Monday, May 2, 2022

Rate The Eight

It's possible, albeit unlikely, that someone reading this may remember a post here back in March, in which I talked about the Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Competition. There was a longlist of ninety acts. It was going to be whittled down to a shortlist of eight, all of whom would compete at a Battle of the Bands style event in Pilton, the village where the Eavis' farm is located.

I said at the time that I'd try to come back and report on whether any of the bands I liked the sound of had made the cut. And then I forgot all about it.

This morning, the NME reported that Lewis McLaughlin had won the top prize, £5000, along with a main stage slot at this year's festival. Lewis doesn't get a mention in my post. I can't say his name rang any bells when I saw it this morning but I went back and checked and it turns out I had listened to the nominated track, Summer, and also watched the YouTube video. Here it is:

It's really annoying, isn't it? Everything about it - the tune, the performance, the video... I couldn't bring myself to watch it all the way through another time. 

He's got a newer song up now, Go With The Flow. I like it a lot better. I still can't say I can see it going down a storm on the big stage at a festival, although I can see people lying flat in the grass in front of some minor stage, far out in a field somewhere, lazily chatting with friends on a sunny day, their conversation drfting in a stoned haze while Lewis plays, scarcely noticed, in the background.

No-one's asking me what I think, of course. The people who were asked to make the decision included "Emily Eavis, Glastonbury stage bookers and music business professionals", all of whom know about a billion times more about what makes for a successful festival running order than I do. I imagine they have reasons why a soft-voiced, Scottish folk-singer is a good fit for a massive event in front of a giant crowd numbering tens of thousands; reasons I couldn't possibly begin to imagine.

I'd have picked someone louder. One of the twelve I singled out last time, for example, none of whom are anything you could reasonably confuse with a folk act.

Three of those dozen names did at least make it to the last eight, which is a pretty good result - for me that is. Better than I would have expected, for sure. One of them, English Teacher, even collected one of the two runner-up prizes of £2,500.

That's their latest. It's called Polyawkward and it's... strange. Not what I was expecting. It reminds me weirdly of Genesis circa I Know What I Like although considerably more of XTC circa Love on a Farmboy's Wages. Not that I think it sounds much (or anything) like either of those. It's more that as a band, English Teacher seem to be very much in the same bucolic, wordy, slightly creepy tradition. I think they chose their name well: very English, very literate, slightly scary.

The other runner-up was Crae Wolf, whose Countdown Freestyle on the long list I do like, even if it seems more of a fragment than a finished track. 

My other two picks, who made the final but missed out on the money, were SOFY and Smoothboi Ezra. Ezra, unfortunately, also missed out on the live run-off due to illness but gets a free pass to next year's ETC final.

SOFY's latest is this woozy, saturated dreamer, Sorry That You're Mine. It's the kind of tune that's made for one of those hour-long loop mixes. I'd have this on repeat for as long as it takes to write a post, any time.

Smoothboi Ezra doesn't seem to have anything more recent than the following video from just under a year ago. It's another of those vaguely horror-inflected masquerades but I think this time it's fair to say it doesn't in any way put me in mind of Peter Gabriel, let alone Steve Hackett or Phil Collins. Let's all be thankful for that.

I guess at this point we really ought to have the full shortlist. Probably should have led with it, really. 

  • Amahla
  • Zola Courtney
  • Smoothboi Ezra
  • SOFY
  • Lewis McLaughlin
  • Nia Wyn
  • Crae Wolf
  • English Teacher

I checked out the others but I don't think I need to offer any links. I'm sure you can find them for yourselves, if you're that interested.

All of them, other than Smoothboi Ezra, who'll have to wait another year, get a slot on some stage or other at Glastonbury this summer. 

There are a lot of stages at Glasto. I don't imagine the television cameras will be at the right ones at the right time to give us a glimpse of many of the eight, although English Teacher already have the kind of buzz and profile that might appeal to a producer with an ear for indie.

I'll keep my eyes open when festival season comes around. If any of the performances do make it onto YouTube via something better than a shaky phone maybe I'll even get another post out of this whole thing.

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