FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: I HEARD 'EM FIRST HERE
Fresh on the Net, the music site hosted by Tom Robinson with the support of a dedicated team of moderators, has been around now in its current format for over ten years. It seeks to offer independent acts ‘an open door and a level playing field for their music’ and makes a pretty good fist of just that. Songs submitted to the FOTN Inbox are then heard by every member of the moderation team, including Tom himself, who collectively choose 25 from a maximum 200 entries to form this week’s Listening Post. People can then vote for their favourite tracks and the process ends with a published playlist and reviews of the resultant 10 ‘Fresh Faves’.
To celebrate the milestone of a decade, FOTN stalwart Del Osei-Owusu interviewed the site’s founder, Tom Robinson, and the resultant piece gives anyone interested in grassroots music, as a creator or listener, a fascinating insight into the history and workings of the site, and Tom’s own philosophy. I am proud to be a regular listener and voter, thankful for the many acts I’ve discovered on the platform. The biggest plaudit I can give Fresh on the Net is that I heard them first here. On that note it seems appropriate this week to focus on five disparate acts who I came across on the site recently.
There are many recurring themes you will find in songwriting with loss, regret and moving on common among them while, whatever Paul Simon says, there are surely more than 50 ways to leave your lover. It’s refreshing from time to time to come across acts who find inspiration in unusual sources; in the case of Manchester’s Body Water, seen here dressed to kill, the dark side of true crime and conspiracy theories. The duo comprising Cerys Eless, originally from Deganwy, North Wales, and Hull native Eli Thompson moved to Manchester independently in late 2019 to pursue solo songwriting careers but were put together at music college to work collaboratively and have stuck together ever since.
“Boy in the Box” was the first single released last July originally to pave the way for a future EP based around short horror stories which the pair are coyly calling Room Service. The first of these revolves around an unsolved mystery from 1957; a tale of a murdered young boy in Philadelphia whose body remains unidentified to this day. Speculating about how the poor lad met his fate, Cerys’ vocal has an otherworldly tinge to it while Eli’s bass guitar knits in well with the overdriven guitar and the duo come together with some on point harmonies. Body Water has now added a second single, “Throw it all in the Fire”, to the mix; another dark tale, this time of an unhinged, obsessed stalker with a scary image to boot.
Vibrant Bristol-based singer-songwriter Darcie tells me she previously lived in Manchester, though I suspect within a different time frame to that of Body Water. Alongside her songwriting and recording, she is planning to enrol for a Masters in Music Therapy this autumn with an ambition to help young children with various Special Educational Needs. Having been featured in NME’s Essential New Music for 2018 and released a couple of EPs she has had a bit of a hiatus before returning in March with a new single. She describes her music as experimental pop; an apt label when you consider her latest offering in particular.
According to Darcie, “Utterance Swirls” has been around a year in the making and is the first of a few songs expected over the coming months. “The song really encapsulates a time in my life where I was confused and angry. It speaks of experiences with fickle people, the realisation of a consistent abuse of trust, and the healing process that stemmed from this” she confides. It is suitably couched in visceral imagery (Frolicked in sunken pores slick in spit you slithered in it) that underlines an anger which is ultimately cleansed by acceptance that people are fallible. It’s a compelling song with bursts of Imogen Heap-like harmonies, a maelstrom of words and images, electronica, folk and even a bit of drum n’ bass thrown in. Somehow it all works brilliantly.
Photo of Low Island by Emily Lowe
Stepping into more conventional territory now, Oxford quartet Low Island has been around since 2016 and, having previously released four EPs, last year scored a notable album chart placing for a wholly self-sufficient act with a #17 spot for its debut full-length, If You Could Have It All Again. With a broad palette of musical influences, Low Island combines the intimacy of indie rock with the euphoria associated with electronica. Not one to rest on laurels, the band has a new EP out next Friday titled Just Another Dreamer. 100% of the proceeds from all sales on Bandcamp will go to the Disasters Emergency Committee to support those affected by the crisis in Ukraine. Here is the title track.
In the words of lead vocalist Carlos Posada, the song “Just Another Dreamer” is about ‘the promise of a future that may never come.’ It reflects one of his favourite John Lennon lines from the song “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” - “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Leisurely paced and smoothly voiced though propelled along by crisp drums, the song distils the sense of putting off today something that might work better tomorrow. As we know that golden tomorrow may never come and people can be forgotten or lost completely along the way. The carpe diem call at the end – “I’m on the last train home tonight” – neatly resolves a positive desire to change. As the song exultantly plays out over a splendid extended coda, the required urgency to this wish is cemented.
Photo of Caitlyn Scarlett by Chris Almeida
London-based artiste Caitlyn Scarlett has built an enviable career as a singer and songwriter since moving to the capital at the age of just 17. Drawing influences from icons such as Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks, she embraces a compelling, alternative-indie sound while her writing skills have led to some impressive achievements, including landing a publishing deal with BMG, a place at Roc Nation’s writing camp, a sync on reality show Love Island, a theme song for the BBC drama Clique and a feature on Rudimental’s EP, Distinction. It was her latest venture in collaboration with Her Ensemble, the brilliant string orchestra seeking to make a positive impact on the gender gap in the industry, that caught my attention last week.
Caitlyn’s new single “Forgive Yourself” captivates from the opening bars of tumbling piano and strings. Then you are fully hooked as the opening lines expressively spill from her lips: “I trace the shape with my fingertips / Frame my favourite fear / The pictures all that’s left of it / All I traded for years.” As its title implies, the song is about giving yourself permission to let go of past mistakes, to choose to grow from them and gain wisdom through maturity. It shifts through the seasons, grounding her reflections and mirroring the emotional changes she references. “Forgive Yourself” was written by Caitlyn and Mercury Prize winning producer Jonathan Quarmby, with whom she is currently working on her debut album. It couldn’t be a better advertisement for what is still to come.
We conclude this week with a seminal act I don’t have Fresh on the Net to thank for an introduction. I first saw Genesis in February at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall when they toured Foxtrot. There isn’t much you can’t find on YouTube these days and I located this audio recording of that very same show. If you want to learn more about the album, I dusted it off here last summer. But we digress. Sat 26 March was the last show ever by the band and it was a pleasure and privilege to be at the O2 to witness it.
“Tonight, is a very special night,” Phil Collins announced earlier. “It’s the last stop of our tour. And it’s the last show for Genesis. After tonight we’ve all got to get real jobs.” Here’s the song from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway that closed the show on Saturday night. “The Carpet Crawlers” - the last encore and the end of an era. Actually, there’s the intro and first verse of “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” from Selling England By The Pound at the beginning of the video if you’re wondering.
You can access a new Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist every month – new followers are welcome at TonyHardy53. March’s Playlist includes 26 songs. It features all the songs in order from the month’s Fifty3 Fridays, assuming they are listed on Spotify. This month, two of my Glastonbury Emerging Talent choices have yet to release their tracks so I have substituted Evadney’s “Good Lord” and TÁLTSIE’s “Holding Stones” with the songs they submitted as their live video entries, “Kisses” and “Unanswered Prayers”.
I STAND WITH UKRAINE