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Trust The Doc Edition 55
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Edition 55: 30th April 2021:  A blog by Neil March

Welcome to Edition 55 of Trust The Doc. Meanwhile, if you haven’t already done so, please visit and ‘like’ the Trust The Doc Facebook page and follow us on Twitter and Instagram. Over 60 reviews this month.

Once again a big thank you to the Arts Council of England and National Lottery for supporting my activities and helping me to support so many people involved in independent music.

Last but definitely not least, to SUBMIT A TRACK OR VIDEO for radio play; to be on Upstream on Trust The Doc TV or to be reviewed in this blog, please send either:

Either way the correct email account is dptmusicdigital@gmail.com. Please DO NOT send Dropbox or similar links and folders that I have to go fishing in for the right track. A simple MP3 with an email is fine. (Art & Design: PaulFCook)

CONTENTS

Part One: The Month in Brief

Trust The Doc Radio continues to grow !!! (Page 3)

Festivals Update: What’s happening when !!!! (Page 4)

GM Network: New YouTube Channel (Page 4)

Vanishing Point at AMP Studios: an outdoor evening gig in May (Page 4)

BBC Radio 6 Music: Hannya at the decks !!!! (Page 5)

Live Music Update (Page 5)

Fresh Faves Reviews: Batch 401 (Page 6)

Part Two: Reviews of New Music

Part Three: Other Commentaries

What’s going on with the BBC Popular Music Radio Regime? (Page 27)

And Finally …. (Page 32)

PART ONE: THE MONTH IN BRIEF

TRUST THE DOC RADIO CONTINUES TO GROW !!!

The audience stats kept pace with previous months as March saw the Trust The Doc Radio show sail past 16K podcast views (20K with the live audience stats) and head towards 17K making it still one of the fastest growing UK shows on internet-only radio. As always, the credit goes to the wonderful independent music community that gathers around Twitter for the live show and all those who subsequently catch the podcast, not to mention the amazing artists who supply me with so much good content. It is a great vote of confidence in new and emerging artists and their music. Big love and thanx to Ming & Jon for giving me the opportunity of presenting my show on such a cool radio station.

The pre-recorded one-hour Trust The Doc Extra show (8PM, Wednesdays) also continues to grow despite being pre-recorded and acting mainly as an entry point for tracks not yet played on the Saturday show. In truth most will never get a Saturday play simply because time and space are so limited. Trust The Doc Extra has now comfortably surpassed 6K podcast views (around 9K overall) in 10 months.

This all reinforces the evidence that there is an enthusiastic audience for new and non-mainstream music despite what certain vested interests in the industry and media will try to tell you. It is not just my shows but the growing army of innovative shows and stations across the internet [and, in some cases, DAB and FM] supporting new music including but by no means limited to Resonance FM Exile FM, Calon FM, RKC, Cumbernauld FM, NCCR, NTS, Eagle Nest Radio and lots of cool shows and podcasts including Pete Cogle’s excellent Podcast Factory.

Here is how the two shows work.

Sat  5 - 7PM

Trust The Doc Radio

Live & interactive with shout outs, Track of the Week poll, regular features etc. 50% new & emerging acts, approx 35% current tracks by more established acts.

Wed 8 - 9PM

Trust The Doc Extra

Pre-recorded show mainly introducing new & emerging artists’ latest offerings.

FESTIVALS UPDATE: WHAT’S HAPPENING WHEN !!!!

In the last edition, I touched on news about the two festivals I am curating and managing later in the year. So I can now report that Tomorrow Calling will take place on Sunday 5th September at AMP Studios (897a Old Kent Road) with the two identical former railway arches housing the two stages while the beautiful courtyard area will enable local creative folk to set up stalls selling food, drink, merchandise etc. Doors will open at 1PM with the first live act on stage at 2PM and the last one finishing just before 10PM. 16 artists will perform across the day. Tickets prices will be partly dictated by what restrictions remain on numbers I can legally sell. It will be equally dictated by the desire to provide value for money. It should be a wonderful day of futuristic, spacey, sparse and experimental music and sound. The line-up will be announced in time for tickets to go on sale well in advance.

Fresh on the Net Live returns after the 2020 one was cancelled due to lockdown. It will take place on the first or second Sunday of October at the newly refurbished Jackson Lane Arts Centre opposite Highgate Underground Station. We will not be involving The Boogaloo this time so both stages will be within the Jacksons complex with the beautiful theatre as the main stage and the new live area in the main foyer likely to be the solo and duo acts stage. The event is FREE ENTRY so no need for tickets but the line-up will be confirmed a bit later and will consist mainly of artists who have been voted by Fresh on the Net readers into our Fresh Faves in the last couple of years.

GM NETWORK: NEW YOUTUBE CHANNEL

The Grassroots Music Network has been turning its attention to the launch of its own YouTube channel. We have met on Zoom a couple of times recently and our tech wizard and master podcaster Pete Cogle has taken on this particular project. Meanwhile Sue Oreszczyn (our hardworking Network manager) is continuing to gather information and advice and lead on the Network’s social media. We have also had input and support from my fellow Fresh on the Net moderator and reviews writer Tobisonics. Tobi runs a studio and mastering suite in Luxembourg and has wide-ranging expertise about the independent music sector. More news on all of this soon.

VANISHING POINT: AN OUTDOOR EVENING EVENT !!!

It seems like so long that I have been talking about the return of Vanishing Point at our new home of AMP Studios on Old Kent Road but now it is here. Thursday 6th May sees Vanishing Point return as an initially outdoor event (which AMP Studios is uniquely set up to convert into when necessary) under the current COVID roadmap rules. So that means tables of six or less (or maximum two households), masks on when not seated and no dancing! Helefonix, Hannya White, Tigersonic and Richard Sanderson are on the bill. There are still some tickets left (for just £6.00 each) at the time of writing - https://demerararecords.com/vanishing-point.

BBC RADIO 6 MUSIC: HANNYA AT THE DECKS !!!

Having had the privilege of being so involved with setting up and preparing for Hannya White’s presentation of the Freak Zone Playlist Show on BBC Radio 6 Music (Midnight, Wed/Thurs 7th/8th April), it was a joy to be able to sit back and enjoy listening to the end results. Those BBC producers certainly know a thing or two about mixing tracks together and bringing the presenter’s spoken links in over the music! Well yeah, obviously they would do! Hannya made the decision not to rely on just picking tracks that already meant something to her. She also foraged for music that was as new to her as it was for most listeners, looking across the globe for inspiration and coming up with artists from Iceland, Tunisia, USA, Japan, Canada, Russia, Australia and other countries including the UK.

The result was a fascinating, varied and thoroughly enjoyable show and playlist interspersed with Hannya’s characteristically thoughtful comments and anecdotes. It was also lovely to hear Stuart Maconie introducing Hannya and playing her track Be My Friend as well as coming in again at the end to inform listeners that Hannya’s EP is available to buy from Bandcamp. All in all, an unforgettable experience and one I will always cherish having played a small part in.

LIVE MUSIC UPDATE

In Edition 54, I inserted a last minute paragraph announcing that I had agreed to put on a series of live events - 15 in London, 4 outside London and the 2 aforementioned festivals, between May and December! So no pressure! I can now confirm that Trust The Doc Live returns to the iconic Amersham Arms in New Cross, South East London on Thursday 10th June with a line-up of Juliet & Nanette; Amey St Cyr; Wild Horse and Tantrumzentrum. Tickets are already on sale (for just £6.00 each) using the above link and are going quickly so don’t leave it too long if you intend coming. It will be an indoor event under the next phase of COVID Roadmap conditions, mirroring what happened in Tier 1 during 2020.

After that, Trust The Doc Live will be on the third Wednesday of every month at The Amersham Arms from July until December while Vanishing Point will be on the first Thursday of every month at AMP Studios with the exception of August when it will be the first Wednesday. I am already filling slots with a dazzling array of the hottest new and emerging artists either based in and around London or able to be in London at the appropriate time.

So already booked for Vanishing Point @ AMP Studios, in addition to the above-mentioned May outdoor gig, we have 3rd June: Fast Trains, Rosie Bergonzi, Logan J Parker & Pixi Ink: 1st July: With Sun; Amongst The Pigeons; Soricah & Esbe (either solo or with Paths Crossing) and 4th August: Sansha; Boubakiki; Cholly & 1 TBC.

Already booked for Trust The Doc Live @ The Amersham Arms, in addition to the above-mentioned 10th June gig, we have 21st July: Pushpin; Dan Cross; March & The Anderson Tapes. More news will follow in Edition 56.

