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'Leamington LAMP Album Volume 1'

Review

I appreciate that I've introduced reviews before saying that I'm excited about them, but I'm afraid it's the truth: I review what excites me, moves me or impresses me. Believe me I do hear stuff which does nothing for me & believe me also that I can't write anything about it.

Today's article focuses on ‘The LAMP Album', courtesy of the Leamington LAMP project (with funding by Youth Music), which, in their own words "was established as an alternative education provider in 2013. We specialise in working with young people with autism and/or high anxiety that struggle in mainstream education settings. We work with 14-19 year olds, some of whom may have been out of the education system for some time. The team continue to develop LAMP's alternative education practice using our award winning ingredients:

  • Switching young people back to learning by empowering them through their own ideas and creativity
  • Providing access to cutting edge facilities
  • Engaging young people in the planning of their education

As well as being proud winners of the National Autistic Society Professionals Award 2019, LAMP were also winners of the 2019 Education Award and were shortlisted for the National Association of Special Educational Needs Awards 2019".

which impressed me a great deal before I even heard the music from a dozen of the young musicians with whom they are working. As a teacher myself in a previous existence, I highly respect what they are doing, which is part of the excitement and I feel reviewing this collection fits in beautifully with what "Hot Music Live Presents" aims to do: tell you about great, and above all original, music which you might not pick up on quite as quickly via traditional media.

I'm especially chuffed to see on the album a track by Niamh Toni who has already appeared on the "Hot Music Live Presents" series of local compilations (on Volume Four with her collaboration with Travis Waddell, "Pretty Little Lies") and another by Electric Blue (whose song "I Don't Wanna" is on Volume Six) and that we are planning to include at least one, if not more of the other contributors on future albums: it's good to be working along the same lines as another local organisation to support such talents.

As the sleeve notes make clear "all the music on this album is made by neurodiverse young people. We set out to dispel the myth that young neurodiverse people are not creative. This album is evidence that this ain't true". And it certainly does. What I'd like however to add to this are a couple of general thoughts of my own. Firstly, I am struck by the diversity of styles across these tracks. The younger you are, the greater the probability is that you've not yet fully explored the many genres and styles out there & I fully understand why young artists can often, at the start of their careers, model their own early writing on artists whom they admire: or indeed the peers they are working closely with. Well that might be so with these young musicians but the evidence is quite the opposite: it points much more towards an openness of approach, a willingness to take on various styles and not be influenced unduly by others and above all a confidence to write in their own authentic voices.  All of which is of great credit to each of them and also I suspect to the creative environment which LAMP has shaped for them. Secondly, I must emphasise that these are young musicians and their work needs at the moment to be judged in that context: every single one of them will develop in a variety of ways. All will grow as people and artists. Some may start exploring quite different musical styles, as is their right to do. All of them will hopefully be still making music in years to come and all of them will be creating even more mature work.

If we start then with Niamh Toni as a handy reference point for readers: on this album she offers us "Ghosts". If you've heard her previous track, you won't be at all surprised at the confidence and classiness of this one & I'm pleased to say that her breadth of writing ability is proven by it being a rather different style: more sixties pop in some ways (the sound reminded me a little of Dusty Springfield though her voice is quite different) but with definitely up to date content: a bit like "Pretty Little Lies", it seeks to call another out on their behaviour but what especially impressed me was the lyric writing: articulate, unafraid to use longer words not necessarily used too often in pop songs (like Abz Winter does).

"Ghosts" was recorded at 14 Records, as was another track on the album, namely "Misery" by Electric Blue. This is a stunningly beautiful song with a building melody you could imagine had been around forever & delivered with another confident vocal performance which took my breath away: classy stuff. Like much else in the collection, this song could easily hold its own in the company of material written by adults.

Perhaps the musician on the album who has already received the most immediate accolades is Avery Green who has won the Royal Blood Scholarship 2020 to study for a BA (Hons) Career Musician degree at Water Bears College in Brighton: and this is an award for a single recipient each year. Avery has also been shortlisted for the Youth Music Awards later this year (as has Neko). On this album, Avery's track "Dichotomy" (as with Niamh Toni's song, you have to applaud the vocabulary alone) demonstrates how he won the scholarship. A carefully constructed rock track which showcases his ability to play in a number of styles (hence the title I assume) on guitar, it manages to be accessible enough to escape the obvious trap of self indulgence of such an approach: in that it reminded me of the solo work of John Connearn, though their styles are very different.

