James Leonard Hewitson
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WHEN it comes to talking about James Leonard Hewitson…
I am compelled to look at a number of different subjects. I want to look at artists whose music gets played on T.V. – thus, affording them greater exposure – and influences/sounds that differ to what is out there. I will look at instant songs and big choruses; how rare they are and the results that can arrive; acts releasing singles whilst working on a record – the music from the North and how we should be focused there; male songwriters and those capable of making the singer-songwriter genre more interesting. I am not sure it Hewitson has a Twitter account but I cannot see one for him. It seems odd that, in this day and age, artists overlook the importance of Twitter. I may have missed his account – and whether there is an odd tag/handle – but I feel Twitter is the most effective way for any artist to get their work shared. It is hard enough getting songs spread and enjoyed if you are on all the social media platforms. For Hewitson; there is a definite quality that deserves a wide audience. So much of music is about marketing and exposure so, with that being accepted, there is a definite need to get your music on all the platforms you can. Hewitson is an artist with a great sound and someone who has years ahead of him. This might be a detour from what I wanted to talk about but I am compelled by Hewitson and his future. I know there will be some great times ahead but his songs are strong enough they can get to international audiences. Maybe I am being a bit over-the-top but I feel Hewitson could get to a huge market is he put his music on Twitter. What I find is Facebook and streaming sites are not as connected and joined as they should be. Twitter makes it a lot easier to get music out there fast and has a lot more musicians on it – by which, I mean one can connect with and follow them easily and share their music, too. James Leonard Hewitson is in a great position where he has a unique blend but needs to exploit all the channels out there. The reason – I knew there was a reason! – I am mentioning Twitter and augmenting popularity is because Hewitson is already under many people’s radars.
His songs have been played on T.V. shows and this means a range of listeners are checking out what he is about. Say what you want about Made in Chelsea – and I normally do! – but it does feature some pretty cool music now and then. The good thing about the show is the audience it pulls in. It is an addictive brand that sees a wide demographic, voyeuristically or not, look at the lives of the rich and elite. Maybe the music is part of the background but, if a musician gets featured there, that is a big step. It is not only the kind of people who appear on Made in Chelsea that watch the show – in fact, the viewing figures cross social classes and areas of the country. The fact Hewitson has a song on the show ensures it gains new fans but gives him the confidence to keep going. I am always wary when songs get on T.V. shows and whether it genuinely benefits an artist. In Hewitson’s case; he has his music on Made in Chelsea: Ibiza, too, and that must give him a boost. Getting music played on T.V. gives the artist financial benefit (although not as much as anyone would think) and it is a great way of spreading the word quickly. I was a bit miffed he avoids Twitter but, perhaps, getting his songs on T.V. is a good alternative. He has also featured on Tattoo Fixers and, whether you like the show or not, that is a new audience. I cannot guess the sort of audience that would watch BOTH shows but there is not going to be a great overlap. E4 is a minor station but it has a growing, young audience. I watch now and then and have tuned into Made in Chelsea – for the sheer pleasure of seeing rich and posh people get their heart broken and tears shed.
That might sound cruel but so much of the show is set-up and faked one wonders whether any of it is real. Because of this, I often drift into the background and see what songs are being played. They are vastly more interesting than the banal conversations that spew from the mouths of the Chelsea toffs. I mention Tattoo Fixers because, one imagines, a rather different subset watches the show. I imagine the viewers of this show would be a bit more into tattoos and less fascinated by rich people gallivanting around the world – a sense of exploitation and mockery is involved on both shows. The reason I mention both shows is because of the diverse audiences. Not only does this mean James Leonard Hewitson’s music has flexibility and variation but it is making its way to a massive audience. Film would be the next logical step and I do not think Hewitson’s music is limited to a narrow brand. One might think Hewitson is reserved to documentary/reality shows but those shows attract a young audience and that can extend to other sources. I hear his latest material and hear someone whose songs have real reach and depth. I can envisage them on the big-screen and scoring some fascinating film scene. If a musician has faith from T.V. broadcasters then it shows they are taking a step in the right direction – let’s hope this fortune continues for Hewitson. Three different songs have been played on three different shows so I know Hewitson will take pride from that. What it shows is people are connecting with his songwriting and there is something in the music that has a popular appeal. Many might overlook influence when it comes to new artists but, in the case of Hewitson, it runs through the D.N.A. of what he does. Reviewers have compared his (previous music) to The Fall and Gang of Four; there is a blend of Psychedelia and Surf-Rock; some 1990s’ bands and U.S. Rock.
