Badly Drawn Boy
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Band Bio: "I don't mind if it takes 20 years for people to realize how good an album this is," says Damon Gough of the Badly Drawn Boy debut, The Hour Of Bewilderbeast. "I totally didn't write it to fit in with what's going on, or is accepted, right now. I just wanted it to be considered as a classic piece of work."
There are no worries there. The Hour Of Bewilderbeast is everything that a classic album should be and maybe something more. From the uplifting sound of the French horn and cello that herald "The Shining" right through to the faded birdsong that closes the lovely "Epitaph," Bewilderbeast explores an impressive range of musical motifs and emotional images.
Raised in Bolton, Gough has always believed that music has the power to enchant and transform. In return, his story so far seems to have been touched by a certain magic. After leaving school, Gough dreamed of becoming a singer-songwriter who would make the same kind of emotional impact as his unashamed hero, Bruce Springsteen. The reality is that he spent years working in his parents' printing business, listening to fragments of his own music on a Walkman, and learning to develop them into full-fledged songs while the factory machinery whirred around him.
Then on moving to Manchester four years ago, Gough chanced across a graphic designer and DJ called Andy Votel and together they set up their own record label, Twisted Nerve. "It was an accident of fate with me and Andy, really," he says, "and I've often tried to imagine what would have happened if I hadn't met him. The only way I had ever been able to see myself getting on in life was by doing something that I was really enthused about. I had to do something I had a passion for."
After releasing two EPs, Gough's future was graced with a series of fortuitous moments. The first of these came in December 1997 when Mark E. Smith, frontman of the legendary British punk outfit The Fall, mistook Gough's car for a taxi outside a Manchester bar. Smith demanded a lift home and Gough obliged, but only after they agreed that The Fall would record a Badly Drawn Boy song called "Tumbleweed." A few months later, Gough contributed a track called "Nursery Rhyme" to Psyence Fiction, James Lavelle and DJ Shadow's UNKLE album.
In the meantime Badly Drawn Boy was subsequently signed to The Prodigy's label, XL Recordings, and when Psyence Fiction appeared a few months later, the metallic maelstrom of "Nursery Rhyme" was widely regarded as the standout track. Much of its beauty was down to a heart-breaking Gough vocal, which cried, "Don't let him close to me / Not when you know it's not the one, the one, the one, the one, the one, the one, the one that you love?" "It's all about an unborn fetus's despair as its mother makes love with a man who isn't its father," he explained at the time, managing to convey both a deep sensitivity and a priceless world-view.
Gough's preoccupation with "The One" and the transcendent power of love are central to The Hour Of Bewilderbeast. Gough explores the whole range of emotions, with a lyrical intensity that recalls songwriting masters such as Nick Drake, gram parsons, Scott Walker and Bob Dylan. Sonically, though, this album is all about the present, from the insistent, guitar-driven first single "Another Pearl" to the poetry in motion of "This Song"; from Bacharach-tinged "Magic In The Air" to the corrosive ""Cause A Rockslide" which eventually mutates into the modern-day blues anthem "Pissing In The Wind." "There's the suggestion that some of the songs could be bigger," he says. "But I'm happy to let them be small and fragile."
This "slightly unfinished" element is typical of the way Gough approaches his live shows and is fundamental to his overall appeal. On stage, he comes across as part pop star, part stand-up comedian. Past shows have seen him wittily ad-lib with the front rows, start a song and then change his mind, eat a banana, go for a wander and host a competition to win the most impressive stage prop, while he is also romantic enough to have now made a regular feature of handing out roses to the most attractive girls in the audience. But whatever he does, Gough has the presence to keep the crowd concentrated on him at all times. "I like to present a show as though it is exclusively for that audience on that particular night," he says. "I like the idea of interacting and involving people and I'm prepared to show myself up in the process."
In the end, though, it all comes back to the music and Gough's unfailing belief that the songs have the ability to take on a life of their own. "I've got this theory about songwriting," he says. "I go to a tree, which has several doors in it. Every door has a bell that plays a melody when you press it, and has a pixie living behind it. If the pixie decides to let you in, he'll give you some kind of nucleus for a song, such as the melody from the doorbell or maybe a couple of lyrics. All the pixies have got different characters. Sometimes you'll get a snappy little fella who's very impatient, so that will have to be quite a quick song, but if you get a gentler, more patient pixie, you might end up with a ballad. I think these pixie guys have got a good sense of humor and I believe their name for us humans in Bewilderbeast."
According to Gough, the word "bewilderbeast" was originally coined by a member of his band, who was feeling a bit worse for the wear when they were on tour in Japan. "This guy said, 'I feel like a bewilderbeast,' you know, a bit bewildered, and that name just stuck in my head as a picture of what I wanted the album to be about," he explains. "I wanted this to be our hour: not just mine, but everyone who's ever had that underdoggy feeling. Basically, it's a way of describing someone as human and vulnerable no matter how much they come across as being confident and cocksure."
And what exactly does a bewilderbeast look like? "I have no idea," he smiles, "but I'm going to invite people to do pictorial images of what they think it looks like on my website and give a prize for the best one."
The Hour Of Bewilderbeast (Beggars Banquet/XL) was released in the U.S. on October 3, 2000. For additional information on Badly Drawn Boy, please contact Ambrosia Healy at Little Big Man Building, 212.598.0003, firstname.lastname@example.org
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