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Trust The Doc: Edition 58
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Edition 58: 31st July 2021:  A blog by Neil March

Welcome to Edition 58 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. After 2 bumper editions, a mere 64 reviews this time!

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 grassroots independent music. I feel very privileged.

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

Part Two: Reviews of New Music

Part Three: Other Commentaries

Congratulations kid, you’ve made it!! (Page 29)

And Finally …. (Page 34)

PART ONE: THE MONTH IN BRIEF

TRUST THE DOC MEDIA: UPDATE

The Trust The Doc Radio show is still growing, comfortably passing the 21K milestone on the podcast (about 28K including live listeners) with the weekly figure still going up!  

It is an interactive show with two polls (Track of the Week & Show Closer), a brain teaser (What’s The Word?) and the insanely fast-moving Twitter thread! It is also dominated by new music. 50% of content is by new and emerging artists and about 35% is new music by more established acts with a few classics linked to the regular features. It is such a blast to present every week thanks both to the wonderful community that gathers for the show, the hundreds who make the effort to listen to the podcast and the amazing artists whose music I get to play. To still keep building the audience for an internet-only radio in the UK playing mostly new and emerging music artists is phenomenal and down to the amazing people who support the show. It is also great news for grassroots music.

The pre-recorded one-hour Trust The Doc Extra show (8PM, Wednesdays) also continues to grow. It is a show predominantly for playing brand new tracks by new and emerging artists before they have been played on the Saturday show. Most will not make it onto the Trust The Doc Radio Show simply because there is not enough time or space for that to happen but at least I am able to give them a spin midweek instead. And because it is not live I am able to offer more music, less talk in an hour.

Both shows also enable me to preview my forthcoming live events by playing tracks by the artists appearing at them and to include some whose videos are being shown on Upstream too. This joined up approach maximises exposure for as many grassroots music artists as possible. As always 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.

The Trust The Doc TV channel continues to host the twice-monthly magazine-style music TV show Upstream and July saw two more editions of the show, accompanied by more people than ever in the live chat room. Eds 28 and 29 also featured footage of all 8 acts playing live at my July events in South East London (4 on each). Another top-notch line-up will appear on Ed 30 (Tuesday 3rd August). The reason for the shows being so good is always down to the number of talented artists allowing me to share their videos. Look out for the link on social media in the coming days. Find all editions and subscribe to the channel for free here.

VANISHING POINT @ AMP STUDIOS

It was another magical night at AMP Studios on Thursday 1st July thanks to amazing performances from Amongst The Pigeons; With Sun; Colorvox and Soricah. Once again, as the trains went by overhead, lighting up the barbed wire curls along the back wall and mixing in with the stage lights as darkness fell, it was like we had been transported to another universe. Fortunately a universe where the music was a mix of electrifying electronic and experimental sound and chilled acoustic singer-songwriter ones. As ever the wonderful staff at AMP Studios (and the welcome addition of Pizza maker and vendor Lorenzo) added to the vibe. A massive thank you to Maria and Leah especially.

The next Vanishing Point takes place on Thursday 5th August and we have another incredible line-up with recent Fresh on the Net fave Sansha; a new collaboration between Operation Lightfoot’s Luke Moore and Dorothy Bird from Liverpool with our very own artist-designer and musician extraordinaire Paul F Cook under the name Skylon; BBC Introducing/Fresh on the Net favourite and Vanishing Point regular performer [prior to lockdown] Cholly and Lines of Silence which is the new project of David Little aka Smallhaus.

It should be another magical evening and we will also have local entrepreneurs selling food to complement the venue’s very reasonably priced licensed bar. So come down but you might want to book in advance and save yourselves £4 per ticket. This will be the last gig where I am offering tickets for £6.00 simply because I want to be able to pay the artists more for their work

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Tickets are available here. Just £6 if you buy now. £10 on the door.

LINE-UP FOR VANISHING POINT: Sansha, Skylon, Cholly, Lines of Silence

TRUST THE DOC LIVE: @ THE AMERSHAM ARMS

Wednesday 21st July 2021 saw another fantastic Trust The Doc Live @ The Amersham Arms. We had an amazing night thanks to an audience that was so enthusiastic and upbeat, the fantastic team at this beautiful, historic venue and four stunning performances courtesy of Pushpin; Dan Cross; March and The Anderson Tapes.

Tickets are on sale for the next one on Wednesday 18th August which is an Album Launch Special for the amazing Acid Jazz/New Funk quintet Prime Panda. They will be joined by three more incredible acts - the brilliant Dutch synth-alt-pop music and visual artist Bloom De WIlde; thoroughly original Indie-Folk trio The Greeners and Country-Alt-Rock crossover act The Tupelos.

Tickets are available here. Advance: £8.00, Door: £10.00

TOMORROW CALLING FESTIVAL:

As previously reported, 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 accommodate 10 stalls where local creative entrepreneurs will be selling food and merchandise. There will be a licensed bar open all day and evening too.

Doors will open at 1.30PM with the first live act on stage at 3.30PM and the last one finishing around 10.30PM. The bar will remain open unti 11.30PM. 14 artists will perform across the day and a special Tomorrow Calling Playlist will play in-between. It should be a wonderful day of futuristic, spacey, sparse, chilled and experimental music and sound in London’s most beautiful, unique art space with the trains passing by overhead and an aura that could be post-war Vienna.

The line-up for the event is stunning. We have Post-Coal Prom Queen (formerly known as L Space) coming all the way from Glasgow, Minimums travelling from the North of England (but will their creator take off his or her mask?!) and a bill that includes Hannya White, Pixi Ink, Pimlican ft Josie, Hazy Sofia (making her live debut, still aged just 16), Tigersonic, Helefonix, Cholly, award-winning Handpan virtuoso Rosie Bergonzi, Richard Sanderson, Lines Of Silence, Soricah and Esbe all on the bill. We will also have stalls selling freshly cooked food; merchandise tables and that same reasonably priced licensed bar that we have at Vanishing Point gigs. It should be a magical today and the event of the year in South East London.

Tickets are on sale at a special early bird price of just £10 for the whole day. My advice is don’t hang around as tickets are already selling fast and it is possible we will run out before they get to go up in price!! And here is the fantastic smaller version of the poster courtesy of the super talented PaulFCook.

Get tickets at the Early Bird price of £10 here. They will rise to £15 at a yet-to-be-cofirmed point in August and, if there are any tickets left on the day, it will cost £20 on the door. So it doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult a decision to make! Come and support Grassroots Alternative, Ethereal and Experimental Music.

Artwork and Design by PaulFCook

FRESH ON THE NET: SUMMER BREAK

Fresh on the Net is now on a summer break which started immediately following the publication of Del Owusu’s Fresh Faves Reviews on 26th July. The in-box re-opens for submissions on Monday 6th September.

FRESH ON THE NET LIVE: POSTPONEMENT

The second Fresh On The Net Live festival in London, provisionally due to take place at Jacksons Lane Arts Centre in October 2021, has been postponed to early 2022. I spoke with manager Ade Berry this week and we agreed that the combination of refurbishment work over-running and the continuing uncertainties about large crowds gathering in enclosed indoor spaces in relation to COVID 19 meant it was inevitable that we would have to put it off until early in the new year.

This free-entry festival was a great success when I put the original one on with the support of Tom Robinson and the Fresh on the Net team in 2019 and the second one had been scheduled for 4th April 2020 before lockdown intervened. We have been trying to get it back on ever since and both Ade and I remain determined that it will happen at Jacksons Lane. So watch out for news about this in the months ahead.

PART TWO: REVIEWS OF NEW MUSIC

Albums & EPs

VARIOUS ARTISTS

ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE

(Across The Universal Soundscape)

The independent label, blog and promotional outlet Across The Universal Soundscape is the brainchild of the amazing Shaun Donnelly who is a tireless champion of grassroots independent music artists. Following on from 2020’s A Journey To A Place Or Time, this second compilation is free to download from Bandcamp, thus providing an easily accessible platform for all the artists involved. Quite a few of those artists have appeared on my radio show which is no surprise since Shaun is a loyal supporter of the show and tweets generously about it every week.

The album has 15 tracks across a wide spectrum.. The mood shifts throughout. We get upbeat and jangly Alt Pop like Kings’ Horses with You shouldn’t keep it to yourself which has shades of Oasis in a mash with Bombay Bicycle Club while Close Lobsters add flavour; slow burning Indie-Folk-Americana like Toria Wolf’s Cases and serenely building electronic ambience like Michael Donoghue on Purpose. Clearly Twin Peaks fans given their name, Audrey’s Dance give us the kind of gradually building dynamic balladry on Internet Queen that could almost be a stripped down Pillow Queens in a mash with Perry Kills. Meanwhile Clint Slate, a regular on Upstream teams up with Iona James on an Indie ballad called No way out and Morning’s Thief’s contribution is the ethereal, haunting (sic.) Ghostboy where early Radiohead come together with The Flaming Lips, a track I had already featured on my radio show because it is so good.

