PHOTO CREDIT: Claire Collinson
Carry My Heart
Carry My Heart is available at:
Alternative; Folk; Pop; Soul
County Durham, U.K.
The E.P., Lions, is available at:
10th June, 2017
THIS review affords me the chance to look at another great female songwriter…
PHOTO CREDIT: Claire Collinson
but one with a difference. I shall look at Toni Sidgwick’s music but, before then, I will have a look at a number of things. Included will be artists who begin by busking; the music of the North and those who hail from the Shetland Islands; working with great producers and artists that help influence a sound; a bit on pulling together various strands and experiences to create unique and special music – a little on the fertility of the female singer-songwriter genre. Starting off with, perhaps, a rather unusual subject; it seems like a lot of musicians start out in the rather modest and atmospheric setting of the street. Wherever one goes, we hear buskers and a variety of different musicians. It can be quite a wonderful experience discovering an artist in that setting – a bit of a ‘hidden gem’ one feels deserves a larger audience. A lot of times, buskers are performing to a less-than-attentive audience and it can be quite rare getting any money out of it. If one travels around London, you can hear some interesting buskers in the Tube and on various streets. It is challenging and hard getting a pitch and one must navigate a labyrinth of applications and green tape so they can set-up stall and perform. I guess that is good because one does not want to hear an endless row of artists performing whilst they are walking the street. It can be quite hassling and off-putting having that much sound in your ear. Saying that, London has a good attitude and does impose limitations. It is not to quell creativity and free expression but ensure the streets have the right tone and there are not too many musicians playing in the same areas. Above all, they are concerned with quality as opposed to any sort setting up shop and strumming away. My point is busking is a tricky issue and one that has divisions.
PHOTO CREDIT: Claire Collinson
Near where I live, there are a lot of buskers performing and, to be honest, the quality is not good. It is, essentially, a set of musicians whose musical consciousness does not go past the 1960s. It is very old-fashioned, dull and unengaging. It seems to do alright with the pedestrians – not saying much really – but is neither cutting-edge, interesting or contemporary. It does depend on your tastes but, for a lot of artists, it is the only way they can generate any funds. It is a great way of testing material out and practising songs. I find the bigger cities have the best musicians and a greater range. You not only get acoustic guitar-based songs but Jazz artists and some interesting acts – from Beatbox and Rap to various fusions. I guess Toni Sedgwick would have been in the position where she has had long relatively fruitless days and had to go home near-empty-handed. It is a reality one faces when busking but, considering her music, I guess she would have got a lot of praise and support. I wanted to start with this subject because one wonders who musicians get started and the road they have to walk. Busking is a way of meeting people and discovering what reception your music receives. Sedgwick played in Edinburgh and one of the best cities for new music. It is debatable whether she would be as assured and confidence did she not start that way. Maybe there were songs – that we see on her new E.P. – that started on the streets and evolved over time. I suppose that is a good way of judging a song and how it is going to be received. I feel too many of today’s musicians busk and do cover versions which limits their potential and scope. If you are covering other people’s songs then you are likely to gain limited appeal from those who hear it. A lot of times, the songs chosen are generic and obvious; the performances lifeless or unspectacular. I would like to see more artists cutting new material on the pavements. Maybe a song might not be quite ready but it appeals more to people like me to see musicians willing to perform original material. Sidgwick has some fantastic original material now but I wonder how much of it started its life when she was busking? Anyway, it is an interesting point few consider. We have all heard the tale of Ed Sheeran – not that I like his music, to be fair – who started busking and has grown into a mega-successful recording artist. That might be a rare exception but it is possible. In a scene where the toilet circuit is an essential start for most artists: busking is another affordable way of getting your music to people quickly.
