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Coventry, Kenilworth, Leamington Spa, Rugby, Solihull, Warwick, Stratford and Warwickshire

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Fresh and funky

"Pensacola" by Jack Blackman & Chessi O'Dowd

Review

Here's a slightly rhetorical question: what is better than a new release by one of the most respected & popular Coventry & Warwickshire artists? Yes, you guessed the answer: it's when two of them collaborate on a new track.  In this case it's Chessi O'Dowd & Jack Blackman who have joined forces on a cover of Joan Osborne's song "Pensacola" which is out today.

Having praised not just the performance skills but the writing abilities of each of these acclaimed artists often in this magazine, I was intrigued as to why they have decided to work together & why they chose this cover version as the vehicle for the collaboration. In fact the inspiration came from Chessi: Joan Osborne's ‘Relish' album of 1995 being a significant touchstone for her, this song evoked a powerful therapeutic response during an especially trying moment during the pandemic. Recruiting the mega talented Jack (they had worked together on the Street Arts Project "Isolation" initiative), they have reshaped the song into a duet to excellent effect.

All this is all well & good of course in theory, but any two voices, however great each independently might be, are not necessarily destined to work together to become more than the sum of parts. I'm sure you'll anticipate the next statement of mine though: that in this case they surely do.

Jack is clearly relishing his opportunity to craft some unusual sonic pictures (each worked independently at home with Joe Collier mixing Chessi's vocals in with Jack's various contributions) aiming for "Florida Swamp" to match the song. This included the deployment of guitars, bass, drums, Dobro, wah- wah clavinet and a jaws harp.

So add all these ingredients into the gumbo and you get something both rich & spicy, as evocative of the area in question as Dr John's ‘Gris Gris' It's moody, it's magnificent & we hear two musicians clearly having a ball with a song they love and playing off each other which actually adds a dimension to the song not present in the original, good as that is. The lyric is slightly mysterious in a Southern Gothic way and not only do the two voices bring the story into life in a slightly different (and it has to be said exuberant way) but it provides an interesting complement to Jack's 2020 single "Ballad of Clopton House": another dark narrative albeit set in a very different environment.

Quite where this will lead them next probably neither of them yet know: Chessi is currently working on a new EP with Dan Sealey (of Merrymaker/Ocean Colour Scene fame) while judging by the awesome & head spinning run of recent releases from Jack, one can only expect the unexpected while certain he's presumably working on several projects. However even as a "one off", this is a joyous artefact and certainly adds to the quality of our lives. I gather that they have already played together (outside) in Stratford and hopefully they'll get future opportunities to present "Pensacola" in a live form for our pleasure.

Check out the great video here:

https://www.facebook.com/chessiodowdmusic/videos/934889190658632

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"Thoughts" by Paul Mccormack

Review

Although I have written about singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Paul Mccormack in the magazine before (in the context of a Merrymaker live review), this is the first time I've been able to write about a solo release, namely "Thoughts" which is an entirely self created song (the first of many he intends sharing with us) and which you can access via: https://soundcloud.com/user-511434765/macca-track-master-print-pt

Though coming to it within hours of its public emergence, I still find myself some way down the line of enthusiastic responders online: it has already created quite a stir, not least with other artists, which is always a good sign of genuine quality & originality.

My expectations of the song were already very high before I heard it, given the comments of others & my previous experience of Paul's talents: in normal circumstances this of course is far from a problem, though in a reviewer maybe it can lead to self fulfilling observations? At any rate I have tried to be objective in rating "Thoughts" as it probably exceeded even such high initial predictions. It really is a classy piece of work (one might expect no less) but where it really scores in my opinion is the grace & ease with how he pulls off the composition & delivery of such an excellent song. Paul makes it sound much simpler than closer examination reveals it to be & you can't help but think after only a couple of plays that you've known it for a long time. Now that's a difficult trick to pull off.

The seemingly effortless approach allows him to use a very accessible & engaging vocal performance which acts as much as the breezy arrangement & melody to draw you into the song.

The lyrics are again finely balanced: thoughtful & articulate yet with the outward common touch: everyone can understand what he's talking about (there is no exclusion here) yet in such a fresh enough way that you don't just feel it's a set of sentiments you've heard too many times previously.

