FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL?
At the start of the week, Britain got a salutary reminder that we can’t keep pretending we are collectively doing anything like enough to mitigate climate change. As we wilted in the unfamiliar territory of temperatures approaching 40 °C and homes were destroyed in random and worryingly small-scale wildfires, you wondered whether it was even wise to conserve water and let the garden go brown. Then you saw the stack of disposable barbecues on offer in your local supermarket. It's a bit like the plethora of alcohol-free spirits you can now buy. I mean, why?
My editor from a previous publication once described my writing as insane. I think it was a compliment, although that’s equally a word Dominic Cummings ascribes to Liz Truss, isn’t it? From the deceptions of Boris Johnson to potentially Ms Truss; it suggests we not quite ready for a reboot of “Things Can Only Get Better”. One thing that might cheer you up a little though is this week’s music selection which includes a first Fifty3 Fridays video premiere!
What’s in a name? Frankie Morrow is a Scottish solo singer-songwriter who, after taking a break, has reimagined herself as a band. Her initial recordings in this guise were finished before she recruited bassist James Smith and drummer Duncan Carswell while the line-up has subsequently expanded to a five-piece to take in fellow singer-songwriters Neev (acoustic guitar, keys, backing vocals) and Samuel Nicholson (electric guitar). Readers may recall Glasgow native Neev from her lovely song “Darling, Home” which I featured in December. To maintain the Scottish connection, the now London-based Frankie earlier had a chance meeting on a train back home for with her childhood friends, James and Duncan that became a catalyst for the band formation.
Frankie revealed her new band hand a month or so back via an impressive debut single, “White Rocks”, highlighting a distinct, sultry and bluesy vibe. She has quickly followed that with “Sunflowers”. The new song has a different feel to its forerunner but also shares some commonality in its relaxed and innovative use of harmonies. “Sunflowers” is bedded in bucolic folk hues with jazzy brushed overtones and travels at a gently measured pace which gives full air to some choice instrumentation. Juxtaposing the bold positivity of sunflower imagery with sorrowful musings, Frankie’s voice has a beautiful poignancy to it and conveys an altogether rare intimacy. It’s like listening to a landscape painting of memories and feelings and the accompanying video is beautifully judged. I am suitably proud to premiere it here.
Photo by Maja Smiejkowska
From Scottish roots, we journey next across the water to Canada, home of another ace quintet, Toronto’s Alvvays. After a splendid self-titled debut album in 2014 with nine of the strongest indie pop songs you are likely to encounter in single package, the band followed up in 2017 with Antisocialites, a lyrically darker build on its signature lo-fi sound, once more earworm resplendent. After a five-year hiatus, there is welcome news of a forthcoming third album, Blue Rev, scheduled for October. There was no plan to take quite so long as writing actually began six years ago but, put simply, a series of random events got in the way, including a pandemic and its impediments.
Anyhow, Alvvays has returned with original members, Molly Rankin, Alec O’Hanley and Kerri MacLellan plus a new rhythm section of Abbey Blackwell and Sheridan Riley heard here on the short and acerbic single, “Pharmacist”. At times the overblown instrumental waves threaten to overwhelm Molly Rankin’s voice before cutting back to spotlight its sweetness of tone before the track culminates in a mad, shoegazy guitar solo. The upcoming LP is named after a sugary alcoholic beverage Rankin and MacLellan used to drink as teens on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia and will ‘look both back at that country past and forward at an uncertain world, reckoning with what we lose whenever we make a choice about what we want to become.’
Photo by Jon Tolley, Banquet Records
I have been fortunate to catch some great live music over the past two weeks, including two shows up the road from me at St John’s Church, Kingston courtesy once more of those prolific live promoters, Banquet Records. First up was Rae Morris, the Blackpool native signed by Atlantic as a 19-year old with whom she went on to record two successful LPs. Later unsigned, she was able to have a dig at the corporates via tonight’s opener, “No Woman Is an Island”. The song is from her newly released third album, Rachel@Fairyland, recorded mostly with her partner Ben Garrett aka Fryars. I was immediately struck by the originality of her vocal, its range and control. For the sake of some kind of reference only, think Kate Bush and Regina Spektor singing Sondheim?
Her eight-song set to promote her new album was a sheer delight from start to finish. With dexterous accompaniment from a musician switching from cello, to keys and guitar, she showed off a charming, fun personality alongside her outstanding songs. You felt you were transported on a trip through her idiosyncratic yet warmly inviting and friendly world. I was particularly taken by “A Table for Two” which, for me, called to mind classic Carole King territory. She returns to London in November for a show at Koko. I’d book your seats while you can.
Last week I also had the pleasure of catching a live instore appearance at FOPP, Covent Garden by The Kut, on this occasion represented by band leader Princess Maha on guitar and vocals, supported by drummer Diana Bartmann, deft on cahone and hand percussion. The pair put on an energetic show despite the sapping heat.
The gig was to promote The Kut’s new album, Grit, and the band celebrated two days later when the album reached number 1 In the UK Official Rock Charts. There will be more on The Kut soon as a new single is in the pipeline and the band now have a UK tour underway.
Photo of The Kut by Tony Hardy
Back at St John’s Church, the next day we were blessed by an hour-long acoustic set from Beatrice Laus aka Beabadoobee no less. This was a quite different experience to her full band set at Glastonbury [Oh, and when do we get to read about that? – Ed]. It showed off her songwriting and clear ability to communicate to her core audience; the packed Gen Z-heavy ensemble hung on her every word.
She was joined by her guitarist, Jacob Bugden, for a couple of songs towards the end of her set including this one, “Perfect Pair”. Here to promote her new ‘dream world’ album, Beatopia, Bea left a lasting impression with her ability to draw listeners into her deeply personal realm.
Photo of Beabadoobee by Kevin England
Finally, anyone managed to get some sleep on Monday or Tuesday? Like me, you may have done the odd Google search for ‘heatwave’ and most probably uncovered the 2020 song of that name by Glass Animals (well, two words and plural, “Heat Waves”) which has amassed a quite ridiculous 1.8 billion plays on Spotify. Rather like the rabid popularity of Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved”, I must admit I find all this hard to compute and as the band scarcely need any more plugs, I’ll leave you with a true classic. This is Heatwave, the band, and “Boogie Nights” a classic cut from 1977 for hot, steamy evenings and one of my favourite bass lines courtesy of the song’s writer and keyboardist, the late great Rod Temperton. Oh, and a lovely opening touch of harp too.
I STAND WITH UKRAINE