Alternative Friday

because great new music doesn’t always get the exposure it deserves

The incredible quality of new and emerging musicians never surprises me, and I’m confident that 2018 has been another exceptional year for new music. So as it draws to a close we reveal our annual Alternative Friday Awards… so who are the winners?

Best Concept Release: Phil Simmonds – The Chronicles of Saint Arc
The three-part Chronicles of Saint Arc series, by the multi-talented UK musician and producer Phil Simmonds (now based in LA), is a stunning and ambitious piece of work. This is in part because the three tracks total an impressive 47 minutes, which was a brave but brilliant decision given that the modern era sometimes prefers instant gratification in music. Phil Simmonds has nailed it here though. My favourite ‘movement’ across the three parts is the mesmerising Drive, while you can find out more about both the artist and the full Saint Arc series in the Q&A I did with him in September.


Best Debut EP: River Purple – Excuses for Wasted Time
This 5-piece from the University of Warwick only formed a year ago, but they wasted no time (sorry) in recording and releasing their debut 4-track EP, which came out in May. It’s stuffed with four wonderfully varied indie guitar tunes, and the addition of some hugely melodic keys lift the songs even further. I’ve since caught them live – definitely recommended – while they’ve also ended 2018 with the release of three new tracks, which have reinforced my view that these lads make some truly epic tunes.


Best Cinematic Rock Track: The Howl & The Hum – Murder
This quartet from York have taken 2018 by storm. As I mentioned in an earlier piece, they impressed with the release of Portrait I at the start of the year, but it’s this track that really stands out for me. The song mixes bright & experimental indie rock with layers of darker post punk flavours, then adds Sam Griffith’s strong vocals and some wonderfully witty lyrics, and as a result they really hit the bullseye with Murder. Seeing them live was a treat too. Never have bus stops, pyjamas, & Tesco value lager had such an impact!


Best Urban Folk Song: Lewis Bootle – Flowers
The talented & prolific Lewis Bootle is no stranger to Alternative Friday, having appeared numerous times. This autumn he released an impressive mini-album series of urban dance tracks called #Gaps, but his award winner is the more folk influenced spring release Flowers. It takes his wonderfully poetic wordplay and adds a beautifully poignant guitar melody, before the toe tapping gets faster as his musical sibling Gecko joins proceedings. One to join in to at the top of your voice!


Best Afro Blues Composition: Kokoroko – Abusey Junction
This is a stunning array of beautiful sounds from the 8-piece London band led by trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey. It opens with some laid back guitar riffs by the track’s writer Oscar Jerome, before the graceful sound of the horns arrive to pull you in even deeper. Bringing afrobeat, blues, and soulful jazz flavours together, it is both an uplifting yet poignant piece of music. You’ll lose yourself in this.


Best UK Americana Song: Red Rum Club – Honey
I’m looking forward to Matador, the debut album from this Liverpool 6-piece due in January. Their sound isn’t easy to pin down, given its mixture of alt rock, country, and Latin flavours, so the ‘Scouse Americana’ tag they’ve previously been given is a big help! Their wild west vibes also get a real lift with the inclusion of a solitary trumpet which provides a rousing personality to their songs, of which Honey is my personal fav. When Scouse meets Spaghetti Western.


Best EDM Track: Kemback – Stepping Back
I don’t just stick to ‘alternative’ sounds on this site, but house & techno music don’t usually feature too often. This largely instrumental dance gem from Kemback, aka the Berlin based producer, composer, and violinist Geoff Wright, wins an award with ease though, as its hypnotic mix of electronica, percussion, and saxophones combine to create far more than the individual components. A dazzling track to fill any club floor!


Best Alt Rock Track: The Cheap Thrills – Codependence
The ‘alt-rock’ tag can cover a few different sounds, so it’s possibly unfair to pin Liverpool’s The Cheap Thrills in this bracket, as they also add bright synths and indie melodies into the mix to create a catchy set of tunes. Last year’s outstanding Sentimentality led the way, and was equalled when the anthemic Codependence came out this spring. I’ve managed to see them a few times this year, and they certainly bring the energy of the studio tracks to their live performances. A raucous treat!

There’s no doubt in my mind that 2018 has been another outstanding year for new and emerging musicians, so it was a huge challenge to trim my longlist down to these impressive & eclectic tracks (do browse the monthly mixtapes and Spotify Evolving Tunes during the year for more).

