“It’s the first day of the summer, all the streets are awful dark, as everybody’s on holiday/I’m walking through Centennial Park/And it’s raining jacaranda, the bats seem to be as one/Hey man, whatever happened to you, I smell a storm about to come.”
In the midst of being very in the moment, surrounded by small parts of life and a time a listener can practically feel, a memory comes unbidden, of a friend - or was it just an acquaintance? – whose story was probably as brittle as this memory is now. Was he “resigned to disappearing”? (From what?)? Did he come back? (From where?) Is he lost and weary (from when?), lonely or free? (Of whom?). Jamie Hutchings voice is neither judging nor at peace, this story neither clear nor settled.
With an upright bass for company, an acoustic guitar just behind and the city beneath it all, Hutchings wonders if this memory, this man, is now more apparition than real. “If you’re alive, I have no proof,” he says of someone might have ended up bald, working a ticket booth or taxi. And we won’t get an answer either. “The buses crawl, the buses leave.”
That song, December Park, arrives halfway through this album, and while it isn’t necessarily the best song here (it has been, but that position changes almost each time I play the record) it is emblematic of all that is so very good about Bedsit. These are stories which may arrive halfway through their telling, often halfway through their living at least, and have the simple and efficient nature of the yarn shared over a beer but the obliqueness and unfinished nature of real lives lived.
There are images of Sydney here which have the pull of nature, and then at other times the solidity of bricks and tiles: you can feel the press of bodies against the surfaces, see the shimmer of heat or scratch the low rising signs of what passes for winter, twitch in sympathy with the notes of aggravation that is city living.
You can also touch the essence of people you would have crossed (whether you live in Sydney or not) or might have been in lines such as “violins for the brave and deranged”, the magic realist fable-as-barely-metaphor of Second Winter (“I pulled up my sheets and had a look down at what should have been my feet/And instead I was met with the vision of two large blocks of ice/I kind of squirmed and tried to wrestle them free”),or the stark entry point “Grandpa said I’ve got a shadow on my lung”.
Like Holly Throsby, whose best albums are similarly sublime but deceptively simple, Hutchings doesn’t bother with embellishments much, in delivery or presentation. (See Hutchings singing and talking on The Right Note HERE). Reuben Wills on double and electric bass is the main accompaniment to Hutchings’ guitars and Wurlitzer: his counterpoint sometimes; his stalking horse at others. But sister Sophie Hutchings on piano is quietly potent when deployed, and there’s violin and harmonica briefly too.
That simplicity gives the impression of less effort melodically and musically that a full band or busily arranged collection would. But it’s far from the truth: these are songs which carry their own heft, seduce with gracefully attractive tunes, and stay with you. Stay with you hard.
Hutchings has played in several bands of note, to reasonable success – the fierce and flexible Blue Bottle Kiss, Infinity Broke (with Wills, brother Scott Hutchings and BBK member Jared Harrison), The Tall Grass (with Peter Fenton, of Crow) - but to my mind he is at his best in solo mode, and has rarely been better than here.
You can see Jamie Hutchings play: The Edwards, Newcastle, April 26; The Newsagency, Sydney, April 27; Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra, April 28; Frank’s Wild Years, Thirroul, April 29.