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As I neither want you to think of me as a Grinch or Scrooge figure nor to think of myself, I have had to adjust myself to special Christmas releases and recalibrate my critical tools.

OK: they are often a thing unto themselves and while some local artists have produced interesting original season songs, covers become proportionately more popular. All that I ask is that people don't get tempted into dubbing on sleigh-bells please.

Fortunately, Stylusboy has so much credit with me through his excellent, sensitive original compositions that the odd cover is perfectly acceptable: and since the profits go to Coventry Foodbank, I'm more than happy to tell you about his own contribution to this niche genre.

As you'll have worked out, it's Stylusboy's very own electro-indie (recorded in his own Truffle Room studio) take on Shakin' Stevens' "Merry Christmas Everyone" (written by Bob Heatlie) which has been a British musical institution for nearly forty Christmases. There is also a "stripped back" take clocking in appropriately at a few seconds shorter. Oh and when you buy it on his Bandcamp page which you can now do, you also receive an exclusive digital Christmas card designed by Fig and Joy. You can also access the whole package a week earlier than it's available on more general streaming platforms if you go with the Bandcamp option.

‘It would be super-churlish in these circumstances to bear down critically on a charitable single but thankfully as it's Stylusboy performing I don't have to equivocate about the quality of performance: indeed such is his delicacy of approach that you may, as I did, detect within it, nuances of pathos which Shaky's original more exuberant mainstream romp didn't dive down into. It's not a masterpiece of complex experienced emotions perhaps, but it's a genuine gesture of goodwill and benevolence and if the original rather assumes a homogenous party-led Christmastime for us all, then Stylusboy's new reading reminds us that the season is not wholly joyous for everyone, that we should be conscious that many will face significant challenges and we really ought take positive steps to help them.


Now go out & buy it please. It is a ‘pay what you want' release so you can be as generous as you are able to be.

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Out today is the latest Abz Winter single: "Are You Good?" is the question it poses.

One of the (many) things I love & admire about Abz is her relentless seeking to move forwards with her music. Therefore, when I suggested that her last release "Judgemental" might be her best (and that as you know is the type of judgement which I use very sparingly indeed), I should have predicted that she herself would say much the same about its successor.

I'm not surprised at the direction & trajectory she's taking: working with her new band (George Crump, Sophie Westover & Charlie Rainey), although they've not yet appeared on a recording has so blatantly driven on her onwards in the way she almost certainly wanted to go anyway.

Abz would not be regarded by so many people as possibly the leading chanteuse of her generation within the local scene were it not for her many admirable attributes: that ceaseless forward movement in her artistry (including the courage to make paradigm shifts), the excellence of the material she creates for herself and the high levels of taste and quality management she applies to her own performances: having been blessed with natural vocal gifts, she uses them with discretion and subtlety. Above all Abz brings heart to her music, whether that's expressed in her good humour or her caring for others: or usually both. Though she is working hard for a deserved career in music, what she is making is not cynical demographic-targeted product but music aimed at hearts. It's impossible not to like her & what she does.

And so, having only yesterday noted that not only are top drawer punk bands like Septic and the Tanks or Gutter Puppy exploding all over the place but decidedly previously non-punk artists like Rebecca Mileham or Jack Blackman are heading in that direction with very recent releases. And that's without mentioning Concrete Fun House nor Stegosaurus Sex Party nor YNES who's been travelling that road even longer. To be honest the no-nonsense "call it as I see it" approach of Abz plus the potential of her voice makes the "Pop/Rock/Punk" (her self-description) world a natural fit: she also views it as "breathing new life" into her previous stylings.

"Are You Good?" sits up there with the Blondie classic "Rip Her To Shreds" in terms of its target & language used, so over to the artist herself: "you know when you see your ex with someone new for the first time, you get that horrible feeling deep down in your gut like someone has just punched you, well I got that twice over when I saw his new girl on Insta, the total opposite to me ‘Blonde hair blue eyes' - ‘a Cara Delevingne' even though he swore I was everything he was looking for in a girl"….."Small brain, fit face, living at your mum's place, immature wanna-be sports star…….These words make me feel giddy and back in control of my emotions, I know I should have got over it years ago but… nah".

And with her powerhouse band (with whom she was performing at the Dome in London last night as part of the AMEX Gold Unsigned event), she can deliver on those words and producer Imad Salhi (who helped Abz write the song along with Kristina Sundstrom) helps her realise the verve and panache of the composition. Tight as they are, the aim of trying to celebrate "youthful chaos" is met as well.

What's great too to hear is how much fun she had making it: and I think that comes across well in what you hear & again elevate "Are You Good?" far above the production-line humour-free releases one hears all to frequently. I accept that parts of the music industry rely on formulae and over-established production methods which nonetheless sell barrel loads to people who respond both to the name of the artist and to getting another slice of the same pie they enjoyed before. However I think Abz is sidestepping that and going for the sort of audience that this magazine engages with: ones who instinctively prefer truth over artifice & those who warm to artists who pour genuine love into what they do.

Hopefully this will take her far: as she deserves to. And I'll have to stop calling her songs her "best ever" as frankly that's becoming implicit in the reviews of each successive release.

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I must say that I'm intrigued and pleased not only by what appears to be a resurgence of fresh, original punk orientated music in Coventry & Warwickshire but also just how far it's spreading.

 On one hand, the emergence of some of the great overtly punk groups we've been covering & sharing such as Septic and the Tanks, Stegosaurus Sex Party, Gutter Puppy or Concrete Fun House are uplifting & exciting. On the other, artists not merely from other genres but genres quite some distance from punk, adopting punk influences is most unexpected. Only the other day we reported on Rebecca Mileham's new EP ‘Rising Tide' with the Blondie/Undertones inspired track "Know You Less" and now Jack Blackman releases tomorrow his "Citizen of Nowhere" which he specifically describes as a "punk-influenced protest song". And both these folk/roots artists are palpably angry and in Jack's case, alienated too.

Although sporting a similar title to fellow "Hot Music Live Presents" featured artist Ian Todd's "Citizens of Nowhere" (which can be heard on his 2019 album ‘Bohemian Hymns' or indeed 'Hot Music Live Presents Volume Three') this is not a cover, but it does show people are expressing similar types of concern. "Great minds…" etc.

As the statement of intention suggests, this is not a song for allusive lyrics nor carefully honed ambiguities. The message is paramount so Jack keeps it direct. As the best polemical writers have found out, any literary devices, even irony, can send the wrong messages to some listeners, so the name of this particular game is effective communication.

