St. Ives is available at:
St. Ives/London, U.K.
IT has already been a busy year for (great) new music and…
Charlie Straw looks set to add to the tally. Before I come to him - and raise some positives - I wanted to point at some improvement. It is true Straw has enormous talent and a rich sound. He has fans behind him and gigs lining up – social media is a little bare. What I mean is there is little known about the man beside his music. Were it not for the fact I was sent some P.R. material about Charlie Straw; it would have been hard to learn more about him and what makes him tick. I understand the reticence filling social media with lots of paragraphs and endless revelation. What we have, in Straw’s case, is some fantastic music and all his social media links available online – all on Facebook in fact. It might seem like a gripe but it is one artists need to learn from. It is the early days for him but I am confident he’ll go on to greatness – one of those musicians who can go all the way. When it comes to new musicians, one of the main considerations is getting your name out there and being as visible and open as you can. That is not suggesting every bit of information is online: fans and new followers like to get a sense of where (the artist) came from and the artists that inspired them. What I have noticed, something that occurs with a lot of acts, is they have a few links on their Facebook page but do not really give too much other information. With no interviews and biographies, it can be like arriving at a dating profile with no words (maybe a perfunctory ‘contact me to find out more’). In an age where most people have pretty short attention spans; it is vital those first steps are considered and adhered to. It may seem shallow but there are musicians with full and frank social media pages. They have an official site and lots of cool photos. That may be aesthetic by and large but you’d be amazed how effective that can be. If I, as a journalist have lots of information and a well-laid-out set f photos and social media links then I am going to be likely to keep an eye on that artist and follow them closely. Again, it is a slight minor but one that I bring up for good reason: Charlie Straw has a huge backing behind him and being tipped as a man to watch. Before I continue, let me introduce him to you:
“Charlie Straw is thrilled to unveil his debut single St. Ives alongside ‘The Road To St. Ives’ - a mini documentary showcasing a month-long trip from Edinburgh to St. Ives, as Charlie sofa-surfs his way through the UK to play 30 live dates in 30 days.
In addition to the documentary, Charlie is pleased to announce details of a UK headline tour for April, including a show at Dalston Boys Club on the 18th April.
Listen to St. Ives: https://soundcloud.com/charlie-straw/st-ives-1
St. Ives has very quickly amassed over 350,000 streams (+ a top 5 placement on Spotify’s UK viral chart), and is a fascinatingly assured introduction to this young artist. Its delicacy and sense of slow-building atmosphere is matched with a stirring, fragile vocal. It sits comfortably along the homespun wooziness of For Emma, Forever Ago era Bon Iver, coupled with that Ben Howard or James Vincent McMorrow lulling sense of emotion and intimacy.
From that biography, you can tell his debut single is being promoted heavily and is being compared with some great names. I have included that snippet of information because it gives you an insight into the man and where he is headed; a little about who floats his musical boat. In time, I would love to interview him and really dig down to the core – unravel his layers and get a glimpse into the young musician. Before I go on and get down to his music I wanted to raise two points: the variation and quality of young Folk artists and making an impact from the debut single (talking a bit about mood and evocation in songs). Last year, and I have been released from my embargo because it is 2017, I talked a lot about Folk and artists like Billie Marten. She produced, in my learned and unbiased opinion, the finest album of 2017 but it was, in terms of the end-of-year polls, largely overlooked. Sure, she is a teenager making her debut moves and not performing across festivals. It seems like age, modesty and lack of festival run-out has cost her some serious applause. In fact, that is completely unfair on her. She has a great team promoting her work and is, as you can hear, a phenomenal songwriter with a gorgeous voice. I understand the temptation to focus – in terms of the best albums of 2016 - on Beyoncé, Solange and artists who have made huge statements – records that look at politics, society and struggle have a vital role to play in music. Likewise, there have been some fantastic albums made by bands and new solo artists. The thing is: how come albums like Marten’s (Writing of Blues and Yellows) did not crack the lists of any of the music magazines/sites?
