It’s been a weird year for obvious reasons, but once again there’s a lot to celebrate when it comes to the NN music scene and a lot to cover in our annual Year In Review.
We’ve already revealed the winner of the Best NN Single – which for the second year was voted by our readers. Again, congratulations to Billy Lockett. For the third annual New Boots Year In Review, we’ve tried to keep the categories the same as we have in previous years, with a new one thrown in as well.
So without further ado, here’s what New Boots founders Phil Moore and David Jackson thought about 2020.
ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
That Joe Payne – By Name. By Nature.
The Moons – Pocket Melodies
Katie Malco – Failures
Raging Speedhorn – Hard To Kill
Phil: “It’s obviously been a struggle for musicians this year, and a funny year all around, but a lot of albums were recorded before March and it’s actually been a strong year. We reviewed around 18 albums on the New Boots site this year, and I want to shout out to: Kev Minney, Hazeyjane, Shorty, Billy Lockett releasing a classical album, and The Big Dirty who put out The Sex which had bangers all the way through. Personally my favourite albums of the year include By Name. By Nature. by That Joe Payne. It’s a great work of prog pop. It’s a real journey of an album. The Moons’ fourth album Pocket Melodies was fantastic. We’ve waited six years between albums and I was a little concerned how I was going to feel when it finally came out, but it was like putting on an old pair of shoes. It was so good. Andy Crofts has such a great songwriting ability, and it’s as strong as ever. I also want to give a shout out to Kenneth J Nash’s album, For Sarah. He spent the last few years refining his sound, and he’s really hit a strong vein of songwriting.”
Dave: “I think on The Moons record, Andy admitted he unashamedly stuck to a lot of his stronger traits and he’s made a brilliant record for doing so. That album got the national acknowledgement with Tim Burgess’ on one of his Twitter listening parties, which was fantastic. There’s two albums which really stuck out for me this year, Failures by Katie Malco and Hard To Kill by Raging Speedhorn. Failures is everything I hoped it was going to be from Malco – it’s a fantastic, emotional, indie rock album which I’ve spent months listening to now. Raging Speedhorn returned with another progression of their line-up, and a record which I think is probably one of their most commercial and hooky to date. It’s still heavy, full of great riffs and has been rightly lauded across the industry. Although Gordon said it might not be as “brutal” as they have sounded in the past, it’s certainly not to the record’s detriment.”
BEST NN SINGLE
1 – ‘Wasting Time’, Billy Lockett
2 – ‘Dirty Rider’, The Big Dirty
3 – ‘You Next’, FFSYTHO
4 – ‘Echoes’, Lucien Moon
5 – ‘Today’, The Moons
Dave: “Billy Lockett was a very deserving winner in this year’s public vote with ‘Wasting Time’. It’s one of the strongest singles he’s put out and hopefully a sign of what’s to come from his EP which should be out in the first part of next year. It was another emotional one from Lockett, with a great chorus. Others I’ve loved this year were ‘Pig’ by Tragic. I think I probably said this last year, but more noisy punky stuff like this please Tragic! I also loved ‘Stick To What You Know’ by Sarpa Salpa. It kinda encapsulated everything we’ve come to expect from them – three and a half minutes of great upbeat indie dance. It was great to see slowthai do something a bit different with ‘Feel Away’. There was a run of tracks from him earlier in the year, but this one saw him in a bit of a different, reflective mood.”
Phil: “I think he’s had the opportunity to think about what he’s doing with no gigs this year, and his varied his sounds a lot with the collaborative work. He slowed down a bit this one, it’s more reflective and just lovely. Billy’s single is really beautiful, and I’m really happy to see him do that well with it. The Katie Malco track ‘Animal’ is one of my picks, and probably my favourite on that superb album. She just has that way of writing Pixies-esque catchy alt-rock. Phantom Isle have also come on leaps and bounds this year, and then Amaroun has come out of nowhere too. I barely even know about her at the start of the year, and she’s absolutely smashing it with a selection of singles”.
EVENT OF THE YEAR
Independent Venue Week at The Black Prince
Dave: “Again, a difficult one for obvious reasons, but I think when you look back at the slim pickings we had, what The Black Prince achieved with Independent Venue Week was fantastic. Five shows in seven days – something I don’t think anyone in Northampton has done before, with a great mix of touring and local bands playing.”
Phil: “Independent Venue Week is something as a town Northampton can be very proud of. The Black Prince, The Roadmender and The Lab got involved. Yes I’m biased, but it was great to bring Working Men’s Club to Northampton and fill the room at the Prince. They have been such a great band with a great [self-titled] album. We also had the likes of King Purple, Roam, SPQR and more who all contributed to a great week”.
BEST TOURING ACT TO COME TO NORTHANTS
Working Men’s Club – The Black Prince
Dave: “Another difficult one but we did have a couple of months and I think we were very lucky to have Working Men’s Club at The Black Prince for Independent Venue Week. I’d seen them over at Esquires supporting I think Pottery and they were a different band – but one you could see were on the brink of morphing into something different. When they came to The Black Prince it was an all-out electronic indie assault on the senses. There were already some obvious parallels to New Order and they’ve since been picked to open for them at New Order’s huge outdoor Manchester show next year”.
Phil: “They really were the highlight of a very short-lived year. They don’t really sound like anyone else around at the moment, have that very crossover sound and appeal and their album was one I was really looking forward to for months. I was a little apprehensive whether the LP would live up to expectations, but it really did”.
FLYING THE FLAG FOR NN
Phil: “Another tricky one because things have been so different and I think because of that it’s worth maybe approaching this one a bit differently. It’s certainly worth mentioning Kailan Price and his bloody/bath project. He’s got a niche, gothic, coldwave, electronica sound, and has put out music this year which has been picked up by Spotify for its playlists, and appeared on some influential websites”.
Dave: “I think you can see how bloody/bath grew out of Fox Chapel. I always wanted to hear more from Fox Chapel as I loved where they were taking their sound, but to see Kailan morph into bloody/bath has been great and he’s rightly deserving of the attention he’s receiving”.
Phil: “FFSYTHO has really blown up on social media, and she managed to appear on BBC Radio 1Xtra and went down an absolute storm. It’s given her a real platform to build on. We should also mention dancehall artist J Kaz. He’s from Northampton and now lives in London and he’s got a really good online following, and if you like afro-pop stuff you really need to be listening to him”.
BEST LIVE BANDS / ACTS
The Big Dirty
Dave: “Another difficult one because we’ve seen so little this year. However, when I think about the year, a couple stand out. When The Black Prince started doing socially distanced gigs outside in the summer, The Big Dirty put on a great show: probably pushing things to the edge of acceptability, decency and from a coronavirus point of view – legality. It was everything you’d expect from them. It was also great to see Sarpa Salpa playing a socially distanced show at The Craufurd Arms when that venue was able to reopen between lockdowns”.
Phil: “Props to anyone that came out to play socially distanced shows this year. One of my highlights was the return of Maddax Jones. It was great to see him return to playing live and show people what a great voice he’s got. “We discuss this review at the start of December, so there’s always a month of last year we miss. Therefore I want to mention last year’s Blood Visions gig at The Black Prince. Their EP launch was absolutely off the scale, and the other was Tragic when they headlined The Lab”.
Dave: “Another late addition to this should also include Rolling Thunder, The Comms and Lewis Beaham. After months of seeing basically nothing, to be back at The Lab watching a gig was quite something. It was all socially distanced, ticketed and at tables. However, it was something I didn’t think was going to happen this year. Great work by The Lab and ShoeTown Sounds for making that show happen”.
VINYL RELEASE OF THE YEAR
The Moons – Pocket Melodies
That Joe Payne – By Name. By Nature
Katie Malco – Failures
Raging Speedhorn – Hard To Kill
Rolling Thunder – The Nightshop: Afterhours
Dave: “A new category this. We wanted to say something about some of the fantastic looking physical releases that we’ve had this year.”
Phil: “I was really taken by That Joe Payne‘s album. It’s a lovely aqua colour, really bright and colourful. The album artwork really made the whole album just pop”.
