So, here they are, my Top 20 Best Songs of 2021 – not an easy choice given the year we’ve just had with so many artists delaying releasing new music and, of course, so few gigs to attend. Not forgetting how COVID 19 has dealt a huge blow to the artists and their industry.

Sadly, many artists and venues may not recover and we will all be the lesser for this. Do support the artists who (eventually) play in Billericay in 2022 – it is a lifeline for them as well as for us.

Many artists have taken to performing on Facebook and Zoom and, I have to say, some of the ones I’ve attended/watched have been excellent, both in the quality of production and as a showcase for new music as well as the intimacy these ‘concerts’ offered to fans. However excellent they have been, I can’t wait until we can squeeze together in the ‘mosh pit’ in a full heaving venue and sing-a-long to our hearts content with a beer in our hands!!  Will we ever see the like again? Let’s hope those days are not too far away.

I found it a challenge to listen to new music/artists in 2021 as I attended so few gigs – I’ve lost count of the number of gigs that were cancelled or deferred to 2022. I hosted no House Gigs in 2020, however, thankfully, my Gig in the Garden was able to go ahead as did my last gig of the year with Lauren Housley. 

2021 has still been a good year for music – though there are still few old favourites appearing. There may be new names on this list for some people – and some exciting songs waiting to be discovered. If something does take your fancy, then don’t just add it to your Spotify Playlist. Buy the CD or, at the very least, download the track.

As always, my choices are an eclectic (and unexpected) mix – it’s always difficult to place them in a top 20.

So, make yourself a brew, open a can or fill a glass and sit back and enjoy some fabulous (mostly British) talent for the next hour or so!

20. For Those Who Can’t Be Here Tom Walker

Although only released as a single in December, it creeps into my top twenty! It’s poignant lyrics about those who can’t be with us at Christmas struck a chord with many. It also hit the spotlight when the Duchess of Cambridge accompanied him at the Royal Carols: Together at Christmas 2021.

Still I know, this picture’s not quite right
There’s someone on your mind
First Christmas time without him by your side, I know
The sound of Christmas bells
They never say farewell
So we laugh, we shed a tear
For those who can’t be here

19. Westoe Kathryn Tickell

I’m a little late to Tickell’s music. Well, I knew of her, and the fact that she is an internationally renowned exponent of the Northumbrian Pipes, but her traditional folk style didn’t really work for me. That is until I saw her playing live opening a new music venue in Sunderland The Fire Station with The Lake Poets as support. I was mightily impressed. Tickell’s music is to be enjoyed live – it doesn’t quite work on a CD. I’ve chosen this song because of it’s name Westoe (first released in 2009) was a colliery in South Shields and it evokes memories of my dad working down the pit and being brought up in a colliery village (it was dynamic live when it was used as the introduction to The Lake Poets’ Vane Tempest).

18. Carolina On My Mind Kate Rusby

Rusby released the highly-acclaimed Hand Me Down in 2021, marking her highest-charting album to date making the top 10. It’s a album of covers, hence ‘hand me down’ and includes an eclectic mix of songs. As a great James Taylor fan it was a no-brainer that I would choose this one. It’s not a bad cover either.

17. Runaway Train Jeremy Johnson 

I stumbled across Jeremy when on holiday in Saint Ives, Cornwall in 2020 and he was busking! We listened to him for over an hour, bought his album and have seen him live in Hoxton in-between lockdowns. He  held regular live concerts on YouTube during lockdown and I’ve really got to like him. Runaway Train is from his 2019 album Insecuriosity. Jeremy has promised to play a House Gig sometime in 2022 – so that is one to look out for!

16. Heartbreak Cult Joe Martin

It’s always good to come across new artists and I stumbled across Joe when he was supporting Lindisfarne at the Great British Folk Festival in Skegness. Whilst Joe is more Americana / Country than folk I really enjoyed his set – with backing musicians from The Chorlton Country Club (if you know, you know!). This song is the opening track from his 2021 EP Bound For Lonesome. Joe’s promised to play a House Gig sometime in 2022 – so that is one to look out for!

