INTERVIEW: VICTORS

INTERVIEW:

VICTORS

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TAKING us into the weekend...

are VICTORS, who have been discussing their latest track, Big City. I ask about the band’s formation and where they are headed; the music that drives them and how they all got together - I wanted to know whether there is more material coming along later this year.

I was interested to know what the music scene is like in Leeds and whether there are gigs coming; which artist they’d support on the road if they could and if there is much time to chill away from music – the guys each select a song to end the interview with.

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Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?

Hey! We’re doing great, thanks. Our week has been productive - we’ve just come out of the studio.

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourselves, please?

So. We are VICTORS. We’re a Pop/Electronic band from Leeds. In the band, we have Harry Irving (Vocals/Keys/Guitar), Simon Appleson (Guitar/Synth); Dom Brooks (Bass/Synth) and Leon Davies (Drums).

Big City is your new track. Is there a story behind this one?

Big City was literally written in one night in our apartment. I (Harry) wrote about regretting past decisions, staying up all night; sitting in parked cars talking stuff out - just real life, basically.

Is there more material coming later in the year?

Let’s just say....yes. Yes, there is.

How did VICTORS get together? Did you all know each other before starting the band?

Harry first came across Simon using online ads on Gumtree. After meeting up for a drink and having a few rehearsals together, things started happening very quickly and, at the beginning of 2016, ‘VICTORS’ was born. We then found Dom shortly after in the same way, by advertising online. Once we needed a drummer, Dom got in touch with Leon via Facebook and straight-up asked him if he wanted to join - it’s as simple as that!

Do you all share relatively similar musical tastes?

We all have a varied taste in music and I’d say we all appreciate a good song, whatever the genre. Growing up, Harry and Simon listened to artists such as Whitney Houston, Crowded House; Phil Collins and The Beatles. Dom, however, comes from a Metal background: listening to artists such as Black Sabbath and Metallica.

Growing up, Leon was exposed to a wide range of genres from his family so he would listen to Classic Rock (Led Zeppelin) and Jazz (Courtney Pine) which led to him listening to Prog-Rock artists such as Dream Theater, The Mars Volta & Frank Zappa.

What is Leeds like in terms of current music? Do people overlook it a lot do you think?

I’d say Leeds is predominantly based around an Indie/Rock scene - or at least it was during our formative years. Although, as the city grows, the variety of artists emerging range from Electronic, Psychedelic; R&B and Funk - hopefully it’ll continue to grow and thrive. We’ve got our eye on that Leeds arena.

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in mind?

That’s a tough one: there have been so many highlights. Leon’s (drummer) first show with us was in front of 20,000 people in Leeds last December. We’ve also been lucky enough to have been played at NFL games, sparking our American fanbase; I guess our favourite moments are when we see people’s tweets about us or videos of them covering our songs and just showing support and love for what we do. It’s so humbling and mind blowing at the same time.

Which one album means the most to each of you would you say (and why)?

Harry: Frank OceanBlonde

Not because I necessarily love every song on it, but his art of telling a story made me really check myself as a song writer and storyteller - and the fact his voice is just amazing.

Simon: HONNE - Love Me / Love Me Not

The Jazz/Pop/Electronic elements have inspired me to learn to be a better guitarist and it has completely opened my eyes to new ways in approaching songwriting at a much more mature level.

Dom: Paul SimonGraceland

I just love that chiller Surf-Rock vibe.

Leon: John Mayer Trio Live - TRY!

This album features three players who are really the best of the best. As a drummer, listening to Steve Jordan on this album really helped me develop as a player. No flashy fills needed, just straight up groovy ass playing.

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail? Bon Iver is kind of a hero of ours so we’d probably ugly-cry if that opportunity came about. Rider-wise, some gin and ginger ale; a Nespresso coffee machine and an assortment of vegan snacks (three out of four of us are vegan/vegetarian). Oreos are also vegan - so lots of them will do.

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

To be honest, we’re still fairly new as an artist but the best advice we could give from our own experiences would be: be prepared to work your ass off for years, constantly improving and bettering yourself; be prepared to be skint a lot of time and prioritise your art over almost everything else; seriously live and breathe it. Don’t get your hopes up too much about potential amazing-sounding opportunities and promises because it’s a fickle industry.

But, most importantly, love what you do and surround yourself with a team that believes in what you’re doing. If you do that then all these difficulties just become small hurdles that won’t even sway you from your path. That got super-deep at the end there.

Do you have tour dates coming up? Where can we catch you play?

We have a few shows all over the country spread out throughout the year. Our next headline show is in our hometown of Leeds on Friday, 24th May at Hyde Park Book Club. Then, we’ll be playing: Huddersfield Uni Festival on Monday, 27th May; Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen in London (supporting Youth Club) on Wednesday, 19th June EskFest in the Lake District. On Saturday, 6th July Weightless Festival in Wakefield; on Saturday, 3rd August and many more to be announced!

Can you give us a glimpse of what life on the road is like for VICTORS?

We’re usually watching movies and snacking way too much - and laughing way too much at each other’s stupid jokes on the tour bus whilst dealing with sleep deprivation. Can’t complain!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: The Hubbards

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

We’ve played with The Hubbards a few times and we absolutely love them; genuinely lovely guys and they’ve got some absolute bangers. We’ve also been working with PIPPA lately which we’re so excited for. Go check out her stuff!

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IN THIS PHOTO: PIPPA

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

You’ll find us doing two things: sipping a flat white or a long black in a coffee shop somewhere and having a Netflix and chill (the non-sexual kind btw).

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can each choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music – I will do that).

Harry: alt-J - Tesselate

Simon: Shura - BKLYNLDN

Dom: HONNE - Coastal Love

Leon: Tingsek - Let That Go

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INTERVIEW: The Naked Eye

INTERVIEW:

The Naked Eye

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I have enjoyed speaking with The Naked Eye...

about her new E.P., Love’s Grave, and its themes. I ask whether the songwriter has a choice selection from the E.P. and how the music differs from her work with the band, Her Songs – The Naked Eye selects albums important to her.

I ask whether the songwriter gets time to relax away from music and which artists she’d support on the road if she could; if she has a standout memory from her career so far and what it was like working with a range of different artists on her new E.P. – she selects some great tracks to end the interview with.

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Hi, The Naked Eye. How are you? How has your week been?

I’m good, thank you! My week has been busy and fabulous.  

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

I’m a half-French, half-English, singer/songwriter based in London. I’m one-fifth of a female artistic collective called Her Songs. I’ve just released my second solo E.P., Love’s Grave

Love’s Grave is your E.P. What kind of themes and inspirations were in mind before you started work?

Themes of a break up and heartbreak. Musically, I was inspired by a mixture of music/artists I was listening to: Puma Blue, Bruno Major; D’Angelo, Lianne La Havas, Emily King; Tom Misch, my friends from the Her Songs collective and Sipprell’s E.P. I also have been learning the guitar for two-and-a-half years; all the songs are written on guitar and the E.P. is very guitar-heavy.  

Is there a track that stands out for you?

That’s a hard question…

Hmm…depends on my mood. When I’m pissed off, definitely See You Later. When I’m nostalgic, Tell Me. When I’m sad, Drifting Away - and Love’s Grave for the groove! 

I understand you worked with different artists and personnel on the E.P. How important were their contributions in terms of giving the music a different angle/new light?

Conor Albert produced the first four tracks on the E.P. And Marie Dahlstrøm produced See You Later. Their contribution was a big part of the project; they are both so talented and individual in their musicality and it gave the songs a new personality. I worked with Marie on a track from her beautiful E.P., Nine, called Before Then. And then we worked together in L.A. for the Her Songs project.

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We are very close friends and we have a very special musical connection. I really wanted her to be a part of the E.P. and to continue our story through the song, See You Later. I first met and worked with Conor Albert last year and it was such a magical moment from the beginning. I knew it was the sound for the E.P. and I couldn’t wait to finish the songs with him. 

Tell me how you got started in music. Was it something you were always drawn to?

I was drawn to music at a very young age. My first musical memory was sitting in front of my family record player and listening obsessively to my dad’s and sister’s records. I started singing at the age of four and my mum put me in this Saturday performing school that I loved. I was always performing in school plays and concerts. I started songwriting as a teenager but didn’t really start taking it seriously until I went to Arts Ed and then to music college. 

You are part of the band, Her Songs. How important is that experience regarding your own music and are there big differences in terms of songwriting and sound?

The beauty of the Her Songs project is that it’s a collaboration of all our artistry and influences. We are all artists who are making music outside of the project. I think you can hear a mix of all our songwriting and styles in the E.P., Los Angeles. If you listen to each artist individually you can hear their personality from the project, which I love! And I think that’s why it’s such a genuine project. I learnt a lot during the experience of creating the E.P. that week. Writing and producing a song a day was incredibly exciting and creatively demanding.

I have always been quite a perfectionist in my work and hadn’t released any new music of my own due to it. The importance of the experience of Her Songs taught me to be more present and embrace the imperfections as you are catching a feeling in the moment. 

Do you have a standout memory from your time in music so far?

Her Songs was definitely the highlight of last year. This year so far, it’s probably when I got the masters back of the Love’s Grave E.P. and heard the whole E.P. in its entirety. Felt very proud. 

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Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?

That’s a very difficult question as there’s so many. 

Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

I listened to that album on-repeat throughout my childhood and, every time I listen again, I find gems. 

Joni MitchellBlue

I discovered this album at music college and it genuinely changed the way I write and craft melodies and lyrics. So masterful and colourful. Genius.  

D’AngeloVoodoo

Everything about this album. 

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

Hmm…there’s so many again! Nai Palm, Emily King; Alicia Keys, Lianne La Havas; Puma Blue, Bruno Major - and my rider would be green tea (smiles).

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What are your plans regarding gigs/touring?

We are organising a show this summer with Her Songs. T.B.C. 

Is there any advice you’d give to upcoming artists?

Self-initiation. Try to learn as much as you can on your own and continue to develop and range your skill sets. Collaborate. Remember why you fell in love with music and your instrument. Keep that passion and curiosity brewing. Don’t compare yourself to anyone. Everyone is on their own path, journey and lesson. Learn from the greats; transcribe and listen. Surround yourself with positive, creative and driven individuals who inspire.

IN THIS PHOTO: Puma Blue

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

Conor Albert! He’s making his debut E.P. and I’ve had a sneak preview - it’s mind-blowing! Puma Blue. SIPPRELL. All the artists within Her Songs (Marie Dahlstrøm, Emily Browning; Dani Marcia and Maddie Jay).

 IN THIS PHOTO: SIPPRELL

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

Not that much at the moment to be honest! I unwind by either reading before bed, watching a series or film (loving Chef’s Table at the moment on Netflix). I love cooking and WINE over conversations with friends. 

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Sipprell - From Afar 

Puma Blue - Want Me 

(Both songs speak to me deeply at the moment).

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FEATURE: Urban Parks, Morning Stories and a Different Class of Hardcore: Britpop’s Best Ten Albums

FEATURE:

 

 

Urban Parks, Morning Stories and a Different Class of Hardcore

IN THIS PHOTO: Oasis (circa 1995)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

Britpop’s Best Ten Albums

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I would not normally...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Supergrass (circa 1995)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

do a feature of the best Britpop albums but, because one of its leaders, Parklife, is twenty-five on Thursday, I felt it was only right to have a look at this time in British music (between 1993 and 1998). Some people dismiss Britpop and see it as a fad or a bit overrated. It was a time when celebratory and uplifting albums mixed alongside some a bit darker and bristling. Not only was there a lot of bombast and anthemic bliss but there were these great bands hitting their peak and exploring new ground. It is a shame we do not have the same kind of movement as Britpop now because, with the tension we live around, it would give us something to cheer about. To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Blur’s third album, I have been looking at the other albums released around this time (some a year or two earlier, a few a bit later) and deciding which were genius and which were merely promising. Say what you like about Britpop but, as these ten albums prove (and whether you class them as purely Britpop), there was a lot of brilliance sparking around during this epic time. Have a look at the albums listed and I know some will have their own views as to some big releases missing. Not only has compiling a top-ten allowed me to reinvestigate a wonderful time for British music but, digging deep into the albums themselves, I have discovered new light and brilliance I missed…

IN THIS PHOTO: Blur (circa 1997)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

THE first time around.

ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images/Spotify

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BlurParklife

Release Date: 25th April, 1994

Labels: Food/SBK

Producers: Stephen Street/Stephen Hague/John Smith/Blur

Standout Tracks: Girls & Boys/End of a Century/Parklife/To the End

Key Cut: This Is a Low

Review:

The legions of jangly, melodic bands that followed in the wake of Parklife revealed how much more complex Blur's vision was. Not only was their music precisely detailed -- sound effects and brilliant guitar lines pop up all over the record -- but the melodies elegantly interweaved with the chords, as in the graceful, heartbreaking "Badhead." Surprisingly, Albarn, for all of his cold, dispassionate wit, demonstrates compassion that gives these songs three dimensions, as on the pathos-laden "End of a Century," the melancholy Walker Brothers tribute "To the End," and the swirling, epic closer, "This Is a Low." For all of its celebration of tradition, Parklife is a thoroughly modern record in that it bends genres and is self-referential (the mod anthem of the title track is voiced by none other than Phil Daniels, the star of Quadrophenia). And, by tying the past and the present together, Blur articulated the mid-'90s Zeitgeist and produced an epoch-defining record” – AllMusic

The VerveUrban Hymns

Release Date: 29th September, 1997

Label: Hut

Producers: The Verve/Chris Potter/Youth

Standout Tracks: Sonnet/The Drugs Don’t Work/Lucky Man/Velvet Morning

Key Cut: Bitter Sweet Symphony

Review:

For all the inter- and intra-band drama that fueled its creation, Urban Hymns ultimately centered around a very basic, universal theme: live for the moment and give it all you got, because we’ve only got one shot at this thing called life. It’s a sentiment that would seem terribly cornball and clichéd—if the Verve’s subsequent history didn’t so thoroughly reinforce its veracity. Less than a month after their Haigh Hall coronation, a disgruntled McCabe left the band once again, prior to a North American summer arena tour. What should’ve been a victory lap instead became a funeral procession, with Ashcroft and co. dutifully going through the motions alongside a session-player replacement before calling it a day once again. Of course, as the lyrics to “Bitter Sweet Symphony” attested, the Verve had at that point become well accustomed to life’s cruel twists and unforgiving ironies” – Pitchfork

PulpDifferent Class

Release Date: 30th October, 1995

Label: Island

Producer: Chris Thomas

Standout Tracks: Mis-Shapes/Disco 2000/Something Changed/Sorted for E’s & Whizz

Key Cut: Common People

Review:

Obviously, there are much more unpleasant depths to the songs on 'Different Class' than the mere audacity of mentioning drugs in a title. Indeed, the attitude to narcotics throughout is curiously moralistic: from the monumental come-downs of 'Sorted For E's and Wizz'; via the vacuous club-bunnies who populate 'Monday Morning' (Pulp do ska! And get away with it, more or less); through to the "broken people" clustering in 'Bar Italia' at dawn, when, "You can't go to bed because it hasn't worn off yet."

No. Cocker's sins against the tabloid-trusting masses are much more pernicious than calculated drug scares. The roles he takes for much of 'Different Class' exploit the fears of the generations-that-never-inhaled in a far more real and frightening way. He is the voyeur who dreams of being caught, the swinger who's "kissed your mother twice and now I'm working on your dad," and, worst of all, the adulterer” – NME

Oasis(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

Release Date: 2nd October, 1995

Label: Creation

Producers: Owen Morris/Noel Gallagher

Standout Tracks: Roll with It/Wonderwall/Some Might Say/Morning Glory

Key Cut: Don’t Look Back in Anger

Review:

Likewise, as musicians, Oasis are hardly innovators, yet they have a majestic grandeur in their sound that makes ballads like "Wonderwall" or rockers like "Some Might Say" positively transcendent. Alan White does add authority to the rhythm section, but the most noticeable change is in Liam Gallagher. His voice sneered throughout Definitely Maybe, but on Morning Glory his singing has become more textured and skillful. He gives the lyric in the raging title track a hint of regret, is sympathetic on "Wonderwall," defiant on "Some Might Say," and humorous on "She's Electric," a bawdy rewrite of "Digsy's Diner." It might not have the immediate impact of Definitely Maybe, but Morning Glory is just as exciting and compulsively listenable” – AllMusic

ElasticaElastica

Release Date: 13th March, 1995

Labels: Deceptive (U.K.)/Geffen (U.S.)

Producers: Mark Waterman/Elastica

Standout Tracks: Line Up/Car Song/Waking Up/Stutter

Key Cut: Connection

Review:

The pithy songs on Elastica, with their searing lyrics about sex, groupies, and ennui, capture the whirlwind of the early-’90s Britpop explosion. Instead of worshiping the Beatlesthe Kinks, and Bowie, Elastica blended the jagged guitars of WireBuzzcocks, and other English punks with the pop hooks of American new wave acts like Blondie and Talking Heads. The band didn’t have a full-time keyboard player until Dave Bush joined the lineup in 1996, but Albarn (credited as Dan Abnormal) punched up some of the melodies on their debut with scratchy synth lines” – Pitchfork

RadioheadThe Bends

Release Date: 13th March, 1995

Labels: Parlophone/Capitol

Producer: John Leckie

Standout Tracks: The Bends/Fake Plastic Trees/Just/My Iron Lung

Key Cut: Street Spirit (Fade Out)

Review:

The album proved to be a success and even though no single became as popular as “Creep”, five of the singles did chart and more importantly, the album garnered the high critical acclaim missing from Pablo. This surprise reception is due in part to The Bends distinct sonic delivery, it drifts through its 12 tracks in extended deep space and while the songs are accessible and catchy they are elevated by their density, featuring a distinct Wall of Sound production. Songs like "Planet Telex," "High and Dry" and "Black Star" stand high above their precursors on Pablo, both for their scope and their high altitude themes.

The only apparent drawback is a few of the tracks do suffer some residual grunge influence, in very minor details throughout the album. Although this can somewhat date tracks like "The Bends" and "Black Star," they help to bind the album to its predecessor and to a movement that may not be contemporary but certainly isn’t bad. The Bends is a triumphant release, an album that began one of the best track records in Rock music” – SoundKite

SuedeSuede

Release Date: 29th March, 1993

Label: Nude

Producer: Ed Buller

Standout Tracks: So Young/The Drowners/Sleeping Pills/Metal Mickey

Key Cut: Animal Nitrate

Review:

Suede hit hard and fast with a trio of tremendous singles (The Drowners, Metal MickeyAnimal Nitrate), then dealt the coup de grace with their debut album, a record ripe with the promise of forbidden fruit and filled with songs of transgressive acts and confused teenage sexuality, including So YoungSleeping Pills and The Next Life. It won the Mercury Music Prize in 1993, and Suede were credited with kickstarting Britpop” – The Irish Times

Pulp This Is Hardcore

Release Date: 30th March, 1998

Label: Island

Producer: Chris Thomas

Standout Tracks: Party Hard/This Is Hardcore/A Little Soul/I’m a Man

Key Cut: Help the Aged

Review:

“Different Class” was a debauched update of vintage new wave styles. “This Is Hardcore” is more expansive and more stylish than its predecessor, integrating sweeping string sections and over-the-top, big-rock production touches. “Help the Aged,” Cocker’s ode to lessons gleaned from the elderly, deftly leaps from an after-hours fragility to arena roar. In “Dishes,” Cocker attempts to comfort his mate after a hard days’ work. “I’d like to make this water wine, but it’s impossible/I’ve got to get these dishes dry,” he sings, voice on the verge of cracking, as the music surges into sublime cabaret-pop beauty” – Entertainment Weekly

Supergrass I Should Coco

Release Date: 15th May, 1995

Labels: Parlophone (U.K.)/Capitol (U.S.)

