TRACK REVIEW: Sharon Lazibyrd – What Time Is Later?



Sharon Lazibyrd


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What Time Is Later?






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What Time Is Later? is available at:

Folk; Singer-Songwriter


Somerset, U.K.


NOT only is this the final review of 2016 for me…

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but it is the last Folk-based one. Before I come to my featured artist, I will look (once more) at Folk and its various incarnations – as it is pertinent and ever-relevant – and artist of different experience and ages; a bit about song inspirations and underrated areas of the U.K. I have not-long published a feature that collates the best artists from the mainstream and the albums that have defined this year. In addition, I included the records that, to me, stood in the mind: those that left the biggest impression and remain with me still. It has been a full and frank year for music and one that has spawned truly incredible works. Whilst I have been enormously impressed by the more tenacious and hard-hitting albums: those records that take things down a bit and aim for the heart have created the biggest reaction (in me). Whether that is a reaction to the rather sombre nature of this year, and the need to find something warming and safe, or the quality one detects in such artists – I am very interested to see how 2017 shapes up in this regard. I am not sure how many of the rumoured albums will be released in 2017 – there are some big ones in there. Included are Fleetwood Mac and Gorillaz: two artists I am very excited to hear more from as we head into the New Year.  As much as I have enjoyed the best Hip-Hop/Pop albums of this year; the Folk-flavoured records have seduced me hardest. In past years I have been disappointed by Folk artists and what they have produced. There was a period when all one heard was John Lewis advert-scoring acts whose sound-alike voices – could have sworn it is the same artist recording every Christmas-themed song – distilled and distorted classic songs. That sentiment and characteristic extended to the larger scene and saw a depressing truck-load of Folk acts creating the same forgettable, limpid music. It is only the last two-or-so years things have changed and more dynamism, originality and passion have come into the genre.

I may be all-sweeping in that criticism but there is some truth – something needed to happen and a change swiftly followed. This year, I feel the best and brightest Folk albums have still been caught in a niche. Whilst titanic albums like Blackstar (David Bowie), Lemonade (Beyoncé) and A Moon Shaped Pool (Radiohead) have been grabbing headlines and topping polls; albums from new artists and Folk acts have been overlooked to a large extent. I am thinking of a particular young debut – whose name I have mentioned too often this year – but she is not the only one whose masterful album has been largely overlooked. To tie this into my point – concerning various blends of Folk – there have been some phenomenal Folk/Indie albums created in 2016. The Veils’ Total Depravity ranks as one of the standouts of this year: a masterful blend of world-class songwriting and a compendium of instrumentations that strike different senses and evoke deep-down reactions. Regina Spektor’s Remember Us to Life has a Folk core but utilises Pop and Alternative range to flesh out her music and make it more accessible to mainstream tastes. The Russian-born, American-based songwriter’s album should have been in every top-fifty selection – I have not seen Spektor or The Veils included in any run-down of the year’s best. Lesser-reported albums like Flower Face’s Fever Dreams and Conor Oberst’s Ruminations are two of the finest records from this year – the latter recalls flecks of Bob Dylan’s early work and is steeped in folklore, beauty and mystery. Those two albums, both have Folk elements, that have made the biggest critical impression is Bon Iver’s 22, A Million and Angel Olsen’s My Woman. Whilst the young American duo have created near-career-best works; they have still missed out on the medal places – rather unfairly in my assessment. I am pleased to see Bon Iver’s masterpiece mentioned; happy Olsen fourth solo L.P. has been recognised for its mix of sadness and hope; the mixture of genres and styles. In both cases, there is a Folk sensibility but so many different sounds are employed. I shall get to my featured act soon but her new single provokes passion in me.

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I feel we are still being caught in a stereotypical mindset where ‘Folk’ is a synonym for boring and predictable – an acoustic guitar-strumming throwback that sings of love in a clichéd and asinine way. Sure, there are still artists like that but, by and large, Folk is a lot more varied, bold and fascinating than it gets credit for – a genre that has not assimilated to the mainstream fully; an ill I hope is rectified very soon. If Angel Olsen felt the need – be it commercial pressure or the need for wide exposure – to expand upon her lo-fi 2014 album Burn Your Fires for No Witness; there are some lo-fi, entrancing albums that have been given necessary acclaim. MG Boulter’s With Wolves the Lamb Will Lie has songs of drunken out-and-downs (images of Ernest Hemmingway in the mind) and themes of castigation and disorientation. Ciaran Algar send ripples of delight and whisper down the spines of critics with the album, The Final Waltz. A multitude of instruments – including mandolin and bouzouki – provide the songs charm, character and vivacity. Pioneering, ambitious young acts like Aldous Harding (her eponymous debut is too good to be ignored) and Hiss Golden Messenger have crafted albums of depth, fascination and inexplicable purity. Technically, you can count Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree and Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker as Folk albums; Ed Harcourt’s Furnaces has Folk-y elements to it – a treasure chest of albums that have been amazing critics and the public in 2016. I will return to this subject (more so in the conclusion) but my point remains: not only is Folk evolving, varied and cross-pollinating; it is as relevant, vital and wonderful as any other genre out there. I would like to see Folk, in all its guises, represented better by mainstream media into 2017 – artists like Sharon Lazibyrd perfectly bridge older, classic Folk sounds and more contemporary, varied neologism. Before I come to my new topic, it is worth me introducing Sharon Lazibyrd to you:

Sharon Lazibyrd is a talented, original and award winning singer- songwriter who writes striking and melodic songs. Her songs are influenced by musicals, music hall and everything from Julian Cope to English folk. She has performed across the UK and in Ireland including Glastonbury and Tolpuddle and, as half of the duo Lazibyrd, winning the South West Music Awards Best Folk Act of 2013. She has recorded a session for Bob Harris, been championed by Tom Robinson, included in the FATEA showcase sessions and she was invited to take part in a BBC Introducing folk residential in 2014. She is performing on the festival circuit in 2016 including the 6 Music festival, Kingsbury May Festival, Home Farm Festival, Keynsham Folk Festival and We Shall Overcome. She took part in the Live at the Orchard Sessions in 2016 and will be touring her new album in spring 2017”.

From the busy year and success comes the new single, What Time Is Later? Its inspiration, which I shall address when reviewing the song, are fascinating and makes me think about inspirations in music – more on that further. For now, and with the utmost delicacy, it is worth exploring the generational diversity within Folk. There are few genres whose artists are not only active but encouraged through all ages. Sharon Lazibyrd is a vibrant and engaging artist but not as young as mainstream-approved Pop stars and a lot of upcoming talent. Hopefully, that was delivered with tact and respect but my point remains: age seems to be a barrier in other genres; Folk has different rules and fosters those more experienced, wise and learned. I have been following music since I was a child and those who remain in my mind, and produce the best music, have been performing for years and established themselves in music – in other words: not in their twenties and thirties anymore. That is no slight (far from it) but a lot of modern music decrees its artists be of a certain age and countenance. It has always been the way, not that there is discrimination, but fewer opportunities and attention is paid to acts that are slightly more mature. That seems a shame, as this year’s best albums have shown, legends like David Bowie, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen have created masterpieces – the fact two of them have passed on slightly kicks my point in the nuts. My point remains that we should look at Folk and see how it should be done. There is a mix of ages and levels of experience you do not find in most areas of music. Sharon Lazibyrd has been playing for a while and many would debate she’d be as stunning as inspired were she a lot younger. Having a family and child has not only realigned her priorities but directly influenced her latest single. In recent posts, and ones to come, I have debated how issues like race and gender are still under the musical microscope.

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Whether we have, as I pointed out, made some positive steps with regards providing black artists more respect; maybe there is sexism and problems with regards female musicians – fewer opportunities and a general attitude that should be banished to the past. Not saying there is ageism – might be putting my foot even deeper in it – but musical excellence should be based on talent and commitment and nothing else. I feel one of the problems with modern music longevity or lack thereof in many new acts. Such is the pressure and fickle nature of the business you see so many eager acts coming in only to fade into obscurity a few years later. Maybe it is the topics they are addressing – love and relations – that grows weary or the fierce competition they face. Sharon Lazibyrd not only performs music that does not promote the same ruthlessness and zero-hours contracts but her inspirations and discipline stand her out as one to watch. She, like many of her genre peers, does not just stick to formulaic issues and overused lyrics: her songwriting and music are ever-changing and among the most personal and thought-provoking I have heard. Not only is her latest song compelled by a moment of curiosity from her daughter: the song itself asks important questions and gets the listener thinking deep. Her voice has been compared with music heavyweight and had words like ‘beautiful’ and ‘fragile’ applied without any irony or hyperbole. She is an exceptional singer with such natural intuition and command – all of this goes into her songs. I have been immersing myself fully into Folk this past year and all the possibilities it provides. Having fallen for a couple of newcomers, it has motivated me to dig deep and discover the full extent of artists performing at the moment. Just wrapping the introduction up but I want to look (briefly) at unique song inspiration and areas of the nation not often coverage by the national press. Sharon Lazibyrd’s latest song has that familial connection and curiosity of a young mind: an unfettered, undiluted imagination that sees the world through fresh eyes and asks probing questions. Time and the meaning of its passage are laid down – what ‘later’ means and can concepts like time really be quantified and defined. That is something you do not hear the likes of Britney Spears and Ed Sheeran talk about – unless I have missed something recently!

I admire artists willing to exonerate self-critique and anxieties; put their heartbreak on their sleeve and sing about subjects many of us would rather bury and suppress. The trouble is about 95% of artists out there are doing it: one needs to find a tonic and antidote every now and then. Talking about love and split does not need to be done in shades of black and through a low-energy approach: some of the most memorable and established songs ever written address the vicissitudes of love with plenty of inventiveness. Instead of succumbing to easy inspiration; Sharon Lazibyrd has chosen to write a song that gets the listener thinking and inspired at the same time. There are few songwriters bold enough to break from the pack and do that. I feel the only way for music to progress with explicit progression is if we encourage musicians willing to say something more relevant and less common. It is just a thought but one that warrants preservation and patronage. As Sharon Lazibyrd has proven: a single song, when looking at something fresh and rare, can bring in a lot of new fans and gain impassioned consideration. She is based in Somerset which is not a county often name-checked by the popular press. It seems like a natural place for Folk – many would assume counties like Somerset, Devon and Cornwall would be a natural haven for Folk acts; maybe falling into stereotypes and easy labelling. I guess there is something about certain counties – Yorkshire has that same reputation – that suits a certain artist. Because the media is proclaiming music of a more urgent and spirited nature; counties like Greater London and Greater Manchester are finding greater favour. Aside from Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore hailing from Somerset: most of its musical inhabitants have already left the scene or flying under the radar. I am willing to wager there are a lot of new artists performing in Somerset that is primed for international acclaim.

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Historically, Somerset has provided us Portishead, Kula Shaker and Toploader – not all good but what do you do?! In terms of Folk, Cecil Sharp began his career by collecting songs (from Somerset) in 1903; going on to collate over 1,5000 songs that involved the folksinging traditions of the country – centres on family gatherings and commonality; togetherness and support. The five-volume collection of Somerset Folk songs was to form the basis of English Folk Song: Some Conclusions – a seminal 1907 publication. All the time media and people look to the larger cities for music there is going to be a degree of homogenisation and repetition. In order to discover how vast and impressive the British music scene is; areas like Somerset need to be investigated more; its variegated culture explored and its established, fine artists given platform. It may be tricky giving equal balance to all the countries of the U.K. – I feel a little more effort, mixed with local pride and promotion, will see greater geographical balance and more attention for artists like Sharon Lazibyrd. I know she has plans for more music and will be looking to capitalise on her previous success with new gigs and fans. What Time Is Later?, with its etymology and sound considered, is worthy of the praise it is receiving and marks Sharon Lazibyrd as a musician likely to make leaps in the coming years.

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What Time Is Later? is where Sharon Lazibyrd is now but this is not her first work. Looking back and Under the Sky was released in 2013. Trading as Lazibyrd, it was Sharon (as Sharon ‘Martin’) wirh Tom Chapman. On the album, songs like Chattering Monkeys framed Sharon’s distinct voice over lyrics about household concerns and general anxieties. It looks at minor concerns (what she’ll have for tea) and is awash with a certain charm and homeliness. Rousing, spirited strings cut in across wordless vocals whilst the duo combines superbly. Those 5 a.m. concerns come to mind and the song subjects (the chattering monkeys in the head) will not desist and keep coming back. Fog on the Water, less spirited than the previously mentioned song, is a more atmospheric and slow-building number. Again, you get a combination of strings – a superb acoustic arpeggio – and Classic yearn. There is love-across-the-water as our heroine is across the water and battling the fog. It is one of Martin’s most determined and passionate vocals on the disc and shows what variation she has – not just as a songwriter but a performer. Both Martin and Chapman have that natural intuition and bond and back one another expertly. The guitars and strings compel and lift the vocals whilst the vocal performance adds colour and emotion to the composition. Under the Stars ended the record and starts with evocative and haunting imagery. The duo, our heroine and companion, are under the stars and need to move themselves. Unsure when to go or stay; it is a song that has confusion and doubts at heart – underpinned and emphasised by a mélange of strings that convey sadness and energy. The romanticism of the song is evident as you get entrenched in the song and picture what is happening. It is a wonderful end to an album that not only has zero filler but the songs all are different and standout. There is a general theme and sound but that is never too evident. You get impressions of loss, love and life but the way that is presented is impressive. The lyrics are thought-provoking and intelligent whilst the performances are exceptional and committed throughout.

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That was when it was ‘Lazibyrd’. As Sharon Lazibyrd, stepping away from that name, there are other cuts to be found. By My Side is a driving and racing song that boasts heavy, brooding percussion and a vocal that steps away from the album sound – it is more bracing and Rock-influenced. A departure from anything heard from Sharon Lazibyrd, it is big and bold song that shows a performer stepping away from past work and looking to announce herself in a new light. The vocal is impassioned and spirited whilst the percussion has a woozy and staggered sound – never quite in time with the foreground but creating a new layer of sound and possibility. It is a very physical track where each instrument plays a part and says something different. The chorus is one of the most compelling and memorable of her career and the entire song is a big and exciting number that certainly gets inside the head. Not Blue, conversely, is a more emotive and tender track where the heroine professes she is okay and defiant. A fragility and upset can be heard in the voice – as it quivers and threatens to crack – but our heroine is strong and will not be swayed by what is happening. Addressing an unnamed hero – maybe a friend or lover – he is not going to get to her. It is a song I hope is included on her forthcoming album as it mixes revealing emotions with a strong spirit without making you feel too sympathetic or detached. You are always invested in the song and happy to swim in its beauty and mystery. You are always trying to piece the story together and consider what inspired it but engrossed by the lead vocal that is as strong and enticing as any created by Sharon Lazibyrd.

The confidence and authority that has been building through the months comes to the fore in What Time Is Later? Sharon Lazibyrd opens the latest track with immense beauty and fragility. The vocal is pin-sharp and ageless. In fact, there is a choir/child-like quality to the voice which is perfectly appropriate given its themes and considerations. Inspired by Sharon’s (will switch to the first name now) daughter and her inquisitive nature: she wanted to know what time was and what is considered ‘later’. It is an interesting point and one that could only emanate from a young mind – someone my age is more concerned with petty queries and never pays any quarter to deeper meanings. In a curious and detached way, the heroine says we shall have to see: there is no real answer and it is something that kicks the song off with questions and theorising. The song is light and gentle to begin but builds and becomes more spirited as it progresses. Our heroine lets it be know we cannot read the tea leafs or “live in the past”. There is no way of saying what the future holds and just how it will unravel – no such thing as psychics or fortune tellers; past memories and days should be remembered but not influence the future too much. It is an interesting start that will get every listener thinking and reflecting on their own lives. We all get rather casual and used to a way of life and never think too deeply about the future and the nature of time. Sharon Lazibyrd sets the stage and lets it be known the hourglass sands will keep running until the end. Keeping the lyrics oblique but picturesque ensures your imagination will run wild but she never commits to a complete answer. It is – what is the nature of time and when is later? – a subject that does not really have a set answer and, as such, the song is pragmatic and level-headed. Time will continue and things will carry on as they are accustomed to; life will keep moving and we shall see what lies ahead.

Maybe that initial question was less a provocation for philosophical pondering and more a semi-petulance and stubborn child question – where they query everything and are a bit smart-arsed. I am not sure but would like to think, with regards Sharon’s daughter, there was genuine thought and curiosity afoot – rather than being rather stubborn in response to her mother. The composition bares threads of the album work (when it was Lazibyrd) and is gentle and evocative. The strings work and create energy but never intrude on the vocals. The voice itself is clear and crisp: left in the spotlight to create maximum resonance and emotion. Never quite sounding as bird-like and pure; one gets wrapped in the blend of sweetness and sharp – how that voice manages to project all kinds of possibilities and reactions in the listener. There is something decidedly English and traditional about the song. That said, on a side note, one can hear glimmers of U.S. artists like Joanna Newsome but, for the most part, the song is very much rooted in Britain. Again, you get little bits of past work but this is the most personal and focused song from Sharon – whether Lazibyrd’s ‘Sharon Martin’ or as Sharon Lazibyrd. Our heroine is enjoying her life and wants it to slow. In fact, the idea of time and later is a source of anxiety and fear. The passing of time is something we do not consider when things are going well. If someone brings it to our attentions and makes us think – it can be quite unnerving to consider mortality and the subject of growing old. Of course, Sharon Lazibyrd does not have to contemplate such concerns being a young woman at her peak. She does, like every person, have those doubts and insecurities and wants things to remain as they are: perfectly preserved and as good as they have ever been. What Time Is Later? is not just a personal song but one for everyone.

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We all can relate to the passing of time and how we want to spend the future. With regards Sharon Lazibyrd and she has pledged her time and self to her daughter. She (Sharon) is not sure what the future holds – or when later is – but knows whatever comes and however time progresses, she wants to spend it with her daughter. That closeness and dedication is delivery with shivering and heartfelt vocals that rank among the most immediate and meaningful I have heard in a long while. Listening to the strings and piano play and you get a blend of Kate Bush and Nick Drake; not just in the composition but vocal too. There is a balletic, infantine beauty to the voice but endless passion and maturity. Blending gravity and graveness with hopefulness and love – it is worthy of the legends of music and some of the finest voices in British music history. The lyrics are deep and profound but imbued with the personal and familial. As we step into the coming year, there is uncertainty how 2017 will pan-out. We all want a year more secure and less hazardous than 2016 so What Time Is Later? arrives at a very appropriate juncture. Whatever you take from the song, and you will take something, you will come away more educated and fulfilled. The song is not meant to underline the urgency and unpredictability of life but help us focus the mind on to what is important. The future is unsure but rather than dwell on its unpredictable nature; concentrate on what is most meaningful and pure to you. Few songs compel the listener to think like that, for that and many more reasons, it makes What Time Is Later? a stunning example of Sharon Lazibyrd’s current and just what Half Shame and Half Glory will contain.

I mentioned age in the opening as a way to separate genres and highlight a problem in the mainstream. Sharon Lazibyrd is a young artist but someone who is having to compete (across radio stations) with a wave of musicians in their teens and twenties. Music’s new entrants seem to get younger with each year with many feeling the pressure of the industry. Not to connect age/maturity to experience and fortitude: those who have been performing for a while and have that steeliness are more likely to hurdle music’s tough rigour and survive the test of time. I shall come back to that topic, and revisit my opening subjects, but it is the only consideration for promotion and focus should be talent and ability – gender, race and age should never enter into things. Her current single, and forthcoming album features Sharon Lazibyrd with a crew of talented friends – they bring piano, accordion and backing vocals along, and with it, new colours and avenues. Her debut album, Half Shame and Half Glory, is mooted for release next spring and was recorded at Somerset’s Orchard Studios. Situated in Barton St. David the studios offer live spaces and a Dead Room – acoustically treated to provide the best setting for those artists more stripped-back. I love that album title and all the images it provokes. One is tempted, by the mere sight of that name, to conspire and imagine as to the origins and depths. We will all get a chance to discover the stories and gems when the L.P. is released, but for now, What Time Is Later? is the first taste of summer and all the warmth and nourishment it promises. I often highlight it as something to underline on the C.V. but any inclusion on BBC Radio 6 Music is not something to take for granted. Sharon Lazibyrd has performed at their annual festival and played across the station. Legendary luminaries like ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris have spun her work as has Tom Robinson.

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Performances around the U.K. and E.I.R.E. have ensured the music extends past Somerset and has reached multiple nations. It is always vital conquering the local market: Sharon Lazibyrd has carved her name into the Somerset legend books and has a fond and loyal following there; she is getting her music known across the nation and surely is ready for international demands. I say this about a lot of acts but getting your feet in foreign doors is something I would recommend. I have seen American bands come to Britain – assuming they would only be welcome for a short stay – and find themselves in-demand for months on end. Not only does that get that all-important gig revenue in but it ensures the music is championed by hundreds (or thousands) of new fans. Many feel that sort of possibility and cachet is reserved for bands but that is not the case. Sharon Lazibyrd’s brand of Folk – with that English sensibility – will find admiration in France and Europe; there are areas/cities in the U.S. with like-minded artists; I would not bet against her finding fandom in Australia too. She, like so many ambitious musicians, want to go as far as possible but she seems comfortable in England – that is reflected in her sound. I know Sharon (shall get on first-name terms at this point) takes influence from Music Hall music and the richness of the past but there is an accompanying vein of modernity and contemporary currency. That is a balance not only rare but much-needed in music. I feel Sharon will capitalise on her current material and keep the wheels moving (fast) through the next few years. Getting praise and recognition from influential D.J.s and stations is a huge step – one she has already achieved. What form Half Shame and Half Glory’s remaining tracks take is hard to say but I am sure there’ll be that mix of uplift and introspection.

I feel, even in Folk, too many artists get obsessed with self-analysis and darker themes. Hearing someone stray away from that and create music more nourishing and appealing is wonderful. We have had enough negativity this year so do not need to hear it in our musicians. I guess that is why 2016’s best albums have been defined by a blend of positivity and rebellion: taking issues like suppression and oppression and fighting against it. I began by looking at Folk and the ways in which it is defined by others. Not only have some of the year’s best albums had Folk as its roots – including Angel Olsen and Bon Iver’s latest – but it shows just how nimble and expansive the genre is. There is, as Sharon Lazibyrd shows, a semblance of Folk that has an English sensibility and traditional roots. Again, contrary to that, there is Folk that brings other styles together to create something unexplainable and wonderful. I feel it is the Englishness and heritage of Sharon Lazibyrd’s music that has resonated with critics. Whilst the more expansive and ‘busy’ Folk-based music has been made (this year) by American artists: it is British artists who are keeping that Folk purity intact. Before I end this; point to where Sharon Lazibyrd’s 2017 takes her, it is worth understanding the merit and importance of those classic albums in the Folk genre. The 1960s – ‘70s stunners like Five Leaves Left and Pink Moon (Nick Drake); Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home and Roy Harper’s Stormcock – albums that are indispensable and hugely influential. Not only have they helped shape and guide music as we know it but, on their own feet, stand as truly profound works. Bring in more modern works like Laura Marling’s Once I Was an Eagle and Joanna Newsom’s Ys; David Bowe’s Hunky Dorie and one-off wonders like Iron & Wine’s Our Endless Numbered Days (2004) and you can see – from that small representation – the quality and depth Folk can achieve. Granted, a lot of those examples are American but I always find the British artists do things like nobody else. The new breed of British Folk artists are showing how magnetic and alluring Folk can be – whether you class it as true to its origins or a new form of the sound. Sharon Lazibyrd strikes me as an artist who loves the 1960s’ best Folk albums but has a fondness for the new pretenders. This could mean future records that sit ambition and energy alongside heart and the home. Regardless; we have a musician who has penned a beauty in What Time Is Later? That is not just my personal view. Take one listen to the song and all those emotions, threads and reactions are…

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EVIDENT the second the music begins


Follow Sharon Lazibyrd

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FEATURE: Invisible Skin: Gender Inequality in Modern Music: Does More Need to Be Done?



Invisible Skin:


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IN THIS PHOTO: Janelle MonaePHOTO CREDIT: Aaron Smith


Gender Inequality in Modern Music: Does More Need to Be Done?


