FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: PINCH PUNCH
Pinch, punch, first of the month… and no returns. White rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits! Well, it is 1st December and there is a tradition in our family to try to be the first to accost each other physically while intoning these strange words, the origin of which are hazy to say the least. Do they hark back to a time when belief in witches was rife; the pinch being salt tossed in their general direction to help stave off the cackles and weird potions. Or did George Washington really serve his guests punch with a pinch of salt in it? And are white rabbits a lucky charm? Indeed, why has one changed colour in this stock photo? I blame the witches.
I’ll leave you to ponder all that with a ‘punch and a kick’ for being so quick. December 1st is also the day we open our annual Fifty3Fridays Advent Calendar of great songs. This I share on Twitter each day up to Christmas Eve (I continue to be an X-denier, and no, that’s nothing to do with ladies tights). The sad and seasonally untimely death of The Pogues frontman, Shane MacGowan, at age 65 means there can be no other candidate for the song to launch our Advent Calendar. I had a feeling that “Fairytale Of New York” could finally make it to the UK Christmas No 1 this year, especially as Ladbaby are giving it a rest. Now I am sure it will. So, let’s raise a glass to Shane and the brilliant Kirsty MacColl who herself died from a boating accident 23 years ago this month, aged just 41.
From the NYPD to the south coast now. Comprising keyboard player Richard Brincklow, vocalist and lyricist Hannah Boulton and drummer James Purvis, Brighton-based trio Bledig creates a brand of highly immersive and thoughtful music mixing elements of jazz, post rock, progressive rock and 90’s trip hop graced with evocative vocals. We encountered the beautifully emotive music of Bledig last year as the band issued singles while working towards production of a full album release, Universe Arrangements, which finally arrived in November. You can treat yourself to a copy via Bandcamp for a mere £7 – an amount that would scarcely secure you a small beer at many a music venue.
“Introduce” as the title suggests is a lead into the album yet simultaneously draws you into the band’s own particular universe where metaphysical reflections meet spacious, empathetic musical accompaniments. Opening with sparse piano which swells as percussion and synth figures enter the fray, Hannah’s dreamily nuanced vocables glide and soar above the soundscape. As the verses come in, she caresses her inquisitive words with an underlying care and fondness before introducing piquant layered harmonies in the glorious choruses. Simply enchanting.
Photography, Art & Design by Paul F Cook
North next to south-east London, home of The Music of Sound. While the band name might suit a great Julie Andrews tribute act, The Music of Sound plies a wholly different kind of schtick. The band components are all prodigious musicians in their own right: Neil March aka Trust the Doc, a hero to so many independent and grassroots acts, radio host, promoter and composer (synth & electronics), singer-songwriter Florie Namir (piano & vocals) and National Youth Orchestra member Elena Trent on flute. The band records for the admirable indie label Dimple Discs and has a debut album, Eleven Short Stories, scheduled for winter release.
Offering a first sight (ha!) of the album is its opening track “First Light”, available now as a single. The song, written by Neil, was inspired by his 9-year-old self perched on a mountain ledge with his brother and cousins at 7am on Christmas Eve watching the sun rise over the Welsh village of Abercynon. “An experience never forgotten” according to Neil and now gracefully committed to song. “First Light” has a bucolic air emphasised by Elena’s colourful, soothing flute and a contemporary classical feel with hints of electronica via Florie’s piano and Neil’s synth. Florie’s precisely rising vocals are perfectly suited to the pastoral reminisces in the lyrics. A serene yet compelling piece of music.
Photo of Frog by Audrey West
Our next act caught my ear last month via that trusty source of great new music, Fresh On The Net. Brothers Danny and Steve Bateman hail from New York and trade as Frog, a hybrid blend of alt pop and Americana with a dose of maverick genius thrown in. It is a musical combination that I habitually find hard to resist. I can’t say I had come across the music of Frog before but I see that the duo has a new album out called “Grog” and it is their fifth, so where can I have been hiding all this time. The album is an exercise in eclecticism with classic pop vying with funk grooves and gothic reaches.
It is a solid album and hard to pick out any one track for you so I will stick with the one I heard on Fresh On The Net. A single drum hit heralds “Maybelline” and the topline melody that follows will haunt you as you desperately try to think, what does that remind you of? I soon give up and so what. The opening line hooks you anyhow: “Maybelline, saw you gleaming in a Dairy Queen / Your eyes were steaming up with Dexedrine and lies / You’re sleeping in a factory at night / You never wanted that to be your life.” Onwards, the story unravels into darker territory and the sweet falsetto of the opening seems to roughen with passage. There is probably a deep meaning to it all but you can just enjoy the ride or form an orderly discussion group. Just great, Frog!
I am terribly late posting this week so will close briefly with two other songs which caught my ear of late. I love Let Them Eat Grass the summer EP from Brighton’s Frances Mistry and highlighted the stand-out “Subtle Compliments” from it back in August. It is always rewarding to hear new music from Frances and her latest single “Pick at my Skin” is no exception. Her lovely topline melodies and sweet harmonies mask some well-chosen vitriol aimed at those who treacherously exploit the earth for profit. The abrupt ending seals it.
We close with Dublin native CMAT and this marvellous song she performed on Later… with Jools Holland recently. “Whatever’s Inconvenient” can be found on Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson’s second album, Crazymad, For Me and is a sugar rush of raw emotions tempered by humour and self-awareness. CMAT’s music is really accessible and a beautifully crafted blend of light and dark. Vocally she is versatile and theatrical yet somehow as real as someone you’ve just met at a bus stop. I really look forward to seeing her live but for now here is the Jools appearance.
Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist November 2023
FINALLY… on the first Friday of each month, I publish a Playlist on Spotify which includes all the songs featured in this column over the previous month. Not just that, but in order too!
So, our Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist November 2023 includes all 21 songs from the month’s Fifty3 Fridays except Revere’s “Out Of My Depth” which I cannot locate on Spotify. It opens with the roots rock of Canada’s The Commoners and “Devil Teasing’ Me” terminating with the elegiac “Maybe In Time” by the majestic and much-missed Revere.
Follow me on Spotify at TonyHardy53 for 35 of these monthly playlists plus others to keep your toes warm during the coming winter nights.