FRESH FAVES REVIEWS: BATCH 401

It was me writing up the reviews of the first post-Easter break fresh faves as voted by readers of the Fresh on the Net Listening Post. I was blessed to have a fantastic top ten to write about including some tracks I have given a further review to in this edition. If you would like to read the reviews which, in my usual style when writing for FOTN, follow a theme, the link is here. Can you spot the theme?

Pics courtesy of freshonthenet.co.uk

PART TWO: REVIEWS OF NEW MUSIC

ALBUMS & EPs

CHA HYUN: YOKUBOU LOVER

(Independent Release)

It is probably just as well that I decided to review Cha Hyun’s EP Yokubou Lover rather than an individual track or single because I would have been scratching my head as to which section to place it in. Such are both the diversity and originality of her ideas. The South Korean artist caught my attention thanks to the excellent monthly podcast Is it Bandcamp day? presented by the highly knowledgable and accomplished BBC producers Becca Gaskell and Henrietta Rowlatt.

The 7-track 19 mins:19 secs of music on Yokubou Lover is autobiographical and describes the ‘.... escape from the external environmental and emotional self-confrontation’. It is, according to Cha’s Bandcamp blurb, ‘... the most sincere emotional club music in the current world’s great changes and people’s general social anxiety’. I only wish I knew of a club where the music was this leftfield and ethereal!

The same blurb informs us that Cha Hyun’s music sits ‘... at the intersection of pop, rock and Electronic’ and that she has ‘... built a wall of sound, which has layers of distorted guitars, noise and the vocals shines (sic.) through the gap’. I would proffer that contemporary classical and sound art might be added to that broad melting pot of genres. It is interesting to read this too since it is not obvious that guitars are responsible for the astonishing and striking textures she creates while the vocals are often put through effects and filters including vocorder. Something that is not covered by the blurb is the richly dissonant and, at times, almost atonal hamonic language, reinforced by sometimes opaque vocals and clashes of chords which are fluid and translucent.

Opening track Stoic is a short burst of riffing guitar, crunchy beat and ambient sound surges but then we are into Who cares about me? Enigmatic repetitive patterns clash with static siren-like counter-figures while the vocorder is used for complex and exquisite vocal harmonies as sounds enter and exit the fray, circling around the central patterns and descending single-note guitar. Midway through, everything stops leaving high register vocorder vocals repeating a theme as spacy sounds descend from on high, leading to a memorable finish. Bù 不 is busy and frantic, almost a form of dystopian Techno that has run into a force field of experimental sound and a guitar that is struggling to tear through heavy ropes. Gacki takes us further down this road with a beat that verges on Drum’n’Bass and mostly ambient sound and synth noises echoing around it.

Prayer slows matters down, providing some breathing space after two frantic tracks, again with ambient bends, bleeps and whistles adding to the otherworldliness of the music and sound while a repeating two-chord synth figure ushers in a more frantic drum programme. Despite this invitation from the drums, the rest of the instrumental and sound-based parts refuse to respond and remain in slow or static states. For the third track running, there is little by way of vocals. The title track (Yokubou Lover) changes that, a drone-like accompaniment under vocals where the words are barely audible, a mid-tempo beat taking over and guitar peeking through the gaps in the smokescreen of sounds and textures to play a repetitive four-note figure. It all has the sense of a disarming dream sequence in which nothing is quite as it should be and yet you feel compelled to stay aboard. The call and response between jagged low notes and rich synth chords at the end provides an enthralling finish.

Bù 不 (Art Saves Remix) ends the proceedings on an a mystical, if disorientating, note with the beat bubbling and popping against long drone-like synth notes in lower register, their flow interrupted but regular. When it suddenly gives way to dreamy long notes, filtered beat echoes and mystical harmonics, it is tranquil and beautiful but our peace is again brought to an end by more popping beats, semi-quaver note patterns and deep drones.

Cha Hyun has packed a plethora of ideas, sounds and textures into just under 20 minutes of music and sound. I would like to have heard more of the gorgeous dissonant harmony and layers of contrasting notes and chords but it is nevertheless an impressive and refreshingly individual work that deserves an audience well beyond South Korea. Hopefully that international recognition will continue to evolve.

MATT DONOVAN: UNDERWATER SWIMMING

Matt Donovan is a very long-time close friend and, for much of that time, has been rightly known as a powerhouse of a drummer who has played in bands like Silvia’s Parents and The Belles [who he still plays with] alongside Simon Whitestar. Over the past decade he has also been increasingly involved in more leftfield and experimental music with the likes of Eat Lights Become Lights and The Untied Knot, also connecting him to the live experimental music event Sonic Imperfections. Originally from the same area of Hertfordshire as me, Matt is a long-time resident of South East London, also like me!

In that time Matt has also become a multi-instrumentalist and there has been a sense of inevitability (i.e. not so much if but when) that he would record his first solo album. That day has arrived courtesy of Underwater Swimming, a 10-track journey through a series of contrasting musical and sonic states in which Matt gets to stretch out and explore a plethora of influences and ideas.

The album may also be the first time [that I can recall at least] that I have heard Matt’s vocals on tracks. Sometimes these are placed within the context of sound filters and effects to highlight the intensity or ambience of the particular track and mood. The diversity of Matt’s ideas is impressive. Every track is different and all are packed with ideas but without being cluttered or over-egged. The music and the sounds on which it is conveyed evolve, demonstrating Matt’s skills both as composer and arranger.

There are many highlights but two grabbed my attention sufficiently to force their way onto my live radio show, one being the trippy, intense and energetic Watch the pressure; the other being the completely contrasting tranquility and otherworldly beauty of The Ocean stood still. All in all, it is an album that underlines Matt’s versatility and willingness to experiment without losing an innate melodic sensibility.

Pop Noodles

It might be appropriate to describe the prodigiously talented Cathy Jain as an international teenage music artist. Born in Salford, she spent a significant part of her childhood in China and Australia before returning to the UK aged 12. Now 16 and living in Cheshire, she has, not for the first time, grabbed my ears with the single Cool Kid. I was won over as soon as I heard the opening [and subsequently repeating] four chord pattern, modulating first to the supertonic minor and ending on a diminished chord played by warm resonant synth quavers, topped by Cathy’s melancholy but matter-of-fact vocal. But, as the track develops and harmonies intertwine, the sheer spine-tingling beauty becomes impossible to deny. A clever and unexpected middle section takes things up a notch before a brief solo piano figure brings back the main theme, richer and more impressively arranged than ever. Cathy Jain may be 16 but she doesn’t need to be judged on her age because she already has the songwriting, arranging and performing skills most artists twice her age can only ever dream about possessing. Candidate for track of the month. Incidentally she will be supporting Tom Robinson Band on a tour date in the North West soon.

I have blogged about London-based artist Mari Dangerfield before and now she is back with another slice of heartwarming pop in 1 Like. A melancholy descending chord figure in synth strings accompanies an immediately alluring melody before an upper register chorus that is just exquisite; almost Bacharach-esque in its shuffling jazz-tinged poppiness but yearning and expressive too. ‘Then you show up/And fill my cup/with love …’ she sings. She, in turn, shows up and fills ours with the wondrous beauty of her melodies and accompanying chords.

Newcastle-Upon-Tyne based artist Becca James returns with a smouldering, slowly building ballad called Perfect Girl which starts off simply highlighting her distinct and appealing voice over piano chords before more sounds enter the fray and multi-tracked harmonies introduce sophistication and impressive power. ‘Don’t want to be your perfect girl’ she repeats to a nagging minor key melody. A song that showcases Becca’s versatility and the unique voice that makes her an exciting act.

Norwegian artist Icescape has a female vocalist with a voice that is a little Bjork and a little Anne-Marie on the track Higher. It is listed as electronic on the Soundcloud page but this is actually a brooding piano and synth-soaked pop ballad with a strong hook that has shades of Ellie Goulding in a mash with Rita Ora while I SEE RIVERS keep watch. Accomplished, engaging and very contemporary.

