Words by Mollie Simpson - @molssimp

Everyone is losing something because of the global pandemic: jobs, loved ones, the simple freedom of eating in a café alone, with a book and watching the sunlight hit the table, festivals, gigs, relationships, the potential to develop romantic or platonic connections that are just starting to become harmonious and beautiful. We can’t comprehend the statistics, the scale, the invisible collateral damage still being caused by people sinking pints in pubs or wandering a library. Where confusion is a state of being and reminders are everywhere, for me and my friends, feel-good music has felt liberating and otherworldly.

From the explosion of COVID-19 playlists on Spotify, it’s clear to see that rediscovering feel-good music has been imperative in aiding a lot of people’s mental health. For me, ABBA, The Beatles, ‘80s funk and disco, circa 2014 indie and cheesy love songs fill the Spotify sidebar: me and my friends once considered our tastes refined and highbrow. But now we are vulnerable and shameless and desperately in need of uplifting escapism, a way of reconciling the darkness within ourselves with a world that can be positive and relentlessly beautiful. We don’t have the words ourselves yet, but maybe Chiquitita by ABBA does, or The Beatles' Here Comes the Sun. I admit I don’t have the strength to revisit Mount Eerie or Sufjan Stevens. Unrelated sadness in the time of pandemic hits too hard.

In 'The Death of the Author', Roland Barthes discusses how meaning isn’t written in texts, but discovered by the reader through a process of self-identification. And I suppose that’s why messages of hope, songs about running away, songs about feeling lonely, songs about missing a loved one, songs about self-belief and strength feel so pertinent now: we can ingratiate our own feelings into music too effortlessly. Everything hits differently, and so it will for a while.

Art, music and culture have always been about collaboration and exploration. It’s appropriate that in a time of isolation we are, almost paradoxically, incredibly well-connected, which is a joy in itself. Technology was once the villain, but now it is a lifeline: sharing music with friends has been incredible. Our collaborative self-isolation playlist draws loneliness into a shared experience that is around five hours long, and none of the songs fail to make me smile. I am grateful to have music in this time, to be living in a time where culture is accessible and shareable and friendships can still blossom from miles apart, where I can listen to the same Tears For Fears four times a day, and feel a little bit better.

Words by Frederic Bruhin-Price - @freddiebp

Sweet greatness, the gold dust grit of the passing seasons, clinging onto each meandering memory-road like the tiny rose-tinted claws of a million perfect days...

“In spite of 1972 being one of the stalest years in the history of popular music, the spate of reissues from all the major record companies and countless minor ones picks up more speed all the time, and the results (uneven as they are) are generally encouraging.” - March 29, 1973, Lester Bangs review of The Best of BB King.

This is an argument for reassessment. It is not a character assassination of Lester Bangs. I must stress that. Lester and I, if I may use those three words, are about as likely to be called “enemies” as Theresa May is to be called “a dish.” We do, I hasten to add, share a lot of common ground. Lester and I (I did it again!) do agree that The Rolling Stones’ 1968-72 output, in concert and on record, is some of the richest and most salivatory sound-painting known to mankind. We also both prefer Peter Tosh’s Get Up Stand Up to Bob Marley’s - it just had more bite - and we’re on the same page when it comes to the beauty of Led Zeppelin’s lesser-known opus 'That’s The Way' - if it isn’t a Zep cornerstone, it certainly is a timeless nugget of gracious beauty. So we’re on good terms. Almost. But not quite.

I came across the passage from which the above quotation was printed while I was fumbling in the Rolling Stone archive of Lester Bangs’ reviews. It caught my eye because recently I’ve come to discover that 1972 was a hell of a year for music. Possibly even the year. 1969, yes, you can have your crown. ‘91, you have a claim, even if only because everyone who could have possibly made a convincing “I-was-there” case for ‘69 is either dead or prancing about some city pavement, tightly clad in rainbow-lycra with coloured beads hanging out of their beard.

But to look retrospectively at the musical output of 1972 is to see a rich, purple-upholstered pleasuredome filled with emeralds and sapphires the size of space-stations. Several artists released albums which are still argued by a convincing proportion of their fanbase to be their defining moment: take Lou Reed’s Transformer and his producer David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything, and T.Rex’s The Slider. And that’s just for starters. Jackson Browne, Steely Dan and Big Star all released their debut albums in 1972. Neil Young’s Harvest came out in February. Deep Purple released Machine Head in March. The Rolling Stones gave us Exile On Main Street in May! Joy! Even soul music had a vintage year; Stevie Wonder worked up Music of My Mind and Talking Book, The Temptations released All Directions, which is worth a mention if solely for 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone” and Bill Withers unleashed I’m Still In Love With You featuring 'Simply Beautiful', 'What A Wonderful Thing Love Is', and 'Love And Happiness.' That looks like some list to me, man.