The arrangement and production are admirably clear (it sounds mostly like a single acoustic guitar although there are moments when I wondered if I'd heard extra overdubs) and the style, while generally "British"  has occasional nuances from farther afield: I kept on sensing odd moments of Neil Young intruding into changes & melody… and that is certainly intended as a compliment.

As a debut of a series of original tracks, this is a very compelling calling card, showcasing not merely accomplishment in composition & performance but crucially taste too. I look forwards to hearing more….

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"Peaceful Warrior" by Lemon Tones

Review

An artist whose work I have not yet previously had the pleasure of describing to you is Lemon Tones (the name under which James Temple is currently releasing original material). With his latest release "Peaceful Warrior" which came out last month, I can address that omission I'm pleased to say.

This song "…is dedicated to RAF 2nd World War hero, grandfather, great-grandfather and loving husband Jack Jarmy…": in fact James' own grandfather who sadly passed away recently. As the descendant of a Second World War RAF pilot myself, the track therefore had especial impact upon me also as clearly the piece while obviously written with a highly specific individual in mind, can be applied in the mind of a listener to their own experiences. As the song has already started attracting airplay, it would seem too that it has effects upon ears & hearts other than my own.

What first attracted me to James' work is that it is unusual in form: this tends to catch my attention in the first place & I'm not at all sure that I'd wish to pass onto you anything which was bland, predictable or stereotyped. "Peaceful Warrior" is certainly an idiosyncratic piece, though that of course in no way diminishes its sincerity: quite the opposite as I'd feel generally that a song constructed purely along predictable lines might be sacrificing quality of emotion just to fit preconceived ideas of what a tribute to a fallen warrior & relative "should" sound like. It's a narrow line between the necessary pathos & empathy and what might easily tip over into sentimentality, but James manages it to navigate it quite cleverly: not least by keeping us on our toes, so we keep listening.

The song itself thus transitions between sections quite startlingly different in tone: beginning with an elegiac opening which probably is what most of us were expecting given the subject matter, though the vocals, pitched somewhere between monkish chanting & recitative are unusual. This quite abruptly changes into a completely contrasting & anguished section owing more to the blues & dominated by slide electric guitar which bridges into a definitely rock passage with crashing drums and a feel of the late 1960s when heavy rock & psychedelia intertwined.  This in turn doesn't last long before it ushers in a contemplative folkish interlude, often instrumental but when vocals do come in, we find the heart of the song unfolding before us. This builds quite steadily to a more rock finale, somewhat more stately & less astringent than the earlier one, and so after a roller coaster of a ride, the track ends at around the seven & a half minute mark.

I'm not sure words adequately capture the journey one is taken on over that period: I have just laid out broad highlights but there are a great many finer details to discover when you listen yourself. Apart from the descriptions of the various passages I've outlined, I suppose one might categorise the song as "progressive" in its ambition & execution: certainly James has worked hard to try to express his feelings about someone he cared for & without doubt the complexities of the song reflect those of his own emotions. A most interesting artist & one whose work I look forwards to following.

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"Used To Be" by YNES

Review

When reviewing the last YNES single (the eviscerating "Better Job", which also featured Ace Ambrose), among several adjectives I used, one was "exciting" and that pretty much can come into play again to describe the feelings on hearing that this dynamic artist whose enthusiasm & panache seem to have few if any bounds, has come up with another single, "Used To Be" which is released this Friday (14th May): a handful of days after her birthday so it might (in a slightly skewed way naturally) be perceived as a gift.

Crafted at Woodbine Studios with the help of John Rivers (the go-to producer for all the local punk bands of the first 1976-8 wave), what you get is what the combination of an artist with few inhibitions about articulating her feelings working with a producer of international reputation & more than four decades' worth of experience in capturing power, energy & truth beautifully but without compromising it, would lead you to expect.

"Used To Be" builds itself up in a steady (if not relentless) fashion. If last time out the predominant feelings seemed to be anger & a withering sarcasm, on this single, the fury is dialled back as the subject matter doesn't call for it: what we get instead is another facet of this most interesting artist: one which embraces nostalgia, reflection on how her life has changed  & empathy. By about the three minute mark you suddenly realise just how far the volume & intensity has risen while you've been listening, yet then in a powerful switch of dynamics, the passion drops down into pathos & wistfulness for the coda: just right. (The striking cover art takes the wistfulness to extremes: it makes her look like a piteous Dickensian orphan)

Apart from the "punk" epithet, YNES also self describes as having Britpop roots & when I heard "Used To Be", my immediate thought was my appreciation of the debut album of Lily Allen: it shares that wit, a sense of enjoying wordplay coupled with an apparent desire to write lyrics in a way which people (especially of YNES' own generation) articulate themselves rather than in the sterile code into which (over)conventional lyric writing too often slips. There is (thankfully) much more of this approach around these days than there was years ago (especially round our way) with so many true voices, not necessarily sharing YNES' or indeed anyone else's particular style.

I can hardly wait to hear whatever she comes up with next (I can't begin to second guess her) and in other excellent news, YNES has dates where we can catch her & her band live in the coming weeks: on Thursday June 3rd at the George Tavern in London, at the Bigfoot Festival at Ragley Hall on Saturday June 19th and at Birmingham's Sunflower Lounge on Saturday June 26th.

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"Maybe With You" by The Boy Who Invented Everything

Review

It's with a great deal of pleasure that I write this particular review. Anyone who has experienced grassroots live music in our area over the past years will probably have encountered Sam McNulty. An indefatigable organiser of open mic sessions, he has been running not one but two Godiva Festival stages dedicated to local talent and that's not even factoring in his countless hours spent on various projects, journalism & above all mentoring & encouraging artists. If you read down to the bottom of the credits for each "Hot Music Live Presents" album, you'll see that that project was originally his idea & he has worked with the majority of the 120 artists on the albums  in one form or another over the years.

Yet Sam started out as a musician himself and again his impact has been significant. As co-founder of original local punk band Squad (along with Terry Hall, subsequently of the Specials), he is often cited as one of the key figures in igniting the scene more than forty years ago. Subsequent bands included the critically & popularly acclaimed Giraffes & their successor Two Giraffes (check out "Clifftop Dreaming" on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume One'). However in all these years as one of the primest of movers & shakers, there has never been a single track released under his own name. Until today. It's not that he didn't write until recently: quite the reverse: Sam always wrote for the bands he was in from the seminal "Red Alert" by Squad onwards. He has had for years a substantial catalogue of superb solo songs which so many people will have heard live as he always tends to "warm up" open mic audiences himself, to prepare the ground for often less confident artists. He has even recorded bits & pieces over the years. It's noticeable that the basic track for this new release was actually recorded at the long defunct Cabin Studio in Coventry and only finished during lockdown. I suspect that a major issue was his boundless enthusiasm for supporting the talents of others has meant his prioritising that side of his work over his own career.

Thankfully however he has addressed the balance more recently (he even played a full formal solo concert in August 2019 which we reported on for you) and with the considerable support of Paul Sampson (whose own CV would fill a small book but which includes being a member of bands such as the Reluctant Stereotypes & Pink Umbrellas and producing artists such as the Primitives, McAlmont, Catatonia, Hawklords, Band of Holy Joy, Diesel Park West etc) who has produced the tracks since the earliest Cabin sessions & played all instruments bar Sam's own rhythm guitar, a whole album's worth is now on the horizon. Credit too to Keith Fabrique who oversaw a few last minute vocal changes for the single.

Which brings us neatly to "Maybe With You". As mentioned, the song itself will be familiar to those who've heard Sam play live, though arguably not in this precise form. One of his most ardent of love songs, the work with Paul has introduced an urgency which I'd not heard previously: it certainly adds pop credentials to a song which always had a huge emotional heart & indeed can be seen as a direct successor to the Giraffes' classic "Lazy Hazel Heart" (which dates  all the way back to 1990). For a writer who cut his teeth with a punk snarl taking on the establishment, he quickly evolved into one of our area's best writers of the intimate passions within relationships. Set that amidst the pop sensibilities and huge sound picture of the Giraffes and crafted by a maestro who created the immediacy & exuberance of the Primitives & you have a track which is near as dammit perfect & one which is not only exceedingly media friendly but seems to have all the ingredients for the recipe of success. It has in fact already had airplay, including on local BBC and one can only hope it gets the exposure it so deserves.