Dave: “Raging Speedhorn and Katie Malco both released great looking clear splattered vinyl, the former was a great black and yellow theme. Failures was available on a few colours, with a green theme throughout. However, I think we’re in agreement that one of the best-looking overall packages was Pocket Melodies by The Moons. You could tell a lot of time and effort had been put into it, and there was a great 16-page photo book as well”.
Phil: “It was an immersive package; you could sit down and really sink into it. There were some lovely photos taken at Abbey Road during the recording of the record. I also want to mention the Rolling Thunder EP The Nightshop: After Hours which was on a fantastic orange vinyl and just looked lovely”.
ACTS OF THE YEAR
Dave: “We’d normally look at this from the perspective of, I guess, who overall has had the best year: considering maybe releases, touring and exposure. Everyone who put music out would have wanted to tour it, and so many were cancelled. I’ve spoken about my love of the Katie Malco and Raging Speedhorn records but sadly neither have been able to tour them and have the year they probably deserved”.
Phil: “At the start of this year if you’d said to me come December we’d have been talking about Katie Malco and Raging Speedhorn as big hitters I would have questioned you!. However, they’ve both put out incredible singles and albums and deserve the plaudits. I think it has to be Billy Lockett because in a year of essentially no live performances though. He put out the album of classical music Together At Home, and strong singles at the start and end of the year. He’s showing no signs of slowing down creatively or in terms of popularity. He always has close to a million listeners a month on Spotify. I think since coming back to Northampton has gone onto shine even brighter”.
Dave: “In a year of online streamed performances, Billy has gone out there and played socially distanced gigs to fans outside their homes, which was a really nice thing to do. He also had the huge Roadmender gig at the start of the year. He genuinely seems in a better place and happier than he has been for a long time, and we’ve got the physical release of his EP to look forward to”.
Phil: “I think we also need to talk about Maddox Jones, who returned with his first shows in years, with Dave Crawford accompanying on guitar. We’ve seen him previously in recent years in Born Stranger, but his debut solo EP ‘Headspace’ was full of absolutely brilliant songs. He seemed to come out of his shell a bit emotionally, and I really like it. His new single ‘World’s Gone Mad’ is another great song. So props to him for working so hard to get his solo name out there”.
ONES TO WATCH IN 2021
Still valid from 2019: Baby Lung / Tragic / Caliburn / Wishing Wolf / Mali Mae
Anna Mae Kelly
Dave: “At the moment we still don’t know what 2021 is going to look like, in terms of any return to normality. The names we mentioned last year probably haven’t had a fair chance to go on and prove themselves. I still want to see more from Baby Lung, I’d hope to see them go onto bigger and better things this year. They had a single out this year and in different circumstances I’m sure would have had a good 12 months. Tragic have had a line-up change, but hopefully will carry on making great music”.
Phil: “I mentioned five names last year and three of them haven’t even put any music out this year, because it’s been so difficult. I think all five of those choices are all valid again for 2021”.
Dave: “We’re also both in agreement that DeBe someone who’s had a great year, and hopefully will go onto bigger and better things next year. He’s released a series of great tracks and the accompanying visuals, I think thanks to his work with Alex Potton, have been excellent.”
Phil: “DeBe’s is someone with a very specific style and I love the flow in his lyrics. FFSYTHO has done some really great work this year, and I can’t see her getting anything but more plaudits in 2021. I also want to give a shout out to a singer-songwriter from Kettering way called Anna Mae Kelly. She’s only 17 years-old, but has put out four singles this year and they’ve all been stunningly good. They are firmly in the pop mould, she’s got a great voice, and the melodies are a strong as you could hope for”.
Dave: “On a similar singer-songwriter note, Corinna Jane has had a good year with her EP and singles and has more new music coming next year which I’m sure will only see her go from strength to strength”.
Phil: “Finally I want to say anyone who has done anything this year has done incredibly well. It’s been a difficult year, and would have been easy for people to get despondent to throw in the towel. I hope we’re going to be getting back to normal soon, and see more artists put out more music and play gigs in 2021. You all ‘lift NN’ in your own unique way”.