Let’s have a look at the North, and, specifically, areas north of London. Many assume music’s best is entirely in the capital but Toni Sidgwick is based in County Durham. Maybe the area gets less attention than other parts but that is not to say there are few great musicians up there. She has, as I shall reveal, had quite a start in life and travelled a fair bit. In nearly every review I write I always bring up the same point: why is local media not doing more to promulgate the merits of their musicians? It is something I am seeing (or not!) constantly. County Durham has, over the years, given us a few great artists – perhaps Prefab Sprout are the most-famous. That is good enough for me to recommend the area but, one feels, there are a lot more great artists that have not been included. Right now, there is a raft of great artists playing around County Durham. I know BBC Radio 6 Music are paying tribute to Liverpool next week and exploring all the wonderful musicians who have made the city what it is. In terms of their northern peers; there is a lot of top talent in the North-East. Perhaps Newcastle and Ouseburn Valley are a bit more stocked when it comes to recognisable older acts but there places like County Durham are not to be overlooked. In terms of venues there, one has Darlington Civic Theatre, Mickleton Village Hall and The Forum Music Centre. The latter is more a performance space for musicians whereas Darlington Civic Theatre hosts live music throughout the year. It is frustrating seeing so few websites dedicated to places like County Durham because I know there is a great scene there. Perhaps cities like Newcastle are a bit more appealing but that should not come at the expense of County Durham.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ellen Dixon
I will come onto new things but find it interesting Sidgwick has come via the Shetland Islands. I reviewed an artist recently who spent time in the Faroe Islands and recalled how beautiful and scenic it is. Tranquil, inspiring and evocative: somewhere a musician could find solace and plenty of chance for self-reflection and calm. I have never been there but can imagine it is somewhere that can provoke songwriting and inspiration. Sidgwick has taken in quite a lot of the North of England but has spent time in Scotland and further parts. In terms of the music scene in the Shetland Islands, I can imagine it is pretty much non-existent but I find it fascinating to hear about the people who live on the islands. It must be such a different way of life and a really unusual, unmodern existence. They have technology there but it is almost like stepping to a simpler time. Certainly, one can understand the need to go there and detach from the hurly-burly of life. In Sidgwick’s case; I imagine she would have loved the time there but wanted to find something busier and more active. County Durham and the North are much more opportunity-laden and right in the heart of a wonderful area for British music. I have looked at Yorkshire and Manchester but would love to discover more musicians from Newcastle and the North-East. Lauren Deakin-Davies is someone I have looked at in this blog recently. As DIDI – her musical alter-ego – she has produced some stunning lo-fi, Grunge-type sounds that marks her as a hot proposition. I mentioned Deakin-Davies because she is someone who is an exceptional studio head and producer in her own right. Sidgwick is a terrific musician and someone who wants the very best for her craft. Bonding with Deakin-Davies means she gets the experience and passion of a young woman who has worked alongside some of the finest new artists around – she has been in the same studio as Laura Marling recently.
PHOTO CREDIT: Claire Collinson
Lions is an E.P. with so much going for it. In terms of emotions and physicality; one gets involve and instantly bonds with the material. Many modern artists are incapable of producing something that gets into the heart and under the skin. In the case of Toni Sidgwick; she is someone who has honed her craft and played for a few years now. I know Sidgwick has worked with other producers but it seems like there is a natural affinity and connection between her and Deakin-Davies. Perhaps it is a case of two like-minded souls together but I feel Sidgwick sought her out after doing a bit of research. However they got together, it can be really important finding the right producer to take care of your sounds. A lot of musicians self-produce but it is only natural some would desire the opinions and support from a renowned producer. In this case, Sidgwick has selected one of the best young producers in this country. Deakin-Davies comes from musical stock and has a terrific knowledge of the industry. I see a lot of producers who do it for the money and seem unconcerned with bringing the best from the material. That is not always the case but I have seen it happen. The best music comes when both parties and committed and having conversations. I can imagine an E.P. like Sidgwick’s was formulated through experimentation, feel and instinct. Deakin-Davies would have had her own ideas and input: fusing those twin minds is what one hears on the record. I can hear a bit of the producer’s tastes and music in Sidgwick’s but it is not a polished and overly-shiny production. There is that naturalness and effortlessness that suits Sidgwick’s past and open style. She is someone who wants the music to connect on a human level and not be too cluttered or detached. What we get is a remarkable work that can rival some of the best E.P.s of the year. I have said that before but mean it each time. I am finding so many incredible young artists who are staying loyal to their own minds and not trying to write something mainstream or commercial. There are a lot of artists in the Folk/Alternative sector, as I will explain, but Toni Sidgwick stands aside.