A new name to me is Larry Mindel. The London-based artist draws influence from landscapes as far and wide as the Australian outback, the Hebrides and Suffolk and is influenced by Folk traditions and Jazz harmonies. The latter combination explains the lush chords and sophisticated but organic arrangement on the song Be careful how you go which is from Larry’s new album Love in troubled times. His voice is rich and distinct, shades of James Taylor and a little even of Gary Clark about the way his voice rises up to the higher notes with an earthiness that is very appealing. The piano chords are beautifully arranged and he is too smart to do the obvious when the unexpected will do the job better. Quality songwriting and performance

The new single from French-Laos East Londoner Nuuxs (pronounced Nukes) is called Starship and is a funky piece of dance-edged Pop with some spy movie guitar, Trip Hop-ish undercurrent and minor key aura lending it a certain darkness. That said, the whole thing is lit up by her soulful, sparkling vocal performance and the quietly infectious hook that burrows into my brain as I listen. Spacious production and clever contrasts of texture help to provide Nuuxs with the right backdrop. All in all, another fine performance on a cool track.

Come Play With Me is a social enterprise supporting a bunch of talented Leeds-based artists by releasing their tracks on 7” vinyl which seems like a worthwhile cause; especially so when the music is as good as it is on The Elephant TreesDay 42. From Come Play With Me’s Side By Side album which focuses on talented women, it is a funky syncopated and translucent Pop track with appealing female voices singing in warm harmonies over a cool beat, staccato Bass and gradually evolving chord play. Shades of The Waitresses and The Belle Stars in a mash with The Go! Team as the insistent hook is given different emphases by altering musical states from jangly guitar arpeggios to heavy Prince-like synth riffs. This is strong, original and catchy. Check out Come Play With Me’s Soundcloud page too as there are other fine tracks by Leeds artists on there.

The Choco La's are back with a harmony-soaked track called Old Magic. Slow verses are contrasted by a double time chorus. The instrumental track is fairly simple, long synth chords, a beat that is slow and sparse in the verses then quick and crisp in the chorus where it is joined by a sweet synth melody. The vocals are beautifully executed with close harmonies the dominant feature. That lush sound and a catchy chorus will slay you. You have no escape!

Oxford’s Palace Cats are another band who look deep into pop’s past for inspiration with shades of bands as different as Supertramp, Danny Wilson and Alessi Bros mixing in with a more contemporary sound with bright synths and upper register male vocals that lend a rueful air to an attractive melody and dreamy aroma. Pop with sophistication and class.

Alt Rock & Indie

The link for Berry actually takes us to Balloon Twister Records’ Soundcloud page which curiously still has a name based on random numbers so they could do with hitting the Edit icon on the profile and choosing a bespoke name. However the page does helpfully include the Instagram link for Berry Brown herself. Still, enough about links and pages. April saw Berry and Balloon Twister hit us with I saw a fire. Built around some gorgeous suspended guitar chords and corresponding synth strings, the track provides a slow to mid-tempo and spacious backdrop for Berry’s distinct and appealing voice. The melody is instantly infectious while the response to each phrase from the instruments is beautifully balanced. Imagine Alice Phoebe Lou in a jam with The Sundays while The Big Moon chip in. Epic Alt Pop of the most engaging variety.

It is heartwarming to see the awesome Zambian/Scottish artist from East Grinstead via Leeds Louisa McClure back in action as the excellent Kairos. It is, however, a little sad to see that the band as was appears to have been the victim of lockdown separation. So it is Louisa solo now. Still, she was always the creative genius behind the project and, having gained confidence in her vocals, she delivers superbly on new single Self Control. The funky, syncopated beat and bass playing are trademark Louisa as is her unique guitar style which always involves some picking figures on two or three strings and suspended, extended chord play, lending her songs a sophistication that could almost be The Police’s Andy Summers guesting with Khruangbin while The Wombats officiate. Another standout track from Kairos.

The Harriets are a quartet from Leeds who have been enthusiastically endorsed by the tireless champion of new and emerging music artists Tony Hardy which is always a good reason to take notice. The band has an EP entitled A little something due out on 7th May and Tony tells me there are some great tracks which, to date, I am yet to hear but I have heard Little Something. The song is a buoyant mid-tempo Alt Pop track with appealing upper register male vocal and infectious melody. This is backed up by a cool semi-shuffle drumbeat, strummed guitar and single piano chords before the piano backs up the melody in the chorus as sweet backing vocals and full-swing band combine to lift it all up a level. The band’s Soundcloud page cites a number of influences of which certainly there are shades of The Lemon Twigs, Belle and Sebastian and Paul McCartney in Wings era. Bright, uplifting and intelligent Pop performed with love and craft.

Brighton artist Matt Finucane is back with another spacy energetic slice of Alt Pop in the form of Envy The Birds. This has a large slice of Heroes-era Bowie about it, further reinforced by the octave apart vocals and Matt’s vocal delivery. The guitar, at times, reminds me of Salad’s Donald Ross Skinner (The Fragile States) in a jam with Lia Metcalfe of The Mysterines. The switch into swinging 6/8 beat for the final stretch rounds off an excellent and slightly trippy track.

Parisian duo Velvet Sunset were winners of my Track of the Week poll in mid-April with the track Drive Me. An agreeably loud, snarling track with full on guitar attack from Max, it has Eleonore in fine voice. Her vocals are dreamy but powerful. They sit at the centre of a reverb-soaked track with exactly the right production to bring out the best elements of their buoyant Dream Pop sound. Juniore in a mash with Pillow Queens while Lush referee. In the last edition of this blog, I suggested Blue might be their best so far. I am now going to stick my neck out and say Drive Me is even better.

The South West (Newton Abbot to be precise) based North Easterner Billie Bottle & The Multiple is back with another unique and intriguing track called Cogs. It builds from sparse synth timbres and Billie’s vocals, introducing the lyrical theme of being a small cog in the scheme of today’s dysfunctional society and politics. Reference to working at food banks and how, without small cogs, ‘... the bigger ones won’t work’ reinforces the message. As it goes on, the arrangement fills out. Energetic drums, some platinum-plated instrumental play and a great vocal performance combine to make this another cracking track from this original and talented artist.

Zoe Durrant performs as Little Majorette and she has hit us with a breezy, tuneful piece of delightful Alt Pop called Not Mine which mixes a plethora of sounds that grow in number and volume as the track progresses. Her voice veers between breathy and sweet to more full-on and powerful. The melody is infectious and there is a positive energy that keeps me on board throughout.

Just when you might have thought The Happy Somethings would be putting their feet up having completed their 20-track odyssey with the four EPs and one album under the Thinking is free heading, the East Midlands trio pop back up with a new early summer green-messaged Alt Pop stormer called Beach Cleaners in which their voices combine to heartwarming effect over strumming guitars and fluid bass. Joy’s and, I think, Happy’s voices take the lead where a lead is called for but they are all in fine voice. Tunes a-plenty and a sunny vibe like an alternative Beachboys mixing it with Dream Wife and Supergrass. I look forward to playing this on my show.

Lucigenic is Manchester-based Lucy Davies-Wyatt and on the evidence of Joy, she makes driving Post-Punk and Grunge influenced Alt Rock that nods to Patti Smith, Throwing Muses and a little to Courtney Barnett maybe. Nice reverberant production suits the guitar-driven style and big melody that fills the chorus. This is agreeably loud, melodic and bristling with energy and attitude. The title is definitely appropriate.

At this rate I am going to have to introduce a distinct new section in this blog called something like Retro Pop (or the dreaded Yacht Rock!!) as Owen Duff becomes the latest artist to hit us with a sophisticated slice of Pop that leans heavily on the mid-seventies for influence. Distant echoes of 10CC, Pilot and Gallagher & Lyle sit alongside others who have dipped into that pot of inspiration such as Ben Folds Five and BC Camplight. I am not complaining though. Perhaps it is the passage of time that allows such old influences to be reinvigorated and turned into something genuinely fresh but this track breezes along with a fine vocal performance, sweet harmonies and spine-tingling chords. The musicianship on the track helps bring these qualities out as does the infectious hook and imaginative songwriting.

The last time I recall hearing any current act talking about a Latin Rock Fusion, it was the mid-seventies and I was about 11 years old, discovering the joys of Santana for the first time. So imagine my surprise to see such a term applied to a new track by Pos Viru. (That’s Pos Virú but Wordpress won’t allow me to use special characters in a hyperlink!) Their track Naces (Buscando Ser Normal) is a joyous slab of, well, Latin Rock Fusion with lyrics in Spanish, a chord arrangement that has a distinctly South American aura, syncopated beats and playing and melodically leaning but highly accomplished sustained rock guitar all over it too. There is precious little information about Pos Virú and the Spotify artist profile is in Spanish but does not reveal a national identity.  Well what matters is it’s a heart-warming and substantial piece that is well worth taking the time to check out.

