BURNING SALT – Hannah Hull (vocals, guitar), Bobby Williams (electric guitar) and John Parker (double bass) – base their music on Hannah’s distinctive voice and sometimes painfully direct songs. Among other things, Hannah is resident artist on Islington Museum’s Echoes of Holloway Prison project, focused on oral histories from Holloway Prison, which closed in 2016. She has used some of those transcripts, from ex-prisoners, prison officers and other staff, as a starting point for a number of songs to be released on the EP Dirt.
The six songs on the EP deal with difficult topics. The slow and lyrically bleak ‘Anon’ deals with the cycle of abuse. The rockier ‘Born Again’ is more abstract, but closes with the merest hint of hope. ‘F2052SH’ takes its name from the form prison staff could open when a prisoner was considered to be at risk of suicide or self-harm: its inspiration is drawn from the writing of a nurse at Holloway, and graphically suggests the frustration of many who have worked within the mental health system. The comparatively upbeat ‘Ginnie’ is based on the account of a woman held for protesting at Greenham Common. The harrowing ‘Dirt’ is about prisoners trained and paid to clean up after dirty protests and questions the “economy of pain”. The EP closes with an ambivalent “love letter” to the prison – ‘The Worst Place I Was Ever Scared Of’’ set to a sparse piano accompaniment. The combination of these topics and Hannah’s unusual low-register vocals, understated yet with an extraordinary underlying intensity, may not suit those who prefer their listening easy, but an exceptional recording that demands and deserves close attention. It may change the way you think about the prison system: it might even change your life a little. In any case, it’s an important release from a major upcoming talent. And the other members of the band, incidentally, do an excellent job of providing sympathetic musical support.
MATT SPICER, a Glasgow-based singer-songwriter, is busily forging his own path, including the July 2018 release of this self-titled, self-recorded and self-produced EP. In a deceptively gentle voice that conceals a steely core and a powerful falsetto, Spicer delivers a quartet of his own compositions, accompanying himself on guitar and piano, augmented with some satisfying drum, violin and cello playing.
Having enjoyed the pleasure of encountering Spicer out busking with his guitar, his EP production feels rather too rich, initially. Although it grows with repeated listens, becoming easier to hear what he’s trying to achieve, it’s perhaps not quite ‘there’ yet. ‘On Clouds’ offsets Spicer’s falsetto vocalising against bright electric guitar and thudding drums. The semi-submerged, layered vocals on the shimmering, dreamlike ‘Build You A Home’ are underscored by melancholy violin, cello and a shuffling percussion.
There’s more simplicity to ‘Strangers’, about the uncommunicative sadness of a dying relationship, “your mouth is sealed, your thoughts a mystery”. But it’s final track, ‘Where You Are’ – a complex, grown-up love song – that is the EP’s standout, its moody piano and cello underscoring some mature songwriting. A strong debut from a talented artist.
THE KING HEAT ENSEMBLE are Jeff Kightley and Dave Goldsmith and their debut EP, Songs, is an impressive piece of work. The opening track, ‘While The Snow Falls’ begins with what sounds like reversed tape but may just be Goldsmith’s keyboards. There is a lot going on and the duo have recruited a number of friends to support them. In contrast ‘Give Or Take’ is based around Kightley’s acoustic guitar and pared-back percussion. ‘Landslide’ leans less heavily on the Americana style of the first two tracks but it boast an electric guitar solo that doesn’t sound quite like anything you’ve ever heard.
Kightley has a rough gravelly voice – most of the time – but also has a surprising range that he exploits on ‘Triumph’. They almost save the best for last with the slow bluesy ‘Ten Years’ – stripped down guitars and percussion and Kightley’s soulful voice. This is a fine debut.
In The Dark is the new EP from Aberdeen’s blues-rock trio, FULL FAT. The opening track, ‘Le Funk’ is a bit heavy for folk tastes and is a fine vehicle for Fraser McKain’s guitar but with ‘Come Break My Heart’ they get back to old-fashioned rootsy blues and ‘Doctor Longhair’ is pure rockabilly. ‘Brand New (Again)’ gives Fraser Urquart’s bass and McKain’s guitar the opportunity to duet and you can imagine how that could expand on stage. ‘Temper Temper’ takes us back to blues-funk but with a surprisingly delicate vocal line at the beginning before moving to a big finish with wah-wah guitar.
They have been together for twenty-one years and finally ALLAN YN Y FAN release their first single. They have several albums, of course, but who’s counting. The record has two contrasting tracks. ‘Ym Mhontypridd Mae’n Nghariad’ is a bucolic love song involving speckled cows and, in contrast, ‘Gorthrwm Y Gweithiwr’ is a 19th century song warning the Ironmasters of dire consequences if they don’t mend their ways. Both songs appear on the band’s last album, Newid, and have been remastered for this release.
BARRY ALLEN, singer-songwriter from South London, has released two CDs and now a single, ‘We’re Here We’re Queer We’re Not Going Away’. No need to guess where he’s coming from but the song specifically tries to imagine how it must have been to be gay in 1967 and Barry laments that fifty years after the Sexual Offences Act gays are still ghettoised. It is a clever song – strong words and tune with a tasteful accompaniment assisted by Paul Carr on guitar, keyboard and drums.
‘Hung Up Alone’ is the first single taken from their debut album Cut It Down, Count The Rings by COPPER VIPER. It opens with the sound of bullfrogs and a verse sung like a gentle gospel hymn before the song bursts out in a blaze of fiddle. We’re clearly in the deep south … and then we learn that we’re closer to south London. Copper Viper are Robin Joel Sangster, who wrote the song, and Duncan Menzies and they went to the US north-west to record their album. Nice one.