FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: SO LONG MOTTY
Though unrelated to music, I wanted to begin by marking the sad passing yesterday of football commentary legend, John Motson – Motty – aged 77. During his 50-year BBC career, Motty covered 10 World Cups, 10 Euros and 29 FA Cup finals as well as being a Match of the Day regular before retiring from the corporation in 2018. His trademark sheepskin coats also made him something of a fashion icon.
Writing a fine obituary in the i-newspaper, Daniel Storey closed his piece with a particularly telling observation about the unobtrusive familiarity you felt when you heard his voice on radio or TV: “Almost none of us met John Motson. Almost all of us felt like we knew him.” Before I was lucky enough to meet him, I got that exactly. I met him on two occasions – once when he delivered a sharply amusing critique at half-time to a full dining room during England v Tunisia (2018 World Cup) and once at a lunch with friends the following year. He was a true gentleman; witty, charming, immensely knowledgeable about the game and great company. RIP Motty.
Photo of Daniel Etherton by Amalia Williams
From a broadcast legend to probably the world’s most famous painting. We encountered Kingstonian Daniel Etherton a year or so back via his sensitive double A-side single, “Good in Goodbye”/“Sand”. I was pleased to become reacquainted with his work through the good offices of Fresh on the Net (who else) when his latest single was recently chosen as a Fresh Fave. So where does the world-famous painting come in? Well, to preview the release of his debut EP Rewrote It, due later this year, Daniel’s new single is called “Mona Lisa” and the subject matter reflects his professional work in the art world.
“Mona Lisa” sees Daniel stray from classic singer-songwriter mode into territory more akin to anthemic pop. His voice retains that distinctive soulful note throughout while lyrically the song could be read as a paean to the beauty and mystery inherent in Leonardo de Vinci’s celebrated portrait or metaphorically to imply a loss of reason brought on by such intoxicating beauty. Whatever interpretation you put upon it, the song certainly moves along in rapid brushstrokes, amped up by euphoric instrumentation and propelled by urgent drums. It augurs well for a developing talent.
Fresh from suggesting that our covers band PlanB (not that one) has a crack at Sam Fender’s “Seventeen Going Under” with a Coronation Street Party in the offing, I was reminded by a timely Inbox arrival that the Newcastle rocker’s elder brother, Liam Fender, has a new single out today. A lifelong musician in his own right, Liam’s down-to-earth songwriting demonstrates that he has no need to stand in the shadow of his now famous sibling. “I haven't chosen to do this. It's just in my DNA” he explains. The latest song is the second he has put out with the promise of much more to come and there is plenty of evidence already that he is mapping out an individual style for himself.
Unlike his debut single “Love Will Conquer” which struck a strong note of optimism overcoming tempestuous times, “Don't Follow Me Down” is in Liam’s words “a song about total despair.” Its dark theme is suitably set to downbeat guitar and keyboards, rising after an odd mid-song pause to orchestral highs. Vocally, Liam may get compared to the likes of Richard Hawley, Scott Walker or Mark Lanegan, though none are particularly accurate. His baritone is very much his own, ranging from a hollow resonance to impassioned peaks. Looking forward very much to hearing more from Liam Fender.
The sense that we sometimes put on a front to mask the distress within, underlined in Liam Fender’s video, is a theme taken up by our next act in its latest song. The electro pop pairing of Sarah Munro and Matt Kersey aka VEALA has now become three with the addition of good friend Arthur who plays bass and cajon at the same time. Clever chap. Readers may recall that VEALA were one of the three acts I put through to the longlist of Glastonbury Emerging Talent 2022 so I was keen to hear what the band had been up since then.
The upshot is “Straight Out of Hell”. Citing a lengthy period of poor mental health, lead singer Sarah found solace in writing about her experience and a novel way of feeling able to face the world once more – perfume! The song asks if you can you really fake it till you make it. Do we truly know how another person is feeling or do we simply put on a front each morning? Music is of course therapy in itself so VEALA dresses its questioning in chiming guitars which add a note of uplift while Sarah’s lead vocal skates along with endorsement ringing. Another highly polished song from an under the radar outfit.
Photo of Olly Hite at Piano Smithfield by Chris Cousins
From hell to piano heaven. I had the pleasure of seeing Olly Hite last night hold court at London’s Piano Smithfield, an East London venue made a wee bit more accessible to us South-West London types by locating itself next to London’s Farringdon Station home of the swanky new Elizabeth line. It was an intimate evening with friends and family during which Olly played two impressive solo sets seated at a Baby Grand rather than his usual gigging electric keyboard. While pretty much convincing us that he could make a living simply as an Elton John or Billy Joel tribute – “Tiny Dancer” and “She’s Always A Woman” were both spot on – it was his original songs that stole much of the limelight.
Olly Hite’s latest single, “Bridge to Babylon”, was one such standout. Love is the key that opens many of his emotive songs but this one seems to go beyond the constraints of piano balladry to reach unchartered heights; passionate and sweeping in its scale and vision. I also particularly enjoyed “All Messed Up”, a really tender love song and the spirited “Lioness”, with its amusing back story about putting a piano in the sea for the video shoot an added bonus. Displaying flamboyance at the keys, confidently delivering a blizzard of notes and hitting all the falsetto highs, it all left you wondering why this guy isn’t a household name right now.
As one who is naturally disparaging about how algorithms seem to rule our lives these days, it’s nice to report that they can deliver the odd bit of magic sometimes. Finishing one of my Spotify Playlists on a car journey, I was then served a random selection of ‘things I might like’ or at least that was the drift. My ears pricked up when “Heartstrings” by Belfast-born singer-songwriter Lucy Gaffney magically arose. The combination of her relaxed yet warmly sensual vocal allied to hypnotic lo-fi guitar-led backing is a particularly compelling blend. Lucy set out on a solo career in early 2020 and released “Heartstrings” as a single a year later while it then formed one of four tracks on her 2022 EP, Easy Come Easy Go. Something tells me that phrase won’t apply to Lucy anytime soon and I hope to hear more from her in the coming months.
Finally, my week was made immensely brighter when alighting upon a series of live performances from Radio 2's Piano Room at the BBC's Maida Vale Studios, featuring some classic acts together with the BBC Concert Orchestra. There is a range of tasty treats from Freya Ridings to Pink, Sugarbabes to Suede, available to watch on BBC iPlayer or listen to on BBC Sounds. It was a real treat to find 80’s popsters Haircut 100 among them. Coincidentally the 40-year anniversary reissue of the band’s 1982 debut album Pelican West 40 was released yesterday.
I’d always loved this band, despite countless arguments about frivolity and nonsensical lyrics with friends still being weaned off prog rock. Beckenham-bred front man Nick Heyward went on to produce a number of solo albums – check out his 1983 debut North of a Miracle and 1995’s Tangled especially. Meanwhile savour the majestic “Love Plus One”, here both in its latest Piano Room incarnation and the gloriously silly original official video. Now it’s down to the lake, I fear…