A Year in Review
Written by Rachel Thomas on December 9, 2019
By Rachel Thomas
2019 is rapidly coming to a close along with the decade, and what a year it has been, with artists putting Shoetown on the map both nationally and internationally. To cast our memories back, I have compiled a review of just some of the highlights of the last 12 months.
I’ll begin by congratulating each and every local artist, musician and band. The local music scene is gaining more and more traction year on year and that is down to each and every individual and their contribution, no matter how big or small, from open mic and jam nights, to local festivals and of course to the organisers of the incredible itinerary of gigs we’ve had this year. Not only does it keep the momentum going at the grassroots level of music, which without the music industry couldn’t thrive, it also supports the local venues and in turn the local community. In the current climate with austerity on the rise and communities on the decline, this can only be a good thing. So with the preliminaries complete, lets get stuck in to just some of the best bits 2019.
SONG OF THE YEAR
Sarpa Salpa | Before It Goes Dark
Sarpa Salpa have been hard at work over the past year touring the country, gigging hard and still managing to release new material, with a steady stream of new tracks throughout the year, each one more sensational than the last. Before It Goes Dark caught the attention of the BBC with airtime on both Radio 1 and Radio 6. As did their previous track Casanova. It’s easy to see why with their tight, lush indie sound, this one moving their sound on with darker undertones.
I have to mention Kenneth J Nash‘s, The Explorer and Buskervite by Jono and the Uke Dealers. Both foreground the current societal failings, in regards to the homelessness crisis and austerity, and reflect on their own personal experience of this. Both tracks are raising money for Musicians against Homelessness. Also, Joe B. Humbled’s, The Straight and Narrow. Joe B. Humbled aka Joe Martin, previously known for his association with bands such as Deep Sea Mountains, The Mobbs and of course GOGO LOCO, released tracks from his solo venture this year, appearing at Twinfest in the summer. It’s a vintage inspired mix of soul, and classic rhythm and blues.
EP OF THE YEAR
Tom Rose and The Heathen Orchestra | Tail and Fins
Tom Rose and The Heathen Orchestra released their idiosyncratic EP Tail and Fins late this year and it is an energetic, macabre blend of dark blues noir, quirky storytelling theatrics, unique instruments and strange tunings. It is an eccentric exhibition of Tom’s talents combined with influences such as Tom Waits, Nick Cave and Howlin’ Wolf and is an outlandish celebration of the odd and freakish.
Other notable releases include GOGO LOCO’s Whizz Pop! and Kian Russell’s Off the Ground. Following the success of The Gogo Loco Twist, Whizz Pop! is the second EP for the maraca driven trash rock and roll band that is GOGO LOCO. It does exactly what it says on the tin, catchy, rockabilly mayhem, proving just how many ways you can recycle the Bo Diddley beat. At just sixteen blues prodigee Kian Russell has already lived in American and become a blackstar endorsed artist, toured at festivals across the country and all whilst doing his GCSEs. Off The Ground is all of Kian’s tracks in one place, and is a demonstration of classic, Americana-style blues with a fresh indie twist for modern audiences. Also worth mentioning is Blood Visions, the hotly anticipated release came after a long while of the band not releasing anything new. The already much-celebrated self-titled EP was released late November, with the launch taking place at the Black Prince. Track 01604ever is quickly becoming a firm favourite of many across the town. And Fossilheads. The Future Is Petrifying is the latest EP from the eco-conscious theatrical folk duo. Their creation is as humorous as it is politically poignant. Their blunt outlook is cut with quirky cabaret style theatrics and is both defiant and unique.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Thee Telepaths | The Velvet Night
Thee Telepath’s, The Velvet Night, is a seamless album if listened to in its entirety which I recommend you do, especially on vinyl. The tracks consist of Alpha, Pt. 1 – 5, Epsilon Pt. 1 – 3 and Delta Pt. 1 – 4, which is in fact in reference to the key, the Key of A in the case of Alpha, D in Delta and so on. It originated out of a jam sesh between the band and has since been meticulously reworked and overwritten, culminating into a rich, velvety epic psychedelic sound.
Obviously I have to mention Slowthai’s top ten album, Nothing Great about Britain, nominated for the Mercury Prize, it reached a peak position of 9 in the UK charts. It has certainly been a huge year for Tyron. And Hot Motion, released this year by Temples which reached 51 in the UK charts. They are currently touring the U.S. and Australia.
ACT OF THE YEAR
The hard-working, focused ethic of The Barratts has certainly paid off. On the tip of tongues as the ones to watch last year, this year, The Barratts signed a management contract with Derby-based Toura Toura. which has seen them tour the country, with over 50 gigs this year, across 15 different cities and snagging the support slot for Alan Mcgee’s In Conversation tour. The Barratts also represented the town at Manofest, in Marburg, Germany.
Close contenders are King Purple, who have been touring hard this year, traveling the country and beyond this year at the Les Expressif Festival in Poitiers, France. The bands hard graft has certainly paid off, topped off with latest single Warning Signs which saw its launch in the main-room of the Roadmender with support from Baby Lung, Monarchs and Century City.
