The incomparable Lewis Floyd Henry is just such a dude. In the age when MySpace and the blogosphere have become the conventional means of achieving rock stardom, this remarkable songwriter and performer has gone the ancient route of taking to the streets to broadcast his music.
For the past few years, like a Mississippi bluesman in the early 20th century, Lewis has pitched up on street corners around London, at Brick Lane, Borough Market and the South Bank, every time trousering a pocket full of loose change, but also gradually spreading the knowledge of his extraordinary genius.
Unlike those Delta entertainers, he arrives armed with a trolley carrying a battery-operated amplifier and diddy custom-made drumkit – hence the title of his mind-blowing debut album, ‘One Man & His 30w Pram’. Even less like them, he has accrued 100,000 hits for a YouTube clip, where he blasts out a block-rockin’ take on The Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Protect Ya Neck’ outside Tottenham Court Road tube station. Elsewhere on the site, you can see him busting out a Prokofiev tune with his teeth. As one comment thereabouts imaginatively puts it, “When Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and Ol’ Dirty Bastard died, this guy was born.”
His young parents undoubtedly had a tough time bringing him up, but, on the plus side, Lewis was surrounded by great sounds – everything from Big Youth to Motown. Through his teens, he got into Michael Jackson, De La Soul and, in a big way, graffiti –
He was arrested a couple of times for decorating public buildings. Soon he started learning guitar on a £24 Argos purchase, and hanging with skater kids who played too. He’d endlessly jam along to a 7” of The Stone Roses’ ‘What The World Is Waiting For’, but his big epiphany with the instrument arrived innocuously: “My Dad was driving around Blackheath in his van, and as we were going round this corner, I asked him, Who’s the best guitarist ever? He was like, That Eric Clapton is meant to be a good artist…no, no, wait, there’s another guy…”
Lewis duly bowled up to Oxford Street’s Virgin Megastore and bought a cassette of Jimi Hendrix. “It was a total revelation to me, because, from being into Art at school, I could almost close my eyes, and hear stuff like pictures and colours in the music”. For a year or two, he had a steady trio going. “We would play on Brick Lane occasionally, just to try and get some money. We realised being a band gave us more impact, as opposed to someone just standing there playing an acoustic guitar. People need the wow factor.” After their drummer moved to Italy, Lewis made some further life-changing musical discoveries. “I’d been into graffiti, the Wu-Tang, I’d done all the metal scene, Pantera, drum ‘n’ bass, ’60s music, dub reggae, and then my Dad played me Robert Johnson, and I was just drawn to it, listening back in time. It’s amazing music – for me, it’s the root of it all.”
Mesmerized, too, by another mysterious lone guitarist from yesteryear, Nick Drake, Lewis began writing songs just for him to play, debuting them at the Easycome Acoustic Club in Nunhead. “At the same time, I was playing the drums with a friend of mine, a metaller who liked Black Sabbath – I’d learnt them off the old drummer in the band. So, I had the drums set up in my room, and I’d be sitting there sometimes, going, Oh man, the band’s not playing anymore, and here’s me in my room with my drum kit and my guitar, and I’d actually be kicking the drums, going, If only I could play my guitar and drums like a one-man-band…”
Initially, he says, “I tried setting this big kick-drum on my back, with guide ropes, and tried the traditional one-man-band thing – in the privacy of my own house, ’cos I didn’t wanna start making too much of a spectacle of myself. For me, it didn’t really work, because the beats are too clanging – otherwise, you’ve got to move around like the guy off Mary Poppins, then it becomes more of a novelty act. Because I come from a band, the beats have got to be played right, and different types of beat.
“So I rigged up this little contraption on the floor, like a kickdrum, a snare and a hi-hat, and I just used to practise it. At first, it was like, Hmm, I don’t know if this is really going to work, it’s so rigid compared to what I’m used to. It was taking it back to” – he taps out a bluesman’s foot-stamping rhythm – “But I had all this new material going in a different direction from the stuff I normally wrote. So I just decided to take those Nick Drake-y, Robert Johnson-y kind of songs, and play them out on the street, busking”.
In this way, Lewis has crafted more than thirty of his own tunes. As ‘One Man & His 30w Pram’ showcases, he has long since learnt to diversify beyond his initial folky blues style, into high-velocity rock grooves worthy of Hendrix’s Experience (and there were three of them!) At the pastoral end, ‘Sacred Gardens’ and ‘Short Space Of Time’ were inspired by his grandparents, who would take the young urbanite out of the city, and blow his mind on jaw-dropping rustic walks around the Lake District and Peak District. ‘Guardian Angels’, on the other hand, is a pumping groove about the Pleiadians, an extraterrestrial race who, some believe, will come down to rescue Mankind from its self-inflicted eco-follies.
Other songs, like ‘Good News’ and ‘Miss Dual Carriageway’, are pure driving blues. ‘Man’s Ruin’ concerns a regrettable romantic clinch. ‘Went To A Party’, meanwhile, “is just me saying, Those were the days – yeah, man, house parties!”
The album came about after a chance encounter where Lewis was spotted busking on Brick Lane, in July ’09, by Suss’d Records, who are responsible for the re-issue of legendary ‘70s-80s disco/soul/funk imprints Salsoul and P&P Records. So impressed were Suss’d by the flair & intensity of Lewis’ talent, that Suss’d offered Lewis a deal there on the spot & a new label, Adjust Records (distributed through Republic of Music/Universal) was set-up as a vehicle to release Lewis’ records and that of potentially other future escoteric artists
After demoing 20-odd tracks that October, which earnt Lewis gigs around London and across the UK at this summers key festivals: Bestival, Latitiude, Leeds, The Big Chill & beyond, ‘One Man & His 30w Pram’ was laid down in four days flat in June ’10 at Miloco Studios’ ‘The Pool’, with Ferg Peterkin (Graham Coxon, Depeche Mode, Foals, The Horrors) producing.
With this uniquely amazing album under his belt, the world is now at Lewis Floyd Henry’s feet. Having honed his performing skills on the toughest stage of all – the street – he’s equipped to win over anyone, anyplace, anytime. “Playing on the street has given me confidence,” he says, “and it’s been a great benefit to my music, and my whole approach to it, and the way I perform it. But I’ve been playing on the street for a long time now, I don’t wanna do it forever, when it’s freezing cold, and you’ve got people telling you you can’t play here because of Health & Safety, and they’ll take your equipment. I’m ready for what’s next.” What’s next is, surely, the big time.
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