FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: TO TWEET OR NOT TO TWEET
There are times when not being on Facebook or Instagram presents a bit of a problem. It is when those sites are the only way of possibly connecting with artistes I wish to write about. Back in the day, rather than struggle to maintain three or four different platforms, I nailed my mast to Twitter both to connect with acts and share these weekly digests. It has proved to be a good way to promote the music featured on Fifty3 Fridays with the benefit that there is an active community of independent musicians, writers, radio stations et al on Twitter who really value the connections it can bring. The thing is now can I remain a happy tweeter?
Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter saw unsettling OTT pronouncements about free speech and charging for ‘blue ticks’ followed by mass redundancies made well before anyone could possibly evaluate what people actually do. For now, I will continue to use Twitter but less happily. When I write about someone, I like to find out a bit about them rather than just say here’s a great new track and I love the bassline or whatever. So, a plea goes out to indie musicians, wanting writers to feature their work, to join up the dots and make it less restrictive to connect with you. As for today, let’s start with three artistes who happen to have new stuff out this week and will be familiar to all three of my regular readers.
Tweet photo by Chris J Davis
Last month we highlighted a different side of Brighton-based singer-songwriter Olly Hite via his irresistible, retro-sounding pop rock single, “Know What I Mean.” Now he makes a quick return with a song far closer to his signature piano ballad style associated with his 2021 debut album, In Everyone. “This world needs love more than ever right now” Olly declares and he has aptly expressed this worthy sentiment in a new piano and cello accompanied song, “Love Not Hate.” “It could be bullying at your place of work, your child’s classroom, your online world, maybe unnecessary gossip with your friends. Or just cold-blooded war!” he enlarged.
“Love Not Hate” was co-written by Olly and Robert Cutarella and features a sympathetic cello arrangement and performance by his regular collaborator, Shelley Gent to counterbalance his own plaintive piano. Backing vocals are courtesy of Olly’s young daughter, Willow-Rose. Together they deliver a heartfelt, uplifting song for difficult times which does exactly what it says on the can and I am delighted to premiere it here today. The Lennon-like chord phrasings give it a grounded sensibility while the falsetto heights Olly reaches in the bridge add a rare piquancy, all tapping into people’s hearts to bring some unity in divided times. Stream it here.
Photo of Alex Hall by Kevin England
From universal love desired to individual love betrayed now as we celebrate another Fifty3 Fridays favourite, the South Coast native turned Surbiton resident, Alex Hall, who has just released an EP. It is something of a surprise that this is officially Alex’s debut EP as we have become so accustomed to the high quality of the singles he has put out over the past two years or so. Forever And A Day, his self-produced 4-track offering mixed and mastered by Jay Pocknell (Alt-J, James), contains songs that are deeply personal, melodic, sonically immersive and innovative in their production.
The lead EP track, “Actress,” is a high-octane modern synth-pop bop, soaked in distortion and telling a tale of betrayal and confusion while posing a series of questions about a relationship turned sour. It uses acting as a metaphor for deception in an acidic tale of betrayal from the victim’s standpoint. 80’s Prophet synthesisers menacingly underpin Alex’s alto vocal, confrontational and drenched in confusion, with a melody and influence close to British Pop new-wave stalwarts Holly Humberstone and Sam Fender. The enthralling EP continues with “New Light,” which marks a full stop at the end of a long-term relationship, the musically expansive “The Hardest Thing” and concludes with the contemplative title track. Stream the full works here.
It’s back to Brighton now where we find Barbara, the sibling duo of Henry and John Tydeman who take cues from a common love of 60’s and 70’s music and styling and appear as a theatrically engaging five-piece band at live gigs. Barbara is steadily building a collection of compelling material that will make a stellar album one day when a major record label finally recognises the best new talent. The band has now added to that growing canon with the release of the satirical polemic, “Waiting Outside Alone.”
