Rowdy Superstar is a force of nature. Most artists when asked to perform a live session grab their band, rather than assembling Eska and a small choir to perform an acappella version of their single. In a week. I love this version of "Breathe", one of the real stand out tracks from Rowdy's debut album "Battery". The layers of voices punctuate the underlying emotion the original production doesn't make so immediately obvious, Rowdy sounds heartfelt and passionate yet plaintive, and the body percussion really drives the intensity of the situation home. Beautiful.
Yes, Kimchi, as in the delicious Korean fermented cabbage dish. No one can accuse Tanya Auclair of a lack of songwriting originality. This beautiful piece is actually a new song she brought out specially for the glorious day that was In The Woods Festival 2012. I am reliably informed that Tanya is writing her debut album and working with a very exciting producer, so this little video nugget is the closest we'll get to hearing it for a while. This video is probably also the closest we will ever get to a video of Tanya featuring booty shots - oh yes camera man I see you.
It's been almost a year since I first mentioned Kwabena Adjepong, and from what I hear (still relatively little) he is in the process of writing and recording some original material. I can only imagine having to be objective when confronted with such an obscenely beautiful voice - he could quite literally sing the phone book and move me to tears. The song above is the most recent of a couple now up on his Youtube channel, and it certainly sounds as though he's aiming himself firmly at beautiful.
It's hard not to anticipate the almost inevitable part-compliment, part- music journo withering insult "throwback soul" being thrown in Kwabs' direction (unless Disclosure produce him, which would be depressing, have you heard Sam Smith singing "Latch" accompanied by strings and piano?? At least 20,000 of those views were me, legs crossed à la Urban Hang Suite. ).
The exciting thing is that this slightly snide description seems to have done very little harm to Lianne La Havas and Michael Kiwanuka, and there is an ever growing interest in (let's face it), black singer songwriters with that rich, stirring and yes, soulful tone to their voices that was so deeply uncool for so many years in this country. I have high hopes that frustrating argument *it's ok for Adele and Amy but not [insert person with significantly more melanin here]* may be peacefully laid to rest by the end of 2013 - for how long, who knows.
Another burgeoning singer songwriter with a beautiful, soulful tone I've been listening to of late is Jacob Banks. It's perhaps a little unfair to combine his music in the same post as Kwabs because it may lead to comparison, when really the point is how spoiled we are to have voices like these emerging in the UK and being heard. Banks has just released "The Monologue" EP on Soundcloud, and I get the impression that much like Laura Mvula, his music will be more resonant live than recorded. This cover is genuinely lovely, especially considering the sea of slightly desperate, almost mandatory "quirky cover" Youtube fodder my inbox is drowning in presently.
In The Woods, in my humble opinion, is currently the best music festival in the UK. I certainly haven't been to them all, but their line up is so carefully curated (The entire Laurel Collective has to watch every artist perform and vote on them), the site so beautifully decorated (covered in beautiful lights and art installations) and the atmosphere is truly magical (actual, real magic). My only grumble was missing the lighting of the giant bonfire and Alt J's headline performance in order to catch the last train to London, but it's hardly their fault I wasn't up for camping.
One of the many, many searingly beautiful moments was Eska's set. I couldn't see her since the band sat down in solidarity with Dave Okumu of The Invisible who was recovering from a nasty accident in Nigeria. Her voice carried over the tree tops, around the coloured streamers and through the smoke to reach us all however, and it was very special moment. I'm so pleased that you can catch a glimpse of how special both the festival and Eska are in this barn session.
I first came across Tawiah back in 2008, when hardly anyone was self-releasing EPs or making the kind of music she made. Her "In Jodi's Bedroom" EP felt like it was part of the start of something so exciting in our music scene, at the time I could name the artists I knew of who sang in a London accent on one hand. I must have gone to see her live more than ten times, and hoped that one day I would book her.
Four years on, in a period of relative quiet to the outside world (writing a really good album takes time!), my partner in crime and resident DJ Eric Lau and I asked Tawiah to come and perform at the C.A.M.P., hoping we could do her justice. My favourite part of running a night is always soundcheck. The band might be a little stressed trying to tweak and perfect everything at the last minute, but I get a private gig where I don't have to worry about the guest list or whether it will start raining and no one will come. My lasting thought as I watched Tawiah soundcheck, was that I was watching a future star, an incredibly gifted artist who couldn't fail to go on and perform for the rest of her life to thousands of people.
I hope the video shows you even a tiny fraction of the atmosphere Tawiah and her band generated that night.
I wasn't sure whether to title this post with the song title of the cover - it took me until half way through the chorus to recognise it the first time Tanya played it to me. There is an undeniable trend at the moment for singers covering other people's work - preferably as quirky and far away from your chosen genre as possible - but failing that out warbling the original creator will generally do. Ahem.
I may be biased, but I love the way Tanya Auclair makes covers her own. I've seen her rendition of Roy Davis Jr and Peven Everett's "Gabriel" raise countless smiles and Garage fingers skywards in surprised epiphany, and here she brings a joyously bouncy yet sincere feel to the Queens of the Stone Age's hit "No One Knows". A well written song should traverse the boundaries of genre, gender, and time with ease, and this is a perfect example.
Szjerdene tends to evoke the same response from everyone I speak to about her, whether it's A&Rs or brand new fans, experimental producers who make albums out of pigs or people who er, don't do that. They all say - *sharp intake of breath* "Her voice!!" It stays with you, as it did with me when I first came across it four years ago.
The single "Blue Lullaby" from her recently released "Patchwork EP" is desperately melancholic, but the beauty of Szjerdene's tone at times made me forget I was sad, and the next moment intensified the feeling almost unbearably. It may have taken her a couple of years to finish and release, but the mark of a good song is its ability to stand the test of time.
The performers I book for Put Me On It Live shows (so far Tanya Auclair, Dego with live band, Szjerdene and Tawiah) make it increasingly difficult to book the next one. I try to catch artists on the cusp of much bigger things, or those willing to do me huge favours, before it's too late and they're selling out huge venues. As I pushed my way through the crowd that night so many people stopped me to ask about Szjerdene and what she's doing next. Working with her gave me the insight that she is very much a perfectionist, so the answer is probably taking her time, which makes it all the more exciting.
Alice Grant of the quinoa like slow-release super group Moats and Thrones' voice is so addictive I will even listen to the audio from a muffled recording in a barn at last years In The Woods Festival on repeat (not sure where the mic was positioned, possibly outside the barn in a small puddle, these things happen).
In The Woods is one of the very few UK music festivals I will be going to this year, partly because I am so excited about putting on a stage and party at Soundwave Croatia everything else pales in comparison, and partly because for some reason everyone seems to think having the same line up as each other is a good idea.
The Laurel Collective who run In The Woods don't think this is a good idea however, and so far they have announced the likes of Alt J, Kwes, and Peter and Kerry (previous line ups have included The Invisible, Lianne La Havas, Micachu and various other people I heart very much). I'm crossing my fingers a few other PMOI favourites may be in contention for the line up this year, but regardless I will be heading to the secret location in the woods (that's a real secret location, not all this "secret" east London warehouse business). I'm hoping you need a compass and orienteering skills to find it. You should come too, especially if you have said orienteering skills.