FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: NOT THE BEST OF
This month I have been mostly reading ‘Best of’ lists. I find myself drawn to them, however I try to turn the printed page quickly or hover the mouse elsewhere on a screen. Hover the mouse; pre-internet that might be something you could be banged up for. It’s hard for a music fan not to sneak a look though. There is an endless fascination as to which albums or songs will make the rankings imposed by music writers, editors and critics. As a fan, these gradings are something to agree upon or disagree with instantly; to be elated by an inclusion or enraged by an omission.
I have written before about my personal angst about the merits of ranking music and executing some kind of objectivity on what is essentially an emotional response. So, when it came to putting together this year-end piece, I wanted to strike a different note to the classic countdown to No 1. Here are 10 songs including a seasonal bonus track by artistes I’ve featured in this weekly column since its inception in May. They are all great songs but it’s not deliberately a ‘Best of’. They are not numbered or ordered either. I’ve covered around 200 acts since May and believe in every one of them. So, let this particular list act as a beacon for what has been a great year in unsigned and independent music, despite the damaging curse of curtailment of live music.
THE HARRIETS – “HAVE FUN IN YOUR WORKPLACE”
The handsome and newly hirsute duo in the title image are frontmen, Daniel Parker-Smith and Ben Schrodel, who along with bandmates, Jess Womack (keys) and Ryan Bailey (drums) make up The Harriets. The Leeds four-piece have enjoyed a great year which saw the debut release of “Hopefuls”, an album for which the over-used phrase critically acclaimed might be justifiably applied. This sparkling track from the album is especially for anyone missing both the office and live music; a fun-packed live version from The Library, Leeds that bottles some of the magic of The Harriets’ live show.
THE HAPPY SOMETHINGS – “MILLIONTH GIRLFRIEND”
2020 was made immeasurably brighter by discovering The Happy Somethings - Happy, Jolly and Joy, multi-instrumentalists and singers who got together around four years ago and claim to ‘hang around the Derbyshire/Notts border making music for pleasure.’ While you can still enjoy the band’s music on the likes of Spotify, it remains defiantly non-monetised, as its entire catalogue is available to download free on Bandcamp. “Millionth Girlfriend” has that classic sound of a song you think you’ve heard before, but haven’t: a scintillating melange of favourite chord changes, phases and runs shaken not stirred.
TEST CARD GIRL – “HOLDS ME DOWN”
Test Card Girl is the cute moniker of Caffs, Manchester singer-songwriter, Catherine Burgis. Back in July I heard “Holds Me Down” and was so impressed that I named this season’s Fantasy Football team after her. Caffs is a former music student and teacher who never gave up on the teenage dream of wanting to be in a rock ‘n roll band, to write and sing her own songs. That goal is slowly being realised as she works on a debut album, Seven Dolls, due out in April. You can listen to the work in progress on Caff’s SoundCloud page.
DENNEY – “THAT’S A START”
I was entranced by another late newcomer (Emma) Denney who has been writing songs and lyrics since she was 11, though it wasn’t until last year that she found the confidence to showcase her music publicly. With a professional background in sound editing, she has the audio skills to put to great effect in her music. I never tire of hearing “That’s a Start”, a song with the feel of a personal diary entry though it was written about a friend’s break up and struggle to move on. Simply poignant and perfectly realised.
THE LUNAR KEYS – “IF IT WAS”
Like The Harriets, The Lunar Keys were a Glastonbury Emerging Talent find of mine. The epic alt. rock n’ pop outfit initially impressed me much with the epic “Dreams are Never Spoken”, followed in the summer by strictly irresistible track, “Dance with Me”. The four-piece went for the hat trick with in November with “If It Was”, a song about protest and possibilities. It’s another strong, direct piece with a memorable melody and lyrics that hit home to anyone with concerns about this planet’s current curation and direction.
GECKO – “LAIKA”
November also heralded the anniversary of Laika, famously, but with hindsight perhaps infamously, the first dog in space in 1957. To coincide with this, London-based singer-storyteller, Gecko, unveiled an extraordinarily tender song. “Laika” is in a way a love song to the poor Moscow stray who became an instant celebrity in an era with little by way of animal rights. For those like me who didn’t get the reality of Laika’s sad demise, Gecko’s compassionate and respectful song brings more than a little tear with it.
OWEN DUFF - “GENET ON URANUS (THE STORY OF US)”
Singer-songwriter Owen Duff is a man of both prodigious talent and output. He has been writing since his teens, releasing his first EP back in 2006. His cleverly titled “Genet On Uranus (The Story Of Us)” forms part of a long-term album 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. There is an overriding tenderness to his delivery which is simply magical, while musically the piece is a fitting homage to the 60s/70s music, film & TV scores Duff enjoyed hearing a couple of decades later.
THE POWDERED EARTH – “IN THE SPARKS YOU DANCE”
The Powdered Earth, the Gloucester-based duo of George Moorey and Shane Young is augmented remotely here by ex-Fairground Attraction members, bassist Simon Edwards and Roy Dodds on drums. The elegiac "In The Sparks You Dance" is from a collection of over twenty songs penned by the duo over the past 18 months or so, much via remote working. Paradoxically, the beauty of this song is that it sounds so holistic, far more than you could expect from a product of this process. There’s an inherent sadness and stark beauty to the song, tempered by an underlying warm glow.
GRACE GILLESPIE – “MY LOVE SURREAL”
Former Devonian and now London-based artiste and producer Grace Gillespie skipped on my radar with “Hoppers”, from her November EP, After The Harvest Moon. With an endearing mix of skilful wordplay and eccentric musical passages, Gillespie owns an individual quirky style that draws influences from folk music, indie and dream pop. This track, “My Love Surreal”, is actually from her previous 2019 debut extended player, Pretending, and I’ve struggled to dislodge it ever since watching the brilliant pop art video that accompanies it.
SEASONAL BONUS TRACK: THE KUT – “WAITING FOR CHRISTMAS”
OK, this final tune might be even more familiar as it was featured on 4 December in my piece about, you guessed, Christmas songs. The wait is over. “Waiting for Christmas” by The Kut is officially released TODAY and you can buy, download or stream this splendidly reflective seasonal song HERE. 100% of the proceeds from sales and streams will go to the Red Cross Coronavirus Fund supporting many affected by poverty as a result of the pandemic. The ubiquitous LadBaby may well make it a hat trick of Christmas No 1’s unless the likes of Justin Bieber, Liam Gallagher or even The Dancing Binmen beat them to it; just not let it be Gemma Collins & Darren Day, please. For now, let’s give an almighty push to The Kut who so richly deserve its slice of the Official Charts giant mince pie on the big day.