FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: WORTHY WINNERS
A full house greeted the nine acts who gathered at Pilton Working Men’s Club on Saturday evening for the Glastonbury Emerging Talent 2023 Final to joust for a prestigious spot on one of the festival’s main stages, plus some inviting PRS-sponsored cash prizes. This year’s eight finalists were joined by Irish singer-songwriter Ezra Williams who had to withdraw from last year’s final due to illness. In common with previous years, it was an evening of disparate musical styles on which each contender set out to place its own distinctive live stamp.
The air in the room hung heavy with expectation and not least with warmth. Oddly, considering gas prices these days, the heat seemed to be on in more sense than one. As the nine acts performed two songs each in turn, it was clear that this year’s weighty final judging panel (15 of them, no less) including hosts Michael and Emily Eavis, Glastonbury stage bookers and music business professionals, had a task on its hands to make any kind of value judgement. Now, this is not the kind of night where the results are drawn out laboriously in classic Dermot O’Leary style. Indeed, when it came to announcing the winners, Emily Eavis appeared with the nonchalance that her father always used to display when revealing the outcome in years past.
Having garnered arguably the best crowd response of the evening, it was no surprise that West African artiste N’Famady Kouyaté triumphed, securing the winner’s berth: a main stage spot at Glastonbury 2023 along with a £5,000 Talent Development prize from the PRS Foundation. The two runners-up places went to imaginative indie rockers Prima Queen and Glasgow’s techno punks, VLURE. Both acts, crowd favourites tonight too, received a £2,500 Talent Development prize from the PRS Foundation. After announcing the winners, Emily Eavis went on to make every finalist’s night when she revealed that all tonight’s acts would be given spots at this year’s Festival.
Hailing from Guinea-Conakry in West Africa but now based in Cardiff, N’Famady Kouyaté brings a liberal melting pot of influences to his music – pop, indie, jazz, the traditional sounds and rhythms of his homeland and a chunk of his adopted country too, not least in bedding in some Welsh language lyrics too. There is a deep joy in N’Famady’s musical expression that overcomes any semantic barriers. Leading with the balafon, a traditional wooden xylophone, gives his music a colour and distinction all its own. “Balafô Douma”, the title of his winning song entry, simply means it’s great to play balafon and comes from N’Famady’s 2021 debut EP, Aros I Fi Yna. Appearing tonight with a terrific five-piece backing band, you could quickly imagine those sunny vocals, complex rhythms, bass grooves and old school keyboards wowing a summer festival stage.
Runners-up Prima Queen and VLURE equally created a buzz in the room when it came to their turns. Here’s the one that Prima Queen opened with tonight, “Chew My Cheeks”; a deceptively loping groove that gains atmosphere and momentum as it travels, serving as a perfect platform for the band to close with its tour-de-force of a main entry song, “Eclipse”.
Glasgow’s VLURE made a huge impression on large sections of the gathered throng with a full-on performance, orchestrated by bouncing, shirtless frontman Hamish Hutcheson. The band throws a lot at the wall, much of which sticks, and deserved its top 3 ranking simply on the crowd’s response. VLURE dialled the theatrics up to eleven for its opener “Cut It” and its showcase entry song “Shattered Faith”.
There was plenty more to enjoy from the remaining six finalists who I am sure each won friends with their performances highlighting diverse styles. On the night, I especially warmed to Naomi Kimpenu who was joined by an exquisite string quartet to support her sonorous piano and deeply resonant voice on her stunning entry song, “Only”. Her second song “Who I Am” was beautifully stripped back, something that made its compelling chorus sound even stronger.
Appearing tonight with guitar, bass and drums support, Hastings singer-songwriter, Cordelia Gartside had the tough job of opening the evening but stepped up to the plate admirably. Her entry song “Stranger in the Water” worked especially well with its spacey intro and outro driven by ultra-delayed guitar which had many scratching heads and looking in vain for extraneous electronics. Her voice was haunting and delicate, yet fully capable of intense rises. Here it is, although this time in fully pared down mode, which equally underlines the strength of her songwriting.
The line-up was completed by Cork-based singer-songwriter Ezra Williams, young Brighton pop singer EVA, Irish indie rockers The Love Buzz and Northampton’s full-on grime artiste, FFSYTHO. They each found their audience tonight and added much to the diversity of talent on display. The evening was a reminder that this was but a snapshot of the new music talent across the UK and Ireland. Glastonbury’s annual Emerging Talent Competition though continues to foster some of the best new music you’ll hear and underlines Glastonbury’s pole position as the festival they all want to play. Rock ‘n roll on June!
Glastonbury Festival takes place from 21 – 25 June 2023
Glastonbury ETC Final photography by Rick Mav