Good gracious me! I have recently been knocked sideways by a curious phenomenon sweeping the globe. It’s not often a man of my forthright character finds himself flabbergasted by today’s musical goings-on, but the latest craze to rise, phoenix-like, from the flames of the bonfire of archaic fads has, I must admit, caught me on the back foot.
I do hope, rather oxymoronically, that you’re prepared to be utterly surprised. I would like to, if I may, pose you a question. How cool is a one-man band? I’d imagine you’re probably picturing some manner of nightmarish freakshow with cymbals tied to his knees, a horn on his head and tambourines on his elbows. Something a little like this, in fact…
Emphatically NOT cool. Surely, nothing could redeem the one-man-band in the eyes and ears of the overwhelmingly tasteful public. You agree? Well, you’re wrong, I tell thee, plain wrong.
I must confess, I may well have been inclined to concur, before one man changed my mind. One man dared to set out on the streets of the nation with no more than his pram full of gear to revive the reputation of the solo music machine. One very, very cool man indeed.
But who? How? Why? What the devil does he damn well think he’s playing at? Well now, simmer down, mop your perplexed, furrowed brows, and prepare to bash your slackened jaws roughly upon the floor- I give you the one, the only… Lewis Floyd Henry.
If you want to be a musical maverick, sometimes you’ve just got to go it alone. Lewis Floyd Henry may well seem like he’s taken this ethos a tad too literally, but, to be honest, he needs no help when it comes to making marvellous music.
To give you an idea of just what it is he does so damn well, look no further than the title of his debut album, ‘One Man And His 30-Watt Pram’ (In the world of the one-man-band, that’s a luxury tour-bus),referring to a baby buggy that carries his guitar, a battery-powered amp and approximately a third of a tiny, tiny drumkit. Any more would simply be overdoing things.
So, he’s dragged his art into the hi-tech jungle of the current millennium, already streets ahead of his contemporaries (and in busking circles, that’s a long way), but how does he avoid the pitfalls of the traditionally unlistenable one-man-band cacophony?
The answer lies in his excellent songwriting and flawless musicianship. Not for him the ‘art’ of banging out the standard sub-morris-man versions of ‘A Long Way To Tipperary’ replete with swannee-whistle solo and out-of-time bass drum freakout. Oh no- he’d rather set up his street-side stall with a brace of blistering blues, screaming slide-guitar, frantic finger-picking and classy country workouts, crafted to near perfection using only his trusty electric guitar, his soulful voice and some miraculously adept pedal-powered drumming.
The masterful album One Man And His 30-Watt Pram is out now, and showcases some, but not necessarily all, of Henry’s talents. Having taken the hard route, busking on the often cruel, disdainful streets of old London town, he knows that, no matter what the quality of his wares, the majority of passers-by need something tantamount to a brick in the face to pique their attention.
Hence the world’s first live, one-man-band interpretation of the Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Protect Ya Neck’, and a spectacular fusion of ODB’s ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ with Prokofiev, adding rapid-fire MC skills to his already-precarious multi-tasking act. Wow- imagine your average Dylan-mauling corner-caterwauler pulling that out of the bag. Not only this, but solo versions of Jimi Hendrix, the Stooges and Black Sabbath probably helped to shock passing punters into parting with their pretty pennies…
If, however, you don’t have access to a street, for whatever reason, it is only right and proper that you purchase a copy of the album forthwith (*voice in brain*-”but, surely, if he makes enough money, he’ll stop busking, thus depriving the nation of his talents?”- ha, yes, but we can BUY him and OWN him- mwahahaha!). His multi-textured songs belie the sparsity of elements that went into their creation.
Whether you’re more inclined toward the roaring gospel-blues of ‘Good News’, the punkoid rifferama of ‘Went To A Party’, the blissful country-psych of ‘Short Space Of Time’ or the rollicking rock’n'roll of single ‘Rickety Ol’ Rollercoaster’, there’s such a depth and breadth of talent evidenced by the album it’s hard to believe it all came out of one man.
Of course, ‘One Man…’ represents a mere handful of his works. No doubt he can write songs at the drop of a busker’s hat, and, having received attention from all quarters, not least BBC6 music, we shall surely be seeing a lot more of him in the near future.