Sam intends to share the new tracks at regular, if not indeed frequent, intervals & they will eventually build into the full album (provisionally titled "From the Land of the Broken Hearts"). Certainly his next single he tells me will complement "Maybe With You" and fit into a theme more or less described by the album title. That is not by any means the whole story though as he already got his eye on future releases which take a darker hue.

I keep on crediting Sam with this great song: however I should perhaps in the interests of accuracy point out that when you look for it on Spotify, you'll find it under the persona of "The Boy Who Invented  Everything": another layer of the conceptualism involved in Sam's work (he is a man of many talents including drama too) and which I hope my enthusiasm  for the immediate charms of "Maybe With You" (it has long been one of my favourites of his tracks) hasn't obscured.

Sam & his team are currently working on other media to support the music (watch this space). I'd also recommend your checking out his long interview with Paul Sanders which offers a career overview of great detail and which you can find here:

https://www.mixcloud.com/Festipaul/festipaul-meetssam-mcnulty-episode-22-podcast/

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"A Friend" by In Emerald Sea

Review

This is probably the quickest turn around of a review I've yet managed: not only was I unaware of this song an hour before I began writing this, but a day earlier it hadn't even been recorded: from the studio to release in such a short period of time (which includes the creation of the original artwork) is pretty impressive.

The track, "A Friend" is principally a solo single by Callum Mckissock (whom you will know from Brass Hip Flask & River of the Dog, both of which bands have featured in this magazine and on "Hot Music Live Presents") though I should mention that the official artist name is In Emerald Sea and Callum (who sings and plays guitar & bass) could not have managed the feat without the considerable aid of producer Chris Field who also contributes ‘cello, synths, brass, piano &  percussion.

I've always had an admiration with the sort of songs which are so bursting with energy & passion that the artist is almost pulled along by their own composition into instant recording: there is an inherent dynamism in the sense of urgency and this adds to its truthfulness (a good older example might be the Beatles' "Ballad of John & Yoko", a more recent one Brass Hip Flask's own song "Disrespect", still for my money one of the best tracks which accurately captures a certain moment in time: the early days of the first lockdown & the accompanying paranoia).

"A Friend" has these qualities in spades, yet it is a really different sort of song to those by Callum which we have previously told you about (no wonder he felt the need to conjure up a brand new pseudonym for the occasion): you won't find here the jagged edges nor spiky playing of his other bands. This is a dreamy meditation upon how true friends can offer support & solace at times of emotional needs without necessarily being able to offer a solution to their substantive problems: something I'm sure we can all identify with.

Consequently, to evoke the mood, not only are there several instruments on the song which one might not expect on a Brass Hip Flask nor River of the Dog track, offering a more classical rather than bluesy approach, but for the most part (though as so often with Chris' productions, the vocal sound does vary subtly throughout), they have set Callum's voice in some sort of ethereal "other" place, offering a perspective from on high, and musically reminding me of post punk bands like the Jesus & Mary Chain or Echo & the Bunnymen. Like those bands' work, there is a beauty in "A Friend" which seems to shimmer like sunlight falling onto ice.

Is there no end to this man's skills as writer & performer? I've seen him play so many different instruments to a high level live & let's not overlook the fact that he is often responsible (or partially so) for much of the artwork on his releases (as indeed he is with "A Friend"). However even these accomplishments I believe are overshadowed by his capacity to offer such a wide range of different songs: yes again the obvious evidence for this are the sonic distinctions between this track & previous releases under different names & I can't think of too many people who write as effectively in both delicate & distorted formats (John Lennon, Lou Reed & Kurt Cobain I suppose spring most easily to mind). However I would urge you to focus on Callum's lyrical themes (easier here I suppose than on some of his noisier songs) as there are so many interesting & insightful ruminations on such wide variety of subjects. I just hope that this trend of releasing tracks under so many monikers does not prevent people from joining up the dots on his talents…

Although there is, as yet, no social media account for In Emerald Sea, you can check out a video for "A Friend" via this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDsMYz41H5U

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'Let's Have Another One' by Firedaze

Review

I have long enjoyed Firedaze  as a live act but I'm sorry to say have not reviewed any of their releases until now: I'm glad to repair that omission by telling you about 'Let's Have Another One',  their  third album which is now complete & ready for an imminent release on their own DeAD Music label.

