Playlist: Unlockdown Listening

Anniversaries of special events are often cause for celebration so being recently reminded of the beginning of the first UK lockdown has jarred a little for me. After all, we are only now emerging from our third national lockdown. However, I think the general sense across the UK is that spring time has now officially arrived and while England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all have their own timelines for gradually ‘unlocking’ we’re all hoping for something resembling a brighter future, especially for the Music sector. After an inauspicious start, maybe we should say 2021 begins here.

Back in April 2020 we brought you our Lockdown Listening LP – a long-player’s worth of tracks we’d turned to, here in the British Council’s Music team, and that for various reasons brought us comfort during that first UK lockdown. Looking back, the mood of the time feels familiar in the restlessness of tracks like Riz Ahmed’s ‘Fast Lava’ and the Groundhog Day melancholy of Lianne La Havas’ ‘Bittersweet’.

So, in April 2021, our new Unlockdown Listening collection is a musical companion to the cautious optimism – so cautious many of us dare not look to far into the future – for our current times. As spring time is also traditionally a time for new growth, you’ll also find a number of new and recent releases tipped by the team here in amongst a few seedlings of other good stuff we hope you’ll enjoy this Easter.

– Stephen Bloomfield


UK Unlockdown Listening Playlist

Warning: some tracks contain explicit lyrics


UK Unlockdown Listening from the Music team

Find out who chose what and why for our Unlockdown Listening playlist below.


The Centre is Everywhere by Manchester Collective

The brilliant Manchester Collective have released their debut album on Icelandic alt-classical label Bedroom Community. Alongside music by Philip Glass and Arnold Schoenberg, The Centre is Everywhere features UK composer Edmund Finnis’s piece for strings of the same name, commissioned for the New Music Biennial 2019 – a stunning piece in which layers of layers of melody swirling round the ensemble contrast with a contemplative whole.

– Michael Duffy


Great Spans of Muddy Time by William Doyle, 'We Will Listen' by Rachel Newton and 'Hustle' by Sons of Kemet ft. Kojey Radical

Neatly encapsulating my springtime gardening exertions, I’ve been listening to the new album Great Spans of Muddy Time by William Doyle. That said, I’m finding it hard to get past the gorgeous opening track, ‘I Need to Keep You in My Life’ – pulsing, synth chords underpinning the most lovely vocal line, bringing to mind artist John Grant at his most sweetly lyrical.

Elsewhere, Scottish singer and harpist Rachel Newton draws on ancient poems and ballads as part of her unique, contemporary sound. To The Awe is her fifth solo album and is based particularly around women’s experience (check out the Scottish Gaelic language track – Chaidil Mi A Raoir air an Airigh – too). See Rachel as part of a livestreamed performance with The Lost Words collective (inspired by writer Robert Macfarlane’s book) on 27 April as part of the UK Natural History Museum’s Urban Nature Project.

And finally, wow – what a collaboration. The first single from Sons of Kemet’s upcoming album Black to the Future features rapper Kojey Radical with backing vocals by Lianne La Havas on the theme of Black pride and Black musical history. Check out the video too, symbolically tracing dancers The Jaiy Twins through a series of landscapes. I can’t wait for the album, described by Sons of Kemet saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings as ‘a sonic poem for the invocation of power, remembrance and healing’ and which looks set to feature artists Moor Mother, Joshua Idehen and Angel Bat Dawid.

– Leah Zakss


'Quartet for the End of Time' by Messiaen

One morning last week saw me walking through three parks in the sunshine and listening again to the Manchester Collective. Their Isolation Broadcasts have seen me through some dark times over the last few months. On this occasion, it was a programme talking about the genesis of, followed by a performance of, Messiaen’s ‘Quartet for the End of Time’. This piece was written and performed in large part in a latrine in the prisoner of war camp where Messiaen spent time during the second world war. The introduction dispels some of the myths but also gives some of the remarkable facts. The Quartet encompasses his fascination with time, birdsong, and faith. From the limiting context and challenges of wartime captivity was born one of the greatest pieces of music of the twentieth century – which certainly resonates for us today. When I ran the London Sinfonietta, we gave a late night performance of ‘Quartet for the End of Time’ late on midsummer’s eve in the Italian Chapel on Orkney, an ;archipelago off the northeastern coast of Scotland – in fact two performances, back to back. Look up the chapel if you don’t know it. Built by Italian prisoners of war during the second world war, it is also an expression of faith and hope.

– Cathy Graham


Flock by Jane Weaver

There are so many good records coming out at the moment, and I’d definitely count Jane Weaver’s eleventh album, Flock amongst them. Whilst each of the 10 tracks has their own unique sound and feel, there’s a light pop thread that runs right through this humorous, charming record. Described as ‘produced on a complicated diet of bygone Lebanese torch songs, 1980's Russian Aerobics records and Australian Punk’, I strongly recommend you have a listen.

– Tom Sweet


Fir Wave by Hannah Peel, Deep England by Gazelle Twin and Immigrants by Nitin Sawnhey

UK springtime has seen a flurry of new album releases and I've picked out three that have stood out to me ...

Hannah Peel has been receiving much deserved attention right now for her brand-new album Fir Wave, including a great Guardian feature highlighting what a polymath she is. The album draws on the natural world, creating a journey into an enveloping electronic music landscape.

The opening bright peel of bells underpinned by an ominous drone on Gazelle Twin’s new album immediately tell us we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto! But Deep England is actually a reworking of her previous album, Pastoral. With 6-piece Drone Choir NYX, Gazelle Twin – the artist moniker of Elizabeth Bernholz – creates a dark, creepy, and filmic soundtrack that has glimpses of The Omen, Suspiria, and paganistic rituals.

Nitin Sawhney’s new album, Immigrants, sees him collaborating with an astonishing array of talented vocalists and musicians from Abi Sampa, YVA, and Ayanna Witter-Johnson, to Natty and Natacha Atlas. The themes around place and belonging thread through the album giving a wistful but never preachy tone. As ever the instrumentation and use of arrangement is testament to this master craftsman.

– Joel Mills


'End Song' by feeo

I have feeo’s ‘End Song’ on repeated play at the moment. Jamz Supernova picked this out on a recent Selector Radio show among the new UK releases and I think it’s captivating. I think fans of Arlo Parks – aren't we all fans of Arlo Parks? – will also love this one. Those lolloping drums and dreamy backings say spring-time to me even if the lyrics suggest otherwise.

– Stephen Bloomfield


More playlists from the Music team

If you want more music from the team, check out our past playlists here: