Popular music has always been about image. From the brazen eighteen-year-old truck driver in Memphis, Tennessee who donned showy pimp-like garb slicked his not-yet jet-black hair into a pompadour, grew sideburns and applied eyeliner and rouge – to the spotty youth from Aberdeen, Washington with straggly blond hair and a habit for raggedy urchin-look cardigans, image was all-important. It still is today. Recently, I pondered on the relevance of image while chatting via Zoom to Hannah Coombes and Olly Shelton, who go by the moniker of Pela. The South London duo had made a couple of singles which led to my enthusiastic raving, in turn requesting an interview. Looking at the poised couple via Zoom I couldn’t resist mentioning how lovely they are. “You’re gorgeous!” I blurted out. But, my sense of what is politically correct stymied my urge to babble on about Hannah and Olly’s fabulous camera-ready looks. We are here to talk about Pela’s intriguing music, I reminded myself. Their singles, You Got Me and South Of are so good I included them back-to-back in Life Elsewhere Music Vol. 187. Hannah’s sensual voice with Olly’s manipulated sounds presents a “now” sound with honest references to the best of past popular music. The duo has a distinctive sound that is thankfully difficult to categorize. Listen closely to the start of You Got Me, is that a needle dropping on a scratchy disc? The tinkered-with title is repeated then Hannah’s crystal-clear vocals come in as a plaintive piano coda plays with a guitar or processed “other” sounds appearing here and there. More manipulated vocals and the tune fades with a morse-code-like sound emanating from who knows what source Olly has played with. South Of opens with a keyboard riff or maybe it’s a processed guitar, after all in our chat Olly makes it clear he enjoys disguising the original sounds and instruments. Again, Hannah’s voice delivers emotive words. Is this a love song? Is she in despair of a lover leaving? Does South Of (Something) mean it’s all over? The absence of obvious drums with a bass directing the beat adds to the mystery. Olly’s deft hand at the mixing board and digital production are ion fine display on this track. Their latest release, Reverie sounds so familiar as it begins. You cannot help feeling you’ve heard this cut before. It’s that good. Except, it’s completely new. A sax appears to confirm this is an original masterwork of pop music. The title and the lyrics almost contradict Hannah’s seemingly laid-back delivery. She’s questioning, “Are we in reverie?” What happened? An unrequited love affair? “I think we might be holding on” she offers. Reverie sounds nothing like Human League’s Don’t You Want Me, yet here is a song with the same magic formula that’ll have you singing along with the chorus. Hannah and Olly very kindly allowed us to include an as-yet-unreleased track to round out the show, All The Way (With Me). Here Olly gets busy from the opening with processed vocal samples. Is that Hannah at a different pitch? The blips and beats could be micro edits of well anything…is that Hannah in reverse? We catch glimpses of lyrics, “All the way with me”, “In the morning sun…”. This is the most abstract of Pela’s work so far. It drives along with a percussive beat that will surely turn out to be anything but percussion. Then, All The Way (With Me) stops suddenly leaving the listener wanting more. Hannah and Olly are engaging, honest, and forthright. They make wonderful, innovative music and yes, they are delightful to look at.
Ask Joshua Idehen about image and I dare say he will not be lost for words. A favorite guest on Life Elsewhere, Josh of Hugh and Benin City fame has teamed up with Alabaster DePlume to form Calabashed. With other notable musicians from London, Calabashed has released, Ode To Jazzman John Clarke. This is what Josh says about the track, “So yeah, a story. There used to be a poet on the scene, Jazzman John Clarke. One of the mad ones to be honest. You’d see him at any open mic, pages full of rants and pain and fuckifiknows. But every time we spoke, he was always kind to me, treated me as an equal even when I had just started out. I remember, at a jazz open mic, halfway through a performance, he threw his papers in the air, jumped on the stage and yelled: “I WEAR MY SOUL AS A JACKET!” I didn’t even know what he meant, only that it shook me. I’m glad I got to tell him that night. He passed away, I found out via Facebook. I felt in a way like I could have been more than a poet acquaintance, but that’s another story. This song is in honor of him.” And we are honored to play, Calabashed – Ode To Jazzman John Clarke. Thank you Josh for sending the music file over to us.
The image of Dubstep and Drum & Bass may well be a little fuzzy here in the US. None-the-less, these genres of music overlap, encouraging a large fan-base worldwide. With a critical eye on always trying to include as many styles of modern music in my shows, Dubstep and Drum & Bass have become consistent additions. I’m always on the lookout for the exceptional offering, so listen carefully to DJ Squarewave & Frenk Dublin ft. DRS with Word Forbidden on New World Audio. London based DJ Squarewave has been involved in the scene since the age of 16. Having started out buying turntables, collecting records and playing at drum and bass events. So far, I haven’t caught too many pictures of the man, but I have no doubt that he carefully considers his image. You don’t have to dress up to listen to this volume of Life Elsewhere Music, but I do ask you to be aware that para-military clobber on anyone ‘ain’t cool.
Norman B. 7.18.2020
Rest In Peace John Lewis & C.T. Vivian