This ‘Best of 2018’ playlist also joins numerous music dots, from alt rock and indie, to urban folk, electronica, drum n bass, jazz funk, blues, and more. Enjoy…


River Purple — Serpentine
Hatchie – Adored
The Howl & The Hum — Murder
Lewis Bootle — Flowers
The Cheap Thrills — Codependence
Phil Simmonds — Drive
Yes We Mystic — Felsenmeer
Giant Party — White Ink
Kemback — Stepping Back
Samuel Jack — Kill All The Lights
Model Society — Public Service
E’spaniel — Talking Shop
Charlie Belle — Essay
Heavy Rapids – Crying Shame
The Expansions – Cannonball
Leslie Lewis-Walker — While You Sleep
CALM – Vivid
Tom Mouse Smith – Born Blind
Kokoroko – Abusey Junction
Red Rum Club – Calexico
Needshes – Time to See
Sarpa Salpa – Smith

Rubber Jaw are a three piece band from Elmstead Market in Essex, comprising of Michael Hemmings on guitar & vocals, Ross Connell on lead guitar & backing vocals, and Archie Mann on drums. Feeling Funny is their recent impressive release, which combines calm atmospheric verses with a rousing alt rock chorus, with both colliding perfectly in the monster finale. The reason it gets a Showreel posting here is because the short yet epic track’s video – made and directed by the band themselves – is an absorbing film, and one which really makes the most of the terrific track.


So now, can you tell me, how we can try and sort it…


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We wander through another array of impressive musical flavours again in this month’s mixtape, which take us from the latest alternative and indie rock tunes, but also include a bit of jazzy blues, fizz punk, electronica, and psychedelic indie jazz. I love ’em all, but do spread the word about your favs. Enjoy…


CALM – Vivid
Citrus – Thursday
Kyanos – Lost in Blue
Kemback – Stepping Back
Sick Love – Are You Ready
Ned Dylan – Life’s Rave
Sarpa Salpa – Smith
Eos Tribe – Gotta Do
Sinnober – Successful
King No-One – Out of My Mind
Easter Island Statues – Laika

Photo by Jasper Fell-Clark

Essex songwriter Sam Eagle has already achieved a lot for a 19-year old. His wonderfully avant-garde DIY style brings “jazzy, left field pop tunes to the indie genre”, and this has seen support from numerous heavyweights, which include BBC 6 Music and Radio X, while I’ve seen him live more than once this year and can confirm his shows are hugely enjoyable. He now faces his latest challenge with this Q&A, so read on to find out more about himself, his upcoming EP, plus tongue tricks, lumps of charcoal, and lemon lizards!

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~ You’ve shown you’re a talented songwriter and multi-instrumentalist at just 19, so how long have you been playing and writing?
The first instrument I learnt was drums, and picked up guitar when I was about 9 I think, however I got bored of it very quickly for some reason and started again when I was about 15. However, I started writing songs and really getting into writing a few years ago I’d say.

~ You’ve an EP coming out in the New Year, so tell us more?
Yes, I’m aiming to have it out early February. It’s currently set to be 6 tracks, but possibly could be longer if there are songs that fit in. There’ll be a few of the singles that I put out this year on there, as they’re part of a group of songs that I’ve written that really feel like they fit together, so I felt they should all be on there. The tracks generally though have a lot of jazzy time signatures and distinct sections, which is the style that I’ve been writing in for the last year or so. However, there are a couple of simpler songs to calm it down a bit, as I try to pack in as much as I can in the other songs – so I want to make sure there’s a balance there. The tracks were mostly recorded at Tom Donovan Studio in Rowhedge, Essex – and then a couple were recorded at home.


~ What have you found most challenging about making the EP?
I’m not sure really. I’ve seriously enjoyed writing and recording all the tracks, and it’s certainly been the most rewarding musical thing I’ve done. But possibly the most challenging thing has been to make sure that the tracks all compliment each other and flow well. As they were all written and recorded to be singles, I’m trying to make sure the EP is cohesive as it’s own thing rather than just six songs bundled together.

