FEATURE: The 900th: The Power of the Female Voice



The 900th:


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The Power of the Female Voice


 IT is not often I get to bring out my musical umbrella and give…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Héloïse Letissier (Christine and the Queens)

it a damned good shaking. Before I bivouac said precipitation protection away; I want to pay celebration to the finest female voices around – both past and present. I do enjoy doing features with no relevance and timelessness other than the fact I fancy doing it. I have been looking at articles and debates recently questioning whether there is sexism and imbalance in the music industry. I feel very few women are provided the same opportunity as men - when it comes to exposure and attention. That seems unfair, as the list below documents, there have been some fantastic female singers – many more greats emerging at the moment. To honour some of the greatest female vocalists (past and current); I have collated a collection of stunning artists and a song that defines their talent.


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Missy Elliot

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjIvu7e6Wq8&w=560&h=315]

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Kate Bush

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xckBwPdo1c&w=560&h=315]

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Nina Simone

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYSbUOoq4Vg&w=560&h=315]

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDbPYoaAiyc&w=560&h=315]

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Julia Jacklin

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8-sRdRHU3o&w=560&h=315]

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Carole King

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDm1xD_Kwyc&w=560&h=315]

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDZJPJV__bQ&w=560&h=315]

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4tD8dy9Reg&w=560&h=315]

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Aretha Franklin

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FOUqQt3Kg0&w=560&h=315]

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PHOTO CREDIT: Victor De Jesus

Billie Marten

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smX6xCPDbrE&w=560&h=315]

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEhy-RXkNo0&w=560&h=315]

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Joni Mitchell

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAK9Pj5-QXY&w=560&h=315]

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Laura Marling

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tb0yCaX_xKs&w=560&h=315]

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Lauryn Hill

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3_dOWYHS7I&w=560&h=315]

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Amy Winehouse

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJAfLE39ZZ8&w=560&h=315]

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Stevie Nicks

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrZRURcb1cM&w=560&h=315]

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PHOTO CREDIT: Betsy Rose Besser

Maggie Rogers

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNWsW6c6t8g&w=560&h=315]

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Jorja Smith

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i59Klb0S1Uw&w=560&h=315]

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Patti Smith

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPwOfwhpiW8&w=560&h=315]

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Mary J. Blige

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XNaPX6MKlU&w=560&h=315]

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Neneh Cherry

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ9VBMBS3qE&w=560&h=315]

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Anne Clark (St. Vincent)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVAxUMuhz98&w=560&h=315]

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Florence Welch (Florence + the Machine)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGH-4jQZRcc&w=560&h=315]

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Laura Mvula

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5akYnlwubDo&w=560&h=315]

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Karen Carpenter (The Carpenters)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JgEptmz_eE&w=560&h=315]

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AwXKJoKJz4&w=560&h=315]

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Tori Amos

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PDlGUdDF8Y&w=560&h=315]

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WcWHZc8s2I&w=560&h=315]

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k.d. lang

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXqPjx94YMg&w=560&h=315]

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PJ Harvey

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbq4G1TjKYg&w=560&h=315]

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Dolly Parton

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9re90HG2dw&w=560&h=315]

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Hannah Reid (London Grammar)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkeDBwsIaZw&w=560&h=315]

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Annie Lennox

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y25stK5ymlA&w=560&h=315]

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Cat Power

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QT9qM99l9Yk&w=560&h=315]

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Héloïse Letissier (Christine and the Queens)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzFYmz2lfT4&w=560&h=315]

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Emmylou Harris

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OomaNxkY-KY&w=560&h=315]

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Alicia Keys

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Urdlvw0SSEc&w=560&h=315]

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Dusty Springfield

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjydOI4MEIw&w=560&h=315]

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NLUthL6-BU&w=560&h=315]

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Debbie Harry (Blondie)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Tko1G6XRiQ&w=560&h=315]

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Billie Holiday

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYUqbnk7tCY&w=560&h=315]





Hayley McKay


DARLINGTON musician Hayley McKay is a multi-talented...

singer-songwriter who has captivated and stunned many with her incredible vocals. In 2011, McKay won a national competition that funded a scholarship to study Vocals at The British and Irish Institute of Modern Music (B.I.M.M.) in Brighton. From there she graduated to an artist development course in London with Access to Music – former alumni includes Rita Ora, Jesse Glynne and Ed Sheeran. By 2016, she had already performed in Nashville, Glastonbury and venues across the U.K. Following that (last year), she performed at Ronnie Scott’s’ and The Bedford; Islington’s 02 Academy and The Half Moon, Putney – supporting Scouting for Girls – and has performed alongside Jamie Cullum, Bryan Ferry and Seal. In 2017, there are even bigger and brighter prospects ahead. I talk to McKay about her extraordinary past and plans for this year: she discusses new single, Unspoken, before talking about what compelled her decision to get into music.


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

Busy as ever! I'm going through ideas for my second single video, and over the last weekend, I was judging an international music competition.

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

I play with a full band and we have a new music genre with a real difference - it's called Pop/Electro/Country (or P.E.C. for short).

This must be the first time I have featured an artist from Darlington. What is the music scene like and how many opportunities are there for local musicians?

The Forum Music Centre in Darlington is my second home. It's a great live music venue with rehearsal rooms and a recording studio - which are always busy with some great local talent. There are also some great open mics in Darlington.

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Last year was a busy one for you. Glastonbury must have been something for the memory chest. What was that experience like? 

It was amazing - I opened the Toad Hall stage playing a solo acoustic set.

It was so good that I'd love to back; but this time with the band. That would really be special.

You have supported Scouting for Girls and shared the stage with Seal and Bryan Ferry. What has been your favourite memory from last year?

Funnily enough, it's getting the band together. I've always wanted my own band and now I have one.

Unspoken is your debut single. What can you tell us about the influences and the inspiration behind the song?

It's a heartfelt ballad which I really hope captures the emotion behind walking away from something you're uncertain about.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wYliyZcSr8&w=560&h=315]

The track had Pop and Country edges. What music did you grow up listening to and who were the artists you idolised?

Oh, there are so many - there was always music playing in the house and in the car. From the North-East music scene there was Lindisfarne: but I love ABBA, Whitney Houston; Barbra Streisand and Celine (Dion) for the purity of their vocals and then Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell and Stevie Nicks for their storytelling.

There have been comparisons made - from a visual aspect certainly - between you and LeAnn Rimes. Is it quite daunting receiving that sort of accolade or flattering?

It's flattering, of course.

But I'd rather be compared with someone because of my music rather than the way I look.

You are making your first steps into music. What compelled you to get into music in the first place?

Music has always been a part of my life - apparently, I used to sing in my cot! There was always music in the house and in the car. Growing up, I went to stage school and performed in musical theatre. It really seems that music is in my D.N.A. and I've never imagined doing anything else.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdDCF1KX8NU&w=560&h=315]

What plans are afoot this year? Can we expect an E.P. or album perhaps?

Yes, you can.

I'm currently working on an album - which should be ready for release in the summer.

In that sense; will you be touring at all in 2017?

I'm currently doing radio promo tours if that counts. But there will a short U.K. tour playing at some of the festivals.

If you had to select three albums that mean the most to you which would they be and why?

Whitney (Houston): The Greatest Hits. (Because) I used to sing a lot of Whitney's songs as a kid and wanted to figure out how to play them. They're all on this album.

ABBA - Live. Simply because they're (just) amazing.

Bruce Springsteen - Born in the U.S.A. Because it shows why he's The Boss.

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Are there any musicians, international or local, you recommend we check out?

Oh - that's impossible: there's just too many to choose from and I'm adding to the list every day.

What advice would you provide any upcoming artists?

Collaborate with other musicians and writers.

Surround yourself with radiators and not drainers and work as hard as you can - because talent alone is never enough.

Finally, and for being a good sport, you can select any song you like (not yours as I'll include that) and I'll play it here.

Run for Home by Lindisfarne. It's my all-time favourite song.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZNjvo1_3PE&w=560&h=315]


Follow Hayley MacKay











FEATURE: Kurt Cobain at Fifty: The Playlist



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Kurt Cobain at Fifty: The Playlist


I realise it is a little bit ghoulish and pointless...

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celebrating the birthday of a deceased musician; but we do it to remember what they gave us – and how much inspiration they provide; even after their passing. I know I will not do the late, great Cobain full justice but wanted to pay tribute to one of the true icons of modern music. Were it not for the Nirvana frontman, it is debatable how many of today’s greatest Rock bands would exist. So many current artists take inspiration from Cobain and his songwriting: there are multiple reasons to adore the Grunge king. Not only was he one of the most compelling songwriters and impassioned vocalists of his generation: his personality was largely at-odds with the stylised, media-friendly persona many of his peers adopted. For starters, Cobain never wanted to sing: just playing guitar at the back of the room and be ignored. He missed – when the band hit the big time – blending in with people and yearned to have the adoration of John Lennon – but the anonymity of Ringo Starr with it. A complex and contractionary character that still yields fascination and legend nearly twenty-two years after his death. Nirvana’s live performances were legendary. In 1991, when the band were asked to perform over a pre-recording backing track, Cobain refused: he sang Smells Like Teen Spirit in a lower register and made a shambles of the performance. At 1992’s Reading Festival – following reports Cobain was ill after the birth of his daughter, Frances Bean – he came on stage in a wheelchair; the band barely regressed but went and nailed the gig.

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If anything, Nirvana were forefathers: Cobain, the spokesperson who was years ahead of his time. He advocated equal rights for homosexuals and better rights for women. He abhorred sexism and fought to banish racism, homophobia and sexism in all areas of society. In today’s culture, these kind of attitudes are lesser-heard and rare (among celebrities): back in the 1990s, it was almost non-existent. In addition to that, Cobain introduced the world to music that seemed to speak for them. Yes, there was teen angst, defiance and depression: it was honest music that did not hold back and did not hide behind metaphors. Baring his soul through music; many fans resonated and connected with the troubled lead. Not going into his tragic suicide, but one wonders whether it was the toil and weight of life or the fears of commercialisation – Cobain worried his music was being marketed to the wrong people and losing its authenticity – that led to his untimely demise. You just need to see the band play the famous MTV Unplugged session to know that things were almost over. Aside from the lilies, candlelight and symbolism – many thinking Cobain was playing his own funeral, in a way – the band shunned the big hits and seemed to revert to their early days – playing obscure covers and doing what they wanted to do. By 1994, Cobain had had enough of being controlled and playing the role of a musical puppet. What he left behind was a mixture of incredible words and spellbinding music. His messages of inclusion and togetherness have connected with a new generation whilst his incredible personality and unforgettable performances have gone down in legends. Most importantly, perhaps, is the phenomenal music that defined the Grunge era and forced hopeful musicians to get in the garage and follow their icon. Cobain might have struggled with life and fame but his legacy and legend cannot be understated. In that spirit, I have included the definitive Kurt Cobain songs and performances to honour what would have been his fiftieth birthday.


BlewBleach (1989)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7J37mp0JJCE&w=560&h=315]

About a Girl Bleach

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpMt_YqVbhw&w=560&h=315]

Love BuzzBleach

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLthJDXbq6Y&w=560&h=315]

Molly’s LipsIncesticide (Compilation Album)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f76GsOBxUg0&w=560&h=315]

Aneurysm - Incesticide

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QD0D7IuriWQ&w=560&h=315]

Smells Like Teen Spirit Nevermind (1991)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTWKbfoikeg&w=560&h=315]

Come As You Are - Nevermind

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vabnZ9-ex7o&w=560&h=315]

In Bloom - Nevermind

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbgKEjNBHqM&w=560&h=315]

Breed Nevermind

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ee6xkwVucIE&w=560&h=315]

Polly Nevermind

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2Fr90sOxbs&w=560&h=315]

Something in the WayNevermind

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDyvClUsCJU&w=560&h=315]

Heart-Shaped Box In Utero (1993)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6P0SitRwy8&w=560&h=315]

Rape MeIn Utero

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqseYiGA0us&w=560&h=315]

Dumb In Utero

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lj3bCXViNNM&w=560&h=315]

Very ApeIn Utero

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91yrS5PUJBY&w=560&h=315]

Pennyroyal TeaIn Utero

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb71GyLkGYc&w=560&h=315]

All Apologies In Utero

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LFVQpDKHk4&w=560&h=315]

Rape Me - Live on Nulle Part Ailleurs, Paris (1994)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wt0qhMEg-Xk&w=560&h=315]

Drain You - Live In Munich (1994)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yY5ov_IYaAs&w=560&h=315]

My Best Friend's GirlLive In Munich (1994)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikkhmkAH72U&w=560&h=315]

About a Girl – MTV Unplugged in New York (1994)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhcttcXcRYY&w=560&h=315]

The Man Who Sold the WorldMTV Unplugged in New York

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fregObNcHC8&w=560&h=315]

Lake of FireMTV Unplugged in New York

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uItAH1nA990&w=560&h=315]

Where Did You Sleep Last Night MTV Unplugged in New York

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOZKz_sPM6U&w=560&h=315]

You Know You’re Right Nirvana (2002)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNtnWbGi71s&w=560&h=315]

Silver Live at Reading (2009, Album; 1992, Performance)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DSIJD20V28&w=560&h=315]

LithiumLive at Reading

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJLe1UTqKvA&w=560&h=315]

Negative CreepLive at Reading

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-r9tuPrZK4&w=560&h=315]

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Happy birthday to Mr. Cobain, wherever you lay. I can imagine he is jamming with (Jimi) Hendrix, (John) Lennon and (John) Bonham or maybe just sitting around tutting at the world! It is sad to think Kurt Cobain is not with us but we can never forget the fantastic music and inspiring legacy he has left. That word ‘legacy’ is not hyperbole or undeserved. There are few musicians that deserve such high praise, but then again, there are few like Cobain. One of those songwriters that comes around once every lifetime: will we ever see his like again?! Of course not, but that is not to sympathise. Enjoy what he left and just imagine what could have happened were things to be different. Maybe he’d still be performing: perhaps he would have run for President to topple the tyrannical Trump. It is amusing to imagine but, whilst we all do that, sit back and enjoy the great man’s incredible music.




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THERE are not many new musicians who...

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have penned songs for major-label-signed artists – which have gone on to sell triple-platinum. There are fewer still who have managed to balance that and created their own music. IMAN is no ordinary songwriter. The highly sought-after artist discusses her latest single, Wishing, and her route into music. Tastemakers like MOBO and The 405 have lauded previous singles Naïve and Golden and provided high kudos. These songs have accrued over 50,000 streams on SoundCloud so I was keen to see how she is adjusting after such attention. I asked IMAN what it was like writing with Ed Sheeran and touring with Rudimental; how she battles self-doubt and overcomes fears. In addition, she discusses the singers that matter most to her and what it was like working with Brett Shaw (who mixed Wishing and has worked with Lady Gaga).


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

Hey! I’m good, thank you. My week has been busy with studio sessions - and rehearsals for my tour that’s about to start.

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

I’m a London-based independent recording artist. I write my songs and sometimes even direct and co-edit my own music videos. I would say that my sound has Pop, Soul; Electronic and R&B influences. My music can be heard here: www.imanmusic.co.uk

Wishing is your latest single. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind it?

It’s about a guy I was crushing on.

He had a girlfriend so I stayed well away - and I’m glad I did!

Some things just aren’t meant for you I think.


It is a dance-floor smash that really leaps out the gates. It was mixed by Brett Shaw who has worked with, among other people, Lady Gaga. How important was his contribution to the overall sound of the song?

The records he’s worked on says it all. He’s developed an ear that allows him to mix a record to a very high standard. I’m so glad he heard my song and was up for it.

You have written and recorded with the likes of Ed Sheeran and toured with Rudimental. What was those guys like and what has been your fondest memory from your time in music (so far)?

Ed was cool - very kind and sweet (and so were Rudimental).

My fondest memory was when I writing a song with Ed and it was such an easy, go-with-the-flow session. We ended up writing two songs and he was good company.

One of my fave memories was performing my first festival with Rudimental. I made a pact that if I ever went to a festival it was going to be one I was performing at. Not sure why I was so strict with myself but, yeah, it ended up coming true and my first festival was with them performing. I walked off BUZZING and I remember still feeling so high from it all for a good few days after. The energy was insane.

You have stated how you received rejection in the early days and were battling with yourself. Is your music now a reaction that and a sense of defiance?

Yeah, I’ve written some songs when I have felt very low about the rejection I think we all can face in the industry; but I’d always put a positive spin on it. I’m naturally an optimistic person and I’m curious about life and what’s around the corner. People have told me my voice is emotive and I think my experiences come through when I sing. I tap into emotion and I think it’s fair to say that, yes, it comes from my experiences.

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In those bleak moments, did you ever think you’d be where you are now?

It’s funny how you can look back and I know I often question myself thinking how and what made me just keep pushing on.

I’ve always been driven and I think one of the things that drives me the most is a fear of not having my music shared with the world the way I feel it deserves to be.

As a creative, I create in order to ultimately share it. That’s what brings me joy: connecting with people and performing these little songs that have come out of me. They weren’t made to just sit on my Mac for my ears only. That alone gives me so much drive to just power through any type of rejection - and rejection can be a good thing. I still have so much more to give and I’m proud that I kept persevering (and am where I am). I still want more, though.

You have written songs for other artists – from U.K. Germany and Australia, among other nations – and their songs have gone triple-platinum and reached gold sales standards. What is it like writing for other artists and do you feel constricted writing for someone else? Is it an experience that strengthens and evolves your own writing/songs?

Honestly, they were songs that I had written for myself which I didn’t feel were right for me. Luckily, they found a home. The times when I have written for others can be a bit restrictive, and at the same time, I guess it does help strengthen writing for myself. I say this because every time you write - no matter who for - I am effectively exercising that creative ‘muscle’. Practice makes perfect and all that!

Having been championed by the likes of Annie Mac and MistaJam; how has this kind of love and support made you feel?

I was on a Wilkinson track where I was featured and it's always great to have quality tastemakers get behind something I was part of. When you’re in the studio recording with the song you never quite know where it will end up or how it could go - so when I started hearing it on the radio the feeling was incredible. I don’t think I will ever not be excited to hear my music be broadcast on any platform. It’s so rewarding and very humbling.

Image may contain: 2 people, indoor

Your voice is rich and sensuous but has an energy and power to it. Which singers were most important you growing up and inspired who you are now?

Thank you! I enjoyed listening to Tracy Chapman and Jill Scott a lot. Lauryn Hill also. I like a vocal to have character. A big range is not so important but character in a voice always hits the spot with me.

I have asked many female/black artists whether it is harder to find opportunities in music. Do you think there is an imbalance? Do we need to work harder to make music a more equal and opportunistic space for both women and black artists?

I absolutely think there is a discrepancy in the amount of ethnic U.K. artists in the mainstream charts.

I remember being called into a label one time and the guy sat me down and proceeded to tell me how unlikely it would be that radio would play me because I’m not white. Luckily, I didn’t buy into that bullsh*t but who knows how many artists sat in his office and walked out feeling like it was the truth? There is an abundance of incredibly talented, hardworking and focused artists that have paid their dues and deserve a platform. There is space for everyone and the more artists - with great music out there that is - being supported by various platforms the better it is for the industry on a whole I think.

You have dates in London coming up in the coming months. You play Pop Revue on 7th March; ROAR on 28th March and Collage Arts on 12th April. Which date are you most looking forward to and are you performing any more dates this year?

I’m looking forward to every single one! Some will be with my full-band; others will be acoustic sets. Acoustic sets, though, do tend to be my fave – less stress and they tend to be way more intimate. My band, though: it is a vibe I can’t deny.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

PHOTO CREDIT: Jakub Koziel

On that same topic; can we expect an IMAN E.P. or album in 2017?

Throughout 2017, I will be releasing a series of singles and online content.  I’m focused on growing as an artist and collaborating with others. So, stay close to me and watch this space!

Which have been the three albums that have inspired you most, would you say?

Eminem – The Slim Shady LP. Still fresh to death!

Jill Scott – Who Is Jill Scott? Word and Sounds Vol. 1.  Vocally and lyrically 100% on-point - still speaks to me in every way.

Sam Sparro  - Sam Sparro . Vibes, vibes, vibes!

Are there any new acts out there you recommend we check out?

Loving RAY BLK, Loyle Carner and NAO: strong U.K. vibes all round.

What advice would you give to new musicians coming through?

Stay focused, humble. only keep positive vibes around you and always be honest with yourself.

Also, don’t bother comparing yourself to others – It’s a waste of time. Do ‘you’; stay in your lane and use every day productively.

Finally, and for being a good sport, you can pick a song (not one of yours as I’ll do that) and I’ll play it here.

Lucian (ft. Jordan Corey) – Infrared

I’m not sure I’m ever going to stop listening to this one!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRX-94CDjXQ&w=560&h=315]


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LIVE REVIEW: Lydia Baylis/Van T/Jasmine Rodgers/Michelle O Faith at The Finsbury, London



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Lydia Baylis/Van T/Jasmine Rodgers/Michelle O Faith at The Finsbury, London


I had been itching to get back to The Finsbury

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ever since putting up four acts there last year – including Saints Patience and SALT. With that in mind, it was great being back in the north London bar for another night of terrific music. Special thanks go to Chris Sharpe and Lost in the Manor for not only putting it all together but allowing me another chance to stage some fine musicians. That is not to say the last event went badly – it was a fantastic night – but one, especially a non-professional journalist, is not often afforded such patronage and faith. Speaking of faith – me and my slick wordplay – I shall come to a certain ‘Michelle’ soon. The scene was very much set: a warm and near-spring-like evening was enveloping a part of London normally engulfed in a variety of different scents – it is certainly one of the most ‘vivid’ and aromatic parts of the capital. I like the area – around Finsbury Park – as it offers a slice of ‘real’ London. Earlier in the day, and marked contrast to the environs of The Finsbury, I was standing outside Harrods in Knightsbridge. There, basking in the genial warmth of the afternoon, was a multi-genre saxophonist who switched through various styles to enthral the agog collective. Many were circling and still; captivated by the music and funky sounds. By the time last night’s gig started, I had seen every side of London and the contrasts it offers. The idea behind the night was to showcase female singers only: something I have been meaning to do for a long time now - I hope I am allowed a third night because the events of last night have left an indelible smile.

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The first act of the night was someone I have been eager to meet for a while: the charming and ever-lovely Lydia Baylis. In the course of reviewing and interview, I (unfortunately) do not get a chance to meet artists face-to-face so was great to meet Lydia and her band. It is hard not to be struck and awed by her: someone incredible genial, pleasant and warm; radiant and incredibly bright too.  I would love to meet her again in the future as I was bowled over a little bit by her (and have a little music crush now). Speaking with her, she explained how new material was in-the-works and it has been a while since new stuff has come out. When she hit the stage, there was no sense of nerves or any doubts. Launching into a wonderful and passionate set; from an aesthetic viewpoint, I saw little bits of London Grammar. With the keys and percussion (drum pads and electronic beats) it was almost like watching Hannah Reid and her bandmates. In a sense, Lydia showed she had the same sort of power and beauty as Reid – albeit a lot more warmth and ability to engage with a crowd. Her beaming smile and alluring voice got the crowd uplifted and seduced from the very start. She is one of my favourite artists because you get a real sense of someone who was meant to be in music. Throughout the set, Lydia and her band ran through some wonderful material that had The Finsbury’s patrons hooked and stunned. In terms of stage presence, she managed to turn the small pulpit into her own space. A couple of her faithful followers were in attendance and offered warm applause – as did the rest of the crowd – after every number. It was great to hear Lydia in the flesh and that incredible music up-close. In terms of sound, it is hard to compare her with anyone else: it is Electro.-Pop and Soul but delivered from a very personal place. Lydia is someone I am keen to work with more in the future as she left her mark on the crowd for sure – providing a wonderful set and showing why she is one of the most promising young artists around.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Callen Jefferson

Whilst many of us only had to tackle the London Underground – Lydia coming from the Victoria area, I believe – that was not the case with Van T. The South African-based artist (Chantal Van T) had only a short time in London – making it a huge honour she played The Finsbury. Having arrived in the country early yesterday morning; she only had a short space of time to perform with her band. That ‘band’, I am not sure, they have played a lot before. Despite the short rehearsal time; it was great to hear the trio play – the set contained vocals, bass and electric guitar. It was quite a stripped-back and lo-fi compositional showcase that very much focused on Chantal’s voice. That voice, like Lydia’s, is impossible to compare and contained so many emotions and sides. Being such a young singer, many would have forgiven the South African for replicating modern Pop stars and going for something quite easy and common. Van T’s set was a striking and mesmeric as one could imagine. Chantal’s voice switched between sweet and child-like to raw and empathetic: never missing a beat and sounding completely natural at every stage. Showcasing some newer material – there will be more in the future – you got a sense of an artist that should spend a lot more time in the U.K. The Cape Town resident – her fellow band members, for the night, hailed from Germany – and provided a cosmopolitan, multi-cultural show that went down extremely well with the audience. She is soon to depart for home and really impressed the audience with her natural stage presence and warmth. Speaking with her before (and after) the set, it was clear Chantal has huge affection for London and wants to perform more here. With Cape Town being less busy and appealing for musicians; I predict Van T will be back in town in the coming months. In any case, the beautiful and powerful showcase left very few in doubt: an artist with a big future and incredible voice.

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If Jasmine Rodgers’ trip to The Finsbury was shorter and less continent-hopping; her set was no less emphatic and memorable. Armed with her acoustic guitar and ukulele: she was the only ‘solo’ artist of the night. Again, this was the first time I met her but was completely awed – you get the impression of someone falling for every female musician they meet – by her humour, personality and grace. Coming from Brixton, where there are plenty of great live spaces, it was clear Jasmine has a great bond with the city and a magnificent stage presence to go with it. Blood Red Sun, Jasmine's current album, was one of my favourite from last year; moments from it played on the north London stage. Her set featured the incredible hit Icicles and some of her finest material. In the between-song pauses, she provided jokes – that gained a respectful amount of mirth and laughter – and sounded completely at-one with the audience. Again, there were people in the venue definitely there to see her. Catching up with Jasmine before the set; she explained how new material was coming and future gigs approaching. She is a musician I have enormous respect for and is definitely one of my ‘artists to watch’ this year. There are few that have such an ability to leave a crowd silent with little more than acoustic strings. Her evocative and emotionally-rich lyrics get inside the mind whilst her stunning voice and incredible musicianship leave you wanting more. That is very much the sensation on the night: a lot of people could have listened to her play for a long time after that. Owing to the set times and limitations, Jasmine certainly left her mark and, I hope, will get a lot of people racing to hear her songs. It is rare finding a musician that has humility and affection with no ego and pretence. Jasmine is one of the most ego-less artists I have met and wins your heart with her balance of exceptional songs and charisma. I, like many in attendance, naturally gravitated to her were gripped by her set. I hope to see Jasmine at other gigs and she is someone I am eager to review again very soon. I am excited to think what is to come for her and how far she can go.

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Ending the night was Michelle O Faith and her band. Unlike Lydia, Jasmine and Van T; this set contained heavier percussion and was the most direct and hard-hitting performance of the night. Michelle is someone who delivers big and bold songs intended to get heads nodding and bodies moving. I met her (and her mother: a lovely lady) at the gig and loved finding out more about her and what she has been up to. Birthday Blues is her current E.P. and she showcased material from that collection. The title track and Lemonade were songs that got big reactions and were matched with incredible performances by everyone on that stage. Michelle herself is someone who has a personal and professional persona. In person, she is this sweet and intelligent young woman who you could listen to for hours – interesting to hear and filled with kindness and passion. On stage, she adorns a blue wig and is one of the most physical performers I have seen. Completely involved with the music and the lyrics; Michelle made great use of the intimate stage and ensured the crowd got a memorable performance. Michelle, throughout her songs, employed a lot of movement and emotions and proved she is an extremely natural and incredible performer. She and the band had a terrific kinship and produced a tight and professional set that, again, was received with warm applause and impressive whistles (the crowd was particularly energetic and supportive after every song). I know Michelle will go on performing and play larger stages so it was great hearing her play The Finsbury. Her was a headline set few will forget and ensured the February Sunday evening was ended with a bang. In listening to her, I got little hints of singers like Adele and Beyoncé. In terms of persona, physicality and command; one can draw comparisons between her and Beyoncé – there is that similar blend of sexuality and vulnerability in her music that makes me think of the U.S. legend. Let’s hope there is more material from Michelle O Faith this year as she is a terrific artist with plenty more to say. I can see her playing festivals stages in years to come: seeing her in smaller spaces like The Finsbury was a real treat.

PHOTO CREDIT: Anne Campbell

Aside from a few noisy patrons – Chris having to have a quiet word with one or two – that were a bit chatty during the songs – and blues (ambulance) lights flashing past the window every few minutes (it is north London after all) – it was a fantastic and successful night from four different and amazing acts. Each artist stood out and created an incredible and evocative performance. Whilst each had different merits and styles; they came together extraordinarily well and gelled. I know the girls were meeting each other for the first time and seemed to strike a natural and warm bond. On stage, it was great seeing this quartet of female singers perform some fantastic songs. I know 2017 will be an eventful and busy one for each of the artists and I am excited to follow them all. Thanks again to Chris and Lost in the Manor (and to my ever-faithful gig companion, Adrian) and The Finsbury for a fantastic setting last night. It is a small space but one filled with atmosphere and potential. Every performer gave an incredible show of themselves and, in turn, received a lot of love from the audience. I am keen to do this again and always love coming to The Finsbury. Until such time, and whatever form that takes; a huge thanks to the artists that came and played last night. Truly, it was a gig that will…

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NOT be forgotten in a hurry.





