FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: TALENT WILL OUT
Last week’s Fifty3 Fridays floated the idea of commercially successful musicians breaking open the piggy bank to help save a struggling live music venue, or even open a new one. It is early days but I am encouraged by the response (thank you Sid & Doris Rocker of Neasden) and hope to meet one or two people who might be able to make this happen. As an adjunct to this I have been giving some thought to other ways that established names could equally lend their marketing weight to help grassroots and emerging artistes.
The Beatles formed Apple Records in 1968 as an outlet for themselves collectively and individually while signing acts such as James Taylor, Mary Hopkin and Billy Preston as well as fostering diverse names from The Modern Jazz Quartet to contemporary British classical composer John Tavener. Many others from singer-songwriters to bands followed suit though the practice seemed to have dwindled by the end of the 70s. While there are examples of this happening in subsequent decades, I think the time is ripe for a return to what is effectively a form of mentoring; something that major labels used to do through the A&R function, much of which has fallen by the wayside.
The old adage ‘talent will out’ meaning that talented people will eventually succeed in their chosen field is undermined by countless examples of musicians who lack nothing in the talent department yet are short of the connections and, not least the funding, to reach a much wider audience. Enter Essex native Ellie Bleach who first found her way into Fifty3 Fridays just over two years ago via her engaging single, “Doing Really Well Thanks”. I was particularly drawn then by her wry observation lyrically and touch of nostalgia she brings to her songs. Ellie is as talented as they come but will it out? Hearing a couple of tracks from her forthcoming 6-song EP leaves me hoping so!
Now Leaving West Feldwood will be released on 28 March via indie label Sad Club Records and meanwhile two of the tracks have been previewed on Bandcamp. Set in the fictional suburbia of West Feldwood, the EP tells the stories of different characters with an apocalyptic undertone which will find its full voice in the concluding track. The opening song, “Pamela”, actually came out as a single last summer and immediately sets a high water mark. The song has a lounge feel and there is a touch of Lana Del Rey in Ellie’s deadpan drawl as she paints an unnerving picture of the fictional heroine, a brassy outlier with a hotline to climate disaster. It is a wonderful piece of music that unwraps onion-like on repeat listens.
In the run up to Christmas it is easy for things to get lost in the plethora of ‘to do’ lists. So I wanted to give space now to an wonderfully moving EP by Hampshire songstress Lucy Kitchen which appeared in mid-December. I have followed Lucy since I chose her evocative song entry to the 2015 Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition, “Blue Eyes”, which took her to the live finals and a Sunday morning opening slot on the erstwhile John Peel Stage. The last few years have been extremely tough on Lucy caring for her husband, Stephen, who died 15 months ago after living with terminal cancer. Her single “Olivia” released in the autumn and now her new EP, The Stabal Sessions, are stepping stones towards Lucy recapturing the beauty of making music after dealing with the magnitude of personal loss.
The four-track EP was recorded live at Stabal Music in no more than two takes per song and was financed by a grant from the Ivors Academy, the UK’s professional association for music creators. Alongside Lucy on guitar and lead vocal are Frazer Pearce (bass/double bass), Morgan Rickman (guitars) and Kitty O'Neill, aka march, on backing vocals. Lucy and Kitty share Glastonbury Emerging Talent form as march was one of my 2023 picks too. All songs here are polished gems but I picked out “Chemo Song/Sleeping Song” from the EP as it encapsulates how such sorrowful reminiscences can be intensely personal and yet accessible to all. If ever a song can speak for itself, this is it.
Frequent visitors to these columns, Midlands musicos The Happy Somethings, have started the new year in collaborative fashion. Ambitiously released on New Year’s Day, “No More” is the second alliance between The Happy Somethings and Slovenly Boy following the equally excellent “I Don’t Smoke Dope”. Despite the reclusive masks, Happy, Jolly and Joy who comprise The Happy Somethings enjoy a considerably higher profile than Slovenly Boy whose internet trail or lack of it suggest that the birds must have eaten all the breadcrumbs. It was left to the band to reveal that Slovenly Boy is an old Liverpool school friend of Joy’s; a talented musician but extremely unmotivated and casual about it - hence the name the band has given him.
Both “No More” and “I Don’t Smoke Dope” were written and partially recorded some time ago by Happy and Slovenly Boy somewhat before The Happy Somethings came to exist. Slovenly Boy appears in the writing, singing and playing various instruments while the band has added its magic sauce to push the songs into the limelight as they felt they deserved to be heard. I’ll fully concur with that so here’s the first collaborative effort too. In both songs I love the self-deprecating humour that is introduced to temper any bittersweet leanings. As always you will find the songs on The Happy Something’s Bandcamp page.
Photo of The Beths by Ruth Geraghty taken at Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen in Feb 2019
I have taken to closing these weekly posts with a dust off from the past or a random musical find; today’s is one of the former and from the fairly recent past too. I had the pleasure of seeing New Zealand’s The Beths at what used to be called the Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen in London. Indeed you can still read the review of the evening should you so wish! The set list majored on The Beths’ 2018 fine debut album, Future Me Hates Me and though I had heard a bit from the band in the years that followed, I had rather overlooked its two subsequent albums. I was reminded about just how good the third LP from The Beths was in a WhatsApp exchange with a close friend from my university days. So, thank you Michael! Expert In A Dying Field, the album, chronicles relationships from platonic to familial to romantic and their aftermaths in a fresh and challenging way, encapsulated in its stellar title track.
Photo credit: BBC/David Venni
Postscript: I was very saddened to hear of the death of pioneering BBC Radio 1 DJ Annie Nightingale at the age of 83. She joined Radio 1 in 1970 and for the next 12 years was the sole female representative among the DJ crew. Annie had a wonderfully eclectic taste in music and a real passion for championing new music. When she appeared on Desert Island Discs she began her eight disc selection with Billie Eilish and closed it with Sid Vicious. Her castaway’s favourite choice was “Space Oddity” by David Bowie which will be an evocative choice for so many of her generation span. There is a fine tribute to Annie on the BBC website I wholly commend you to. RIP Annie.