Producer: Sam Williams

Standout Tracks: Caught by the Fuzz/Mansize Rooster/Lose It/Lenny

Key Cut: Alright

Review:

The way the grinning choruses of 'Lose It' and 'She's So Loose' scramble out of the punky rush, the way 'Mansize Rooster' plays tag with Madness and Bowie, the way 'We're Not Supposed To' comes strumming at us at - literally - 78rpm in a weird helium homage to Syd Barrett are all the hallmarks of a band totally in love with music. And the way in which their influences aren't just cobbled together but assimilated and made their own, suggests that listening to 'Revolver' or 'Hunky Dory' or 'Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' played as much a part in building their formative characters as that first shag or that first fag.

In that sense, 'I Should Coco' is a beautifully honest album of, and about, its time. This is their generation - wide (sometimes wild)-eyed, determined not to let anybody else's bastard moral standards grind them down. They look at the adult world - the one that their talent is about to take to the cleaners - and they giggle” – NME

Blur Blur

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Release Date: 10th February, 1997

Label: Food

Producers: Stephen Street/Blur

Standout Tracks: Song 2/On Your Own/Death of a Party/Look Inside America

Key Cut: Beetlebum

Review:

What makes it exceptional is how hard the band tries to reinvent itself within its own framework, and the level of which it succeeds."Beetlebum" runs through the White Album in the space of five minutes; "M.O.R." reinterprets Berlin-era Bowie; "You're So Great," despite the corny title, is affecting lo-fi from Graham Coxon; "Country Sad Ballad Man" is bizarrely affecting, strangled lo-fi psychedelia; "Death of a Party" is an affecting resignation; "On Your Own" is an incredible slice of singalong pop spiked with winding, fluid guitar and synth eruptions; while "Look Inside America" cleverly subverts the traditional Blur song, complete with strings.

And "Essex Dogs" is a six-minute slab of free verse and rattling guitar noise. Blur might be self-consciously eclectic, but Blur are at their best when they are trying to live up to their own pretensions, because of Damon Albarn's exceptional sense of songcraft and the band's knack for detailed arrangements that flesh out the songs to their fullest. There might be dark overtones to the record, but the band sounds positively joyous, not only in making noise but wreaking havoc with the expectations of its audience and critics” – AllMusic

INTERVIEW: Watercolours

INTERVIEW:

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Watercolours

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MY first interview of the week is with Watercolours...

as they have been telling me about their cover of Tove Lo’s track, Habits. I ask what compelled them to cover it and whether they have more material coming up; how they found one another and what sort of music inspires them – they share their favourite career memory so far.

I wanted to know whether they share musical tastes and which rising artists are worth a shout; if they have time to unwind away from music and which artist they’d support on tour if they could choose anyone – they choose some great songs to end the interview with.

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Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?

We’re all really good, thanks - it’s been busy but great!

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourselves, please?

We are a three-piece band called Watercolours from Bristol. We make Indie/Alternative music with synthesisers and plants.

You have covered Tove Lo’s Habits. What was the reason behind that?

Well. We loved the song anyway, as a Pop tune, so decided to put it into our live set (cause everybody loves hearing songs they know at a gig). Over time, we developed it until we liked it so much we wanted to release it as a record!

Not many bands tackle covers these days. Do you think there is a lot of potential regarding relatively untouched/underrated songs?

It seems like it’s definitely a useful tool for new bands to reach a larger audience. There should definitely be a careful balance, as an original artist, when it comes to covers but it can be a very positive thing for bands at our level.

How did Watercolours get together? What bonded you all?

Conal and I (Matt) met through starting another band together whilst we were at uni. We wanted a keyboard player in the band and, knowing Hamish (who we were already friend with from our course) wanted to join a band, it developed from there really. We ended up starting Watercolours as a new project - the music we were coming up with sounded completely different and much more mature; it only felt right that we should give ourselves a fresh start.

Is there more material coming later in the year?

Yes. We have our best music yet to come throughout the year.

Do you all share relatively similar musical tastes?

Fundamentally, yes. We all have our own taste but it overlaps in areas. All our preferences get brought to the table when we write music so every layer and part is formed from what we like as individuals.

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

Collectively, our favourite memory as a band is when we supported Marillion at their sold-out Colston Hall show. It’s been the biggest stage we’ve played on to date; it was definitely nerve-wracking but a really exciting moment for us. We’ve been invited back, to support them for their show at De Montfort Hall, Leicester.

Which one album means the most to each of you would you say (and why)?

Conal: The album that means most to me is probably (Pink Floyd’s) The Dark Side of the Moon...it’s the first time I appreciated an ‘album’ rather than a collection of songs!

Matt: Mine is a more recent release: Freudian by Daniel Caesar - it’s one of those albums for me where I enjoy every track. Every time I listen to it, it makes me feel fragile emotionally, yet in complete awe of his songwriting.

Hamish: Like Matt’s, mine is also fairly recent: 22, A Million by Bon Iver. I remember the first time hearing the album and it blew me away. Certain tracks on the record also have significant memories attached to them from a really emotional time in my life.

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

We would definitely support Tame Impala and would all have an Honest Burger on our rider (the best burger in the world). Onion rings to share..

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

Networking is key. Every opportunity we’ve ever had has come from speaking to people. Being friendly and sociable is the most important thing!

Do you have tour dates coming up? Where can we catch you play?

We’re currently out on tour at the moment. Our next show is in London at The Finsbury on 26th April, the day before the Marillion show at De Montfort Hall.

How important is it for you all to be on the stage and connecting with the fans?

It’s massively important to connect on stage. Playing live is the only real way to interact properly! Social media is all very well but you can’t beat playing a gig.

 IN THIS PHOTO: James Hymphrys/PHOTO CREDIT: Dominika Scheibinger

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

The Bristol music scene at the moment is full of new exciting acts; James Humphrys, Harvey Causon; Jack Louis Cooper and Joe Probert just to name a few. Also, the Cheltenham scene has some cool upcoming artists: Polary, Andy Oliveri and The Mountaineers and TREE.HAUS are all worth a listen!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Jack Louis Cooper/PHOTO CREDIT: Rebecca Rees

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

For us, making music is kind of our way of unwinding! We all work jobs to pay rent etc., so playing music is definitely a bit of a relief from all that.

Finally, and for being good sports; you can each choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Conal: James Blake (ft. Travis Scott and Metro Boomin) - Mile High

Matt: RVRB - NEED YOU STILL

Hamish: KMBWho

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Follow Watercolours

FEATURE: Reaching Out: How Long Before Kate Bush Is Made a Dame?

FEATURE:

 

 

Reaching Out

ALL PHOTOS: John Carder Bush 

How Long Before Kate Bush Is Made a Dame?

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BECAUSE this is a bit of a quiet spell...

regarding Kate Bush, it allows me a chance to reflect and think. I say ‘quiet spell’ but, by that, I mean there is no news regarding re-releases and anything coming from her. Now and then, Bush will be mentioned in the news and you get the odd bit here and there. She has been in the music industry for over four decades and achieved so much. Look at what Kate Bush has accomplished since she broke through with Wuthering Heights in 1978 and one wonders whether there is one thing missing. I know damehoods are not given out lightly but, look around there are people out there who have accomplished less than Kate Bush and have one. I am not necessarily pointing the finger at sports personalities or actors but, yeah, you stack up what they have done and compare that to someone like Kate Bush. Back in 2013, Bush got close to being made a dame when she received a CBE. Pitchfork reported the news:

Most fans would agree that Kate Bush is a national treasure, but now it's on the books. Earlier today, the 54-year-old songwriter received a CBE-- Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire-- from none other than the Queen of England herself. The CBE is a high honor: In the Order of the British Empire, it's only one rung down from knighthood-- which feels like a near miss, since "Dame Kate Bush" has a certain ring to it.

Bush doesn't make a lot of public appearances these days, but she made an exception to accept the medal at today's Windsor Castle ceremony. (NME has some amazing photos of her getting the medal from the Queen.)

"I feel incredibly thrilled to receive this honour which I share with my family, friends and fellow musicians and everybody who has been such an important part of it all," Bush said in a statement. "Now I've got something special to put on top of the Christmas tree".

There is, as they say, a pretty nice ring to having Dame Kate Bush in our midst. To be fair, Ringo Starr has only recently been made a sir and that took since the 1960s to make that happen! Even though Bush has been in music since the 1970s, one can argue there are other musicians that deserve knighthood and damehoods. Think about the fact David Bowie never got a knighthood and the fact that, posthumously, he thoroughly deserves one. When it comes to musical dames, there are not that many around! There is an argument for other artists being honoured but, when you think of Kate Bush, she has already achieved so much. She scored the first self-written number-one by a British female artist when Wuthering Heights arrived; Never for Ever, her third album in 1980, was the first time an album by a British female went to the top spot.

Think about the continued popularity of her work and how it has influenced others. Not only did her Tour of Life stage-show inspire countless artists but her music, through the decades, has dramatically changed music. There is, still, nobody like her in music and that will remain the case forever. I am not sure what her current plans are but, over the past year or so, she has re-released her back catalogue and brought out a book of lyrics. Back in 2014, she performed her Before the Dawn residency in Hammersmith and marked a welcome return to the stage after thirty-five years. Not only is Bush’s music staggering but the visual side is intoxicating and compelling. Her videos, from the very start, have blown minds and stuck in the memory. I recall watching the video for Them Heavy People (from The Kick Inside) and being moved by this strange, seductive and unusual video that was so different to anything around. Bush brought movement and dance into her music and, with it, this unique and special world. In terms of vocals and movement, there are plenty of female artists today that owe a debt to bush – Florence + The Machine springs to mind. Consider the themes tackled right from the start and how it opened worlds for other songwriters. Few before Kate Bush were writing about incest, menstruation and love in the same manner.

There are some (foolish) people who do not ‘get’ her music but, even if that is the case, one cannot deny the power and magic of her work. As her albums moved on, she kept moving in different directions and stepped into fresh territory. Her ten studio albums are all vastly different and wonderful. The Kick Inside and Lionheart, with more high-pitched vocals, had this sensuality and rare beauty. Never for Ever was a step forward in terms of adding rawness to her vocals whereas The Dreaming is this experimental and wild work that took a lot out of Bush. She then followed that with Hounds of Love in 1985 and this, to many, is her best album. It remains one of the finest records of the 1980s and a hugely accomplished work. The Sensual World continued a fine run whereas The Red Shoes, although not as successful as her previous work, is an amazing album. Her more recent works are more mature but no less ambitious and amazing as her earlier stuff. It is not just the material and the words that compel but it is the way Bush has conducted her career. She promoted her work heavily in the early days and, at every opportunity, was the model of professionalism and sweetness. Her last album, 50 Words for Snow, was met with a blizzard of interviews and she was engaged and fascinating in every one. You get a lot of big stars who are not that interesting in interviews or not as nice as they could be.

With Kate Bush, she is very real and honest. She values her private life so you will not see her out at parties or courting the limelight. She also takes her time to produce albums to ensure they are as fine as they can be. You listen to her songs and are sucked into her world. Her pen has always been sharper and more engrossing than any around and one tries to think of another artist with the same reach and imagination. There are artists – like Tori Amos and Björk – who have been guided by Bush and you can trace back to her. Modern music is not exactly wild and daring so we still listen to Kate Bush’s work to get that spark and passion. Since 1978, this wonderful artist has provided the world with so much incredible music and influenced scores of others. I feel that, whilst some of her peers have been made dames, Bush has been denied. It is great she is a CBE but surely an upgrade must be coming. The sheer coolness of seeing Dame Kate Bush put out music is amazing and she definitely deserves the honour! I am not sure how much say The Queen has regarding honours and who makes the call but one feels like Bush’s incredible background and legacy warrants her being made a dame. Perhaps it is just me but I know there are others who would like to see it happen.

I am not certain what the next couple of years hold for Kate Bush but there is going to be that desire for more material. She was busy last year in a retrospective sense and ensured her words and music were out there in the world. There are few artists around who have produced such an impressive and original body of work so you have to feel that, one day, Kate Bush will be made a dame. Every time I get to write about Kate Bush – whether that is because of an album or something else – I look back at her work and marvel. No two albums are the same and I feel like a generation of songwriters are experiencing Kate Bush for the first time and taking note. I understand CBEs and big honours do not change things or define who someone is but I have seen so many lesser personalities and those who have done less good being knighted or given a dameship. I have just been musing and thinking about the biggest artists around and those who have provided the world with so much. Bush is among the most inspiring and it is great she already has a CBE to her name. It would be great to think that, when the New Year Honours List is announced for next year, Kate Bush will be on it again. For now, we look ahead and hold our breath that there will be some material coming down the line. You can guarantee that, whenever her eleventh album arrives, it will be another…

SENSATIONAL work.

FEATURE: Pressing the Mute Button: Is Music T.V. Truly Dead?

FEATURE:

 

 

Pressing the Mute Button

PHOTO CREDIT: @jcosens/Unsplash 

Is Music T.V. Truly Dead?

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LIKE many other topics that appear on this blog...

 PHOTO CREDIT: @jakobowens1/Unsplash

it is not the first time I have investigated them. I shall not rustle through my notes and history but, more than once, I have talked about music T.V. and the need to keep it burning. The title of this piece might be misdirection: I am actually looking to pitch an idea and get something started but, invariably, one has to look at the state of music T.V. to see why the possibility of such a reality is slender. When MTV launched back in 1981, many people were sceptical whether it would last and whether it would find an audience. Not only did it start to grow but it reached a real peak through the 1980s and 1990s. It was only really when the Internet and sites like YouTube started to become more influential that music T.V. sort of died out. MTV is still a thing but it is known more for its original programming and non-music video-related. I look at terrestrial channels and there is not really any option for those who want to keep the music T.V. idea going. We have the long-standing and popular Later… with Jools Holland but I think that is coming back soon – it has not been on the screens for a fair few weeks now! That show has been going for ages and, through the years, the format has not really changed much; it has not needed to change and has satisfied its audience from the start.

I do wonder whether, at a time when music is expanding wildly, we are relying too much on the Internet and streaming services. It is great that we have YouTube to see music videos on and there are great radio stations that promote music but why do we seem to have ignored music T.V. and traditional shows? Yesterday, when remembering Prince three years after his death, I was watching his great videos and smiling. He was a complete legend and I love the visual aspect of his work. I also spent some time on YouTube checking out classic album shows and videos and discovering some really great stuff. I am listening to a lot of great new artists and there are albums out at the moment which are definitely worth exploring. Consider all of these different things and I have to ask whether it is worth exploring T.V. and putting this all in one place. One can argue we have everything we need out there and the average consumer can do their own research. Do we really need a T.V. show that talks about older albums and new artists? With so much kit and choice at our fingertips, is T.V., in that sense, redundant? I think that there are countless artists coming through right now that warrant exposure and that T.V. platform. Even the biggest artists need to promote their work and, traditionally, T.V. was always the way to do that.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @cfitz/Unsplash

Look at the T.V. options we have now and shows like Sunday Brunch, sadly, are taking the place of traditional music shows. I yearn for a show that has the feel of an Old Grey Whistle Test show – with a basic set and decent music – but incorporates so much more. There would be live performances but it would not solely be from the mainstream. Sure, about half of the show’s performances would be from bigger artists but you’d also have the upcoming and unsigned that would nestle alongside. It would be a bit of a first because you’d have these artists that have not appeared on T.V. with those who have been around for a long time. As venues close and artists have to look elsewhere for places to perform at, T.V. is as important now as it ever was. There is that argument that you will not please everyone and one camp says that music T.V. is pointless whereas another will want something like Top of the Pops. Others might fancy something a bit different but, with some research and compromise, you can actually come up with something that pleases the majority. I do not abide the fact that music T.V. is irrelevant and a thing of the past: we still consume videos online and there is more music now than there ever was. I think the T.V. platform would be invaluable for newer acts and I still love seeing sets from the established.

The fact Jools Holland’s show is so popular is people want to see these artists play and we all love live music. I do feel like a music T.V. show that ended up on the BBC would need to be more than just performances. I do love what Jools Holland has done but having another show that is just performances and interviews would seem a little pointless – even if newer acts were included. The show I envisage – I am not sure of a title yet; it is quite an important consideration! – would be a few hours long and there would be one every couple of weeks. Rather than having something weekly where we just saw a few acts perform, it would be a split between upcoming acts from around the world and the best of the established breed. There would be regular segments such as music news and a classic album each show – where we would see music videos and documentary-style clips regarding that record. Also, I like the idea of having a regular sort of playlist theme where videos would be played but there would be this theme; whether it was one-take videos, classic Hip-Hop or something else. In the studio, we would have a sort of roundtable discussion where guests would chat about a variety of things. Maybe it might mark the death of an iconic artist or sexism in music. It would be this interesting chat where we would get education and chat alongside the music.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @freestocks/Unsplash

There is scope for other features too and I like the idea of transplanting a busy and quality radio show to the screen. The music variety would be there but it would be closer in tone to Jools Holland’s show and what is played on BBC Radio 6 Music. That is not a personal bias but I am keen to step away from the commercial and mass-produced when it comes to guests. Interviews would be important and, each show, a huge guest would be under the spotlight. They would chat but also get to select some of their favourite music too. It would be a packed and wide-ranging show but we would not forget about the live performances and how important that is. There are articles out there, such as this that ask whether T.V. is dead and whether its reach is what it once was. With streaming services and big players like Netflix in the market, there is definitely a home and a chance for a music T.V. show. The reason I became so fascinated by music from a young age was the likes of MTV and being able to see these great videos and artists all the time. I do feel there is something rather sterile, impersonal and detached about the Internet and, whilst we all have endless choice, it is hard to cover all ground. So many approaching artists love the idea of a music T.V. show and it is invaluable experience from them.

I have pitched the idea of a music T.V. show before and, on one occasion, someone said BBC Four were planning something. I have not seen anything come to fruition and I do wonder whether there would be anything as broad and exciting as my idea. I think the Internet and the way we consume music now is removing some of the joy and sense of community and, if we had a great music show on the box, there would be plenty of people interested. I understand those who say they used to watch music shows but there is no need now. Many do prefer to listen online and feel that we cannot reclaim the past. I feel there has not really been a viable and interesting option put forward through the years. The fact that Later… with Jools Holland is the only real music show on mainstream T.V. suggests people still want this kind of thing but we could go so much further. It is all very well saying that YouTube covers our needs but how many younger people are discovering classic albums and getting a full education? Of course, there are countless artists out there we all miss out on and it is naïve to say that there is no role for T.V. I would like to see a music T.V. show that had some depth and range but also recounts the glory days of MTV and Top of the Pops. So many people, whether it is nostalgia or something else, love those days and how we all used to watch these shows.

 IMAGE CREDIT: MTV Networks

You felt excited and giddy watching and, whilst we cannot recapture all of that spirit, that is not to say music T.V. is dead. I do think commissioners and broadcasters need to be a bit more open-minded regarding the formats and potential. I understand there is risk and great expense putting a series together but that could be said of any drama or comedy series. Assuming something would fail because there is nothing like it around is not a good argument. A great format can spark the imagination and prove very popular. Others might say that having so many artists play would cost too much and it would be a nightmare but the show would be bi-monthly (twice a month) and not weekly; it would not be a massive budget and, like all great shows, the investment needs to be made. I do not like the fact that the Internet dictates the way we consume music and research and I feel we are all missing out on a world of music. A music T.V. can introduce people to albums they forgot about and new artists that they would not have otherwise of considered. I do like streaming sites and the likes of YouTube but there is a place for T.V. and a show that can bring live music to the masses. So many are unable to get tot gigs or suffer anxiety so this might be the only way to see artists play live.

I am sad MTV has declined and, as TheStreet say in this article, the station has moved away from music:

But nowadays, MTV is just one of many cable-TV and online channels competing for the eyes and ears of young people. Viacom's flagship network is no longer a cutting-edge source for music or entertainment. Viewership, especially among the 20-and-30-year-old Millennials that marketers covet, has been on a steep and steady decline.

"MTV seems to have lost its allure," said Jaleesa Jones, 21, a communication studies major at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C. "TV is less popular now because we have so many other outlets to choose from, like Netflix (NFLX, Hulu and HBO Go."

MTV's audience has been shrinking just as mobile viewing by Millennials has accelerated the move by marketers to spread more of their money on an assortment of Internet-based video channels. In 2013, an average of 542,000 persons ages 18-49 tuned in to MTV during prime-time hours, according to Nielsen. In 2014, that number dropped to 497,000 persons, and so far in 2015, it sits at 361,000 -- a 34% decline rom just two years ago, Nielsen data shows”.

