FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: BACK TO THE DIGEST
Recent editions of this weekly column have featured live reviews and a track-by-track album guide but today we are back to the more customary digest format. It was not hard choosing songs to highlight as a bunch of my favourite independent artistes have released new material this month, quickly forming an orderly queue in the inbox. You can’t escape live music completely though as we close today with a brief report of an amazing show held last Friday at my local church in Kingston. Hence today’s opening image.
Photo of Nadia Sheikh above at St John’s Church, Kingston by Gerald Sorenti
On with the digest. We begin with Brighton siblings Henry and John Tydeman aka Barbara. With a shared love of 60s and 70s music and styling and eclectic influences from Glam Pop to Broadway, the duo makes classic, compelling pop music with literate, intelligent seasoning laced with humour. Barbara successfully brings American musical flavours to a quintessentially British sensibility and demeanour. After recently completing a dream tour with 80s pop icons Haircut 100, Barbara returns in didactic mode with a new single which acts almost as a companion piece to last November’s neatly satirical political polemic, “Waiting Outside Alone.”
The new song, “Master Narrative”, has all the elements that make the band’s work so irresistible; an episodic structure redolent of the splendid 70s outfit 10cc, memorable melody lines, a touch of quirky bombast, rich harmonies and satirical, on point musings. The narrative exposes conflicted and contrary emotions over the natural attraction of a showman and the emptiness that may lie within. It could be about Boris Johnson: “We hate him like nobody does / We love him” but the context extends to a broader put-down of what Barbara calls the ‘celebrification’ of politics while acknowledging how easy it is to get beguiled by apparent charisma. Spot on as always.
I have supported Southend-on-Sea four-piece The Trusted since first encountering the band almost three years ago via its notable single, "Criminals", which featured on Fresh on the Net’s Listening Post. Like many bands, The Trusted’s origins can be traced back to secondary school days and a “mutual appreciation of strong melody and atmospheric, edgy pop.” That sense of camaraderie has continued through a succession of outstanding self-penned songs that now accumulate to an extremely strong live repertoire.
The band’s September release, “Marrow”, has quickly been followed by another winning tune, “Burning The Night”. An EP featuring two other yet to be heard tracks is in the pipeline. The first thing that strikes you about the new song is its unusual 5/4 time signature which along with its chiming guitar and keys gives it a warm, circular feel. It is an atmospheric listen and very much an ensemble piece with each band member weaving instrumental patterns that contribute organically to the whole. Lyrically the song explores restlessness when irrational thoughts, jealousy and destructive emotions take hold late at night keeping sleep at bay. The Trusted is always prepared to push the envelope beyond core indie rock and this latest addition is something of a triumph.
Photo of Paper Anthem by Laura Rakauskaite
Fayetteville, Arkansas native Joseph Hitchcock aka Paper Anthem is another who has been on my radar for some time. His last full studio album The Year You’ll Never Get Back remains a firm favourite of mine. Now based in London, home to many bands whose sound has proved to be an inspiration, Joseph has been busy working on new material and putting a new band together under the same name. It is a truly international line up with Romanian bassist Carlo Haltrich and Nottingham’s Joe Spoors on drums now joined by new guitarist, Noor Harajli from Lebanon, all complementing Joseph’s songwriting prowess.
Paper Anthem’s new single is titled “Gameplan” and takes its cue from self-analysis of Joseph’s need for romance and the pitfalls of an ensuing courtship: “I just wanna feel like I'm your best / But I feel like less.” The lyrics simply spill out in a stream of consciousness manner while the song’s ultra-fast tempo seems to amplify the angst. The ensemble playing, though in its infancy in terms of how long the band members have played together, is tight and assured. There is a chemistry that welds everything together while the accompanying video – shot in an hour and edited in another – turns the anxiety level up another notch. “Gameplan” is available on all the usual platforms including Spotify here.
We decelerate now. Our next song actually came out last month and has been waiting patiently for a suitable space to emerge in this column so it could be given some air. With Sun, the moniker of singer-songwriter and poet Alice Hale, originally came to my attention with her exquisite stripped back cover of Toyah’s 80s hit “It’s A Mystery”, a song actually written by Alice’s dad, Keith. Since then, she has treated us to some beautifully reflective and therapeutic music from time to time and embraced motherhood with the support of her partner and guitarist Stu who accompanies her for live shows subject, I guess, to babysitting.
“Holding” is a graceful paean to the change seen in romantic relationships over time; how dependency in a relationship Alice once thought of as a frailty becomes a positive strength as two lives become intertwined. Softly picked guitars and an equally delicate piano interlude support an intimate yet subtly expressive vocal that is very much With Sun’s trademark. An artiste taking motherhood in her stride while recognising the extra effort needed to realise a creative goal, Alice stresses the imperative still to make it happen. “It's important to me that I don't sacrifice this part of myself to motherhood. I persevered because there are a lot of barriers to mothers in music and I don't want to be pushed out. So I'm here to celebrate the small but BIG wins!” she states. Job done I feel.
So, we close with a reminder of how good live music can sound when everything comes together, sound and performers. Coincidentally Tom and Fin from The Trusted, Joseph (Paper Anthem) and Alice (With Sun) were all in the audience for a splendid show at St John’s Church, Kingston last Friday featuring Nadia Sheikh, Alex Hall and Maya Lane. Maya kindly stepped in for Blánid at the last minute after she unfortunately went down with a sore throat and opened the show with a short set that perfectly showcased her vocal prowess and strength of songwriting. Closing with her latest single, “Just A Girl”, in which she ranges from gentle verses to soaring choruses, Maya was rewarded with a roomful of new fans.
Alex Hall made a welcome return to St John’s having created a lasting impression two years ago when he appeared here along with The Harriets and Denney. Accompanied by Alleya Weibel on violin guitar and bass, Alex demonstrated the full gamut of his songwriting which ranged from the gentle self-deprecation of “It’s Raining” to the post-rock majesty of the yet to be released “Pear Tree”. His set was as entertaining as it was musically rich and Alleya made a perfect foil for Alex’s endearing and disarmingly chaotic stagecraft. His set included this gem of a new single, “Surrender Your Love”.
Headlining the evening alongside her ace band mates, bassist Rowan Davies and drummer George Gardiner, Nadia Sheikh delivered a consummate set incorporating songs from her latest EP, Neverending Trial alongside earlier fan favourites and a new song. Her solo keyboard-backed interlude featuring “The Wire” and “Wasting Away” perfectly balanced the rockier cuts that preceded and followed. It was hard to pick a standout from such a consistently great set but "Quiet" sounded as good as any. A great night and bigger stages surely beckon all three of tonight’s acts.
Photos of Nadia Sheikh, Alex Hall & Maya Lane at St John’s Church, Kingston by Gerald Sorenti