Perhaps Bangs was just suffering from post-Exile On Main Street-stress (I know I would be) and by 1973 had felt the need to wipe his slate clean. Maybe he’d listened to all these albums so much that he’d started to hate them. Whatever it is, it seems like it’s high time for music writers to start looking backwards for greatness, and having a more ambivalent attitude, or at least a less dismissive attitude, to what we are hearing today, because greatness would appear only to reveal itself once the first ripples caused by the ascent of its surfacing head have long since faded into the sea. Sweet greatness...

Words by Arthur Arnold - @arnoldcityliving

Images by Through The Eyes Of Ruby - @throughtheyesofruby

In the sludge and drudgery of a Friday evening [N.B I recognise this is the most typical introduction to an evening in Manchester, though it is impossible to go without saying] I spent the evening talking with Annie, Danny and Rhys – collectively known as The Early Mornings. Talking about how they work, talking about what they do, talking about what they listen to - talking about most things really. They were at the Castle Hotel ready to play a set for Do Your Best / The Singing Box promotions, with a handful of other bands, including Organic Zip and Beige Palace. I arrive to find Rhys, in the green tile bunker of the Castle Hotel who quickly opens up about projects of his that go beyond The Early Mornings, and as Annie and Danny arrive, the creative plot behind the group thickens to reveal three individuals all with myriad creative capacities and outlets. A holy trinity of an artist, a filmmaker and a poet. And in terms of sound, it’s a bit more than a trinity…

We talk and drink. Talking about what they listen to. Lots of local, modern bands are mentioned, such as Handle, The Starlight Magic Hour, Blanketman, DUDS and The Birthmarks. Further afield there's also talk of how fertile the UK in general is at the moment for guitar music with bands like Roxy Girls, Dry Cleaning and Black Midi coming up. Annie is of the opinion that guitar music is being ‘pushed to places it’s not been before’ and that there is ‘a big scene for that in the UK and Manchester at the moment’ – and that’s a scene you better hop onto if I may add. With groups sharing equipment and members (Rhys points to two of his local favourites, Humint and Spengler) there’s a lot to be said for the vast amount of music that surrounds you in Manchester, as well as touring bands too, in what Danny would call ‘a good mix’ produced on the basis that people are always moving here, so it’s never stagnant. Though this may be the case, The Early Mornings aren’t concerned with pandering to anyone else’s conceptions of taste, not even each other’s. It’s exactly this attitude which produces a richness to the group, steeped in originality; it’s refreshing and it’s moreish. 

We talk and drink. Talking about how they work. The group’s lyrics start with Danny’s poems before Annie takes the blade to them and in her own words ‘slices them up’ to change their context, meaning and sound. A technique which nods to their love of collage and cut-ups, evident both lyrically and visually - with the band creating all their own artwork. Commentaries, on things that one might see daily, yes, but applied in pop context. This gives the songs a universality in their meaning – Danny’s writings of ‘different observations and moments’ come together in the songs to create a whole, which is ambiguous in it’s meaning, open to thought and interpretation. This universality makes also for modest political pop. In an era of hyper direct, accurate but obvious political verse with groups such as Slaves and Idles, it is a staple of The Early Mornings refreshment that their music isn’t ‘consciously political’ but instead about ‘everyday things’ – things that matter, things that don’t, things that can mean whatever you want.

After chatting, the merriments aren’t nearly over as the band take to the Castle’s stage. In quick-fire they shoot off numbers one by one: an eclectic mix of 2-minute pop songs, instrumentals, post-punk and even the occasional swapping of instruments - each song taking you somewhere different. Though the band has no official releases to date, ‘Yoni’ has collected a local recognition and admiration on the back of an early home demo. As Rhys describes - its jagged, but it’s got a melody - and you could say this just about sums their sound up. We are lucky enough that The Early Mornings have just released their debut single ’Artificial Flavour’ on Safe Suburban Home Records – so if you can’t get down to see them play, you’re in luck.