Aphelion’s Abyssal is simple, ambient with the warmth of a theremin accompanied by syncopated beat and adorned with enigmatic female voice. 3 Bucket Jones remind me a little of Marianne Faithful in the verses of Take these ghosts while the vocal harmonies in the chorus are more in folky territory. Fishing For Compliments also have a folk undercurrent to Mystic Moonlight while the vocal has an intensity that almost nods to Alanis Morrissette while the style is a little 10,000 Maniacs too.

Zeynep Sophia’s Static takes us into ambient semi-classical territory with some lovely light-textured piano work and we are treated to a second Morning’s Thief track in the folkier, slightly [early] Prog-influenced The Sky That Day with its changes of tempo and rhythm. A touch of the Canterbury scene legacy here. Helefonix, meanwhile, is becoming quite the purveyor of music mixing it with nature and her track The Gardener’s Friend, despite being slightly funkier and more uptempo that her recent singles, still manages to work in a hefty level of birdsong alongside the dominating synths.

Lemonade Kid gives us slowish Psych Pop on Fantastic Colours while Cult Of Wedge’s Earth Goddess is in broadly similar territory with its strumming guitars and descending melody. For the penultimate track we get the amazing Gu-Ru with a track I have reviewed previously here and played on my radio show. Zenith, unusually in what I have received from them, has Lee and co in a vocalised track that again is slow and Psych-influenced with a clever bridge into the hook and a nagging flute-like figure that keeps returning. The album ends on the aforementioned Michael Donoghue’s Purpose, a beautiful piece to take us off into an otherworldly sense of tranquility and round off a really fine and lovingly curated compilation which you should check out for absolute certain.

TASÉ

PENDULUM

(Self-Release)

Berlin’s Tasé came to my attention thanks to their friendship with PulsR whose EP I reviewed in a recent edition of this blog. Their album Pendulum is an imaginative and varied set of thoughtful Alt Pop tracks. Almost There has the kind of melancholy jangle that reminds me a little of Blur in their more reflective moments, medium register male vocals, resonant guitars including a lot of harmonics and a tune that soars while the drums and bass drive matters along. Harmony backing vocals add to the layering of the track as it develops. Leave a light, dreamy and in triplet time with circular piano figure and soft reverb guitar, even has shades of Prefab Sprout. So too does the laid back and rueful opener My Tower, especially as the tracked vocals kick in for the chorus over a guitar figure that seems to float above the understated bass and drums. I am sure these guys have been listening to Steve McQueen which, by the way, is something I would recommend all young bands should do.

They are full of surprises such as with the impressionistic postlude that is the title track and finale; also the semi-acoustic Sometimes which has a part-psych edge with its descending bass and contrasts of strummed acoustic guitar and more persistent single-note play on the electric. The Keeper again has a Paddy McAloon sensibility, perhaps mixing it with Bon Iver and The Flaming Lips.

Help Me, with its piano-accompanied intro is a little Paul McCartney-esque before evolving into a janglier affair. Before it we get a mid-tempo semi-acoustic pop delight in the form of Wonderful with more goose-bumping interplay between the guitars and superb vocals. It was the track I picked out and played a few times on my radio show last month. All of which tells you that this is a stunning album of beautifully crafted songs. It deserves far wider attention; starting with my show this weekend.

HELEFONIX

NATURE’S GRACE

(Self Release)

Helefonix (aka Helen Froggatt/Meisner) has had quite a year since making the transition from someone who supports other artists through her activities (Folkstock etc.) to an artist in her own right. In a short space of time, she has seen her music win new audiences and grab the attention of BBC Radio 3 (in partnership with Radio 4 presenter and poet Ian McMillan), BBC 6 Music and even Channel 5 (after she teamed up with Jackie Weaver, the Parish Council Secretary who became an internet sensation after facing down an angry male councillor). Now she releases her first album, bringing together some of the tracks that have proved popular with the grassroots music community amid new ones that demonstrate the scope of her ideas and influences.

One of Helen’s trademarks is her incorporation of the sounds of nature into her work, hence the album title, Accordingly the album kicks off with the 9-minute epic Dawn Chorus on which we hear nothing but birdsong recordings. This then melds into her popular Song Thrush Serenade, the birds still chirping away as the slightly melancholy synth melody appears and a mix of piano chords, rich strings and bendy synths carry us along on a wave of ambience. That is followed by her most recent single Maids of the Mer with its haunting, evocative vocal chants and harmonies, waves crashing and birds still singing as long synth tones enter the soundscape.

We get some new gems like the arpeggio-dominated The Little Things (ft. Herbert & Gladys Davies) mixing with spoken word samples. There is an air of library music about some of the middle tracks and it would be easy to hear them used in any variety of soundtrack or game scenarios. (Teaching darkness) how to fly is her collaboration with Ian McMillan on which his platinum speaking voice and thoughtful prose are set against minor key strings and delicate piano plus more birdsong. Hazy Lazy Days takes the album back into soundtrack-style territory, uptempo but with the lightest of beats and a flute-like sound offering a striking melody against reverberant high register keyboards. Despite its title War and Peace is just over three minutes of syncopated beat, long chords and repeating synth melody.

The album ends with Evensong, over seven minutes of pure environmental and natural sound with birds chirping and quiet noises appearing and disappearing like distant traffic and even more distant voices. It’s an unusual finale but one that is consistent with its opening, rounding off an imaginative and accomplished debut.

Pop Noodles

Another label that puts artists on their Soundcloud page and offers no information or links to them. Not impressed, Speedy Wunderground. Moa Moa from London do have a Bandcamp page but you won’t find Coltan Candy on it. Hopefully the label has put it on the main digital platforms. Because it is a really fine piece of synthy bright mid-tempo Pop with a repeating riff that reminds me of The Big Moon’s Take a piece while the vibe otherwise is more Gengahr meets NZCA Lines with screenplay by Bat For Lashes. Appealing male vocals deliver an infectious melody over a solid groove that mixes growling guitar and bass with reverberant synths and a semi-funky bass. The octave-apart male-female vocals in the chorus add a nice touch. Shiny and highly likeable Future Pop with a quirky edge.

The excellent Herts-Beds quartet In The Forest return with The Light that shines. Still signed to the excellent Last Night From Glasgow label, the track is a precursor to an album expected to follow in the months ahead. Dominated by a piano part that has shades of Patti Smith Group, it is a laid back but slightly dark, smouldering Pop track with trademark close harmonies in the chorus. We also get clever contrast between Becky’s and Rachel’s voices especially over the final stretch. Shades of The Staves jamming with Lana Del Rey while Fleetwood Mac breeze in and out for good measure. Although, with four such well-matched voices and carefully crafted arrangements, they could almost be the Abba of Indie-Folk too!

Londoner Bryan Wilson is Boomdice and he has teamed up with vocalist Sola on the track Embers. Big booming beat, fluid bendy bassline and resonant synths provide a spacious backdrop. Sola duly fills all the available space with her rangey expressive voice, soft and breathy one moment, powerful and soulful the next. There is an undercurrent of R’n’B about the style of the track and there is a buoyant funkiness about it. But it is essentially a cool contemporary pop track that is put across with power, precision and polish.

Swedish artist JÁNA is a new name to me and it sounds like she has been listening to a wide selection of US Soul-infused Pop from Shanice to Solange if the track Joyride is anything to go by (although perhaps worth mentioning Swedish artists like Robyn and Stephen Simmonds here too). Breezing along atop a crisp mid-tempo beat and sweet multi-tracked backing vocals, Jána’s slightly gritty soulful voice delivers a tuneful, summery track with a memorable hook and lush arrangement.

Singer-songwriter Bethany Ferrie was recently voted by our readers into the Fresh on the Net faves. Unfortunately too recent for her song This is where I leave you to be considered for the Listening Post as it has not yet been three months but it does not prevent me reviewing it in the meantime. A slow-burning piano-accompanied ballad with expanding instrumental arrangement, it finds Bethany in melancholy mood, pondering the sincerity of her lover’s feelings before concluding that this is where she walks away. It is touching, tuneful and her control of the dynamics even as her voice yearns for resolution is impressive. Too good not to include in this month’s blog.