The same could be said when you look at Angel Olsen and Ed Harcourt. Both have Folk as a basis, and whilst not being as pure and ‘traditional’ as Marten’s Folk, deserved higher placings in the rankings of music’s elite. I raise this because I still think Folk, compared with other genres, does not get less attention than it should. If you look at someone like Bon Iver (mentioned above) you hear an artist who has not only evolved as a writer but is one of the most consistent musicians in the world. Since his spellbinding, intimate album (like a man coming from a log cabin in the wilderness), For Emma, Forever Ago, he has produced some of the most memorable and timeless music of this generation. His latest record, 22, A Million, has shades of his debut but is bolder and more hypnotic: there are twisted, distorted fragmentations and dizzying compositions; some of his most oblique lyrics - a masterpiece when you think of it. I know that album did well in some polls but, again, it missed out on other lists. As Charlie Straw proves, he is someone who can take that debut-era Bon Iver sound and makes it his own. Like fellow Folkies Billie Marten and Laura Marling (more on her soon), there is real excitement in music – a sense the new wave of Folk artists can make a real impression. Whilst I have mentioned some great U.S. talent (Bon Iver), our very own Laura Marling looks set to make a huge impact with her latest album, Semper Femina. I am already tipping it to be the best album of 2017 and adore her work. She, like Marten, has a barer and more ‘70s-influenced sound both she, like Marten too, has mature and intelligent lyrics and wonderfully commanding vocal performances. I could put Charlie Straw alongside her: he has that same ambition and effectiveness. Even from the debut single, you know he is hungry to achieve and get his name out there.
You cannot predict Folk and assume it is a single genre. As the likes of Bon Iver have shown; it can be expanded and stretched; tied with other sounds to create something new and unexpected. I feel there is stuffiness among many critics and an unwillingness to fully embrace a genre that is still seen as quite niche and specialised. In the way there is imbalance in terms of gender and race in music: there is a certain prejudice with regards certain genres. If proof were needed the Folk/Alternative dynamic was arresting and world-class then you only need look at Charlie Straw. His debut single, St. Ives, instantly transplants images in the head and gives you an idea of what the song is about. I shall characterise and interpret the song later, but for the moment, I wanted to look at the debut single and making that impact. Straw knows getting out there and making an impression is the way to keep you in critics’ minds. He has already amassed a loyal following but knows his work is not done. You cannot rely on charm and promise in order to secure fans and momentum. Charlie Straw knows this and is launching his assault. I would understand creating a debut song that fitted into the mainstream and followed its broad rules. Traditionally, you’d pen a song about love and something that has all the dynamics and components the public needed – without really offering too much personality and originality. That might sound like me overreacting but few artists come in that strong: we still see so many young Pop stars squander the chance to make an impact right from the off; slaves to the demands of record labels and expectations. Charlie Straw has gone in with a unique and personal song that has familiar edges but is the sound of a young man and his story. You hear shades of Bon Iver – he has listed the American’s debut album as a guide – but the similarities are emotive and thematic rather than carbon copies of his work. St. Ives is a wonderful track that seduces the heart and makes you want to hear a lot more. A masterful, accomplished single from a young musician making his very first steps.
The reason why I am so excited about Straw, and why the likes of Laura Marling and Billie Marten are favourites of mine, is the moods and emotions they bring into music. Whether looking at Hampshire icon or the newcomer from Ripon; the two women bring something special, emotive and entrancing into their work. Marling’s latest album will look at femininity and womanhood in many different forms – looking at love and personal issues too – whereas Marten’s debut looked at anxieties, the need to grow and courage (among other themes). Both artists bring in so much candour, beauty and honesty into their music armed with little more than guitars and strings. Maybe Bon Iver’s latest album contained more instruments and electronics but his debut was a sparse and acoustic-heavy record that owed more to the ‘70s Folk legends like Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake (maybe some Neil Young in there). Maybe that is what critics are overlooking: Folk that has its heart in a past time and concentrates on something pure and gentle. Maybe they are looking for something more rousing and spirited? If that is so then they are denying themselves a world of sensational music that gets into the soul and speaks to us all. It is a turbulent and unsure future in terms of politics and where we belong. Things are quite scary so we all need a common ally and cause. Music, in addition to human spirit and protest, is what brings us together. This year will see musicians react to changes and these desires; music that comforts and calms the spirits, I feel, will be favoured over anything else. For that reason, Charlie Straw has a perfect opportunity to grow and get his name on the lips of many. His wonderfully rich and seductive sounds have already been celebrated. He knows how to pen an instant and nuanced song and I expect that to evolve in the form of an E.P. or album. What he has in mind, with regards a record this year, is up to him.
It is at this point I usually look at an artist’s background and see how far they have progressed. With Straw, we do not look back but only forward. Although St. Ives was streamed a few months ago, it is a song that suggests more is afoot – maybe an album or E.P. this year. Straw has performed cover versions and reinterpreted other songs. He shows himself to be a great interpreter and someone who can make any song his own. In that spirit, St. Ives reminds you of some classic Folk but is definitely the product of Charlie Straw. He brings suggestions of Bon Iver and Ben Howard but is very much his own man. No other artist could perform and record the same way as him. St. Ives arrives from a very personal place and is his childhood memory. If we look at the song itself, the opening notes sound completely still and evocative. Straw has performed live gigs like Sofar London and has that experience under his belt. All of this backstory and experience feeds into a song that is professional and gripping from the opening seconds. The song’s video is, essentially, the thirty-day tour Straw completed – taking him from Edinburgh to St. Ives. The first shot sees him start the car and get that tour underway. The lyrics look at a girl/friend being too far away. From those suggestions, it is as though the tour is a concept or pilgrimage. The track looks at someone back home – a childhood friend that is missed – and that need to get them back. It has been too long so it appears Straw is doing something about it. That concept would make an intriguing film. The premise could be a young musician hankering after a friend/love but making his way to them via a series of towns and shows. That holy quest to reclaim a treasured memory would make an evocative and fascinating film.
I am not sure whether that motivation was in Straw’s mind – touring to St. Ives to see his friend – but it is a neat and clever companion to the single. Maybe future songs will see similarly lofty and ambitious ideas. As you watch the tour clips (Straw in intimate spaces charting with his crowd) you are invested in a song that resonates from a very real place. Many would hear the song and assume its origins lay in relationship quarters. That is understandable as the hero asks if he is remembered – whether he is thought of when she (friend) is with another man. It seems there is complexity and ambiguity in the tale. Romance is “long-dead” is it is said but a friendship is the biggest loss. It makes me wonder whether the two were sweethearts first and how old they were. The storyline suggests children separated but maybe Straw was a young man finding love in the arms of a very meaningful person. It is not the affection missed but that friendship connection. Even in the earliest seconds, you are brought into the song and get images and impressions. Our hero wants to go back to St. Ives where he was kept warm on winter nights. It felt safe there and harps played: it is a romantic and safe space that provokes fond memories. Maybe he is lost in the city or disconnected from the world he grew up in. In psychological terms, Straw is trying to reclaim the past and revert to a warm state of mind. He has grown up/spent his best days in St. Ives and made some wonderful friends. This one particular friend is the embodiment of a good time and better era. The young man misses that life and ease and that haunts the mind. Just how true to life St. Ives is – whether Straw plays from fiction or takes from his own life wholly – I am not certain but you cannot fault the conviction and emotion. It is a sublime and gentle performance that emanates from the heart and causes shivers to form.
