EP Review: Field to City – Ben Clarke
Four track EP: Until You Come Calling/Your Reasons Have Escaped Me/The Longing/Change Your Story
Available from iTunes
By Guy Sangster Adams
Ben Clarke’s debut solo EP is an absolute pleasure. Its sunlit, ethereally melodic pastoralism interwoven with the irrepressibility of urbanist swagger and momentum is equally evocative of the sheer breadth of experience, inspiration, and excitement of Clarke’s progression over the last six years from, as the title has it, Field to City.
After growing up surrounded by endless fields and infinite skies deep in the countryside of England’s second largest county, Lincolnshire (a particularly rural county in which the land is predominantly given over to agricultural use), in 2005 aged just 17 – having left school at 16 to pursue a musical career – Clarke co-founded the band, Littl’ans, with Andrew Aveling.
Within months of forming they were not only the main support act on Babyshambles’ sold out tour, but had also released their debut single, Their Way, featuring Pete Doherty. The single reached number 2 in the UK Indie charts, and by the end of the year Littl’ans were headlining their own Club NME tour. The following year they collaborated with French fashion designer, Hedi Slimane, to provide the soundtrack for the Dior Homme Spring/Summer 2007 catwalk show. Their debut album, Primitive World, which had been recorded in New York, was released in 2008 and their tour dates took them around the world, and included playing 2009’s South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, USA. But late in 2009 Clarke left the band to concentrate on his own material.
The first released fruits of which are the four tracks on Field to City, which were once again recorded in New York. Perhaps unsurprisingly as Clarke was the drummer in Littl’ans, the rhythm section is very much to the fore in each of the tracks which, as alluded to above, creates a fantastically charged upbeat inner city rock contrasting to great effect with the more bucolic or folky elements of the mix. This brings a welcome suggestion of both The Kinks and Love. Indeed, Clarke’s vocals and harmonies which by turns are wistfully reflective or soaring to meet the swallows flying high above, have shades of Ray Davies and Arthur Lee, and throughout Field to City there is, carried in the light summer breeze across from Lincolnshire’s neighbouring county, Cambridgeshire, a note of Syd Barrett.
In addition to singing all the vocals and backing vocals on the EP, Clarke also proves himself to be a talented multi-instrumentalist, playing not only the drums on all the tracks but also the rhythm guitar, tambourine, and cabasa. Whilst Ian Everall from The Albertans plays bass guitar on all the tracks, Federico Zinelli lead guitar, and David Brandwein, who was also the record’s recording engineer, plays an extraordinary sounding 1960s Haggstrom Futurama guitar on the EP’s closing, and far heavier sounding track, Change Your Story. The particularity of the guitar sound was added to, as Clarke recounts, by Brandwein, “putting it through an old battered 15 watt Fender amplifier”.
For me, all of the elements come together most strongly on the second track, Your Reasons Have Escaped Me, which though implicitly of the now, would sit wonderfully well as a contemporary reworking of Forever Changes period Love, but that is not to take away from the other three tracks on Field to City. Taken as a joyous whole it is the richest colours even on the greyest day, a captivating smile from a passer-by which melts the concrete and steel of a city street and uplifts even the most jaded soul.