I think we can break against the desire for reality shows and actually bring music back into the fore. It would not be the same as the height of MTV and Top of the Pops but, with some time and patience there can be this revival and new interest. I can understand why networks would be sceptical but talk to people out there and, with the right format, there is definite interest and potential. I would love to see a great music T.V. show that covered the bases and balanced the older with the new. If we can get that to the screen and kicking, it would, I believe, prove to be…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @bahiapictures/Unsplash

MASSIVELY popular.

FEATURE: “Confidence Is a Preference for the Habitual Voyeur of What Is Known As…” Parklife at Twenty-Five: Blur’s Timeless Masterpiece

FEATURE:

 

 

“Confidence Is a Preference for the Habitual Voyeur of What Is Known As…”

ALL IMAGES/PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Press 

Parklife at Twenty-Five: Blur’s Timeless Masterpiece

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THERE are a few anniversaries happening this year...

that make me feel very old indeed! U.S. sitcom Friends turns twenty-five on 22nd September and The Simpsons is thirty on 17th December. I remember watching the pilot of The Simpsons at the age of six and being moved by this very strange and wonderful show. The same sort of emotion came over me when Friends came to the British airwaves and, soon enough, it became a fixture of my life. The fact that both iconic shows get a big celebration in 2019 does make me nostalgic…but there was a distinct period of culture that spawned these great shows and moments! Alongside the great T.V. that was around in the late-1980s and the 1990s, music was really starting to inspire. Music was always inspiring but there was this same period of time when things radically changed. Think of Blur and, for most of us, the first album of theirs that springs to mind is Parklife. I have a lot of affection for their debut, Leisure (1991), and it spawned baggy wonders such as There’s No Other Way and She’s So High. The album is wonderful but many suspected Blur had better in them. By the time Modern Life Is Rubbish arrived in 1993, the band upped their games. The record was more ambitious than the debut and, with songs like For Tomorrow and Sunday Sunday among the pack, more critics were taking them seriously.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Blur in 1994

Modern Life Is Rubbish is Blur’s first masterpiece and found them abandon the cores of their debut and going in with huge ambition. You could tell the band were throwing it all into the mix and had that immense sense of purpose. By the time Parklife arrived a year later, they were making waves and created a bigger, funnier and sexier version of their sophomore release. I cannot think about Blur’s path and triumph without mentioning Britpop and Oasis. Many people might cringe and balk – as many feel Britpop was overrated and a bit nauseating – but I love the battle between these two bands. Oasis made their debut later in 1994 with Definitely Maybe and it began one of the greatest rivalries of modern times – hitting a peak around 1995 and, by 1997, Blur had overtaken Oasis in terms of quality - and they survive to this very day. 1994 was a magical year and, whereas Manchester’s Oasis came in with a bombastic and anthemic tunes to get us together, Blur had their own design and intention. There was so much going on in 1994 – American Grunge was still raging – and there was this feeling of togetherness and making music that hit the heart – it seems so long ago since we had that joy and spirit in music! Blur’s lead, Damon Albarn, started writing prolifically after Modern Life Is Rubbish and you could tell the master was in inspired form.

Blur headed into the studio with the legendary Stephen Street to record their third album. Songs came together quickly and there was a feeling, quite rightly, that something special was happening. Aside from the complexity of This Is a Low, the band had no trouble getting the songs down; there were splits between the label and Blur regarding the quality and potential of Parklife. The career of Blur would mutate and evolve after 1994/1995 and embrace new sounds and directions. Parklife is the epicentre of their cheekiness, coolness and majesty. Across sixteen tracks, Blur run a gamut of emotions and tell these unique and captivating stories. From the anthemic Girls & Boys – Albarn writing about the lack of morals and rampant sex that occurred at spots like Ibiza; a sense of recklessness and abandon – through to the divine, sweeping This Is a Low…Parklife is a masterpiece! I was stunned by the album back in 1994 but I am picking up new elements twenty-five years later. It is utterly wonderful and engrossing from the very first notes to the last.

There is a nice balance between the funny/upbeat and the more mature. Tracy Jacks has that bounce and endless charm whereas End of a Century weirdly prefaced the lure and dominance of technology against romance – Albarn noticing how couples were more interested in watching T.V. endlessly than actually connecting. Parklife, with the epic commentary from actor Phil Daniels, is one of the true standouts. Endlessly quotable and sing-along, it is a song that has been used, parodied and rhapsodised since 1994. Albarn came up with the song, apparently, when living in London and watching joggers and pigeons go by. You can imagine Albarn wandering around parks and being compelled by all the buses, people and scenes going by. Parklife is so relatable now and, as I walk around London, you could soundtrack various streets and interactions with songs from Parklife. It is not exclusively British in its tones and themes but, at a time when this country is divided and cracked, an album like this snapshots a time when we were together and there was greater hope lingering in the breeze!

You listen to the song and picture all these scenes; the everyday and comical alongside one another. It is a classic track and one of many on Parklife. The album’s first half is its finest and exhausting. Bank Holiday, Badhead and The Debt Collector complete a woozy, exhilarating and packed opening half. The first track is about Bank Holidays and the barbeques, neighbours and working-class scenes. It is a thrilling rush and insatiable song that, again, has plenty of wit, evocative imagery and tangible familiarity. Badhead is more sombre and introspective: a tale, seemingly, of cross words and regrets after an argument; the need to correct things but there being this sense of stalemate and confusion. The Debt Collector is an instrumental that swoons and staggers and, after so much rouse and words, it is a nice break and, actually, quite a strong track. There are a couple of tracks on the second half that are not up to the standard of the other cuts. Far Out is Alex James’ (the band’s bassist) look at the stars and the galaxies; a bit too weird and far-out-there to connect and resonate. Clover Over Dover is a little slight whereas Lot 105 is a terrible way to end the album. If it should have been included – there must have been better songs in the vault than this throwaway song?!  - then bury it towards the middle! This Is a Low is a perfect, emotional way to end Parklife…but it is undercut and cheapened by a silly song like Lot 105.

In any case, there are some gems and underrated jewels that continue the pace and take Blur into new territory. Trouble in the Message Centre is often overlooked but it is a great track and one that gets into the head; London Loves has a terrific bounce and catchiness abound; Magic America is glistening and gorgeous. If the opening half had the stellar Girls & Boys, Parklife and End of a Century, the second half has the stunning To the End and This Is a Low. With its gorgeous orchestration and giddy waltz, To the End investigates a bad patch in a relationship and a couple trying to get through things. Parklife is synonymous with the polemic of humour and joy marked against the tender, bombshell moments that one would not expect from such a young band. The depth and range of the material is clear and riding high in the mix if the should-be-swansong, This Is a Low. The song started as an instrumental and there were various attempts at cementing the composition. Albarn was struggling to come up with lyrics and the breakthrough was tricky. Alex James revealed that he bought Albarn a handkerchief with a map of the shipping forecast regions on it. Oddly, this quirky gift compelled the lyrics and gave This Is a Low new dimensions and multiple layers – using meteorology and the weather to describe personal loss and split.

hw.jpg

Aside from embracing the mood of the time and capturing something wonderful in the Blur camp, there is not really a concept running through Parklife. I guess there is a sense of Britishness and, in some ways, interwoven stories that takes us behind bedroom doors and over garden walls. The lyrics jump from these charming little scenes of parties and raves to the rawer edges where relationships are destroyed and lives changed. Blur covered a multitude of lyrics and the range of compositions is dizzying. There is Waltz, Punk and Pop and, when you consider the finest songs on ParklifeThis Is a Low and To the End, for example– they seem to come much more from Damon Albarn’s personal space and situation rather than a general observation of British life. We often associate albums of the time (and Britpop) with a joyfulness and spritz but bands like Blur were producing these emotional and affecting songs that dug much deeper than mere fun and frivolity. This is one of the reasons why Parklife has picked up such a legacy: its balance of moods, emotions and themes. I think the album will continue to grow and amaze people decades from now!

PHOTO CREDIT: Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images/Getty Images

In 2007, AllMusic reviewed Parklife and provided their take:

The legions of jangly, melodic bands that followed in the wake of Parklife revealed how much more complex Blur's vision was. Not only was their music precisely detailed -- sound effects and brilliant guitar lines pop up all over the record -- but the melodies elegantly interweaved with the chords, as in the graceful, heartbreaking "Badhead." Surprisingly, Albarn, for all of his cold, dispassionate wit, demonstrates compassion that gives these songs three dimensions, as on the pathos-laden "End of a Century," the melancholy Walker Brothers tribute "To the End," and the swirling, epic closer, "This Is a Low." For all of its celebration of tradition, Parklife is a thoroughly modern record in that it bends genres and is self-referential (the mod anthem of the title track is voiced by none other than Phil Daniels, the star of Quadrophenia). And, by tying the past and the present together, Blur articulated the mid-'90s Zeitgeist and produced an epoch-defining record”.

Pitchfork gave their views in a 2012 review:

Parklife is the masterpiece of this era. Pop-art bright, stingingly funny, and at times suddenly poignant, it remains the defining artifact of Britpop. It's a nationalistic record in the same way Born in the USA is a nationalistic record: It might look like sloganeering patriotism if viewed from outer space, but up close it's a finely detailed, intricately cracked document of a very particular national malaise. The disco smirk "Girls & Boys" (propelled by one of Alex James' best basslines) finds its hedonistic vacationers "avoiding all work, 'cause there's none available," while the tragicomic "Tracy Jacks" sketches a lonely civil servant who goes quietly mad. With humor, pathos, and nostalgia, Parklife tells of a modern world where dreams have been boxed in by materialism, conformity and routine, and even the once-space-age future has lost its sparkle. "End of the century," Albarn shrugs over Coxon's minor chords. "It's nothing special."

The millions-selling, Brit-Award-sweeping Parklife was also the record that made Blur into bona fide pop stars, a role that some members embraced more readily than others. "I made a point of drinking two bottles of champagne a day for 18 months," is how bassist Alex James remembers 1994. "England only imports something like 100,000 bottles a year, so I reckon I drank 1% of England's total champagne import." At that point Coxon was, arguably, drinking even more, but without the joie de vivre; instead, he was increasingly uncomfortable with the band's success”.

There is a lot of debate as to which album of the 1990s is the best but everyone has to consider Parklife when compiling a top-ten. Many see the album as the definition of Britpop but Parklife is much deeper and more interesting than that. There have been articles celebrating and marking Parklife’s genius and influence through the years. As it is about to hit twenty-five, there will be new appraisal and retrospection. This article from Time five years ago argued that Parklife was a misunderstood album that was much more than Cool Britannia and this zeitgeist feeling that was circulating in Britain:

For all that Parklife is the work of a young band — “the mind gets dirty as it gets closer to thirty,” one line goes, with the big three-oh still seeming like a distant destination — it’s a remarkably confident, even cocky album. (A line from critic David Quantick about the Beatles recording Revolver and realizing “we are young and we can do anything” — that combination of talent and the invincibility of youth — comes to mind.) But Parklife is also a kind one, as well. “We all say, don’t want to be alone” Albarn sings in “End of A Century.” In “This Is A Low,” he sings of melancholy as something that can bring comfort: “It won’t hurt you/ When you’re alone, it will be there with you…

PHOTO CREDIT: Shinko Music/Hulton Archive/1994 Shinko Music  

“Even the album’s “comedy” songs show empathy towards their target characters. “Jubilee” is an outsider hated by all, who would love to be accepted but “no-one told him” how to do it, or where to go. For all that the Blur of this era would be attacked for being too arch and unemotional, Parklife is as warm and inviting as anything Oasis (or any other Britpop band) released during the same period.

Parklife may have inspired other bands to reach into their record collections, but it has a breadth and heart that so much of what followed lacked (including the band’s own The Great Escape, which feels cynical and uninspired in comparison). It has an inclusiveness towards music that stands at odds with the small-minded attitude that ended up defining so much of what Britpop became. In many ways, Parklife is larger than the genre that grew up around it, holding it up as a standard-bearer so proudly. It sounds as fresh today as it did 20 years ago — a summation of British pop music up to that point in all its occasionally contradictory, throwaway glory.

Looking back even further, to 2009, The 405 talked about Parklife as Blur’s revolution that provided the British scene with some much-needed clout and grit:

Blur turned out as one of the bands that gave the nineties British music scene some bite, and documented the lives of twentieth century Brits in a lucid but poetic style. Parklife is Blur's best album built on social commentary: the two before were paler versions of this, and the albums after became more introverted, or just not as good...

Even if you aren't planning on listening to the original guitar style of Graham Coxon, or the lyrics, there are some pretty excellent sing-along moments on Parklife, and that will never change. The tracks 'Tracy Jacks', 'Parklife' (which still receives radio play), Girls & Boys (though a tongue-twister), and 'Badhead' are all examples of sing-along classics. As for things which don't sound so good in retrospect, Parklife has a nineties polish on it, dusted with electronics it didn't need and some sampled sound effects that don't work so well. However, a little unnecessary production cannot stifle excellent song-writing, pretty melodies and great lyrics. In the future, if nobody ever gets bored in love anymore, never wants to escape their nowhere town, never feeds the pigeons to give themselves a sense of wellbeing - maybe in this imaginary future, Blur will seem irrelevant and dated. I should think we have a good few years before then to enjoy Parklife”.

I hope lots of people mark Parklife’s twenty-fifth anniversary on Thursday and its reaches the ears of new listeners. Even if Blur’s future is questionable – they are still a group, technically, but there are no plans for albums anytime soon – one can look at their 1994 breakthrough as an essential catalyst and part of the Britpop movement – even if it was a lot more complex and rich than a lot of the albums coming from British Pop that year.

PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Postle

Even in 2019, Parklife sounds fresh and I do wonder whether more artists should be taken inspiration from it. How many albums do we hear now that have the same sense of fun and variation?! It is a staggering album that lost the Mercury Prize in 1994 – M People’s Elegant Slumming, bafflingly, won – but is seen by many critics as one of the finest albums of the 1990s. There are multiple standout moments from Parklife but, when I think of the best, it is the addictiveness and catchiness of the title track! I will spin the album now and, as all the songs sink back into my head, the sound of Phil Daniels talking about joggers’ weight problems and feeding pigeons on a Wednesday (as he is rudely awakened by the dustmen) will remain in my head the longest! That song alone leaves a massive smile on my face and, twenty-five years after its release, there will be new people discovering Parklife. It is a truly wondrous album that, wonderfully, gets stronger and more profound…

WITH age.

FEATURE: Station to Station: Song Three: Mary Anne Hobbs (BBC Radio 6 Music)

FEATURE:

 

 

Station to Station

IN THIS PHOTO: Mary Anne Hobbs/PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Lewis

Song Three: Mary Anne Hobbs (BBC Radio 6 Music)

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EVERYONE has their own idea of what makes...

 PHOTO CREDIT: BBC

for perfect radio but, for me, there needs to be this blend of warmth, humour and knowledge. If a D.J. is not connected with their audience and does not get into the heart then there is something lacking. I listen to BBC Radio 6 Music because everyone on the station is dedicated to what they do and you feel like nothing else matters to them. Every presenter has their own story and pathway but, essentially, the twin temples at London and Salford house some of the most passionate, acute and compelling lovers of music in the country. That may sound like a big statement to make but one can detect a very physical electricity and desire emanating from the speakers every day. I started this feature off by looking at Lauren Laverne and how she is, to me, one of the very best on the station. I love her breakfast show and think that, having taken the role over from Shaun Keaveny, she is doing a fantastic job! She has made the show her own and added a unique stamp to proceedings. It is a great way to start the morning off and then, at 10:30, she hands over to Mary Anne Hobbs. There is a clear and affectionate respect between the two and, having come from different directions before making their way to BBC Radio 6 Music, it is fascinating that these two passionate and inspiring women are on the same station – even if Laverne is in London and Hobbs is up in Salford.

I have a serious radio crush on Mary Anne Hobbs and, rather than it being anything salacious, it is the knowledge that here is a human who feels the same about music as I do – and that, in a frantic, confusing and divided world, is very powerful and reassuring. It is that comforting nature that means many tune into Hobbs’ broadcast and would not be anywhere else. Before I come to Hobbs’ show and how her move to weekday mornings, one must think about her past and why she has such a knowledge of the industry. I will quote an interview from The Independent that was conducted back in 2015. I am missing parts out but it shows you how Hobbs has moved through the years and shows how hard she has worked to get where she is right now. The interview is illuminating and frank; it will be a great reference and inspiration for those starting out in radio:

The digital-first nature of Radio 6 and the Twitter dialogue she has with her two million listeners, means she feels she can truly engage with her audience. "It feels very much that they are part of what we do. They are a crucial component and they almost feel like family - I don't have my own family, but they've very much taken on that role in my life," she says.

After leaving Radio 1 five years ago, Hobbs worked for a year mentoring 700 students at Sheffield university. During that year she remembers attending her unof-ficial mentor John Peel's funeral and standing inside the cathedral "making a silent promise to myself” that she would share some of his encouragement and wisdom.

The university role gave her an opportunity to keep to the promise. The students produced 75 original radio programmes each week and worked on a digital TV channel. "It was really exciting, like being stripped to the bone every day by a school of starving piranhas," is how she remembers it”.

Hobbs moved to Los Angeles with Sounds and lived in a shed in someone's back garden in West Hollywood. She had just $600 in her pocket when she arrived. "I had sold everything I owned - which wasn't very much - to get to America."

Three decades on from witnessing the birth of thrash, Hobbs is now watching the emergence of a new classical music scene. She's hugely impressed by Nils Frahm, whom she describes as a "Berlin scholar of Tchaikovsky" who brings a mix of electronic/ techno and classical music. She's also credited for discovering - and popularising - dubstep in the past decade and remains a great evangelist for the genre, pointing to artists like Burial, James Blake, Mala, Kode9 and Digital Mystikz.

The global tipping point for dubstep was at the Sonar Electronic, a festival in Barcelona in June 2007, when she DJ-ed in front of 8,500 people with Skream, Oris Jay and Kode9, which she describes as "one of the greatest nights of my life".

She also worked on the soundtrack for the club and bar scenes for Darren Aronofsky's Oscarwinning Black Swan.

When judging the iSessions finals, she says she will rely on her gut instinct built up over decades of experience sourcing new music. "It is entirely subjective," she admitted. "But it's not rocket science. It's very exciting as I might go into the room and the next new thing could literally walk in."

And as "a child of John Peel" she believes judging these student bands is carrying on his legacy”.

I have, as I said, omitted a lot of details but it is clear that Hobbs has had a varied and exciting past. Looking further back and, as a youngster, there was a sense of yearning that was not necessarily being met. Every one of us approaches music differently and we all had a different experience. For Hobbs, as this interview shows, things were not easy:

“…As a young kid, I was way into punk rock, but my dad, who was an extremely violent alcoholic, had completely banned all music from the house. So if you wanted to buy a record, you would have to go to Mears Toyshop and place an order, and then one seven inch single would take nine weeks to reach the shop. At 12, 13, I was really really into punk, it was massively appealing to me. I cannot tell you how thrilling it was to sit in a class at school and be told in very grave and serious tones about how the Sex Pistols were literally on the brink of destroying civilised society as we knew it”.