I love the way writers can demonstrate breadth & variety in their work: it certainly impresses me but also keeps their music fresh for listeners. Too rigid a template turns them into artists of fewer dimensions and minimal diversity. You know as I do how Jack can switch from his acclaimed blues playing to delicate folk, to rock & to songs on the cusp of being bonkers (I'm thinking of "I Wish It Was Summer (At Christmas Time)" which I just have just played again and I hope you will too this festive season). There is humour in that last category, reflection and seriousness in others & here we have something more akin to outrage.

 As I prefer to do, let's hear from the artist himself first: "I wrote 'Citizen of Nowhere' as a way to voice my own frustrations and connect with others who are concerned about the state of our nation. Music has always been a powerful tool for sparking dialogue and social change, and I hope this song can contribute to that in some way."

 So it's songwriting as catharsis to some extent (which is commendable and certainly guarantees that emotional truth in a song which I'm always drawn to) as well as proselytising: should any potential listeners not already occupy a similar standpoint.

However, given the subject matter and the "punk" badge Jack pinned to his own lapel, "Citizen of Nowhere" is not the Billy Bragg soundalike you or I might expect. It's certainly a comrade in arms, with a fairly direct & abrasive guitar arrangement, but I'm sure he didn't want to sound like another artist and so the song grows from the solo protest singer style into a fully blown band performance (featuring Euan Blackman on guitars & keyboards, James Maguire on bass and backing vocals and Chris Quirk on drums) which adds weight and heft to the track: we even get a signature guitar solo: albeit appropriately short, to the point & keening. To further put in a little sonic distance from where others have gone before, the vocal sound is quite processed (which gives me an opportunity to mention that Dom James mixed the track & joined Jack and Euan in producing it and that Sam Proctor at Lismore Mastering mastered it).

 This is the sort of thing that I myself appreciate: from the sound of the song to its targets ("..themes such as inequality, corruption and greed, resonating with individuals who share similar concerns about the direction in which the country is headed. "Citizen of Nowhere" serves as a bold expression of frustration and a call for change, encapsulating the sentiment of many who feel disconnected or disillusioned with the status quo" as Jack himself puts it). I imagine many of you will feel similarly but if not, that this might act as the call to arms which Jack intends and that in turn might lead to constructive action. Would we expect anything less from an artist so involved in projects like Street Arts aimed at helping others?

 Jack launches "Citizen of Nowhere"  at  BRUBL in Leamington tomorrow evening.

Check out too the excellent video (by Steve Graham, of Realise Films) who has worked with artists including Paul McCartney, Manic Street Preachers, Killing Joke, INXS)  at:

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'Hot Music Live Presents Volume Eleven' is dedicated to the memory of Gary Kenneth "Gus" Chambers (16th January 1958 to 13th October 2008): one of the great pioneers of Coventry & Warwickshire music. Taking over from Terry Hall as lead singer with Squad, the first punk band in the area to form from scratch, (he sings on all their releases), he was later in other bands including 21 Guns, Grip Inc, and finally Mantra Sect.

On this album you can hear Gus on the Mantra Sect track "Mercytron"

"I knew Gus before he was a punk. He used to come to MR GEORGES and REALLY get into the pogo-ing thing -in fact, up until then pogo-ing was a pretty tame affair. When the Cov kids got hold of it, it became a brawl! The birth of the mosh pit….

Gus quickly embraced the visual side of punk turning up one night looking like a gothic cross of Dave Vanian and Johnny Rotten -this was before he settled on his trademark bleach-blonde spike.

And like Terry Hall before him, he had serious confidence issues about singing in front of people, but much like I'd managed with the renowned Specials frontman, I managed to encourage him to make a bona fide noise-it wasn't a great sound, but no matter, it got there with time -and a true Cov punk legend was born.

My enduring memory, among many is of me and Gus holding up the teetering PA stack at the Pistols' legendary MR GEORGES gig. We probably saved Sid Vicious' life that night…" (Sam Mcnulty of Squad).

"Gus was a friend, ace front man and a legend in Coventry. I first met him when Sam McNulty a school friend invited me to see his band at Mr George's. They were doing a soundcheck and Gus arrived, ignored me and jumped on stage to do his thing!

I was paralyzed by his presence and attitude and couldn't take my eyes off him. I gave nothing away but inside knew I had to get in this band called Squad.

That night they played brilliantly and split up after the gig?? I was in Squad now with the best front man in Cov who was loved everywhere he went. The rest is history , "8 Pounds a Week", "Red Alert", the rollercoaster ride had begun and I was sitting next to Gus. God bless, never forgotten." (Danny Cunningham of Squad)

"We were brothers together; he always seemed a jolly happy guy who never had a bad bone in his body. Colour was never an issue with him.
Together we helped change the face of Coventry music" (Lynval Golding of The Specials and Fun Boy Three).

"'Gus Chambers was a very successful Coventry musician of note who contributed hugely to what we call the scene. I was saddened to hear of his untimely death; his talent and enthusiasm will be greatly missed" (Neol Davies of The Selecter).

"21 Guns was a really good band: we played all over the country and were on the John Peel music show BBC radio...Gus was a top man." (Trevor Evans of 21 Guns)

"I first met Gus in the early punk days of late 1977 when I was 15 and still at school he was 19, around Coventry punk gigs and discos that happened nearly every night back then and watched him many
times in Squad, including going to Liverpool Eric's and The Marquee in London on coach trips organised by Bev Jones for Squad, until he upped and left one day for Los Angeles. Must have been around 1980-ish.

I never saw him again until I bumped into him in the Jailhouse, Coventry one night, late 2005. We chatted all night long, he had so many stories to tell and what was so nice was that he listened to mine too which I loved! Gus loved to chat, and for hours we did along the way! He did mention starting a band with me, but I didn't think he was serious, not after all he'd done with such an incredible band as Grip Inc with Dave Lombardo, all over the world. Grip Inc actually did 7 world tours and 4 incredible, influential albums! But he phoned me a couple of days later and I was high up a ladder fitting a sign and he said "Is that the Rickenbacker Rocker? It's Gus!, when are we starting this band then"! I was so chuffed I nearly fell off the ladder!

I was always in awe of Gus since I first met him until the last though he honestly didn't want me to be, but I couldn't help that! There was just something very special about him that was palpable. I'm sure anyone who saw him would agree! Anyway, me Sam, Whippet and Gus started rehearsing and literally just jamming at Whippet's house and it took almost a year to have enough songs to do our first gig late in 2006. Apart from the song " King Midas", a past demo he'd recorded which we loved and started us off, all the songs would start from my made up basslines! Jamming them out between me, Sam and Whippet for hours!

Gus was away a lot the first year or so as he fronted a band called Squealer A.D. in Germany at the time and would go over to do gigs and record an album with them during this time. (Me, Sam and Whippet even drove over to see Squealer live in Germany once using the Channel Tunnel which was fun!) So this worked for us as a band as Gus always had lyrics to hand or in his head! He wrote lyrics out all the time at home. I've still got many of his handwritten lyrics at home. He seemed to make them up on the spot sometimes too, like one jam ended up with him bellowing out with his huge voice about an 18 inch power fan one night reading the box of said thing in Whip's rehearsal room:,so funny cos it didn't even sound like a joke with his conviction! and he would pull our ideas together really quick into completed songs! Like a maestro! There was just such a chemistry between us 4 I've never felt with any other band. Plus Gus was absolutely hilarious at rehearsals too and I'd say the funniest daft person I've ever met so rehearsals were always fun with him. During our 3 years together, he phoned me every single day around 11am, even when he was away abroad!

God knows what we talked about every day, (though it would often be about having fire eaters onstage with us one day!) but some of Gus's lyrics were very personal in Mantra Sect (and Grip Inc) and I learn't much about him through his lyrics as he was quite private in many ways. He did have to explain some to me though as they are very deep. We carried on gigging mostly locally until we were ready to record an album of 11 best songs in Gernhart Studios in Germany produced by Martin Buchwalter, (an amazing drummer too in Squealer) in February 2008 staying in a lovely villa down the road, all focussed and united for two whole weeks!. Gus had lived near there for 8 years too and recorded Squad 21 there in the past so Gus could speak a lot of German too. It was the best fun two weeks I've ever ever had being in a band. I had the skull tattoo done on my arm done just before we went there as I was so excited to go! It felt like I was in a really special band in Mantra Sect. And I've been in 11 gigging and recording bands now!

Sadly Gus passed away October 13th 2008 and we couldn't carry on without him. So our album never really got released as he was still pitching it to record companies and reviewers just before he passed away. A track did get released on a huge music magazine compilation free CD over Germany. I think it was our track "Jesus Slaves". I often wonder now how we could have grown as a band in it's future but sadly, it was not to be. The last couple of songs we started working on towards the end, gave us all goosebumps at rehearsals, like we were really really finding our own true Mantra Sect sound! I wish I had recorded them at rehearsals. We miss him terribly but have so many fun memories with him. I'm so proud of our album ‘The Brave Die Lonely' and treasure every moment we had in Mantra Sect" (Wendy Seenan of Mantra Sect)

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Volume 11 (opens in BandCamp)

This collection is the eleventh in a series of collections celebrating the inspiring & diverse talent of Coventry & Warwickshire musicians of yesterday, today & tomorrow.

When you have enjoyed the music yourself, please do share the album with others to help promote & support the creativity of these innovative, dedicated & skilled musicians.

The previous ten volumes can all still be downloaded for free from:

“Hot Music Live Presents Volume Eleven” is dedicated to the memory of Gary Kenneth "Gus" Chambers (16th January 1958 to 13th October 2008): one of the great pioneers of Coventry & Warwickshire music. Taking over from Terry Hall as lead singer with Squad, the first punk band in the area to form from scratch, (he sings on all their releases), he was later in other bands including 21 Guns, Grip Inc, and finally Mantra Sect. Read the complete dedication here.

You can find out what each artist is up to on their individual websites or by following "Hot Music Live Presents" & “Hot Music Live” magazine on social media:


Released November 27, 2023

Album compiled by Andy Holdcroft

Executive Producers Paul Englefield & Alan Moores of "Hot Music Live" magazine

Hot Music Live logo designed by Mel Skellon.

Many thanks to every single one of the generous & supportive musicians who have contributed their considerable talent to this project.. The music scene of Coventry & Warwickshire has so many artists of vision, integrity & sense of community: hopefully this project can give a sense of some of this.

Hot Music Live Presents Volume Eleven

© all rights reserved

1. Dolly Mavies — "Forgive and Forget"03:20 2. Lauren South — "Tiny Boat"03:46 3. Rebecca Mileham — "Rising Tide"04:03 4. Alys Rain — "Driving in the Rain"03:35 5. Caroline White — "Honey in Treacle Town"04:35 6. The Muthas — "Circles (Tell Me Something I Don't Already Know)"04:41 7. Gdansk — "Long Time Ago"03:24 8. The Loaded — "Into The Mirror"04:46 9. Gutter Puppy — "Cog"02:03 10. Mantra Sect — "Mercytron"05:18 11. Tattoo Molly — "Contraband"03:30 12. Yes Princess — "Conversation"05:14 13. Jakls — "Do"03:39 14. Blind Orbits — "The Time The Tide"03:38

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We are delighted to announce the release of ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Eleven', the latest in a series celebrating the inspiring & diverse talent of Coventry & Warwickshire musicians of yesterday, today & tomorrow.

The songs this time are:

"Forgive and Forget" by Dolly Mavies

"Tiny Boat" by Lauren South

"Rising Tide" by Rebecca Mileham

"Driving in the Rain" by Alys Rain

"Honey in Treacle Town" by Caroline White

"Circles (Tell Me Something I Don't Already Know)" by The Muthas

"Long Time Ago" by Gdansk

"Into the Mirror" by The Loaded

"Cog" by Gutter Puppy

"Mercytron" by Mantra Sect

"Contraband" by Tattoo Molly

"Conversation" by Yes Princess

"Do" by Jakls

"The Time The Tide" by Blind Orbits

 As always, they can be downloaded for free via this link:

When you have enjoyed the music yourself, please do share the album with others to help promote & support the creativity of these innovative, authentic, dedicated & skilled musicians.


The album and all previous ten volumes can be downloaded for free from:

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So busy has Rebecca Mileham been with Liam Vincent & the Odd Foxes that her debut solo  EP ‘Underground' seems to have been out longer than the facts tell me: it was released in April 2022.

She's back now with her own latest record, the ‘Rising Tide' EP which came out today and comprises the songs "Longest Day", "Know You Less", "A Little Goes A Long Long Way", "Tell Me Again" and "Rising Tide". (There is also a hidden track "No Fury" only accessible on purchase, which you get to hear about as "Hot Music Live" readers, so please keep that to yourselves).

I find it intriguing when a musician is as well known as Rebecca is for virtuosity on a particular instrument: in her case the violin, when they produce music which centres around other elements. What does that say about their breadth of talents, the scope of their artistic vision and their confidence to lay down their signature medium for a while? Well quite a great deal in my opinion.

