Artists at a glance
THE GASTOWN PANIC
THE GORSTEY LEA STREET CHOIR
By the time we reach early September, two events will be guaranteed to have taken place. Fresh On The Net will have returned from a summer break that begins in a week’s time and the UK will have a new Prime Minister. Well, ‘one out of two ain’t bad’ is a small reduction on what Meat Loaf once sang! So, while one group of wannabes had a week characterised by unsavoury televised bun-fights, denying past events (even when they only happened a day earlier) and deleting tweets, we enjoyed a stellar Listening Post from which our always dependable readers have selected the following ten fine tracks.
AZU YECHÉ – Be That Guy
Azu Yeché is a Londoner who “…incorporates subtle folk and African influences into a Pop Soul Palette”. He also works with singer-songwriter Sonya Titus and there are videos of them playing together on his social media. Azu has been playing some of London’s popular venues as well as performing further afield and he has more live dates in the offing. He also has a track record of being a Fresh Fave and getting played on the BBC Introducing Mixtape Show with Tom Robinson on BBC Radio 6 Music.
Be That Guy has a distinctly Curtis Mayfield-influenced sound and style both in terms of Azu’s dexterous soulful vocal style and the rhythmic shape of the guitar playing. And like Curtis, Azu addresses centuries of oppression within the context of a harmony-soaked and hip-shaking slice of Old Skool Soul. Unlike certain politicians, he is not just peddling old ideas though, but taking inspiration from a proud tradition to create something fresh and invigorating. His vocals and backing vocals dominate every corner of the mix and arrangement and the whole thing is irresistible. A breath of fresh air.
CIEL – Baby Don’t You Know
Brighton’s returning Fresh Faves CIEL have had a dream 2022 so far. Playlisted by BBC Radio 6 Music and played on BBC Radio 1, they have been touring and gaining a reputation for their exciting live shows. They have dates coming up across the UK and they stand on the cusp of wide success. I can only imagine how exciting it must be to a member of the band right now.
As the back runners in a certain leadership contest have been finding out this week, it is hard to stand out from the crowd. Even harder for aspiring bands and artists in an era where it is so easy and affordable to record and perform your music to a good standard. But CIEL actually do stand out and the reasons are refreshingly simple. Striking, unusual chord changes and great inter-band instrumental chemistry. Equally striking melodies that avoid cliché. And blessed with a singer whose voice is distinctive and appealing and who makes seemingly effortless use of her dynamic range. Baby Don’t You Know has all these qualities in spades, plus a synth melody out of the Jimmy Destri school (albeit with a bigger brasher sound). Sitting somewhere between the driving Alt Pop of Beabadoobee and the snarling Indie Rock of The Mysterines, this is the sound of a band who are going places and deservedly so.
EMILY MAGPIE – ReFocus
Bristol’s Emily Magpie describes herself as a Dream Pop artist, albeit one with a propensity for creating “… glittering spacial soundscapes that shimmer endlessly as brooding swirls of electronics and effervescent melodies intertwine with songwriting delving into different dimensions”. She has had support from our own Tom Robinson on the Mixtape show on BBC Radio 6 Music and has received high praise from the likes of Line of Best Fit and Mahogany. She has supported Let’s Eat Grandma and This Is The Kit, as well as headlining at well-known venues like the Sebright Arms, Dot to Dot Festival and Focus Wales.
ReFocus is not an anthem for people pretending they haven’t been in government for the past twelve years! On the contrary, it is a kind of ambient electronic instrumental track that makes particularly imaginative use of a hybrid of sampled clips, percussion sounds and rhythms, recalling some of 23 Skidoo’s early eighties output, perhaps with a dash of Kode9 jamming with Pinch. The solo horn licks and brass stabs have the aura of something going on in the background, maybe a film playing in the next room while the percussive sounds clatter and clang rhythmically, sometimes dropping in intensity. Meanwhile buzzy tones appear and disappear and spoken voices can be heard chattering frantically on the wind. Evocative, disarming and dark, this is compelling listening.
FADABASI – Idim Uwem
Nigerian artist Fadabasi, a man of many additional names it would seem, has a reputation in Africa stretching back over a long and distinguished career that includes the hit songs Abasi Mi Akaiyah and Diamond In The Sky. The multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and poet fuses influences from African music with Soul, Rock and other flavours to create his own distinct sound. He is also an energetic environmental issues campaigner and a teacher of music.
Idim Uwem is built mainly around arpeggio acoustic guitar play and Fadabasi’s husky expressive voice that has shades of Bob Marley in a mash with Blick Bassy. The song is in triplet time and is dominated by sweet vocal harmonies and irresistibly fluid rhythms. Lyrics are partly in what I presume is an African language and the rest are in English and this combination sounds quite exquisite. Midway into the track we get earthy horns playing a hook before solo sax stretches out in a call and response with the vocals. Production is refreshingly live and organic which really suits the engaging Afro-folk-soul character of the track. Utterly enchanting.
GRANFALLOON – Please Write Responsibly
Manchester’s Granfalloon has been building a following, helped by support from BBC Introducing shows both in Greater Manchester and Lancashire, and reviews in the likes of Listen With Monger while playing live around the North West of England. He was also played by Tom Robinson on his Saturday night show in 2020. Cool trivia fact: Granfalloon also plays the Omnichord, an electronic autoharp that is gradually growing in popularity and usage.
Please Write Responsibly is a mixture of spoken word and sung vocals accompanied by picking acoustic guitars and quiet synth strings adding melodic features. It tells a story, allegedly based on truth with some embellishment, which may sound familiar if you have been following the news this week (!), although fathoming its precise meaning will probably take more listens than I have time to commit to right now! The song is breezy (kind of) Indie Folk with a large dollop of whimsy, characterised by attractive guitar jangle and some sweet chord changes. It is all topped off by Granfalloon’s engaging vocals and lyrical skills. One for these warm late summer evenings.
