) back at the Fresh on the Net Listening Post where, just as was the case last time they surfaced, this happily coincided with it being my turn to write up the Fresh Faves reviews. I was very taken with Gromet when it landed in my in-box back in late February and Wireless is a further reminder of how they manage to blend improvisatory freedom and interaction with live electronics. Their sound is built around Sax, Synth and Drums though they manage to capture a much more diverse sound world. All three are clearly accomplished players but it is their ability to compose and elaborate on such striking melodies, sequences and textures that marks them out from other modern Jazz artists.

Both tracks are taken from their Hippo EP from which I also thoroughly recommend the opening track BJP which is inventive, original and like nothing else I have heard in current contemporary Jazz. All six tracks are excellent but I do love the final one Georgina which is climatic, visceral and offers some delightful contrasts between light, buoyant synth and dark dramatic piano. A big part of Hippo’s appeal is that they manage this hybrid of flavours without lapsing into self-indulgence or showiness which, for musicians of such high calibre, demonstrates both admirable self-discipline and great awareness. There still isn’t much info about the band on line but they do have a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/hippobristol/) so I recommend you check them out.                                         

Soul on the South Coast: Porsmouth Pop Purveyors!!

My long-time friend and sometimes collaborator Dominic Elton formed the Northern Soul-inspired Mayfield in Portsmouth some sixteen years ago. In the time since he has also opened Mayfield Studio [and in turn the label Mayfield Records] where I have had the pleasure of recording two singles by MSQ (of whom Dom was a founder member even before I was in the band) with my long-time musical partner-in-crime Darren Hillier (aka Bertie Slippers who is well known to folks in the Oxfordshire & Berkshire area in particular). Dom recruited talented and versatile studio engineer and musician Gregg Powell and he has proved to be a major asset. You will find plenty of detail at the website https://mayfieldrecords.com/

Anyway my reason for including this feature is that I am just so impressed with how Mayfield has developed into a hub for seriously high quality Soul and Pop music ranging from the funky Soul and Gospel music of Chicago-born singer extraordinaire Gloria Miller to the contemporary pop of stunningly talented Chloe Josephine who is stretching out as an artist and writer, backed by Mayfield’s in-house musicians. Dom has also developed Mayfield into not just a consistently impressive Soul outfit who have already achieved amazing longevity but a house band in the tradition of Stax and Motown; a rare thing indeed in today’s digital bedroom DIY-dominated studio culture. Having worked with their horn section I know just how good they are too.

 

Among the current roster of releases on Mayfield are singles and albums by Jazz and Blues tinged Soul singer/songwriter Mary Red, Indie Folkrock duo Percival Elliott, inventive Pop act Bemis, punk-influenced collective Chang, folkier sibling duo Josh and Daisy, singer/songwriter Aaron Middleton, experienced Folk artist Megan Lingford, energetic Ska act Offbeat Offensive and of course the aforementioned Gloria Miller, Chloe Josephine and Mayfield themselves. They keep adding more artists to their roster too including Marlene Hill, Tom Wells and others. It is one amazing project they are running.

Mayfield is a ray of gold on the Portsmouth South Coast. Their success and slowly but surely expanding reputation as label, studio and band is both well-deserved and life affirming. Check them out if you haven’t already done so.

Pop Scene

Morning Myth (https://soundcloud.com/morningmyth) who I reviewed in Edition 2 released their debut EP Everything is a photograph this month. It contains the tracks I mentioned previously. Their dreamy ethereal take on Alternative Pop is so engaging. Aimee’s striking otherworldly voice floats on a cloud of echoing guitar and enigmatic keyboard lines courtesy of Ross. The songs are more like works in the way they thread together all the sounds into a whole where the sum is greater than the parts, the voice being more an instrument than something distinct or there to be accompanied. Whether it’s the rich soothing textures of Halo or the darker and more minimal Beyond the Blue this is an EP you should take time to seek out.

There is also some exciting news about the unique Welsh Art Pop Experimentalists Half Hour at the Hilton who I featured in Edition 4. They have been asked to release an EP with an American label and are furiously writing new material as they gear up to play some UK tour dates in August and September. In Ed 4, I said a HHATH gig in the London area would be a must attend event. Fingers and everything crossed.

Now to a band I have been itching to tell people about. Leeds-based teenage alt pop quintet Backspace (https://soundcloud.com/user-165564945/sets/backspace-ep) have an eponymously titled EP out. These kids are so young (four of them - Rosie Weston (Vocals), Alex Turner (Guitar), Harry Adams (Guitar) and Miles Addie (Bass) -  are 13. Drummer Harry Turner is the old man of the band at 15!!) and yet already making serious waves and winning the respect and support of fellow bands and fans across the North of England.

Now, before we get all carried away about their precocious talents, I should perhaps point out that Paul Cook and I first wrote and recorded together when we were 8 and 9 respectively (and 45 years later we have a new single coming out along with other long-time friends!). Moreover, at 12 and 13, we were trying our utmost (and failing obviously if honourably!) to be the British Steely Dan. The very last thing we would have wanted was for people to judge us according to our age rather than our musicianship and songwriting.