MissDefiant (ft. DOPEBOYLDN)


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ICYMI is available at:



Pop; Electro.


London, U.K.


27th January, 2017


BEFORE I started writing music reviews…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Robb Gardner

and generally being involved in journalism, I was never a huge fan of Pop duos – modern examples anyway. What I was lacking was the sort of exposure and open-world accessibility I have now. One of the big issues was having a rather narrow, mainstream-approved, chart-driven directive that provided very little nuance, excitement and appeal. I am not bagging on chart acts but do feel so many artists are playing music to make a quick buck and satisfy the most insipid and easily-pleased demographic around – a point I raised in my last review. Before I launch into a full American Psycho-esque rampage on the ‘tween’ demographic; it is worth focusing on something less controversial and appealing. Knowing the girls from MissDefiant – I communicate with Jordan and Emily regularly – I know they are tirelessly working to get their music spread around the country. They are not your average Pop/Synth. duo but before I introduce them, I wanted to talk about image and having a team behind you; I’ll look at Pop and Electro. sounds – and how needed they are as the days are growing longer – and songwriting that subverts expectations and predefined predilections – looking at London and the more vibrant part of its music and sort of smaller venues that are being favoured. Right; to that first point. There is a long-standing issue in modern music not just reserved to Pop. Too many young artists are being crafted and dictated to: usually by a group of record label men who have very distinct ideas on how they should sing/dress/speak. We are in an age where certain sections of music/society are reverting to prehistoric times. In fact, back in the ‘60s and ‘70s there was not quite the same level of dictatorial control and fabricated plastic as there is now. Not all Pop/chart acts are culpable. Invariably, when one makes their way to a record label; said label will manufacture them a certain way to appeal to their ethos and the sort of people they market to.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Amy Spanos Photography

Whether you see this practice as an inadmissible sin or not that is for you. I, myself, am very reluctant to throw my weight before artists who are puppeteered and made to dangle like marionettes. Fortunately, when it comes to MissDefiant; they have do not fall into this trap. Maybe marketing men and record labels are not that avuncular to fresh musicians but they should show more respect. The girls of MissDefiant have an experienced team and producers behind them but take full control of their lyrics, music and attire. They have struck the perfect balance between management/professional guidance and freedom to grow and work. Mike Tournier, as shall be revealed in the duo’s biography brings thirty years of experience and acclaim to the MissDefiant camp. He has worked with the likes of Fluke and Syntax so knows his way around Electro.-Pop. The man lends his expertise and production talents to a twosome but provides musical direction and does not impose his will on them. MissDefiant are not girls who have to dance to the beat of the record label drums. They are an example of a strong and defiant - as their name suggests - duo who have that professional patronage but are left to their own devices. As such, and something I wanted to highlight, they bring much more personality and reality to their music. Not that I am pepper-spraying every Pop act out there but how many, aside from the mainstream established and older legends, do you feel is being true and themselves? I know a couple of upcoming females like Dua Lipa and Liv Dawson are promising great music but one wonders, in the case of Lipa especially, whether her overt/sexual songs and fiery themes are less her own proclivity and more the will and testament of her label – the feeling these kinds of songs shift units and get stations (Radio 1 especially) drooling and eager.

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I am not a prude not someone who actively campaigns against sexism and over-sexualisation in music but I am seeing too many young artists, not exploited, but resorting to the lowest-common-denominator for inspiration. I love Dua Lipa’s voice but feel her subject matter and videos leave little to the imagination. Not only does she seem to have a, sadly, limited shelf life – so many like her around and have come before – but her sonic and emotional spectrum is not broad enough to appeal to a wide enough demographic. I am sure the Londoner has her say and feelings but you just have that niggling suspicions every video, song and line is meticulously penned and transcribed from The Big Book of Pop Clichés. I am being harsh because I have respect for her but I know her upcoming eponymous album will get the same reaction: mostly three-star reviews (Pop magazines and ‘her market’ likely to show a higher bias) and commentators applauding her spirit and passion but bemoaning the lack of originality and soul. Apologies for wandering away from the tourist trail and exploring a vivid back-alley but it is something that grinds my gears. Aghast at the manufactured, depression trudge of high heels, sybaritic songbooks and careers – as soon as they started – requiring palliative care; it is refreshing discovering Pop artists who have maturity, youthfulness and wisdom. MissDefiant’s two have modelling experience between them and a real eye for colour, fashion and flavour. One word that perfectly sums MissDefiant up is cocktail. In fact, pick-‘n-‘mix might be more suitable. You see photos are entranced by a rainbow of summer flavours and topical-candy sweetness. There are bold pinks and pastel greens flirting with faux-island pines and red-striped lollypops; edgier, street-set shoots and dreamy backdrops. Both girls are beautiful and striking but the emphasis is never put on their looks and sex appeal. What they do, from the image side of things is perfectly distill their essence through the lens: bright and imaginative songs that convey a sense of intelligence and importance.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Robb Gardner

The girls never fetishise Pop music or send blood to the wrong part of the body. What you get from them is a bright and neon set of images and the impression of two young women who are mature and smart but want to have fun and not make things too heavy-going. This reflects in their lyrics which are among the most thought-provoking I have heard from a Pop act in a while. Again, not stereotyping their contemporaries but it is hard finding a lot of depth and variation in the ranks. Occasionally, one will hear forays away from love but that is a rarity. MissDefiant have looked at relationships and the sensations one feels but it is not their staple. What you get are girls who look further out in the world and address important themes. Previous songs have looked at not being defined and taken advantage of. MissDefiant have cast their thought in the club culture and looked (aghast) at drink-spiking and the seediness one witnesses. These are not sides of music/society one often hears. I am being more and more drawn to artists that have something new and important to say; talking about things we all need to know more about and stepping away from easy avenues. This serious and wise approach to lyrics, tied with their images and fun nature, makes the girls an exciting and wonderful proposition. They are always keen to engage with their fans and do not distance themselves. You get regular news about gigs and bright, variegated photo-shoots; videos and tidbits from the girls that keep everyone in the loop and informed. I have often mentioned the importance of keeping your social media updated and full – people will not hang around if they are bare and sullen. MissDefiant have a glossy and attractive homepage and insinuate themselves in social media: their supporters are treated to a close relationship and connection with the girls. Before I come to my next point, I will introduce MissDefiant to you:

Since launching in April of 2015 MissDefiant have created an online storm around their catchy music, fun content and engaging social media posts. Jordan and Emily's background in music, dance, acting and modelling means that they deliver effortless performances and current, edgy music. Mike Tournier brings almost 30 years of experience in the music industry to the MissDefiant team having been instrumental in former bands Fluke and Syntax. Over the past year they have created a catalogue of tracks, many of which have been released as singles, along with two full albums ready to release this year. MissDefiant will be releasing their debut album in the studio this year along with a b-side of acoustics and remixes. Coming May 2017 along with an album launch party headline show at The Borderline in London on 6th May. The girls popularity on social media has led to them collaborating online with MAC Cosmetics and many other clothing and cosmetic brands. Last year they performed at KOKO in Camden supporting LMFAO's Redfoo & The Party Rock Crew. They recently headlined at The Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen for their ICYMI single launch party and have performed at many other prestigious venues across London”.

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I’ll come to the prospect of London music this summer and the cool venues about. What I wanted to look at was the changing days and the season we are approaching. I have noticed the days are getting longer and it is sunnier than a few weeks ago. People are responding to the changing climate and becoming more optimistic about things. The world around us – in terms of politics and our governments – is becoming more ridiculous and unstable as time progresses but the population are starting to revel in the sunnier mood and meteorological clemency. It seems like this is the time of year to get out the spring clothes and head to the city. I yearn to spend as much time in London as I can: underneath the shade of Hyde Park trees and basking in the rush, smells and conversational snippets of Westminster; the exuberant pace of Piccadilly and the quirkiness and cool of Camden. Everything is heightened and better defined when the weather is warmer and more agreeable. For that reason, accompanying me – and many other people around – will be an appropriate soundtrack. The MissDefiant girls have that already-honed summer-ready wardrobe. I have been checking their Facebook page and see new shoots where they are daubed in beach-seeking garb and projecting a mood of serotonin and warming rays. I feel we are entering a more positive part of 2017 that will see warm days and longer nights make big changes. Music is reacting to this and I’m seeing a lot of Pop and Electro. artists provide big, anthemic tracks. If the girls’ latest track, ICYMI – its initials make me think of the The Spice Girls’ Spice Up Your Life and the chorus refrain of “Hai Si Ja/Hold tight!” – is not as electric and rousing as some of their earlier material, they bring plenty of energy and spirit to the music.

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With that, one hears profundity and originality: assets that are not often heard in modern Pop music. What I love about MissDefiant is the fact they energise and motivate the listener without coming across shallow or lacking necessary depth. Every track has a complexity and richness running right through it – aided by their decades-experienced producer and excellent songwriting. You get feel and heart with the girls but enormous physicality and candescent spirit. They are one of the most vivacious and striking duos in the modern U.K. scene and primed for something quite big. I have a lot of respect for acts who want to take the mood down and focus on something more ‘dignified’ and soft – emotional and filled with introspection. The trouble is, that is suited for a very particular time and space. Right now, there is a need to fill music with inventive, engaging music that compels you to get up and move. When the sun gets hotter and the country morphs into summer, it will be festival-season and a great chance to lose your senses and have fun. I am not sure whether the girls have any festival dates but can see them sliding neatly into the festival rotation. There are many (inferior) like-minded acts who get big attention so why should they miss out? Perhaps they are looking at more intimate dates but have already built up a loyal and passionate following.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @willcrosthwait

I often go on about London and its virtues but have missed it the last two reviews. I am now back in the capital and ready to reinvestigate London and its merits. I have mentioned the summer vibes and warmer temperatures: London seems like the perfect place to ensconce one’s self in and enjoy all it has to offer. We will see more people flock and things really open up. MissDefiant launched ICYM at The Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen recently. That ultra-trendy hang-out is one of the most desirable bars of the N1 postcode and has seen many acts perform there. I know Jordan Cather and Emily Rose Adams will be playing The Borderline on 6th May (three days before my birthday: just in case…) and have a chance to shine in that courtyard-appointed, intimate venue. It is one of the most upcoming and impressive small venues in the centre of London and a great chance for MissDefiant to shine. They have already played KOKO, but when you really look at, just how many wonderful venues are there in London? I know the likes of Fabric have suffered near-closure and council-mandated affidavit but that is a rare case. Sure, there are likely to be healthy and safety issues and the occasional tragedy at music venues. Being such busy and unpatrolled spaces will see the odd rogue element slip through and bring the reputation of the area down. It extends right through society but shall not (negatively) reflect London’s music scene.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Brend Trend Photography

There is such a world of fantastic venues that provide new musicians an essential platform. Were we to lose these spaces, it threatens to derail the modern music industry as we know it. That may seem all doom-and-gloom but was not meant to be. Happily, London, and many other areas, continue to thrive and grow. Even in East London, there are so many spots and places a hungry musician can perform. The girls are releasing their debut album in a couple of months – I shall come to that later – and coincided with, one hopes, a consistent spell of warm weather and universal high spirits. Maybe MissDefiant already have an album release mini-tour planned and ideas but I would be excited to see where they head. I often say this about anyone I am reviewing: there is a demand across the country and further afield. Again, the girls might have played around the nation but they are busy cementing their name in London. That could well be a career-long goal considering the number of people and other performers around. I can envisage them taking their music up the U.K. and enjoying some wonderful dates. Nobody would begrudge them ambition and their music fully warrants it. Let’s hope the duo think big and push themselves as far as they can. I know they will keep recording music throughout this year and hardly take a pause. London is a wonderful city for any artists and perfect place to be inspired. There are a lot of other musicians around so it can be challenging pushing ahead of the competition. Despite the struggle and suffocation many experience; there is a community spirit and collaborative kinship that makes London far less repressive and frightening than you’d imagine. Therefore, MissDefiant should charge themselves up and prepare a fresh assault on the capital: get their fantastic music out to the people and revel in the warmth and spirit of the city.

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ICYMI is the latest single from MissDefiant and shows new meaning and bravery from the girls. In the past, they have embraced ‘less commercial’ themes with their lyrics and explored societal issues and that which strays away from romance and relationships. It is not often you see any act doing something original and writing about subjects that inspire you to think rather than talk about the self. Of course, the girls have written about love and relations but do not make it their staple. Innocent and Robot are two of their early songs and showed promise when they arrived. What I feel, that differs between then and now, is the confidence the girls show in themselves. There were some early moments when there was a bit of vocal processing and not quite the same strident acclaim and passion you hear now. Maybe nerves or a feeling of settling in: I love Robot but feel the sound/song could have fit into the modern-day charts. As they progressed and arrived at songs like 133T and Ear Candy, you can hear that leap of faith and ability in their music. Starting to reach out to other artists – both songs had remixes by Humbridger – there was more originality and the sound of a duo not concentrating on radio play and charts – pushing the boundaries and standing aside from their peers. Now, MissDefiant have a commercial edge but sound much more engaging, essential and raw than most similar acts out there. This is defining and highlighted in ICYMI. It is going to be a good future for the duo. They have that songwriting ability and conscientious mindset. Their tracks are never going to be trivial or cliché: I am excited to see what they come up with next and how far they can take their music. I would not be surprised were there an E.P. very soon or plans for something similar. The fact they collaborate with DOPEBOYLDN on their latest track shows they are willing to reach out to other artists and step into other genres.

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Coming to the song and question; it doesn’t take long before the track springs to life. One of the key things about the song is how short it is. The whole thing is done with in eighty seconds. Many would look at the running time and assume the song is going to be a throwaway or forgettable thing. You have artists willing to stretch songs and not think about economy or the interest of the listener. Here, there is no time for pleasant introductions and pauses. There is a chuckle, albeit a little chilled, as they announce themselves – stepping to the microphone as a Hip-Hop/Grime swirl gets the song underway. The beats are firm and fast but never too dangerous or overwhelming. The same can be said of the electronics which tee up the vocals without washing over the song with force. The girls let it be known – to the hero or chancer – they are “never going to kiss this”. Those who have been in troubled relationships have often had to settle for someone they didn’t want or forced into things they didn’t want to do. That is what I mentioned about MissDefiant earlier on: they can write about love but always ensure it is provided an inspiration and strong stance. ICYMI delivers its messages with potency and energy. You do not have time to settle into the track; the beats stay firm as the vocals stand up-top and proud. Again, and something the girls do perfectly, is blend maturity and intelligence with youthful slang and terminology. They never push away a demographic not pander to them. Because of that, you get snippets and quotations that could emanate from the tongues of teenage girls – making ICYMI appealing to them as it listeners like me. The boy is going to regret being who he is and doing things the way he is. Maybe a little too controlling or coercing; you sense a situation that needs to find resolution. Perhaps too much aggression has been shown with the guy calling all the shots. Whatever the origins behind the words, you sense MissDefiant are not only speaking for themselves but a whole generation and sector.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Michaela Efford Photography

They have been in the situation where they’ve struggled and found themselves with losers – I am guessing but apologies if not! In any case, they are echoing a message that needs to be delivered: get out of a relationship that is causing strains and pain. ICYMI means “in case you missed this” and is a mantra repeated to great effect. The girls tease the guy and let it be known what he is missing. Maybe there is a sense of cat-and-mouse where they are luring him in and spitting him out but one feels that attitude is deserved. Sure, the girls are giving short shrift to the guy but never sticking the boot in and being needlessly cruel. They have gone through a harsh relationship and experienced a lot of regret so only right they are striking out. I guess the song is a general representation (of the) kind of man that crawls the club dancefloors and sleazily chats women up – showing no respect or regard for them at all. MissDefiant, as their name suggests, are never in the mood to tolerate that kind of thing. Instead, they deliver a short and sharp anthem that has plenty of catchiness, swing and confidence. The beats and electronics add to the foreground but never get in the way. Perhaps emphasising the beats would have given the lyrics more gravitas and bite – upped the game and really made them shine and roar. That is a minor quibble for a song that has a huge amount of pluses. Before I get to that; one cannot overlook DOPEBOYLDN and his contribution. Just as the girls have said all they have; the microphone is handed to DOPEBOYLDN. His part lasts about twenty seconds but is fast and flowing. There is that huge command and ability from the singer: you are treated to a new side of the story and a different kind of performer. The girls shone with their mixture of Pop and Eletcro. but DOPEBOYLDN brings some Hip-Hop/Rap spark to it and lays down his lyrics. There is mention of Cinderella and bringing a new twist to the game.

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Being an advocate and spokesperson who raises awareness of these kind of issues (bad boys and shallow, regretful relationships) you get the sense of a man who is speaking out against it and, as he says, “not reaching for a misfit”. In a sense, he is playing a character in the song and playing the ‘guy’ role to MissDefiant’s ‘girl’. It is a counterpoint and reactionary vocal that definitely leaves it mark. It would have been nice to hear more from him and extend the song out a little more. What MissDefiant do is present a song that is brief but definitely stays in the mind. It is a powerful and fast-hitting track that says what it needs to say and definitely never outstays its welcome. It is great hearing DOPEBOYLDN and has introduced me to someone I want to hear a lot more from. He is someone always eager to use his talent to address subjects most do not. In essence, ICYMI is the antithesis against those songs that celebrate club culture and a cheap kind of satisfaction. It follows a course from the girls that is sure to continue in the future. In such a short space of time, they cover a lot of ground and, as is befitting of the story, leave the audience hungry for more. I wonder whether the song will find its way onto their album. Wherever it lands, ICYMI is another stunning song from the duo and proof they can affect in the space of eighty seconds or over a longer song – not many artists are able to do that.

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I have spent a lot of time talking about the girls and how they fit into the music scene; what they have to offer and why they stand apart. I shall come back to that, briefly, in a minute but shall forecast the next few months for them. They have already played a lot of cool venues around London but have The Borderline to look forward to in May. Last year, in how-bad-could-it-possibly-get scenarios was like being stuck in a Fiat Cinquecento with Donald Trump, Katie Hopkins and Piers Morgan and breaking down on the side of the road only to be informed there is no phone signal and the opportunities for suicide are incredibly limited – and discovering Azealia Banks has just broken down beside you and is a particular crabby mood. It a gigantic bull-munch of a year that could have swayed priests from a vow of celibacy to just rip off their robes and move into Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Aside from my hysteria hyperbole; it is clear 2016 left some rather indent impressions on the international psyche. One would imagine this year is a vast improvement but, naturally, one cannot have that sort of assurance. I know MissDefiant are capable of banishing political blues and giving us all something rich, warming and hugely exciting. They have their album coming up which will be a pivotal moment in their career. Until now, the duo have released singles and promoted them accordingly. Now, they put together an L.P. and their first fully-fledged representation of MissDefiant. I am not sure what the age-mix will be on the album. Whether they are putting together their previous singles with new or doing all-new compositions; maybe a couple of cover versions in there? What it is called, and what will be contained therein, is going to be a big deal. With each new song, the girls seem to resonate with new audiences and build their army. After the album is released, they will be looking to get songs played on radio and reach new audiences. I know there are plenty of good London radio stations that will spin their album and international options open to them.

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The biggest challenge facing the girls will be what happens after the album. It seems like everything they have worked for has led to this moment. I know they will release an accompanying collection of B-side acoustic tracks and remixes. Not only does that show they have confidence in the material but are eager to see their songs reworked and reinvented: seeing what other D.J.s/producers come up with. The debut album is a very nervous and exciting prospect. It will go really well for the girls but once the dust has settled and the buzz starts to die down; where do they head and what course do they take? With that remixes/acoustic numbers B-side album, there is plenty of MissDefiant music to wet the appetites. ICYMI sees DOPEBOYLDN (a lot of upper-case confidence!) fuse together in an electric and buzzing track. They have always presented that fusion of upbeat-energised and something quite tropical and traditionally Pop. Brimming, rousing melodies and big choruses have worked alongside confident vocals and detailed instrumentation. Their latest single, plus its remixes, is a bit more street-wise and crosses into genres like Rap and Urban. The girls are never likely to sit still and take their Electro.-Pop energy and desires into new realms. Many stepping into this territory might sound nervous and unsure: the duo are completely assured and natural throughout. The girls’ empowering lyrics, something I shall spend more time looking at soon, investigates lust, love and betrayal but is never too vitriolic, dour and angered. There is a mature vein accommodating red-bloodied direction and one of the most memorable songs they have ever crafted. DJ Escence and producer Humbringer have brought their talents and visions to remixes and ensured the song not only appeals to fans of Pop and Urban but reaches the club crowds – a song that translates well in closed-off, sweaty dancefloors and beach tavernas and tropical climbs alike. What shimmers and resonates within ICYMI is its personalised, motifs and nuances. DOPEBOYLDN is a subversive gay rapper who challenges masculine constructs and decries the hetero-normative paradigm of Hip-Hop and Rap – often its players boastfully emasculate and produce sexist, homophobic ideals.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @robgardnerphotography

He brings his stirring and commanding talent to the track but always keeps things uplifting and hopeful. East Sussex native Adams and Plymouth-raised Cather have that sisterly bond and have descended from different backgrounds – Adams, a soprano who moves to London at sixteen; Cather, a model who has acted in operas and musical theatre; a dancer who has performed with Charli XCX and Years & Years. ICYMI is as strong and powerful a statement as they have ever put out which does not surprise me. There is a lot of confidence in the duo right now. They have survived that all-important first couple of years when it is a struggle maintaining popularity. The girls have over eighteen-thousand followers on Twitter and twenty-two-thousand on Instagram. Those numbers are not the result of sensationalist posts and celebrity status: meaningless and shallow definitions that have very little bearing on the real world. The duo have gained such a following because of their incredibly consistent music and loveable personalities. They are always eager to connect with their fans, onstage or on social media, whilst maintaining a professional façade and exceptional creative variety. As their latest single shows, they are not afraid to collaborator with strong artists and take their music into new realms. I could have forgiven any hesitation with regards cross-pollination: many artists get settled in a genre and do not want to risk alienating their audience. MissDefiant are synonymous with socially-aware lyrics and stunning performances: in that sense, they are not limited to genres and have that freedom to move around and collaborate. I would love to see more of that happening in the future as they pair very well with DOPEBOYLDN.

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I’ll end this thing by coming back to the earlier points of London/spring and the contrasts within the Pop market; a little bit about over-sexualisation and creative coercion and how MissDefiant are leading a purer and more inspiring charge. Let’s go back to London and the coming months shall we? I see the capital being thrust into the limelight as the festivals start to kick off. I can already sense a change in the air. When I was on way to north London yesterday I was struck by the unusually cheery mood of the locals. The sun was barely out but the warm temperature and smell of spring was enough to rouse the stoniest into some sort of smile. It is always a struggle getting through winter and really having the energy to get excited and optimistic. MissDefiant are just the tonic one needs to get the spring kick-started and the celebrations underway. We are hearing announcements for festivals this year which always gets me thinking about Cather and Adams. I can well picture them commanding one of the largest stages in the country and playing out to thousands of fans. Right now, they have a lot of gigs around London but they tend to be smaller locations. Whether they prefer a more intimate space or yearn for an outdoors, large-capacity setting I am not sure. What I do know is the girls seem very much at home in London; they have a great fanbase and are starting to get the attention of the tastemakers and local radio. Not too long, one would hope, before they get national radio play and conquer international waters. The reason MissDefiant are so cherished is because they have that envious balance of professional support and artistic freedom. They are not, as I speculated about many modern Pop stars, under the thumb of stylists, labels and sweaty businessmen: the best way to get the music out to the masses is through sexualisation, empty and direct music that appeals to the base senses – requires little attention span and imagination. I am not against women/men using their looks and bodies to promote their music – some of the greatest music videos ever have employed sex and suggestion as a weapon – but there is too much of it in music.

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I am saddened about the contrasting diatribes where we hear women (and men, rightly) stating how there is an inequality in music: fewer chances for female professionals and that age-old male instinct to reduce women to their sexuality and beauty – rather than focus on what they are saying and how they think. On the other side, there are a lot of young artists (men too) who are not helping this issue of objectification. We are not going to progress music and society is we celebrate sexuality so pointlessly and promulgate something lurid and cheap – when we are fighting for better rights (for women) and a more rounded and educated scene. This debate is best reserved for another time but it all comes back round to MissDefiant who not only oppose the chart-based artists who are being controlled by marketing forces but rebel against attitudes in their music. The duo have fantastic production values and professional support but that influence only extends to production and songwriting. They are not told what to say and certainly not forced to use their bodies and sexuality to sell music. In fact, the girls have used their music to address issues like this in music and inspire people to be wary of the more sworded and depressing side of things. I’ll leave it there only to say MissDefiant, in so many ways, are the antithesis of the modern Pop scene. Much more fulfilling, talented and deep than a lot of their peers; on that basis alone, they warrant prolonged success and attention. ICYMI is another insight into their album and, in my mind, their most interesting and bold tracks yet. They do not often join with other artists so this marks a new stage – or perhaps a lovely one-off – where they are willing to bring collaborators in to help spread an important message. That message is never couched in a stern and humourless cocoon. You get a reliable mix of soda-fizz Pop spirit and pulsating, raw-boned beats together with DOPEBOYLDN’s authoritative street sounds and poetic, intelligent interjection. On paper, the artists seem rather ill-suited and different but come together completely naturally. It is that kind of quality and confidence that will go into MissDefiant’s May-released album. A treasure of a duo who are in incredible form right now. With the sun peaking its head and the world starting to smile a lot more; it is just about the right time for…

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MISSDEFIANT to embark on a noble charge.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Michaela Efford Photography













TRACK REVIEW: James Holt - Whispers



James Holt


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Whispers is available at:



Singer-Songwriter; Alternative-Rock


Manchester, U.K.




THIS is the second time I am writing this review…

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owing to a monumental I.T. issue today. Suffice to say, this draft might not be as impressive and urbane but that is no disservice to my featured artist. I shall come to him soon but before I get there I want to look at gender in music and the sort of sounds being favoured in 2017; the bands and acts from Manchester that will be making big waves in the coming months. In addition to that, I will be looking at the importance of patronage and getting those big reviews; how education and exceptional musicianship can lead to a prosperous career and the trends and movements that are ensuring this year in music is an exciting one. Before all of that, I want to look at gender and why I am bringing it up. I have stated, in previous reviews, how the girls have been making the biggest impressions over the past year. It might be an ambiguous and overly-simplistic term but one I feel is correct. If you consider the best and album from last year – from Beyoncé, Solange and others – you can hear more invention, endeavour and power than their male peers. Again, I might be all-sweeping but I left 2016 optimistic this year would be a brighter and happy one – simply because the female genres were exploring new territory and providing a consistency I had not heard in many years. With new releases from Jesca Hoop and Laura Marling out or on the horizon; I am pretty convicted my theory will flesh-out and be proven very soon. That is not saying the boys have anything to worry about. We can go on for ages about how few women are afforded the same opportunities as men; how their employment chances and pay will be less – the way they are objectified and reduced to their physical assets in a lot of cases. That is a thorny issue I have explored before so shall not labour it here.

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What I wanted to bring up was how incredible last year was for music. That was the case, in no smart part, because of the singer-songwriters emerging. I was a bit cold with the bands of 2016 but have faith this year will rectify that imbalance. I have mentioned the likes of Laura Marling but if you take a sniff of the ripest and more pleasant-scented songwriters showing their stuff – there is so much depth, range and quality. I have banged-on about – the same way a dictator would take to the stand and scream a message of propaganda to the deluded masses – how Billie Marten is someone to keep your eyes on. Again, like my sexism point, I will keep it brief: she is likely to take big strides very soon and fully ascend and assimilate into the mainstream. She is among a crop of hungry young singer-songwriters doing something different and exceptional. One of the issues I have with some male artists – as opposed their female peers – is the level of interest and personality you find in their music. As I type this, rather opportunely, Marling’s latest song, Wild Fire, has just come on the radio. It demonstrates what I mean about female-made music. The lyrics shimmer with evocativeness, scenery and story; the vocal swoons, strikes and speculates whilst the guitars weave fascinating tapestry and capture the heart. I am not down on male singer-songwriter but have found too many are focused on the heart and loins: a limited songbook and few willing to push the envelope and take appropriate risks. That is all well and good if you do not want to remain in the industry but, I am guessing here, many will want a viable and sturdy career. If you are a Folk/Pop act, you do not have to follow the herds and write something insanely marketable and digestible. I feel too many artists are not taking chances and suffering as a result. James Blake, for example, is someone who can talk about relationships and love but do so with new perspective and ideas. His Electronic compositions and intoxicating, velvet-smooth voice are sensational. Turning this seeming funeral wake into a birthday celebration: it is appropriate I shine the light on James Holt. He is a young man who should not be scared at this point in the review. The reason I have mentioned the above points is because he does not fit in. In fact, he is one of those songwriters given the guys a good name and highlighting what a wealth of exceptional music there is.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Projoe Photography

I shall highlight the reasons how he has got where he is – and why he is so good – in a later section, but for now, time to meet the man himself:

James Holt is a singer/songwriter from Manchester and, with his unique alternative rock sound, is receiving attention and praise from music industry giants and the listening public alike. 

