FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: STAND WITH UKRAINE
It is difficult to summon up anything other than a feeling of despair about the events unfolding in Ukraine. The situation reminds you how fundamentally useless a concept called the United Nations is and ever was. Basically, there is nothing you can really do against such naked ambition and aggression without confronting it with more bombs and weapons which in themselves have never solved anything. And there is no chance of NATO suddenly changing its stance without summoning WW3.
So, we get sanctions – worthy in their objectives but ultimately rich, crooked people work around them and ordinary people are the ones who suffer. The duplicity over sheltering dirty money in the City of London and elsewhere may get its comeuppance one day but I doubt it. Wherever there is greed, there is opportunity and complicity. One can only hope that those brave Russian people who are opening protesting at their leader’s actions swell into such numbers that there isn’t the manpower left to arrest them all.
I felt I needed to say something today; that I stand with Ukraine. For proper analysis of these events and their geopolitical and historical contexts I can wholly recommend the writings of Patrick Cockburn in The i and Janusz Bugajski in the Washington Examiner. At times like these, it might seem trivial to be writing about music but let’s begin with something beautiful and reflective to underline the importance of music to our wellbeing.
Since uncovering the joys of writing and recording her own music in her mid-fifties after landing on the music creation studio app, GarageBand, Helen Meissner is assembling a notable catalogue under the aegis of Helefonix. She has soundtracked Handforth Parish Council’s Jackie Weaver, released a series of EPs, a debut album plus a Christmas song with a cast of 42, much of which was reported here. Her latest addition to this growing collection is a second album, The Awakening. It is initially available in full on Bandcamp from today and includes two adjacent tracks taken from it which can be streamed now. A theme of self-discovery with words used sparingly runs through the whole record.
“Who Do You Wanna Be” asks that annoyingly familiar question that everyone asks you when you are young yet it remains one that we seldom ask ourselves. Helefonix has crafted a beautifully reflective piece around that central question; music you can use to stimulate how you would answer the same question or something simply to immerse yourself in. The string and brass effects are subtly employed and the piece just seems to rise and fall like a simple breath. Listen carefully as a telling word is employed after the question: so, who do you wanna be – NOW? It’s never too late to answer it. I can equally recommend its mellow companion track, “So Lost”, which has a little motif running through it you’ll find hard to dislodge.
A touch less prolific than Helefonix but equally heart-warming in his work is one Mint Eastwood. I have covered three of his wonderful singles over the past 15 months but still know little about the man behind the slightly disturbing if artful image above. If I still had a Filofax – just think they were once indispensable – it would list things about Mint like multi-instrumentalist, song writer and producer, a self-styled ‘slackertronic’ musician and based on the moors between Manchester and Huddersfield. What I should add to that is that you can always rely on Mint to come up with a great tune and much to love.
His latest release, “Just a Friend (From Another Star)”, has Mint’s indelible signature all over it from his slightly detached transatlantic drawl with its undernote of fragility to his intrinsic feel for melody and counterpoint. Described as ‘a minty nod to the early Superman movies’, the song is packed with splendid imagery (“broken streetlights watch and hum that tune I'm trying to forget”) and plays with the gender roles. You expect Clark to be pursuing his Lois but is it the other way round? You’ll find “Just a Friend (From Another Star)” on Bandcamp along with five other releases all of which have the makings of a fine album one day.
Fresh from actual chart success with her first single titled “Animo” from her forthcoming second album and her seasonal classic, “Waiting for Christmas”, The Kut has made a quick return with a follow up song, “Satellite”, appropriately released on Valentine’s Day. Maybe she is realising the marketing potential of such gift occasions. Readers will recognise The Kut as the moniker of the super-talented Princess Maha, now supported by a seven-strong collective of female musicians from which Alison Wood on keys, bassist Jennifer Sanin and drummer Diana Bartmann join her on this latest cut.