15. Love Comes Quickly Robbie Cavanagh

Robbie was the recipient of the coveted Bob Harris Emerging Artist Americana Music Association Award in 2021. He’s from the same stable as Lauren Housley and is quite a talent. Robbie supported Lauren on her Girl From The North Tour and went down a storm – none more so than in Billericay. Not only is he a great singer/songwriter he’s an all round great bloke with a great sense of humour. Not having listened to anything of Robbie prior to him supporting Lauren, the song I’ve chosen is from his 2017 album To Leave / To Be Left. Robbie has also promised to play a House Gig sometime in 2022 – you can feel a theme coming on here can’t you?

14. As I Roved Out Cara Dillon

I saw Cara Dillon three times in 2021. Twice live and once on a livestream Live At Cooper Hall. Cara sings like an angel and can turn her hand to any genre. Irish folk music abounds with songs about young maidens “giving” themselves to rakish men who then abandon them the next morning. Many of them are called As I Roved Out as it is a common opening line – the musical equivalent of the storyteller’s “Once upon a time”. This is a hauntingly beautiful version …

13. Song Of The Seasons Neil Young

The prolific Neil Young released Barn his 41st album in 2021 accompanied by his trusted backing band Crazy Horse. While its 10 tracks display some of the customary quality control issues we’ve come to expect, there are glimpses of 76 year old Young and his band in their pomp. My favourite is the opening track, a gentle contemplative song with harmonica and accordion mingling  with Young’s placid acoustic strums as he sets the scene, “Looking through a wavy glass window in this old place by the lake” a realm where “nature makes no mistake”. It could be Young circa Harvest until a timely reference to “masked people walking everywhere” catapults us into the present day.

12. Let Me Let You Down The Teskey Brothers

I was introduced to the Teskey Brothers by my daughter on one of my many trips up and down to York University. The Teskey Brothers are an Australian blues rock band whom I’d never heard of – but have really enjoyed getting to know them in 2021. This track is taken from their 2019 album Run Home Slow.

11. Here On A Mission Sam Outlaw

Sam Outlaw released the long awaited Popular Mechanics in 2021. A very different offering to his previous SoCal Country style. It’s a mix of techno pop and country which grows on you after a while. In Sam’s own words:

I made Popular Mechanics to show the full spectrum of my musical influences. I love country music, rock, and pop – but mostly, I’m just a fan of good music, in any style. Regardless of whatever genre or category people might lump me into, I made a promise to myself long ago to ignore those labels and really focus on making music that is completely my own. Popular Mechanics is just another side of me.

10. Hammer Falls The Wandering Hearts

I have to be honest (as much as a fan as I am) and say that their self titled second album took a long time to grow on me. Can’t explain why – it just didn’t grab me the way If I Fall did. That was until I saw them play live at the Little Rabbit Barn in August as they toured the album and it was fabulous – particularly when mixed with their first album. This is the opening track.

9. The Scientist Zucchero

Zucchero seems to have been around forever and has managed to forge a career by releasing blues / rock albums singing in both Italian and English. Whilst his singles rarely hit the top 40, his albums have been pretty successful.  I have a few of them. His latest release Discovery is an album of covers. This is the pick of the bunch.

8. Stand For Myself Yola

What a year Yola has enjoyed. As well as releasing her second album in July and being nominated for two AMAUK Awards, she’s also played Sister Rosetta Tharpe “dubbed the Godmother of rock and roll” in Baz Luhrmann’s film on the life of Elvis Presley set for release in 2022 – which is sure to see her stock rise even further on both sides of the Atlantic. Yola plays an interesting mix of soul / blues / Americana and the rest. Just like this!

7. How Great Thou Art Carrie Underwood

This is a lady who needs no introduction and she has taken the world by storm since winning American Idol in 2005 having sold 70 million albums worldwide. The album she released in 2021 was called Saviour and is a compilations of her most favourite hymns and was an album Underwood, a committed Christian, had wanted to release for years.  A live performance from the Ryman was released on YouTube on Good Friday 2021 and her version of How Great Thou Art was simply spine-tingling.

6. Seventeen Going Under Sam Fender

I saw young Sam play a blistering set at the Leeds Festival over the Bank Holiday weekend. He certainly knows how to both entertain and manage a crowd. Seventeen Going Under went straight to No:1 in the charts and his heart-on-his-sleeve openness is why his music connects with so many people. His debut album Hypersonic Missiles discussed the suicide rates in his home town of North Shields, global conflict he saw on the news, and the stories he overheard down the local. In Fender’s own words:

This album is about growing up, the trials and tribulations that come with it, and the self-esteem issues that we carry through to adulthood. But primarily, it’s about hope. The hope that we have it in us to rise above adversity, and the strength to help carry those who sink.