It’s always great when a track jumps out at me within the opening line and that is how it was with Louis Vann Johnson and his song Backfired. Initially this is because he has a voice like a rich sauce on expensive ice cream. You know instantly that you are facing something very special. So it is a bonus that the song is also a lovely light-textured and buoyant slice of soulful pop with chugging acoustic guitar, syncopated beat and LVJ’s agile, rangey voice dancing around the arrangement and taking off into a sweet falsetto here and there too.

Comparisons are hard here but maybe if Luther Vandross and Hozier were in a mash with Lemar, you might get somewhere close to his sound which is contemporary and cool but with a healthy nod to a long lineage of soulful Pop artists from Smokey Robinson to Bruno Mars.

British Zimbabwean artist Kwaye has a track out called Kindness which reveals he has a highly appealing voice with a sweet upper register and distinct sound. He can also pen a choon as proven here. The backdrop is synth-electro-pop with cool beat, warm mix of sounds and elements that remind me a little of Prince in a jam with Scissor Sisters while D’Angelo pops in with ideas. Uplifting, soulful and crossing into Dance territory, this is an artist who deserves some decent airtime.

He is also flying the flag for black LGBTQ artists. Kindness is a gorgeous track with a simple but important message, one that feels all the more important in the light of high profile news items involving mental health and the behaviour of some of certain well-known people and institutions that hardly conforms to the ‘be kind’ ethos. For all these reasons, Kindness gets my vote.

Alt Rock & Indie

Blaydek has had an interesting life already having started out as part of the Birmingham alternative music scene before moving to New York, hanging out in Manhattan and then crossing the Atlantic once more to settle in London. In the meantime he has fashioned a sound that mixes the driving energy of Indie Rock with an ambient electronic undercurrent. Imagine Willie J Healey in a jam with Vessels while Ladytron add vibes and you are vaguely there. I also hear shades of early Monochrome Set but that’s another story! Anyway these qualities are most evident on Supermarche with its energetic, uptempo Alt Pop aura but with a spinning phased element that adds an air of the ethereal too. A very good combination.

Fresh from bringing the house down at my Trust The Doc Live gig in June, the exciting young Sussex-based trio WiId Horse return with their poppiest single yet in Record Collection. ‘I don’t want to be your lover/I just want to show you my record collection’ sings Jack before going on to namecheck Mott the Hoople! Jeez, they were one of my favourite bands when I was 9! It’s a joyously tuneful piece of retro Pop-Rock that has shades of Motown mixing it with early Aztec Camera in a jam with James Dean Bradfield from the Manics. Or something! ‘The only thing I’m turning on is my record player’ he protests! Well, if all the records sound this good, he won’t have to try too hard anyway!

Meanwhile, what you need to know is it’s an irresistibly tuneful and translucent track that will get in your head and refuse to depart. Try to stop yourself singing it as you cook your lunch!

No information, links or even geographic location on their Soundcloud page but Wavebomb appear to be a male and female duo. Certainly California Gun has them making a lot of noise with fuzzy guitars, melodic riffs, octave-apart vocals and big drum sounds. Shades of Dinosaur Jnr in a jam with Public Practice with added ingredients from Pozi. Punky, punchy and powerful Alt Pop.

Crikey! Another Leeds act! That bottomless well of talent continues to produce. This time it’s Michael Cardigan aka Greengates Water Solutions. He was brought to my notice by my friend and fellow champion of new and emerging artists Tony Hardy who wrote a thoughtful blog review of Michael’s previous track. Then, lo and behold, Words don’t sing landed in my Fresh on the Net in-box, proving that he was no one-song-wonder. Imagine King Creosote in a mash with Bloomers while Close Lobsters lob ideas into the pot and you come, well somewhere broadly near to this track. It has the driving guitar-dominated energy of a good Alt Rock track but with enough imaginative chord changes and combinations and striking tune to mark it out from the pack. Inventive Alt Pop that keeps Greengates Water Solutions very much on my radar.

Norwich is a City that produces a seemingly endless well of musical talent and the latest example to catch my ears comes in the form of The People Versus which is also a great band name and a cool track called Witch. The quartet describe their sound as Museum Pop which is an interesting way of defining the process of taking influence from classic artists across a long lineage of Alternative Pop, Americana and Indie Folk. Imagine First Aid Kit in a jam with Fleetwood Mac while Talulah Gosh drop by for tea. Or something like that maybe! Striking soprano range lead vocal, organic sounds and rich harmonies on a melodic and cleverly arranged track. Sophisticated and full of unexpected contrasts, this is intelligent and refreshing contemporary Alt Pop with Folk undercurrents.

Norwich is on fire this month and it isn’t too often that we get one of Poppy’s Bug Teeth tracks among the other projects she is involved with. Still is less trippy than some of her previous ones although the vocal still slurs and hangs back on top of a wash of synth strings and picking guitar. Psychedelic Dream Pop might be the most accurate way to describe this track. There’s a slight air of Julianna Barwick in a jam with Beach House and subtle sprinkings of Khruangbin, more about the guitar than any other aspect. But moreover it is distinct and original enough not to need crass comparisons. Another excellent Bug Teeth track. Worth the wait.

South East London’s All The President's Men return with a track called It’s now I need you which sees them in slightly more Americana-Folkrock territory than their recent tracks. Paul and Jim still combine vocally to produce lush harmonies and those trademark upper register tones. The Sting influence is still there but it is less apparent and I hear echoes of Teenage Fanclub in a jam with Neil Young and The Byrds. It is thoughtful, tuneful Pop with shimmering guitars and clever vocal effects that bring it squarely into 2021 despite its retro references. Their best yet? Certainly up there.

There is precious little info on their Soundcloud page, even a location (although they have subsequently confirmed they are from Cardiff), but The Rotanas appear to be an all-male quintet and they make an energetic and agreeable noise on Get The Call. Shades of early Oasis mixing it up with The Coral while Fontaines DC add spice. This is melodic, strident Alt Pop with psychedelic guitar figures and a driving rhythm section underpinning the whole shebang. A strong vocal performance is the icing on this appealing cake.

The prolific Welshman Blokeacloa continues his amazing schedule of new tracks with Surf the lonely tide. Trademark Blokeacola characteristics of psychedelia-infused vocal lines and syncopated chord changes are extended by clever slide guitar figures and a sturdy keyboard part that sits behind the mix. Melodic, inventive and punchy Psych Pop in his distinct style.

Londoner Every Rose is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose website has little more information than his Soundcloud page but there is a hint that he will be playing live soon. In the meantime we have the Mike Shinoda-produced Objects in view which has a sort of li-fo Alt Pop feel with nods to the past in its bouncy feel and upper register vocal hook. The mid-section offers a cool contrast. References are hard to pinpoint but if Beck got together with Tame Impala and roped in early Supertramp with production by Animal Collective, it might get somewhere broadly close to this. Interesting, original and refreshingly individual, it certainly jumped out at me on first listen and put me in a headlock on the second!

London’s Bugeye have teamed up with London and Kent-based electro-punk dance act Feral Five who have duly remixed the track Don’t Stop. The result is the energetic Alt Rock original with its cool chord changes, descending figures and striking melody treated to overlapping echoes, funky drum additions and ambient sounds. The end result is a joyous noise that flies out of the blocks and roars from start to finish with glorious intent. So it was a delight to have the video to show on Upstream too. A real stand-out moment.

Another one where the Soundcloud link takes me to a label’s page and no information about the band. Oh well. At least I can tell you that Wyse have a track out called Not that sorry that combines a distinct and dynamic female vocal with strumming and fuzzed up guitars, tough bass, crisp drums and resonant synth plus a cleverly constructed song that switches between major and minor and uses some great harmonic devices. Catchy, energetic and very very lively, this gets better with every listen.

Hartlepool trio Mt Misery return with another rueful Alt Pop track called The thought of losing you. Guitars jangle and play engaging melody lines, the piano is spine-tingling in its simple but perfect approach and the drums move the track along with a gentle push. As ever, the vocals are distinct and have an agreeably retro vibe that could almost be 10CC in a mash with Bon Iver while the instrumental backdrop has shades of Keane in a jam with The Coral. This is thoughtful pop, lovingly crafted and played in a way that will tug at your heartstrings.

When Alan Horne dubbed his label Postcard Records ‘the sound of young Scotland’ back in 1980, he might just as well have looked into a crystal ball and discovered Wojtek The Bear four decades later making sparkling, fresh and energetic pop of the kind that belongs in that great lineage of Scottish Post-Punk Pop and represents where it is in the here and now. The tide that won’t come back breezes along in an uptempo swing rhythm, guitars shimmering and vocal harmonies fortifying an already infectious melody line. Their sound is big but spacious; intricate but translucent. It is like they have distilled the best bits of Aztec Camera, Friends Again, The Pastels, Close Lobsters, Teenage Fan Club and a host of associated influences to create an irresistible hybrid. As refreshing as a cold drink on a hot day, this should blow away the cobwebs and leave you feeling invigorated.

