Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Singer Not The Song

I shall start by being a complete and utter hypocrite. This blog is going to spend some time criticising snobbery in music but I’m going to start off by being a music snob. I don’t watch X Factor for some fairly obvious reasons and I’ve got better things to do with my time anyway. However it’s hard to escape the tedious nonsense completely and thus I was vaguely aware that some singing prison guard called Sam Bailey had won the contest and would be Christmas number one with a song called Skyscraper. The song itself – when I inevitably heard it – didn’t strike me as being up to much but … something about it stuck in my head. I think it was the first key change in the chorus. So I decided to investigate further.

I soon discovered that it was a cover of a Demi Lovato hit that made number seven in March 2012. So I checked out Demi’s version. It actually wasn’t that bad in comparison to a lot of stuff that makes the top ten these days; it had a lyric for starters. And Demi Lovato’s vocal performance was superior to Sam Bailey who sounds like she’s singing it in the shower. However, on further listens, there was something about the performance that frustrated me – possibly because the song builds well but at the point where it should go for everything it simply peters off. This was one complaint – but there was something else that bugged me.

Skyscraper is a break-up song. The singer (credit here must go to Toby Gad, Linda Robbins and Kerli Koiv who actually wrote it) is devastated and at rock bottom emotionally but is determined to be strong and rise ago. It’s not an original theme by any means but the imagery – the song was apparently inspired by an image of a solitary skyscraper still standing after an apocalypse – is unusual. It struck a chord with me, possibly because it’s a situation I found myself in in the middle of last year (yes WH I mean you) but Demi’s hair tearing, fretting performance in the video felt wrong, too cliched. Something in me wanted to hear a man sing it.

This blog takes its title from a Rolling Stones song, the B side to Get Off Of My Cloud and there is an irony here in that the Rolling Stones are arguably the most influential band ever in terms of rock music’s culture – real bands write their own material and sing it themselves and the rawness of the performance is what rock and roll is all about. For them the enemy are singers who rely on other people’s songs to build a career and when Boyzone or Westlife or tomorrow’s reality show winner reach for the most obvious cover version for that dead cert number one they have a point.

And yet, and yet. The Stones had it right, albeit on a forgettable B side. It’s the singer, not the song. Until the sixties revolution there was little expectation for performers to write their own material. Frank Sinatra (not exactly a rock singer but he lived the lifestyle harder than the Stones, never mind Miss Lovato) owes his iconic status to his skill as an interpreter, not a creator. For every great song that has rightly endured, a thousand equally great songs arguably lie forgotten in the hope that one day a new singer might discover them and hold them up to the light once more.

Which takes us back to Skyscraper. Curious to hear how a man might interpret it I did some searching on Youtube and came across this. It’s a cover by a guy by Ronnie Bingaman, which proved my original thought – for me it’s a guy’s song not a girl’s. The vocal performance isn’t flawless (but better than Bailey and no worse than Lovato) but where Demi loses the song, Ronnie Bingaman goes for it and hits the emotional bullseye.

So who is Ronnie Bingaman? A little research tells me that he’s the lead singer of a rock band called Skyhawk Drive (who may be on hiatus, apologies if that’s wrong) whose stuff is definitely worthy of investigation. My research also suggests that he breathes a very different fire to this blogger (choosing my words carefully I consider myself a spiritual person but a secular one) and I’m not sure what he’d make of the culture I inhabit. However his version of Skyscraper reached a part of me the hit versions couldn’t.

It’s the singer, not the song. A great song will always be a great song. Often the definitive rendering will rack up the gold discs but maybe a drunken bar singer is doing it better and nobody notices. Such is the beauty and the agony of music.

PS While researching the song on Wikipedia I’ve discovered that there is a version of Skyscraper by Joe McElderry, the only X Factor winner I have any respect for. It will be interesting to hear his take.


Horizons changing like its changing scenery – a tribute to Ivyrise

I’ve never had occasion to mention one of my favourite bands on this blog, largely because I started it during a period of relative inactivity for them and I was hoping they would launch a triumphant return. Not to be – last Friday Ivyrise announced they would not be releasing any further music under that name. This seems an apt moment to review their career and a small but impressive body of work.

Ivyrise consisted of Ben Falinski (vocals), Dan Tanner (guitar), Mark Nagle (bass) and Josh Key (drums) and I believe they originally formed in Portsmouth. Their path first crossed mine in early 2010 when I saw that Harrogate’s biggest band of the time – Kassius – had supported them on a recent tour. That coincided with my belated first foray into the world of Itunes and I downloaded one of their songs to see if it was any good. That song was Disguise.

On the strength of that song I downloaded the other available recordings of the time (1000 Feet, Worldwide, Tips) and wasn’t disappointed. Here was a band I felt were worth keeping an eye on, an intelligent pop rock band who could bridge the gulf between Bon Jovi and McFly (both acts they supported) while building something far above that in their own right. That alone made me a fan.

By happy chance the band played a low key practice gig at the Blues Bar in Harrogate which gave me a chance to experience the band live. It would be the first of six Ivyrise gigs, during which time I learnt exactly what made this band stand out above the rest but more on that later.

In Summer 2010 the band released Line Up The Stars which would become their signature song. I remember travelling back from the Leeds Cockpit with that second EP on repeat play and the conversation ceasing everytime Line Up The Stars came on. This was a song of vision that demanded to be heard and once heard you could never forget it. The fact that there were two other fine songs on the EP felt incidental – and there were indications that the country was taking notice.

In 2011 Ivyrise released their one album proper; a fine collection of fan favourites and new material written specially for the album. Bookended by two slow burners; Hurts and the epic Scars the record has many other delights not least Yes To Running which, along with their best unreleased track Stuck Beneath The Ice, showed that they could rock out with the best. Speaking critically – and like all great bands the music is still out there and will endure after the band – anybody coming to Ivyrise for the first time might be better off starting with the early songs mentioned above which in my opinion could have replaced some of the album’s lesser tracks (but not all will agree obviously).

So much for the music, what of the band? I’ve touched on the gigs earlier – you could go to any Ivyrise show safe in the knowledge that the band would emerge after the show to sign CDs, pose for photographs and generally thank people for coming. It probably helped that Ben Falinski, along with his songwriting talent, had an excellent memory for faces but I have to be honest; I’ve seen many bands, some famous, some unknown even in their hometown and NONE have looked after their fans as well as Ivyrise.

A final memory; I was present at what could have been Ivyrise’s most disastrous gig – at Moho in Manchester the venue’s power had failed just before the show. Most bands would have cancelled and been quite justified in doing so, however Ivyrise insisted on performing acoustically in the emergency light and succeeded in reinventing their pop rock as acheing camp fires songs. For me that says it all about Ivyrise, a band I will greatly miss.

And that, barring a passing mention of the bands work in France – the market they achieved most success in – is that. However whenever there is a past there is always a future and the only good things about bands breaking up is that fans have several different acts to follow. Starting with Ben Falinski, signing up to his website gives you an exclusive MP3 download. Ben suggests his new work will be more house music influenced but – in the context that I detest house music with a passion – it’s well worth a listen.

Meanwhile and with little fanfare Dan Tanner and Josh Key have formed a new band, Shake. Here’s a link to their facebook page which in turn links to the youtube video of their fine debut song. That leaves just Mark Nagle¬†unaccounted for but if anybody has any info please let me and I’ll happily post it.

Finally – a link to that first Ivyrise song that blew me away four years ago and still remains my favourite. Ben, Dan, Mark and Josh, known collectively as Ivyrise – thanks for the memories.