HANNYA WHITE – In A POW World
London-based artist Hannya White has been on quite a journey since she first came onto the Fresh on The Net radar in late 2020. The last year and a half has seen her curate and present an edition of the Freak Zone Playlist on BBC Radio 6 Music as well as taking over other radio shows with guest slots on NCCR, Resonance FM and NTS Radio. She has played a string of live dates including four that I have put on. September will see her play the Tomorrow Calling Festival for a second year running and, following the success of her No Preview EP, she plans to release a new album (in a format yet to be officially announced) early in 2023.
Meanwhile, she has satisfied our desire for more new material by providing this currently unreleased track. And a POW World (POW referring to the explosive nature of the modern world as opposed to being an acronym) builds from a quiet enigmatic start. Slurring, sliding synthesised string tones play off against low piano notes, stretching and rustling sounds and Hannya’s just audible and enigmatic vocals. It builds in intensity towards a daunting climax before the sounds die away quicker than Mourdant deleting yesterday’s tweets and we are left with the eerie stillness that follows. Like all Hannya’s work, nothing is random even if you may think it is. Her music results from meticulous planning and every sound is there for a reason. And a POW World is a welcome reminder of her unique talent.
POSTER PAINTS – Falling Hard
Glasgow’s Poster Paints are a duo of Carla and Simon. They have had strong support from Marc Riley on BBC Radio 6 Music as well as from BBC Introducing and BBC Radio Scotland in general. They are also returning Fresh Faves. Carla and Simon describe their music as “… the sound of two people exploring Glasgow indie pop, dream pop and shoegaze – the bands they grew up listening to, and are passionate about.”
Falling Hard is a fairly uptempo track with Carla’s distinctive soprano range voice, harmonised over driving beat, guitar jangle and low-mixed keys adding warmth. The production is vibrant but also slightly old skool. It is more Alt Pop than Dream Pop, a catchy melody taking centre stage. Comparisons are hard to pinpoint. Maybe the poppier end of Yeah Yeah Yeahs in a jam with Phoebe Bridgers while Lauran Hibberd adds chops. Tuneful, energetic and bright.
THE GASTOWN PANIC – The Shun
Recipients of Radio Wigwam’s Best Indie Pop Act award in 2020, Glasgow band The Gastown Panic have been playing live with a new drummer and getting themselves onto relevant internet radio shows. They have also been putting out a series of singles, one of which is The Shun.
The Shun is built around a crisp beat and mainly two chord pattern with octave apart vocals delivering the melody. It rises up to a third minor chord in the chorus, emphasising the hook before adding a second (contrasting) hook that emphasises the song’s catchiness. The sound is punchy, piano chords playing over what sounds like a synth bass pattern and long synth tones adding colour. As the song develops, little nuances are added to the mix. About two thirds into the track, everything drops down and we get a quiet mystical sub-section that eventually leads back into the hook as the song drives onward to its conclusion. Smart, compact Pop with melody at its heart.
THE GORSTEY LEA STREET CHOIR – Junkyard Sweetheart Number 13 (Ft. The Junkyard Of Silenced Poets)
I have written about The Gorstey Lea Street Choir (from Burntwood) a few times and I have always loved their back story. Michael first met Russ in 1985 when Michael was a 15 year old fan of 19 year old Russ’s band. In 2016 they reunited and reignited, duly forming ‘GLSC’ (the name derived from the street where they formed and a reference to Van Morrison) and playing their first gig. Yes leadership wannabes, a touching tale that is also the truth! Since then they have had support from BBC Radio 6 Music and have proved popular with Fresh On the Net readers thanks to their folk-tinged and Indie-infused blue eyed Soul vision.
Here, on Junkyard Sweetheart Number 13, they are joined by another act with whom I am very familiar, the excellent Junkyard of Silenced Poets. The result is a slight departure from recent GLSC fare, mainly instrumental with vocals appearing here and there. The guitar brings an electric blues sensibility to the party and the combination of instruments (guitar and piano mainly), playing in harmonies over fluid bass and drums with otherworldly production, brings an aura of psychedelia too, pointing even to early-ish Pink Floyd and even a touch of Led Zeppelin while the harmonised “where’s my sweetheart” reminds me a little of Gabriels (albeit sung in a lower register). There’s some tasty acoustic guitar lead play too. It is a fascinating hybrid of influences, leading to a thoughtful and enjoyable track with a subtle air of melancholy.
WITH SUN – Thirteen Weeks
We have had to wait a little while for new material from returning Fresh Fave Alice Hale aka With Sun (also a live duo with partner and lead guitarist Stu). The singer-songwriter from Forest Hill in South East London has been working behind the scenes but also playing live, where I have been fortunate to see her twice in the past year, once at a gig I put on and once at another local venue. She has had support from BBC Radio 6 Music courtesy of Tom and the Mixtape show and has been gathering a reputation for her thoughtful, original songs. Alice is also the daughter of Keith Hale, writer of Toyah’s breakthrough hit single Mystery, who has worked with a variety of accomplished artists and continues to perform with VHF.
Thirteen Weeks, featuring Josie Lloyd-Willson, Rachel Nelken and Luke Moore on strings (arranged by Josie Lloyd-Willson), is a painfully personal tale of loss set to a beautifully arranged song in which Alice’s instantly recognisable voice and striking melody dominate from the opening bar, accompanied by delicate acoustic guitar, sometimes in unison with the vocals, and rich strings. The lyrics will tug at your heart strings and the melody has already lodged itself in my head and followed me around for days on end! Arguably her best yet, this is really special and a fittingly powerful finale to a fine set of faves.
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.