FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: SAVING THE WORLD, ONE SONG AT A TIME
To paraphrase Jesse from The Fast Show, this week I are mostly listening to live music. Well, not quite, but then attending two gigs in three days is a bit out there after the barren times imposed by Covid. On Tuesday, it was the turn of our local church, St John’s, to host one of the innumerably fine shows promoted by Banquet Records here in Kingston. Despite the band name, one of London’s infamous toilet venues would be the last place you’d find Kings of Convenience, the polished pairing of Norwegians, Eirik Glambek Bøe and Erlend Øye. Fittingly, the duo was perfectly suited to this beautiful Victorian space with its marvellous acoustics.
Photo of Kings of Convenience by Kevin England
Earlier this year, Kings of Convenience made a welcome comeback with Peace or Love, its first collection of new music in 12 years. Fluid and flowing live, interspersed with humorous asides, the couple entertained a full house with songs from the album peppered with a few fan favourites. The band’s light and airy, bossa nova-infused rhythms even got the crowd finger-clicking in mass encouragement. Here is the deceptively straightforward “Rocky Trail”, brightly nuanced with the complexities of love. For more insights on Kings of Convenience and the making of the new album, check out this engaging documentary too.
Photo of The Harriets by Iona Skye
Last night, another wonderfully supportive venue for live music, The Bedford in downtown Balham (once dubbed the Gateway to the South by Peter Sellers) saw three exceptional sets from Fifty3 Fridays’ favourites, The Lunar Keys, Alex Hall and Denney. There will be more about the show in next Friday’s column. It was a night to lift the soul and a short creative leap takes us to our next port of call. The Leeds-based alternative pop/rock band, The Harriets, has returned with a further endorsement of the power of music to changes things, even to save the world one song at a time! The band has dropped a new song, “Hit Me With The Highlights”, in support of animator and music fan, Shari B. Ellis.
The synths and cheesy arrangement might be designed to be as comically period-specific as possible, yet the song simply carries you along with its energy. Penned by The Harriets’ Ben Schrodel with Shari Ellis and completed as a recording with his fellow frontman, Dan Parker-Smith, the song is the main theme for Fangirl, an animated show by Shari Ellis. She and Ben met on a music fan forum some years ago and Shari subsequently reached out to him to write a song for a comedy animated show about the culture around band fandoms. This follows the adventures of Fran, a megafan of 80’s rock band, Severe Tire Damage, for whom “Highlights” is their biggest hit. Here is the teaser trailer for Fangirl, as performed by the animated fantasy band. It may be no coincidence that its name can be shortened to STD!
Back to the leafy lanes of Surrey now where we find not just the autumn ritual of trees shedding their leaves but also Tadworth residents, Broken Bear, the musical union of multi-instrumentalists Laura Callaghan and Paul Smart. Self-described as a female fronted indie guitar & synth garage rock two-piece with a live band feel, the duo emerged from the ashes of a band, which had gigged extensively for over a decade, to focus more on studio recording. Out today, Broken Bear’s new 5-track EP, Gonna Let It Burn, is the product of that labour. Here is the title track.
There is something melancholic about the band name and its accompanying sad-looking logo that is clearly carried forward into Broken Bear’s music. Punctuated by deep and muddy synth bass notes and drum crashes, “Gonna Let It Burn” is built on a sparse guitar line and enhanced by Laura Callaghan’s haunting vocal tone. All the EP tracks are the DIY home recording product of lockdown and this song carries a sense of resignation to it, captured in the repeat refrain: “Wake me up when it’s all over”. You sense though that it isn’t all over yet for Broken Bear.
“I’m a noisy introvert” it says on Billie Flynn’s Instagram. I remembered hearing the Cornish singer-songwriter’s excellent debut single, “Hey Stranger” in July and its equally fine follow-up, “Someone’s Daughter” and maybe got the introvert but not that much noise. I still regretted not finding space for either in Fifty3 Fridays though so it’s time to put that right. The good news though is that her debut EP is just three weeks away now and another track has been shared meanwhile in the shape of “The Good Girl”.
While Billie Flynn’s delicately hushed vocal was the undisputed star of both her previous highly immersive releases, this latest one is set against a broader canvas. Here her remarkable voice is complemented by conspicuous electronic percussion which gives the song a certain widescreen feel. Inspired after watching Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana documentary, and relating very much to the notion of a belief system built around the idea of being a ‘good girl’, she is able to give her emotions a freer rein: “This track is about letting go of all of the pressures, and expectations that come with that title, and allowing the idea that you can be imperfect” Billie explains. There is little imperfect though about her own songcraft and vocal capability.
Last week we highlighted Kevin McGrath’s amazing fundraising drive for the Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff via his curated V4Velindre digital compilation album. Since then, six more tracks have been added so you now get 50 songs from 50 different acts for a donation of just £7 or (hopefully) more. The record is out TODAY and you’ll find it at Bandcamp. Please consider buying a copy today as Friday 1 October coincides with Bandcamp Friday when 100% of your purchase goes direct to the great cause Kevin is championing. We picked out two tracks for you last week. Here is another sample for you, this time from our old friends, The Happy Somethings.
I love the band’s own comment on this song: “Hi there sunshine" was written and recorded on yet another miserable cold, grey rainy day in a small, dark ex-mining village in the East Midlands. Irony seemed to be the only way to get through it. Enough said!
One of the great privileges of getting to write about music is discovering wonderful new songs and artistes. While this column tends to focus on new or recent releases, you sometimes happen across something quite rare and special while searching for something current. This final song is from Sarah Klang, the Swedish songstress whose 2018 debut album Love In The Milky Way won Best Album at the Swedish Grammys. The Gothenburg artiste followed that quickly the next year with Creamy Blue and then, in common with so many, her whirlwind career was suddenly put on hold as 2020 unfolded.
You only have to consider the brilliant First Aid Kit, who Sarah Klang has supported live, to recognise how well our Scandinavian friends do Americana and “Fever Dream” from her May 2021 album, Virgo, is simply stunning. Channelling romantic memories with a lush, almost visceral sensuality - “Hold me tight like a spell in the night” – against a backdrop of beautifully resonant guitar, she dreams of a secret love amid feverish symptoms and frames from an 80’s cop movie. The wacky, tongue-in-cheek video adds a near-psychedelic twist to it all. In that over-used word, wonderful!
As my old Russian teacher used to say to us GCSE guinea pigs, you should know this by now. You can access a new Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist every month! It features all the songs from the previous month’s Fifty3 Fridays.
The September Playlist includes 22 songs. It deviates a little from the norm as we began the month by revisiting the IOW Festival 2018. To mark this, I have kicked off with 3 songs by the much-missed Paradisia, who played a lovely Saturday lunchtime set at the Festival. The playlist closes in far from commonplace fashion with Roxanne De Bastion’s ode to joy, “Ordinary Love”.