PHOTO CREDIT: Claire Collinson
A reason why her music resonates is the influences she brings together. Among them are London Grammar and Tracy Chapman. In fact, the latter can be heard in the vocals of Sidgwick. That might sound unlikely given the differences between the musicians but it is definitely there. Ben Howard is another influence – I can hear that – and there is a real mix of sounds and genres. It is the Tracy Chapman comparisons that really appeal to me. The legendary U.S. musician is someone hugely influential but it has been a while since I’ve heard anyone who takes her to heart. Whether Sidgwick has been a fan of hers since childhood I am not sure but it is a great connection. Bringing that Indie/Folk/Soul/Pop sound together; one can hear a concoction of British and U.S. influences from the present day right back to the 1970s. I hear a lot of artists who have a list of influences and its can be quite hard fusing them into something new and interesting. With Sidgwick, she has that stunning and commanding voice but puts together dreaminess, rouse and spirit into her E.P. It shouldn’t all hang together but it does, rather marvellously. That is the sign of someone who has a huge talent and a real ear for combining music. I guess Deakin-Davies would have assisted but those years busking and learning her craft would have been instrumental. In fact, it is likely a real childhood passion for exploring music would have compelled her to write her own stuff. Sifting through vinyl and her parents’ record collection; these fantastic musicians would have been a revelation. Forward the clock and one can get a real sense of Sidgwick’s upbringing and the artists that motivate and seduce her. I will come to that Tracy Chapman point later but, for now, shall move onto the female singer-songwriter.
PHOTO CREDIT: Claire Collinson
The last few reviews – and a few upcoming – will focus on female artists from different walks of life. It is really interesting seeing the kind of artist out there and who might be defining music in years to come. There are still conflicts and divisions in music that need to be sorted. In terms of sounds, popularity and the market; one feels the more credible and individual artists have their own fight and are not afforded the same focus as chart acts. Those mainstream artists do what they do – and they are needed – but one wonders whether many of them will be remembered all that time down the line?! Many will not so it makes me wonder whether we need to effect change and create a more even balance. Even when one considers gender; there are these obstacles women face. There is not the equality one would hope for and so many (women) are having to struggle to get the same attention as the guys. It makes me more invested in female songwriters because, sexism aside, they tend to be a lot more interesting and diverse. If one listens to Toni Sidgwick; there is ample evidence she has the legs and songs to go very far. Certainly, Lions and Carry My Heart are example of how fine and assured she is. It is rare finding someone as developed and confident at such a young age – knowing music is where they should be. It might be a few years before she gets to the big festival stages but that day is coming. Right now, Sidgwick shows why female singer-songwriters deserve a lot more rights and spotlight. Putting together so many sounds, artists and ideas might be a risky proposition but there is a deftness and natural calm to the songs – even if the subject matter suggests something more urgent.
It has been a productive and interesting last few years for Toni Sidgwick but she is someone I can see going a long way and inspiring a new generation of artists. We often assume the mainstream is truly representative of what music’s future will be but I feel the underground explosion is more indicative of what to expect. For male artists, there is a lot more depth and variety than one finds on commercial radio. Female artists have that Pop/mainstream potential but there are so many other alternatives available. If you want a stunning young Folk star, then you have plenty of options. There are terrific and hard-hitting Grunge bands and exceptional Electro.-Pop singers. I am really looking forward to the day the mainstream becomes more diverse because, I think, there are some ill practices that need abolishing. There is too much sexualisation and exposure (the wrong kind) and bad messages being conveyed. The sounds produced, by a lot of chart acts, is so machine-fed and plastic it has no real soul and organic nature. We need to overhaul the system and create a brighter and more diverse garden. I would like to see the charts adapted to reflect the popularity and promise of the unsigned musician – not sure how that would be done but it is s step forward. Lions is out now and the work of a strong and unique songwriter who has worked tirelessly getting this far. Toni Sidgwick is an example of how focus, discipline and determination can work wonders. She is on a great trajectory that is likely to include big appearances and memorable moments. I feel the female side of music is a lot more compelling and it extends beyond sounds and talent. There is something in the personalities and stories that, I don’t know, comes off as more fascinating and human. It might sound strange but I feel a stronger connection with female artists – compared to the stories of the boys. Why that is, maybe the need for my gender to do more, I am not certain but feel we all need to do more and erode the old ethos and standards of the music industry – create something fairer and equal. I shall come back to that in the conclusion but must hurry to the doors of Lions and the new single, Carry My Heart.
