FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: CALLING OUT DISINFORMATION
For the second week I have found it difficult to know where to start. This column should be a celebration of new music frequently made by people who do not share the advantages of established stars. Looking at UN resolutions, it seems most, though not all, of the world is standing up for a different kind of underdog right now but for all the donations, demos, petitions, sanctions and strong words it is hard to escape a feeling of helplessness. What more can I do to help Ukraine?
We are told that ordinary Russians largely believe the propaganda they are being fed. Since closing Russia's state-owned news agency RIA Novosti in 2013 and replacing it with the Kremlin mouthpiece, Russia Today, Putin sowed the seeds of a new form of fake news which contributed to the rise of Donald Trump, Brexit and more. Now Ekho Moskvy, an independent broadcaster critical of the Kremlin facing a government crackdown, has decided to close. A new law threatens anyone spreading ‘fake information’ with 15 years in jail, while the Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor brazenly stipulates that Russia's actions in Ukraine should be referred to as a ‘special military operation in Ukraine.’
If it wasn’t such a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, you might think you had stepped into the world of Franz Kafka or onto the set of an Armando Iannucci political satire. If there is something we can do beyond donating and demonstrating solidarity, it is to counter the Russian disinformation machine’s assertion that black is indeed white. We can do it through writing and social media, through encouraging Russians and Russian speakers outside the country to share the pictures that come out of Ukraine and the experiences of ordinary people caught up in this madness to repeat over and over again the realities of this unwarranted and unwanted invasion.
Social media channels may get shut down but satellites will keep telecoms open and information sharing will still happen. It is naïve to think all the people in Russia could be persuaded that they are victims of disinformation but if it helps to convince Russians to turn on their leadership in sufficient numbers, there may still be an outcome that avoids huge casualties and displacement of people. The West is between a rock and a hard place. Salvation may now only lie in the hands of the Russian people.
Having already taken up your time with the opening homily, I have rather blown the word count. So, today’s Fifty3 Fridays cuts back on the usual length of background and commentary and is more of a snapshot of new music I have heard recently that I want to share with you.
It’s not long since I had the pleasure of reviewing Barbara’s February headline set at The Bedford. Since then, the band fronted by siblings Henry and John Tydeman has announced tour dates supporting The Divine Comedy no less and now has a new single, the admirably titled “A Perishing of Cherished Things”. The 70s inspired romp is so joyous and self-explanatory that I shall let Barbara do the talking for once as the boys contemplate a kind of midlife crisis.
Photo of Hattie Briggs by Emilie Cotterill
You really are spoil for choice when contemplating the latest album by singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Hattie Briggs, Half Me Half You, released last week. The London based Chichester native used the first lockdown in 2020 as a springboard for a regular weekly live stream and the restrictions throughout the pandemic conversely to make her music more expansive. I loved the folk-rock heaven of the opening song, “Close Your Eyes”, while this beauty, “Half Happy” is vintage Hattie and up there with her very best work.
There was a particularly strong batch of songs that made it through to Fresh On The Net’s Fresh Faves last week. Here are three of them that especially caught my ear. The first is from a new name to me - singer-songwriter Maya Lane, who at just 18 is showing a writing maturity beyond her years and serves up a delightful country-tinged vocal on her debut single, “Still The Same”.
Having enjoyed the earlier collaboration between Hereford producer Nature of Wires and Sheffield to Yangon duo Machina X which launched the wonderful “Within”, it is good to see they have teamed up once again to create another sparkling track. “Dance With Me” channels Middle Eastern vibes amid a delightful melange of electronica, deep bass and jittery beats. Annie’s vocals are as nimble as always and the whole track transports you on a breathless ride.
Photo of Still Corners by Bernard Bur
I’m always a sucker for a less than radio friendly seven-minute single, so the latest offering from Tessa Murray and Greg Hughes aka Still Corners properly drew me in. The duo has carved a niche for itself under the label of desert noir and this latest odyssey, “Far Rider” continues to take you into a realm of baking sun over long desert roads as the pair tries to rake over en route to redemption. It is a shifting, hypnotic journey that conjures up a desolate landscape, lit by Tessa’s shimmering vocals.
From the desert to Japan. It’s been just over a year since we last heard Hodges via his anti-fast fashion anthem, “Cotton”. That track now opens a 16-track album titled Ueomuitearukuhito (A person who walks towards you). He enigmatically describes himself as ‘a Japanese rock band or something’ on his Bandcamp and SoundCloud pages. Virtual band or not, there are many who would give their axe arm for such incisive and sharp-suited indie pop. Hodges’ latest track translates as “Immigrant Song” and makes a little plea for kindness to those in adversity.
Let’s end with a further enigma. This marvellous song is from Paulus Walrus who recorded no less than 13 albums between 2001 and 2013, not including Tusk of course, or I Am The Walrus for that matter [that’s enough of that – Ed]) after which he hung up his guitar, for now as it says on his Spotify page. I have my son-in-law to thank for introducing me to his work via this excellent cut, “Thinking of Linking”. The song was uploaded to YouTube in December so maybe our Paulus is contemplating a comeback. Hope so.
GLASTONBURY 2022 EMERGING TALENT COMPETITION
Along with 29 other music writers and bloggers, over the last three weeks I have listened to 150+ songs and watched the same number of videos before narrowing down to three choices. This process creates a long list of 90 entrants who will get their moment in the sun while a smaller panel whittles them down to just 8 acts to appear at the live finals in April. I am excited about my three choices and look forward to sharing them with you once the long list is announced later this month. I will also feature some other artistes and bands who made up my own shortlist.
You can access a new Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist every month – thank you, Sid & Doris Bonkers for your kind patronage! Actually, somebody follow me please? The playlist features all the songs in order from that month’s Fifty3 Fridays, assuming they are listed on Spotify - which they all are this time; yes, even Neil Young. February’s Playlist includes 21 songs. You’ll find me on Spotify at TonyHardy53.