FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: SOMETHING GOOD TO REPORT
Black Rod’s Garden Entrance. Did I know that Black Rod had a garden? Probably not, though as one does exist I guess it will have an entrance. Yesterday found us at the Palace of Westminster for a special presentation as my daughter Rosalind had been selected to receive the British Citizen Award (BCA) for her work supporting young people with special needs and also delivering training about how to understand and engage with young people with autism and disabilities, as a person on the autistic spectrum herself.
I've only been here five minutes and Google is already asking me how was the House of Lords. Still, it is heartening to hear some wonderfully inspiring stories from Rosalind’s fellow nominees about all the good and selfless things people do to help others in their communities. This is especially moving given the awful acts being perpetrated daily around the world, and especially those inflicted on the Ukrainian people right now. It is at least nice to have something good to report alongside the music which, of course, is always great around here.
Photo of Tiny Dyno by Nick Davies
We encountered the Bristol indie pop pairing of Emily Gardiner and Tom Kuras aka Tiny Dyno last November via the agreeably melodic single release, “Still”. Having emerged from the Bristol music scene with a shared love of infectious pop music, they perform live both as a duo or extended to a full six-piece band. I am told that Tiny Dyno owes its name to a miniature plastic dinosaur Emily randomly found when changing trains on her way back from Manchester, though that doesn’t explain the ‘y’. Last week Tiny Dyno released a full EP titled Comparison Club with as assured a set of four songs that I have heard in a while. This could be where the dynamism comes in.
The four-track EP was recorded last year with Bristol producer Robot Club and loosely scripted around the journey of a relationship. It begins with “Something”, a song accompanied by this neat role-reversal video which playfully underlines the band’s classic pop roots. The harmonies and chord modulations really add distinction to the song. Back to the journey, “Something” strikes the bright note of optimism that marks the start of something good while doubts set in the next track, “Insomnia”, and by “Sail Away”, the bird has flown. The EP ends with “Still”, an amalgam of regrets, clinging on to the past and an unreadiness to move on. It’s a complete song, carefully developed and rounded. The 4-part harmonies in the choruses are well worth a reprise on their own, so let’s give it another spin.
Photo of Sarah Proctor by Zachariah Mahrouche
No stranger here over the past year and more, the North East’s Sarah Proctor continues to release beautifully drawn singles and, such is her impressive body of work, surely must be closing in on a stellar debut album very soon. A native of the small town of Billingham, the UK singer-songwriter moved to Los Angeles to further her career, hooking up with a major label in the shape of Geffen Records. After coming out aged 19, Sarah has consistently worn her sexuality with pride and projected her feelings lyrically with grace and compassion. She has a genuine wish to create safe spaces in her music and live shows to support the LGBTQIA+ community.
Sarah’s latest release entitled “Feels Like Magic” sees her applying the familiar trick of memory triggers. “Feels Like Magic is about memories, how you can be anywhere and see something that instantly brings you back to a moment you spent with someone you love and miss” she explains. Over a languid strummed guitar, she adds an earnest edge to her soft and mellow vocal style that underlines a sense of emotional reality. With a captivating chorus, Sarah maintains her gift for creating highly relatable, melody-driven pop music that stays with you. Stellar stuff indeed.
Anyone who knows me knows I am a sucker for an intriguing name. Amateur Theatre Group is the moniker of Londoner Andrew James Murphy who operates as what he terms ‘more an open collective than a solo performance or traditional band.’ He is supported in this endeavour by his longstanding friends and musical collaborators, Davy and Iain Berryman. An album released last year, races 1990 - 2021, featured previously unfinished songs spanning a decade and more plus two new tracks written specifically for it. ATG has now followed up with a new 4-track extended player.
“Itch” is the willowy opener to the ascetically titled ep1. The song was written by Andrew but previously recorded by Davy Berryman under the aegis of Sea Stacks. It meanders beautifully, rising and falling in gentle waves of guitar and brass and building towards a quite mesmeric extended coda. Andrew’s voice has a delicacy to it that recalls Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon which is heard throughout the full EP, although he hands the mic over to Davy Berryman on the second track, “Fly”. Much of Andrew’s music deals with mental health struggles, alongside familiar themes of love and loss. “Itch” might have self-loathing at its core but there is something whole and therapeutic about listening to it. I hope you will check out the full ATG catalogue which you’ll find here on Bandcamp.
In the same way as Amateur Theatre Group I have Fresh on the Net’s weekly Listening Post to thank for the introduction to the delightful music of Dutch singer-songwriter Maaike Siegerist. She hails from Schiedam, a city in the shadow of Rotterdam’s oil refineries but, gaining inspiration from a songwriting retreat in Scotland, she moved to the UK to study music. Maaike recorded her debut album, Born Before the Wind, here and is now based in Bristol. She has an eclectic musical background taking in jazz, folk and even prog metal influences, with her latest recordings inspired by classic jazz and the kind of chord changes she grew up playing.
When I first heard Maaike’s latest single, “So You Think”, co-written with Glaswegian artiste Becci Wallace, it put me in mind of Florie Namir in terms of her agile vocal delivery and storytelling. Appropriately the song was released earlier this month on International Women’s Day; its tongue in cheek lyrics also carry a barb or two along the way. Jaunty piano and double bass provide the relaxed bedrock for Maaike’s amusing take down of the traditional male expectations of a women’s place. To show a different side to her music here is a bonus track; one that blends folk, prog and a hint of Kate Bush about it, all in aid of a cause close to my heart, Saving Wildcats.
Photo of Midlake by Barbara FG
While this column is proud to champion emerging talent among a bank of largely unsigned acts, it is happy to doff the cap in the direction of established bands who continue to release great music. I’ve been a fan of Denton, Texas five-piece, Midlake, since the band’s seminal second album, The Trials of Van Occupanther, came out 16 years ago. Last Friday, Midlake dropped its fifth and first for 9 years in the shape of For the Sake of Bethel Woods. It feels very much like a companion to Van Occupanther, full of energy and purpose, yet contemplative of life’s great themes. It’s an immense album that I could write reams about but here's the title track which says plenty on its own.
I had to wait around 18 months for the pleasure of seeing OMD perform at the Royal Albert Hall this month after the pandemic put paid to the tour’s original September 2020 booking. We were treated to a 26-song set in two halves spanning the band’s career which dates back to 1978. The second half in particular was a ‘play the hits’ spectacular and an invitation to frontman Andy McCluskey, for whom age does not weary, to entertain us with more of his trademark dad dancing, alongside his, at times, incredible baritone.
For purveyors of electronic music, OMD has always had a heart and a soul to its songs that belies the often machine-like imagery. It stands on a bridge between art and science and if you get the chance to see the band next time it’s in town, do not hesitate. Here is a gentle way to play out this week’s column in the form of “Souvenir”, accompanied by a suitably mood meets aspiration early 80’s video.
I STAND WITH UKRAINE