FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: NEVER FORGET
On Wednesday, we went to see the elephants in London’s Green Park; yes, just round the corner from the tube station, down by the side of The Ritz. It was almost a case of if not today then never as the herd is preparing to make a retreat as I write this column on Friday. These particular elephants – 100 of them – have been beautifully crafted from an invasive plant species, Lantana camara, by communities in the Nilgiri Hills of Southern India where the real thing coexists in denser populations than elsewhere in the world.
Lantana leaves are toxic to grazing animals so in a neat volte-face, the plant’s woody branches are being used to spread an aesthetically pleasing conservation message of peaceful cohabitation between man and nature, spearheaded by the charity, Elephant Family under the CoExistence banner. Now, unfortunately if you were expecting to hear The Toys’ version of “Nelly the Elephant” next, you won’t. Indeed, it would be crass to try to link a load of elephant-themed tunes to today’s opening paragraphs. Let’s just stand aside and admire (the craftsmanship and the cause, not the writing).
Photo of The Islas by Allen Key Media
We’ll begin instead with birds, canaries in fact. The fair city of Norwich in East Anglia is synonymous with things yellow: the football club’s nickname and canary yellow strip, Colman’s Mustard, Alan Partridge (err, not quite sure about that one). It is also home to the promising four-piece indie rock outfit, The Islas, whose band name circuitously references the Norwich canaries and the similarly named islands, shortened to the Spanish isla by the band’s bass player. At the risk of creating more confusion we won’t mention that the Canary Islands are really named after dogs. Anyhow, the band The Islas has a six-track EP, Oblivion, coming soon and has shared a first taster in the shape of “Absence of You”.
“Absence of You” is a bright, breezy track with its heart worn on a short sleeve; its post break-up blues couched in fast-picked opening chords which give way to soaring, open-road driving choruses. There is much in the song that reminds me of a more frantic Keane in its heyday. Lyrically, lead vocalist Nathan Baverstock shares feelings of loss and insecurity rather than a want-you-back plea. He describes the song as “not really a love-sick song about wanting someone back, just the sensation of feeling empty and realising that that chapter of your life has gone.” One thing that isn’t absent though a surefooted melodic step at each twist and turn of emotion.
Another band carving out its niche in the indie-rock world is Manchester’s Cold Comforts who released the second single last week from the forthcoming debut album, Living in Relative Obscurity, due on 13 August. The quartet made the longlist for Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Competition in 2020 which is invariably a sign of good things in store. Having met the other members at university, Kieran Murphy, previously a drummer in lots of other bands, decided he wanted a go out front for once so started his own project and enlisted the help of his now bandmates.
Cold Comforts trade in well-constructed songs with strong hooks, delivered with passion. The band name references the 1930’s novel, Cold Comfort Farm, which parodies the way rural life was romanticised in literature, while “Slow Down” is the latest album taster to be shared. It outlines the need to take in your surroundings and not rush headlong through life; a bit more rural and less Manchester city centre then? There are echoes of classic rock throughout the song, from the guitar grind and guttural bass to cymbal-heavy drums in the choruses, that give it an epic feel while the reverb on Murphy’s lead vocal lends it a detached flavour in tune with the subject matter. It looks like what the band say was ‘a long year spent hidden away from the world’ was well spent.
A self-confessed free spirit, traveller and dreamer, London artiste and music producer Jack Galloway impressed me with his five-track EP, Only Hours, when I came across it the other week. Galloway began writing songs and playing guitar at the age of 12 and takes his inspiration from music he’s enjoyed, from growing up on classic 80’s rock, being shaped by pop-punk as a teenager and a later dalliance with country music as a young adult. These influences are very apparent on the EP which oozes radio-friendly pop-rock, backed by honest, open-minded songwriting and polished arrangements.
Jack Galloway seems at home on a beach somewhere. The video for “Falling For You” from the new EP was filmed in Portugal, pre-pandemic and he has a standing offer to film acoustic covers on his future travels. He offers a relaxed, easy style both vocally and on guitar, seamlessly bringing the band sound together. This song speaks of that love at first sight, first date experience when hours later you seem to have been together forever, yet falling out of love might turn out to be just as easy. The friends and family feel to the video reflects something more of a constant love, that between close friends and kindred spirits.
Horse lovers, look away now. As John Peel would have said, these are Dead Pony. Remembering how the incomparable alt.DJ would introduce acts on his radio show reminds me of the old grammatical argument about whether bands are singular or plural. I would say Glasgow post-punk outfit Dead Pony is but always The Killers are. Anyhow, I have Mike Carroll, aka Greengates Water Solutions, who we featured at the beginning of the month to thank for the Dead Pony tip; a more fruitful endeavour than telling me to back something in the 2:30 at Newbury.
“23, Never Me” actually came out last November, although the accompanying video only appeared in June, since when its viewing figures suggest that Dead Pony is a band on the up. Feisty frontwoman, Anna Shields, delivers her lines with melodious attack while the guitar, bass and drums ensemble behind her is tight as you like. Peppered with the odd killer line – ‘Your face could use a bruising’ – the song is an ode to cutting toxic and damaging people out of your life. It is packaged with a particularly infectious chorus and bristles with energy throughout. With a debut EP in the works and live gigs booked, Dead Pony is set to flog you something very soon. [That’s enough lame horse references – Ed].
This week’s column having very much a band flavour, it also seemed a good time to highlight Leeds five-piece Venus Grrrls who I first heard via the good offices of Fresh on the Net earlier this month. The all-girl group has a clear mission to ‘contribute to the elimination of age-old interpretations and preconceptions toward women in rock’ and the band’s riot grrrl aesthetic is very much in tune with that objective. There is also a DIY ethos to the way the band operates locally. They look and sound like a true collective.
“Hate Me” brims over with attitude, ably voiced by singer-guitarist Grace Kelly’s confidence and power. Instrumentally tight and brash, yet melodic enough to maintain a pop edge, it is a full-on exposition of the effects of unspoken emotions between people with the singer seeking some clarity and closure. Venus Grrrl’s mantra of ending inequality between male and female musicians underpins the song and the simple question ‘Why d’you hate me, honey?’ makes the song fully relatable.
Finally, as a bonus track this week, these are Tropical Fuck Storm, something in his day JP would never have been allowed to say on Radio 1. The Australian four-piece has a new album, Deep States, due on 20 August and has just shared “New Romeo Agent” from it. The band's Erica Dunn contributes a sparkling lead vocal as well as modelling the skirt you can’t sit down in. The intergalactic karaoke video is quite the masterpiece and I advise you all to form orderly discussion groups forthwith, remembering to retain your masks at all times and not to mix with aliens.