Your heart goes out to Hobbs and it is amazing to think that the girl who had such a hard start is now one of the biggest names on BBC Radio 6 Music. I look at the route Hobbs has taken regarding music journalism, working both sides of the Atlantic and now, as her career continues to grow, working in the morning slot on BBC Radio 6 Music. The industry has changed since Hobbs started out but there are those out there who want to be where she is right now and wonder if it will ever happen. Hobbs’ has worked hard but, against adversity and challenges, she has managed to succeed and shine. She has mentored others and is a D.J. that has brought joy to millions. This is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted and I thank her for providing me with a real sense of purpose and hope every day. It is rare we discover someone as hard-working, dedicated and passionate as Hobbs.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jessica van der Weert 

When BBC Radio 6 Music announced their line-up change last year, I was a little wary. I was not sure whether the new combinations would work and how it would differ to what we knew and trusted. Within a matter of hours, you got this feeling that something good had happened. Hobbs, on weekend breakfast before, was allowed chance to expand and reach a new audience. I only got to catch her occasionally at the weekends but, now in this new slot, there are no excuses! I have read interviews Hobbs gave and she loves music as much now as she did when she started her career. There is something intoxicating about a presenter who has this much love for music and is always looking to unearth the best new artists around. I have received feedback from artists who have got gigs and new fans because of Mary Anne Hobbs. I do not think she knows the full effect her words and kudos has - and how important it can be to musicians that catch her eyes and ears.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Lewis

I do wonder whether Hobbs’ career will ever make its way to the big screen as she has interviewed some huge artists, seen music movements come and go and had this amazing arc. It is awe-inspiring seeing this always-inspiring woman tackling new ventures and helping artists. She has helped countless musicians reach new audiences and, when you listen to her show, you realise that she will be at BBC Radio 6 Music for many more years. Another reason why I love her show is because of that voice. In order to connect with your listeners, there needs to be a certain tone and gravitas that hooks you in and keeps you invested. Hobbs’ legendary, silken tones are, perhaps, the most luxurious, powerful and sensuous around. Again, it is not me being a bit smitten but there is this warmth that keeps us all safe but one gets this real kick and smile from Hobbs. The choice of music she plays is also another reason to investigate her show. BBC Radio 6 Music is renowned for its great taste and eclectic spirit and I think Hobbs is the epitome of that. I love what Lauren Laverne and Shaun Keaveny do but listen to Hobbs and you get the full spectrum of brilliance. I was listening the other day and there was some Heavy Metal only a few moments after some Ambient sounds!

It is amazing how she can have these incredible shifts and make it all work. Hobbs is tireless about her work and is dedicated to what she does. Whether it is promoting the music of Manchester and Salford or getting involved with festivals at BBC Radio 6 Music, she is at the forefront and proud to do her bit. A champion of artists old and new, getting the gold standard from Hobbs is much-coveted. I have discovered so much terrific music through her show and use it as a genuine guide. I discovered Nils Frahm through her – his album, All Melody, is still one of my recent favourites – and IAMDDB. Every week, I discover new tracks from great artists I have not heard anywhere else. Hobbs’ knowledge of the underground and determination to shine a light on the best approaching artists about is hugely commendable. She balances this paternal attitude with an almost God-like understanding of music’s past; the variation she plays and the music she loves is insane. Every show brings solid gold and you come away feeling educated, uplifted and moved. In terms of the talent on BBC Radio 6 Music, Mary Anne Hobbs is one of the most precious and strong. I know that she has ambitions but I do hope she remains where she is because we need and trust her incredible voice and tastes. Hobbs’ connection to musicians and how important they are also touches me.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: IAMDDB (one of many great newer artists I have discovered via Mary Anne Hobbs)/PHOTO CREDIT: Haris Nukem

When Scott Walker died a month ago, Hobbs broke down and was moved. It was a huge shock to her and you get the feeling that Walker’s music was a huge part of her life. That sort of love and commitment to an artist is incredible and you really felt for her when Walker passed away. I remember when David Bowie died in 2016 and, again, Hobbs was shocked and affected. Music is such a huge part of her life and it has helped her in so many ways. We all listen to music to feel something but I feel, to Mary Anne Hobbs, it means more than anything. You’d like to think she switches off but I can picture her at home and still in that mindset – unable to turn that passion off and searching for the hottest new sounds around. When BBC Radio 6 Music announced their changes last year, Hobbs spoke to Music Week and discussed what it meant to her:

They’re really exciting times. Moving forward into 2019, everybody’s got an opportunity to play to their strengths and shine in the new slots,” said Hobbs.

“I’m thrilled to bits to have the opportunity to bring the rich diversity and palette of music I really love and that I’ve championed for a lifetime into the heart of the schedule. It’s a dream job, really.”

“What 6 have done is looked at a presenter who’s been very productive in the more shady areas of the schedule,” she said. “A great number of the artists I’ve championed over the years, people like James Blake, Kendrick Lamar, Nils Frahm, Kamasi Washington and Julia Holter, have resonated in the lives of our listeners. This is a chance to broaden the musical palette of the network in the daytime.”

The former XFM and Radio 1 DJ said she believes 6 Music bosses “would like to take many of the elements of the DNA of the programmes I’ve created for 6 Music at the weekends and evenings into daytime”.

I hope I have done her justice but I wanted to explain why Mary Anne Hobbs is so important to me and countless other people out there. She has made me a more aware and devoted feminist: not just the fact she plays so many powerful women on her show but you know Hobbs craves parity and change in the industry. This has rubbed off on me and I am always looking to raise awareness and argue against sexism in music. Hobbs has made such a big difference in so many people’s lives. For me, battling against depression and anxiety, her show provides that balm and gives me aspirations. I would love to be where she is and, when I was in Salford last year, I was sat outside the building where she broadcasts and wondering how cool it would be to be there. I can imagine the sense of drive and excitement she gets, still, walking into work and playing incredible music to the nation. We are so glad she is on weekday mornings and I know for a fact there are people out there who want to be Mary Anne Hobbs. She is such a source of inspiration and wonder – here’s to many more years of this titan on the airwaves! I shall leave my drooling and starry-eyed praise there but I do not do it lightly. I meant every word of the piece I wrote about Lauren Laverne and the same thing goes for Mary Anne Hobbs. She is a real gift to radio and music and, for that reason, we all owe her…

 PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Lewis

A debt of gratitude.

FEATURE: The LiveLive Revolution: Lewis Capaldi’s Anxiety-Coping Initiative and Creating a Calmer Environment at Gigs

FEATURE:

 

 

The LiveLive Revolution

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IN THIS PHOTO: Lewis Capaldi/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Lewis Capaldi’s Anxiety-Coping Initiative and Creating a Calmer Environment at Gigs

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I am not the only one who avoids big gigs because...

IMAGE CREDIT: @LewisCapaldi

there is this unnerving sense of discomfort and crowding. I am okay around most people but, when faced with big crowds and a busy environment, things can get a bit tense. It can be awkward for people who love live music to come to big venues and spaces where there are a lot of people. When you have anxiety, such as I do, then you become less sociable and miss out on quite a lot. Even a smaller gig can be a bit too much and there is that feeling that, more often than not, you have to avoid going out. Venues are getting better at accommodating people but there is still a long way to go. Access for disabled people is increasing but there is still a feeling that they are being overlooked. I do hope that all venues make sure they do not restrict disabled access and allowances are made. Many people do not realise that, for those who suffer mental illness, things can be pretty bad too – even if people cannot see it. Lewis Capaldi has introduced a scheme to help his fans who suffer from anxiety. Some have been saying that this scheme cannot work in practice and, up until now, we have been fine without measured aimed at reducing anxiety. In this article from The Guardian they look at what Capaldi is doing and how it will help fans:

The musician Lewis Capaldi has announced that he is to provide provisions for fans at risk of anxiety and panic attacks on his upcoming UK arena tour. Capaldi, whose single Someone You Loved has been No 1 for seven weeks, is adding a compulsory 50p charge to his ticket prices to cover the costs of a scheme he has named LiveLive.

PHOTO CREDIT: @aaronpaulos/Unsplash  

Things will start off small but, in time, there is a hope that other artists can adopt a similar approach to Lewis Capaldi. This LiveLive scheme, as the article continues, has a number of different components:

Fans will be able to access support from a qualified team at each venue before and during Capaldi’s arena shows, which take place in 2020. There will also be designated help points for anyone struggling emotionally, an “escape room” for anyone who needs time out, and a gig buddy system for fans travelling alone.

He said in a statement that he is often contacted by fans who wish to see him live, but feel they can’t because of potential difficulties with anxiety or panic attacks. He wanted to implement measures that allowed them to feel welcome. “I hate to feel that anyone’s anxiety is making them miss out on anything they want to do.”

Capaldi’s manager, Ryan Walter, told the Guardian that they had partnered with a company called Music & You that specialises in helping people working in music and the live environment. “We went through everything we as fans might want when thinking about attending a show, drawing from our own experiences – I’ve not gone to plenty of gigs both as a fan and on a professional level because of my anxiety.”

LiveLive is thought to be the first such initiative on a tour of this scale. Capaldi told the BBC: “I think with a little bit of success we could make it a more widespread thing, to be able to offer this to everyone at all gigs.”

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PHOTO CREDIT: @ernest_brillo/Unsplash  

Jacob Adams is head of research and campaigns at Attitude Is Everything, a charity that campaigns for improving deaf and disabled people’s access to live music. He told the Guardian that Capaldi’s initiative “demonstrates the ability artists have to directly influence the inclusivity of their shows, and welcome their entire audience to see them perform live. This is an important development in turning attention to the mental health of live music audiences, at a time when that of artists is rightly gaining increasing exposure”.

I have read some comments and feedback that is a bit sneering and seems to take the approach that, if people are anxious then they should not go to gigs. Mental-illness is being made more visible by artists and not something that should be dismissed. The last big gig I went to was at London’s 02 to see Queens of the Stone Age in 2017. I was okay to start with but, the more animated the crowd became, the higher my levels of anxiety became. I managed to stay for almost the entire concert but had to leave early. It is daunting being in venues where there are so many people and I agree it is difficult accommodating everyone and making sure they are okay. I hope greater movement happens regarding considering disabled gig-goers but I know so many people who suffer from anxiety and do not feel good going to gigs because of the stress.

We often go to gigs and do not really get an idea of what the space will look like and whether it will be quite intimidating. Gigs are very important and can be really exciting. Those who have anxiety and other psychological problems are never sure what they are in for and, if they avoid gigs, this adds to a feeling of isolation and loneliness. I am not suggesting that every venue has a sort of visual guided tour and advice lines but, until LiveLive can be rolled out by other artists, I think more needs to be done. Only recently have a lot of venues started to acknowledge disabled fans and it is positive seeing things move in the right direction. The fact the music industry is recognising mental-health problems and making allowances means that, hopefully, a lot of other artists will follow Capaldi. It does mean bringing more people into venues and providing support workers which, inevitably, costs a lot and will be a big commitment. For the cynics who say that this is too extreme and unfeasible, consider all the artists playing around the world and how many fans are avoiding attending because they are too nervous and anxious. Music should be for everyone and the live experience is one of the most amazing things possible. To be together with fellow music lovers and in that atmosphere is electric and hugely primal.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @mclaren1/Unsplash

For some, it can be quite intimidating going to gigs and it is a shame to see so many miss out. Big props to Lewis Capaldi and what he is doing right now. He will help so many people and make the gig-going experience much easier and more pleasant. It is not to say that the LiveLive movement will cure anxiety but if we see this supportive and open space where fans can go without the fear of panic attacks and needless stress, then that is a really good thing. I do hope that many others take interest and, in years to come, most gigging artists either adopt LiveLive or they have something similar going on. I am not drawing a line between venues closing and anxious fans not attending but I do feel there are a lot of people at home reticent regarding attending gigs. Anxiety levels are on the rise and I do think we need to have conversations regarding those with mental-health problems. Music is this wonderful thing that unites us and, for those who cannot help the way they feel, it is heart-breaking seeing them miss out. It will be great to see this change and the fact more fans will attend Capaldi’s gig means a lot to him, clearly. Credit to him and, as I say, I do hope this is the start of something bigger. Anything we can do to recognise mental illness and ensure venues are a safe and calm (to an extent) environment is positive. Many people are getting excited about LiveLive and I, for one, welcome this endeavour that will make a huge difference in…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Louise Bennett

MANY people’s lives.

FEATURE: Hidden Treasures: Sheryl Crow – Sheryl Crow

FEATURE:

 

 

Hidden Treasures

COVER PHOTO: Steen Sundland  

Sheryl Crow – Sheryl Crow

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THIS is one of those albums that...

IMAGE CREDIT: Richard Frankel/PHOTOGRAPHY: Melodie McDaniel, Peggy Sirota and Scott Henriksen

scored some of my best days at school. I discovered Sheryl Crow when her debut, Tuesday Night Music Club, arrived in 1993. I was ten when that album came about and remember having my eyes opened by corking songs such as All I Wanna Do and Run Baby Run. I had not really heard a lot of Country and Folk together before; definitely not the same combinations Crow was putting down. I was struck by her beautiful voice and this unique sound. I was compelled to dig deeper and carried Tuesday Night Music Club around with me. That album was written with a collective that was formed by Crow and other musicians. There were disputes after the album was released regarding writing credits and whether her band was being given enough props. Although Crow was at the forefront, perhaps her musicians contributed more than were being given credit for. I love that debut because it sounds so fresh yet has maturity and real depth to it. There were some great reviews for the album but some felt that a few of the songs were half-formed and Crow was yet to find her feet. There is always a risk when you have momentum and you leave a big gap between releases. It took three years for Crow to bring us her eponymous album and, in many ways, the wait was worth it. Sheryl Crow, debatably, is the strongest album she ever released and, this time, songs are fully-formed and instantly golden.

Unlike her debut, Crow took control of production and created the album more in her own vision – a brave and bold move from someone so young. Even though it was her second album, Crow was not going to repeat herself and do what she did before. Most of Sheryl Crow was recorded at Kingsway Studio in New Orleans, Louisiana. Never fully immersed in the Country or Folk scenes, Crow was free to splice genres and bring her own spin. The album features tales regarding heartache and split; American life and ethical issues. It is an accomplished and varied album where the lyrical clout is as impactful as the wonderful compositions and stunning vocals. I was going to stick Sheryl Crow into Vinyl Corner but, instead, I have come up with a new feature for those albums that tend to skip by. It is hard to find Sheryl Crow on vinyl and, in fact, a lot of her back catalogue is quite hard to track. I was determined to cover this album because it is a favourite of mine but, whereas the vinyl is hard to get, you can get it online and enjoy. It is a record we tend to overlook and, compared to The Globe Sessions (1998), it doesn’t get the love it deserves. If Crow’s debut was quite a smooth and traditional album, her eponymous release is more off-kilter and off-balance in terms of the production. There is a lot of fuzz and rich instrumentation; some great little touches that take it out of the ordinary.

There are great songs throughout the album but, rather than stick with ordinary themes and cover the same ground as everyone else, Crow took a different approach. One of its singles, A Change Would Do You Good, is about getting away from a rigid lifestyle and doing something different. Maybe Angels, on the other hand, is about U.F.O.s and conspiracies; a song that you would not find on many other albums. I think Crow said in interviews that it was about finding Kurt Cobain joining John Lennon in a heavenly choir. It is a strange thing to focus on but the song sounds amazing and totally works! Crow talks about gun control and abortion; she tackles these big themes and areas that needed to be addressed. There were some bold artists back in 1996 but consider the leap between Tuesday Night Music Club and Sheryl Crow. In terms of sound, lyrics and production, you can see this immense gulf. That is not a bad thing but it is clear Crow had hit a peak on her second album. If It Makes You Happy is my favourite song from the record and started life with a very different sound. It was alternately twangy and Punk-like; it went through different machinations before arriving at where it ended. Everyday Is a Winding Road features Crowded House’s Neil Finn on harmony vocals and there are these standout moments. The singles are great but Sheryl Crow is solid throughout.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Sheryl Crow in 1996/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I love how many different movements there are and how each song has its own personality. You get the rush of If It Makes You Happy and the familiar twang of Everyday Is a Winding Road. Elsewhere, Superstar and Ordinary Morning find Crow embracing different sounds and she sounds completely released and free throughout. Some of the contemporary reviews for Sheryl Crow were a little muted – perhaps inspired by the sound happening in 1996 and how they album fitted in – but retrospective reviews have given the music time to sink in and strike. AllMusic drilled down to the heart of Sheryl Crow:

And, even with the Stonesy grind of "Sweet Rosalyn" or hippie spirits of "Love Is a Good Thing," it is an album that couldn't have been made any other time than the '90s. As strange as it may sound, Sheryl Crow is a postmodern masterpiece of sorts -- albeit a mainstream, post-alternative, postmodern masterpiece. It may not be as hip or innovative as, say, the Beastie BoysPaul's Boutique, but it is as self-referential, pop culture obsessed, and musically eclectic. Throughout the record, Crow spins out wild, nearly incomprehensible stream-of-consciousness lyrics, dropping celebrity names and products every chance she gets ("drinking Falstaff beer/Mercedes Ruehl and a rented Leer"). Often, these litanies don't necessarily add up to anything specific, but they're a perfect match for the mess of rock, blues, alt-rock, country, folk, and lite hip-hop loops that dominate the record. At her core, she remains a traditionalist -- the songcraft behind the infectious "Change Would Do You Good," the bubbly "Everyday Is a Winding Road," and the weary "If It Makes You Happy" helped get the singles on the radio -- but the production and lyrics are often at odds with those instincts, creating for a fascinating and compelling (and occasionally humorous) listen and one of the most individual albums of its era”.

SLANT, in 2003, had their say:

As always, Crow’s lyrics take a decidedly moralistic stance but never sound preachy. “Hard to Make a Stand” touches on abortion clinic terrorism while “Love Is a Good Thing” sees the solution to the world’s problems in the same four-letter word so many other rockers have enthusiastically endorsed over the years. Crow makes subtle references to the Beatles’ “Love Is All You Need,” but not before giving us a dose of modern reality: “Watch our children while they kill each other/With a gun they bought at Walmart discount stores.” This is certainly not the same hippie mentality of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and one can’t help but think that Crow is a tad less confident with her miracle product than, say, Lennon ever was. “These are the days when anything goes,” she sings on the buoyant “Everyday Is a Winding Road,” and the sentiment speaks for both the song’s playful optimism and the album’s sonic adventurousness. Crow has had some other great moments (“Leaving Las Vegas,” “My Favorite Mistake”), but none of her other full-length albums have been as consistent, immaculately produced or distinctly modern”.

Crow would go on to The Globe Sessions in 1998 and, whereas there were big hits to be found, it is less individual and surprising as her eponymous album. I think Sheryl Crow was the natural maturation from her bar days and playing with her band and having more of a say. She leapt in confidence from her debut and, despite some legal difficulties, was able to conquer new ground and produce a more rounded and complete album.

It is a shame one cannot get Sheryl Crow on vinyl but listen to it on streaming services. It is a fantastic release and one that marked her out as one of the most promising artists in the music world. The Globe Sessions would give us some of my favourite songs from her – including There Goes the Neighbourhood and My Favourite Mistake – but I love all the flavours and contrasts of Sheryl Crow. There are big hits like If It Makes You Happy but she really strikes a chord when it comes to more sensitive and big topics. Not only does this artist break from the mainstream in terms of predictability and use music to address important areas but she did it without alienating and preaching. I feel we overlook Sheryl Crow and do not realise how important it is as an album. It is one of the best albums from the 1990s and you can hear elements of the record in many artists today. Not many articles exist praising the album – I feel that this is wrong. Crow is still recording today and has changed a bit since her early days. I love what she does now but I get this warm tinge and sense of joy when listening to her eponymous album. I was thirteen when it really started to hit me and kept it close as I went through high-school. It was among the most essential releases for me and was a favourite with my friends too. If you want to discover a great album from the past that you might have missed first time around, have a listen to Sheryl Crow and fall for all its brilliance. It is one of the most complete and satisfying albums I have heard and I think it sounds fresh today – almost twenty-three years after its release. I am going to spin it now but, if you are used to listening to the same music and get stuck in a rut; have a gander at Sheryl Crow’s eponymous album and realise that a change…

WOULD do you good.

INTERVIEW: James Riley

INTERVIEW:

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PHOTO CREDIT: Ray Tarantino

James Riley

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IT has been pretty neat...

 PHOTO CREDIT: Ray Tarantino

speaking with James Riley about his new track, New York Minute, and its fascinating story. He discusses his musical tastes and who has compelled him; some of the rising artists we need to be aware of and whether there are going to be gigs upcoming.

I ask what we can expect from the upcoming album, Transatlantica, and what it was like to make; which artists Riley grew up around and what he does in his spare time – he picks a great song to end the interview with.