The E.P. track is out there now but I wanted to focus my attentions on Carry My Heart. The opening arpeggio mixes with, what sounds like, a bit of percussion or could be electric guitar – it produces a sound hard to explain (evidentially) that fuses brilliantly with the strings to provide a real sense of reflection and atmosphere. It is easy-going and has traditional Folk elements but, to my ear, much more depth and colour than most ‘typical’ introductions – which can be quite one-note and obvious. Here, there is a real sense of building up the images and getting the listener into Sidgwick’s head-space. When the heroine does arrive, one can hear that distinct vocal and relate to those heady comparisons. Her tones have a Blues rawness and unique accentuation that manages to pull together sweetness with certain weariness. The way Sidgwick delivers her words really fascinated me. It is conversational and has a real character to it. Rather than a simple or obvious delivery; she elongates some parts and hurries others. It is a really physical and engrossing presentation that brims with personality and charm. Listening to the lyrics and it seems there is a lot of rain in the North right now (so surprises there) so she grabs her coat and watches the black sky unleash. In the first instance, one is tempted to take the words literally. Sidgwick is walking around and feeling the effect of the rain and the tempestuous sky. Many songs have detailed the weather and its capriciousness but few with that combination of evocative vocals and descriptive powers. The heroine has been carrying her life and self for some time but wants someone to come along and take her heart. Maybe a romantic gesture but, one feels, there is a need to have that additional weight lifted. Perhaps things are a bit intense right now and it is quite difficult juggling everything. Whether directed at a sweetheart or a companion; it seems like there is a fatigue and anxiety inside the vocal that requires healing and understanding. Maybe that is an over-exaggeration but there is a distinct call for support.
PHOTO CREDIT: Claire Collinson
Perhaps it is a romantic situation where Sidgwick is looking around and seeking that tender affection – someone she already knows or else someone new. The composition picks up the tempo and becomes more rousing. Likewise, the vocal steps up and gets more heated. It seems, as observed, the heroine has been carrying her life so, maybe, there is less reliance on unburdening herself and more direction towards affection. Whatever the catalyst for this declaration; one cannot help but fall for the vocal that seems to employ so many different notes/ideas but remain distinct and incomparable. I have mentioned singers like Tracy Chapman but, in actuality, the two are not overly-similar – Sidgwick has the same qualities and power but takes her voice in different directions. I have listened to a lot of Folk/Alternative artists and they have a voice that can be quite limited. Sidgwick is getting their sweetheart back and will “see how it goes”. There is wariness and caution but the emotions are never too fraught. Maybe this relationship has been on-off and there is an understanding things might take a while to gel and fully realise themselves. Not that Sidgwick is being casual about things – there is a definite desire to ignite something – but this supplication comes at a time when she needs a little support. As stated, her day-to-day life is something she’s used to but the heart wants something else. Whether that is a long-term romance or companionship; the words are being directed to, I sense, someone who has been in the picture quite a long time. It is impossible not to bond with the chorus when it comes back around. It is such an effective and catchy thing; you will be singing along – or at least nodding the head in time. Complete with spirit, determination and wisdom: a track many of Sidgwick’s peers would do well to study – as a lesson on how to separate yourself from the pack.
