FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: THEY THINK IT’S ALL OVER?
I had planned to say a few words here in support of Gary Lineker today. But it appears that the news story that began on Tuesday when he tweeted a response to government plans to ban illegal immigrants from arriving in the UK, " Good heavens, this is beyond awful", will run and run. As I go to press, I am not sure if anyone will deign to present or even appear on Match of the Day on Saturday night. Who are they going to call? Nigel Farage?
On Twitter, Lineker went on to compare the language the government used to set out its asylum plans to "that used by Germany in the 30s". I find it hard to disagree with him about the incendiary language but the BBC’s decision to stand him down from presenting MOTD smacks of capitulating to political pressure rather than a genuine response to a so-called breach of guidelines.
Now, from the topical to somewhere tropical. OK, it is Southport...
Surprisingly we last heard new music from Leeds quartet, The Harriets, in May 2021 with the release of the engagingly experimental EP, A Little Something. This followed the band’s splendid 2020 debut album, Hopefuls, which, should you care to revisit, sounds just as fresh and relevant today. In for the long haul, the band meanwhile has not been idle writing and recording demos and playing the occasional live gig. Of course, in common with so many independently financed musicians, there are also the day jobs to be done that help pay for a little of the music habit. Anyhow I am delighted to announce that The Harriets are back with a new single, “Island Song”, and what a little gem it is too, even though the tropical paradise depicted in the accompanying video is Southport.
“Island Song” is one of those tunes whose charm increases with repeat listens. It may not hit you square on first time but the more you listen, the more you find things to enjoy about it. Topped and tailed by a gently atmospheric intro and ebbing coda with keyboard player Jess Womack on flute duty, accordion, congas and Greek guitars are introduced heralding a broad instrumental palette topped by an alluring bass and toms groove and an affectionate lead vocal from Ben. As always with the songwriting of Ben Schrodel and Dan Parker-Smith, the song is blest with a characteristic turn of phrase that gives the seemingly mundane a warm lilt. More please soon.
Photo of Nadia Sheikh by Briony Graham-Rudd
We heard some new music in January from another act I have championed in these columns when she shared the first single, “The Shadows”, from her much awaited new EP. We may have to wait until the autumn for the full works but meanwhile British-Spanish artiste Nadia Sheikh has revealed another ace in her hand with a further taster for us, the powerfully persuasive “Quiet”. In Nadia’s words, the song is “a very special one for me. I wrote it about women not having a voice and how our ideas and thoughts are sometimes undermined for just being women and at the end I encourage every woman out there to speak their minds.”
The idea of combining music with conceptual art revealed in the attendant video enhances the sense of liberation that “Quiet” ultimately achieves. A collaboration with visual artist Ana Beltrán and videographer Adam Brenes, both from the area of Nadia’s hometown, the video features local women in supporting roles. Nadia voices the opening lines as a gauzy, plaintive cry, quickly gaining strength and soulful passion as the song develops. At a pivotal point in the song, the mood changes from one in which the barriers women face are registered to one of defiance culminating in the empowering end message: “Quiet. Don’t keep it quiet, just break your silence and speak your mind”. It is an impressive and potent discourse, especially reflective of the world Nadia operates in where women struggle to gain the kind of credit their male counterparts find comes easier.
Next, a new name to the world of Fifty3 Fridays. Liverpool-native Hannah Rose Platt, now relocated to Bristol, actually recorded her 2015 debut album, Portraits, in Nashville and though described primarily as a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, she appears equally steeped in the country storytelling tradition. To announce her third album, Deathbed Confessions, which is due on 19 May, a single has been released that sets a tone for a set of dark tales to come which are connected by her fictional characters travelling by train to the afterlife, each revisiting key moments, decisions and regrets that marked their lives.
Accompanied by a video that recalls the world of Raymond Chandler, “Dead Man On The G Train” tells a story of murder and deception set in 1930’s New York. Opening with a percussive effect to ape the motion of a train, this gives way to clean strummed guitar and Hannah’s brooding vocal, nicely edging sweetness with a hint of menace and foreboding. As the tale unfolds, the intensity is stepped up steadily until the perpetrator, or more precisely perpetrators are revealed. The crescendo built by guitars and drums as the central character walks free ices a cinematic twist in the telling. Stay tuned for more songs exploring themes of “death, love, the afterlife, murder, regret, the uncanny, the kindness of strangers, and the downright bizarre!” in Hannah’s words.
Photo of Lucy Dacus at St John's Church, Kingston by Kevin England
This has been a good week for music videos so let’s close with one more. Last April I had the pleasure seeing the stellar US singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus live last April just 100 yards from where I live: a show you can still read about here. Just this week a press release popped into the Inbox announcing a limited-edition red vinyl copy of Lucy’s album Historian due on 26 May to mark its five-year anniversary. To celebrate, Lucy has made a video of the lead single from that album, “Night Shift”, one of her most popular songs. The video features US film and TV stars Jasmin Savoy Brown and the splendidly named E.R. Fightmaster along with her band mate from Boygenius, Phoebe Bridgers with the action set in what looks like an alternative Wizard of Oz Con. “Night Shift” is such a gloriously cathartic song and the gamut of emotions Lucy packs into that final refrain is something else.
“You got a 9 to 5, so I'll take the night shift / And I'll never see you again if I can help it / In five years I hope the songs feel like covers / Dedicated to new lovers.”