James’ song 'Whatever Happened to John?' was chosen by Brian Eno. Brian Eno, a world-renowned producer, said of the track: "Brisk, funny, exciting. Great drumming. This track feels fresh and exciting to listen to". James is particularly pleased because he recorded and produced the song himself. Brian Eno chose the song via the NOISE Festival 2014.

Music has been his life from a very early age. He is a classically trained pianist (since 6), guitarist (since 9) and cellist (since 12), and also has grade 8 theory. He achieved four grade 8s and then went onto graduate from the University of Salford with a First Class BA Honours Degree in Music, majoring in composition and arrangement. He is now studying for a MA in Music Composition at Salford University. He was also awarded the Derek Scott Composition Award at his graduation ceremony.

James has a love of composing and arranging and a desire to write lyrical songs in many styles. He records, writes and produces all his own music and is inspired by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Tame Impala, Radiohead, Miles Davies and Bill Evans.

He has recently had radio plays on BBC Manchester 'Introducing' (also going in for a live session) and BBC Lancashire 'Introducing', Mike Sweeney BBC Manchester, BBC Radio 6, FAB Radio International, Allfm, student radio, local radio and has also been featured on 'Fresh On the Net'. He has been featured twice on 'Never Enough Notes' and has been spotlighted in the Unsigned Guide and the Manchester Evening News.

James performs regularly at venues and festivals in towns and cities across the UK including Manchester, Liverpool, Leicestershire and Bolton, and he is keen to expand and experiment further musically and is back in the studio writing and recording”.

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I will return to the singer-songwriter/gender debate in the conclusion but wanted to look at one of the most underrated cities for music in the world, Manchester. Many would say the northern city has got a lot of praise and attention over the years. After all, consider The Stone Roses, The Smiths and Oasis. Put Joy Division near there and The Chemical Brothers. The trouble is, that was all in the past. Sure, during the rise of Oasis and The Smiths, many were focusing on Manchester and how strong its music was. There has not really been a huge movement coming out of Manchester – not in the same way, there was in the 1980s and ‘90s. A lot of focus is on London which is causing many musicians to move there – fearful they will be overlooked otherwise. I love Manchester, despite the fact I am yet to visit. I have always been intrigued by the tautologically-named Northern Quarter – it is Manchester: just how much more northern can you get?! – and what it represents. It is quite a trendy and cosmopolitan area but, to me, seems like a natural home for future glory. It seems perfectly set-up to accommodate musicians and what they need. Cheaper rents and plenty of great little spaces; a willing and welcoming community and perfect streets/sights to inspire the mind. It is not surprising the city has influenced a lot of wonderful musicians the past couple of years. We all know Blossoms were the big band out of Manchester (Stockport actually) mooted for big things. I found their debut album a little too formulaic and unexciting. Too many carefully-planned and overly-precise songs without the necessary looseness and energy you would hope for. They are cut from the same cloth as The 1975 – another band I hate – and were a little overly-tipped in my view. I have found a crop of local bands fully capable of going one step further and creating year-defining music. PINS are the all-girl rockers who created a blinding album in their self-produced album, Girls Like Us.

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The band has a huge live reputation and are signed to the Bella Union label. Having supported Sleater-Kinney and Drenge last year – and a tour of the U.S. – this year they have already brought out one an incredible single: the Iggy Pop-featuring Anglophobe. That part-Spoken Word, part-Rock song is as original and instant as they come. Pop’s gravelled, commanding voice narrates strange scenes and keen wit; the band backing him up with a hooky chorus and plenty of fuzz-and-stomp. I know they are releasing more music this year and definitely one of those bands who will be mainstream fixtures very soon. In that same vein, Cabbage are one of those bands deserving of the hyperbole and speculation. The boys are busy conquering stages and stamping their mark on the scene. When they are not writing about vengeful, wouldn’t-want-to-meet-them-in-a-dark-alley dinner ladies; they are tackling Garage-Rock with a panoply of riot, attitude and exceptionally bracing songs. They have almost perfected the art of modern classics: building off the legends of Punk but adding something very much their own inside music that gets inside everyone’s head. The Mossley boys were long-listed by the BBC – and their annual poll of the artists to watch – and are very much in love with where they are. You will not see the boys swapping the wit and wisdom of Manchester for the hustle and expense of London anytime soon. Away from bands and you can guarantee solo artists will be doing their part. LAY. (pronounced ‘Ladyfullstop’) is a charming and beguiling artist capable of tempting the birds from the trees. She was born in the Midlands but spent formative years around Manchester. Member of M.C. outfit Cul de Sac: she has caught the ear of Kendrick Lamar and amazed him with her mixture of babble and fluid, forward-thinking Soul, Jazz and Hip-Hop. Here is the very definition of what I was saying about girls: that talent and ambition have led to some truly world-class music.

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Aside from those acts I have just named, there will be many more making their mark. Horsebeach and Honeyblood are two great bands to watch as our Spring King. If you peek under the boulder of Mancunian music, you will discover so much treasure and potential. It is a bursting city that is alive and alert: the music here is among the world’s best and deserves great focus. I have been looking at London music for a long time now and not had much chance to investigate what is happening in Manchester right now. I will explore this in more depth in a feature but am pumped listening to some terrific Manchester music. Gorilla, The Ritz and The Ruby Longue are three reputable venues in the city bands can cut their teeth and get a good footing. I know there are some terrific pubs and smaller locations around Manchester but it is those legendary, much-fabled locations the best artists in the city yearn to play. I know James Holt has performed around the city and covered a lot of territory in the north. He has wowed many in Manchester but casting his net quite wide. I am not surprised to hear someone of Holt’s calibre come from Manchester as we know the sheer quality coming through. Before I look at Holt’s education and musicianship; I am intrigued by his reviews and fans. I will go into more depth but wanted to talk about a certain Brian Eno. He seems to be a name I am dropping into a few reviews lately. The epic producer/musician has his finger on the pulse and keeping busy discovering new artists he feels are worthy of applause. Holt is one such chap he has given his gold standard to. Invigorated, relaxed and seduced by the wit, excitement and percussion chops of Holt’s song, Whatever Happened to John?, Eno was deeply impressed by such a singular talent. The fact Brian Eno has put that sort of praise at Holt’s feet should not be taken lightly.

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If any musician receives recommendations from a stalwart of the music scene that is almost like praise from a king – you have the confidence to go as far as you need. I am sure Holt will not get too big-headed but will be buoyed by such words Holt has caught the imagination of local radio and press with BBC Introducing Manchester and the finest radio stations in the city keen to praise the young master. Of course, Holt is backed by his band so congratulations should go to Kieran Joyce and Aden Peerts – who lay vocals/bass and drums respectively. Listening to Holt’s music puts me in mind of the Punk greats of the 1970s and 1980s and the excitement in the air then. Bands like The Jam and Buzzcocks could provide down-to-earth, witty songs but still conveys serious messages and speak from the heart. Having digested and idolised album such as All Mod Cons; I can see Holt and the band producing their own, Manchester-based classic. I will come to my last point soon but wanted to mention a radio station I name-drop with all the subtlety of Satan emptying his bowels after a heavy night at the curry house – expunge that disturbing, dystopian image if you dare! BBC Radio 6 Music is a subject/thing I could write an essay on. It seems like the station is an esoteric delight: picked up by the minority but those who really appreciate great music and the finest sounds around. Holt has been championed by the station’s Tom Robinson and with just cause. I get to review artists that have been played across ‘6 Music and that is no easy accomplishment. To reach the doors of radio Parnassus, you need to have a skillset and set of songs that bypass the rather cauliflower-eared, chart-obsessed brains of local radio. BBC Radio 6 Music is the last bastion of proper, all-killer-no-filler music for the discerning elite. The fact the likes of Tom Robinson have singled Holt out for success is a testament to the talent the Manchester musician has. If you gain such accolade this young and soon it shapes and defines the future. You might well say that is all well and good but how do I get to that stage?! Whispers is a song that takes from Holt’s past and the characteristics that define his music: the heart and humour with incredible musicianship and intelligent, inspiring lyrics. I know the boy has a great online following and a certain Sean Keaveny – another ‘Radio 6 Music D.J. – is one of his supporters. All these great humans have fallen for someone who has music swimming in his blood. It is James Holt’s desire and passion for music that got him into the business and leads to such terrific music. As I said, I will look at Holt’s new music and prospects for 2017 but will go to his past and see where has come from.

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Right, peeps, almost there, but before I do, I wanted to look at musical education and consecration as a way to enhance creativity and commitment. James Holt is a classically-trained pianist and bonded with the guitar at nine, the cello by twelve – he has a Grade 8 theory. Aside from that, he has a B.A. Honours in Music (from the University of Salford where he obtained a First) and is studying an M.A. in Music Composition – again, from the same university. I feel a musical education – whether a music school or university – has its advantages and pitfalls. On the downsides, a lot of educational facilities instruct students a certain way. Many music schools mould students to sound like chart acts: make them as commercial and dispensable as possible. You also find many of the students, because of this, have a limited palette and do not often expand their sound. On the plus side, and is the case with Holt, you are surrounded by fellow musicians and provided guidance from qualified musicians and learned professors. Not only do you get a front-row seat to a first-class education but have lessons and lectures structured and well-planned. Maybe some would say this makes (musicians who study here) too technical and studied – lacking the feel, instinct and personality you would want from a musician. There are valid points on both sides of the scales. An history of music will tell you there is validity to gaining a musical education. For someone as passionate and multi-instrumental as Holt; it seems only right he would immerse himself in study and follow that path. I feel it has directly structured and influenced his music: was he to negate studies and take a different path it is debatable his songs would be as strong and compelling? The wit and humour you get in the music is more his own personality – music lecturers are never that cool and fun – but the exceptional musicianship and compositional excellence stems from that university-level education.

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Holt’s previous work has been lauded by many due to its strength, maturity and professionalism. Whatever Happened to John? has a genuine rush and excitement to it. Harmonica blasts remind me of The Beatles, in a strange way, whilst the entire piece has a spark and drive that propels it forward. The chorus looks at control and has a sort of smile-inducing, grisly humour to it. You are always hooked by the passion in Holt’s voice and the speed in which the song goes past. Captured by the dance and allure of the track: the instrumentation is never predictable and puts so many different ideas together. A pattering drum solo is an unusual inclusion and is a real treat. Among the harmonic blast and guitar strings, you are toe-tapping to the percussion and allow yourself to be enveloped in the vivid storyline and aural fireworks that are let off. Whatever Happened to John? is a song that spiked the ear of Brian Eno who recognised James Holt as an exciting and witty songwriter. You can hear what he means here: a moment that sounds unlike any other and definitely puts the listener in a better frame of mind. In Sanguine on the Rock’s title track, Holt looks at a subject who has lost his wings and lost his way. Not knowing where he belongs; one gets the sense of a disconnected and lost figure who is seeking answers and a sense of direction. Holt’s lyrics have that poetic and personal touch that elevates them above the predictable pulpit many scribe from. In this track, one hears so many original ideas and that musical flair – another barnstorming track but alive and fresh; it has complexity and depth that means one will keep coming back and discovering new things. If one explores the entire E.P., you’ll find the same kind of treasures and quality throughout – the title track is the standout and gets the listener thinking and inspired. All of this past material proves how consistent and special Holt is. It is hard comparing him with another artist because you concentrate on what he is saying and what the lyrics compel.

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Coming to Whispers – with that back knowledge and Holt music in my ears – I was preparing myself and ready for what was coming. If you were looking for a rushing-off-the-line song that delivers knockout energy and a real body-moving swagger you may be disappointed. Holt shows evolve and surprise in a song that begins with an enormous amount of grace and beauty. There is a shimmering bit of percussion and keys. In fact, it is hard to describe the instruments being employed in the opening moments. One hears a balance of ballet and Classical score and something that could have been created by The Cinematic Orchestra or Brian Eno. There are little bits of Pink Floyd and other artists but, to be honest, it is James Holt’s musicianship and talented combining together like nothing else. In previous songs, he has shown how adept and natural he is as a musician through Alternative-Rock/Folk sounds. Here, the palette is broadened as he explores new territory. It is a song you submit yourself to and swim inside. So vivid and tranquil are the notes, one drifts and moves inside its colourful, velvet-soft suggestions. Before you fully embrace the score and speculate what is coming next; Holt’s voice comes in and is sweet and high-pitched as the birds in the trees. At the start, one hears of tears rolling down the face and a sense of loss. Maybe there is romantic misadventure and untangle but the lyrics implore interpretation and have obliqueness to them. I was captivated by the sheer sound and emotion of the vocal which is very different to Holt’s previous work. In the past, Holt portrayed a lower vocal that could have sat alongside Folk legends such as Bob Dylan. Here, one hears influences of John Lennon and Tame Impala. There is that fusion of northern burr and earthiness with something ethereal and transcendent. Holt lets his voice guide the song and explore in the atmosphere. If there is a sense of weightlessness to the music and vocals; it is the lyrics that bring you back down to Earth.

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It is an unexpected move and song that has found many saying the same thing: what an evolution and change it is from Holt. That is true, yet the mark of any great artist is someone who can make these sort of leaps but remain focused and identifiable. Whispers has that incredible beginning but never extends that introduction so far. Even in the initial lyrics, you are lured to the composition that keeps registering little hits here and there. There are high notes and majestic little flecks; some aching and yearning undercurrents and a rich and sumptuous bouquet. The vocal soon becomes firmer and more matter-of-fact as the hero asks about love and affection: whether the whispers were just for him and what it all meant. Maybe I am looking in the wrong place for truth but I leapt to the side of love and a man that is struggling with feelings and affection. One hears the hero say he is unable to maintain (the girl) and gets the mind working hard. Perhaps a bond has broken and lies been told or there has been a sense of tease. Whatever the true origins behind the words, it is impossible not to be buckled and affected by the changing mood of the song and all the development one hears. From that floaty, Progressive-Rock start, the song changes to something straighter and more direct. It is that composition that, perhaps, registers the biggest hit. Holt is an exceptional musician but showcases a range of skills few others possess. You get a mix of genres and style that leap across decades and will speak to listeners of all ages. It is a fabulously evocative sound that leaves you a little lost for words. Luckily for me – otherwise this interview would be a bit sparse – you are torn in all sorts of directions and have plenty of interpenetrations. Maybe I am a little foolhardy thinking the hero has had his heart broken and is wrestling with an established passion.

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It is another incredible song from James Holt and one you have to keep listening to over and over again. Such is the strength and beauty of Whispers, you cannot just listen to it once and take it all in. There are so many different things going on one has to keep returning to get to the bottom of various phases. The musicianship and composition is amazingly accomplished and evocative. I have mentioned Brian Eno and can imagine the maestro would be very proud listening to Whispers. It has sounds he would be familiar with and definitely approve of. Also, you sense a musician at the peak of his form but someone who has a lot more to say. Whispers has very few lyrics but the ones included get you wondering and questioning their nature and true meaning. I have listened to the song a few times and still changing my mind about things. On the one hand, there is that possibility of love and a broken relationship and on the other, something more positive and affirmative is being portrayed. Holt’s voice switches from angelic and pure to slight-gravelled and homely. That evolution and mutation is never rushed: it all sort of unfolds naturally in the song and sits alongside the composition which is incredible. That music is among the most extraordinary I have heard in a long time. I have often felt modern singer-songwriters are too limited with regards their compositions and never that interesting. James Holt is someone who recognises this and ensures all his songs are filled with energy, nuance and immense fascination. Whatever your interpretation of Whispers; it will affect you and stay in the mind for a very long time. An incredible and beautiful track from one of the country’s best young songwriters.

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Sanguine on the Rocks is Holt’s latest E.P. and one that, seems to be fine his dichotomy and attitude. ‘Sanguine’ means positive or hopeful when a situation would suggest a bleaker outcome. The idea of someone moored on the rocks but looking out at the horizon speaks volumes about the Manchester songwriter. Not that James Holt has battled too many obstacles and setbacks. As writers go, you do not just get the run-of-the-mill love songs and stereotyped sentiments. Whatever Happened to John? – that Brian Eno-approved gem – came with a lashing of gravy-think wit and sumptuous percussion; an incredible, indelible vocal and snatches of ‘70s Punk and modern Alternative-Rock. Whispers has very little in common with Whatever Happened to John? which is a good thing. Both songs have that distinct James Holt talent at the core but look at different subjects and have separate sounds. In order to gain approval and success in the industry, you need to be wide-ranging and ambitious with your songwriting. If you were, a James Bay-like Pop artist who seems more obsessed with his stupidly oversized hat than the quality of his music – you are not going to fare too well and bore your way out of music. What I wanted to do, before the final sprints to the finishing line, was to predict where Holt might head this year. What I find about Manchester musicians – something I will tip my hat to later – is now proud they are of home. Sure, you get London artists pleased to be here but few Manchester musicians leave the city to seek fame and fortune further south. It seems like the city is perfectly equipped to accommodate the smorgasbord of genres, bands and artists pushing music forward. In the same way I’d happily like myself buried in Covent Garden’s piazza – if there is a human statue there that attracts gawking tourists then imagine the ‘selfies’ my ill-placed funeral mound would get – I wouldn’t mind having my ashes sprinkled across Manchester’s Northern Quarter – preferably in the face of the first hipster my relatives came across and his ridiculously pruned facial hair and absurd attire.

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, playing a musical instrument, concert, guitar and night

As I explained in the first paragraph: a calamitous I.T.-related trial-by-fire has rendered my mood irrevocably sour and cynical. I hope Holt will overlook a spiteful disposition because I have fallen for the music, his backstory and the acclaim he is gathering like raindrops from the desert floor. I know he wants to push his music further across the U.K. and that will be key this year. He and his band have a loyal and solid following up north but realise the potential of playing further south. As much as I vacillate about Manchester; it is London where my soul and heart will always stray. Not just because of the amazing buzz of the place but the music scene that has always been here – one that grows more magisterial and fascinating by the year. James Holt is used to playing some great venues and would feel comfortable, one hopes, in some of London’s best venues. The Barfly and The Dublin Castle might be reserved for slightly bigger acts but someone Holt could well play soon – they seem ready-made for his style of music and ability to captivate an audience. Also, 100 Club seems like a good venue for the young artist. In truth, there are a lot of great spots Holt could play in the capital. Many would want to see him down south. Brighton, too, has that great scene and would welcome him with open arms. I am not sure how he is planning his musical map this year: whether he is touring locally or back in the studio; having a rest or seeing how things go.

Image may contain: one or more people, people playing musical instruments and guitar

I am not sure whether Holt is planning a new E.P. or album yet 2017 seems like the perfect year for him to create. Not only does he comes off the back of a busy and eventful 2016 but can react to the world events unfolding and the inspiration they provide. Aside from the bottom-feeding exploits of Donald ‘fake news’ Trump and his crotch-grabbing, wall-building, travel-banning jizz-fests – the rest of the world has grown amused by the bully-boy embarrassment of the school’s resident toilet blocker. He is polluting the world with his sewage ideology and, one feels, his presidency and tyrannical festination will be over before it got chance to break the mattress in. Politics, social dissension and discontent are not the cheeriest subjects but perfect fodder for musicians to put their own, more positive spin on. I am not sure how James Holt’s future music will pan out but I would expect a mixture of personal revelation, witty wordplay and cutting commentary. What is certain is the artist we have right in front of us. He is a songwriter who grew up with the likes of The Beatles and Miles Davis but has affection for modern acts like Radiohead and Tame Impala. I can see a bright future for James Holt as his determination and talent cannot be faulted. Those nods from the likes of BBC and Brian Eno are spectacular and should give him the impetus to keep probing and exploring the depths of his ability. I feel one of the biggest changes this year will be international recognition. When you have a special list of plaudits in your back pocket, it is only a matter of time before you get foreign ears tuned. I can see, with some persuasive pushing and savvy social media inflections, Holt’s music can reach U.S. audiences. I know a lot of similar-minded L.A. artists who have found huge success and, in a culture swap and exchange programme, have been very well-received here. Maybe money will halt the Mancunian’s transcontinental ambitions but it is something that will happen sooner or later. For the moment, the young musician is enjoying his time in music and getting stronger and more celebrated with every new song.

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I’ll round this up with a brief repeat of one of my earlier points: the strength of Manchester and the artists coming out of there. In terms of the mainstream, it is not just the legends and classic bands you should focus on. More recent acts such as Everything Everything prove what an experimental vibe the city has. Not only (does the band) produce some of the most intelligent and spirited music I have heard but seem to incorporate all the threads, strands and background noises that make Manchester the city it is. On that front, newcomers Dutch Uncles are doing sterling work have produced a stunning album in Big Balloon. The band craft music that does not stick to a single theme/genre: from upbeat, catchy-as-heck songs through to traditional Indie vibes; you have a group always pushing themselves and wanting to be better. I know there are other mainstream Manchester artists around but it is the new crop that really catches my ear. Larkins are old college friends – studying history, linguistics and music – who seem to bring their university subjects into songs full of Funk-infuse, Pop and Vampire Weekend-like stunners – through to glistening ballads and tender offerings. The band have a way with language and craft some of the most indelible and memorable lyrics you’ll hear. They dip into music’s past and infuse a variation of sounds and bands into their own work whilst keeping things very much in the present. The guys have spectacular hair – which is almost as eye-catching as their sets and deserves its own dressing room – and incredible liver performances will see them ascend to the mainstream. There are many more Manchester acts worth your time but that will have to wait for another day I am afraid. Get onboard James Holt’s bandwagon and let it take you where it may. He is a singer-songwriter who is capable of going a very long way and inspiring many other musicians. Whispers is a track that suggests…

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PLENTY more music is to come.

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/235415889" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" iframe="true" /]


Follow James Holt

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, playing a musical instrument, guitar and indoor PHOTO CREDIT: Diego Lopez (at Oxjam Manchester)











FEATURE: The February Playlist: Vol. 3: Spring Around the Corner?



The February Playlist



Vol. 3: Spring Around the Corner?


EVERY time I think I have music figured out...

Image result for little simz

IN THIS PHOTO: Little Simz

it keeps throwing up surprises and left-turns. I am always excited when a new song comes out of nowhere with no fanfare or build-up. It is always fascinating discovering a nugget of audio gold that you were not expecting. I guess we are used to those artists who love to hype themselves and create a media circus. Against that tide are musicians who are making music and trying to make people happy. I guess music is a contrasting and polemic profession that is never short of wonder and shock. This edition of The February Playlist has a nice balance of new mainstream tracks and those lesser-heard songs worth time and attention. Have a listen and enjoy another full and frantic selection of new songs.


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Laura Marling - Next Time

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MapSUlQ4RYE&w=560&h=315]

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ThundercatFriend Zone

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrQMIlJbgs8&w=560&h=315]

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Maggie RogersColor Song

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ebt86W0EJnM&w=560&h=315]

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Bob Dylan My One and Only Love

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERMys7u3_vg&w=560&h=315]

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Romeo Santos - Héroe Favorito

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ktq4zATPFsI&w=560&h=315]

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The WeekndReminder

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZjAg6fK-BQ&w=560&h=315]

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Rae Sremmurd Swang

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmJefsOErr0&w=560&h=315]

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The Lemon Twigs - I Wanna Prove to You

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJGzm2fF2Uo&w=560&h=315]

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Little Simz - Picture Perfect

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIVGtd5kjsI&w=560&h=315]

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Beyoncé - Love Drought

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUyQSKe75L4&w=560&h=315]

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Dylan ScottSleeping Beauty

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P17xZNiZj-k&w=560&h=315]

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John Legend and Cynthia Erivo (ft. yMusic) - God Only Knows

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7R7kPZF8wRA&w=560&h=315]

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Michael Bublé - I Believe in You

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94MHIeeGwys&w=560&h=315]

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Tokio Hotel - Something New

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBIj-rFpRBw&w=560&h=315]

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AryChildhood Dreams


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Estrons I’m Not Your Girl

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/287517402" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" iframe="true" /]

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Hanni El Khatib - Savage Times

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhvZvHpqDFM&w=560&h=315]

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Off BloomFalcon Eye

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=016lgoQb21I&w=560&h=315]

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sir Was Revoke

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lli1TclJ9JQ&w=560&h=315]

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Galantis Rich Boy

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDvPGJX-HbE&w=560&h=315]

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Mt. Wolf The Electric

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bpSMoS1dbs&w=560&h=315]

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PWR BTTM Big Beautiful Day

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDn4ZCo0NOU&w=560&h=315]

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Little Cub Too Much Love

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYSsyjnHXxY&w=560&h=315]

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Sam Gellaitry Jungle Waters

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hwwl_5stL1M&w=560&h=315]

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ANYAWasted Love


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Elina RydSprickor


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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEwXzS5t1bY&w=560&h=315]

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Karen ElsonDistant Shore

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVbtWYpZcGU&w=560&h=315]

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Julietta Beach Break


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Muna So Special

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgbxDu_mDs8&w=560&h=315]

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Kings of LeonReverend

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldaMJG_sb18&w=560&h=315]

Related image

Take ThatGiants


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Maximo Park Risk to Exist

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mStNOUpGcw4&w=560&h=315]

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IncubusNimble Bastard


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HawkonGold Girls


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Penny PoliceNo Horizon

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6lPShT0ShU&w=560&h=315]


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Passion PitInner Dialogue

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3IVp4a8G9Y&w=560&h=315]

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The Shins Mildenhall

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cq8wC7LFyQs&w=560&h=315]

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Meat WaveRun You Out

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnIbn7-_i5k&w=560&h=315]

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MisterWives Machine


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Summer MoonHappenin’

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi8zXeresLw&w=560&h=315]

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Olivia O’BrienEmpty


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Amy MacdonaldAutomatic


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JohnossiHey Kiddo


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Royal ThunderApril Showers


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Satellite StoriesYoung Detectives


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Los Campesinos!The Fall of Home

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xozfkEPxDqk&w=560&h=315]

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Animal CollectiveKinda Bonkers

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikl16iLeHIY&w=560&h=315]

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Dutch UnclesStreetlight

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyEPk6d4YV8&w=560&h=315]

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Ryan Adams Breakdown


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DevlinCorned Beef City

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEinlklineo&w=560&h=315]

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Otis TaylorBanjo Bam Bam


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Shaggy (ft. OMI)Seasons

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKG1udtxzDI&w=560&h=315]

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Sondre Lerche - Violent Game


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The OrwellsM.A.D.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhXe8RHLz5E&w=560&h=315]

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VantParking Lot


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Danny WorsnopAnyone but Me

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taNJvTLQdhg&w=560&h=315]

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Frontier Ruckus27 Dollars

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7bQJyzOGxE&w=560&h=315]

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EisleyLouder than a Lion

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SFrmKrLMsc&w=560&h=315]

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Son VoltBack Against the Wall

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1aHfWdVDRA&w=560&h=315]

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Lorna ShoreFvneral Moon

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOGlm646WAY&w=560&h=315]

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Gurr - #1985

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxfNuiXVPhA&w=560&h=315]

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oCrL8vIN_o&w=560&h=315]

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Lea Porcelain Bones

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21rICVxMpRo&w=560&h=315]

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEngbdIMZ6o&w=560&h=315]

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Communist DaughterKeep Moving

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FY3pTlrOebI&w=560&h=315]

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Mozart’s Sister Angel

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xu10054JwI8&w=560&h=315]

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Jens LekmanPostcard #17

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSFFQKqkw8U&w=560&h=315]

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Acceptance Haunted

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IAfpJgHjOs&w=560&h=315]

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The CourtneysSilver Velvet

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8eDKxWBFwU&w=560&h=315]

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Parallels Technicolor

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Z6lN0y0mU&w=560&h=315]

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Clap Your Hands Say YeahFireproof

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQv2yIeVtdE&w=560&h=315]

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BaltoLost on the Young

[bandcamp width=350 height=470 album=799954463 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false track=693929862]

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David BowieWhen I Met You

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fDy-mRGFkw&w=560&h=315]

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Crystal FairyChiseler

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzPP0P3l2ic&w=560&h=315]

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Dirty ProjectorsUp In Hudson

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpCruYl7kz4&w=560&h=315]

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King Gizzard & the Lizard WizardNuclear Fusion

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MFVhqcRpN4&w=560&h=315]

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FrothPassing Thing

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aArswnrgNtk&w=560&h=315]

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Old 97’sAll Who Wander

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pv-f7R1cyhY&w=560&h=315]

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The FeeliesBeen Replaced

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tz2CNdup5Zw&w=560&h=315]

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Dams of the WestThe Inerrancy of You and Me

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mORwYN_g8AQ&w=560&h=315]

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Rhiannon GiddensAt the Purchaser’s Option

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vy9xTS0QxM&w=560&h=315]

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The LuyasAll of Everything

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaeTY50cmXU&w=560&h=315]

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Pissed JeansThe Bar Is Low

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJscLzuxiWc&w=560&h=315]

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Nikki LaneHighway Queen

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcvQL8_ZP20&w=560&h=315]

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All Time LowDirty Laundry

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTwmxiLSD0w&w=560&h=315]

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Anna Pancaldi - Brother

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhI5UCZUwr4&w=560&h=315]

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Discplines On My Mind


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Flo Rida (ft. Sage The Gemini) - Game Time

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgW2uRpwipU&w=560&h=315]

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Ed Sheeran - How Would You Feel (Paean)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZ_33urhzLM&w=560&h=315]

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James BluntTime of Our Lives


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Flume - Quirk

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSIqC-IVY8U&w=560&h=315]

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Kygo and Selena Gomez - It Ain't Me

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5drYkLiLI8&w=560&h=315]

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Maroon 5 (ft. Future) - Cold 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCBmhs4dYzc&w=560&h=315]

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Emelie HollowLike I Love You


No automatic alt text available.

