Sunday 5th September saw the inaugural Tomorrow Calling Festival take place at the beautiful AMP Studios on South East London’s Old Kent Road, curated, managed and compered by Fresh On The Net moderator Neil March. It featured 13 acts performing on two stages with a mixtape playing between sets and stalls selling food and merchandise. A 14th act sadly had to withdraw on the morning of the festival due to illness. Here is Neil’s review of the event.
As the day began it was clear that the weather was on our side. The smell of freshly cooked Indian (courtesy of my friend and local shopkeeper Mavlin and friend Asha) and Mexican food from the stalls soon added to the festival aura as people began to gather in the beautiful courtyard at AMP Studios. Meanwhile two local indie labels (Linear Obsessional & Brachliegen Tapes) set up their merch stands and the carefully curated mixtape provided a chilled ethereal backdrop to match the Berlinesque aura of the venue.
First to grace the smaller Vanishing Point Stage was Esbe. Minus her guitarist the London-based singer treated us to four elaborate tracks with pre-recorded backing that included superbly reimagined cinematic versions of some well-known songs such as Bridge Over Troubled Water, all sung in her beautiful classically-infused ethereal voice. It was a captivating start to the day.
The first act on the Trust The Doc Stage was Irish-Mauritian singer-songwriter and recent Fresh On The Net fave Soricah. Just as when she played Vanishing Point a few months ago she immediately engaged the audience, and had them singing, hand clapping and generally taking instruction as she treated us to a set of acoustic versions of songs like Waiting and her more recent single Juliette. It was a lively and impressive performance and a reminder of what a fine and distinctive voice she possesses.
Next up on the Vanishing Point Stage was David Little aka Lines Of Silence. The South East London artist, who also performs as Smallhaus, weaved a web of sounds and textures from his guitar and several small synths hooked up to a mind-boggling array of effects units and pedals. The result was ambient and otherworldly as the layers of sound and harmony rose and fell in fluid arcs. Tomorrow was calling indeed it seemed!
Meanwhile a buzz was growing next door at the Trust The Doc Stage with the realisation that our youngest artist, a Fresh Fave at 15, now 16, Hazy Sofia was about to play her first ever live date. Clearly her army of family and friends, who had made the trip across town from East London, were as excited as she was. Their positivity and enthusiasm was infectious and their young charge did not disappoint. It was genuinely magical hearing those light staccato synth tones and her delicate distinct voice delivering her unique minimal-synth-pop songs. Despite it being her live debut she engaged the crowd immediately with her story-telling between tracks. Her polite lecture about how we are treating the planet as an introduction to her most recent track Boatswas well-received. As her compelling performance came to a close she was presented with a bouquet of flowers and her family climbed on stage for a sea of selfies. It was a joy to meet them and she rose to the occasion with flying colours.
Next to take the Vanishing Point Stage was legendary Linear Obsessional label boss and tireless grassroots gig promoter Richard Sanderson. Richard is known for his unique use of Melodeon/Accordion played through a series of effects units plugged into a guitar amp. He creates sounds, textures and timbres most people would never expect the instrument to achieve. But today we saw two bold changes to Richard’s usual performances. First he decided to stand and play and then he also added vocals, proving to have a rather lovely singing voice to go with his improvising talents. In the summer air of the open plan arch, the sounds rang out across the venue, bringing more and more curious punters to the arch to experience his unique, futuristic sounds.
With Cholly having had to withdraw through illness, I decided we would use the opportunity for a half hour break from live music and allow the mixtape to provide a suitable aural backdrop as hungry, thirsty audience members took full advantage of the food options and the two licensed bars at either stage. Then it was time for the super-talented Rosie Bergonzi. Rosie, who had just returned from her second BBC Proms performance and is, in normal times, a member of Neneh Cherry’s band, is arguably the UK’s leading exponent of the Handpan; a 21st Century instrument that has similarities to a Steel Pan with a hint of Gamelan too.
A fellow Goldsmiths alumnus, I have been fortunate to have Rosie perform at a few of my events. She also has a weekly live stream where she improvises on her different handpans in response to the words or phrases people provide her with. Live she kicked off with a stunning handpan version of Bill Withers’ Lean On Me before getting the enthusiastic audience to shout out words for her to improvise to. She did manage to sneak in the most extraordinary cover of Jolene I will ever hear too! The sound of the handpan reverberating around the venue and her virtuosic playing was just magical and, once again, so perfect for the futuristic vibe of the event.
Next we had the unique and inimitable Tigersonic. A studio engineer by trade and multi-instrumentalist Felix always plays her Bass Guitar live with backing track and visuals playing through a projector. Her sound is quite unlike any other artist on the experimental scene. It is very dub-infused and the tracks are short and punchy. In mid-set she had Hannya White handing out tickets for her alternative bingo before shouting out the winning numbers and dishing out prizes of sweets and other items to a delighted audience. As ever her set was energetic, engaging and enjoyable. Up to her unfalteringly high standards.