These songs were composed on the piano & Rebecca plays that on the record as well as singing (in fact apparently she originally was going to omit her playing but was persuaded, thankfully, by her producer to retain it). Odd Fox comrade Liam Stuchbury then offered ideas on how guitar interpretations might work and once approved, added such parts. Subsequently Brendan O'Neill added bass parts, producer Mark Stevens the drum parts and you can hear backing & tracking vocals by Mark, Odd Fox Matt Berry, flugelhorn by Mark, extra vocals by Natalie Yeap (on "A Little Goes a Long Long Way") and additional guitar by PJ Wright ("A Little Goes a Long Long Way" and "Longest Day").

As noted in my review of ‘Underground', although Rebecca played those songs live with the help of friends, on record the performances were entirely her own. This time, the greater sense of collaboration, while retaining a unity of purpose & vision due to the solo composition, offers a complementary dynamic to her earlier release: she's not adhering to a single creative template, so this time we get extra instruments, the input of those players into arrangements and above all the power of people playing off each other, without losing any sense of the authorship or the personal perspectives she has incorporated.

That aspect, which is enabled by taking the sole ownership not possible in an Odd Fox setting also enables her to slip the bonds of audience expectation which inevitably accrete via the popularity of the band and its accepted place in a folk-rock genre context (and I do hope my reviews of their records & live performances persuade you to check them out: they are excellent).

To turn to her own expressions of intent: "I love guitar-based music because I find it expressive of the emotions I have been trying to get into my songs. I guess because of having spent so many years playing classical music, I still associate piano with technique and accuracy, more about keeping things neat and prim than expressing messy feelings. I have been out and played my piano songs on loads of occasions, and people haven't booed me off the stage, but in my mind I could too easily come over as either pretentious or polite." Well no one in their right mind could call her performances within Liam Vincent and the Odd Foxes prim, polite or pretentious: they are vibrant, rambunctious, earthy songs, but I can understand how & why in moving to solo work, she might perceive a danger of "tidying up" her sound (and hence her initial hesitation in including the piano), but her own insightful & incisive levels of self-awareness surely precluded this and she clearly evolved strategies to counteract any slight drift in that direction: the collaboration with Liam in arrangements possibly being the central agent of any grounding necessary.

You could certainly view ‘Rising Tide' as part of a wide folk-rock family (it's spacious enough for that). "Know You Less" for example is very much at the rock end of that particular spectrum. Were it not for Rebecca's super calm vocal, it could easily be filed under "new wave". In fact after writing those words, Rebecca confirmed how the song evolved from a Bonnie Raitt type starting point to a song inspired by Blondie and the Undertones.. it's good to have your critique confirmed! Elsewhere "classic rock" touches can be heard… in fact the two tracks which come closest to the folk side ("Longest Day" and the title track) bookend the EP and by so doing possibly serve to anchor it in the sensitivities of her folk audience, though in truth, they are pretty "rock" in their own right. In between it gets wilder with plenty of electric guitar rather than massed acoustic elements. There is even that flugelhorn: an instrument which I honestly think I've never previously cited in a review (I had fun trying to think of any music I possess on which it appears). Even internet searches failed to reveal any usage of it in traditional music (I even found a delightfully severe judgement in one forum that anyone bringing a brass instrument to a "traditional session" would be "frowned upon") so Rebecca and band earn my respect for innovation & open-mindedness in this respect too.

Not that the profundity of lyrics between the two threads of Rebecca's music is particularly different: though both deploy exciting & dance-stimulating tunes, they also tend much towards serious themes. Perhaps one might distinguish them by considering how polemic Liam Vincent and the Odd Foxes: they aim to some degree to change viewpoints and thence the world. ‘Rising Tide' complements to some extent by veering more to personal issues.

In her own words "she is inspired to write songs by the countryside (calming) and her own thoughts (not calming)" which account neatly for both the very noticeable tone in which she sings these often emotional fraught lyrics (there are such strong evidential elements for her having reflected deeply before committing herself to the words and then delivering them without anger, which in fact tends to increase their power so deliberate is the overall effect) and for the themes themselves.

Not that the latter are all that simple to deconstruct. Rebecca writes some songs from deeply personal places, others "….have come from fleeting thoughts or realisations" and yet more are written in character, inspired by the approach of Joni Mitchell. So which is which?

Definitely "No Fury" fits into the first category (which in part accounts for its status on the EP). The most obviously intense cut, Rebecca maintains her vocal approach and for much of the song keeps it quite allusive before her patience runs thin enough to launch into a more open assault upon the hypocrisy and judgementalism of organised religion. Strong stuff indeed: "sad angriness" in her own words but "with no judgement on people who have laboured to follow bad leaders".

The other songs keep their secrets more tenaciously. There is a general sense of disquiet about a materialistic & selfish world, (including "..the hostile environment for refugees, politicians who try to isolate Britain, populists who endlessly create division for their own ends..") whoever's voice it may be expressed in. Nevertheless, there may be an arc of development to be discerned through the songs: Rebecca sounds confident about learning & growing stronger from trials ("Longest Day"), gaining empowering insights ("Know You Less") and ultimately finds scope for measures of optimism ("A Little Goes A Long Long Way" and "Tell Me Again": the latter with a "Terminator 2" quote for you to spot).

The concluding, title, track amplifies this as the optimism turns to a powerful defiance of the obstacles to happiness and self-fulfilment. Her delivery itself contributes to this as there is an upwards swinging tone & melody. She sounds the happiest she has on the record (though she has been working steadily towards this point) and while not being in denial about what she finds distasteful, isn't going to let her give in to it. This is "grown-up" music which unashamedly tackles the tribulations of life but mediates it by offering solutions and escape routes. Don't despair, we can get through this together. Apparently the band particularly enjoy playing it live.

In describing ‘Underground', I wrote that I found it "a most compelling debut… between the expected & the surprising. It'll mess with your mind I think, but in a way which will stimulate rather than traumatise it." (a quotation which seems to have pleased Rebecca sufficiently enough to include it on her website) and I think that had I not already used it, I might apply it here (without the "debut" bit obviously). Odd Fox fans will recognise elements but also be taken to new places which are both consistent with what they might have expected yet also act as enrichment and extension experiences.

Again, in her own words, Rebecca says "I read somewhere that we all have ideas all day – but we only notice some of them. I think the songs capture and allow me to reflect on things I've been noticing."

Rebecca has gathered this ensemble together a few times (at Lighthorne Folk Club, Chill on the Hill Festival and in Banbury at the Canal Day & Christmas lights switching on) under the name of the October Band to play these songs and I hope between her many other activities and commitments, we get to hear her do so again.

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Today is release day for the second Bar Pandora EP ‘Recreate This', which follows her eponymous debut in that format from last summer.

