Ben Hauptmann

The One with the Singing on It


I fell asleep and dreamed I was reviewing a record that was unlike any vinyl I’d reviewed before. No title, tracks or musicians were listed on either the swirling orange cover or the disc, and the music itself was shrouded in further mystery, arriving in a haze of electronic effects, before multiple guitars, a bass and a piano emerged. But even then the enigma seemed to linger, and when the drums joined, the total sound was massive, as though real instruments were in the room, imparting those jolts to the central nervous system that only real instruments usually can do.

In my dream I knew the record was by Ben Hauptmann, and that the music’s obliteration of lines between idioms has been a hallmark of the guitarist’s storied career – one that’s seen him play with artists as diverse as Gurrumul, Paul Kelly, Lior, Micheline Van Hautem, James Morrison, Katie Noonan and Vika and Linda Bull.

The pragmatic part of my dream uncovered the title of the record (which Hauptmann teasingly refers to as an “anti-release”), and that the first piece was just called Instrumental. The second dream instalment, Look & See, is a startling collaboration with singer Martha Marlow, her voice initially like cool wine spilling across Hauptmann’s finger-picked chords, then thickening and fragmenting amid shards of Harry Sutherland’s piano, as if you’re hearing the song through an aural kaleidoscope.

It’s followed by the fleeting World Music, in which Hauptmann’s treated electric guitar is reminiscent of some braying middle-eastern instrument. But this is just an interlude before a beautifully crafted lament called The Rain, sung by Tim Sladden, settles into a fat, countryish groove the way one settles into a comfy chair, and beckons Hauptmann to play kora-like banjo that takes the instrument back to its African roots.

Ben Hauptmann. Photo: Brian Stewart. Top photo: Lisa Businovski.

As with a dodgy phone line, that African connection just stays alive on the amusing swampy blues of I Can’t Get a Head, sung by Arne Hanna with a mouthful of JJ Cale gravel. The next dream is the blithest: Damien Slingsby singing the backwoods I Don’t Mind, about letting the world wash over you. As a pick-me-up, this will give any chemical or drink a run for its money, and Hauptmann plays some scything acoustic guitar.

On Sohum he takes the banjo even deeper into Africa, while vocals from Sean van Doorum and Kintan eddy around a such a soothing melody that if your soul fled your body during this, death would hold no terrors. Finally, Hauptmann eases us back to the waking world with Now & Then, a warm, country-tinged reverie sung by Justine Clarke and Hanna, while his guitar takes lyrical flight, and a choir joins just in time for the fade out – back to the waking world. One thing was clear: don’t mess about with downloads. Buy the vinyl. The dream sound will flatter any system.