FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: BEST DAY OF MY LIFE
Well, Tuesday may not have been the best day of my life but it did come with an unusually nice surprise. Before Tuesday evening I could hardly have been called a big fan of Tom Odell but much of that changed when I saw him perform a live set at my local church accompanied by a full choir. That is the choir was on stage with Tom, not seated by me. With vision slightly obscured, I think there were twelve of them plus choirmaster and collectively they made a mighty fine sound.
The occasion, arranged once again by the esteemed and tireless folk of Banquet Records here in Kingston, was to promote Tom’s new album, Best Day of My Life, [Ah, I see now – Ed]. There was a full house and such was the demand for tickets, he is back to do it all again on 3 November (that one is sold out too).
Photos of Tom Odell by Kevin England
Tuesday’s show was simply and perfectly reduced to solo piano and vocal from Tom Odell with the choir adding hugely in terms of vocal texture and presence. Despite claiming to be a little hoarse after a bunch of promo shows and appearances, Tom was in particularly fine voice and I was taken aback by its range and, at times, pure intensity. There was a sense of liberation too now that he is uncoupled from a major label and working as an independent artiste. He was genuinely humbled by the love for him in the room and fulsome in his admiration for the choir and its leader.
The poignant album title track, “Best Day Of My Life”, came early in the set. Live with an extended piano intro, handclaps and an elevated chorus, it had all the tender nuances of the original yet sparkled with an added gracefulness. Balancing five songs from the new album with older material, the whole set was about as crowd pleasing as they come. The singer comes across as a fragile soul yet with a steely resolve to work through the pain to reach something more hopeful, and, dare I say it, even cheerful. It is a path that will be familiar to many.
Highlights came aplenty. “Streets of Heaven,” written in the wake of a US school shooting from the perspective of a victim was proceeded by a homily about how his record label at the time did not feel he had the kind of stature necessary to pull off a song like this. “Flying” saw Tom Odell perfectly balancing smooth tones with a raw undernote and the crowd loved singing the words to arguably his most famous song, “Another Love,” as loud as they could while clutching a phone in video mode. I’ll go back to the opening song for one that equally stood out for me: the eloquent “Grow Old With Me”. You’ll get some idea from the live video courtesy of Shot From.
Having featured Scottish singer-songwriter Frankie Morrow via successive single releases, I am especially pleased that today marks the release of the full works - a 6-track EP colourfully named Blue Parrot Backpackers Hostel. If that title leads you to an Australian connection, you are not wrong as Frankie spent some time out there a few years back. She describes the Hostel as her ‘Sliding Doors’ moment, referencing the film in which the life of the female lead, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, is shown to change dramatically based on whether she catches a train or not. “I remember feeling quite lost when I was out living in Sydney when I first moved there. Me and my ex had briefly met at the BPPH and suddenly I was on this whole other adventure I had no idea was coming” Frankie explains.
Musing on how tiny decisions taken in our everyday lives can have huge impacts on us further down the line, Frankie establishes the glue that connects the songs on this record. “Sirens” is a particular standout in a strong collection traversing a range of moods from folk through to Lo-fi and jazz stylings. Mixing images of hidden away love letters to be put out with discarded pizza boxes with painful personal memories of lost love punctuated by ambulance sirens, the song wraps a sense of catharsis in a certain beauty. Frankie Morrow will showcase the EP with full band gigs at the Hug & Pint (Glasgow 25 Nov) and London’s Sebright Arms (29 Nov). Worth passing a few pubs for as the Younger’s Tartan 70’s advertising slogan went. Two points if you remember that!
We have encountered British composer/producer Chris Normanaka KaizanBlu previously via his collaborations with the wonderful Emma Denney, “Run” and “All I Need.” Now based in Bulgaria, Chris first got into music when his mum enrolled him on a college music course after he had just left school with “no idea what to do next.” He now makes all his music from a home bedroom using an Apple iMac, M-Audio keyboard, Sony soundbar and Yamaha’s HS8s subwoofer. He usually starts the process off with a piano melody, building layers from there.
“Roots” is one of 12 tracks you will find on the new album by KaizanBlu, Macrocosm. The chilled pieces are ordered to create a sense of a journey with each one flowing into the next and, for me, reflecting a natural cycle of day through to night time. A sense of tranquillity surrounds the music of KaizanBlu; “Roots” builds dreamily from minimal layers and ambient sounds, punctuated by a soft flute theme after the midpoint. It’s short and decidedly sweet. Chris releases his music copyright free, so that content creators can use it in their videos and this has helped boost his Spotify streams to over one million.
It has been a little while since we heard from Machina X, the long-distanced electro duo comprising Annie from Sheffield and Cyrus who is Burmese and based in Yangon. I think the last time was back in March when the pair continued their collaboration with Hereford producer Nature of Wires on the upbeat “Dance With Me.”
Back as a duo, Machina X has returned for something of an encore; an epilogue track to its 2021 mini album, The Art of Letting Go, which itself was conceived around the notion of the five stages of grief.
“One More Way (To Say Goodbye)” may be the last we hear from Machina X in this particular incarnation. It feels like the final word and as both artistes are involved in other things, any future activity may be around single releases rather than conceptual projects.
It exorcises a sense of loss in a knowing, worldly way; the words sung with confidence to stately instrumentation by Annie with a hint of sadness steeled by reality. “Some chapter endings are neither happy nor unhappy; just different than expected” adds Machina X in a fitting endgame to a musical jigsaw.
Photo of Slaney Bay by Henry Ager
To close this week, here is a new name to me, although based in my neck of the woods in South-west London. Slaney Bay comprises childhood friends Caitlin Whitley (lead vocals, guitar), William Nicola-Thompson (lead guitar) and Joel Martin (bass, backing vocals). The trio is likely to have an Irish connection somewhere down the line, having taken its name from the River Slaney, south of Dublin. Slaney Bay has a debut EP, A Life Worth Living, expected on 11 November, and has previewed it with a third single, “LS6” which came out on Wednesday.
sDespite its thematic reference to moving away to a new life, Slaney Bay’s sense of togetherness is very evident on “LS6”, the title of which references Caitlin’s postcode when she relocated to Leeds to go to university. Lyrically she questions what life has in store and how she will cope with all the changes and new independence; those thoughts at the crossroads of youth and adulthood will always resonate with many. Musically these well-formed, mature reflections are carried by Caitlin’s versatile vocals which range from velvety delicacy to powerful expression, yet one that still retains a gossamer veil behind it; all complemented by punching guitars, bass and drums (not sure who’s drumming though). “LS6” reaches a proper crescendo too, marking Slaney Bay as real contenders.