FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: A BRIT TOO FAR
As I have said before, I can be a sucker for song contests, TV talent shows and even awards shindigs. This is top of mind briefly as it is the BRIT Awards tomorrow evening, live on ITV and hosted by the affable Mo Gilligan for the second year running. To be eligible to receive a BRIT, an artist (they don’t use the ‘e’) must have achieved at least one top 40 album or two top 20 singles within the twelve months ended 9 December 2022. This may partially explain why there are no females nominated in the now gender-neutral Best Artist category. Women are under-represented in the list of 2022 UK top selling acts and this is less of a surprise when you discover that they account for just one in five of all acts signed to major UK record labels.
Photo of Mimi Webb (Best New Artist Nominee) above – from www.brits.co.uk
Scanning the list of nominees across all categories, I found that I have only ever written about two or three of them; again, no surprises here as my musical world revolves around largely unsigned acts rather than chart matter. Nevertheless, I wish every success to both First Aid Kit (International Group of the Year) and Becky Hill (Best Dance Act) which is probably a coffin nail neither needs. To redress the gender bias in a small way I tend to over-represent women in these columns and this week is almost, though not quite, exclusively female.
So, let’s begin this week’s selection of worthy non-BRIT nominees, all of whom in my parallel universe would actually be in those UK chart lists, with a characterful singer-songwriter whose name is just as charming as her musical output, Blossom Caldarone. A Gloucester native with Italian parentage and now London-based, Blossom is a natural storyteller with a wry turn of phrase akin to Maisie Peters. She also includes the cello, piano and keyboards among her instrumental weaponry to add to her sweetly individual vocal tone. She adds an arty, theatrical style to her musical prowess too.
“I Still Love Him” is from Blossom’s third EP, Maybe in Love (Maybe Not), which came out last month and includes musician friends she first met during her time studying at the BRIT School (ah, a BRIT connection then). The song immediately draws you in with its sleepy waltz time and gently plucked strings over which Blossom’s voice floats, caresses and occasional soars to unexpected heights. The percussion gives the song a quirky, offbeat feel that is more akin to jazz tempo than 3/4 time. Blossom originally wrote this song when she was 16 and has changed it radically from a slow lament into something she describes as “far more defiant than defeated now.” Originally conceived as fiction, the song took on a new life when Blossom later experienced ‘confusing love’ herself. A fascinating and fulfilling listen.
Photo of Lexie Carroll by Matilda Hill-Jenkins
Another London-based young female singer-songwriter who has been making waves is Lexie Carroll. Like Blossom Caldarone, Lexie was voted one of the Fresh Faves on Fresh on the Net’s Listening Post the other week. She has an EP due for release in May which suggests an evolving sound from folk roots heading now towards indie pop-rock territory. Lexie plays live with an all-female band and after support for the likes of Tom Odell played a headline show at London’s The Grace last December to a full house.
Having had music featured on Love Island, Lexie benefits from a wider recognition base than many of her contemporaries. “Violet” is a song that should cement that growing reputation. Written for a friend who was going through a particularly difficult time, it is filled with quiet empathy, reflected by the softness of Lexie’s voice set against the more urgent rhythms laid down by her bandmates which echo something more of a turmoil. The song builds to a moving crescendo before dying away in a plaintive plea to her friend to fight the thing that’s dragging her down.
Photo of Girl Ray by Chiara Gambuto
I came across Girl Ray via the trio’s marvellous song “(I Wish I Were Giving You a Gift) This Christmas” on Kevin McGrath’s mammoth Have Yourself a Merry Indie Christmas compilation, including it in my 4 November column last year. After first getting together while still at school, Girl Ray went on to release two albums, Earl Grey in 2017 and Girl two years later. After something of a hiatus, I am delighted to say that the North London band comprising Poppy Hankin (guitar, lead vocals), Iris McConnell (drums, vocals) and Sophie Moss (bass, vocals) is back with its first new music since 2021.
Girl Ray’s new single “Everybody’s Saying That” appears to take its cue from pure late 70’s disco with a topline melody and groove that recalls Chic. Sophie can be rightly proud of her chunky bass lines which echo the Bernard Edwards tradition while Poppy’s guitar chugs along nicely a la Nile Rodgers. It’s a beautifully self-contained song; slick harmonies, beats irresistible to a tapping foot and lyrically playing a straight bat to themes of new love and self-doubt. Studio 54 comes to Slough in the colourful accompanying video too!
Photo of Wings of Desire by Holy Whitaker
The South London dream pop pairing of Chloe Little and James Taylor aka Wings of Desire brought us memorable songs last year in the shape of “Perfect World” and “A Million Other Suns” and went on to be longlisted in last year’s Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition with the euphoric “Choose A Life”. The former two songs now seem to have disappeared from the band’s YouTube channel and its website, previously built around a fascinating mood board, appears to be in a state of flux. All this suggests that the duo who draw inspiration from psychological revolution, visual arts and 20th century counterculture are going through something of a reset.
Whatever the master plan might be now, it is evident that Wings of Desire can still conjure a great and stirring tune. I love the new single “Runnin’” despite the apostrophe before the second inverted comma – OK, having a pedantic moment I know and I added the inverted commas. With a Springsteen meets shoegaze feel and a sense of expansive, unhurried rumination, the song suggests there is more to life than being ruled and restricted by algorithms. “Running endlessly in circles under the tight grip of a culture designed to distract us from ourselves. Do we still believe that the internet knows what’s best for us? Maybe it’s time to get off the wheel and see what’s outside” the band ponders. The next stage should be equally enthralling.
Back to THE BRITS for a final word this week. I got to talk about the 2018 Awards on Turkish TV no less but, after a debut marked by forgetting to mention Ed Sheeran along with much of what I intended to say and also blinking rather a lot, I’m still waiting by the phone.
Full story here, or just watch the video below. If you haven’t already done so, might I also suggest you make a timely donation within your means to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Turkey-Syria Earthquake Appeal. Our thoughts cannot be far from the plight of the unfortunate victims of this natural horror.