It has a slightly different proportion of previously released singles to hitherto unheard tracks: whereas last time out "Two Colours" was the final piece of the jigsaw, this time the title track and "Spin Off" complete the set alongside the earlier singles "Ultramess", "The Model" and "Dynamic": all three of which have reviews in this magazine for you to return to to refresh your memory.

As ever, I prefer to prioritise the creator's own testimony about their music over my attempts to interpret it, and in this instance Charlie Tophill shares this with us: "the tracks on this EP emerged in a cycle of creating, destroying, then creating again. I would write a track, tear it up and stick it back together again and in the process I got a little deeper into what was driving me. The end result is a collection of tracks that I had a lot of fun making and also turned out to be pretty personal. If you pick it apart this EP is really a catalogue of my flaws, fears and insecurities. For me Bar Pandora has always been about following the feels, and a lot of feels happened while I was writing these tracks."

As often previously mentioned and amplified by Charlie's latest disclosures, a cut-up approach is central to her methodology: so don't expect linearity in her songs. When you create such musically interesting material & then proceed to shatter your own composition into fragments, even when you piece them together as imaginatively as Charlie does, (hence the EP title?) what you still get are the resultants shards: often with their edges still sharp and which scintillate as light catches them.

Equally, though so much of her music has this deep personal inspiration, mapping her actual "flaws, fears and insecurities" in literal and direct formats requires some work and repeated listenings (not a bad idea if you want to derive the most from a track) and even then the precise goal of understanding remains rather elusive: one moment seemingly within your grasp and then slipping out of it.

The songs are thus more impressionistic than otherwise & this holds true for all five. The two I'm focusing on today were not selected as singles, so one assumes that Charlie perceived them as less suitable in some way. All of them have a charm and personality of their own: none is so avant garde as to exclude the casual visitor and every one of them can be enjoyed on a very surface level without plunging into the depths of the layered meanings. I'd suggest (tentatively) that since I've previously identified "dance" as a common thread (and the artwork tends to reinforce this), "Recreate This" and "Spin Off" are the most reflective and possibly less dance-inspiring tracks. Maybe that was it. In terms of directness of lyrics or originality of music, there really is nothing between any of them.

These two more contemplative cuts certainly showcase the original fragile beauty of their genesis, curated via their destruction & reconstitution into that crystalline form you might now have before you.

As with all Bar Pandora songs, little elements of musical styles from around the world pop up then disappear again: they keep you engaged and offer such variety that you can't label one "oriental" (for example) in style as such, even if it has such moments.

The title track gives me the impression that somewhere back in the creative process there was an acoustic folk style song, though once Charlie has done with it, only trace elements remain: or maybe the evidence is so fleeting that the association is purely in my own mind? In any event, although Matt Rheeston supports her by playing drum parts live, on here they are wholly her creation and in the case of both songs, I'd venture to say that no "real" drummer would have come up with beats so delicately presented: they have the requisite rhythmic role but sound unlike anything I've heard before in terms of heft & tone.

"Spin Off" too may have a traditional folk root: the beginning is (sort of) an a cappella and Celtic albeit wordless vocal wherein she seems more interested in the sound (and that multiplies into a choir of Charlies) onto which she then superimposes real words and again that gossamer mesh of beats and processed instruments.

As I said, by adopting this approach, the "meaning" of these two is there, but needs reconstructing from what Charlie has done with it. I fully accept that not everyone wishes to deconstruct (and then reconstruct in a different configuration) songs, but given her revelation that there is significance in there, I feel that respect suggests at least trying: not that I would claim much success personally, but I enjoyed the challenge and as noted above, it's a mechanism for bringing me back time and again to the music.

If seeking figurative form in the words is essentially a chimera in the way Charlie has presented them, then her general intention can be at least partially gleaned from the sounds: the two in question have a tentativeness which suggests insecurity and breathy, fragmented lines which reinforce this and have an air of mea culpa.

Charlie continues to show a disdain for recovering old ground & if there is continuity between the two EPs, there is also a restless forward motion. One can be certain that the next set of Bar Pandora songs will build on these but be heading off somewhere else entirely.

The launch event for the EP is tonight as part of "Hatched At The Nest #2" an evening of live performances from artists working in the field of experimental and electronic sound at The Nest, Unit 3 Sandy Lane Business Park Coventry. Charlie is curating this event which also features Lucifer Sky, Riizbo and Izzy Hadlum, all of whom have like Bar Pandora, have recently participated in Talking Birds' (the hosts of the evening), residency programme.

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Alone but not lonely, The One lights a beacon for singledom
THE ONE - by Eva Gadd   
Song Release date: 24/11/23, Genre:  Soul Pop / Adult Contemporary


"Cos  I know you won't appear, and the end of the year is nearing, so I'm saying I'm the One..."
The One - an exquisite new song from Eva Gadd will resonate with anyone who has been alone, especially during the holiday season.   With a voice described as 'mesmerising' by BBC Introducing's Sarah Gosling,  against a backdrop of acoustic piano, bass and harmonies, Eva's delicate yet soulful jazz inflused vocal is soothing and comforting, while its lyrics reassure and empower.

"I wrote this song a couple of years ago, and have always felt it needed an understated acoustic recording which was lucky enough to secure at Woodworm studios where Stuart Jones worked his magic on the track.  I love the simplicity of piano keys, and have added layered vocal harmonies and a bass guitar to set the chilled tone and contemplative mood of the melody."

On first listen, The One sounds like a sad song, but really it's about making peace with yourself, self love, closing chapters and looking forward.  It describes being single at a time when everyone else seems to be coming together to celebrate, and instead of waiting for that special person to come into your life before you can be happy, the message is that you can choose to be 'The One' for yourself.

"Reflecting on a past experience when I had waited a long time for a person who I thought would choose me, instead I arrived at the freeing realisation that you can give to yourself anything that you are waiting for someone else to provide " says Eva.

The One is an unashamedly nostalgic and soulful listen, perfect to put your feet up to on Winter 's day, whilst mulling over coffee, or cosy moments curled up in front of the  fire.  

Growing up in Kineton, Eva went on to study Popular Music at Stratford on Avon College. Her soul inspired pop songs lend themselves equally to simple and pure acoustic renditions or full on neo-soul jazztronica productions. Her recent collaborations with Grammy award winning producers  Blue Lab Beats  ( 'Breathing' and 'Get It') have charted in Europe and been picked for Spotify editorial playlists including New Music Friday, Fresh Finds UK and Jazz UK.

Stream track on your preferred platform

For updates on future gigs and releases, visit

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Out on Friday is the latest Euan Blackman single called "The Last One".

It's also the third track from his upcoming second EP ‘Rent Free on My Brain' following both "Burn" and "The Ballad of a Broken Machine" (I'm hopeful that you have read our reviews of those) and as with them was crafted in its entirety by Euan in his home studio & was mastered by Jim Spencer (who has worked with the likes of Johnny Marr, New Order, The Charlatans etc) at Eve Studios.