To be honest, if you've not yet caught them, this new collection is a very good entry point to their music & understanding why they are so popular live, representing not only their sound accurately but managing to capture their vibe too. Now that's not easy at the best of times on a recording but if you throw in the additional factor which 2020/21 imposed upon us of many (but thankfully not all) sessions having to take place remotely with members not able to play off each other (I understand that the final harmonies were quite literally phoned into the mix), then this album is especially commendable for achieving this.

The band (comprising Steff on lead vocals, electric & acoustic guitars & foot percussion, Jen on fiddle & backing vocals and String on bass, loops and more foot percussion: it was at his Dmusic Studio in Leamington where it was put together too) tend to self identify as folk rock and I'm not sure anyone could argue against that, but like the best creators of new music, they don't seem inclined to allow themselves to be constrained by the expectations of genre, but just get on with writing the songs they want to. The band in fact are keen to emphasise that although inevitably lockdown shaped the creative & recording processes, the songs themselves are not necessarily to be taken as reflections on the lockdown experience itself (guidance I'm grateful for as I realise how prone I can be to reading such things into any lyric at the moment given half a chance).

That said, perhaps more instinctively than intentionally given their statement, 'Let's Have Another One',  is an album we needed from such a band right now, just as the exuberance of live experiences & the joy of communal gatherings seem at last almost within our grasp. Although Firedaze are perfectly capable of exploring their more reflective sides (they consciously wished this new album to contrast with the slower, more jazz tinged predecessor ‘Ever After Land' from 2014), this one tends more to the rousing spirit: the very spirited use of stompboxes in lieu of formal drum kits adds considerably to the primal energy which sits very closely under the beautiful melodic structures of the other elements of their sound.

Of the ten songs on the album, no fewer than four ("Drink To Your Health", "Drunken Sailor", "The Brewery" and "Skol!") have very overt references to the pleasures of the bottle & so could easily be identified as a theme. This sounds like a band ready to resume the party.   Additionally, the set is bookended by a  pair of tracks ("Another One Like That" and "Another One Like This") which although completely separate in style (the former sounds like the archetypical collective ceilidh singalong, the latter is much more restrained & contemplative) nevertheless are essentially the same exhortation to the listener and amount to as much a manifesto for the album  as the drinking songs comprise an internal theme ( wonder if the two versions were originally intended as complementary pieces or whether they had two ideas for the song & liked them both so much they kept them both? One version maybe appeals more to the heart & the other to the head?) At any rate, Firedaze don't make their message ambiguous in any way. They are here to lift our spirits as well as their own and they are yet another act covered by "Hot Music Live" or celebrated in "Hot Music Live Presents" whose obvious joy in making music comes through so clearly on stage or record: and that's why I am delighted to share my thoughts & their music with you.

Coming back to the music, I must emphasise that it's not all about the party spirit: the band are careful to ensure that the album offers a range of shadows & light and the internal diversity to take us along an interesting journey with turns in the road. I particularly liked the darker "Dark and Terrible Thing", one of the many tracks led melodically by Jen's distinctive playing which offers a subtle blend of classical, classic folk, celtic stylings and little touches from more distant cultures.

"Up on Down" is yet another type of thing altogether, more reflective in style yet drawing apparently on a range of styles not necessarily present on the preceding tracks: a funkier more R&B approach, yet with an eastern drone approach also in the mix.

What I suspect few people will have expected though is Firedaze taking on the Girls Aloud classic "Sound of the Underground":  a bold & attention grabbing move & one which they pull off with aplomb. Of course it's a great song to start with, and such ones usually allow themselves to be interpreted in a variety of ways, though possibly not even its writers could have predicted how well it fits with a folk rock approach.

No self respecting folk album could be completed without a song based upon a story or a character & so Firedaze offer us "Jenny Diver" and in keeping with the tone of the album it isn't one of the heart wrenching tales of tragedy in tone, being a lively and bright jig of a tune, though as the song seems to be about the same person as celebrated as "Pirate Jenny" in Weill & Brecht's "Threepenny Opera", there is a darkness lurking too.

