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Today has meandered by with me half expecting that the finalists in the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition might be announced. Had that happened then the first half of this column would have started differently and I would not be struggling to finish it before dinner. As the announcement has not materialised, it will now be next week I’m sure and I’ll let you know then who has got the full Willy Wonka, err golden tickets.


Instead let us lead with a trio of songs released today which coincidentally is the end of the tax year, although don’t let that trouble you. None of this entirely explains this week’s cover picture but don’t read anything into that either!

First up in today’s opening trio of song releases comes from Southend’s finest, The Trusted, a band much loved in these columns for its obvious camaraderie dating back to secondary schooldays, tuneful songs and strong collective musicianship. Comprising bothers Fin (bass) and Tom Cunningham (vocals) with Dale Holt-Mead on guitar and Dave Batchelor on drums, The Trusted’s work is hallmarked with strong lyricism, raw emotions and stirring anthemic choruses. Successive singles have shown off different aspects of the band and today’s continues that trend.

Aired at The Trusted’s headline show at The Bedford on 1 February, “Self Destruct” is a punk infused missive, harder edged than much of the band’s previous work and full of graphic nihilistic imagery. The song has real dynamics to it; wiry basslines and a classic four-chord guitar riff drive things forward held together by the precision of the drumming which offers moments of light and shade in between energetic fills. Singer Tom Cunningham holds court with a detached, slightly distorted tone as he muses on the extremes of chasing cheap thrills. Yet again The Trusted has played an ace that adds a further dimension to its burgeoning repertoire.

As the world’s best continuity line goes… and now for something completely different. Songwriter, musician and producer Paul F Cook, known for employing acoustic and electronic instruments with field recordings, has teamed up with Annie James, aka Machina X, whose name is more associated with electro indie-pop and ambient music. A self-confessed longstanding admirer of Annie’s vocal prowess, Paul harboured an ambition to hear her voice in a more acoustic setting and set about to create a song with his Spanish guitar at its heart. Once he sent the backing track to Annie, a creative collaboration was born which saw them both contributing to the song's evolution.

The result is the delightful “Who Will I Count The Stars With Now?”, inspired by Paul sharing some musical ideas during what Annie calls her ‘creative dry spell.’ The guitar parts on one piece stimulated Paul to strip away the beats to reveal a soft instrument bed perfect for a song Annie goes on to describe as ‘expressing a vulnerability most of us will feel at some point.’ She wrote the lyrics and vocal parts while contributing ideas towards how the track ultimately was realised. Her distinctive voice with its breathy undertone is nicely to the fore in the mix while I particularly like how the arrangement centred around an enchanting guitar melody is tinted by keyboard figures that subtly weave in and out. A sense of loss is impeccably weighted against the beauty of the song’s execution. You can find it on Bandcamp and all major digital streaming platforms today.

Frequent visitors to these columns, Midlands majesties (OK, I am running out of alliterative references) The Happy Somethings are never ones to sit on hands. The trio began the new year with a series of musical collaborations and now return in its own right with something suitably charitable. The Happys usually offer their music free with any voluntary donations ploughed back into the creation of further recordings. But today can you spare a pound or two for a great cause?

“Second Time Around” is actually a Van Heusen-Cahn composition sung by Bing Crosby in the 1960 American comedy High Time and subsequently covered by a raft of big names from Frank Sinatra to Dusty Springfield. Here it is totally reimagined as a lilting guitar-led piece illuminated by pleasing chord modulations, trademark Happys harmonies, nicely meshing strings and the odd bit of piano. “Love is lovelier the second time around” goes the first line; well, this version sure is. You can buy it for a pound or more via Bandcamp with all proceeds going to The Specialized Project - a social enterprise helping young people in difficult circumstances. If you have the appetite for all 60 tracks on the Our Way Rat Pack Collection you can buy the full works as a 4CD set on the Specialized Project website or digitally here on Bandcamp.

Last week I featured four songs from the list of 10 voted Fresh Faves by Fresh On The Net readers which I was privileged to review for Tom Robinson’s independent music blog. While the site takes its Easter break, here are a couple more from that stellar collection.

A first time Fresh Fave, India Electric Co. arrives with an impressive CV, in recent years acting as the core of Midge Ure’s live touring band and opening for him in their own right. Based in East Devon, the duo comprising Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe conjures a compelling sound mixing traditional instrumentation, folk melodies and, more recently, keyboards and analogue synths. They have a third album, Pomegranate, due out today and are planning a UK headline tour in September to promote it.

Taken from the forthcoming long player, “Balancing Act” lives up to its titular billing with Cole Stacey’s breathy tenor lending it pop tones as his voice plays over a largely soft pulsing soundscape. It is a song pared to its bones beginning with staccato plucked strings and light percussion punctuated here and there with little synth bursts and mini crescendos which add freshness and subtlety. At just 2:28 it leaves you wanting to hear more but in a good way.

Sheffield-based cellist and composer Liz Hanks is well known in her local music scene and to a much wider demographic via her work across a broad spectrum of pop, folk and rock artistes. Having moved to Sheffield in the 90s, Liz soon became immersed in the area and has been cellist to local hero Richard Hawley for over 20 years. She is also well known for her work with Thea Gilmore while her recording and touring itinerary includes a litany of diversity:  Liam Gallagher, Smokey Robinson, Self Esteem, Paul Heaton, Martin Simpson, Kate Rusby and Jon Boden among them.

“Brook” – which means a small stream - is from Liz Hanks’ 2023 album, Land, comprising ten instrumental pieces rooted in her local landscape, incorporating field recordings from woods and park plus referencing old photos and paintings to consider how life might have been like before housing and roads took over. The rises and softly slurred falls on “Brook” reflect the easy flow of water while birdsong gently adds to the pastoral feel of the music. Beautiful and contemplative.


Finally… on the first Friday of each month, I publish a Playlist on Spotify which includes all the songs featured in this column over the previous month – in order, for the tidiest of minds. Our Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist March 2024 includes all 29 songs from the month’s Fifty3 Fridays. It opens with the sharp blues rock of “Emily” by Connor Selby, concluding with a classic from times past, “Good Souls” by Starsailor.


Follow me on Spotify at TonyHardy53 to access all these monthly playlists dating back to April 2021 when this column was born.


FIFTY3 champions

outstanding new music

through Fifty3 Fridays and

occasional features 


Music is a great passion of mine. In my teenage years I was an avid record collector and concert goer. Stints as a booking agent, running folk clubs, promoting gigs and even a crack at artiste management followed. While it never became my main occupation, music was always on my personal radar.


In the past 15 years I have written for leading US music website  Consequence and breakthrough  site, BestNewBands. I am a judge for Glastonbury Festival's Emerging Talent Competition and have reviewed the festival for both sites. I am now pleased to curate my very own music site.


Nothing gives me greater pleasure than unearthing great, original new music and championing independent musicians. You’ll find many of them on this site alongside the occasional legend of times past and I hope they will bring  you as much joy as they give me.

Tony Hardy



Selected dates in the London area:

Thu 23 May: Jon Allen, The Bedford, Balham

Fri 24 May: Grace Cummings, The Lexington, London N1

Thu 30 May: Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Greenleaf  Church, London E17

Fri 7 Jun: Goat Girl, Disco Room - Pryzm, Kingston

Sat 8 Jun: Bat For Lashes, St John's Church, Kingston See the Events page for all live shows in Kingston


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