Ben Gunstone
The Lost Revue

Ben Gunstone 'Songs From The Corner Of A Room'
Every so often a record comes along that captures you completely unaware. No media hype, no big hit single, no 'guerilla gigs' on the Jubilee Line, etc. Just a quiet, unassuming little record sat there waiting to unleash it's magic upon you, confident that the power of great songs will win your heart.
Ben Gunstone's 'Songs From The Corner Of A Room' is that type of record. I confess that I'd not heard of Mr Gunstone before this album, but a quick search reveals that he's from Wessex, and has previously written some songs with Morrissey collaborator Alain Whyte. What this doesn't prepare you for though is the sheer excellence of Gunstone's songs.
A quick glance at the tracklisting will tell you what sort of frame of mind Gunstone was in when wrote these songs: 'Wish You Were Her', 'You're Not The Person I Used To Know' and 'I Can't Stand The Thought Of You With Anyone Else' would all suggest that this isn't going to be the happiest of trips. And indeed it's not - there's bitterness, heartbreak and guilt aplenty here, but Gunstone's trick is to make none of this remotely depressing.
Those three tracks are some of the highlights of the album in fact. 'You're Not The Person..' is a bitterly honest dissection of a breakdown of a relationship torn apart by the ambition of one partner ("I remember when all the things you wanted were the simple things in life"). Set to a Dylan-esque acoustic strum, it's one of the best break-up songs you'll ever hear. 'Wish You Were Her' and 'I Can't Stand The Thought...' bookend the album perfectly while the latter being a heartbreaking plea for a lover to return.
It's not all misery and folky laments though. 'Lust Has Turned To Love' has big, epic guitar chords and a chorus so sweeping and majestic that it brings to mind Suede at their peak, 'Day By Day' is a misanthropic marvel ("I'm surprised that more people don't want to destroy the human race") while 'Valediction' is just insane. A straight reading of a poem ut features what sounds like a music hall song in the background while Gunstone faithfully intones the verse. It really shouldn't work, but it does.
It is with welcome flashes of eccentricity like this that makes 'Songs..' so listenable. Honest, quirky, at times heart-wrenchingly sad it's all very English but not so much so that Gunstone becomes a parody of himself. Rather, like the best of those other English figures, Morrissey, Ed Harcourt, Badly Drawn Boy, he stamps his own personality all over these songs.
So the next time you're seduced by the promise of an outrageously overhyped band or come across a group of wannabe punks performing 'spontaneous' gigs in the middle of the pavement, just remember that someone, somewhere is doing things the traditional way - and doing them damn well.


Ben Gunstone 'Songs From The Corner Of A Room'
Wessex-born Ben Gunstone has been releasing music since he was 18; his debut album 'Merchant Venturer' followed a batch of EPs. He has been likened to Nick Drake, as well as having built his musical pedigree by going on tour with Blur as a technician, and is now releasing his second LP 'Songs From The Corner Of A Room'.
'Wish You Were Her' is sorrowful and melancholic, something that is found in most tracks here, and is a decent acoustic effort that show off Gunstone's raw voice that is not unlike Morrissey's. 'Day To Day' has a higher tempo and is a country-rock style, while 'So I See' strums along pleasantly. One of the better tracks is 'You're Not The Person I Used To Know', where the artist convincingly expresses his sadness as acoustic guitars pluck along gently. It stands out from most of this record, as does the piano ballad 'Words Are No Use Now'.
'Valediction' also stands out from the other tracks, because it is a poetry reading that provides an interesting break - but it does feel somewhat out of place. 'Planet You' is sweet enough with its acoustic riff and harmonies, while the album livens up with 'Lust Has Turned To Love'. Electric guitars riff in this uptempo pop song that is pretty damn catchy. Shame there isn't more of this. 'Four Years Twenty Five Seconds' builds into something quite epic if you have the patience but 'I Can't Bear The Thought Of You With Anyone Else' is a final track, that like much of the album, leaves you feeling drowsy more than anything else.

