Artists at a glance
THE POWDERED EARTH
ARBORIST – The Mountain Will Come To You
We are being treated to some exceptional music coming out of Belfast of late, with Joshua Burnside making the Fresh Faves a few weeks back and two separate and extremely gifted talents in this week’s Listening Post in the form of Robocobra Quartet and Arborist. Something in the water? Best ask our Belfastian(?) Husband & Wife moderating dynamic duo Mark & Louise.
Aborist revolves around frontman Mark McCambridge, who, acting on a whim after touring the second Arborist album, travelled to Donegal just before lockdown to record this new single with The Errigal String Quartet. He subsequently refined and polished it, making full use of his time spent in isolation over the ‘lost summer’. It’s available for pre-order now on a very limited 7” vinyl release, so you Record Collectors had better head over to Bandcamp without delay before you miss out.
Having already garnered rave reviews on previous recordings from the likes of Mojo magazine and The Guardian, with comparisons to Bill Callahan and Lambchop, it’s easy to hear why with this lilting, eloquent waltz.
There’s a weary melancholic air that permeates this gorgeous track, but also a sense of hope amongst the resignation; the beautiful String arrangement swells like the dark seas off Inishowen, adding a graceful mournfulness that sweeps the song along, while the snare drum beats an almost militant march. It conjures up ghostly images of sepia rain lashed thatch, seaweed tides and the smell of medicinal scented turf burning on a peat fire.
It’s the kind of track I take delight and solace in – so much so that I’ve already ordered my vinyl copy!
DARE SUMMER – My Way
The first thing that captures your attention before My Way even starts is the sumptuous 1930s ‘Travel Poster’ style artwork that adorns Dare Summer’s new single. Designed by Yordanka Poleganova, it’s as punchy, colourful and energetic as the track itself!
My Way also has that crisp retro feel, although it’s rooted in the glossy sheen of the 80s rather than the 30s. Starting with a distinctly Supertramp staccato keyboard that drives the track along like a lovingly polished XR3i, this song is all about the hook and that explosive chorus, the vocals are powerfully defiant and full of confidence, cleverly layered harmonies asserting the fact that Dare is definitely going to get her way! And you know what, with this shimmering slice of affirmative Electro-Pop, I think she really will!
Describing herself as an independent songwriter, singer and piano player, Dare is based in London. Many of her songs begin as improvisational pieces on the piano, reflecting mood and situation at the time, to which she later adds lyrics, melodies and harmonies.
FABLE – Thirsty
Thirsty immediately piqued my curiosity as it’s released on British Hi Fi specialists Naim Audio’s own record label. It turns out this is Fable’s first release after a four-year hiatus due to a personal tragedy in which she lost a close friend to suicide. Now an ambassador for mental health charity My Black Dog, she’s been able to rekindle her relationship with her music and is back to re-establish her rising reputation.
Thirsty leads you into a false sense of security, starting rather benignly with an almost childlike voice until a blast of Reznor industrial guitar instantly informs you this isn’t going to be another banal pop song and Fable’s vocals shift into full Morrisette mode. Fable has channelled a lot of her emotions into this, she’s definitely using her art to come to grips with her grief. This is powerful driving electro-Rock, full of anguish and catharsis.
Devon-born and now Brighton-based Fable began writing her own songs at the age of 13, drawing inspiration from the likes of Pink Floyd and Radiohead. She’s already enjoyed supporting The Cult and has polished her craft working with The Orb’s Paul Hartnoll. There have been comparisons to Nine Inch Nails and the aforementioned Thom Yorke, but Fable is definitely walking her own musical path. Thirsty is the first single from Fable’s debut album, released on Naim Records.
GRACE GILLESPIE – Hoppers
Grace Gillespie has already featured in the Fresh Faves list before and was a popular choice this week with her delightful, bittersweet and slightly off-kilter Folk.
In her own words: “Hoppers is my song of life and death. It was written in the middle of a heatwave in very rural France and is a product of having nothing to do. I watched endless tiny creatures dance and hum with life, then die away. As I swept them from the kitchen floor, I was reminded of the distinct fragility and brevity of our own human existence…
I wanted to capture the frantic energy of life and contrast it with the stillness of death, represented in the song’s chorus. For me, that is reflected in the way that we rush around endlessly living and not stopping to think – then suddenly something strikes you still in a moment and everything is put into perspective. Inevitably, the speed of life winds back up again and off we go at the same manic, unstoppable pace.
