FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: WHERE DO I START?
I often like to begin this column with a little putting the world to rights in the time-honoured tradition of grumpy old persons but when everything around you just seems so totally depressing it is hard to know quite where to start. For a while now, at least I have been consistent in describing the energy market as broken. The process by which tariffs are set is quite mad and while much of the media’s focus may rightly have been on household budgets, it is only now that the impact on businesses, especially the SMEs that are the bedrock of our economy, is coming to light.
There is no price cap for businesses so suppliers can charge what they want. Somehow, they seem to think we can simply pay the new bills, irrespective of what percentage energy costs are of overheads. Meanwhile we have a government, if you can call it that, in absentia while awaiting the results of an arcane beauty contest. Shops, pubs, cafes, music venues will close faced with five-fold increases in gas prices and maybe half that for electricity. Something will be done or the museums and libraries we are told to frequent to stay warm in the winter will only open on a Thursday when there’s a full moon.
If you want to read a really informed article about energy prices, I wholly recommend this piece by the admirable people of Carbon Brief. Meanwhile let’s turn to music while there is still a little left on the meter.
Photo of Lissy Taylor by Tom Oxley
I first came across Stoke-on-Trent singer-songwriter Lissy Taylor via her 2020 debut EP, Wildflowers which struck me as a pretty mature piece of work from a young emerging artiste. She followed that a year later with another 4-track collection, Undercurrent, and this year has focused on single releases. The latest in the series entitled “Healer” is out today. There is a strong Americana influence running through Lissy’s music that no doubt stems from her sojourn in Kentucky and travels around America where she moved with her parents in 2015 before returning to Manchester two years later to study at BIMM and gain a first in Songwriting in 2020. She cut some early teeth playing in music bars across different states and picked out New York’s Rockwood Music Hall as her favourite venue.
I hear echoes of Stevie Nicks in “Healer” in both Lissy’s tone and the way she balances vulnerability with a stridency in her voice. Lyrically it’s a paean to giving all you can possibly give; a direct call to steadfast devotion, in her own words, “inspired by people who go above and beyond to help others, rooted in selflessness and unconditional love.” The raw edge to her vocal amplifies this sense of passionate commitment while the guitar, bass and drums accompaniment gives the song an anthemic ring. Lissy has an ambition to play all the main UK festival stages; a tough task but one I feel she might just pull off in time.
A new song from Southend-on-Sea’s, The Trusted, is always welcomed here. I have commented before on the band’s obvious camaraderie built up since secondary schooldays and its strong musicianship; a combination of which puts me in mind particularly of acts like Doves and Kodaline. The four-piece is steadily piecing together a strong repertoire of original songs which will make a great debut album in time. Much of The Trusted’s writing centres around the pressures of modern life and its latest offering, “Arkansas”, describes a sense of being left behind by society and a desire to escape it all.
“Arkansas” has a spacious, cinematic opening befitting much of the landscape of its titular location. The measured spectral guitar, restrained strings and piano provide a sympathetic base for vocalist Tom Cunningham’s soft reflections before the rhythm section kicks in to add further momentum. Tension is then released in the euphoric explosion of guitar and synth as the song takes an unexpected turn towards the end. The closing come-down and final line of ‘I’m so lost’ add a note of ambivalence. As the band’s main songwriter, Tom has no particular connection to the US state. Inspired by seeing some ‘beautiful peaceful shots of Arkansas’, the location is more a metaphor for a change of scene and a fresh start. That’s something we may all wish for from time to time.
Photo of Johanna Warren by Philip Randall
This next song popped up as a YouTube recommendation and for once the algorithm got it right. Lead single, “I'd Be Orange”, from the forthcoming sixth studio album, Lessons for Mutants, from Florida native Johanna Warren was released in July while the full album will be out on 7 October. A multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and actor, she has spent a prolific decade or so releasing music and touring until the pandemic hit and she unexpectedly found herself quarantining in rural Wales, where she recorded most of the album and has subsequently made her home.
The great undoctored, live feel to “I'd Be Orange” is a reminder that the whole album was tracked live with a band to two-inch tape. “Tape forces you to commit to a performance, eccentricities and all. The little glitches and anomalies that we’re tempted to ‘correct’ are often what make a thing magical” Johanna explained. There’s more than a bit of Welsh magic to one of the most watchable videos I’ve seen in a while too; there may be diner accoutrements and dollars in the video but that’s definitely a Welsh accent from the boss at the start. Lyrically the song has much to say about the relationship between aspiration and fame, and the conflicts both bring.
As a bonus track here is “Piscean Lover”, another song from Lessons for Mutants which continues these kinds of reflections, this time couched in a grungier soundtrack and illustrated by a highly unseasonal though strangely topical (winter is coming, Mr Gasman) video. After a series of live dates in the US, Johanna heads back here for a slew of UK shows which includes appearances at the Pitchfork Music Festival in London on 11 November. Well worth checking your diary now.
I first encountered Devonian trio Tors when they entered a great song called “Empty Hands” in Glastonbury Emerging Talent 2020. I chose it as one of the three I was able to put through to the longlist and while the band progressed no further in the competition, its music made a big impression on me. Tors comprises Jack Bowden and brothers Matt and Theo Weedon. If the siblings’ surname sounds familiar, it is because their grandad was the legendary guitar player, Bert, famous for his ubiquitous guitar manual, Play in a Day, which set many stars of the sixties on their road to fame. Nothing to do with the famous Glastonbury Tor, the band takes its name from the granite outcrops on Dartmoor where the brothers used to climb in their youth.
Back in early 2020, I’d hoped the guys would go on to bigger and better things but then along came a pandemic. It was good therefore to get reconnected to Tors through a couple of singles released this summer. The first of these, “Garden on the Kitchen Floor” is unashamedly romantic and brimful of reminiscences, taking its cue from the evaluations many will have gone through during Covid lockdowns. The song has all the hallmarks of the Tors repertoire with a strong lead vocal, rich harmonies and an embracing melody. The accompanying live video showcases a nicely stripped-back arrangement which highlights all these features.
The latest single, “Lonely”, continues this nostalgic vibe chewing over early friendships that seemed like everything then yet equally accepting that while some things change over time there is always the possibility to reconnect. The chorus has a distinct boy-band feel about it (in a good way) and the song is a further indicator that Tors could sound as much at home in a stadium as in a pub room.
We close this week with another act who should be familiar to Fifty3 Fridays readers and to whom I owe a big thank you also for all their support for my writings and enthusiastic tweets. That in itself is not a good reason for writing about them myself. I just happen to love the band’s music. I am talking about East Midlands mavericks, The Happy Somethings, who blessed us last month with compilation album of twenty tracks, mixing familiar back catalogue with some brand new songs. The limited edition CD may be sold out but you can still name your price on Bandcamp to nab a digital copy of the excellently titled Running Away with The Happy Somethings.
Never wishing to stand still, the trio has now dropped a new single, “The Present”, a quite brilliant sub-2 minutes of the acerbic, the ironic and the darkly humorous. Perfect for your jingle-jangle mornings, afternoons and evenings!