WE, as a collective, are having to consign too much hate and mourning…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Chvrches lead Lauren Mayberry who, in an open letter to The Guardian, asked: “Is the casual objectification of women so commonplace that we should all just suck it up, roll over and accept defeat? I hope not
PHOTO CREDIT: Paige Margulies

into the Room 101 of 2016. The last thing society needs and can handle is age-old discrimination and sexism rearing its ugly head. It was the famed Anglo-American columnist-essayist-orator-literary critic-journalist Christopher Hitchens – how his wit, intelligence and social awareness is sorely missed! – who proffered men are, in his words, funnier than women because there is an evolutionary and biological need to make women laugh. It is coded in the D.N.A. and the number one attraction for women (towards men) – although I suspect most still favour a certain beauty and sex appeal. There is some truth to it: most men have to create a funny personality to be seen as attractive to the opposite sex. Not that women are unfunny (far from it) but men, aside from humour, look for other characteristics – maternal warmth and outward beauty are still favoured above more important, deeper merits. Are these inherent ‘flaws’ responsible for a gender imbalance in the music industry? It might be a stretch but one still sees too much sexism in music. It may be an issue more blatant and emblematic in wider society but one should not have to see it is an artform as glorious and unifying as music.

Are we (men) truly culpable of such oversight and archaic attitudes or is there an unavoidable genetic component that is responsible? I believe musicians and music lovers as a whole yearn to see more women behind-the-scenes and promoted in the mainstream: have their work and voices featured as prominently as their male counterparts.

The trouble resides, as I speculated in a recent piece about race in the music industry, down to voting demographics and the men making decisions. In the same way voting committees – awards like The Brits for instance – are still defined by the white middle/older-aged man who does not consider homogenisation to be an issue – there is that cigar-scented whiff of old-school values and masculinity other areas of music.


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A lot of the larger record labels and radio stations have these types; some of the bigger clubs and venues promote these ideals and values. How far have we, as a planet, evolved since the Stone Age? I may be employing hyperbole but there are things we should not be discussing and seeing in 2016. Aside from racism and national divides – both Britain and the U.S. feeling they would be better off without the rest of the world – we are seeing so much rampant and unapologetic sexism in the music industry. Before I come onto look at sex, modern music and the women making their voices heard; I wanted to look at the technical side of music. It may not seem vital to the wider picture but vocational considerations should be addressed. Aside from the fact Laura Marling just dropped a tantilising glimpse of her forthcoming album, Semper Femina (in the shape of the alluring and bass-heavy, Soothing) she has not been idle and dormant. In fact, her series Reversal of the Muse addresses gender inequality in music – how few women are seen in studios and working behind the microphone. The interview series sees Marling talk with women in music and their views on the subject. As was explained by the creator herself:

Reversal of the Muse began as conversations between friends about female creativity. In reversing the muse it became an experiment. As a small part of the global conversation about women in the arts, it became an obsession. It occurred to me that in 10 years of making records I had only come across two female engineers working in studios. Starting from my experience of being a woman I began to ask myself what difference it might have made had I had more women around, if any. I wanted to know why progress has been so slow in this area and what effect it would have on music.”

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Below, I have included my three favourite podcasts from the series – which has just published its final instalment (with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris) – as an example of what is discussed and the range of artists included. Shura is featured in the ninth instalment and is synopsised thus:

Laura recorded this podcast just after ’Nothing’s Real’ was released, and Shura explains she made a conscious effort to construct her album cohesively, with the aspiration to create records in the way she consumes them: listening in their entirety from start to finish. However, Laura and Shura share the same difficulty when they’re in the midst of making records and travelling, as they find themselves detached from listening to other music which inspires them”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Marika Hackman

This edition features Markia Hackman. Since the release of her debut album We Slept at Last, Hackman has hit the touring beat with Marling, The 1975 and alt-J. That gorgeous, critically-acclaimed album should have put her on an equal par with her male peers: free from any struggle and an instant place in the upper echelons. As the duo war stories of being on tour – how they adapted to the male-heavy tour buses – they discuss what it would be like were more women employed in recording studios. They talk about the way women are sexualised in the industry and whether these attitudes are creating a negative culture of fear and submission – where women are reticent to share their ideas and being pushed to perform (so they can be seen) rather than being heard.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Amanda Ghost

Not only do the musicians talk about gender and equality in music but what bonds them and their inspirations – essentially, putting womens’ voices in the forefront to inspire and compel others. Another chapter I have to include is the time (fourth edition) Marling sat down in conversation with Amanda Ghost – the C.E.O. of record label Outsiders and a successful, award-winning musician in her own right. Here is how the episode was described:

…Amanda discuss the clear absence of female executives in record labels today. Amanda recalls her experiences of being the anomaly in a heavily masculine environment, and also her realisation of how differently women are treated in the work place when they reach executive level. Amanda and Laura consider how the role of the record label has evolved over the decade, and share their frustrations about today’s pressure to write manufactured hits at the expense of creativity and quality”.

Not only has Laura Marling’s Reversal of the Muse brought together women from disparate and unconnected areas of music but has created a togetherness and common voice. By tackling issues of sexism and posing important questions, they have helped bring to the surface issues that need to be tackled.

Whilst many are keen to incubate and cultivate negative stereotypes and transgressive views – here is an informal and lively symposium that is accessible and serious at the same time. The interviews are noble and articulate; the subjects raised fascinating and under-heard whilst the conclusions raised will raise eyebrows (in a good way) and help propagate change and evolution where it is needed most.


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IN THIS PHOTO: Canadian singer-songwriter Grimes has faced sexism and “refuses to be sexualised

Many might be saying, and circling to my opening statement, how there is a certain history and inevitability of these attitudes. If the world at large is inflexible when it comes to discriminatory practices then how is music going to conform more readily? I feel music is much more open-minded and bridled than the rest of the world; more pliable and concerned with promoting positivity and creativity. If it is just a case of transposing the 1950s’ attitudes of boys’ clubs and providing a swift, if educating, boot to the posteriors of inflexible men then we should all come together to fund a new pair of Dr. Martens and a tin of Kiwi shoe polish. I will move onto female D.J.s and musicians and their importance, I will bring in a few articles that pose similar questions to me. Back in 2010, Nashville Scene ran an article with the shocking headline: “Women account for less than 5 percent of producers and engineers” I have included an ellipsis because the remainder of that headline read “…but maybe not for long”. In the piece, one of the first paragraphs contains these words:

So why the imbalance? “There’s certainly sexism, but that alone doesn’t seem to explain the incredibly skewed numbers. Talk to some of the women who have worked as producers and engineers around Nashville, and there is no shortage of theories. But one thing they all know is that they don’t know — they don’t know why, exactly, there are so few women producing and engineering”.

The remainder of the article, a frank and full piece that interviews multiple women in the industry, explains how there are prevalent sexist attitudes and old hangovers that need to be eradicated. The article is hopeful and states how changes are occurring, if slowly, but you glean a sense (even in 2010) how prehistoric and sexist the music industry is.

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IN THIS PHOTO: British talent Laura Mvula stated, in a recent interview with Radio Times, how “racist” and “sexist” this music industry has become – fearing women have a diminished role.

A couple more pieces released in 2010 perhaps contradict the hopefulness of Nashville Scene’s expose. The Guardian’s headline ran: “Behind the music: the gender gap shows no sign of closing.” Its sub-header was a befuddlement of anger and confusion: how can these attitudes and issues still be prevalent and inextinguishable in this day and age?! Helienne Lindvall wrote eloquently and passionately on the subject; exploring how child-rearing and domestic responsibilities perhaps play a part – both in the way women shy from protestation and how reluctant men are to employ women. It looks at how the issue is not black-and-white. A particular segment caught my imagination:

When it comes to the executive and management level it’s almost all male. Jon Webster, chief executive of the Music Managers Forum, tells me that only around 15% of their members are female. Only 6% of women in the business earn more than £29,000 compared with 22% of men.

I’ve discovered that I’m not the only person bothered – and puzzled – by these figures. The other week, Alison Wenham, CEO and chairman of the Association of Independent Music (AIM) called a meeting at London club Cargo to address the issue. At the event, she interviewed Jeannette Lee, co-founder and joint director of Rough Trade (the company has been integral to the careers of Pulp, the Smiths, the Strokes, and Duffy, among others). Most people still think her business partner Geoff Travis is the sole head of the company, which she partly attributes to her reluctance to be in the spotlight. “I don’t like to do interviews. I just like to get on with things,” said Lee.

I think quite a few women can relate to this lack of desire to be the centre of attention, and it may partly explain why women like Estelle Axton, the co-founder of Stax Records, rarely get proper acknowledgment. But to this day there’s also a certain sexism that exists in the music business. “When I walk into a room, people naturally assume I’m Geoff’s PA or his girlfriend,” says Lee. I can relate. I’ve stood with a group of men at a music convention when a female artist approached us, giving everyone except me a copy of her CD. Another attendee who worked at a label said she had been told they wanted female A&R scouts as they could “flirt their way into tips“.


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IN THIS PHOTO: Björk recently told PitchforkIt’s tough. Everything that a guy says once, you have to say five times

The reason behind me writing this article is twofold: whereas pieces decrying racism in music have found white/non-black writers willing to present their outrage; there are few articles where male voices are highlighting the issues of music’s sexism. Is that part of the problem?! Were more prominent male journalists (not that I am among them) willing to share their outrage, should they feel inclined, and give a more gender-balanced weight to the arguments would we start to see redress? Whilst prevailing methodologies, six years ago anyway, seem to feel there is too much work to be done; have more-recent articles suggested improvements? In 2015, my former Impakter colleague Jessica Brassington explored the topic in more depth. She opened her piece by tackling the problem head-on:

These prejudices exist within many industries to the point of being so entrenched that it is rarely questioned. This embedded inequality is a major factor when we consider the statistics surrounding women in the music industry because it is still controlled by predominantly, white men. That is not to say that women haven’t made their mark on the industry and contributed considerably to the creative and technical world of music, but when we look at their recognition, pay and overall status, the work of women remains in the shadow of men. This gender prejudice in the industry is by no means ignored and there are plenty of projects and institutions that have been set up to conquer these inequalities directly, but there is still a long way to go, especially in technical and managerial roles.

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IN THIS PHOTO: U.S. sensation Taylor Swift has fought sexism – reviewers unwilling to believe she writes/produces her own music. She states that type of prejudice is hard to fight.

Jessica brought in some startling statistics:

  • Only 3 solo women have won The Mercury Prize award in its 22-year history.
  • Less than 5% of recognised producers are women
  • Only 14% of the Performing Rights Society members are women.
  • At the 2010 BBC Proms,  just a mere 4% of the works performed were composed by women
  • Brighter Sound only receives one in four female applicants for their music residencies.
  • In 2010, 47% of women in music earned under £10,000 a year, compared with 35% of men and the gap has barely changed in 2015
  • Only 6% of women in the business earn more than £29,000 compared with 22% of men

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Those statistics might not shock some but they do me – is that really true?! Not only is it fact but it seems unlikely to budge. How many men are rushing to the conversation pits and mahogany meeting room tables out to hammer-out a fairer deal for women; create equal profiling and bring about an equilibrium?!

Reading Jessica’s article and, when sourcing songwriter Jesca Hoop, the following (very relevant) argument was raised:

“…unlike a man [a woman] is never simply and gloriously a musician. She is a ‘female guitar player’ or ‘a female drummer’. Her gender precedes her.” This notion of profiling women, often considered normal, and at times indisputable, only helps to undermine a woman’s place in the industry

The think-piece concluded by underlining the key issues and stating they will not simply dissipate overnight. With artists, producers and influential women pushing for better terms and a fair hearing, there is a fight being waged – one that will not fade with time or be quelled by token compensation and false promises.

The most-recent article I can find that accentuates gender imbalance in music was from Marie Claire in April of this year. In the piece, there are echoes of the aforementioned articles: there is still a proliferation of men behind-the-scenes and calling the shots. By talking with working women and those in the industry (the article) suggests changes are occurring and constructive recommendations being implemented. While there has not been a complete overhaul, since the fraught and wary voices of 2010, there seems to be a mood of optimism and hope.

Whether there is further electioneering sargramostim or not one cannot ignore the facts: we are still seeing far too few opportunities presented to women; the pay divide is chasm-like and there is an inherent sexism that seems to be stronger than ever – the way women are objectified and demanded in the industry.


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IN THIS PHOTO: Ariana Grande

I will come to look at D.J.s and musicians in the industry and those we should take notice of; those who work behind the dials and microphone – perhaps names we skip when looking at album credits, for instance. Before I do, and another spark that ignited this piece was hearing how U.S. singer Ariana Grande was recently the recipient of unwanted comments and attention from a male fan (of her boyfriend). If you read this article; Grande states how she was approach and addressed in the most reductive and demanding terms. She felt like a piece of meat and sickened by the encounter: how the ordeal has made her question people and how vital tackling such mealy-minded opinions is.

Some commentators – across Twitter and the media – have asked whether Grande’s sexualised image (in videos and press shots) has helped put fuel on that fire – whether she has been culpable of creating a sexed-up brand. She responded by stating how celebrating femininity and sex is okay in music; it is valid and widespread; that does not give a stranger the right to use such appalling and degrading language.

Whilst Ariana Grande’s videos and press shots show plenty of cleavage and skin; her videos are alluring, sensual and suggestive: does that mean such portrayal and imagery is a natural invitation for men to say and behave how they wish? Of course not but it does get me thinking about the way issues of sex and sex appeal are holding back progression.

I would not, for one minute, blame female songwriters and artists for exacerbating the situation: a lot of the videos and shots are pitched and dictated by male professionals. It is too complex and issue to explain in this piece but it does make me wonder whether biological imperatives (or base desires) are a natural commodity? Is that all-important dollar of suggestiveness and tease hindering reappropriation? In music, as has been the case for decades, there is a wave of female artists who seem unconcerned with sexism and all-too-happy to show everything but the kitchen sink for attention and YouTube views. We see, all too often, people like Kim Kardashian happily posing naked in an apparent moment of ‘pride’/feminimity. Is the Instagram culture and people like Kardashian setting the movement back and betraying feminism? She might find such pictures freeing and natural but it is helping perpetuate negative stereotypes and foster sexism and carnality among men. This kind of ill is not helped by many musicians who use visual promotions as a way to sell their bodies rather than music. I feel there is still a case of male directors and bosses having this view: if you show a bit of t*t and sweat in a video that is going to get people viewing and buying the music. We all know the kind of artist, usually your mainstream Pop stars, who conform to this folly – from girl bands to U.S. R&B stars; it is really not helping bring about real change. If songs look at sex and indiscretion then surely a music video needs to reflect that? Perhaps that is another issue that needs to be addressed: encouraging more wholesome and positive subjects to come into music? I am not suggesting music becomes a pure and holy temple but discouraging this kind of blatant sexual exposure is a positive step forward.

Music is not the only culpable industry. For decades, the film industry and T.V. has had a certain reputation for placing a woman’s body over mind: ignoring the fact they are human and should not be reduced to meat-and-bones. As I said, there are performers that revel in and lust over this kind of attention and sworded fame – they account for a minority that is being unfairly exposed and promoted.

Those female performers that are uninterested in seediness, and want their words and music to speak, often struggle to gain respect and appreciation. I opened by looking at the parallels between attraction and music might be interlinked. Is there an unerasable part of the male psyche that looks at a woman’s sexuality and physique before it focuses on her words and actions? Perhaps so but that is not excuse in any situation. I feel channels like Vevo and YouTube need to place less emphasis on the cheap and shallow side of promotion. A whole new generation are going on the Internet and led to believe this is the way women should be portrayed – scantily-clad and writhing around in ecstasy; winking to camera and ensconced, by their own will, in flagrante delicto. The video above shows what we want to see less of in the music industry – although I do have a lot of respect and time for the artist in question. The video below is a much more positive and affirmative depiction from a woman that has been on my mind a lot. Beyoncé is renowned for her strong values and putting women right where they belong: equal to men; not having to struggle. Her album, Lemonade, not only looked at infidelity but looked at problems like racism and sexism. She is someone who can look at love and relationships but ensure her videos promote strength and courage over submissiveness and luridness. Like I have said; this is a whole side of the debate that warrants greater discussion and proper investigation but is a subject worth addressing.


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IN THIS PHOTO: Susan Rogers

A couple of years-old articles have asked the question as to why there is a small percentage of women listed as producers, engineers etc. The first paragraph of a BBC piece stated “only three women have ever been nominated for best producer at the Brits or the Grammys. None of them went home with the prize”. The article went on, and reflecting arguments already iterated:

It’s a renegade profession, it’s an outlaw profession,” says Susan Rogers – one-time studio engineer for Prince, and now an associate professor at the Berklee College Of Music in Boston…Women who want to enter the field face “a boys’ club, or a guild mentality”, she says…”You have to have a lot of swagger. A lot of swagger. If you don’t, you won’t be successful.”

These are important point and it is that issue of the ‘boys’ club’ and that ingrained mentality that is still prevalent. There are too few men promoting and encouraging women to get behind the decks: it is (sadly) down to women themselves to raise the slight and bring about reversal. Cuepoint, in a more-recent article opens with this paragraph:

It would be easy to mistake the music industry as anything other than a man’s world. Indeed, the sheer domination of artists like Beyoncé, Adele, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, and Miley Cyrus—not only on the charts but in the news cycle—is nothing to sneeze at. The front-facing side of the music business finally looks like a place where women can not only thrive, but also lead and, possibly, earn as much (and sometimes more!) than their male counterparts”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Wondagurl

Kat George wrote that nearly a year ago and it truer now more than ever. It goes on to underline that statistic about the Grammy Awards: how few female producers have been nominated since 1974 (six) and how none of this year’s nominees were male. Is it, as the previous article asks, down to people not looking at credits and taking a vested interest in what a producer does? Is it cooler to be a singer and less fashionable being a producer/engineer?

At school, you hear people yearning to be musicians, fighter fighters and actors – more stable and education/humanitarian-based vocations like (being) doctors, social workers and scientists are not promulgated in the same manner. It seems like (a lack of) education is to blame for this problem.

If we are to see A) more women in studios and B) a larger proportion recogniosed at award ceremonies then we need to start emphasising the importance and validity of these music roles. Long working hours, and how off-putting that reality is, is also explored by the article:

So why are women still so notably absent from music production? Massy, speaking to LA Weekly, blames the work environment. “A career in music production means a lot of 14 hour days in a dark studio with little outside contact. Women can find it hard to meet new people in that type of environment, and most eventually gravitate into fields that allow them to grow socially,” she said. Indeed, the prospect of being shut away from society in a dark room, hunched over a mixing deck for days and weeks on end doesn’t exactly seem like an enticing prospect for anyone, regardless of gender”.

Coming back to education: like science and women in politics, awareness should be raised at middle school levels and not wait until university, for instance. Maybe music reviewers (such as myself) should, if a woman has produced or engineered a track, highlight that work – thus creating greater awareness. Whilst this might be seen as patronising, we all need to do more to rescind the twisted and discriminatory practices that are seeing fewer women go into the studio. True, long hours and heavy demands have a certain physicality to them – which is putting many off – but there the inspirational side of studio work should be clear. The article ends by backing my concerns of education and the role schools play:

Encouraging women toward production rather than performance should start as early as possible — from childhood, even. It means putting meritorious emphasis on skill (the way we do for boys), rather than on being seen and admired. By offering and actively encouraging alternative profiles in music where young girls can begin to see themselves as more than just clothes, pretty faces, and style icons, we might start to see more women work behind the scenes in the art of music making. Who are the next generation of young women to follow in the footsteps of Lazar, Massy, Perry, Robinson, and others?

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IN THIS PHOTO: Crystal Caines

Aside from the heavyweight and legendary male producers like Quincy Jones, Mark Ronson and Dangermouse; there are the likes of Sylvia Massy, Linda Perry and Sylvia Robinson who should not be overlooked. If you look at the respectable and well-known female producers emerging: their efforts and work will help bring about changes and create more awareness and opportunities. Cooly G, Wondagurl and TOKiMONSTA are joined by Crystal Caines. Here is just a sprinkling of the women who have been producing since they were young and are fighting to get their names included in the most prestigious award ceremonies. It is not like female artists are sitting back and let others produce their work. A lot of modern artists, whether it is for a few songs, have a production hand – Taylor Swift, Alicia Keys and Britney Spears have been heavily involved in that side of things; so too have Sheryl Crow, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.

Should it, therefore, be down to the established and high-profile producers to do more than promote their own music? We see the likes of Lady Gaga talk about the inspiration behind songs but not their role as producer. Whether they feel those soundbytes and quotes will be removed from an interview holds some truth but the way to provide the problem some stealthy clout is getting famous, mainstream artists talking about it with pride and without reverence and modesty.

We all hear about the likes of Dangermouse and his producing caliber: why do we need hear Alicia Keys mentioned alongside as an inventive and equally important figure? There does need to be self-promotion but it is not like these women are hiding and shirking the limelight. It is down to the media to do more and help toppled the Berlin Wall that is the ‘old order’ – the boys’ club that should be fossilised and overhauled. Maybe it will take several years before the figures start to become less alarming. If modern studios are 95% male then it should be galling enough to get school and governments involved. Music and production is an important and wonderful profession that needs to be put on the same parapet as performing and singing. Only when that happens will we see the equality we so desperately crave.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Nina Kraviz

Before coming onto my conclusion and recommendations – this is turning into be a dossier of sorts – I wanted to look at three female D.J.s who have not only inspired me this year but are near the top of their field. On mainstream radio, there are plenty of wonderful female D.J.s that are trying to reduce sexism in the industry and are acting as great role models for those looking to follow their lead. Whilst there is, compared with studios, not quite the same level of sexism in the D.J. community is still does exist. If commercial stations like BBC Radio 2 and ‘6 Music house some of the best female D.J.s in the world; London stations such as Hoxton Radio are fostering some mainstream-ready D.J.s. Away from the radio, and in the clubs and small venues, there is not quite the balance one would like. Even some radio stations are too male and promote fewer female D.J.s. This year, we almost witnessed the closure of the legendary fabric nightclub in London. Because of various factors – safety fears and drugs-related deaths – it has had to comply with new guidelines and is being monitored more closely – essentially it breathes to live another day. Nina Kraviz was someone who reacted to the news, of the closure and its rebirth, and compiled the album fabric 91. As Kraviz explained:

This mix is of course where I am as a DJ and record collector, but it’s also where I am as a listener and it’s what makes me groove at the moment. People call this a brain dance … This mix is a trippy acidic dream with a lot of different emotions along on the way. And as it was recorded at different times and places, under different circumstances, it’s naturally absorbed all these very different emotions…”

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IN THIS PHOTO: Nina Kraviz

Kraviz is a Siberian-born, American/British-based D.J. and producer who is a lover of all kinds of Electronic music: the kind you will find scurrying and pilfering crates of dusty vinyls – in the hope a serendipitous moment will see a rare record come into her hands. She is one of the busiest and hardest-working D.J.s in the world and, in 2016 alone, has played across several continents and seems reluctant to slow any time soon. Having released her own eponymous album in 2011; she released the compilation DJ Kicks in 2015 – a series of singles proceeded her debut album. The album Mr Jones followed in 2013 but fabric 91 seems the most personal and electric work of her career. As the fabric’s website explains:

fabric 91 is pieced together from a series of live takes and careful listening will reveal two narratives, separated by a breath, weaving together techno, IDM, electronica, ambient and lots of acid. The mix includes many collectors’ rarities like Bedouin Ascent, Frak, Torul V and DJ Slip, as well as underexposed Russian 90s IDM and electronica from Species of Fishes and New Composers & Pete Namlook. Some of Nina’s favourite but less known acid stompers feature in the mix including Woody McBride aka DJ ESP, Air Liquide, I-f, Unit Moebius, DJ Tuttle, Thomas P Heckmann and Aphex Twin, displaying Nina’s personal take on acid and acid trance drawn from practitioners across the globe. The mix also introduces numerous unreleased tracks from трип (trip) – in fact, the mix features no current releases at all. Every track is either a classic rarity or unreleased treasure from the future. Nina’s depth of musical imagination and subtle deftness behind the decks elegantly bridge decades, genres and beloved influences on fabric 91, proving her once again to be a master of the unconventional ride”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Nina Kraviz

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Kraviz is a D.J. that is not only as inspirational and talented as (the finest) male peer but someone who brings her own stamp to the craft.

I have been to clubs and seen club night promoted: the heavy focus on male D.J.s is quite upsetting and unnecessary. There is a wave of female producers, D.J.s and talent emerging that want to be seen behind the decks and lay down their late-night soundtracks to the public.

