Thursday, 21 May 2020

Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition 2020: Eight Personal Favourites

Despite the cancellation of what would have been their 50th anniversary celebrations, Glastonbury Festival are still, laudably, going forward with their annual Emerging Talent Competition and have publicised the full longlist of 90 artists. The shortlist of 8 is set to be announced this week. [edit: has now been announced]

Many years ago I was part of the team that listened to thousands of submissions to Glastonbury's 'ETC', helping to select many new and independent acts who went on to play a range of venues including the biggest stages at the festival. It resulted in the first appearances at the festival for award-winning artists like Emily Barker and massively popular bands who went on to garner main stage bookings at other major festivals like The Subways and Scouting for Girls. It's also how I came to work with The Hysterical Injury, Annie having been the one-time drummer for one of my favourite bands ever, discovered through the contest, Venus Bogardus.

I no longer have anything to do with the festival or the competition, but I'm always interested to see and hear what comes through, and this year, as in 2013, I've listened through to the longlist and picked out eight highlights of my own. Is there any reason anyone should pay any attention whatsoever to my idle musings? The bad news for the artists named here is that to date (other than when I was actually on the team), the festival has never chosen any of the the same acts as I have for their shortlist. On the other hand, last time I did pick out Nadine Shah a mere five years ahead of her being robbed of the Mercury Prize.

But the more important reason you should pay attention is, thanks to my impeccable taste they're all worth hearing for their own sake. Here are my eight:



Otis Mensah

Matilda Mann





If you'd like to cast your own judgement, [almost all of] the rest of this year's longlist can be found here - one act listed on the official page whom I never managed to find was the un-Googlable 'Charles' - Charles, whoever you are, who knows? You might have been the best of the lot.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Ralfe Band, Piney Gir - Sebright Arms, London, January 29 2020

It's a crisp, dry night as we walk out to Hackney's Sebright Arms, a venue with live music history dating back to at least the 19th Century which turns out to be about 10 minutes from our door. They're having a hard time with the pipes for the Camden Hells, I'm drinking a draught cider anyway*

It's a basement venue - love a basement venue. They invoke fond memories of Bath Moles and St James Wine Vaults for me. We head down the stairs trying not to spill too much drink and wondering how they manage access for people in wheelchairs (they don't). On the way down, a woman behind us is saying, "Piney Gir is playing! I just saw that Piney Gir is playing! I didn't know Piney Gir was playing". And I say, "Yes", because it's just us and her. When we get to the foot of the stairs, there is nobody behind us.

The young woman on the door stamps our hands with a 'no ice-cream' symbol. Then it's just us and Piney Gir and her band in the basement. They are wearing sky-blue jumpsuits. We wait.

Piney Gir takes the stage. It's been trailed as a duo tonight, but it's actually a four-piece - Piney herself with Garo Nahoulakian on guitar and two backing singers. If you're like me, you will have failed to pay due attention until this moment, resulting in a limited and inaccurate impression of who and what Piney Gir is, centred on her Country Roadshow incarnation. It might even have passed you by that Piney is formerly of the The Schla La Las.

Pastiche aside, and this will be no news to anyone who has been paying attention, Piney Gir's sound is some considerable distance away from country, dancing somewhere closer to indie pop with a vocal that at times could be straight out of a 60s doo-wop record (this is directly referenced on stage when they play 'Peanut Butter Malt Shop Heartthrob', a single somehow available at gigs in the form of a jar of peanut butter and apparently written in response to being thought of by one or more commentators as doo-wop anyway). Piney seems to enjoy flirting with people's attempts to pigeonhole her music - they also have a song called Puppy Love.

It's not all marshmallow kisses, though. Ghostly night terrors and vampires make appearances, too. Altogether the show is quirky and charming, although I felt slightly faltering until the closing number, 'Longest Day of Spring', which the band and Piney in particular go at with gusto, absolutely owning the room.

