INTERVIEW: Son of Dave | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Son of Dave, or Benjamin to his mother, is a harmonica beatbox bluesman. After early success with the Crash Test Dummies, Winnipeg-born London resident Benjamin looks back at that era without regret, it was a “nice job”, but he insists that his current solo persona is his chosen career, and where he is happiest.

In addition to his own repertoire, Benjamin has built a reputation for covering songs, in particular funk and hip-hop, in his own inimitable and unmistakable way, with as much comedic energy as musical dexterity. If it were for comedy value alone, the creasing would have ceased some time ago, but the fact is, it stands up to musical scrutiny. Surely though, as a composer, there must be greater satisfaction in invention rather than re-imagination? “You get an initial satisfaction from making something yourself, but when it comes to performing, it doesn’t matter if it’s a cover, you get satisfaction from playing a good piece of music. It’s fun to write it, but a good song is a good song, I don’t get any special kind of satisfaction from having written it.”

He certainly entertains, his shows are raucous, energetic and laced with witty chat. I asked him how it all began, and his wit prevailed: “I found a harmonica in my Christmas stocking. It was either put there by God, or Santa, or maybe Dave…I took to it right away. I didn’t really know what it was for but I seemed to have a talent for making music come out of it.” He went on to try out some new material on me (his admittance) with an overt joke and a covert Freudian one slipped in (at least, I think it was on purpose). “My parents took me to a child psychologist, ‘cos I wouldn’t stop sucking on this thing, and the child psychologist asked ‘so how long has your son had the blues then?’”

There’s plenty of jubilant blues tunes. On the other hand, unless you live in a bubble you will experience some kind of hardship

So, the harp was an early acquisition, but what about the beatboxing? “I was busking around 1999 or 2000, I’d given up making demo tapes, I’d made some complicated blues-based records and the record industry was crumbling. I just wanted to make music for people so I went busking in Soho to figure out what I was going to do. I took a little amplifier and some percussion and started going at it, and as soon as I made that first little bit of beatbox, the idea just came to me, people stopped and threw coins.” But, as a bluesman, why the hip-hop? “Imitating a hip-hop record had never occurred to me as a thing to do! I don’t do drum ‘n’ bass, I’m just imitating a simple set of drums. I want it to sound human, I don’t want it to sound like the original too much. I make it nice and breathy and grunty. I wouldn’t have a job without the loop pedal.” The matrimony of old-style blues and beatbox reminded me of the late great Sonny Boy Williamson, the first cat to publicly perform in such a way, back in the 1940s.

Son of Dave’s latest album, Music For Cop Shows, takes a different approach to blues; his music has featured on several cop and crime shows, so he figured he’d just go ahead and make a bunch of TV-ready tracks.  Isn’t blues supposed to be a cathartic release of angst though? “Not all blues songs are about the miserable experiences we’ve had in life. There’s plenty of jubilant blues tunes. On the other hand, unless you live in a bubble you will experience some kind of hardship. It has a way of finding itself everywhere, even in the middle classes. There’s sickness, there’s disease, there’s crazy people. We know death we know alcoholism, we know crime. We’ve all been mugged, beat up, knocked down, there’s unwanted pregnancies, there’s being in jail anywhere from a few days to a bunch of years, we are all going to encounter this stuff, it’s not a mystery.”

Benjamin offers some advice for budding blues songwriters: “There’s five things you can write about, in my experience. The first one is drinking or taking drugs. The second one is fucking, or making love. The third one is dancing. You can combine all of these three, you can have an acid-taking-drinking-fucking-dancing song. The fourth category is fighting. Every country has its own fighting song, it’s called a march. The fifth category can be about foreign powers using the far-right fringe elements within society through the vehicle of social media to achieve their foreign corporate and/or political agendas. It’s not so catchy. You can turn that one into ‘that hellhound bitch who ruined my goddamn life’.”

Benjamin is an engaging chap to chat to and we went on to discuss guns, Jim Jefferies, Barcelona, manufacturing, China, sex robots and the fact that no programmer will ever create a beatboxing harmonica playing robot, so, thankfully his job is probably safe.

Son of Dave plays Stockton’s Green Room on Friday 10th November.


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