~ You’re essentially a solo artist, but it’s been a treat to see you perform a few times this year with The Lemon Lizards, so how did the live band come together?
Thank you very much, I really appreciate that. Two of the members, Eddie (bass) and Ben (Drums) I met at sixth form college, so we’ve been playing for a couple of years now. Then I met Will our trombonist in January in a recording session, and he fit so well with the sound of the songs that he joined properly in April. The band got together as with a band you can just be so much more versatile and pretty much do whatever you like – as opposed to just playing solo. However, from now on we’re not playing under ‘The Lemon Lizards’ anymore, as I think it makes it confusing as to what the project actually is, as a lot of people think the band write and record all the songs together, whereas I try to work as self sufficiently as possible. The band is just the live side.

~ In recent months you’ve played live sessions on BBC Radio 6 Music for Tom Robinson, and Radio X for John Kennedy! How surreal was that?
Both were such fantastic experiences. 6Music was pretty extraordinary though. We always have it on in the kitchen, and some of the sessions I’ve heard on Tom’s show have just been insane, so to be invited in was just such an honour. Plus Kamasi Washington did a session for Giles Peterson right before our session and he’s a God on the sax, so just the thought of that alone was pretty mental. We only really learnt one of the songs the day before as well, as we all felt it was important to play it so there was a little pressure on that, but I like having a bit of pressure. Radio X was likewise incredible to be in the studio where some fantastic musicians have been – and John Kennedy is a brilliant guy and a true champion of new music. So I definitely have a lot to thank both Tom Robinson and John Kennedy for.


~ If you were appearing on ‘Later with Jools Holland’, which tracks from the EP would you choose to perform?
Ahhh that is just the absolute dream, so I would definitely be lying if I said I haven’t thought about it before! But I’d say 15/8 and She’s So Nice. These two, because they’re both very different and are the two tracks that I think are best to play live. Plus She’s So Nice features a ripping solo from Will on trombone, and everyone loves to get down a bone solo (I think, I don’t have proof but surely…).

~ If you could collaborate with a famous musician or band, who would it be?
I’d say Nick Hakim. He’s a huge influence on my music and just generally a dang smooth guy. Great feel, great voice, great man.

~ Are there any other new bands or musicians local to you in the Colchester & Ipswich area that you recommend we check out?
I’d have to go with our guys KYANOS from Bury St Edmunds. I’ll admit that’s not really local, but hey – they’re worth going that extra mile for. They’re smooth dudes, they’re putting out some great stuff, and they’re gonna blow up any day now.

~ What’s the most impressive thing you can cook?
To be honest, my cooking’s more impressive in the sense that, it’s impressive how anyone can take such a long time to make something so awful. I dunno, I guess I’m not really fussed about food enough to learn how to cook properly. I’m also terrified of getting food poisoning so if I’m cooking meat I’ll just frazzle it until it’s a just lump of charcoal – better safe than sorry. So to answer that question, I’d genuinely say nothing.

~ Do you have any hidden or obscure skills you’d like to reveal to the world?
I can do some freaky tricks with my tongue, whether that counts as a skill I don’t really know…

~ Aside from the EP release, what are your plans for 2019?
Well I’d like to do some more ambitious, bigger shows next year, and maybe go on a tour, see how that goes. Other than music, I’d really like to make a few short films, as filmmaking is something that I’d love to get more into. But yeah, it’s been a cool year so far, so hopefully, 2019 will bring some hot stuff.

As the UK nights draw in, the warm summer vibes of some of the recent mixtapes have given way to a few more raucous guitar heavy indie and alt-rock tracks. As always though, this mixtape has also slipped in some equally impressive others, in this case some dark & alternative pop, hip-hop & rap, and ambient electro dance tunes, so enjoy, and do spread the work about your favs…


Model Society – Public Service
Human Resources – West Coast
Charlie Belle – Essay
Loyal – Patterns That Fall
The Recreation – Jealous Lovers
Alex Dutty – Emoji
Freeda – Go Home
The RPMs – Gotta Let Go
Shanghai Blues – Lies
Pip Hall – Mary


Both thought proving and uplifting! In Model Society’s own words, they are a “quintessential British sound that captures the past, but breathes new life into the social commentary & satire of today’s suburban life”, and in Public Service the 4-piece band combine all of this with perfection. Taking a 90’s Britpop alternative & indie sound, they then add lyrics that draw from the economic strains of more recent years.

It gets a Showreel piece though, because there’s an equally impressive video to it too, which doesn’t just promote the track – it could be a London Tourist Information promotion film too! Put together by the drummer, Eddie Caldwell, it absorbs you in London life, and includes some wonderful footage of the two sides of a vibrant capital city.


You gotta learn to read, you gotta learn to riot…


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