The basement is busy already for Piney's set, but it's packed for Ralfe Band, last seen live in the smoke more than five years ago. It's been some considerable time since they played any gigs anywhere, in fact - Oly Ralfe's solo exploits notwithstanding. It has been worth the wait. 'Open Eye', from second album 'Attic Thieves', is an early high point among high points. Oly refers back to the lyric about fatally wounding his head (clarifying - he didn't - but he might have), then shifts his long frame across the stage to a point directly under a large beam... but happily no blood is spilt tonight. The mood is celebratory from start to finish, as the band move confidently from early favourites like 'Parkbench Blues' and 'Crow' to more recent material including the new single, 'Sweating It Out', and back again. One of the best moments of all comes when Oly brings Piney Gir back onto the stage, armed with maracas for a duet of 'Come on Go Wild'. This raucous upbeat version feels like the way the song was always meant to be, really, and at least a section of the audience is suitably exhorted to Bacchanalian frenzy. The encore features the totemic instrumental March of the Pams, which has the basement denizens of the Sebright Arms chanting 'hey... hey... hey... hey' in unison. In ancient times, while promoting gigs for their first album, Oly sent an email invitation out to fans that finished 'let's get salt in our hair' - this, while I've never heard anyone repeat it (including Oly, and he doesn't remember sending it), has ever since been my favourite expression for 'let's have a good time at a gig'. We got salt in our hair tonight.

*I say 'draught cider', obscurely, because that sounds like it could be the kind of proper scrumpy a good Somerset boy might drink, but it was actually Magners Dark Fruits because the Magners Superbasic was off. My gothly heart pretended I'd ordered a cider and black.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

So it *is* still there...

The last twelve months or so - maybe more - have been a desert, in terms of new music, for me. Incredibly, those conversations with friends about the tragic demise of MySpace, of all things, still come around (another thing to blame Rupert Murdoch for). It got so I was hearing so little music, that almost *any* new song would give me tingles. Incidental music overheard in a shopping centre, maybe. Some poor tune twisted into a po-faced version of itself an advert for an app. Daytime radio, god help me (ok, I admit, I'm making it up, now). Where do young folk - any folk - find their music nowadays? They don't have MySpace! They don't have mix CDs! It's a mystery, at least to a man who's never really gotten along with that Spotify. Where do they find it? Not on my unwritten blog, that's for sure. It's a comfort as a blogger to know that one sure reason no-one might be reading your blog, is that you haven't written it in the first place, anyway.


I know that there is fantastic music coming out all the time, but nobody needs me to tell them about David Bowie or Radiohead or PJ Harvey. So here are some things I heard that I loved, lately, and made me think maybe it's still worth listening out for things after all.

Faith Elliott's 'Insects' is on Song, By Toad records and if you don't think that Pyrite Ammonite is a beautiful poem of a song then you probably shouldn't listen to anything I say ever again:

And Penelope Isles have this out on Art Is Hard records and they are apparently a brother-sister duo, which as we all know can only be a good thing and what we all have to say next is "are there really only two of them, how do they make that sound?!" Actually their Facebook lists four of them in the band, which is definitely cheating as far as that's concerned, but cheating is allowed if you end up with something like this:

Also, Thought Forms are crowdfunding for their 65 Days of Static support slots and you can still pledge for CDs and t-shirts and extraordinary unique things but we are not going to talk about the beautiful beautiful purple vinyl which has sold out because we will both just weep about it if we do. Okay? Okay.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Free download, today only. Excellent Birds' Patti Smith cover, 'Ghost Dance'

Excellent Birds [Annie Gardiner of Hysterical Injury in her solo electro side project] has sprung out of nowhere a free download of her cover of Patti Smith's 'Ghost Dance'. If you want it, you'll need to download it now, because it's going back to streaming-only at some point tonight.

I love the bells and vocals on this cover of one of Annie's heroes' songs. It's a track she's often incorporated into the extended outro of 'Rainbow Thunderclap' at Hysterical Injury live shows, which she and Tom tend to improvise at length.