Linkin Park (ft. Kiiara) - Heavy  

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lp00DMy3aVw&w=560&h=315]

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Pitbull (ft. Stephen Marley) - Options

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVCgI7DM8v4&w=560&h=315]

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James TWEx


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Nelly Furtado Flatline


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Rhys Last Dance


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The Valentine’s Day hoo-ha has ended and the shops are practically stocking up for Easter! It is hard keeping a track of the changing celebrations and commemorations: one day you are in winter and finishing Christmas; now it seems we are hurtling to spring. Keeping things settled and grounded is new music which continues to bring sunshine and beautiful visions. This week has seen fewer mainstream tracks released – more from the underground and new acts – but the coming weeks promises more from the big-hitters of music.

TRACK REVIEW: Joshua Luke Smith - Heart of Man



Joshua Luke Smith 


Image may contain: 4 people, people standing


Heart of Man






 Image result for joshua luke smith heart of man

Heart of Man is available at:





Bath, U.K.


5th January, 2017


IT is good to be back with an artist who…

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, night and indoor

last year, provided some of the most inspirational and selfless music I have heard. Well, I say ‘music’; it is easier to call Joshua Luke Smith’s work poetry and philosophy. That might seem highbrow or hyperbolic but it is no exaggeration. I have been following him, on and off, for the past year and excited by his progress. I shall come to his music soon: before I do, I want to look at inspirational songs and that which slow us down (in a good way); looking at charities including Preemptive Love Collection – who Smith is working with – and artists extending beyond music itself – including charity work and raising awareness. In all of this, I will talk a bit about genres and sounds I am backing to be in style this year. Before all of that, it is rare I get to investigate a musician who reacts to world events and combats it with messages of love and hope. As you will see from Smith’s biography; he is a man who has witnessed a lot of turmoil in 2016 – the sort we have all shared and regret – and is ready to soothe the heart and offer leadership. After last year’s political strife and dislocation; there a temptation to resort to tribalism and hurt our neighbours. Britain has removed herself from the E.U. whilst the U.S. is keen to alienate from every other nation in the world – its (sane) citizens horrified at Donald Trump’s plans, Tweets and vitriol. Every diatribe, dictatorial mandate and attempts at racism – his attempts at a travel ban that would exclude those from seven, largely Muslim nations. We have all emerged from 2016’s backend exhausted, scared and weakened. If the Brexit vote was unexpected, to say the least: the election of Trump shocked the free world to its very core. Not forgetting the attacks in Aleppo and continued terrorism; the bloodshed and racially-motivated violence in the U.S.; the celebrity and musical deaths – it is a wonder the world is still standing at all.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @dominic_doring

I guess there are those who say we should be pragmatic and dispose of any idealism and naivety: the planet will never link in a mass chorus of I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony). Nobody expects utopia and a nirvana but, at the same time, we want a modicum of civility, brotherhood and discipline. I have not even mentioned the way the U.K. is dissolving politically – Labour, a spent force with Theresa May’s seemingly leading the U.K. into disaster. Set all this aside and it is clear we all need to calm and find something positive. Many would ask whether that is truly possible. We have all been led by the genitals and given a swift kick to the face. The good thing about it all is 2016 is over: surely this year, by comparison, must be a better one?! Whilst a lot of musicians – realising the hardship and fragmentation of 2016 – have buried their heads in the sand and, essentially, continued as normal; there are those that tackle a dreadful year with something spirited and universal. I have long-said the world would be a better place were we to throw control and leadership over to musicians: a group of humans who only want good and are determined to make the world a better place. That theory is best reserved for another time but Joshua Luke Smith would definitely be in my Prime Ministerial cabinet. The, as I’m coining him, Secretary for Peace and Togetherness (a very Summer of Love-esque cabinet by the sounds of it!) is here to slow down the blood flow and get the pulses at a G.P.-approved sixty (to one-hundred) B.P.M. That heart rate/calming motive is something that fascinates me. We get few songs arrive that are intended to take away the stress and eradicate bad memories. I think all of us need that psychological boost through music: dissipating any anxiety and having something soft and meaningful filling the ears. It is no surprise Joshua Luke Smith has taken such an approach to music. Before I continue – remiss of me – I will introduce Smith to you:

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PHOTO CREDIT: @_tobymitchell

The 25-year-old wordsmith and philosophy graduate has always managed to combine his love of words and music to inspire people to break free from their own limitations. After the success of his video 'Carry me' (premiered by Complex), Joshua dropped a track alongside a powerful video for National Suicide Awareness Day with Samaritans and in October released another visual poem for Anti-Slavery Day in support of charities A21 and Love146. Joshua was also involved in a collaborative track for World Aids Day (in partnership with HIV and sexual health charity, Terrence Higgins Trustwith) with singer Laura Riganti early December. 

With everything that has happened in 2016, Joshua wants to use his voice and his art to 'cut through the chaos' and speak 'hope and freedom'. His new song 'Heart Of Man' deals with a timely subject - he explains "This last year has been mad, unsettling and distressing at times. We feel divided, isolated and at war with our neighbour. This song is both a lament and moment of reflection. A call to lay down the stones, gripped in our palms, readied to throw at the first person who speaks against us, our tribe or belief. We shape the world around us by shaping the world inside of us, everything flows from the heart. My hope is this song helps to slow us down, to help us step into this year fully here, present, with hearts full and ready to love.”

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PHOTO CREDIT: @_tobymitchell

His charity work, which I shall elude to more soon, has opened him up to a lot of different causes and sufferers: people who go through hard times and struggle alone. Many musicians, and people in general, are never party to such people and avenues. Their music revolved around their own experiences and personal life; there is a comparatively limited empathy and selfishness. I am not suggested all musicians focus on their own pain: there are very few who create work intended for everyone; away from concerns of love and heartache. I always get excited discovering songs that have a different skin and conscientious mindset. Not only is that a refreshing change of pace but inspiring for everyone – not just musicians. What Heart of Man does, in addition to establishing Smith as one of the most interesting talents to emerge in a long time, is subvert expectation and wholeheartedly give to the audience. A lot of artists let the listener into a song but few pen a track designed to enhance the mood. Not only is it (the track) a deep and evocative example of Smith’s talent but something that makes you think and reflect. Sure, it was a bad 2016 for a number of different reasons: it will be, as Smith implores, a better year; one with fewer conflicts and more togetherness. The meat and bones of Heart of Man is a reaction to the, perhaps biblical, savagery – in terms of opinions and verbal dissension – we have seen on social media and society. We have, because of political differences and ideological divisions, balkanised and retreated to our own caves – disagreeing with anyone who has a different opinion and all too eager when reaching for weapons. Our people have witnessed a world unrecognisable descent into Neolithic, Stone Age democracy: where the worst instincts and deep-set prejudices of man have seen hateful political changes and huge division. It is hard putting things into words or making sense of it all – as you can tell from my poor syntax and semi-garbled sentiments. Outside the chorusing diatribes and universal protests: there is a call for change; a chance to quell the spirit and provide democratic governance. Smith is an artist always engaging with his fellow man and reflect the needs of the people. It is good hearing love songs and ‘sellable’ songs but, now more than ever, our musicians need to say something meaningful that reflects the world around them. That is why Joshua Luke Smith is such a vital artist we should all support: one of those humans who cannot sit by and passively watch everything unfold.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @_tobymitchell

I wanted to mention the Preemptive Love Coalition because of Smith’s affiliation of the charity. In the past, Smith has raised awareness of suicide – Carry Me coincided with National Suicide Awareness Day; that song raised support for The Samaritans – and Anti-Slavery Day. Preemptive Love Coalition’s mantra is clear: “We fear loss. We fear shame. We fear ideologies and religions. We fear vulnerability”. For that reason, as the charity is “a global movement of peacemakers changing the way we engage the world’s most polarizing confronting fear with acts of love”. All proceeds from the track will be donated to the charity to help combat division and conflicts around the world. It is an organisation that goes to great lengths to raise awareness of struggles and atrocities by providing crucial support and messages of love. The charity help to empower small business owners and provide education for at-risk children. They provide emergency relief for families victimised by I.S. and are peacemakers in conflict-zones. Working across Africa and Asia, Preemptive Love Coalition are a worthy and impressive body who endlessly strive to help those in need. The world is at a vulnerable and ramshackle state right now. It needs repairing and help more than any time in living memory. You can check out the charity’s web page to get a better sense of what they are about. Heart of Man is a song that could well be the anthem for P.L.C. Smith has tapped into their ethos and created a song that sonically represents what they’re about and the problems we face. Preemptive Love Coalition aim to provide calm and nurture to those ravaged; in-need and afflicted. Heart of Man is a song, as I will go into, that urges people to look at the charity and what they do but cast our minds to the wider world. Many of us are bombarded with news images of various horrors in the world. Nightly, we are subjected to bloody images and heart-breaking reports. We should never ignore these things but not assume all is hopeless and lost. If we band together and galvanise; we can confront the darker, hateful side of the world with an overwhelming spirit of love and support. It may all sound a bit wishy-washy and fairy-tale but we are seeing positive changes made. Not only is the organisation seeing the fruits of their labour (ripen) but they are compelling artists like Smith to take action and help promulgate their mission statement.

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This gets me on to a two-prong point: musicians that work with charities and those with a different C.V. in their back catalogue. I’ll come to the second point soon, as one would imagine, but am fascinated by Smith’s trajectory and ideologies. As (Smith) someone who has battled depression, it was no surprise he delivered such a stirring anthem in Carry Me. Smith has used his voice to patronise charities involved with anti-slavery, Aids and mental health: his latest venture is a perfect example of a young man who feels he needs to use his talents in order to de-stigmatise certain corners of society. I have promoted and interviewed musicians who take a charity-conscious attitude to things and willing to break the traditional constructs and expectations. Music and charity are not dichotomous and it would do good for others to realise that. I am not saying every musician needs to support charity bodies and become more conscientious but it would be good to see a movement occur. So few are dispensing with the love-only style of music and detailing deeper subjects and hard-hitting visions. Joshua Luke Smith is a perfect artist who balances traditionalism and kind-hearted pioneer – somebody who feels everything and expresses himself through some of the most vivid and human songs you will hear. I have not really touched on Joshua Luke Smith as a human and singer – outside the remit of charity and his past work. What you have here is a talent who mixes philosophy and literature; an intellectual mind and effectual heart. There are shades of Hip-Hop and Rap in his music. His songs have a Spoken Word element to them: as I said, his music is almost sermon-like in its delivery and power. I have seen photos and social media updates where Smith has performed at cafés and small venues: captivating intimate crowds with little more than a microphone and arsenal of songs. Against the tide of bands and artists armed with instruments, crew and huge sets; here is someone who strips it all back and provides music bristling with poetic beauty and raw human emotion. His performances are powerful and energised; they get right in to the core of your being and provoke reaction and attention. No baubles, needless noise and glitz: an artist, pure and simple, capable of making a big different in the music world.

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Heart of Man is the latest cut from Smith but he has had an incredible past with an array of material. Carry Me, a song I mentioned earlier, referenced mental health struggle and was one of the most powerful and potent songs he has created. Most of Smith’s songs do carry that weight and authority with them: you are hardly likely to hear him descending into love-ballad territory or doing something formulaic. Carry Me, from the Your Beauty E.P., is backed by stunning tracks The Thief and After All. The entire E.P. is consistent and flowing with incredible rhymes; wonderful vocal performances and some of the most emotive and stunning music you’ll hear. Heart of Man is not a huge departure in terms of quality – it was always there and strong. What I am noticing is Smith embracing charity more and immersing himself in a more socially-aware style of music. Not that all his forthcoming songs will support causes and recognise world problems. The young artist is reacting to the world around him and realises it is important talking about things like political and world issues and showing common unity. Smith’s debut E.P., Between the Saddle and the Ground, was a huge success and reached the top-ten spots of the U.K. and international iTunes charts. March 2014 was All Shall Be Well ‘s release date: the first album from the Bath-based Hip-Hop artist. That was released on the Orphan No More label – which Smith, who runs it, says the tagline is simple: ‘Everybody Has a Message’ – and has been topped by some incredible music and huge ambition. I know Joshua Luke Smith will continue to make great music and seems to grow in stature and confidence with every song. I am excited to see what this year holds and how it translates – whether we can see new music or tours from the young artist.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @karaannmariesmith

Opening with a gentle and tender piano line; Heart of Man has a very delicate and lullaby-like beginning. You are sucked into something very comforting and still but never feel switched-off or disengaged. The piano has a power and meaning to it but does not get too heated and large. It is a coda that continues on and starts to build images and emotional possibilities. This opening refrain seems to define the song. Heart of Man looks back on 2016’s events and calls for people to stand together and stop with tribalism attitudes. Accordingly, the introduction beckons the listener in and allows them chance to imagine their own scenes and possibilities. You hear a slight utterance from Smith before the young man comes in harder. His words are tense and powerful but that background composition never accelerates or gets too loud. What you get is the soft piano and poetic, impassioned vocal. Smith, in the first verse, wonders why we are all here and what is going on. Our hero is looking sad at a photo of a kid lying on the seashore. He should have been building sandcastles but has been washed away. Whether referring to the immigration crisis – where thousands would try to cross the seas to a new land only to be captured by the cruelty of the water – or a metaphor for ignorance and problems we overlook – it is a powerful thought you cannot help but picture what is being sung. I say the word ‘sun’; Smith is much more a poet and ensures his words are almost spoken. In a way, Heart of a Man is a cross between a political speech and sermon: without the pomposity and unemotive delivery of the former or the piousness of the latter. That chorus comes back in – the hero trying to understand what we’re here for – and sees “sons and daughters” washed up like waves; those who should be playing with bucket and spade and laid in the sand to be put in bags. It is a harrowing feeling but delivered with just the right blend of emotions and compositional notes. Were strings to wash in or the piano to become too noticeable it might distill the words or give the song a predictable route.

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As it is, Heart of Man is all about that central vocal and the lyrics. You get backing (female) vocals in the chorus and other tones but the focus is very much on Smith. His projection and delivery is always fascinating to me. It is very much in the Hip-Hop arena but there isn’t the aggression and attitude you get with many performers. Instead, Smith is more emotional, relatable and human. You are never put off by braggadocio and arrogance nor left cold but a sense of emotional detachment. Every line of Heart of Man seems utterly essential and urgent. The hero ran to his mum’s house after seeing an image on the front page: another horrifying image from around the world that causes the reader to balk and recoil. It was, in 2016, almost a daily occurrence: seeing the bloodshed and injustice; people standing back and watching it unfold. Whilst we have all lived through the year and saw some awful things; that is the state of the world and will continue this year. Smith is the pacifist and peacemaker that wants things to change and seems part of the silent majority. Those who perpetrate cruelty and evil are shouting loud and overwhelming those who want things to change. Instead of getting angry and fighting fire with fire; we must find a more constructive and humane way of ensuring things like this are not repeated. “You cannot change the system if you remain a victim” seems to really underline what the song is about. There seems to be a double-meaning at play. On one hand, those who are always trodden-down and betrayed will never have the power and voice to make things better and change that system. Perhaps those who are victimised and oppressed are the ones who can make positive changes but will never get to have their say. On the other, and more likely hand, one feels those who complain and feel they are hard-done-by will always be part of the problem and not the solution. We cannot go around and want sympathy and moan when there are bigger things happening – people who are worse off and need help.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @_tobymitchell

The only way to make constructive changes is through the betterment of our souls – cleansing the negativity and perpetrating a much more productive and helpful attitude. That is what I got from the song but maybe Smith had other plans. As things continue, the intensity and emotion of the song never relent. You get the feeling you are immersed right in the thick of the front pages: vividly seeing all the dislocation and torment unfold and standing there aghast. I guess that is part of the problem with last year: we all complained about the way things went but had the wrong approach. Whether you (like me) disagree with the Brexit result or feel flabbergasted by the continued terrorist attacks; we all have to bandy together and start approaching things differently. It is no good grousing and playing the victim as that will get us nowhere. We yearn to touch the sun, as Smith attests, but “afraid of the solar system”. We all want perfection and to make things right but are, perhaps, fearful of getting involved and actually ignore what is happening in the wider world. Those in a more privileged position want their own lives to be as spotless as they can but are reluctant to reach out to their fellow man – whether they are on their own street or in some foreign land. Again, that is the vibe I got but can hear what Smith is saying: stop reaching for flint and sharp sticks as a natural evolutionary reaction and approach hatred and division with more compassion and affection. The nature of selfishness is examined as we are all aware. Most of us are too wrapped in their own existence to see there are things outside that need to be addressed. The politicians are soundbites and tropes who are parroting decades-old party lines and meaningless bromides – thinking they have a tangible solution and can balm the world’s wounds. Instead, they are aimless, asinine and devoid of any answers. It is rare to see a songwriter who turns the spotlight on themselves and realises we are all part of the problem. Many love songs point blame at the other party or are too self-flagellating and mopey to really engage and inspire. Instead, Smith has created a song that does not blame people or needlessly accuse. He has penned a wise cautionary tale that realises things are bad and they need to change. Every one of us is in the same boat and need to stop repeating the mistakes of the past. By the final notes, you want the song to continue and reluctant to let it go. Smith claims we are all migrants and the same as those we see on the news. None of us is any different to the people we see in body bags and struck by civil war and terrorism. When we pull these barriers away, we are all looking at our brothers and sisters. When you drill it down to familiar levels; it makes the words much more stirring and sobering.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @_tobymitchell

Smith’s voice becomes more cracked and affected as the song reaches night-time. The chorus becomes more relevant and emotional each time it is performer. Sure, we all shed a tear when we saw those images on the front covers. How many of us actually felt compelled to do something about it or let it stick in the mind. Most of us forgot about it or took a hateful, vitriolic approach to such scenes. It is never productive and human striking against those who strike; getting mad at the system when we all have the potential to make things better. In a way, it is the government here that are responsible for that world debt and deficit. They are contented to parrot hollow words and ruminate without effect whilst things continue to unravel and descend into madness. In a lot of ways, Heart of Man forces people to realise why they are in the world and what their place is. If we are here to serve ourselves and our own desires then how much of a heart do we have – are we ever truly connected and aware of the planet we live in? It is rare discovering a song so detailed, deep and prophetic. I love how Smith’s central performance shows its true emotions and does not hide behind production values and instruments. He hovers and groans in the background to add weight and spectral qualities – sounding a bit like James Blake and the song, Radio Silence. It is eerier at times and oddly still the next; the song will resonate differently depending on who hears it but everyone will take something away with them. In a very real way, we will all become more aware and strong because of the song. Hopefully, Heart of Man will force people to retune their attitudes and stop falling into the same traps. I hope the song forms part of an E.P. or signals more music as Joshua Luke Smith is at his peak and among the finest songwriters in the country. We need more artists like him now so let’s hope we can expect others tracks very soon.

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PHOTO CREDIT: @_tobymitchell

Joshua Luke Smith has already made a big impact and one suspects he will continue to do great work and rise in the industry. Following a series of charity-supporting singles; one wonders whether we will see an E.P. or album this year. There are certain styles of music I feel will come back in this year. Last year, there was a celebration of fantastic R&B, Hip-Hop and Rap being produced – some of the most urgent and physical albums we have seen for years. In that spirit, British Hip-Hop and Trip-Hop is likely to be in many (musicians’) minds. Smith plays across various genres but has that rooted Trip/Hip-Hop/Rap sound; straying into Soul too. Unlike some of 2016’s best music – that relied on glossy production and compositional force – I feel there is going to be more attention paid to lyrics and bare emotion. Smith looks at troubles and the world around us and implores calm and love. You are transfixed by his earnestness and passion and intrigued by the beats and aural cocktail he produces. I would love to see Joshua Luke Smith perform more across the U.K. and get his music out there. I am unsure how his diary is looking this year but one suspects there are dates afoot. As I stated; he is someone who can hold court at bars and cafés; he has what it takes to enthral larger spaces and arenas. I do not know how he is planning his year but I expect there to be new music and tours. I’m excited to see where he heads and what is coming next as Joshua Luke Smith is a very special and rare artist. I admire those that take the time to think about more than themselves, sales figures and following the herd. I will return to my earlier points soon but wanted to proffer and promote the nub of Smith’s artistry and personality.

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Smith is a man who has faced his demons and struggles and, instead of negatively casting his fears inwards, he exerts an outward attitude of inspiration and acceptance. He has struggled with mental health issues but does write music tortured and self-flagellating. Many of us go through that pain and feel stigmatised and alone. Smith, alongside The Samaritans, has penned music that tears down walls and opens its arms to sufferers of depression, anxiety and other psychological issues. In that same spirit, he is all too willing to back charities that do important work and represent those who are often overlooked and under-the-radar. By bringing the ‘minority’ into the spotlight, it gives confidence to those affected – and fellow musicians – and provides strength. Aside from the charity connections, the wit and intelligence of Smith is not to be overlooked. He has studied philosophy and brings a very wise and sharp pen to music. His lyrics do not deal with tropes and inane lines: each song is dripping with thought-provoking words and brilliantly inventive lines. Around him, the compositions range from dark and sinewy to sensual and sleek. You get so many different ideas and possibilities projected in music that, at times, is quite skeletal and uncluttered. That economical and bold approach to music is not anaemic or misguided – you get plenty of power and possibility in every track. I am keen to lend my support to those artists that go beyond what is expected and deliver something extraordinary to the world. Joshua Luke Smith is one such example of what music should be about. Let’s hope the coming months see him getting out to the people and showing just what he is about. Heart of Man is another extraordinary song that will stay in the mind for a very long time.

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I started this piece by looking at the state of the world and the desire for safety and support; a universal spirit that is seeing populous love and affection spread like wildfire; a collective decision to overwhelm oppression and bullying by coming together in solidarity. There are a lot of disaffected and confused people on the planet – I can include myself in that list. We have lived in the world long enough to know things will not always go according to plan but 2016 was beyond any logical comprehension. People’s mindset and motivation is a case of obfuscation. In reply to the rather alarming results of the year, there is a lot of hate and anger percolating like a poison. Some of this is a reaction to Brexit/Trump but, in general terms, there is a lot of warfare, discrimination and emotional poverty dropping ink and acid into the ocean of human kindness. We should never assume this state of affairs is inextinguishable or irreversible climate change; not a terminal illness and indefatigable monster. Sure, we will never eradicate poverty, hatred and war but we can react to it in a positive way. Constructivism seems an illogical response to political dissension and unconscionable violence but that is the way we must react. Until such time ‘stability’ is a reality we, as human beings, must electioneer on grounds of love, peace and support. As Joshua Luke Smith stated, when describing the inspiration behind Heart of Man, there has been a lot of petulance and tribal behaviour among the people last year. 2016’s democratic process has been inscrutable as Sphinxs: the majority of two of the world’s most-powerful nations deciding they are better off embracing the worst possible option. Democracy is, unfortunately, there to represent the majority vote and should not be challenged. I, myself, am unhappy about the way things have gone but can do nothing to override it.

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Let us go headlong through 2017 with a different attitude. In a weird and roundabout way, something good has come out of the satanic bloated bowel movement that was 2016: a chance to prove we are stronger and better people than those who perpetrate acts of evil and moral corruption. Heart of Man is an antithetical anthem against the inferiority of numbers discontent and grouching. Rather than cavil and throw one’s toys from the pram: consider moving through life with a sense of acceptance and renewed purpose – sending positive vibes and helping those in need is a much more worthy and productive force. I have a lot of respect for artists that have a constructive attitude to world problems and involve themselves more. It is easy enough standing by passively and playing formulaic, marketable songs. Anyone willing to create something inspiring and socially conscious deserves a sturdy and solid pulpit on which to deliver their messages. Joshua Luke Smith is a crusader of humanity and awareness who insinuates himself in charitable avenues and keenly raises awareness through his music. He is a guiding light to those reluctant or remiss: people who are comfortable in their roles and unbending in their routines. Not only is Smith’s attitude commendable – the fact profits from Heart of Man goes to Preemptive Love Coalition – his music is equally potent and impressive. I have been a fan of his for ages and admire that voice: full of gravity, gravitas and gravel; dark-hued with transoms of light and redemption. His vocals are less singing and more poetic performances. I have not really touched upon Hip/Trip-Hop-cum-Soul stylings and Bath – where Smith hails from – as an explanation and introduction to the young man – maybe that will have to come in another review! Follow Smith and get your ears around Heart of Man – try and pay for it or donate if you can – and follow the plight of a poet-philosopher-rapper-musician who is unlike anyone else – in so many different ways. There are few like Smith so I expect him to a take a while to come to full prominence. Those truly special are always discovered after the more asinine and pedestrian commercial acts. Once Smith’s legacy, talent and voice is suitably excavated, ingested and considered, he will be a big name for sure. Until such time, throw some support for an artist who is trying to make the world a much calmer and…

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PHOTO CREDIT: @blaowphotography

MORE enlightened place.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__Y04qd7PPs&w=560&h=315]


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INTERVIEW: Lots Holloway



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PHOTO CREDIT: William J. Pope


Lots Holloway


THAT all-crucial debut single must be one of the…

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most nerve-racking and mind-altering proposition for any artist. I have seen few go into music with an enormous amount of confidence. There are those nerves; almost like the first day at middle school: the awkward introductions and getting a lay of the land whilst you stand solemn and nervous in the lunch queue. There are musicians that approach that hurdle with an enormous amount of resolve and fortitude. World’s on Fire is the opening salvo from the mercurial, striking and one-of-a-kind, Lots Holloway. Her song reacts to the atrocities and insanity of 2016 – the bloodshed in Syria and Orlando’s Pulse nightclub; Brexit and Trump together with all the violence and division we saw – and is as powerful and affecting as one would imagine. I wanted to ask her about the song and why she was compelled to write it. In addition, she talks about the experience of recording at Bryan Ferry’s studio; the albums and artists that inspired her growing up and the main differences between Cornwall (where she was born) and London (where she lives now).


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

Hey Music Musings’; my week has been pretty sweet, thank you.

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

I am Lots Holloway. I am a singer, songwriter and instrumentalist - I write music because it’s the only way I feel I can properly communicate and translate my thoughts and feelings. I describe my music as Alt.-Pop: Popular music with aAlternatives twists.

World’s on Fire seems like a song that reacts to the world around us and appropriate for the times. What inspired the song’s creation and can you tell us a bit about it?

The song was written last summer (2016).

I was overwhelmed by the world surrounding us and I felt I needed to talk about it. There was a daisy-chain of events that fed me the inspiration for the song but it was the impact of them happening altogether that was the real catalyst.

Attacks in Brussels, Istanbul; Nice, Orlando; Syria, the U.S. presidential battle, Brexit; the refugee crisis - it was almost as if the world had had a momentary lapse of conduct leading to devastating and confusing realities.

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I guess the song reacts to all of the 2016 atrocities. Looking back at last year: does it all seem like a strange blur or is still raw and real to you?

I was hoping that 2016 would be the nightmare and that 2017 would be the waking-up but it doesn’t seem that way at all. As much as the events seem like a blur; the effects of these events are not, and for all the people who were directly affected, they will never be a blur.

We are living in delicate and unpredictable times, so yes, there is rawness and realness.

Do you think musicians have a duty to react to world events and concentrate on more important themes like this (rather than love and romance)?

There will always be room for love and romance: the world needs light and it needs hope, and although I don’t think artists have a responsibility to reflect the times, I cannot understand why, as an artist, you wouldn’t want to or be compelled to. Music is empowering: it is a universal language that speaks to people and I feel that it is times like these when people need to be spoken to the most. Our current world situation is not a problem for one person, or one group of people; or one country… it is a global, human problem - if the world is on fire, we will all burn.

World’s on Fire has a great Pop sensibility but is deep and lyrically intelligent. Which artists inspire you most and who were the musicians you grew up listening to?

Growing up I listened to my parents' music: ‘60s and ‘70s stuff mostly. David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac; Pink Floyd, Talking Heads; The Beatles, Queen and The Kinks. I am inspired by artists who are creative without fear. I am also addicted to melody and harmony so that would’ve come from my love for ABBA and The Beach Boys.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nke8B3NNmCY&w=560&h=315]

The video is very striking and moving. Whose concept was it and what was it like shooting it?

The video and its concept was a collaborative effort. I worked with a wicked girl called Kat Kemsley and her team. We were on the same page from the very beginning: we wanted the video to have a chaotic atmosphere that would hopefully leave a strong, sombre taste in the mouth. The shooting was fun. It was very cold, as you can see by my breath in the shots, but it was worth it for sure.

The song was recorded in Bryan Ferry’s personal studio. You used some instruments and equipment Brian Eno owns. How did you come to connect with Ferry and what was the recording experience like for you?

The producer I decided to work with was Mike Hedges (Manic Street Preachers, The Cure and U2). He had a personal connection with the team at Ferry’s place so I was very fortunate that they liked my music enough to let me record there. I believe one of the one other artists to record there was Prince. The experience was incomparable to any other studio time I’ve had: to be inside someone’s personal studio is not like recording in a commercial studio; it’s almost like you step into someone else’s mind, someone else’s psyche - and you can’t help but be influenced by that. As for Brian Eno, I have always been a huge fan of his work so to use and play with his instruments was surreal.

