FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: GET A HAT
So, if you want to get ahead, get a hat. The imagery and sentiments in that newspaper ad from 1949 may be very much of their time but there is another message that can be drawn from it. And I don’t mean ‘ask your girlfriend’. UK hat manufacturers might have latched onto that slogan in a post-war attempt to revive the male habit of sporting one, yet underlying it is the notion that if you want to stand out, you need to get yourself a talking point. Anyway it’s a better look than smoking a pipe upside down, man on the left.
There’s a message here for self-funded acts who increasingly need to show enterprise in the unequal struggle to get noticed. Coventry-based artiste, Callum Pickard, certainly displayed a bit of this when messaging a bunch of well-connected musicians on Instagram about playing on his forthcoming record. In a kind of reversal to being sent to Coventry, the singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist now known as Tarragon, has managed to engage an impressive list of collaborators including Robbie Bennett and Dave Hartley from The War on Drugs, drummer JT Bates (Taylor Swift and Bon Iver), The 1975’s saxophonist John Waugh, Supertramp’s John Helliwell and more.
Hopefully those high-profile connections, who appear alongside some of Pickard’s favourite musicians from his hometown, will help when Tarragon’s debut album, I’ve Just Seen A Scene, is released later in the year. “Our Meaning” is the second single to trail the collaborative album which Tarragon has funded by spending the past four years working as a Deliveroo cyclist. This thoughtful song, written some years back, considers the origins of the hate and discrimination he saw in the world as a teenager and is a gentle plea for taking time to understand where it comes from. The gauzy keys and guitars, including a highly effective slide guitar, blend beautifully with Pickard’s airy vocal and the whole thing is resolved in a glistening extended coda that rings out hope over hate.
Tarragon put out his first single “Follow The Sign” in March. There is a Bon Iver-like delicacy to its intertwining instrumentation laced with understated sax flourishes from John Helliwell to which Pickard’s sympathetic voice adds a perfect veneer. The song is a tribute to the songwriter’s sister’s determination in the face of a life-limiting illness. In both songs Tarragon tackles difficult questions and personal emotions in an absorbing, heartfelt yet accessible manner and the care he has taken over them is greatly in evidence.
Photo of wojtek the bear by Kris Boyle
Back in March we featured Glasgow indie pop five-piece wojtek the bear with the upbeat strains of its single, “ferme la bouche”. It was an early taster from the band’s new album heaven by the back door which was finally released two weeks ago. The band, song and album titles are all resolutely lower case lest you’re wondering. The record is playfully described by lead singer Tam Killean as “10 songs about love, life and regret. But not necessarily in that order”. Created over 2020, it is very much a product of the pandemic and, despite the limited time the band members were allowed to record together, there is a mood of togetherness running through its songs.
wojtek the bear turned up as one of Fresh on the Net’s Fresh Faves this week with a track from the album, “the tide that won’t come back”. The song has the light touch you might associate with fellow Scots, the initially capitalised Belle & Sebastian. Its easy, rolling melody lines, clean guitars and cascading instrumentation sound a joyful note throughout. As they share small, simple vignettes of everyday life and endorse the commonality of the human spirit, there is something bright and hopeful about this band’s music that makes it consistently a pleasurable listen. Perhaps that’s another kind of hat in itself.
Back to collaborations now and it was great to catch Fifty3 Fridays favourite, Emma Denney, branching out from her entrancing solo work in an association with South West London-based producer and composer George Hassall, aka Newah, who works across a wide range of musical genres, from dark cinematic electronica to striking solo piano pieces. Since creating the alias less than two years ago, Newah has self-released two EPs as well as a number of singles and remixes. He connected to Denney via WhatsApp and claims still not to have heard her speak! Her unique singing voice, of course, more than suffices.
“Nobody Else But Me” started life with Neweh laying down the piano chords and basic structure, over which Emma Denney wrote the top line vocal melody and lyrics plus worked out the harmonies. From there, the pair properly began to hone down the sound they wanted to achieve. According to Denney, her lyric inspiration came from the very first line “Am I coming on too strong?” which, in her writing process, tends to dictate the direction a song will take. A love story that becomes a wee bit one-sided carries the suspicion of an abrupt end which, at 3:10, is what you get musically. Take a bow, and a chapeau, both.
The difficult second album (OK, sophomore if you are an American) is a line taken from countless reviews by music critics across the decades. It’s one that’s unlikely to be applied to the new 16-track long player from US teenage megastar, Billie Eilish as for most people the record will clearly live up to its anticipated billing. The follow-up to her debut best-seller, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, is out today, having been trailed by five singles this year. Today’s release of Happier Than Ever is accompanied by her self-directed video of the album’s title track. It was premiered at 17:00 GMT today and when I last looked had garnered well over 300k views in less than an hour. It’s not quite BLACKPINK numbers but it’s not half bad.
Following her Vogue cover makeover, the newly blonde Eilish may present a decidedly different look to the skate park baggies of her debut though she is at pains to point out that there is no agenda. She just dresses the way she wants to, now and then. Indeed, you could apply this statement to her songwriting aided by her brother, producer and collaborator, Finneas. The song, “Happier Than Ever”, combines a raw confessional with outpourings of sheer anger. It’s a compelling, emotive listen brilliantly captured in the accompanying video. She though is already far, far enough ahead to need the hat so let’s leave that to our remaining, greatly deserving artistes featured this week.