FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: A PRIVATE DANCER
It is difficult not to begin this week’s edition without some words about Tina Turner who died on Wednesday following a long illness. Born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939 in Brownsville, Tennessee, Tina’s career spanned 50 years, initially rising to fame via the Ike & Tina Turner Revue and producing solid gold classics notably with “River Deep Mountain High” and “Nutbush City Limits”. After her marriage to Ike ended and revelations of an abusive relationship emerged, Tina put this behind her to go on to greater success as a solo artiste up to her retirement in 2009.
I’ve always had a soft spot for “Private Dancer” and admired how the song viscerally reveals the duality of the role, juxtaposing the glamorous with the tawdry, pleasure with a kind of sad resignation. It always seemed the perfect vehicle for Tina Turner, a force of nature who is now at peace.
Photo of Girl Ray by Chiara Gambuto
From a private dancer to disco regained. Readers may recall much enthusiasm in these columns earlier in the year for North London trio Girl Ray. The band, formed while still at school, has released two albums, Earl Grey in 2017 and Girl two years later and, after a hiatus, is working towards the release of a third one entitled Prestige this August. Comprising Poppy Hankin on guitar and lead vocals, Iris McConnell (drums, vocals) and Sophie Moss (bass, vocals), Girl Ray is busy reimagining the sound of late 70s - 80s disco with an energy and panache all its own.
Following on from the singles “Everybody’s Saying That” and “Hold Tight”, the latest offering to preview the new album is simply named “Up”, a title that seems a little at odds with the space afforded to the musical development of the track which goes well beyond its core insistent riff. There is a lovely reflective bridge midway in the song and even a gutsy guitar solo towards the end. Lyrically, “Up” considers the beginnings of a romance from its emotional high esteem to moments of self-doubt. It is a beautifully judged song; celebratory in its design, irresistible in its charm and impossible not to dance along to. The only way must be Up.
Photo of This Elegant Gull by Sven Arnstein
Our next featured artiste required a wee bit of detective work to uncover a little about her. This Elegant Gull is the curious moniker of DD Shine who comes from Kent and I think may be 17 now, having gained the attention of Fresh on the Net moderators when she was just 11 through submitting music she records with her dad. She supported Tom Robinson in Brighton around a year ago which is where this graceful photo comes from. DD’s music is available on the usual platforms but her work is not exactly plastered over social media. Her motto is suitably enigmatic: ‘Whatever you’re doing, do it differently.’
There is a sense of diversity to This Elegant Gull’s work. Her latest release, “I’ll Be A Movie Star”, begins with the sound of the wheels of a suitcase recorded in the Eurostar station in Brussels. This maintains a tradition of mixing in ambient sounds from metal gates on earlier tracks, for example. Here, the skittish percussion builds and propels the verses forward while the brakes are neatly applied at intervals to create light and shade. During its middle section, synth flourishes add to an orchestral swell, while DD’s vocals add sweetness and colour befitting the song’s evident themes of dreams and aspirations. At over five minutes the song is expansive yet never overstays its welcome. Whether a future celluloid lead or not, there is no doubting This Elegant Gull’s star qualities.
Photo of The Islas by Hayley Champion
This Elegant Gull was one of many excellent acts featured in a recent Fresh on the Net Listening Post. For those who vote each week for their five Fresh Faves, it was a near impossibility to narrow down the stellar collection in last weekend’s LP. A song there that definitely caught my ear was from Norwich indie band, The Islas, who appear to have relocated now to South London. I have previously featured the band, highlighting songs from its 2021 six-track EP, Oblivion, but it’s been a wee while since I heard some new music from them. The Islas. They are now billed as a duo – lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Nathan Baverstock and Ross Allen on lead guitar - so I’m not sure who’s playing bass and drums.
One thing for sure is that the band has retained its knack of producing tuneful indie rock songs with lyrics that pull at heartstrings. The Islas’ first single of 2023, “Who’s Your Money On?”, rakes over “sunshine memories” of a past love along with far darker reflections while keeping the foot firmly on the gas sonically. Soaring guitars joust with a solid wall of rhythm to create an anthemic tune you imagine a festival crowd rousing to while repeating the lyrics back, even if “there's a murder in the blue skies”. Nathan Baverstock sings it like he means it and, if there is any justice, your money should be squarely on The Islas as the pair work towards a debut album later in the year.
I have had a soft spot for the music of London-based singer-storyteller, Gecko since I first encountered it via his beautifully touching and compassionate eulogy to Laika, the poor Moscow stray who became the first dog in space in 1957. You can find “Laika” on Gecko’s fine 2020 album, Climbing Frame, which blends tenderness with humour and nostalgia with a whole lot of love. Gecko is a man of the people, a gifted wordsmith and an engaging live performer – indeed I am looking forward to seeing him again at Glastonbury next month – but meanwhile he has a new song out this week.
“The Tamworth Two” is a song for the pigs that escaped. Cast your minds back to 8 January 1998 – coincidentally my birthday – when two pigs escaped before being taken to the slaughterhouse and went on the run in Malmesbury in South West England. The brother and sister pair’s daring adventure, which included a swim across the River Avon, soon became a media sensation and were given the moniker of 'The Tamworth Two'. 25 years on and the pigs’ flight to freedom finally gets its own anthem. Gecko brings his customary magic to the telling of their tale. There’s a touch of The Proclaimers about that refrain and you may struggle to allow it compassionate leave from your brain. In a good way, of course.
Photo of Hannah Rose Platt by Ester Keate
To close, here is a little postscript to last week’s F3F when we featured the splendid new album, Deathbed Confessions, by Hannah Rose Platt with an exclusive track-by-track commentary from the artiste herself. This week she has released an animated video to accompany another song from the record, her ode to a mysterious benevolent spirit, The Gentleman. The upbeat, piano-driven song provides a subtle contrast to many of the darker tales on the album as Hannah unfolds the story of one who was so kind and loved in life, that in death he continues to help people in apparently mundane, everyday ways. So, the next time when it seems that absolutely everything has magically fallen into place, then maybe you had a visit from 'The Gentleman'.