Kraviz is someone whose itinerant performances will inspire reluctant female D.J.s to come forward but she is not the only wonderful young (female) D.J. of the moment. Before I come to my next example, and someone I admire hugely, I have been following the work and words of La Fleur. She is Swedish-born but resident in Berlin. A multi-talented D.J. and producer, she has spent the last few years establishing herserlf as one of the most dynamic, original and characterful creative in the music world. It is best, to back up this case and show how unique she is, to take some words from her official website:

La Fleur defies categorisation; A dancer turned DJ, a technician fuelled by artistic instinct, a pharmacist who found alchemy in creative control. Hers is a story that is constantly evolving, and one that she insists on telling her own way. Music is at the core of everything that La Fleur sets her mind to, and it’s the native tongue she uses to articulate her voice as a DJ, producer, label owner, fashion designer, radio host and mixed media artist

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The Swedish-born, Berlin-based talent was tipped as the artist to watch at the beginning of the decade, and she has excelled herself with each passing year. From the launch of her own label, Power Plant Records, and its smash debut EP Flowerhead, to her triumph at Sweden’s Grammy Awards equivalent, P3 Guld Awards, La Fleur has cemented a reputation as a unique multi-talent whose creations leave their imprint on you long after you experience them. In five short years, La Fleur’s crowning achievements have included being hand-picked as the debut release artist for Whatpeopleplay’s influential inhouse label with Flowerhead Revisited, a coveted DJ residency with acclaimed Berlin club Watergate, a chart-topping first outing for their inhouse label with the Nightflow EP, plus a session at the controls of Watergate’s acclaimed mix compilation series, becoming the #1 charted artist on Resident Advisor, a tour of the United States, first-time performances for Panorama Bar and Boiler Room, and the launch of her fashion capsule collection, Power Plant Elements.

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Sanna La Fleur Engdahl’s life-long love of music and movement started early, with eight years of training as a dancer in her native Örebro, Sweden. While electronic music captured her imagination, she forged a different vocational path, graduating with a Masters Degree in Pharmacy. The call of music proved too strong however, and La Fleur began DJing in Stockholm soon after she graduated, securing residencies with the city’s key spots like the legendary Grodan Cocktail club, and running her own club nights Sunday Secrets and Suburbian Wasteland. By 2007, La Fleur ranked at number 6 in Sweden’s Top 100 DJ’s list, the following year she was nominated in the ‘Best DJ’ category at the Scandinavian Music Convention. For three years La Fleur hosted the high profile electronic dance music show ‘P3 Dans’, on Swedish National Radio, and a steady stream of bookings in Europe and further abroad allowed her to focus full time on DJing. By 2007 her focus had shifted towards her own productions, and a decision was made to relocate from Stockholm to Berlin. 2008 saw La Fleur’s first forays into the studio, with her remix of David Ekenbäck’s “Nairu” on Trunkfunk Records”.

This year’s rework Flowerhead is La Fleur’s current work but she has a back catalogue that would put most to shame – not just in terms of work ethic but the variations and range one experiences.

Overlook La Fleur at your peril for she is one of the most intriguing and passionate D.J.s making her way through the ranks.

Whilst we hear about the successes and achievements of world-class male D.J.s; there is not enough being done to highlight the sterling work being done by the best female D.J.s around. A last word, from her website, about La Fleur:

Through all of La Fleur’s successes runs a common thread of dedication, detail, and determined independence. A DJ set at one of the world’s best clubs is as crucial a statement as the artwork illustrations that adorn Power Plant’s record sleeves. A painstaking production or remix is reflected in the intricate details of the PP Elements collection. The early inspirations of music and movement drive the one-woman enterprise on her ascendant path. No longer a breakthrough artist, La Fleur has well and truly arrived”.

IN THIS PHOTO: Carly Wilford

One of the most-viewed and talked-about pieces on this blog in 2016 was an interview I conducted with London-based entrepreneur/D.J. Carly Wilford. I say ‘conducted’ but, in truth, the questions were mailed to Carly; she completed them waiting for a flight – beats doing a quick Q&A at a local Costa Coffee, right?! Aside from asking about her music and how she became a D.J.; she talked about how her projects I Am Music and SISTER Radio  are her lifeblood. The former was set up (by Carly) to break the best musicians and link them with A&Rs, D.J.s and record labels. It is a matchmaking service that has helped eager and talented musicians come to the attention of the music industry’s movers-and-shakers.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Carly Wilford

Carly conducted an interview with Nina Kraviz in fact: she asked about the freedom D.J. work provides and how she (Nina) conserves energy; how her work is designed to bring people together and how she dealt with (around the time of the interview) press criticism and negativity (see the official website to see the interview). Like Kraviz; Wilford is a ball of energy who is happiest when traveling the world and immersing herself in the rush, dance and jubilant circus of a night – where anything goes and the atmosphere is indescribable. Look at Carly’s official website and you learn more about her:

Her natural energy and lust for life shines through in her interviews. With millions of views across her YouTube videos you can see why the music industry is talking about her and why she is on speed dial for artists, manager’s, PR’s and key media figures within the industry.

On the Red Carpet she has interviewed Tom Cruise, Russell Brand, Eve and Usher to name but a few. Kicking back with some of the music industries finest. Carly has put the world to rights with Danny Brown, hung out with Rudimental, bantered with Bastille and had a heart to heart with Alison Wonderland, Nas, Nile Rodgers and Kendrick Lamar.

Seen backstage at some of the Worlds biggest festivals she has covered Glastonbury, SXSW, Snowbombing, Sonar, EXIT Festival, V Festival, Wireless, BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend and Secret Garden Party to name just a few. Hunting out the hottest artists, chatting to the crowds and dominating the press pit she has also presented at the MOBOS for sponsors HTC, The Brit Awards for VEVO and The Capital FM Summertime Ball.

Carly is at the forefront of everything music related – from new artists to secret collaborations, if you need to know about it she has already got it covered. She films, edits, produces and presents all her own work as well as writing for Hunger Magazine and Wonderland. Currently standing as Music Editor for Viber’s ‘Viber Presents’ Music Channel she updates 1.8 million people every day on the music that she rates. With big aspirations and infinite drive she is one to watch very closely. No ear piece, no ‘note cards’ and none of the fake attributes the industry is often full of – just raw ambition and real talent”.

Not only does Carly perform sets around the world – in addition to regular slots on SISTER Radio – but she gives talks about music and how she started in life – as we can see when she attended the Finding Balance Summit in London:

Carly, as this video shows, started out in a rather modest cottage and in a comparatively humdrum life – married and living life in reverse in many respects. Something clicked and she knew music was that calling: a beacon she could not ignore and changed everything in her life. That experienced was stressful and unsure but she has immersed the other side a butterfly of immense passion, commitment and importance. Her talks and discussions have looked at women in music and how she got started in business: she is always looking to compel and motivate people to do more – if you have a sh** job quit it and do what you should be doing. I will include segments of her work in the footer but she is a human being that blows me away.

I have no idea where she gets her energy and how she manages to remain so resolutely upbeat and determined. Her unwavering passion for music can be heard at her sets and seen in the flesh: she exudes huge movement and intensity and really immerses herself in music.

I know Carly has created mixes and remixed others but I would like to see her compile her own version of fabric 91: something that brings together her favourite work and provides it that distinct, Wilford-esque stamp. Aside from being a D.J., Carly interviews musicians and is always keen to hear about musicians and what they are up to.

Your enthusiasm and passion for music (and artists) is boundless. Where did that deep love of music begin? Was there a particular moment you knew music was going to be your career path?

Music has always played a really important part in my life. I was a dancer from a really young age so music naturally becomes part of you. Growing up we were surrounded by it. From jumping around in the front room with my mum and sisters to Phil Collins; to driving in the back of my dad’s car with the roof down to The Pogues. It brought our family together. My grandad played the piano & me and my sisters used to stand around and sing. It’s always played such a pivotal part in the decisions that I have made. Music speaks when words can’t. My main move to working in the industry happened when I realised its power.

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She also writes journalistic pieces about serious issues and topics in music. She is a multitalented human that is constantly putting herself out there and looking to inspire others. Go to her website and you can read her pieces but Carly, like the D.J.s I have just mentioned, is not only as talented and important as her male colleagues but is engaged in a lot more outside of music. I know Carly gets regular gigs but one feels there is still a culture where she is not given the same footing and prominence as male D.J.s. You only have to hear her speak and witness her at work to know just how much Carly belong in music. She has uprooted an old way of life to follow her dreams and help others. It is only a matter of time before she is a household name and appearing on national radio. I feel the need to champion these D.J.s because there are not many others doing it. Of course, Carly’s supporters and patrons do their best but how many D.J.s like her are being afforded any publicity and features? I was lucky to interview her and the fact it resonated with so many people is indication she should be under the microscope of other journalists. Of course, she is happy working hard and performing but she shared my views on sexism in music – the need to make sexist views and practices extinct and create a more balanced and gender-blind industry.

IN THIS PHOTO: Carly Wilford

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IN THIS PHOTO: U.S. Folk songwriter Angel Olsen whose current album, My Woman, has been lauded by critics

Almost there, peeps, but before I do – and wrap this thing up – just look at the albums and songs that have defined this year in music. If you need a prevalent, in-your-face example of female musicians shining you only need to look at the end-of-year polls and rundown of this year’s best albums.

I have explained and represented Beyoncé’s Lemonade is depth but the fact she seems to be the critics’ favourite is no surprise. Her album addresses women’s rights and racial issues; looking at infidelity and her own marriage through a spectrum of anger, defiance and bravery.

Inside the top-twenty albums of this year (according to the critical wisdom of crowds) Solange, Angel Olsen and Rihanna made the list; as did Mitski and Jenny Hval. Whilst the overall list is still male-heavy there have been shifts in terms of race: many more black artists making the list and being fairly represented. My favourite 29016 album was created by a female artist (Billie Marten’s Writing of Blues and Yellow) whilst efforts from Bat for Lashes, Tegan and Sara and Shura make my top-twenty of the year. The next year will continue as this has left and see some incredible female singer-songwriters create stunning work. They, compared to the men of music, are provided fewer opportunities and festival slots. There are still fewer spots going to women and the festivals are still band-heavy. Even if you are an established artist like Beyoncé, you are still going to be on a festival bill with more men than women. Whereas bands still pull in the biggest crowds and have traditional been the natural headliners for festivals that needs to change. How many times have you seen the line-up to Reading and Leeds (Festival) and been staggered by the amount of women on the bill?

Maybe Glastonbury is a bit fairer with regards its top spots but it is criminal seeing the comparative lack of females on bills.

One only needs to look at the finest albums of this year and the past few to see how many fantastic female artists are in our midst. Again, like other sub-sections and diversions, this is a topic I could explore in a single, full-length piece. Sexism is not just reserved to studios and in clubs: festival oragnisers need to do a lot more to give female musicians an equal billing – even if that means losing a few supporters in order to make real, effective changes.


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IN THIS PHOTO: Perfect Pussy singer Meredith Graves has faced hostility and feels, like her female peers, she has to prove herself and prove her credentials

Time to go, but before I do, it is worth stating movements are occurring and people are getting involved. In his published journal, Kurt Cobain wadded into the argument about sexism in music:

It’s up to men. … I still think that in order to expand on all other -isms, sexism has to be blown wide open. But there are thousands of green minds, young gullible 15-year-old boys out there just starting to fall into the grain of what they’ve been told of what a man is supposed to be and there are plenty of tools to use. The most effective tool is entertainment”.

Two vital points are raised: how important entertainment is a tool and how men should be making moves. That was written in the early-‘90s but it is no less relevant than it is in 2016. Nearly every article you hear about sexism and discrimination against women is made by women. Artists like Kate Nash has their eyes opened to sexism when getting into music; Jack White explained how it is almost a novelty seeing a woman with an instrument – many presume they should be at a microphone and that is all. Neko Case implored women to realise they are equal and not to accept any discrimination and s*it. Meredith Graves stated how women have to fight for their right to participate in music – let alone be given equal rights.

There is something fundamentally screwed-up about seeing a female musician as a chanteuse: you can’t play an instrument or rock like the boys; stand there and look pretty and don’t try to mix it with the men. It is a caveman mentality that is still prevalent and toxic. There are changes occurring and restitution being paid but nothing on the scale we should be seeing.

It may be a case of a long-term solution: tackling each corner of music and making grassroots changes from the ground up. To start, reverse employment policies at studios and change the climate and environment of them – less a boys’ club and a more neutral and supportive environment for women. The same needs to happen at small venues and clubs: impose rules where D.J.s and talent are not hired based on gender but on talent alone. Men really need to get involved in order to add weight to these proposals. Having (theoretically) 50% of the music population seeking new conventions will only be effective to a degree – you need 100% of the population invested and committed. I know men like me who are dedicated to providing a bigger voice to women but my gender needs to be more proactive.

Maybe launching an awareness day or hashtag might be viewed as misguided – women as a minority faction who need charitable donations? – but that is far from the mark. You would not need to do anything more than participate in a hashtag/viral (#womeninmusic perhaps?) and those who are making a difference. That is not to the detriment of male musicians or those struggling to get attention: it shows sexism is a problem but also show how many phenomenal women there are in the industry. That would be one way of engaging social media and connecting with a wide range of artists. Accompanying videos and promotions could go alongside it. I see no reason why that could not be an annual event – until such time concrete, visible improvements can be seen. It is a small step but it should not just be down to those in the industry to address a subject as universal and common as sexism. We are all responsible and must be more aware, engaged and forthcoming with objections and disgust. There was a recent discussion between Laura Marling and Nemone (BBC Radio 6 Music D.J.)  as to whether sexualisation in the music industry was a good or bad thing. I guess Marling came down on the side of the fence that abhors over-sexualisation whereas Nemone took a more casual but well-reasoned approach.

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IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 6 Music D.J. Nemone

I feel it is a sticky discussion point but we can never eradicate all sexualisation in music. Even those artists that fight for equal rights do, at times, bring a certain degree of sexuality to their music. We should not become puritans and episcopalian and shut our ears to the ‘sins of the flesh’. Neither should we think sexuality nor is nudity/exposure an effective way to convey a message or sell music. We should not be in a position where musicians are acting as, albeit the Disney version of, prostitutes who are being guided by record label bosses – get your clothes off and give the public (men) what they want. It is about striking a middle-distance and balance; limiting the glut of young Pop stars who are promoting a rather unwholesome image unnecessarily and embracing a more empowering and PG-13 idea of sex.

Imagination is as a powerful tool that is blunted by such obvious and overt forms of ‘expression’.  A woman/man is able to convey sexuality and seduction throughout means other than stripping and gyration.

Instead of banning all forms of sexual representation in music we just need to cleanse the scene a bit and reign it in. Even artists that have been affected by sexism – I mentioned Ariana Grande as a recent victim – uses her body, feminine wiles and beauty to represent their music. It has always been the way of things and can, if done with a mixture of modesty and tease, result in eye-catching and memorable works.

I’ll try and end this and not exceed the 9,000-word mark (up to 8,669 so far) and say, in tandem with tackling racism, sexism in music needs to be tackled and erased in our lifetime. There is no reason why women should struggle for equal rights and be discouraged from working in studios and coming into the industry. If we create a culture of fear and discrimination it risks young women not entering music through fear they’ll be ignored and dismissed. That sense of diminishment is being felt right across music but there are positive things happening. Whilst more women are working in studios (still a vast minority) and forums like Reversal of the Muse are providing thought-provoking parapets – how far are we to actual change and betterment? In the next few years we are going to see more female talent proffered and fewer issues of sexism but there is still too much of it around. This is 2016 and the so-called ‘modern age’. The image of women being ushered into the shadows should have died decades ago – feeling it is an issue too large and complicated is no excuse. The problem and solution, rather worryingly, lies with men. The only way to flip a masculine, discriminatory mindset is to get men speaking out. It seems like an enigma and impossible feat but it can happen! When that happens, as I am not the only man lending my voice to the debate, we will all be on the same page and working together. When that happens, whether it will be months or years, we will replace the current landscape with a music industry that is balanced, fair and…

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MUCH better for everyone.

FEATURE: 2017: New Artists and Unsigned Heroes






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IN THIS PHOTO: Hunter & the Bear


New Artists and Unsigned Heroes


IN a few days’ time we will be in 2017 which provides opportunity…

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to predict those who will be coming through the ranks and adding their name in music’s ledger book. I have seen and reviewed so many great artists this year: those I feel will be ascending to the mainstream in years to come. In honour of that I highlight a few acts – both national and international – who will have new material out in 2017; a playlist that compromises songs from (many of the) acts I included in my recent ‘Ones to Watch 2017’ feature.

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In terms of duos, there are plenty of names coming through I feel will be creating something special next year. In addition to the Scottish-Irish combination of SIIGHTS, there will be new music from the likes of Rews and MissDefiant. There are so many great female duos; there is just a triumvirate of wonders who, between them, manage to bring fearsome passion and beauty to their music; incredible kinship and some fantastic music. Perennial favourites Gypsyfingers and Issimo have plenty of prosperous plans for next year – other beauties will be emerging and showing what they are made of. Newcomers like Majik have impressed and offers a new dynamic to the duo market. The London-based twosome have already created some fantastic music this year – that looks like it will continue unabated in 2017.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Farley

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PHOTO CREDIT: Robin Clewley

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The solo market is one I am very excited about and see much to recommend. In terms of local (Surrey/London) artists: Pop/Soul musicians Elena Ramona has new material afoot; some plans in mind and more (great) music ahead. Nina Schofield and Lula James are making impressions further afield as will be Cassi, Chess and After Eden. International acts like Canada’s Emily Mac and the U.S.’ Snoh Aalegra will be adding to the foundations of 2016. It is British talent that has gotten me quite exciting. After recently reviewing (not for the first time) Lola Coca: I know she will be a future star and a mainstream fixture in years to come. Signal, XamVolo and Ruben are some of the male solo artists I am very excited about – capable of providing music of the highest order. Scott Quinn has been tipped by many to do great things next year and mixes vocal embers of James Blake with some of the most impassioned and revealing music you’ll hear. He is someone that already seems prepared for the mainstream and armed with the songwriting talent to succeed.

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Bands should not be ignored and have a very high place in the musical pecking order. Hard-Rock’s Duke of Wolves will continue to lay down some seriously slinky and concrete slams whilst SALT and Three Kings High are young British bands to keep your eyes on. Throw into the mix explosive, intriguing groups like The Franklys and Allusondrugs and there is plenty of variation for everyone. I know the festival organisers will be looking forward to brand-new bands and whether they are worthy of filling those prestigious slots. I am confident, with the bands I have included in the playlist, there are some phenomenal groups that will be rocking the most prestigious festivals very soon.

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The Playlists

FEATURE: The Year in Review: The Best of 2016 and What to Look Forward to in 2017




The Year in Review:


The Year in Review The Best of 2016 and What to Look Forward to in ...


The Best of 2016 and What to Look Forward to in 2017


WITH every passing year in music…

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it is down to those who have followed its fate to encapsulate it the best they can. I have been keeping my eyes on some fantastic musicians and already compiled a three-part list of the artists to follow in 2017 – I will be going into more depth in my next feature (at the weekend). Not only do I look at the musicians who are worth your time and energy next year: I highlight the albums and songs from the mainstream that have suitably rocked my (and critics’) foundations.


This year, the mainstream has really stepped in the groove – or some less tragic sentence construct – and produced an army of wonderful albums. It is hard to take in the sheer array of sounds and songs laid to tape throughout 2016. I am not exaggerating when I say the last twelve months have been among the most productive and surprising in recent years. Not only is the sheer variation of music beguiling: the quality of the albums produced adds new magic, wonder and weight to this decade. While the critics have spoken and decided upon their favourite albums of the year; I have had a think and published my list of the best albums of 2016 ( You can see, looking at the rundown, there is a proliferation of British artists mentioned. I have listed Beyoncé’s Lemonade among the top-ten – a view shared by most critics who consider it to be 2016’s greatest album. Aside from emotional and majestic offerings from Leonard Cohen, David Bowie and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; there has been a counterbalance of more hopeful and uplifting records.

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Julia Jacklin’s Don’t Let the Kids Win sits in my ten choice albums from the year and with good reason. The Australian newcomer addresses issues of loneliness, maturity and love with surprising originality and passion. Her voice has that mix of natural accent and universality – you cannot listen to Jacklin sing and not be affected and feel safer. Her songwriting investigates common themes but does so with her own bent and perspective. Jacklin, whilst preparing the album, was seeing her friends and family settle down and get married. She, by comparison, felt rather undeveloped and behind everyone else; maybe feeling left behind and abandoned. In actuality, Jacklin was far ahead of her peers (and family). By being different and aside from the crowd – or an ambitious and creative young woman – she created an album that brimmed with candour and colour; life and beauty – one of the most impressive debut albums in recent years.

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Not to be intimidated by expectation, competition and pressure: Radiohead followed up The King of Limbs with the sensational A Moon Shaped Pool. Employing a lot of the same emotional, orchestral elements of its predecessor: the band stepped fully into strings territory and came up with an album of immense grace, tenderness and splendour. Thom Yorke’s voice has never sounded as rich and impactful whilst the songwriting was up there with the band’s peak – the period between The Bends and Kid A. Opening song/lead single Burn the Witch is a nervy and highly-charged song that looks at immigration and those who point fingers at others; a general panic and hysteria that sweeps people. Ful Stop is all-kinds-of nervy and fast-flowing whilst True Love Waits sees an old Radiohead song finally get into the studio. Everything together and Radiohead produced an album that not only matched their biggest records but shifted their sound without losing credibility and focus.

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Whilst Julia Jacklin provided music of memorability and marvel on her debut album: Michael Kiwanuka crafted a sophomore record that was, in some ways, stronger than most albums released this year. Love & Hate is a seismic leap from his debut, Home Again. Not only are the songs stronger and more ambitious but his voice shows more shades and possibilities. Epics such as the title track prove what confidence Kiwanuka has; Black Man in a White World a song that looks at the hero (in a white world) and the isolation felt – arching the microscope to the wider world and the racial issues that are rife. One More Night is a pure and delicious song that frames an immaculate voice – one that compares to Soul greats like Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke. Although Love & Hate lost out to Skepta’s Konnichiwa at the Mercury Prize ceremony – that is no disservice to a phenomenal record from one of Britain’s brightest stars.

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Scour the endless lists of 2016’s best albums and you will struggle to find Billie Marten’s Writing of Blues and Yellows among them. Not only it is a huge omission and oversight but shows just how few, supposedly ‘cultured’ musical ears understood an album of such beauty and maturity. The debut album from Marten explored loneliness and mental illness; yearning for courage and the need to explore the world at large – all startling considering the Rippon singer-songwriter is still seventeen. Emily is my second-favourite song of the year – and one I will look at more later – and a musical offering that unveils a new layer of skin every time I hear it. Heavy Weather, Lionhearted and Bird are songs that promote exceptional songwriting and some a truly remarkable, adaptable voice. Green and Milk & Honey offer more bounce and uplift whilst Unware is perhaps the most nuanced and mysterious song on the record – once heard, it gets into the soul and compels one to think and imagine. The entire record has no weak moments, although Marten’s natural modesty might beg to differ, and points at a very bright and long future for our finest young songwriter.

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Among my choice five songs from this year is an inclusion from Billie Marten but one from a woman she is often compared with – the wonderful and peerless Laura Marling. Little had come from Marling in 2016 beside her project, Reversal of the Muse. That interview series was designed to highlight how few women are seen behind-the-scenes in music and how that needs to change. Few expected any new music from her; so when Soothing arrived there was huge excitement and relief. After 2015’s critical-acclaimed Short Movie you wondered what direction Marling would take. The lead single from the forthcoming Semper Femina sees twangy Jazz bass lines score a song where the heroine’s lips are not moving: she needs soothing and comfort; she’s brooding and looking for something raw, honest and immediate. There have been suggestions of such emotions from Marling but never quite as overt and affecting. One of her finest, most beautiful vocals prove Marling is not only one of the world’s most surprising and consistent artists but someone who always conquers any territory she decides to traverse.

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I have mentioned Radiohead and Billie Marten in my rundown of this year’s best albums and both made it into my top-five songs of the year. Radiohead’s Burn the Witch came out of nowhere and introduced us to the masterpiece that is A Moon Shaped Pool. A bit of a red herring of sorts: nothing on their eighth album contained the same dark energy, moodiness and strange entice (maybe Ful Stop?). It is my pick of the year’s songs because of the excitement that surrounded its release. Any Radiohead record is a thing of wonder but there was particular mystery surrounding A Moon Shaped Pool. Conversely, Billie Marten’s Emily was not released as a single: it is the fourth track on her debut album and few publications, in so much as they overlook the album, highlight Emily as one of their standout songs of 2016. It only takes one spin of the track for it to get under the skin and into the head: harder to explain all its complex strands and all the elements that go into the song.

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Among those songs that stand out to me; there are few quite as inexplicably rousing and exciting as M83’s Go! It did not make my top-five but is definitely one of the greatest ten – Michael Kiwanuka’s Love & Hate and Jamie T’s Tinfoil Boy complete my favourite five songs. M83’s album Junk was met with mixed reviews for a few reasons. Sense-tingling jams like Road Blaster and Laser Gun were singled as clear highlights but too many fillers distilled their essence somewhat. One of three album tracks that feature Mai Lan: Go! is as urgent and emphatic as its title suggests. That chorus is unbeatable in its catchiness and memorability. You cannot help sing along and let the jubilant instrumentation move the body. Despite the fact the song was used on Made in Chelsea – the death knell of any song/soul – cannot detract from the rainbow-burst delight and infantile delirium of the song.