Urban Flavas

From the moment the wobbly sampled piano figure kicks things off, my attention is held by Aura-KL ft. Bad FX on the laid back but intense Hip Hop/Spoken Word of Devil’s Lettuce. That piano just keeps on going on a permanent loop set against a consistent beat, leaving bags of room for the vocalists to set out their stall. Intelligent, original and compelling to listen to, Londoner Jordan Williams aka Aura-KL is carving out a place for himself [and maybe Bad FX too] making sparse, haunting hip hop of an unmistakably London-based variety that sits alongside the thoughtful rap of artists like Kojey Radical and Loyle Carner but doesn’t sound especially like either.

The amazing Aaron Taylor has teamed up with Dutch artist Benny Sings on a track called Shooting Star. It has been around for about ten months but has just come into Fresh on the Net and it finds both in fine voice on a dreamy slow R’n’B track with a catchy hook that makes great use of the upper register and a generally laid back vibe that is both sensual and otherworldly. The verse uses a vocal filter and bendy synth figures answer each phrase before a key modulation into the funkier bridge. Shades of Karl Benjamin and D’Angelo with synth arrangement by Stevie Wonder. And yes, that is high praise.

Another of those tracks that could be reviewed in one of a number of sections. Part-Pop, Part-EDM, Part-R’n’B, Part-Singer-Songwriter. Well we are, after all, talking about the versatile Brazilian-born Newcastle-Upon-Tyne based artist Nadedja. She returns with an upbeat combination of soulful R’n’B vibes, melodic pop sensibilities and dance groove on the track Sand. This mix of sounds and vibes all provides the perfect backdrop for Nadedja’s rangey, distinct and dynamic vocals. It has a mystical aura with its minor key extended chords and contrasts of register but it is catchy all the same and ready to cross over between radio and dancefloor.

Soulful Sensibilities

Jealous Tina’s saxophone-playing singer-songwriter Rosie P also pursues a solo career and she has a new track out called You. It is a slow, reflective and melancholy slice of sophisticated Soul with trademark jazz-inflected keyboard chords, gorgeous saxophone and Rosie’s distinct alto voice. The melody is fluid and appealing while the harmonies are beautifully crafted. The whole track is really built around four elements - an unfussy drum track, legato [electric] piano chords, goose bumping sax play and Rosie’s multi-tracked vocals. And that, my friends, is what you call a winning formula.

I was not really sure what section to review this in but South London singer-songwriter Gabrielle Sey has captivated me with her new single White Noise. From the opening rich piano chords and the first taste of Gabrielle’s distinct, soulful vocals, you know you are in the presence of real class. The lyrics are thoughtful, intelligent and heartbreaking as she wonders aloud about precisely what the subject of the song has been up to while pleading her desire to be alone with her thoughts. As the track evolves into a full-on ballad, it grows in intensity and emotional power. And it improves with every additional listen.

The strength of my feelings about this song led me to explore more of Gabrielle Sey’s work and I discovered she is a versatile and original artist writing music that dips into a long lineage of Soul, R’n’B, Blues, Funk and Pop and she has a kicking live band to boot. This all leaves me pondering how I, as both a Fresh on the Net and radio moderator-reviewer-presenter and a South London-based live music promoter, had managed to not come across Gabrielle Sey before. That needs to be rectified and, at the time of writing, I am wondering whether I might persuade her to come and play one of my live events later in 2021.

Cornwall’s King of Folk-infused Soul [or is that Soul-infused Folk?], Karum aka Webmoms has teamed up with vocalist Charlotte Lloyd-Butler on another of his enigmatic combinations of understated guitar picking, unobtrusive beat and sweet sounds that allow Charlotte plenty of space to move between the different dynamics of her impressive voice and deliver a soft, soulful and spacy melody. As with all Webmoms tracks, it sucks you in and holds your attention. Expertly done.

Lichfield in the English West Midlands is home to ‘female-fronted melancholic Funk 4-piece’ Venkman and judging by the combination of tough-edged agile vocals, fast-paced funky musicianship and Acid Jazz/Neo-Funk groove of Sharing Towels, they are another band who could form part of what is fast evolving into an exciting UK scene alongside others like London’s Prime Panda and Kanna and Bath’s Jealous Tina. Where is the next Eddie Piller to pop up and sign them all? Lol! Well, anyway, this is a stomping big funk choon laced with loud production, instinctive instrumental interplay and a strong, distinct vocal to round it off. Very impressed.

Club Culture

The French label Les Yeuz Orange has a Soundcloud page packed with dance tracks, one of which grabbed my attention in the Fresh on the Net in-box. Namely Ten Fingerz with Cafe Padilla (Cocktail Mix). Seven and a half minutes of hypnotic Deep House with whispered word male voice buried low in the mix against a consistent and tuff beat, funk-infused chords and mystical synth melody. Plenty of breaks in the flow and reconfiguring of the textural combinations keep it interesting. And hey, if it’s this compelling to listen to all the way through when sitting in my office space at home, imagine how good it will sound pumping out of the big speakers on a crowded dancefloor.

Another of the tracks I was delighted to have the opportunity to review for the Fresh on the Net faves was Funk Button by Phoenix, Arizona-based English West Midlander Inflexi0n. He has been a regular on my online music TV show Upstream and this two minute canter is an impressive snapshot of his pulsating, melodic and highly likeable take on Electronic Dance Music. As I said in my FOTN review, the track is aptly named given the funky bassline it evolves from while the piano chords are the glue at the heart of the track and the synths spin around them with joyous freedom of movement. Everything about this track is uplifting and engaging.

Mort Cohen aka The Vic C Project is one versatile artist so I never know what to expect from him. Hence it was a pleasant surprise to discover I’m on it is essentially an Old Skool Garage track with the [Sal]soulful vibe, funky edge and cool syncopated synth chords over popping bass and consistent beat, all embellished by a soulful female vocal. Tuneful, sassy and crying out to be blasted out onto dancefloors this summer, another excellent track from the project that keeps you guessing.

Another new name to me is German artist and producer Paul Schulze but he has joined forces with Adaptiv to hit us with a big and powerful punchy piece of commercial EDM in the form of Leave (Get out). Adaptiv’s dexterous female voice adorns this lively track and delivers plenty of vocal flourishes as well as an intense performance in a classic break-up song. The backing track is tough as hell and alive with synths and beats, topped off with a lovely Euro-Trance synth playing a big tune towards the end. A floor filla for sure. This deserves to be pumping out of speakers once the summer scene is up and running once again.

Singer-Songwriters

It is difficult to know where to place the LA-based New Zealander Eden Iris. Her Soundcloud blurb describes her music as Indie-Folk and some parts of it are but she is a versatile and individual artist whose songs can sometimes sit in more Pop-oriented territory while, at other times, having a mystical cinematic quality.

That can certainly be said for the climatic After the storm. In little more than two minutes it builds to a shuddering climax from a combination of electronic ambience and organic picking guitar plus an operatic Mezzo Soprano sounding sample that contrasts Eden Iris’s own sweet soprano tones. Her voice is like a subtly sweet but spicy syrup of which you immediately want more. Her soft tones and striking melody are haunting enough but all the more so with that operatic sample sitting either end of the track.

Check out also the soft folkiness of The love that still loves here and the triplet time Laura Marling/Phoebe Bridgers-ish New Year’s Eve (Give me something good). Eden Iris is a real talent and one who is building an international reputation that can only be good as her career moves forward.

Versatile Chelmsford-based singer-songwriter Roisin O'Hagan returns with a rockier, triplet time scorcher entitled Girls like me. Her distinct and highly recognisable voice lends a haunting quality to this slice of Americana mixing it with Folkrock and Powerpop. Imagine Stevie Nicks jamming with Taylor Swift and links by Brittany Howard (or something like that!). The song hammers out a clear message to a creepy, sexist guy, carried along by the swinging beat and rocky guitars and helped by a strong and instantly infectious hook. Deserving of some serious radio rotation and will certainly be getting spins on my show.

The amazing Middlesbrough-based singer-songwriter Amelia Coburn has another new single out, this time on 21st May. The Cheese Song is a slight departure following the uptempo Folk-Pop of Perfect Storm and the ingenious story-telling of Dublin Serenade although it is closer to the latter in terms of lyrical content. This jaunty jazz-infused Pop tune enables Amelia to pay tribute to the range of exotic cheeses she experienced when travelling around South and Central America. It is catchy, light-hearted and energetic but, of course, also embellished by Amelia’s distinct and delightful voice and the high register strum of the ukulele poking through the backing track mix. There is also a lovely lead guitar part on the track. Hearing this makes me all the more certain that the world needs more songs about types of food we have enjoyed. The world also needs to hear more of Amelia Coburn.

