FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY
First aired in February 2018, I stumbled across a repeat of For One Night Only in last Friday’s TV schedules; a live studio event to mark 30 years since the last broadcast of the classic music show, The Old Grey Whistle Test. The show had a number of worthy presenters over the years but this tribute was fittingly fronted by its most iconic host, "Whispering" Bob Harris. With sparkling performances from the likes of Kiki Dee, Peter Frampton, Albert Lee and Gary Numan among many, it serves as both a telling reminder of how great talent doesn’t dim with age and equally how engaging it can be to hear musicians and broadcasters talk passionately about a shared love of music. You can still catch the show here on BBC iPlayer. I recommend you do.
The OGWT took its name from a Tin Pan Alley tradition from bygone days; the Alley being a street in New York City, the home of music publishers and popular songwriters in the late 19th/early 20th century. New record pressings would be played to the ‘old greys’, doormen in grey suits, and if they could whistle the tune afterwards, it was said to have passed the old grey whistle test. Watching the show reminded me that there is space in television right now for a cross-generational music show on magazine lines that combines live performances with intelligent chat about song craft. We currently get short bursts of Jules Holland and that’s about it. This column mainly focuses on new music so to balance things here is a live acoustic performance by the marvellous Peter Frampton and a fine song he played during For One Night Only, “I Saved A Bird Today”.
From music icons now to something equally laudable: Kevin McGrath, a music and film writer for Wales Arts Review, has achieved an exacting mission in compiling songs from 44 different acts to create a special, one-off digital album to be sold in aid of the Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff. Velindre, known as the Hospital of Hope, has provided specialist treatment and supportive care to cancer patients in Wales for over 60 years. This includes Kevin himself. Since an operation to remove a tumour from his spine in 2012, after which he spent three months confined to bed in the spinal unit of the University of Wales Hospital, he has been cared for by Velindre as an outpatient.
To realise his aim to make a contribution towards the upkeep of the hospital, it is no mean effort on his part to have enlisted all the artistes involved and then to pull the whole thing together. The album, entitled V4Velindre, is available now to pre-order now at Bandcamp. However, if you purchase the album on release day which coincides with Bandcamp Friday (1 October), 100% of your cash goes direct to the hospital. Including songs from Fifty3 Fridays alumni Campfire Social and The Happy Somethings, the album is eclectic enough to make picking out just two sample tracks a near impossibility, but here goes. At #35 you’ll find the Mumfords-like stirrings of “Aloisi” by Welsh multi-instrumental trio, Climbing Trees; a song that opens its 2013 album Hebron and rich in warm sentiments of love and togetherness. Coventry City fans should note that the song title has nothing to do with their late 90s Aussie-born former player.
At one point there were going to be 42 tracks on the album which immediately put me in mind of the late Douglas Adams; he of The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy in which the number 42 was mooted as the answer to life, the universe and everything. There are now 44 of them and I was delighted to see that the final song is from Somehow, an indie-pop project led by Erwan Pépiot, a DIY multi-instrumentalist based in Paris, self-described as ‘halfway between Joy Division and Belle and Sebastian’ which is just about spot on. Here is the splendid “While the Days Go By” and no, it’s not Peter Hook on bass.
I have the good offices of Fresh on the Net to thank for the next three artistes. Once again, last weekend’s Listening Post was an especially potent source of great new music and I could easily have singled out more. First up is Asha McCarthy, a West Country-based singer, composer and musician who brings an enticing melange of classical, folk and jazz influences to her work. A skilled cellist, she has studied the Indian cello in Delhi and plays an instrument specially adapted for Hindustani music. Asha has just released her debut album, Epitaph, from which this exquisite song is taken. This is “Love Surrounds You”; something you can simply be sure of as you listen.
“Love Surrounds You” was written for all the parents of young babies nurturing alone during lockdowns and reflects on the challenges and joys of parenting, influenced by her personal experiences with post-natal mental health, during recovery from a traumatic, though happily successful birth of her baby daughter. The joy is certainly conveyed in her soothing, bell-like vocal and interweaving harmonies while, in the latter part of the song, the maelstrom of vocal rounds and cello string slides speaks of post-childbirth testing times most eloquently. It’s a compelling piece that inspires you to delve deeper into the full album.
Photo of Brodie Milner by Stewart Baxter
Leeds-based singer-songwriter Brodie Milner struck me immediately as a highly literate songsmith. According to his website, he “wears his songs like an ill fitted suit”, a self-deprecating summation maybe but one that also suggests a certain nuanced self-awareness. Among his influences, he mentions John Martyn, Sharon Van Etten and some old novelists you might not have heard of, though precisely which ones he’s not saying. Milner’s recent single, “An Open Letter”, the third in a trilogy of songs, offers an intriguing insight into his world.
“An Open Letter” considers anxiety, stoicism and mythology in modern society; concepts you can’t necessarily dance to though the synth waves as the song develops may compel some toe tapping at least. There’s a transatlantic inflection in Milner’s voice that reminds me a little of the magnificent Samuel T Herring of Future Islands; those synths also aid the band comparison. The Cassandra referenced in the lyrics is the Trojan priestess of Apollo whose prophecies were never believed. In his open letter, the songwriter explores the pressures on a friend whose own predictions about the pandemic and current political system often came true. It is ultimately a message of consolation; one for all us stoics out there.
The first joyous thing I learned about singer-songwriter Roxanne De Bastion is that her impossibly romantic name is for real. Stardom seems to sit so well with it. Roxanne currently lives in London but was raised between the West Midlands and Berlin where her late father worked as a musician. She describes herself as a “weird kid” who, as a child, pressed her dad about when she was going to write a song. His advice was to wait until she has something to say.’ Wise words indeed which have been realised with the release of her notable second album, You And Me, We Are The Same.
“Ordinary Love” sits midway in the 10-track album, much of which carries echoes of her close relationship with her late father. The songs were written over the past two years during which she was losing her dad. Where you might have anticipated sadness only, they cite a range of experiences. “Ordinary Love” is an ode to joy; it reflects on how something as ordinary and fundamentally human as falling in love can feel like the most extraordinary and magical sensation. Roxanne’s vocal has an allure and confidence to it that is born of expansive live work while producer Bernard Butler adds the jingle-jangle factor via a Gibson 12-string guitar that once belonged to Johnny Marr. It adds up to something a touch more extraordinary.