FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT
This week’s Fifty3 Fridays is somewhat of a bumper issue with no less than nine songs to lay before you plus last month’s Playlist. We will then be taking a short break, assuming the flight isn’t cancelled, so there will be no edition on 10 June but we hopefully return with lots more good stuff the following Friday. At least that’s the plan, he says, sweating on whether it is really going to rain on our Platinum Jubilee Street Party tomorrow to dampen the return of local covers band, PlanB (not that one). [Get on with it – Ed].
And on with it we go. It’s getting on for 4 years since we were hit with the immeasurably great Wapentak, so I was delighted when news dropped into the Inbox that a new Sweet Billy Pilgrim album is on the horizon. Somapolis will be album #6 and anyone familiar with the past work of Tim Elsenburg and Jana Carpenter will be suitably excited. To whet appetites, Sweet Billy Pilgrim has shared the opening song from it, “We Are the Bright Carvers”; a 7+ minute long feast for the mind and body.
Bright Carvers reference characters from Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast who in SWP guise may go on to form a kind of chorus to comment on the stories that unfold throughout the album. Well, that’s my guess as the band is so skilled at mixing the erudite and allegorical with suitably adventurous music that ‘open to interpretation’ is a given. For now, “We Are the Bright Carvers” is a beautifully realised and layered piece with a truly joyful coda laced with sumptuous harmonies.
Having graced us in April with the mind games of her single, “Creepy Creepers”, Sussex-based songstress Hui Hue has made a quick return with another impressive song from her forthcoming EP. The gently immersive “Night Shelter” plays with expectations that the song is synonymous with homelessness but its theme extends into the complexities of human endurance in adversity and the many injustices suffered by women. The night shelter is an ambivalent setting; a sanctuary or a place of suffering but in the song, it becomes a place of hope.
Hui explains that “Night Shelter” was originally inspired by Yarls Wood, the all-female detention centre in Bedford and stories she heard from women confined there, many because of a lack of a paper trail to prove their right to be here. It could be a truly grim tale but hope is written into many aspects of the song. It is reflected in the light touch of her clipped guitar work, in the melody of the chorus and subtle layering of an all-female choir. The song was again produced by the estimable Alex Hall, who Hui credits as co-writer for his help with the chorus and choir parts, engineered by Richard Woodcraft at Warner Music Group and mixed and mastered by Jay Pocknell. Quite a stellar team and alongside Hui’s beautifully empathetic voice and carefully chosen words, they have created a masterful piece of thoughtful work.
Now to the East Midlands which regular readers and Fresh on the Net folk will recognise as the home of Happy, Jolly & Joy, The Happy Somethings; in their own words ‘an independently unpolished band who like to be happy and ‘unintentionally retro’. The talented and prolific trio is back with a new EP, Ego Test, which in common with all its work, you will find on Bandcamp as a free download or on a pay what you will basis. If you ever needed an introduction to the charm and accessibility of the band’s music, clock this!
Lead track from the EP, “New Life” was initially put out as a single. The Happys describe it as “the most optimistic thing we could write given the unsettling and troubling times we're all in.” For a song that is lyrically quite didactic, it breezes along like your favourite long lost 45 led by Joy’s soothing balm of a vocal aided by her band mates’ sympathetic harmonies. The remaining tracks also reveal The Happy Somethings to be far more than one trick ponies. The wryly titled “Ego Testicle” takes a well-aimed pop at political shenanigans, “Takes A Long Time” allows a moment for self-reflection and “I Hope” strays musically into psychedelic territory as Joy questions faith and hope.
Photo of Joseph Hitchcock by Liam Maxwell
We met Fayetteville, Arkansas singer and songwriter Joseph Hitchcock who trades as Paper Anthem in 2021 after his stellar album, The Year You’ll Never Get Back, became one of my firm favourites. If you still haven’t heard it, you really must treat yourself to this musically expansive yet intimate record. Joseph moved to London in the autumn and has been putting a band together here under the Paper Anthem aegis and starting to play some shows. The first fruits of his sojourn over here can now be heard via the single, “Phantom”, released today on Spotify among other platforms.