Sometimes it seems the human race will trample over everything to better itself. The damage we have done and continue to do is horrifying. Both ourselves and our world are fragile, yet something has got into us which makes us think we are invincible and that the planet can take our endless abuse.”
Grace has certainly captured that fragility in her song with its clever, quirky counting lyrics and her beguiling vocals.
Devon-born singer songwriter Grace Gillespie is based in London, and described in NME as “As heartrending as anything made in Bon Iver’s infamous cabin – but as self-assured as early Laura Marling.” Grace released her debut EP Pretending in 2019 and her new EP After the Harvest is due out at the end of November.
Some of her notable live shows include supporting James Morrison at Dingwalls, Camden and headlining the folk stage at Tipping Point festival in Newcastle. She has received radio plays from BBC 6 Music as well as being a featured artist on BBC Introducing London. Her early demo of Restoration saw her tipped to Q Magazine by Newton Faulkner and brought her to the attention of Kaleidoscope, who worked with her to produce her first solo releases in 2018. Her sound takes influences from the folk, alternative and dream-pop traditions, providing a backdrop to her intriguing vocal melodies, shifting harmonies and introspective lyricism.
JEALOUS TINA – More For Me
Jealous Tina met as course mates at the Bath Spa University and cut their teeth playing the thriving local music scenes in Bath & Bristol with their sophisticated brand of neo-soul/Jazz. Another fresh young band who have unfortunately had the release of their debut EP interrupted by the lockdown, this hasn’t affected their optimism to bring their music to new audiences and the band are now planning ahead to a rescheduled run of live gigs leading into 2021.
Rather than an ode to Oliver’s demands, More For Me is the type of deliciously smoky, atmospheric jazz-infused Soul that British bands seem to do so well. There is a lovely relaxed pace to the track, the musicians allowing the space between the notes to speak as loudly as the music itself. The playing is delicate, sympathetic and effortless, and lead singer Rosie’s assured vocals are smooth and restrained, as are her impeccable saxophone lines, showing a level of maturity you would expect from a group with many years of experience under their belt, rather than just 24 months!
Taking creative influence from the work of Mahalia, PUMA blue and Erykah Badu, they deliver a tight and punchy line up of poetic lyricism and passionate melodies. Their unique sound is revealed through the soulful vocals and sweet-sounding saxophone of multi-instrumentalist front woman Rosie Patton, accompanied by jazz infused keys and a punchy, groove soaked rhythm section.
You can buy the new She Who Leaves Her Guard Down from their Bandcamp page, and be sure to catch them live when the situation allows.
NUALA – Away
Nuala looks like she really enjoys performing – the videos that accompany her songs are full of life, laughter and smiles, and that’s a welcome tonic in these current times. Unfortunately she’s not too forthcoming with personal information other than she’s 5’ 4” & has blue eyes, but with a little digging we can ascertain she’s from Leicester and has been very positively proactive whilst venues have been closed by streaming live performances on her Facebook page.
Away is irresistibly catchy and full of the playful energy that carries her live performances. I have a sense this is something of a personal anthem for Nuala with its lyrics of independence and refusing to conform or be pigeonholed.
OWEN DUFF – Genet On Uranus (The Story Of Us)
A very popular choice this week, with a certain Mr Robinson himself commenting about the wittiness of this cleverly constructed ode to gay love in forbidden times.
Owen Duff himself tells us “This song tells the queer love story of a couple who lie in bed fearing oppression and chaos from the outside world. In the end, they are found by a mob but remain unashamed in the face of persecution. The title is a reference to a line in Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal and to the term Uranian, used in the 19th century to refer to gay men and those who identified as gender non-binary.
The song is a delight with Owen crooning gently to his lover as gently strummed strings reminiscent of PP Arnold’s First Cut introduce a chamber pop arrangement with lush strings and bright brass that combine into a woozy haze replicating the heady abandon of true love. The sweet orchestration and poetic word play is reminiscent of Stuart Murdoch’s finest compositions.
