While Hartlepool might not be the first town you head for to discover intriguing musical offerings, James Leonard Hewitson has for a few years now been proving the exception to that rule. James first came to our attention back in 2016, with his excellent single, The Screen, and has been winning admirers ever since, with everyone from Steve Lamacq to the Made In Chelsea producers falling for his musical offerings. James’ most compelling statement to date arrived in February with the release of his debut album, Only The Noise Will Save Me.
A key factor in the charms of Only The Noise Will Save Me is James’ dissection of real life issues, with a focus in particular on the landscape he knows, the North East of England. As James explains, “the album was written and recorded in the North East of England and depicts various mental, socioeconomic and socio-political landscapes that represent my life and feeling in this part of the world”. The record finds James trying to make sense of the world around him, not revelling in injustice, instead attempting, “to give a sense of frustration and happiness all at once. It’s a privilege to make music in the first place, but you can still be quite bored in many aspects of your life”.
Musically, Only The Noise Will Save Me is an eclectic collection of ideas, James borrowing ideas from a variety of genres, styles, and using his ability as a multi-instrumentalist to craft something uniquely his own. In an album littered with highlights, Dead In The Ground feels like a run-away train, a rapid tumble of scratchy guitars and half-slurred vocals in the mold of Car Seat Headrest. Elsewhere Dance Track lives up to its name, channelling the twin influences of LCD Soundsystem and The Young Knives, into an effervescent slice of kinetic joy, while the title track, starting with a blast of delightful horns before sliding into wiry Talking Heads-like guitars, is a track so joyously summery that The Bees or The Go! Team would be proud of it.
Today James has put together a mixtape of songs for a desert island, featuring some of the tracks that shaped his musical taste and inspired Only The Noise Will Save Me, from the likes of The Futureheads, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Maurice Ravel.
1. Oasis – She’s Electric
This song reminds me of my big brother, Paul, because he used to play piano and used to play Oasis songs from his Oasis piano book when I was little. The song is just really sweet and talks a lot about family, so I think I’d need that in a desert island situation.
2. The Beatles – A Day In The Life
On the same theme of music I would hear when I was little, this song has nostalgic value too. I think it is beautifully sung by Lennon, and it’s basically 2 songs in 1, and has that mad orchestral part in it, so that’s good isn’t it?
3. Maurice Ravel – Pavane pour une infante défunte in G Major
This piece just makes me cry, I think it’s about a dead girl. Classical music is really important to me because I started off with trumpet lessons through school, so it has always been part of my musical upbringing, it’s part of who I am, in a way despite not being very good at that style.
4. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Forbidden Colours/Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
Instrumental version only – I’m not a huge fan of the David Sylvian version, and I am torn between the orchestral version and the piano version. Any which way, this is another song that just makes me cry. It’s a reminder of Japanese work, so it would serve as a reminder to my affinity with Japan i.e. Pokemon, Studio Ghibli, Nintendo – things I’ve enjoyed immensely in my life that come from that country.
5. Charlotte Gainsbourg – Deadly Valentine
Daft-Punk production vs the whispering vocals of Charlotte Gainsbourg is an absolute match made in heaven. I don’t have many friends who listen to Charlotte Gainsbourg, so every time I hear it, play it to myself or put it on at a party/gig I’m basically at my own disco anyway. I would certainly need this track.
6. TOPS – Double Vision
I ordered this CD from Canada when I was 19 on a recommendation from my friend. This band are possibly the greatest band alive right now. The feel and the way the parts talk to each other is just amazing. It’s like pop polyphony. It puts me at ease, I love it.
7. The Futureheads – Old Dun Cow
I know most of the honourable gents from The Futureheads since they come from the North East and in my life I’ve ended up performing for various other bands that feature them. I always loved this folk song they did for their a’capella album, and I think I would want a song that lets me sing along with a bunch of people I know, if I was stranded somewhere. I’d learn all the parts as well, lots to get into.
8. Eddy Huntington – USSR
My primary school teacher was/is a pop star, who was heavily marketed and very popular in different parts of the mainland in the 1980’s. He is from Peterlee, which is the next town up from me (Hartlepool). He was very inspirational to lots of us, and put together plays and productions for us all to get involved in. I realised his pop career after I had left school and was amazed. Again, possibly a nostalgia track, or just outright good fun.
9. John Maus – Touchdown
I need some gloomy, baroque synth-pop on a desert island. I sometimes just get in the car and listen to John Maus. It feels right.
10. Ariel Pink – Round and Round
Ariel Pink is like a good book, you read it over and over and find new things that you don’t see the first time around. The same goes for AP’s production and lyrical content – it’s so good – I’d just never get bored with it.
11. Courtney Barnett – Avant Gardner
I have a great admiration for how this song just rolls along, and CB’s use of puns, rhymes, plays on words in her nonchalant Aussie tone. A fantastic, steady, chilled listen with great harmonies.
12. Jamiroquai – Canned Heat
So I can do the Napoleon Dynamite dance routine until I get rescued.
Only The Noise Will Save Me is out now. Click HERE for more information on James Leonard Hewitson.