The Bench Connection - Around The House In 80 Days Artist: The Bench Connection
Release Date: 26/03/07 Label: 50:50 Recordings Rating:
Beginning with 'Young At Last', a soft but emotionally conducted song which sounds like Kings Of Leon slowed down to Kings Of Convenience pace, 'Around The House In 80 Days' is full of imagery - sea, sun, post-surf relaxation, and an almost cliché middle-class dynamic. The opening track's sinking feeling brings a melancholy which is sustained throughout by the harmonies and use of piano.
'Stainless' continues similarly, its country twang and lyrics of willow trees linking in well with the album's artwork (which has trees). There's absolutely nothing urban of this lot, it's straight-up, tree-hugging, woodland-strolling, cider-drinking countryside-loving music. The antithesis of Lady Sovereign, perhaps, through The Bench Connection we can indulge in delicate, thoughtful and loving music.
Strangely, Topshop has been playing the video for 'Young At Last' once an hour it would seem, so look out for, and raise a glass (or overpriced plastic bracelet) at its plasma screens. We should all love us a bit of folk sometimes, so embrace its populist revival, and bring on the summer! -- This is Fake DIY Review
The Sunday Times June 25, 2006 The great folk-rock swindleSon of Bench have attracted a lot of attention on MySpace. But they're not what they seem, says Tom Cox -- who invented them It's been more than two years now, and Matt Deighton still hasn't moved. Asleep on his orange sofa, his supine form and the announcement above it -- "Matt Deighton: the official website coming soon!" -- seem gently to mock the modern world, providing a continual source of frustration to those who arrive in the hope of finding pop-up menus, news about forthcoming tours and so on. In the time since mattdeighton.com was launched, bands have formed and exploited the internet to find armies of fans, yet Deighton's website remains dormant. But then, as he will be the first to tell you, he has never been one for self-promotion. You might have heard of Matt. More likely, you might not. As well as fronting Mother Earth, who played funky retro rock in the early 1990s, when doing such a thing was deeply unfashionable, he was also, briefly, Noel Gallagher. That is to say, when Noel Gallagher walked off the Oasis tour in 2000, Matt filled in for him. This is what he is best known for, which is a shame, because, left to his own devices, Matt can write songs reminiscent of a much more spiritually inclined, erudite nature. He does not have a manager or a PR, and his last two records, The Common Good and Wake up the Moths, have been released on minuscule record labels to even more minuscule media attention.
They are, without a shadow of a doubt, my favourite two albums of this decade. It is almost impossible to imagine fans of John Martyn and Nick Drake not falling in love with them. Despite this, few people know Matt's singing voice. I can tell you this with some certainty, because over the past three months I have distributed it, under a false name, to 826 music-lovers at last count, and though many of them have said they have fallen deeply in love with it, not one of them has said: "Isn't that Matt Deighton?" Let me explain. Earlier this year, I decided I wanted to register a fake band on MySpace.com, the much-discussed website (now owned by News Corporation, the publishers of The Sunday Times) that has been central to the launch of the careers of, among thousands of less hyped others, Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen. A virtual community with a growth rate like no virtual community before it, MySpace has been a godsend for musicians, allowing them to upload four songs, advertise tour dates and -- the most important bit -- gain fans by clicking on the "add friends" bit of other MySpacers' profiles. I wanted to see how easy it was to use it to promote "my music". There were three problems: (a) I didn't make music, so I had to get it elsewhere, (b) the music had to be good, and (c) its real creators should not be instantly recognisable to the ears I was aiming for. I thought it couldn't do any harm to contact Matt. He would already have a MySpace profile, though, wouldn't he? "Er, no," he said. "I'm not sure I quite know what it is." Yet he seemed happy for me to "borrow" some of his unreleased songs, written with his new songwriting partner, Chris Sheehan, as the Bench Connection. A couple of years ago, Chris -- who writes the kind of high-ceilinged anthems Coldplay might if you gave them a lesson in rock history and a good slapping -- had been on the verge of signing with Island Records, only to be told at the eleventh hour that he didn't have the necessary "star quality" (they signed Keane instead). Like Matt, Chris did not have a MySpace profile. Unlike Matt, his poverty -- though extreme -- had not quite yet led him to survive solely on chocolate biscuits.Careful not to ask the Bench Connection about the lyrics of Saint Want, Rusty Money, Grandeur Fever and Young at Last, I used them as a loose starting point for a folk-rock myth. Out of this emerged the legend of Son of Bench. It was simple. Sort of. First, in my fictitious blog, there had been Benchley and Bench, a folk duo whose connection ran deeper than their surnames. The pair had been poised to complete one of the great acid-folk albums of the mid-1970s, The Orchard of Mother Mary Jane, until one of them, Ian