As the story progresses, you get more insight and a different side of things. Tears were shed and it seems the heroine was not always happy. Maybe she was being used or there was some unhappiness at times. Again, I am assuming it started as a romance but you feel things were not always perfect. The two had their drama but always came back to one another. The hero tried not to “read between the lines” and was learning lessons. It is curious discovering what caused these tears and whether there were some indiscretion and deceit creeping in. Whatever caused the two to be separated – the demands of music or two adults naturally drifting apart – you always yearn they will be reunified. The song’s video continues its jaunt down the country: Straw plays at some rather interesting spots and captivating the crowds wherever he goes. I have mentioned how the song/background has filmic lure and that is no lie. As you hear the track unfold, it has all the components of a great story: the bond and friendship with the sense of unease. There is drama and love and that desire to make amends for the past. Perhaps the two had different ideals and wanted different things. The romance might have died but that loyal friendship remains strong and unyielding. In terms of composition, it is quite light and uncomplicated. The fault lies on the side of our hero (as he confesses) and there is that need to relinquish the warmth of St. Ives. When there, they both lived different lives and wanted different things. Maybe Straw yearned for music and the road whereas his companion wanted something more settled and homely. Those polar ambitions might have caused strain on the friendship and led to some foolhardy words. It is hard to listen to the song and not jump to the end: whether the two got back together or it was cut. In a (good) way, the song is infuriatingly teasing and tense. What is holding the hero back from going down to Cornwall and seeing his friend? Maybe there are too many issues or too much time has passed? This thirty-day tour (and documentary) is the man making a stand and making his way back home. You feel that sense of movement in the song: the train whistling by and the wind in hair; the open road and that quest for satisfaction.
As the video continues, you get more of a sense of Charlie Straw. His infectious personality and the affiliation he has with the audience. The sofa-surfing tour might have taken energy out of him but it is the love of music and the road that keeps him moving. Ultimately, he wants to make amends and reach his final destination. Whilst the electric guitar is light but emotive; the voice reminds me a bit of a number of singers. There is a familiarity to the sound but it is that recognisable burr that ingrains the song in the mind. Unlike most of his peers, Straw has a varied and rich voice that manages to convey so many different emotions without expending huge energy. The final seconds of the song is a chanted chorus (from Straw) and him reaching his final destination. In the video, he makes it home and is cheered and happy having done so. Where he manages to come back to his hometown in the video, you wonder whether the song follows suit. Did he manage to see his friend and say the things he has always wanted to? There is that degree of mystery but you hope things worked out and he did get to her. However you interpret the song/video, at its heart is a song of true affection and reflection. Straw looks back and knows he made mistakes but wants to make things right. He misses St. Ives and the memories and good times he had there. It will be interesting to see if future songs continue along the same lines and whether we hear anything quite like St. Ives. It is a song I could hear across the national radio heavyweight because it is instant and highly memorable. In terms of vocals, there is a blend of Ed Harcourt and Jeff Buckley where Bon Iver and Ben Howard arise in the composition (and vocals). It would be unfair to compare Charlie Straw with anyone too strongly but it is meant as a compliment. The fact so many others are making sure comparisons is quite impressive. Ensure you keep your eyes out for Charlie Straw throughout this year.
I have taken up a lot of your time so shall lot ramble on too much longer. Before I bring back my original points and look at where Charlie Straw is headed; it is worth seeing where the young man has come from. I always hate artists that go via the talent show route and get ‘plucked from obscurity’. They do things the cheap way and are not set up for the realities and beauty of the music industry. It is no coincidence (those artists) have short and unspectacular careers. Too many get launched into prominence quickly and are ill-equip to arm themselves for the challenges of music. Those who work from the bottom and do things honestly are better prepared and last longer. Charlie Straw, in spite of the fact he has released his debut single, has already performed at some great gigs and got his work out there. Last year, at The Garage in London, he performed alongside French artist JAIN. She is someone I have tipped for success this year and one of the most intriguing new artists around. Getting that kind of honour so soon is richly deserved and shows what an artist Straw is. He has performed gigs around London and recorded in the south west of England. That contrast, playing in the bustling city and recording in the quiet, would disorientate many but not Straw. Obviously, St. Ives has that South West suggestion and evokes images of sea, countryside and serenity. In fact, Straw loves to record D.I.Y. vocals and favours that sort of homemade, naked sound. He is an artist who would be happy recording music at home and making those kinds of rough and raw songs that few are doing these days. Right now, Straw is preparing for his first headline tour. He has already performed thirty shows in thirty days - his mini-documentary and sofa-surfing right-of-passage form the visual arc to St. Ives’ music video.