Can we expect a Lots Holloway E.P. or album this year?

Oh, for sure. I am heading back into the studio in March so it’s all going to be with you this year.

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You were born in Cornwall but moved to London in 2011. Moving to the capital seems like a natural migration for artists. What attracted you to the city and what is it like for a young musician in London?

London is the hub of art. London is the only place in the U.K. you can be whoever you want and not be judged. The true music scene only really exists in London. For me, it wasn’t a choice: I had to find it. Being a young musician in London is hard, so hard - so hard but so exciting. Being a young musician in London and facing the daily disappointments of the music industry is like your initiation: it will either break you or make you. I loved it.

In addition to guitar, you play piano, bass and drums. What is it about various instruments that attract you and are you learning any more at the moment?

I am obsessed with sound. I couldn’t get enough of learning how to play instruments. I taught myself mostly but I would sit for hours and hours until I’d mastered a chord or a beat or a riff. Each instrument has its own personality and its own limits - I think songwriting is why I chose to play a lot of instruments; the kind of song you’ll compose using a piano is totally different to a song you might compose using a guitar or a bass riff. I am currently annoying my neighbours by learning to play the harmonica, so that’s cool.

Last year was pretty eventful. In terms of politics and society; do you think 2017 will be brighter and what are the lessons we have learned from 2016?

2016 taught me that division is fatal. If we want our world to change we have to be united. People need to be reminded that their lives and opinions are valued. I hope that 2017 will surprise us all and bring about some brighter things, though.

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If you had to select three albums that have meant the most to you which would they be and why?

Pink Floyd - The Wall. This was the first album I ever listened to as an album: from start to finish as a complete work of art. It solidified my passion for music.

David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. I love Bowie’s talent for lyricism; it’s unmatched - but that’s the same on every album. What I like the most about this album is the story and the dramatic, theatrical storytelling through the vast choice of sounds; the melodies and the use of vocals as instruments. This album made me feel like I could be the artist I wanted to be.

Kate Bush - The Whole Story. I know, I know: it’s a compilation album… but I don’t care.

This was the first vinyl I ever bought: purchased in a secondhand shop for £3 and still might be my favourite record I own. Kate is wonderful; she understands music in such a different way - I could listen to this record all day.

Are there any musicians, international or local, you recommend we check out?

None that you wouldn’t already know but the album I can’t stop listening to is Chaleur Humaine by Christine and the Queens.

What advice would you provide any upcoming artists?

Don’t rush anything. Take your time to make sure you are happy with everything you’re doing because if you are good enough; no time will stop you from being who you want to be - enjoy each moment.

Finally, and for being a good sport, you can select any song you like (not yours as I’ll include that) and I’ll play it here.

This song has been in my head all week so let’s pay homage; because I’d also “like to see America” (and the “girls in California”)...Supertramp -

Supertramp - Breakfast in America.



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INTERVIEW: Oliver Asadi




Oliver Asadi


FOR every distinct and bold musical creative out there…

one finds an overflowing vessel of mundane and yawn-worthy artists ready to tip the balance into the ocean. I always look to feature acts possessed of an interesting story and fascinating personality: songs that hit all the senses and mark them out as something rather special. When it comes to standing out from the crowd; few do it quite the same was Oliver Asadi. He is a multi-talented creative who is a graphic designer, music producer/editor extraordinary: an art director and multi-talented writer standing as one of the brightest Hip-Hop talents in the U.K. I speak to him about his multi-disciplinarian facets and how they impact on his music; his latest video, Till I Die and whether we can expect more music from him soon. In addition, Asadi talks about upcoming musicians and broaden their skillset – so few look beyond songwriting – and the city of Leeds – where he is based – as a centre for musical inspiration. On top of all that, I ask Asadi about his background and the artists he recommends to us all.


Hi, Oliver. How are you?

I’m good man. Just vibing out at the moment, listening to my beats. You?

How has your week been?

It’s been like mad weird and hectic; humans are crazy. My life is on some rollercoaster vibes right now. I’ve found out that drawing is actually mad therapeutic for me. So I’m back into that. As always, I’m producing new stuff every day.

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

My name is Oliver Asadi and I am one of the best creatives in the world. I am probably one of the most ambitious and passionate people you will ever meet. I write, sing; rap and produce songs. I design art. I direct and edit all my own music videos and films. I am currently working on a new film, a concept for a video game; a fashion collection and multiple music projects such as King of the Wild and Loveless Jungle.

I am intrigued by the nickname ‘King Lion’. Where did that come from?

I’m actually half-Persian and my full surname translates that ('King Lion') in Persian. So, like, my whole family is actually lions.

Leeds is your hometown. It is one of the most fascinating areas for music in the U.K. Is it quite grating a lot of the national media focus heavily on London and do not realise the great music coming out of the city?

Yeah, it’s kind of weird. I feel like sometimes just the fact that you are based in London will make people think you’re more legitimate. Like, if I move to London does that suddenly make me a better artist?

No, I won’t be: I’ll be the same dude. I don’t want to sound like I’m sh*tting on London because I actually really f**k with it.

It’s more the bloggers and journalist types of people I have a problem with. Like, they need to pay more attention to what’s happening outside of London - especially in Hip-Hop. Like, honestly, I feel if you’re aware of me and other creatives but don’t show love. It shows you don’t care about the creativity and passion; you’re just a d*ck rider that writes about whatever is big and popping in the scene at the moment. You don’t care about the art: you care about looking cool and trendy.

I’m tired of seeing all these music artists that are sucking writer’s d*cks just to get some exposure. It really needs to stop. I’ll show you genuine respect if I’m f*cking with you - I won’t do it as a necessity. We the ones making music. Words are dated.

What, would you say, is it about Leeds that breeds such incredible music?

I think this is one the benefits of being in such an undervalued city. A lot of us can have creative freedom. We can make whatever we want. Like, we don’t always want to make stuff for radio or super-commercial use. We are D.I.Y. as f*ck because we don’t have the same tools and resources other cities have. Like, people don’t even know that Leeds was the city that pretty much brought Goth culture to life. We are innovators.

You are a graphic designer and art director (among many other things). Have you always been into art and creativity or is it something more recent?

I was actually way into the whole artistic creative side of things way before music. I’ve been doing creative stuff my whole life; like when I super-young in infant school I used to watch Art Attack all the time and copy what they did on there - and then I got into Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z, and started designing Anime characters and drawing Manga. Then, when I got into middle school, I used to write plays and make magazine concepts. In high school, I used to run a backyard wrestling promotion which I designed all the characters, graphics; the videos and websites for. Then, when I got into college, (it) is more when I started getting into the music side of things.

Do you feel being able to direct and edit your own videos gives you more control over your own work?

Definitely. I actually find it really hard to give someone else control of one my music videos because I feel my artistic visions are hard to define. I try to make each of my music videos reflect the tone of the song, my personality and thoughts.

Saying all that, though: I do really want to work with other art directors: they just have a unique vision. I really like Neil Krug, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Araki Nobuyoshi’s work. I feel they all display raw emotion in imaginative ways.

Do you feel more musicians should become multi-disciplined and learn these skills?

Absolutely, no doubt. I feel a lot of music artists, who are just rappers and singers, think that’s all they have to do; like they can just coast along doing that. Like, bro., where is the drive and passion? I’m learning every day. People are too scared to look stupid; to try and do anything different. Failure is the best lesson. Matter-of-fact, most things that are labelled ‘weird’ are some of the most normal stuff to me - it’s just the general audience that is way behind. It’s the normal cliché stuff that is weird to me; like why are you even doing it? What’s the point; where's the artistic integrity?

You have produced some great work the past year. Masked Shaman is something that sticks in my mind. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind that and which of your past works are you proudest of?

Appreciate it bro.! Yeah, Masked Shaman was, like, the first project I put out. But feel even that was rushed because of university. I had to release a music project to coincide with one of my university projects so I had to put something out all of a sudden. I recorded and picked songs that gave the vibe and mindset I had at the time. It’s funny, it’s super-trippy and atmospheric so people associate it with drugs but I’m actually mad-straight-edge. I just like those types of sounds.

I’m super-proud of my films NIYAZ and Peach Juice as well as few latest songs. NIYAZ was showcased at the Leeds Silent Film Festival and I just submitted Peach Juice for a few. I really feel like I was able to achieve what I had to set out to do with them.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QwO25w1PIM&w=560&h=315]

Till I Die is your latest video. What was the inspiration behind the song and was the video fun to shoot?

In general, it was basically me saying I’m going to be doing this weird artsy stuff ‘til I die and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.

I have all the power because I know how to make the beats, songs; lyrics, art and videos. My mind is the source of the creativity so you can strip me of every materialistic thing and I can still make sh*t.

Man, shooting the Till I Die video was so weird. The original concept was to have a super-high-budget music video shooting on R.E.D. cameras and all that stuff. But that plan fell through, so I went the complete opposite route. I did it with no money and went completely lo-fi. I wanted its look to match the mood of the song which was like a tribal-chaotic-jungle type of vibe. My friend Nun Clark modelled as this tribal Pocahontas type of girl I had envisioned in my mind; which also nearly didn’t happen because she missed her bus (haha). What was mad weird for me was that I borrowed a V.H.S. player to record the footage of and it had a copy of Pocahontas in it. It was mad-freaky.

My dude Kid Genesis was a camera operator for a lot of it so it looked mad suspect that another dude was recording another guy jumping about in a pretty public place with his top off (hahaha). It was definitely fun. Post-production was probably the hardest part of it.

Can we expect some new music from you in 2017?

For sure! I actually have a lot of music I want to release: I just need to find someone to mix it for modern Hip-Hop consumption. I have these songs called FirePrimal ExpressionMoonlightProblems - and more that are like so good bro. Me and my friends just jump about to them all in the studio and in my room - they hard.

Those are like singles, though. I actually have more album-like tracks with some cool features on them from some of my friends and other pretty big artists in the Hip-Hop world. I hope I can release them at some point.

What are your plans for this year?

Do super-cool stuff and be happy.

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/282845971" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" iframe="true" /]

A lot of people in London would love to see you perform live. Are plans on coming down here?

For sure. I try to get down to London as much as I can as it is kind of like where the culture of Hip-Hop in the U.K. is. I want to perform there more, so London promoters book me! I’m one of best live Hip-Hop solo acts right now! I bring the chaotic energy and vibes.

I hear shades of M.I.A.’s early-career inventiveness and Kanye West’s swagger in your work. Are they important artists to you?

Yeah, they are like my idols, for real. I want people to feel good about themselves; people need to realise that when I’m saying “I do this” and “I do that” in songs, I’m actually talking about ‘we’ as in the person listening.

I feel so much music is, like, made to lower your self-worth. I really have the belief that anything is possible: things only become impossible when you limit your self-thinking hat.

I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I listened to other people saying I can’t do something. People need to learn don’t ever doubt me for a f*cking second because I will always do what I want to do.

If you had to narrow down to three albums that have shaped you most which would they be and why?

I know straight off the top my head the two of them are Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager. They like saved my life; like those are the first albums where I felt I had a relatable conscience; like I can feel like Runaway one minute and my mood switches to Hell of a Life a minute later. The third would probably be N.E.R.D.’s Fly or Die because that’s how I feel: it’s literally fly-or-die for me. Like, I’d rather die than have my creative freedom taken away from me. I guess you could say they all like introduced to me the artistic side of Hip-Hop rather than the super-commercial side of it.

Are there any new artists you’d recommend we check out?

Check out my friends - SaNTINO, Jeron Braxton; Chaos Jigsaw, Hambling; Eva Eik, Dreamsoft; Raymonds Child, Will O’Gara and Kid Genesis!

They are pretty much all creatives like me so expect next level stuff.

Have you advice for new songwriters coming through right now?

Don’t over-complicate.

Simple words draw more emotion and strike harder.

Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name any song you like (not yours as I’ll do that) and I’ll play it here.

This is one of my favourite songs of all time. The vibes and production inspired a lot of my material.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJubtcBZ6po&w=560&h=315]

Photography by Moon Child

Art Direction & Styling by Oliver Asadi


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INTERVIEW: Julia Carlucci




Julia Carlucci


THE beautiful and talented Toronto-based artist…

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PHOTO CREDIT: @magicmerik

Julia Carlucci is one of the most striking and talented performers in North America. Her powerful, tremulous vocals are inspired by Beyoncé and Adele; her soulfulness and allure reminiscent of Alicia Keys’ seminal album, Songs in A Minor; her magnetic and lovable personality the reason she has been taken to heart across the continent (and her native land). The skill, range and passion you get from Carlucci is the result of intense study and enormous affection for music and its possibilities. I have been awed by her innate abilities and incredible voice since first I heard it. Excited to learn more about the Toronto native; I quiz Carlucci about her latest single, Take Me Down (video out on Friday). She discusses why Toronto musicians deserve more attention; the new artists she recommends we check out in addition to her plans for the remainder of this year.


Hi Julia. How are you? How has your week been? It is pretty snowy and cold in Britain recently. How is it where you are?

I’m very well, thanks! My week has been great despite the weather (haha). Cold and snowy here in Toronto as well.

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

My name is Julia Carlucci and I’m a Pop/Soul artist from Toronto. My sound is a mix of influences from classic R&B to current contemporary Pop music.

You are a veteran of the stage and have a real affinity for performance and delivery. When did that passion begin as was music always your first love?

Music was always my first love but I started learning how to really perform in my late -teens. Up to that point, I knew how to deliver melody and lyrics effectively but interacting with an audience and moving on stage was a whole different ball game. Since then, my performance skills have grown exponentially and the more comfortable and confident I became as a woman, the better my performance skills became.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rDxjuE9uP4&w=560&h=315]

You are based in Toronto. I am fascinated by the area and the great music that comes out of there. I feel like a lot of the international media do not realise how fantastic Canadian music is. Would you agree?

I absolutely agree. I feel Toronto, and Canada in general, is the little brother that everyone underestimates. We have to work twice as hard just to prove we can kick it with the big boys.

But to be honest, I kind of like that because it makes us hungrier. People like Drake and Alessia Cara have definitely put us on the map and I’m sure many more Canadian artists will follow in their footsteps very soon.

Who are the local musician you would urge us to seek out?

Oh man, there’s so many! A few that are killing it right now are Jessie Reyez, Daniel Caesar and Adria Kain. All different vibes but so so good!

For Me was your E.P. (released in 2015). How do you think you have changed, as a musician, since then and what was the reaction like to the E.P.?

It’s crazy how much change can occur in just two years. I’ve grown up quite a bit and although my sound has evolved I think I’ll always be about that Pop/Soul vibe. Everyone loved the E.P. when it came out and I got a lot of great feedback from it. That music will always be special to me because it represented a specific time in my life and was the first piece of art I ever released.

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Take Me Down is your new single. It looks at the old-age battle of head-versus-heart and falling for someone you shouldn’t. Was there a particular inspiration for it (person-wise) or experiences you have had in the past?

For sure. I think as artists we usually write from personal experience to make our music as honest and relatable as possible. This song kind of relates to several experiences I’ve had in the past.

Whether it’s the ‘heartbreaker’, the ‘unavailable’ guy, the ‘bad timing’ guy, etc.: I’ve been interested in all of them at some point. There was always a reason why I ‘shouldn’t’ have been with them but somehow got emotionally involved anyway. Take Me Down describes that moment of “Uh oh…I’m in love now and there’s no turning back.”

The vocals and potency of the song remind me of Adele at her peak. How important is she to your music and is she an idol of yours?

Thank you so much – that’s a huge compliment for me. Adele is definitely top-three on my idol list. She’s one of those singers who can make time stand still when she performs and I’m so drawn to that. Aside from being a powerhouse vocalist, she’s got those gut-wrenching, relatable songs that withstand the test of time. That’s the kind of artist I strive to be like.

In terms of vocals/music, I also detect hints of Beyoncé and Alicia Keys’ soulfulness and R&B magic. Are they artists you have grown up with and what did you think of both their 2016 albums?

I listened to Alicia a lot growing up and she absolutely contributed to who I am as an artist now.

She’s evolved quite a bit which I respect so much because that’s one of the biggest fears as an artist (“If I change, will they still like me?”). But artists change as people and so will the music. The album is no Songs in A Minor but it’s so great in its own way.

I only started getting into Beyoncé in high school when my best friend showed me the Sweet Dreams Medley from her Vegas show. That changed my life. From that moment I was obsessed, and to this day, Beyoncé is still my number one. When I watched Lemonade for the first time I was blown away by how beautiful it was. It’s a very meaningful album, for not only myself, but for a lot of women.

Can we expect any Julia Carlucci E.P. or album this year?

Maybe not an E.P./full-album but you can definitely expect more music and visual content from me this year!

If you had to select three albums, past or present, that have been most influential to you?

Just three? That’s tough but I would say 21Beyoncé and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

You have commanded audiences across North America and must have some fond memories of the past couple of years. Which have been the moments that stand out most?

Man. I’ve had so many beautiful experiences but I’d have to say my E.P. Release Show in 2015 stands out the most. That was a huge undertaking for me (I had a fourteen-piece band!) but it was super successful. It sticks out in my mind because that was the first time I played my original music live and I just felt so fulfilled.

We’d love to see you in the U.K. very soon performing. How often do you come over here and any plans to perform here this year?

I have yet to see the U.K. but I’m dying to go.

My sister currently lives in London and let’s just say, she’s not coming back (haha). My goal is to make a trip before the year is up and who knows; maybe I’ll book a show while I’m there!

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Are there any new artists, from the mainstream, you’d recommend we check out?

I’m currently obsessed with Kehlani’s new album SweetSexySavage – it’s amazing! Anderson .Paak is also making some serious waves and rightfully so. The dude is crazy-talented!

Have you advice for new songwriters coming through right now?

When it comes to music, there are two main rules I live by: 1) Keep making the music and 2) Keep making it good. Consistency and quality are the two things that can never be compromised. Everything else will fall into place.

Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name any song you like (not yours as I’ll do that) and I’ll play it here.

Finesse – Bruno Mars. This track always puts me in a good mood!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRSaiAREnwI&w=560&h=315]


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PHOTO CREDIT: Merik Williams Photography













INTERVIEW: Matt Boroff



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Matt Boroff


IN a week where I am interviewing some of the most…

fascinating and eye-catching artists in the music world, there are few as illustrious and striking as Matt Boroff. Not only has he shared a stage with Nirvana but worked with the likes of Mark Lanegan and Alain Johannes. He discusses his new album, Grand Delusion and the single, What a Shame. I ask Boroff about his past and whether he prefers the big stage or small venues; whether his new material is reflective of the political divisions in the U.S. and asked him what his fondest memory – from all his years in music – was. It is one of the most illuminating interviews I have conducted in a while. The American-born, Austria-based musician still has a lot to say: this is evident in the glistening and stunning Grand Delusion.


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

I’m pretty good thanks. I’ve done a lot of travelling this week so it’s been kind of a blur.

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

Well, I’m a U.S. singer/songwriter/guitarist from northern N.J. who’s descended from Russian immigrants. In 2000, I relocated to Austria and formed a band. I get around

Grand Delusion is your third studio album. Can you tell us about the themes and ideas you explore? The title seems very pointed and cynical. Is the album going to be deal with a lot of hard emotions?

The album explores themes like alienation, the shadow and longing for human connection in a world where the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

I see the title as less cynical and more matter-of-fact. It’s probably just my way of saying that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. Emotionally speaking, I’d say it’s cathartic. I’ve always used music as a way of dealing with emotions that I feel unable to process any other way. I’m attracted to intensity in art; the rest is for greeting cards. I think Henry Rollins once called writing music poor man’s therapy. That sounds about right to me.

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/277455969" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" iframe="true" /]

I know the album explores love and can we save ourselves in the new world. Have any of the songs been enforced by ‘Trumpism’? How has the U.S. President influenced the music or are (the album’s) songs more widespread and universal in terms of inspiration?

The songs were actually written before Trump was a big player on the political scene (at least on my radar) but I see how you could draw a connection between the chaos and confusion surrounding his ascent to power and what’s being said in the songs. So, the songs are more universal for me but that also applies to the very real danger of the same phenomenon happening elsewhere. In terms of inspiration, I think there’s just been this feeling in the air for quite some time that something ominous was looming on the horizon.

The stage was gradually being set for someone as absurd as Trump to come along and assume a position of power. Everything’s gotten too trivial. An entire culture was more distracted and self-absorbed than ever before. We’ve literally been living in a reality T.V. show but this one has consequences and they’re serious. Trump is one of those consequences.

Greed, nationalism and bloodshed are, I suspect, motivators for material and Grand Delusion. Do you think too few modern musicians address such key concerns these days?

Probably, but I’m sure there’s exceptions all over the place that I’m not aware of.

As far as most popular music goes, the prospect of artists who’ve dedicated their careers to singing about self-indulgent fluff turning around and addressing some of these concerns and getting it right is pretty damn slim.

In other words, I’m sure they’re out there but it’s a lot sexier for the industry to trot out more music that’s designed to keep us shopping.

What a Shame is the first single from the album. What can you say about the song and its creation?

I recorded the album in L.A. with Alain Johannes and it was spread across two sessions with a few months in between them. I came into the first session with about half of the songs and wrote the rest in the months in between. What a Shame was the first one of those: it was inspired by strolling around West Hollywood and taking it all in like a tourist. Every surface had a kind of cosmetic beauty to it that seemed to be vibrating from within with something menacing and grotesque.

Like this shiny object that wanted to lure you closer so it could do you harm. So, the song is about a place or state of mind where everything is as it shouldn’t be. Where something is always a little off; where the most wonderful things are about to happen but never quite come to pass. It’s the great (almost) unfolding beneath a screaming blue sky. Sort of like waking up inside of a Robert Williams painting.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TstFv-NP90&w=560&h=315]

Let’s talk about your music past. I believe you shared a stage with Nirvana? What was that like? That must have been a crazy experience looking back?

It’s interesting looking back now but it was pretty uneventful for me at the time. I was a kid; I owned Bleach and liked it a lot. Nevermind had just been released but hadn’t hit yet. My high school band opened up for them at City Gardens in Trenton, N.J. and we played, what I guess was an okay set. They played a great set and history was written a month or two later when Smells Like Teen Spirit exploded.

In addition to the Seattle band, you have shared the bill with Queens of the Stone Age and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Does playing at smaller venues seem rather strange (considering the kind of places you’ve played) or is it good playing at more ‘modest’ gigs?

To be honest, I’d rather play a smaller venue where there’s a strong connection with an audience - than play a larger one where there’s less of it.

You have been in music since the 1990s; starting your solo career in 2010. What has been your fondest memory from all that time in music?

I think there’s some truth to the statement - everything is relative.

So, despite some of the more outward things I’ve accomplished in music, one of my favourite moments remains passing the audition and getting the gig in my high school band. 

The guys in the band were all a few years older than me which can seem like lifetimes at that age and they were already playing regular gigs in N.Y.C.’s Hardcore scene. When I heard they were looking for a guitarist, I was in a place where everything in my world felt like a hopeless disaster that kept getting worse. So, I learned and practised those songs to death as if there was no tomorrow, and when I got the gig, it was the first time I felt like I had an actual purpose and anything was possible.

Some say Rock is dying or on its last legs – not as relevant and innovative as it once was. Surely it is more important now than it has ever been. What are your views?

I think Rock, Punk (or whatever you want to call it) is about a spirit and an attitude. The way it sounds and looks is an extension of that spirit but it isn’t necessarily the point. I’ve heard that there’s this old Chinese painting of a finger pointing at the moon and what they say about this painting is, “don’t mistake the finger for the moon”. So, this death of Rock thing is really all finger and no moon. The spirit of it is alive and well but it’s morphed into other areas in the past few decades. Those areas include music but aren’t limited to it.

Taking a stance against herd-like behaviour and being told what to think is thriving right now and thank God for that.

Music and the rest of the arts have always been at the forefront of that kind of resistance; it’s their job but these days I think it’s coming from all directions. People from all walks of life are recognising more than ever that their power hasn’t been taken away from them but that they’ve been duped into giving it away willingly and now it’s time to take it back. I mean, what’s more Rock ‘n’ Roll than that?

Aside from the album release on 5th May, what other plans do you have for this year?

I plan on touring in support of the new album throughout the coming year with my band Matt Boroff & the Mirrors.

Are there any other U.K. gigs on the horizon and what are the crowds like here compared with the U.S. (where Matt was born) and Austria (where he is based)?

As far as U.K. gigs go, I’m pretty sure I’ll be at the Great Escape Festival in Brighton in May and hopefully they’ll be a few more dates added for other areas as well by then. I’ve always gotten the feeling that the U.K. crowds are a little more enthusiastic about music in general. Music just seems to be a main ingredient in their daily cultural diet.

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If you had to list the artists who have been most influential to you which would they be?

A very short list in no particular order would be Leonard Cohen, Ennio Morricone; Tom Waits, John Barry; David Bowie, Stanley Kubrick; Joe Frank, David Lynch and Mark Lanegan.

Are there any new artists, either locally or mainstream, you suggest we check out?

I like Timber Timbre (from Canada) a lot. They’re not really that new but whenever I bring them up it seems like nobody knows who the hell I’m talking about.

What advice would you provide any young songwriter coming through right now?

Learn how to listen to your own voice and try the best you can to distinguish it from the rest of the noise around you. Being part of the crowd can have its advantages, but in the end, it’s your own unique contribution as a songwriter that’s going to separate you from the pack and be of value to anyone.

The sooner you can focus on that and give it the day-by-day attention it needs to develop, the better. Whether they know it or not, people need a depth experience but experiencing depth or creating a work of any depth takes time. So, don’t be afraid to take the time.

Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name any song (not yours as I’ll do that) and I’ll play it here.

Thank God for the Rain (from the Taxi Driver soundtrack) by Bernard Herrmann.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4jEymilyF0&w=560&h=315]


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JANAURY Lee Thompson was born in Los Angeles…

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and began playing music from a very early age. A classically-trained musician, she was raised by a concert pianist mother and that influence - and the hours of music that filled the wall - made a huge impact on the young singer. By the early-'00s, January began collaborating with different British D.J.s and immersing herself in the London underground Electronic scene. I was excited to discover more about a young woman with a huge musical talent.

Her latest single, Too Soon, looks at a relationship that is, in her words, a “so-close-but-so-far-away kind of scenario”. The U.S. star is planning her next single (Whelmed is out in April) and discusses the album of the same name. In addition, January talks about the differences between L.A. and London; being compared with Kate Bush and what the rest of 2017 holds.


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

Hello! I’m well, Thank you for asking. It’s been a great week. The support for the release of Whelmed has felt wonderful. It almost overshadowed all of the negative political news. I also spent my birthday in Japan: a magical place; I really resonate with the culture.

For anyone new to your work can you introduce yourself to us, please?

Yes, of course, it would be my pleasure:

My name is January Thompson. I grew up in household saturated with music as my mother is a classical pianist. I’ve always loved and wanted to be a part of the world of sound and one way was through singing which has led me on the road less travelled: collaborating and working with different Electronic producers and D.J.s - and now, in releasing my first album, it has quite a bit of Classical influence mixed with subtle Electronic overtones.

Too Soon is your latest single. Can you reveal a bit about its origin and inspiration?

The inspiration came from the feeling of a relationship coming but having to wait for it because it’s too soon.

What’s too soon for us, too soon to find we’re not alone/we echo in time/I’ve questioned why It’s later/isn't this our time and place?” So it’s a so-close-but-so-far-away kind of scenario.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5C842_wQOk&w=560&h=315]

Your next single, Whelmed, is out in April. Will you be performing anywhere to promote it?

We are just putting the finishing touches to the video now. Yes, myself (sic.) and the producers are in the process of planning the upcoming live shows to promote the album. The shows will be in Copenhagen to start as all of the musicians and producers are based there.

To be announced

I know you were born in L.A. but are based in the U.K. What compelled the move from America and what are the main differences between the music scenes here and there?

I still consider Los Angeles my home but I started working with different producers/D.J.s in the U.K. when I started out; because I loved the music that came out of the UK: Portishead, Massive Attack; Everything but the Girl etc.

In doing that, I created a base of friends and working relationships that I love very much; so started spending most of my time there. It’s just my perspective, but I found the music scene in the States, particularly Los Angeles (where I’m from), more Pop-driven. I felt very boxed into what would sell there and I was more free (sic.) to work outside of the box in regards to my sound and lyrics in the U.K.

In making this album in Copenhagen, I have felt the same: that I was allowed to think outside any formula for what would be most popular or sellable and now I feel I have a family of musicians there too. That makes it like another home. The life of a musician I suppose: many places we can call home.

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You have worked with a range of underground D.J.s and producers. Who has been the most memorable person you have worked with?

They all have been memorable in different ways as far as what I’ve learned and the time spent working with them; some not so good.

But, I’d have to say the producers on this album, Steffen Aaskoven and Thor Finland would be (the most memorable). They’ve really pushed and expanded my capabilities vocally and lyrically and brought a depth to my sound and more continuity in how I work. I consider them dear friends.

I’m very lucky. Working relationships don’t always turn out that way in the funny world of music biz.