The latest song continues the Barbara tradition of fascinating, episodic songs set in the style of mini operas. “Waiting Outside Alone” has a strong nod towards Queen in its muscular May-like lead guitar lines, to 60’s stalwarts The Kinks in its stabbed precision and 70’s icons 10cc in its smooth harmonies. That said, lyrically it is all thoroughly modern, denouncing the reactionary elements that have come to dominate politics in Britain and lamenting the side-lining of young people from the ill-tempered national debate. Intelligent stuff you can tap many a toe to as well. Stream it here.
Next, something new to me which links to what I said in the opening homily about social media, music promotion and, specifically, joining up the dots. I came across Brown Bear Collective when the band’s latest song made last week’s Listening Post on Fresh on the Net. Thereafter internet searches revealed less than I hoped about its origins and a way of making contact beyond FB and Insta. Soundcloud revealed Brown Bear Collective to be a distanced collaboration between singer/songwriters Dillon Thomas and Lisa-Marie Kämpf. It all went a bit cold then as I found an expired website. An image search for Dillon Thomas brought forth a US baseball player and of course the iconic Welsh poet and writer (Dylan) while Lisa-Marie Kämpf gave me pics of Lisa Marie Presley and someone who was on The Voice Kids in 2020.
“Creating an atmospheric blend of folk-influenced lofi indie, the pair began writing music together over WhatsApp in early 2022. Their first single together, “Fever,” arrived in October” according to Soundcloud. And that’s about all I found other than a source that says Dillon Thomas creates his music inside a garden shed in England and I am thinking Lisa-Marie might be in Germany? Anyhow I loved the caressing flow of “Fever” which has echoes of Bon Iver about it. Individually both have assured solo voices which collide together beautifully. Their calmness belies the disquieting nature of the lyrics. I’m not sure if Brown Bear Collective will ever see this but if you enjoyed “Fever” and are on Facebook or Insta, perhaps you could message them for me.
Photo of Katie Munshaw/Dizzy by Boy Wonder
From brown bears to barking dogs. One of my favourite albums from 2020 was The Sun and Her Scorch from Dizzy, the quartet of Oshawa, Canada high school friends Katie Munshaw and drummer/synth player Charlie Spencer plus his two siblings, Alex (guitar) and Mackenzie (bass). After a hiatus I was intrigued to see Dizzy return with a darker, visceral new single titled "Barking Dog," shared together with an unnerving video directed by Boy Wonder. The track references Katie’s family dog being abused by her previous owners but more broadly appears to be about identity and upbringing. "This song is mostly about how we're all just products of our youth; doomed in various ways none of us asked for," Katie Munshaw commented.
From Canada now to Sweden. It was great to catch the Söderberg sisters aka First Aid Kit again at Glastonbury this summer and a damp November evening saw them return, this time just a short stroll from our house to Kingston town centre where First Aid Kit stopped off at Pryzm as part of its tour to promote the new album, Palomino. Playing the bulk of tracks from the new record, alongside choice cuts from past works, and supported by a touring band comprising lead guitar, keys and drums, Johanna and Klara were vocally as spot on as always. One may lead, mostly Klara, but the trick is how they often switch lead voices within songs, while their empathetic harmonies blend intuitively and beautifully. The title track, “Palomino,” which opened the show set a benchmark that was matched by everything else they played.
They tell me there are six more shopping weeks to Christmas, though my past record in this respect is hardly an exercise in forward planning. However, let’s end today on a pre-seasonal note. Emmy Award-nominated singer, songwriter and composer Ingrid Michaelson has shared her new festive single, “It’s Almost Christmas.” The song is a collaboration with the Grammy Award-winning duo A Great Big World who have the song to themselves until Ingrid’s unmistakeable voice takes over lead from about one-third in. The trio harmonise sweetly and all the lyrical elements are there to make this song sound like a true Christmas classic from the first spin. It’s sentimental without the schmaltz, with whimsy balanced by sincerity; the aural equivalent of snuggling up in front of a log fire.
Ingrid is to play a one-off London show at the Union Chapel on 21 November before heading back for a series of US dates. Her 16th annual fan favourite Holiday Hop event is also to be live-streamed worldwide on 4 December. Details can be found here.