The annual Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition offers unsigned artistes based in the UK or Ireland a more even playing field in their quest to reach a wider audience. Only a handful of the several thousand acts who compete to play on one of the main stages at the iconic festival in June will make it to the final but the judging process is carefully structured to give all an equal chance to be heard. Once again this year, the contest is generously supported by PRS for Music and PRS Foundation who provide valuable cash bursaries for the winner and two runners-up.
I was one of 30 UK music writers tasked with whittling down the entrants, from over 5,000 received, to a long list of 90 acts. Each one submits an original song via a SoundCloud link, plus a video of any kind of live performance. The entries are divided between the 30 judges and each judge picks three from our individual quotas to progress further. This year, as in previous ones, I was struck by the depth of largely unknown talent out there. Working through my list, I made positive notes about one in four of the entries.
The acts that stood out chiefly had common strands; an original song with something instantly memorable about it yet one that improved on repeat, plus a live performance of a different song showing an extra dimension to the artiste’s music and giving a sense of performance dynamics. Others fell down by posting a polished recording and then a limp video of the same song, sometimes with poor sound or dodgy camera work. A video of a live rehearsal or an unplugged indoor session gave a far better impression of an act’s capabilities than a pixelated phone recording of a dubious pub gig.
Perhaps the cardinal sin is posting a promo video as your live piece, even if you are pretending to play in it. Essentially you look for a great song and an act with sufficient repertoire to show it can cut it on the live stage. Many came close but my final three choices were the songs that had immediacy which matured after several listens from performers with the potential to really engage a Glastonbury audience. So, without further ado, and, as they say on those TV shows, in no particular order, here are my 3 choices:
Sophie Morgan – “Above You”
A really captivating song, skilfully arranged to underline the quality of Sophie's voice; a delicacy and rarity of tone that marks her distinctiveness. Beyond this, Sophie has a set of original songs she delivers serenely and fluently live. This is music that commands by its simple, emotive presence.
Discover more about Sophie Morgan here.
The Harriets – “Café Disco”
I challenge you not to instantly fall in love with “Café Disco” and The Harriets. This is a song to take you straight back to youth – whether recent or more distant – in a kind of marriage of the best of Belle & Sebastian and Squeeze. A great live band too!
Photograph by Iona Skye
Check out The Harriets here.
Truly Ford – “Colours”
The emotion Truly wrings out of her stunning original song “Colours” makes a difficult personal experience transcend into something from which anyone can take comfort and strength; a test of the very best songwriting. Truly is a brilliant interpreter of song and her live work is equally exceptional.
Get to know Truly Ford here.
So, what happens next? You can listen to Sophie Morgan, The Harriets and Truly Ford plus all the remaining acts who made it through Round 1 via the SoundCloud player on the Glastonbury site now.
A further announcement will be made next week when a smaller judging panel including Glastonbury hosts Michael and Emily Eavis will choose just eight acts from the 90 to battle it out at the live finals at Pilton Working Men’s Club, close to the Worthy Farm festival site, on Saturday 27 April. I’ll keep you posted.