FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: CUT THE CHAT
The last couple of Fifty3 Fridays have seen the focus switched towards live music, whose welcome return is tempered by a nagging doubt that Covid hasn’t really gone away. Last night, down the road from King’s Cross at Water Rats to see Nadia Sheikh, I could have done with a box of masks to hand out to those annoying specimens of humanity who insist on having loud conversations towards the back of the room. They can’t all be liggers so why pay to see a band and then spend your time drinking expensive beer and shouting at each other. End of rant for today and on with the music…
Nadia Sheikh has announced a new EP, Undefined, to be self-released on 16 November. Following the Fifty3 Fridays featured “IDWK (I Don’t Wanna Know)” in August, the British-Spanish indie rock star has now shared another slice of her impending extended player with the single, “Love is Undefined”. Her UK headline tour kicked off last night in the modest confines of London’s Water Rats and the singer-guitarist was clearly in her element, unleased again on a live stage. There was an obvious camaraderie between Nadia and her three band mates, creating a classic four-piece guitar band line-up that came into its own particularly on the rockier songs. The set highlighted Nadia Sheikh’s ability to combine anthemic rock with a lyricism more akin to an acoustic environment; the latest song leaning closer to the latter territory.
“Love is Undefined” sees the songstress opening up about a personal relationship where love has turned to dust. “You realise things aren’t working out and you can’t keep on going on but you’re so afraid of hurting the other person that you end up hurting yourself” she reveals. There’s a resilience to her honesty that makes her songwriting open to repair and renewal; sentiments that can be shared by the many. Vocally she is extremely versatile, switching from anthemic chorus-driven mode to torch song sensitivity.
Photos of Nadia Sheikh kindly supplied by @jonmophotography
Before an encore of the euphoric “Fire Away”, she closed last night’s live show with a really punchy version of “Get Away” from her first EP (version on record follows for reference) which demonstrated fully the dynamic that can come with a live performance. With the limitations of the sound desk and room exposed, the song introductions and quieter moments were a bit lost; the edge at times taken off Nadia’s soulful vocal inflections. For those of us towards the back of the room, enjoyment of her fine solo piano outing for “The Wire” was marred by the opening paragraph culprits. What was clear though is that Nadia Sheikh deserves a bigger, better stage. Do I hear the John Peel tent at Glastonbury?
Moving on now, we encountered singer-songwriter and poet Alice Hale who works under the positive disposition of With Sun in August via her delightful, stripped-down version of “It’s A Mystery”, a song written by her father, Keith, which was a UK Top 10 hit for Toyah some 40 years ago. Last Friday she released an original song of her own to mark World Mental Health Day. “The Waiting Room” is a compassionate, reflective piece, its title a pertinent metaphor for the sense of purposelessness and inertia that mental illness can engender. The songwriter confides that she wrote it a while back when she wasn't in a good place mentally, having been off work for almost a year, while it felt like her peers were all busy moving on with their lives.
There is brilliance in simplicity of emotion and Alice imbues “The Waiting Room” with a tenderness that’s as moving as it is therapeutic. “I also knew that the act of writing would help me feel better” she says, embracing the frustration of seemingly waiting endlessly while ultimately resolving to change things from within. Her sentiments are captured in a gentle melodic flow and voiced in a soft, kind tone that provides comfort to balance vulnerability. I particularly like how the music allows room for her message to resonate. You can download “The Waiting Room” on Bandcamp now and Alice is kindly donating all proceeds, fittingly to the Samaritans, who she describes as “wonderful, real-life heroes whose tireless commitment and empathy save countless lives every year.”
In the old days when John Peel and Whispering Bob ruled and there was still something called A & R, bands used to retreat to the country to ‘get it together’, encouraged by a culture of record labels giving acts the space and time to develop. This may or may not have involved a supply of mind-altering drugs but either way some seminal music came out of this process in the mid to late 60s and early 70s. All this came to mind when I came across Hackney-based five-piece, FEZ, via Fresh On The Net’s Listening Post last weekend. It was comforting to hear that the band had spent the best part of 2019-20 holed up in a remote cabin in the Lake District to write and demo an album's worth of material. The fruits of that time out can be heard in this marvellous piece of music, “Summer Rain”.
The song captures the essence of the bittersweet; a bucolic vision of finding beauty in the imperfection of a damp summer's day expressed by a gentle, empathetic lead vocal. Musically it’s bold and striking, bringing an improvisational spirit to a melange of soaring guitars, fulsome keys, expressive bass and stately rhythms. The band is a kind of forward throwback, balancing nostalgia for the psychedelic and progressive rock eras while adding some reinterpretation through a contemporary lens. FEZ has also shared a second taster, “Oh Henry Oh Man”, with more bites to come before the full album is unveiled. East London folk can see FEZ live at Paper Dress Vintage on 22 October.
Another new name to Fifty3 Fridays this week is Manchester indie-folksters, The Deep Blue. The band has shared an engaging new single, “Inside My Head” this week. In line with many of its contemporaries, its core sound is very much harmony-led and the chemistry between the three singers is crystal clear. I was going to describe The Deep Blue as a trio as depicted in press photos but, scrolling down the press release, eagle – OK sophistic – eyes have spotted four names: Georgia, Niamh, Katie and Sophie, one of whom is a drummer though I’m not sure who. Thank you, Sherlock.
“Inside My Head” starts breezily with brisk strummed guitar peppered with a nice bass counterpoint and accompanied by lively drums. The instrumentation cuts back perfectly as the full three-part harmonies kick in and the song continues apace allowing space to punctuate its easy, comfortable rhythm. It’s a really well constructed and reflective song with pop stylings, laying a warm audio blanket across the listener while the notion of things left unsaid that leave you regretting the one that got away are pondered. The song ends quite stunningly with the final lines chopped and separated into individual words in a kind of minimalist Imogen Heap fashion. It’s a crowded field out there for close harmony groups but with this release following its earlier singles “Jealous Sea” and “He Said She Said”, The Deep Blue has set out its stall in impressive fashion.