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Hi James. How are you? How has your week been?

Hi, guys. Yeah, my week’s been pretty good. I’ve been up at the Extinction Rebellion protest in London a fair bit, which has been interesting and inspiring, if slightly overwhelming.

For those new to your music, can you introduce yourself, please?

Sure. I’m a transatlantic Folk and Soul songwriter from South London. I say transatlantic because I’m half-American and I lived in Nashville for two years - and those themes tend to influence my music a fair bit.

New York Minute is your latest track. Is there a tale behind it?

There is, indeed, a tale. I had just moved to America and I was spending a lot of time in New York City hanging around BedStuy and Bushwick, where I have a few friends. I kept on seeing these huge clouds of cascading birds flying above the tenements and the subway and just remember thinking how improbable it seemed in such a built-up place that this display of wildness was so present.

Later, I was walking through the Garment District downtown with my partner at the time and a hawk literally fell down (*SLAM*) on its back and died on the sidewalk in front of us. We watched the light go out of its eyes. Seconds later, a sparrow glanced off my shoulder and fell down on the sidewalk, also dead. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever witnessed.

We later worked out that probably the hawk was chasing the bird, and one or both must have panicked and flown straight into the sheer reflective glass of the building we were walking right next to. It was just such a strange moment – apparently it happens quite often in Manhattan –, this mad collision between literally the pinnacle of human civilization and this wild animal energy – it’s one of the things that fascinates me the most about that city.

So, I guess the song was initially inspired by those uncanny encounters and then it developed from there.

If we only had a minute in New York, what should we do?

I would suggest you get a cup of dollar coffee from a one of those bodega booths down by Knickerbocker Av. in Brooklyn; then walk out in front of traffic so just so you could enjoy the authenticity of N.Y.C. traffic honking at you…and you could enjoy shouting back “Hey, buddy! I’m waaaalking heeeeya!” Then, if you still had time, I would try to find some dumplings.

PHOTO CREDIT: Ray Tarantino

Your album, Transatlantica, is out soon. Are there themes that define the record?

Yeah, definitely. Most of the record was written whilst I was living in Nashville, working loads of crazy minimum-wage jobs; trying to maintain a long-distance relationship and working harder than I’ve ever worked to develop my voice as a songwriter. It was both an inspiring and quite a hard time…

I was alone a lot, a long way from home; I was feeling simultaneously inspired and disillusioned by my surroundings. I was starting to understand my identity as songwriter more than ever before and understand America and Nashville in a new way - as well as my place in it - as a half-British transplant into the Deep South. It was mostly written in the six months leading up to Trump’s election also, which was a crazy time for obvious reasons - a lot of uncertainty, loneliness and frustration as well as of hope, possibility and inspiration. I think elements of all of that can be heard on the record.

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What was it like to record? Was it a fun process?

It was actually a ‘third time lucky’-type scenario with this record. I had tried to record an album a few months after coming to Nashville, with a producer who loved my sound, but had his own process in mind for making it. We got in the studio with a Memphis Soul band – all of them where amazing players but we had almost no time to work out how I wanted the tracks to sound (the musicians were being paid by the hour) and so we just had to write the charts, roll tape and see what happened. It resulted in something very high-quality but ultimately sounding nothing like what I had imagined.

After much deliberation, I scrapped that project and started again, working with a producer who took an opposite approach; working in a very low-key type way, involving just my acoustic guitar and me. We were getting some good results but sadly his personal world was in crisis and he eventually moved back to New Zealand (where he was from).

PHOTO CREDIT: Ray Tarantino

Finally, after these two failed attempts and a year and a half in Nashville, by chance I met a fellow songwriter at a writer’s night, a guy called Matt Lovell. We became friends and he asked me to play a show at his producer’s studio. I met his producer, Matthew Odmark, who had previously been in a successful Rock band called Jars of Clay. Myself and Matthew began meeting up for coffee and talking music…he has a very ‘Sherpa-like’ energy and he helped me navigate several challenging scenarios, including my ‘breakup’ with my previous producer.

After my second album attempt fell through, I asked Matthew if he wanted to help me make my record. He said, “agreed”, and after that the whole thing started rolling really quickly. The tracks were demoed, the players chosen and, within a couple of weeks, I had my record. It was a dream.

When did music come into your life? Did you grow up around great sounds?

 It’s a massive cliché but I really did grow up on my parents’ record collection. My mum grew up in seventies California and so I heard a lot of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell; Bruce Springsteen and James Taylor from the time I was young. After my parents divorced, me, my mum and my sisters took a massive road trip through the northern U.S., from the Minneapolis all the way down through the Dakotas and the Badlands; Wyoming, Montana…all the way down to Vegas.

It was the nineties, so we were stopping off in gas stations to pick up cassettes of Country music: stuff like Lyle Lovett, Mary Chapin Carpenter and The Mavericks. I think the combination of that music and all that wild landscape, at such a young age for a little English kid, left quite a profound impression. I think that’s a large part of reason I ended up moving to Nashville in the end.

Are there any other plans in place for 2019? Will you just be looking to get the record out and make an impact?

My plans for the rest of the year include, obviously, to release my record and hopefully to get some people to hear it. There’s going to be several more singles coming out over the summer up until I release the album around September. At the moment, things are in flux and I can’t honestly tell you what the future holds. Of course, I’m really hoping the album is going to make an impact. It’s been a long road getting it to a point where I’m happy to release it, so I can’t wait to hear what people make of it.

I’m playing a few festivals this summer, which I’m really looking forward to. There’s one in particular I’m looking forward to in Portugal…after I’ve played that one I’m planning on walking the Camino Portugues up to northern Spain (which will should be incredible).

PHOTO CREDIT: Ray Tarantino

Which three albums mean the most to you do you reckon?

John MartynLondon Conversation

Keith JarrettFacing You

Will SmithBig Willie Style

If you could support any artist on the road who would it be?

Probably someone like Sting. Or Dylan. Or Joni Mitchell or maybe Queen. You know, one of those people who changed what people thought was possible with a Pop song.

Might we see you touring later in the year?

Yes sir, yes ma’am. There will be a full U.K. tour when the album comes out, towards the end of summer, and a few bits and pieces in between. Check out www.jamesrileymusic.com/shows for more info.

Is there any advice you’d give to artists emerging right now?

Make sure you are spending enough time doing what you love and not spending most of your time on social media. It’s advice I am constantly trying to give to myself.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Thomas Jane Smith

Which upcoming artists do we need to keep an eye out for?

Thomas James Smith - a gifted singer-songwriter and arranger with a stunning new album coming out this year.

James Patrick Gavin – lovely guy and a world-class fiddle player with a colossally ambitious solo Folk project on the boil. Stay tuned.

Alice Phelps – dazzlingly talented harp player, singer and songwriter with a new album close to completion.

Simeon Hammond Dallas – Pint-sized lady with an enormous voice and a real knack for making words sounds amazing. Also, a busker by trade. Respect.

Hey Buddy – Psych/Funk outfit from Brighton. Monster musicians with a slightly tongue-in-cheek, millennial bent.

Sam Castell-Ward - I work with him through a learning disability charity. Eloquent Psych/Folk with a searingly intense perspective on the world.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Simeon Hammond Dallas

How do you unwind away from music? Do you get much free time?

Sure. I’ve started to swim a lot recently. I find it very meditative…there’s no distractions and you’re just concentrating on your breathing and processing, basically. It’s actually pretty much helped me lose some baggage. That and therapy, which I also would recommend to everyone. Other than that, I like to go on very long walks and get out of London when I can. I love to read. Poetry especially. I read fiction but my frequent lack of focus means it often takes me a long time to get down to reading a whole book.

Finally, and for being a good sport, you can choose any song you like (not one of yours) and I will play it here.

It’s actually one of the ones off my favourite albums which I mentioned earlier: Lalene from Facing You by Keith Jarret. Sublime Gospel/Blues/Soul piano meditation by one of the absolute masters

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Follow James Riley

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TRACK REVIEW: Loyle Carner (ft. Jorja Smith) - Loose Ends

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Loyle Carner (ft. Jorja Smith)

PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Holyoak 

Loose Ends

 

9.6/10

 

 

The track, Loose Ends, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cunh5tei4Dg

GENRE:

Hip-Hop

The album, Not Waving, But Drowning, is available here:

https://open.spotify.com/album/1kokRXXxrJzhxdMo0vsVDV?si=qX_8Uw2dQjKOCbihfHHY4Q

RELEASE DATE:

19th April, 2019

LABEL:

AMF Records

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I am doing things differently this weekend...

and am focusing entirely on artists that are in the mainstream. I would normally look at a rising artist now but, without anything current that is interesting to me, I thought I would take the time to look at Loyle Carner. After reviewing Madonna yesterday, this is the second review in as many days that looks at a collaboration – this one, I feel, is more effective. I will talk about, first, Loyle Carner and the pressure of a second album; British Hip-Hop and the development through the years; duets and collaborations and why a well-judged one can be very effective; Jorja Smith and why she is one of the strongest artists in the world right now – I will take a look at Loyle Carner and where he might be heading in the coming months. When Loyle Carner released his debut album, Yesterday’s Gone, early in 2017, there were many who couldn’t believe the sound he was making. The record was nominated for a Mercury that year and fantastic reviews came in thick and fast! I count that album as among the best of 2017 and it was wonderful discovering this raw talent who was different to everyone else around. Some of the songs from the album – such as The Isle of Arran and Ain’t Nothing Changed – are still in my brain and the songs, whilst accessible, hold personal weight and unique spirit. There are bits of Jazz sprinkled in and there are some nice beats throughout. It is Carner’s prowess and command that makes the songs pop and resonate. His rapping and flow is never too boastful and primal: instead, we have someone who is more personable and softer but has a lot of skill and cut. I am not sure who Carner is inspired by but he does not sound like some of the more aggressive U.S. Hip-Hop artists. It is no shock that Yesterday’s Gone received such acclaim and celebration. Following that is quite a hard task.

Rather than replicate what was on that record, we have a new album, Not Waving, But Drowning, that has some similarities. Carner has not changed his sound radically and, over fifteen tracks, he has plenty of time to explore and expand. He covers a lot of ground and, once more, brings in some collaborators on various numbers. I will discuss Jorja Smith when reviewing the track but Not Waving, But Drowning has been picking up plenty of love from fans and critics. Both of his albums talk about his family and past. A lot has changed over the past few years and Carner has documented this on Not Waving, But Drowning. Carner, in this interview with FADER talked about his need to be open and, in many ways, his sophomore album is deeper and harder-hitting. Carner discussed the changes and what has happened in his life since his debut release:

A lot of stuff was changing for me," Carner says. “I was moving out of my mum's house and in with my missus — a kind of purgatory. My only safe space was the studio.”

Carner’s close relationship with his mother was the beating heart of Yesterday’s Gone, an album that concluded with her reading a poem she wrote (“He was and is a complete joy / The world is his, that scribble of a boy”). This time, his relationship with his “missus” informed the new album: “She's the only person that tells me if my music is shit,” he says. “It's an incredible thing to have.” He also says he’s been learning to be less selfless with age: “It's been nice to put myself first, in really small ways.”

Not Waving, But Drowning allows Carner to open up about those closest to him over nostalgic boom-bap production, rejecting modern sounds and lyrical trends while clearing a lane that only he is keen to occupy”.

There is a lot of pressure on artists between albums and following up a successful debut. Whilst there are similar shades this time around, Not Waving, But Drowning seems like a more personal and open work. It holds greater emotional weight and there is more depth to be found. That is not to say his debut was light but I feel Carner is exploring his own psyche and going deeper this time around. A lot of artists are being very revealing regarding mental-health and it is not a surprise to see these very evocative and touching albums coming through.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Laura Coulson

Some critics fancy Carner’s debut more but there is ample passion for his new record. I feel there is this pressure for artists to top what they did before but, as long as they remain true and focused, it is possible to navigate that expectation and sense of pressure. Carner has produced another masterful album at a time of change and movement. I do like British Hip-Hop and the fact there is a rise right now but Carner seems to sit outside of what is happening at the core. In the interview I just sourced, he talked about the British crop coming through and how he is slightly separate. Stormzy, slowthai and Dave are all doing remarkable work and, whilst they might be more Grime/Rap-based, you could not compare Carner to them. Those artists, in many ways, are documenting what is happening in Britain and have a slightly more political edge. They have a sharper and edgier sound and I actually prefer Loyle Carner. He is, as stated, more accessible but can still produce songs that have bite and attack. He always works with people he is close with so, when it comes to the likes of Jordan Rakei and Jorja Smith, these are people he respects and knows will bring something great to his work. There is greater warmth and the homespun from Carner and you feel like this is a young man who is concerned about the state of the world but knows that family come first. He has a very close relationship with his mum, Jean, and she has been a central focus of both albums. Carner was keen to provide for her and worried about her during the debut album; wanting the best for her and hoping the album did well so he could look after her. Now, there is less pressure regarding finance but Carner has gone back to his roots for Not Waving, But Drowning and explores his Guayanan heritage. He has a tense relationship with his biological dad and was raised by his mum and step-dad.

It is hard to discuss family and something fraught but Carner, as a songwriter, feels it is important to touch on these subjects and not shy away. Instead of the usual rappers and those who shout and spit anger, there is this calm when you hear Carner sing. He lets the listeners into his world and wants them to get a true sense of who he is and where he came from. This is not something you hear from all artists and it is fantastic that Carner has not stepped away from this path and betrayed his ideals. Jean, naturally, is his guiding light and someone he counts as his rock. On his latest album, there are some hard moments and big emotions expressed but there is plenty of light and compassion. It is a nice blend of sounds and expressions; one gets a full spectrum of thoughts and feelings and it is impossible to ignore the album. A couple of the singles have been floating about for a while so we sort of knew what Carner was going to give us. The more you dive into Not Waving, But Drowning, the more you pick up. There are differences and fresh additions (compared to the debut) and he has not merely copied Yesterday’s Gone. If Loyle Carner is apart from many of his Rap and Hip-Hop peers then that is a good thing. He is forging his own path and determined to add his unique stamp. I know there are loads more albums in Carner and I cannot wait to see where he heads next. The young man has changed from this promising artist living with his mum to this growing star who has moved out and is looking ahead. Success has not changed his core and heart but one can feel greater confidence and range on his current album. Collaborations are an important part of Carner’s work. He is keen to bring his mates in to give his music that sense of the familiar and personal. He lets us all in and wants his music to be this fulsome and varied thing. Jorja Smith appears on the current single, Loose Ends.

There are some great collaborations on Not Waving, But Drowning. Jordan Rakei appears on Ottolenghi whilst Sampha features on Desoleil (Brilliant Corners); Jean Coyle-Larner (his mum) on Dear Ben and Tom Misch on Angel. It is like Carner has his mates around and we are opening his door but, more than that, we get these different voices that add new dynamics to the songs. I said yesterday, when featuring Madonna, how collaborations can be misjudged and unwise. You do feel like some are engineered to give artists a boosts or rack up the numbers on Spotify. I do think a great collaboration can do wonders but there are so many that are quite vague, insincere and forgettable. A great collaboration should put the main artist at the front but have another (other) artist providing something special. In the case of Loyle Carner, he has these artists with him who he knows and trusts – not just the latest fad and hot star that can add a bit of credibility. Because of that, the fusions sound more natural and there is this great connection between Carner and his guests. Carner is the standout but I love how these different voices can add something fresh and nuanced. Look at Jorja Smith and what she does on Loose Ends. This track, to me, is the standout from Not Drowning, But Waving because of the way the two combine and fuse. Carner is up-top and doing what he does and then, adding this rose-scented and sweet breeze, Smith comes in and produced a sublime vocal. It is so full of beauty and not something you might expect from a Hip-Hop song. She is a great artist and, not to steal too much focus from Carner, someone who is enjoying big success herself right now. These two British titans sound perfectly joined and you cannot help but fall in love with this gorgeous sound. In many ways, Jorja Smith is rising faster than Loyle Carner. Both of them are examples of the best of British and what quality is coming from the country.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Jorja Smith

I discovered Jorja Smith a couple of years and have been following her ever since. Her debut album, Lost & Found, was released last year and nominated for a Mercury too. The album has this mix of the simple and complex; the emotional and breezy and there is this great clash happening throughout. Smith is a fantastic writer and someone who, like Carner, takes us into her heart. Her voice is sensational and, at only twenty-one, she has years to develop it and make it even stronger. Right now, she is growing and making a name for herself here and in the U.S. Listen to Lost & Found and it is the sensual and tender nature that gets to you. It is a fantastic record and, like Loyle Carner, there will be pressure how she will follow it. Smith does not really collaborate with others on her own material but has appeared on other records. I think she has a really bright future and I am excited to see where she can go. What I love about her music most is the command and confidence she has. Even though Smith is very young, she has been in music for a little while and sounds completely comfortable and assured. I do hope Smith and Carner work together again because they sound completely harmonious and natural together. Smith will go onto great things because she has her own style and the sort of songs that get into the bones and stay in the mind. I didn’t want to steal too much focus from Loyle Carner but it is important to mention his collaborator and how important she is. Loose Ends is this fantastic moment where you get Carner’s distinct voice laying down the words and then, out of nowhere, comes this caramel-rich and stunning voice that takes you somewhere else. Let us look ahead and look at the song in question, shall we? It is a brilliant moment from Not Waving, But Drowning and a demonstration regarding the effectiveness of a great collaboration.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Bella Howard

It is Jorja Smith who opens Loose Ends. It is unusual to see a collaboration where the ‘outside’ artist starts things off. One expects Carner to have first say but it is much more effective and unexpected hearing Smith lead us in. “In love, when the going is tough…” she sings. It is the way she phrases those words and how striking they sound that really catches you off guard. There are words of sentiments falling on deaf ears and a lack of boundaries; the wish that there is a better way and (hope that) things can be different. I am intrigued by the words and the fact that Smith delivers them with such beauty. There is never a sense of anger or blackness and, enveloped by this sumptuous sound and grace, your heart and brain move in different directions. I wondered whether the song was about a personal relationship Carner has or a general feeling about family and dislocation. Smith retreats to the back and says the word ‘way’ at the end of each line. It is an effecting and stunning idea that gives this nice flow and beauty at the end of lines that are quite open, searching and emotive. The blend of Carner and Smith works wonderfully from the beginning. The hero looks at loose ends in his life and the fact he has a lot to clear up. There are people in his life that he wishes he knew back then and one feels that, when things were tough a while ago, he would have liked them around – they might not have been in his life then but there’s a feeling that things would have been different if they were. Carner is “wetting the pen” – such a strangely romantic and unusual image in the age of the digital communication – with every letter that is sent. I do wonder, again, whether Carner is talking about a lover or someone that used to be in his life.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Holyoak 

Knowing that he has this closeness with his mum and there were problems with his birth dad, maybe family and communication from them has inspired this song. As Smith sings gorgeously in the background, Carner talks about friends going astray and him changing. He was in Australia and turning down free drinks he could not even name. It seems life this new life and sense of increased success has taken him to new places and he has drifted apart from some of his mates. Maybe not everything is bad but you sense this yearning from Carner. There is this image of him seeing all these family trinkets and memories and them being so far away. Life has changed and Carner has grown; he is not the same boy he was and people have left his life. Carner delivers his lines with a skillful and mature combination of heart and drive and you are captivated by the flow. There are words of blame and sticking his head out in the rain and, whilst that projects images of depression and loss, I wonder whether Carner is speaking about his state of mind and changing relationships or something else. The words are both oblique and direct and there is this room for interpretation. Jorja Smith arrives with her opening words and breaks up the tenser and faster flow. It is a nice interjection and gives the song a sense of strange romance and comfort. Carner talks about someone not being there when his father died and his mum cried; a need for someone to be there for him and by his side. I hear images of Carner feeling pressure to put his pen to the page and being up there on the stage. He looks down from the stage and sees women winking and mates drinking. He has this sense of regret and longing and I wonder whether he feels estranged from an older life where he was free and his new-found life as a star.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures

One definitely feels Carner speaking to his peers as well as himself. Time is on his side but there has also been a lot of wasted time. Carner has seen tragedy and loss and there have been times he’s dropped the ball. His mates have been the same and there is this message for them. The words come so thick and fast that images swim and crash like waves. Carner is never aggressive but he packs a lot in over a short distance! Loose Ends is a fantastic song that gets you thinking and, throughout, you feel this sensitive and brave young man pouring his heart out. I have listened to the song a lot and feel I have a better understanding each time I listen to it. I do think that Smith adds some relief and escape from darker words but, more than that, seems to be this voice inside Carner’s head. Carner has a lot of love inside of him and he realises that his past was tricky and he made mistakes. He needed that stability and support and, yeah, there’s regret that things were like that. Now, looking back, you sense this young man making sense of things and looking forward. The elegant and touching piano line support the words and adds extra weight. The song ends pretty suddenly and, at the end, you do wonder what the song is truly about. Everyone has their own view and you can pick up truth from the lyrics. Carner leaves some room open for personal interpretation and thought. Loose Ends is this brilliant cut from Not Waving, But Drowning and shows the full spectrum of Carner’s talent. Make sure you check out the song and, more than that, go and listen to the album because there are many more gems like this. I selected Loose Ends for special consideration because of the juxtaposition of Jorja Smith’s voice and Carner’s. It is a magnificent blend and one that I hope is exploited more in the future.

