Huge in France, and he shouldn’t be overlooked in the UK.
Nick Barraclough 2009
Charlie Winston recently featured on Radio 4’s Today programme: “Pop singer bloke from Suffolk is huge in France, but can’t get arrested here”. As is so often the case with a subject other than politics or economics, they didn’t quite get hold of the story.
This album has spent many weeks in the French top ten and has gone platinum. Its first single, Like a Hobo, made number one over there in April. Understandably, it has a strong Euro flavour, though mercifully falling short of a strong Eurovision flavour.
It is odd, the way an artist can capture the imagination of one country but not his own. Murray Head, back in the 70s, wrote Say It Ain’t So, Joe – a wonderful song, piped in every bistro, but virtually ignored here. So why the French but not us? The two singers both have a lightness and agility of the voice, but that’s where the similarity ends: Head was really an actor who dabbled in song, while Winston is clearly a full-blooded musician.
Hobo’s production is organic and fun, Winston’s vocal refreshingly untreated. There’s a light agility about his songs too, ranging from the straightforward chick songs – I Love Your Smile stirs thoughts of Randy Newman collaborating with a bunch of New Orleans’ finest, and Soundtrack to Falling in Love – to silliness on My Life as a Duck and Kick the Bucket, songs which might prove just a little too twee for domestic consumption. In fact that could be it – maybe that tweeness, combined with the cheeky chappie image (stubble, frayed fedora hat), might be a bit too much for our Anglo-Saxon scepticism.
The outstanding track, and the most UK friendly, is Calling Me. Here, Winston has avoided over-arranging, sticking just with a guitar, some fabulous harmonica playing from Benjamin Edwards and a flutter of keyboards. Where occasionally style has triumphed over substance on this album, here quality shines through.
It would be a loss for us if Winston were to be consigned to the list of artists who only cracked it abroad, though he shouldn’t really complain: euros buy yachts just as easily as pounds.