Australian multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Ben Fletcher grew up in Sydney listening to Nirvana and Pixies amongst others, before leaving home at the tender age of 15, subsequently lodging with a number of friends; around this time he also joined Australian band Bluebottle Kiss as bassist. He eventually started his own band The Devoted Few, but has most recently been seen as part of compatriot Sarah Blasko’s band, touring extensively before and after his relocation to London in 2010.
It was during this lengthy worldwide tour that Fletcher wrote the majority of the material contained within debut album Upon Ayr – the title of which is a tribute to the little Scottish town of Ayr, where the usage of the name Fletcher is one of the earliest known. With the majority of instruments (including bass, guitar and keyboards) being performed by the man himself, the album has been recorded all over the world whenever possible, from secretly stolen hours in a studio in the middle of the night to avoid security, to his own London bathroom. Many of the tracks here were demo versions, but Fletcher chose to retain these originals on the advice of friends.
Influences aren’t so much other musicians, but authors; Fletcher has a liking for several, but mainly Jack Kerouac, Thomas Wolfe and John Steinbeck provided the inspiration for the songs on Upon Ayr, not only through the stories themselves but also the characters within.
It’s Coming For Us begins to plucked strings and xylophone accompaniment before the vocals kick in, with Fletcher sounding a little like Ben Howard. At times very minimal on musical content, the folksy start is pleasant enough but the strength of the track is when Fletcher throws aside the constraints of the gentle acoustics and sings more forcefully; the haunted backing vocals take on an almost ghostly presence as you wonder who exactly is coming for us.
Open Up is more up tempo, sounding very much like something Ben Howard could have released – an acoustic guitar driven track with similarities within the first few bars of Stealers Wheel and their famous hit, Stuck In The Middle With You; the song benefits from a catchy six note scale as part of the chorus. Standout song Simple Life makes an appearance at track 4, which houses the first glimpse of Sarah Blasko who shares vocal duties; such is the beauty of her voice (think a subdued Björk in a good mood) it elevates the song to a level Fletcher cannot attain alone. Again, the song is perhaps not the strongest, but the riposte-like nature of the shared vocals is delightful, and the voices complement each other perfectly alongside the minimal musical accompaniment.
Single Don’t Breathe A Word follows, confirming the mid section of the album as the strongest, with more plucked acoustic guitar and crystal clear production, as the tale of the death of a relationship takes shape. Many of Fletcher’s musician friends have lent a hand during the course of this album – Emma Gatrill provides harp, which introduces Guard Your Cold Blood; again, all very light on the accompanying music, placing emphasis on the harp and vocals.
Swim Through The Mouth Of The Whale epitomises a number of tracks in this collection; it starts off brightly but runs out of steam, resulting in repetition that ultimately results in boredom. Fletcher has explained that a number of these songs were put together from snippets in his head that were often recorded in simple ways, grabbing whatever means he had at his disposal; unfortunately, a number of these offerings sound exactly that – bits and pieces stitched together and often drawn out to create full songs.
The Golden Moon And The Silver Sun closes the album, but in all honesty it would have been better left out, such is its anonymity; it’s basically an instrumental that dies a death just when it sounds like it’s about to form the intro to an epic track.
In a field where competition is rife, Fletcher could struggle to make his mark based on this showing. That said, when Blasko joins forces with him in equal measure for Simple Life (Blasko also provides backing vocals on a few tracks) the blandness of the largely uninspiring music takes a dramatic turn for the better. Hopefully both parties will realise just how beautiful their talents dovetail when joined together in harmony, rather than when they are supporting each other; if they concentrate their efforts in this direction then the world cannot fail to take notice.