Whelmed is your new album. Aside from its unique title, what else can you reveal about the themes and issues explored?

The title is an old sea term for when a ship would capsize. In this sense, the album is very much about being immersed in feelings. Each song has a very distinct emotional correlation to an event or person in my life.

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A lot of your songs deal with longing and love. How important are relationships to your music and how easy is it writing about relationships? Have any bad relationships ever inspired a song?

My world is built on my relationships with other people. Every time I start writing it is with someone in mind: not always romantic, but mostly, of course (it is).

Romantic love always has highs and lows and twists and turns that need to be expressed; to better understand. Music and writing songs have always been cathartic for me in dealing with the good, and yes, some bad - or I’d like to say challenging relationships. Romantic love is never easy :)

Your voice has been compared with the likes of Kate Bush and Björk. Are they artists you grew up listening to and how important are they to you?

I didn't discover Kate Bush until I started spending time in the U.K. Everyone is familiar with her there and would say I sounded like her. I take it as a great compliment of course; I am a fan now.

Björk, on the other hand, I have always loved and (she) has been very important in inspiring me to think out of the box. Everything about her vocal style, music and visuals are groundbreaking - one-of-a-kind.

Looking back at your career to date, what have been the fondest memories?

It’s all such an uphill battle it would have to be the moments when I feel like I get to some sort of precipice - whether in business, like when I got signed to my first record label, Quango (which was a dream). Or, creatively: being able to work with certain musicians; seeing songs materialise into something beautiful. They are living things. That’s always a magical process. Some of them can take you on a tremendous journey.

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This year has just begun and (obviously) new music is afoot. What are your aims for 2017 and can we expect a January tour? 

Yes, I’ve just been meeting with the producers in Copenhagen about just that. New music and (I’m) starting a January tour.


If you had to narrow down the three albums that have meant the most to you which would they be and why?

That’s tough. So many albums mean so much to me but I guess - most meaningful to my sound that I still love listening to - it would be…

Arthur Rubinstein – Chopin’s Nocturnes. I grew up listening to my mother play ‘Nocturnes and this album.They really express the sentiment of my heart and inspired me learning the piano.

Björk - Homogenic. The Electronic elements blew my mind and she managed to mix in Classical instrumentation with great songs in a way no one had before that. Groundbreaking. Set the musical bar for me.

Linda Ronstadt - Greatest Hits. Another one my mother would play all of the time when I was a little girl - through her split with my father. We would sing it at the top of our lungs. I think it’s safe to say Linda taught me to sing: “Love is a rose but you never can pick it, only grows when it’s on the vine/Handfull of thorns and you know you’ve missed it/Lose your love when you say the word mine.”

Are there any upcoming artists you’d recommend we check out?

London Grammar is good - great lead singer.

FKA twigs: great style.

Ólafur Arnalds: beautiful music.

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What advice would you give to new songwriters coming through?

Just keep writing what’s in your heart.

It’s good to learn and borrow sometimes from the giants before us - but try to stay as true as you can to your vision and your sound.

Never give up…ever.

Finally, and for being a good sport, you can select any song you like (rather than your own as I’ll do that) and I’ll play it here.

Hyperballard by Björk.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26sP2WsA5cY&w=560&h=315]


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FEATURE: The Best Albums of 1997



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IN THIS PHOTO: Sleater-Kinney


The Best Albums of 1997


AFTER posting a piece on Blur’s eponymous fifth album…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Missy Elliott

yesterday; I have been thinking about the albums of 1997 and whether Blur was a bit of a fluke – or whether music itself was on a natural high. I shall omit the aforementioned album – it has had quite enough attention for one weekend – but will put together a list of the albums, I feel, defined an incredible year for music. I know I go on a lot about the 1990s, but for good reason: three of is years were practically unmatched in terms of quality and genius: 1993, 1994 and 1997. In fact, 1995 was pretty damn special – it is an incredible decade no matter what anyone says. Today, it is the turn of 1997. Tony Blair was coming into power and there was a ‘hopeful' – looking pretty silly in retrospect – mood in the air. I am going to start with an album that looks at a new political order, and a new world unfolding, and presented their beautiful, often stark, interpretation of it…


Radiohead OK Computer (21st May)

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Following their at-that-time-career-best (I think it still is) album, The Bends; Radiohead were very much on a roll. Kid A would come, but in the middle, the incredible OK Computer sits. It will take you ages to go through the Wikipedia entry for the album but let’s drill it down to the nub: it is a record that defined the year and remains one of the finest albums in history. OK Computer’s abstract lyrics and compositional inventions were a move against the guitar-driven sounds and personal lyrics of The Bends. Such risks might damage a band but Radiohead were confident: singles like Karma Police, Paranoid Android and No Surprises rank as some of Radiohead’s finest songs. It will be incredible seeing them back at Glastonbury this year: twenty years after their legendary headline set, the band could well produce a performance even more memorable. As that is mere months away, take a listen to an album that cemented Radiohead’s reputation as one of the world’s greatest bands.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEsgUiF2jGk&w=560&h=315]

The Prodigy - The Fat of the Land (30th June)

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Perhaps not quite as inventive and momentous as their previous album, Music for the Jilted Generation: The Fat of the Land is packed with ‘90s bangers and wonderful work from producer Liam Howlett. His doom-heavy, body-exorcising beats and psychotropic compositions were met with Keith Flint’s demonic, iconic voice. Breathe and Firestarter are the two big hits from the album – they sound quite alike in many ways – yet lesser-heard tracks Diesel Power and Minefields show the same sort of spirit and quality as heard on Music for the Jilted Generation. Not that The Fat of the Land is commercial or lacking in wonder. In fact, it has often been voted one of the greatest albums of the decade. Quite right, because one listen to the incredible album transports you back to another time: one where Dance Music was undergoing changes and providing some of the world’s best music. Take a listen to The Fat of the Land and a time when The Prodigy were at the top of their game.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkbV_c86YTI&w=560&h=315]

Erykah BaduBaduizm (11th February)

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Janet Jackson gave the world The Velvet Rope in 1997. There was some fantastic female-led music that year: chief among them was Erykah Badu’s groundbreaking album, Baduizm. It reached number two on the Billboard charts with critics drooling – often comparing Badu to Blues legend Billie Holiday. Few albums, up until that point, had transposed Hip-Hop beats over soulful, organic music. Badu’s conversational vocals and Billie Holliday-esque cadence resonated with many. There is sophistication and gold-member class throughout but that does not come at the expense of frivolity and risks. Baduizm is one of those albums that straddles genres and dares to be different. Since its release, the album has inspired legions of female songwriters and lead the Neo-Soul revolution. It is impossible to say just how important and influential the album is. Take a listen to it and you realise just how different and intoxicating it is. A singular, visionary album from a musician about to change the course of music.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CPCs7vVz6s&w=560&h=315]

The Chemical BrothersDig Your Own Hole (7th April)

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Recorded between 1995 and 1997 – with Beth Orton and Noel Gallagher on guest vocals – Block Rockin’ Beats, for me, was one of the anthems of my school-years. Lists and polls place it alongside the best albums of the 1990s (let alone 1997) and note its progressions and evolutions. More forward-thinking and amazing than Exit Planet Dust, it is a contemporary treasure that packed so much in. Songs like Setting Sun, homages to Tomorrow Never Knows and Noel Gallagher at his hypnotic best, and Block Rockin’ Beats seem worlds apart but distinctly the work of The Chemical Brothers. With the likes of The Prodigy producing some of the grittiest and phatest breakbeats around; The Chemical Brothers were creating their own Dance world – one more exhilarating, cross-pollinating and explosive than most of the music out there. The Chemical Brothers blasted boundaries and follower Exit Planet Dust with an emphatic, world-conquering statement. 1997 was a year of diversity and stunning quality: few albums made as big an impression as the immense Dig Your Own Hole.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaU5qkQJ1e4&w=560&h=315]

Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott -  Supa Dupa Fly (15th July)

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Missy Elliott’s debut album was celebrated for a number of reasons. Timbaland’s unique and revolutionary production backed taut and tight digital grooves, incredible Hip-Hop stagger and angular, left-field arrangements. Elliott’s commanding rapping and empowering voice meant her and Timbaland were a match made in musical Heaven. One of the first albums that predicted the rise of black Pop: Supa Dupa Fly inspired a whole generation of female singer-songwriters. Elliott’s switch between romance and tenderness to aggression and anger: addressing material concerns and matters of the heart without losing a step or sounding too scattershot. The most influential album released by a female Hip-Hop artist of that time: like Baduizm; it is an album that shattered boundaries and provoked something incredible in music. In many polls of 1997, Missy Elliott’s debut gets overlooked in favour of other works. That is unfair because, even in 2017, the album sounds as fresh and daring as it did back then.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzqakZnhNFQ&w=560&h=315]

The VerveUrban Hymns (29th September)

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The third album from the Alternative-Rock band remains their finest moment. It became The Verve’s biggest-selling album and, as of 2015, is the eighteenth best-selling album in U.K. chart history – over ten-million copies have been sold worldwide. At the 1998 Brit Awards, Urban Hymns won the Best British Album award; Richard Ashcroft won an Ivor Novello Award for Songwriter of the Year (1998) whilst the album was constantly voted one of the best of 1997. The pathos, humour and swagger were perfectly mixed – never too arrogant or formulaic – whereas the songs were the strongest the band had ever put together. Toppling every other guitar-made album of the year – except OK Computer - there is no telling just how important Urban Hymns is. The deft melodies and sweeping orchestrations (Bitter Sweet Symphony); the world-weariness and cynicism; the romance and beauty of everything – all coming together in a lush and astonishingly ambitious record.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lyu1KKwC74&w=560&h=315]

CornershopWhen I Was Born for the 7th Time (8th September)

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Yep, that’s right: it is the album with Brimful of Asha on it! Not the version many of us will be familiar: the Norman Cook remix that added more bark, bounce and lunacy to the song. Sampling, cut-and-paste music was nothing new but, at this point, few British bands had managed to master it. By 1996, Beck was mastering fusing Hip-Hop, Country – and every other genre out there! – and making it sound completely crazy but essential. Tjinder Singh was similarly ambitious. Maybe When I Was Born for the 7th Time did not shift the units that it deserved but it remains one hell of a record. Singh’s anti-racism lyrics are no less essential today than they were in 1997. It is the mesh of simple and complex that makes the album so charming. Homemade, cheap drums and samples were put together: it is very much the pared-down, budget-version equivalent of Odelay. That simplicity often hides the fact Cornershop produced an album of intricate, complex compositions that exude new possibilities with every listen. An underrated masterpiece.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StWfWc0qzOM&w=560&h=315]

Portishead - Portishead (29th September)

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Its film noir creep and he-behind-the-door voyeuristic perversity holds you in its spell and drags you into a drugged and strange world of B-movie scares; strange anti-hero anthems and chilling scores. Almost like Alfred Hitchcock let loose on a bucket-load of hooks, samples and technology: it is a superbly crafted record that is relentlessly dark and shadowy. That is not to say it is unforgiving and unrepentant. The trippy stuttering codas are perfect for Beth Gibbon’s dramatic, unstoppable juggernaut of a voice. The band took three years to follow (debut) Dummy; the effort was worth the wait. Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley recorded original music and then sampled it as background music - making it a more adventurous album that its predecessor. The songs are incredible throughout. Cowboys, the standout to me, is frightening and repetitive whilst All Mine takes the senses somewhere unexpected and terrifying. That sense of pervading fear never relents but you are happy to feel that way. By the end of the album, you emerge a better, more rounded human.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pw6ZOXaHm4&w=560&h=315]

Sleater-Kinney - Dig Me Out (8th April)

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In 1997, The Chemical Brothers asked us to dig our own hole: Sleater-Kinney were pleading for us to dig them out. To be fair, the two titles have different intentions and derivations whilst the music on both cannot be more different. The band’s third album was produced by John Goodmanson and saw the debut of Janet Weiss: she became the band’s longest-serving, and current, drummer. The album’s music was inspired by traditional Rock ‘n’ Roll and the lyrics look at traditional heartbreak and the desire to survive. The band rock hard and hot the mark but it is the chimes and trinkets – handclaps and girl-group chorusing – that adds an extra layer of charm and delight. 1997 saw, in reality, few hard-rocking albums. Aside from Radiohead’s OK Computer and Pavement’s Brighten the Corners; it added a much-needed dose of balls and spit into music.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VoWc3yypHs&w=560&h=315]

In It for the MoneySupergrass (21st April)

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The band’s second album, following I Should Coco, is even more juvenile, spirited and uplifting than their debut. NME famously called it “more fun than watching a wombat in a washing machine” and you cannot argue against that disturbing, but rather impressive, alliteration. It is another album that constantly makes it was onto ‘best of’ lists and with good cause. Although recording was often disturbed by drummer Danny Goffey going to London to record with his and Pearl Lowe’s band, Lodger; that is not to say the album is disjointed and undisciplined. Well, Goffey and Gaz Coombes having to explain to the press the meaning behind Going Out – a shot at the press or a general statement rallying against tabloidisation – did put some cracks in the armour. Regardless, In It for the Money is overflowing with hits and classic tunes. Richard III rushes out the gates like a bull with its testicles around it feet (cannot resist the temptation to go “woo!” alongside Coombes in the introduction); Late in the Day is one of the most gorgeous songs the band have created; Going Out, in spite of the controversy, is an emphatic slice of Beatle-esque Pop magic.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDBwwWgl700&w=560&h=315]

PavementBrighten the Corners (11th February)

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If their previous album, Wowee Zowee was a bit messy and unformed: Brighten the Corners is focused, laid-back and authoritative. Maybe there isn’t the all-out blare and noise of previous albums like Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. What you do get is a more mature – but in a smart-ass way – album that is among the most nuanced of the year. It is complex and rash; it is melodic and inscrutable at times. You keep coming back and are rewarded your dedication and affection. Twenty years after its release; it remains one of the most important and celebrated albums of the 1990s from a band who, at that juncture, has not put a foot wrong. Every track was written by singer Stephen Malkmus – aside from Scott Kannberg’s Date with Ikea and Passat Dream – while the title is a reference, in all likelihood, to Ella Fitzgerald’s 1967 album, Brighten the Corner.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqi4l__r0Hs&w=560&h=315]

Björk – Homogenic (September 22nd)

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The third album from Björk saw her on production duties alongside Mark Bell, Guy Sigsworth; Howie B and Mark Dravs. A new venture for the singer that found her experimenting with similar-sounding music that combined electronic beats and string arrangements – paying tribute to her native country, Iceland. The album was earmarked for recording at Björk’s London home but was moved to Spain. Björk wanted the record to be a paen to Iceland and its landscape. She wanted it to, as Markus Dravs recalls, to sound like “rough volcanoes with soft moss growing over it”. That is what you get really. There are volcanic, bellicose eruptions and soothing, otherworldly strings. Iceland has that evocative scenery but is very hi-tech and modern – elements that were presented throughout the album. Björk’s skewed-world views turn potentially unengaging subjects/songs into something utterly engrossing and beguiling. Homogenic has groove and charge; it has passion and chilling emotions. Deeper and more profound than any other work in Björk’s cannon: a bewitching, strange creation that, twenty years down the line, is yet to reveal all its mysteries and dark avenues. You listen to the album and let it take you away – overwhelmed by its power-beauty contrasts and immense scope.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Th7QmZiz6Lc&w=560&h=315]

SpiritualizedLadies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (16th June)

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The album was recorded after the break-up of Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce and Kate Radley - after Radley secretly married Richard Ashcroft. Whilst Pierce maintains most of the songs were written pre-breakup; one cannot help but interpret the album in the context of the fall-out. Most bands in similar circumstances would crumble and create a poor album. Instead, Pierce used his extensive knowledge of music and influenced to produce something perspective fusing (as Melody Maker stated) that makes everyday emotions and squabbles – most artists write about – seem redundant and insignificant. Ladies’ is more complex and instrumentally elaborate than previous work and expands on their previous work. In a year where shoegazers were at their saddest and most resigned: here was an album that offered hope, sunshine and joy. There is some guitar drone but that is balanced by plenty of colours and textures from the band.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lE0lBbBNR1Q&w=560&h=315]

TRACK REVIEW: This Modern Hope - Kingdom



This Modern Hope


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Kingdom is taken from the forthcoming album, Horizon.




London, U.K.


UNLIKE yesterday's review subject - who was someone new…

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to me - today, I am approached with a musician I have known for a little while now. This might be my last review of This Modern Hope for a little bit – will find it hard to say new things about the same act time again – but I was excited to hear the album, Horizon. It has been a long time in the making which brings me to the subject of that elusive album and artists offering something both abstract and direct; taking a look at London make solo artists and the understated importance of elegance and grace in music. If that all sounds like a fluffy bunch of wank – if you’ll pardon the technical terms – it is far from it. Whilst the track I am reviewing is not yet available for download: previously-released tracks from the record are over at This Modern Hope’s SoundCloud account. They give you an indication as to what is contained and the direction of the album. If you are unfamiliar with This Modern Hope then do not fear: I shall gently lead you in. I wanted to, first, take a look at the album format and the sheer work that goes into it. From recent Facebook posts, I know This Modern Hope’s Rob Payne has been busy pressing a vinyl/cover of the record ready for release. Decompartmentalising an L.P. can be a fun thing – to me anyway – seeing how it all goes together and the process involved. In the past, I have reviewed artists releasing their debut single; some on their n-th album – others sort of in the middle of new and experienced. With This Modern Hope, I have been able to follow an artist from the very start to the album stage. Previous singles have shown real character and personality: together on an album, none of that is lost at all. In fact, Horizon is as solid an effort as I’ve heard from any new artist in a long time. The tracks have similar skin and sound but never sound alike. The songs fuse and flow into one another and each expresses new emotions and tells different stories.

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Like influences (of This Modern Hope) Elbow and Doves: you get raw emotion and honesty but lashings of cinema and strings. That is one thing I love about the record: whatever mood you are in, it caters for that. I wanted to bring up the album creation as it is something a lot of artists never get to experience. In a time where long-term success is unlikely and appropriate appreciation is merely alliteration: musicians are struggling to put an album together and get to that stage at all. With Payne, you have a man who has been in music for a while – previous part of The Bedroom Hour – and knows what it takes to succeed. He does not rush in with singles nor does he leave enormous gaps between releases. I will not go into every track on the album – rule number one of my blog: I do not do album reviews anymore – but I was honoured to hear Horizon and what it contained. Some of the singles I have already heard/reviewed but there was more new material to hear – I shall touch upon in the conclusion. The title track struck me because it is, as I see it, the standout on the album and leads proceedings. Rob Payne has taken a lot of time to release a few singles but ensures they are assembled within the album at perfect intervals. Not only that, but the record itself is a traditional and not-too-crowded ten-track; it has short and economical titles (whose mere name provokes intrigue) and its cover art, as I know will be the case, is going to be gripping and immersive. Payne has done everything by the book and shown how an album should be done. Keeping his follows abreast across social media – the vinyl’s ten tracks are uploading and nearly ready for release.

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Payne created thirty tracks for the album but narrowed them to ten. Horizon is almost upon us and everything is starting to click into place. I have gone into the attributes and merits of Payne’s debut album but have not really touched on the difficulty of putting one together and the importance of making one. As I said up-top: not many musicians get to the stage of making an album. With This Modern Hope, the debut album is scary but well-deserved. It is a very competitive market and many artists fail to recognise the pace and demands of the industry. You do not have to be King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (an album a year it seems) or Royal Blood (their second SHOULD be out this year) – or Elbow for that matter (seven albums in twenty-five years I think). What I mean is you have to be smart about consistency and effort. If you are new to the scene, you need to put singles out as soon as you can – a taster of what you’re about; keep people interested and invested. With regards that album, do not be too hasty or hesitant. It has to be released when it is ready but cannot simply but just like everything else in music. That is the main reason for this point and explanation behind the survival rate in new music: too many young artists are replicating others and, no surprise, finding few people willing to embrace something overly-familiar. An album is a privilege and not a right so making one should be handled with the right amount of respect and attention. That is about that on this particular line of enquiry but I wanted to send that to any musicians out there: we need fantastic albums but one must be realistic about what it takes to make an album and what the public expects. Neatly leading onto my next point; This Modern Hope are gearing up to unveil that all-exciting debut record. Before I carry on; let me introduce Rob Payne’s project to you:

This Modern Hope, the new solo project from West London musician and producer Rob Payne, is ready for takeoff and poised for success. Drawing on influences such as Death Cab For Cutie, Doves and his brother's record collection, This Modern Hope's sound is classic yet fresh, switching seamlessly from up-tempo, driving rock to stirring ballads, Rob's soulful voice floating effortlessly over the melodies as the beats flow. Lyrically deep and with a heady vocal intricacy, the songs come straight from the heart and leave a lasting impression that words can't describe. With a strong musical pedigree, masses of talent and a little help from some friends, This Modern Hope's tunes are ready to be heard”.

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This is the same biography I mention every time I review This Modern Hope but the recipe is solid and unchanged. What I love about Horizon, and the tracks on it is the fact there is that blend of subtle grace and direct emotion. It is a hard combination to get right but This Modern Hope does. Previous songs – and album inclusions – like Ship on the Ocean and The Abyss – have dealt with stealthy and hard subjects but wrapped them in a cocoon of comfort and elegance. Rob Payne, as a former member of The Bedroom Hour, dealt with similar concoctions but never as overtly as he does here. This Modern Hope sees him more-or-less alone – other musicians going into the mix – but taking a different approach to the way he makes music. Horizon has hopefulness and optimism but has a more introverted side: investigating struggles and demons we all face; love’s cruelty and the way it can sucker us in. That seems like a cheap assessment whereas the reality is much grander and more sophisticated. I am not a musicologist or master of the Classical domain but know stunning compositions when I hear them. I mentioned bands like Elbow and Doves for good reason. The former has just released Little Fictions to huge acclaim. The Hallé Orchestra joined the northern band and helped provide their amazing music plenty of atmospheres, romance and stir. It is not a surprise Guy Garvey’s men have been so lauded: their mood is more optimistic and hopeful – compared with their usual realistic/dour countenance – and that orchestration really pushes it over the edge. A lot of musicians incorporate strings cheaply and needlessly. Payne does not whitewash the album with strings but picks his moments. In fact, there is electronic parable and all sorts of sounds that create that symphonic, orchestral power. In a music world that still seems obsessed with direct and energetic music – in chart terms at least – it is rewarding finding an act more mature and subtle. Those are qualities that run right through This Modern Hope’s album. For those needing a dose of honesty and emotion (in lyrical terms); you get that but there are oblique lines and a sense of fiction and mystery. From the music, you're offered stinging sounds and spirited percussion with a contrast of soft soothe and demure elements. The overall effect is one that is hard to describe: it is intoxicating and dizzying but comforting at the same time. I’ll move on from this point but wanted to congratulate This Modern Hope on an album that ticks all the boxes and compels a lot of repeated listens.

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I’ll get down to the music itself pretty soon but wanted to look at male artists in London and who is out there. I maintain the fact female artists will define this year and we’ll see a lot more foreign influences come into British music. With the Brexit palaver and what is happening in the U.S., many are keen to ignore the ‘majority’ and welcome their international cousins. This will extend to America so expect to see a lot of U.S. artists being celebrated over here. Similarly, there will be less dominance from London and a more open and diverse British scene. In terms of the capital, I know it will be keeping busy and not missing a beat. Last year, we saw some great talent emanate from the city. With the BBC announcing their tips for this year; Walsall-based Jorja Smith and RAY BLK show the best of London music and that outside the capital. London will always exude influence and remain in the critical mindset. What I am seeing – with regards London music – is a move away from bands and male dominance; we are seeing more females come through and a wide range of genres present themselves. Once was the case, not that many years ago, where London was defined by Rock bands and male musicians – there was not the range and Eclecticism we are seeing today. Also, there was a time when fewer Urban/black artists were getting attention and praise. In 2017, I expect to see a city full of life and quality. I feel the bands of London are quieter than past years: solo artists are coming more to the fore; male artists not quite as prevalent as once were. This Modern Hope might not be Rob Payne alone but he is the central figure and creator. What separates him out, and leads me to believe he will be among the male artists of London making huge waves this year, is his set of abilities and professionalism; the effort he expends and the way he markets himself. That epic, commanding voice has opera qualities and tenderness and, as I keep mentioning him, reminds me of Guy Garvey. You get that same potency and power in every song. Payne has experience and has been gigging for years so has had the chance to hone his voice and experiment. It is, as the album will prove, at its peak and more nuanced and strong than ever. The music sounds like it stems from an artist with decades of experience whilst the production is rich and lush. With each moment, whether single or album, Payne puts his all into it. I predict Horizon will be one of the biggest underground albums of 2017 and already getting a lot of demand and speculation from blogs and fans. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled and wait for the album to come – it will be immense, for sure.

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What I love about This Modern Hope, and want to bring up before I come to look at the music itself, is the importance of grace and quality this year. We have just crawled through a year as hard and challenging as any we have faced – in terms of tragedies and political issues. Music is here to help make 2017 a lot more secure and uplifting year than the one just passed. For that reason, musicians have to step up their game and provide the public something wonderful and new. Rob Payne’s This Modern Hope have their influences but cannot be readily compared with anyone else. Sure, you get the orchestral/experimental vibes of Doves and Elbow and a bit of Death Cab for Cutie; a little bit of him and her, as it were. Essentially, This Modern Hope is a fresh and original proposition whose name is rather apt considering the year just gone. I always look for musicians that can convey honesty and themselves without cliché and insincerity. Also, I like those who mix compositions with some Rock and Indie and throw in something more Classical-based and shimmering. Why am I so hooked on this side of things? Well, I mentioned how there was a lack of originality in music – if I didn’t then I meant to! – and that does not apply to everyone. I am finding too many artists sounding the same and trying to fit into a chart mould- what they think is commercial and will sell. Whilst that is a prudent way of getting fans in and instant success; it is a poor way of ensuring longevity and a viable career. Those who succeed and remain are those who mix the familiar with unexpected. That is what This Modern Hope do with aplomb. Of course, it is Payne’s brainchild but his band of musicians help give the music that evocative edge and huge scale. This runs riot throughout the debut album and something I will return to.

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In this section, I normally look at an artist’s past and how they have progressed on their current release. With This Modern Hope, you have an album that contains previous singles. In essence, it is a record that combines the old and new. If you loved The Storm and The Abyss you will not be disappointed. Previous songs are in there but the majority of Horizon’s songs are brand-new. I love how the older and new sit together: there are no gaps or weak moments; it all sits together naturally and perfectly. That is a hard thing to do. Sometimes, when you have the singles released; the album can seem weak by comparison – all the best songs have already been shown. In the case of This Modern Hope’s album; you have songs that hit you straight away whereas others spread their wings a bit further down the tracks. The entire album is solid and nuanced and contains so many great moments. Knowing Payne, I know he will be excited to see what others think and how critics will react. I feel Horizon will be taken to heart by many and urge This Modern Hope to record more albums down the line. That will be exciting to see. I hope there are more E.P.s and albums in mind as, with the group/Payne, you have talent in abundance. The songwriting is impressive and consistent while the performances are solid throughout. Keep your mind focused on This Modern Hope for 2017 and just what is coming next. I predict big things and a move from unsigned heroes to near-the-mainstream-kings. There is that opportunity to get songs played on radio and gain more exposure – I hope This Modern Hope take full advantage.

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Despite the fact it is one of the shortest tracks on the album: I was keen to look at Kingdom and the way in which it kicks the album off. It is the lead-off and first thing one will hear so has a lot of pressure on its shoulders. The song starts off waking to the warmth of the dawn. There are a few seconds of silence before light and breezy strings come through. The guitar has energy and intention but is never too forceful or overwrought. A keen and agile melody presents itself and perfectly opens the album. Before long, the track opens up and sees racing, hissing drums comes in. The guitars start with an arpeggio that has romance and tenderness but some mystery underneath. You start to imagine all sorts of scenes and possibilities: immersed in the movement and dance of the guitars; it is engaging and entwined; it draws you in and implores the listener to imagine and dream. Percussion comes to give the track kick and spirit. It takes your mind in another direction. Without a word being sung, the song starts to stretch its arms and awaken. I mentioned a morning/dawn idea because that is the impression one gets from the composition. With a name like Kingdom, you either think of this nation (United Kingdom) or surveying the landscape. As the composition continues and those beats remain tense and mobile; you are helpless and feel yourself swimming inside the song. With previous This Modern Hope songs, I have stated how the composition creates all manner of ideas and visions. Songs you can get lost in are a rare breed so should be promoted. Kingdom ensures Horizon begins with a huge amount of quality but does not throw everything into the mix too soon. In terms of genres, you get a mix of Alternative-Rock, Indie and Hip-Hop. In fact, there are shades of Trip-Hop when you consider the beats. Other tracks across Horizon have their heart in the 1990s and other decades, but here, there is a blend of modern Indie/Rock and Massive Attack-like vibes. Despite the fact it is largely instrumental, I wanted to review the track as it is one of the most atmospheric and promising I have heard from This Modern Hope.

