No social distancing here? Photo by Maja Smiejkowska
Perhaps inspired by the knowledge that this summer would have marked the festival’s 50th anniversary, over 6,300 acts entered this year’s Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition. As we all know Glastonbury now has to miss its 2020 birthday party but the good news for ninety of them is there is still the possibility of a main stage appearance at the June festival in 2021. Glastonbury has just announced that the contest will be concluded, once more generously supported by PRS for Music and PRS Foundation via cash bursaries for the winner and two runners-up.
From this year’s mammoth entry, it was the task of 30 UK-based music writers to select a long list of 90 acts to go through to the next round. Each of us had around 210 entries from which to select just three to progress to the next stage. To ensure everyone gets a fair chance, the acts themselves nominate a music category while judges can choose to receive songs from all categories, or to opt out of those musical styles they feel less able to appraise. As in past years, the standard was pretty high and, in my case, the highlight pen was used on up to one in four entries.
Picking my final three was as challenging as ever. It finally came down to the quality of each original song and how well the act came across in its live video submission. Soloists or bands who used live video to showcase a different aspect of their music rose up the rankings. Those who chose to submit the same song again on video missed a real trick, especially if it was a near identical arrangement, or in some cases an inferior version. Once again, several seemed to forget that a dubbed soundtrack is not a live performance! Finally, it is useful for entrants to show on their YouTube channel that they have a wider repertoire they can perform live. Sadly, there were a number of good-song-but-is-that-it? moments.
So, before the suspense finishes you off, I present my final three choices in no particular order. Please give them a listen and some love on social media would not go amiss either, especially in lockdown.
Tors – “Empty Hands”
Hard to fault this song which would sound as much at home in a stadium as in a sitting room. Strong lead vocal and harmonies, great chorus and nicely arranged. Tors have a bunch of original songs as good as this one and are just as impressive live. Check out Tors on YouTube.
Sophie McGeorge – “Dreamrakers”
Quite simply a beautiful song, carefully crafted and wonderfully sung. Sophie McGeorge has a rare vocal tone; her clarity and precision is matched by a soft emotive power. Her live version of This Woman's Work while busking at Euston Station was so apt it made me cry!
The Lunar Keys – “Dreams are never spoken”
Epic alternative rock with cruise control pop, it said on the can. I'll add big choruses asking to be sung back to the band on a Glastonbury stage. Great songwriting from an admirably tight band with a truly great lead vocalist. The Lunar Keys are the real deal on record and, as you can see here, live.
So, what happens next? You can listen to Tors, Sophie McGeorge and The Lunar Keys together with the other acts who made it through Round 1 on the Glastonbury site now.
The ninety will then be whittled down to a shortlist of just eight, by judges including Emily Eavis and Glastonbury’s Head of Music Programming, Nick Dewey and announced in the week commencing 18 May. For obvious reasons, there will be no live finals but the winners will still be chosen from this shortlist by the same 15 music business professionals who would have judged them live. Their decision will be based on the original song and live performance video each act entered.
Always a great supporter of the competition, Emily Eavis commented: “At a time when the live music industry is on hold, and upcoming artists are not able to get out there and showcase their talents, I’m so pleased that we’re still able to shine a light on the best new acts in the UK and Ireland through the Emerging Talent Competition. I’m hugely looking forward to hearing the 90 acts on the longlist – and I really hope that lots of others will listen and choose their favourites too.”
Tunnel. Light. At the end of.