2019 Silver Scroll Award finalists – Songs of the year gone by – Okay, I am biased. Straight up. No lies. Time to fess up.
One of the five Silver Scroll Awards finalist songs has already been covered by X-Factory, Bene (now Benee!) –Soaked, which I love. It may well win, it is a great track, luscious grooves, interesting melodic lines, and girl-next-door vocals, natural and honest. It pays homage to soul music heard in the ‘70s, and although harmonically simpler perhaps than its soul predecessors, it is intelligently simple, using attention-grabbing devices such as modal interchange and tritone substitution in a natural and non-cerebral way.
Happy Unhappy from The Beths is a postmodern twist on an East Coast upbeat sun-drenched indie track. Elizabeth Stokes seems to thrive in a world of self-irony and even though the feel of Happy Unhappy seems a little incongruent to the lyrical theme, it still works.
Olympic Girls is the offering from Tiny Ruins, the vehicle of songwriter Hollie Fullbrook that’s become an established folk band featuring one of my favourite drummers in Alex Freer.
The Barrel is a track by Aldous Harding – a groovy folk number if you like.
However, I am picking a winner because I am biased and I am a musician with a jazz leaning. Years Gone By, may win, it may not, but my money is going on this Avantdale Bowling Club track as a fan of hip hop feels (especially when performed by live musicians) and jazz, but let me explain the reasons why.
Years Gone By is a collaboration between Tom Scott, Hayden Dick, Julien Dyne, Guy Harrison and Tom Dennison. As mentioned by NZ Musician, having already claimed the 2019 Taite Music Prize for their eponymous album, this finalist track is a very personal hip hop tale of Scott’s life, told with trademark vulnerability and an improvisational jazz accompaniment. And that is exactly why this tune is so good.
Let’s consider authenticity for a minute, a difficult subject at best, as its meaning is so subjective.
However, talk any musician and they may well have a strong belief of what being authentic means to them – here lies the rub. Singer/songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Sixto Rodriguez helped make popular the concept of personal authenticity through autobiographic songs in the 1960s.
Autobiographic singers often had singing and playing styles, that from a technical point of view at least, left a lot to be desired. A song performed ‘imperfectly’ added to the perception that as authentic practitioners they allowed themselves to be rough, original, and raw on stage. This perceived vulnerably had its own authentic charm.
In an interview on the Tavis Smiley show in 2011, acclaimed jazz pianist Herbie Hancock proposed, ‘I have to care and I have to be honest and have the courage to be vulnerable. If that happens, then that’s the best I can do. To just be a puppet for the audience is not very courageous.’
Years Gone By contains a courageous vulnerability through an autobiographical lens, both a reflective and second coming of age story if you like. Poignancy of lyrics such as, ‘Looking back on old days, glassy-eyed, Watching years go, like my aunty’s mind, We used to sit up in the car park and rhyme, Now a night like that is hard to find’.
Or equally, ‘Hit me hard, losing Ziggy, But the middy stuck with me through the dark, Then my son came out, I called him Quincy, And now I watch his eyes watching mine, Watching life on rewind, too divine to define in one line, In the same neighbourhood I walked in in ’89, Raising beers for the cheers, Saying here’s to the years gone by.’ These are beautiful in their honesty, poetry, and aesthetic.
The accompanying soundtrack fits perfectly the vibe of Scott’s sense of nostalgia, beginning with a John Coltrane-esq free improvisational section led by JY Jong-Yun Lee on tenor sax. This initial musical statement transforms the listener back 50 years. In harmonic terms, Years Gone By is modal, borrowing largely from Bb Dorian with Bb minor and Bb11 chords alternating fairly regularly, and the occasional F7alt chord played on piano (Guy Harrison).
In terms of prosody, modal/non-functional harmony is really well suited to the reflective narrative due to a kind of stuck/dwelling-on-a-moment nature, and the uneasiness of the piano on occasion is congruent to some of the hard-learned lessons as narrated by Scott. Tom Dennison’s upright bass lines are grooving, supportive, and innovative when cadential movement requires them, and Julien Dyne’s drumming moves between being exploratory, powerful, and supportive when required, but always appropriate. Manjit Singh compliments Dyne on Tabla.
Have you checked out the video as well? It is set in the pit area of the now-derelict St. James Theatre. Again, honest and raw, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed that Tom’s father, Peter Scott features on the video playing bass. The video’s recurring theme is the passing of time, signified by movement of shadows against various St. James artefacts. Some of the shadows are even dancing – younger selves without a doubt.
In a Spinoff review by Dominic Hoey (aka Tourettes), Dominic reflects, ’what excites me about…Years Gone By, is the raw honesty…wrapped in intricate rhyme patterns. One of Tom’s talents as a rapper is the feeling that he’s speaking directly to you, and while his music has always leant towards the confessional, on this release the bravado of youth is stripped away, giving his words even more gravity. The themes of change and ageing run throughout Years Gone By as Tom Scott raps about fatherhood, living back in the neighbourhood he grew up in, and the music that influenced his life’.
So maybe I am biased, and maybe I am right to fess up, but I don’t think I am on my own. Roll on the 2019 APRA Silver Scrolls Awards, and in this case, with my tongue firmly in my cheek, it doesn’t go unnoticed when I consider the old cliché – ‘and may the best man win’.