'Like' Excellent Birds on Facebook

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Nastly Little Lonely - 'Son of the Flies' EP

Nasty Little Lonely were previously known as 'Rock In Your Pocket'. Or, they're a new band with exactly the same members as 'Rock In Your Pocket' had when it was laid to rest - take your pick. It would barely merit mentioning - seeing as, for example, the new band/name has gotten itself twice as many 'likes' you-know-where as the previous had in no time; so they appear to have shrugged off the old skin with some aplomb. But what strikes me is what hasn't changed - 'Little'. 'In your pocket'. Still with the diminutive. This isn't an attempt to reframe the band as a behemoth - it's simply refocusing on the emotive. It's a curious phrase, too, 'Nasty Little Lonely'. After the first two you expect the third word to be some kind of pejorative noun; 'nasty little beggar' or similar. But the rug's pulled out with 'lonely' - it's just another adjective, and a sympathetic adjective at that. What's a 'lonely' look like? And is the nasty little thing just looking for a friend..?

So it confounds expectations, a little. At once cutesy and macabre, NLL's new name (like the old one) has something of the feel of a Nightmare Before Christmas, or any number of customised My Little Ponies, or a lesser Daemon in Warhammer - creatures, on the whole, with big enough eyes to let you get close, but sharp enough teeth to leave a mark if you do.

All of this does rather suit the music. "I took you to my heart / but you ate it!", Charlie Beddoes exclaims in the title track of their debut EP, 'Son of the Flies'. The delivery is between a whisper and a squeal, and she sounds, here, delighted in at least equal measure as she is disgusted by the prospect of having her vital organs devoured.

Beddoes' vocals sound throughout the EP like mischievously imparted confidences - they are the juicy bait that lures you in. The instruments (including her own bass) are then the three-barbed steel hook you're made to wriggle on.

'Lizardbrain' is the standout track, its central riff like a Marshall amp falling down a flight of stairs in a Warner Bros cartoon; and is packed full of those tempting-but-deadly, poison apple images, embedded in internal rhymes - "A rose with a thorn is, just one of those warnings" - the band utterly revel in the squalor of it, evoking memories of Daisy Chainsaw or a roughed-up Garbage - while the remaining tracks, 'Turn the Screw' and 'Jesus Complex', go off and get stoned together to a Nirvana b-side.

Without wanting to overdo the Katie Jane Garside pointers, there is something of that tone to Beddoes' delivery and the flavour of the imagery. With QueenAdreena apparently on indefinite hiatus, their fans could do a lot worse than to look to Nasty Little Lonely for more anti-lullabies. Beyond that, there's a whole world of Emily-the-Stranges and her would-be-boyfriends out there just waiting to stumble on a band like this. 'We're all in the gutter', as the band have said in interviews past, 'but some of us quite like it here'.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Kutiman does Tokyo

If you don't know Kutiman yet, think of him as the ultimate mash-up artist. The Israeli producer caused a storm a few years back with his Thru-You project, which took scores of hitherto unknown musicians' YouTube clips, and (unknown to the musicians themselves until it was released) blended their sounds to produce 7 totally new pieces of music, crediting every one of them along the way. The results are inspiring and at times surprisingly emotional. He used the same technique for My Favorite Color, with similar results.

Since then Kutiman's been going out and finding original sounds from musicians all over given cities - including quite movingly his hometown of Jerusalem - making audio-tapestries that capture something of the spirit of the place and again show off numerous individual musicians to spectacular effect. This week Tokyo got the Kutiman treatment. See also the pieces made in Jerusalem and Krakow, and the ultimate Led Zeppelin cover, below.

Now... how do we get him to come to Bristol...

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Experience an ANTA gig on your own tabletop

Just press play, and then click the image.


You can buy 'Centurionaut' from ANTA's bandcamp.