All in all, this is good time music when we most have need of that quality. Thank you Firedaze. We'll enjoy playing 'Let's Have Another One' I'm sure, but hearing them play it live will be the icing on the cake & the band are gearing up for live performances as soon as they can: one date I can confirm at this point is the Kenilworth Carnival music event on 26th June 2021.

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"Loveable" by Kenzie Webley

Review

I'm delighted to report to you the release of a new single by Kenzie Webley on 21st May, namely "Loveable" .

As you know, Kenzie is one the most exciting talents currently emerging on the Coventry & Warwickshire music scene, as evidenced by the reactions of  fans, critics and the media. It's unfortunate that her live momentum has been slowed down by recent circumstances, but given her current studies, maybe she has been spared having agonies of time prioritisation & since it has clearly not affected her writing, I believe the future is as encouraging for her as it was a year ago.

A follow up to the really well received "Make You Stay" (still at the top of the local charts as I write), "Loveable" was likewise recorded with Matt Waddell at 14 Records in Leamington. Equally likewise, the new song is a great example of Kenzie's ability to write incisive & sympathetic lyrics about deep & challenging emotional situations but from perspectives which are significantly different to those of the majority of songs about such matters.

Sounding markedly different from its predecessor with an attractive folk tinged swing which adds a rather neat contrast to some of the sentiments in the words (I always admire artists who pull off setting lyrical tone against musical: the effect serves well to emphasise the former), Kenzie sets out in the admirable if challenging task of de-romanticising the real factors in a relationship which may be heading for the rocks. Her argument is that songs often "…romanticise break-ups and focus on a primary feeling of self pity, however this song tells a story of a couple who are in an argument, but from the perspective of someone is acknowledging their own flaws and, to some extent, taking responsibility". For any writer to realise the tendency of popular music to fall into emotional clichés and seek to offer alternative interpretations is commendable: for an artist as young as Kenzie with relatively less experience and opportunities to observe situations (the song is in fact inspired by the experiences of a friend), it's trebly so. It's difficult to see how an artist of her age who is currently writing with such insight & sensitivity cannot keep on continuing to grow & succeed artistically & thence we can hope commercially.

As I say, not only is the subject matter worthy of praise, let's not overlook that all the best lyrics in the world will under impact unless set to music which helps them to engage. With Matt's help, what you get is an arrangement of exquisite balance: lots of interesting details to offer new parts to focus on for each play yet not remotely dense: the lightness & sureness of touch in fact permitting Kenzie to perform with a delicacy worthy of the story & not having to fight to be heard over too many other instruments at once. That said, I suppose it does beg the question of how a live version could duplicate the recorded without a small chamber orchestra on stage with her, but my feelings are that it will be effective with a simple acoustic guitar accompaniment.

This is an excellent single which I commend to you: I'm sure you'll be hearing it plenty of times over the airwaves in the coming weeks. Check out the cover art too: not only by Kenzie herself but it alludes very directly to the story in the song .

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Old and gold

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"Oops" (Acoustic) by Ivy Ash

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"Fire In The Air" by Aaron Woodhouse

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‘If This Is the End' by Project Blackbird

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"Live 2020" (edited selection) by Wes Finch

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"In The Darkness" by Ollie Bond

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Ollie Bond is one of those talented artists who seems capable of swerving the "quality/quantity" debut by releasing very high quality singles at a ...

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"Bigger Than Me" by Rob Halligan

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"Convent" by Shanghai Hostage

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"The South" by Wilde

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"Class War" by Dispensable People

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"Better Job" by YNES featuring Ace Ambrose

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Now this is very exciting….

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"Oops" by Ivy Ash

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Back in November, I introduced you to Ivy Ash, the sensational new pop persona of Bethany Dyson.

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"Whereabouts Unknown" by Jack Blackman

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After his most impressive prolific run of form since the music scene was turned upon its head, from "Self Isolation Song" (which is also on ‘Hot ...

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'Hot Music Live Presents Volume Five'

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We are delighted to announce the release of 'Hot Music Live Presents Volume Five': eighteen more totally original tracks by Coventry & ...

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"LOUD" by Electrik Custard

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I was greatly & very pleasantly surprised by the unexpected release yesterday of a new single "LOUD" by Electrik Custard featuring Mina Minné.

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