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I would have understood the temptation to open the album with a previous track but it is brave opening with something new. Kingdom promises so many different ideas and that is the beauty: every listener gets their own interpretation and projects their own film. As the song continues to unfold and move, the sense of beauty and widescreen potential does not abate. “This is my kingdom” Payne exclaims as the music threatens to swallow everything. The album itself contains a mix of composition-heavy songs where the voice is in the background and others where the voice is at the forefront. Here, you hear this ghostly spirit in the mix trying to get his words out. Payne voice is always huge, impressive and commanding and that is the case here. There is a sense of vulnerability but you wonder what the emotions are being expressed. The writing is on the wall it is said, and our hero sends out that declaration – this is his life and kingdom. Whether we are looking at a young man sending out a message and stating his intentions in music – being heralded and not being overlooked – or someone who is taking a stand in life I am not so sure. What you do get is an incredibly evocative and unusual vocal that brilliant opens the album. It gets the listener invested and intrigued as to what is coming next. By the closing stages, your mind is working overdrive and the myriad possibilities and images race together. I know Payne has Doves as an influence and you can hear a bit of the band here. Their album, The Last Broadcast, was released in 2002 and stands as one of their finest. Similarly, you can hear little bits of that record and the same positive points. Like Doves; This Modern Hope have created a spectacular soundscape that gets into the imagination and will motivate everyone to have their own views. The lyrics intrigue me and I was caught up in the possibilities.

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Maybe it is a man who needs to make changes and has had enough or somebody confident in their abilities and sending a message to the world. I was engrossed from first to last and impressed by every element of the song. The lyrics are simple – other songs much fuller and expansive – but the emphasis is on the composition and effect. That is what makes Kingdom so appealing: it is not just reliant on the words or vocal performance: every asset and side get equal attention. Horizon has a mixture of traditional songs (more lyrics and straight vocals) and these more eerie and unusual moments. It is testament to Payne, as a writer, he manages to keep so fresh and changeable. Being familiar with the tracks he has already released, I was a bit nervous what was to come and how it would sound. My fears were allayed within seconds and a song that warrants a lot of attention. Kingdom is an excellent start and one of the highlights – in my view it is the most fascinating. Other songs on the album will get big focus but the lead-off song is hard to top. It is emotional and confident; it is bold and vulnerable and that is just the lyrics. When you dive into the composition, you are awed and need a few listens before everything sinks in. Payne’s voice is dependably epic and strong and contains its unusual mixture of emotional and strident. He is one of the most underrated vocalists in modern music and proves how strong he is here. Kingdom is a perfect way to open Horizon and an exceptional song from This Modern Hope.

I have extolled the virtues of Horizon and where I think This Modern Hope will head. I know Rob Payne and the passion he has for music. Before returning to my previous points, I wanted to see where his music is heading and just how far it can go. There is excitement in camp about the tracks and getting them out to the public. I am lucky enough to be the first/one of the first to hear the full album and just what is contained. Whilst I have not gone into the detail it warrants – the word count would be never-ending – I have loved hearing it and all the different themes and colours explored. Being based in and around London, there is a perfect opportunity for This Modern Hope to mop up the gigs. There are a lot of great venues, small and large, that would see crowds pack into. I am not sure what Payne is planning in terms of itinerary, but there are places I could direct him to. Essentially, there is a big demand for the kind of the music he is writing that has already captured a large amount of hearts. I know there are a lot of bands out there – I can technically call T.M.H. that – but a great amount of competition. I feel there will be some gig demands for Horizon around the country. Secondly, the popularity and focus it will see on social media should send it to some important hands. I always mention BBC Radio 6 Music as that grail every worthy musician should aim for. It is, in my humble view, the best station in the U.K. and has built its reputation on a basis of exceptional, diverse music and knowledgeable, passionate D.J.s. The station does not play music from new artists to fill a gap: they recognise the quality and have faith that artist is going to go a long way. I am not sure whether This Modern Hope have been played on the station but the music seems ready-made for D.J.s like Radcliffe and Maconie and Sean Keaveny. I am not sure how one gets their music on the station but something for Payne to think about. I know This Modern Hope have a core of dedicated fans but here is a chance to get the music across national radio and to the masses. Horizon warrants a lot of praise and spotlight from the country’s most prominent stations and reviewers.

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I’ll wrap this up by (briefly) returning to my earlier points and just what to expect from the album. Run Away has some incredible guitar lines and a real sense of occasion and one of the most stirring vocal performances on the set. In a way, the song reminds me of Oasis and their (What’s the Story?) Morning Glory period. Ship on the Ocean is one of the clearest and most direct vocals – a song many will be familiar with. The hero is floating his heart on the waves and looking for a connection. It is a more direct song in every term compared with Run Away. A busier track with more elements and layers at its disposal – showing how This Modern Hope can shift in the space of a song. Run Away is that lush and dreamy thing that perfectly follows the opening track. Perhaps less conventional than Ship on the Ocean: Payne demonstrates his full range of talents (as a singer) on both. Flow of the River has that water theme but is a different beast compared with Ship on the Ocean. It is a shorter track but no less potent and memorable. Brothers & Sisters, again, puts me in mind of Oasis and some of their most celebratory music. It has a feel of the 1990s and boasts one of Payne’s most strident and proud performances. “We got high” is a sentiment and deceleration that could have been plucked from the songbook of the best bands of that era – it seems to evoke a better time when there was a hopefulness and togetherness. The track also features incredible guitar work throughout. So many different ideas and notes combined to create a composition with hiden depths and punch. Tear Me Down is more emotional and introspective but has the same sort of energy of Brothers & Sisters. The Storm is one of the standouts from the record and a song that has already gained acclaim and applause. It is as turbulent and energised as its title suggests and showcases the full strength of Payne and the musicians on the album. Farwell is a perfect ending. It mixes the elegance and grace of some tracks but has plenty of nervy and emotional guitar lines. The vocal hovers in the background at times and creates something spectral and detached. A perfect way to end an incredible album from This Modern Hope.

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I have touched on the album tracks and general impressions but it is a record that deserves more time and investigation. This Modern Hope will be announcing the release very soon but the final stages are coming together. It is almost at a time where it can be put online but I’ll make no promises. If you want a taste of the album, I suggest you look on SoundCloud and the previous singles that give you a taste of what to expect. I am excited by the music coming out of London and the range of sounds one can find. I have mentioned This Modern Hope as both the project of Rob Payne and a band but, depending in what context you see them, you have some incredible musicians ensuring there will be eyes trained their way. I also stated how there will be a move towards female-made music and what they are producing. This Modern Hope are one of those acts that have a feel of the past but are very much in the present. I am not sure how the rest of the year will pan out – with regards the genres and artists who will reign – but I am keen to follow music here and everything it offers. What I love about This Modern Hope is that range of sounds and all the compositional strands that seem to weave together seamlessly. You have the beauty and tenderness on some songs; there is a huge amount of drama and force in others. It is the orchestral, tender sides of the palette that really get to me. Few artists take time to infuse their music with something elegant, sophisticated and complex. Horizon is full of treats and superb musicianship throughout. The songs look at love and dislocation but provide hopeful messages and uplift when needed. If one contrasts Brothers & Sisters and The Abyss, one would assume it was two different acts. The music is not that different but the central messages are. Many bands and artists either squander the chance to make an album or create one that is rather underwhelming. I speculated why this is the case and the importance of getting an album out. For This Modern Hope, it was crucial getting the album out. Singles and previous numbers were received with love but only showed a glimpse of what we get in Horizon. Everything comes together and, when you listen to the entire album, you get a full sense of what the band is all about. I shall leave it there but urge, as I do at this stage of a review, to get the album when it is out as it promises to be one of the most impressive of the year so far. Rob Payne is keeping his followers updated and excited by what is to come. That excitement will be translated into affection and appreciation – many will take Horizon to heart. It is one of those records that…

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SPEAKS for us all.


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IT is hardly an exaggeration to say the solo singer-songwriter…

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PHOTO CREDIT: @balconytvlondon

market is the most crowded and competitive in all of music. Every week, we see new artists come through with the same ideas: laying down their mark and putting their stamp on music. All too often, we see musicians fall and last only a short time. Those that remain and succeed are to be commended. VEI is a promising young songwriter with an army of fans behind her. That is hardly a stretch considering the sort of raw and emotional Pop music she writes. Rolling on You Romeo is her latest single and stunning declaration from an artist who is primed to go a long way. I talk to her about the song and what she has planned for this year; how she got started in music and the artists that have influenced her.


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

It’s been great, thanks. Have been trying to keep warm!

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

Of course. I’m an artist, singer and cellist, very much looking forward to this journey into releasing my album. My songs have a rawness and emotional edge: structured in an accessible way…

How did you get started in music? Was it a childhood love or was there a particular moment that sparked the fuse?

It started in childhood but has been an off-and-on thing at times until I was a bit older and found what I wanted to do with it.

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Rolling on You Romeo is your latest single. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind it?

It’s just life - without going into too much detail.

Writing songs is such a cathartic way to turn any negative emotion you may be feeing into something positive.

You performed the song for Janice Long on The 2ube. What was that experience like?

That was great. It was a really nice couple of days being up in Liverpool and meeting everyone too.

For a lot of songwriters, they need to set aside time to write; some write when the mood strikes. How do your songs come together? Do you try and write a certain amount of music a day or just when inspiration hits?

These songs have been given space and weren’t rushed. We would write using technology which allows you to get an element or part of the song down before moving onto the next part. It’s definitely about doing both for me. I always have a notepad and pen - or the phone handy - to put down lyrics throughout the day or to record vocal hooks.

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Rolling on You Romeo suggests more music to come. Can we expect a VEI E.P. this year?

We’ve got the next single on the way as we speak - leading on from that we’ll be releasing the album.

I hope it will be a fun journey!

You have been compared with everyone from Lenka and Björk to Kate Nash in terms of your delivery and accent. Are they influences of yours?

Yes, but I’m not trying to be them. When we wrote the album I rarely listened to other people - it was enough to just be with the songs we were writing. So, that way, I guess any number of others influenced this music but their influence was already digested and a part of who I was, and my co-writers, Mike Chapman and Simon Pilton were musical already.

In term of that triumvirate, and doing a musical Snog, Marry or Avoid?, which would you go out for drinks with? Which would you record a song with? Which would you share a flat with?

Drinks: Ella Eyre

Record a song: Major Lazer

Share a flat with Paloma Faith.

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In terms of the musicians and albums that inspired you most growing up which would they be?

From dancing around at five years old to The Beach Boys - and my dad’s record collection - to Submotion Orchestra and the U.K. festival scene when I grew up a bit… 

A lot of new music is rather tame and formulaic. You seem like a breath of fresh air. Do you think there is a lack of character and originality in modern Pop music?

I feel that it’s just harder to break through if you’re not following exactly what is out there at the moment.

Any music that has broken through and created its own sound world or audience has been on its own journey (and own industry doors to break down).

If you had to pick your favourite memory from your career so far which would it be and why?

Probably the early days of writing these songs - because they felt very carefree!

Summer is, we hope, just around the corner. Are tour plans for the coming months where we can see you play?

I’m singing as part of the third preliminary rounds of the London Coffee Music Project’s songwriting competition on Feb 21st (at The O Bar in Soho). It’s all in aid of Project Waterfall so very exciting.

Later than that, you can find any upcoming shows on www.veimusic.com as we book them in - such as the release party with our next single, Soak It Up.

Are there any new artists out there you’d recommend we check out?

Yes. Vince Kidd. I saw him perform before Christmas and he and his two lovely friends singing with him made me so happy!

Have you advice for new songwriters coming through right now?

Just stick with it and follow what you love doing: it’s possibly the only grounding way to not get pulled back and forth trying to fit in with others’ expectations. 


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FEATURE: Blur at Twenty



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Blur at Twenty


MOST band do not really make huge changes…

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on their fifth album. In fact, a lot of bands, mainstream and new, do not get to the fifth–album stage. For Britpop legends Blur, the transformative epiphany resulted in a decade-defining record – their stunning eponymous album. Befitting of the title, it remains their most personal and focused album: less character-driven than previous efforts. That is not to say the 1997 album misses the excitement, fun and rousing choruses of their best work – there is more depth and musical endeavour throughout Blur. To get an idea of how important Blur is; we must take a look back at their previous album, The Great Escape. If Parklife, to many at least, is the band’s finest record: The Great Escape faced some critical divide. Never to the extent of their debut, Leisure – an album that, in retrospect, is a lot more majestic and important than critics recognised back then. The Great Escape – released in September 1995 – did get some positive reviews and was triple-platinum in the U.K. U.S. audiences bonded with the album and its themes – although the album charted pretty low upon its release. If the title does not provoke a list of the hits we are all familiar with – you can all rattle off Parklife’s key songs – a few bars of each bring it all flooding back in. Country House, derided by some; celebrated by others, is the most immediate and catchy song from the album. Charmless Man is Blur at their observational best while The Universal, complete with its Clockwork Orange-referencing video, is a dreamy, languid beauty. Country House was the first Blur song to hit the U.K. charts top-spot: an infectious and earworm-y song that beat Oasis’ Roll with It in the big Britpop battle in 1995. In a lot of ways, The Great Escape possessed a lot of Parklife’s fertile genes: the mix of tragedy, heartbreak and humour; a healthy amount of instant tunes and slow-burning growers; some perfect Pop moments and a band at the height of their power.

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Following Parklife – the euphoria and attention it received – many bands would feel fearful and struggle to cope with the pressure. Not only did Blur follow the album up within a year but managed to create a record as inventive, Blur-esque and British – although The Great Escape did not get quite the same reviews and accolades as its forefather. Some critics, and why I am keen to preface Blur’s creation, noted how there was emotional detachment and stiffness on the album: the humour and jollity was a little shallow; masking, perhaps, a personal-shaped hole that could have been filled with mature revelation and exorcised demons. To be fair, the band created an album perfect for the Britpop age. Not only were they battling the mighty Oasis – any songwriting weakness or huge shifts would have seen the Manchester boys scoop the crown – but a host of ‘outsiders’ in the Britpop movement, Radiohead among them, were putting out some phenomenal material. Blur were playing on their strengths: fun and witty bangers with plenty of emotion and semi-orchestral swoon. Perhaps, four albums in at this point, there was a yearning for a new Blur: a 2.0 rebuild that would retain the quality and quantity (of tunes) but shift their music in a forward-looking direction.  Although The Great Escape gained huge buzz at the time – perhaps critics intoxicated by the Britpop rivalry and optimistic spirit in the air – the flocks soon started heading Oasis’ way. (What’s the Story?) Morning Glory was released the same year and, naturally, was seriously alluring – many critics considered apologia (a bit keen to reward a five-star review to Blur); guilty they were a bit eager and swept up. If The Great Escape had Country House, Charmless Man and The Universal: (What’s the Story?)’ had Wonderwall, Some Might Say and Champagne Supernova – I am always in the Blur camp but can tell the latter’s set of songs is stronger and more nuanced than Blur’s. The only reason Oasis lost the chart battle in 1995 was the fact they put up the wrong song to tackle Country House – any, stronger, song from the L.P. would have walked it.

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Regardless, changes had to be made in Camp Blur. The boys were riding high after Parklife’s enormous success but failed to progress significantly on their fourth album. If critics were ruefully printing retraction letters in 1995 – The Great Escape less inspired than Oasis’ near-masterpiece – 1997 would change everything. Both Oasis and Blur followed each other’s progress closely: they each released an album in 1994 (Oasis: Definitely Maybe; Blur: Parklife) and 1995. By 1997, both bands were making big statements for different reasons. For Blur, they needed to prove they were still one of the world’s best bands and capable of genuine invention and wonder. Oasis, huge critical acclaim buzzing in their ear, had to keep the momentum going after a terrific sophomore record. Oasis created a rather bloated, indulgent ‘cocaine album’ with 1997’s Be Here Now. It’s unedited, unfocused nature – many songs going on endlessly and losing traction – and (comparative) lack of anthems shocked critics and proved Oasis were mortal and fallible. Blur, conversely, made a genuine move forward with their eponymous album.  The Great Escape is a bit nuts and juvenile; it has flaws but it has gained a lot of retrospective support – even if Damon Albarn finds it messy and below-average. So what changed between 1995 and 1997? Graham Coxon suggested the band engage in a stylistic shift. Previous albums, Parklife and The Great Escape especially, were engaged in the celebration of Brutishness and our isles – eschewing American tastes largely.  Albarn’s wit and personality is all over The Great Escape: Blur finds Coxon granted the keys to the car and allowed a greater hand in the creative process. Recorded in London and Reykjavik; the guys started listening to U.S. bands like Pavement – leading to a set of songs more aggressive, electric and American. Stephen Street, producer of the album, noted (in interviews following the album’s release) how Albarn started writing more personal lyrics. Gone, but not entirely, were the odd British characters: in their place was a young musician undergoing a tough time.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f68VJQc7qys&w=560&h=315]

Reluctance from the record label – this new approach would alienate teenage fans and create divisions – the album went on to become one of Blur’s most-acclaimed and consistent albums since their inception. The move to towards a more American sound was no last-gasp manoeuvre for survival or cynical marketing ploy – the band knew they had to grow from Britpop and embrace what was happening around them. Britpop had its moment and was a hugely important era of music: by 1997, the party was winding down and American artists were becoming more popular and prominent in Britain. Blur, often seen as insincere middle-class boys compared to Oasis’ working-class heroes’ mantle, changed their game and reaped the rewards. Between 1995 and Blur’s release, Damon Albarn enjoyed (is that the right word?!) a period of criticism – seen as a bit of a loser. Blur were no longer the spokespeople of British music: they had been embarrassed by Oasis and were struggling for direction. Albarn was gripped by depression while the band themselves almost split because of tensions and disillusionment. Odd performances – including an Italian T.V. appearance that replaced some of the band members with cardboard cut-outs – and substance issues (Coxon drinking heavily) threatened to ruin the bands. It was, ironically, Coxon’s interest in American guitar bands that gave Blur a new lease of life – realising those types of groups were making very interesting music. Albarn, in typically modest mood, recognised he could not simply bang out piano-led observational gems. Going to Street, Albarn proposed a more lo-fi, stripped-down sound for their next record. Previously, Albarn had transposed himself with make-believe characters in songs like Tracy Jacks: Blur was the first-person record the guys knew they had to make. No more fantasy and quirky British witticism – they had to get serious and get the critical vote back. You’re So Great was Coxon’s first co-write – he sang lead vocals too – but would not be his only (13 and Think Tank contained more Coxon songwriting involvement).

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plPyIBdD09E&w=560&h=315]

Whether you see Blur’s fifth album as a punchy, harder version of Britpop – or a fostering of U.S. guitar bands like Pavement – you cannot deny the quality and imperiousness that runs through its veins. Yes, the humour and observations remained (Death of a Party and Essex Dogs not a million miles from their earlier work) but here there was more personality and soul-baring. Beetlebum – with its Beatles-esque nods and epic status – looked at Albarn’s heroine addiction of the time with his then-girlfriend Justine Frischmann (Elastica). The song is sleepy, sexy and cooing: muscular guitars and heavy hearts trade with a typically rousing, sticks-in-the-head chorus. The drug-referencing title – “chasing the beetle” is when a user inhales smoke from a heated heroin, morphine or opium – is one of the album’s standouts. Song 2, all sub-two-minutes or if contains that now-legendary “woo-hoo!” Albarn chorus – Coxon’s introduction and shredding at its most brilliant and fearless. So many different influences went into Blur. The Kinks’ Garage-Pop best can be detected in Movin’ On and M.O.R. whereas The Beatles’ harmonies (Because and The Word especially) make themselves heard in Beetlebum and Look Inside America; one-off Punk outcasts (Chinese Bombs) and old-school Blur sing-along (On Your Own) make it a rich and veritable banquet for the senses. I love the underrated Death of a Party: its chugging festival-ride chorus and vivid, outcast imagery. Essex Dogs is dark, shifting shadowy swansong; Country Sad Ballad Man could easily have been included on Parklife – some of the Space-Rock quirkiness from Parklife continues in Theme from Retro and I’m Just a Killer for Your Love.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJ7nAux8LIM&w=560&h=315]

Critics were back – some felt cold but most were swayed – and impressed by an about-face and stunning recovery from a band on the precipice of liquidation. The American influence is strong yet many felt the album’s highlights had British skin and sensibilities – On Your Own and Beetlebum particular lauded. In spite of the chaos and uncertainty in the band after The Great Escape: Blur is a throughout, focused and knowledgeable distillation of the contemporary (1997) U.S. Rock/Garage scene; the same way Parklife perfectly brought together the best British music of the past three decades. Blur were accepting American contemporaries (Look Inside America is Albarn realising the nation, and its music, is not so bad after all) and all the better for it. Being Blur, there is no let-up in the eclecticism and far-reaching blend of sounds. They were never going to hone their panoramic visions or ‘singularise’ in terms of genres. In a great way, Blur retains all the best sides of their previous albums – the celebratory, spirited choruses and big, British anthems – with open-hearted revelations and incredible, detailed songwriting. The band, rejuvenated and renewed by fresh inspiration created an album of brilliance and defiance. Some critics were not completely sold but, like all great albums, Blur has gained some retrospective pardoning and apology from many.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQVIIWq9gIQ&w=560&h=315]

I have provided the background, statistics and reviews of the album without personalising this piece – allow me to retort and focus. Blur is no longer a teenager (its twentieth birthday was yesterday) but still retains its sense of youthfulness and energy. It is an album that ages incredibly well but still reveals hidden meaning and depths. Some of the songs I did not bond with back then – Essex Dogs and M.O.R. – are starting to make their impact know. Those that were instant classics – Song 2, Beetlebum and On Your Own, among others – still sound brilliant and put me in a better mood. It is rather sobering when you think Blur came out twenty years ago. It makes me feel quite old but, in a positive way, shows just how enduring and impressive albums from that time were. If I had to do a league table of Blur albums, the bottom three spots, in no particular order, would have The Magic Whip, 13 and Leisure in there. Parklife and The Great Escape would be in the running: I figure Modern Life is Rubbish would be in the top-four places too. For me, Blur is the king because of its unlikeliness. In the same way few expected Radiohead to create anything memory after their debut, Pablo Honey (instead, they gave us the sublime The Bends); many figured Blur had reached a critical and creative cul-de-sac.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-I2P2bAfiXY&w=560&h=315]

It is good finding any band that faces potential stagnation and extinction, but instead of crumbling and splitting up, they had a rethink and took in new influence. Today, we hear bands strain after a few albums and deciding the best thing to do is part company. Whilst we do not have the quality of music there was in the 1990s – not even close – or a (positive) national jingoism; that is not to say deflated bands cannot regain their initial enthusiasm and passion. Take in new bands and embrace new cultures: dispense the old way of working and go back to the drawing board. Blur showed what happens when you do that. The fact they are still together today can be traced back to that moment following The Great Escape. The boys knew things were going in the wrong direction and overhaul the Damon Albarn hegemony. Graham Coxon’s transatlantic foresight gave the band the spark they needed to grow and evolve. Even though Blur failed to match the scope and quality after their fifth album; they provided the music world an incredible record. It has just been celebrated on BBC Radio 6 Music – they commemorated its twentieth and played tracks from the album – and stands as one of the finest albums from the 1990s. As it is cold, sleety and generally dreadful out there: take an hour to revisit a classic album that is strangely intoxicating and inescapable. Once you hear the first (scratchy) riffs of Beetlebum you are, ironically and appropriately, hooked and drugged. By the time you get to Coxon’s You’re So Great – the mid-way point – we have gone through Fugazi-referencing, full-tilt Punk thrash (Song 2) and sing-along glory (On Your Own) – via the seductive back roads of Theme from Retro thrown in. Following that, you have Death of a Party’s awkward sociability and another firecracker blast: Chinese Bombs and eighty-four seconds of bliss and urgency. I’m Just a Killer for Your Love and Look Inside America is a joyous, crowd-uniting one-two; Strange News from Another Star a prescient preface for Essex Dogs’ Barking (sorry!) villains and revel in a wonderful time for music. I guarantee you this: once you submit to the album and all it has to offer you will definitely not be…

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ON your own.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRxAOCFeSZ4&w=560&h=315]


FEATURE: The February Playlist: Vol. 2: A Week for (Sweet)hearts and Minds



The February Playlist




Vol. 2: A Week for (Sweet)hearts and Minds


IN a few days, it is going to be that dreaded thing…

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Valentine’s Day. Perhaps irrelevant with regards music: for those of us (myself included) single and dateless; it puts certain things into focus. Music always makes thing a little easier and less lonely so, seeing as V.D. is just around the bend (hope that is the only time I will say that!), I’m diving full-steam-ahead into the new sounds oozing from the mainstream. Included are new Pop bangers from Lady Gaga and Katy Perry; videos from Depeche Mode and Skott with some classical tracks from Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin – who has just announced her retirement from music. I include a track from Blur’s eponymous 1997 album – as it celebrates its twentieth – and collect together the newest tracks from across the genres. I am sure there will be something to wet the appetite, but if not, a new Playlist will be along this time next week.


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Katy Perry (ft. Skip Marley) – Chained to the Rhythm

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gsGhdZDC-0&w=560&h=315]

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Lady Gaga John Wayne

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9iQ8lIfyEs&w=560&h=315]

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Rag ‘n’ Bone ManFade to Nothing


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M.I.A. P.O.W.A.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zkkr-HhnwS8&w=560&h=315]

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You Me at SixGive

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6EakBG9DuI&w=560&h=315]

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Bush Mad Love

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3H6J0Zwodc&w=560&h=315]

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Michael JacksonBad (Official Video)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sd4SJVsTulc&w=560&h=315]

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Aretha FranklinI Say a Little Prayer

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STKkWj2WpWM&w=560&h=315]

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BlurMovin’ On

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsaJ7KsH90Y&w=560&h=315]

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Anne-MarieCiao Adios

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRuI6mTxqz4&w=560&h=315]

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Bridgit MendlerTemperamental Love

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-YXcPitNE0&w=560&h=315]

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Axwell Ingrosso (ft. Kid Ink)I Love You

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqtG3GybEhs&w=560&h=315]

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Skott Glitter & Gloss

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxuEBt_RIRs&w=560&h=315]

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrCba30d3uY&w=560&h=315]

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AuraCan’t Steal the Music

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjdnEXQf3sc&w=560&h=315]

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Superfood – Double Dutch

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QeaF9pQudo&w=560&h=315]

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wjdm5tJ5NiA&w=560&h=315]

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Marika HackmanBoyfriend


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Nines (ft. J Hus)High Roller

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2PpLRjaWT8&w=560&h=315]

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NickelbackFeed the Machine

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtVU--O29oY&w=560&h=315]

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Chance the RapperSame Drugs

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=be37-T72DNk&w=560&h=315]

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Charlotte OCMedicine Man

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78VGxZQps8U&w=560&h=315]

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JamiroquaiCloud 9

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SurkSpvcjM&w=560&h=315]

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Coasts Heart Starts Beating

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRkKL33kNMI&w=560&h=315]

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SigridDon’t Kill My Vibe

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uk7SRjgkaPQ&w=560&h=315]

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TexasLet’s Work It Out

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBNEf4buiFY&w=560&h=315]

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Vistas Feel Alive

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdHWJ6_TdnA&w=560&h=315]

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Will HeardI Better Love You


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Pigeon DetectivesEnemy Lines

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMAZDMLe33M&w=560&h=315]

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FKJ Skyline

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qU5FWU0SH0o&w=560&h=315]

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Hedia (ft. Kristen Marie) Your Mind

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKdIeb018rw&w=560&h=315]

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Laura WhiteThat Girl


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AlunaGeorgeNot About Love

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UcUl0svF24&w=560&h=315]

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Jens Lekman Evening Prayer

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgSC6Kh0N5s&w=560&h=315]

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Depeche ModeWhere’s the Revolution?

