Jon Sandman – Selfless Isolation

Something that’s struck me over the past few months is how creative and resilient people have been over the last year. You only have to do a quick scan of a few recent Sonic Breakfast posts to realise that the shit conditions many artists find themselves in have also helped them to create great work. They’ve been able to push out of their comfort zones and to realise their dreams. It’s almost become a ‘now or never’ mentality. 

It’s hard to believe that Jon Sandman has rarely performed his music live before, so assured does he sound on recent release, ‘Selfless Isolation’. But that’s what Jon confirms in our E-mail exchange. 

When lockdown eases, I really wanna get onto the open mic scene.“, says Jon. “I’ve only been releasing music since the pandemic hit, I’ve never performed any of my music live, so I think that getting into my local live music scene is the next big step for me.

You can’t help thinking that the open mic scenes in Oxford and Cambridgeshire will lap Jon up with open arms. ‘Selfless Isolation’ is a gem; literate, immediate and reflective, it chronicles the range of feelings I guess we’ve all been privy to over the last year. “Selfless Isolation’ is my ‘Ode to COVID’; a reflection on a year of loneliness.“, notes Jon. “It’s gently political – a rebuke to those responsible – but also deeply personal. Lyrically, I think that it’s a song that a lot of people will connect to.

Jon cites Sufjan Stevens as his biggest influence whilst also noting that Beirut, Spoon and the more electronic sounds of Big Black Delta, Metronomy, Miami Horror and Passion Pit all play their part. It’s an impressive array, a wide range of stuff. You can see some of that influence seeping through in ‘Selfless Isolation’, a folk tune with nods towards Father John Misty and Louis Brennan. Both creator and consumer, Jon reveals that he’s “always looking for cool new bands to check out!“.

Sonic Breakfast continues to profile cool acts on a daily basis. Jon Sandman has used this time of isolation to become one of them. 

Moontwin – Waiting For Fall

I’m almost asleep. I can feel myself dozing off into dreamland. A game of cricket that I played in 2008 comes to mind; it was windy and icy then, certainly not the summer weather that one associates with the sport. With no obvious logic, I’m now an extra in the cast of the film ‘Titanic’. I’ve never actually seen the film but here I am appearing in my very own version. Icebergs ahoy! As I look out to see the white mass in the distance, it becomes a gigantic Christmas cake, the icing crisp, the decoration beautiful and intricate, much like my late Nan used to make. Red ribbons, green garnish. Deep breath. Sleep.

Moontwin’s ‘Waiting For Fall’ also “explores the twilight world that exists between dreamstate and waking“, according to their press release. “A fluid, shape-shifting space where conversations, random moments and thoughts can sneak into our sub-conscious, often revealing new meaning and unexpected significance..

I’ve never really paid close attention those random thoughts I have on the edge of sleep. Perhaps I closed my mind to them because I thought that I was a bit strange for imagining such things as cricket, icebergs and Christmas cakes. I’m glad I’m not the only one. 

The Moontwin duo, Maple Bee (Melanie) and Zac live 1700 miles apart, one in Bulgaria and the other in the UK. I ask them how such remote working can work. “For Moontwin it’s pretty much normal for us….”, they say. “We have worked and hung out together online for the last 4 years! – so where ‘screen life’ and socialising online has recently become the norm for the larger population it’s business as usual for us. We did manage to meet up in Plovdiv, Bulgaria just before the Covid-19 situation took serious hold which was amazing…we were supposed to be touring the UK at the end of last year…obviously that didn’t happen but we are keeping busy working on the new record and making videos to go with each release we put out.

If those releases are as grand as ‘Waiting For Fall’ then Moontwin have a fan in Sonic Breakfast. Always a sucker for a bit of spoken word verse, this tune has it in bucketloads before a wispy, ethereal and dare I say it, dreamy chorus chimes in. 

Excuse me whilst I grab twenty minutes more sleep before Monday kicks in? 

 

Megan Henwood – Hello/Goodbye

I’m coming home. I’ve done my time. But I suspect that nobody will be tying a yellow ribbon around an ole oak tree for me. And the ‘time’ that I’ve done isn’t in the prison that Tony Orlando & Dawn sang about in the classic song (honestly). My flight leaves Spain for the UK on Sunday. 

I’ve had a wonderful stay out here. I had no idea when I flew out in July that the stars would align and that I’d be able to spend three quarters of a year with peacocks, cockerels and the assorted wildlife of Alicante. I know I’ve been very lucky. And I know that, when the time is right, I can return. 

