FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: THE COACH HAS NOW LEFT
With Liz Truss lasting exactly as long as Brian Clough did at Leeds United in 1974, you may be forgiven for wondering which departure history will deem the more infamous. Of course, Cloughie went on to cement his already legendary status as a football manager via domestic and European success with Nottingham Forest, so really there is no case to answer. Meanwhile the political madness continues as we now have the seriously deluded demanding the return of Boris Johnson. Instead, shouldn’t we be asking why he is away on an exotic holiday during one of the 30 weeks that parliament actually sits?
We should have a general election but, given the unholy mess the current Government is in, there is a far higher chance of turkeys voting for Christmas. On which unseasonal note, on with this week’s music.
We start with a six-hour round trip from Kingston to Hackney in East London last Saturday to see the return – this time a very welcome one – of urban cowfolk Morton Valence to a live London stage. The band has a habit of choosing idiosyncratic venues and East London’s Moth Club is no exception, with its glittery, vaulted roofed gig room tacked on to a front room with an old school public bar feel. It is no surprise that the place reeks of history as it once housed a club for military veterans with South African origins: the General Browning MOTH Club, the MOTH being an acronym for the Memorable Order of Tin Hats.
Tonight, cowboy hats were more evident led by compere and Cow Pie Records boss, Patrick Hart, resplendent in a Stetson. The label is the current home of both Morton Valence and support act, Ags Connolly, who opened the show with a set of traditionally styled country songs with an authenticity that belies his Oxfordshire roots and nicely delivered with a resonant burr. We arrived to catch his last few songs which were warmly received by a fullish room. By the time Morton Valence opened with a pared down version of its early classic cut “Sailors” in front of a cabaret-style shimmering backdrop, the room was at capacity.
Photos of Morton Valence by Annita Fanizza
After the familiar opener, the band comprising its founding duo, Robert ‘Hacker’ Jessett and Anne Gilpin, augmented by the celebrated pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole and an equally exceptional rhythm section of bassist Josh De Mita and Jamie Shaw on drums, was here to preview its latest eponymously titled album. Considering that this was Morton Valence’s first gig since Covid broke and its debut with this particular line-up, it was performed with note-perfect panache with Hacker’s louche drawl balancing Anne’s softer tones throughout.
The songs wrap urban tales in genuine country clothing, bringing an indie spirit with them to the genre. They might have been new but many sounded like old friends already. For instance, “Jim” tells the story of Hacker’s neighbour in the early 90’s, a suburban family guy with a penchant for a midday drink who once led him to an acid house rave at Heaven and generally was a very bad influence on his young soul, though at the time, all seemed wonderful. It was delivered with the perfect space for reflection.
The first single from the album, “Summertime in London” was among many that highlighted BJ Cole’s deft and never overstated pedal steel work, in this case accenting its bittersweet sentiments. Nostalgia being a main driver of tonight’s set, it was also great to hear the downbeat “Black-eyed Susan” from the Black Angel Drifter album, this time with the audience adding verbal whipcracks to great hilarity. The closing encore of “Chandelier” mirrored the opening song; classic Morton Valence reimagined, leaving a suitably gratified crowd to picture its next Morton Valence show. Meanwhile, here’s one we made earlier to give you an idea of how the stripped back final song sounded.
Photo of Olly Hite by Mix It All Up
From live music to the recorded variety now. Brighton-based singer-songwriter Olly Hite is known for the tender and thoughtful piano ballads found on his 2021 debut album, In Everyone, where sympathetic piano and string accompaniments to his characterful voice ruled. His songs often carry central themes of togetherness, hope and happiness.
Earlier in the year Olly continued this tradition with the release of his ode to female empowerment, suitably titled “Lioness”, written in collaboration with US Grammy Award winning writer-producer, Robert Cutarella, while he is also co-writing a musical with British writer and theatre director Clare Lizzimore. Olly’s latest single, “Know What I Mean”, is something of a departure from his signature style; an infectious slice of retro-sounding pop rock anchored by piano and infused with dirty blues guitar and soulful backing vocals to compliment Olly’s theatrical frontman lead.
I have mentioned the value of Tom Robinson’s Fresh on the Net on many occasions, both as a platform for emerging artistes to show their wares, and for scribblers as myself to find new inspirations. Only so many tracks can make it through to the weekly Listening Post and when I can I also like to browse through the Full Inbox of the week’s submissions, which is where I chanced upon Kate Gerrard aka Kate Fear. The Brighton-based artiste also performs Americana style under The Delta Belle moniker but her new project builds on her love of 80’s synth-pop, new wave and electronica. As she explained, “In the first lockdown I just wanted to make music that was fun and made me want to dance – I guess it was a way of filling the silence and stillness that we suddenly found ourselves in.”
“Sylvia” is blessed with an insistent synth riff of the kind that quickly takes charge and is hard to dislodge while vocally Kate combines a nicely drawled topline with some imaginative multitracked harmonies on the choruses; maybe akin to Debbie Harry guesting on an OMD or Human League noodle if you can picture this (no Blondie pun intended there). The song was recorded by Kate in her home studio and she described her new short stack bass guitar – ideal for small hands – and four-to-the-floor drums as mainstays of all her recordings. “Sylvia” is essentially about the expectations around womanhood, working through them and finding yourself at the end. Fear not, with an album ready to go, we should be hearing much more from Kate Fear soon.
Photo of Tenci by Henry Jordan Smith
Chicago-based four-piece Tenci is a fairly new name to me but the announcement of a second album due on 4 November, the poetically titled A Swollen River, A Well Overflowing, caught my attention. The record follows 2020’s My Heart Is An Open Field. Lead singer Jess Shoman has a highly individual vocal style which I find as interesting as it is endearing. You are never quite sure which direction it is going to bend and this gives Tenci’s music an otherworldly dimension.
The new album has been previewed via three individual tracks so far and this one, "Two Cups", is probably my favourite of the bunch. It blends a gentle background melody picked out on acoustic and electric guitars with sharp shards of electric lead to create a mantra-like explosion of joy. There may be some who will be phased by Jess Sloman’s odd glissando and her sometimes wavering vocal moments but alongside the rich instrumental textures the band weaves, it’s a combination that sure works for me.
Photo of Lissy Taylor by Charys Bestley
With a couple of EPs already under her belt, Stoke-on-Trent singer-songwriter Lissy Taylor impressed us in the summer with her impassioned single, “Healer”, and I’m pleased to report that she is back with an equally strong follow up. “Fierce” is an upfront indie rock anthem for our times, lyrically honest and full of the energy needed to conquer life’s knock backs. The Americana influence that runs through her music is still present but there is more of a home-grown flavour to this song; think Sam Fender or Pale Waves maybe. Lissy took inspiration for the song from a similarly titled collection of poems written by women. She has a determination to succeed in the music industry, and though now a music lecturer by day, Lissy should certainly hold onto the night job too.