Every now and then an act appears on my horizon that manages to challenge my perceptions, they are generally fronted by what might easily be described as eccentric musicians. Often they might also be referred to as being like ‘marmite’, as they are likely to be loved and hated in equal measure, with few listeners accepting them as ‘so so’. Enter Beth Jeans Houghton & the Hooves of Destiny.
Beth Jeans’ music appeals to me on so many levels, she so clearly aims to make her own mark on the contemporary musical landscape amongst so many other young female artists – there is no way that she could be accused of being a clone, or of seeking to mimic others. She is most definitely a one-off. Since starting my radio show I have been inundated with new artist ‘introductions’, and long may they continue – it is, however, becoming harder for me to remember exactly how particular artists came to my attention. It is possible that it was Laura Bettinson, who has described herself as ‘wonky pop’, who did flag up this genius from Tyneside. I suspect this may be the case as she has brought a number of other excellent left-field artists to my attention; also Beth Jeans is only the second that I have encountered being attributed as producing ‘wonky pop’. Browsing other writings about Beth, it seems that others also find her difficult to categorise, with comaprisons being drawn mentioning artists as diverse as Vashti Bunyan, Brody Dalle, Joni Mitchell, Marc Bolan, Laura Marling, Gwen Stefani and Nico. The fact that this list seems to keep growing simply underscores the futility of seeking to make comparisons in the first place. Beth Jeans Houghton & the Hooves of Destiny should be listened to with an open mind with all pre-conceptions safely locked away.
The Hooves of Destiny provide excellent support and comprise Dav Shiel on drums, cajon, keyboard, vocals and steel pan, Rory Gibson on bas and vocals, Findlay MacAskill on violin, vocals and eyebrows, and Blazey Blazey on trumpet, vocals, guitar and drums. Produced by Ben Hillier, there are undertones of so many different influences here, folk certainly, pop sensibilities, an appreciation of classical music structures, and near operatic vocals at times. So varied and unexpected is this album that it is probably best not to even try to over-analyse each individual song, they are all so multi-layered and will undoubtedly trigger different interpretations depending on the listeners’ prior experience and current state of mind. Venturing beyond the music, there is an exciting, at times challenging, dimension to her visual presentation, both in appearance and in video. As an example you need look no further than ‘Sweet Tooth Bird’;
and the stunning live performance of this album’s ‘Atlas’ on the first show of the new series of ‘Later ….. With Jools Holland’;
At the risk of sounding stereotypical, I cannot imagine Beth spending a lot of time on Saturday nights teetering about in her home town’s Bigg Market, nor would I expect to hear her songs blasting from the pubs and clubs in that area. She very much prefers to find her own way.
Speaking about this album she apparently said that she “set out to make a record unaffected by outside opinions” and “was happy to watch it grow in different directions”, adding that she was happy with the results and wouldn’t change any of it.
I remain fascinated by this selection of songs, which includes one entitled ‘Dodecahedron’, the first time I remember hearing any reference to such a geometric form since making cardboard models of them in primary school! As I look forward to continuing to explore this, I would certainly recommend a listen to anybody who appreciates genuine creativity and is prepared to extend their musical experiences. I know that it is rude to refer to a ladies age, but all this and Beth is still so young, I really look forward to hearing her career develop during the years ahead.
1/ Humble Digs
5/ The Barely Skinny Bone Tree
7/ Franklin Benedict
10/ Prick AKA Sean