But here’s the difference. We were playing occasional end of term parties at local junior schools. Our first proper gig [and even that is arguable] was a ramshackle affair at Bovingdon Youth Club, Hemel Hempstead when I was 14. Backspace, on the other hand, are already playing the likes of Guiseley Music Festival, Eccup Beer Festival, Routes Festival and the Music for Youth National Festival in Birmingham. They are also managing slick social media platforms and demonstrating an instinctive all-round maturity. They are highly motivated, focused on moving up a level at a time and they have fantastic parental support which is crucial both for guidance and for the protection of their best interests. Surely, if there is any justice, they are destined for success.

So to the Backspace EP. Don’t stunt your growth is a feisty comment on young girls feeling pressured into conforming to an unreal magazine version of the perfect body. The vocal overlaps and harmonies work well and Rosie’s lead vocal is delivered with plenty of attitude. She has so much individual character in her voice and wears her West Yorkshire accent on her sleeve. The four boys provide a buoyant, bubbling bedrock of imaginative playing and compact understatement. This is the track I can hear most easily on the radio. In some ways its aura and style remind me of another Leeds band from way back in the early eighties, Delta 5. Delta 5 deserved more success than they were afforded. Hopefully Backspace will have better fortune.

Stone Bank is more reflective, mixing chords and spy movie guitar picking with some tasteful harmonies. Letting Go has a funkier undercurrent set against a vocal  directness especially in the chorus. The picking guitar and shuffle beat work well, bass locked in nicely with the drums while the guitars crackle and pop. Rosie’s vocal is strong and the harmonies at the end provide an excellent climax.  Final Shout has a definite eighties Post-Punk flavour lurking in its midst.

At times their playing is still a little loose and there are areas they need to work on around intonation and control but, hey, this is a really young band making exciting, impressive music. The fact that they are being judged against the same high standards as musicians twice or three times their age underlines the extent to which time and talent are on their side. Hopefully they will fly. If they don’t it will be the music industry’s and our loss.

Paige Bea (https://soundcloud.com/paigebeamusic) captured my attention via the Freshnet Uploader with a stunningly dark synth-soaked epic pop ballad entitled Your Echo. How she switches between a deeper alto in the verses and a rising up the register pitch and dynamic-wise in the chorus is really spine-tingling and she has a rich distinct and versatile voice. Also on her Soundcloud page is a laid back and thoughtful track called Pick up your heart which, without warning, introduces a gorgeously jazz-infused soul flavour in the chorus. So, on the evidence of these two gems, think London Grammar meets Young Disciples! Paige is from South London and her social media reveals she has already had support from BBC1Xtra. She is definitely an artist I will be keeping a close watch on.

There have been some impressive bands and artists across all genres at the Listening Post in recent times and one who have stood out for me is Model Staggs (https://soundcloud.com/modelstaggs). The pair (Tom Miller & Ash Allerton) have spent seven years beavering away in rural Essex [after meeting at a gig in Cambridge in 2011], three of which have been dedicated to putting their new album Keep Running and Hold On together. They are the kind of musicians who not only put originality high on their agenda but who also make the genuine effort to look after every element of their sound and style so that great and unusual melodies are enhanced by sweet harmonies and fleeting falsetto, the guitars interlock in melodic and pattern play while the rhythm section does enough to drive it all forward.

They cite bands like Grizzly Bear, The National and Radiohead as influences, referring to them as ‘deep thinking’ artists. This very much speaks to Model Staggs’ own approach. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist [or even a musicologist for that matter!] to identify that a great deal of thought and love has gone into their music.

Their Fresh on the Net submission was a track entitled Bad Bone which lives up to all these attributes and it sucked me into checking out the album. I’m glad I did and I now hope I can persuade some of you to do the same.

In similar but poppier Indie territory are Cornwall’s Blue River who have been diligently uploading consistently good tracks to Fresh on the Net and narrowly missing out amid the packed competition for places at the Listening Post. Their music is melodic, driven by busy bass and drums and plenty of appealing guitar jangle. They have strong voices too that see them traverse the boundaries between the pop and alternative ends of the guitar band spectrum.

Their album Life Imitating Art (isn’t that funny, I’ve just composed a track called Life Imitating Sound which is obviously entirely unrelated!) allows them to demonstrate all these aspects of their sound.  From the mid-tempo harmony-soaked Elegance through the slow-building title track which nods to Oasis, the shuffle feel of Friday Night Love Fight which shifts into semi-Rockabilly; from the darker and more intense chords and strings accompanied Face of God (shades of The Verve maybe) to the full-on guitar chords and epic quality of Love Songs Forever; they wear a string of classic Pop, Psychedelic and Indie influences on their sleeves.

It’s an impressive album filled with cool licks, strong melodies and lots of agreeable vocal harmonies. They have a great work ethic too which will stand them in good stead. Check the album out and hope that they are playing in your home town soon.

Next Edition

The next edition of Trust-The-Doc will be out on 30th June 2018 with the usual wide spectrum of genres covered. I hope you will find time to look in. Till then. Neil x