Mr & Mrs Brown
Mr & Mrs Brown is available via:
20th October, 2017
ONE of my drives this month is…
to get more female names on my blog. It is not a deliberate thing but, over the past few weeks, I have been inundated with requests – most of these coming from male artists. I cannot really refuse people on a count of their gender but I am aware there is an imbalance that needs talking about. There are so many great female artists out there and, I think, they are more intriguing and promising than their male counterparts. I will talk more about Beth McCarthy very soon but, before moving along, a chat about female artists and why they warrant more spotlight; York and the great music coming from the county (Yorkshire); moving from talent show auditions and forging a solo career; building a career and making important steps; those artists with character and personality; bringing to mind other names through music; making your mark in a busy market – eliciting personality and uplift through songs. I have talked a lot about female artists – many might tire of it – but it is with good reason. I feel there is a problem in music whereby too many male artists are getting attention; by that, they are being seen as superior and more marketable. It has always been the assumption bands and male acts are capable of pulling in big money; the ones people want to see – at the detriment of female artists. As we witness issues, surrounding sex and gender, in the media; I ask myself whether more needs to be done in regard invigilation and monitoring. There is no rational reason why male artists have the focus and have been getting more chances. I shall not labour the point too much but I am concerned it is seen as normal there is this gender imbalance. Maybe the festivals favour boys as headliners: we need to get out of this attitude and start embracing the fantastic female performers around. Why I wanted to start at this point is because there are some terrific (female) artists who are taking me by surprise. Beth McCarthy is someone dripping with charm and personality.
I wonder whether, when she makes big strides in her career, she will have to work harder in order to get her music heard. I feel there has always been this cliché that women, due to their comparatively meagre stature (physical), would be incapable of shouldering the demands and physicalities of music. McCarthy is someone who shines from the page and takes the heart somewhere very special. She has a long career ahead of her and I am sure she will get to the big-leagues in years to come. Her route will not be as easy and smooth as one would hope. One of the reasons is because she is female. There is a stigma and curse in the industry where sexism is still rife and certain artists are being promoted for the wrong reasons. Sex and image still play a big part; that is quite hard to see and hear about. Whether we can reverse this ideology and achieve parity and a lack of discrimination. I fear we are going down a bad path whereby women are seen as inferior, physically and emotionally, and, therefore, they are not provided the same passage as their male counterparts. The fight will be ongoing but, in terms of artists like McCarthy, she is not inculpating or pointing the finger: she is showing what can happen when you provide music that differs from what is out there. Her originality and natural affinity will see her break down any prejudice and obstacle. I shall predict McCarthy’s progress – like a football pundit guessing the scores to the weekend’s games – but, right now, I am interested looking at where McCarthy is from and her surroundings.
As much as I love London: I always hope, if an artist is in a great area, they remain there. Always, we see London as that destination where dreams come true. It is the equivalent of that American Dream: arriving at the city and seeing all these chances unfold before you. I yearn to be there full-time because I recognise, commercially, this is where most of the jobs/chances are. It is hard building a career in music in provisional towns and non-descript locales. The city provides the buzz, personality and riches to get a career off the ground and inspire the mind. For Beth McCarthy; she is based out of York and I hope, in a real way, she does not succumb to the temptation to move to London. That might happen as she seeks bigger rewards and more regular gigs. At the moment, it seems her surroundings are doing her well. She has easy access to the North and is capable of travelling to London if she wants to perform. It seems, even if you are based in a great northern city, that desire and necessity to come to London overrule the heart. The ‘head’ has that power and pull when it comes to the major decisions. I have looked at some great Yorkshire talent the past few years. One that sticks in the mind – and is familiar to McCarthy’s mutual contact, Jason Odle – is Billie Marten. Odle is director of Ont’Sofa and has played with/written for Marten. I shall not bring her too firmly into the review – lest I divert from McCarthy and why we are – but Marten is someone based in Yorkshire. I know she has recently moved but there is never the temptation, for her, to come to London and release that surrounding of quiet and nature. I feel Yorkshire is that perfect county that provides the clash of countryside and city. York, where McCarthy is based, is a modern city but it is not too far from the epic scenery and panoramic views that can calm the soul and compel the mind.