A true adherent to the DIY ethos, Owen Duff creates everything related to his music, from artwork to videos, as well as playing/programming nearly all of the instruments on his songs. His songs that blend influences from folk, 60s chamber pop, electronica, film and TV scores and jazz. Owen’s lyrics are inspired by books, films, TV, high and low culture, politics and personal experience.
Owen’s songs have been played on BBC Radio 6 Music, BBC Radio London, and have been playlisted several times on Amazing Radio.
ROBOCOBRA QUARTET – I Love You
I’ve had my eyes and ears on the progress of Robocobra Quartet since researching the Belfast scene for a music festival some years ago (a rewarding delve that also led me to Joshua Burnside and Jealous of the Birds too). The initial description I came across then was ‘Fugazi meets Mingus’ and that’s actually a pretty accurate comparison…which is probably why they instantly appealed!
I Love You is a more tempered performance compared to some of their more raucous output, more Miles Davis’s Sketches Of Spain perhaps than Mingus Hog Callin’ Blues, more Minutemen than Minor Threat, but this slow burner is all the more intense for its composure and restraint.
Frontman Chris says of the track “This is our attempt to shoehorn the phrase ‘I Love You’ into the song writing process in an uninspired way – by beginning with those three words to then discover what kind of song develops around them.”
Robocobra Quartet formed in Belfast’s Sonic Arts Research Centre back in 2014, and is led by drummer, vocalist and frontman Chris Ryan, they have been steadily shredding preconceived conventions with their challenging mix of Jazz, Spoken Word and Post Punk noise. They have already featured on Tom’s own BBC 6 Music show back in 2016 and have graced the Fresh Faves on frequent occasions since 2015.
RVBY – Lovesick
If Ruby Donadel hadn’t chosen a musical path, it’s very likely she’d be playing professional football now, having spent much of her youth honing her skills at the Bristol Football Academy. I can only say Kicky-Ball’s loss is the music world’s gain.
Rvby takes the impeccable modern pop of Dua Lipa & Salena and injects it with a strong sense of classic Cyndy Lauper on Lovesick, a song that explores teen infatuation and desire. An extremely accomplished, polished track that is set to propel RVBY on to a much bigger stage.
Reflecting on the creation of Lovesick RVBY explains: “Sat shoulder to shoulder in the strangest of situations with someone who is unexplainably special to me and there I had Lovesick written within the next 24 hours.”
Bristol-based RVBY has spent the last two years recording and releasing her first few singles. Finding a creative partner in in-demand producer Toby Scott (Little Mix, Cashmere Cat ) RVBY has released Hanging On, Wildfire, Red Light and Lovesick, receiving recognition by BBC Introducing (as well as playing in their football team!) and across the streaming platforms.
THE POWDERED EARTH – In The Sparks You Dance
We finish the Fresh Faves on a gentle note. In The Sparks You Dance seems the perfect concordant way to finish the playlist, invoking the comforting pastoral bliss of Mojave 3. The tenderness of the music hints at the sadness of the failed relationships suggested in the enigmatic lyrics.
The Powdered Earth are Gloucester, UK based writer/producer duo George Moorey and Shane Young. Roy Dodds (drums) and Simon Edwards (bass) join Shane and George here and you may well recognise their names, as they were previously both in Fairground Attraction.
George’s past work focuses on collaborations and community music projects. His portfolio includes several albums, National Lottery-funded projects, library music, recordings of local artists and music production for an online recording service. In 2018 he created the SPACES project with funding from Arts Council England.
As a drummer, Shane has made records with Ray Shulman, Nick Lowe, Stephen Street and Ian Broudie, as well as playing on albums by The Christians and Mansun and touring with the likes of Jools Holland, Squeeze and Del Amitri. Having toured the UK, France and the US, these days he’s staying relatively still, teaching drums and photography, and writing his third novel. Most recently this collaboration with George Moorey on The Powdered Earth project has allowed him to step out of his comfort zone, debuting as a singer and lyricist.
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.
Dare Summer photo by Vanessa Champion