5. King and Country Seth Lakeman

2021 saw the 15th anniversary of the release of Lakeman’s career defining album Freedom Fields. If you’ve never listened to Lakeman, this album is definitely the place to start. In between lockdowns, Lakeman toured the album as well as performing for a livestream audience. I had the opportunity to see Lakeman at the incredible Minack Theatre in Cornwall in the summer and this poignant song (written about his grandfather going to war) was recorded there (not in 2021 though).

4. I Can’t Let You Go Connor Selby

Billericay’s own Connor Selby is a rising British star in the traditions of Eric Clapton and Peter Green, who has already performed with his band at Wembley Stadium, at the age of 22, at the behest of The Who. Winner of The Young Artist of the Year Award in the 2020 and 2021 UK Blues Awards, Selby’s self-titled second album is a tour-de-force! It fuses a potent mix of Blues, Gospel and Hammond Organ to great effect. Definitely one of my favourite albums of 2021.

3. This Ain’t The Life Lauren Housley

2021 Saw Lauren’s latest album released to critical acclaim – and well deserved too. With air play on Radio 2, touted by Bob Harris and winning accolades along the way. It’s no secret that Lauren is one of my favourite artists and has played in Billericay six times (house x 3, garden x 1 and church x 2!). In fact, those of you who attended the house gig in December 2019 will remember that we were given a sneak preview of the whole album for review by a discerning Billericay Rectory audience. Lauren was deservedly the recipient of Bob Harris’ Emerging Artist Americana Music Association Awards 2022.

2. Who Knows Where The Time Goes Sandy Denny

A bit of a golden oldie here! I saw the Sandy Danny Project perform at the Great British Folk Festival in Skeggie (who were brilliant) and it reminded me just what a great singer/songwriter Sandy Denny was – and so I dug out my albums and listened again. Who knows what she may have gone on to achieve if she hadn’t died at 31 years of age? This is probably her most well known song, which has been covered by countless artists over the years, however, no-one sings it as well as Denny herself.

1. Music John Miles

Another golden oldie hits the top spot for 2021. I’ve included this song by John Miles for three reasons: 1) It is one of my all time favourite songs (and will probably be played at my funeral at some point – more appropriate than Bat Out Of Hell I guess!); 2) He died on December 2021 so it has some sentimental value; 3) It’s possibly the greatest pop song ever written – great melody, striking lyrics and a quite masterful arrangement. There’s no doubt that lockdown has been made all the better for many of us because of the music we’ve been able to listen to in our homes and on the move. How more miserable would life have been without it? As Miles wrote:

To live without my music would be impossible to do.
In this world of trouble my music pulls me through.

I’m sure I heard more than one Amen to that. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, there has never been a more appropriate lyric.

I was going to post a version from Top of the Pops in 1976, but a mimed version of this song does it an absolute injustice. Instead, I’ve opted for a live version recorded in 2001 in Amsterdam with the Il Novecento Orchestra and a cameo from Laurie Wisefield of Wishbone Ash. Here’s an interesting footnote for you: John was Tina Turner’s musical director for many years and Laurie played in the band!

So, there you have them – my Top 20 Best Songs of 2021. And for those of you who like to know these things there are: 11 male artists, 7 female artists and 2 groups.  

Were any of your choices included? Have I made any significant omissions?

Have a great 2022 checking out some of the above artists, seeking out new ones and supporting live music in Billericay – or wherever you live.

Be blessed!

BONUS TRACK. Way Maker Leeland

We’ve used a huge amount of new songs at Emmanuel over the past 12 months. We were ‘closed’ for several weeks and resorted to using videos on livestreams and pre-recorded services. Even when we re-opened, we weren’t allowed to use our worship band and so sing-a-long-a-video became an established part of our Sunday services. One of my favourite worship songs of last year was Way Maker.

You are Way maker,
Miracle worker, promise keeper
Light in the darkness,
My God, that is who You are

You might also be interested in:

COVID-19 Lockdown 2020 Playlist!

My Best Songs Of 2020

My Best Songs Of 2019

My Best Songs Of 2018

The Best Songs of 2017