I am not suggesting there is a distinct link between personality and surroundings but it is easy to craft an openness and happiness when one is in a more relaxed environment. York has bustle and charge but not on the same level as London. The capital is great when it comes to the big money and radio stations; the terrific venues and mixture of cultures. One of the downsides is there is little space to breathe and a difficulty establishing community and clan. This is not a new phenomenon but, as the city becomes busier, I wonder whether it will be able to foster and protect musicians coming through – the fear is they might be swallowed and overlooked as the numbers spiral out of control. The issue of mental-health, and protecting the psychology and emotions of musicians taking shape in a big city, is something that preys heavy on my mind. McCarthy seems to have a relaxed and effortless nature to her. Maybe it is the effect of Yorkshire but I feel she has a base that allows her to recharge and contemplate. The same was Billie Marten radiates a seduction, calm and tenderness: McCarthy has a comparative personality that has immense allure and appeal. Yorkshire is a wonderful county for the creative and somewhere more eyes should be trained. I know career desires and her bulging fanbase will dictate her living situation but I hope McCarthy strikes a balance between Yorkshire base and London convenience. If she is capable of doing that; I know her songwriting will be a lot more expressive and unique; she will be able to have the best of all worlds and gain success. I guess, when one is away from the capital, there is that assumption labels and venues will be myopic. They tend to gravitate towards people on their doorstep: this leads a lot of musicians to relocate in order to be seen and counted. McCarthy has that personality that oozes assurance but has a vulnerability to it.
It is hardly a shock to see, already, she has gained a special place in the national consciousness. I am always torn when it comes to assessing musicians who have spent any time on talent shows. I, personally, cannot stand them and feel they are a cheap and easy way to get into the industry – those who do not want to graft; they want to bypass the true way of making music and get fame as opposed to credibility. Beth McCarthy is not someone you will see stumbling out of a night-club and courting attention on the tabloids’ gossips pages. She has appeared on The Voice but, luckily, has not clung onto that and been defined by it. She appeared on the show at the age of sixteen and was part of Ricky Wilson’s team that year. Even though she was seen by millions of viewers; that experience was a small step in her career. She would, I feel, be in the same position were she not to have appeared on the show. The best thing about that experience was the expertise she would have been afforded and the industry professionals around her. My ambivalence surrounding talent show comes when artists pin all their hopes on it. Those who win these talent shows often have a very short career and produce music commercial and dull. They are not those with any real spark and imagination; labels and managers push their music to the realms of hyper-bland and unlistenable. I am glad McCarthy learnt a lot from that time but am more relieved she does not put it at the top of her C.V. She would have gained the fans and following she has already was it not for that exposure – if T.V. and talent shows are the way to get fans then it raises into question the point of a career in music and operating in a traditional sense. The best outcome from that time is the confidence she acquired and the feedback her music received. The young songwriter is still making her way into music but, in the past year, she has made some enormous steps. I have mentioned how The Voice was a minor step but, thinking harder, it gave her the stride and impetus to keep dreaming.
Maybe that is the best reason to go on a talent show: it is a way of coping with pressure and what one might face further down the line. It gives the applicant a skillset one might not acquire if they were to go down the conventional route. McCarthy has taken that time to her soul and built her career in her own way. By that, she has played festivals like Latitude and supported Heaven 17; played alongside The Black Keys and HAIM. That is quite an impressive layout for someone who is still very young. Perhaps the time on The Voice has provided the chance to perform alongside these artists but I know the natural fortitude and talent of McCarthy has made the biggest impact. One of the reasons she is getting people talking is the hard work and relentless effort she puts into everything. I see a lot of artists spending too much time on their computers; trawling social media and relying on streaming services to get their music to the people. What I love about McCarthy is the fact she hits the road and is keen to connect with every Regular John/Jane out there. As part of her Outline tour – which she is in the middle of – there are dates around the country. She played in Ayton two days ago and prepares to hit Matlock’s The Lock on 18th (November). I have mentioned talent shows and that ‘starriness’ one associates with its participants. There is a perceived notion there is ego and a sense of delicateness about everyone who plays these shows – the endless sob-stories do not really help shift that perception. McCarthy is not someone you will see being carted between gigs and sheltered away like an arrogant star. She has, as recently as yesterday, been busking on the streets. She played the streets of York and, whilst freezing her fingers/other parts off, wowed those in the vicinity of High Ousegate. Armed with tickets to her homecoming gig – on 25th at The Crescent, York – she performed a selection of songs with her dog, Alfie.
