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FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: TROUBADOUR AT T’MILL


Monty Python fans will recognise the opening phrase ‘Trouble at t’mill’ which triggered a short exchange that quickly blossomed into no one expecting the Spanish Inquisition*. Mostly though, today’s ever so slightly contrived headline was inspired by my visit on Wednesday to West London’s iconic independent music venue, The Troubadour, and the phrase ‘grist to the mill’ which strikes me as very appropriate to those working at the coalface of live independent music.


* Confused? Watch it HERE!


Founded in 1954, a visit to London’s Troubadour inspired Doug Weston to open his very own Troubadour three years later in Los Angeles. Both venues have played an important role in fostering seminal folk, rock and pop cultures across the decades. It is encouraging that, in London, The Troubadour still opens its doors to emerging talent, having hosted many of the biggest names in music from Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Jimi Hendrix to the likes of Adele and Ed Sheeran on their way on the up escalator.

On Wednesday night it was the turn of London-based Italian songstress Francesca Guerra to headline her own show, with support from Saint Boy and Rosy, at this marvellous, deep-rooted venue. Backed by a tight and confident ensemble of guitar, keys and drums, Francesca presented a more upfront and upbeat set of songs in contrast to the consistently mellow sound of her single releases to date. The newer material she largely showcased tonight built on her influences from Italian Pop and British Indie, but had the stamp of authenticity; of an artiste steadily creating an identity of her own in a crowded marketplace. Her personality and interaction with the crowd shone brightly while her vocal range, with its surprising powerhouse moments, really impressed.


One of the new songs, “Overrated”, came across as a true anthem; so much so that the audience demanded it again as an encore and sang along like it was a much-loved classic. If there was one thing her set wasn’t though, it was overrated! Unfortunately, I can’t play it for you here so instead this is a song she unleashed early in the set, “Seasons”, which struck a chord lyrically with the crowd and boasts some fine melodic twists. It is still a demo recording right now yet clearly indicative of the quality Francesca Guerra brings to her art. She is working towards an EP launch later in the year when some of this material will get its official airing.

Photos of Francesca Guerra and Saint Boy by Claire Leach


We arrived a little late to catch the opening set from Francesca’s fellow London based artiste and session vocalist, Rosy, who subsequently I have been unable to track down via internet searches. However, we caught the full set by indie folk trio Saint Boy and despite there being more than one Saint Boy on Spotify, I did find some links for them. I was impressed by the obvious chemistry between the two female and one male line-up, their close harmonies and complementary guitar work. Shades of The Staves and early Laura Marling can be heard in both the band’s harmonies and material, though that is no bad thing. This song, “Sinners and Saints”, was a particular stand-out in a self-assured set.

Photo of Charlotte Carpenter by Fraser West


She might be a new name to me but midlands-based artiste Charlotte Carpenter has been putting out music for over a decade now. I came across her via the trusty offices of Fresh on the Net whose readers voted Charlotte’s new song as a Fresh Fave last weekend. Following something of a hiatus and despite a clutch of EPs and singles over previous years, she has been working towards a debut album launch later this year. The record is heralded by a first single from it, the neatly titled “Spinning Plates” which is exactly the kind of smack you in the face song you could do with hearing far more often.

Self-described as “four years in the making,” “Spinning Plates” is Charlotte Carpenter’s counterpunch to how the roles of women are chiefly framed in the context of their relationships to men and how hard it is to juggle a career in music concurrently: “I’m just trying to be a better sister, daughter, lover / I’m just trying to deal with all this pressure that I’m under.” The accompanying video takes an amusingly over the top look at how the music industry tries to mould and manipulate its female players. Fuelled by a chugging, dirty blues rock opening, Charlotte creates space in the song for reflective passages and energised choruses to create an impressive whole that keeps your attention throughout. Wonderful stuff.

Alongside Charlotte Carpenter, a name more familiar to Fifty3 Fridays readers, also notched up a deserved place as one of the weekend’s Fresh Faves. Buoyed by his beloved AFC Bournemouth staying up this season, Alex Hall has been busy creating his signature music with its nostalgic nuances and heart-on-sleeve musings. In April he appropriately revealed “Raining” amid the showers and has now served up a wistful bend of nostalgic 80s pop, chugging guitars and heartfelt reverb-tinged vocals with “Take You Back”, as he teeters on the edge of romantic dilemma.