Bench, drove his car off a bridge -- perhaps deliberately, perhaps not -- and drowned, leaving his partner, Angus Benchley, vowing never to record again. Before Bench died, however, he had sired a boychild, Jack, who became a songwriter and, upon reaching full manhood, sought out his dad's old friend and coaxed him out of retirement. Hence: Son of Bench. Revealing some of this story in my "about me" section -- I would eke out the full, tragic story in Son of Bench's blog, later -- I then uploaded the four evocative Benchley and Bench songs that Jack Bench and Angus Benchley had reshaped and rerecorded. Finally, I added some supporting pictures: a fetching monochrome shot of a park bench; a fake album cover for The Orchard of Mother Mary Jane, kindly designed with acid-folk elan by Stacey Earley, the illustrator of my new Lost Tribes of Pop book; and a photo of three hippies and a baby on the Yorkshire moors. (Okay, it was actually of my parents, their friend Pete and his daughter, Jane, in 1974.) Immediately, I -- or, rather, "Jack" -- set to work linking Son of Bench to the new, hip folk-rock community, a community that hasn't let living in a 1971 headspace stop it from being a notably active part of the 24-hour open mic that is MySpace. By clicking on people who have pictures of wicker edifices and March hares on their pages, Son of Bench quickly began to pinpoint rustic soul mates. "You are definitely now and definitely commercial," wrote Veronique Acoustique, an "electric songstress and old hippie". "Get yourself a good manager and contact independent record labels like Sanctuary. You have all the right ingredients, so why are you waiting?" Added Sabrina, a 24-year-old Caravan fan: "Your sound makes me drift off to some far-off place that doesn't have computers and things." Even more enthusiastic was Edwina Hayes, a songwriter signed to Warners. "Hi Jack," she begins. "God, your music is gorgeous!" It was not long before Son of Bench began receiving "friends" requests of their own -- eight or nine a day. Not only did Jack find himself fielding a request to stream his songs from the magical, folklore-themed website The Unbroken Circle, he was required to decide whether to admit slightly dodgy ska-metal bands and porn stars into his neat, pastorally inclined circle of "friends". There are two approaches to expanding your social network on MySpace. One is to click on anyone and everyone, whether they are a 14-year-old Japanese girl who likes embroidery or a 57-year-old Satan-worshipper called Kib who collects bottle tops; the other is to look for relevant reference points. As the list grows, it is easy to become less discerning: "A cruddy punk band from Derby? Why not?" What matters, and does prove more pressing, is the hallowed "Top Eight": the box of favourite "friends" that shows up on every profile. I love Price, a power-pop band from Florida, but are Son of Bench right to feature them among our best buddies, when they have not reciprocated? Should I feel bad about choosing Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, who is quite clearly dead, ahead of my mate Leo, who is not only alive, but let me stay on his sofa bed just the other night and bought me breakfast the next day. On MySpace, it is easy to let extracurricular concerns like this get in the way of the real business, which is wresting control from the Man. Nonetheless, after three months, things are going well. With (at the time of going to press) 826 "friends", Son of Bench are still 69,745 people less popular than the Arctic Monkeys, but we have received our first offer of a (small) record deal. Additionally, Pat Pope, the renowned rock photographer, has written to offer to manage us and started using Rusty Money as the signature song on his profile. Yet I have also started to feel some serious guilt about winding people up, particularly having received the message from the man from Abacus Roolz records, whose dad died last year, and who read a little bit too much into the lyrics of Young at Last, telling Jack "how touching it is that you remember your dad in this way". As Jack posts more of the "interview" between himself and Angus Benchley in our blog, my fellow MySpacers keep telling me that Son of Bench's heartrending story would make a great film. But, in the end, it is the music that is drawing them back, supporting the legend. When I reveal the truth, on the day that this article is printed, some may be disappointed that Saint Want wasn't really written by a dead bloke sometime in 1973. However, the fact is, the song is still timeless -- as haunting (to paraphrase Son of Bench fan Sam Semple) as Traffic's version of John Barleycorn Must Die. One of Matt Deighton's mantras is "The good stuff will win through in the end". With or without the advent of Son of Bench, these songs were going to make their inexorable way to their true fan base one day, whatever the obstacles -- just like those of the Bench Connection's heroes, singers such as Nick Drake and Bill Fay. Thanks to MySpace, though, I like to think that day will arrive a little sooner. There is a little less romance in that, perhaps. But there's possibly only so much romance you want when you're living on chocolate biscuits.The Bench Connection, comprising Matt Deighton and Chris Sheehan, play the Cobden Club, W10, on Tuesday -- Sunday Times Feature The Sunday Times
THE BENCH CONNECTION
Sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin...........