It is interesting discovering the lineage of a musician and, in Hewitson’s case, he is someone who has grown up on some fantastic sounds and impacted him greatly. I am interested seeing names such as The Fall and Gang of Four line-up against one another but, to me, there is a lot more at work. I can imagine Hewitson sifting through vinyl and being fascinated by his parents’ music. There is some modern work in his own material but such a range of different artists. This sort of variety could only come from someone who curiously investigates every strand and area of music. So much of today’s sounds are marketed and commercial. The harder, Rock-orientated bands are generic and boring. I find a lot of those artists without any commercial pretence can be rather stiff and unengaging. It is hard manufacturing music that retains some sense of individuality and interest but is strong enough to connect with a wide remit. Hewitson takes little patches from classic acts and the coolest from past days and mixes that with his own vision and voice. Influence is as important to an artist’s music as anything and can separate them from the pack. I am not one who likes acts who mimic others or have so little about them. This is not the case with Hewitson: he is a strong and accomplished musician whose instincts and songwriting skillset perfectly mixes with a love of the finest musicians from the past. This all comes together in a wonderful explosion of harder and softer sounds. One experiences colour and energy; there is weirdness at moments but conventional wisdom at others. You can get a real blast of something fresh and then, the next moment, soothing and contemplative vibes. I love how Hewitson has such a wide taste in music and is unafraid to mix all of that into the pot. I hear bits of Surf-Rock in his bog choruses and some incredible 1990s guitar music in some of the verses – a spirit of Punk and Indie nestling and sparring in other parts. It is a fantastic and colour-bomb explosion that gets under the skin and into the heart.
Let us move on in a minute but, for now, remain with the low-key arrangements and lo-fi charm of Hewitson’s music. I will look at one of his more-recent tracks soon enough but I am fascinated by his style and sense of cool. I mentioned how so much of today’s music is ruled by a rigidity and boredom. It has been a while since I have experienced anything mainstream-worthy that gets me excited. It is always a case of the song starting promisingly and then fading into the distance. Other times, one can hear promising areas but the complete thing is inconsistent. Maybe it is a bad period we are in but things are very serious and unengaging. A few musicians manage to create something interesting but they are in the minority. New musicians – those in the undergrowth and away from the mainstream – are always more reliable in this area. You can argue there is a commercial need for music that calms the spirits and spikes the brain but, in my view, we need something more compelling and escapist in hard times. I feel big bands and the exposed are not delivering any lyrics that discuss what is happening in life. It is possible to provide fun and exciting music whilst escaping banality. James Leonard Hewitson, with his double-release, Sometimes/Experience Song, provides humour, intelligence and wisdom but gives the listener a real kick of fun and fascination. I wanted to move to look at artists who create songs with big choruses and huge songs. Hewitson is not someone who values shallowness and easy joys above deep music. What we find is a young talent who can document something personal and intriguing with a sense-lifting, bold sound. That is a hard trick to get right and one few artists are attempting. Listening to Sometimes – the song I felt would suit a review – and I am attracted to the chorus - which seems to rush straight into the imagination and provoke all manner of visions.
