Artists at a glance
HARBOTTLE AND JONAS
THE HAPPY SOMETHINGS
After a week of inclement weather, hearing tracks as they come into the Fresh On The Net inbox is like having a continually refilled pot of hot coffee. Heartwarming and a welcome antidote to the big freeze. Talking of big freezes, when I reviewed the Faves in November 2022, I commented on the impending threat to BBC Introducing resulting from cuts in local BBC broadcasting. That threat is casting a dark shadow across grassroots independent music right now and I urge you, if you haven’t already done so, to go to https://freshonthenet.co.uk/backbone/ and have your say about this. Just note how many times BBC Introducing support is mentioned in these reviews. In the meantime, as I celebrate recently reaching five years as a moderator, our readers have chosen another ten great tracks and it is my privilege to review them. So here goes.
BARSTAFF – Outta Your League
Mainly from Wigan (apart from one member from Warrington), Barstaff will have just played at Bread Shed in Manchester by the time you read this. The new single has already had support from BBC Introducing in the North West and the band are frequently playing live and, by all accounts, amassing a loyal following.
Outta Your League gets straight to the point with exuberant male vocals, slightly fuzzy but jangling guitars, busy bass and powerful drums driving things forward. The chorus is instantly infectious, the hook playing a call and response figure with the guitar and harmonies providing extra flavour. There are great dynamic contrasts and an appealing instrumental section near the end. Everything about this track sparkles, shimmers and rocks its collective arse off. Completely joyful.
GEORGIE HANSON – 2AM
Hailing from Lincoln, “Indie Pop musician” Georgie Hanson has recently achieved the pretty impressive feat of getting on Jo Whiley’s show on BBC Radio 2, the nation’s favourite radio station, as well as having support from BBC Introducing in the East Midlands. She played a session on BBC Radio Lincolnshire in December and has been getting out and about in front of live audiences.
On 2AM we find Georgie in reflective but poppy territory. A mid-tempo groove and beat provide the backdrop for some shimmery guitar figures and lots of Georgie’s expressive, yearning voice in multi-tracked harmonies. There is a very slight aura of Americana about the melodic shape of the song and its organic chord structure. But it is essentially tuneful, charged up Alt Pop with an infectious hook and smart arrangement tailor-made for Georgie’s striking vocals.
GOLD SPECTACLES – How To Make A Million
Female-male songwriting and production duo Gold Spectacles are quite visible on social media and internet sites, but don’t share much information about themselves. They are the current number one on Hype Machine, have been on the front cover of Clash magazine and, if I have understood things right, they are also writing for a number of other artists and have had good coverage for some of those tracks too. They are pictured on Instagram and Facebook attending the Mercury Awards.
Every time I review the Faves, there is always a track I feel I have somehow overlooked and should have voted for. In Batch 473, it’s this one! The inspiration for How To Make A Million is sadly the death of Amie’s dad in a motorbike accident in 2017. The lyrics suggest he was something of a free spirit. The song kicks straight in with [presumably] Amie’s voice being the first thing we hear, quickly followed by a clever chord sequence that really enhances the melodic content. The style resembles tuneful Alt Pop guitar-band style except with synths playing the chords and bass and an unobtrusive programmed beat. Vocally it reminds me, in parts, of NewDad in a mash with Phoebe Bridgers. In the chorus, the vocals are coupled with harmonies on parts of each line plus a more forceful beat. Subtle layers are added as the track develops, such as with the staccato backing vocals in the second verse. The lyrics are touching and the melancholy but irresistibly catchy melody tops it all off along with a fine vocal performance.
HARBOTTLE AND JONAS – Now The Green Blade Riseth
Based in South Brent on the southern tip of Dartmoor in Devon, David Harbottle and Freya Jonas are Harbottle & Jonas. They have been called “one of the finest folk duos in the country” by Alternative Roots and they retain a busy live schedule that takes them far and wide around the UK. No surprise then that they have also had support from BBC Introducing in the South West as well as getting played on BBC shows in Wales and Northern Ireland. Tom Robinson has also featured them on the BBC Music Introducing Mixtape on 6 Music and praised them for “fine contemporary folk music”.