“Phantom” is a song Joseph wrote in 2018 in response to a romance that didn’t exactly go to plan. The back story reveals him to be an intrepid, and you might think a mite reckless, adventurer who flew to Bulgaria on a whim to meet a woman he had met online only to find himself not scammed thankfully, but ghosted. It was only when he made some friends there and met another woman that the first one re-entered the scene, creating an unwanted wedge that led to a second break-up. Musically the song moves through the gears reflecting the turbulent relationships and dark moods contained therein. An anthemic chorus ices the cake on this strange love triangle.
A new name to Fifty3 Fridays now as we welcome Lottie, an 18-year-old singer-songwriter from Pontefract, where they make the Cakes. Having been taken under the wing of writer/composer Paul Fletcher, Lottie’s musical development led to a debut EP, Deliquesce – meaning to dissolve or melt away - produced by Dave Sanderson (Reverend and the Makers). The EP actually came out in February but I only recently made acquaintance with it and especially liked her song, “Calm In The Storm”. Lottie counts Amy Winehouse among her key influences and there is definitely a hint of her slow-fuse soul in her own vocals. She has an impressive vocal range and an innate ability to convey controlled emotion in her singing that should take her far. A great debut.
Another song that arrived in the Inbox recently was from singer-songwriter Al Green from Bristol. Not to be confused with the US soul giant of the same name, our Al goes under the name of Fraser. He boasts a rich baritone that reminded me in some respect of Felix Bechtolsheimer, aka Curse Of Lono, but with an Irish twist to it. In part this could be because Fraser spent some time in Southern Ireland during the 2020 lockdown of 2020 and finding some inspiration there for a bunch of songs. His single, “That Hurricane”, has an expansive feel to it and has a particularly nice build towards the end, channelling Mumfords-like intensity. We can look forward to a full EP the end of the summer.
Photo of Aderyn by Hannah Tottle
In contrast, our next Bristol-based artiste has been a regular visitor to this column. The South Wales born songstress Aderyn has released a series of singles over the past year or so that always seem to have a point of difference about them, like she is restless to move on musically. Her Valentine’s Day song, “Yearning”, showed a new kind of vulnerability to her music while her latest single, on her new label Clwb Music, “Honey”, is superficially positive and uplifting, in contrast to the stark openness of its lyrics. “If love is blind, this is a song about what happens when you finally open your eyes” as Aderyn herself deftly puts it. There’s a neat 60s girl group vibe to the song that is playfully illustrated in the accompanying video too. Nice!
Let’s draw today’s issue to a close while the word count is still the right side of 2,000 with two bonus tracks. Firstly, Fifty3 Fridays favourite, the British and now LA-based singer-songwriter, Sarah Proctor, has a wonderful new single, “Paradise”, with a debut EP in the pipeline. The latest song continues Sarah’s gift for rendering simple emotion and a terrific topline melody as she muses on fleeting moments and memories.
It was a great pleasure to attend Tom Robinson’s ‘Never Too Late’ 70th Birthday Tour show at London’s O2 Shepherds Bush Empire last Friday. It was a marvellous evening with stellar performances from Tom, his band and a number of supporting artistes. After a 15-song set, broken up by guest spots, culminated in the classic “2-4-6-8 Motorway”, Tom and his band returned for two encores, the first of which was the title track from his 2015 album, Only The Now. His daughter came on stage to give him a big hug after he introduced the song. Listen to the lyrics and you’ll see why.
MAY SPOTIFY PLAYLIST
Finally (phew), you can access a new Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist at the end of every month – new listeners are always welcomed at TonyHardy53. May’s Playlist includes 25 songs beginning with Glastonbury Emerging Talent Winner Lewis McLaughlin and ending with Finland’s Finest, Have You Ever Seen The Jane Fonda Aerobic VHS? It includes all the songs in order from May’s Fifty3 Fridays; the good news being that they are all listed on Spotify. Please share it!