It is great artists like McCarthy – who have had big gigs and experience – mix the larger performances with the roots of performance. She has hit the streets and is keen to bring her music to the honest people she meets. I am not sure how yesterday’s busking went but, aside from the cruel climate, she has allowed her new music the chance to breathe and find new audiences. Many might assume busking is arduous and torturous. Many artists need to do this in order to earn a few pennies. The quality can be quite variable but, when you discover someone like McCarthy, you wish her a lot of success and fortune. She has more traditional (and warmer) gigs approaching but, in the meantime, she is getting out there and braving the elements. I will talk about her latest single soon but, when thinking about her busking and how she approaches music, it is interesting undressing the dynamic and approach of McCarthy. She never refutes the honesty of getting out there and playing music to the people. Performance is in her blood and there is natural warmth coming from McCarthy that captivates and joys people. Marinating her songs with smile and personality means she is getting tongues wagging and interesting a range of sources. I am not sure how her 2018 is looking but I know there will be a lot more gigs. McCarthy is keen to get her career growing and moving – she is doing things the right way at the moment. I worry about new artists and how much they have to work to get their music out there. Are we putting too much pressure on people and risking burn-out?! Beth McCarthy, in a lot of ways, is a poster-girl for how things should be done. She is not tackling the streets of London every day and pushing herself to the point of breaking. Even though she wars with the cold and has to busk every now and then; that indomitable and indefatigable resolve and passion burns through. The hearth in her heart means every moment is tackled and embraced with commitment and excitement. We can learn a lot from her: a modern artist who will be familiar to many lips this time next year.
Beth McCarthy, as I said, has broken ground the past year-or-so. She performed a stripped-down version of Ralph McTell’s Streets of London that went on to be the official soundtrack for the film, 100 Streets. She went on to find success in the U.S. and performed on the cable show, JBTV – playing shows in Florida and Chicago. Bob Harris named her as one to watch and, at the start of this year, she gave the world the self-released single, Pretty Lies. It gained huge reviews and was followed by Lemonade – named as the promotional single for Worldwide Breast Cancer’s ‘Know Your Lemons’ campaign. These leaps and evolutions are promising indicators as we step into the coming year. McCarthy’s talent and commitment mean she has gained rewards and success very easily. It might not have been easy for her but it appears, to the outsider, people are falling at her feet. I suspect next year will find her music used on T.V. and more singles follow – I wonder whether an E.P. or album will come. When thinking about her progression and personality; I am reminded of certain artists. I keep mentioning Kate Bush – as I write this; I am listening to interviews Bush recorded back in 2011 – and how inspirational she is. I see a lot of Kate Bush in Beth McCarthy. There is the humour and the beauty; the way she can connect with people and affect the heart. Bush is an artist who has built from modest foundations and crafted a huge career. McCarthy’s approach to songwriting and performance reminds me of Kate Bush in a lot of ways. Even though their music differs; I feel there is a lot to compare. McCarthy’s innovation and songwriting put me in mind of Kate Bush back in 1978. I can envisage the Yorkshire songwriter sitting down and writing her songs without interference or technology. There is that smile that buckles the knees and the wit/humour that gets you hooked. The biggest links are when one thinks of the work ethic and route into music.
McCarthy crafts her music and spends her waking hours fantasising about music and what it can become. There is a real sense of belonging when one hears McCarthy’ music. It means everything to get and you know, against the grain of modernity and artists looking for huge streaming figures, it is the nuts-and-bolts that means more. One imagines the words and composition are a lot more appealing than Spotify figures and endorsements. McCarthy is a songwriter who seems counter-cultural and not what one would expect from 2017. One might find her busking in a Yorkshire street or playing an intimate gig here and there. She has played those bigger stages but McCarthy is in no rush to get into the limelight: satisfied getting her music out there and playing among the people. I am writing a piece later that explores the clash between modern ideals and the longevity of older technologies – whether artists of today are connecting with modern measures/means or keen to preserve older ways. I feel McCarthy is a traditional songwriter, in the sense she reminds you of better days and working methods more familiar with the pre-digitisation/Internet days. I have mentioned Kate Bush alongside Beth McCarthy because both have that incredible attraction and personality. I do not mean ‘attraction’ in the sense of beauty – although McCarthy is incredibly beauty – but the way they can bring listeners into their heart and world. One is consumed and helpless when listening to McCarthy and how she radiates from the stage. The cheekiness and accessible personality; the brilliant voice and fantastic songwriting – all of this differs from so many artists of the moment. I know Beth McCarthy has stresses and bad days but she rides above this and has a strength and steeliness that is impressive to see. All of her facets and personality sides are the armour and catalyst for a long and fruitful career.
I will come to look at her single, Mr & Mrs Brown, but, until then, a little about uplift and pleasure in music. It seems music is becoming more downbeat and introspective as time elapses. Maybe that is a reaction and mirroring to the way the world is unfolding at the minute. One cannot escape the black velvet and smoke that is enveloping the planet. The moody atmosphere cannot help but infuse the music we are hearing right now. A lot of new songwriters are failing to escape the shackles and burden that surrounds them. I listen to music for a number of reasons but one of them is to escape from the black days and find something happier. Although Beth McCarthy addresses love turmoil and splits; she does not do it in a suffocating and depressing way. Her latest offering has a definite optimism about it. Even though, in every song, she projects concerns and fears; there is never a feeling of doom and hopelessness. I am always struck by McCarthy’s dexterous and luscious voice that has a child-like innocence but a soulful and soothing underbelly that elicits finery, grace and comfort. There is that clash between the strident and assured woman and someone with a young heart and natural fears. This dichotomy comes through in the music and gets under my skin. Above all the questioning and revelation; we get an artist who puts you in a better frame of mind. I feel that is what we need at a time when there is confusion and sadness. Music should be that maternal spirit that offers protection and gives us guidance. The rhythms, pulse and energetic candour of a song like Mr & Mrs Brown give the heart something nourishing but gives the brain something to ponder. I, when hearing the song, feel the soul of a very bright and loving human emanate and ooze from every note. McCarthy does not hide behind technology and gimmicks: she is someone who is engrossed in what she is writing about and keen to involve the listener in every moment.
The opening notes of Mr & Mrs Brown have that soothing and entranced voice backed by subtle guitar. The song gets to life pretty quickly and there is something delicate and tender about the opening. It all started on a train (“with a smile”) and it appears there is a romance brewing. McCarthy’s voice, in that first phase, has a very modern key and sound to it. One can draw lines to other singers but it is her personality and unique combination of assets that provides the voice a more tremulous and nuanced dimension. The production allows a fullness and sense of drama to mix with a domesticity and intimacy. McCarthy’s phrasing and delivery mean there is a poetic and filmic approach to the performance. Lines trick and tease out of the mouth; you get involved with the scenery and setting of Mr & Mrs Brown. It seems there is something between the subjects but, given the surnames, one wonders whether – in that approach – there is a soon-to-be marriage or an extra-marital affair. My initial perception was the charting of a relationship from the seduction chariot to the settling and confirmation. There is helplessness to the coming-together and the train-set romance. McCarthy’s whispered and honeyed voice gives the song a gravitas and natural conviction few songwriters can achieve. I found myself stunned by the beauty and physicality that emanates from her words. You are part of the story and spectating as the narration unfolds. Instrumentation is kept sparse but the strings provide a rush and sense of excitement we can all imagine. The coquettish looks and furtive exchanges are fleshed-out and verbalise in the strings. It seems, from the heroine’s vantage; this man was the missing part of her. She never knew it but this human has kindled something deep-down and primal. Maybe the setting has progressed from the train but there is an instant affiliation and togetherness that one cannot overlook. The attraction is developing at a great speed and the maturation of passion reaches a palpable high. McCarthy’s voice is layered and produces a wordless chorus that adds shivers and sexuality to the song.
The first section of the song seems to be the realisation and resonance of this person. The puzzle is missing a piece and the fact it has come along is a huge relief. I notice the shift in tone as we go from the furtive and refined distance of the opening to the more imploring and bold suggestion of the centre. Things are right and there are no wrongs – being in love with the hero seems to have put everything in its right place. The song has the combination of commercial ability and individual expression. It is easy to bond with the song and, the fact it has gained a collective love, means people can understand and connect with Mr & Mrs Brown. There is that multifaceted approach that means the song could find fandom on stations like BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 6 Music; appeal to the young and middle-age; cross boundaries and genres – everyone will take something different from the song. The chorus has that spirit and sense of celebration that, to me, digs deep. I wonder whether there are pains and struggles that are not revealed in the lyrics. We know the heroine has found someone good but, given the title, is the song an observation of someone else – or is this Beth McCarthy casting herself in a fictional setting?! I sense a degree of past failure and the need to discover a solid love. We all get caught in the safety and revelations of this current bond but wonder how hard the past has been; whether this moment has come off the back of real struggle and introspection. The truth comes through when McCarthy talks about the wedding and the big moment. Taking care of “my sister” clarifies the interpretation and puts the listener into the picture with vitality. One can imagine McCarthy seeing this romance unfold and having concerns for her sister. She (sister) might have struggled to find a good heart and McCarthy wants her husband to treat her well and keep her safe. That protective air and relief mix together and it produces something strange in the listener. It is rare finding songwriters who talk about members of the family and their love – usually, songwriters come from their own lives and talk about their love. Beth McCarthy wants her sister to live “happy ever after” and have that security. It is a touching and commendable message in a song that, despite being deeply personal, will strike a chord with everyone.
I have mentioned, near the top, the gigs Beth McCarthy has been involved in. One can check out her schedule on Facebook and see where she is performing. The Yorkshire songwriter always updates her fans and ensures she keeps everyone informed. That is a rare quality when I feel songwriters are more concerned with figures and popularity than they are connection and humanity. This is not true of everyone but, in McCarthy’s case, she is always thinking of fans and making the bond with those who listen to her music. This year is nearing its end and we think ahead to what 2018 will provide. Given McCarthy’s evolution and success; I know there will be even more treasures and plaudits that will see her get to new audiences. I wonder whether McCarthy has plans touring internationally but I feel the time is now to strike. Her music is really resonating and people out there want to see her in the flesh. How her year will pan out is down to her but I know there are foreign audiences who yearn to see the songwriter up-close. Mr & Mrs Brown is a beautiful and intriguing offering from a songwriter who perfectly balances the familiar and unique. The song addresses relatable themes – we can all relate to an extent – but the way she projects and makes you feel is extraordinary. Kate Bush – back to her – said, in an interview with Jamie Cullum, said the assumption you have to be miserable to write something good is flawed – Ariel, her 2005 double-album, was recorded at a happy time and, as she sees it, one of her finest works. I feel McCarthy is someone who operates at her optimal level when the mood is positive and relaxed. Her latest cut reflects some concerns but I can imagine the creative process and concept was during a fertile and optimistic phase. One can sense a smile and hope when you hear the song. She is someone who puts the listener in a finer place and does something wonderful. I hope McCarthy remains in Yorkshire as it seems the people and evocativeness of the county infect her music. I have mentioned fellow young songwriters like Billie Marten who seems resolved to remain in Yorkshire – where she can step into the countryside and find inspiration in the openness and peace. As Beth McCarthy steps into the coming year – and plays some chilly gigs this month – let’s all hope success comes to her. I hope she gets the attention he music warrants and her live gigs are successful. I wish her luck, promise and plenty of warmth. This year has been an incredible one for McCarthy but I know 2018…
WILL be even finer.
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