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Skeleton Tree

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

Sep 9, 2016

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Apr 23, 2016

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You Want It Darker

Leonard Cohen

Oct 21, 2016

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We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service

A Tribe Called Quest

Nov 11, 2016

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A Seat at the Table


Sep 30, 2016

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American Band

Drive-By Truckers

Sep 30, 2016

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A Moon Shaped Pool


May 8, 2016

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Black America Again


Nov 4, 2016

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Upland Stories

Robbie Fulks

Apr 1, 2016

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David Bowie

Jan 8, 2016

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New artists to watch  2017

Before I come to look at things that will make 2017 a much rosier proposition (than this year); I wanted to focus on a few artists that will help turn 2017 into a stunning year for music – as forecast by some of the most important music sites/journalists out there:

Be Charlotte

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PHOTO CREDIT: Murray McMillan Photography

The Scottish three-piece is fronted by singer-songwriter Charlotte Brimner, who has received accolades for her fluid use of analogue and digital sounds. Brimner has a wonderfully expressive vocal range that she incorporates with spoken word, rap and beatboxing”.

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Brandon Anderson .Paak has come a long way since he first played drums in his local church, aged 11.

A multi-instrumentalist, singer and producer, he is signed to Dr Dre’s Aftermath label, and appeared on six tracks of the producer’s Compton album.

Dre snapped him up after hearing Suede, a charismatic, raunchy single by his NXWorries side project. But before that, Paak had spent almost a decade struggling on the periphery of the music industry, including a period in which he found himself homeless after losing his job on a marijuana farm.”

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Johanne Swanson has lived in many places, but hasn’t felt particularly at home in any of them. She started making music as Yohuna six years ago while on a year-long exchange program in New Mexico, a long ways away from where she grew up in Wisconsin. “I wanted to be in a radically different environment,” she recalls. “It was the first place I lived where I didn’t know anyone.” That isolation led her to the internet and an old Casio keyboard, both of which she used as a means to connect to the rest of the world”.

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Maggie Rogers

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From Maryland to New York via Europe, singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers’ physical journey has influenced her developing musical style.

Aged nine, she learned to play the harp and the banjo, and her early songwriting explored folk music. By the time she reached middle school, she’d added the piano and guitar to her repertoire, but a trip to Europe changed her outlook on music.

“I studied abroad in France and had a really spiritual experience with dance music there,” she explains.

“Suddenly this thing that had always been the most unnatural and the most artificial, I understood the release of it. That since there was a fire, people have been beating sticks together.”

She returned to New York to study songwriting and production, receiving an unexpected break when Pharrell Williams dropped into her class to give some tips”.

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Jain is a French singer already blowing up in her native France, along with Russia and Poland – her debut album Zanaka went  to No. 5 in the French album charts, and her label have just begun pushing her name here with some incredibly catchy songs”.

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Hippo Campus

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Grand Jury Records has signed some talented artists in the past few years (including Day Wave and Mothers). One of their recent up and coming signings is a four-person indie-rock outfit from Minnesota called Hippo Campus. Don’t let the name fool you — the band creates timeless, dreamy soundscapes that will remind you of ANOHNI”.

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Baltimore-born artist Jonah Wise combines sensualism with spriritualism for what he once referred to as “pagan gospel”, but has since renounced that term. 

His five-track EP blisters, which was barely 20 minutes long, is an exquisitely crafted work that is not unlike walking through a hall of mirrors. It twists slowly, through ominous drums and bursts of static; pulled together by Wise’s shivery, soulful voice”.

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With songs about North Korea and Donald Trump, Cabbage would run the risk of being pigeon-holed as a political band… if it wasn’t for their filthy sense of humour.

On the song Dinner Lady, singer and lyricist Joe Martin darkly recalls his real-life experiences of serving school meals over a slinky riff: “I got so bored and idle / Served enough sausage rolls to make me suicidal.”

“We think it’s such a waste that bands have a platform to say things and just don’t” says Martin, whose poetry is inspired by “the bard of Salford”, John Cooper Clark”.

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The Amazons 

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Reading four-piece The Amazons burst onto the new music radar with Stay With Me, a raucous burst of power chord energy, in March this year.

Produced by Tom Dalgety (Royal Blood, The Maccabees), the song was their first release after signing to the prestigious indie label Fiction Records, home to the likes of Tame Impala, The Maccabees and Nick Mulvey.

Over the next eight months, The Amazons emerged as one of the most exciting young bands to watch, garnering new fans and word-of-mouth praise through their energetic performances and an explosive sound.

The quartet arrived at their current line-up in 2014, working night shifts in supermarkets to fund their music, while releasing nascent recordings like Something In The Water and Junk Food Forever”.

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Will Joseph Cook

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Will Joseph Cook is a sunny slice of pop that could brighten any number of rainy days. The 19-year-old singer-songwriter from Kent crafts witty, mature pop earworms that tackle tricky relationships and the everyday parts of life that worry all of us”.

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Rag ‘n’ Bone Man

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Rory Graham, aka Rag‘n’Bone Man was always destined to make music.

Growing up in his parents’ home in Uckfield, music was ever-present; whether it was his mum singing, his dad strumming on the guitar, or blues, rock and reggae tunes spinning from his dad’s record player.

As a teenager, he embraced hip-hop, MC-ing with a drum and bass crew and testing out his rap skills at open-mic nights. He then became a member of hip-hop collective The Rum Committee, while perfecting his singing skills performing at his local Blues Jam nights.

That melting pot of musical styles is evident in Rag’n’Bone Man’s solo material; which puts a modern twist on the raw soul of Joe Cocker.

In 2015, the emotive Bitter End, from his Disfigured EP, made many people sit up and take notice, and gained the singer support from the likes of Huw Stephens (Radio 1), MistaJam (Radio 1 and 1Xtra) and Jo Whiley (Radio 2)”.

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Dua Lipa

Dua Lipa’s deep, smoky voice and rhythmic flow that pulls from contemporary hip-hop, classic soul and pop has taken her into studios in London, LA, Stockholm, New York and Toronto, and into sessions with Emile Haynie (Lana Del Rey, FKA Twigs) and Andrew Wyatt (Miike Snow, Charli XCX). The honey-voiced songstress is set to release her debut album in early 2017, featuring an arsenal of songs rooted in pop but gilded by hip-hop and soul affectations; these are urbane musings on being young and mad; sharp and soulful pop parables about hustling for what you believe in”.

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Declan McKenna

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Appraisals of singer-songwriter Declan McKenna invariably mention his age. At 17 years old, the British teenager has already garnered the sort of buzz that many musicians twice his age would give anything for.

After winning Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition in 2015, Declan shot into the music industry’s spotlight, shortly afterwards self-releasing his debut single, Brazil.

This polemical debut, which lambasts FIFA’s local community involvement at the 2014 World Cup, secured him national airplay with a coveted space on Radio 1’s playlist and a champion in Huw Stephens.

With support from BBC Music Introducing, 2016 saw him perform at Maida Vale, Radio 1’s Big Weekend and Later… with Jools Holland”.

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In my country, and in a lot of countries, people still go to the well to get their water,” Vagabon’s Laetitia Tamko explains to me as she begins to reveal the metaphorical crux of one of her new songs. Tamko grew up in Cameroon before moving to New York in the early 2000s, and she instinctually refers back to her personal history to make this central point. Choosing her words extra-carefully, Tamko describes the ritual of going to a well in detail: “You walk it back to your house, you use the water or put it in a container, and then you do the same trip back,” she continues. “People don’t always check to see if there’s any more left after they’ve taken what they need”.

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Billie Eilish

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If you haven’t heard of Billie Eilish yet, don’t worry, that’s about to change. At only 14 years old, the pop chanteuse has the ethereal vocals of Lana Del Rey and the potential to be the next Lorde. We were taken by Eilish’s track “Ocean Eyes” earlier this year, as it makes you feel like you’re floating underwater”.

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Denzel Curry

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Denzel Curry first caught our attention in 2011 on his mixtape King Remembered via fellow Carol City rapper, SpaceGhostPurrp. Denzel joined the controversial underground crew RVIDXR KLVN and released a series of mixtapes and collaborations until moving on with other members to focus on solo work. The combination of ‘90s throwback vibes and bass music from Miami created a unique sound that cut through with collaborations featuring young, new artists (spawning the sound of A$AP Mob)”.

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Jorja Smith

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PHOTO CREDIT: Chloe Newman

Jorja Smith was working at Starbucks when she posted her first single, Blue Lights, onto SoundCloud this January.

Sombre and introspective, the song is a semi-autobiographical look at her childhood in Walsall in the West Midlands – referencing the number four bus she used to catch home, and the Mobb Deep song Shook One, which she used to mime in her bedroom.

Within a week, it had racked up 100,000 plays, earning shout outs from Drake, Stormzy and Skrillex. She brewed her last coffee soon afterwards.

Smith grew up around music: her father played in a band, Second Naicha; she was a chorister at school and wrote her first song, Life Is A Path Worth Taking, at the age of 11.

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Since releasing her attention-grabbing You Should Be Here mixtape in 2015 — which later earned a Grammy nomination in the Best Urban Contemporary Album category — Kehlani’s career has progressed in carefully plotted steps. While most artists would follow a tape like Be Here with a steady stream of new projects, Kehlani mostly held back, limiting herself to a few feature appearances (Zayn’s “Wrong,” Belly‘s “You,” Pusha T‘s “Retribution”) and then releasing a slow drip of singles, including “CRZY,” “Distraction” and “Advice.” Her “Gangsta” was also on the soundtrack for the action blockbuster Suicide Squad, and benefited from the promotional blitz behind the film, as it peaked at No. 41 on the Hot 100. Kehlani is following her biggest hit to date with her debut album: SweetSexySavage, which arrives in January”.

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The Aces

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Four teenage girls front LA pop outfit The Aces. Together they create sun-soaked songs that are dancefloor ready. Their debut track “Stuck” is just enough pop and rock that it falls in the same vein as The 1975 and HAIM. This fall saw them sign with Red Bull Records, and hopefully a debut EP will be on the way in 2017”.

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Before wrapping this mamma jamma of 2016’s music up let me give us reasons to be cheerful next year. You don’t need me to tell you how fraught this year has been for music: legends leaving us and many praying we make it to 2017 without any further deaths (at the time of this feature nobody else has passed). To be fair, there has been a tonne of great music produced – and wonderful acts primed for next year – to keep the tears at bay and provide hope. In case you need a few more pick-me-ups; here is a list of things that will make 2017 a lot finer than this year.

Radiohead Will Play Glastonbury

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As we have heard from the organisers themselves ( it looks like Radiohead are all set for their third visit to Glastonbury. On Friday 23rd June they will play the Pyramid Stage armed with more songs than ever – following the release of their latest album, A Moon Shaped Pool. Anyone who witnessed their – legendary and epic – set at 1997’s Festival will be primed and hungry for more. It is likely to be a fantastic gig and reminder of just how crucial and needed Radiohead are in modern music. Before they take to the stage, here is their 1997 turn and a reminder of what they brought to the Glastonbury throngs

It’s Not 2016 Anymore (Almost)!

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Any year that isn’t 2016 is a good thing, right?! The fact we are about to depart from the worst year in living memory (for musical deaths) can only be a good thing: let us hope a more prosperous and happy one is upon us. For those who need a reminder of the talent we have said goodbye to in 2016, I compiled a playlist from the legends gone and just why they will always be remembered.

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Greater Diversity in Music

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My last feature looked at racial diversity in music and hope the landscape is becoming less homogenised. Of course, we are some way off seeing true equality (for black acts) but positive movements have been made. With BBC producing an Urban-heavy ‘Sounds of…’ list for next year; Skepta scooping the Mercury Prize and some wonderful albums from black artists in the mainstream – it seems 2017 will be more diverse and provide greater exposure for black artists.

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Amazing Music and New Talent

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PICTURED: The Japanese House

I have included many of the acts being lauded and tipped by tastemakers: those artists destined for big things in 2017. In my next feature, I will be collating a selection of acts I feel will be making waves in the underground – off the back of my three-part ‘Ones to Watch 2017’ feature. Not only will some of mainstream’s titans be making new music but a whole new crop of albums and songs will arrive from those fresh and eager. Take a look at the lists compiled by magazines and music sites as there are so many great artists waiting to be discovered: next year’s music will be busy, bright and truly memorable.

New, Big Albums Arriving

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PICTURED: You Me at Six

Already confirmed – to be released early next year – are records from the likes of You Me at Six (Night People on 6th January), The Flaming Lips (Oczy Mlody on 11th January) and The xx (I See You on January 13th). Into February we have Elbow’s Little Fictions (3rd), Alison KraussWindy City (17th) and Ryan AdamsPrisoner (17th). The Jesus and Mary Chain and Nelly Furtado release material in March and Deep Purple in April.

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PICTURED: Gorrilaz

Albums speculated for release include efforts from Arcade Fire, Depeche Mode and Fleetwood Mac; Gorrilaz, LCD Soundsystem and The Shins. Of course, there are likely to be some surprise releases and albums dropping out of nowhere – maybe Radiohead will be busy again?! I know the short collection of names above are likely to feature this time next year when we look at the best albums of 2017. We need good music to lift the spirits and inspire the mind. I know next year will provide us so much awesome music: we have incurred a lot of loss and deserve the comfort music provides. Keep your eyes out for some exceptional albums in 2017.


Summer is Almost Here!

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We are all fed up with the dark and cold so the fact summer is not too far away should bring cheers and relief. With summer comes festivals! Look at The Festival Calendar ( and you get a run-down of all the best festivals you should be aware of. Aside from August’s Reading (and Leeds) Festival – where Muse are headlining – you have Glastonbury and Radiohead’s much-fabled appearances. Wilderness Festival will come to Cornbury Park Estate on 3rd August; V Festival is on 18th August whilst Lovebox arrives at London’s Victoria Park the month before (14th July).  Throw into the mix Bestival (7th-10th September); many others for the British public to get their teeth into. If you fancy leaving the country then provides more depth on the international festival dates. There is no excuse to sit around and bemoan the lack of great live music. That, on its own, should be enough to eradicate the memories of this year and ensure that 2017 is…

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A much happier year than 2016.

FEATURE: Race in Music: Are We Starting to See Equality for Black Artists?



Race in Music:


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Are We Starting to See Equality for Black Artists?


NOW that the Christmas period is (effectively) past its…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Jorja Smith – included on the longlist of BBC’s ‘Ones to Watch…’ 2017
IN HEADER PHOTO: Chance the Rapper

finest and most relevant days; I have been looking at this year’s music and the work that has come to define it. I bring this rather thorny and heated issue up because I feel 2016 has, aside from its relentless bad news, brought us some form of equality in music. You may be sitting there assuming music, as opposed to the wider world, is equal. Nations like the U.K. and U.S. are meant to be more humanitarian, smart and sane – compared with the developing countries of the world. Britain has decided to leave the European Union and – for those Brexit voters – whatever spin you put on it there is a racial motivation – not wanting to integrate and live with foreign neighbours. The U.S. has voted-in a President as bigoted and racist as you are likely to see. Donald Trump, one suspects, is that type of racist who says he cannot hate black people because his second cousin twice-removed has a black lady working for him. Unaware of the appallingly unacceptable nature of his mindset: he is happy to live in a 1950s’ world where the wife should be cooking, domestic violence is just a good way of sorting a child’s (bad) posture out and those of different skin colours should know their place. Anyone who says two of the most powerful nations on earth are all-loving, rational and lack racist blood are really rather deluded. What does this have to do with music?

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Well, I know musicians are, by and large, smarter and more inspiring than your ‘average’ citizen but does that apply to the decision-making labels and the poll-makers? Over the past few years – decades in fact – accusations have been levied towards award panels their membership is too white, middle/old-aged and male-heavy. If other sectors of society have equality and balance: music is still defined by the all-boys’ club image and an unwillingly to budge to the changing times.

The Brit Awards, among the most culpable, has been forced to change its membership and dynamic in order to fit into the twenty-first-century.

It seems odd, in this modern day, we should be talking about race as an issue – maybe I am naïve but The Stone Age has really not passed by, has it?! With artists like Big Narstie, Stormzy and Lady Leshurr speaking out about the issue: the Brit panel is now recruiting black judges and ensuring their committee is less homogenised. This is good but it makes you wonder why NOW this decision has been made?

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IN THIS PHOTO: NAO – who came third on BBC‘s ‘Ones to Watch…’ 2016

In my reviews, I draw parallels by the state of 2016’s politics and music but there is no coincidence. As our leaders, and the majority of our population, are content on separating themselves from the rest of the world – music must be more dignified and prove itself to be a fairer and more loving thing. Those who say music is still lacking diversity and equality might have an argument, that being said. The Brit Awards ‘debacle’ shows how there is an ingrained mentality where it is acceptable to have an all-white judging panel. I keep mentioning the black population and not Asians – the reason I do this is because I feel there are a lot more black musicians (compared to Asian) and fewer opportunities for them. Even though about three-percent of the U.K.’s population is black (as per the 2011 census), that is not to say the black population should be a minority. If politics and insane voting patterns have shown anything this year it is how fractured and hateful the world is becoming. Musicians are part of a beautiful and inspiring art form that promotes togetherness, brotherly/sisterly love and compassion. It is only when you look at voting panels and the faces behind the scenes you can see how changes need to be made. It is not just race that needs to be addressed by sex too – that might be for another day.

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IN THIS PHOTO: RAYE – included on the longlist of BBC‘s ‘Ones to Watch…’ 2017; PHOTO 

It is clear institutional improvements need to occur and reappropriation start as soon as possible. Whether a greater percentage of black faces on the Brit voting committee will spark change across the board, I am not sure. One recent event that really sparked anger (in me) was the reaction to Beyoncé’s performance at the CMA Awards. She performed Daddy Lessons with Dixie Chicks and was greeted with grumble, criticism and downright prejudice. The excuse was, for such a heated reaction, the award ceremony has always had a set image and type of performer – in other words, whites-only, please. If you look at Country music and the lack of black faces it might not seem like a surprise. If areas like Nashville are more open-minded and racially sensitive than one would imagine, bodies like the CMA have that Deep South, U.S.A.-for-the-whites psyche that drags America into a Neolithic tar pit. You can understand – but never forgive – the peanut-brained racism in individuals and smaller, insignificant parts of society. When this shocking racism occurs in music then something has to be done.

Both Beyoncé and Dixie Chicks responded to the incident with impressive maturity and fortitude. Whether the idiots at the CMA Awards will get into the modern world has yet to be seen but it is another flagrant example of race being an issue in music. ‘Tradition’ and image be damned: music is for every race, age and gender. The fact women are not seen behind-the-scenes and have to struggle for recognition is bad enough: when you see such prejudice in a beautiful industry then you have to stand back and ask questions. It is not just the award shows that have shown how out-of-touch they are.

If you look at festival line-ups we clearly see a (comparable) lack of opportunities for black artists.

I know the vast majority of bands are white – that is just the way it has always been – but one wonders whether that trend stems from a lack of opportunities for black musicians. I would love to see more black bands or those with one or two black members – but it is a rarity, I know.

Therefore, the majority of black musicians are solo artists and they (solo artists) get fewer chances to shine on big, festival stages. There is still that proliferation and emphasis on bands and their cachet. It is not like black artists are, as prejudicial minds might perceive, reserved to genres like Rap, Hip-Hop and Soul. Whilst there are a greater number of white artists across Rock, Pop and Indie (as opposed other genres) I feel this is not because of simple explanations – black artists’ heritage draws them to particular areas of music – but the attitudes and discriminatory nature of modern music. Artists like Beyoncé – who I shall mention in greater detail – are providing strength and inspiration but more needs to be done to address this issue. Festivals need to start putting more black artists near the top of the bill: not just in genres like Hip-Hop and Grime but more mainstream sectors like Pop. There are plenty of black Pop stars but, for the most part, we do not hear about them.

Essentially, I do not feel there is the equality in music there should be.

I am not accusing the industry of being racist but feel more effort should be expended to promote black music. Its artists are showing mettle and talent and that should be rewarded. Not as positive discrimination but as a way of opening up music and showing just how many great, world-class black artists we have among us – and having to fight harder to have their voices heard. Before I come on to the more positive side of the argument, I wanted to end with concerns about stereotypes and the way artists are pigeon-holed.

I have touched on genres many associates with black artists; that is only half the battle.

Recognising there are tremendous black musicians across every genre of music helps tackle the issues we have. Once we stop assuming certain styles are synonymous with a certain type of people then we will start to make real changes and be a lot more educated and open-minded.

It is not just black artists that suffer, but women too. I am not sure whether there is a correlation between black and female artists but both struggles when it comes to the band market. There are quite a few female-led/female-only bands but they are still in the minority. It is not just a case of women wanting to be solo artists (or part of a duo) but a certain expectation put upon them. In the past, strong girl bands like Destiny’s Child, En Vogue and Salt-N-Pepa inspired legions of girls/musicians to rise up and get their voices heard. I feel we have not moved on from the 1990s and learnt any lessons. I would love to see more female bands proffered and fewer discouraged against forming one – through fear they would be overlooked in favour of their male counterparts. Maybe black artists feel they will be passed over if they formed bands.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Nadia Rose – included on the longlist of BBC’s ‘Ones to Watch…’ 2017

It means, therefore, it is not just an issue of race but interconnected sexism. If music is to show how much more dignified it is compared with the rest of the world it needs to address issues of race and gender at grassroots sooner rather than later. We have seen so much tragedy this year in music; we must ensure next year has fewer deaths and more togetherness – ensuring there is more time committed to addressing race in today’s music and proactively addressing it. You cannot deny there is credence and truth behind my words but the argument is not that simple. Music is, or should be at least, a meritocracy and this makes some of my debate a little controversial. It is not a coincidence most of this year’s top-ten albums are made by black artists. I am not suggesting tastemakers and music sites are employing reverse-racism but they are finally waking up and being far less closed-off than previous years. The fact 2016’s elite records have been created by black artists is sheer quality and talent and nothing else. There is no political agenda or guilt-ridden need to redress racial imbalance – it is a case of pure quality, class and distinction. I will touch more on the artists and albums that have made this year but, given the fact this year’s greatest albums have been created (largely) by black artists raises the question: will 2017 see more time dedicated to promoting black artists and ensure they get an equal share of the pie?

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IN THIS PHOTO: Izzy Bizu – included on the longlist of BBC’s ‘Ones to Watch…’ 2016; winner of BBC’s Introducing Award this year.

If one looks at BBC’s ‘Sounds of…’ list and we can see a marked shift between last year and this one. Out of the fifteen artists who made their longlist: just under half the nominees were black. Not only was Pop and Soul represented (Izzy Bizu and NAO) but Rap and Hip-Hop (Section Boyz, Loyle Carner and WSTRN). The list was still male-heavy – in terms of entries is was eight to seven in favour of the guys; the fact Section Boyz is a six-man crew tipped the overall numbers firmly into the XY chromosome section. There was, on that list, a blend of mainstream, radio-friendly artists and more credible, less-festival-approved acts too. The trouble is I feel the winner and overall top-five was flawed. Again, the top-five was largely male (WSTRN tipped the scale gender-wise (negatively) and racially (positively) but, I feel, the rankings were all wrong.  I wanted to see Section Boyz placed higher (they did not make the shortlist) and Billie Marten should have been in high in the mix.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Jack Garratt – the winner of BBC’s ‘Ones to Watch…’ 2016

Jack Garratt won the poll but I feel him and Blossoms, who came fourth, are more commercial and less effective than Izzy Bizu, Section Boyz and Loyle Carner.

It is impressive seeing black artists being included prominently in a longlist; but if there is a clear lack of quality recognition then it risks these lists being seen as tokenistic and irrelevant.

Past years the BBC has crowned out-and-out commercial artists as their winners – which has given their selection a very white and chart-made flair. This year, it looks like things can change and show greater evolution and progression. For the first year, the majority of artists on BBC’s ‘Sound of…’ list are black acts. Again, the list favours boys – due to the fact bands like Cabbage and The Amazons are there – but there are fewer outright commercial artists and more real and honest answers there.