When artists are kind enough to offer insights into their own music, I usually like to share their words directly with you: in this instance, Euan says of "The Last One" that it ".. started as a simple folky almost James Taylor sounding love song, but when producing the track I chose to use a lot of more electronic textures including Roland drum machines and running acoustic guitars through pedals and effects to get a more interesting sound. I think the track perfectly encapsulates my ‘alt folk for kind folk' vibe. Underneath its story and lyric driven music, but with layers showcasing everything I love about modern music production.."

Having now heard three of the EP tracks, senses of patterns are emerging. Euan is clearly sensitive to the need to balance both diversity across the collection to demonstrate his range, with both his signature style and integrity. Diversity is commendable, but not if it's forced or token.

Thankfully Euan has gone down the road of sticking to what he believes in & trying to do it as well as he can. Thus the prevailing mood will be instantly recognisable to his growing band of fans (who number among them folk artist Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Radio 1's Jack Saunders and as noted previously, Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda). We are very much present in his "introspective and evergreen songs for rainy road trips with wistful gazes…" musical territory which quite understandably he is perfecting as he develops it. Though he's on a train not in a car this time out.

In fact his apparent formula seems rather nicely encapsulated in his own words above: if you starting point is a sort of James Taylor vibe and you then process it in a 2023 technological style then you do get what he's aiming for & it is distinctive.

The wire along which Euan walks though is that in his aim for the "kindness" he seeks to convey, the glacial techno approach can, if overdone, alienate. It is not intrinsically a warm route unless coupled with the right melody, words & vocal delivery. Which seems a challenge he is more than up for. (Check out too his "Kind Folk Club" at

This innovative & potentially risky strategy may on the surface appear to be built on contradictory impulses (and he is also an artist who manages to go for a "lo-fi" approach while utilising contemporary technology) yet it elevates Euan as a creative artist: be resolving the apparent dichotomies, he produces music which exists beyond that a more conservative, safer & ultimately cliched approach would have generated. In this context, slipping in unusual vocabulary like "centrifugal" is part of the process of pushing forwards.

The other noticeable dynamic at play here is the tension between the thoughtful lyrics, which have clearly had a lot of time & thought spent on them, and the atmosphere of the whole. The latter doesn't quite overwhelm the former, but the downbeat delivery, verging on whispering, could in less skilled hands get buried beyond immediate listener access. What you get instead seems so terribly personal that you almost feel guilty at possibly eavesdropping on some extremely private thoughts. Pretty much the epitome of a truly intimate song in fact.

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Debut albums arrive in all sorts of contexts, but ‘Tiny Boat' by Lauren South, which comes out tomorrow, relates to an artist whose career trajectory is as close to vertical as one might imagine, so far has she come in so short a time.

Admittedly well respected both for her violin playing, singing & writing in a group context before the period to which I allude, nevertheless I really admire how she learned to play guitar & shruti box to professional performance standards in astonishingly short a time as playing solo was otherwise very challenging trying to combine her primary instrument with vocals.

I'm proud that one of her very first solo outings was for the "Hot Music Live Presents" organised "Hush!" event in March of 2022: an evening, as my review noted, of an impeccable quality: yet also one where she felt she was taking a step into unknow territory. In the intervening twenty months, I couldn't begin to list the gigs she has played, including some very prestigious ones & now she is very much regarded as at the pinnacle of the local folk scene.

That, to some extent, is reflected in her guests on ‘Tiny Boat'. Lauren plays frequently as a duo with Keith Donnelly who contributes six and twelve string guitars and in addition musicians of the calibre of John Parker (double bass), Ben Haines (percussion) and Ellie Gowers (harmony vocals) were keen to play with her: I should also mention that it was Ellie who first drew my attention to Lauren's talents some years previously when she was part of the group Greengrass: her song "History", recorded with that band can be found on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Four‘.

Not that all that stellar support (and there are three other guests I'll mention shortly) in the slightest way makes this anything other than Lauren's album: production (for the record, ‘Tiny Boat' was recorded, mixed and mastered at Heathcote Studios, Whitnash by Lauren with Bill Bates). being another set of skills she set out to acquire (interestingly, Izzie Derry who gave advice on arrangements & mixing also has her album out tomorrow) and all the material is not only her own, but deeply personal, although lightly veiled (certainly not cloaked) in various metaphors which are deliberately diaphanous enough to see through.

In might be worth before plunging into the album to at least acknowledge the context Lauren experienced in creating this magic: a year or so of tremendous artistic progress, though transitioning to a solo artist was, as mentioned challenging, plus some profound personal issues which also required attending to.

The result is exquisite music of the highest class compositionally and performance wise: that sort of beauty informed by pain & sorrow but also of realisation of wonder and love and above all recognising that the future can bring marvellous things too. That these contrasting ideas tend to co-exist in so many of the fourteen songs is a testament to her writing: in fact they entwine themselves around each other within them.

With your permission (which I'll take as read), I'd like to flout convention and start with the thirteenth track, "Judith's Song" as to me, in some ways it's the gateway into Lauren's solo career. Originally recorded three or more years ago with Greengrass (you can find it on their ‘From the Forge' album). I don't often quote unrelated lyrics, but Lauren strikes me in this way: "she's got everything she needs, she's an artist, she don't look back" so this revisit is not, I think, nostalgia, but punctuation between phases of her musical life and even more a reclamation of her personal property as she moves on. The song itself explicitly concerns "..a friend, an over-the-road neighbour and a wonderful mother who left us far too soon" but I think she fits very nicely into the cast of strong women we meet on ‘Tiny Boat'. The song too "..reminds us that people do live on: in memories, in hearts, in our children.." and this sense of moving our gaze onto the future is again prevalent throughout.

Four years ago, the Mechanicals Band, of which Ben & John are members, released their ‘Miscellany #1' EP which included a setting of the W B Yeats poem "Meditation of an Old Fisherman" In one of those curious coincidences, the opening track of Lauren's album is her setting of the same poet's "The Mermaid and the Swimming Lad". With some editing assistance by Reg Meuross, we get perhaps the most abstract song on here: or at least the one most obviously further into fantasy and away from the mundanity of life: though through the prism of the gorgeous music and imagery, the tale tells of tragedy caused by profound incompatibility and of loss caused by desire: ideas which could be applied elsewhere..