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsCR05oKROA&w=560&h=315]

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Slow ClubChampion


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Zak Abel (ft. Wretch 32)Rock Bottom

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ8BHZITkm8&w=560&h=315]

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Ed HarcourtYou Give Me More than Love


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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSgmgkyhPZ4&w=560&h=315]

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Wyclef Jean (ft. Walk the Moon)Holding on the Edge

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vb_lJM7F2UI&w=560&h=315]

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The Magic GangHow Can I Compete

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LzP4cPfYpk&w=560&h=315]

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Carly Rae Jepsen (ft. Lil Yachty) It Takes Two

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCZHaUVhh5E&w=560&h=315]

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The BatsShut Your Eyes

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfiO9iqpGoY&w=560&h=315]

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Tina GuoSkyrim (Dragonborn)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJc9Fko0mf4&w=560&h=315]

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Una HealyBattlelines


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Amber RunStranger

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MR5xuMvpxo&w=560&h=315]

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The DigAstronaut


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Froth – Passing Thing

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aArswnrgNtk&w=560&h=315]

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Lupe Fiasco (ft. Gizzle) Jump

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zp5Ee326xE&w=560&h=315]

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Graeme Miller and Steve ShillThe Moomins Theme

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GN6DzUpPXwM&w=560&h=315]

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Toothless Alright Alright Alright


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Jesca HoopMemories Are Now

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s79pNrycneQ&w=560&h=315]

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The Jesus and Mary Chain - Always Sad

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qevLgqlKvIk&w=560&h=315]

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Luke Sital-Singh Killing Me

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I80QeSZ_Tuo&w=560&h=315]

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Wild Beasts Alpha Female

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTvrv30b7C0&w=560&h=315]

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Tom Williams Everyone Needs a Home

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ERoT4rBNHo&w=560&h=315]

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Bad SoundsMeat on My Bones


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Circa Waves – Fire That Burns

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSlVRkq61eo&w=560&h=315]

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Goldfrapp – Anymore

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2euqyXXjmAo&w=560&h=315]

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Shakira (ft. Maluma) - Chantaje (Versión Salsa)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVcE5PFXpbQ&w=560&h=315]

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Kane Strang Oh So You’re Off I See

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1VLO17X3Is&w=560&h=315]

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Dirty Projectors (feat. D∆WN) - Cool Your Heart

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUplxePolH4&w=560&h=315]

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Zeds Dead Woman Wine


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Taking Back Sunday - Call Come Running

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDg-A6F5MrU&w=560&h=315]

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtgM7laoukA&w=560&h=315]

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Grimes (ft. Janelle Monáe) - Venus Fly

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTLTXDHrgtw&w=560&h=315]

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Blake Shelton - Every Time I Hear That Song

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfZfURgx9b0&w=560&h=315]

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Skott Amelia

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lglvRXToXMQ&w=560&h=315]

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GEKO Drunk on You

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGdS3ecG2dI&w=560&h=315]

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Ten Fé - Twist Your Arm

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4awKqbekmcI&w=560&h=315]

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Sam Hunt - Body Like a Back Road

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mdh2p03cRfw&w=560&h=315]

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arq59eGIUw0&w=560&h=315]

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machineheart Speak In Tongues

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6JM-DGSMjU&w=560&h=315]

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Filous (ft. Mat Kearney) - Goodbye

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YQ2EA-PKY8&w=560&h=315]

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Melanie Pfirrman - I Don't Wanna Love

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=137Scp642WQ&w=560&h=315]

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Desiigner Outlet

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHGyn65iLGQ&w=560&h=315]

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Omarion Distance

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsrhIUmPf-w&w=560&h=315]

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Kidwaste KhaiWild


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NERVOIn Your Arms


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Aaron CarterLet Me Let You




[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tuqt0ycaQnA&w=560&h=315]

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Adam Friedman - What If

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnO5EF5k7Pk&w=560&h=315]

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Dennis Kruissen (feat. David Benjamin) - Love Like the Sun

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUwDlATowSE&w=560&h=315]

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLnpvbBSjUY&w=560&h=315]

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Milky ChanceEgo

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvftJAyA6Ec&w=560&h=315]

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Jacob BanksUnholy War

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwyhZfjrwQA&w=560&h=315]

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Nick Jonas & Nicki Minaj - Bom Bidi Bom

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giEjPV8BJ2U&w=560&h=315]

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAnKh2gQtVs&w=560&h=315]

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Corinne Bailey RaeThe Scientist

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2oAIiVL0HE&w=560&h=315]

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AmtracPiano Boy


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Tep NoIs It Too Much That I’m Asking For

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfP5JYsgEm0&w=560&h=315]

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Elliot MossClosedloop


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Moonshine ManTrouble


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Another healthy, stealthy collection of just-released tracks and some much-hyped newbies – Katy Perry’s latest single had a rather strange P.R. build-up. Whether Valentine’s Day sees you happy (with company) or lamenting its existence; do not fear: music is an ever-present and fine compassion that always lifts the mood. That is what I have been relying on and have not been let down. I am pumped to find what the next week holds in store – for music and new albums – and will ‘report’ back next Saturday.


TRACK REVIEW: Kate Dimbleby - Musical Boxes



Kate Dimbleby



Musical Boxes






Musical Boxes is available at:



Soul; Classical; Folk




January 2017

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, text and closeup

The album, Songbirds, is released on 23rd February, 2017. Pre-order the album here:



Folkstock Records


THIS is the last time I am looking at a Folk-based artist...

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for a little while –  it is getting harder to say new things; I’m trying to diversify the blog a lot more this year – searching for Grime and Urban artists especially. To be fair, my featured artist, or her latest album at least, is based in Soul territory and explores Classical music in addition. That is not to say I am unexcited about Kate Dimbleby: quite the opposite as she has an incredible sound and is turning many heads. I will bring her in soon – through her extensive biography – but I wanted to look at the voice and stripped-back music, to begin with; take a detour and speak of more mature artists and the accolades they have achieved; go on to discussing Folk and beauty and ending with original artists and the promise they hold. Music is endlessly complicated and diverse: it is impossible to predict and has so many different artists doing very different things. I have reviewed a lot of musicians who emphasise the voice and have that as their main instrument. This is especially true of Kate Dimbleby. She has a long and successful career behind her – her previous albums have been quite ornate and stirring (at different moments) and instilled with quite subtle compositions. Now, she is placing her tremulous, stirring voice at the centre of things. I will discuss that a bit later but wanted to investigate the voice and how versatile it can be. Most of my favourite artists, solo acts at least, are synonymous with their voice. From Jeff Buckley and Kate Bush through to Björk: performers who have that extraordinary voice and take it in all sort of directions. We take vocals for granted and overlooked genuinely fresh and impressive singers. Talent shows and anodyne Pop music is preferred, by certain stations and people, as being impressive and worthy. I am not suggesting all the greatest singers of all time are in the past – with no modern-day equivalent able to match them – but there are fewer authentic and enduring singers coming through. Kate Dimbleby has that experience but a truly special voice. Of course, if the voice is rather listless or the songs simple and clichéd then you are unlikely to bond with the singer for too long. It is not good enough having a great voice and not having the songs to back it up.

I have heard a lot of promising vocalists unable to pen a deep and impressive song: you are fascinated to begin but then start to drift away and lose interest. The reason I wanted to bring this point up was to applaud artists taking risks and putting their voice right at the forefront. Dimbleby’s album, Songbirds, is a bit of a bold experiment: stripping everything back and having the vocal up-top. You have to have a lot of confidence - and know your voice has what it takes - to do something unconventional and brave. That is what she has done and the results, as you will hear from Musical Boxes, is stunning. I find there are so many artists out there doing the same thing – never separating themselves from the majority out there. What I mean is the themes stick to love, separation and togetherness: you hear too much of other artists in the vocals and few risks are taken. Sifting through that fog trying to find a beacon of light can be a tough navigation. Kate Dimbleby not only takes an unexpected approach to music but has a voice you struggle to link with anyone else. It is as a result of years of performance and work. When you have something (voice) like that; can craft a voice original and striking, you are going to bring people in and keep them there. Naturally, her songs are strong and reach into the heart. What I love about Dimbleby is her confidence and inventive approach to music. I shall move on from the voice but it is a subject that fascinates me. Songbirds is an album full of sensational moments and gorgeous vocals. Dimbleby’s near-exclusion of instruments – having that voice covering everything and the key sound – should inspire others to try things in their music. Modern artists, in certain genres, crowd their music and stuff it with overly-glossy production. It lacks naturalness and humanity: what you get is (often) music both synthetic and distant. I always look for a singer I can connect with; someone whose voice gets right inside me and elicits something profound and awe-inspired. That is what you get with Dimbleby but I will, as explained earlier, come back to that side of things. Before I raise a new point, let me introduce her to you:

Kate has released five albums, sold out the Festival Hall, toured internationally at arts and music festivals and appeared regularly on national radio.  She is currently working on a new live show and album for 2017 as well as developing her “song stories” into various radio, podcast and TV formats.   Her new live show “Songbirds tells a personal story about finding her own voice through singing the stories of others and will tour the UK, New York and Edinburgh next year after scratch shows in Bristol in June.

Kate’s critically acclaimed live shows (Who is Dory Previn?, I’m a Woman, Music to Watch Boys By and Fever! The Making of Peggy Lee) all devised and produced by her in collaboration with “One Man Two Guvnors” director Cal McCyrstal and writers (Amy Rosenthal, Emma and Beth Kilcoyne and Lucy Powell) have become a trademark for a unique blend of singing, storytelling and entertainment. With a new podcast “The Voices in our Heads”, Kate plans to develop this in broadcast to an online audience.

Described by The Times as ‘One of the most versatile singers on the jazz/blues circuit, opening up her own Third Way, part-cabaret, part pop concert’ Kate grew up in a family where performing was the norm. Her father is the broadcaster David Dimbleby, and her mother was a trained classical singer. Her uncle on her mother’s side played jazz piano, trumpet and blues harp, and inspired her with his collection of gramaphone records.

In 2015, Kate performed her most recent show about cult 70’s songwriter Dory Previn at 59E59 Theatres in New York after the world premiere opened the Matcham Room, Leicester Square Hippodrome in 2013. The album “Beware of Young Girls : the songs of Dory Previn”, a collaboration with pianist Naadia Sheriff was chosen as one of Sunday Times Top Ten Records of 2012 and the duo have played on Jools Holland’s Radio Show (R2), Woman’s Hour (R4) and In Tune (R3). The production toured the UK through 2014/2015 and Kate and Naadia are featured in Nick Murphy’s thriller “Blood” starring Paul Bettany

I am not using the word ‘mature’ as a synonym or euphemism. When speaking of Kate Dimbleby – not referring to age as a negative thing – she has that body of work behind her and experienced a lot. I raise this point to show young musicians what it takes to remain and succeed. Not only does she has Folkstock Records behind her (Helen Meissner’s project) but a seriously impressive C.V. to boot. For sure, Dimbleby’s record label/management help guide her career but the established songwriter has built her reputation on talent and persistence. You only have to look at her official website to see what I mean. Hailing from a family of broadcasters – that surname must have set off ideas of her lineage and genealogy – Dimbleby’s mother would sing Opera numbers around the breakfast table. Maybe this was the match that lit the fuse that set off that explosive passion for music – certainly taking an operatic approach to music. Songbirds, again, I will go into more detail later, allows listeners to fill the gaps where the instruments would be and be much more involved with the songs. Bitten by the performance bug at an early age: now Dimbleby has twenty-five years of performance experience under her belt. I have seen artists with that sort of experience tire and produce work that is rather weak – compared with their initial work. Dimbleby, in Songbirds, has taken her music is another direct and, in a strange way, back to the start of her career. It is quite a gamble relying on the voice alone but Dimbleby knows what she is doing. Having performance for so many years, and an army of fans behind her, the risk was always worth it. Many ask whether you can be a full-time musician and actually remain.

In a sense, the industry is like an illness: depending on your immune system and type of illness (your music) will determine how long you live, as it were. It sounds bleak but there are few artists remaining for years and building successful careers. Maybe it is down to increased competition – or the fact music is available on music-sharing platforms for free – but the reality is rather bleak and tough to swallow. That is not to say nobody survives years down the line but we are seeing few decades-old musicians these days. Kate Dimbleby’s inimitable talent and unquenchable drive has done a lot of the work: the inventiveness and thought she puts into the music is responsible. Maybe she arrived on the scene at the right time – again, not implying anything derogatory about age. Since singing with Black Box Music in 1998 (a wonderful year to enter music!) she worked with some of the finest Jazz musicians in the U.K.; performed fifty-date sell-out tours and devised live cabaret shows (Music to Watch Boys By and I’m a Woman). Maybe emerging in music – getting signed at least – in the 1990s is responsible for her longevity but it is Dimbleby’s work ethic and openness that has built the legacy. Today, and for someone who has been in music for a long time, there is no stopping her. I am thrilled Dimbleby is still performing and creating some of her finest work to date. She is a model to any upcoming songwriter as to how one survives in the industry. So long as you have the talent and put the work in then you will succeed. Of course, Dimbleby be has had her music featured on T.V. and film; she has involved herself with the theatre and spread herself across various different disciplines. It is not good enough relying on social media and hoping a traditional, do-it-like-everyone-else approach to a career is sufficient.

Before I come to my next point – I will get to her music fairly soon, promise – I will look at what experience and hard work can lead to. One of the most eye-catching parts of Dimbleby’s (recent) biography is her studying the vocal techniques of Bobby McFerrin. The sixty-six-year-old New York-born legend is, to many of us, iconically linked with the track, Don’t Worry, Be Happy. That song was released in 1988 and the first a cappella song to reach the number-one spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Not only it is a funky, hugely uplifting song but the techniques involved with ground-breaking at the time. McFerrin uses his voice (overdubbed) as instruments in the song. Through an affected vocal (a West Indian inflexion) and various mannerisms/sound effects: the track has gone down in history and inspired many singers. McFerrin himself uses techniques like singing fluidly but with jumps in pitch. He can sustain melodies whilst rapidly alternating with arpeggios and harmonies – he can do scat singing and polyphonic overtone singing. That sort of talent is rare but the performance method – McFerrin often accompanying himself and employing no other instruments – is practically unheard of these days. I can see comparisons between Dimbleby and McFerrin. Aside from obvious differences – age, gender and race for example – their musical approach is very similar. In fact, I can draw direct parallels between Dimbleby’s Songbirds and McFerrin’s 1984 sophomore release, The Voice. On that album, unlike his debut release, there are no instruments: McFerrin uses his rare techniques and stunning voice to define a series of splendid originals and covers (including a stirring take of The Beatles’ Blackbird). Not only has that stock-and-trade vocal sound inspired legions of singers but has led to a vast and long career. McFerrin continues to record and has barely put a foot wrong – aside from 1995’s rather lukewarm album, Bang! Zoom.

The other honorific I wanted to mention, before coming to my final points, is that received from BBC Radio 6 Music D.J., Tom Robinson. The legendary musician recently paid tribute to Musical Boxes – defining its beauty far better than I could, it appears. Paying tribute to Dimbleby’s talent (describing her as being at the “top of her game”), it seems those ten-thousand hours – Malcolm Gladwell’s study said this is the amount of hours you need to spend on anything in order to become world-class – I am quite a way off it seems! That figure might be arbitrary and open for debate – innate talent and luck can circumvent that rule; some might not have an aptitude to become world-class under any condition – but Robinson applauded Dimbleby’s dedication and experience. By virtue of his years – Robinson’s ‘6 Music audience maybe a little older than that of Lauren Laverne or Steve Lamacq, for instance – you can appreciate the bond and affection he feels for someone as established and innovative as Kate Dimbleby. That track, and the words Robinson used mean the song has reached new ears and been picked up by other stations. Getting a track played on BBC Radio 6 Music is a bit if a holy grail-type event. It is, without any questions, the finest stations in the U.K. and, when you have your music played there, it is a huge deal. Not only because of the type of person who listens to the station – discerning and keen to embrace the finest music – but the amount of listeners it reaches.

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I am keen to jump onto Dimbleby’s music but want to briefly talk about Folk and ‘subtler’ genres; those artists keen to promote originality and difference. As I said, Dimbleby grew up with an Opera-singing mum and is a classically-trained artist – having released five albums previously. She has performed sold-out shows and played at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. Having studied with Bobby McFerrin himself – she did that in New York and taught herself how to use a looper to recreate the instrumental lines on her previously released original material – Dimbleby has had a grand rise and fascinating past. She is one of those original artists who has not followed a boring or conventional path. Songbirds is the result of her quest to push the envelope and utilise her myriad talents. The influence of McFerrin is strong and one wonders just what will come next. I will theorise more in end of this review but I am fascinated by Kate Dimbleby’s cross-genre sounds. As I craft this paragraph, I am listening to Jesca Hoop and one of her tracks – an artist I have mentioned a lot recently. You hear Folk and Soul in her voice but it is hard to peg. The compositions weave and suggest so many ideas: the voice floats and teases with that incredible beauty and grace. I feel the same way about Kate Dimbleby when I listen to Musical Boxes. I started this review by looking at Dimbleby as a Folk artist – something I will retract to a degree. Yes, some of her music suggests Folk but there is so much more to it than that. What strikes me hardest about Kate Dimbleby is her originality and variety. Songbirds is that vocal-only album that suggests a rare and peerless talent. Previous albums have merged Soul, Folk and Classical whereas her earlier material was different from that. She is always evolving and challenging her own material but never at the expense of consistency and personality. I get fatigued and stressed hearing artists who never change anything and show nothing but stubbornness and over-confidence. No such danger with Dimbleby who reinvents herself and produces extraordinary work – reasons why she has been in-demand for all these years.

If one looks back at Dimbleby’s work, before I move onto Musical Boxes, you can see a definite progression and change. Her debut, Good Vibrations, was released in 1998 and performed with a group of stellar Jazz musician. Covering a range of classic tracks, Dimbleby put her mark on standards from the likes of Nick Drake, Tom Waits and, as the album title suggests, The Beach Boys. It was a confident album that proved Dimbleby was/is a solid interpreter who can put her own spin on familiar songs. It was not an average cover album where you felt rather bored and uninspired. Each number could have been written by Dimbleby herself: she inhabits the songs and shows a real affection for each. Richard Niles produced and there was a real sense of command and conviction throughout – rare to see from someone on their debut-album stage. From there, Dimbleby started to perform quite a lot and looking ahead. Her sophomore album, Ain’t This Cosy was inspired by her about her acclaimed show on the life and work of Peggy Lee. Released to coincided with a fifty-date sell-out tour of Fever!; another solid and engaging album that covered new ground but retained that very special and flexible voice. Whereas Good Vibrations covered a lot of male artists and concentrated on particular times: this was more focused – in terms of subject matter – and proved Dimbleby could cover any genre she wanted to. The Kate Dimbleby band joined forces to record Things As They Are in 2009 and is the first album where Dimbleby writes her own material. Inspired by her time in a remote retreat in western Canada; it is a very different work to her first two albums and, once more, takes another left-turn. Showing herself to be a natural and talented songwriter, the material across the album is not just about her own life but is, as one reviewer pointed out, a reflection on all our lives. You get engrossed in the musical and the perfect delivery – the way words are almost treated as part of a sermon. It is a beautiful record that gets into the heart and stays there for a very long time.

The biggest difference from then to now – 2014’s Love Comes Again as recorded in a transition where Dimbleby moved from being a thirty-nine-year-old Londoner to a forty-year-old Bristolian – beautifully sets up Musical Boxes. Previously, Dimbleby has played with her band and collaborated with other artists. Beware of Young Girls (2013) saw Dimbleby join with Naadia Sheriff and other albums have seen her join with fellow musicians. Songbirds, aside from a light smattering of keys and tambourine on some tracks, is the voice alone left to fend for itself. It does so incredibly well and shows another transition for Dimbleby. If Love Comes Again is her taking stock – having spent the past twenty years touring she knew something has to change – then Songbirds is the heroine takes us in yet another direction. She wanted, with this album, to set aside any preconceptions and predictions. You cannot say whether a song sounds like anyone else or place too many influences together due to the nature of the album. The near-vocal-only dynamic makes it original and very much the product of Kate Dimbleby. It is a stunning album, as I will explore later, that shows what an evolving and fresh artist she is. You never get the same album twice: each new creation is almost like it came from another person. What does remain is the striking, majestic voice that is, if anything, at its peak here. Never has she sounded more graceful and entrancing as she does on Songbirds. I am intrigued to see where she goes next and what unfolds. You can never say so I suggest you keep your eyes peeled and follow her closely. Few artists are as consistent and strong as Kate Dimbleby: I am predicting the next couple of years will be very special and memorable.

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Musical Boxes has already gained rave reviews and no small wonder. There is a bit of silence at the beginning of the track which keeps the breath baited and prepares the listener for what is to come. When Dimbleby’s voice does appear, it builds up momentum through a series of the word “hey”. Starting as a single layer, it soon builds and weaves inside one another – vocal lines float, twist and rise to create a choir-like effect. It is amazing hearing the range in the opening moments. Low notes sit and create a solid base whereas lighter, more ethereal tones summon light and breeziness. Together, it is a stunning effect that grips you from the offset. I hear McFerrin’s influence right away, especially in the vocal range and pronunciations. Those deep and gravelled parts and higher, sweeter sounds are something he mastered on the album, The Voice. Here, Dimbleby talks of ancient truths and being rooted in the trees. Whether talking spirituality or taking her voice into nature; you wonder what the lyrics refer to and the influence behind them. Certainly, there is a sense of the open in the song – no instruments and just that voice – so you transport yourself into the wild and follow the song on that basis. When the title is presented, the origins and meanings become clearer. Like musical boxes, we lock our sounds and self away until everyone is out. Secrecy and mystique are brought in and, again, you interpret and draw your own images. Maybe that sentiment refers to honesty or something as simple as the voice. We are at our most open and comfortable alone, at times, and that is when the true magic can occur. Perhaps it is not always a desirable state of affairs but common among us. Perhaps we all shelter away from the rush of the world and are fearful of being too honest and revealing. Maybe not but what I get from Musical Boxes, in the early phases, is a woman who is speaking from her soul. Perhaps Dimbleby is referring to her own creative process and when that is at its purest.

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It is hard to fault the vocals as they stem from an artist as authoritative and experienced as they come. There are so many different sounds and tones yet it never sounds cluttered or wandering. Dimbleby summons up the sound of instruments with her voice and has complete freedom to project exactly how she wishes. True, she has worked with brilliant musicians before but there is something to be said for taking complete control. Musical Boxes is the most personal song from Dimbleby, simply because it is her voice in the mix – without outside interjection and any other spirit. I was fascinated by the lyrical bent and drilling down to its root. I sensed a woman hiding a part of herself or wishing for something different. Musical boxes reveal their tunes in the company of a single person and often at times when we need uplifting. A lot of times, few hear the song of a musical box until years later: never tempted to open the lid and discover what is inside. Perhaps that is the way we treat others or the way some of us feel. It is an interesting idea that every listener will have their own views on. I might be reaching and looking too deeply but cannot help it. “Imagine the noises…” we could make it we “let it out” as Dimbleby poses. If we are locked in secrecy and reluctant to sing, that would be a tragic thing. Those who are free to fly and express are the happiest and most inspired. It is a brilliant sentiment that has a lot of truth in it. Not just looking at it from a very basic and literal interpretation – those who sing feel better and healthier – you can look at the spirit and soul and how we can open them up with encouragement. Those who cloister away and restrict themselves from the outside world will always have regrets. Maybe there is another slant on this: something more political and universal. If we, as humans and conscious, sentient beings yearn to make the world better there needs to be a democratic channel and consensus. If we are allowed to express ourselves and opinions without fear of reprisals and repression, that leads to a better world. Again, I might be going in the wrong direction but that is the beauty of the song.

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It is that inimitable and irrepressible voice that continues to implore, seduce and haunt throughout. It is hard getting to grips with the complexities and nuances of the performance(s) upon the first listening. After the previous statement, Dimbleby returns to the wordlessness of the introduction and lets her voice bubble, rise and chorus. You get skipping, intertwined notes and the sound of a (human) music box. Nobody can ignore the effect and power of the voice as it projects images and allows the listener to dream and drift. Softened and touched by Dimbleby’s instinct, powers and gracefulness; you allow the music box song to do its work and prove its point. Previously, we are told how sad it would be, were we never to hear that mystical song and freedom – something rectified by an enticing and stunning vocal line. There are few original lines (keeping the message pure and simple) but the ones they are hit the mark and speak for us all. Imagining the noises we can make when we let our voices speak is something we all think of. Whether that is literally singing or being more candid and bold with our instrument, I am not sure. Whatever the true meaning from Musical Boxes, you replay the song to experience those vocals paint so many colours and ideas. Not only is the song a perfect representation and taste of Songbirds but it will inspire other artists to follow suit. There are few vocal-only performers in this age. In the past, there have been the likes of McFerrin and Opera singers; groups like Boyz II Men – but they are few and far between. Modern music is, by and large, packed with instrumentation and sound – rarely does the voice have the chance to throw off the shackles and really breathe. The purity and solitude of Musical Boxes is a guiding light to those who understand the true nature and importance of self-expression. Let’s hope Dimbleby continues to follow this path (her vocals alone) as she has created something unusual, atmospheric and highly memorable.

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Songbirds is the album we should all take the time to listen to this year. Sure, there will be bigger-hyped records in the mainstream but few underground albums have such a fascinating sound. The fact it has already been recommended by Tom Robinson suggests it is not your average creation. Certainly not, as Music Boxes demonstrates. A song that has won its fair share of impassioned reviews and effusive commendations. It is testament to Kate Dimbleby she is able, so far along in her career, to sound new and reborn. That might seem condescending but not at all. I am stunned by her consistency and the way she makes her albums so intimate and unusual. You would be hard pressed comparing Songbirds with anything you have heard before – unless you are familiar with Bobby McFerrin and The Voice. So what can we expect this year? Well, in terms of tour dates, you can catch Dimbleby at Bath’s Ustinov Theatre on 17th and 18th of this month; she heads to the NOW gallery in London on 23rd before playing a series of dates in March – The Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter (19th) and Rise Records, Bristol (2nd March) among them. In fact, that 2nd March date is the Bristol album launch: if you are in the area, get yourself down there. Scanning through the remaining tour dates; we can see some cool London dates in March – The Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zedel in Piccadilly intrigues me on name alone – with some other dates through April and May – Devon and Brighton are included in the itinerary. I will try and come see Dimbleby as that live experience will be one hard to top. It will be interesting seeing how Songbirds is staged on the road. Given the lack of instruments, it could be one of the sparsest stages you’re likely to see – perhaps there will be ornamentation and simple set design to accompany Dimbleby. Whatever the specifications and set design; you owe yourself to witness a very special artist perform.

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Songbirds is a wonderful collection everyone should have. If you have not heard of Kate Dimbleby; perhaps you bridle at the thought of a cappella music – do not make assumptions or deny yourself. Songbirds is, as Dimbleby states, about: “…the voices we keep locked up inside. About the need for connection – right here, right now. And if it goes ‘wrong’, so what? I’ve realised that the place where things go wrong is where we find the magic”. From that description alone, there will be few not intrigued by such promise and potential. I shall not spend too much time recommending the album – lest it gives too much away or makes your mind up for you – but would impress this on everybody: it is one of those records that gets you gripped; one you struggle to forget. Musical Boxes is a good starting point and pretty indicative of the album’s sound and nature. Kate Dimbleby has been in the business a while but seems to be at her most active and ambitious. Certainly, album promotional duties will take her around the U.K. and to new places. It is great to see her covering ground in the south but one knows there is a big crowd waiting up north. I know similar-sounding artists around Manchester and Yorkshire who have to come down to London to get gigs/big crowds. It seems like most musicians gravitate towards the capital but there are some great venues in cities like Manchester and Leeds. Seven Arts and Belgrave Music Hall seem like perfectly-suited spaces for Dimbleby’s entrancing music. Likewise, Manchester’s Band on the Wall and Night & Day would be good venues for Dimbleby but that is up to her. Whether there are more dates to come or not: I know a big and eager crowd awaits her north of London.

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Many are eager to celebrate an artist with a sensational voice. Her album concept had an interesting derivation: “I wanted to go in with just my voice and without instruments so that you don’t get any of the associations that usually spring up, ‘Oh, it’s that kind of thing’. It allows for an element of surprise and fun – room for people to interact by stepping into the space where the instruments would normally be – even joining in”. People will join for sure and take the album to heart. I shall end this, I’m sure you’ll be overjoyed to hear, reverting to me early points and why Kate Dimbleby impress me so. Her touring schedule, performing in churches and intimate venues, is a rare approach from someone who could well sell-out bigger spaces. I mentioned a few possible venues Dimbleby could visit – in my proxy booking manager role – further north. I know some great cathedrals/churches in Yorkshire and ornate spots in Scotland. There is an eager Britain out there: many new ears keen to witness Dimbleby’s stunning powers in the flesh. Many would argue it is hard to provoke the same sort of reality and effect one would experience live. For an album/song that is vocal-only; will the song resonate quite the same way? Those that have heard Musical Boxes, myself included, have been struck by the evocative beauty and gracefulness of the song. I opened by looking at the voice and the power it possesses. There are some great artists with a terrific voice: a lot of them hide it behind glossy production and composition noises. It is rare to discover someone who strips that all back and leaves the voice alone – unfettered and uncomplicated by instrumental concerns. I’ll jump to my last paragraph soon but wanted to send congratulations to Musical Boxes and Songbirds. I am a fan of Bobby McFerrin and albums like The Voice. Its sheer beauty and potency is hard to put into words – you can say the same about Kate Dimbleby’s latest. One other thing I yearn for in music – that will be rectified, to a small degree – are orchestral strings and cinematic sounds. Were Dimbleby, in a future album or between-releases track, to mesh her gorgeous voice with a (The) Cinematic Orchestra-esque score the results would be spellbinding. An operatic, soulful voice bonded to a symphonic, elegant passage would be a wonderful marriage – just a passing rumination of mine.

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I shall end this and wish Dimbleby well in her future pursuits. She is with Folkstock Records – who are keen to support the female voice and unconventional recording artists – and that lack of conventionality makes the music really stand out. With so many people stuffed into the music sardine can: those that are willing to earn their place are to be commended. I get tired by so many predictable and samey artists coming through. Sure, everyone is welcome but open-borders approach to music-making means quality control is rather lacklustre. Volume and hoarding masses do create a bit of a crowded metropolis: you can spot rays of light and fascinating, charming side-alley treasures when you wander off the tourist trail. Navigate away from the mainstream beige and embrace something much more unusual and nourishing. We need to do more to promote artists like Kate Dimbleby; ensure they are preserved and their heritage passed through the generations. It is not hyperbole to suggest she is among the most original artists around, simply because of the way the music is present. Musical Boxes, in a sense, has an irony about it: maybe the title, if you didn’t know better, refers to the way musicians are labelled and put into boxes. Whatever the origins and your personal interpretations; Kate Dimbleby is someone with a long future ahead. I will follow her and cannot wait to see…

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WHAT her next album contains.

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