"His musicianship and professionalism are notable"
by Shaun Hand, Writer & EditorUntil recently, I was the DJ at a 14+ band night at Birmingham's Island Bar. This afforded me two opportunities: The first was to soundtrack the nights out of rooms full of awkward and acned adolescents with thunderously loud funk and underground hip-hop as they sucked each other's braces off in the corner or got thrown out for brandishing fake IDs at the bar. The second was to see a lot of live bands for free. Some were amusingly terrible (middle-class 'punks' with very expensive equipment who couldn't even cover 'Blitzkrieg Bop' properly), and some were terribly amusing (the band whose fresh-faced singer dropped the key expletive from 'Killing in the Name' because his mom was present). Thankfully though, some were genuinely fresh and inspiring.
One of these was Bradley Will Simpson, a 14-year old solo singer-songwriter from Sutton Coldfield. Yep, that's right he's 14 and he's up and gigging beyond the school hall. Even if he was unspeakably crap, he'd deserve respect for that. How many gigs had you done by the time you were 14?
To clarify, he wasn't - and isn't - unspeakably crap. His musicianship and professionalism are notable and his songs, whilst admittedly embryonic (well, he is 14), point to a potential talent that could lift him and his Myspace page up above those of the thousands of singer-songwriters with a few bedroom demos to share.
Of the four demos on Bradley's page, the intriguingly punctuated 'Boom Boom Kapow?!' and the cryptically pluralised 'Times Means Everything' (maybe he had Maths that day?) are the most interesting. Based on insistent three-chord repetitions both have a happily loose, slightly unhinged feel. They're embellished with backing vocals that recall 'Hounds of Love' (The Futureheads version), and feature counter melodies that display a natural knack for arranging. A knack further showcased by cheap synthesised brass reminiscent of Carter USM and, in the case of 'Times Means Everything', manic bongo playing. Just writing about it makes me want to save this 'til later, go grab my acoustic and Argos keyboard, and go write my own.
Vocally, Bradley is good, but the limitations of his age are more apparent (ie. His balls haven't fully dropped). This isn't too much of a problem though as it lends a youthful charm and refreshing vitality to proceedings. Lyrically, it's generally what you'd expect from someone still at school and still with a lot of life to live. He confesses as much in 'My Window': 'I'm too young for love - but I'm in love with scenery', showing a self-awareness that can only become more perceptive as he grows and works at his art (I'm sure his school report says as much. If it doesn't then I'd question his teachers).
Bradley Will Simpson reminds me of an old school-friend who was similarly advanced in his musicality and looked all set for a glorious career in melodic pop-rock a la Feeder. Then he discovered university, drugs and Aphex Twin and is currently both the drummer in a math-rock band and lo-fi electronica artist extraodinaire. Going on this and the stranger aspects of his work thus far, I like to think that Bradley might yet submit a deeply weird avant-garde symphony for his final GCSE piece because yes, he hasn't even done his GCSEs yet.
Did I mention that he's 14?