For now, I need to stay positive and move on. There will undoubtedly be good things about being back in the UK. I’ll embrace the change and get on with living my life there. A chapter has finished but the book ain’t done. 

 

It’s no surprise that I’m drawn to Megan Henwood’s latest release, Hello/Goodbye, at this time. It’s a song that’s all about upheaval and change. Written during an extended labour period and the birth of Megan’s first child, it’s fair to say that her life change is likely to have been a fair bit more painful and significant than my minor travel woes. “It’s an ode to my past life as I am beckoning in a new one – like stepping through a portal”, says Megan in the press release. 

Song wise, it’s all that you might expect from a former BBC Folk Award winner. The slight husk of Megan’s vocal alluringly wraps itself around the words; a guitar line chugs forward sounding like a train leaving a station to destinations unknown; and when the beat kicks in, it has a laidback, almost trip-hop feel. It all joins together in a thing of understated beauty.

“For you I lose myself, welcome and farewell. Meet me on the other side – hello and goodbye.”

Ryne Meadow – Judgement

I tend to keep it very quiet but I was once a full-on born-again Christian. During my teenage years, whilst friends got high and stole cars, I chose to read my bible and to organise impromptu prayer meetings in the school library. I had it bad; speaking in tongues and getting slain in the spirit was my drug of choice. Every slight distraction from that path was the temptation of the devil.

It was never going to end well. A fundamentalist faith doesn’t sit well with a liberal outlook and I became increasingly conflicted. On the one hand, the Church was telling me that homosexuality is an abhorrent sin and yet I couldn’t quite reconcile that with the sense that my gay friends were the coolest and kindest people I knew. The church was governed by a set of male elders whilst women did the childcare, played the piano sweetly and made the sandwiches and tea after the services. I would have done anything to listen to a women preach but to suggest such craziness would have been derided; this church was not a place where the apple cart should be upset. Talking of apples, some of the elders seemed to delight in the fact that Eve was the temptress.

I know that not all Christian faith is as wildly right-wing as the one that I landed in. But the net result is that I have no faith now, just a language of love that includes everyone with no preconceived notions. 

And that seems to be the place that Ryne Meadow has settled upon as well. Raised in a southern baptist background, Ryne has clearly been on a spiritual journey. A gay man, he must have felt confused, sidelined and denounced as he came (out) to the judgements stemming from modern-day evangelicals. In today’s glorious Sonic Breakfast tune, Ryne reclaims his power by contemplating that judgement. With soulful voice and intense intent, Judgement is a passionate plea for the personal to be considered over and above any organised religion. It’s a tune that sparkles with class as it meanders towards a thrilling climax. And it marks Ryne out as a real talent to watch.

You only have to look at the events in Washington over the past few days to see how dangerous it can be to follow a set of beliefs so wholeheartedly that you somehow lose your own critical faculty in the process. 

The Horse Puppets – Until Next Year

I watched the BBC News at Ten for the first time in many months yesterday evening. I’d  found a feed to view it from in Spain and my curiosity got the better of me. 

I now understand why my friends and family back home feel terrified by the latest developments in this really quite shite year. The language used was apocalyptic; mutant strains that are 70% more transmissible, crisis and meltdown, international travel bans and no deal Brexits. It’s all quite scary.

We could debate if the language is used in such a way to deliberately foster a greater level of civil obedience amongst people already jaded and confused by knee-jerk changes to policy and practice. But that’s not for now. On a human level, Christmas has truly been cancelled for many – or at least it’s going to be very, very different.

 

Until Next Year by a stripped-back version of The Horse Puppets neatly sums up how many must now be feeling. This is a melancholic song about not being together at Christmas, about looking forward resiliently to 2021 in the hope of better times because that’s all of the positive thinking we can muster. With pedal steel and chilled vocal, it’s one of the best country-folk songs you’ll hear all week.

“Next year we can’t wait to travel again, we miss seeing the world and meeting up with friends and family again. This Christmas we’ll be missing out on our normal family get together, first time in our lives,“, says Paul from The Horse Puppets when I ask what plans they have for Christmas and beyond.

2020 was looking like it was going to be a biggie for the seven-piece band from Manchester. With festival slots lined up, their infectious, energetic brand of music would have met the ears of larger crowds. Instead, husband and wife team, Paul and Helen have hosted weekly gigs as an acoustic duo to the world from their living room. It’s brought them attention though I’m sure they would prefer the fun of the festival circuit. 