“Satellite” is a departure from classic Kut territory but, just like her Christmas song, it underlines the versatility of a singer-guitarist-songwriter better known for driving hard rock. "Satellite is possibly the biggest step away from my comfort zone yet! I never meant to write a love song, but then there was something liberating about finally being able to express it…” Maha explains. Whether this is an ode to one person or to several influential people in her life, Maha has much to be grateful for as she spills out an empowering series of heartfelt thank you notes. Let’s just hope the band’s kit survived its 80’s style video deluge.
It’s a little while since we last heard of Manchester-based Test Card Girl who, like The Kut, has enjoyed the significant benefit of Arts Council support in making her music. The solo project of singer-songwriter, Catherine Burgis, affectionately known as Caffs, Test Card Girl is a shining example of a ‘can do’ attitude to grassroots music making and any independent act feeling down could take real heart from her journey. From a stint as a musical comedian playing a miniature keyboard around the country to help conquer a life-long fear of singing in public to starting to realise her own ambitions in music as a highly individual singer, songwriter and recording artiste, Caffs shines like a beacon for many.
“Fly” is the latest single from Caffs’ debut EP due to land in July. The song came about in her small flat in Chorlton one hot day in late spring 2020. BBC Radio 6 Music and the TV were on at the same time. Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” came on as a fly buzzed around while she was vaguely working and keeping one eye on a programme about colliery bands. You sense her feeling trapped inside, while the fly is free to explore the room before escaping through an open window. “It’s one of those songs that would just never have been written but for the exact circumstances” she adds. This explains the Germanic bass synth and fuzzy nostalgic MIDI brass, alongside her signature touches. It’s a lovely song with a fresh, invigorating arrangement and I particularly like how it develops as a round with her stunning harmonies. “It's a rallying cry to stand up and walk to nowhere” says Caffs. Discuss!
Our next act arrived in my Inbox with a link and a succinct message asking me to ‘let me know if it’s any good’. The link was to a new album and a video of a track from it. I’ve listened to some of the album on Bandcamp and checked out the video before answering, yes… it is very good. The artiste in question is one Tom Grundman aka Grund, a musician from Matlock, Derbyshire who returned there after some years based in Bristol where he played guitar and bass in local bands, ranging from electro punk to acoustic folk. He also spent time in southern Spain becoming obsessed with flamenco and in India getting into Gujarati folk and Indian Classical music. Closer to home, his musical roots are basically progressive pop, taking in The Beatles, Queen, techno, electronica and art pop.
Tom also cites Meredith Monk's Dolmen Music as the most extraordinary piece of music and it’s no surprise that he plays around with unconventional song structures, irregular time signatures and the like. From the album, Sounds and Musics, “Love Song” ticks these boxes and throws in some self-deprecating lyrics about the nature of love and a particularly mad guitar break which marries prog rock with a bit of flamenco. It’s a love song in the abstract, a commentary with a difference. Grund is currently a one-man band but the charming female voice you also hear on this song is Jo Case aka Lost Cat (one of the best monikers I have come across of late) while the dead tree hugger in the video is his mate, Phil Robson. You could do worse than check out the full album here on Bandcamp.
Band websites are not always the greatest art form. Distracted by myriad social media accounts, artistes often forget that social media can direct you to a focal point like a personal website rather than leave you in the ether. Conversely our final act this week, Wings of Desire, has visualised its own website as a giant mood board of ideas and inspirations. Formed from the ashes of South London band Inheaven, who traded from 2014-18, Wings of Desire is a dream pop duo comprising Chloe Little and James Taylor. Artful and deep thinkers, the pair draw ideas from psychological revolution, visual arts and 20th century counterculture. You feel they would really get Adam Curtis’ BBC documentary series Can't Get You Out of My Head.
The opening chords to “Perfect World” are almost straight off Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and form a familiar motif that runs through the song bringing it all together. The single follows the duo’s two EPs released last year, Amun-Ra and End of An Age, exploring the idea of things falling apart so that something better can arise; a concept very much in tune with our times. Musically Wings of Desire balance bright expectation with sad reflection while in equal measure the male lead vocal is finely complemented by its female counterpoint. Perhaps also the notion of something good arising from destruction is not that bad a thought to end on this week.