This Feeling is available via:
19th January, 2018
I am determined to get this year kicked off…
PHOTO CREDIT: @elsiematilda
with some great female artists on these pages. That is not a measure of reverse-sexism or a need to cater needlessly. I am excited by the variation of talent around and, when it comes to excitement, passion and quality – it is the female artists who are sticking in my head. I will talk about Natalie Shay and her latest track very soon but, right now, I wanted to explore a few subjects. I will return to a couple of topics I investigated last year: artists with a mix of classical training and music school education; young female artists and growing up in a pulsing city. I will look at artists who defy convention and expectation; musicians who get to share the stage with bigger artists (another theme that has been on here); grasping opportunities and the results that come from a confident and electric performance; talking about love and desire in a very fresh way – why 2018 will be a very successful one for Shay. I am excited seeing her release music because, looking back, she has had a very productive and successful career. Still a teen; many would forgive her for taking an easy route and performing music that did not stretch the mind too much. It is interesting, as I will explore later today, whether new artists/music-curious are picking up instruments and really interested in music. I have heard reports the traditional music shop is in decline. Some might report sales increase but I wonder whether the Internet is taking over? By that, I mean people are either buying instruments online or finding software that replicates them. There seems to be a drive away from the old-fashioned method of going to a shop, playing instruments in-store and buying them. I fear music, in many ways, will become more insular and turn to electronics (and instruments that can be replicated electronically). I mention it because, if we want to encourage the best new musicians to come through; one would feel the visibility of music shops should be a high priority. It might be a hard problem to fix but I know there are those who prefer the older ways; bond with music’s traditions and are not willing to recklessly forgo everything older for the brand-new. Natalie Shay is someone who could easily cling to the electronic revolution and have her music processed and machine-made. That is not the case: her songs employ as many live instruments as possible; get the room buzzing with a collection of musicians.
That brings me, rather un-neatly – I shall continue with my subject soon… - to the musicians of the past who should be cherished and remembered. I was writing a piece about Steely Dan yesterday – and their debut album, Can’t Buy a Thrill – and vacillated at the musicianship rife throughout. The sumptuousness and incredible physicality of the record blew me away. There are artists today who project the same ambitions and affinity to players (as Steely Dan) but, as I get more involved with popular music – I wonder whether it is too expensive, time-consuming and difficult? Natalie Shay is someone, one suspects, grew up in a household when some serious vinyl was being played; some legendary artists filled her young ears – mixing that alongside the more commercial Pop artists of the day. That is the same as me and I can always tell, deep down, when an artist has been brought up ‘right’. That leads me, again, un-neatly, to the theme of education. Shay was taught the guitar as young as five and, whether motivated by visions of heroic musicians or urged by her parents to foster a gift – she bonded with music as a child and was determined to make that her career. It is always wondrous seeing someone so young, with a precocious talent, have that clarity and determination. It is the envy of many (myself included) when things are crystallised. I am always fearful of artists who go to music schools and want to follow in the footsteps of Adele and Ed Sheeran. I have nothing against these artists – in terms of their place in the industry – but I worry they (fans) are chasing money and want to be commercial. One of the problems with those artists is they are reduced to figures and honours. It is all about Spotify figures, records and chart sales: nothing is spoken about the training, work-rate and music itself. Those who go to music schools to cultivate their talent and actually learn music are the ones I support most – and have a wariness to the percentage who want that commercial success and get a lot of cash in the pocket. When I say the BRIT School on her C.V. I took a step back and wondered: was her attendance motivated by a need to follow the likes of Jessie J, Adele and the like?! I do not mean to put them down but I consider their talents limited when you look at some of the other artists out there. They (BRIT School alumni) have a more mainstream edge that lacks real depth. Luckily, considering her classical training, you get an artist who, I suspect admires those artists, but does not sound like them.
Instead, with Natalie Shay, you have someone who has taken from the facility and learned all she could. Rather than copy them and aim for that chart-ready sound: what you get is an artist who aims for absolute quality but has one ear for the demands of the mainstream. I have hopes, unlike some of the graduates from the BRIT School; she will push against rigid commercialism and easy sounds; go beyond the obvious and appeal to a broader, more appraling demographic. Shay has learned a lot – and continues to do so – and would have gained insight and training from some fantastic tutors. The most effective way to build a solid and promising career, I feel, is to have that majority desire for instruments and unschooled objectivity and supplement that with a music school. That way, you get the best of both worlds but, when it comes to it, are driven by a desire to inspire and change music – rather than own Spotify and rake in streaming records! Natalie Shay is already making dents in the music landscape and, at nineteen, is facing the pressures impressively. The BRIT School teaches artists to adapt to the social responsibilities of music and stand on their own two feet; to go into the world with that knowledge and passion stoked. Shay has learned a lot and, with the schooling she has under her belt, is based in a wonderful city. It can be hard adopting the London life and living with the constant pressure and rush. Whilst it can be hard to deal with the rush of people and the sheer volume of the place: the amount of venues and musicians playing means there is always something to do; always somewhere to play. With the BRIT School coda and ethics ringing in her ears; Shay has bonded with artists in London and taking advantage of the opportunities put before her. Among the venues she has already played there is The Roundhouse; Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club and Brooklyn Bowl.
