FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: TWO SIDES OF LIVE
The past seven days saw contrasting aspects to two live music experiences, though both had plenty to recommend them. Firstly, our local church of St John’s was blessed with two consecutive shows by Essex pop star and 2009 X-Factor runner-up, Olly Murs, here to promote his comeback album, Marry Me. I was there on Friday evening while on Wednesday night I ventured to deepest Shoreditch to see some blossoming independent acts.
Photos of Olly Murs by Kevin England
Home territory first. Supported by a guitarist, keyboard player, choir and a string quartet, Olly Murs displayed some confident stagecraft alongside natural, likeable charm and a touch of Jack the Lad. Both shows were full, people queued for hours in the cold for the front seats and once inside waited patiently for over an hour for Olly to appear. A rather lengthy opening Q&A session with the album’s songwriters David Stewart and Jessica Agombar oddly meant that there was less time for the songs. On Friday, Olly only sang six – four from his new album, a cover of “Last Christmas” which he did as a loud singalong lacking George Michael’s softer nuances, and his biggest hit, “Dance with Me Tonight”. Of the new songs, this one, “25”, really stood out and I have to applaud Olly’s vocal which sounded fuller and displayed a greater range live than on the studio version. He won’t mind. Marry Me did get to No 1 in the UK album charts today.
Photo of Nadia Sheikh at Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes by @jonmophotography
On Wednesday night, by contrast there was no queue in Shoreditch where Nadia Sheikh was headlining at Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes (yep, some name for a venue) other than for security age and bag checks. Inside it was like two venues; a ground floor bar so separated from the small basement gig room that you sensed a lot of the drinkers there were unaware of the live music below, or maybe not bothered enough to check it out. This was especially weird as there was a free show from 8 to 11 with four disparate acts. We were too late for opening act, Eddz, but enjoyed the bristling punk energy and especially the bass and drums from young four-piece Noah & The Loners and a humorous solo show from the eccentric Scott Walker-like and wonderfully named Enjoyable Listens aka Luke Duffett.
Both acts should have been more than enough to tempt the upstairs drinkers. So, for them and of course for you readers, here is a taste of what they missed! A spirited “Teenage Tragedy” from Noah & The Loners followed by the expansive “Dead Frozen” from Enjoyable Listens.
Downstairs the crowd seemed to be dwindling with each act while the upstairs bar was getting busier. This is one of the downsides of having a somewhat disconnected venue, four acts squeezed into three hours and people wanting to head home on a cold night (apart from those arriving for late night drinks as we left). Before then my self-proclaimed breakout star from Glastonbury 2022, Nadia Sheikh, was in Shoreditch to play tonight’s headline set. Supported by bassist Rowan Davies and George Gardiner on drums, both fine musicians, Nadia delivered a confident set of songs from a future EP along with some older favourites like “IDWK”. Her guitar work encompassing both rhythm and lead was spot on the money while vocally she brings a soulful twist to a natural rock tone.
The set included “The Shadows” which will be released as a single in January and closed with a live favourite, “Get Away”. No one got away while she was performing; it was just a shame that more hadn’t stayed or ventured downstairs to hear this brilliant rising star.
From live stuff to the recorded variety now. We first met Hackney-based five-piece FEZ in October last year via the single “Summer Rain” and its music then struck me as having a timeless quality to it. I noted down that FEZ comes across as a kind of forward throwback, balancing nostalgia for the psychedelic and progressive rock eras by adding some reinterpretation through a contemporary lens. I was pleased to see that FEZ was back with a new song, “Best Friend” which found favour among Fresh On The Net’s Listening Post voters last week when it was proclaimed a Fresh Fave.
The new music FEZ is slowly releasing is very much the product of lockdown. “Best Friend” began its life during the first 2020 lockdown when the band’s bassist, Mischa, was playing around with a new pedal looping three high register bass lines together “to create every bassist’s fantasy - melodic dominance” (in front man Rollo’s words). The singer later joined the bass player to build up the song, using bass and a Moog Sirin synth. “We didn’t have any guitars to hand so we felt we should probably give [guitarist] Lewis a solo to make up for the lack of guitar elsewhere!” Rollo adds. The result is a laid-back rippling song that ebbs and flows to a place of beauty. You can catch FEZ at The Lexington on 4 February – my wife’s birthday. I wonder if she’d like to go.
Singer-songwriter and poet Alice Hale trades under the expectant disposition of With Sun. The Forest Hill based artiste tends to work solo on her recorded output while being joined by her guitarist partner Stu for live shows. With Sun has now returned with a three-song EP she wrote and recorded back in 2020 when experimenting in the studio with a good friend who also produced the tracks. The EP entitled Sometimes we go Backwards is quite different sonically to the acoustic songs we have grown more accustomed to hearing from her of late.
On these songs Alice considers that sometimes we have to go backwards to move forwards, though being able to reflect on past mistakes does not mean we won’t ever make them again. It is an equally recognisable human frailty. The opening song, “Before You Go”, is marked by stately piano chords and a plaintive, wavering vocal from Alice which is balanced by remarkably rich harmonies. A strident guitar solo adds to the overall intensity of the song before it falls back to be resolved by a soft coda. You can hear the full EP on Bandcamp now. It is well worth your time and also a modest donation to support an innovative and versatile artiste who always brings a reverential tone to her work.
We close with something seasonal from Norfolk-based singer-songwriter Marina Florance. As with everything she produces there is a compassion and grace to Marina’s version of “Love Came Down at Christmas” by the celebrated Victorian poet Christina Georgina Rossetti. Marina and Del Osei-Owusu, who many will recognise from Fresh on the Net, have set the poem to music while Pauline Alexander provides the other half of the vocal duet. It resolves with a lovely little instrumental featuring Mark Jolley on Violin. The cover artwork you see on the video is an image taken from a Christmas card her mother, aged 94, who has Alzheimer's, made from potato printing they did together. The track is free to download from Marina’s Bandcamp site – you can donate to a local foodbank or another charity of choice should you wish.
FIFTY3FRIDAYS ADVENT CALENDAR 2022
Finally, a reminder for those of you on Twitter that I am posting a song and accompanying video every day up to Christmas Eve. You can catch them at @TonyHardy53. The songs are drawn from some of my favourite artistes over the years; some you’ll know, some you won’t. Today (Day 9) you can hear an old soul classic from Sam & Dave: “Soul Man”. For those who do not want to support the Elon Musk money mountain, I’ll publish a round-up here on 23 December by which time there will be just one song to go. At least, that’s the plan.