FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: A BRIEF LOOK BACK IN TIME
To paraphrase Jesse from The Fast Show, this week I ‘are mostly been playing detective. So, the story so far: I was thinking about maybe doing a ‘Where are they now’ feature now and again and began making a list of people I had not heard from in a very long time. One such name is Martin Carter & Graham Jones, a contemporary folk duo who I first met at Poynton Folk Club when a callow sixth former. I followed them for several years, through university and my first job in London, acting as a part-time booking agent to get them gigs across the land, most sadly at subsistence rates.
Bookings proved no easy task, talented though the lads were, as folk clubs in those days were dominated by traditional music. Singer-songwriters were left clinging to the final days of hippiedom while glam rock was fast becoming the latest trend. The sight of Graham’s electric fretless bass was enough to elicit a sign of the cross from diehard trad folkies while Martin’s highly stylised lead vocal scarcely sat right with men who would only ever drink from tankards. In truth the duo was a little out of its time and would have prospered far better back in the days of Woodstock.
Time for a song.
I have a family friend of Martin’s, Leigh Stothard, to thank for rescuing this copy of “Poor Boy” and posting it on his SoundCloud page. Leigh has many more Carter & Jones recordings which I hope to get to hear soon and I must also raid the attic to find my cassette tape of one of the duo’s live gigs down in Exeter. Back to the song: “I’m a poor boy I know / I gotta long way to go / but I do believe in spring.” That refrain used to amuse us students back in the day. There are many other things you could believe in but spring somehow fitted the quirky world view of messrs Carter & Jones. It’s a bit like ‘Are we human or are we dancer?’ Discuss.
The trail to Carter & Jones began with a long, helpful thread on the aged Mudcat website though one which went cold at several points. I left a post on it myself on Monday but the site now appears to be offline: hopefully not the curse of Fifty3. After the duo finally split, Martin continued to perform solo, moved to Portugal, adopted the moniker Spida and teamed up with Emer Nugent to form Neo’s Dream. He had a heart bypass operation which I sincerely hope and believe he recovered from as there is a report of him moving to Belfast later. He has a mix of music on SoundCloud, some ambient and others in a more familiar acoustic folk style but no Carter & Jones era tunes there, nor anything new for the past six years. Here is one Spida song that seemed to me to maintain a kind of connection with his early songwriting: "I Am By Your Side".
The other source for Martin/Spida’s material is Bandcamp, where I found what seems to be a solo version of one old Carter & Jones track, “Holed Up in Bristol” - a breezy tale of a broken-down car, a gig and overnight stay in Bristol with some nice turns of phrase in its lyrics. I have had no luck in finding where Graham is now.
There is another bass player with the same name and a Leeds connection that keeps coming up but nothing else there fits so far. As I hope you can hear on our opening track, “Poor Boy,” Graham had the most eloquent style of bass playing with lovely counterpoint runs and signature swoops and slurs. He contributed many a sweet harmony too.
There we will leave the Carter & Jones story for now but there remains a wealth of tales to be told should I find out more about their whereabouts.
From a look back in time to something contemporary now as we introduce Harmonie Fields, the Berlin-based duo of Argentinian multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Andrés Barlesi and New Zealand singer-songwriter Richie Setford. The pair met in Berlin in 2015, sharing stages and sessions until formally joining forces in 2020; a collaboration that led to a debut album, Drink From The Bowl, this August. The band name was chosen for its sonic and phonetic fit; a musical term in German that playfully could also be a first name and a second word that could then be a surname.
I came to hear Harmonie Fields via Fresh on the Net, where the song “Aurora”, one of eight sculptured gems on the album, was rightly voted a Fresh Fave, and was drawn by the band’s highly measured, atmospheric sound. Richie’s baritone has a beautifully opaque resonance to it, echoing shades of Richard Hawley and even a touch of Mark Lanegan. He lays down a slow drawl that perfectly complements the stately progressions soundtracked by Andrés Barlesi while lyrically invoking the symbolism of death and transition ascribed to the aurora borealis in early myths, asking what we leave behind as we journey from this life. Music for the mind and soul.
Photo of Brooke Bentham by Kat Green
We previously encountered rising South Shields singer-songwriter Brooke Bentham when she supported the wonderful Lucy Dacus in April at St John’s Church in Kingston and impressed with her indie slacker sound and tales of young adulthood. She has returned with a bright new single that would do justice to many of her more feted contemporaries and previews an EP that should see the light of day in early 2023. It marks her first original material since her well-received 2020 debut LP, Everyday Nothing.
Brooke is on familiar ground here, channelling passing glimpses of escapism and joy found in the excursions of youth. “Over and Over” shares a transatlantic vibe along a path trod by the likes of Kurt Vile and Snail Mail with a relaxed, upbeat drive to it all. Brooke says she wrote it quickly to see if she could write something as a reflection of her current situation without overthinking it. “The last few years have been full of road trips, camping, staying indoors. It’s my ode to road trips, getting away from life, feeling like yourself and enjoying being alive. I wanted it to physically sound like that” she explains. Mission clearly accomplished, I feel.
Well, Christmas isn’t that far away now so let’s end today on an impending seasonal note. Last year I was pleased to highlight ace Welsh journalist Kevin McGrath’s amazing fundraising drive for the Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff via his curated V4Velindre digital compilation album. Kevin is now back with a new project which will benefit the homeless charity, Crisis. Have Yourself a Merry Indie Christmas is a mammoth digest of 108 songs spread over two volumes from a raft of indie bands. The collection is out now and you’ll find it at Bandcamp. Please consider buying a copy today if you can as it coincides with Bandcamp Friday when 100% of your purchase goes direct to the worthy cause Kevin is championing.
You won’t find Mariah Carey, Shakey or Justin Bieber here, just quality indie Christmas songs with a real difference. Here is a taster from Volume 1; a particularly wry and wholly apt Christmas wish list from the admirably named Les Bicyclettes de Belsize. And secondly, an elongated gem from Volume 2 from Girl Ray, “(I Wish I Were Giving You a Gift) This Christmas”. Marvellous.
OCTOBER SPOTIFY PLAYLIST
A regular feature of this site is the monthly Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist. The latest one includes all the songs in order from October’s Fifty3 Fridays as long as they are listed on Spotify, of course. Sadly, we are missing “Peony” by Trevas and X Machina’s “One More Way (To Say Goodbye)" this month as neither appear on Spotify. “Jim” by Morton Valence isn’t listed yet so we have reprised the excellent “Summertime in London” instead.
The October Playlist opens contentedly with “Satisfied” by Andrew Maxwell Morris and signs off nicely with “LS6” by Slaney Bay. Please feel free to share it and even follow me on Spotify at TonyHardy53. You can access all the past monthly playlists here too – great for long car journeys unless your car still has a tape or CD player. [Or you don’t have a car – Ed].