FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: DECEMBER ONCE MORE
So, 2 December. It’s three weeks to Christmas and I find myself working to a backwards clock again. This was going to be the Christmas songs issue but I find I only have two of them. Never fear, they are both great ones. So here is a slightly truncated issue of Fifty3 Fridays with the further imposition of a deadline in that I am going to see Olly Murs in concert at St John’s Church at the top of our road and people have been queueing since lunchtime. They are only marginally colder than those of us indoors who are stoically refusing to put the heating on. OK, I admit I did for an hour earlier.
Enough of this mindless rambling. Let’s start with something loud and proud. PS. Remember to get a tree tomorrow.
It’s a less than seasonal song title perhaps, but it is always good to hear new material from Guildford’s stellar indie-rockers, The Lunar Keys, who unleased “Maniac”, the band’s latest single last week. For each of their past four releases, The Lunar Keys have supported a series of good causes and the band is continuing this altruistic tradition by donating £1 for each of the first 250 reviews or airplays the new song receives to the nurses at Guildford’s Royal Surrey Hospital. The connection is that guitarist, The Steve, is just recovering from a vital operation there.
With a rawer, more aggressive edge to this song than many of its earlier releases, “Maniac” is a classic rock take with a modern twist. All the trademark Lunar Keys elements are present in the strong vocals, slick ensemble playing and cutting-edge guitar breaks, while shadowy lyrics invoke the maniac inside someone in response to another preying on your vulnerabilities and emotionally controlling you. Just don’t lose your mind this Christmas then.
Continuing the rock theme, regulars here will be familiar with The Kut, the moniker of the multi-talented Princess Maha, supported by an empowered collective of female musicians. Having scored a hit with her second album Grit in the summer, The Kut is back on the goals standard with a World Cup inspired tune. “Fun When You’re Winning” is described by The Kut as her 'psych up song' and in the absence of serious contenders to “Three Lions”, its sway and swagger is a welcome addition to the airwaves, whatever you think of the politics of the event taking place in Qatar. You can catch The Kut on a UK and Ireland tour supporting US High Voltage rockers Electric Six right now.
Next, we switch mode to a couple of deep, crisp and evenly Christmas themed songs. Despite my current angst about the merits and demerits of Twitter – no, I really do not want to see Isabel Oakeshott’s feed, thank you – it still has its moments of salvation. Last night I randomly saw a tweet that got me to listen to a band new to me. “Balham's Valentina Way exist somewhere in south London between 1969 and 1971 - with their jangle-pop guitars, Beach Boy vocal harmonies, garage organ, flute and Penny Lane trumpet solos.” I put that in inverted commas as it came straight off the band’s Bandcamp page and I couldn’t put it any better myself.
That was the radio edit of “The Advent Calendar”, a beautifully bittersweet song for the season. You can show your support for this marvellous ensemble by purchasing The Advent Calendar EP via Bandcamp where you get no less than five splendidly different mixes of the song written by the super talented Charlie Darling of Les Bicyclettes de Belsize. Eagle-eyed readers will recall that Charlie equally contributed a wonderful Christmas song, A Very Indie Christmas, to Kevin McGrath’s colossal curation of 108 indie Christmas songs, Have Yourself a Merry Indie Christmas which I featured on 4 November. Jingle-jangle bells all the way.
Continuing the jingle-jangle feel, Midlands indie pop maestros The Happy Somethings are no strangers to a Christmas tune or two. Or a tweet or two for that matter, although the threesome of Happy, Jolly and Joy are currently keeping a relatively low profile bypassing many of the usual social media distractions while dealing with some personal health issues. But they tell me they did get together for the first time in over a month recently and recorded “Kind of True”, a song they had put to one side a while ago although it turned out that they had been working on it or thinking about it individually in the interim. Great minds, eh?
“Kind of True” stays true to The Happy Somethings philosophy of thoughtful observations, balancing the upsides of life with its downsides and creating songs that ultimately have rays of lights embedded within sad moments. There’s a nice juxtaposition of Christmas and summertime as the song finally resolves into a positive expression: “Because it always feels like Christmas when I’m with you.” Joy’s lead vocal is an aural warm blanket; her soothing northern diction as comforting as a warmed iced mince pie. Happy Christmas, Happys.
Now, a sad postscript for today. For those of you on Twitter, the #Fifty3Fridays #adventcalendar2022 has begun again with a song and video posted each day up to Christmas Eve. Yesterday’s choice of artiste was an obvious one as on Wednesday we lost someone very dear to many in music. Christine McVie died at the age of 79 following a short illness. Hailing from the Lake District, Christine started on her musical path as a member of blues band, Chicken Shack. After a hit single with a cover of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” on which she played keys and sang lead vocals.
Following her marriage to John McVie in 1968, Christine went on to join Fleetwood Mac in 1970, with whom she will always be associated. She stepped away from the stardom and complex relationships within the Mac in 1998, returning in 2014 for the band’s huge reunion tour with the Rumours line-up. I had the privilege of seeing Fleetwood Mac the following year at London’s O2. The pin drop moment as she sang her wonderful composition “Songbird” solo will stay with me for ever. Rest in peace, a songbird for all time.
NOVEMBER SPOTIFY PLAYLIST
A regular feature of this site is the monthly Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist. The latest one includes all the songs in order from November’s Fifty3 Fridays as long as they are listed on Spotify, of course. Sadly, we are missing “Poor Boy” and “Holed Up in Bristol” by the estimable Martin Carter & Graham Jones who, of course, were around long before music streaming was conceived and equally “I am by Your Side” by Martin’s alter-ego, Spida this month. The remaining songs are all represented.
The November Playlist opens harmoniously with “Aurora” by Harmonie Fields and signs off nicely with Ingrid Michaelson’s “The Way I Am”. Please feel free to share it and add to my miniscule follower metrics on Spotify at TonyHardy53. You can access all the past monthly playlists here too. Perfect for long car journeys unless your car still has a tape or CD player or you don’t have the wheels to start with.