Even the bands on the list are a lot grittier and less predictable than you might imagine. Ray BLK is a more real and relatable R&B/Soul artist compared with Izzy Bizu – both hail from the same neck of the woods yet Bizu is less spit and swagger than Ray BLK. RAYE and Stefflon-Don, between them, create sparkling wordplay and tight, stunning beats. Nadia Rose (Stormzy’s cousin) offers funky rhymes whilst Jorja Smith provides evocative, vintage R&B. In terms of the males of 2017’s ‘Sound of…’ (black artists) we have Anderson.Paak, AJ Tracey and Dave. Not just confined to genres like Hip-Hop and Rap – the boys provide plenty of silky Pop, intelligent wordplay and luxurious, divine music. I compare the polls because it shows black artists are not only being exposed and recognised but given a platform on one of the music’s world’s most prestigious polls. I hope, when the shortlist is announced, quality is considered over commerciality.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Stefflon-Don -included in the longlist of BBC’s ‘Ones to Watch…’ 2017

If I had to draw my top-five it would be Anderson.Paak, Jorja Smith and The Amazons in the medal places; Stefflon-Don and Maggie Rose in the remaining places. That would – if the decision makers have the same sense as me – place black artists in the top-two positions: it gives majority places (if not sheer numbers) to women without preening and pandering. I hope the final decision is largely reflective of my predictions but regardless: we are seeing black artists being acknowledged and not in a clichéd way. Before finishing with the best albums of this year, one momentous musical event of this year should not go unmentioned: the Mercury Prize win of Skepta. His scintillating album, Konnichiwa, shocked people for a number of reasons.

The Mercury nominees were largely white and male: the fact a young black artist won it was a refreshing and needed nod.

Not just the fact the predicted favourite – Davie Bowie – was toppled but Grime was recognised. Skepta’s Hip-Hop/Rap/Grime combinations address the realities of the street and open eyes to the issues of society often overlooked by the media – the fate of those on estates and the poorer trying to make their way. Of course, there is braggadocio and sloganeering on the album – making it palatable and popular with American audiences – but is remains a distinctly British and real album. Skepta’s victory not only shows what fantastic black music there is in this country but it helps bring lesser-celebrated genres more into the mainstream. It will not, as the winner and his contemporaries stated, completely change things: Grime still has to campaign in the underground and deserves greater backing and patronage but it is a positive change. Skepta’s May-released masterpiece has provided music the shot in the balls it needs to take notice and make changes.

I am confident future Mercury ceremonies will see black artists and minority genres celebrated – not just the swathe of festival bands and critical darlings that have defined the Mercury Awards in years past. Does Skepta’s victory change attitudes to black music and bring about revolution? Short answer: no. There will be, in future months, changes in the way voting committees are composed and the type of music included in award nominations. What Skepta has done is show how real talent and passion should not be defined by race or gender. Strip away his skin colour and background and what is left is an album of unimpeachable energy, commitment and focus. The fact he is black neither deters not elevates the album: it shows how we, in the music industry, needless impose limitations on black artists and are entrenched in decades-old ideals and stereotypes.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Section Boyz – included on the longlist of BBC’s ‘Ones to Watch…’ 2016

Before closing; it is worth looking at the event that has confirmed how well black artists are faring in critical minds: the results of the end-of-year lists. 2016 has had to react to the fact many of its forefathers are departing at the rate of knots – mortality and unpredictability have slapped us like ice-cold hurricanes and we are seeing the current generation respond accordingly. This year’s best music has not only been defined by a more passionate, relevant and uncommercial sound but by some fantastic black artists. In past years, these end-of-year polls have been defined by albums from white artists; despite the fact the last two years’ best albums been made, in my esteem, by black musicians – Kendrick Lamar last year (and his album To Pimp a Butterfly) and D’Angelo and The Vanguard in 2014 – with the masterful, electric Black Messiah. This year’s best is not just a rare year, where black artists are leading the way, but a sign of things to come. 2017 might not see quite the same demographic breakdown as this year but one thing is sure: this time next year, we will start to see fewer polls defined by bands and white acts.

Given the fact so many ‘Sound of…’ polls are including black artists means there is a shift starting to happen. Whilst my top-ten album selection have seen more white artists noted – Michael Kiwanuka and Laura Mvula the exceptions – I am pleased to see the majority of critics arriving at a sensible consensus. On the 2016 poll-of-polls, the aggregated results from all of the end-of-year lists, we see Queen Bey leading the pack.

Her defiant, fingers-up-to-infidelity album, Lemonade, has been given the crown and sceptre. It is a glorious, rousing album that boasts some of Beyoncé’s finest vocals.

Never has she sounded as outraged and passionate as on Don’t Hurt Yourself – the moment she launches into that ecstatic, profanity-laden tirade must count as one of this year’s most exhilarating moments in music. Daddy Lessons is a rare hoedown – as is created by a New Orleans Jazz ensemble – that talks about parental ‘wisdom’ – her father holding a rifle in hand and urging to shoot those who cheat us. It is part of a collective mantra that scorns those who lie and screw with the pure at heart.

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Whether you see it as an autographical response to Jay Z’s alleged indiscretions or a less personal survey of a certain type of man who can say (I feel the former is true despite Beyoncé’s repeated denial). Hold Up is a standout that sees the heroine being walked on and protesting how there is no man above hers – so why does she feel crazy and insecure; why is he making her feel this way? (the video sees Beyoncé armed with a baseball bat; smashing car windows whilst dressed in a canary-coloured dress. Despite the cavalcade of producers, writers and collaborators – including James Blake and Kendrick Lamar – it is Beyoncé who is the C.E.O. and chief – her voice and vision define Lemonade. Sandcastles is one of the most emotional songs of her career whilst swansong Formation is the album’s most-celebrated and mentioned cut – a political/socio-economical song that urges women to join hands and come together in unity.

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There is no weak track on the album and it is the rightful soundtrack to this year. Look further down that list and we see only four white artists in the top-ten: David Bowie (Blackstar is second), Radiohead (A Moon Shaped Pool is eighth); Angel Olsen (My Woman at nine) and Mitski at number ten (with the much-overlooked Puberty 2). Frank Ocean’s Blonde was always going to get a high ranking (it is third) due to the sheer momentum, expectation and majesty of the performer. Ocean’s album was the most highly-anticipated record of this year and lived up (for the most part) to the hype. Solange’s A Seat at the Table was the surprise L.P. of the year. Few had heard of her as little as a year ago and realised what she was capable of. Beyoncé’s older sister (she is Solange Knowles) wrote for Destiny’s Child back in the day but embarked on her solo career in 2003 – her debut was met with mixed results due to its Pop sound derivative nature.

A Seat at the Table is a more independent, important and original work that addresses the plight of black people in the U.S. (and the world over); the unabated prejudices that runs rampant. More political and activist than Beyoncé’s Lemonade: Solange created a masterful work that brings issues or race and hate crimes right into the forefront.

The fact A Seat at the Table is placed so high up the rankings is not a reaction to the album’s themes – stop putting black people down and ignoring them – but an understanding of the quality, inspiration and passion that runs through it.


I am not a huge fan of Rihanna but would have thought her album, Anti, would make the top-ten – it came in at twelve (on that same list). The fact it missed out is a result of heavy competition and no detriment to her talent. Say what you want about Kanye West, and most people do, but nobody can deny just how stunning and memorable The Life of Pablo is. Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book was another surprise (but worthy) entry on the list and highlights a key talent who will continue to shine for many years to come. A Tribe Called Quest’s bittersweet album – it is their first since 1998’s The Love Movement but their last – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (sans grammar check) is in the critics’ elite poll with good reason. Not only its collaborative spirit imbued in the artists included on the album – Jack White and Kendrick Lamar among the cohorts – but its proclamations and essential messages.

Like A Seat at the Table, A Tribe Called quest have created an album that runs red with anger but its spirit of togetherness and racial equality shines. The humanism and arms-around-the-world positivity might seem more natural in the 1960s but it is a movement that is needed now more than ever. That desire to assimilate everyone on equal grounding, minus hatred and bigotry, is delivered with typically assured confidence, incredibly funky workouts and some of the most nuanced songs of this year – the musicianship and commanding vocals are a thing of wonder. A Tribe Called Quest have, like many of their black peers, used their musical privilege as a chance to address issues in society and the problems that affect them and their people.

It should not just be down to black artists to highlight racial hatred around the world. In the same way men/male musicians should do more to speak of gender inequality; non-black musicians need to do more to raise and combat the issues of race.

It is, like so many diversions, a topic for another discussion but I was thrilled to see We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service given a nod – despite the fact its creators now depart the music world.

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IN THIS PHOTO: A Tribe Called Quest

You do not need to be a devotee of The Kama Sutra to know black artists/people are being fu**** in all sorts of twisted and imaginative positions. It is not good enough that musicians should not only have to face such discrimination but have to fight so hard to have their voice heard. I have written this piece to show there are still problems in music and deficits but there are signs to suggest conscious decisions are being made. Whether the remainder of this decade is defined by further progressivism and a cure to the disease of racism then I am not sure. I hope with all my heart antibodies are discovered that eradicates the fetid, bilious smog that has polluted the musical landscape for far too long. Bring in a damned Geneva Convention for music and get it ratified: we need to castigate the old ways and bring about a milieu of fairness and deserved recognition – one where prejudicial attitudes and racism have no place whatsoever.

I have looked at the ways in which music has not got its act together but the simple fact is the music industry can only evolve as quickly as society allows it to. We cannot witness events like Trump’s regency – more like a medieval king preceding over a fiefdom than a democratic-minded President employing the Socratic method – and Brexit and say it is the way of things. Here are two majority votes that have underlined something rotten in people. Call it common sense or swaddle it in faulty logic: the truth is, both votes were defined by a need to isolate nations from foreigners and create a brighter, whiter nation. If music is to champion a way of life that stands so far away from the opinions of (the population of) America and Britain then what hope do we have?! Far from being all doom-and-gloom: we are seeing black musicians stand up and release astonishing albums. Judging panels are starting to look at their white boys in high-waisted elastic trousers and think: you know we need to start growing up and rebel against conventions, flawed as they are.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Anderson.Paak – included on the longlist of BBC’s ‘Ones to Watch…’ 2017

From Skepta’s Mercury win to the proliferation of black artists on the end-of-year lists; the BBC’s longlist of artists to watch in 2017: we are beginning to see something that suggests changes are occurring and a sense of equality coming in – at least an attempt.

2016 has seen too many musical deaths, and with it, the death of something greater: humanity, equality and simple logic. In all corners, genres and countries of music we have black artists showing just how vital and needed their voices is. Were we to deny it then we not only deprive people of truly outstanding music but are part of a mindset that finds it acceptable to margianlise black artists. Most of us (the record-buying public) want the same exposure and leverage for black artists (as white) but the issues seem to be systemic and, I am afraid, at the feet of music’s men. The sooner we overthrow the Old Etonian attitudes of the studio bosses, voting panels and decision makers then we can start to rebuild on much more solid and equal foundations. There is a lot of hope and potential. Many great black artists are coming through and we are beginning to see pregnable values of music penetrated and attacked. The fact this year, aside from the losses we have all incurred, has been defined by some of the best albums we have heard in years is, not only the result of black artists showing just how strong and vital they are, down to new trends emerging. Consumers are beginning to embrace and seduce music that speaks of truth, togetherness and positivity – even Beyoncé’s Lemonade has hopefulness and togetherness at its heart. Bands and ‘traditional’ music still has its place but we are seeing more and more people purchase and recognise artists who have something important to say – and do so with more passion and magic than you could possibly conceive. Say what you want, and call it is a minor step forward, but this kind of reality is…

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IN THIS PHOTO: AJ Tracey – included on the longlist of BBC’s ‘Ones to Watch…’ 2017

SOMETHING you cannot ignore.

TRACK REVIEW: Laura Saggers – When the Sun Met the Moon



Laura Saggers


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When the Sun Met the Moon






When the Sun Met the Moon is available at:

Pop; Dream-Pop


Santa Monica, U.S.A.


November 2016


LAURA Saggers is an absolute dream of a musician…

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– and human being for that matter. Not that personality and beauty are considered, or indeed that relevant when looking at a new musician. She is heartbreaking for so many reasons. Not only one of the most grounded, charming and generous musicians I have known: she seems to exude humanity and is comfortable when helping others; there is a spectacular beauty, not just on the outside but in her heart. Throw into that (sweet and soul-touching) mix and you have someone who is a reviewer’s dream. Saggers is a woman born in Buckinghamshire but based in L.A. She is taking her British wit and charm to the good people of the U.S.; seducing people with her wonderful smile, music and ambition. On the music front, she is, if that is possible, even more appealing and spectacular. I shall come to that very soon – bit of a tease, huh?! – but wanted to look at British musician (and international ones) moving to the U.S.; exceptional female musicians and the multi-talented grafters who deserve most attention – taking some time to look at 2017’s luminaries who are writing music that engages all the senses and digs deeper. I will also nod to the gender balance in music, but before I get to that, let us consider those that have left the relative safeties of the U.K. to go elsewhere. The U.S.A. seems to be a safe haven and calling for man musicians. If The American Dream is a dead concept in overall society – where Trump has turned that age-old vision into a dystopian, self-aggrandising taunt – there is still purity and purpose to that term when we consider musicians. If Donald J. is intent on transforming America into a whites-only, U.S.A.-for-Americans nation where illogical tyranny reigns: the country is, if anything, compelling more people to move there to bring their music to the people. After the extra-large selection box of crap this year has brought us: it is music where we can find reason, love and humanitarianism. It is this parapet of purity where togetherness and equality are encouraged. Although the U.S.’ music scene is busy away from Los Angeles; it is the city that still attracts the most amount of eager immigrants.

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The rolling vistas and panoramic hills inspire the heart; the Hollywood sign in view and the perineal clemency a dream most of us lust after. Add to that a rich economy and spectacular, varied music scene and you have an absolute Mecca for the aspiring musician. London and the U.K. is still relevant – the world’s finest music city in my view – but issues like the diminishing club scene is leading our next generation of musicians to seek employment elsewhere. Given the folderol and fiasco around Fabric: it is no wonder there are nerves and Chinese whispers afoot. It is not just the U.K. that is donating musicians to the U.S. Nations like Australia and Canada and seeing a lot of their citizens make base in America. Although there is a cultural exchange dynamic – plenty of U.S. beauties coming here to take advantage of our metropolitan neon lights – I am sorely tempted by the neck-kissing allure and glamorous currency of Los Angeles. Given Laura Saggers’ talent, drive and artistry; it is no surprise she has decided to travel to America in order to further her music career. Before I raise my new points, it is worth learning more about my featured artist:

Classically trained pianist from the age of 4. After 14 years studying with the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in England, Laura started her own teaching business at the age of 19, started and fronted her own heavy rock band, Sennah, finished a BAhons degree in Music Business, moved to Los Angeles, and is now a singer songwriter with two singles on itunes and the album in the studio. stay tuned”.

That biography was written a little while ago: since then, Saggers has more achievements under her belt and new music on the horizon. With an album mooted for next year – which I shall come to soon – it is worth looking at how influential and inspiring she is. After training as a classical pianist, and being bitten by the performance bug at university, she is a Roland-endorsed keyboardist and has an incredible pedigree. There are few musicians that have such an affinity for the piano and an unbreakable passion.

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Not just a skilled and versatile composer; she is an incredible songwriter and singer whose multiple gifts are aimed more at universal betterment than they are self-fulfillment. I hope the American lure does not distill Saggers’ natural speaking voice for she is someone who has incredible diction and a warm and loveable personality. Why mention this?! Well, it is because Saggers has that potential to become more involved with music as an ambassador or voice of good. She has worked her way up from working with other artists in smaller capacities (around L.A.) and now being tipped as one of the brightest hopes for next year. I feel Saggers will become more dedicated to music and use her talent and story to compel others and promote music to the next generation – I just prefer her natural accent to the Californian twangs and looseness. In my previous review, when looking at Stoke-on-Trent’s Chaos Jigsaw, I went into detail about how 2016’s finest albums have seen more black artists being recognised. I have been relieved to see the likes of Frank Ocean, Beyoncé and Solange being given the dues and acclaim they richly deserve. With chatter around regarding equality in music – I will plunge further into these waters tomorrow – you have to apply this discussion to gender as well as race. I still think there are fewer chances for women in music – perhaps a hot potato best left to cool for a few more weeks. I feel the female performers in music, both mainstream and underground, are outstripping their male counterparts and producing more diverse and interesting music. Laura Saggers is one of those artists who deserves huge applause but might have to fight harder than if she were a man. Even somewhere like California is not going to be as fair an open-minded as one would hope. If the derivative, reductive Pop stars of the charts are given easy passage to the big labels’ doors: genuine, real musicians like Saggers often have to expend three-times the energy and movement to garner a fraction of the popularity.

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I have been following Saggers’ work for some time and am always impressed by her sheer determination and skill. I watched her perform a piano piece – whose name alludes me when I need it most – and was stunned by her acumen and ease. As a Pop/Soul songwriter, she puts her own stamp and voice into genres that have become crowded and commercialised. Of course, Pop has always come with a commercial, made-for-the-charts desire but Saggers is someone who can balance a radio-friendly sound with something much more intriguing and intelligent. I shall come to assessing her new music soon but it seems like the path is all laid out for the young Brit. I see too many ‘musicians’ have others write their songs and not bother to learn an instrument; have their voices processed to f*** and hide behind a barrage of producers and hapless yes-men. Saggers is, by that same token, not someone who is dull and forgettable. This year, my favourite music has been defined by real musicianship, nuance and flexibility. The artists who occupy the high spots of my end-of-the-year polls are those that bring all these elements to their music – that is why the likes of Billie Marten, Radiohead are, by an act of transposition, authours of my favourite album and song this year.

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I know Laura Saggers will be granted mainstream regard and get her music shared across the globe: it might take a few years before she gets that assured foothold and full backing behind her. That might seem like a galling and far-off timescale but she has already achieved so much in a short space. It will be fascinating seeing how 2017 plays out compared with this year. I know 2016 has been marred and defined by its losses and tragic mortality but let us not forget what starling and decade-defining albums we have seen. I have not witnessed a year as exceptional, multifarious and evolved as this year. Not only have black artists defined the finest of this year but female artists are, in my expert/non-expert view, leading the charge and showing how it should be done. I know next year will keep the quality up but see changes still. I expect many of the hardest-working new musicians get a step closer to mainstream recognition. Whatever Saggers has in mind, aside from an album release, I am excited to see her dedication and natural talent reap rewards. When the Sun Met the Moon is not just a positive step but another bold and memorable step from the California resident.

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With Chasing Dreams approaching, it is worth looking at Saggers’ previous material and seeing how it square-up against When the Sun Met the Moon. I am not sure how many older tracks will make their way onto her album but you can see the changes and confidence grow. Summer Fling, released a couple of years back, not only reminds me a bit of another upcoming British talent – the colourful and commanding Lola Coca – but has that sound of summer ingrained in its psyche. It has been compared to the music of Lily Allen but I feel it is more unique and pleasurable than anything she has lent her name to. Saggers recalls a holiday/brief fling: a boy that was good for the body and lips but was never going to linger in the mind – not beyond fond and blushing recollection at the very least. It is a song that deals with prurient, sweat-dripping impulsiveness but never cheapens itself by aiming for the bone and being crude. You can practically hear the sly grin form on her lips as she recalls the good times and in-it-for-the-moment recklessness. There is Hawaiian tropical vibes and summer blissfulness; feel-good sensations and a beat you can get your feet underneath. In terms of new material, aside from the album title track, there have been a lot of cover versions.

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Included in the list of covers are songs by Ella Fitzgerald, Cat Stevens and The Killers – not artists you could compare or find common ground with. That blend of classical and contemporary artists shows what a diverse musical palette Saggers has. It is this asset that has led to some extraordinary new material. There have been other songs like 10000 Bitcoins and Warrior – you can watch the videos on her YouTube channel – but it is the reinterpretations that show what a talent she is. Tackling other artists’ songs not only increases that confidence and adds experience but adds new dimensions and colours to your own music. I am sure investigating songs by Ella Fitzgerald and The Killers is directly responsible for the blend of soulfulness and urgency in songs like When the Sun Met the Moon. I know Chasing Dreams will not contain many (if any) cover versions but Saggers could pull that off. Such is her authority and naturalness when tackling older work you yearn to hear more. I am really pleased by her current material and have seen how she’s developed as songwriter. I love the seasonality and sensuality of Summer Fling but find myself affected and buckled by the incredible emotions of When the Sun Met the Moon.

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The listener is practically inoculated to outside distraction and anxieties the first few seconds of When the Sun Met the Moon. The sparring of teasing, tight beats and elliptical, flourishing piano notes give the song competing emotions. You have that heartfeltness and open arms but there is a lingering hardness and unsettled soul. It is in the first moments one starts to imagine and let their dreaming mind take charge. With an almost lullaby-like quality to the delivery; Saggers recalls when the sun first met the moon – the celestial, astronomical beings exchanging courtesies in a rather charming, child-like way. That civility and conversationalist give the song a very human and pleasant tone – one suspects there is something else hiding in those words. The words are spoon-fed but it provides the maximum amount of respect and detail. I notice embers of Katie Melua – and her latest album, In Winter – in the delivery and its pleasing, gorgeous sound. When hearing the song one gets impressions of darkness and light. The moon represents the feeling of loss and the vacuum of having to say goodbye to someone you love – whether they are a lover or a relative that has departed. The sun is the more hopeful and life-giving object: something that can provide hope and light to those who need it the most. Maybe I am looking too deeply into Saggers’ words but that is what I pick up straight away. There is a “Vision of beauty” and you are split between two logical plains of theory. Maybe there is the sun – and its embrocating powers – and how its radiance and ubiquity is a relief and balm for troubled minds. The moon is the night and the unpredictablness of losing someone close and having to face that. Those dual titans act as emotional pillars and representations of extreme feelings.

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The sun took her, the song’s unnamed protagonist, and showed her a world of green and blue. Saggers keeps things oblique and allow the visual merits of the song replace literalness. Everyone can freely interpret and envision the song as it unfolds. I see the song’s heroine the embodiment of Laura Saggers: someone who has dealt with tragedy and is trying to find meaning, calm and comfort in the world. Maybe she has lost her safety net and role model: having to transition into a life without that is causing confusion and sadness. On the other hand, there is the simplicity of the literal: seeing the day transcend into night and the spellbinding beauty of day’s light and night’s celestial, balletic displays. It is when the song accelerates and changes pace things become clearer – only to a certain extent. Separation and belonging are mentioned in rather grand terms. The sun and moon are never meant to be apart, regardless of their unique roles and day/night shift dynamics – but so too is Saggers and her subject. Whether she is referring to a love/sweetheart or someone that has departed, I am not too sure- the rather spirited and hopeful tones of the vocal suggest it is the former. The percussion drives and the piano provide tenderness as our heroine pledges her allegiance to her subject. Whatever happens, and how every the days reveal their skin, there will be no question of her loyalty and faithfulness. There is a capriciousness to life and its temperamental demeanour: our girl will always keep her heart strong and not let her love fade. At once, you are hooked by the graceful-cum-delicate delivery of the lines and the sheer twinkle of the composition. Ethereal, sweet and shades of pink and red: Saggers shows what a virtuous and comforting voice she has.

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Whilst intentions of passion might be contained within the words, you never feel there is any possibility of allure and sex – it is much more clean-cut and romantic. Again, in terms of the song’s inspiration, I am caught between the pillars of lost love and current desires. There is gravity, force and astrological ruminations. That innocence and tenderness continues and will warm the most arctic of hearts. The heroine will always be there and someone whose dedication will never wane. It is interesting speculating the origins of the song and the person in mind. Saggers is certainly clear about her feelings and intentions towards the subject – no matter what happens and whatever fates conspire; she will be loyal and completely faithful. The darkness came and “kidnapped the moon into the night” and has eradicated the pleasures and security of the day. Maybe that loss has occurred and changes the tone and balance of the song. Now, you hear an audible drop and weight in Saggers’ voice. Again, it seems to be that loss and bereavement are more concerned with death that broken love. Knowing how Saggers’ mother died; one cannot help but draw their minds, knowing that fact, to these interpretations. Despite the sun’s valiant attempts to reclaim the day; it seems the power and influence of the darkness are winning that têteàtête. Setting aside etymology in relation to this song: it is impossible not to be won and affected by Saggers’ voice and composition. I know how much the song means – as it is very personal – and what relevance it holds. I am not sure whether Saggers was thinking of familial loss during the writing but you can hear how much of her heart and soul is coming out of the speakers. You get notes of Pop and Soul intermingling but there is  overall hopefulness and positivity. When the song switches up another gear, and the percussion and guitars becoming more rushing, you are never overwhelmed or led into negative territory.