I’m not going to be seeing most of my friends and family until next year. We’re all in that boat but at least we still have the music to get us through.

 

 

Sister Sally – Hey Little Bee

It’s hard to underestimate the importance of routine. I would have laughed at such a statement just a few years ago. Routine equated with living dull, with being unable to be impulsive and with adhering to a status quo. Living to a routine would somehow be cheating myself out of the joys of life I felt as I drove off to my day job each morning.

But then, nearly three years ago, I found myself able to take voluntary redundancy from that day job. With money in the bank, I didn’t need to work for a while and moved to Spain to be much more aimless, to live without routine. The first couple of months were like a holiday but then I found something odd occurring; I began to yearn again for the order that comes with a day job. 

I’m sure that one of the reasons why I’ve enjoyed my last five months in Spain so much more than I enjoyed my stint two years ago is that I’ve had the day job to focus on. It’s helped to keep me sane. For many, the attraction of being furloughed soon wore off when everyday becomes a Saturday.

 

Sister Sally released their debut single back in October. ‘Hey Little Bee’ is apparently about being jealous of bees for having a routine. Paddy from the band wrote the jaunty folk tune after leaving University in Birmingham and feeling a tad rudderless. He’s also the bee in the accompanying video that’s surreally trying to find different ways to fly a kite. 

Wispy and flighty, Hey Little Bee makes me smile. If there’s a sting in the tale, it’s definitely passing me by; here we have joyful music-making that marks Sister Sally out as ones to follow with interest in 2021. 

 

 

Braw – Whisky In Hand & A Glimpse Of Christmas

Rest ye now ye journeyman

With a whisky in hand, with a whisky in hand

Rest ye now ye journeyman

with a whisky in hand, with a whisky in hand

Woah…

Woah…

And that’s the chorus from a glorious, recent release from two Scottish brothers who specialise in folk-based harmonies and strong, wholesome fayre. You’d be forgiven for thinking that The Proclaimers have released a new track from that description but these are the new kids on the block – let me introduce you to Braw. 

Whisky In Hand is a simple delight. The brothers Braw say that it “was written as an anthem for the quiet moments at the end of a Scottish day, where there’s nothing left to be done but have a dram, thinking of your family and friends.”

Here, relatively alone (by choice) in Spain, I rarely turn to whisky for my evening tipple. But I do find myself contemplating with a glass of red by the fireside about family and friends. It’s been a tough year for all of us. We’ve not been able to be half as social as we would like to be. And I’m sure that the scars from this will affect us for years to come. 

This isn’t meant to be a morose post though. Braw have the ability to uplift the darkest spirit, to unblock the peatiest challenges. The video for Whisky In Hand is a joy to watch; a dram is ‘virtually’ passed around for sharing amongst the Braw clan with chuckle-raising consequence. It shows how warped my head has become this year that I initially think about the hygiene of such an act before then being able to properly focus on the true meaning here; this is all about sharing the good moments with friends and family.

 

And hark – what’s that jingling sound coming from over yonder? Just yesterday, Braw released a Christmas single. I don’t think that Sonic Breakfast has ever featured a Christmas song before (bah humbug) but this is too good to overlook. 

A Glimpse Of Christmas is tapping into the same themes as Whisky In Hand. With far too much cheese, a quantity that’s only good for you within Christmas tunes,  Braw have written a cracker. As we all progress towards what will be a reserved celebration for many, there can be no better way to share the love between family and friends. 

Pluto & Charon – Sick As A Dog

There are probably very few bands that are formed in breakfast restaurants. Sonic Breakfast would be keen to hear about any of them. It sort of makes sense to feature those bands given the name of the blog.

In a series of posts that might stretch to one in number, today we put forward a track from the emerging, folksy-Americana outfit, Pluto & Charon. The Los Angeles based act, led by songwriter Matthew Hough, all met out of West Hollywood’s Griddle Cafe, a place where Matthew worked the early shift. From there, he engaged with customers and friends of co-workers to get the band together. What a glorious sound they now make. 

They’ve recently released their debut album, ‘Point Nemo’, a labour of love over the last three years. Matthew says about the release that “For better or worse, I have put most of what my heart has been able to muster for the last 3 years into “Point Nemo!” I want people to be reminded that life is abundant and inherently meaningful, and that the ride is much more enjoyable if we’re able to love each other just a little bit more than we do.”