There are a lot of stunning venues in the capital but few artists get to play them. The competition is high but, with Natalie Shay’s talent and desire hot; she has won awards – The Guardian’s Music Award and Best Undiscovered Talent (London Music Award) – and gained acclaim. Whilst I have stated I am not adverse to what the likes of Ed Sheeran; I always worry when artists/P.R. companies put his name alongside someone like Natalie Shay. They are entitled to – as she is entitled to like him – but there are so few comparisons between the artists. Aside from the inevitable, and slightly depressive, mention of iTunes chart success (never a mark of true credibility and depth); the teenage musician has her own path and is distinct from the likes of Sheeran – I really wish artists/organisations would stop mentioning his name as a mark of quality/what music is! I shall not rant about Sheeran and what he stands for but, if you look at how he came into music; he started at humble lows. He busked and struggled for gigs and, when thinking of Shay; she has not exactly had everything handed to her on a plate. The effort she has expended, and the gigs she has performed, means the rewards have come. There is no plangent strumming and bland Pop songs with Natalie Shay: she is a colourful and eclectic artist who appeals to people like me - those who grew up with the best music and rebel against the worst traits of the mainstream. Natalie Shay prides herself on the live instrumentation and authenticity of her music. I feel London has played a part in that. The urgency of the city, and the great live music one sees daily, has got into her bloodstream and affected her. I shall move on but, with London before her, the young songwriter has embraced the challenges and obstacles. There is so much about Natalie Shay that defies my perceptions of what a modern Indie/Pop artist is all about.
I have mentioned how, with that BRIT School education, she might be a generic chart act who will not stay in the mind years from now. There are few modern artists who have the potency to create nuance and durability. One could look at a young and beautiful female artist and feel, in terms of sound, they will be another lightweight artist who aims for the chart positions – refuting anything challenging and taking risks in the industry. Natalie Shay has subverted perceptions of what a young songwriter now is all about. That early affinity with music has given her a hunger for success and credibility. The individuality of Shay means she does not remind you of other artists; there is not that feeling she is in things for fame and money; the mind bonds with a real musician who has gained the ear of some of the music world’s biggest names. Whatever you attribute it down to; you cannot deny the hard work and endless graft of Shay has got her where she is today. The quality on display comes from the lessons learned in the live environment; the artists she was raised on; the teaching she has received – and the artists she has shared the stage with. Soul II Soul, JP Cooper and Glen Matlock are a few of the names Natalie Shay has shared a stage with. Those are some varied and extraordinary names, for sure! Not only has Natalie Shay shared the stage with big names; she has been inspired by the work of Sundara Karma – and had music produced by Pete Dowsett (The Vaccines). I have a sense of regret and pain big artists get to gig alongside legendary artists. I often feel they have only earned that right because they are successful and popular – rather than good and worthy. Natalie Shay has earned her honours because of the way she attacks music and the authenticity she puts into every note.
I worry when certain artists go into music with a limited soundscape. Their lyrics are all about love but each line has a cliché, generic feel. There is no real excuse for taking a lazy and limited approach to music. There are too many dead-headed writers who witlessly write about relationships and provide nothing more than plaintive guitars and bland production. This year, as we are seeing, there is a prediction: the Pop market will replace the more sterile and commercial sounds with something a bit more expansive, rich and original. There are tipped artists who will come through and splice genres into a more colourless pot; break conventions and shake things up. Natalie Shay has taken opportunities and has the great live reputation. People have bonded with her and come to her shows to be moved and affected. I am keen to promote those great live performers who put the audience in the palm of their hand and do something exceptional. That is the case with Natalie Shay. She has been playing for a few years now but, as new material comes out, it seems to strengthen her performance skills. There is a close relationship between the live performance and studio recording. Shay has learned a lot from gigs and put that into her new material. Likewise; when she has a song out in the ether; the demand goes up and that confidence boost produces more gigs – and that experience compels and improves the next release. I mentioned how Shay prides instruments and a live-sounding and making her music as real and tangible as possible. Another reason she has accrued a great reputation is the way she approaches love and common themes. She does not, on This Feeling, employ tropes and stereotypes. The song is about the passionate desire one has for someone – we can all relate to that feeling. It would be hard, therefore, to project a song that spoke to the individual. That overriding and inescapable passion is unique to everyone; it is a complicated set of emotions with that one core: to get what you crave and keep it safe.
