Parents’ Pop Programme – Fable

As a parent, I’m well aware that I’m woefully out of touch with today’s pop music. That’s exactly the way it should be, you might say, and a perfectly valid opinion it is too. But some of us (well me at least) would like to stay vaguely aware of what’s going on in the pop world, so that when our children start listening to pop music (if they’re not already), we have some clue what’s going on.

So, Parents’ Pop Programme is here, to introduce you to a currently successful pop artist each month. Educational? Hopefully. Enlightening? Perhaps. Enjoyable? Perhaps not.

This month’s Parent’s Pop Programme is a guest post from Alison Campbell, who makes fabulous children’s clothes under the name Marble Moon. Find her at Etsy and Facebook. My own daughter has a number of Marble Moon items so I can recommend them personally. Alison writes about an artist who if your kids’ aren’t listening to yet, they may well be soon – Fable.

What is Fable?

In the old (pre-kids, natch) days I used to go to see bands spontaneously all the time but now the very few gigs I do attend are not really gigs, but concerts, that must have been planned for months in advance, are unmissable (when a babysitter is £10 an hour….), and the option of a designated seat is a definite boon.

So finding myself at a random night of bands was like a blast from the past. Of course we didn’t actually get out till after 9 (you know how it is) so we caught the tail end of one band of gentle souls and all of the headliners, Fable. I assumed they were a band but from my retrospective research it appears Fable IS the singer and the musicians are a backing band. It’s a distinction worth making because she was the entire show. There was literally no need to glance at the boys up the back (although my husband claimed the synth player looked like Aphex, not that I had even noticed there was a synth player by that point) because Fable, if that is her real name, is utterly captivating. She is a tiny goth with a huge amount of charisma, energy and a stadium-filling voice pelting out suitably dark lyrics over electro-tinged rock. The venue was the bar of a small and quirky Brighton hotel; I was later told she had recently supported The Cult at Brixton Academy and “owned the stage”.

Oh and she is young, really young. At least to us. Apparently it was her 21st birthday the night we saw her. “People are young these days”, I remarked to my husband, while contemplating my emerging crows’ feet.

What do they sound like?

I was reminded variously of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (although more due to Fable’s look than sound that night, with her asymmetric black hair and zebra print mumu) but sound-wise Muse, Skunk Anansie and even fleeting Rage Against the Machine came to mind. Loud, full, strangely uplifting, impossible to ignore.

Are they any good?

During the show my comments to my husband were that although it was quite the live show, I wouldn’t go home and listen to them. But actually I have (and not just to write this post). “Human Pretending” in particular got under my skin, but the stand-out moment for me really was the stunning cover of “Let’s Dance” (prefaced with a suitably disrespectful announcement of “let’s channel some dead people”) that ticked every box for cover versions that are quite possibly better than the original.

How popular are they?

Judging by the home crowd on the night she certainly has a few hardcore fans and the fact they have scored a spot at Glastonbury (on the Shangri-La Hell stage…who knew that was a thing?) suggests she may be on the up. Highly recommended to fans of Glasto headliners Muse, of which I am not one.

Which kids are listening to them?

Probably those who hate their parents and are preparing right now to stick it to the man.

Children have the right to music

A fantastic guest post today from Alison Campbell of Marble Moon childrenswear.

Marble Moon

Alison writes:

The first music my oldest daughter heard ex utero was Joanna Newsom and Isan, carefully selected by my weary husband to welcome her into our music-loving home and introducing her from the very start to my preference for quirky female singers and his Electronic leanings. We continued to listen to whatever we fancied, mixed in with a few nursery rhymes and baby-signing tunes, until she was able to express a preference. And thanks to the signing, that may have been sooner than most toddlers.

Joanna Newsom
Joanna Newsom

“No Mummy, not that one, I want mine” accompanied me putting on “My very first album” for the umpteenth time and consigning my own tunes to work-time only. And after a while, my affection grew for the third-rate version of Postman Pat in a Welsh accent, the passionate boy-band style rendition of “wind the bobbin up”, and “row, row your boat” apparently sung by David Cameron. But it grated that she allowed her dad to play his electronic music with impunity, and I had to admit defeat, one child deaf to the pleasures of indie music.

Two and half years later, we had a precious little boy, who we named Theo. He was born with no heart rate, and though he was resuscitated, he died a few hours later. I always felt that he would have been my musical child soulmate, based on the scant evidence of him causing me to nearly faint at a Plaid gig when pregnant and once kicking in time to the Peep Show theme music. I also believe Theo is a guitarist’s name; witness the protagonist’s son in Ian McEwan’s “Saturday” and a minor character in School of Rock.

Our third child, Weeza, has had basically no choice and is equally happy listening to her 90s rock namesakes, her dad’s more extreme adventures in electronica, or the Tom Gray-penned songs from the storybook Penguin (probably her favourite, if I’m honest). Seeing her bob up and down or stamp her feet with joy to any music is a pleasure that can’t be beaten. She also knows how to use the volume dial, to ear splitting effect and an innocent “oh dear!” from out of her 16-month old mouth.

Recently, aged nearly 5, our Senior Daughter watched Labyrinth for the first time and coincidentally, and rather inexplicably, spent several PE classes preparing a dance routine to Bowie’s Starman. Here was my chance. On hearing that the Goblin King and Starman singer were one and the same, she inquired “Are there any more David Bowie songs, Mum?”. The floodgates opened. We listened to Hunky Dory, which I followed on with Blondie’s Parallel Lines, wanting to lay down the right musical foundations. But where to go from there? So much of my favourite 90s indie I wanted to lead her through turned out to be truly inappropriate: Pulp, Suede, Elastica, Sleeper….so much drugs, so much sex. It almost seemed worse than much of the hip-hop that her dad had recently been listening to because I thought that hearing English voices, she would be more likely to make out the words and ask what they meant. This was unexpected.

I decided to play her a demo CD made by a band I and your usual blog host’s wife had been in, together with a Swedish friend, in the mid noughties. Jackpot – she loved it! We played it all the time and Senior Daughter started playing rock stars in the playground and singing our songs. Until I let her watch a video we had made for one of our odder tracks, The Thin Man, having forgotten how weird it was. She was really freaked out, and no surprise given that it features a floppy man wearing a creepy mask who comes to life, chases us and ends up being dumped in the sea in a suitcase.

Now we seem to be in a comfortable middle ground. Senior Daughter still often asks for Bowie (she’s a purist though – only the early 70s stuff), but we once again enjoy a heartfelt sing-a-long to Frozen, or even good old nursery rhymes. And I’ve come to realise that there is a reason for children’s music to exist. It is a safe space for simple enjoyment of rhythm, rhyme (or not) and sounds that may or may not tell a story or help a child to learn. The earliest pre-school music is not invested with emotion, which may be one reason why we as adults find it hard to put up with.

Now, children growing up too fast is something we always lament as a society, and perhaps we shouldn’t hasten this by encouraging them to listen to music with adult themes, just as we steer them away from films, books or computer games that are age-inappropriate. I enjoyed my teenage journey of musical discovery on my own terms – I certainly wouldn’t have wanted it dictated by my parents. Or other adults, remembering a time at middle school when a PE teacher had to sub one of our music lessons and she just played us a Pink Floyd album to, in her view, give us an education in music. This may be amongst the reasons why I can’t bear Pink Floyd.

So I won’t be pushing any more indie classics on the children for now. I hope they have the rich and rewarding experience of discovering the music they love at their own pace.