Cornwall-based Spanish-American singer-songwriter Sarah McQuaid has one of the most instantly recognisable voices in current music. She also has the ability to captivate audiences with the most minimal of set-ups such as on Charlie’s gone home. All we have is Sarah’s amazing alto voice and gorgeous acoustic guitar picking recorded in a church with the perfect ambience. It is a heartbreaking song about how sad and quiet the home feels now that Charlie has gone home after a week and a half of drinking, partying and making music together. Influence-wise the guitar recalls Joni Mitchell in Hejira/Don Juan’s reckless daughter era (so maybe a little Larry Carlton too) while the song belongs in a long lineage of fine singer-songwriters from Joan Armatrading and James Taylor through to Margaret Glaspy and Kate Rusby. Rather than scratch around for crass comparisons I will simply tell you that it is top quality songwriting coupled with the kind of accomplished performance only a special artist can deliver.

Singer-songwriter Nora Anna hails from Latvia and performs in a style on I’ve changed that is an intriguing mix of traditional three-time Bluesy and Soul influenced pop with a jazz edge too but also a contemporary sound and singing style that brings a freshness to that utilisation of past ideas. She also has a knack for lovely piano chords and unusual changes that keep you guessing about what will come next. Put this together with her classy, agile singing voice and melodic flair and you have a winning formula all round. Classic Pop with a modern vitality.

Synthematic

Scottish artists Palli Gap have a dreamy ethereal slice of electronic pop entitled Parallel. It has been described by Clash Magazine as ‘... a Psych infused piece of Analogue Electronics’. A slightly whispery and alluring female voice sings the main melody while appealing synth chords, on-beat bassline and syncopated drum rhythms provide the main bedrock of this track. It sits somewhere between post-club chillout and the synthier end of Alt Pop. Shades of Porrij in a mash with Daft Punk while Jockstrap keep score. And if that doesn’t whet your appetite …

I could have reviewed Tzarina Nassor’s House on fire in one of about five sections and it still would not have felt like I had picked the right one. I have gone with Synthematic mainly because it is a track that seems to be mostly constructed with synth, drum programmes and multi-tracked voices. The vibe is strikingly individual. Shades [but only shades] of NZCA Lines in a mash with Wendy & Lisa and even a hint of Janet Jackson. Vocals are the dominant feature in an earthy organic synth-funk shuffle of a track with catchy hooks and fluid sound combinations. Tzarina’s Soundcloud blurb says simply ‘I dabble in sound’. Well fair enough. Keep on dabbling if the results are as good as this.

London and Sheffield are the locations of Synth Wave and Dream Pop act From Apes To Angels whose No Reason (Barracuda Remix) is an uptempo, loudly produced synth pop anthem of epic proportions with a strong and appealing female lead vocal, echoing monophonic synth riffs, four-to-the-floor drum programme, cool backing vocals and a lovely spaciousness that allows every sound to carry through with its resonance. It is infectiously catchy, powerfully produced and perfectly executed. The epitome of the term synthematic in the way I intended it.

Bahla’s Soundcloud page calls the track The Source R’n’B/Soul but for me it belongs more in Synthematic on the basis that it is uptempo cinematic Pop with synths and drum programme driving events along while a tough and accomplished female vocal lends it a jazz-infused edge, fortified by multi-tracked harmonies. There is a R’n’B edge when it breaks down in the middle and the voice is more exposed but even then the piano is jazzy and the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ are epic and ethereal. It is certainly inventive, energetic and cleverly constructed Pop that draws on a refreshingly eclectic list of inspirational sources.

Electronic & Ambient

The ever-consistend and versatile Michael Donoghue, from Jersey in the Channel Islands, has a new EP out entitled Night Thoughts which, for many of us, might imply a heady combination of the optimistic, pessimistic, hopeful and paranoid (and probably many other emotional states besides). Certainly Michael has set out to capture contrasting moods, at times featuring pumping elecro-beats and then offsetting these against enigmatic ambient tones that evolve gradually from quiet beginnings. For the record regular readers may be surprised to know that Michael is the artist formerly known as Cosmosapien who has also been reviewed several times in past editions. His Soundcloud blurb explains that, in the summer of 2020, he stepped out of the shadows of that pseudonym and it appears to have been the catalyst for a successful period that has seen him picked up by BBC Introducing in the Channel Islands and subsequently voted into the Fresh on the Net faves.

A particular favourite of mine on the EP is Patterns, a track that has all the above-described elements. It evolves from an otherworldly sequence of synth chords, eventually leading to a driving dance beat and piano chords although the tempo is relatively gentle-paced and the spacy feel continues to hold fort. The title track Night Thoughts is slower still, a clockwork percussion feature sitting above a slow electronic beat while again the synth is spacy and enigmatic and there are echoing crashing sounds like clearing up time at a busy market. All in all it’s an EP worth checking out and chilling out to. Patterns also won the Track of the Week poll on my radio show on 24th April.

TTD regulars Legpuppy, from South London, have been, by their usual prolific standards, relatively quiet lately but Darren has put that right with another tongue-in-cheek uptempo EDM track called Your profile is dope. Spoken word samples lampoon the culture of digital flattery by those seeking the loyalty [and money] of other internet users through familiar sounding messages where a compliment is quickly followed by a suggestion of how they could help you do things even better. This is set to a pulsating four-to-the-floor electro-House beat, an unusual synth figure and chords that switch up and down by a semi-tone. It is cleverly produced and makes clever use of breaks in the flow to introduce trippy interludes. Good to have them back.   

The Insight Music Soundcloud page is where you will find the new EP by D•LINGS. Entitled Dream Echoes it offers four tracks of interesting and soothing electronic music in which fuzzy synths, ambient noises and appealing melodies combine to create something quite distinct and engaging. Opening track Ebb & Flow (no, not the one I wrote and Dilara added vocals to for ESF!) is in triplet time and is striking in its originality. The two middle tracks are more in downtempo dance music territory while the closing track Farewell is in a slow 3-time and minor key and has a more cinematic, soundtrack quality. All in all a cool and well-executed EP. 

New York-based Moldovan artist Serge Bulat always makes thoughtful explorative music that comes under the broad heading of ‘ambient’. So is the case with Possible Plausible Reversible (feat. Dai Sekiguchi) which, for the majority of the track, is a swirling minor key instrumental constructed around synths, drum programme and ambience until the final stretch where, I presume, Dai Sekiguchi pops up with some spoken word in a language I am not educated enough to identify but I hope is Moldovan. It is dreamy, ethereal and lovingly crafted. As always, Serge maintains his high standards of quality and detail.

Birmingham’s Matters have a track out called Within the outer fields which is a gradually evolving web of hypnotic electronic patterns. It kicks off in half time before the beat suddenly doubles in tempo and long synth notes wrap themselves around the rapid note patterns to create a more mystical aura. The clever use of occasional breaks and variations in the sound choices keeps events moving and ensures there is an appealing intensity to the track too.

It has been a while since I have seen Norwich artist Poppy release new material in her alter ego as Bug Teeth so I was delighted to see new track Fish in the Fresh on the Net in-box. The track Moth (Jasmine’s Song) was both my first introduction to Bug Teeth and, if I remember rightly, the first track I chose to be my Vanishing Point on Ming & Jon’s Monday Night Ride-Out show on Exile FM after they had played all 19 tracks from the compilation album of the same name. Fish has similarities to that track in the enigmatic vocals buried in the mix, the repeating riffs that sound synthesized but may actually be played on the guitar using certain effects and the balance between the unusual and slightly futuristic feel of the music and the simple sweetness of the synth melody that appears and disappears throughout. It is an   engaging sound she makes and I am glad that Bug Teeth continues to be an active project for Poppy.

American artist Jonny Fallout is new to me and his track We are all trapped here could easily have been reviewed in Club Culture but since it is constructed around a repetitive electronic note pattern but then develops into a cinematic, filmic instrumental with bendy synth tunes, sustained reverberant string sounds and a beat that switches between full and half time, it probably sits more comfortably in this section. Not that it matters. It is certainly exciting, full of ideas and has the sense of belonging in a fast-paced film soundtrack.

Genetic Effects, from the USA, has an album entitled Animal Prisms from which he has just sent out the track Morsequitur. It is an intriguing piece, an instrumental in which synth, jumping up and down in octaves, plays a repeating descending minor scale figure while ambient sounds and long tones fizzle quietly around the outer corners of the mix. It is engaging and calming, thus hitting the point of being ‘ambient’ music on the nail. Check out the whole album as it is full of gems like this.