You can’t say fairer than that. It’s that positive spirit and faultless work-ethic that comes to the fore when talking with the band. I ask them how things had been going since launching the album in lockdown. “Overall it’s just been a blast though to start sharing these tunes that have been cooking for the better part of 3 years! Now with everything still locked down pretty tight, it seems like a pretty good time to keep recording and putting out more work!“, they offer back.

The video for Sick As A Dog, the recent single release, finds Pluto & Charon in their own homemade Western movie. It’s an entertaining piece of film like something you might recall from an episode of The Monkees. From what I can tell it has little to do with the lyric of the song though that’s hardly an issue when such fun was clearly had in the making. 

“Sick As a Dog was written at the state of infatuation, where it gets confused with love. Most of the song was written before even going out on a first date with this particular person, and the song was finished after that first date. A few months down the line things had come to an end, “, says Matthew about the song.

There’s probably a whole separate blogpost that could stir about the song’s meaning but that’s not for today – today is all about bands formed in breakfast restaurants. 

Lisa Akuah – Dancing Trees

The wind rustles through the palm fronds. It’s been stormy for 24 hours now. When you’re as far out in the country as I am, you don’t get woken by the comfortable sound of traffic buzz or urban spaces coming to life; here, you hear the swirling wind making sounds like a trombone player warming up at the orchestra or a ghost that’s about to haunt. I’m used to it now but for the novice I’m sure it’s eerie. 

Such days and nights are fortunately few and far between. I’m reliably informed that by Friday the weather will again be unseasonably balmy. This makes me glad. I can relax if I look forward.

 

For Lisa Akuah, the experience of ‘Dancing Trees’ is an altogether more positive one. But she has picked her moment well. She spreads a blanket underneath the tree in her local Berlin park one late summer afternoon, lies down and allows her mind to wander. In the shade but still feeling the warmth of the sun, she watches the intricate patterns made between leaf, bough and branch. From that, she finds herself going into a daze, hypnotised by the colours and shapes and perfectly content with her lot.

The psychedelic, folk track that is ‘Dancing Trees’ is born. It’s a gentle tune that slowly works its way into your core. If it doesn’t hook you immediately, give it another spin to let it work its magic. I’m sure it will given time.

I’m sure we can all relate. And for many of us, the thought of lying on a warm rug right now looking up at swaying leaves must feel like pure escapism. The chance of being able to lose yourself in the moment and to concentrate on the small things of nature must seem quite remote as our worlds progress at insane speed. 

Escapism, nostalgia and an appreciation of the minutiae – three solid Sonic Breakfast ‘themes’ for a Wednesday morn. 

Phoebe Coco – White Horse

My Grandad, George, had a lifelong love of horses. Progressing from stable lad to the head of those stables, he cared diligently for all of the horses that came under his watch. I often wish that I had the same skills and attributes  – and yet the sad truth is that I’ve never once ridden a horse. As the years advance, I guess that this is something I might never do. 

Back at the start of the year, I joined an extras agency. I thought it would be something interesting to do and I was put forward for a couple of ‘roles’ before Covid and lockdown blew things off course. One of the roles that I could have landed was as a stablehand. I guess my facial hair and ruddy complexion was what the production was looking for; they checked that I wouldn’t mind combing the horse after being trained. “Of course not”, I thought. “I’ll channel the influence of Grandad George and mask the fact that I’m a novice and a bit fearful of equine things.”

Phoebe Coco clearly doesn’t share such fear; you get a sense that horses are pretty important in her life. She’s called her debut album ‘My White Horse & I’ and recently released a single ‘White Horse’ from that album. It’s a folk-pop gem and a love song to her horse, Blue, a giant Irish cob that she’s now been riding for two years around the streets and paths of North London. Phoebe’s dreamy vocal canters along before being complemented by ethereal harmonies from her twin sisters, Grace and Dorothy. A wonderful family affair, White Horse trots along with a carefree, magical energy.

I ask Phoebe how Covid has impacted upon the album release and she acknowledges that it has made things a bit staggered. ” It felt like the right time still to put it out there, and I’ll probably do a launch gig in Jan .. although I am doing some things before that aka a live stream from the stables “‘, she offers by way of enticement.

Phoebe’s a free spirit. She thinks nothing of riding horses in the wild forests of Provence or singing into sleepless sunrises on London’s streets after nights dancing, She’s offered up a well-turned out gem here and encouraged me to add another activity to my bucket list. 

All cool for a Monday.