FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: JUMPERS FOR GOALPOSTS
Small boys in the park, jumpers for goalposts. Rush goalie. Two at the back, three in the middle, four at the front, one's gone home for his tea. Beans on toast? Possibly, don't quote me on that. Marvellous. Today’s introduction is courtesy of that great sage of soccer, the Fast Show’s Ron Manager. Forgive me for feeling nostalgic but those 30 years of hurt have grown to 55 since “Three Lions” was unleased for Euro 96 and the venerable (surely soon to be Sir) Gareth Southgate suffered penalty heartache as England lost to Germany in the semi-final.
Well, we’re in the Final this Sunday and in anticipation of an England victory, which may be narrow as we are up against a more than decent Italian team, this week’s theme fell into place. So, we start with football but keep an underlying notion of a less than level playing field operating in the background. In reality independent musicians must feel they are playing every week on Yeovil Town’s famous sloping pitch, itself though of course long gone. Take Frank Brannan, whose splendid unofficial song for England Euro 2020, “Biggest Fan”, was released at the back end of May. Since then, we’ve hardly heard anything other than the admittedly ace “Three Lions”, Atomic Kitten’s rebooted “Whole Again” in honour of Southgate and the Wembley DJ-inspired reprise of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”. That in mind, it felt right to share Frank’s song today.
Brannan is not without a profile as guitarist shotgun Dirk Tourette to brother, Patrick, in the rock band, Towers of London. The latter, better known as Donny Tourette, is Reality TV renegade royalty after his unforgettable exit over a wall on Day 2 of Celebrity Big Brother 2007. Those who don’t remember when England were last in a final might recall that one at least. I saw Towers play a novel showcase gig in the underground car park beneath Music Sales in London’s West End in 2018 and was impressed by the band’s stadium-ready sound. Frank Brannan’s call to England football fans never to stop dreaming of winning a major tournament deserves a wider reception. It’s a solid tune, sung with passion and full of nostalgic footy references. Given the chance, I could see the crowd singing this one back too.
So, from Southgate to Psycho, which also happens to be the nickname of ex-England defender Stuart Pearce who, along with Chris Waddle, failed to convert penalties in the shoot-out against the Germans at the 1990 World Cup. Pearce is a great fan of punk rock which isn’t exactly the genre of our next artiste, though her new single shares the ex-footballer’s moniker. Maisie Peters started out writing songs in her early teens and then busking in her home town of Brighton as a 15-year-old. Now 21, with live work and TV appearances under her belt, she is set to release her debut album, You Signed Up For This, on 27 August. It is previewed by this ridiculously catchy song (you guessed), “Psycho” co-written with Ed Sheeran and Steve Mac no less.
In an echo of Sheeran’s character role in the film Yesterday, he reached out to the singer-songwriter around a year ago and a collaboration followed which resulted in three co-written songs and Peters signing to his Gingerbread Man record label. “Psycho” is gilt-edged pop, sharp and sassy at every turn, lyrically full of droll observation as she hits back at an ex who scorns her in public, but still calls her secretively. Maisie Peters may go on to make a similar impact on the pop scene as Olivia Rodrigo has, she of “Drivers License”, spelt the American way in case you see an underline here. Mind you Rodrigo has 250 million views on YouTube in 7 months so maybe Maisie still has a little way to go.
Photo of Sarah Proctor by Edward Cooke
Another British artiste making waves for herself, though now over in the states is singer-songwriter Sarah Proctor who we first encountered in February via her classy single, “The Breaks”. The native North East Englander is continuing to craft high quality songs from her current base in Los Angeles. From independent roots, she landed major label deal with Geffen Records earlier this year and launched a follow up single, “Lost” in May. Her latest single, “Worse”, thankfully doesn’t lower the bar but rather continues to showcase her mellow, hushed vocal style above a deft production, while embracing her sexuality openly and sympathetically.
“Worse” is inspired by a break-up Proctor went through but unusually is written from the point of view of the one ending a relationship. It channels a devil and deep-blue sea scenario; is it worse to break someone else’s heart because your feelings have changed or maintain the relationship and hold both parties back out of guilt. Sarah Proctor is advocating the latter as the crueller option: “I think there are so many songs about being on the receiving end of heart break, but not so many about being the one who carries the painful guilt of falling out of love with someone you care deeply about” she explains. The accompanying video plays out the melodrama of it all like a season closer.
The level of industry support both Maisie Peters and Sarah Proctor are receiving is undoubtedly opening up their music individually to a far wider fan base than to which independent acts can hope to aspire. Battling the slope yet with wonderful charm and musicality is alt-pop artiste, Aislinn Logan. The London-based singer-songwriter is originally from Belfast and shares something in common with fellow Belfast native BEA in her ability to meld folk elements with a modern pop sound. She released an EP, Look, I’m Flyin, last year and her latest single, “Certain Days”, is delivered with an equally certain panache.
There is a cleverly balanced optimism alongside the frustrations expressed in the verses; a wish for a return to less troubled times and an appreciation for what we all might have previously considered mundane; for the bustle and sometimes muddled choices that life brings. I particularly like how her vocal lines mesh in and out with the underpinning rhythms; how her little melodies trip and play with the bass and synth foundations and odd bursts of impish guitar. Her lightness of touch vocally is another joy. Aislinn expresses a feeling of longing in a surprisingly effortless way.
Longlight is described as a genre-bending, Avant-pop band. Previously known as Beautiful Thing, the outfit is led by soulful lead singer Jo Williams and lyrical guitarist Lucas Polo. Under its new guise the pair have expanded the core sound from its guitar roots to encompass more of a collage style, with vocals sung through guitar pickups, guitars played through synths and natural field recordings included. There is a cinematic feel to Longlight’s work, a European perspective and a much-travelled spirit. The band has just released its second single, named in honour of an organic breakfast cereal which Jo Williams’ mother fed them while holed up at London’s Buffalo Studios.
“Alara” sounds very much like a song born out of the pandemic, affirming how everyone relies on each other in times like these. It has a classic feel in keeping with Williams’ seasoned blues-soul vocal style which reassures and soars in equal measure. The song is understated, simply embellished with synths and Polo’s eloquent guitar and dissolving into ether at the close. This is one of five intriguing songs recorded during the ‘Alara’ sessions which are due for release before this summer’s end.
Finally, this is a rather special way to close this week’s issue. It’s a piece of music that will be familiar to many mostly through TV and film, from an episode of The Simpsons to The Queen’s Gambit, with a list of credits going back to the 1930’s. Now, a year after the release of her debut album Dazed, the gifted Italian-Swiss harpist and composer Kety Fusco has given us her own stunning interpretation of Erik Satie’s "Gnossienne N.1". Titling the piece "Ma Gnossienne", she has (in the oft quoted words of Louis Walsh) made it her own by generating a range of sounds quite alien to the harp’s classical timbre yet totally engaging. Her ground-breaking techniques include vinyl scratched on metal strings, objects struck on the soundboard of a pre-sampled classical harp and analogue effects manipulated live.
I’m out of words so just listen to this. Oh, and 2-1 to England I think.