One half of acoustic duo The Bench Connection will already be familiar to some of you. As lead vocalist and songwriter with Mother Earth and author of three other solo albums since 1995's critically acclaimed Villager, Matt Deighton already has a diverse musical history taking in all stops from Brian Auger to Bill Fay. None of which is why we're here. Because just as life regularly fails to fall into neat, paragraph-sized chunks, so the story of The Bench Connection - a partnership between Matt and fellow singer and songwriter Chris Sheehan- has been a surreal rock'n'roll odyssey involving Matt's stint as a stand-in for Noel Gallagher, a spell in the blogosphere as seventies folk icons, and in Around The House in 80 Days the first fruits of a dazzling new songwriting partnership. And no, we're not just saying that. But maybe Matt and Chris should take up the story. "I'd been playing lead guitar with Chris Difford and he asked me whether I wanted to go on a writing retreat" explains Matt. " Basically, he picks a load of musicians he thinks might get on and puts them all in a mansion in the country to write songs. My initial reaction was `No chance'. But he twisted my arm and that's where I met Chris and the whole album started." Having bonded with fellow inductee Chris, the pair revelled in an atmosphere pitched somewhere between a musical Hogwarts and, as Matt puts it, `something out of Hammer Horror'. During the day they'd sit in the grounds with their acoustic guitars and write songs (and yes, there was a bench -hence the name) and in the evenings they'd drink the spirits cupboard dry and listen to '30's jazz on a wind-up gramophone. Slowly, the dark clouds began to lift. "I really hadn't thought of writing with anyone else, but at the same time I was sick of being solo" Matt explains. "The mood on my last solo album (2002's Wake Up The Moths) was dark as fuck and it's only now I realise quite how miserable I was. We wrote `Young At Last' together and there was an optimism to it which had been missing since I recorded Villager." Indeed, with Chris's lyrics and timeless melodies combining with Matt's, initial reactions prompted a slew of marketing ideas. The most ingenious of all being journalist Tom Cox's idea to launch a My Space site masquerading as the work of a fictitious group called Son Of Bench -the modern day incarnation of a folk duo named Ian Bench and Angus Benchley, formed thirty-five years after the former drowned in mysterious circumstances following the release of their `seminal' 1971 album The Orchard of Mother Mary Jane."It was worthwhile because it got the name around" muses Matt. "The funniest thing about it were the comments from people. Things like 'these songs have a sound which they only ever captured in the seventies'. Naturally, we were pleased with that!" "We did get some amazing reactions" laughs Chris. "But we don't want anyone to feel we were winding them up" he stresses. "It was just a case of seeing how music fans are sometimes more inclined to buy into the past than the future." Indeed, whilst their contemporaries regularly fail to match the mystery'n'mischief of the past, Around The House in 80 Days achieves it effortlessly. Recorded and engineered by Chris, produced by both, and mixed by Dave Anderson, aided by established session musicians Mike Rowe (keyboards), Tim Weller (percussion) and Julia Thornton (harp), the pair have conjured up a low key masterpiece-complete with banjo and Tibetan bells - which hints at everything from Beth Gibbons and Rustin' Man's Out Of Season to Shack's H.M.S Fable, all blessed with the spirit of John Martyn at his most uplifting. If the playing is kinetic (most were written and recorded on the same day), songs like `Parting Shot' ("Wish I had a magic ship/To carry me away/And not fall in love again") and "Grandeur Fever" ("We'll laugh so loud/It'll carry us up to the roof") suggest the pair have delivered an album made for those rare days when, to para-phrase Kurt Vonnegut, you and the universe are in perfect harmony, and you both know it. "The melancholy feeling is still there but now there's a ray of light" Matt agrees. "There's a healthy cyncism about the world today, but it's not too `candlight', if you know what I mean. It's a modern record - with added custard doughnuts!" adds Chris. "Anyway, " Matt reasons, "For me, folk music is music made by folks, simple as that." Amen to that. After years of musical chairs, The Bench Connection have found their place in the sun.