The entire song, in fact, has a real energy and spark but it is the chorus that really gets into my mind. One is left humming and singing along with it but, listening to the entire song, there is something quite rich and nuanced working away – a track that carries a lot of clout and seriousness when it needs to. You may look at the previous sentences and thoughts – when looking at Made in Chelsea – and think Hewitson’s music is perfect for those shows because of its fresh attack and youthful vibes. Maybe that is what the shows picked up on but, tying that with his influences, and you know there is a lot more at work than you might think. If a musician can create two distinct worlds (in their music) and make them mix and coexist then you have a fantastic compromise. Hewitson brings summery vibes with his natural warmth and engagement but underneath is a soulful and thought-provoking talent whose music contains so many different layers. Stations like BBC Introducing and appeared at Stockton Calling, Evolution Emerging and Twisterella Festival. There is a lot of love for his sounds and so, because of this, I have been hooked to explore further. Hewitson has performed in London and has a lot of fans in the North. It seems there are no limits for his music and that fantastic sound has resonated with the masses. This, again, is a rarity and those musicians that can cross borders and tastes are to be commended. I feel Hewitson succeeds because he does not follow the crowds and do what he thinks will ‘sell’. A lot of acts are too concerned with survival and, in their minds, that means replicating the acts one finds in the mainstream. Hewitson recognises he needs to compromise to an extent but never devalues his own talent and background by saying what everyone else does. Mixing together his favourite artists and that handy knack of penning big songs and one has a musician that has the opportunity to ensure and inspire others – someone we will be hearing more from in the coming years.
I am not sure whether Hewitson has an album arriving in 2018 but I do know he is working on more material. If one looks at previous songs like Dream Person (a song that featured on E4) and Care Less, Love Less (Antifolk in its ethics) then you can see an artist who has a great mobility and ease. His songs are never the same and one always gets a different sensation with each number. That is the same with his double A-side release: so many ideas working away; none remind you of anything that has come before. The Screen is another older track that has a real personality to it - addressing the overuse of social media. Thinking about that song might answer my questions when it comes to his lack of Twitter account and visibility there. So far, we have seen some great music arrive from him and it now comes to the point when they could all be put together in an album. There are, conceivably, eight or nine great numbers that he can put into an L.P. I would like to see that and maybe Hewitson is working on that right now. What I do find with modern music is how much of the promotional run-in is to do with singles. By that, I mean an artist releases a series of singles before an album arrives. There was a time when acts brought out a couple of songs and then the album would be released. Now, artists cannot afford to record an album that soon so fill the gaps with singles – ensuring they have popularity and can gauge what people think of them. I would like to see more musicians taking risks and releasing albums sooner. Maybe that is a marketing and financial consideration but I feel musicians are programmed and guided to release a minimum number of singles before an E.P./album. In Hewitson’s case; he has enough material for an album but I feel he is waiting to see what the reaction is going to be.
Modern music is so tough and money is so sparse – it is not always optional to release an album right off the bat. Hewitson has established himself and is getting to a lot of influential people right now. I am sure his 2018 will be a huge one and I cannot wait to see where that takes him. I am interested hearing from Hewitson because he is based in the North – an area that does not get as much attention as it should. I find music is split between London and the North. It seems any artist based outside the capital has to struggle a lot harder to get their voices heard. What I find, when looking at the North and South, is a lot more originality stemming from north of London. I have spent a lot of time investigating Yorkshire musicians and, with them, one finds artists willing to take bigger risks and push the possibilities of music. Their spectrum is galvanised and striking; they blend older genres and are not so beholden to the structure and conventions of the mainstream. That might seem like a binary, black-and-white vantage point but there is some wisdom in it. I know there are London artists that have real talent and originality. It is not the case all acts from the South are less interesting and have fewer great ideas. I am aware there is a North-South divide and that is something that unsettles me. Such is the focus on London it means few northern artists get a look in. Hewitson is based in Hartlepool and an area many do not look at. Liam Howe – a producer who has worked with the likes of Lana Del Rey – is, perhaps, the biggest talent and most recognisable person to come from Hartlepool in recent years. I know well enough there are brilliant acts in Hartlepool but, for someone like Hewitson, he will get more attention if he were based in London. The grooves, slacker vibes and stunning songs mean it is sad to think artists need to move here simply to be seen and approved.