Equally on song (as it were!) where hitting the trade definition of ‘ambient’ is concerned is LifLon Rec (aka Tom from an unspecified location in the UK - what is it with all these ambient music artists not wanting anyone to know where they are from? Lol!). His track Heritage Loops is serenely soft, low register and calm. Synths float around three main notes while electronic note patterns dot around them like regulated raindrops on a soft window pane as the track evolves slowly and unobtrusively towards its quiet ending. Rounding off a packed Electronic & Ambient Section with a tranquil finish.

Contemporary Classical & Sound Art

The super talented Laura Cannell & Kate Ellis have collaborated on a new EP entitled March Sounds (Brawl Records) which blends enigmatic and deliberately understated voices with ambient, gradually emerging patterns of chords and notes played on their respective string instruments which are franky stunning. The music is constructed around Laura Cannell’s trademark ‘overbowed’ violin and unusual vocals juxtaposed against Kate Ellis’s rich and evocative Cello and Double Bass playing. Ideas are fluid and contrasting including drone-like effects, flickering flame-like patterns and rich, sometimes dissonant harmonic language.

The textures they achieve are quite otherworldly and, when the voices are finally exposed in a sparse but hypnotic manner (as in the closing stages of the stunning Foxglove and Heather), it is all the more compelling. From the open harmonic intervals and registral contrasts in Earthly Unearthly, with its Gorecki-like interweaving modality, it is like entering some slightly disarming and yet irresistably beautiful dream sequence. Nocturnal, despite its tranquil-sounding title, is actually a relatively tempestuous piece as both musicians enter into frantic minimalist-influenced patterns.

The aforementioned Foxglove and Heather is calming but ethereal, again hinting at a Gorecki influence in the almost circular interplay between the instruments and the distant, meditative feel of the vocal parts. The EP ends with the patiently evolving Shadow Disrupted in which the subtle harmonic shifts are quite exquisite, providing a haunting and yet fulfilling finish to just over 17 minutes of some of the most beautifully crafted and life-affirming music I have heard in some time. Laura Cannell and Kate Ellis use their combined composing, arranging and playing skills and creative imaginations to transport us to a world I want to spend more time in. Thankfully, with so much to contemplate within the complexities of their work, I will find the time and excuse to do just that.

Now I know that the remarkable British composer Emily Hall is hardly a ‘new and emerging’ artist although she did tweet a lovely tribute to me when I reviewed her incredible track Mantra in the days before she withdrew from social media and instead set up her blog. But I heard a track from Emily’s album Arrangements - Made in Lockdown, a series of collaborations with other musicians, on Elizabeth Alker’s Unclassified (BBC Radio 3) and had to write about it. It is a piece called Wandering which Emily arranged for piano and had recorded by Sarah Nicolls. One of the fascinating aspects of my relationship with Emily Hall’s music is that she often uses harmonic language which is more conventional than I necessarily want to hear in a contemporary classical context. Yet she does so with such skill and rich use of extensions, jazz inflections and chromaticism that it always sounds both refreshingly modern and undramatically beautiful. So it is with Wandering and it has inspired me to want to now buy and spend time with the rest of the album too. A reminder, as if I needed one, that she really is one of the genuine modern greats.

Jazz & International Journeys

I don’t know why it has taken so long for me to come across London’s Dat Brass but the funky free-flowing fluidity and instrumental sophistication of Pidgin is stunning. It kicks off with bass and drums in a funky jazz exploration that soon finds room to incorporate quite experimental sounds alongside sumptuous jazz harmony full of rich dissonances and improvised solo stretches. Their website calls their sound ‘10 piece punk jazz behemoth featuring distorted horns, savage cuts and monolithic bass’ and has footage of a live show that reveals a band who sizzle with energy and feed off a euphoric audience response. Jeez, when lockdown is properly over, I have to see them live.

For the second edition running, we have a lovely track by the super talented British trumpeter and composer Jackson Mathod. Cretins also made the Fresh on the Net faves the weekend that I was reviewing them for the team. So this is the second time I have written about the track this month. A cool Latin-infused beat and popping bassline kick this off before exotic chords offer up an accompaniment to great horn interplay and plenty of space for Jackson and his guests James Beckwith (Piano) and Harry Pope (Drums) to all stretch out with Jackson and James providing sweet solos before coming together to create rich harmonies and dissonances that remind me a little of Kamasi Washington, Shabaka Hutchings and Denys Baptiste. Jackson Mathod is playing the Jazz Cafe in Camden on 24th May and, at the time of writing, it is nearly sold out. Exciting to see his star rising.

 

Folk & Country Fare

One of the highlights of writing the Fresh Faves reviews for FOTN in the week after the Easter break was getting to review the amazing Ceitidh Mac track Birds. Ceitidh (Katie) is a Welsh artist living in Newcastle Upon Tyne. She plays the Cello and, on Birds, we hear her use pizzicato Cello like a cross between a Jazz Double Bass and a Fretless Bass Guitar, complete with mellow noteplay and sumptuous slides. The song is also constructed around picking guitar and a consistent beat that sometimes pauses for breath while Katie’s voice swoops and soars impressively against a translucent, organic soundscape. The final stretch, as she ad libs wordlessly in falsetto range, is climatic and life-affirming. In every sense, this is simply outstanding.

One of the best parts of getting to review the Fresh Faves for the FOTN platform is that there are always at least a couple of tracks I must admit to having overlooked at the moderating and Listening Post voting stages for whatever reason. In my defence it is hard, when listening to 200 tracks because there is only time to listen once initially and it is then only the ones that grab me first time that make my shortlist and get more plays before I vote.

This time one such discovery was Welsh singer-songwriter Gillie. Growing up amid the idyllic pastoral beauty of Carmarthenshire before moving to the hustle and bustle of London, she has combined those contrasting experiences to create music that is both urban (in the atmospheric sense, not the genre) and organic in a folkier manner.

The song Still Dreaming has all these elements, utilising Gillie’s innate folk sensibilities with picking guitar and loose-limbed beat driving the track along while the vocal harmonies are dreamy and ethereal and the melody is unusual and striking. It is always exciting to come across an artist who strives for originality and is carving out her own niche. I now look forward to making time to delve into Gillie’s catalogue and see what further gems undoubtably await me.

While it isn’s strictly new, since he submitted to FOTN this month, it seems like a good enough excuse to mention Tom Houston’s song Righteous. The ever-prolific Scot has once again hit the spot, this time with a swinging Country-tinged Folk track evolving from an immediately irresistible guitar figure built around the tonic centre of the track with the guitar accompanying itself in a little three-note motif (V - VI - VIII or I+ & back), expertly played by Neill MacColl while Tom hammers out his anti-elitist lyrical message in his distinct bluesy voice and simple but sweet melody. Imagine early John Martyn mixing it with Bob Dylan on Tangled up … while Hayley Reardon adds the finishing touches. Once again Tom retains his high standards in all areas.

Regular readers will know Ross King as being one half of the Dream Pop duo Morning Myth but he also writes and performs as a solo artist making heat-glazed Folk tunes like The Leaving. It showcases Ross’s trademark expert picking guitar and chordplay but also his voice which is haunting with shades of Graham Lyle in a mash with Jeff Buckley. The synth that plays long legato notes alongside the guitar is soft and serene while the chords and the additional guitar twang are enigmatic and a little ethereal. Inventive, alluring Indie-Folk of a magical kind.

The London-Chicago collective Umbrellabirds consistently make lovely tracks despite the challenges of remote collaboration and Sobriquet is another one. Based mainly around soft understated piano chords and melancholy female alto range vocals, it builds gradually through the adding of lush vocal harmonies and tasteful guitar figures, growing into a powerful but translucent slice of Folk-Pop that is touching and turns its apparent fragility into a sonic strength. Artists who are fond of over-egging the pudding could learn from Umbrellabirds when it comes to the art of ‘less is more’. Beautifully done.

Somerset’s Queen of Indie-Folk Sharon Lazibyrd has now put the song And they danced (which previously appeared in a live lockdown video I showed on Upstream) onto a single. It still kicks off with her ukulele and Mediterranean style chant but the recording allows her the space to add a few subtle extra sounds that underline the Southern European infusion with her Folk style. The melody is infectious and Sharon sounds like she’s having a lot of fun singing it. Great to hear.