It is difficult to place the latest track from Brendan Walsh & His Gastric Band. She called me darling is not really jazz since the harmonic language of the piece does not point that way. At the same time it is not Indie or Alt Rock either! Moreover a sophisticated slow instrumental in which Brendan combines the elements of his skill both as writer and player with beautifully understated lead lines, thoughtful chord patterns and a soft sensibility that is a little melancholy and would soothe the hearts of the crowd in your favourite late night chill-out bar. Absolute class.

Shropshire artist Fleurr (aka Angela Powis) makes driving energetic Alt Rock that also leans into Country Rock and Americana. Imagine Haim in a mash with Bessie Turner while Sheryl Crow adds ingredients. This is certainly what I hear on Cupid. Fuzzed up guitar chords and driving root note bassline combine with straight-ahead drum track while there is contrasting jangle and harmonies that are arguably more Tennessee than Telford. The melody is strong from the outset and Angela’s voice is powerful and has a lovely twang that grabs me throughout and keeps me in a Pitbull-like hold except that here it is pleasure rather than pain. A breath of fresh air.

German sibling duo Strange Souvenirs say they are influenced by ‘... 80s new wave, trip hop & shoegaze, post-millennial electro and indie …’ and a load of other things too! Hmmmm. Well, on the strength of Nothin2, I would say they sound more like a hybrid of Morrissey, Suede and Ash and current acts like Maximo Park and The Cribs. Much more guitar-driven Indie Rock than shoegaze or electro and definitely no hint of Trip Hop but then I only have one track to go by. Still, what is more important is that the track in question is an impressive one. It kicks off with a very organic backdrop of strummed, determinedly on-beat guitar chords and piano but, as the track builds dynamically, so more layers are added until, in the end, it has an almost epic pop quality about it. The lyrics are a tad mean but we don’t know who they are aimed at and what he or she has done to annoy them so much! Otherwise it’s appealing, energetic and cleverly arranged.

French Dream Pop maestros Velvet Sunset just keep producing top-notch tracks and so it is with new single Summer Night. A mid-tempo slice of slightly laid back brooding Alt Pop, it features Max’s almost spy-movie guitar riff and reverberant drum track while Eleonore’s distinct and appealing voice takes centre stage. In terms of production and aura, there are shades of fellow Parisians Juniore although stylistically it is more in I Break Horses meets Lush territory. Melodic, spacy and carried along by big echoing guitar, bass and drums, it is another great showcase for Eleonore’s sensual, smouldering vocals and the pair’s composing skills.

Urban Flavas

It’s a little bit unclear who does what on this track but D.C. De Angelo & Dan Josiah have teamed up with E.L.A on a track called Glory which tore a burning hole in the Fresh on the Net Listening Post with its no-puches-pulled lyrics and sizzling, energetic drive. Contrasting voices share a rap that lays it out in terms of being a young black man in a society as institutionally racist in 2021 as it was when Stephen Lawrence’s murder case was screwed up by the Met Police 28 years earlier. I presume that is D.C De Angelo and Dan while E.L.A provides the soothing female singing voice that rounds off such an incredible track. Even if it wasn’t such a powerful statement on the current state of racism and white privilege, it would be a great track anyway because the rapping, singing and backing track are so damn good.

But it is a statement and it is one that needs to be reinforced over and over because Britain, you are not getting it. And it’s doing my head in. Not just because I am privileged also to be the only white member of my household having to watch the s*** my son faces while our Home Secretary defends people booing footballers who take the knee and then has the brass neck to condemn the abuse she and her Tory friends actively encourage.

From the moment I switched this track on for the first time, I was in no doubt that it was the stand-out track in that week’s batch, maybe of the entire month, and I can think of an awful lot of people who ought to listen to it [although it would scare them s***less if they did!]. In the light of the subsequent torrent of vile racist abuse heaped on three talented young footballers by thick white bigots following the Euros final, the timing of this track seems all the more poignant. If you can observe what has been happening and listen to tracks like this and Project Blackbird’s single with Lynval Golding and still not get why sportpeople need to continue taking the knee, you are not existing on the same planet as me.

There is no info on her Soundcloud page but a bit of digging reveals Cassie Rytz is a Londoner who has already caught the eye of Line of Best Fit and has played out in Germany prior to lockdown. This month saw Fresh on the Net readers vote her into our fresh faves too in a week where I had the privilege of writing the reviews so I have been able to review the single twice now!

She is one rapid-fire rapper in the same ballpark as Flohio with shades of Little Simz and maybe even a hint of Lethal Drizzle about the delivery. The backdrop is minimal, more Grime than Hip Hop and very London in sound and attitude. Count That is exciting, bristling with energy and up for the scrap. I wouldn’t mess with her if I were you!

Now this is intriguing. Tiger Mendoza, an artist I associate more with electronic music, has teamed up with the talented Urban artist Half Decent on a track called Kong Beat. It’s a real gem too. Tiger’s buzzing synth and persistent beat set the scene while Half Decent delivers an intense rap/spoken word performance that never lets up in its relentlessly burning energy and firepower. A real breath of fresh air all round.

North East England-based producer Psimitar is producer Steesh under the name Baron Von Alias collaborating with vocalist LKP. They draw influences from 70s Funk, 80s Soul and ‘... the modern melodic take on “alternative hip hop” from artists such as Mac Miller, Children of Zeus and Tyler The Creator’. They also work live instruments into their sound alongside ‘laid back beats, coil and rap’.

On Fading they have teamed up with Genesis Elijah whose rapid-fire delivery plays off against the funk undercurrent of the backing track. The contrasts between the timbres of the voices reminds me of some of the great Old Skool Hip Hop tracks from way back when (The Furious Five, Naughy By Nature etc.) but the sound is original, fresh and utilizes their panoramic epoch-spanning vision to make music that is totally fresh. So too is the way the harder tones of the rapped verses contrast with the instant appeal of the sung chorus. A track that excels in every area.

It is always good news when Hull’s King of Northern Grime and Hip Hop Chiedu Oraka hits us with a new track. The self-styled ‘Black Yorkshireman’ is back with the super-clean edit of G-Finger. It is another characteristically plain-speaking anthem straight from the North Hull Estate in Chiedu’s instantly recognisable voice with a big banging beat and simple monophonic synth appended by sounds here and there. Great production from Deez as usual and another killa track that further cements his position as one of the most exciting artists out there still waiting for the big break he so thoroughly deserves.

And from a rapper who wears his Hull roots on his sleeve, we move to South Wales where 2 Complex offer a duelling rapid-fire Welsh Grime style with sparse backdrop of single synth notes playing a repeating melody over crackling, punchy beat on a track called Flame on SBK. It fizzes with energy from the outset, setting a blistering pace that only finally gives out at the very end as the drum programme drops to half time and plays solo for the final few bars. Exciting, original and fresh.

Resident in Southampton by way of Cwmbran Mark L aka Badbelly teamed up with Feral Serge and duly stormed the Fresh on the Net barricades with the excellent Fanfiction. A cool backdrop of long synth tones, ambient sound and crisp beat allow Feral Serge to set out a frank but superbly articulated message, a wake-up call perhaps, with a kind of Old Skool rap style full of cut up couplets and rhythmic shifts that play off perfectly against the futuristic aura of the track. Compelling and concise, this is modern Hip Hop at its best.

Soulful Sensibilities

There is precious little in the way of links or information on Neiyla’s Soundcloud page but her track 50/50 reveals an agile soulful and sugar-sweet voice delivering a melodic morsel of Soul-Pop that recalls Deneice Williams in a mash with Lauryn Hill while T-Boz adds spices. The harmonies take the chorus up a notch and Neiyla’s effortless ad libs are goose-bumping. An exciting prospect for certain.

Yet another label that puts artists on its Soundcloud page and duly provides no links or information about them. This is becoming a widespread problem. So we are stuck with the Soundcloud link for Boomerang Records and nowhere to find out anything about Duke Hugh & Bryony Jarman-Pinto. Nevertheless their track Say no more is a delicious deal of shuffling Soul with Latin undercurrents in which Bryony’s edgy but appealing voice and spine-tingling harmonies are offset against Duke Hugh’s sweet guitar chords, serene synths and jazz-inflected double-stopping lick. Shades of Jill Scott in a mash up with Poppy Ajudha while Working Week drop by. There is even a hint of the Fugees about the hard surface that contrasts the sweetness of the vocal harmonies when the backing track breaks down to the basics. Great in every department.