I shall end my introduction soon but, to end, a look at male songwriters and how the best of the breed is making singer-songwriters more interesting. I always think female solo artists are stronger but, in the case of James Leonard Hewitson, he has his band The Relevant People around him. He is, essentially, the lead and focus - but having those extra bodies affords him more freedom and possibility. Maybe that is the answer to remedy the (comparative) lack of great male solo artists: getting yourself a band but keeping the focus on yourself. That may seem contradictory and pointless but there are plenty of sole songwriters who flesh their music out with extra players. I am being a little down on male songwriters but I feel female acts are more interesting and diverse. One gets the beauty of their voice but, when it comes to mixing sounds, they are braver and more intriguing. Too many male songwriters lack real vision and the desire to create something fantastic. There are a few great male songwriters but I am drawn more and more to females. Why I wanted to bring this up is because acts like Hewitson add a real spark of imagination and passion into what they do. I have mentioned how wide-ranging his music is and that is a good enough reason to get excited. There is nobody like Hewitson in music at the moment and that can all change. It does not take a great leap of imagination to go from something quite ordinary to extraordinary. Hewitson’s love of older music and his natural experimentation means his current sounds are already ahead of the competition. I find myself soulless when faced with solo artists who all sound alike and never really inject any punch into their music. Hewitson is a rare breed but someone giving me a lot of faith. I would like to see two things happen with this being accepted. He is a proud northern artist but his exposure is coming from London/southern T.V. shows and bigger gigs.
The fact he has made it to shows like Made in Chelsea is to do with his talent and skill. I would like to see more people take notice of those away from the capital. It is not true the best are based in London…that has never been the case. I am annoyed so many labels and newspapers keep themselves isolated to London and do not look for talent elsewhere. I would also like to see artists like Hewitson embraced more and his music become more commercialised. By that, I mean he should be given big airplay and set as an example of how to do things – rather than be sold and cheapened by record labels. I shall move on now but am interested there are splits when there do not need to be. How many of us are aware of those many artists who emanate from areas like Hartlepool? There are some great acts there and some excellent venues. Maybe the fact the media does not look that far up the country means so many have to come down to London – or quit music altogether. I hope Hewitson does not abandon his home but, at the same time, I hope he spends some time down here. If the only way he can get proper exposure is to come to London then that is better than nothing. Hewitson has such strong music because of how he was raised and his innate abilities. The popularity and visibility has a bit to do with London but his local reputation helps. I am wandering off the course but wanted to get that off my chest. Hewitson is one of the strongest new artists around and I hope he gets adequate respect into 2018.
There is a real interesting clash of notes and sounds in the introduction. The strumming and percussion are unconventional and they have an element of older-days. One gets Punk incorporations and acts like The Velvet Underground. Gang of Four and Lou Reed’s solo work comes out but, truly, that is never the biggest takeaway in those early moments. It is such a vibrant and compelling start that your feet and heart are instantly and actively enlivened. Hewitson comes to the microphone and, when one hears his voice, you get something unexpected. Most male songwriters have a very familiar voice and it is never that deep. Hewitson reminds one of, yes, Lou Reed, but there is so much more at work. Before a single word has been sung you are involved in the song and interested by its every move. Sometimes, it seems, the hero needs nobody – maybe the solitude and advantages of solemnness not being lost. The song is lo-fi which means the vocals have that real physicality and proximity. They are not buried in layers of production and, as such, it is easy to gain access to the soul and truth of the song. Our hero is a mass of contradictions as he claims he needs no one but often comes home for company. His mind is confused and entangled and questions race. The percussion drives and strikes whilst the hero lets his voice wander and muse. It is an interesting marriage of fast-slow/broad-specific. The lyrics offer a window into his mindset and the current state of affairs. He is looking for clarity and a real degree of direction. I feel Hewitson needs somebody but, as he claims, he is fine on his own. He, at least, requires another set of hands and eyes to get him on the right road. Maybe this malaise and confusion is as a result of a bad time or harsh breakup. Adam Soper, Steven Hart; Josh Ingledew and Michael Kitching provide impressive backing and ensure the words are provided the maximum amount of passion and intelligence.
