Artists at a glance
MARSHES ft BETH PORTER
THE OLLIE WEST BAND
No it’s not déjà vouz folks. Due to a genuine emergency it’s me reviewing the Fresh Faves again. And wow what an honour for me that I get to review the faves from the 300th Listening Post. Such an incredible thing Tom Robinson started all that time ago and what a priceless resource it has become both for aspiring bands and artists and for fans of new music.
It was a fittingly strong week too so congratulations to everyone who made the Listening Post and to those who have been voted into the Fresh Faves. And to those who submitted tracks and didn’t make the Listening Post, there were so many that missed out by the narrowest of margins so please don’t be disheartened.
And big big thanks to my fellow moderator and author Russell Jeanes who so kindly stepped in to help me out with researching the artists in preparation for these reviews. His actions saved me so much time.
BECKY GREEN – Replay
The Roman City of Bath has connections to two of this week’s Fresh Faves and Becky Green is one of them. Originally from Brighton where she grew up in a musical family, she went to Bath to study and has so far ended up staying there for more than a decade. Between 2008 and 2017 she has recorded three albums and has seen her music used in movie soundtracks.
Becky Green writes sophisticated genre-defying songs. In the case of Replay we have deep dominating piano chords, epic strings and a dreamy contrasting middle section, all the while allowing space for Becky’s unusual and appealing voice to stretch out. This is not just high quality songwriting and performance, but the production is spot on too, presumably thanks to her ongoing collaboration with producer and executive producer (respectively) David Evans and Peter Coggan, plus her faithful and accomplished group of musicians. An outstanding track.
BLACK MIRROR – Cloudy Day
Black Mirror are regulars at the Listening Post both as artists and fans. So it is great to see them back in the Fresh Faves with another lovingly crafted track dominated by Inés’s butterflies-inducing soft but assured vocal (and harmonies) and Arsenio’s shimmering interplaying and picking acoustic guitars. The use of open fourths and fifths in the vocal harmony is truly exquisite.
Black Mirror hail from the Tenerife City of San Cristóbal de La Laguna and, at the risk of cliché there is a sense of the sun-soaked island atmosphere in their soulful thoughtful songs and arrangements. 2017 saw the release of their album No Colours for Concern and the recording of their first video. 2018 has seen them win a growing army of admirers including our Listening Post audience. If 2019 could see them build further on these successes, that would be thoroughly well-deserved.
CORPORATIONPOP – Self Help
Corporationpop’s Soundcloud blurb explains Elise Hadgraft was “sick of being artistically ripped off and relegated to the role of feminist poet girlfriend” which sounds an all-too-familiar tale. Thankfully Northern Beat Poet Elise’s late night drinking sessions “in a suburban Stockport kitchen” provided the opportunity for Corporationpop to develop, leading to the EP Meet me by the Viaduct being released by Punk label Heretic earlier this year.
Self Help sees Elise’s clever combination of anger, sarcasm and pointed humour delivered through a mix of spoken word and sung vocals accompanied by a deliciously dirty Bass Guitar sound and riff, solid beat and whistling keys. Her style is refreshingly matter-of-fact and funny whilst simultaneously succeeding in highlighting the absurdity of the comments and suggestions she is forced to endure. “I don’t owe you a night of unbridled sexual excess because your mate Terry says you’re an alright lad really” she reasons before going on to talk of the lad in question calling women “bitches” for not wanting to sleep with him! Yep, that’s a character we all recognise with mundane familiarity! All in all she has created an unmistakably Northern, down-to-earth sound and style that marks her out as an exciting force breathing new life into the (Post) Punk genre. Corporation Pop is a beautifully ironic name too.
ELLA JANES – Deux Ans
Ella Janes may be a new name to many of us but she has already built an impressive CV that includes playing support slots to Simple Minds. She has also benefited from spending time living in Nantes where she soaked up a lot of the French Folk music culture and got into Francoise Hardy whilst equally immersing herself in the classic songwriting of artists like Simon & Garfunkel and other 1960s Folk-influenced artists. 2017 saw her invited to play the TEDx event 2037: The Future is our Present where she played songs with themes based around science and philosophy.
Deux Ans (which translates as Two Years) is all in French except for a few lines in English (making it the second time in as many reviews that I have reviewed a French lyric song by an artist from an English-speaking background). It finds Ella in rich reverberant alto voice accompanied by quiet chords and arpeggios on a guitar. It couldn’t sound more like classic French 20th Century song if she tried! So convincing is her accent. Classy, melancholy and delicate, it introduces a boulevard of guitars and strings as it reaches its concluding section. All very nicely done.
MARSHES ft BETH PORTER – Grey Grey
So to our second artist with a connection to Bath. Listening Post readers will be familiar with Beth Porter who is one half of the excellent Bookshop Band and has also had support on FOTN with her project Beth Porter & the Availables. Marshes, it transpires, are a new incarnation of the latter but the band appear to have moved from their Bristol base to Wigtown in Scotland. Well, it’s certainly heartening to see how being a young mum has not prevented Beth from continuing to maintain a busy schedule of creativity and activity.
Grey Grey is instantly infectious, driven along by a lovely instrumental mix that is slightly folky and traditional but punchy too with what sounds like a Banjo blending with guitar. Beth’s voice is so appealing and distinct that it immediately gets under the skin (in a good way obviously!) and every part of the song is strong including a lovely bridge into the chorus and sweet harmonies. Marshes’ Soundcloud page cites a number of influences, none of which are necessarily obvious from this particular track (though Ray Davies I can hear more so than Radiohead). Equally it doesn’t do it justice to simply brand it as Indie-Folk. Well whatever. The most important information I need to share is that this track is really quite wonderful.
