FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: SPOTIFY AGAIN
OK, the last thing I had in mind this week was to prolong the debate, if that’s quite the word, about the rights and wrongs of Spotify. And then here go I again. I remembered (I eventually do) that it was that time to publish my playlist of all the songs featured in Fifty3 Fridays over the previous month. Ah well, it’s a chance to include another Neil Young song. Far from disappeared from the Spotify platform, I found not one but three live versions of Young’s “Powderfinger” and picked the one with the best guitar solos for you for my January Playlist.
I also had that conversation with myself about whether I should stick with Spotify and for the second week decided I will, still on the grounds I outlined last week. So, if you scroll down to the end, you’ll find the January Playlist and I hope you’ll stop by and give it some love. I’m struggling with the concept of Joe Rogan being wildly popular but, assuming he is, I do support the notion that there has to be some responsibility attached when banding around the free speech card; especially if your audience is predominantly youthful. Meanwhile, among the higher profile figures also to walk away from Spotify are Young’s fellow legends, Joni Mitchell, Nils Lofgren and his old CSN bandmates, although weirdly you can still keep on "Rockin’ In The Free World" on the platform with Neil Young.
Seasoned Edinburgh-based contemporary folk artiste, Annie Booth, released her latest album, Lazybody, last November and I am sorry to say I only caught up with it after she submitted a track from it to Fresh on the Net. The song went on deservedly to attract the most votes on the weekend’s Listening Post. Annie has a knack of creating a sound on record that is immediately arresting. She quickly establishes a mood that grips the listener through storytelling with a dramatic twist and turn. I see some commonality in Annie’s musical approach with her fellow Scot, Rachel Sermanni, in the way that both artistes skilfully marry electric sounds and arrangements with their acoustic folk roots.
“Nowhere” is the third single released from Lazybody, an album which deals with themes of isolation, inertia and loss of direction which seem so in tune with our times, despite almost all of them having been penned long before the pandemic. The song is built on a strident riff that evolves into prickly verses and eventually a chorus. “The ‘poltergeist’ refrain came after” the singer explains. “It’s about watching myself and friends being swallowed up by the demands and struggles of life and industry.” Riven with angular, driven instrumentation, changes in tempo and time, and spilled out staccato lyrics, “Nowhere” conjures up a wilderness vision of missed opportunities and builds into a truly visceral experience.
Since coming together in 2019, Bristol-based five-piece, Stay Lunar, has made a bright impression with a small number of high-end single releases, judiciously placed rather than rushed out too often. This has culminated in a five-track EP, Every Cloud, which came out on Wednesday. There is a real bounce and spark to the band’s guitar and synth driven sound that is juxtaposed with frequently more serious lyric content. It adds up to music with a message, neatly packaged so that you can tap your foot along, yet equally sit down and reflect upon.
“Keeping Me Up All Night” from the EP is a song that perfectly illustrates Stay Lunar’s gift for upbeat melody allied to meaningful content. Frontman Harry Leigh wrote it while staying with his partner Zoe during lockdown. She had been suffering with endometriosis both physically and mentally; a chronic pain condition that affects 1 in 10 women. Zoe, an illustrator and animator, teamed up with Harry to create the music video to help spread awareness of the condition. The song focuses on the putting the needs of others above your own, acknowledging that while you won’t always get things right, there's always scope for doing better.
Our next act is a name new to me who, by happy chance, I came across while checking a Twitter feed for someone entirely different. A native of the North West of Ireland, alt-folk singer and songwriter Étáin takes her name from a mythical Irish beauty and the parallel is clearly continued in her music which has a delicacy and underlying otherworldly flavour to it. Like Annie Booth, Étáin’s second EP, In The Kitchen, landed in November (clearly a popular month for me to miss releases!) The 4-track offering reflects Étáin’s strong traditional roots embedded in her musical upbringing but equally a contemporary take as she explores the notion of home and her place in the world.
The song I alighted on, "As You Lay”, is in Étáin’s own words about “overcoming reluctance in love and trusting yourself enough to take the risk of falling; knowing that romance is imperfect and to love is to make mistakes." There are shades of Van Morrison’s “Warm Love” in the main verse melody but the song achieves its true identity in the way the tapestry of accompanying traditional instruments add an imaginative substance to the singer’s sensually romantic musings. Étáin’s vocal has plenty of breathy, die-away moments while a transatlantic upper tone keeps it real. She is promising a debut single this Spring which should help maintain her upward momentum. A great new find.
Live from The Bedford
Speaking of great finds, with the kind support of ever-ebullient host Tony Moore, I had the pleasure of curating a show last night at that hub of live new music, The Bedford in downtown Balham. All three acts delivered exceptional sets and their names hopefully will be familiar to Fifty3 Fridays’ readers, Barbara, Blánid and Detweiler. There will be a review of the event in next Friday’s column.
If you can’t wait that long, you can watch the entire show on The Bedford’s YouTube or Facebook Live channels. It all kicks off a minute and a half in on YouTube below with Tony Moore’s legendary introductions. You will note though that the show ends prematurely towards the end of Blánid's set. This is because The Bedford's internet connection went down briefly. It was quickly reset and you can watch the remainder of the show including Barbara's storming headline set on The Bedford's Facebook Live page which you can find HERE.
Glastonbury 2022 Emerging Talent Competition
A final remainder to unsigned acts based in UK and Ireland that you have until 5pm, Monday 7 February to enter Glastonbury Festival’s 2022 Emerging Talent Competition to compete for a spot on one of the main stages at this summer’s Festival and even pick up a Talent Development prize from PRS Foundation.
To take part, acts send in a link to one original song on SoundCloud, plus a link to a video of themselves performing a song live in any context from bedroom to concert hall. Full details and some tips are in my preview here.
Finally, you can access a new Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist every month! It features all the songs in order from the previous month’s Fifty3 Fridays, assuming they are listed on Spotify. Which they are. Even Neil Young’s. January’s Playlist includes just 19 songs. This is because the 12 songs featured in our 7 Jan issue are the subject of a separate playlist, The 12 Days of Christmas 2021. You’ll find me on Spotify at TonyHardy53.