According to CNN, the organisers of a Wisconsin music festival scheduled for July with the Trumpian title of the COVID Herd Immunity Fest has changed its name this week to the innocuous, though scarcely inoculated, July Mini Fest after a social media backlash. Back here in Blighty, while we can each enjoy safe, socially distanced memories of past Glastonbury Festivals this weekend via broadcast and online media, it seems some people just can’t resist lining up the deckchairs to form a herd community.
Is this the new norm? I hope not. The Bournemouth beach massive yesterday looked like the prematurely bad brother of lockdown ease. There you go. I had hoped that we’d come out of all this kinder and more respectful with a heightened sense of what is important in life, and that isn’t crapping in burger boxes and leaving behind a ton of litter.
Anyhow, the initial reason I led with the crowded beach is that, in another sense, it’s an analogy frequently applied to independent musicians. I once roughly worked out that it would take you a full three years without sleep to listen to all the music released in an average calendar year. So, the extent of the task for unsigned bands and individuals to nab their own particular space on the beach, so you might get to hear them, should not be understated. What helps compensate a little for a zero marketing budget though is the growing army of bloggers and playlisters who are keen to champion them.
A case in point is Glastonbury Emerging Talent 2020 runner-up, AJIMAL, who has released his second album, As It Grows Dark / Light this week to well-deserved acclaim. The duality of the album title really sums up what it’s all about while the artiste himself is ever able to command emotion in a quiet, reverent yet wholly absorbing manner. Fran O'Hanlon has an interesting backstory as a doctor by day who acquired his moniker, AJIMAL, from an infamous former voodoo priest while working at a field hospital in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. Newcastle bred, O’Hanlon qualified as a doctor whilst recording his first album, Childhood, and he continues to practise medicine alongside his musical career.
This song, “Above All Else, Be Kind”, again has a title that needs little amplification. The accompanying video was put together while AJIMAL was self-isolating with symptoms of Coronavirus. Uniting people from the twin worlds in which he he operates, the song strangely prefigures the Covid-19 crisis, even though it was written in the wake of Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory, as a plea for us all to come together rather than put ourselves first. Beach folk, take note.
Meanwhile, the weeks are ticking down to the release on 24th July of Hopefuls by The Harriets, a band that is continuing to gain column inches in praise of its uplifting brand of power pop/rock. Today the Leeds quartet has unleashed the second single from that impending full-length debut in the shape of the romantically fuelled “Trip to the Moon”. As always, The Harriets have the knack of being able to take you there in an instant, as evidenced in this charming lyric: “There's an old cinema, on the corner near mine, and the pictures play until late / And a single lamp post in a pool of light, you can swing around after your date.” Great tune, too.
Coincidentally, another talented lyricist with the ability to take personal experiences and observations and turn them into something that reaches many parts resurfaced this week. Grace Davies was pipped by Watford R&B boys, Rak-Su, to the 2017 X-Factor title but created a big impression and something of a sea change on the show by showcasing her own songs at every stage of the competition. Like many talent show finalists, you wonder what happens to them but I am pleased to report that Davies has emerged with a portentously titled debut EP, Friends With The Tragic and a new single “Just a Girl”, premiered on YouTube today. More known for her slow bewitching piano ballads, this particular song is an energetic in-your-face anthem of empowerment laced with wit and girl power attitude.
Grace Davies’ premiere garnered a decent number of views and positive comments but in a galaxy far, far away at the other end of the plays spectrum, mega K-pop girl band, Blackpink, premiered new song “How You Like That” and broke the YouTube record for such events. Blackpink is already the most followed group on YouTube, with 37.5 million subscribers who call themselves "Blinks" and a total of 1.65 million of them tuned in at 10am today simultaneously. The last time I looked, the play counter had topped 35 million. Alongside this, there seems to be some kind of snowclone war going on with Blinks and rival fans under ‘Comments’.
The bots have taken over the beach and we’re not talking a space to sit cross-legged with a guitar now but, rather, the individual grains of sand. But let's not close on that surreal note; instead, here is a trio of unsigned acts I came across through Fresh On The Net, which continues to be a marvellous magnet for inventive talent.
Chalk Horse Music – “Hegemony”
A truly imaginative reworking by the Sussex folklorists of a Scritti Politti 1979 original which itself takes its cue from a traditional song, "Lemady", mixing folk, brass and electronica to hypnotic effect.
The Happy Somethings – “Millionth Girlfriend”
Sounds like your favourite chord changes, phases and runs shaken not stirred into one delicious and wonderfully refreshing melange.
Aimée Steven – “Darling”
Infectious and flirtatious alt-pop delivered with a straight down-the-line attitude and telling assurance by Liverpudlian songstress Aimée Steven.
Photo of Bournemouth beach from BBC website/Andrew Matthews/PA Wire