The story beind Canadian flautist Jef Kearns’ foray into the world of Soul and R’n’B is relatively recent. He has gathered quite a reputation in the Jazz world and recorded successful albums in that field before collaborating with Soul artists and now picking up the plaudits from the media for that work too. The latest of these collaborations is with Karen Jewels on the song Hazy. A mid-tempo, semi-funky groove with dreamy synths and harmonies allow Karen to showcase a yearning voice that’s like a subtly sweet syrup. She duly delivers a soulful melody and simple love song lyrics while Jef plays reverberant flute phrases above and around her. It’s sophisticated, smooth and soothing. As the title suggests, perfect for a summer evening chill-out.

South East London ‘funk brothers’ are Mulvey's Medicine and they have recruited top-notch vocalist Grace Walker for Say Goodbye. It is a mid-tempo Soul scorcher infused with classy jazz-infused keyboard chords, lively instrumental play including some explosive drumming, dreamy Rhodes piano and sweet sax. The song builds in dynamic as it goes, Grace’s vocals flying up into acrobatic ad libs and flourishes but without ever losing grip on the melody that is impossible to deny. References are difficult but maybe touches of Anita Baker jamming with Poppy Ajudha while Yasmin Lacey and Juliet Roberts stand guard. Sweet sophisticated Soul with a large portion of Jazz. An A* for this.

I could have put Byron Gold’s Goodstuff in the Urban Flavas section since it is a sassy sexy slice of R’n’B with crunching beat, spacious mix and multi-tracked backing vocals adding to the visceral feel of the track. Byron’s vocals are indeed gold or maybe platinum. His voice is like the finest silk but he can turn on an edge when he needs to and the vocal acrobatics come so effortlessly to him you feel he could ad lib in his sleep. Put all that together with a catchy hook and melodic flow and you have another superb piece of Byron Gold magic.

Londoner Moniah described her song Human as ‘alternative R’n’B’ and it is certainly an absolute breath of fresh air. Simple but sweet bar-long guitar chords and an unobtrusive beat consisting of distant echoing percussion afford Moniah plenty of space in which to first set out her stall with this beautiful, melancholy soul ballad and then stretch out as we gradually get to swoon over the dexterity and free flow of her flourishes and ad libs. Meanwhile the soft-toned backing vocals she places beneath the lead one in the mix are a great example of ‘less is more’. This is indeed an alternative take on R’n’B. Simply stunning.

To be clear Frome, Somerset’s Sinnober are not Soul or R’n’B but since that is how they defined Ophelia on Soundcloud, this was as good a place as any to review it. But those who know me well will know how excited I feel to even be able to say there is a clear Steely Dan influence on the syncopated jazz-infused guitar and keyboard chords plus Walter Becker-ish licks (although, in some ways, it reminds me more of Donald Fagen’s mid-nineties solo output). Meanwhile the female vocalist (who I believe is Natalie) has a style that carries echoes of Rikkie Lee Jones in a mash with Regina Spektor while Yasmin Lacey adds spices. Ophelia is sophisticated, jaunty pop that oozes musicianship and invention. Such a joy to hear this.

It is difficult to know where to place Londoner Tony Njoku’s ‘experimental ballad’ The Reset. Slow, trippy, ambient, kind of electronic but soulful too and with hints of Trip Hop about its mood, you see my dilemma?! Not that it really matters because the important conclusion is that this is an absolutely compelling, striking and original track in which everything from Tony’s agile voice and spine-tingling upper register to the swirling synths and enigmatic harmony he creates is magical. Haunting perhaps and even a little disarming, like a strange dream, but magical too. You will want to go back for more. A truly stunning track.

Club Culture

Hessle in East Riding (Yorks & Humberside) is not a place name you see every day on Soundcloud but it is home to C.B. Discokid whose track The Dance Floor sits at the more laid back, almost melancholy end of House with definite shades of Robert Miles in a jam with Paul Van Dyk perhaps. Piano leads the way melodically surrounded by reverberant synths and a persistent four-to-the-floor beat. It could almost be a post-rave chillout track but either way, well worth hearing. They later withdrew the track from Fresh on the Net, replacing it with the sparser synth-driven All over you which, despite causing busy moderators extra work by adding to the 200 tracks we have to listen to, did turn out to be another cool chilled workout.

London’s Johnny Wildey describes his work as ‘music for the open-minded’. Well Roll is a slightly ethereal dreamy slice of contemporary Disco with swirling synths, jazzy Rhodes chords, lovely little synth melodies and falsetto vocals. Imagine J Lloyd in a mash-up with Nu-Shooz and you are part of the way there. But the sounds here are not retro and the hook is pretty much the whole song. Quite magical.

The latest single by Sarah B sees her team up with Dan Armstrong Music on Wish you were here. Sarah says it’s a kind of 90s Ibiza-style anthem (in which case maybe there’s an element of ‘Wish we were there’!) and it certainly falls broadly into the Soulful House camp with Sarah’s distinct and rich alto vocals delivering a strong melody over a fairly funky Dance vibe with persistent beat, extended synth chords and punchy loud production. Definitely a floor filla when it reaches clubland but a strong radio track too.

Singer-Songwriters

It seems like there may have been a bit of a break in the output of London-based Brooke Sharkey who, 5 years ago, was receiving lavish praise from Mary Anne Hobbs at BBC 6 Music. Anyway she is back with a haunting slice of Ambient Folk Pop entitled Mmm Ja. A sparse backdrop of unobtrusive popping, echoing drum pattern and what could be Ukulele playing off against long single synth tones allows Brooke’s multi-tracked vocals to dominate. Sometimes this is through delicate unison parts. At other times, harmonies appear.

All the while there are simultaneously an aura of strength and a sense of fragility. The melody is Celtic-sounding and brings to mind a little of Mary Cassidy in a jam with Rita Connolly while Bjork and Julia Holter add layers. But it is precisely her distinctive, watery tranlucence that it is so striking and this is a fantastic track on which to showcase her sound.

Londoner Danny Starr has had an amazing few years with international success for his music and headline tours too. His latest offering is Belong, a thoughtful and reflective mid-tempo semi-Acoustic pop track with shades of James Blake in a mash with Charlie Puth while K.T. Tunstall adds ideas. The backdrop is organic and unfussy, allowing the vocals to occupy centre stage and the song is catchy and a tad melancholy. All very nicely done.

Synthematic

Benin City believe that dance is a form of protest. To quote from their Soundcloud blurb, ‘Joshua Idehen, Tom Leaper and Shanaz Dorsett make dance-pop birthed in London, where they met, flavoured with their many influences (from Stromae to Sylvan Esso to Christine And The Queens)’. Well that’s half my job done! This super-talented line-up have a sound that is part-Soul, part-synth-pop and has a bit of an eighties vibe that recalls, among a host of names, Prince and  Womack & Womack although yes, definitely hear Christine & The Queens and the other above references. We belong to us is mid-tempo, quite funky with bubbling deep-pitched synth bass, resonant chord stabs and, as the chorus lands, an epic arrangement of synth strings, busy bass and percussion programmes. The contrasts between their singing voices and ranges really work a treat and the hook is immediate and all-encompassing. If you are intent on casting dance as a form of protest, you may as well do it whilst wearing a collective smile. Life-affirming Pop.

I wasn’t entirely sure whether to go ahead and review Heart like a landslide by Fountain Head when I saw that the Manchester artist had pulled it from Soundcloud [just as it was on the verge of making our Listening Post ironically] but hopefully it was just a temporary decision. Presumably so because it has deservedly since had support from BBC Introducing in the North West. What is clear is that he has an amazing voice that is uncannily similar to Jimi Somerville as he rises into his falsetto range. With that comes a clear ability to pen a brooding melancholic slice of cinematic pop with swirling synths and pristine production and mastering. It’s a great track and I imagine there are plenty more great tracks to come from this enigmatic artist.

Regular readers will be aware that Cardiff’s Dave Dark & The Sharks are always full of surprises and this latest track Stockhausen Syndrome #3 (My Music) is more of a cinematic piece that contrasts Dave’s usual dance-based style. The beat is uptempo but quiet while the keyboards play dreamy broken chord figures and buoyant melodies and other sounds introduce themes that wouldn’t be out of place on a TV Cop Show. The male and female spoken word characters tell us their break-up story in whispery tones.

There is, in case you were wondering, absolutely nothing about the track that suggests any Stöckhausen influence (the composer, that is) but that may not be the reference Dave was after. No Post-Serial atonality and polyrhythmic configurations being mapped out here. On the contrary it is dreamily tonal and soothing. And by the way, in case you are now wondering about this too, I am partial to both those extremes! Either way it is an ambient semi-filmic piece that again underlines Dave’s versatility and talent.

