After twenty years in Everything But The Girl, and ten years as a respected DJ and record label boss of Buzzin' Fly, Ben Watt announced last year he was parking everything to complete two long-planned creative solo projects.
The first - published by Bloomsbury on February 13 in the UK (June in North America) - is his long-awaited second book, 'Romany and Tom', a dazzling portrait of his parents. The second is 'Hendra', his first solo album for over thirty years, released on his own new imprint, Unmade Road through Caroline International on April 29th. It is, in Ben's words, 'simply a folk-rock record in an electronic age'.
'I had come to a plateau with the labels and clubland,' he says. 'I had a need to go back to words and music, not just beats and other people's work. Once I made some space, a lot of ideas just tumbled out.'
It was in 1981 that Ben first appeared on London indie, Cherry Red, as a young nineteen-year-old experimental folk artist. His first single was produced by the maverick Kevin Coyne. With his second - 1982's 'Summer into Winter' EP - Watt coaxed alt-folk icon Robert Wyatt into collaborating on two tracks. His early work drew comparisons in the press to Tim Buckley and John Martyn and culminated in his debut album - 1983's 'North Marine Drive'.
'I put it all away when I teamed up with Tracey as Everything But The Girl in 1983,' he says. 'But as time has gone on - even in spite of the last ten years in the electronic world - something has made me want to go back to see what I left behind. And I realised I'd left things unfinished.'
'In the end I wrote the songs for 'Hendra' unexpectedly. My sister died suddenly as I was finishing the book. I think it all came to a head. My mind was full of a lot of stuff. I just went down into the basement at home every night and retuned all my guitars into unfamiliar tunings as a way of beginning again and just started singing.'
The upshot is ten songs. Unsentimental. Impressionistic. Songs about close family and strangers, resilience and hope. All set in vivid landscapes where the outside comes inside and clings to the stories.
Recorded in London and Berlin, the music is a meeting of worlds: languid folk, distorted rock and fizzing electronics; in part a result of the album's two central collaborators, ex-Suede guitarist, Bernard Butler, and Berlin-based producer Ewan Pearson.