PHOTO CREDIT: Claire Collinson
The chorus continues until the end and, yes, one will fully be under its spell by the closing notes. It is a lot harder than you think crafting a chorus that is instant but has depth to it. That is what Sidgwick has done and, in the process, a song around it that is compelling and personal. After it ended, I was still wondering what the origination is. Maybe a love that is being rekindled as a way of compartmentalising weight – and, thus, being afforded some pleasure among the strain – or is it a less fraught courtship. The heroine might simply be evoking a pact from the two: a causal relationship that needs to come back to life at a tough time. It seems more serious than that and, because of that, I get the impression Sidgwick is looking for something more long-standing than this. Whatever the true nature of the song; it is a stunning song from a full and diverse E.P. that offers many different stories and brilliant moments. Carry My Heart – still rattling in my mind – gets you when you first listen (its catchiness and energy) but, the more you listen to it, the deeper you go. The lyrics start to reveal secrets but one never gets every piece of the puzzle. That is a sign of a great song and one you will return to time and time again.
It has been really interesting hearing Toni Sidgwick’s work and discovering a hungry and talent young artist who has a big future. I shall come back to my earlier points soon but, before navigating off; I wanted to have a chat about her future and why I feel she’s so special. For one, there are some great tour dates approaching. 12 Bar Blues and Newcastle’s 02 Academy should be pretty memorable. It seems like Sidgwick has the heart of the North and is building a great local reputation. Through the summer, she will be on the road, getting her music to as many people as she can. It would be wonderful seeing her come down to London and am curious whether she performs much here. I guess there would have been the odd gig down here but logistics and finance might restrict too many performances this way. I know there are plenty of fans that would love to see her play so hope some gigs around London are planned. It is not only the capital that is hungry: so many other parts of the U.K. would love to see her. Sidgwick has played at the Shetland Folk Festival and I find it wonder she has spent time there and has that connection. It might seem condescending but one always associates the area with a certain remoteness and quiet. I guess there is quite a scene there and a definite hotspot for music. For sure, the incredible views and location are appealing to so many musicians, not just those in the Folk genre. I wonder whether another trip there is on the cards or some more time in Scotland? It is interesting seeing how an artist promotes an E.P. and where they choose to visit. Maybe there will be some southern dates but I understand the importance of playing to the local crowds and areas there is definite demand. Perhaps, money-willing, a longer tour will occur in months to come. Lions is an E.P. that will amaze everyone so demand will slowly increase. I have seen the fan numbers build on Toni Sidgwick’s social media pages – indication the people are responding and there is a definite affection for her.
PHOTO CREDIT: Claire Collinson
I will wrap things up but, before concluding, will revisit a few subjects from the opening: the northern music scene and giving it a fair shout; working with great producers and how effective that can be; pulling together strands of music and artists and the best female songwriters emerging right now. In the list of divisions in music, I am wary there is one between the North and South of the country. Recent events in this country have bonded us to Manchester, especially, and there has been that universal love for London. Outside of that, I wonder whether music journalism is connected and unified as it should be. As I mentioned; there are lots of lifts looking at London’s best new artists and those venues you have to explore. Newcastle is well-represented in terms of venue coverage, but what about their new artists? I have reviewed a few acts from that neck of the words and find it egregious there is so little merit given to the new bands/acts emerging. Maybe there are fewer local media sources so it is harder getting something regular and comprehensive put up. As a journalist, I am always looking to broaden my horizons and discover what terrific music there is around the U.K. In terms of County Durham, as explained, I am aware of historic acts like Prefab Sprout but only familiar with Newcastle, really. Get more involved with the area and I know there are towns/villages that have promising musicians waiting to be discovered. I know the media in Newcastle is quite strong so I am stumped why an annual list has not been published – those brilliant locals we should be looking out for. Toni Sidgwick has made her way from Scotland to County Durham but definitely stands out. She has Scottish attribute – an honest and eclecticism; a very personal nature but never too revealing – and seems comfortable where she is. Many down this way are unaware of the buffet of musicians in the North: many will be coming up to the mainstream in years to come and it would be nice if we had a little warning. I am relieved Sidgwick has come to my attention but worry many like her will be overlooked or ignored.