London-based artist Dyvr has teamed up with TTD regular HAVVK. The Others finds the Irish Alt Rocker bringing a gentler side of her art on a slowly building cinematic synth-dominated track. A thoughtful melody hovers and sometimes soars above deep warm ambient tones and a beat that comes and goes. The vocals are reinforced by octave-apart phrases and multi-tracked harmonies involving both their voices, occasionally with room for an ad lib. It ends suddenly, the song achieving almost a subliminal echo in my mind as it disappears into the distance.

I am a sucker for a good Synth Pop choon and 22 Oceans have duly obliged with Drifting. Brainchild of Mike Guy, 22 Oceans list a number of influences including eighties Synth Pop (OMD, Blancmange), Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Jon Hopkins. This track is more OMD than any of the other aforementioned at least in terms of the I - VI - IV - V chord pattern and the production. But the female vocal adds a distinctive element and the tune is pure pop, almost in Shangri-Las territory. It is a combination that really works. The song sparkles, soothes and seduces, making me want to listen again.

Kiffie the Dreamer is how Kiffie’s Instagram account describes him and there is a dreaminess to Thank you for the pain that sees him kick off in ambient mood before octave synth bass patterns drive it into full-on Synth Pop mode while his appealing upper register voice delivers a catchy tune with multi-tracked harmonies over a swirling, reverberant mass of sound. Then, just as you think the track is about to end, it switches to a slowed down, partly stripped back version of the chorus that could almost be Supertramp with a dash of Paul McCartney. All in all, an unexpected and impressive finale to a fine track.

At the time of writing Kiffie has just announced a new EP entitled No Heartbeat, apparently all made in 12 hours! The title track is a slow minor key affair with piano and electronic beat accompanying upper register vocals that have an aura of fragility about them. In a strange way it could almost be Eamonn in a mash with China Crisis. It’s a cool and slightly intense opening. Going Back is quicker with busy beat and long synth tones accompanying a melody that has a slightly Celtic air.

You don’t mind kicks off with warm enigmatic synth before an uptempo but minimal beat and melodic piano play off against a vocal line that has shades of Colin Vearncombe (Black). The chorus takes it up a notch with staccato synth, vocal harmony and an ensuing glissando synth figure in the high register.

It ends with Nothing Here, kicking off with monophpnic synth, broken piano chords and minimal electronic beat while the vocals have a touch of Robert Wyatt about them. Backing vocals and single piano chords join the fray as it develops. A resonant trumpet-like sound plays out accompanied only by the beat and monophonic synth. The song is a kind of reprise of the title track. So all in all, a pretty impressive 12 hours’ work.

As well as playing my Vanishing Point gig on Thursday (5th August), South East London-based artist Sansha has a brand new single out entitled Dream Dancer, the second verse of which is inspired by her brother’s new baby. And what a delight it is. Straight in with syncopated synth chords, stripped down beat and Francesca’s clear, distinct voice, we are not kept waiting long for the beat to fill out, the synths to become a little more elaborate and the trademark Sansha harmonies to arrive amid a stunning chorus.

This is light-textured, nimble Synth-based Pop with effortless melodic invention and the most goose-bumping harmonies (including some sumptuous echo effects). The backing track is never fussy or overdone but the whole aura is resonant, uplifting and honey-sweet but in the nicest possible way. I could listen to this for hours. I can’t wait to see her play live on Thursday.

Electronic & Ambient

Sunderland’s Burning Wheel is a new name to me but has grabbed my attention with a warm ambient slow-burner entitled After the rain. Echoing percussive chords play off against long sweeps of synth while water trickles like gentle rain on a river in the background. Then, as the dynamics gradually increase, swirling synths bring rich major ninth and seventh chords in a simple but lovely style.

The reliance on tonic and subdominant [essentially], albeit extended with sevenths and ninths with occasional minor chords could get tiresome but it doesn’t on account of the nuanced manner in which different sounds come and go, adding new textures. As the arc deconstructs and the soundscape becomes more translucent, those echoing percussive chords regain prominence and it ends with just the river and the sound of quiet birdsong. A gorgeous ode to the tranquility of nature; the calm after the storm perhaps. 7 minutes 47 seconds and at no point do I feel inclined to switch off or wind it on. Incidentally I chose this as my Vanishing Point track on Ming & Jon’s Monday Night Ride Out on Exile FM.

Also new to me is the enigmatic Gomrund about whom information appears to be a secret except that the track submitted to Fresh on the Net is called Constantine and blends periods of slowly shifting legato synths and ambient sounds with more frantic repeating semi-quaver phrases over gently moving chords. It is dreamy, ethereal and tranquil but also striking and unpredictable at times too. They subsequently also submitted the faster, bubbling electro-pop instrumental Zammo which is lively and tuneful.

Mort Cohen aka The Vic C Project is a prolific artist as his regular appearances in this blog bear witness. And each is always stylistically distinct from its predecessor. So it is with Nothing which is described on Soundcloud as ‘Ambient’ but it is really a cool slice of funky mid-tempo Electronic Downtempo leaning into club territory. Lots of trippy effects, swirling harmonised synth figures, sassy beat and female vocals in harmony with more effects. A track to lie back and be carried away by in its cool, tripping otherworldliness. Or you could dance to it. Your choice. Great track either way.

The latest track from Morpeth, Northumberland-based artist The John Michie Collective is called When the moon breaks up. It is a slow triplet time ambient piece with some spiky synths, wobbly keyboard arpeggios and sounds popping up like little minefields throughout. It has a kind of a happy vibe and is agreeably melodic as well as being striking for the choice of sounds and how they are used at different levels and with a great resonance. Like this a lot.

Contemporary Classical & Sound Art

The Montreal, Canada-based composer and artist Syrel is a regular in this blog but I am never able to find him on social media to let him know about the reviews. Once again, in Fishing and in love forever, he delivers a rich orchestral piece that is tailor-made for a movie soundtrack or dramatic natural world documentary. Rich tonal chords underpin the pastoral themes that make up this filmic work. It isn’t tearing down any barriers or breaking any ground but it is simply done with such style and ability. He duly followed this by submitting Wrapped - BIFSC_2019, a dramatic and, at times, deliciously dissonant piece with starkly contrasting sections and again a dark filmic atmosphere.

The super-talented Newcastle-Upon-Tyne pianist and composer Paul Taylor returns with Lockdown Sunset #333. He described it, probably quite accurately, as electronic since it consists of a series of waves of electro-synth chords that are extended, imaginative and beautiful. However I have placed it in this section because the composing that has been required to create this wonderful piece goes well beyond the brief of most electronic music artists. It is stunning both in its relentlessly gorgeous harmonic language and rich choice of sounds and in its originality. Like everything Paul creates, it oozes class and talent. It would be enough that he is a breathtakingly virtuosic pianist who can improvise in contemporary language and creates epic masterpieces. The fact that, not for the first time, he has also demonstrated his mastery of electronic composition just underlines why he is such an exciting artist.

Jazz & International Journeys

Regular readers will know that it annoys the hell out of me when labels put their artists’ work out to the likes of Fresh on the Net using their own Soundcloud page and, when I click on it, all I find is information and links about the label and sweet FA about the band or artist. I don’t consider that to be a great way of supporting your artists.

Thank goodness then that London’s awe-inspiring octet Don't Problem have their own Bandcamp page as they are back with another fantastic fluid piece of countrapuntal contemporary Jazz and filmic finesse on King Kong. The rhythmically funky unison themes, clever timing switches and scintillating dissonances provide a robust foundation for their powerhouse of a horn section to stretch out. Along come thoughtful melody lines, phat harmonies and expert individual playing full of free flowing chromaticism and overlapping call and response devices. This is exhilarating from start to finish and the combination of boundless energy and breathtaking musicianship is genuinely thrilling.

The Soundcloud page for Matters Unknown ft. Mohamed Gueye belongs to Jonny Esner who, from his pic, appears to be a Tuba player (although, as not all of the instrument is visible, it could be a French Horn!). Well anyway, there is also a pic of a band in which again his instrument is obscured but looks like it could be a trombone! Confused? Well yes I am as it happens!

Anyway, what I can tell you is that whoever the personnel are on this track and whichever instruments they individually play, it is a dreamy and fluid exploration of ethereal jazz with subtly duelling trumpet and Fender Rhodes Electric Piano. We get extended harmonic language, chromatic and quintal-quartal at times. Equally they deploy more familiar jazz harmony (major 9ths, 11ths etc,) to reinforce the impressionistic character of the music which is laid back despite some serious stretching out by the individual players. Great soloists but a tight unit in which every member is crucial.

