Monday, 29 August 2011

A musical summer

I wish I could say it's been a long, hot, sultry summer but, as a slight coolness in the air already hints at autumn, I can at least say it's been a very musical one. It began in June when the little Worcestershire village of Arley held its ArleyFest 2011 with fiddler, singer and tenor guitar virtuoso Seth Lakeman headlining. Seth and his band were amazing and lit up the crowd. At the end of the evening, a couple of lads who must have been no more than 12 called out to our trio of fiftysomethings: 'Hey! Did you see Seth? Brilliant!’

That was the Friday night highlight. But the great discovery at the ArleyFest weekend for me was in the acoustic tent on Saturday afternoon where three girls with guitars and keyboards performed a set of songs that perfectly evoke the exuberance and longing of youth. They called themselves -- enigmatically – One Sixth of Tommy, and sounded to me a little like an English version of The Roches or The Be Good Tanyas. Great harmonies, delicate guitar playing, subtle use of keyboards and highly original basslines left me wanting more. Unfortunately, their CD wasn't out yet and I wasn't sure I'd ever see or hear them again.

Later in June, (while One Sixth of Tommy were apparently playing at Glastonbury), I went to Wolverhampton with my old mate Martin to see Fleet Foxes. I can’t remember the Civic Hall ever being so full -- I'm used to seeing unpopular acts in half-empty venues. The Bees were the support act. Martin seemed unimpressed by them -- despite admitting to owning one of their albums -- but I thoroughly enjoyed their performance and admired their musicianship. I was pleased they did their delightful cover version of Os Mutantes’ A Minha Menina. Even their own songs sound like they might have been recorded in 1968. There is something about them that reminds me of The Young Rascals. The Bees have a rare quality in 2011 -- they make happy-sounding music!

Fleet Foxes were magnificent. They gave away White Winter Hymnal early on in the show and played a blend of songs from their first album and this year's Helplessness Blues before lead singer Robin Pecknold finished with a solo Oliver James.

After Fleet Foxes, I thought that might have been the end of my musical summer but then I got an e-mail about the Worcester Music Festival in August and found, to my joy, that the city's Old Rectifying House was hosting, among others, One Sixth of Tommy. I persuaded my friend Phil to come along. One Sixth’s songs were as strong as I had remembered them but, unfortunately, there were inexcusable problems with the sound-mixing. Phil and I were stood near the front so were almost hearing the band ‘unplugged’ but the rest of the audience would have struggled to hear the subtlety and beauty of the music. The band seemed to be aware that the sound was poor and looked fed up at times -- a shame because their music deserves to be heard and The Old Rectifying House ought to have been a perfect setting. Phil and I agreed we would try to get one of our local music venues to book them.

Meanwhile, to console us through the autumn days ahead, a crumb of good news: their debut album You're in my Head is released ... today!

You're in my Head by One Sixth of Tommy is available from Helium Records.

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Tony Gillam is Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Wolverhampton, a freelance writer, trainer and musician. He is the author of 'Reflections on Community Psychiatric Nursing' (2002) and 'Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice' (2018).