FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: KEEPING UP
How faithful are you? Keeping up with musicians whose work you love is always the intention but less often the reality. The ephemeral nature of music makes it easy to lose touch unless the artiste is constantly bringing out new tunes, or heavily posting on social media. I first became aware of Dublin, ROI singer-songwriter, Ailbhe Reddy, in 2017 and soon after was privileged to see her play a captivating solo set on a pocket-sized, bicycle-powered stage in Glastonbury’s green fields, just as the Pyramid was about to welcome Radiohead. I remember her distinct, surprisingly robust and soulful vocal tone, exemplified by her stellar 2017 single “Relent” below, which teased and stretched syllables and her fine storytelling in song with plenty of craic in between.
Three years later, if not top of mind, she has hardly been idle and has re-emerged with a fine new song collection via her debut album, Personal History, reflecting the rites of passage coming out as a queer woman. There are any number of standout songs from “Between Your Teeth”, where expressions of real feelings are literally held back, to the confessional title track which is especially informed by the year Ailbhe spent studying psychotherapy during the album’s making. “I was delving into the world of psychotherapy and attachment theory a lot…. different things that shape a person will ultimately affect their relationship with you” she explains. “Every track on the album is talking about my relationship with another person and the final track [“Self Improvement”] is about my relationship with myself, so the title Personal History felt right”.
“Walk Away” is a simple expression of vulnerability in the face of rejection, ably carried by a delicate melody that frames the softer edge of Ailbhe Reddy’s voice particularly well. The whole album is really a series of episodes, almost like diary entries, that chart a progression from self-doubt through open self-appraisal and towards self-realisation. Musically it is varied, concise and always glorious. There is also a great ensemble feel created between Reddy and her co-producers Erland Cooper and Tommy McLaughlin who also contribute additional vocals and instrumentation, along with drummer, James Byrne, so the album feels more like a band effort than a solo one. Just one cautionary note - you may need a magnifying glass to decipher the lyrics and sleeve notes on the CD version.
Moving on, it could be hard to keep up fully with the output of singer-songwriter, Owen Duff – a singularly inappropriate surname for a man of such prodigious talent. Owen has been writing since his teens and released his first EP back in 2006. He shared the cleverly titled “Genet On Uranus (The Story Of Us)” earlier this month. It forms part of a long-term album project he’s been working on called Bed, which tells the story of a relationship, but also explores the idea of beds as places of refuge, vulnerability, sickness, recuperation, procreation, intimacy, birth and death. The songs also examine what it means to not be heterosexual, being less likely to procreate and a target as someone different from the norm; beds being still the only place many LGBTQ people in the world can fully express love for another person.
The song was inspired by a passage from The Thief's Journal by Jean Genet while the term Uranian, was used in the 1800’s in self-reference to those who would today identify as gay or gender non-binary. “I had an image of a gay couple hiding in their room, fearing the chaos and brutality in the world outside, and although in the end that violence finds its way to them, they remain defiant and don't give in to the shaming of the mob” explains Duff. He expresses these thoughts so succinctly in his lyrics though that further explanation is scarcely necessary. There is an overriding tenderness to the way he delivers his lines which is simply magical, while musically the piece is a fitting homage to the 60s/70s music, film & TV scores Owen Duff enjoyed hearing a couple of decades later.
Originally from Devon and now London-based, artiste and producer Grace Gillespie skipped onto my radar this week with “Hoppers”, the second single from her forthcoming EP entitled After The Harvest Moon, due for release on 27 November. The song juxtaposes the frantic nature of life, evidenced by the seemingly purposeful energy of buzzing or leaf hopping insects, with the finality and quietude of death. Underpinning the skilful wordplay of the narrative is a sense of the damage to the planet done by the humans in the quest of progress. “Hoppers” has something of the conversational style of Laura Marling in the verses but her charming vocal tone and indeed the short, crazy piano solo are all her own.
Intrigued by “Hoppers” I also checked out Grace’s 2019 debut EP, Pretending, and was particularly struck by its diversity and colour. Her songs draw influences from folk music, indie and dream pop and one track in particular put me in mind of Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner in her Flock of Dimes solo guise. Maybe it was the geometric jumpsuit on the EP cover. “My Love Surreal” is quite brilliant and the pop art video that accompanies it couldn’t be a better fit.
Back in July, I highlighted the music of Alex Hall and his euphonious ode to AFC Bournemouth, “I Won’t Bow Out”. Sadly, his team lost its Premier League status by a whisker but you can’t keep a good man down so Alex is back with another great tune, “Neon Light”. The song was inspired by a frequent work trip he took across Salisbury Plain passing by Stonehenge. You can follow the route on the video below and frequent travellers west will no doubt recognise it. It happened that he drove back in the evening while the sun was setting.
Whittling down the miles, Alex’s thoughts turned to someone he was missing dearly, imagining romantically that the distant spectacular radiance was that same person waiting at the end of that sunset. I am reminded of Keats’ “Ode To A Grecian Urn”: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." Well, that reference should be a shoe-in for Pseud’s Corner.