Shades of Joe Zawinul come into my mind as I hear the semi-quaver arpeggio themes and otherworldly chords climbing a semi-tone at a time. The horns have an air of Miles Davis in Jazzrock era but with a nod to Kamasi Washington too, especially in the way the playing is disciplined, restrained even at times and a melodic line is never far away.

There are some unusual percussive sounds, a liltingly loose drumming style and inventive double bass that keep matters moving. This is contemporary jazz at its best. I see they are a Leeds-based outfit. I wonder whether they are friends of Emma Johnson. Is there any genre of music that Leeds isn’t leading the way in these days?  

The Soundcloud link will take you to Accidental Records but it is Nwando Ebizie (or just Nwando going by the name submitted to Fresh on the Net) who I am writing this about and her extraordinary track I Seduce. Noisy, rhythmic, percussive and in hyper-party mode from the outset, this track is like nothing I have heard all month. The style is so unique that it doesn’t do it justice to call it Afrobeat or Jazz. The backing vocals could be derived from Japanese Art Pop and the backing track appears to be made up entirely of multiple percussion options and stabbing trumpet plus a large crowd! It is essentially spoken word in the lead but the changes are fluid throughout with unison chanting, handclaps and almost a Frank Chickens vibe about some of the vocal theatrics and crowd noises. It sounds live and the pace and power of the percussion is relentless while the female voices are wild at times and certainly laced with an air of sarcasm especially on the final multi-voiced cry of ‘You’re so funny’. Outstanding and so unexpected. A genuine stand-out track.

I subsequently discovered this website all about Nwando who, it turns out, describes her diverse multi-disciplinary style as Afrofuturism which is both a great definition and an exciting prospect. In the words on her website: ‘Nwando works across media, genre and artforms creating mythopoetic metanarratives and alternate realities. Her work is a drawing together of the pieces that she is in a frozen moment of ever-living infinite regress.

Always political and grounded in a mytho-scientific perspective she invites viewers and participants to join her at the Crossroads. At the crossroads where you can choose to pass through the cosmic mirror and touch alternate realities. The realities of what could have been and what should have been and what may possibly be. She works with speculative fictions, possible dreams and lucid worlds’.

She also performs under several pseudonyms and has played live all over the world.  I feel like I have somehow inexplicably overlooked an amazing artist and now need to make time to get to know more of her repertoire. What I do know is that I am genuinely excited about Nwando and her extraordinary music and art. I also need to get this onto my radio show which must be a key goal for next Saturday.

Archipelago are a quite extraordinary band. Fronted by Faye MacCalman on saxes, clarinet and vocals, they fuse a fluid contemporary jazz style that is explorative and adventurous with Art Rock, elements of Prog and what they define as ‘leftfield song forms’. This, laced with improv, is what we hear on Wake Up. The track moves forward in a loose, semi-freeform groove that expands and contracts while the arrangement is spacious, allowing the bass and drums to dictate the timings and vocal harmonies to swap lead roles with Faye’s slightly breathy sax which she plays with a seemingly effortless virtuosity without letting go of a certain melodic sensibility.

There are some cool chords and figures played on what I presume is synth organ and a middle section where the sax and bass are playing staccato stabs and short slides and the drummer goes off at various tangents. It is almost the jazz equivalent of Berio mixing it up with Cage. The vocals return for the final stretch in which the ‘dirty’ bass sound could be Stuart Zender in a jam with Stanley Clarke. Impressive, original and refreshingly detached from much of what is happening around them.

Folk & Country Fare

Norwich artist (yes, Norwich again, folks!) Lucy Grubb is a familiar name to regular readers of this blog and she has hit us with a slow-to-mid tempo slice of Americana-tinged Pop entitled When it rains which is instantly irresistible. Imagine Mazzy Star getting together with Lana Del Rey while Laura Marling throws ingredients into the pot. Lucy has a voice like a subtly sweet syrup, yearning and expressive but dynamic and rich in flavour. The hook is strong but the verses also have a heart-pulling melodic sensibility and the octave down backing vocal adds an unusual quality. The arrangement is lush, picking acoustic guitar, long string chords and crisp consistent beat whie the vocal harmonies add a touch of real class. If you are going to write songs that utilise such classic and organic influences, this is how to do it.

PART THREE: OTHER COMMENTARIES        

CONGRATULATIONS KID, YOU’VE MADE IT !!!!

Article by Neil March on what ‘making it’ means in the [post] digital era

Ask most young aspiring bands and artists what their ultimate goal is and many will simply reply ‘to make it’. So what does that mean in today’s over-subscribed and fragmented world of popular music?

Wind the clock back about forty years to when I was a teenage Post-Punk wannabe gigging in local bands in my home town of Hemel Hempstead. If there was one thing I was certain about. it was that my short, medium or long term goal was the same. I wanted to ‘make it’. But, in 1981, I was also reasonably confident that I could define what that meant. At that time there was only one national pop station in the UK (BBC Radio 1) which was forced to accommodate all significant interests from the mainly pop charts music that dominated its daytime roster to the alternative of the John Peel Show and all stops in-between.

Although most of the music I was listening to emanated from artists who operated outside the pop mainstream (Post-Punk, Reggae, Funk, Electronic etc.), the most successful and, in most cases, the best new artists would, at some point, break into the charts. Be it The Specials, Dexys Midnight Runners, Echo & The Bunnymen, Orange Juice, Scritti Politti, Cocteau Twins, Herbie Hancock or Sugar Minott, they all had ‘hits’ and made it onto the nation’s favourite weekly Pop Music TV show Top of the Pops. Later that would include the best US Hip Hop artists and Acid House too. So, however much we preached leftist ideology, listened to Peel, read NME and followed obscure bands and artists, we knew in our hearts what the definition of ‘making it’ was. Namely to break into the official BBC Top 40 and be invited onto TOTP. Nothing else would quite cut it.

A big part of that journey was landing a record deal. Whether that was with a small local indie label or a large corporate, artists needed someone to invest in their music. There were no downloadable recording software programmes, mastering kits or even an internet in the nineteen-eighties. Recording meant saving up hundreds of pounds to spend a few days in an analogue studio where you hoped the engineer understood [and gave a damn about] your music to the degree that he or she (usually he in those days) would furnish you with a decent professional sounding end product. More often than not, the standard fell well short though and that meant you were stuck with a mediocre mix of your music as the only representative sample you could present to labels, publishers and the likes. Even to find a studio that could do justice to your music meant kissing a lot of frogs!

Back to 2021 and there is a whole world of difference in our priorities. TOTP came to a permanent end (other than the annual Xmas Day special and the retrospective compilation series TOTP 2) in July 2006, almost exactly 15 years ago. It had outlived its relevance precisely because, with the embryonic digital revolution already changing the game and a notable diversification and fragmentation of scenes and genres, the pop charts had ceased to be the yardstick by which artists judged success. Maybe for the ultra-commercial artists they still had resonance. But, for everyone else, they had become an irrelevance. Not only were more charts appearing, either linked to genre or to digital platforms. But the balance of economic priorities were changing too with downloads worth less in monetary terms than physical stock [although far less costly to produce] and live music, tours especially, once seen as a loss leader to support album sales, becoming the primary income streams for many artists.

In the 15 years since TOTP was taken off air, change has been even more dramatic. The advent of streaming has turned the issue of record sales and due royalties on its head while the availability of affordable short run CD production [albeit at lower quality than CDs produced by a pressing plant] has enabled artists to benefit from selling their music directly to fans without having to lose sizeable chunks of their income to retailers, distributors and labels. A few years ago I spoke to an artist who is reasonably well-known in her field as a young jazz and folk influenced singer-songwriter who told me she doesn’t bother selling her albums on download platforms (although they are on streaming ones) and makes a large portion of her money by selling CD or vinyl albums to those attending her gigs. Accordingly she tours at least once a year.

The sale of albums and other merchandise (T-Shirts, Hoodies, Tote Bags etc.) at gigs is big business if you know what you are doing and have a reasonable fanbase. Add to that ticket revenues and being able to claim publishing royalties from PRS for performing your own music in licensed venues every night and you begin to ask the question: who needs conventional record sales? Or even a record deal? There was a time when artists would not have wanted to ‘waste’ those record sales, preferring fans to buy their products in record shops where the sales counted towards the charts!