Lions is an E.P. Sidgwick should take great pride in (Lions…pride…anyone?!) and brings together her past and present. From busking on the streets of Scotland, could she imagine she’d be in this position and so far along? I opened by looking at busking and how effective it is; why it can be a good thing and areas that suffer from not-so-good artists. I always enjoy going to a bigger city and seeing the array of buskers you get. I mentioned London because, depending which Tube station of borough you wander through; there is always something different. Not to bag on towns and smaller areas but the standard is not always that high. A lot of times, you get buskers are do nothing but covers and one wonders how far they expect to go. Okay, if you are covering rare songs or doing something new then that is okay. A lot of the time the cover versions are overheard or brand-new – often copied from the original or hardly breaking any moulds. It is quite tiring hearing those musicians but there are places where there is nothing but that. In Sidgwick’s case, she would have been in a great part of the world with fantastic street musicians. There must have been some days Sidgwick was not feeling it but she stuck with it and gained that valuable experience. Not only would she have a chance to premiere songs and play around with them but get a first-hand sense of how they were being perceived. How crucial that background has been to her present is hard to quantify but it would have been a valuable rite-of-passage – rather than go through a music school or leapt straight into music. Because of that, small wonder she sounds so ready and prepared for what is ahead. You need only listen to a few moments of Carry My Heart and realise what an eventful and rich heritage she has – an artist who has worked from the pavements to the place she is in right now.
It is unsurprising an E.P. that was supervised and produced with Lauren Deakin-Davies should sound so atmospheric and interesting. There are depths and intricacies working inside a beating heart that drives every number. As mentioned, I have interviewed Deakin-Davies as DIDI – that wonderful musician persona – and got to know about her as the upcoming songwriter and experienced studio lead. There are two sides to a unique personality who has helped elevate many musicians’ music. Not that Toni Sidgwick was in need of much fine-tuning and instruction. What the two have done is collaborate ideas and create something personal and intriguing. It is a perfect creative marriage that, I hope, continues on future records. Producers are often overlooked as less-important cogs in the machine – this is especially true of female producers. In fact, that is quite an important progression: acknowledging female producers and studio workers and the fantastic work they do. Producers and not merely there to record performances and do the technical sides. They offer input and help structure songs; get the best performance from an artist and, in a lot of case, help take songs in a new, much more interesting direction. This is the case of Deakin-Davies who, I know, has a real ear and knack for unearthing a song’s hidden potential. I am glad the two know one another – not sure how that came together! – and it has the sound it does. Sidgwick is a seasoned and assured performer but, one suspects, would have been grateful for Deakin-Davies’ input and knowledge.
I shall take things down now but wanted to nod back to Sidgwick’s diverse and time-straddling influences. From Bruce Springsteen and London Grammar to Tracy Chapman and Ben Howard – not easy drawing a line through those names! Every artist has influences but it is the way they are employed which can be quite hard. Some are a little too reliant on them whereas others barely incorporate them at all. If you, like Sidgwick, have such an array of great idols it is key they come into your music but in a personal and original way. If one listens to Lions, there are more spirited and epic moments that reflect Springsteen but Folk numbers that put one in mind of Tracy Chapman. Of course, there are other musicians Sidgwick gravitates towards but it is that combination of Ben Howard’s emotional and ethereal sounds and Chapman’s urgent and raw tones that perfectly melt into Lions. In terms of pen; Sidgwick has her own themes and ideas but, vocally, I can hear a little of both. That is fascinating and great to blend two very separate artists so seamlessly. The years spent busking and crafting her voice would have contributed but one cannot overlook the importance of the record collection and music idols. They are key figures and rightfully so. So, that is it but I recommend you all get your ears around Lions and discover a songwriter who is like no other. It has been rewarding featuring Carry Me Heart – and hope I have done it justice – and a brilliant artist who will be a huge name soon enough. I have every faith Toni Sidgwick will carry on aiming, pushing and getting her music out there. She has dates across the North through the summer but, when that is all done, there might be plans to come down this way a bit – one can only hope! Merit and kudos must be provided a fantastic musician who has progressed from the busking days and matured into a strong and promising songwriter. If one thinks about it, comparing how she started and where she is now, it is…
PHOTO CREDIT: Claire Collinson
AN amazing progression, indeed.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Claire Collinson