London – Saturday April 11 was a landmark day in British sport with the world-famous Steeplechase, the Grand National, and the annual Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race – featuring a women’s race for the first time on the Thames to complement the traditional men’s race – vying for attention. Those races run, it was time for another kind of competition; for new music to take centre stage down in a small village in SW England. Blessed with an enviable sound system and a stage crew to gig eternally for, the Old Pilton Working Men’s Club & Village Hall, to give it its full title, hosted the finals of the 2015 Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition with the prize of a main stage spot at the June festival at stake.
This most hospitable of venues is close to the festival site of Worthy Farm and a full house awaited the eight acts set to do battle. Best New Bands’ Tony Hardy was there to cheer on Lucy Kitchen, our lone Round 1 choice to make it to the final, and lend a critical ear to her formidable competitors on the night. A weighty judging panel comprising festival hosts, Michael & Emily Eavis, Glastonbury bookers and music journos, was tasked with finding a winner and two runners-up to take home the silverware. Sheffield based nine-piece K.O.G. & the Zongo Brigade provided a vibrant, energetic start to proceedings, bursting with musical ideas. Ghanaian front man, K.O.G, impressed in his home tongue, though his sidekick MC Franz Von’s rapid fire English rap was a bit lost in translation in their second song.
With only two songs each to rouse the judges and packed crowd – a necessary though unfortunate evil to allow the event to run to reasonable timing – the pressure was on. Dressed in a pretty white lacy dress, Lucy Kitchen followed with solo voice and guitar to present a stark contrast to the busy openers. Beginning with the haunting “Blue Eyes,” the singer-songwriter hushed an already attentive crowd with her vocal clarity and confident finger-picking. Her second song showed an influence of Joni Mitchell and hit home with soft, melodic immediacy.
The wittily named Princess Slayer, the amalgam of captivating singer Casey Lim and Vince Welch’s catchy electronica, provided further ammunition in tonight’s would-be star wars while earnest singer-songwriter Jakl displayed strong and distinctive, if at times over-anxious, vocals. London musician and songwriter Declan McKenna is just 16 years but belied his youth with a precociously assured one-man band performance setting up loops on guitar and synth. Launching into “Brazil,” the song that took him to the final, McKenna overcame the odd vocal wobble to deliver a song with charm and distinction. The structure of his second called to mind Vampire Weekend, itself no mean achievement and worthy of the crowd’s congenial appreciation.
The personable Isaac Lee-Kronick was next up, supported by an able band and female backing vocal. Channelling the good vibes of an Ed Sheeran with a vocal that recalled early Bowie, especially in his second song, Lee-Kronick oozed confidence. Talking of which, midlands rapper MoD delivered possibly the most certain performance of the evening. Tunefully blending jazz and soul elements and supported by an exceptionally tight band, the singer even slipped in quick impersonations of Jay Z, Beyonce and Kanye West in a closing hip-hop pitch to the Eavis family, though with hindsight that might have been too clever!
The final act, Newcastle’s Shields, was well worth the wait. Channelling powerful pop dynamics that called to mind signature bands like 10cc, ABC and even at times prog-masters Yes, Shields lit up the hall with the vibrant “Mezzanine” and followed with a tour-de-force that left a stunned audience wanting more.
After a break for judges to compare notes, Michael Eavis took the stage to reveal the winners in a refreshingly downbeat fashion compared to those long pauses favoured by TV talent show hosts. Declan McKenna was a popular and worthy winner with Shields second and K.O.G third. Equal cheers followed when Eavis announced that all eight finalists will play at the 2015 festival; a decision that underlined the breadth of talent on view tonight. In addition McKenna was awarded a £5,000 PRS for Music Foundation Talent Development bursary to hone his songwriting and performing skills, while the two runners-up each received a £2,500 PRS prize.
Once again the annual Emerging Talent Competition delivered some of the best new music you’ll hear and reinforced Glastonbury’s premier position as the festival they all want to play. Roll on June.
Photography by Jason Bryant.
Tony’s great passion in life is music and nothing gives him more pleasure than unearthing good, original new music and championing independent musicians. His association with Best New Bands brings great opportunities for this. He also writes for Consequence of Sound and is a judge for Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition.
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