Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Tomorrow the World

The last time that Ben Watt was in Bexhill-on-Sea was for an in-store performance at the Music's Not Dead record shop to promote his 2014 album, Hendra. So impressed must he have been with people and place that day, that he returned to Bexhill last night to open the tour for his follow-up album, Fever Dream, with a Music's Not Dead-promoted gig at the De La Warr Pavilion. Watt says that he has had his arm twisted by shop proprietor, Del, into starting his world tour here and his band’s next stops will be London and Tokyo. Such is the bathetic life of international musicians: today Bexhill, tomorrow the world.

Although Bexhill is getting used to visits from big names these days - John Lydon's Public Image a few months ago, Tom Verlaine's Television soon – we are not too spoilt to be thrilled that Watt has Bernard Butler in tow as part of his band, along with sometime Everything But The Girl drummer Martin Ditcham and Aussie jazz bassist, Rex Horan. This is the band that recorded the new album and they sound like a tight unit from the off. The interplay between Watt and Butler’s guitars is a delight and Horan, mostly playing upright bass, underpins their folk/jazz/rock sound perfectly.

Opening with Bricks and Wood from Fever Dream, the new album is complemented with regular double backs into Hendra: Young Man’s Game and Golden Ratio follow before Faces of My Friends and the excellent Between Two Fires provide an indication of how good Watt’s new songs are. Having had a 30-year break in solo activity after his debut North Marine Drive in 1983, Watt has now produced two albums in three years. Explaining this, he recently said, "I felt compelled to write more...I feel I have somehow tapped into a nucleus of myself again lately."

The lively Nathaniel, one of my favourites of the 2014 crop of songs, then ushers-in recent single Gradually, a tender meditation on love growing apart slowly over time, with its desperate refrain of “barely getting through”. After more new material, there are two of the most delicate songs from Hendra – the title track and The Levels - that deal with bereavement after the loss of Watt’s sister.

The set builds to a close with a pair of older songs – 25th December, from Everything But The Girl’s Amplified Heart album, and the beautiful Some Things Don’t Matter from North Marine Drive – before finishing with Fever Dream. On the new album, the title track has a contribution from Hiss Golden Messenger's M.C. Taylor and one of the encores, New Year of Grace, features a Marissa Nadler vocal. The second encore, and final song of an exceptional night, is the piano-led Forget with the pertinent line, “the Sussex Downs after rainfall is as lovely as it gets.” How could Tokyo compete with that?

Fever Dreams is released on 8 April 2016 on Unmade Road.

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