The title track is one I loved the moment I heard her perform it live: "a song to remind us to hold our loved ones close. Sometimes, navigating the vast ocean that is life can be daunting, especially when the world seems to spiral out of our control. It's easy to feel insignificant, like a tiny boat on a raging sea, or one small star in the great heavens. This song tells of riding those waves, and ultimately of a realisation that the most precious things in this world are right under our noses". It sets the tone for the emotional heart of the album: if your eyes haven't moistened by this point, then you have a heart of flint and this album is beyond your capacity to relate.

"Heavens" fits right into this: concerned her father whom they lost the same week her first child was born, it references "..the dark and quietness of the night.."  which he loved, but despite this considerable specificity, the theme and the imagery without doubt must connect with absolutely anyone who has lost someone that close.

 "Weather The Storm" is one of the transitional songs within the set inasmuch as its starting point is clearly a state of challenge reflecting her own trip, but its end extols the value of having people with you to help you through: a very beautifully balanced piece which offers resolution but also advice.

Once we pass this emotional midpoint in the album, wherein negatives are acknowledged rather than denied and can be shown as being susceptible to being faced down, then the imagery & themes start moving away from tempests & angst and towards those aspects of life Lauren values: which include friends but overwhelmingly are her young daughters Sophie, Erin & Chloe to whom ‘Tiny Boat' is dedicated.

I'll cut to the chase here: not only are they dedicatees, but the other three guests mentioned above & they perform backing vocals on album closer (it had to be) "Shine Away". You may have pretty much exhausted the Kleenex by this point. Lauren has a wonderfully "pure" voice, ideal for evoking the most keen of emotions and if you add the vocals of Ellie who has similar talents then the combined effect is stunningly overwhelming. If you then switch to a song which very specifically references aspects of their domestic life, then expresses hopes for her "three little lights" and hear their own voices on there too…. well firstly you'll need to hear it yourself as my words can barely scratch the surface and secondly there is nothing you could follow that with on the album.

I look forwards to hopefully reviewing these three in the future: it's been quite a year for them too. Before their studio debut, they made their live one, at Warwick Folk Festival no less when they accompanied Keith when ill health precluded Lauren being able to perform.

Leading us to that point are "Love is the Answer" (also dedicated to them) "Bring You Home" (about the mindfulness benefits of walking in woods and how Mother Nature grounds us and brings us home), "Across The Sea" (wherein the sailor for once gets to return home safely to be with his loved one) "Here For You" ("some people are worth writing songs for"), "Jessica" (who subversively uses the lemons life gives us to make lemonade: the song is another about moving forwards and the walk here is around Hilmorton locks), "Wayfinder" (again: finding one's way through life and the benefits of nature), "One Star Awake" (which takes an image from "She Moves Through The Fair" to craft another nocturnal sky paean).

To extend Lauren's own woodland theme, sometimes one fails to see the wood for the trees: it was only when I came to start jotting my own thoughts down that the massive internal connections and consistency struck me. I don't think ‘Tiny Boat' was an artificially constructed concept album, but it's impossible to escape Lauren's continual return to the same ideas here: in different precise settings and combinations for sure, but there is a tremendously strong sense of unity and purpose here with song after song building reinforcement of the things she's been learning and which she wants to pass onto us: you suddenly add them all together and you are struck by the cumulative passionate belief in this core concepts: the passion building as each individual track features only that calm, serene voice. This is an exquisite album as I said, but it's also very powerful as you come to understand.

With this combined intensity, one perhaps needs a mid-album emotional breather and so the last track to be mentioned is an instrumental medley "Hope/Boo to the Goose" wherein Lauren reminds us of what brought her to many people's attention in the first place: her fiddle playing. Not that the tunes themselves (the first is a lockdown one and the second autobiographical: she never thought that she'd do this) are inconsistent with the prevailing tone of the tracks around them.

Lauren can truthfully be said to sing and play towards the traditional end of the folk spectrum: hence her standing in that community. However having lured you in with what appear at superficial examination to be from the canon, you find none of them are: one of Lauren's great contributions to music is to refresh the repertoire with new songs, some in a traditional lyrical idiom, others much closer to modern vernacular in order to tell the truth about family life in 2023.

This is a stunning debut & having had a go at describing it to you, I advise you to go out and hear it yourselves: it's transformative and is intended to be so. As I've said, family is prime to her, followed by the woods and countryside round Warwickshire, so breaking out into the wider musical world may not be what she necessarily wants. This album however might lead to that potentially. It must continue that stunning career arc I mentioned at the beginning.

Out of my respect to Lauren, I'll leave the final words (save to point you towards a video of the title track at ) to her

"..'Tiny Boat' is a collection of songs dedicated to my children and written in awe of love and friendship, motherhood, the natural world and the night sky. Life is a gift, and the most precious things in it are free."

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In my regular attempts to make sense of how music works in our time (or to be more accurate, in the creative ways in which our local artists try to make it work), I've several times commented on the rebirth of the EP format and the consequent reduction in the number of traditional albums being released. Personally, I think that this has many benefits: from my perspective, it means most tracks by an artist get proper attention (and hence review): which frankly was not ever the case with that traditional category of "album tracks". With some lesser musicians, I'm afraid that led to "filler" tracks being recorded & included: a phenomenon which the return of the EP format thankfully eliminated. However, running this theory past some of the people concerned did result in several reporting that the driver was as much financial: they could raise funds to record EPs but not LPs.

One of the best exponents of this format has been Izzie Derry: her EPs such as ‘Take It from Me' and ‘Lost at Sea' were not only very popular with fans, but clear & significant milestones in her musical development including the paradigm shift from solo artist to fronting her own band.

Now however, she has taken the plunge and released her debut professional full album, ‘Til We Reach The Sun' (which comes out, interestingly, on the same day as Lauren South's own debut, ‘Tiny Boat', for which Izzie gave  production advice & support).

So how did she navigate round the issues outlined above?

Well financially, the problem was easily solved via crowdfunding: so popular is she that this route seems to have been fairly painless once she took the initial psychological plunge. Those responsible are listed inside the cover & it's great to see so many members of the ‘Hot Music Live' community who pitched in.

Artistically, Izzie has eased the pressure on each of her songs getting heard by releasing no fewer than six of the ten songs as singles before the mothership. These are: "I Don't Know Why", the title track "Til We Reach The Sun", "Wasted Love", "Try", "Thank You" and "Young and Free". You should know these ones well by now & my thoughts about each of them, so all I need to do is refer you to the articles concerned should you wish to refresh your memory.

This leaves us the newbies "Broken and Used", "Nothing Lasts Forever", "Here We Go Again" and "Shake" with which to become acquainted.

The album is another big step forward in her career, both musically & lyrically, in the former case marking a transition from solo acoustic guitar songs to ones written on the piano & for a full band.

