The British Invasion: 21st Century Version

Having followed the Canadian indie rock-folk music scene for a while now, we have heard the occasional ‘non-domestic’ artist across the airwaves when tuning in to CBC Sonica, CBC Radio 2, Indie88 or The Verge.  Being fine tuned to the idea that the majority of the songs played on these stations are Canadian original artists, there has been more than one occasion where I have made an incorrect assumption that a particular artist or band is Canadian.

The first notable example takes me back to 2013, upon hearing “All I want” by a new band called Kodaline.  What a great new sound by an upcoming Canadian band, right?  Wrong. While the music style fits the mold perfectly, I was a little surprised to learn that this band was an import from Eire, and that they had already established mainstream popularity in both their homeland and the United Kingdom.

After watching a televised broadcast of Kodaline’s “Live from Brixton” concert shortly afterwards, the “In a Perfect World” album quickly made its way into our collection, and planted a seed in my mind to be open minded to finding non-Canadian music on predominantly Canadian music stations.  If you are unfamiliar with this band, I highly recommended that you take it upon yourself to not only enjoy the powerful “All I want,” but other great songs from this release such as “High Hopes” and “Love like this.”


Fast forward to the last few months of 2016, and this ‘assumption’ issue would rear its head once more. Having purchased the latest EP by BANNERS, I only recently learned this particular artist hailed from Liverpool, England, as opposed to Could-Be-Anywhere in Ontario (thanks to the well informed Indie88 radio host for pointing this out).  Upon learning this, and after a recent GDW interview with British/Canadian duo “100 Mile House,” the British half of GDW decided to explore artists from his native homeland whose music has crossed the pond and found a home on Canadian radio stations.

Thanks to “The Verge” on satellite radio, we heard BANNERS’ hit single “Shine a light” in the early half of 2016.  A few months later, we would hear “Start a Riot,” and only picked up on the English accent when the aforementioned light-bulb moment occurred.  Returning to the debut EP, I hear it loud and clear now… Michael Joseph Nelson is indeed out of Liverpool, but seems very happy to spend time on this side of the world.  BANNERS has an extensive Canadian/US tour lined up in February, and while we are sad that we cannot attend any of these shows, we hope to catch up with this artist later on down the road.

Harvey Summers

Another one of those indie artists that has been on the music scene for several years, but has only recently come to our attention due to his collaboration with Hamilton native Laura Cole.  Once again, the assumption was made that this was another Canadian artist, only to be dismissed once research found that Cole was invited to the UK as a guest vocalist on Summers’ most recent album “Human.”

Having only recently discovered the husky, soulful voice of Laura Cole, I expected “Human” to be an extension of her debut album “Dirty Cheat,” but learned yet another lesson in making such bold assumptions.  Cole not only delivers the kind of vocals as expected, but demonstrates an ability to expand her capabilities across an eclectic range of musical styles with Summers.

The opening track “Euphoria” creates an initial confusion of what lies ahead; a drawn out snare beat leads to a smooth bass and Laura’s distinct sound, before embracing horns for a unique fusion of jazz-rock.  The following track “Chasing the Dark” allows Summers to duet with Cole in a completely different style, as this slow, melodic ‘coffee-house’ style piece is reminiscent of a “Neil Young meets Amy Winehouse” kind of sound.

Both artists deliver tracks that encompass rhythm and blues (“Skeletons”), retro-rockabilly (“The Argument”) and traditional soul (“Too much too late”).  “Daddyo” takes you back in time to that 1950s era high school dance, while “Shooting Star” is a wonderful musical experience that tantalizes the ears when heard through a headset or good quality speakers.  I look forward to exploring some other work from Harvey Summers in the near future.

Frank Turner

From the opening verse of “Get Better,” there can be no doubt that Turner has pure British blood pumping through his veins.  With a distinct modern punk-rock background, and an accent that is clearly ‘south of Lambeth,’ Turner delivers a brash and very direct style of popular folk music that shares elements of Bob Dylan meets Billy Bragg meets Angry Young Man who just wants to be loved.

Turner was brought to our attention via The Arkells, who have toured with him consistently over the last year.  Noticing that the collaboration sees Frank as the opening act in Canada, but headlining the shows elsewhere, we found that he is another established British act that never landed on our musical radar until now.  Having listened to the “Positive Songs for Negative People” album over the last week, it is apparent how he and The Arkells can tour together so successfully, with raw, modern sounds appealing to similar audiences.

Turner is a modern day poet-with-attitude, penning songs of love that do not leave you drowning in syrup, but being hit over the head with a pudding spoon.  And yes, some of this ‘poetry’ is more ‘bar-room brawl’ than ‘recital hall’, but Turner has the sound and style to carry it off in good fashion.

Who else would get away with lines such as “with your mixed up metaphors, your messed up make-up, you’re glorious you” (from “Glorious You”), or “I once wrote you love songs, you never fell in love, we used to fit like mittens, but never like gloves” (from “Mittens”)?  Who else can then transition to a more serious troubadour, with sentiments such as “I’m battered and I’m bruised, and I can’t afford to lose…I’m long in the tooth, but I’m ready for the truth” (from “Love Forty Down”), or “She called out the truth on a broken radio: I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive” from his homage to Christa McAuliffe in “Silent Key”?

From what little I have heard thus far, Frank Turner will take every emotion that you have, rip it from you, take you on a journey, and return both you and your emotions back home wanting much, much more.  It goes without saying that I am eager to seek out more poetic folk-punk from this artist.

So, just like 50 plus years ago with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, history repeats itself with a new wave of British (and Irish) talent hitting mainstream status on their own turf, and setting out across the Atlantic to conquer once more.  This new wave of British indie rock have made a quick impact in both the US and Canada (“Bastille” is an artist that springs to mind), and I hope to discover more great talent from my homeland without relying solely on Canadian indie radio stations to introduce them to me.  If there are any emerging artists from the UK and Ireland that I am missing who share similar musical traits, please bring them to my attention sooner rather than later, as good music is always appreciated.

~ M

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons