FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: SUNSHINE ON LEITH
In a week when the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Final took place and Michael Eavis was given the Freedom of Glastonbury in recognition of his services to the town and its local economy, it seems appropriate to focus this week’s issue on live music. Michael can now drive his sheep through the centre of the town unencumbered should he choose to do so. As he is known as a dairy farmer, I pondered whether this symbolic act would even be possible but after a bit of digging found that a herd of sheep are regularly brought to Worthy Farm over the winter months from a neighbour’s farm to prepare the grass ready for the cows. I wouldn’t hold your breath though.
Enough of sheep. A goodly sized crowd gathered at Pilton Working Men’s Club last Saturday evening for the final stage of Glastonbury Emerging Talent 2022 which saw the last seven standing compete for a prestigious spot on one of the Festival’s main stages. I say seven as unfortunately Smoothboi Ezra had to withdraw due to illness but will now be invited to perform at next year’s final. It was an evening of contrasting musical styles in which each finalist can be rightly proud of how well they performed. Still, it was no surprise that the young man from Leith claimed the sunniest smile.
Lewis McLaughlin was pronounced the winner by a judging panel which included Emily Eavis, Glastonbury stage bookers and music business professionals, securing for himself a main stage slot together with a £5,000 Talent Development prize from the PRS Foundation. The two runners up, East London’s Crae Wolf with her entertaining and engaging rap and musically gifted Leeds indie outfit English Teacher, each received a £2,500 PRS award while Emily Eavis made every finalist’s night when she went on to reveal that all tonight’s acts will be given spots at this year’s Festival.
Like the iconic Scottish duo The Proclaimers, Lewis McLaughlin is from Leith, Edinburgh and his performance at the live Final certainly brought a ray of sunshine to the occasion. His entry song, “Summer”, which he wrote aged 17 is naturally infectious; a folk anthem that will no doubt be heartily sung in fields across the land, notably in a special one in Somerset this June. Lewis released a debut album digitally in March this year titled Feel The Ground You Walk Upon which will be available on CD and vinyl in July.
The evening also featured a vibrant guest appearance from R.A.E who won the competition in 2020 and who will finally get to grace a main stage at this year’s Festival. The remaining 2022 contestants, Amahla, Zola Courtney, SOFY and Nia Wyn, all won friends with their performances showcasing diverse styles while the musicianship from all the individual singers’ backing bands was outstanding. On the night, I especially warmed to the soulful, perceptive storytelling of Amahla, whose smoothly executed vocals were matched by a loveable stage personality. Here is a reprise of her classy ETC entry, “I Know What They’re Thinking”.
Glastonbury ETC Final photography by Jason Bryant
From Glastonbury now to the gothic splendour of St Matthias Church in Stoke Newington, North London where on Thursday night a reverentially seated audience was treated to a masterclass in songcraft with the barest of embellishment. On her previous trip to the UK in 2019, Sarah Beth Tomberlin who trades simply as Tomberlin was accompanied by a keyboard player. With Sarah’s guitar and voice, the duo was pretty much able to recreate the delicately sparse sound of her debut album, At Weddings. Tonight presented an altogether different challenge as Tomberlin and her guitar took the stage solo.
Starting with “Any Other Way” from At Weddings was a natural way to introduce the fully stripped-down set that Tomberlin was to deliver tonight. It’s simple four-chord strum and her hushed hymnal vocal quality sat perfectly in tonight’s cerebral setting. She presented equally plainly in a long denim jacket, trousers and black shoes; the look of an everyday troubadour maybe yet one with a special talent. The opening songs were drawn from the debut album and follow up EP, Projections. “Hours” with its gently repetitive picked guitar motif and the lyrically playful “Wasted” led to Tomberlin playing an early ace in her pack in the form of “Seventeen”; a song I will never tire of hearing which tonight was finished with a delicate, unaccompanied final chorus.
After the sadly reflective Leonard Cohen-like “Untitled 1”, she switched her attentions to her new album, I Don't Know Who Needs To Hear This; a title that could come with its own sequel, ‘but I’m going to say it’. The latest record is more expansive in its instrumentation with subtle string, synth and percussive effects providing a bedrock for many of the songs, plus bursts of electric guitar and a touch of brass. A song like “Stoned” which on record ends with a soaring guitar solo still worked really well with just voice and acoustic guitar. Sarah raised the bar vocally on this one, showing a surprising power to add to her trademark softer tones and admirable range. This fan-filmed live version from Tomberlin’s Birmingham gig earlier in the week gives you an idea.
The honesty and frankness of her songwriting was increasingly apparent as the night progressed. Equally Tomberlin’s high notes on “Unsaid” and the spine tingling “Sunstruck” were, well, different level. “Tap” was simply mesmerising while I was suddenly struck by the range of tones she was able to conjure from that simple acoustic guitar on the standout song, “Happy Accident”. Tomberlin closed her set with the gently uplifting “idkwntht”, the title track of the new album. She encouraged the audience to do call and response on the final choruses, which I am pleased to say sufficient numbers could get their mouths around, and it was a magical way to bookend the main set.
She returned for two encores including a request for ‘my gay song’ as she calls it, “Sin”, and a satiated crowd left happily into the night, though many stopped by the Merch stall or gently queued to say hello to Tomberlin. She said she would return with her band (“I have one!”) for her next tour. An acoustic interlude then would be perfectly fine too.
Photos of Tomberlin by Kevin England
Footnote: sadly, we were too late for Tomberlin’s support act, London-based Sophie Jamieson, arriving midway during her final song – I’m afraid that’s one of the vagaries of living far from the venue. She got a warm response at the end. Here is the title track, “Release” from her 2020 EP by way of minor compensation.
Before we conclude this live feature, here is a quick plug for the marvellous Guildford-ians, The Lunar Keys who have four choice gigs in the pipeline. I can recommend the band’s live show wholeheartedly.
Finally, you can access a new Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist at the end of every month – new followers are welcomed à bras ouverts at TonyHardy53. April’s Playlist includes 25 songs. It features all the songs in order from the month’s Fifty3 Fridays; the good news being that they are all listed on Spotify. Please share it if you approve!
I STAND WITH UKRAINE