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Saggers ensures the song keeps it spirit resolute and old. Whether her inspiration has departed or is elsewhere: their light and magic is the thing that starts (Saggers’) day. Dealing with such hard-hitting concerns might torment and wrack lesser songwriters. Laura Saggers has delivered a song that does not fail to evoke a smile and instant fandom. You do look for the meanings and what has led to the song’s creation but, on the surface, are more than happy engaging in the wonderful, bright vocals and pleasing composition. There is a completeness and nuance to the song that affects you depending on the mood, time of day and occasion. Different periods might bring different things from the song: you might hear new revelations and highlights when you least expect it. That is testament to Saggers, not only as a songwriter but a singer and musician. She does not make the music too loud and intrusive nor does she cast it to the outskirts – where it languishes and acts as a means to an end. She involves and entwines the composition with the vocal – much in the same way the sun and moon are inseparable in the song. By the end, as the music wraps up the song with its buoyancy and infectiousness, you will get to the end of the song and want to listen to it again. Quite an achievement from a songwriter who is relatively new to the business. She already seems experienced and established which will do her future prospects the world of good. Not only is When the Sun Met the Moon a perfect example of what Chasing Dreams might contain – it is a stunning song that has the potential to find itself on radio stations around the nation (U.S.). I hope British-based stations latch onto the song and feature it as there is a big swell of support for Laura Saggers. We love her music and talent: she, in turn, shows her affection for the listener with another beautiful and rich song.

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It is Christmas – I am writing this on Christmas Day, in fact – and the kind of time when we not only look back and give thanks but cast our hopes for the future. When the Sun Met the Moon is a song I will not get out of my head for a while and no wonder. I have provided my interpretation and views. Saggers, in her own words, ascribed it thus: “(It is) a story about how the sun falls in love with the moon and they get separated, and for the rest of his life the sun continues to love the moon even though he can no longer see her. I work with a ton of kids on a daily basis and was inspired to write this song as a message to anyone who has had to lose someone special. The ‘darkness’ can be either death, or divorce, separation, or a situation that is out of our control but hard to explain to children without a story behind it… The message is simple: people come and go, that is life, but the love between two people, regardless of circumstances will never be forgotten. My mum passed away when I was 13, and to this day I believe her love for me still exists because she lives in my memories and that gives me peace and strength every day.” I know Saggers’ mother would be incredibly proud of her daughter and what she has achieved. She (Laura) is not just a musician and artist making moves: she is inspiring and teaching others whilst showing how beautiful and wonderful music can be. I wrote a line in a song once: “The sun and moon switched place/the night I saw your face” and, whilst not as fine as one or two other lines in the song – which I shall not bore you with – sparked images and thoughts.

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Saggers reminds me of that moment and has written a song that addresses darkness and loss but has a hopeful, they-are-always-there-watching-over-you redemptiveness. Yes, Mrs. Saggers will be eliciting a smile and guiding her daughter – the fact that love and connection resonates within the heart of Laura means that connection will never be broken or lost. Before I come to predicting and looking at the next year for Saggers, I wanted to revoke the themes I alluded to up-top. Whilst I will expend proper respect to gender and racial issues in music, I am pleased to see just how many fantastic female musicians are getting into critics’ heads. That may sound patronising but it isn’t meant to: it does not take a genius to know there is a certain degree of sexism and imbalance in music. I have grown tired of seeing certain male, inferior artists crowned and revered at the expense of their better equipped and meaningful female peers. Maybe my half-joked introduction is part of the reason female musicians are lauded for the wrong reasons. Saggers is an extraordinarily charming and beautiful woman but one needs to dig down and not assume she is your average Pop star who leers for that sort of attention. Laura Saggers is a bona fide star-in-the-making and one of the most stunning songwriters I have heard. Her voice is still developing and growing but that, and the fact she is so immediate right now means her future will be very rosy. Yeah, there are some great male artists and they should never be relegated and demoted for no reason. I just mean to say how the finest female artists around are not given the same regard and respect. Music should be gender-blind and built on the foundations of equality and merit. There is, as I stated earlier, greater equality in music when compared to other areas of society. It is wonderful seeing a British musician not only settle in Los Angeles but acclimatise and attune themselves to an American way of working.

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One of my goals for next year is to visit cities like Los Angeles and see more American music. London is a wonderful place, and favourite city in the world, but I can see myself settling into Los Angeles. Its weather, panoramic views and exceptional musical enclaves are more than enough to see my hop a plane and get my tuchus over there. Laura Saggers left the calm and received pronunciation of the Home Counties to try her luck in America. She did not just rock up and get signed and huge the second she played her first gig. Many British musicians are going to America and finding it a more appealing and prosperous landscape in which to creative. Despite the fact the bloated Trump is threatening to wring the last drops of dignity from the American flag is not unsettling musicians: in fact, there is a peaceful rebellion and movement of creativity happening. It is not a coincidence the finest albums of the last decade are arriving in a year when political tyranny and increased hostilities are reaching untenable levels. This brings me to Laura Saggers and just what she will be doing next year. When the Sun Met the Moon is a song that has already been released and gaining so much attention and positivity. I was compelled to review it because of its lyrical themes and backstory; the rich and gorgeous music and that incredible vocal. Having heard other songs by Saggers lately, including seasonal covers and a particularly stirring version of Zombie by The Cranberries, I am looking forward to seeing  Chasing Dreams (her debut album) come to the light. Its title track has been released and shows how prolific and determined Saggers is. I use that word (‘determined’) because it is a facet missing from many musicians. Thre young musician will be releasing singles slowly – in order to wet appetites – but I am seeing, from what has been released, how varied the album will sound.

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There is that Pop/Soul core, where genres are cross-pollinated, and that dichotomy of radio-ready accessibility and something much more discriminating, proper and educated. Saggers’ classical training and wonderful musicianship are balanced by an open songbook and gorgeous voice that will compel casual listeners and those who can hear a pin drop in an ocean of noise. When the Sun Met the Moon is such a wonderful song and I can see it arriving at the half-way point of Chasing Dreams. Maybe the title track opens things before moving into similar-sounding songs: perhaps a lighter, breezier first-half show before a more contemplative, emotional finale? This is my acting as proxy producer – got to distance myself! – but I am pumped to see Saggers grow and shine. She is no short supply of confidence and talent: commodities that are desperately sought in the music industry. Whenever the album is released, and whatever the remaining tracks consist, I will be one of the first to jump on it and dive into its pleasing waters. I will close my looking at Saggers’ career so far and just how far she will go in the coming twelve months. When I interviewed her months ago, I asked about her transition to America and her hopes for the future. I know she misses the accents, humour and tea; the comforts of home and what she has left behind. I also know how much she wants to press on in music and has high hopes. After releasing the bouncy, upbeat Chasing Dreams – which Elmore Magazine premièred – Saggers has been involved with the Laura Jean Music Academy Group 2 Formal Winter Music Recital 2016 – see her Facebook updates to see how positive and successful the last couple of weeks have been for her. Not only has Saggers been laying down the promotion for her forthcoming album but she has been cutting her teeth on a range of cover versions. Adding life and new dimensions to songs like Feeling Good is hard but she has recently achieved that. It is precisely that work ethic and continued dedicated to others’ material that makes her own (material) so vibrant, assured and professional.

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With Laura Saggers there are few nerves and loose ends: she radiates professionalism, beauty and immense passion. That incredible songwriter and heartbreaking history – knowing what inspired When the Sun Met the Moon – not only make you want to hug her (and tell her it will all be okay) but continue following her plight. I know Saggers has a loyal fanbase in the U.S. and U.K. and that will only grow next year. I would love to see her perform back in Britain and in London for sure – lots of venues I know would give her a night or two to give us over here a taste of her new work. I hope she has a great label and manager behind her because she deserves her music getting a lot of focus across the world. I could see, and practically plan, a mini-tour of Britain and the U.S. She could find fans across Europe and Australia whilst getting some good vibes around Asia. The release of Chasing Dreams will be pivotal: its title is perhaps the best two-worded synopsis of Laura Saggers’ career. She did leave home to pursue music and has left a lot behind her. There are few brave enough to risk that much but it is, surely and without abatement, paying off for the stunning musician. I know how tough the competition is and just how many artists are out there. It might be naïve proffering everyone who comes to my blog but that is why I review them – I am not merely employing reductio ad absurdum. Whatever Saggers’ tour diary looks like and however 2017 is panning out it is going to be a massively important one for her. Not only is her album going to get a load of buzz and love but she will have options and decisions to make. I am, as part of my blog, compiling a list of those musicians to watch next year and follow close. Laura Saggers will be on there and it only takes a single listen to When the Sun Met the Moon to see why. A certain President-elect Trump is brewing his own international nightmare but when it comes to our very own Laura Saggers, she is taking the opposite approach and writing…

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HER American Dream.


Follow Laura Saggers

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FEATURE: 2016: The Legends and the Legacy





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The Legends and the Legacy


I don’t want to jinx this or be premature…

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but I feel we are done with musical deaths in 2016. Following George Michael’s passing yesterday; I was compelled to think about the sheer weight of tragedy this year – not in a negative way but celebrate the musicians that have left us so much. Everyone has said how bad and Grim Reaper-friendly 2016 has been – let’s hope next year sees fewer untimely deaths. Unfortunately, there is no culprit or conspiracy: it has just been a particularly rotten year with regards mortality and losing music’s best. Rather than mourn too heavily and derail: let us look back at some wonderful artists and the stunning sounds they leave the world – that will never, ever die.


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David Bowie – 8th  January, 1947 – 10th  January, 2016

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Glenn Frey – 6th November, 1948 – 18th January, 2016

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Prince – 7th June, 1958 – 21st April, 2016

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Leonard Cohen – 21st September, 1934 – 7th November, 2016

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Rick Parfitt – 12th  October, 1948 – 24th  December, 2016

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George Michael – 25th  June, 1963 – 25th  December, 2016

TRACK REVIEW: Chaos Jigsaw – You Make It…



Chaos Jigsaw


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You Make It…






You Make It… is available at:

Rap; Hip-Hop


Stoke-on-Trent, U.K.


2nd December, 2016


THERE have been some terrific British sounds bouncing all over…

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the place this year. Whilst, in terms of critics’ choices of the year, the U.S. is gathering most of the attention: our home-grown acts are not to be overlooked and have made some terrific music in their own right. Most of my ‘job’ involves scouring the vastness of music’s landscape for the best and most nimble talent out there. A lot of great bands have come to mind; some terrific Folk-based artists and musicians you really can’t compare with anyone else. One of the things I have been looking for is a fantastic young Hip-Hop talent. I mention this based on the rise of great Grime and Rap acts putting this country firmly on the map. If the U.S. has been scoring a lot of the focus regarding this year’s best albums: Britain’s hungry street poets are among the most relevant and important voices in our midst. If you had to look at certain nations and sounds associated with them: many would not put the words ‘Hip-Hop’ and ‘Rap’ with ‘the U.K.’. That natural partnership has always been an American possession. We shine when it comes to Rock bands and some kick-ass Electro.-Pop acts; some of the best and brightest young songwriters you’ll hear. The Americans tend to corner the market with reference awesome Hip-Hop acts. This genre, when linked with Rap, has so many offcuts and sub-genres. There is the more granite-levelled spit of Grime – where the portrayers talk about the realities of the street and what it is like growing up in a twenty-first-century Britain. There is Trip-Hop – which was more prevalent and popular in the 1990s – and derived styles – including Breakbeat, Ghettotech and Rap-Rock. That final one links me to former Bi:Lingual frontman, Dylan Cartlidge. His solo venture, Chaos Jigsaw, teases together Rap and Hip-Hop but not as you’d expect. Not your average, contemporary version: what we are treated to is something much more rounded, unique and heartfelt. I know a lot of modern Hip-Hop splits its inspiration between personal issues and more wide-ranging societal concerns. I know Chaos Jigsaw’s creator has had a rough and eventful last few years – having to struggle against depression and doubts – and brings this into his music. That is not to say the songs are awash with depressive and anxious songs.

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What Chaos Jigsaw produces are songs that look at personal concerns and love but a lot more interesting and original than all that. You get some strange and fascinating characters; some wonderful storylines and quotes – a writer who does not follow a ‘norm.’ and tries to fit in with the mass of other artists out there. Being Hip-Hop/Rap-flavoured; you do have that swagger and intensity but plenty of discipline, melody and groove can be detected. Before I move onto other points, I wanted to look at artists starting out and things to consider. Cartlidge’s endeavour is not his first foray into music but it is a brand-new outfit. Departing and moving on from the band days – which I will address later – it is a bespoke, fascinating mixture of British and American Hip-Hop styles with that undercurrent of Funk, Rap and Rock. I know Chaos Jigsaw will want to expand, develop and grow as time elapses: get the music across the country and not just become confined to British audiences. You Make It…is not the first Chaos Jigsaw song but it is the first video. That is a scary and exciting prospect and one that has been greeted with a professional and memorable film. When arriving into music, as I have said in countless blogs, you have to consider all things and not assume others will do the work for you – or you can be a bit slack with some areas and not others. In terms of that first video, you have to create something true to the song but is not generic and uninspired. Bringing people into platforms like YouTube not only means the music is exposed to a lot more people but gives the music that crucial visual aspect and reality. You Make It…has a fine video and I will make sure to address that at an appropriate point. What I wanted to look at is the other visual aspects of new music. One of the biggest criticisms of artists in 2016 has been their lack of social media information, photos and official websites. Although Chaos Jigsaw is a newborn; there are thousands out there who will want to hear that music and discover everything on offer.

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Because of this, you have to make sure – as Chaos Jigsaw does – you have the spread and nourishment the consumer needs and demands. The music is hefty, authoritative and pure: the other, lesser elements have to be addressed. There is not a demarcation between the music and the peripheral aspects – or the neutron floating outside the proton and electron. Making sure your website and social media pages are proper and easy-to-navigate is crucial. This is the last time I shall whip this particular mule in 2016: it is something that every single artist needs to get right and keep pushing. If the Facebook/Twitter sites are kept updated, on-point and interesting then you are going to stand a much better chance of keeping fans and recruiting new ones. I have stopped following so many artists because they either fail to provide updates, and thus slip into obscurity, or they post too much asinine, trivial things – one of the most irksome and fury-inspiring things about social media. You have to have some biography and details: who your influences are and a brief timeline; where you came from and a bit about your sound. On top of that (there is quite a bit to get sorted) you need a selection of good photos. I see a lot of acts with a few, badly-shot live snaps and a few Smartphone-produced candids. It can be quite depressing having to struggle to put faces to names and letting the music itself fill all the gaps out. Chaos Jigsaw is one of the most promising and original artists I have heard, and knowing Cartlidge and how prolific he is, I will be looking closely to see whether these recommendations are fulfilled. The fact there are a few photos repeated around this review is no big deal but I know there are opportunities for Chaos Jigsaw to get some professional shots made, or, at the very least, some high-quality shots around Stoke-on-Trent/Birmingham – some location pictures or whatever suits the mood. Give the Facebook site some more information (personal insight and goals) and get an official website sorted out. The photo point is the first one to look at – then, make sure there is information and all the pertinent links included.

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Making sure you can quickly access the music-sharing platforms is paramount – without a new fan having to put it all into a search engine and having to do all the hard work. Lastly, and perhaps just as important, is making sure all the existing music is promoted and pushed; any forthcoming tracks and teased and mentioned. I bring this point up, not just to have another rant, but prepare the best and brightest for next year. We are just about to leap into 2017 – make it a rosier and less tragic one than what has just passed – and the horses will be bustling out the gates come 1st January. I think Chaos Jigsaw will get that nailed and go on to enjoy a lot of success in the industry. Not just because there is a definite niche for Hip-Hop and Rap but because of the type he provides. Traditionally, the genres are defined by a lot of aggression, sound and confidence. You do get more reflective, nuanced cuts but there is a certain image we all have when you mention this kind of music. Chaos Jigsaw has a lo-fi agenda which places bass funkiness and twang over hardcore beats and polished production. Things are stripped down and honest; imbued with a production sound that is D.I.Y. and uncomplicated. You get plenty of excitement and confidence but things, for the most part, are more restrained and controlled. It is not often you hear an artist that steps into a genre like Hip-Hop and give it such an inimitable spin. I have heard a few songs from Chaos Jigsaw and they are consistent in the fact the lyrics are intriguing and original – not addressing the themes you might imagine – and has that distinct production. The way the bass comes out front; the song has that homemade feel – it is exciting thinking just where that music can go and how it will change. Whether it does change is up to Cartlidge and how he envisions things going. I am really fascinated by Chaos Jigsaw and how the music makes you feel. When listening to it, you never hear any elements of anyone else. It is a rarity discovering an artist impossible to connect with any other. It is down to that special approach and dynamic: sounds that are going to inspire others and change (many musicians’) way of working.

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Before looking at Chaos Jigsaw’s past and present music; I have been thinking about former band leaders who have to embark on a new career on their own. I shall not bring up Bi:Lingual too much (although the split was, for the most part, quite amicable) only to use it as the springboard for my point. I have seen many bands break up over the year and that dilemma befalls its members: where do you go when your way of life ends? You can get comfortable in a group and feel it will last for many years to come. When things, for whatever reason, change you have to look around and come up with a Plan B. In that way, it is a musical divorce: separating from that former rock and having to rebuild your life. Cartlidge was frontman for the Rap-Rock/Hip-Hop band. Their music was defined by stunningly inventive, fast-flowing raps and modern poetry: songs that addressed important themes but did so in an intelligent, thought-provoking way. Whether the pitfalls and obsession of social media or humans that deserve a dressing-down: the band was masterful at highlighting these common grievances and bringing life and character to them. It was Cartlidge’s voice and delivery that made the songs what they were. His accent and passion; that ability to switch from angered to sly and witty – there are few leaders that have quite that range and ability. Like (fellow review subjects) The Bedroom Hour and Crystal Seagulls; the frontmen of each of those acts has managed to find new lease and life after the collapses. Rather than replicate Bi:Lingual, Cartlidge has taken the band’s best assets and put them into his solo venture. Being a one-man arsenal, it is impossible to project that same epic sound and primacy that his former colleagues created. Instead, you have a musician who retains that exceptional songwriting talent and sounds completely in control. There are no nerves and hesitations; he is not struggling to find balance and security. It is just a point I thought I’d raise. Many assume transitioning from a band to solo work (or another band) would be fraught and difficult. I am very pleased Chaos Jigsaw has been formed and already picking up new fans and eager listeners.

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There is a bit of Outkast in Strawberry Blonde’s Snip and its cool, casual delivery. The hero needs some time alone to figure out the riddles in his head. Our man feels old and is trying to come to terms with things and make sense of it all. Maybe the result of a relationship division or something inside of him: it is a curious tale that gets you guessing and a tune that will definitely lodge in the head. The percussion is quite heavy and consistent throughout. Never too dominant or clean: it is a punchy and hollow sound that gives the song plenty of smack, rouse and guts. The bass is assuredly catchy and proud. It has that elastic funkiness and is perfect backing for a vocal that ranges from achingly cool to cautious and vengeful. It is a performance that makes the song such a complete thing. The composition has its own life (as do lyrics and vocals) and a song you keep coming back to just to experience that incredible performance. The World Outside looks at the… well, world outside. It is a faster, more ‘traditional;’ Rap performance. Where Strawberry Blonde’s Snip was laid-back and two-toned: here, there is more emphasis on that urgent delivery and quick-stepped rapping. The vocal is constantly flowing, encapsulating and emotional. Occasionally, and like Bi:Lingual, there is that quiet-loud dynamic which yields some overt anger and fire. For the most part, the track looks at personal and universal issues; the bad kids becoming side-kicks and things not working the way they should. Instead, the topsy-turvy skin of The World Outside is a truth and hopefulness that come out. Even if there is a lack of justice and fairness at times; there is much to live for and reason to keep going. The hero lets his voice rise and crack at times; it has so many different sides and expressions. The bass is less prominent on this track. Greater emphasis is placed on the percussion which is a solid, defiant heartbeat that gives the song its guidance, rhythm and melody.

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Love Spoons gained Chaos Jigsaw his first review a few months ago and is, at that point, the most confident and stunning track in his locker. Little vocal eccentricities remind me of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins; there is a whiff of Big Boi and little suggestions of Prince at times. For the most part, it is the Stoke-on-Trent native putting it out there and owning it. That message of strength and fortitude can be found once more. If love seems wrong or people are telling you to do something you don’t want to do – you can fight against it and need to follow your own mind. It is a song raging with Funk and cool-assed stride. You bounce along with the track and its blend of relaxed temperament and river-flow lines. It might take a few listens for all of the song’s layers and pleasures to come together: when things do fully form the result is pretty special. One of the reasons I love Chaos Jigsaw’s work is because of the difference between each number. There is no repetition and sticking with boring themes. Every song sounds completely new and the work of someone who does not want to repeat tricks and stand still. Each song, and the positive reception it accrues, gives Chaos Jigsaw the confidence to up his game and produce even better material. His first songs were wonderful and stunning but songs like Love Spoons and You Make It… are his finest yet. The latter has its own video and shows just how much faith its authour has in the music. With at least four solid and incredible songs under his belt there is enough material to go into an E.P. Maybe Chaos Jigsaw will look at an album and getting some other musicians into the fold – to provide his upcoming tracks other sounds and instruments. I am not sure what he has planned with regards new music but I know there are so many possibilities. I would love to see an album and a ten/eleven-track record that boasts the sort of gems we know Chaos Jigsaw is capable of. He may be starting out but his material already sounded properly formed and without equals.

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Keen to create something new and progressive – but keep the best bits of his previous material – You Make It… has pattered, enticing beats and some groovy bass. These are elements we know and love about Chaos Jigsaw. Here, they are mingling and sparring with one another in a brilliant introduction. When the hero comes to the microphone, the syncopated, propulsive lines get the mind working right away. If the girl didn’t change the list of games – getting tied to her “Zimmer frame” – our boy would be amazed; the wire from the sirens is in the mains and all manner of things is going on. The words compel some imaginative diversions and speculation. The “internal rubbish” being lobbed at the hero is not only predicted but digested. He never seems to see it common but still allows it to get inside his head. Maybe the girl is old before her time or spinning those same lies; she might be trying to pull a fast one or deceiving the hero. Her apologies and excuses are finding a willing scapegoat: that long-term beat-down has to stop right now. Not wanting to take this anymore, you can hear an audible annoyance. The lead is weary of all the same old days and feeling a particular way. We all know that kind of situation/person: where a heroine takes advantage and uses the guy; the lessons are not learnt and the same mistakes seem to be made. The chorus is a chance to step away from that fevered and excitable verse delivery. It is here where our hero is more relaxed but seems to be wrestling with his own mind. The song’s title is sung but with no real answer. There is that lingering ellipsis and question mark remaining. Maybe the weight of emotion is too heavy – or there is too much suppressed answer to provide a conjunct, restrained answer.

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Aiming “silver bullets” and inside the “pet cemetery” of the bond seems to be some fonder memories and times. Maybe things were not always so sour and unsettled. You Make It… keeps you invested with its unpredictability and changeable nature. Towards the middle stage, the vocal gets even more accelerated and tumbling. Like emotions bubbling and the heat rising: the song gets more intense and determined as time elapses. Some of the words you catch whereas others free-fall and rush right by. It is an exciting section that departs from the more lackadaisical, louche sound of the chorus. Still keeping nimble and lively; the vocal then changes directions again. After the chorus is a shouted and different-vibed delivery that is the tensest and most unsettled moment in the song. Your head, at this late point, has been stretched in all sorts of directions and is taking all the words in. In my mind, I was seeing a hero that had had enough of the constant disappointment and sacrificial lamb behaviour. He is getting caught up in something rather unwarranted. There is always an air of mystery around the song. I say this about a lot of songs but lyrics that are not too obvious (and make you think) are much more appealing. You think it concerns love and a spiteful heroine but maybe there is other things are play. Perhaps the song looks at problems beyond relationships and the world at large. Given the themes explored on The World Outside; it would not be a huge stretch to suggest You Make It… casts its imagination further than you might think. Whatever the true nature of the song it is a marvellous offering from an artist unlike anyone else. I have mentioned other artists but they play such a small role in the overall sound. It is all down to Cartlidge and his personal vision that goes into the music. You Make It… got me thinking and guessing; it made me come back and want to listen countless times. The lyrics have that intelligence and poetry that means they warrant digging and care; the performance is assured and commanding whilst the composition has so many different strands.