MOLLY STERLING – Plain Static
Tipperary teenager Molly Sterling has assembled a band to help her bring her powerful and personal vision to a wider audience. Molly’s lyrics are concerned to a large degree with the complex issues surrounding having to deal with the shame not just associated with body image but of the feelings carried around because of abuse and exploitation by others. Key to this is the need to use her experiences to draw strength. She has been honing her songwriting for some years despite her young age and cites a long list of influences that includes Polly Harvey, BANKS, Keaton Henson, Stevie Nicks and James Blake alongside perhaps less obvious ones like Florence & the Machine, Eels and Radiohead.
Plain Static is slow and emotionally charged with Molly’s distinct and dynamic voice and vocal style accompanied by a minimal backdrop of long piano chords and picked guitar notes. The lyrics are intense, emphasised by sudden increases in volume and rawness as she sings about the body being “not just a feast for eyes” and asks “What did you say when they spat on the face? / Did you change your words as they sliced your throat and stitched it back together?” Long notes on what sounds like a Cello take on extra prominence in the final stretch of the song. It all makes for compelling listening. That she has marked out such a determinedly individual style so young is impressive. I think we will be hearing a lot more of Molly Sterling in the near future.
PIP HALL – My Eden
According to her Facebook page Pip Hall has been described by a Daily Mirror journalist as “the hottest unsigned artist in the country”. Interesting because I am actually due to attend her album launch in November where she is being supported by a friend’s daughter. So I will have the opportunity to experience her talent in a live scenario. She certainly seems to be picking up some great media support and has management in place who are doing a good job of increasing her profile.
My Eden kicks off with twangy guitars before a Blondie-ish powerpop backdrop introduces her cool breathy vocal. As it develops we get to hear more of Pip’s vocal range and harmonies. There are shades of Lone Justice and Joan Osborne about the main hook with its major thirds harmony and full bar chords. At the same time the rawness of the playing and production has more in common with the British Indie tradition. It’s a climatic track with an uplifting feel. I look forward to seeing her live.
THE OLLIE WEST BAND – Home
Ollie West is a young guy with a grand vision. If you had any doubt about this, you just need to look at the fact that his fluid band can be anywhere between a Quartet and a 24-piece! Unless I have misunderstood the biog, Ollie formed the band in Manchester at the age of 14. In the time since he has received recognition from the likes of Dean Friedman and Neil McCormick. Ollie also cites some diverse influences such as Billy Joel, Elbow and Jamie Cullum. At 19, Ollie took a 24-piece line-up to play a support slot at the RNCM Theatre and he has subsequently toured with an Octet.
Now a ripe old 20, Ollie is taking his sophisticated Pop and intricate arranging skills to the Fresh on the Net audience who have responded by voting him into the Fresh Faves. Ollie has studied at the prestigious Royal Northern College of Music (once home to the Manchester group of postwar British Modernists Maxwell-Davies, Goehr, Birtwistle & co). His music is cinematic, filled with ambitious soundscapes and epic instrumental arrangements. Home is therefore relatively sparse by his standards, a striking female voice delivering an appealing melody over big piano chords, full-on strings and power-driven drums. Some lovely modal piano in the mid-section suddenly brings Debussy to mind, underlining the extensive influences Ollie is able to call upon. All in all it’s a really fine piece of work.
ZANDER SHARP – Settlements
Singer-songwriters who started young seems to be a bit of a theme to this 300th edition of the Fresh Faves. In the case of Zander Sharp, the Oxford lad made his London live debut at 14 and has since played Oxford’s O2 Academy. Now based in Bristol, he has developed his unique blend of influences whilst also signing with the Upcycled Sounds label thus maintaining a strong Oxford connection.
Settlements kicks off with what could be a Viola or Cello solo before giving way to tremelo strings. They sound live (as opposed to sampled). Zander’s tracked vocal then arrives, an agreeable Baritone range complemented by increasingly rich long but fluid chords in the strings. A female harmony voice adds another strand as more sounds gradually join the fray. It is really quite unusual and yet catchy and, in my opinion, quite radio-friendly. So much thought and imagination has gone into the arrangement, a pensive piano and crackling sounds within the percussion part plus some bendy chords and gorgeous harmonies. His use of sevenths, ninths and suspensions is smart and lends the music both an air of enhanced sophistication and a subtle sadness. It is one of those songs where you cannot predict what will happen next. Moreover it is one of those songs you are going to want to listen to again and again.
Well that’s it for another week. Look out for Batch 400 arriving probably in late 2020 and, in the meantime, thank you to all of you who voted again this week and, to all the aspiring bands and artists out there, keep sending us your best tracks. Thanks all xx
PS from TR: If you’ve submitted a track that hasn’t been picked for the Listening Post, our team has definitely listened to it and there’s no need to send it again: feel free to send us an even stronger track another week. The same goes if you were picked for the Listening Post but didn’t feature in our Fresh Faves.
But if we’ve recently featured you in our Fresh Faves – or on my BBC Introducing Mixtape – please wait three months before sending us another track, so we have space to help other deserving artists… For more info see Robinson Has A Good Old Moan.