Some artists have something about them that elevates them above the frothing herd of other, equally enthusiastic artists; something indefinable and latent, but immediately arresting. Something so delicate that it could crumble you try to put your finger on it. A trait that is entirely theirs.
Nic Dawson Kelly doesn’t have this; not like that anyway. He does have that something, and, yes, it’s all his. It’s just that his something is so blindingly obvious, it’s like being poked repeatedly in the eye. It’s his voice. When I reviewed him a week or so ago, I was in faintly humiliating raptures.
I had to hear from the man himself. He answered my series of puerile questions eloquently. Nic had mentioned that he’d had terrible jobs in the past, and, having once worked as a lawn-mower on a sewage plant, wanted to hear how his own horror stories compared.
“In Brighton, I once had three jobs at once. I’d wake with the seagulls and go and work for a cold calling company trying to sell photography sessions to pregnant women of their “to be due” babies. Surprisingly it was the last thing they wanted to worry about.
In the afternoon, I would clean all the workmen and staff toilets, then evening struck and I’d find myself behind the bar until it was time to go home. There’s only so much of this daily routine you can put on repeat before you’ve had enough. I found three months was my maximum. Living on the coast made things easier. “
Surely, I asked, these jobs were part of the motivation behind his nascent musical career?
“I was playing beforehand and during this work when I had chance. Sometimes, I suppose, you have to be ground down a bit by these things in order to realize what you enjoy doing. In that respect, it probably did push me to work harder to get to somewhere where I looked forward to waking up. “
He’s now escaped and is gigging to promote his debut album, Old Valentine (out today!). The album was recorded in a bohemian-sounding way – casually, with eclectic input and miles removed from toilet-scrubbing. He told me about the effect recording this way had on the sound of the record.
“Before heading in to recording I was pretty sure this would be an out and out folk record. It wasn’t until I went in and the guys around the studio and the producer got involved that I realized it could be, if anything, a more enjoyable experience if we tried to cram in as many musicians as we could into a small live room and just see what attitudes they brought to the songs.
I think it’s a room full of strangers, immediacy and time constraint that brought in that sound. Nothing was too set in stone about it and that’s what I like. “
Feeling fruity, I asked him when he sold his soul in exchange for his super-deluxe voice. He called my bluff – “March 13th, 1997. ” The mystery deepened. I tried a more reasonable tack. Did his voice develop organically over a long period of singing and writing or has it just always been there?
“I’d say it was a bit of both. I moved about a lot when I was growing up so I took to hearing a lot of ways of singing… I use to sing choir when I was a great deal younger. There was an old man there who had the strangest approach to singing. He sounded almost like a sheep howling. As much as he destroyed the impact of a heavenly ensemble, he seemed to make this tiresome drone a bit more interesting.
Sometimes words need to be tilted a little so that they can truly stand up. I always kept that in mind. As I started writing myself and singing I always sung with a lot of vibrato. It’s an instrument as any other and each song it tends to approach differently.”
Suitably sated by his answer, I asked if he could meet any musical hero, who would it be, what one question would he ask them, and what drink would he buy them?
“To Dr John: “Where do you buy such wonderful and preposterous outfits?” I’d buy him a tequila for the trouble of answering. “
Nic then vanished, possibly to clean a toilet, possibly to hassle pregnant women, but most probably to fulfil ambition. We’ll be hearing a lot more of him, and this is a good thing. Nic’s alum is out now. It’s very good, and is in all good record shops, and probably some bad ones too, if there are any left.