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I have been looking at the so-called ‘best’ albums of this year and what they represent. Depending on whose polls you look at you’ll notice a few names cropping up time again. Aside from the likes of ‘6 Music; there has been a general consensus that is recognising music that strays away from the usual mainstream fare. It was the case, a few years ago, that Rock bands and radio-friendly albums were topping those end-of-year lists and exciting critics. You know the kind of album I am talking about. This year, and given the way politics and the world stage has changed, there seems to be a need and demand for music of a different nature. Beyoncé’s Lemonade seems to be the out-and-out champion: that record that resonates and gets into the heart; propels the soul and body whilst spiking the brain and imagination. The most confident, direct and personal album of Beyoncé’s career: maybe not a surprise it was deemed the finest album of this year. In fact, black artists are being exposed and included in a way they have not in previous years. This is something I will mention in a separate post but it is pleasing to see some (attempt) at equality. Aside from Beyoncé, artists like Chance the Rapper, Kanye West and Michael Kiwanuka have been lauded and tipped; Solange, A Tribe Called Quest and Frank Ocean have made it into the top-ten lists. Not only is there a racial and national split (American artists stealing focus) but stylistic and genre, too. Gone are the predictable lists of Rock and Alterative darlings; the banal and heavily-processed Pop acts – replaced with something a lot more credible, relevant and high quality. It is the ‘relevant’ part of that sentence that stands out. 2016 is taking no prisoners in the wider world – with regards notable deaths and unquenchable violence – and that extends to music. Consumers are growing tired of the same old generic crap and forgettable fare.

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Albums that burn, explode and linger are being favored; ones that look at the world around and deal with serious issues are en vogue. Even Lemonade, that looks at infidelity and love, does so in a new and very personal way. This should give artists like Chaos Jigsaw direction and confidence. The British Hip-Hop upstart is making music that would not sound out of place was it dropped among the big names of 2016’s music. Perhaps it doesn’t boast the same fresh and polished production values but that is part of its appeal and originality. It is the subjects, sounds and genres of You Make It…that will see Chaos Jigsaw do some big business in 2017. Before I come to Chaos Jigsaw and look at his future, I wanted to wrap up the points I made earlier. Artists coming into music not only have to make sure their aural packages are full and prepared: they need to consider their social media platforms and the visual side of things. It may seem like a lesser importance but that would be foolhardy in a modern, digital age. Your social media pages are you selling yourself. Musicians that overlook this issue and provide scant details are going to struggle to find big fan numbers and really impress. It is not a coincident that the new artists building the biggest fanbase keep their pages updated, full and visually arresting. Chaos Jigsaw is just starting out but is keeping fans updated and looped into his happenings. I would like to see a lot more photos going up and all those (all-important) social media links in one place; a full biography and more revelation from the songwriter. Not merely for disclosure and confession: it gives reviewers, fans and the curious what they need to form a fuller picture and get inside an artist’s mind. I know Chaos Jigsaw will continue to build pages because he is an exceptional and promising artist.

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It is that promise that comes at a time where music is redressing the balance of sorrow felt in the world. Artists are filling gaps and providing us some form of escape, fulfilment and distraction. British music is at its peak right now. It is not just the mainstream that is improving, changing (for the better) and diversifying. Our underground acts are matching their critically-approved colleagues and showing huge energy, invention and quality. Certain genres are coming to the forefront like never before. I am not sure whether it is because of society demands – acts that talk about real life and have a grittier sound – or something else: we are hearing Hip-Hop, Rap and Grime coming much more into the fore. Aside from the Mercury win of Skepta; there has been a band of agile and striking acts looking to make big footprints next year. It is encouraging to see and a perfect time for the likes of Chaos Jigsaw to rock up. Whilst his brand of Hip-Hop and Rap is not as swaggering and pummeling as many of his counterparts; it is a lot deeper, more interesting and accessible I feel. Those who prefer their music more sedate, emotional and romantic will be seduced and tantilised. It is that more stripped-back, bare-boned approach to music that perfectly bridges sounds like Folk and Pop with the more edgy and physical excitement of Hip-Hop, Rap and Rock. I know Cartlidge has plenty more songs under his belt and excited by what is to come. I have heard his previous songs and can see that consistency and variation. He is not a musician that repeats himself and narrows his focus. You have a core and solidified sound but the subject matter and signatures change; each song has its own soul and says different things. You Make It…is a typically assured and compelling slice from a young man who has plenty more left inside. Being lucky enough to hear some early drafts of his music; I can vouch at just how far he has come along and fervent his imagination is. He is based in the Midlands but is no mere local secret.

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I know Chaos Jigsaw will be looking forward to the coming year and what he can achieve. I know there is talk of an album or E.P. but not sure what form it will take. The music put out there is being met with praise and love. I expect Cartlidge to keep producing stunning songs and setting his sights far and wide. Here is a musician constantly experimenting, working and teasing new music. He never seems to slow and is one of the hardest-working acts I have seen in a long while. Even if songs talks of darker subjects – the weight of mental illness or painful fall-outs – they are never presented with negative emotions and fatigue. I would love to see a Chaos Jigsaw for a couple of reasons. For one, you will get to see the full range of moods and ideas from Cartlidge. His songs are so fresh and addictive you will keep coming back and be transfixed by what they to offer. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it will put a genuine talent into the mix. There are few Rap stars that do things like Chaos Jigsaw and have the same demeanour and abilities. Given the music being celebrated in 2016; it is likely Chaos Jigsaw will gain foothold and momentum in 2017. I am not saying he will be elevated to the mainstream in the coming months but will make necessary strides and bring in new followers. I know his music is being heard right across the U.K. and that will lead to gig demands up and down Britain. I can see him finding small fortune in London and slotting alongside the Hip-Hop/Grime stars bringing life and sermons to the capital. Who knows just what he can achieve next year but I know there is a real need and desire for the type of music Chaos Jigsaw is producing. After such an unforgiving and expendable year, that is…

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WHAT we all need.


Follow Chaos Jigsaw

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TRACK REVIEW: Ben Sparaco – Don’t Try to Wake Me Up



Ben Sparaco


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Don’t Try to Wake Me Up






Don’t Try to Wake Me Up is available at:

Folk; Folk-Rock; Country; Bluegrass


Nashville, U.S.A.

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The album, Wooden, can be preordered here:


13th January, 2017


Make Me Feel Alone Tonight
Exposition of a Traveling Salesman
Soul Miner
Things Happen
Cypress Hotel (ft. Luther Dickinson)
Sycamore Jones
Heartless Home
Don’t Try to Wake Me Up
I Know That

Ben Sparaco: Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar; Vocals and Claps
Ross Holmes: Fiddle, Vocals; Claps and Production
Royal Masat: Bass
Taylor Jones: Drums
Jon Estes: Engineering, Mixing and Single Mastering

Artwork by Madalyn Stefanak

Recorded at The Bomb Shelter, Nashville, TN.

Copyright Ben Sparaco, 2016


I feel the best way to transition into Christmas and bring this year down…

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is with something quite calming and heartfelt. That is not to say Ben Sparaco produces music without energy, spirit and passion – far from it in fact! I shall come to him very shortly but for the moment I was keen to reintroduce a few different themes: looking at websites and visibility; young artists and their maturity; American music and the different styles that will be favoured next year – a little bit about performances and the importance of the live setting. On that first point, an artist’s website might not seem relevant to music and how good it is – that is where you’d be wrong. There is not enough emphasis put on a musician’s online portfolio and what is contained. Marketing, promotion and accessibility are just as important as the actual music itself. Considering how competitive and crowded music is, the consumer/reviewer has little time to go searching and fill in the gaps. If you have an artist who puts together a barely-there set of social media pages – scant biography and a couple of crummy photos – then that is not saying much and quite frustrating. We need to know more about an artist and who they are: a visual representation of what they are doing and what they can provide. Sparaco’s website (official) is as full, well-designed and impressive as any I have heard – link at the bottom of this review. One can, when visiting his website, get all the information they require. There is a list of upcoming tour dates (I shall flesh out more soon) and biography; bits about his music and lots of sharp, well-defined images. Alongside, you have a great design and clear website that is easy to navigate. That not only makes me want to find out more but makes me want to recommend Sparaco to others – knowing they will have so much information and clarity at their fingertips. Of course, the music itself is paramount but there is a certain lackadaisicalness to just leaving it there. Those who take pride in their work, and realise the importance of bringing followers in with a crisp pitch, are those who will remain longest. Ben Sparaco has done this and has a wonderfully clear, full and eye-catching official website. That meant I was hooked and motivated to learn more about the man behind the music – this is where he comes in:

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Ben Sparaco is a young guitarist, singer, and songwriter living in Nashville, TN with a sound that combines energetic and soulful guitar playing with a unique blend of rock, soul, blues, jazz, and folk music. At only 19 years old he has begun to make a name for himself around the country playing with various acts including The Ben Sparaco Band.

Starting at the young age of 11, Ben began playing guitar with cover bands around his native Broward County, Florida. Not long after, he found the sound he had been hearing in his head in blues music from the likes of B.B. King, Elmore James, Freddie King, and Muddy Waters. Following this music forward in time, he discovered the Allman Brothers Band, which he still cites as one of his main influences.

By the time he was 15, Ben began playing his original music to audiences around south Florida with his first original band. Throughout his time in high school, he began to hone his skills on slide guitar while simultaneously delving into a study of various traditional music styles such as Gospel, R&B, Eastern Classical (Sarod), American and European Folk, Bluegrass, and Jazz.

In early 2015 Ben began a stint as a full-time lead guitarist with south Florida jam legends Crazy Fingers; a gig which exposed him to the music of the Grateful Dead until his full time departure in August of 2015. On August 18th, 2015- the night before moving to Nashville, TN- he assembled his own band and welcomed many guests to the stage of the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton, FL. This band would undergo some personnel changes and quickly prove to be an in-demand musical force in the southeastern United States and beyond and is now called the Ben Sparaco Band. In May of 2016, the Ben Sparaco Band’s debut EP “Bring The Jubilee” was released.

After a busy summer of touring, Ben recorded his debut album “Wooden” in the fall of 2016 in Nashville, TN. Produced by Ross Holmes (Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers, Warren Haynes, Mumford and Sons), the record displays a decided shift in Ben’s sound towards a more string-based Americana sound mixed with his wide-ranging jazz, rock, and soul influences. Wooden is due out January 13th, 2017.

Immersed in the national jam scene, Ben has had the opportunity to share the stage with members of The Allman Brothers Band, Dead and Company, North Mississippi Allstars, Warren Haynes Band, Susan Tedeschi Band, Jerry Garcia Band, Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds, Devon Allman, Matt Schofield, The Heavy Pets, Roosevelt Collier, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and more at venues across the country.

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The maturity of Ben Sparaco – a good album title, no?! – is not just reflected in his professionalism but the music and attitude to his craft. Sparaco is not even in his twenties but has already been performing for years now. Folk, and sub-genres of, are seeing a lot of young artists (teens and early-twenties) emerge who are showing their peers how it should be done. A little diversion coming up: this was motivated by a recent letter/statement from Björk – when the press criticised her D.J. sets; stating it was hard to see her and she did not interact with the audience – who labelled such complaints/demands sexist. Women in music are expected to bleed their hearts out (the Icelandic genius described it in more vivid, chest-opening terms) and surrender – talking about their cheating boyfriends and not allowed to sing about science, philosophy or other subjects. Men, by comparison, are allowed this creative variation and do not have limited expectations placed on their shoulders. Maybe a parable, but one can look at Folk and how it contrasts the mainstream/Pop-driven artists. There, there is a proliferation of fake sounds and romantic catastrophism. Its representatives, both male and female, are obsessed with retribution, self-flagellation and over-reactive heartache mandates. Maybe there is something about Folk/Americana that attracts a more level-headed, mature songwriter. I noticed this when reviewing certain artists this year: you get greater intelligence, wisdom and originality. Of course, there are Pop stars and Rock acts who do not expend all their energy on tired themes and predictable love songs. Sparaco is a young man but has the shoulders and mind of a much older (experienced) musician. You get plenty of introspection and longing but gone are the songs that villainise a sweetheart and rip the heart to pieces. I always look for musicians that go beyond easy possibilities and dig deeper for their inspiration. That is not to say Ben Sparaco – not at this stage at least – is negating relationships and blame culture. You get songs about passion and bonds but there is never that juvenile sensibility.

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After a long time with U.K.-based artists; it is great being back in the U.S. and discovering an artist who brings me to a veritable wonderland of great music – Nashville in Tennessee. Sparaco has recorded and based himself here and that is understandable. It is not often I get to look at any music/musicians that have been born from Nashville. Although there are Country shades in his music; there is a variation of genres including Folk, Rock and Soul. The Tennessee city is a desirable hub for new musicians. There, one is afforded access to myriad venues, bars and contemporaries. It such a lively and bustling area: often overlooked in favour of New York and Los Angeles. If Tennessee’s are insane Trump supporters: at least their music and musicians are a little more appealing, palatable and wise. To be fair, Nashville is in Davidson County: Hilary Clinton gained a majority vote there so I can limit my judgment of Tennessee to counties other than Davidson and Shelby. Getting back on track and it seems Nashville is becoming more and more attractive to artists – not just here but all around the world. It is not as crowded and harsh as New York (or the reputation many give it) and better, in some ways, to L.A. There are friendly citizens and some wonderfully varied areas. I know musicians who have rocked up to Nashville and all say the same thing: it is a city nobody wants to leave and instantly feels at home in. It is not a surprise to find Sparaco thriving and succeeding here. Armed with a collection of gorgeous songs – already a string of tracks under his young belt – there is also a great local scene there. To the north-west (of Tennessee) is Illinois; to the south-west Mississippi; Florida is to the south-east. Between those three states, you have cities like Chicago, Jackson and Miami – New Orleans is directly south of Jackson and another wonderful region.

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What I mean is how Sparaco has this world of opportunity in a commutable distance. If California has Nevada on its doorstep – New York has Toronto nice and close – then there are even more choices for a Tennessee resident. Sparaco and band have been hitting Florida and Tennessee; they have been getting around the South and bringing their unique brand of music to the good people. I am fascinated by U.S. music and how it changes from state to state. When Wooden arrives (the debut from Sparaco) that will be met with a series of tour dates around the tri-state area but further afield. He will want to focus on Christmas for now but January is sure to be a busy one – a great way to kick-off the New Year. I feel Nashville is too associated with Country music and few understand how diverse and utilitarian the music scene is there. To say Nashville is only Country is to say London is only Rock. It is a narrow (and false) assumption that will see many timid when exploring. I would urge people to commit to Ben Sparaco but other musicians around Tennessee. I shall come to Sparaco’s music but it is interesting placing Nashville and just how many fantastic musicians play there and how convenient it is placed with regards musical states.

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In order to get some perspective and clear impression of Sparaco’s present, we must look back and see how he has developed as an artist. Bring the Jubilee is the E.P. (released last year) that shows just how impressively he started. Walk on the Levee twangs with Blues strings and Rolling Stones-like licks. Flourishes and ripples cascade, kiss and breathe lustfully. Funky guitars and percussion combine with whirling organs and spirited stomp. A storm comes across the lake; the hero needs to pack his bags – a gravelled voice and a real gutsy performance make it the song it is. Constant stutter, skip and energy can be discovered: you are helpless to resist its sheer charm, kick and energy. One is compelled to bob their head and immerse yourself in the song. If the storm comes “it’ll make a change”. You speculate whether it is a physical, literal storm or an emotional one. I feel there is a mixture of the two and a need to evade coming clouds and find fulfilment and self-improvement. An exceptional blend of Blues and Folk-Rock mean it will appeal to lovers of 1960s-‘Stones and more modern examples. It is a really developed and accomplished song – it could easily fit into the catalogue of any decades-old band. Ghost of a Self is a more traditional Country-Rock track and still has that solid core and powerful vocal anchoring everything. Lovely interludes brim where guitar stands out and shines. I can hear a definite sound of America and Nashville. It has its heart beating in that landscape but definitely appeals and cross-pollinates. The guitars shine and the delicious licks are not bashful when getting into the earlobes (and other more visible regions). The songwriting looks at humanity and deeper issues but never truly exposes its meanings. The lyrics keep oblique and can be open to interpretations.

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Hammer That Nail uses hammer-and-tool imagery to look at love or support. The heroine, it is said, can hammer the nail as hard as possible; the hero will hold the picture up and not let it fall. (The song) maybe looks at stress and struggle and being a shoulder and support; emotional dependence and a release for inward rage. It is interesting to dig into the song and see if it is about loyal love and friendship – or has its heart elsewhere. The song takes its mind away from obvious wording and clichés to present something quite homespun, quirky and interesting. Bring the Jubilee is a five-track E.P. defined by loyal bonds and standing up for someone. It does mention and cover love but never in such an obvious and uninspired way. The Ben Sparaco Band (as it were) is unified and tight throughout. The guitars are a blend of Country, Blues and Rock; the vocals have heart and soul but are primed and suited for the more gritty and raw end of the spectrum. It never cheapens the moments or makes it less genuine. It is a step forward from earlier tracks My Favourite Things and live examples of the E.P. tracks. It is clear touring and local gigs galvanised the band and led to some terrific studio confidence. Don’t Try to Wake Me Up has some of the more spirited and juggernaut components of Bring the Jubilee but there is a tonal shift. Things are more stripped back and there is a move from Country/Blues-Rock to Folk-Rock. That Folk element has not only defined the foundations but the lyrics too. The words are more compelling and direct. Whereas the E.P. mixed oblique and ambiguous: here, there are metaphors and similes but more direct focus and bare-boned sentiment. The vocals are more rounded: switching from the black-and-blue swagger of the earlier work but employing yellow, orange and blue hues. A broader emotional spectrum emerges and a more nuanced, deep and touching song with it. The production is sharper throughout and digs straight into the heart. Whilst barer and more lo-fi, it seems more professional somehow. You feel like (Don’t Try to Wake Me Up) is a live song but you can hear the studio quality. Sparaco is definitely committed to an album and the consistency needed to succeed. The E.P. was incredible and memorable but here Sparaco steps out on his own and really shines. A more level, complete and tender song: it never feels slow or less impactful.

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Don’t Try to Wake Me Up is Sparaco’s current single and a beautiful example of what Wooden is about. Starting with aching and yearning strings – in a way, I got visions of Small Faces in the initial seconds – there is a mix of Folk and Country. You never get the full, over-the-top twang and accent of Country (a little too sickly and southern) but not quite as restrained, acoustic and level-headed as Folk. It is a satisfying blend that creates an incredibly smooth and nourishing cocktail.  Before a word is sung you are compelled by the sensual, evocative introduction that promises fine things. The hero is waking from bed to the sound of a knock at the door and a gentle woman’s voice. There is that scenery of sloth and inactivity: our man is very unwilling to budge and is being reasoned with. Perhaps there is heartache or aching bones; something weighing him down that is compelling him to embrace all the comforts of bed and sleep. In a way, the subject matter fits with a lot of Folk/Country songs and suits the tone of the composition. The way the vocal sound and is delivered reminds me a little of the late, great Leonard Cohen: there is no quite the low-down gravel and gravy of Cohen’s voice but something in the way it sounds that made me think of him. Whatever has inspired the song; you start to look at your own interpretations and views. Whilst the outside-the-door woman is stomping her feet and trying to rouse the defiant hero; he is committed to dreaming and trying to ignore the outside world. To me, the world and love have got him down. Things are moving too fast and there is, one imagines, a girl that might be playing on his mind – someone he is struggling with or perhaps let down by. Sparaco’s voice is never too heavy and wrecked; it is soft and compelling but still carries some scars and fatigue.

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As the song continues, the lyrics look more at everyday/teenage concerns: not wanting to come out of bed because it is much warmer there. It is cold/less warm outside and the “average day” is bearing no appeal and meaning. Again, you start to wonder if an event or person has caused this general malaise; maybe it is one of those times where sleep and relaxation are the only tonic. One gets images of Nashville and the heat (even if the lyrics paint a colder, less sunny view) but there is something deeper, more interesting lurking beneath the sheets. Our man is unwilling to reveal too much of the backstory but I feel like there is a compendium of doubts and strains spiralling around his head. It is never quite as simple as not wanting to move and be left alone. Whether it is a parent (mother) trying to motivate the hero – or a girlfriend, perhaps – you can picture it all too clearly – we have all been in that situation. In a “picture-perfect Hell” our hero is struggling to reconcile the perfections of dreams and the limitations and realities of life. Even though the chorus has vocal chorusing on a real energy and sing-along charm; you are always hooked by the anxiety and fatigability of the lead’s words. Maybe he is trying to get away from some heartbreak and place himself somewhere tropical and Paradise: he is not enjoying having to face the world and whatever awaits him. You root for the hero and can emphasise with his plight. There is no reason to suggest he is over-reacting and being petulant. It is likely something has happened to see him ensconced in bed and not wanting to move. Slide guitar, electric spirits and Blues sparks give the song energy and extra layers as it moves along. It is not just a straight-forward Country/Folk song:

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PHOTO CREDIT: Madalyn Stefanak

Sparaco is an accomplished songwriter who knows how to keep a song interesting, unpredictable and appealing. As invested in the storyline as you are; it is the composition that steals focus towards the end. It is the final verse/words that really strike and unveil huge chunks of revelation. Our man wants the attention to go away and not be discovered. There are children involved – perhaps Sparaco speaking in third-person – and the suggestion of a ghost. The children will find where “their father needs to go” but there is the fear, when the door is opened, all but a ghost remains. It is a stark image and one that compels a few different interpretations. There is that familial suggestion and needing to escape; a young man that wants to achieve more and not satisfied with the world around him; a simplistic tale of someone not wanting to elude the comfort of his bed. At the very end, that repetition of “average day” sticks in the mind and will resonate with every listener. We have all been in the situation where what lie ahead holds no appeal or promise. In terms of Sparaco’s song; you feel like there is more at play and secrets he might be holding back. Perhaps there is some backstory and heartache but you are never sure exactly what. Perhaps that is the beauty of the song: there are no true answers but possibilities and what-ifs. Don’t Try to Wake Me Up might not be able to win every single person who prefers their music harder and heavier but that is okay – there are plenty out there who will fall for Sparaco’s music. He is not just reserved for lovers of Country and Folk: there is that variation and lack of borders that means his music will strike a chord with many hearts. Wooden will provide more sides of the story and reveal Sparaco’s true artistry and abilities. As it stands, Don’t Try to Wake Me Up is a fine song that shows how an everyday topic can, in the right hands, yield a lot more fascination than you’d imagine. Exceptional lead vocals – and some great support by his band of session musicians – and you have a single that singles the Nashville artist as one to watch in 2017. I am excited to see where he will go and how people will react to Wooden – an album that is going to be packed with delight and wonderful moments.

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Consider it allegory or beauty: Sparaco’s music is not easy to compare with others because it has that personal, unique affectation. There is universality to the themes and sounds but that extra ingredient that makes Don’t Try to Wake Me Up so enigmatic and seductive. Ross Holmes produced Wooden. He played fiddle and mandolin with Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers; arranged the strings for Mumford and Sons’ album, Babel. Some of the songs are Folk-Rock but others have Soul skin: Bluegrass lingers whilst Psychedelic-Rock shades make appearances. Before I go into more details about the album and Sparaco’s place in 2017 music, I wanted to return to my points about Nashville music, website/social media organisation and how undervalued maturity and originality are – and, of course, how 2016’s most-celebrated albums will have an effect on the new artists emerging. If we start with Nashville and one can easily discover hot talent and some fantastic music. New artists such as Wild Cub, Audrey Assad and The Vespers play here; as does Kate Arminger, The Weeks and The Delta Saints; Rachel Lynae and Tyler Flowers can go on the list too. Not only do these names help contextualise Nashville but demonstrate just what a variety of music is being played in the city. I know I long-bemoan the surfeit of attention certain areas are provided. British music media is too London-centric whilst the U.S.’ pages, for the most part, resounded strongest to the heartbeats of New York and Los Angeles. It has been the way of things for years based only on these grounds: they are two huge cities and has a cosmopolitan population. The argument dies there and many forget just how wealthy and vociferous other parts of America are. Nashville is as notable because of its music scene as Detroit, Seattle and Manhattan. The local (Tennessee) media is raising awareness but it would nice to see that reflected in the national media. No matter because with artists like Ben Sparaco pressing and rising from the trenches – surely his name will ascend beyond Tennessee-Florida-the South and see him demanded right across the country.

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His adaptable, chameleon-like musicianship means he could find fortune in polemics like New York and California but succeed in all sorts of musical geographies and conurbations. It all starts with awareness and activity: appreciating a fine artist and making strides to promulgate his abilities. I hope Sparaco can find some time and dollars to come to the U.K. and perform here. In this country, there are plenty of cities and towns that would welcome him in. Not only is London catered for artists as multifarious and away-from-mainstream-expectations as him but other areas. Yorkshire is giving birth to so many wonderful Folk artists and wonderful young talent; cities like Manchester and Liverpool are traditionally hospitable and welcoming; consider Scotland and locales Glasgow and Edinburgh. There are plenty of places around the U.K. that would love to hear Ben Sparaco and Wooden’s delights. I have talked about maturity and how it’s a commodity not appreciated by all musicians. I realise a slightly ingénue, child-like naivety – a kind way of calling someone moaning and hysterical – will be popular and connect with many. There will always be a place for acts who put their hearts on sleeves and let it bleed all over the floor. Björk was right: not only is it more interesting talking about something meaningful/original but those who do often have to fight for credit and equality (women especially).  Don’t Try to Wake Me Up trades commodities like love and emotion but it is certainly not your average tale of woe and bitterness. Far from it, in fact. It is a song that hits you straight away but stands up across time – you will not tire of it and find something new to appreciate each time you come back. Despite Sparaco’s tender years, we have an artist who seems ready for the challenges ahead and already comfortably over the first few hurdles.