There is precious little in the way of info or links on her Soundcloud page, not even a location but Martha St Arthur has hit the spot with the Country-Pop of Maybe she’s bored with it. She has a strong, edgy and impressive voice that sounds as good solo as it does in multi-tracked harmonies. The song has echoes of so many Country and Americana influenced artists from down the years from Bonnie Bramlett to Stevie Nicks to Haim. Chugging guitars, major key chords, big harmonies and bags of energy. A buoyant boisterous way to wrap up this month’s reviews.

PART THREE: OTHER COMMENTARIES        

WHAT’S GOING ON WITH THE BBC POPULAR MUSIC RADIO REGIME?

Well, April 2021 was one weird month where radio was concerned. It started well enough with some great new tracks on the shows I listen to most frequently on BBC Radio 6 Music and BBC Radio 3; the highlight for me being when I could sit back and enjoy listening to Hannya White presenting the Freak Zone Playlist Show which I had helped her work on and which she delivered with such love and imagination.

Then, within a day, news broke of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, husband of the UK Queen (yes, she is the Queen of Britain and other countries too and not just England despite the lazily chauvinistic language frequently used by an overwhelmingly English TV and Radio media). Of course it was sad for his family just as it was sad for mine when I lost my dad at 77 and more so when I lost my 59 year old brother. But the rest of the country did not stop for either of my losses and nor should it have done for them or for this royal one.

The Duke was 99 and had already outlived the average male by 20 years. That is NOT a national tragedy by any measure. Comparisons made by some on social media with Princess Diana (who was 36 and died in a car crash) were ridiculous to say the least. On the contrary he had an extremely charmed and fulfilled life of wealth, privilege and power. There was also no evidence whatsoever of any widespread desire amongst the audience for radio stations like BBC 6 Music or 1Xtra for the abandonment of the planned schedule and its replacement with presenters having to sound sad and talk in soft tones while playing a stream of softcore oldies with ‘appropriate’ themes and titles.

It was bad enough that millions felt forced to switch their radios off for a week in order to avoid being subjected to this politically motivated royalist mope-fest. Many suspect it was instigated by failed wannabe Tory politician and Director-General of the BBC, Tim Davie. He is on record accusing the Corporation of being ‘unpatriotic’ and allowing too many comedians to make fun of the Conservative Party. This is Prime Minister Johnson’s own rendition of the Trump Effect whereby being democratically elected becomes an excuse to impose your will on the masses and treat national institutions like they are your personal fiefdom.

What is far worse is that, as a consequence of this ludicrous and unwanted decision, hundreds of struggling musicians were cruelly robbed of what may have been their only opportunity this year, in some cases ever, to have exposure on national radio. On 6 Music alone, in the space of just 3 days, 15 hours of specialist programming was tossed on the Tory bonfire in favour of musical mush. There was no BBC Introducing Mixtape Show; no Freak Zone; no Tom Ravenscroft Show; no Soul & Funk Show; no Electric Ladyland; no Gilles Peterson; no Blessed Madonna and the likes of Jamz Supernova, Stuart Maconie, Mark Radcliffe et al were forced to play softcore oldies for hours at a time.

In an act of supreme hypocritical irony, 6 Music even brought Tom Robinson back into the Saturday night slot they had literally only just axed him from in favour of Blessed Madonna’s EDM-oriented show because Tom was presumably seen as more gentile and appropriate with his reassuringly English accent (despite the fact that Tom has a long track record of the kind of politics one would not associate with royalist sycophantism!). For all those presenters, none of whom represent the conservatism of this new BBC regime, it must have been painful to have to go along with these orders and be unable to tell people publicly what they really thought about it. Tom’s tweet in response to criticism of it that read simply ‘Hey, don’t shoot the messenger’ said it all!

Eventually 6 Music did return to its normal programming but it has left a bitter taste that may take a very long time to truly disappear. Certainly it has strengthened my resolve that we need to unite to build the fanbase for progressive internet radio. We need to have the support and structures in place before Davie and his zealots are allowed to dismantle all the good work that has been done to make the BBC a genuinely diverse provider of popular music across an incredible range of programmes currently offered by the combined forces of Radio 1, 1Xtra, 6 Music and the Asian Network. Those who carp from the sidelines [and usually from a position of ignorance] need to wake up and realise there is nothing like this anywhere else in the world and even those countries, like the Netherlands, Canada and others, who do have public service broadcasting, offer nothing close to the diversity of programmes we have in the UK. If you are adding the #DefundTheBBC tag to your posts, be aware that you are supporting a far right group set up to ensure there is not an impartial, trustworthy voice in the mainstream media anymore. If you don’t believe me, have a look at their Twitter page.

I would hope I do not need to explain to intelligent people that you cannot complain about the BBC not doing enough to meet your various and highly specific demands and then call for its funding to be removed so you can be relieved of having to pay a license fee! Unless of course, you would prefer that the vast array of TV, radio and red button coverage currently provided using license fee income is instead paid for by Sky TV-style channel subscriptions. No, I thought not.

Likewise, if you don’t believe the BBC, as it currently looks, is under real threat from Davie and his cronies, think again. The decisions that are shaping the future of BBC Radio suggest a distinct move towards a more commercially driven vision. So yes, it was a progressive move replacing the outgoing Paul Rodgers as Head of Music at BBC Radio 6 Music with a younger female head. Nevertheless, it was also notable that the job went to Samantha Moy whose background is in marketing rather than in music programming; one whose own Twitter account suggests an obsessive interest in the mainstream music industry’s trade magazine Music Week. Given the outlook of that journal, this rang a few alarm bells. And, before you ask, yes there were experienced women in senior producer roles who could have been considered too. Perhaps they were. I was not privvy to the recruitment process so I would not know.

Samantha Moy’s first big move was to axe Tom Robinson’s Saturday night show and replace it with one hosted by American Dance music DJ The Blessed Madonna. Leaving aside my friendship with and loyalty to Tom, I could see some logic in wanting to broaden 6 Music’s non-mainstream appeal by pulling in more fans of alternative Dance-based genres [albeit that Nemone’s Electric Ladyland, which already caters for a similar audience, was itself bumped from Sunday lunchtime onto an unsociable timeslot some years ago]. But by keeping Tom on the BBC Introducing Mixtape show while moving it to the ultimate graveyard slot of 4AM on Monday morning, she not only reduced the live listening audience for the station’s one dedicated BBC Introducing show. She aso severed its link with the Saturday night show, thus forever removing the opportunity for new and emerging artists chosen for the Mixtape to bag an additional play on a popular prime time show. So the result ultimately has been the further marginalisation of new and emerging music artists.

I believe Samantha Moy was absolutely right to axe Liz Kershaw from the Saturday lunchtime show and bring in a younger [and black] female presenter with a strong track record of supporting alternative urban and dance music in the form of Jamz Supernova. Liz’s show, which I was once interviewed on incidentally, had become tired and irrelevant. Her claim, on Twitter, to be the legitimate voice for the Northern working classes on 6 Music looked hollow considering that the station is already dominated by working class Northern English presenters! It was damaged further by her belly-aching about the first lockdown wrecking her foreign holiday plans at a time when many working class people were worrying about their livelihoods! She, in any case, has the same number of hours with her new role on a show about pop history which I imagine she will enjoy more anyway. So unlike Tom, she will not have experienced a reduction in her BBC salary.

The decisions both to bring in a new overall head at Radio 1 and 1Xtra, despite Chris Price continuing to be Head of Music [and, by all accounts, doing a good job], was interesting. All the more so for matching Aled Haydn-Jones’s appointment by bringing in Lorna Clarke with a role of overseeing all the BBC’s pop channels (i.e. Radio 1, 1Xtra, Asian Network & 6 Music). Significant changes have followed at Radio 1 with long-time new music champion Annie Mac being shown the door and highly popular morning show presenter Clara Amfo moving into her role presenting the Future Sounds show.

Again there is a logic to this. Clara Amfo, despite presenting Radio 1’s morning show for the past six years, has been a notable champion of new music and, although now 36 years old, is a little younger than Annie Mac. Interestingly the Live Lounge will now be presented by Rickie, Melvin & Charlie who joined a few years ago from Kiss FM but are actually around the same age as Annie Mac. However their style is more urban and humour-based which will suit the style of daytime Radio 1. That is one reason why the station’s oldest daytime presenter Scott Mills has survived in the afternoon slot for so long.

The new face in all this is former Capital DJ Sarah Story who takes on a new show called Future Dance. She is another DJ from a BAME background which will help R1 to retain its track record on bringing BAME and female presenters into key roles. She has already stood in for Annie Mac on recent occasions and her appointment is, among other things, a welcome reminder that, with 9 million compared to Capital’s 6 million, Radio 1 is still the UK’s most listened-to pop charts-oriented station.