It has been a very busy past couple of years for Loyle Carner. Many were waiting for his debut before it come out in 2017 and there was a lot of excitement swirling. It arrived and, sure enough, there was passionate chatter and praise. The record got award nominations and some huge reviews. Carner has produced this sublime second album and, again, there is a lot of love for it. People will want to see him on the road and get a chance to witness these new songs in the flesh. It is a busy time for the young man and one could forgive him for taking a rest and spending a few months out. Instead, he is busy on social media and seems like he is gearing up for a hectic next few months. He will want to get on the road and take his album to the people but there is also going to be other commitments. He is, by the looks of it, sporting football shirts right now and there is a partnership happening. Check out his Twitter page and you can see what is happening what the man is up to. With a record out, there are lots of interviews and everyone wants to know what the songs are about. Even though there has been a bit of tension between him and his long-time friend Rebel Kleff (the two have fallen out regarding a disagreement about money), this new album sees Carner moving forward and embracing the future. I will finish by quoting from another interview he gave and some interesting revelations. If you are not familiar with Loyle Carner than maybe track back to Yesterday’s Gone and see where he came from. Not Waving, But Drowning is a natural step forward and has many similarities to the debut – perhaps some greater range and depth when it comes to his emotions. When speaking with The Independent, Carner discussed living with ADHD and how cooking not only helps him but kids with the same condition:

Carner also runs cooking courses for 14-16-year-olds with ADHD. “I trust them with knives and fire,” he says. “Because nothing keeps the focus like danger. And giving kids responsibility helps them behave responsibly. We do simple things, make tortellini and learn to respect the ingredients, relish the flavours. It can be a meditation.” The course has also featured guest chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi: one of two chefs to get a shout out on the new record. The other is the late Antonio Carluccio, who gives his name to a song on which Carner rhymes a line about “pouring sparkling pressé” with one about his mum “marking essays”.

There is, with any artist, this pressure to conform to the ideals of fame and celebrity. Many artists revel in the notion of the old-school Rock lifestyle: where there are women who want to have sex with you and there’s this sense of excess. This, to Carner, is not what he is in music for:

Carner shakes his head: “I mean, I’ve been on tour. If your music starts to take off there will be a lot of girls who want to sleep with you and a lot of boys who want to hang out and give you drugs. There will be a lot of boys who want to sleep with you and girls who give you drugs. So you can do that. Or you can take that little bit of cash you’ve made and invest in having a real life. I focus on the fact I’ve managed to help my family, I’ve got a girlfriend who loves me, I’m thinking about getting a dog. These things are so wicked to me. These things have been my dreams since I was a kid. Why would I mess that up?”

As I leave, Carner writes an inspirational message for my son and asks if I can bring him to the album launch. “Are you sure?” I ask. “He’ll be upside down in the corner!” The frog prince grins wide. “That’s fine. I’ll be the rapper upside down in the other corner”.

I wanted to include that last paragraph from the interview as it shows what a gentle and down-to-earth nature Carner has. Unlike some artists who appear aloof and distant, Carner connects with people. He is someone we can all relate to and one of these people that is keen to open up and not hide away. This is inspirational for others who go through the same things and feel they are alone. Listen to Not Waving, But Drowning and discover this remarkable and bold record. It is a fantastic revelation and sports some of Loyle Carner’s best material to date. You can see and hear the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into the music and so, for that reason, Not Waving, But Drowning warrants…

 IN THIS PHOTO: A young Loyle Carner with his mum, Jean

YOUR full focus.         

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Follow Loyle Carner

FEATURE: There’s No Place Like It: Beyoncé’s Homecoming and the Revolution of the Concert Film

FEATURE:

 

 

There’s No Place Like It

IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé in a promotional still from the Homecoming documentary (where she discussed her lead-up and route to Coachella 2018)/PHOTO CREDIT: Parkwood Entertainment

Beyoncé’s Homecoming and the Revolution of the Concert Film

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I am not usually prone to concern films...

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 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

and celebrating gigs because, now, I don’t think there is the same shine and sheen. Look at classic gigs through time and you can see why we celebrate them and preserve the memory. Whether it is The Band’s final show or Nirvana playing unplugged in New York; The Beatles at their peak or classic Woodstock footage, we all have fond memories regarding gigs. Nowadays, there are venues around the world and big artists are touring the world with extravaganzas. It gets harder and harder to select these iconic gigs because there are so many. We stream a lot of music and films but how often do these worlds collide? I would like to see icons like Sir Paul McCartney play at an arena or the likes of St. Vincent and Solange playing. Would there be an appetite for these and would people dedicate tome to watch these gigs?! I do feel like we are becoming less patient and not really fascinated by the look and texture of a gig. We are happy to attend them but how often do we rhapsodise about gigs and how epic they are?! A few days back, I wrote about Kate Bush’s Tour of Life in 1979 and how she managed to transform the nature of a gig. She brought theatre and mime together with theatre and the spectacular. Artists like David Bowie took guidance from her and, soon enough, shows become more ambitious and transitioned beyond mere music.

Have we become too familiar with gigs and are not being surprised? One of the problems is that there is very little beyond the songs and the routine. Where is the explosion and the cast? When do we see something mesmeric and dramatic? Maybe artists have a slight budget but, with Beyoncé in the news, her Homecoming show has got people excited. You can see it on Netflix and her unbelievable set at 2018’s Coachella. I remember hearing the news about it and not seeing anything like it. There was a huge array of dancers and complex routines; so many different movements and looks that made it more like a dazzling film than a concert. You can listen to the live album and hear the crackle and thrill of the performance. Pitchfork reviewed the album and underlined why Beyoncé’s 2018 Coachella performance was history-making:

#Beychella redefined what was possible for a music festival. On stage, over 200 bodies undulated in unison but miraculously, every body moved in its own way. They filled out a set of risers constructed into a pyramid, built to look like the bleachers of a football stadium at a black college or university. Filling the structure was an orchestra that included a drumline and a full brass band that introduced themselves with the steady refrain of the Rebirth Brass Band’s “Do Whatcha Wanna.” Male dancers stood in a trembling line like black fraternity pledges, female dancers dressed as majorettes, background singers formed a choir of unified sound and movement, folding their bodies into Beyoncé’s intricately aggressive choreography…

Beyoncé’s core musical vocabulary is the rhythm and bounce of a tune. She’s a classicist who believes in a song’s structure—choruses, bridges, meticulous verses, extended vamps, key changes. Her uptempo songs like “Crazy in Love,” “Countdown,” and “Love on Top” are some of the most inventive, dexterous pop and R&B music of the past couple of decades. For nearly the entire 110 minutes, she isolates these adrenaline-spiking cuts, amplifying their kinetic energy with marching-band arrangements. The extended version of B’Day’s 2006 single “Get Me Bodied” is a highlight here, as is 2005’s “Check on It.” Both are supercharged booty thumpers, more than a decade old that sound newly baptized in the world of Homecoming: the clarion calls of trumpets and whoomps of sousaphones, the foot-stomping on the risers and the off-mic “ayys” of the dancers that are sprinkled throughout. The arrangements amplify the relationship Beyoncé’s music has to the inherently percussive body”.

The live album is the music itself whereas the Homecoming documentary itself has behind-the-scenes features and gives a visual edge to the gig. Beyoncé has already been afforded a $60 million three-project deal with Netflix following Homecoming. Although gigs themselves are not being utilised regarding film, there is a rise in music documentaries. Everyone from Aretha Franklin, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift has been the subject of a documentary but Beyoncé’s Homecoming blows the doors open and changes things.

You can talk about the sets and choreography of her Coachella performance but there was history being made. This article from The Guardian looked at the power of Beyoncé and why her Coachella turn was more than performing the hits:

And yet, despite her willingness to share the stage, Beyoncé is the priestess, the ringleader, insistent on her authorship of this one-of-a-kind spectacle, which marked the first time a black woman had ever headlined Coachella. The writer, director and executive producer of Homecoming, which runs 137 minutes and was released in concert with a 40-song live album, Beyoncé has a way of reminding us of her unique ability to hold a crowd in the palm of her hand, to defy the trend toward cultural diffusion and force us to stand at attention.

So Coachella, she explains, was the homecoming she never had, but also a paean to the rich culture and vibrant aesthetic of historically black colleges and universities, the insignia of which can be spotted on the bright yellow and pink hoodies worn by Beyoncé and her onstage battalion (the film brilliantly cross-cuts between Beyoncé’s two Coachella sets to create an almost kaleidoscopic effect, edited down to each gyration and stutter-step). And even with the relative sparsity of information about how the concept came together, Homecoming is, alongside the southern gothic feminism of Lemonade, Beyoncé’s grandest articulation yet of her artistic mission. It’s a mission so great, she looks to no less an authority than Maya Angelou to put it into words. “What I really want to do is be a representative of my race,” Angelou says over grainy rehearsal footage near the end of the documentary, in what was the last interview she gave before her death in 2014. “I know that when I’m finished doing what I’m sent here to do, I will be called home”.

IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé during her Coachella show/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I guess you had to be at the Coachella gig to get the full effect but the fact we have the live album and documentary means we get a more intimate and close look at this special and inspirational artist. The sheer scale, spectacle and colour one saw from Coachella exceeds anything we have seen in a very long time. I know there are big shows ad tours but Beyoncé topped them all and created a performance that will linger long in the history books. She used her platform to deliver power and passion – this extended beyond the music and provided education, history and the celebration of black Americans: The BBC explained in more detail:

Throughout Homecoming, Beyoncé included quotes and audio from black leaders and intellectuals, and I greatly appreciated the quote she used from W.E.B. Du Bois: "Education must not simply teach work - it must teach life."

This quote was radical and empowering over 100 years ago, and for better or worse it still leaves a lasting impact today. The quote is from Du Bois' "Talented Tenth" essay in 1903 that both articulated his vision of higher education for black people, and served as a stern rebuke to his rival Booker T Washington who advocated for blacks to prioritise industrial and agrarian training.

Beyoncé bookends her film with quotes from authors Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, and their wisdom has always gracefully empowered our community, celebrated our humanity, and provided a richness to our struggle for equality that the world needs to hear.

The significance of Homecoming also is not merely about the celebrated African Americans featured in the film, or the behind the scenes look at how Beyoncé prepared for the concert; but is also about the foundational importance education has always held in the black community”.

There is a lot to love regarding Homecoming: from the stunning routines through to the messages Beyoncé was saying; to the electricity and sheer vitality of Coachella. It must have been incredible being there but, for those who missed out, we have this concert film that will get other artists interested. Homecoming is not a film made by a committee or designed to be simple and short. It is a passionate and personal feature that will resonate with Beyoncé fans and those who love live performance. Another reason why Homecoming is such a bold and vital step forward is because of the input Beyoncé had. The Guardian talked about Homecoming and how much say Beyoncé had:

For critic and author Hanif Abdurraqib, the fact artists are given creative control over concert films – Beyoncé is named as executive producer and music director on Homecoming – makes them more attractive. “Creative control is a major plus for artists now, who already have so much control over what fans see and don’t see of their everyday lives,” he said. “Social media and the performance of public presentation have all blended into this landscape where an artist can truly write their own narrative for how they wish to appear.”

Forde adds: “It fits with Beyoncé’s approach because her image is so complicated and there’s so much nuance in the way she presents herself, why wouldn’t she want to carry that on in a concert film?

“The concert films need to have visual consistency to continue the aesthetic of Beyoncé

Beyoncé’s film is notable because there are moments of intimacy with the star, who has given no interviews since a sit-down with Oprah in 2013. During Homecoming the audience follows her as she discusses trying to recover physically and mentally after having twins in June 2017. It’s the most intimate portrait of her in years – even if every second is delicately stage-managed”.

There is so much to unpick regarding Homecoming and where we go from here. At a time when artists are not using their stage to discuss important issues or truly create something memorable, I do hope that there is this wave of response that ups the game. I do feel like we have moved away from concert films and do not consider them essential. Beyoncé will not change things on her own but she has shown what is possible. Listen to the live album and, if you can, see Homecoming and get inside this remarkable gig. I cannot wait to see where Beyoncé heads next but, with her, you know it will be very special! She has been a pioneer and inspiration since her Destiny’s Child days but, in these turbulent times, her status and name has grown bolder and more important. I think a great concert film can give us a greater love of gigs and the artist behind them. We all attend gigs and get that rush but do we understand the levels and layers involved? Do we think beyond the music and do we experience something truly life-changing? It will be a hard feat equalling Beyoncé but I do feel Homecoming is a big explosion. If you need something to lift your spirits and open your mind then play Homecoming and experience something…

UTTERLY wonderful

FEATURE: Persona Grata: The Great Alter Egos Behind the Major Artists

FEATURE:

 

 

Persona Grata

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IN THIS IMAGE: David Bowie as Aladdin Sane/PHOTO CREDIT: Brian Duffy

The Great Alter Egos Behind the Major Artists

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THERE is a lot of buzz around Madonna right now...

as she is back with new music. Her previous album, Rebel Heart, was out in 2015 and there have been a lot of people waiting for new stuff. Madonna is no stranger when it comes to reinvention and bringing something fresh to the party. Most of these evolutions regard style and genres: occasionally, she has been known to embrace other personalities and roles. In fact, look back at 1992’s Erotica and how we saw a new side of Madonna. At the peak of her career, she could have repeated 1989’s Like a Prayer or made a move back in her career. In a progressive step that was not welcomed by all critics, she adopted the moniker of ‘Mistress Dita’ and assumed a more sexualised and confident look. The idea behind the alter ego was to highlight sexual freedom and confidence. Madonna was not looking to shock and offend people. Instead, we had this rather enigmatic and unusual heroine who, on the surface, was all rubber, scandal and provocativeness but, underneath, there was a deeper meaning and motivation. Madonna had already released a few albums as her and, whilst Erotica was a Madonna record, she used this Mistress Dita as a way of bringing a new character into her world. Now, twenty-seven years after that album, her second fully-fledged alter ego is here: Madame X is an updated and broader representation of Erotica’s muse.

It seems that this new personality is a superhero heroine who is everything and more. There is not a clear backstory yet but, as we have seen with Twitter teases, there is the teacher, the mistress; the lover, the nun and everything else. Some might claim this is a marketing tool and way of keeping her reputation burning but it is another step forward from an artist who has remained essential since the start of her career. Madame X seems to beckon this new era for Madonna; a character that is less alarming and direct than Mistress Dita but, in a way, more inspiring and interesting. When her album, Madame X, arrives in June, we will get all the different sides to this persona. Maybe it is not as affecting when new artists do it but it is great seeing legends embody someone fictional for an album. Madonna is definitely not alone regarding alter egos. I will come to the artists who, I feel, is the finest when it comes to reinventions but look around and you will see some other great examples. There have been some stumbles along the way – anyone recall Garth Brooks’ reinvention as Australian Chris Gaines back in 1999?! – but the more successful personas have definitely captured something. In a world, now, where superhero franchises are huge I do wonder whether big artists could reinvent themselves and produce a character like this; someone who could have their own film and drama.

So much of modern music is about process and the familiar: breaking conventions and the routine to bring a persona can backfire but it also makes for something brave and new. I am writing about Beyoncé later today but, back in 2008 she released I AM… SASHA FIERCE. This album arrived after B’Day (2006) and took a while to resonate. I like what she did but I felt many missed the all-out bangers and the sort of directness we had with previous Beyoncé albums. Sasha Fierce was already familiar as Beyoncé’s on-stage alter ego but there was a dichotomy on the album. The first half, I AM…, was a slower set of songs whilst SASHA FIERCE represented fire and the up-tempo. A lot of the muted response to the album was the difference between the softer numbers on the first half and the more traditional Beyoncé jams on the second. It was, essentially, the alter ego unleashed that was more impactful than the more reflective and heartfelt artist. Beyoncé is a celebrated icon and was a huge artist back in 2008. Bringing that stage persona to an album was a big move and one that, whilst not immune to criticism, inspired many and made a huge impression of her core fanbase – predominately young/teenage girls. Away from strong women like Madonna and Beyoncé, artists such as Eminem have adopted personas. He has been dubbed ‘Slim Shady’ and ‘Eminem’ as well as ‘Marshall Mathers’ – which is his real name.

The Slim Shady alter ego is a ruder, more comical version of Marshall Mathers but, on all occasions, it provided Eminem the chance to embody someone else and allow himself greater license and creative freedom. This article from udiscovermusic looks at some of the best-known and loved alter egos in music. Included are Paul McCartney, Prince and Nicki Minaj:

After making Ram in 1971, Paul McCartney produced a big-band instrumental version of the entire album, which was later released in 1977 under the mysterious moniker of Percy Thrillington. Paul McCartney, along with his wife Linda, invented the fictitious character and even went so far as to take out ads in various UK music papers announcing Thrillington’s activites as well as spinning a detailed backstory for the Percy Thrillington liner notes.

More than a stage name, musicians have been creating multiple identities as part of their performance for centuries. For some, it was only for an album. When The Beatles wanted to retire their mop-top boy band image and be considered serious artists, they created Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. For others it was self-mythologising, with Robert Zimmerman dropping his supposedly unfashionable moniker for the much hipper Bob Dylan, complete with an itinerant troubadour backstory. For others, it was due to industry pressure. When Simon & Garfunkel were told their names were too “ethnic sounding”, they recorded under “Tom And Jerry”, borrowed from the cartoon adversaries. And some are just ill-fated from the start, like Garth Brooks’ fictional rock star persona Chris Gaines. From country to rock, jazz to hip-hop, these personas embody a specific moment in an artist’s development. Here we pick just a handful of the most famous alter egos from the 50s to today.

IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

Prince’s unreleased albums are nearly as famous as the ones he did release, with the only comfort being that some of this shelved material ended up on official albums. Such is the case with Camille, the 1986 unreleased self-titled debut by Prince’s gender-fluid alter ego. While Prince was no stranger to employing his falsetto (or alter egos, for that matter: Jamie Starr, Tora Tora and Alexander Nevermind are just a few others), for Camille, he purposely recorded his vocals at a slower speed and then adjusted them to the higher pitch to achieve a more feminine sounding voice. Most of the Camille tracks later appeared on 1987’s Sign O’ The Times, including ‘Strange Relationship’, ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’ and its B-side ‘Shockadelica’.

In the self-serious landscape of hip-hop, Nicki Minaj is a true chameleon, employing various wigs and guises to embody alter egos, each with their own backstory – so much so that there’s an entire wiki page to track them all. The most famous (and Minaj’s personal favourite) is Roman Zolandski, a fast-talking, flamboyant British gay man who courts controversy. After first making an appearance on Trey Songz’s hit ‘Bottoms Up’, he pops up on other Minaj hits, including ‘Roman’s Revenge’, ‘Roman Holiday’ and ‘Roman Reloaded’. His mother, Martha Zolandski, is another one of Minaj’s alter egos, alongside Harajuku Barbie, Female Weezy (Lil Wayne’s female counterpart), Point Dexter and more than 10 others”.