Lewis Floyd Henry proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that less is more. You really ought to make some space for him in your life- after all, he doesn’t take up much room. Who knows, maybe you’ll be able to catch him at a venue near you soon- just keep an eye on the pavement outside your local Co-Op…
Lewis Floyd Henry, however, isn’t the only one-man-band to have trudged his lonely way up from the doledrums- there are a great many other (literally) singular artistes out there who, whether it be to avoid inter-band arguments and writing-credit disputes, to keep touring and equipment fees to a minimum, or simply to make as full and fantastic a sound as a single musician ever could, choose to employ their entire bodies as musical accompaniment.
The biggest success story in the field has to be Seasick Steve, a man who only needs one foot and three guitar strings to whip up some high-octane hobo blues-rock. His New-Year’s-Eve appearance on Later With Jools Holland in 2007 broke him into the mainstream consciousness with a bang.
A fellow Later… alumnus, Son of Dave, is also on an ever-ascendant trajectory- astonishing, considering his chosen instrumentation of beatbox, floorboards, harmonica, voice and loops, but thoroughly deserved, as his groundbreaking yet catchy skewed-blues beatfests are a joy to listen to.
Many others, though, are making their own solo voyages toward greater recognition. Reverend Deadeye (and his No-Man Gospel Band) is a genuine preacher’s son, hollering out fire-and-brimstone lyrics with an almost frighteningly intense missionary zeal, accompanied by no more than his own fuzzed-up guitar and clattering pedal-percussion. Righteous!
In a similar vein, but sped up into a blistering garage-punk whirlwind, Detroit’s Jawbone was championed by the exalted overlord of the underground himself, John Peel, with good reason (as if I were ever going to doubt Peel’s judgement), and is still going strong, peddling (and pedalling) his bare-bones blitzkrieg blues.
Head in a somewhat different direction, however, and you’ll find Bob Log III, who stands alone even amongst one-man-bands. Aside from the lightning-fast fingerpicking, sleazy slide guitar and frantic foot-drums, he throws in distorted vocals (courtesy of an adapted motorcycle helmet), a smattering of electronics, and a lot of whiskey, women and pure filth. Once, during recording, he used the breasts of ‘professional ladies’ as percussion. Naturally, his music sounds as fantastic as you’d imagine.
And there’s more! For instance, weird-popster, cabaret-esque Lynch/Burton/Bowie hybrid and general oddball (in a good way) Thomas Truax actually turned his rather unique mind to inventing instruments that would enable him to play on his own, including a literal drum machine involving a system of levers, pulleys and bike wheels, and such implements as the Hornicator, the Backbeater and the Stringaling. How bizarre…
And what about 60’s-styled psychedelic power-pop troubador Ricky Lee Robinson, a man who makes his expansive, bluesy songs sound even bigger on stage with absolutely no outside assistance.
I say, it certainly got me in rather a flutter- I began to entertain the notion that that most cherished of institutions, the Rock Band, was now obsolete. These men and their musical/mechanical multi-interfacing trickery could dispense with the need for other musicians altogether! Trained drummers would look on bitterly, reminiscing about tom-toms, cymbals, and full-time employment. And what of the bassists? Won’t somebody think of the bassists? Does anyone ever think of the bassists?!?
Fortunately, for all you anxious musicians out there, I doubt one-man-bands are really poised for world domination. After all, playing Wembley Stadium might be a tad tricky… However, what Lewis Floyd Henry and his ilk prove is that you don’t need a band to get out there and make superb music. Excellent coordination, however, is essential.
These marvellous chaps have most definitely rehabilitated the general perception of the one-man-band, and are thoroughly deserving of widespread acclaim (and, if you can spare the cash, more batteries for their amps). Far beyond using their oeuvre as a gimmick, they are perfectly placed to assert their individuality and stamp their personal authority all over the sounds they make. Plus, it must be a highly effective work-out.
I stand corrected. One-man-bands are the real musical mavericks. Long may they stand alone, their single shadows cast long over the lazy sods who need to run to other musicians for help. Lewis Floyd Henry and his kind are the true originals, raw, authentic and utterly unique, and their time in the light has finally come.
Dr A.F.W Curio
Here be a bounty of audio/visual treasures- yes, it’s pretty lo-fi- what did you expect?