As the song carries on; there is no real decision being made – more a series of wonderings and confusions. Maybe things are not as evident and obvious but, I don’t know…perhaps, the hero is unworried about his current predicament. There is no need to really rationalise these conflicts or cure any ailment. He is laying it out there and not keen to raise any moral lawsuits – life creating tortious interference and harshing his mellow. The man is a bit of a slacker but is not someone who idly wanders and does not care about things. Essentially, our hero does have these contradictions in his life but is not letting it get him down. I do wonder whether he needs that stability because, this blowing-aimlessly-in-the-breeze dichotomy is not providing any direction. There is simultaneous simplicity and enigma in his words. Our man goes to work but that does not seem to satisfy his desires. Sometimes he needs people around him and other times that loneliness is best for him. Chris McManus mixes and masters the song perfectly – I should use that in past tense but you know what I mean. It is a fantastic song that has a great and hypnotic beat and some fuzzy guitars. All the instruments combine perfectly but have separate agendas. The boys all blend natural but each has a chance to step out from the pack and do their own thing. Hewitson, and that voice of his, brings so much candour and personality to the lyrics. There are few words but the ones we do hear seem to take on a new perspective each time they come around. By the closing moments; you are sucked into this world and motivated to help the hero find his way. Not many people would know where to start but it seems, as I have mooted, maybe the hero is going through life and not concerned with settling things. It is one of those songs that seem to be simple and not really bothered with depth but, the more you listen, you discover a man who is trying to figure things out. Sometimes is a terrific song from a songwriter who has a long future ahead of him. Superbly backed by his band; there is no denying the chemistry in the ranks. I cannot wait to see how he develops next year and where his talent takes him – it seems he will go very far in the industry!
I will end this very soon but wanted to look back on my points about variation and big songs – and where James Leonard Hewitson can head. Hewitson plays The Tyne Bar (in Newcastle-upon-Tyne) tomorrow and has a date in Middlesbrough soon. In the past few weeks, he has played around Manchester and the North but a couple of gigs in London. I like the fact he is getting dates nearer to home and I hope that carries on into next year. With talk of new material upcoming; I wonder whether the diary is going to get busier – and where popularity takes him. The local crowds will want to see Hewitson perform but there will be demand from further south. I know international audiences will want to be listening to his music and want to see him at some point. Next year is a pivotal one for Hewitson and one where he will take some big strides. His music has already been featured on prominent and popular T.V. shows and been taken to heart by radio stations. There are not many who produce music that appeals to more mainstream sources and retains its sense of cool and unique flair. I predict Hewitson will perform a lot more in the South but will have more gigs in the North. His life will get busier but this is not a surprise. The fact his music produces so many different reactions and emotions is because of the artists he follows and the music he loves. Hewitson wants to be known on his own terms and seen as separate but one hears embers of others when listening to his work. Every new song brings something sensational to the ears. I have been hooked on Sometimes because it elicits so much heat and electricity. The lyrics get you digging deep and there is so much fascination and appeal.
I know that has come from years of performance and honing but there is an instant and natural ability to Hewitson. He knows how to bond with a listener and produce music that remains in the mind. There are great northern songwriters out there and many are not being given enough backing. I feel Hewitson would be further along if the media looked at areas like Hartlepool, Newcastle and Middlesbrough. One may fight and say it is uneconomical and unwise trying to cover that much ground but there are plenty of journalists out there. If we allow music to become geographically homogenous...then that is going to lead to issues – music not at its most optimal and equal. I want to see changes but the fact musicians like Hewitson are doing great work might help redress the problem. It is wonderful hearing songs like Sometimes come out because they have that popular edge but sound unlike anything out there in music. Experience Song is the other half of the double-release and testament to the abilities of a rare and fine songwriter. I am excited and pumped by Hewitson’s music and know next year will see many more opportunities and achievements, Hearing his music heard on T.V. is satisfying but his real pleasure and sense of place comes from playing across the country and performing to a range of crowds. The demand for that close connection will rise in 2018 and introduce fresh eyes to one of our most promising songwriters. There are few like him and, considering the beige and boring mass obsessing the mainstream today, musicians like James Leonard Hewitson are…
WHAT we really need right now.
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