You only need to look through articles like that to discover all the alter egos you have missed through the years. It is interesting when considering The Beatles and their album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Back in 1967, there had been a few alter egos in music but a lot of them had been from psychedelic acts and not many mainstream Pop artists were doing this. The Fab Four were as we knew them but, in trippy clothes and adopting this more militaristic and fantastical identity, they helped craft one of the most influential albums of all time – even if the record itself was not strictly a concept; its opening and closing tracks mention the fictional band but it is not mentioned anywhere else. The Beatles not only inspired other bands to try something different but, with that album, they pushed the studio to the limits and helped take music to a whole new level. This interesting article investigates some of the modern artists who have followed in the footsteps of Madonna, The Beatles and David Bowie:

Coming off of the enormous success of his 2015 sophomore album Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd quickly went to work again on his 2016 follow-up record, Starboy. Inspired by another Bowie character, Starman, The Weeknd killed his old persona (literally in the "Starboy" music video when he suffocates himself with a plastic bag) by cutting off his signature dreadlocks, creating a brand new character: the boastful Starboy.

The Weeknd told Zane Lowe in their Beats 1 interview about Starboy's personality, "He's a more braggadocios character that we all have inside of us
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Starboy brags about his expensive cars and sings about girlfriends snorting cocaine off of his ebony wood table. There's always the negative that comes with fame, though, and for a brief moment it seems as if he might regret his decision to become a mega pop star when he sings, "Look what you've done."

As it turns out, the devil really is in rock and roll - and he's flashy. U2 front man Bono took on the devil-meets-glam-rock-star Mr. MacPhisto during the band's ZooTV tour in the early '90s. On the same tour, he also morphed into The Fly (a vinyl-clad stereotypical rock star) and Mirror Ball Man, who author Bill Flanagan describes as an "American TV evangelist/used car salesman/game-show host in a cowboy hat throwing dollars around." Both The Fly and Mirror Ball Man laid the groundwork for MacPhisto. Bono explained in his autobiography, U2 by U2:

"It was time to put the Mirror Ball Man in mothballs. We wanted a more Eurocentric character, more decadent, more old world, rather than the brash Yankee salesman with God on his side. I started to think about what The Fly would be like when he's old and fat and playing Las Vegas. U2 conjured up the Devil!"
Lady Gaga, known for her outlandish fashion statements and over-the-top performances, pushed the envelope even further in 2011 at the MTV Music Awards when she performed in drag as her male alter ego Jo Calderone. Not only did she physically transform herself with a swoop of black hair and sideburns, but she stayed in character, only answering questions backstage as Calderone.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Lady Gaga as her male alter ego, Jo Calderone/PHOTO CREDIT: Terry Richardson

"My family's from Palermo, Sicily. And I'm not a singer or a model or actor or anything, I'm just a guy," Jo said.

Gaga originally created the character months earlier on the sly and sneaked him into a men's fashion editorial for Vogue Hommes Japan, leading fans to wonder if this new male model with a rough-around-the-edges style was indeed the female singer”.

It can quite strange for a relatively fresh artist to adopt a persona and some cynics might say it indicates a lack of original thirst. Conversely, artists who create a new moniker are looking to represent themselves in a way not explored before. Maybe being themselves is a bit too straight and they have to be overly-personal. One can allow some fantasy and expansion when you have an alter ego. It can, as said, be difficult getting the balance right and making the venture successful. There have been failures and confusing attempts but, when you hit the right notes, the effects are mesmerising! This article counts looks at the most famous David Bowie alter egos. There are no other artists out there who have enjoyed as many successful and compelling reboots as David Bowie. Even up until his final album, Blackstar (2016), he was trying out new guises and directions. The Independent, in this article, looked at Bowie’s different faces and personalities through the years:

His first and arguably greatest alter ego was born when Bowie broke through into the mainstream with Ziggy Stardust. Face daubed with a lightening bolt and mullet hairstyle dyed crimson red, Ziggy Stardust was a bisexual rock star alien who acted as a messenger for extra-terrestrial beings. Dressed in a multi-coloured Lycra jumpsuit, Bowie’s androgynous, wafer-thin doppelganger came to redefine an entire era of rock’n’roll. Widely considered one of the greatest albums of all time, it went on to sell an estimated 7.5 million copies worldwide

It was Major Tom who first propelled Bowie into the limelight. As the protagonist of ‘Space Oddity’, Major Tom helped establish Bowie as a solo artist to be reckoned with in 1969. A fictional astronaut, Major Tom has cut off all of his communication with planet Earth and floated into space. The character evolves throughout his career, making another appearance in the 1980 song ‘Ashes to Ashes’.

Aladdin Sane was a continuation of Ziggy Stardust. The protagonist of his sixth album, Bowie describes the alter ego as “Ziggy goes to America” because the album was inspired by his 1972 US tour. Later, he also told friends that the character was inspired by his brother Terry who was diagnosed with schitzophrenia. After all, the name is based on the pun ‘A Lad Insane’.

The darkest of all of Bowie’s alter egos, the Thin White Duke coincided with the peak of his cocaine usage. Although, on the surface, the Duke seemed more ordinary than Bowie’s former personas, at a closer look, he exhibited signs of real trauma. Bowie describes the Duke as, “A very Aryan, fascist-type; a would-be romantic with absolutely no emotion at all but who spouted a lot of neo-romance”.

It is heartbreaking that David Bowie is no longer with us because who knows where he could have taken that keen eye for reinvention, persona and the unusual. Who knows, also, how many other artists he inspired to break from the ordinary and step into a new realm? I think Ziggy Stardust is my favourite of his incarnations but I hold a special place for Aladdin Sane and The Thin White Duke. The darker Bowie, at the peak of his cocaine intake, was controversial but I think the most intriguing and complex iterations.

This feature shows that, even as late as 2016 (the year he died), we were seeing David Bowie adopt a new character:

The Blind Prophet After playing many different characters, on his last album, Blackstar (2016), Bowie shows the real him: David Robert Jones. In the videos, his eyes were covered with bandages as his character was a blind prophet foretelling his own demise. The black star on the vinyl cover contains a hidden message, transforming into a galaxy of stars when light shines on the cover. A beautiful goodbye message to his fans, since David Bowie passed away just days after the album's release”.

The death of Bowie, perhaps, took away the godfather of disguise, character and alter egos. He was a master when it came to embodying these marvellous creations but, rather than mourn a trailblazer, it is worthwhile using Bowie as a lead. Modern artists like Nicki Minaj and Eminem have taken their music in new directions but I feel like more can be done. I do feel like we get caught in the rush of promotion, all the new artists and news coming through. I have a lot of respect for artists who do things traditionally and like to walk that path but, for those who try something different, the effects can be incredible. I do not think there is anything calculated and cynical regarding reinvention and adopting a new name/guise. From David Bowie and Beyoncé to Madonna, Eminem and The Weeknd, there have been some cool and out-there alter egos. Against all the routine, predictability and ordinariness of music, having these eye-opening alter egos in the world gives music…

IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé as Sasha Fierce/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

A definite spark!

FEATURE: Sisters in Arms: An All-Female, Spring-Ready Playlist (Vol. VIII)

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

IN THIS PHOTO: Olivia Nelson 

An All-Female, Spring-Ready Playlist (Vol. VIII)

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WE can truly say that spring has arrived...

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Bloom

as the sun is shining and the heat is properly among us! I love the fact that the sunshine is blaring and we have some great music to keep us entertained. Among the female-led gems for this week is some Pop, Soul and, well, pretty much everything. There is a lot of variation in the pack and so many different shades to investigate. I have been looking through the fresh releases and deciding which songs will fit best on this spring-ready list. Have a listen to these top tracks and I know there will be something in there that…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Maiah Manser

GETS you pumping!

ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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Ellie RoseAudrey

Lizzy LandCall Me

PHOTO CREDIT: Nathan Russell

Lauran Hibberd - Hoochie

PHOTO CREDIT: William Arcand

Claudia BouvetteCool It

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PHOTO CREDIT: Onishi Ltd

KINNOHAFeel for You

Angelique Kidjo Sahara

PHOTO CREDIT: Skulljan

Made in JuneCha Cha

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Alex HepburnGood Woman

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Morgan Saintgod bless our souls

PHOTO CREDIT: Austin Roa

Jade Bird17

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Dinah JaneFix It

Jasmine RaeRight Now

Sophia ScottDrink Too Much Wine

JainGloria

BananaramaStuff Like That

Olivia O’BrienJust a Boy

PHOTO CREDIT: Geert Breeks

TusksForeign

Ida Wenøe - Another Kind of Love

Olivia NelsonNo Answer

Stealing SheepJust Dreaming

Katie ToupinMagnetic Moves

BloomGround

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PHOTO CREDIT: @annaazarov

Maiah ManserSee Thru It

Dressy BessyTiny Lil Robots

Hannah CohenAll I Wanted

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IYVESGold

PHOTO CREDIT: Alison Mckenny Photography

Mairead Furlong – Cocoon

PHOTO CREDIT: Nicolae Bernal

A.O. GerberStrangers

FEATURE: The April Playlist: Vol. 3: I’m Not Medellin in the Homecoming Celebrations!

FEATURE:

 

The April Playlist

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IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé

Vol. 3: I’m Not Medellin in the Homecoming Celebrations!

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THIS week has few tracks/standouts…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Loyle Carner

but the ones we do have are from some mighty artists. There is fresh material from Madonna and Beyoncé and, as two of the biggest names in modern music, it is great to have stuff from them out! There is also music from Beck, Lizzo; Loyle Carner, Jade Bird and The Flaming Lips – there is no shortage to be found when it comes to quality! Have a listen to this week’s best tunes and I am certain there are some moments in the pack that will capture your imagination. It is a big week for tracks but I think the Madonna and Beyoncé revelations stand above them all! I have compiled a playlist to get the weekend kicking off and moving. Take the songs with you and get behind all the magnificent songs we have been treated to. The sun is out, the temperature is rising and, in the world of music, things are definitely hot…

 IN THIS IMAGE: Madonna

RIGHT now.  

ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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Madonna, Maluma - Medellín 

Beyoncé Formation (Homecoming Live)

PHOTO CREDIT: Ellie McIntyre

Jade BirdUh Huh

Lizzo Better in Color

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PHOTO CREDIT: Lauren Dukoff

Beck Saw Lightning

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PHOTO CREDIT: French Vanilla

Loyle Carner Krispy

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Carly Rae Jepsen - Julien

The Flaming LipsAll for the Life of the City

The Cranberries In the End

Honeyblood She’s a Nightmare

Fat White Family - When I Leave

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Four TetTeenage Birdsong

Cate Le Bon - Home to You

EELS - You Are the Shining Light

She Drew the Gun - Paradise

PHOTO CREDIT: Neil Krug

Cage the Elephant Social Cues

Jain Gloria

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Modest Mouse I’m Still Here

Peggy Gou Han Pan (Original Mix)

Blossoms I’ve Seen the Future

 
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Blake Rose Best of Me

Ellie Goulding - Sixteen

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PHOTO CREDIT: Dani Hansen

Jack Grace Slow Burn

PHOTO CREDIT: Eliot Lee Hazel

Tune-Yards SIGNS (Detroit’s Theme)

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Dinah Jane Heard It All Before

Tom Rosenthal Spring 

Tusks Foreign

LEISURE On My Mind

Another Sky - The Cracks

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PHOTO CREDIT: Mats Bakken Photography

Ora the Molecule The Cup

No Rome Cashmoney

Chasing Abbey 6 O’clock

INTERVIEW: Jamie Hannah

INTERVIEW:

Jamie Hannah

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THIS is a bit of a hold-over interview...

but it has been nice finding out about Jamie Hannah and his music. He discusses his latest track, Sound of My Youth, and future plans working with Boy George; counting Dame Emma Thompson as a fan and which albums are important to him and which rising artist we need to watch.

I ask Hannah whether there are tour dates coming up and who he’d support on the road if he could choose anyone; how important it is being up on the stage and whether he ever gets chance to chill – he selects a really good track to end the interview with.

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Hi, Jamie. How are you? How has your week been?

What a busy week I’ve had. My debut video premiered on Billboard in New York this week. What an amazing reaction I have had. I have also been busy preparing for my first tour. I am the support act for Heather Small on a nine-venue tour around England – so lots of rehearsals with the band, sorting out sessions on the local radio stations and arranging interviews with the press. There is so much to do!

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

I am a classically trained Pop singer writing and performing my music. My music is Pop music with lots of Classical influences.

Sound of My Youth is your current single. Can you reveal its origins?

This song is about memories of first love that ended badly. I use the illusion of water and the feeling of drowning to try and explain how I felt about the break up.

You have famous fans including Boy George and Emma Thompson. How does that feel? Have you met them both?

I met Boy George through my producer, Benny D, as they are long-term friends. George and I then met for lunch and we took it from there. We have worked together writing a new song. He is a great mentor and very generous with his time and advice. My next single, House of Truth, is one he has written and we have collaborated on.

Emma is the mother of one of my very good friends. We have met many times and she is great fun and very supportive.

Might there be more material coming later in the year?

My next single is ready to go and I also have an E.P. of tracks on tape waiting to be released.

Do you think your sound has changed and evolved a lot since the earliest days?

Originally, I was a trained countertenor Opera singer. I still use those techniques to sing Pop music. I sing different types of music and my sound is still evolving.

When you were growing up, which artists/records did you hold dear?

I love all kinds of music: Popular, Music Theatre; Jazz, Classical. If I were to single out any one genre it would be the big pop divas such as Arianna Grande, Elton John and Freddie Mercury.

Do you have a standout memory from your time in music so far?

So many amazing memories. Probably working with Boy George was a huge highlight. I was also part of a small group of singers that sang with Kylie Minogue at a series of her Christmas concerts at the Royal Albert Hall two years running. She is a superb performer and is really in touch with her audience.  What an experience.

Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?

SongbirdEva Cassidy, SweetenerArianna Grande and Back to Black - Amy Winehouse. Stunning voices, amazing talents; all masters of their genres.

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

I am touring this month supporting Heather Small. This is such an honour and I am hugely looking forward to it. I would love to do a big arena tour with someone like Rita Ora, Little Mix or Dido. That would be mega.

Are you planning any gigs in the coming months?

Yes. I have a tour with Heather Small around England until 26th April. In May/June, I will be promoting my new single with Boy George at a variety of gigs, festivals and other events.

How important is performing? Do you prefer it to life in the studio?

I love both. When I am performing, I am understanding and reacting to the audience itself. When I am in the studio, the band and I are working and combining to get down on track how I want my music to sound. Both are hugely satisfying.

Can you describe the feeling being on stage and feeling the music connect with the crowd?

I just love it. There is no better feeling than when you and your music connect to an audience.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Freya Ridings

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

I am always listening to lots of new artists but Freya Ridings really stands out to me.

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

Not at the moment! If I were to take time out it is to go to the gym or walk my dog…and meet up with friends for meals. I also love travelling and sunshine!

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Eva CassidyAutumn Leaves. My granddad was an amazing Jazz pianist and he played this. It always brings a lump to my throat

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Follow Jamie Hannah

TRACK REVIEW: Madonna (ft. Maluma) - Medellin

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Madonna (ft. Maluma)

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Medellin

 

9.5/10

 

The track, Medellin, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8PtBzdiZ3g

GENRES:

Latin/Pop

RELEASE DATE:

17th April, 2019

LABELS:

Boy Toy, Inc., Live Nation Worldwide and Interscope Records

The album, Madame X, is available from 14th June, 2019. Pre-order here:

https://madonna.lnk.to/MadameX

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EVEN though I have been...

writing on this blog for over seven years, I have never reviewed Madonna before! It is hard to know where to start but, when considering her latest track, I want to investigate alter egos and personas; collaborations and big artists who fuse with others; longevity in the industry and keeping fans behind you; teasing material and building up that sense of mystery and defying ageism in the music industry – I will end by looking ahead at where Madonna might step next. I am writing more about this later today but I am interested when artists invent a persona and their own character. It can be quite interesting seeing artists take a big leap between albums and taking their sound in a new direction. More compelling than that is someone who can change their identity and bring about this new figure. In Madonna’s case, she is not new to the alter ego. One might say that every album she has produced has given us a fresh personality but, in terms of a unique character, Erotica was the first reinvention. That album came out in 1992 and arrived at a pretty interesting time. She wowed critics with Like a Prayer in 1989 and was at the peak of her powers. Every album before that saw Madonna rise and grow but it was her 1989 record that broke her into the realms of superstardom. Madonna needed a logical move or a step away from what she was doing. Mistress Dita was/is this saucy, dominating woman who gave Erotica its necessary edge and sexuality. The album received some raised eyebrows but it was the first time that Madonna had embodied this character. She did not do anything radical with her voice but there was this sort of concept running through Erotica. Madonna was bold on Like a Prayer but Mistress Dita gave her this platform to write material that was a little more provocative and risk-taking. Even though that was twenty-seven years ago, this new embodiment seems to be a more fleshed-out version of Erotica’s heroine.

Madame X will be hitting the shelves on 14th June and its titular heroine is this all-encompassing superpower. Almost like a secret agent, Madame X is, as Madonna said on her social media feeds, this mother and lover figure; a teacher and spy; a whore and equestrian. These titles/jobs might give us an insight into what the songs on Madame X will sound like. There has already been talk/news regarding Madonna using a horse for one of her music videos so that is where the equestrian angle comes in. She has been rumoured to have a video using drag queens in the pipeline – no idea which part of her character that would embody. In many ways, Madame X is an extension of who Madonna has always been. She has always fought for freedom and wanted to change lives; wanted to touch people and give them a voice. Madame X is this spy-like character that travels the world and can be a nun and saint; a prisoner and criminal who reveals different aspects and angles. It is intriguing to think how the songs on Madame X will sound and whether she will use different sides of the character on each. Erotica was a sexual and confident album but, from song to song, there was not necessarily a different side of Mistress Dita. Here, it seems like Madame X will be the chameleon and project a different side in every song. This means the album will have that flow that keeps it fresh; a series of little stories all connected to this heroine. The first track, Medllin, has Latin rhythms and is more about Madonna and her partner, Maluma, embraced in this rare and exciting love. I will talk more about that track but it is more about Madonna as the rebel and lover of Madame X. I am interested seeing what other songs are about because, in my opinion, having this character is more interesting than a traditional album. We get to see Madonna in a new light and embrace this strong and inspiring figure. Each song, I guess, finds her traveling the world and changing her personality in this rather cool way. Nobody is quite sure what Madame X will sound like but, from its first offering, it will be pretty impressive!

I was a bit worried when Madonna revealed her tracklist for Madame X as there are quite a few collaborations. Out of the thirteen tracks announced, five have other artists on it. That might not same like too much but I do look back at her earlier career and there were not many times when Madonna had to share the spotlight. Apart from duetting with Prince on Love Song (from Like a Prayer) and having people like Babyface sing on her tracks, it has been all her. In more recent albums, Nicki Minaj has been involved and Madonna has been keen to promote various producers – giving them quite a big billing on album covers. Whilst Madonna is the star and the reason we will buy Madame X, I do wonder whether other parties will take too much focus away from her. As she has this new persona and storyline, these other artists give additional voices and characters. I can appreciate that they need to be there so the album has this sense of story and narrative but I do feel like a few less cooks in the kitchen would have been a good thing. In the Spotify era, collaborations are a great way for artists to get more people listening to their music. A big artist can bring others on and, in an instant, the profile of the lesser-heard artist can rise. I am not cynically claiming collaboration is about business and getting the numbers up but a lot of songs do not need others performing on them – or not as many as you get! I hear songs with five or six different artists on it and it can be pretty annoying! In the case of Madonna, she has carefully selected her collaborators and has always worked with different acts through her career. Collaborations before have been quite subtle and it is only in recent years where other performers have taken more of a role in her sound. Madonna does not really need others to make her look and sound great but some say that her collaborating is an effort to remain relevant and fresh in a competitive market.