Ben Gunstone 'Songs From The Corner Of A Room'
Think of the semi-mystical county of Wessex, and it's the blasted heathland of Thomas Hardy novels that immediately spring to mind rather than the scams and shenanigans of our beloved rock and roll world.
Investigate the sleepy counties of Dorset and Wiltshire in depth though, and you realise the seemingly gentle, undulating landscape has actually entertained a fair amount of notable musical thrills. XTC hail from Swindon, beneath the Vale Of The White Horse; Julian Cope resides amongst the Long Barrows and stone circles at Avebury; Peter Gabriel's Real World studios in Box have ven attrcated rock's current favourite hip rebel, Pete Doherty, and stretching a point, albums by influential artists such as The Smiths, Goldfrapp and Tears For Fears have been crafted near Bath.
Ben Gunstone's second album 'Songs From The Corner Of A Room' was also fashioned in Bath, and comes bearing the stamp 'Made In Wessex'. It's a record that's steeped in folkily rustic songwriting from an emotive singer/ songwriter we'll probably know in wider circles in years to come who's actually quietly made a name for himself already.
If that statment puzzles you, then let's delve into Ben's past, which involves co-writing with Morrissey's guitarist Alain Whyte, travelling throughout Europe tech-ing for Blur during the mid-90s and fronting his own band who - on given occasions - feature Page&Plant collaborators Charlie Jones and Phil Andrews. Not too shabby a CV, though judging by the quality of the songs on this album, it's no surprise Ben has such an impressive address book.
Funnily enough, despite names like these springing up in his press release and a thank you to (I assume) ex-Cure drummer, Boris Williams, on the album's sleeve, 'Songs From The Corner Of A Room' is often a relatively solitary affair, with only instrumentalist Stephen Evans regularly embellishing Gunstone's primarily acoustic frameworks. The album as a whole, is something of a grower, with songs requiring a good few listens to really permeate. Effort on the listener's behalf is worth it, though, as there's ultimately plenty to savour here.
Most of the album's first half is relatively folksy and bucolic on the surface. Songs like 'Wish You Were Her' and 'So I See' are attractive, rustic pop set-pieces led by finger-plucked guitar, shadowy basslines and subtle touches of either organ or trumpet. Gunstone's voice is charismatic and breathy and his songs are often tinged with regret and bitterness, like on 'So I See' when he sings: 'The sky is red and it used to be blue/I like in my bed when I used to lie with you.' Crumbs.
Elsewhere, impressively stark ballads such as the subtly orchestrated 'You're Not The Person I Used To Know' and the aching piano-led 'Words Are No Use Now' are delivered with a winning mixture of confidence, cynicism and charisma and in a tangibly favourable Dylan-ish flavour. Gunstone is an able wordsmith deserving of such superlatives and when he comes out fighting on the album's vividily angry title track, he's pretty damn captivating.
The album is bisected by it's most unlikely success, the spoken word set- piece 'Valediction'. It's a fascinating poem set to the ambience of a 40s jazz piece and may or may not be written from the point of view of our hero at a funeral remembering a wedding. It's possibly deliberately ambiguous and open- ended, but intriguing regardless. The album's mood shifts significantly afterwards, taking in the heavier, anthemic rock of 'Lust Has Turned To Love' and 'Four Years Twenty Five Seconds'. These are something of a sonic volte face, but Gunstone's voice is commanding enough to cope with the increase in volume, and the swaggering, James Dean Bradfield-style guitars are utilised suprisingly well.
Proceedings close with the self-explanatory 'I Can't Bear The Thought Of You With Anyone Else', a poetically sad and anguished postscript, but somehow one that's fitting after the emotional rollercoaster of the previous 40 minutes or so. It's not been the easiest of rides, but nonetheless one you'll find yourself signing up for a second time and more besides.
'Songs From The Corner Of A Room' introduces us to a serious-minded, darkly romantic young British singer-songwriter who rarely flinches from cutting to the emotional chase. The county of Wessex will be making another notable appearance on the rock and rool map, it seems.