Fellow Youth Music Awards nominee Neko has in fact got two tracks on the album: "Whachuherd" (yes that's how it is spelled) and "Danbo". If Avery has been using the thesaurus, then Neko seems to be creating a new vocabulary altogether. He describes his work as varying "..between Dubstep and Future Trap" and at this point I must say that the inadequacies of this writer as a reviewer of contemporary music become apparent: these are not genres I know much about (and youth should have its musical styles which older generations did not fully grasp). The two tracks certainly impress me with their imagination and hopefully Neko will have reviewers with the right vocabulary to properly do the music justice in future.

The other musician with two tracks is Gxth Marley (and once again I can confirm the spelling): "Nexus" and "Space". I really enjoyed these two tracks, which I'm going to describe as ambient (my apologies to Gxth if I've misidentified the genre) and as noted above, I honestly can't tell any difference in artistic quality to say established acts such as Banco de Gaia.

I'm travelling through the album on a somewhat odd course, so I ought to rewind to the opener, "Who's That on the TV" by Lily Hayes: not least because I feel on much safer ground in finding the correct words to praise a style I know much more about. This compelling & witty punky track was certainly something I can connect with & this is an artist I'd happily go and see play live.

"We Sell Everything" by Harry Irvine likewise caught me instantly: a lively and charming piece which relies on a basic keyboard accompaniment for the main part, it reminded me of the 1976/8 explosion when maverick talents such Wreckless Eric had a window of opportunity to release often lo-fi tracks of wit & individuality which stayed in the mind because of their originality and determination not to sound like anyone other than themselves.

With "Just Believe" by  Snooping Hog (great name) we are rapidly leaving my reviewing comfort zone again which is a shame as I really liked this song too: it deserves better reviewing. The haunting and frankly unsettling vocal is set over a backing to match it: one which defies my skills to adequately describe: it seems to have multiple loops which act together really effectively and evokes some of the more avant garde jazz tracks without every approaching self indulgence. This again could have been made by an artist twice her age and I would have believed it to be so.

"Fierce"  is by JFlo, another artist on the album who has received recognition beyond our area as he just had some of his lyrics published in a book about mental health by Rona Tutt (former President of the National Association of Head Teachers). You can hear why: words are clearly his forte and it takes multiple listens to appreciate them (he has a super fast delivery style). Had I realised that they were written in the excellent booklet before I did so, I might have spared myself a couple of extra plays but that would have lessened my pleasure. Yet again, the vocabulary used suggests that LAMP may be encouraging their artists to think outside the limited word sets used by so many artists: if so it certainly pays off in terms of enhancing originality & attracting attention.

"Tugzinoo" is by  Prod OJ who expresses enjoyment of producing a range of music including drill and melodic rap, neither of which could possibly be applied to this gentle & mindful guitar & woodwind centred  instrumental (ok the melodic bit could) which must surely indicate an artist with a broad range of interests & accomplishments and many possible roads down which to explore their talent.

"Project Big Hair" by  Ethan Dixon is an appropriately named track by an artist who is "..mainly interested in 80s hair metal bands such as Motley Crue, Dokken, Whitesnake and Winger…I would like to be in a touring 80s hair metal band in the near future." And he certainly has the guitar skills to do so. It's a bit of a shock to come across this genre amongst a collection of tracks by artists of this age group: but it shouldn't. What LAMP seem to be doing is to encourage artists to find themselves and be their genuine selves rather than to try to conform to the expectations of others: therefore diversity of this form is to be applauded.

The final track, "Jettatura" is by Weaponised Autism (and what a magnificent name: the defiance alone is to be applauded), and is a metalcore piece (featuring the previously mentioned Avery Green on guitar plus Jake Smith on drums and Joe Durrant on bass) and closes the collection with a bravura performance to leave you gasping.

Every person associated with this album deserves our respect: for many if not most of them, there will have been considerable challenges over many years to reach this point. For LAMP to be offering them the means and opportunity to express themselves in this way, against the backdrop of Government hostility towards funding arts education at any level & ignorance of its benefits is something the music scene in our area should raise its collective hat to. In all honesty, had LAMP presented me with this album with no contextual information, I would have assumed it to be a collection such as we put together for "Hot Music Live Presents": certainly not purely young musicians and certainly not those situated in the context that they are. This is not marginal music by members of a marginal group: this is excellent music by objective standards and utterly proves the point the compilers set out to prove. Any marginalisation lies in the narrow mindedness of those who probably won't be reading this sadly.

Finally, it's worth noting that I deliberately held back part of the album title above: this album is "Volume 1" and we look forward to its successor, due out later this year.

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From the back catalogue