That would be wrong as Madonna is the Queen of Pop and will always have a huge fanbase. The landscape has changed since she burst through in the 1980s and there is a lot more to choose from. Music has become more digital and the type of music we favour is also different. Doing what she did back in the 1980s and 1990s might not work now and there is nothing wrong with joining with other artists. It will be a big test for Madame X as to whether these other artists take too much focus. Five songs have collaborators and I just hope that Madonna is not pushed out of the way and has minor say when it comes to the vocals. If you have the odd duet or another voice in the background, it can be highly effective and original. Maluma features a couple of times on the album and seems to be a lover-type figure. There are no big names collaborating which makes me feel like there is not going to be that feeling world-famous and legendary figures are in there just to revive their career. On the other hand, I have not heard of any of the collaborators on the album and, I guess, they are trendy and cool with the young folk. Madonna has a reason for including them but I do wonder whether, instead of the hip newcomers, she could have created a bigger punch joining with more established and long-standing artists. I am not a big fan of the BBC Radio 1-type artists who seem very popular and cool but will not endure many years from now. Madonna does not need these type of artists to make her cool and current but, so long as motives are pure, then it is fine. Recent Madonna records have brought in super-cool producers and artists but I think it is a way of making sure her material is in good hands and sounds contemporary. She could not well keep writing and producing with the same people in a climate that has changed; she needs to bring in the new core and, yes, use other artists to bring new fans/eyes Madonna’s way.

Not only are new personas and constant creative shifts a reason why Madonna ensures and inspires but she has knows what the people want. Look back at her early career and Madonna was aware of how good she was and what the scene was lacking. She talked about deeper subjects and tackled things that others were not. There was this boldness and confidence that meant she was a standout artist from the 1980s and 1990s. Able to fit in with changing musical trends and keep her material fresh and individual, Madonna was much more inventive, savvy and strong than her peers. She is shrewd when it comes to business and takes care of every aspect of her career. Look at the way Madame X has been promoted and teased and here is Madonna able to adapt to 2019. That sounds patronising but she is not an artist who sits back and assumes her legacy will create sales. She realises people need to promote in a certain way and has created this great campaign. As opposed doing a few interviews and letting a team run things, she is more hands-on and is keen to take care of things. Madonna also celebrates her older albums and wants people to discover them. This balance between a very modern artist and someone who acknowledges her past is fascinating. I have seen some legendary artists lose fans because they either do not change or they sound a bit fake when trying to modernise. Madonna knows what her fans want and does not change that. She needs to keep evolving and looking forward but she could easily sell out and be someone different. There are multiple reasons why Madonna has endured but she can read the market and is able to change and create these steps without losing her core and true identity. The music itself remains strong and always keeps you guessing. Others need to look her way regarding how to survive and remain in a very challenging industry.

I have been a fan of Madonna since the 1980s and feel that she has many more years ahead. She ruled Pop in the 1980s but knew that, in the 1990s, music was changing. Erotica brought in some Dance and House elements and she was aware of the European influence in the early-1990s. Ray of Light in 1998 was the first album to bring Electronic music fully into the mainstream and give producers like William Orbit a bigger voice. I think it is the risks Madonna takes and how she can see the future. Rather than copy what everyone is up to, she looks to the underground and creates something new. Madonna always bends sounds and united different genres and, on Medllin, she is at it again. This article from The Telegraph shows why Madonna backing a Latin sound is important – and what we might expect from the rest of Madame X:

If Medellín is anything to go by, then the Queen of Pop is back to her usual genre-bending form. A collaboration with the 25-year-old Latin-pop sensation, Maluma, the airy reggaeton-infused track, named after the city in which Maluma was born, is written in both English and Spanish – perhaps unsurprisingly, given that Madonna already revealed her penchant for Latin music on her 1986 song La Isla Bonita.

The Latino flavour is timely: while sales of music in Europe grew by just 0.1 per cent in 2018, Latin America grew by 16.8 per cent. US pop stars have been paying attention – both Beyoncé and Justin Bieber have worked with Latinx artists since 2017 (the year when 19 predominantly Spanish-language tracks made their way into the Billboard Hot 100).

Several details about Madame X are still under-wraps, but we do know that Mirwais Ahmadzai, who worked with Madonna on her albums Music and American Life will be involved, as well as Rebel Heart producer Mike Dean”.

That foresight regarding sounds and utilising the best producers around means Madonna can keep her career burning and inspire a new generation. She is always moving forward and does not want to repeat herself. This is something that should act as guide to other artists who repeat themselves and never really shift between albums. Whereas some of her iconic peers are eager to remain still and not really embrace the modern ways, Madonna is always adapting and bending to ensure that nobody rivals her.

There is always this talk regarding Madonna as Pop’s queen and whether she can compete now. Many say that people like Arianna Grande and Lady Gaga are overtaking her. There is a raft of new Pop artists who are popular but can one really lay claim to a new leader when Madonna is still kicking?! Given the body of work Madonna has and how she has changed music, I am not sure anyone in our life will rival what she has given music. The newcomers are okay but it is quite insulting to think that one could easily usurp Madonna with a couple of good albums and some big Instagram figures. You need to have respect for Madonna’s past and what she has given music. Madonna endures and compels today because she has that legacy but she has embraced modern technology and ways. She could just release a single or two and bring the album out – that would be fine and it’d sell well. Some relatively new Madonna albums have not sold as well as hoped but maybe that was to do with the social media campaign. Having this Madame X character means Madonna can build that sense of interest and use social media in a different way. She is posting photos and tweets regarding different aspects of Madame X and there is a new picture for each one. The teaser for the album was this cool little film where we saw Madonna in different costumes and giving Madame X this rather dramatic and flowing edge. She travels the world and is a chameleon that inspires, breaks and loves. I do feel like a lot of modern music and promotion relies on something quick and easy that we can digest and then move on from. Here, Madonna has given us something that requires a bit of imagination and actually hooks you in. You can call it gimmicky and a bit of a marketing tool but it is a natural extension of what she has done in the past.

I love the fact Madonna keeps things interesting and, in 2019, is still turning heads and getting people talking! I will move on to reviewing Medellin soon but I wanted to ageism in the industry. Madonna has faced this for a while now and, in fact, post-Music (2000), one feels like certain radio stations have overlooked her. Madonna is only sixty and showing that age does not matter. There are older artists who are producing gentler music and not quite as empathic as they were back in the day. Whether we are talking about Kylie Minogue or Sheryl Crow, they have faced ageism attacks and been relegated by radio stations that used to play their music. It is an issue that affects more women than men and I do wonder why there is this feeling an artist becomes irrelevant or uncool when they hit a certain age. Look at what Madonna has given to music and you can see how she has inspired and brought music to where it is. Albums like Erotica gave rise to more provocative and daring artists; each of her big records has resonated with artists and made them want to follow in her footsteps. It is a crying shame that many overlook Madonna because she has reached sixty and, therefore, needs to be shunned to a limited range of radio stations. Madame X will be an album full of life and pop. Madonna is not sitting down with an acoustic guitar and playing things safe: the always-enduing and influential leader is ensuring her music has the same sort of energy and desire it always has. Why, then, do radio stations ignore the sound and dynamic of the music and focus on age alone? I get the suspicion BBC Radio 1 will not be playing much of her album but maybe they will. It is strange that slightly softer and more romantic songs from recent Madonna albums have been overlooked but the more upbeat ones are okay. Perhaps joining with artists like Maluma means she has that crossover appeal but it seems tragic that it takes these relatively inexperienced artists to give Madonna a place on ‘younger’ radio stations.

A lot has been made of Medellin and some slightly dodgy lyrics. I shall come to them but, in terms of the opening notes, Madonna checks the microphone. She gives us a whispered and sensual “1,2…” and makes sure people can hear her before things kick off. In some ways, it is Madonna returning to the stage and getting people’s attention. Before you get any images of Madonna on the stage and being this sort of cabaret figure, she talks about taking a pill and slipping into a dream. There is this sense of nostalgia and slipping back as she returns to the age of seventeen and a time, one suspects, where music was making a big impression on her. There are some cool beats and electronic funk whereas we get some Maluma injections in the background. His presence is quite low and anonymous at the very start as Madonna talks about her dreams and experiences – one could not have a first single from this album and feature too much of a collaborator at the top! That distinct Madonna vocal sound rides the wave as she takes sips and dreams. One gets the sense of this heroine sleeping in the sun and returning to a younger time. Maybe there is naivety but it is interesting hearing Madonna look back on a song that is very modern and unlike what she has done before. In terms of sounds, there is a Latin flavour that runs throughout. This is not new to her. Songs like La Isla Bonita (True Blue, 1986) show Madonna has an affinity for Latin sounds but here we get a fusion with something jagged and harder-hitting. The song is quite romantic but a more modern version of a track such as La Isla Bonita. Maluma comes in with Spanish verse and you will need to put the lyrics through Google to understand what he is singing about. Madonna responds to the alluring call of Maluma with the declaration that she will be so good for him.

You cannot help but escape the catchiness and sense of dance that defines the song. Medellin is a twisting, groovy song that has a definite swivel and fun to it. Madonna sips her pain “like a Champagne” and feels naked; alive and vulnerable without having to have to hide herself. Maybe the Spanish lyrics are a bit hard to get behind and there is this clash between the familiar words and a feeling rather than clarity. One can appreciate Maluma in terms of sound but, as many will not know what he is singing, it means you might have to pause the song and translate the words. In many ways, it means Madonna can make the biggest stamp and can resonate harder. It is nice to hear the two artists spar and unite as they have a very different sound. We get a bit of processed vocals and machines stepping in but they are more for effect than to disguise a lack of strength. The chorus for Medellin has a big heart and pump and the song itself never loses its fire and sassiness! Madonna sort of returns to her earliest days when she was putting out Pop belters. One can also look at albums like True Blue and Ray of Light in terms of the energy and quality being put forward. Some of the lyrics do sort of slip by – and there is a time when she talks about love being like a cartel that does seem a bit of a poor choice – but most of the words strike and provide clear and alluring images. Medellin will definitely strike those who like their Pop with a twist but it is the fusion of genres that gets to me. Madonna takes a trip with her lover and the two unite and sway with one another. Beats crackle and the sunshine breeze gives the track a real heat and intensity. You need a few spins to get to the heart of the song but it definitely puts you in a better mood! It is hard to escape the passion and power. Madonna, I feel, stands out and gives the biggest performance but Maluma adds an exoticness and vocal that is less crowbarred and more essential – the two are on the same page and it will be great seeing what Maluma brings to another Madame X song, Bitch I’m Loca. It has been a few years since we have heard Madonna music but the wait has been worth it. There are some slightly weak aspects of Medellin – some of the lyrics are saccharine and trite; more natural instrumentation and strings rather than electronics could have created a better song – but this is a strong and compelling song above everything. It is good to Madonna back!

Madame X will be out on 14th June and it is the fourteenth studio album from Madonna. There have been a lot of photos, teases and posts to suggest what we might get from the album. There has not been an official video for Medellin yet so that will be interesting to see what comes about. Madonna posted the tracklist for the album and there are some great titles to be found – Batuka and Bitch I’m Loca among them! I am sure there will be other singles before the album is released and it will be cool to see the various visuals and characters Madonna plays. I am not sure when Madonna will tour but, in terms of images and sets, one feels like a Madame X tour could rival some of her best work. Think of all the different sets and visuals she will create and what could come about! There are no firm plans at the moment but, when the album is out, I am sure there will be dates announced. It is a great time for Madonna and I cannot wait to see where she heads from here. I understand she is moving from Portugal (where she lives) to New York and she has recently been in London talking about Madame X. I have talked about reinvention and ageism and how it relates to Madonna. It is sad that many stations and outlets will overlook Madame X because of Madonna’s age rather than the quality of the music. Madonna does not need to worry as the album will get a lot of great reviews and many will want to see her hit the road. There is nobody out there who keeps changing shapes and moving like Madonna! She has been at the forefront of music since the early days of her career and many are calling Medellin a return to form. Albums such as MDNA (2012) and Rebel Heart (2015) got some good reviews but nothing quite like Confessions on a Dance Floor (2005). It appears there is a new lease back in Madonna’s music and, even though she has created this new heroine, Madame X will be personal and revealing. There is a lot to look forward to and recommend so, when the album is released, make sure you get a copy and see Madonna in…

A new light.

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Follow Madonna

INTERVIEW: Mako

INTERVIEW:

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Mako

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ON this Good Friday...

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I get to present Mako, who has been telling me about his new track, Coyote, and how it came together; a few albums that mean a lot to him and how the music of Mako has changed since they were a duo to now – where Alex is a solo artist.

I ask about Mako’s talents and endeavours in T.V. and film; how he manages to unwind away from music and whether there are going to be tour dates – he ends the interview with a great song selection.

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Hi, Mako. How are you? How has your week been?

I’m good (smiles). I just moved into a new apartment, got on a dating app for the first time; released some new music.

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

Yeah, definitely. I’m sure I’ll butcher this, but picture a Classical French horn player who got distracted by EDM and Pop music for a few years and listens to a lot of Indie Rock.

Coyote is your new single. What is the story behind it?

I was honestly super-burned-out, creatively…

I asked my team for a couple months off just to write purely for love (sadly, it’s not always the case) - and I started thinking about what I really have to bring to the table as an artist. I got on this kick…of ‘What would happen if you crammed your entire life of music into a record?’. Not only was Coyote born soon after, but my entire album materialized right in front of me. I haven’t been this purely happy and focused with my work in years.

Is there going to be an E.P. or album coming later in the year?

Yep (smiles).

I know Mako started life as a duo before just you, Alex. How has the music changed since inception?

The music has changed drastically, but the creative experience has always been the same. Even as a duo, I was always behind the wheel with our material - and my good buddy Logan would pilot our D.J. sets and help navigate the corridors of business for us. My taste in music has shifted so much since then - taking a tour through our discography will reveal it pretty clearly.

Were there particular artists that inspired you to get into music?

I was a diehard Gustav Mahler kid growing up (play along with the recordings to his symphonies in my garage all through high-school, meanwhile speaking with zero girls the entire time). I was caught up in the EDM craze out of college - and now I’ve settled into a strong IDM kick with artists like Moderat, Jon Hopkins; Atoms for Peace/Radiohead and a lot of the cinematic composer/artists like Ólafur Arnolds and Max Richter.

It seems your musical talent extends to T.V. and film. How important and informative is it working across various mediums?

It’s a huge enjoyment for me; the role of music in those mediums shifts dramatically. Everything is generally in service to a larger idea; the scope of collaboration can be immense and a successful day’s work can mean your music won’t be noticed (by design). It brings me a lot of happiness to glide between those projects and the egomania that is a pure artist project.

Can you describe what music does to you? Is it a form of emotional release?

A billion-percent emotional release. I, very sadly, don’t find myself connecting often with lyrics in any form. I don’t use music as a way to feel connected with pop culture. It’s just pure emotion for me.

Do you have a standout memory from your time in music so far?

So, so many. Recently, working with League of Legends the past two years on their ‘Worlds’ events has been an all-time life highlight for me.

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Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?

In Rainbows (Radiohead) through-and-through is my favorite artist album: it’s got everything I like about music. Interestingly, John Powell’s score to How to Train Your Dragon is the album that convinced me to quit the French horn and pursue a career in writing music. And I was heavily affected this year by Jon HopkinsSingularity - both in its contents and how captivatingly unique a piece of art can be, led by one singular voice.

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

Haha, wait. So, a rider…as in like a hospitality rider? I’m gonna give this one to my good mate Charles Yang - one disgustingly talented violin/guitar/singer. He gets infinite gin and tonics in his rider because he just bought me a few and I owe him.

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What are your plans regarding gigs/touring?

A tour after this new album (smiles).

Is there any advice you’d give to upcoming artists?

Make a ton, ton, ton of music - it’ll get better, I promise. I’d also recommend finding a unique voice but sometimes I get a little pessimistic about that and I’m adventuring for the first time on this bullet - so check back with me in two years if I’m happy about this decision.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Josin

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

I stumbled upon this hauntingly lovely artist called Josin.

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

I’m really super-sh*tty at this. Partial evidence of this is that I’m just typing right now as a means of buying time to think about a decent answer. I run late at night, which is a biggie for me. I can dig myself into some strange pockets of extreme isolation. I do wonder if this is just the reality for people who looove what they do. Balance is important.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

You asked...play Romantic Flight from How to Train Your Dragon

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Follow Mako

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INTERVIEW: Hailey Knox

INTERVIEW:

PHOTO CREDIT: Shervin Lainez

Hailey Knox

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TAKING us towards the long Easter weekend...

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Shervin Lainez

is Hailey Knox, who has been discussing her Hardwired Mixtape and what inspired it; whether there are going to be gigs very soon and some of the albums that have made an impact on her – she chooses some approaching artists that are worth investigation.

I ask Knox what music she grew up around and how important touring is; which artist she’d support if she could and what the rest of 2019 holds – Knox selects a great modern track to bring the interview down to a close.

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Hi, Hailey. How are you? How has your week been? 

Hello! I’m good! I've been working on new music this past week and hanging with family. I’m very excited to release new stuff and get new music out very soon.

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please? 

I’m Hailey Knox! I’ve been singing since I was really young and playing guitar since I was seven. I’ve spent the last few years touring and creating music! My last tour was my first headlining tour which was a really interesting experience. I just released my mixtape, the Hardwired Mixtape, which has songs from a lot of different times in my life. I’m going on tour this summer supporting Bailen on the West Coast which I’m very excited about!

The Hardwired Mixtape is out now. What sort of experiences and stories inspired the music on the collection?

I talk a lot about life as a touring musician, missing home; self-doubt and relationships. A lot of the lyrics talk about emotions that I don’t show.

Is there going to be more material coming later in the year do you reckon?

Yes! I have a lot of songs I’m working on. New music real soon! 

How has 2019 been for you so far? Has it started pretty hectically?

2019 has been awesome! I had my song, Hardwired, on Grey's Anatomy, which was very cool! It was the first time I had a song on T.V. I am working on new music that I’m very excited about and I went on my first headlining tour!

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When you were growing up, which artists/records did you hold dear?

So many. I grew up loving Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber; Ingrid Michaelson, Tyler, the Creator and a lot of different artists and genres. My first concert was Hilary Duff!

Do you have a standout memory from your time in music so far? 

All of my touring experiences have been very cool and different. I feel like I learn something new with every tour and the people I work with. Seeing people online cover my songs always makes my day. It’s so cool that people connect with my lyrics and sing/ create their own versions. 

Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?

I really love DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar. I think the production is unreal and the tone of his voice - and melody/flow in every song is amazing. I am also really into Billie Eilish’s album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? I love the harmonies on all of the songs and the sounds in the production that Finneas uses are so great. I love how she ties in all of the songs at the end. Jon Bellion's album, The Human Condition, is another favorite of mine. He also incorporates all of the songs into one song at the end which I love. His lyrics and melodies really pull you in. 80’s Films and Guillotine are some of my favorites.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Shervin Lainez

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

I would love to support Billie Eilish! On my rider, I would put grilled chicken, sea salt and vinegar chips and tea!

What does the rest of this year hold for you?

Releasing new music, writing more music and heading out on tour during summer!

Are you planning any gigs in the coming months?

I am going on tour during June! I’ll be supporting Bailen on the West Coast. I’m very excited!

 PHOTO CREDIT: Shervin Lainez

Might you come to the U.K. and play for us here? 

I would love to! I have never been but would love to travel there. 

How important is performing? Do you prefer it to life in the studio? 

I really love both. I love creating in the studio and just jamming, coming up with new ideas. However, playing live is also really cool. I get to meet the people who listen and relate to my lyrics. A lot of my songs are emotional and the lyrics are very personal so if you come to my show. I hope you feel that. 

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Tierra Whack/PHOTO CREDIT: Notion

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out? 

I love Tierra Whack, Jack Harlow and Atticus Thatcher!

 IN THIS PHOTO: Jack Harlow

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind? 

I feel like I’m always creating wherever I am. I think my way of unwinding is other forms of art. I love drawing, watching movies and exploring.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

ilomilo by Billie Eilish is one of my favorite songs right now. The melodies, lyrics and production are all so interesting. She’s the coolest

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