The latest song is almost an addendum to Alex’s November 2022 EP Forever and A Day. “This was the song that didn't quite make the EP, but something was niggling at me to put a final end to that chapter of work with a question mark” he explains. As he toys with contrary emotions arising from the aftermath of a break-up and anxious questioning about a potential reunion, Alex resolves to leave us guessing as the song plays out with a trumpet solo, the mournful side of triumphant. Trumpet duly blown once again by this rising star of UK independent music.

Photo of Nadia Sheikh by Liam Maxwell


This time last year, like Alex Hall, British-Spanish artiste and all-round rock star, Nadia Sheikh, was preparing to play her first Glastonbury. I remember this next song very well as it was one of the standouts from the selection of new material that she aired over four performances on the festival’s stages. “Neverending Trial” is the fourth track to come from Nadia’s new EP which is expected in the autumn. In Nadia’s words, the song is “a wish for freedom. To do the things you want to do without feeling the pressure of society and the norm that is set upon us, making life a never-ending trial.”

A tone of wistful escapism sets in from the opening distant ooh-aahs of “Neverending Trial”. As the descending guitar riff takes over you sense something equally ominous. The pace of the build is really well handled and you get the full range of Nadia’s lyricism and vocal versatility as the song reaches a mid-crescendo before falling back to those distant cravings and rising again in a rush of release. Since Glastonbury 2022, I have felt that Nadia is on the cusp of something great and this latest release only endorses that notion.

I have long admired the electro indie-pop of Machina X. With a band name inspired by the Sci-fi film Ex Machina, the duo comprising Annie James from Sheffield and Cyrus who is Burmese and based in Yangon produced some consistently fine material since they first met on an online song-writing course in 2016 and began their distanced collaborations. Since then, Annie has gone on to work with Hereford producer Nature of Wires and in her latest iteration has joined forces with Scottish artiste Richard Tracey aka Jigsaw Sequence to produce a new track, “Late To The Party.

This latest collaboration is less distanced but still involved Richard sending ideas across to Annie and going on to compose a new piece specifically with Annie in mind. She responded with a topline melody and lyrics, recording the demo and sending it back up to Scotland. It was such a good fit that the demo vocal ended up being used on this release. The vibe is very much 80s inspired, OMD-flavoured synthpop over which Annie’s emotive crystalline vocals swoop and glide as she rakes over an unedifying relationship. The result is a classic song that is as much of today as it is of that golden age of electronica.


MAY SPOTIFY PLAYLIST

A regular feature of this site is the monthly Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist. The latest one includes all the songs in order from May’s Fifty3 Fridays assuming they are to be found on Spotify, of course. Well, this month they all are. So, we start with “Open Up Wide” by the amazing Dizzy and reach a beguiling conclusion 15 songs later with “The Gentleman” by the stellar Hannah Rose Platt.







Comments


FIFTY3 champions

outstanding new music

through Fifty3 Fridays and

occasional features 

 

Music is a great passion of mine. In my teenage years I was an avid record collector and concert goer. Stints as a booking agent, running folk clubs, promoting gigs and even a crack at artiste management followed. While it never became my main occupation, music was always on my personal radar.

 

In the past 15 years I have written for leading US music website  Consequence and breakthrough  site, BestNewBands. I am a judge for Glastonbury Festival's Emerging Talent Competition and have reviewed the festival for both sites. I am now pleased to curate my very own music site.

 

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than unearthing great, original new music and championing independent musicians. You’ll find many of them on this site alongside the occasional legend of times past and I hope they will bring  you as much joy as they give me.

Tony Hardy

UPCOMING GIGS 

 

Selected dates in the London area:

Fri 7 Jun: Alexandra Leaving/Frankie Morrow, The Waiting Room, London N16

Sat 8 Jun: Bat For Lashes, St John's Church, Kingston

Sun 9 Jun: Blanid, The Black Heart, London NW1

Mon 17 Jun: The Mysterines, St John's Church, Kingston

Thu 20 Jun: Charm of Finches, The Lexington, London N1

banquetrecords.com: See the Events page for all live shows in Kingston

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