After a decade of running the dance music label Buzzin’ Fly, Ben Watt has left deep house and techno behind for an introspective singer-songwriter album he describes as “simply a folk-rock record in an electronic age”.
Explaining his rationale, the 51-year-old, who was once half of the duo Everything But The Girl with Tracey Thorn, said: “I had come to a plateau with the labels and clubland. I had a need to go back to words and music, not just beats and other people’s work. Once I made some space, a lot of ideas just tumbled out.”
The songs are full of stories told with a storyteller’s eye – of a shopkeeper’s wistful romantic memories, a separating couple’s final weekend spent walking in the Sussex Downs, scattering a loved one’s ashes (“I made a trail through the trees/Dust and pieces at my feet”).
Mostly the musical settings are languid and acoustic, with jazzy chord structures, but Forget and Matthew Arnold’s Field boast some gorgeous electric piano. Bernard Butler, once of Suede, contributes driving electric guitar to Nathaniel and atmospheric distortion to The Gun.
The biggest surprise perhaps is the presence of David Gilmour, of Pink Floyd, who adds some supple slide guitar to The Levels.
The album closes with some fizzy electronica and some melancholy middle-aged observations, including a verse on a man made redundant who bitterly views his wife as “a threat”.
Hendra is a very grown-up record, but also a very good one and a fascinating counterpoint to the youthful folk-jazz of his first solo album, North Marine Drive, released back in 1983.
Ben Watt and Bernard Butler play at The Greystones in Sheffield on April 15 and Hebden Bridge Trades Club on April 18.