PHOTO CREDIT: Grace Benita Photography
I will come to the song in a minute but, looking at the layers and sides of Natalie Shay; it would be easy to predict and put her in a box. I have mentioned how some get the impression (some people) look at a young female artist and consider them ingénue, attractive and shallow – not able to offer any real quality and remembrance. Those are not my feelings but one does see a lot of that in music. It is an attitude that needs to change. Whether you feel all female artists with a certain look/sound are going to sound the same; not produce the same energy and strike as the men – there is sexism still present and it is something we need to eradicate. Natalie Shay’s raw vocals have soulfulness to them and manage to balance bigger artists like Adele with more credible acts like Amy Winehouse. The punchy drums and gritty guitars have electricity and body; the songs are superbly produced and the songwriting is consistently strong. This Feeling is a song that, days after its release, has gained a lot of praise and love. It is the strongest offering from the songwriter and will lead to more material. This year will see her build her foundations and gain huge applause. I am excited by what is to come because Natalie Shay is an artist that does not fit into conventional holes. She can balance the needs of the mainstream/commercial outlets but has the personality and underground-hero vibe that will appeal to those who prefer their artists less mainstream and more authentic. That ability to reach all the people is what will see her grow and reach new heights this year.
This Feeling does not start the way you’d expect! Rather than a very Pop-minded strum or a calm breeze; the song teases and beckons you in. There are faint chords and electricity suggested. One gets the hint a storm is on its way but not exactly sure when. The percussion and guitars unite and there is a race afoot. The beats stiffen and then pound; the guitars ramble and climb. Although the hero is not by her side; he is with her and taking her a long way. Mathematical equations and terminology is used to describe a relationship/imminent bond that is going through some trials. Maybe the lovers have been together for a while but it seems they are apart now. The heroine’s voice is pumped and passionate as she keeps time with the composition. The song has blood-rush strength and swagger that manages to employ some mainstream strands (big production and anthemic appeal) but the lyrics and vocals go a lot further. The wording is original and bold; you get a sense of a mercurial mind who approaches love in a different and fresh way. The entire composition is a huge and epic thing. There are light and spacey notes that melt inside the stringent beats and swelling guitars. You are compelled to move alongside the music and get involved with the sheer physicality of it. Buoyed by the passionate flames that burn through; the chorus sticks in the mind. It is about the feeling of love and hot desire and how it remains strong. Things are more complex than that. You can put love in the cold or go through challenging times but that overarching sense of desire and love comes out. I listen to the song and feel it is a lot more personal than it is commercial. The first-half of the song makes its mark and gets the feet and arms moving. You are bonded to the electricity and energy of the composition – you also start to imagine where the song came from.
I know we all go through love and pining but there is something special about This Feeling. Shay explores the gambles of love and how it can be unpredictable. She urges the boy to take a chance on her and ignore the usual pitfalls. It is hard to explicitly understand where she comes from – as each experience is different – but the determination and force one gets from the vocals hooks you in. There is never a moment when the song comes down and descends into dreary territory. Many might say that endless pressure and sound is a desire to get to stadiums and into the charts. Maybe that is true of some artists but Natalie Shay is a musician who places credibility and inspiration above commercial demands. You get sucked into the wonder and sheer vitality of the music; it is singalong and anthem-promising but has that quality and nuance. You want to listen to it after the first spin and know it will not evade the memory. Anyone who cynically feels the big chorus and edgings towards Pop means it is aimed at a certain market. This Feeling is not a song for the traditional Pop market. The dominance of Indie/Alternative sounds mean it goes much further and will appeal to those who have their ear attuned to the more credible side of the dial. By the final notes of the song; you still have the chorus ringing in the ears and have the vocals resounding in the heart. It is a solid and impressive song from an artist who has made improvements and steps – whilst retaining her sound and personality. It is going to be wonderful seeing how she grows and where her music goes from here.
I am confident Natalie Shay will grow as a performer and gain huge success in 2018. She has already gained a lot of ground and shared the stage with some big names. The BRIT School education has prepared her for life in music; the ability to cope with the pressure and some useful networking skills. The teaching she has gained, too, has collaborated with her childhood passion and knowledge. The skilled musician could have taken an easy approach to lyrics. Rather than pander to the needs of the mainstream charts; she has followed a personal path and done things her own way. In a year when the unique and pioneering artists will take a stand: it is a perfect time for Shay to come through and clean up. This Feeling is a song that sets out her stall and shows what a talent she is. I know there will be more gigs and, the better local reputation she gains; the more demanding venues from other parts of the country will be. I would love to see her tour widely and bring her music to other parts of the nation. London gets a lot of credit and focus but there is a rich music scene throughout the U.K. Plenty of people would leap at the opportunity to see her play near them and get that first-hand, close-up experience. She is still young but, in the past year or so, has managed to stick in the heart and make an impact. It is hard to say how far she can go but you only need to listen to This Feeling and you know 2018 will be a very strong and successful one for Shay. Make an effort to get involved with her music and dig deep into her catalogue. It is still early days for Natalie Shay but the development and material I have heard suggests she is here for the long-run. Each song has its own vibe but all the material is defined by quality, personality and depth. I have mentioned that word (‘depth’) a lot but I do so with good reason. There are few songwriters that manage to create songs that stay in the mind and compel you to keep coming back. Natalie Shay is one such musician and someone who has a lot more to say. This Feeling might take some time to embed in certain people’s brains but, give it enough time and you will…
FALL in love with it.
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