Keaton Henson will release his much-anticipated debut album, ‘Dear…’, on April 2 (Oak Ten/ATC Management). Following a BBC Radio 1 and XFM playlist for Henson’s last single, ‘Charon’, watch the video for Henson’s new single – ‘Small Hands’ below it will also see an April release. His direct songwriting, brittle vocals and tales of loss are at times breath taking. To coincide with the album’s release, Keaton has also announced plans for two new twists on conventional live shows (‘Forts’ on February 19, and ‘Gloaming’ from March 20-22).
Keaton is a 23 year-old artist from the suburbs of London. He spends his days alone – at first by chance, and now by choice – writing, recording and drawing from his bedroom. At least that was the plan. Henson’s music was never originally intended to be heard by anyone, for reasons that should become clear. Then Zane Lowe heard ‘You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are’ and loved it so much he threatened to play it twice in one show, sparking a frenzy of Twitter investigations into Keaton’s identity. Responses mixed between the obsessive – setting up Facebook and Tumblr sites, claiming to be him – and the concerned: Keaton’s disarmingly honest lyrics have even led to some trying to convert him to Christianity.
At the centre of it all was an increasingly mystified Keaton, who only learned that he had been played on the radio dozens of missed-calls later. He wrote the songs of ‘Dear…’ in reaction – his lyrics would suggest – to a particularly traumatic relationship breakdown. ‘You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are’, for instance, addresses a former love directly (“Does he know not to talk about your dad? / Does he know when you’re sad, you don’t like to be touched?”). The extraordinary ‘Charon’, inspired by the ferryman of the River Styx, is also informed by anxiety and isolation: “There’ll be coins on my eyes to pay Charon / Before I let you near my son.” All songs were written and record by Keaton at home, utilising a cupboard for percussion, thunder-storms for sound effects, and Heathrow’s flight timetable (living under a flight path, he was forced to record in the short gaps between planes flying overhead).
From these confined beginnings, ‘Dear…’ constructs an intense, honest and emotional space: even the open-ended title suggests a degree of intimacy. Henson’s slow-burning development is clearly at odds with the demands of a traditional recording artist. Yet Keaton seems intent on doing things at his own pace. Somewhat unusually, for instance, he has no plans to play live, following a particularly disastrous bout of stage-fright during a show at Sadler’s Wells last year. This has been combated with ‘Forts’: a monthly series of streamed gigs in unusual circumstances, aired live via Henson’s website. In its initial December outing, for instance, Henson played a dark, 20-minute set from inside a woodland tent, which panned out to reveal he was in fact on the central London roof of his management company, ATC. The next instalment of ‘Forts’ is scheduled to air in March.
Unconventional he may be, but Keaton’s artistic ambitions clearly extend beyond just the songs on ‘Dear…’. He first came to light as an illustrator and visual artist, and will put on an exhibition of his work – ‘Gloaming’ – at London’s Blackall Studios to coincide with the album release (March 20-22). Comprising of a performance installation from Keaton himself, together with a selection of his art, this will be the latest in a series of experiments designed to combat Keaton’s struggles with gigging. This DIY aesthetic is an admittedly painstaking process, yet there is an attention to detail here which arguably couldn’t have blossomed had Keaton not shut himself away in his room for two years. One thing seems clear: he can’t stay in there for much longer…
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.