Leeds-based songwriter and musician Henry Bateman's new album Hide & Seek is an impressive collection of new songs expressed through a cast of 'weird and wonderful characters' who often end up doing something quite extreme. We had our first glimpse into this lyrical theme with Henry's recent single release of "Seaside", a beautiful, string-driven track with a story that plays out in a car at the beach in the rain. The song's lead character is a woman who appears to be a kidnapper, and the listener is made to feel a sort of empathy for her strange situation. It seems fitting that Henry's new album opens with this reflective, unsettling musical atmosphere, gently bringing the listener into the Hide & Seek musical journey that is about to unfold - a theme that touches upon feelings of breaking out and making changes.
In contrast to Henry's previous album, Throwing & Catching, the songs on Hide & Seek are the result of a more collaborative recording approach that Henry took with the talented group of musicians that comprise his band. Produced by Henry and Tim Goddard, the new album showcases impressive songwriting, polished production and a clever and cohesive lyrical theme from this talented, emerging singer-songwriter.
Once we've left the seaside, acoustic guitar and gently-delivered vocals lead us into the precarious "Burn It Down", a track that gradually transitions to an astounding musical soundscape (complete with police and fire sirens) that spotlights the band's impressive musicianship. The lyrics present the monologue of an arsonist: "a young man who's sick of his quiet countryside hometown. By the end of the song, he's begun to burn the place down, and we perhaps understand a little more about how someone can come to do such a thing."
The album's stunning artwork, created by Paul Brough, provides an obvious visual accompaniment to the "Burn It Down" storyline. Henry reveals, "With my previous records, I always knew the artwork and title that I was working towards from very near the start of the process. With this one, I had the image for the artwork in my head but no idea for the title - even after it had been mastered and was all done. Me and my producer Tim were throwing a few ideas about, and 'Hide & Seek' stuck. I think it feels good for a number of reasons. A lot of this album is about people stuck in small spaces in some way, and there's lots of stuff about kids and childhood too. When I hear the words 'Hide & Seek' it certainly takes me back to being in a confined space, waiting for something to happen. I think that gets the listener in a good mindset for the record."
Henry continues, "The other thing I like about it is that it's so ridiculously ironic when you look at the cover. One of the things that I really wanted to explore on this album was irony in songwriting; with a song like 'Mummy Has Another Side' for example, the lyric is pretty hard to hear, but the music feels very beautiful (I hope!). So you end up in this world in between those two things, and that in itself creates its own impression on the listener - you end up in the world of the kid she's talking to, hearing these harsh words but wrapped up safe in his universe of childhood innocence. It's actually very intriguing, the music and lyric don't seem to make sense together - so you get curious and get pulled in. So with a cover that's this kid burning down a church, and a title that refers to a game that you might hope that kid could be playing instead of committing arson - there's definitely a sense or irony there."
"If Your Heart Is Beating" notes a change in style with its upbeat, rhythmic pop sound, along with impressive piano riffs and a musical vibe that feels like Toto meets Crowded House. In fact, Henry jokingly notes that the song was written "after listening to nothing but Toto and Neil Finn for six months." The track was the second single release to precede Hide & Seek and is built upon solid songwriting and production that makes it perfect material for radio play and playlist inclusion.
HENRY BATEMAN "IF YOUR HEART IS BEATING" (Official Music Video)
"Rest of My Life" is a lovely acoustic track that sounds like it might convey an extremely profound message. However, Henry notes that it's more a reflection on the life of a student, and less prophetic than one might think. He reacts, "Haha. Well, I had been to see a singer/songwriter called John Craigie who is so funny. His songs are so simple but so effective. He's great. So I wanted to write something really simple, which is often the hardest thing. I graduated from music college in July, and there's this standing joke that everyone who goes to music college is going to end up stacking shelves - you know, the kind of classic student pessimism. I think it's generally sarcastic, but I think some people are genuinely concerned haha. So I wanted to write something that was basically a guy sitting at home going 'What the hell do I do now that this thing is over? What am I going to do with the rest of my life?' The life of a student is extremely liberating, and fun, and wonderful. But coming out of that is a confusing and worrying thing. This song explores that, but I was trying to be sort of 'tongue-in-cheek'. I didn't feel too serious writing it."
One of Hide & Seek's definite highlights is "Tell Me Who I Am", Henry's collaboration with UK singer-songwriter Emi McDade. The song tells the story of a distressed situation taking place inside a house, and as a result, we have someone who's not quite sure who they are. Along with the emotional and reflective atmosphere of the song, Emi's delicate, yet powerful and dynamic vocals are the true spotlight of this stunning track.
The poignant and reflective, predominantly acoustic track "Stop Hiding" closes out the core seven-track component of the album. Henry explains, "'Stop Hiding' is a tune I wrote some time ago about that moment in grief where you escape denial, and are suddenly given a perspective that allows you to realise just the scale and finality of what's happened." The band recently recorded a live session of this moving song at Holbeck Underground Ballroom, with video by Jacob Savage. Along with Henry on lead vocals and guitar, the live session video features band members Chris Camm (keyboards), Hannah Lamb (vocals), Frazer Kerslake (bass), Greg Burns (drums), and Lewis Down (guitar).
HENRY BATEMAN "STOP HIDING" (Live Session)
The album's first seven tracks lay down the core foundation for Hide & Seek, with three additional songs presented after a patch of silence that follows "Stop Hiding." Henry notes, "The idea is that the album finishes with 'Stop Hiding'. I didn't really feel like you could go anywhere else after that one. It has such a sense of arrival." The additional tracks (the lovely acoustic "Time for Love", "Two Brothers, One Barricade" and demo "All That You Need") present a kind of prologue to the album - a wonderful encore to the Hide & Seek story.
For more information about Henry Bateman, visit his official website, follow him on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube) and find his music on Bandcamp, SoundCloud, Spotify and iTunes.