Add to this that social media provides you with free and quick access to thousands of potential fans. In pre-digital times, artists would spend hours of time and considerable sums of money printing, photocopying, preparing and sending mailouts about their gigs and packs for record labels, media people etc. with tapes, info and photos. By contrast, what exists now is a dream come true. Set up your event on Facebook, click on up to 500 names to invite and press send. Job done! Then put it out on Twitter, Instagram and any other platform you have an account with. At no cost and in less than an hour, you have reached far more people than several days and close to £100 would have achieved in pre-digital times.

It has never been easier to be genuinely independent and self-managing. Yet there is a massive downside to all this. Namely that everyone else also has access to these same benefits. The competition has never been so intense. Now an artist can write and record an album in days, utilising digital resources, and have it out on every relevant digital streaming and downloads platform in the world the same week, all without leaving the house or flat. So, for the great bulk of artists out there, what does ‘making it’ mean in 2021 and how can it be achieved?

There is no hard and fast definition of ‘making it’ in 2021. Much depends upon the ambition of each artist. For some, the answer might be reaching a point where making music is now providing a full-time living. The most likely way that would happen, particularly for solo acts or duos, is through a combination of external grant funding (Arts Council, PRS Foundation, Help Musicians UK etc.), extensive gigging and selling of merchandise and/or perhaps by getting music into soundtracks and other media. It might feel more like they have ‘made it’ if that goes hand in hand with some sustained airplay on the appropriate national radio stations (i.e. BBC Radio 6 Music, BBC 1 Xtra etc.) and an appearance or two on festival stages not to mention some reviews in well-known titles (i.e. NME, Drowned in Sound, Louder than War, The Line of Best Fit, Clash Magazine etc.). It ought to include being selected for popular streaming playlists too unless the artist is someone who specifically boycotts such platforms. And of course, there are royalties to be had from PRS and PPL in these activities too.

For others, ‘making it’ might mean getting played on their favourite show, being invited to play a couple of festivals and achieving best ever download sales on a release. It might even just mean putting anything out on digital platforms and getting some airplay. Everyone has different goals. I used to watch with a mixture of mild annoyance and mild amusement when contestants on shows like The X Factor who had been rejected by the panel begged for reconsideration and pleaded about how much they wanted this. I wanted to ask them what, over the other 364 days of the year, they had been doing to pursue their dream if they really did ‘want it so much’! Otherwise, did they think an annual audition on a reality TV show was enough effort?

For some, it is still the lure of the major record contract along with the incumbent opportunity to record in a plush studio with a big name producer and tour the world that drives them. Fair enough. We all need our incentives. Maybe at one time, that would have been my dream too although I think I was always most focused on simply being able to make music my living. That is something I finally achieved in my fifties although not in the way I had expected! Nevertheless, I am hugely grateful for the way things have worked out.

For those who crave the major deal though, it is best to be prepared for the possibility that, with the pressure to sign 365 deals and a host of people ready to take a slice of the collective cake, there might not be much left for you. I have seen enough examples of bands who had the glory of touring the world, selling hundreds of thousands of albums and being on the front page of numerous journals and yet walked away with nothing in their wallets or their bank accounts. You might find you are better off both financially and in terms of your power to influence what you do and how you go about it if you sign with a small but efficiently run and established indie label.

The entirely independent route has its obvious attractions. You are your own boss. You make all the creative and commercial decisions. You don’t have anyone taking a significant cut of your income whilst also wanting too much control over your art. But it also means you have to know how you are going to get from releasing material via Distrokid, CD Baby etc. and telling friends about it on social media to being able to attract wide enough attention to be shifting significant volumes of tracks, being enough of a draw to be able to tour and pull in crowds all over the country and maybe beyond and establishing sufficient track record to be considered for A, B and C Lists of key radio stations. You also need to consider your strategy for matching airplay with reviews and playlist pitching and you need to be capable of developing your online footprint and doing your best to join all the dots as more tracks and information appear about you on web and social media pages. There is no fast track to success. You have to be prepared to dig in, work hard and capitalise on what crumbs of success fall in your direction.

We should, I feel, be thankful that the pressure to follow that route of landing a record deal and breaking into the pop charts is gone forever. There are so many options facing the modern music artist. Aggressive pandemics notwithstanding, it is possible to make a living largely from playing live if you have built enough of a reputation and following and are prepared to perform live three to four times a week throughout the year with few or no breaks. I know artists who have achieved this without being known other than within their specialist areas of music. That, however, is a benefit of specialising, especially if you stand out within your scene.

For others, gigging is not possible nor necessarily desirable. This might be due to practical issues (artists collaborating electronically but from different regions or even continents) or others including mental health or mobility. I know a great many artists who are unable to play live and yet are producing a consistent catalogue of exciting, relevant music. For these artists, it is necessary to look at other avenues including selling merchandise online, crowdfunding their album releases and focusing on tirelessly developing their online footprint especially but not solely on social media. They can still sell short run CDs, T-Shirts etc. in addition to the music. They just need to become good at directing followers to where they can order these items online.

The media landscape has changed beyond recognition too. Even as late as the nineties, there were four British music papers published weekly and in the shops on Wednesday morning - NME (New Musical Express), Melody Maker, Sounds and Record Mirror. These papers had an enormous degree of power and influence and could make or break a new act in a single review. Now all that remains is the free online version of NME and even that is a shadow of the once formidable intellectual force it was. But then there is an upside to the demise of the once-mighty music press. Artists no longer live in fear of them. Now most people who write about music on blogs and online journals tend only to focus on artists they can be positive about.

Radio has changed beyond recognition too. Not only because of the gigantic corporate mergers and takeovers that allowed Global and Bauer Media to carve up the once-independent radio map between them but also because the advent of internet-only radio has increasingly offered a vast array of credible alternatives to mainstream channels. Many have audiences that are relatively small (i.e. a few hundred compared to the 9m listening to Radio 1 or even the 2.5m listening to 6 Music) but these audiences are engaged and have chosen those shows precisely because they want to hear new and emerging artists playing broadly the styles of music they enjoy,

I have heard all the arguments about cream always ‘rising to the top’ and how much better it was for artists in pre-digital times. But for me, as someone who was extensively involved in music from very young and with several hats on at different points, neither of those things are the case. How you define your personal definition of ‘making it’ is something only you as an individual can determine. At least though, you have access to affordable or free recording methods, affordable and guaranteed distribution and a world that has been reduced considerably in its metaphorical size thanks to the internet and social media. So go find your niche and best of luck with piecing together the parts of the jigsaw that create the right picture for you. In the final analysis, only one person can tell you whether you ever truly ‘made it’ and that, my friends, is you.

AND FINALLY .......

So we are more than halfway through 2021 and still, despite the farcical and appallngly mismanaged freedom day, we remain as plagued by the COVID pandemic as ever in many areas of our lives. Speaking with my live events promoter’s hat on, I have at least been able to put gigs on again since May (open air) and June (indoors with restrictions). The restrictions have, in theory, been lifted but I don’t know of any venue where that is actually the case. Certainly, for my Trust The Doc Live gigs at the Amersham Arms, the venue manager Andy and I are in full agreement that we should still be asking people to wear face coverings when walking about and it still makes sense to have socially distanced seating options. At my Vanishing Point gigs, little has changed. We continue to benefit from having a large open air space covered by a roof and the option of a canopy over the stage so we can continue to have open air gigs in all weather. We could move indoors and put the stage in one or other of the railway arches but we don’t want to and the audience overwhelmongly agrees.

It is a worrying period for everyone but especially so for grassroots music. Had it not been for the representation at the government’s working groups by the Music Venues Trust, who knows what might have happened with the stop-start, furlough-unfurlough, stock-destroy approach of this government. It was bad enough for us promoters but it was a great deal worse for the venues. It is doubtful whether grassroots live music could survive another lockdown without considerable external support. So let’s hope, with the death and hospitalisation rates falling in spite of new variants of COVID appearing, we manage to avoid that scenario. In the meantime though, instead of abusing their fame to go on social media and encourage people to behave like pricks, some of the anti-vax, COVID-deniers currently riding a wave of misplaced popularity should wake up and realise how their actions risk extending the pandemic.

Anyway, I remain grateful to the Arts Council and National Lottery whose support has enabled me to continue identifying and maximising avenues to provide exposure and support for aspiring music artists and those in their support structures. I am now the busiest I have ever been on account of continuing with those additional avenues despite the return with a vengeance of my live promoting activities. But better that than to be trying to get myself back up after months of sitting around being morose which, about 16 months ago, might have been the alternative!

The pandemic has certainly not dented the talent and enthusiasm out there in the world of grassroots music. So I continue to do what I can to support and highlight the ones I find out about. And on that note, I will say goodbye for now, thanks as ever for reading and take care everyone. See you on 31st August. Till then…...

Neil xxxx