Hidden Charms, the London four-piece, is on the verge of a breakthrough.

HIDDEN CHARMS

RUSSELL RAGLAND

The London four-piece Hidden Charms are on the verge of a breakthrough. After, “stuffing into vans in the freezing cold and playing a gig every other day for a year,” as lead vocalist and songwriter Vincent Davies describes it, these blues-worshipping young lads (all aged 21 or younger) kicked off a four-night weekly residency at legendary Camden venue KOKO on September 11.

“All these little tiny gigs in clubs and pubs have been building up to this. And it’s our home town. A big high pressure gig. But it’s why we do this,” says Davies. “The first show [at KOKO] is going to be the biggest show of our lives.”

The Charms, who’ve been playing together for two years, consist of Davies (vocals, bass, guitar), Ranald Macdonald (vocals, keyboards, guitar, bass), Josh Lewis (guitar, bass), and Oscar Robertson (drums). Macdonald and Davies write the band’s songs, and it’s clear that the work ethic applied to playing gigs also carries over into their songwriting. “We have probably written 50 songs from when we started”, said Davies. “20 songs that would be considered for an album. We’ve never been too pressured about holding onto songs. We move on quite quickly and are confident that we are going to write more and better ones. We’re not desperate to hold onto songs. We are writing so many so quickly we aren’t holding onto songs we wrote six months ago.”

Not unlike their heroes Pete Townsend and Ray Davies, the group has ambitions to quickly move beyond their blues influences and create a unique sound all their own. Not content to be merely blues revivalists, they respect and appreciate true songwriting. “When we started off we were in love with John Lee Hooker and were into getting blues grooves and vamps down to create this sound, ‘cause were all white English guys”, Davies jokes. “At first, we might have sounded more reminiscent of the blues revival guys of the ‘60s like the Yardbirds. [Now] we’re putting in more dissonant notes and a more eerie, darker atmosphere but obviously keeping the roots in the blues, ‘cause that’s the best shit, innit?”

Davies was indoctrinated into blues music by an unlikely source: the 1980 John Belushi/Dan Akroyd film “The Blues Brothers,” featuring such blues greats as John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and James Brown, and soul groovers Booker T & the MGs. He recalls his days as a precocious child, dressing as a Blues Brother for his eighth birthday party. Later, as a young teen, he fell under the spell of Jack White, his “hero,” and ventured deeper into the music of Son House, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. Bob Dylan was also a major player in his musical education.

Hidden Charms had their prayers answered when they were contacted by music legend Shel Talmy to travel to his Los Angeles studio and lay down tracks in 2014. Talmy, best known for his early work with The Kinks and The Who, produced such seminal classics as “You Really Got Me” and “My Generation,” and used a young Jimmy Page as a session musician. He had heard several early self-released Hidden Charms tracks online and reached out to the band.

In true 1960s fashion, Talmy and the band had three days of rehearsal and then seven days in the studio, cutting 10 tracks. “There was no time to talk about Keith Moon’s drum microphones,” Davies jokes. Talmy has since become a mentor and a friend. “When someone like Shel is talking about songwriting and he says he likes this lyric, this is a guy who has dealt with Ray Davies and Pete Townsend. You’re going to listen.”

Hidden Charms has since dropped four singles, including the ear-candy hit “Dreaming of Another Girl,” released by Deltasonic (The Coral, The Zutons) in the UK and B3SCI in the US. Characteristic of their patient and determined maturation, the group is in no rush to release a full-length. “Obviously you want to have as big a fan base as possible before you put out that first album. You only get to do your first album once,” shares Davies.

Two things become clear when speaking with Davies: He is a true believer in the power of the song, and he is not reluctant to build his fan base the old-fashion way, one gig at a time. It’s not all blood, sweat, and tears, however. At age 19 the band was hand-picked to play his neighborhood venue Hammersmith Apollo with Nashville roots greats The Mavericks, which he notes as a career highlight.

Recalling the Charms’ first New York show at Brooklyn venue Baby’s Alright (where they played with borrowed equipment) this past May, Davies is still in awe. “Unreal. My favorite show we had ever done. We had a friend who is a photographer. He had a couple of parties and we didn’t know anyone in New York. He invited a load of his interesting friends and models. A couple of nights later all of these girls turned up [at the gig] with Hidden Charms’ shirts on, singing the songs, ‘cause we had been hanging around all night singing at the parties. A beautiful night. To have a room full of people singing your songs wearing your t-shirt jumping around? A thrill of a lifetime, man.”

CONTRIBUTORS

Story and interview: Russell Ragland

Photographer: Tina Turnbow