Very interesting too is that Jaguar [Bingham] takes over the Dance Introducing show. Jaguar interviewed me when I performed on the BBC Introducing Stage at Latitude in 2017 and, in the conversation I had with her afterwards, she told me her ambition was to be presenting the Dance music show on Radio 1 within 5 years. In essence she has achieved that ambition with a year to spare. It is not clear whether she will, at some point, move off the BBC Introducing Show at 3 Counties. Will Danny Fullbrook continue on the show as a lone presenter or will it be all change there? When I met Danny in 2017, he was the show’s producer. Looking at the station’s timetable it appears Jaguar is staying with the show for now, possibly because it is a pre-record and therefore does not interfere with her Radio 1 activities.

Another key decision taken by the new management team at the BBC has been to remove long-standing BBC Introducing stalwart Huw Stephens from his position on Radio 1 and give it to Jack Saunders. Again this seems to be driven by considerations of age and commercial appeal. So, on the one hand, the BBC preaches diversity on everything from race, gender and sexual orientation to disabiity and age. But I see little sign of anything other than age being used as a stick to beat experienced presenters with and, as for disability, can anyone name a disabled presenter on a mainstream show?

This pattern of showing new music stalwarts the door does not stop at national level though. Emily Pilbeam recently announced that she was being moved off the BBC Introducing team [although it is unclear whether this is actually happening] and the popular duo who made the BBC Introducing in the West show so popular were axed despite a storm of protest from listeners in the summer when Davie’s appointment was first announced. Worse, those replacing them appear to have little or no track record of supporting non-mainstream music. If BBC Introducing ends up being the domain of wannabe Radio 1 DJs with no understanding of or interest in music that sits outside the pop charts culture, it will defeat the very purpose with which it was established and turn it into another convenient avenue for the big corporates to introduce their newest signings to the world.

Commercialism does seem to be the driving factor here and it is repositioning stations for what is deemed to be the commercial advantage in the future. For example, 6 Music is enjoying its most successful ever period with 2.6 million listeners making it easily the most popular digital-only radio station and yet the BBC sees a need to make wholesale changes to its format and team. Since this cannot be justified by current performance, it can only therefore be about what they hope the future demographic of the station might look like. I do accept, of course, that a station whose core audience has an average age of over 40 [and probably over 50] does need to take such considerations seriously. Equally though, there is little point in building such a diverse and wide-ranging public service broadcaster if you are then going to try to act like and compete with giant profit-driven corporates. There is a reason why the Global and Bauer Media owned stations (Capital, Heart, Smooth, Magic, Kiss et al) have zero specialist programming even in the dead of night. And that is simply because they can maxmise advertising revenues and audience reach if they play nothing but current and former pop charts music 24-7.      

We have to hope that there is sufficient backbone within the current team running the BBC’s popular music channels to stand up to any gratuitous attempts by Davie and co to wreck progress on stations they don’t like or understand the point of. It is not entirely clear what part Davie played when he was working at 6 Music during the attempt to close the station [by the Coalition Government] in 2010 which was famously not only defeated by a brilliantly organised campaign but, on the back of the campaign, saw its audience double almost overnight. Was Davie happy or angry when this happened? Could he be lining up a long-desired second attempt at closing it down? Let’s hope not.

We also have to hope this is not all just the start of a deliberate broader undermining process with the long term aim of running the BBC down ready for sell-off to the Murdochs of this world. It would be naive to dismiss that as a very real intention of Boris Johnson and some of the more influential figures in his government. The Tories have been accusing the BBC of left wing bias for the past forty years and their disdain for expensive publicly funded corporations is well documented. Let us hope eagle-eyed investigative journalists involved in more integrity-based media are keeping a watch on which government ministers are acquiring stakes in media corporations of the type who might specialise in tendering processes. If the BBC ever gets broken up and sold off, my money is on various members of the current Cabinet cropping up as shareholders in the companies that acquire the goods.

Given the long-standing intellectual vacuum on the political right, it is not hard to imagine that to someone like Davie (and the hawks in government), the case for a station like 6 Music that shuns the commercial pop charts and plays a lot of music they would consider to be weird and dysfunctional (just two reasons to love it!) is not made even when it is reporting record figures and has grown again during lockdown. Never mind that this is its precise role in the modern BBC’s 4-station-wide popular music regime; reflecting the opportunity the digital radio era offers to meet the widest possible demographics in a socially, ethnically and culturally diverse Britain.

That is the problem when you allow politicians to interfere in areas they don’t understand (like Michael Gove trying to force schools to prioritise teaching the names of every King and Queen since the dark ages when he was Education Secretary!). It is possible that the only thing that can save the BBC from long term dismantling and privatisation will be a Labour Government. Perhaps those in the party who would prefer to focus on attacking Keir Starmer instead of uniting to get the Tories out of office might want to have a long think about their own contribution to keeping Boris Johnson in 10 Downing Street! Various words about learning lessons from the past begin to circulate around my tired brain at this point! Don’t get me started on the rank hypocrisy of those who demanded unequivocal party line unity and loyalty when Corbyn was leader but are now on social media daily accusing Starmer of being a Tory!

Returning to the subject with which I began this article, the BBC put a complaints form online to deal with the vast numbers of unhappy license fee payers who wanted to challenge the blanket brown-nosing coverage of the Duke’s passing. However they were forced to take it down because their technology could not cope with the levels of complaints! As one of those who completed the form, I did subsequently receive a letter by email. It said, in so many words, thank you for your complaint but we are the BBC and we know best so you can all f*** off. PS: We value your feedback! It must have taken some poor intern a good two minutes to knock that one up! No doubt the #DefundTheBBC idiots will be rubbing their hands with characteristically shallow glee. Please, BBC radio heads, don’t unwittingly play your own part in giving them something to crow about.

AND FINALLY .......

So let’s end Edition 55, as we began, on a positive note. By the time this is published, my first live event [as a promoter] in seven months and only the second in fourteen months will be less than a week away. And no sooner will it end than I will be frantically promoting and marketing the 18 gigs that will follow between June and December; not to mention two festivals! Live music is back. And don’t let the COVID roadmap restrictions put you off. The Trust The Doc Live gig I staged at the Amersham Arms in October 2020 was under more or less identical [Tier 1] conditions (tables of six or less, 2 metres apart, masks on when not seated, table service only) and it was a wonderful night with fantastic music and an atmosphere to match. It is going to feel strange to be back on that continuous roller coaster after more than a year of lockdown but it will be good too. So if you are looking forward to being able to attend gigs once again, please come and support live grassroots music.

My friends who run the two venues where I promote monthly gigs - AMP Studios on Old Kent Road & The Amersham Arms opposite New Cross Station - have worked tirelessly to comply with every stage of the COVID rules even when the government’s dithering, hypocritical approach cost them untold amounts in wasted stock and furloughing-unfurloughing staff over the summer and autumn months particularly. Their positivity is inspiring and makes me want to go the extra mile to keep putting on events even though the number I have committed to is far greater than the number catered for in my Arts Council of England application. So I will have to work extra hard to ensure I can raise sufficient funds to meet this insane schedule! The challenge of this, even for an experienced promoter like me, is daunting.

I have started as I mean to go on by booking lots of talented artists so the slots are filling up fast and ticket sales for those currently made available are going really well. Although 15 of the 19 gigs and both festivals will take place in London where I live, I am also putting gigs on in 4 non-London venues. To that end, I am currently talking with the lovely people at More Coffee Live in Melton Mowbray and The Oddfellows in Hemel Hempstead. I have also talked informally with artists in the West Country about a gig there. Other possible locations include Brighton, Hitchin and Portsmouth, all of which are places where I have useful contacts who could assist with an event. As my funding is from the Arts Council of England (and National Lottery), the venues do need to be in England. So, despite having family, friends and great live music opportunities in Wales, any plans to promote there will have to wait until at least 2022. Maybe by then, I might make it to Belfast too with a little help from a certain Toal family. As ever, watch this space!

Hopefully the grassroots music community - artists, fans, promoters, reviewers, broadcasters, labels, managers, agents, publishers, pluggers, PR folk etc. - will be the beneficiaries of my insane schedule! We can all help by buying tickets and getting out there, supporting grassroots music while obeying the COVID roadmap regulations. As I always say, new music never sleeps. Till the next time then everyone. :)

Neil xxxx