LIVE ACT OF THE YEAR
The Jackal Nine
The Jackal Nine were the highlight of this year’s Twinfest, making a loud comeback since their 2 year hiatus. Their raucous set was politically poignant and in keeping with the European nature of the festival, super-charged, it was epic by all proportions. They returned for the King of Hearts Festival in November that also saw the debut performance from The Comms, who were a close contender. As are Baby Lung. Recently adding a saxophone to the mix, from Matt Willett, the bands silky smooth minimalist sound now has that added jazz element and the result is sublime, dramatically changing the band’s sound and stage presence. Breaking onto the scene earlier this year, Baby Lung are best seen live to grasp their full effect, where one can completely turn the outside world off for at least half an hour and submerge yourself in the dense atmosphere.
EVENT OF THE YEAR
Twinfest is a four-day festival that goes from strength to strength every year and celebrates our continental pairings with Poitiers, France and Marburg, Germany, as well as, showcasing local, original talent. It opened at The Lab this year playing host to the international acts, before hitting The Lamplighter, The Garibaldi, The Pomfret Arms and The Black Prince, supporting yet more venues than in previous years.
The year has seen so many great gigs this year it is impossible to mention them all. The Pomfret Arms saw the first Audio Stage Festival all-dayer, showcasing the local talent that had appeared as part of the Audio Stage series. Sarpa Salpa made and their debut headlining the main-room of the Roadmender, as did King Purple. The Northampton Music Festival saw Phil Moore of New Boots host a stage with a stellar line up including Kian Russell and The Big Dirty and some performers from the Lay It Down nights. It also saw the Blockheads headline the main stage since appearing over 10 years ago, fronted by punk-poet Derek the Draw. Leading us swiftly onto…
BEST TOURING BAND TO HIT NORTHAMPTON
Red Rum Club | The Black Prince
Liverpudlian Red Rum Club played at Glastonbury in the summer, and have had regular plays on the BBC airwaves, working the door at the event people proclaimed to have come from as far as Leicester and the surrounding areas to see them. The band combine sounds of old, with a wild western vibe, with a modern indie twist that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Tarantino soundtrack. All polished off with the aid of a solitary trumpet from Joe the Blow.
Phobophobes | The Black Prince
For this I’m going to choose two as Phobophobes were too close a follow. For fans of Goat Girl, Depeche Mode and Velvet Underground, Phobophobes are the ones for you. Hailing from London, these guys were big in both number and sound, a six-piece including a double-decker synth, all fronted by Jamie Bardolph Taylor, complete with a glass of red wine in hand.
The Tutti Frutti RnR nights, organised by Joe Martin deserve a notable mention here. Bringing in the rockabilly talent Joe encounters on his travels, he endeavours to put on a night he’d want to go to. The event has seen The Strays akin to No Doubt, husband and wife duo Snakerattlers and the Joe Strummer-esque Shakin’ Nightmares. More of this please! The year also saw a pantheon stars back on their various anniversary tours including Adam Ant, Gary Newman, The Selecter, Brand New Heavies, Electric Six, with The Happy Mondays coming up this month that sold out in February.
BEST ACT TO MAKE IT OUT OF NORTHAMPTON
This one has to go to Slowthai. With that Glastonbury performance on the West Holts stage, grabbing the attention of many and winning him the support slot for Liam Gallagher’s UK tour, only pulling out to take the limelight across the Atlantic and deciding to use it to try and break the U.S instead. I can’t not mention that gig at the Garibaldi, accessible only if you bought the album from him in person at Spun Out, on Northampton’s Gold Street. From photos the Garibaldi was at full capacity and was a sea of bodies, with not an inch to spare, at the nucleus of the chaos, the Prince of UK Rap Slowthai, disrobed down to his boxers with Skepta in tow. Even out in London, upon mentioning I’m from Northampton, a doorman asked about that Skepta gig. Also appearing stateside was Billy Lockett, jetting over to appear on The Late Late Show with fellow Brit, James Corden.
ONES TO WATCH IN 2020
My top three projections are Rolling Thunder, Baby Lung and Tragic. All have broken onto the scene with the same youthful energy, but each could not be more different than the next. Tragic with their nonchalant punk style, Baby Lung with their minimalist jazz and Rolling Thunder with their infectious indie anthems. Lift Tower, the Jazz Fusion side-project of saxophonist Matt Willett is also worth keeping an eye on. All have a great live presence. Worth mentioning are the Lay It Down guys. With the swift emergence of grime there are some strong urban rap acts coming out of Northampton including L30 Robinson, Har-Q and Reality. All regularly perform at the Lay It Down Open Mic Nights as organised by Leon Denton along with many other performers in that genre. Arguably the new folk, maybe even punk, the urban contemporary music scene is an alternative exhibition of topical issues and is a creative channel for those to express the social struggles and everyday experiences, in a raw and unregulated medium, giving them agency, in their own voice and in their own words that is both incredibly loud and incredibly close.
I look forward to what 2020 has in store from these artists.
Tune into Shoetown Sounds, only on NLive, every Friday from 7-8pm to hear more from our local bands and musicians and the songs they listen to.