Now The Green Blade Riseth has a traditional feel, David’s acoustic guitar both doubling the vocal melody and playing chords while Freya’s accordion then brings a striking counter-melody to the track. David and Freya sing in earthy two-part harmony, mainly with David singing the tune and Freya adding a harmony above him. There is an appealing hard-edged quality to the guitar and the production is loud and crystal clear while also capturing the live organic quality of their stripped down sound. The accordion has a mystical quality that adds another layer of beauty to a highly accomplished performance.
HENS BENS – Death
Scotland’s Hens Bens describe their music as “noisy DIY nonsense on the road to recovery after a nasty fall down the stairs of pop”. Given that there is a lot of entertaining sardonic and off-the-wall humour on their Twitter feed, it is quite hard to get a feel for what exactly the back story is with Hens Bens, but they are looking for support slots with other bands in Central Scotland (and maybe other places too, of course). In the meantime, they warn us that they make music in block capitals designed to blow our speakers.
That is somewhat evident on Death. Distortion is like an additional band member with everything turned up beyond eleven while the vocalist begins by explaining that he needs to record the Rolling Stones before one of them dies (although two have already died but that’s me being pedantic!) despite not really liking their music! The verses have a synth-based edginess and uptempo beat a little like Pozi in a jam with The B52s but, when the chorus arrives, we have full-on Noise Rock mayhem and a vocal that suddenly becomes Mark E Smith in a seething rage accompanied by early Membranes. The sound is so tough, it would surely have other Fall-influenced acts like Yard Act and Life looking on in stunned amazement or maybe running for cover! The dynamic contrasts and use of different effects on the voice are two of the track’s many strengths. This takes the term exuberant into new territory! Extreme, exciting but also cleverly constructed and enjoyable.
OGUN – 25 Freestyle
This is not meant as a criticism but as helpful advice. It was really hard finding Ogun online because there are a lot of Oguns on google but scant links on this Ogun’s Soundcloud page. Also, looking at his Instagram account, is he called Ogun or Capo? It would definitely help more fans to connect with his music if he linked up his pages and made himself easier to trace. Anyway, what I discovered is that Ogun hails from Cardiff and is already on the radar of Huw Stephens who made him Artist of the Week on his BBC Radio Cymru show. Next month Ogun headlines a show at Clwb Ifor Bach which, with my laughably limited Welsh (as a second generation Welshman), I know translates as The Little Ivory Club which is in Cardiff. He has been getting out in front of audiences around the Welsh Capital and has even found time to train as a boxer!
The track 25 Freestyle (a theme with his tracks as he previously had one called 24 Freestyle) opens with what sounds like a sped up vocal sample while Ogun’s softer-toned spoken word is initially sparse before he gets into a rhythmic flow and dominates the centre of the mix. The beat is cleverly spliced up while low-mixed keys add to a slightly dark aura and the vocal sample is impossible to ignore. Lyrically this is self-reflective and, to an extent, confessional. He has an innate ability to rap against the seam of the track in a very appealing way. Nice piano in the final stretch too.
STAY LUNAR – I Like It When You’re Around
Bristol band Stay Lunar never fail to impress me. Joined recently by guitarist and sometimes singer Kate, they are a quintet, and will be playing at Theckla in March. The band have been on the radar of Fresh On The Net for several years, and this is at least their third time in the Faves. I have also blogged about them on a few occasions in Trust The Doc including the forthcoming issue out on 31st January (along with several others from this batch of Faves). I have played them on my Trust The Doc Radio show on Exile FM a good few times too. Fellow Mod, OldieRob also reports that they played the 110 Above Festival in 2022 and were fantastic live. They have jokingly called their music Cupboardgaze and Wardrobe Pop! Epic Pop might be a better description. They are essentially Alt Pop but with a great dollop of synthiness for good measure.