The words though will probably leave even more of an impression: and if I've gone into great detail in reviewing the singles, you'll note how Izzie eased into her new, no-nonsense frame of mind via the comparatively regretful first release of "I Don't Know Why" to increasing degrees of reproach, anger & revenge before lightening the mood with "Young and Free" when we probably couldn't take any more escalation of the emotional atmosphere.

Self-describing as "the love child of Laura Marling and Alanis Morissette", you can also (well I could) detect hints of Tori Amos in both the switch of instruments & lyrical targets. She's not been treated well by some people & now she is using her talents to call them out & by implication, attack wider societal problems around misogyny and emotional cruelty.

Unsurprisingly, "Broken and Used" fits into this aspect of Izzie's current work (this woman isn't prepared to equivocate any longer and one aspect of that is the lack of interest in ambiguity in song titles: she's telling it how it is). Initially sounding worn down, bruised & tired out by the impacts of oppression, (in fact she tells us this specially), Izzie combats the weariness to suddenly explode with unexpected (in the context of the song) anger: without altering the lyrics. She then alternates the two moods to emphasise the range of effects this sort of usage inflicts upon the human psyche.

"Nothing Lasts Forever" marks a return to her guitar playing mode (though as it builds there are plenty of other elements in there too) and is heartbreaking (probably why she didn't select it for a single release) and I suspect is going to be the 2023 equivalent "lighter in the air" moment at gigs. As with "I Don't Know Why" (and I suspect that it's more than coincidence that they sit together in the running order), we are talking melancholic regret, sadness more than anger & profound reflection on life. I just wonder how easy she finds playing it live without her own eye getting as moist as ours will?

"Here We Go Again" is a pretty groovy sounding song in which Izzie's mastery of writing with a keyboard is given even more prominence as she moves from using it for introspective ballads to an upbeat perky number on top of which her voice sits more prominently than on the rest of the album and it positively bounces confidently along. Then you realise what she is singing & you revel in her wittiest lyrics. In fact, having listened through her travails, you may share my pleasure in hearing her dishing out some choice put downs in this manner. I don't know if a further single release from the album is intended, but "Here We Go Again" is the possible contender.

Last but extremely far from least is "Shake" and this song has virtually no precedents in Izzie's previous work, indicating just how far her musical horizon has shifted in recent years. Taking full advantage of her band & their talents, were it not for her inimitable vocal character, you'd struggle to identify this artist with that of say 2017's "Give Me A Reason To Stay". I can only guess that the sound is such a radical departure that this shaped the decision not to release it as a single: so as not to traumatise our expectations… I wonder if this is the shape of things to come?

"Shake" unsurprisingly defies categorisation (or at least it's beyond my powers). Definitely far from folk music, this is Izzie's most rock song to date (the wonderful "Fire" approached from the blues direction) yet there is a whole lot of funk in there too and delights such as a very 70s keyboard song (think Sly Stone and his family) and Izzie takes her own vocals  somewhere they've never been found before (has she actually processed them a little?). It's also quite complex in structure with unexpected stops, starts, licks from various instruments, structural swerves etc. It's also I think the track on which Izzie seems to be enjoying herself most on the album & that's a delight, especially given the prevailing mood: though the lyrics are hardly any more compromising than their companions.

If you've read my recent Izzie reviews, you'll be aware of who her current collaborators are, but it would be lacking in respect not to name them again. They are Tom Hammerton on electric guitar,  Herbie Walker on keyboards and backing vocals, Matt Boyes on bass, Joe Hall on drums and a string section of Gabija Kasiliauskaite on violin & Alicja Bodnar who plays the ‘cello. In terms of the production, Luke May co-engineered and mixed ‘Til We Reach The Sun' and Sam Clines mastered it.

Always a purveyor of music of haunting beauty, Izzie has built upon that skill to take her art where it needed to go next, but where many musicians fear to take it or are too complacent to try: where that beauty creates emotional trauma in its audience & becomes more of a fraught experience: we love it, but it hurts us. That's a more profound artistic engagement and if the risks to our psyche are greater, so is the eventual outcome. As Duke Ellington once said: " is dangerous. It is one of the attractions; when it ceases to be dangerous, you don't want it." Izzie is no longer content to entertain us: she wants to shake us out of complacency and to no longer be constrained by the expectations of others. It's a huge creative step upwards and she deserves great credit for doing so while still moving her musicality onwards.

In terms of her relationship with her audience, I think there has been considerable growth. Never one to pander to them, Izzie I think is now happy to set them more rigorous challenges. Taken as a set, the album (which clearly results from a long period of reflection during COVID19) is pretty retrospective with the majority of songs brooding on past injustices & negative experiences: even the most positive song is largely nostalgic. In the past, this sort of exercise on her part has resulted in such great songs as "Made It This Far", which I know from personal testimony has had healing effects on people with its optimism that past trials can be overcome & inform choices moving forwards. This assertion is not absent from ‘Til We Reach The Sun' but it's buried deeper: at the moment Izzie sounds appalled how worse the world was than she'd previously considered. If there are lessons to be learned, then much of that work is down to you to figure it out as she was obliged to do. The best artists do not put everything on a plate for a listener & it's a credit to her that Izzie has reached the stage now where she trusts you to join the dots she's drawn & make your own plans based on what you see & hear.

In my recent review of "Dynamic" by Bar Pandora, I pondered on her idiosyncratic artwork (all photography, as with the single was by Simon Derry and design by Judith Derry). You'll have spotted (how could you not?) the raising of the bar in terms of the increasingly dramatic and disturbing images. For the album, I'm not quite sure what to make of it: Izzie is up to her waist in the sea looking determined (which one gets from her lyrics): is it a metaphor for struggle (not that she is visibly struggling), approaching drowning sensations? It's actually rather enigmatic in relation to the songs, though inside there is another, apparently taken moments before, where she is entering the water with a look somewhere between anxious & defiant…. On the back, we see her from the rear, contemplating the sea: we cannot see her face, but her body language is more relaxed. I think you'll need to decode all that yourselves……

This is a stunning debut & I mean that in more than one sense. Utterly determined to keep on moving forwards, 'Til We Reach the Sun' is the zenith of Izzie's career to date: though we know new heights will be scaled next. Where it also stuns is in the sheer intensity of the content: I noted, early on in her run of singles as each raised the bar higher that if experiencing them one by one was emotionally tough, what would playing them together feel like? Well I have & I am still here to record this.. but it will leave a big impression & frankly that precisely what it should do. Once heard, never forgotten: and in this world of bland, homogenous chart hits, there are plenty you cannot say that about.

Izzie has a home town launch gig for ‘Til We Reach The Sun' at The Tin on November 24th

Tickets are available via this link:

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