Back to the Vanishing Point Stage and another recent FOTN fave Helefonix soon had the audience on their feet dancing to her alternative Disco and ambient electro-classical tracks. Helen, aka Helen Meissner Music and formerly in charge of Folkstock, only really got into being an artist in her own right during lockdown and she made her live debut at Vanishing Point in May. She does not lack confidence in front of an audience though, whipping up the crowd and turning the railway arch into a Studio 54-style dancefloor within minutes. There was still room for her more ambient pieces including the beautiful new single The Little Things featuring the voices of her grandparents. It was another great set to get the party vibe up as day began to turn into night.
Perfect timing then for a banging set by more fresh faves Pimlican ft. Josie. The set kicked off with Pimlican performing a gripping live scratch mix before Josie strode onto the stage, smiling and hip-swinging her way through a series of soulful House grooves, her gutsy vocals nearly taking the roof off the rail arch at the Trust The Doc Stage. The audience were now in full grooving mode and the duo had their own dancers to lead them too. The collaboration between these two started in lockdown and they are about to release their third single Without You. Tonight’s stunning performance was a reminder that this is a partnership that is set to run and run.
The final act on the Vanishing Point Stage (before the last three played back to back on the TTD Stage) was another artist with Fresh On The Net Listening Post credentials, the London-based Irish artist Pixi Ink. She holds the record for the artist who has played the most events at the most separate venues for me since 2018! And she gets better with every show. In particular her more recent shift towards a style that blends Trip Hop, Synthwave and a subtle hint of R’n’B has seen her find a sound that really works with her distinct and hauntingly beautiful voice. Tonight’s set was her best yet and the audience let her know their approval too.
Minimums are a genuine product of lockdown. They first grabbed my attention when they sent a track to Fresh on the Net at the start of lockdown and I liked it enough to blog about it but could find no information about who they were. It was then that I received a surprise message from someone I know very well who confessed that it was him or her behind this project. I have been sworn to secrecy ever since but I can say they came from the North of England for this festival performance. They too made the fresh faves just before FOTN’s summer break.
If people had hoped for a revelation of Minimums’ secret identity at the festival, they were to be disappointed because the mask stayed on throughout their set. Joining forces with London-based singer Pippa Sarratt and adding a perfectly synced visual backdrop full of colourful imagery, their rich deep electro-classical synth-dominated sounds filled the room and carried the audience off into an alternative universe. Pippa’s impressive voice soared and swooped above this whole-hearted soundscape. A top drawer masterclass in arranging and utilising timbre and texture.
What a year Hannya White is having. Since making the Listening Post for the first time in early 2021, she has had a tonne of airplay and reviews, was picked by two BBC producers for their Bandcamp Top 8 and subsequently curated and presented the Freak Zone Playlist on BBC Radio 6 Music. She more recently took over the In The Moog show on NCCR Radio for an hour to present her BirdsongTop 10. By way of coincidence both she and the show’s presenter Chris Watts, unbeknown to each other, were in the audience for Thursday’s Vanishing Point and I was able to introduce them which was a lovely moment. Anyway, to tonight’s set. Aided by cool visual backdrops, Hannya treated us to her characteristic blend of controlled chaos, deep sabre-rattling synths, bendy notes, daunting build-ups of noise and occasional spoken elements from Hannya herself. She ended a pulsating, brilliant set with the track that has kept winning her plaudits all year Be My Friend and left an excited crowd wanting more of this intoxicating mix of sounds. No-one manages to balance the dysfunctional and dystopian with a sense of playful innocence quite like Hannya.
Coming all the way from Glasgow and Edinburgh respectively, Post Coal Prom Queen must be one of only a tiny number of bands who have been Fresh Faves under two separate names. They came to my attention in 2018 when, recording for the Last Night From Glasgow label (alongside Cloth), they were called L-Space. A year and a half later, they had split with the label and changed their name (to one inspired by people in economically deprived former industrial towns across the world who were focusing on arcane symbols such as homecoming queens as a way of clinging to how life was in better times). This change has seen them discover their true sound as a dark Synth-Dream-Pop duo. Their ethereal and delicately arranged guitar, synth and drum programmes build a swirling but translucent mass of sound in which Lily’s soft but assured and distinct vocals are able to thrive along with her melodic flair. Tonight this all came together with stunning sublimeness and, as the audience melted in their hands, the night ended with a growing crowd of people dancing like their lives depended upon it while PCPQ exuded character, humour and a serious, socio-political side that is never preachy. If this was Tomorrow Calling, it sounds like the future may still have a chance of being bright. A fitting finale to a magical day and night of live music.
Special thanks go to the super-talented Donald Ross Skinner who, when not playing with the band Salad and other cool acts, is our amazing sound engineer; to Maria Manrique Perez and all the wonderful staff at AMP Studios; to Dido and Jo who have built Maverick Projects and Asylum into such great entities; to Paul F Cook for his amazing art and design work; to all the artists; all the food and merch vendors and to the fantastic audience who came out and supported live alternative grassroots music, many of whom are also fellow artists and Fresh on the Net supporters. Looking forward now to Tomorrow Calling 2022!