Friday, 11 December 2020

Lovesong: Jack Henderson: Where's the Revolution

'Where's the Revolution'.
Where's the question mark?
Perhaps it's missing because, as ever, there are more questions than answers.

"Doesn't matter what you lose… it only matters what you choose"
'Conviction' is the word that comes to mind when I consider Jack. A few years back Di and I were invited to a New Year's Eve party at the now defunct Convent in Stroud. Enthusiastically run by maverick eccentric Matt Roberts, within minutes of arrival we were promoted from guests to Stage Manager (me) and Number 1 Cameraman (Di). It was quite a night: particularly considering Matt's generous gift of a free bar. During the soundcheck my ear was taken by a fashionably disheveled gent crouched over the piano, wrenching a beautifully baleful ballad from the ivories. There was a whiff of Tom Waits in the grainy delivery. The injury was clear, the conviction compelling. Later at the bar I was introduced to the performer as Jack Henderson. It turned out that Jack and I had something in common: he and my musical partner Marcus Cliffe had previously worked together on a project or two.

Jack and I stayed in touch and, last year, I was offered a chance to hear new songs as work in progress. The sketches were incomplete but fascinating. I offered vague encouragement and moved on. And then early this year a package dropped on my doorstep: Jack in a box! His newly completed album 'Where's the Revolution' sat atop my 'to listen to' pile and... somehow got buried. 

In the meantime I'd read about Jack's need to make this a homespun album. It was clear that here was a man in command of his craft, but one who was guided as much by budget as by instinct. 

“If necessity is the mother of invention then 'Where’s The Revolution' is largely the result of that confluence of necessity and invention. Sometimes limitations can be liberating and for this album I wanted to explore what would happen if I recorded, produced and more or less played everything myself whilst embracing those limitations, both physical and financial, head-on. There was no overarching manifesto and I wanted to let the songs dictate their own course and allow the imposed imperfections to constitute the very soul of the record.”

Months later, this morning I dug out the album and finally got around to breaking the seal. First impressions are that the soundscape has been vastly improved from what I'd previously heard. The production has pushed Jack's voice to the fore, but there is a musical muscularity that belies the domestic source and more than matches the muse. The arrangements are traditional songwriter fare: piano and electric guitar the primary colors. A wobbly mellotron wanders into the room occasionally to reinforce a woozy sensibility. Comparisons can be odious so let's get them out of the way early. I can hear 70s Bowie floating in the high register; Joseph Arthur lurks in the mid shadows; whilst Waits and Dylan haunt the bottom end. And yet Jack's timbre has a unique, genuinely engaging quality in its quivering delivery. As he earnestly totes the mundanities, again, 'conviction' is the byword here. You believe that Jack believes everything he's singing about. And whilst he's got nothing particularly revolutionary to say, he says it with such conviction that you can't help but buy into these passionate paeans of disillusion. I've got 'imaginatively familiar in his melancholy' scribbled down here. Jack says it so much better: 

“We’re often acutely aware of our own failings. We all have the capacity for occasional acts of selfishness, anger or jealousy, but those need not be what define us. We are all capable of acts of incredible kindness and self-sacrifice too. Perhaps we begin caring for each other by forgiving and being kind to ourselves first and recognising our shared human condition. We are so much better than we think we are and if we devote our energies to building the world we want to live in and pass on to generations that follow us we become the hope that truly remains.”

Ever hopeful then, but you can tell from the title track that Jack's not a happy bunny: “I'm sick of these clockwork clowns and their silly little paper crowns. Reckless disaffection, constant disconnection, squeeze you till you’re almost sick, We don’t have to take this shit, Oh my dear, where’s the revolution now”. Thankfully, we are talking a gentle revolution here. Jack's not breaking windows; it's your heart he's after. There's compassion in abundance. 'Stars' is a beatific hymn to hope. He's too smart to tell us that he's looking up from the gutter, but you kind of get that his boots are well worn and muddy as he gazes at the heavens: a journeyman considering the journey and the journey's end. 'We are castaways: so good, so far... We are the conscious light that lingers on: a hope that will remain when we have gone." 
'It's only Rain' completes the set contemplatively, reinforcing the compelling image of the slightly crumpled, flesh wounded Everyman.
'Don't be afraid, it's only rain. Nothing we haven't seen before'. 
And yet... there's something charming in Henderson's wide-eyed injury, in the way that he catches and caresses the quotidian as 'penny drop' moments. 
His is a true heart, a familiar flight, a journey worth sharing. 
How could you not want for the company of a man who leaves the room thus: 
"Every dying star leaves a trail across the universe. Every weary pilgrim goes on believing, and every broken heart goes on beating."

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