Although they sometimes talk about writing sad songs, I Like It When You’re Around is typically uplifting. Big brash synths of the kind you might hear on a Euro House or Trance anthem play melodic figures over punchy guitars, bass and drums. The male vocal is full of positive expressiveness and the tune is biiiiggg!! Their loud spacious production and tendency to move from instantly infectious verse into absolute killer chorus remind me of Everything Everything in a jam with New Order while Nation of Language drop by with ingredients; perhaps also with extras provided by Talk Talk and Working Mens Club! This is pop music of heroic proportions, riding fearlessly into a dramatic sunset and carrying all in its wake. Without question, my favourite track of the entire in-box this week.
THE HAPPY SOMETHINGS – Anglepoise
From the Nottinghamshire-Derbyshire borders hail The Happy Somethings; serial Fresh Faves and one of the most popular bands within the ever-expanding grassroots music community. Winners of the New & Emerging Artists of 2022 award on my Trust The Doc Radio show a few weeks ago, they have had an amazing year with recognition from BBC Radio 6 Music, BBC Introducing in the East Midlands and various others plus an album released by Subjangle. They are also tirelessly unselfish supporters of fellow independent artists. For well established reasons, the Happys don’t play live and keep their identities a secret, using the names Happy, Jolly and Joy, and having beautifully crafted puppets of themselves representing the band visually. Their puppets have become icons of independent music and, as their confidence continues to grow, this is arguably their most musically adventurous period to date.
That last observation is evident from the opening bar of Anglepoise with its joyously raucous fuzztone guitar intro that could be Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in a jam with The Clash. The song, whose lyrics deal sardonically with a list of symbols of “Englishness”, is typically catchy with a subtle nod to Bo Diddley in the chord structure and rhythm while the chant of Anglepoise just behind the main vocals in the mix is inspired. Joy, who recently joined our Fresh On The Net moderating team, is the dominant voice as usual, her highly distinctive tones leading the charge backed up by Happy and Jolly who also provide the energetic guitars and bass that play against a driving beat. Catchy, uplifting and effortlessly melodic Alt Pop calling on a range of influences that are woven into the fabric of their unmistakable sound.
THE KUBRICKS – Getting On It
London Ska warriors The Kubricks are a band I have had the pleasure of writing about before. They have strong pedigree too with those who have supported and praised them including one Tom Robinson not to mention Fun Loving Criminal and Tom’s BBC Radio 6 Music colleague Huey Morgan, and The Specials’ ace Bassist Horace Panter. They have supported UB40 and Bad Manners and have been produced by Gentlemens Dub Club’s Toby Davies.
Getting On It definitely looks to the glorious 2-Tone era for inspiration. The chord pattern in the verses has The Specials stamped all over it, while the descending sequence has a touch of Madness (the band, that is!). But there is plenty of their own personality in the song from the distinctive vocals to the rugged, staccato stabbing horns and a band whose musicianship and chemistry is clearly evident. Like everything I have heard by The Kubricks, it is catchy and bristling with positive energy.
TUGBOAT CAPTAIN – Flash Of Light
London’s Tugboat Captain recently sold out the Cavendish Arms in Stockwell (South London) at a launch gig for the new single. Not bad considering it had been over two years since their last release. Previously, in November, they headlined at Pretend in the West End and they have had a rave review from Indiefjord. In the autumn months of 2021, they managed to play a short UK tour.
Flash Of Light begins with crescendoing piano chords and drumbeat before a bendy guitar (or could be synth) figure takes centre stage and bass fortifies the overall sound. Suddenly it switches to male lead vocal and strong harmonised “aahhs” in the BVs playing over a sequence that reminds me a little of Todd Rundgren before the main intro returns. This switch happens again before the song ends with just a softer-toned vocal accompanied only by piano. It is an unexpected twist that rounds off a thoughtful track that is, at once, refreshingly individual and respectfully retro.
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.