THE BEDFORD, BALHAM, LONDON
Wednesday 18th May 2022
If ever you needed evidence of Fresh On The Net’s importance to grassroots music artists, The Bedford in Balham tonight would be the place to unearth it. The night is being promoted by stalwart supporter of new music Tony Hardy whose weekly blog Fifty3Fridays is permanently on my essential reading list. It is free entry and two of the three acts on the bill have been Fresh Faves on more than one occasion. Tony explains that it was directly through being a Fresh On The Net reader and regular Listening Post voter that he discovered them. Tony was recently a guest mod and, along with long-time mod Paul Kerr, he is a member of the New Bands panel for Glastonbury.
First up is Rupert Caney, an artist who has also had tracks at Fresh On The Net. A busker and freelance musician, he plays live with acoustic guitar and some form of beat that he controls using a foot pedal. He is clearly a fan of open tuning with a capo, which has two particular benefits. One is that it enables him to play full chords in the guitar’s upper register without losing resonance. The other is it enables him to create suspended and extended harmony with a few simple chord shapes. His style is very much in contemporary singer-songwriter territory with shades of Ed Sheeran, James Bey and Charlie Puth about his voice which is youthful and nimble. He is able to switch in and out of normal and falsetto range with effortless dexterity.
The song 4AM, with its rapid-fire lyrics, definitely brings early Ed Sheeran to mind. When he plays January Feels, he begins to explain what inspired it and then jokes that he actually can’t remember what it was! It is an appealing song in triplet time with shimmery guitar arpeggios and expressive vocal. He ends with a song called 22 which has a subtle R’n’B undercurrent to the slightly staccato broken chords in the verse and then a more folky strumming style in a catchy chorus. It has been a very enjoyable and entertaining set and the audience has warmed to Rupert’s engaging personality.
Israeli singer-songwriter, based these days in South East London, Florie Namir will be a familiar name to regular Fresh On The Net readers, having twice been a Fresh Fave in recent months. To say she is in demand at the moment would be an understatement. I am at the event with, among others, two members of Skylon (Paul F Cook and Luke Moore), and Florie is working with them and with me in current projects! Tonight, it is just Florie and a digital piano whose sound sits somewhere between bright acoustic upright and Rhodes electric. A matter of seconds into the opening track, we are whisked away into an alternative musical universe where classic songbook, Broadway music soundtracks, jazz and elements of Soul and Classical combine. Florie’s piano playing is delicate, dynamic and impressive and her voice is rangy and expressive.
Don’t Explain, which she does explain, is about two people making a connection without the need for words (although it has plenty) and her voice soars over rolling three-time piano where rich chords interweave with scalic melodic figures. A lot of Florie’s songs are either in three-time or triplet time. Morningsis essentially a Waltz and its buoyant style brings to mind Rosemary Clooney in a jam with Randy Newman. Florie explains how Israel is ‘a country of immigrants’ and talks lovingly about the different nationalities she grew up with before singing about childhood memories in Hebrew. The language adds an exotic beauty to her tones and it is a genuinely goose-bumping moment. She ends with another bouncy track with staccato chops and jazz infusions-a-plenty. It has been a stunning performance.
Before the final act, we are treated to a surprise live track sung by tonight’s compere Laura Westcott, whose single Pretty Fever turns out to be a smooth shuffling Jazz-Soul track that demonstrates her slightly husky and agile alto range voice. Talking earlier in the evening with Laura she explains that, until recently, she was so affected by mental health issues that she would have found it impossible to get up on stage. She is now involved with an organisation that supports musicians facing such issues. Certainly, her performance shows no lack of confidence and she turns out to have a fine voice.
Alex Hall is also no stranger to Fresh On The Net, and tonight he is performing with a keyboard on one side of the stage, his guitar, trumpet and backing tracks on the other and behind him, a screen showing synchronised videos, mostly consisting of animations by various artists, that match the songs he is playing. He explains that he has a penchant for the dramatic.
Alex is a versatile songwriter. He begins with a piano-accompanied track that is in classic singer-songwriter territory. He then skittles across the stage, picks up the guitar and plays a track that has an accompanying video of him mostly cycling in an array of outfits and backdrops. The song, inspired by his beloved Cherries(i.e. Bournemouth FC), has echoes of Half Man Half Biscuit in a mash with Neil Hannon while Jarvis Cocker adds chops. There is a whimsical aspect to Alex’s writing and, when he uses the expression ‘Swear Down’, Luke is keen to inform me that it is a popular Scouse expression. Better Days Are Coming reminds me a little of Paddy McAloon. At times names like Ben Folds and even Andrew Gold pop into my head. Belle & Sebastian are an influence too. His more epic tracks have cinematic ambitions and that sense of the dramatic is frequently in evidence.
Alex’s instrumental play is entertaining too. When he plays the trumpet, it is exquisite. At other times, he takes a drumstick to an electronic pad and hammers out a beat. All the while, his convivial personality and rangy, soulful voice take centre stage. He also mentions Fresh On The Net and how much he benefitted from the positive publicity of making the Faves. The song 2019 follows, a gripping vocorder-style a capella track with close multi-tracked harmonies like ELO if they were taken over by the Daleks! It is another highlight as is new single New Light with chugging guitar, classic pop chorus and eighties synth chords. He ends with a burst of sweet trumpet playing, rounding off a set full of surprises and some really fine material. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable night.