The young man went from Scotland to St. Ives: taking his music down the U.K. and made sure as many people as possible heard his music. That headline tour follows the documentary and sees Straw kick-start that in April. He will play Dalston Boys Club on 18th (April) and keep that momentum going. It is clear Straw has no intention of slowing down and has that demand around the U.K. He has performed at some fantastic gigs and collated many fans but 2017 will be a key year. That thirty-day tour was an amazing experience and hugely memorable for all those concerned. After that, you have the headliner tour and a great chance for new fans to be won and hearts conquered. I know his music will start to be picked up by great radio stations. He seems like the kind of artist who would be a mainstay on ‘6 Music and even reach the ears of ‘Radio 2. Given the fact he has tours afoot, one assumes that signals new material. Someone who performs headline shows must have a lot of material under their belt so it would be wonderful to think an album is afoot. Maybe that is a plan but we do not want to put pressure on Charlie Straw. At the moment, he is getting out on the road and promoting his stuff. St. Ives is a beautiful, sumptuous debut single that signifies a rare talent with a magical touch. Those intimate, fragile vocals and stirring compositional notes evoke memories of Folk greats and current U.S. titans (Bon Iver) but the story and delivery could only arise from Straw. This is his heart and soul in the music and nobody can deny him his rightful place in the mainstream. That will come soon enough and, I for one would love to see Straw headline some of the biggest festivals in the country.
I shall wrap up by going back to my early points and looking at social media awareness. I know Straw has all the music-sharing sites and social media links on Facebook and makes sure he is visible. I have not seen an official website but that is something to consider. He has music under his belt and tour dates coming; there is that demand for his work so it would be good to see a central website that brings this together. I am not sure if that is something in the pipeline but a definite consideration. I would like to know more about Charlie Straw and where he came from. St. Ives is a window into his past and friendship: a song that recalls a treasured acquaintance and someone dearly missed. The kind of musicians that compel Straw; where he wants to head and where he lives (I am not sure if he is based in London or St. Ives) would help get a sense of who he is and (literally) where he is. It is not a major negative but welcoming the listener in and giving them some background is a crucial consideration. I have seen new musicians provide very little information and see attention go to other acts. Of course, the music will do some talking and is the most important thing but needs to be backed up with some personal information and revelation. I opened by talking about Folk and how it gets overlooked by many reviewers. Last year, as I mentioned, Folk albums did not get a huge showing on the end-of-year-lists. I highlighted my outrage at Billie Marten’s exclusion but feel established acts like Bon Iver should have been further up those ‘best of’ lists. Likewise, newcomers like Jenny Hval and Julia Jacklin (Don’t Let the Kids Win was one of the best albums from 2016) were largely overlooked.
Maybe 2016 was THAT good and there were limited spaces. I feel Folk still has that reputation as being rather cliché and boring. Many do not realise the sense of adventure and nuance the form has. Laura Marling, godmother of Folk, will arrive this year and give critics a boot in the posterior and hopefully that will awaken the senses. For too long, Folk has played second-fiddle to other genres and not given the exposure it warrants. Charlie Straw has the determination and talent to bring his music (and the genre) right into the forefront. I have mentioned how Straw has a great team behind him and will never be in short supply of backing and gig opportunities. Contrary to a lot of reports about the U.K.’s live circuit – fewer opportunities and venues closing down – there are chances for those with a particular sound and personality. Charlie Straw is happy to play support gigs and smaller venues in order to get his name out there. Having backed JAIN already – and gigged at some great London venues – his mini-documentary, The Road to St. Ives, finds the young musician visiting thirty different venues and meeting a world of new faces. It is that headline tour in April that will be the most memorable. He will be back in London in spring and wetting appetites. Whether an E.P./album announcement will arrive in the meantime I am not sure but one feels something is imminent. In the meantime, enjoy St. Ives and a glimpse into a rather special artist. I feel 2017 will favour musicians that take the volume down and provide something deep and emotive. Maybe I’ll get that wrong, and some fantastic Rock albums will come, yet I know there is a yearning for music with heart and spirituality. Charlie Straw is the man who can bring some settled calm and beauty into the world and is already proving he has star quality. Throw some support behind him and watch…
THIS rare musician truly shine.
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