When did you last listen to 200 songs and then have to list your top three, taking time and trouble because reputations and even careers are at stake? Last month, Consequence of Sound’s Tony Hardy joined 39 other music writers and bloggers to whittle down 8,000 submissions into one long list of 120 artists. It was all in aid of the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition 2013 which gives new, unsigned artists from the UK and Ireland the chance to compete for a main stage slot at this year’s festival. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look:
It was possibly the most exciting Excel spreadsheet I’d ever received and in many ways the most daunting. There, in closely-typed 10-point was a list of 200 songs by 200 artists split into self-selected genres. Anyone could enter a song as long as they could provide a link to it via YouTube, SoundCloud, Bandcamp etc. There was a window of just one week for people to enter and by the end of it over 8,000 of them had done just that. My task was to take 200 of these entrants and find just three that I felt could work a main stage at this year’s Festival.
Out of 200 songs, you expect the quality to be mixed but I wasn’t long into listening mode before I realized picking three favorites was going to be a mission and a half. I stopped, went back to the top of the list, and tightened up the criteria. I’m looking for great songs, acts to get excited about, a point of difference in the vocal style, the instrumentation or the arrangement, someone who has more to their bow than a one-song string, however good it might be; essentially an act that could woo a Glastonbury main stage audience. By the end of the process, my 200 had become 24.
After checking out more links for the chosen two-dozen — basically, to see what else was in the locker — I came down to 10 acts. There were some impressive young talents here for whom a bright future beckons. Among them singer-songwriter Eilidh McGuire shone bright for her honest simplicity while young blues singer-guitarist Aaron Keylock seemed like he’d been born with a Gibson in hand.
Equally, I warmed to the confident polish of “As Distant As The Night” by Ben Jones and Arianna’s “Cigarettes & Cheap Perfume”. On a different tack, the energetic lo-fi pop of Big Wave struck a chord, “Something” by Bestdays lifted spirits and Goodbye Chanel’s “Liefe” was an ambient delight.
Ultimately, though, it had to come down to three and I returned to two songs that did it for me right from the start and one that gathered quiet strength the more I listened and deliberated.
1. Big Tent and the Gypsy Lantern – “24 ft March”
This song really hit the spot on the very first listen and grew on repeat plays. I wrote down “like Mumfords having tea with Yes.” I love the way the song builds, changes in the middle section, and returns to the main theme to end on a clean, abrupt stop. From listening to some of the band’s other material, Big Tent and the Gypsy Lantern strike me as a potentially compelling live act.
2. By The Sea – “Eveline”
I was impressed by the clean simplicity of this song: great melody lines, anthemic but not over-wrought, and played with precision and economy. Having checked out By The Sea’s debut album, they have a great repertoire and would go down brilliantly with a Glastonbury audience who are traditionally sweet on guitar bands.
3. Ella Janes – “Helen”
I love the timbre of Ella Janes’ voice. Its purity is counterpointed by small, almost Celtic, inflections, that lend it a true vulnerability. There’s a warmth and intimate sincerity to her lyrics, which still fit the music like a glove. Along with her accomplished band, Ella Janes could seduce a lazy Sunday afternoon audience just like Laura Marling did at Glastonbury 2011.
So, the three of them have made the long list of 120 acts, which will be reduced down to a shortlist of just eight by judges including Glastonbury organisers Michael and Emily Eavis, before the live finals are held in the village of Pilton, Glastonbury on April 6th. That’s going to be some kind of show and I’ll be there for Consequence of Sound. Meanwhile you can check out more of the 120 finalists here.