It’s early evening in a Soho bar, and Mr Hudson And The Library are tucking into supper. It’s healthy stuff – tuna steaks feature strongly – and there’s an air of bonhomie that looks to be overcoming the longish rota of press interviews the group are ploughing through.
Seated around the low-slung table are Ben Hudson, the group’s wordsmith and guitarist, flanked by the big afro of keyboardist Torville Jones. On the opposite sofa are tall drummer Wilkie Wilkinson, bassist Max Huxley and Joy Joseph, whose vocals and steel pan work are a prominent feature of the group’s sound.
The group have been on the road but are extolling the virtues of touring. Joseph has a smile has she proclaims, “We enjoyed every single minute of it. It’s hard work but we wouldn’t have it any other way”. Wilkinson agrees. “I like being on tour, it’s fun – seeing other bands, seeing another city. I’m not really suited to everyday life, so that’s fine!”
Mr Hudson takes up the baton. “It’s kind of easy to forget that we sold our first two tours out, and looking back that feels like a great achievement considering how few people were coming to our shows a year ago, how uphill it was. Trying to fill a venue in London is hard enough, and now we’re turning up in places we’ve never been, and people are there off the strength of the media.”
The heavy concert schedule doesn’t stop the new ideas coming, but does put a different slant on them. Hudson says, “We’ve been fiddling a bit, we’ve bought a couple of new toys, been making some beats and I’ve got some new songs I wanna try out. It would be good to sit still for a minute though. Being on the road is such an odd way to live that it doesn’t have enough normality to feed your brain with ideas. It’s a good sort of groundhog day, but a groundhog day nonetheless. I’m looking forward to just living a bit, going down the launderette and walking the dog.”
He glances at Wilkinson. “He’s been having a lot”. “I’ll just be in the hotel making lots of beats”, says Wilkie, “putting my ideas into a home studio set up on my laptop.” Maps interjects. “He’s locked in now, can’t you see?” “Even now as we speak, he’s bluetoothed his brain!” declares Hudson. “He’s a hologram!”
On stage the banter continues, evident in the band’s recent set at Lovebox. Though the group have often been referred towards hip hop, the style doesn’t come across when live. “Not at all really”, says Hudson, “apart from the fact that I like changing the lyrics night after night. I do like thinking about where we are on that given day, what might be going on on a given day. Some people will go “Oh it’s not hip hop, what you chatting about?” We need people to be a bit more imaginative than that and realize that hip hop is not just about shooting people. It’s not just beats and rapping.” “Well we do shoot people”, says Maps, “but…”
Hudson continues. “Hip hop’s more of a broader ethos. If you tune into what we’re doing you’ll see the arrangements are kind of sparse and hopefully mimic the way loops are built. When you go to see a gig you’re not going to see a hip hop act, but the way it’s been produced is coming from that direction – I think that’s an important distinction to make.”
The group’s debut album A Tale Of Two Cities has earned plaudits for its evasion of an obvious style of music, forging its own path of direct communication that goes beyond the conventional. Hudson is pleased. “Good, I’m glad you think that. People go “It’s jazz, er reggae, no, pop cod ska funk!” Just take a breath, calm down, and think. Maybe this doesn’t have to have stuff pinned on to it; you don’t have to decide what section of your magazine to put it in. I’m glad you mentioned that. You can stay! We’re eating the last journalist as you can see – nice and rare, so you can taste the fear!”
The record also celebrates a kind of Englishness, to which Hudson nods in agreement. “Yeah, and that’s all kind of rooted in what modern Britain is. It’s important not to refer to clichs of the Hugh Grant, Tatler world of polo and gin and tonic, that doesn’t really exist. I dunno, over to you Joy – Olympic show jumper, fifteenth in line to the throne – talk about Englishness! How are we British and English?”
“Maybe this doesn’t have to have stuff pinned on to it; you don’t have to decide what section of your magazine to put it in” – Mr Hudson enjoys freedom from genre labels.
Joy responds. “Being British doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a gentleman or a lady (“or a chav!” says Ben). “I think we’re all from completely different backgrounds but we’re all British”. Hudson nods, “I think modern Britain is more complicated and interesting than people have the patience or knowledge to understand. We’ve all had different paths to get here – but for me that’s much more exciting, and where we’ll go from here is so much more exciting than what a bunch of lads and one token girl might do.”
He continues enthusiastically. “It’s so easy to reach for the clichs isn’t it? When you set about making a video so many directors come with this Addams family, stately home, kind of camp Moulin Rouge, chandeliers and sherry. That’s just not helpful, it’s like “Oh let’s have a Chesterfield” and then we end up having a chesterfield anyway cause they’re there, but they need to bring more imagination.”
I’m curious to know what each band member brings to the band – but not in a musical way. Joy gets stuck in. “I like to laugh, and try to make everyone else laugh as well. When you’ve got a lot to do and see each other all the time it’s really important to keep things healthy. That’s my bit.” Hudson urges, “Joy, why don’t you say what each of us brings?” “OK”. She looks back at him. “Organization, he likes to let people know what they’re doing. Dad!” Ben looks dismayed. “Thank you darling, that makes me seem so interesting!” “You’ve got the best admin!” adds Torville. Joy looks toward Wilkie. “He’s the party boy, he brings energy.” Hudson nods again. “Wilkie could run a marathon and then say ‘so what are we doing now?’. He’s always chasing the activity dragon.” Hudson looks faintly troubled once more. “Come on Joy! Is that all I get – admin?”
Joy looks for help, which she gets from Maps. “Mr Daydream” (Torville), “Mr Fussy” (Hudson), “Little Miss Naughty” (Joseph), “Little Mr Know It All!” interrupts Joseph, pointing back at him. The enthusiasm and humour is infectious, the interlocking chat an indication of the chemistry the band enjoy. It’s a chemistry that has made them one of the more individual additions to this year’s pop canon – all in a corner of their own.