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The fact he takes a serious and dedicated approach to his music is mirrored in his online presence. The social media pages are a-flowin’ with updates and insights: the young artist always eager to keep his fans informed and let them know what he is doing. His official website remains one of the most characterful and memorable I have come across. Housed are all the social media links and music; the biography, photos and tour dates. That is what you want from a musician – so many negate this and provide very effete, sallow scraps. Rebus, romance and a business-like approach can be found on that homepage: it is an asset that will help recruit so many new fans and be an indispensable tool for any venues and promoters in this country. I shall leave those points alone because the most important thing is the music itself. Don’t Try to Wake Me Up is a fantastic track but joined with plenty of sibling support. The album is something you will want to get hold of. Wooden confirms what a consistent and strong songwriter Ben Sparaco is. If you are a fan of his previous E.P. and the rousing Blues numbers then you will not be disappointed but there is more emphasis on the classic songwriting playbook the likes Neil Young and Bob Dylan penned in the 1960s and ‘70s. The lyrics are no less evocative and scenic; the characters, emotions and performances just as personal, emotional and open. That is not to say Wooden is a sombre and low-energy album: it has plenty of rouse, swing and spirit when required; songs that paint very ornate, beautiful pictures; moments that impress and amaze in their candour and literary imagery. Nobody will be able to hear the album and not be amazed. I am judging my review/sentiments on the few numbers I have heard.

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I know Sparaco will want the album to resonate as widely as possible. It is not just reserved for cliques of Tennessee, Florida and the southern states of the U.S. Wooden is a universal, one-for-all creation whose sweet-scented oaks and tender heart will seduce and compel listeners around the globe. Although there is more emphasis on Sparaco: the Wooden album features a line-up of Nashville-based session musicians; Luther Dickinson makes an appearance too. Talking about the album, Sparaco had this to say: “These songs all were written on the road and each one sort of follows a different character. Usually the stories end up being kind of morbid in an almost comedic, ironic, way. I think it makes for an interesting combination when you put some seriously weird, dark lyrics in a song that is otherwise happy and hopeful sounding, and with some of the jazz and jam influences that I’ve always had, it ended up being something that I think sounds comfortable and familiar while still being unique in its own way.” After such a tumultuous, strange and hard year for many: 2017 will be given an earlier treat and reassurance things will be that much better. For now, Ben Sparaco can relax in the knowledge he has crafted a fine album that marks him out as an extraordinary songwriter – one instilled with confidence, natural ability and an original voice. His music is not reserved for a particular mood or time: it is a faithful companion when you are upbeat and inspired (looking for an appropriate soundtrack) or in need off an unhappiness suppressant. Similarly, if you want to reflect and ponder things; Sparaco’s music is perfectly suited for the task. January will be an exciting one for the Nashville resident. Not only is he going to be busy promoting his debut album but will be thinking what to do once Wooden is out in the world. There will be the obligatory local dates but he will be casting his mind further afield. I know international demands will arrive in time and that will see Sparaco’s music exposed to new lands and faces. With all that in mind, and festive sounds echoing in the breeze, I know Ben Sparaco will have…

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A very happy Christmas.


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TRACK REVIEW: 40 Shillings on the Drum – Everyman



40 Shillings on the Drum


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Everyman is available at:

16th December, 2016

Folk-Rock; Punk; Gaelic-Folk


Brighton, U.K.


IT is hard coming up with new angles to describe bands but, luckily, Brighton’s…

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40 Shillings on the Drum provide enough inspiration and personality to compel original aperture. I will get to them in a second but, knowing their influences and type of sound, it gets me thinking about older artists; more about the sheer breadth of Brighton acts and facets missing from contemporary music. A lot of modern bands – and other musical denominations – source their sound from ‘newer’ musicians. I have been following some hot and talented bands this year: by and large, you hear influences from the ’90s – present day – a range of bands from Arctic Monkeys to Oasis, for instance. It is understandable this should occur: they are among the most popular and influential acts we have seen this generation; many have been compelled to start bands and follow in their footsteps. I am interested why certain acts/time periods inspire certain artists. It may be too complex for this short space – lest I forget the reason I am writing a review – but I am finding a lot of bands doubling-up and melting into one another. I can see the lure of, say, having Oasis and The Libertines as guidance: two youthful, pride-against-the-tide bands that took themes of Britishness and modern life and gave it a hopeful, optimistic bent – albeit with their distinct blends of swagger, wit and defiance. There is a validity in admiring such artists; taking their music to heart and creating your own version. The trouble is, too many new bands are either indistinguishable from their heroes or too bland to really spark any sort of interest. I feel, as time progresses, attention spans will become shorter and modern music – in the band market at least – will be very narrow and homogenous. Whilst it is wonderful discovering new groups and the energy they possess: I yearn to find those who cast their minds further back. Often I have mentioned a band (from the ‘60s and ‘70s) and been met with blank-eyed gormlessness.

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Many reply with the illogical and clichéd: “That was before my time!”  Reassuming you have no access to the Internet, radio or conversation that would wash: the fact that is not the case means such a phrase is inexcusable and stupid. It sounds like a diatribe unfolding but too many people’s musical imaginations begin and end in the last couple of decades. Fortunately, there are some artists breaking through who have grown up with savvy parents and developed a keen taste for music of older decades. Whatever your age or music tastes, it is vital for one, in order to become more rounded and cultured, look back at music’s full spectrum and genealogy. I was brought up listening to the likes of T. Rex, Steely Dan and The Rolling Stones. Being a ’80s child – but preferring ‘90s sounds – I was introduced to the cream of (the previous couple of decades) and actually getting to hear great music of the 1940s and ‘50s. Now, that passion and retrospection have fostered a deeper and more varied musical collection. Was I stubborn and content to stick with the best of the 1980s – perhaps a misnomer and contradiction in terms to most – that would mean denying myself a world of wonderful music. To the same extent, I feel bands that blow second-hand musical smoke is robbing future generations of older artists. This all ties in neatly (or loquaciously) to the Brighton-based band, 40 Shillings on the Drum. The band love modern music but one hears, when digging into their music, shades of The Clash and Elvis Costello – two names very few modern-day bands source. I shall expand on this, but for the minute, let’s learn a bit about the band of the hour:

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After over a year’s preparation, ’40 Shillings On The Drum’ launched online in July 2016 and performed their first gig on Wednesday 27th July as part of Churchill Square’s Busk Stop event in Brighton. Attracting the largest turnout of all the acts to perform, the band subsequently went on to win the competition and recorded a song and music video in famous local studio, Brighton Electric, in September 2016 as a result. As well as the competition, the band have established themselves on the local scene with shows at The Hub, The Marwood and the prestigious Prince Albert. They also appeared at the Brightona Bike Festival (the largest motorcycle festival in Europe) and Oxjam Festival Lewes, along with interviews on national station Heart FM. The band shall be seeing 2016 out with a final performance and single launch show at the Latest Music Bar in Brighton on 21/12/16 where they will also be showcasing their music to the founder of End of the Trail Records.

40 Shillings On The Drum are armed to the teeth with an array of songs about life, love, friendship, and getting smashed out of your brain, and are ready to take on the world, one town at time.

 ‘Great recordings. Love the distortion, violin and your guitarist. You’ve got a great Brit pop style of vox too!’ Bobby Banjo, Beans On Toast

I love the energy on these recordings, it’s something that I think is really missing from contemporary music. There is obviously an Irish influence, but I hear shades of The Clash (at their best), Thin Lizzy, Boomtown Rats, Elvis Costello. You’ve really managed to capture the feeling that you are reflecting real people on the street.’ Mark Flannery, Engineer/Producer (U2, Black Sabbath, Depeche Mode)

‘Opener Ode To Old Reilly set the tone of a band big on musicianship and melody — and intelligent lyrics with both a meaning and enough hooks to get under the skin of even the most hardened music lover.’ The Brighton Magazine,

‘Ain’t too many acts have mixed Gaelic folk and rock successfully. Great musicianship, catchy songs, I think you deserve to do really well. I can hear it stands head and shoulders above most of the new stuff I hear.’ Alex McNamara, The Australian Pink Floyd Show (The world’s biggest selling tribute act)”.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Kris James Photography

Critical snapshots show keen ears detect some mighty musicians in the songs of 40 Shillings on the Drum. The band’s name itself seems born from the 1970s – how many modern bands have a name as long, interesting and forgoing a preposition (at the start of their name)? The East Sussex crew have, I would imagine, enjoyed a rich and qualitative childhood consisting fine vinyl and their parents’ record collections. Either that or the guys have forgone the worst instinct of their peers and expanded their mind past the 1990s. Before addressing a new topic, I wanted to carry on with the idea of influences. There is a cogent and wonderful blend of 1970s/’80s Punk and Thin Lizzy-esque energy to 40 Shillings on the Drum. It might be doing the band a disservice but you can hear their inspirations blazing on their sleeves. Rather than merely replicate lesser-included influences, they use them as a springboard and provide their inimitable sense of identity, character and delivery. Not only do we you hear some fantastic artists in the music of 40 Shillings’ but that will obviously inspire their peers to be bolder and more original with their sounds. I will go into more depth in the conclusion, but I am excited to hear another Brighton band come to view. Talitha Rise was the last act I reviewed from the city (they are based nearby in Lewes) but it is hard to connect dots from them and 40 Shillings on the Drum. What one gets from the guys is a blend of relatable songwriting tropes – relations, friendships and the bonds that tie us – with a healthy dose of kebab-festooned, beer-scented belch. It would be rather humdrum were (the band) another group of teary-eyed youths toiling under the lash of doomed love. 40 Shillings on the Drum, despite hints to monetary units and older-days whimsy, are capable of staggering into town and vigorously urinating on the nearest lamppost – perhaps it is unsurprising they have been branded with the same iron as The Clash.

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Ever since the downward arc of bands like The Libertines and The Strokes; I have been lusting after a group of boys (keep going…) that have that leather-clad, who-gives-a-f%ck attitude but keeps things intelligent, mature and intriguing. Back down on the East Sussex coast, I can talk about Brighton and just what a cornucopia of talent lurks down there. With reputable venues such as Green Door Store on their doorstep, the guys have ample opportunities to cut their teeth and find the perfect canvas for their artistic blend of (young and rowdy) Expressionism and (British, rebellious) Dadaism. Normally, I am ensconced in London and pre-occupied with all the music coming from there. The last few weeks have given me a chance to look at Brighton and what is happening there. It is not a surprise the city should be back in the forefront – it has always been a terrific area for creativity and excellence. There is something about the community, vibes and landscape that inspires so many musicians to do terrific things. More diverse and colourful than many northern enclaves; less suffocating and quasi-homicidal than London’s bustle: Brighton provides a comparable safe haven and vibrant melting pot many are being attracted by.

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The band have got a lot of positive reviews and vibes from their current single, Everyman. Looking back, we are still at the early stage of 40 Shillings on the Drum’s career. The boys have released the track Brighton Belle – one that differs from Everyman but is no less alluring, striking and immediate. Brighton Belle begins with explosions – that recall, rather futuristically Jamie T’s Tescoland (from Trick) – and has that smell of the city. You can hear the late-night unpredictability and the sunshine of the day – the contrasts and shades that make Brighton what it is. The song’s heroine, perhaps in the seaside city or somewhere else, grabs a latte and accentuates her figure – flirtatious, fulsome and fun. You are helpless to resist the sheer bonhomie and chanting vocals from the band. The Combat Rock-era Clash comparisons are not so short-sighted. There is that mix of Reggae, Rock and Punk; shades of Folk and some Alternative undertones. Following the story, you get impressions of a rather alluring girl who defines the city and has the hero spellbound. Squalling, flurried guitars and determined percussion is the soundtrack to a one-night dream: a chance to get with the divine heroine. At every stage, there is that sense of abandon and carefree attitude – that flies against the tendency to produce something anxious, heartbroken and sorrowful. It is small wonder the song has captivated so many and provided so important. It will be very well-received in the live environment and surely get the crowds singing along and enraptured. The fiddle/violin inclusion that occurs near the song’s end has been lauded and highlighted. It shows the band can mix Gaelic Folk threads and bond that with something resolutely English, swaggering and spitting. Few bands can pull off such an odd and two-sides-of-the-tracks marriage. The fact they make it work so wonderfully shows how assured and talented they are.

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40 Shillings on the Drum have original songs in their arsenal such as Ode to Old Reilly – which was, and several other tracks were, played at Busk Stop at Brighton’s Churchill Square Shopping Centre (back in July). One imagines these recordings will find their way onto a future E.P. but, as they explain to interviewers and YouTube commentators, they are full of spirit and looking to make some big moves in 2017. One can hear where the band have come from and how their material has developed. Brighton Belle, when it was performed in July, was hugely popular with local shoppers and has been compared to bands like The Waterboys. It is interesting to see which other groups commentators compare the Brighton band with. The Levellers have been mentioned as have Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. Dan Scully, Steven Cobley and Seb Cole; Barry Bloye, Sue Buckler and Danny Woodford make up the intrepid gang and have grown more confident and assured with every new song. When Scully travelled from Miami to the Bahamas, in search of inspiration, that is what he got. Having played in other bands and other genres: the exposure to tropical seas and island breeze directly compelled a new direction – 40 Shillings on the Drum and their Folk-Rock mantras. Not only is it (Folk-Rock) a place Scully could express his feelings and stories organically and openly – he could expand his imagination with a large and supportive band; there are fewer limitations in terms of sonic ambitions and personnel numbers. All that has come before – and Everyman among us – it appears the group have a proper set of songs and definite vision. It would be nice to see their previous numbers like Ode to Old Reilly and Brighton Belle included: put some newer moments in there and really throw their all into it. Just how far they can go is anyone’s guess: do not bet against them being one of the hottest-tipped acts of 2017.

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There is psychogeography and flâneur mixture that greets Everyman. In that sense, there is the impression of floating around urban conurbations and spectral in a city; on the other hand, a certain casualness and romantic stroll – it is rather exciting, contradictory and unpredictable. Those wanting a Brighton Belle-like bull out of the (Folk) gate will be rather taken aback. Conversely, Everyman opens with plaintive, elegant pianos. You get flecks of the Irish countryside and a rogue figure traversing the craggy heath: the wind in his hair and the bare, twilight horizon in the middle-distance. The band’s idiomatic beauty and tenderness make the song less a Folk classic and more a sweeping, shivering epic. If the composition is spine-tingling, full and heart-warming: the scenes and images it provokes are peripatetic and fast-moving. Anybody who can predict what comes next is prescient and clairvoyant. The guys, in the video, plug in their gear and take the song in another direction. The guitars and plugged – the amps go up to twelve – and the strings and pianos sharpen; percussion tight and fierce; the bass strong and resolute. Again, you get a Clash-esque burst mixed with The Undertones, Levellers and The Jam. Sure, there are ‘70s Punk-Rock suggestions but the band are completely separate from any influences. None of the band mentioned would start so sweetly and graceful. At the beginning, you feel we’re bedding-in for a song about heartbreak and confusion: one where the hero would bemoan his lack of luck and survey the ruins in which he stands. The fact Everyman turns into an after-hours lock-in is to be commended. It certainly catches the most astute ears by surprise and destroys images of literary alpha males wiping the rain from their brows. In fact, you get a clean-shaven drunk wiping the cigarette ash from their teeth.

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One of the minor, if completely understandable, criticisms is the sheer pace of the delivery. It means the words can overlaps and create run-on sentences: you might be a few seconds behind and trying to piece the song together with little success at the start. It is not a big issue because it is the song’s energy and dance that resonates and impresses most. One can glean thoughts of the hero avoiding a licking fire and remaining above the heat; other succumbing to a certain fatefulness and limitation. Maturity is investigated and the hero does not want to be (like his counterpart). Whether endless drinking sessions and a lack of responsibility are compelling our man; the need to taunt risk and keep his life interesting and changeable – you interpret the song and try to get to the bottom of it. In terms of genres/sounds, you can hear 1970s inspiration but there is a bit of the ‘80s in there as well. The big arena bands of the decade are all in there so too are the more credible Punk artists. Everyman is such a standout track that no other band is attempting. Vintage, classic compositional tones melt with modern, relevant lyrics that we can all relate to. The performances from all are exceptional and tight. As the song races along, the band keep up with things and ensure proceedings do not get undisciplined, rambunctious and needlessly sprawling. It is, at this juncture, you can hear a continuation of Brighton Belle: that same knees-up festivity and lack of future plans. The hero is taking advantage of his age and lack of commitments; he is embracing what it is to be regular and ‘normal’. That is what I got from the song: a parable of a soul who will not submit the boredom and nine-to-five attitudes that surround him. That is one of the strong points of Everyman: it can be taken a number of ways and will mean different things to different people.

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Our man is trying to be tied down and defined: neutered and brainwashed into being Just Another Human. The song’s fierce, rousing and brothers-in-arms fizz makes it an insatiable, moreish cocktail of sharp spirits and cooling cocktail fruits. Crunching, head-nodding and a real swinging beast: another song that will get the audiences diving, jiving and lost in a sea of sweat and hoarse chorusing. Given that misleading, if utterly beautiful, introduction, you have a lot of catching up to do. The fact the song is neither too intense nor too slight makes it nuanced and repeatable. You come back to experience that moment: the one where Classical pianos give way to pissed-up strings. It is that intoxicated, fingers-up-to-the-authorities jailbreak that sounds like a superhero theme. In a way, that is what Everyman is: an epic, bracing song that could score a sort of twenty-first-century super adventure – one where domesticity, maturity and responsibility are favoured over superpowers, arch villains and saving the brave citizens. The hero does not want to be a man “like you” – perhaps someone who is too buttoned-up and safe. Our man gives no quarter to such overly-safe attitudes and wants to revel in his crapulence; embrace something much less advisable and ‘adult’. Again, I might be overlooking something more pure and contrasting. I hear these themes and concerns being raised; something that matches the trouser-kick rowdiness of the performance. With Rock and modern Alternative bands too mannered, watered-down and riskless: what place have artists like 40 Shillings on the Drum in the modern scene? Well, the answer is very obvious: they are more needed and necessary than ever before. Everyman is a song whose title tells you all you need to know. It is a song for the masses that speaks for them – even if the overall desires and electioneering is a little teenage and destructive. The band deals with heartaches and love but love to ladle lashings of gin, rum and lager.

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In fact, the band name suggests shanties about seaside rumpus and oiled blokes spilling into the street. One hears strings ache in the distance; the bass cutting in and driving the song; the percussion cracks and gives punch and pugnaciousness to the lyrics. It is the shredding and axe work that makes the biggest impression. The fire-handed arpeggios and sheer epicness of the delivery puts a smile on the face. I have mentioned superheroes and dramatic themes songs. Everyman could score a film or an awesome, action-packed scene. The guitars are scintillating and the heavens open with cosmic ballet, impending invasion and spiralling winds. The hero is trying to make it where he can and grab opportunities that come his way. He is, after all, honest and real – perhaps something that is holding him back. Into the final moments, the band throws it all together in an awesome way. Strings strike with Classic beauty; the bass, piano and percussion create their own weather systems and emotions – the guitar continues to ignite, explode; uttering fireworks and expletive wherever it chooses to roam. You are left giddy with excitement and energy: always grabbing onto the composition like a raft in the tormented seas. Everyman is another stunning song that shows Brighton Belle is no one-off fluke. That is quite reassuring and pleasurable: the band has that inbred talent and natural affinity for what they do. How this develops, with talk of a rumoured debut album afoot, will be wonderful to see. The blossoming, blooming marvellous boys (and girl) are going to be one hell of an exciting band to see in 2017.

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In terms of the mainstream artists making moves through 2016: there have been so many great albums produced and it all looks really promising for next year. I am keen to see how 2017 plays out for the established artists but more so for those just starting out. The musicians making their initial steps are competing for longevity and future acclaim. It is always encouraging finding an act that seems ready and prepared for all music will throw their way. 40 Shillings on the Drum not only have the live experience and zeal to succeed but a special sound that belong to them alone. I started by looking at themes like older influences and what is missing from a lot of musicians – I shall return to those topics before I finish off. Everyman is a confident and terrific track from a Brighton band already being recognised and proffered. It is not just the local press that is seeing what they’re capable of. The group are getting respect further afield which brings me to their nationwide potential and international accessibility. Every time I review an artist, I am seeing where they can head and who they’d most likely appeal to. 40 Shillings on the Drum are not just reserved to those who like a bit of Rock or prefer their bands looking a certain way. There is a chameleon-like ability to the boys that bleeds into their music. It is hard to define what genres they play and they seem to cover a wide spectrum of emotions and sounds. At its heart, you have a group that look at common issues but never make it sound too serious and morbid – something many can take note of. That originality and flair are being lauded in Brighton but I feel there are bigger opportunities for the band. I know London has plenty of venues and fans waiting; there will be other cities primed and oiled (waiting for the boys). In terms of non-U.K. gigs, I would expect 40 Shillings on the Drum to look around Europe and the U.S. Even though the majority of our people seem content to abandon the E.U. – that is not the case with regards our musical talent. If budget and time allow such adventurousness: I can picture the group performing a few gigs on the continent and enjoying success there. Given their fondness for loose beer taps, loose tongues and loose morals: who knows what carnage and chaos they can bring?! That does them down but they do have that youthful energy and ambition that should not be faulted.

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If this year has proved anything it is how the landscape is changing and what is currently being favoured. By that, I mean there is a definite desire for music infused with urgency and truth. There are acts/bands who talk of romance and their experiences finding success – mainly, it is those acts who focus on other areas that are being afforded the biggest slice of the critical cake. I have tried to explain why 2016 has differed from previous years in terms of its success, consistency and themes. A lot of the top albums of this year has been defined by a certain energy and defiance: a need to hit against oppression and address important issues. I am not sure whether this will continue into 2017 or whether there is going to be a change. It is always hard predicting which artists are going to impress critics at any given time: I am sure 40 Shillings on the Drum are going to get their share of acclaim and create some rather special memories. I would love to see an E.P. from them – I think they may be planning an album next year – and more songs like Everyman. They have a great sound and attitude to music that is reflected in their songs. In addition, they have that live reputation and a collection of solid reviews. It is the location, dynamic and attitude of the band that really excites me. Were they based in London they might feel a little suffocated and struggle to get the acclaim they hoped for – with so many other artists playing in the city. Sure, they would be successful but there would be a sense of anxiety and stress. The fact they are in Brighton not only provides more space and breathing room but a different (perhaps easier) way of life is proving conducive to fantastic music. The city has some great venues and is starting to take some attention away from London – bands such as The Wytches have made sure of that.

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I know the 40 Shillings on the Drum armada will be travelling around the country next year but have a good and reputable base in Brighton. It is, unlike many smaller towns, somewhere they’ll always be opportunities and willing audiences. The group manage to balance a relatable core of love and relations with their own lyrical bent. You never feel bored or uninspired listening to Everyman: it has some familiar lines and ideas but is one of the more original and interesting songs I have heard this year. The guys are young and living life: they have had their hearts broken but are resolute and defiant. As they state quite flatly: they like a beer and night out and do not want to grow old gracefully. That spirit and youthfulness are already seducing the media and pulling in a loyal core of fans. Let’s hope they keep the juggernaut steaming ahead and continue to provide the same wonderful music they have ended this year with. It is not just the brilliant songwriting and tight performances that define Everyman: any influences you hear are quite unexpected and add a certain something to the song. It might sound odd but one grows tired of the same bands employing the same influences. I won’t name names (on either side of the coin) but you know the type of thing I mean. There are a lot of modern sounds being reinterpreted by modern bands – you do not get many older acts coming in. Perhaps it is not a huge issue but it is refreshing finding a young band who cast their mind and attention back to the legends of the 1970s. I mentioned elements of The Clash, which other reviewers have alluded to, and bits of Elvis Costello. There are faint hints but it is always pleasing finding this type of musician inspiring the new crop. All of these considerations, elements and strands put together have led to a band worth watching next year. It is the sort of time those eager and forward-thinking start to look at those artists they feel will define 2017. I will start making lists (the ones to watch 2017) and will add 40 Shillings on the Drum to that. The band are hungry and know what they want to achieve: they are looking for success and expand their fanbase. If they continue to work as they have, and provide incredible music to the people, that will be…

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A reality very soon.


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