Ben Gunstone 'Songs From The Corner Of A Room'
SOUTH-WEST solo artist Ben Gunstone is a storyteller in the traditional sense. But while his Nick Drake-influenced stories are darker than your typical balladeer's, his execution is as intimate as the best of them.

Songs From The Corner Of A Room opens with three upbeat and funky tracks, with the playfully titled Wish You Were Her particularly impressing. After this jaunty opening trinity, Gunstone doesn’t head downhill but simply slips comfortably into traditional singer-songwriter mode. His biography mentions the usual suspects – namely Bob Dylan and Richard Thompson – but the omission of Donovan is puzzling because You’re Not The Person I Used To Know, in particular, contains traces of his trademark, bittersweet folk-pop style. The spoken word Valediction is one step shy of cringeworthy, while title track and Words Are No Use Now have, respectively, guitars and piano which seem hollow, but are carried by Gunstone’s punchy vocals. These are minor blights, though, on a solid second album from an abundantly talented songwriter.


Ben Gunstone 'Songs From The Corner Of A Room'
A bit of soul searching finds the answers. It could well be a case of right time, right place and right music for 'Wessex' singer-songwriter Ben Gunstone. With the renaissance of Morrissey, first at Glastonbury and then with You Are The Quarry, the soulful, thoughtful, slightly quirky singer songwriter is back in vogue.

Ben Gunstone is not exactly a novice at the game, Releasing an EP in 1998 after a collaboration with Alain Whyte, who has also worked with? That's right Morrissey. Now before you go rushing into the night screaming 'missing link', Ben Gunstone is a great deal easier to understand and slightly less cynical than the former Smiths man. While he may not be new he is certainly fresh. Whether that's because he's so far resisted the blandishments of the bright lights, preferring to draw inspiration from the countryside of the south west, only time will tell. But Songs From The Corner Of A Room will surely see a trail of A&R men looking for Wessex.

Gunstone's music is an interesting mix of slightly sardonic lyrics, touchingly naïve delivery and, on this evidence an ear for a memorable pop melody. You're Not the Girl I used To Know neatly combines folk and pop but sidesteps being processed or packaged, in it's own way it's quite sweet really. Ben Gunstone hasn't yet been told what he can't do, by those whose interests lie in shifting 'units'. Instead he's exploring the music, pushing and prodding it to see where it goes.

However he remains down-to-earth, both as a writer and as a performer. Most of the songs are straight narratives, beautifully constructed and clearly told. The delicacy of the music enhances the story rather than swamping it. The title track in particular retains the spontaneity of a demo, no matter what happens in the future he should leave it just as it is.As for influences, he has the rustic charm of Nick Drake, the lyrical sensibilities of Dylan, tinged with a modest and healthy amount of cynicism. Rolled together they become something uniquely Ben Gunstone. And he is unique - how else do you explain the reading of the poem Valediction which bisects the CD?  Wonderfully read but strangely, it appears to have Reg Dixon on his Wurlitzer in the background. All the good ones have their idiosyncrasies (which is diplomatic-speak for a musical screw loose), it's what lifts them above the herd. Thankfully Ben Gunstone has his.


Ben Gunstone 'Songs From The Corner Of A Room'
While there's something a touch dates and perhaps naive about this very English balladeer, comparisons to Colin Blunstone can only be a good thing.  Oddly, he sometimes echoes Ferry's (in itself odd) take on Dylan.  His lyrics are candid, his voice forceful, and on "You're Not The Person I Used To Know" or "I Can't Bear The Thought Of You With Anyone Else", he's not afraid to spell things out.  Musos from The Cure, Goldfrapp and Page/Plant chip in, and single "Lust Has Turned Into Love" has a becoming, baroque whiff of Suede.

UNCUT (3/5)
Chris Roberts