The perfect souvenir of perfect company: Song of the Day #5 ‘Othello’

Telling the creation story behind each song in the Jem Kid catalogue

Name: “Othello
Written: Mid-2016.
EP: Nearly Live, Jem Kid & Company.
Best line: ‘She was hardly sugar cotton candy / But I swept her off her feet / Like a proper old-fashioned / Chimneysweep’
Influences: Classic jazz; Jake Thackray; cream tea afternoons at the May Fair; the Accordion Man of St Albans.

by César Manivet

The story of Othello stretches back to the very first few songs I ever wrote, and it was the first one that really caught people’s imagination. This song has traipsed all over the continent, pierced through a hundred of clouds of smoke and wrestled with a hundred tinny PAs. But the story I want to tell is that of the other musicians who brought it to life.

On a sunny afternoon in Oxford, as I was selling walking tours by the blue gates of Trinity College, Broad Street, an old friend passed by. I hadn’t seen Arran in over a year, but we had always got along well. He mentioned he was starting a folk band; I said impulsively, “Have you got any space for a guitarist?” Later that day, I nearly talked myself out of it, saying I wouldn’t have the time. But before long we had a bassist, Johnny, and a name for our trio: Jem Kid & Company.

Our first rehearsal proved instant chemistry. Those foundations never shook all year, despite the Atlas pressure of final exams. The secret to keeping the spark in the marriage was probably that we never took ourselves all too seriously. We were ambitious and ridiculous: ambitious in our choice of debut show at the Oxford Union Ball, and in our range of songs including a cover version of Dear Reader’s choral number, Victory. Ridiculous, because not a single appearance went by without featuring a disordered stack of hand-scribbled scores, good-natured bullying, bawdy heckling.

That other people could invest themselves so completely in the music I wrote, trusting my judgement, following my lead, was a difficult thing to believe for a long time. Eventually I accepted their support at face value and, in return, let go of my narcissistic notion that our success or enjoyment depended on my compositional talent alone. I didn’t carry the band. We thrived on togetherness and escapism. I just had the privilege of writing the soundtrack.

I didn’t carry the band. I just had the privilege of writing the soundtrack.

It was more than fun – it was immensely satisfying. We achieved exactly what I had hoped to achieve from the very beginning: a live video session with Vulture Sessions (a story for another day), a few appearances at College Balls and local pubs, and an EP at the end. We recorded Nearly Live in one day after exams were over, all together, to do justice to the thrill of our live set. Othello is the perfect souvenir of those times, with its raucous interjections, helpless laughter and – who’d have thought it – half-decent musical performances to top it all off.

This post is dedicated to all four members of Jem Kid & Company: Arran Schneebly, Johnny Chonk and Will, who played his part even though he wasn’t around long enough to have a nickname.

As an independent artist in the time we’re in, Jem Kid depends on people deciding that his music worth paying for, even though it’s available for free. You can buy this track and many others on his Bandcamp page: https://thatjemkid.bandcamp.com/album/nearly-live

On baptism, the Church and rebirth: Song of the Day #4 ‘Odds With My Body’

Telling the creation story behind each song in the Jem Kid Catalogue

Written: Late 2018, Oxford.
EP: Nearly Live, Jem Kid & Company.
Best line: ‘Odds with my body, / Battered and used, / Sink in the river, / And come out new.’
Influences: Alfred Tennyson, Lord Byron, Georges Moustaki, country blues.

I grew up in a world of born-again Christians. I was one myself for a long time. At the age of ten, I decided I wanted to be baptised into the Church. But at the age of ten, what did I know about feeling ‘battered and used’, about life’s residual filth of which baptism was supposed to wash me clean?

I don’t go to church any more, but I don’t regret stepping in that blow-up swimming pool on that hot July day. It wasn’t a rebirth, but it was an initiation into a community that would offer me a great deal of support and guidance in the formative years to come.

In the autumn of 2018, at twenty-one years old, I decided to go into psychotherapy. In the winter I struggled, but spring brought ever greater clarity and by midsummer I felt strong and ready to move on. The therapist’s final remark on the last day was that our time together had been exactly nine months. Maybe that was the rebirth I had needed, at last.

As an independent artist in the time we’re in, Jem Kid depends on people deciding that his music worth paying for, even though it’s available for free. You can buy this track and many others on his Bandcamp page: https://thatjemkid.bandcamp.com/album/nearly-live


A bottle without a label: Song of the Day #3 ‘Prelude’+ ‘My Love & I’

Telling the creation story behind each song in the Jem Kid Catalogue

Written: February 2017 (words), Berlin; October 2017 (prelude + arrangement), Oxford.
EP: Nearly Live, Jem Kid & Company.
Best line: ‘My love and I / Break the very same bread / We weave our lies / With the very same thread’
Influences: J.R.R Tolkien, Thomas Hardy, English traditional song

This song’s birth and all of its formative moments all came out of some of the lowest points of my 2017. In February I had just moved to Berlin knowing nobody at all. Once again, my guitar stepped up as a lifeline in those long, lonely days indoors.

‘My Love & I’ was the first song I wrote in Berlin. For a long time I couldn’t face up to the emotions that it had captured, a bottle without a label. I would talk about it as a break-up song, which is what the lyrics are on the surface.

All of that passion was let out much later, during the first and second terms back at Oxford, a time when my perseverance and energy came under a double attack from the pressure of work and the insidious negligence of my flatmate.

Apart from improvised sections, all of the trumpet solos were composed on one Sunday afternoon in late Spring 2018. Memories of that afternoon are very clear in my mind’s eye. It was the very lowest of the low. So many times that year my guitar kept me going: ‘I will love her till I’m dead’.

JK

As an independent artist in the time we’re in, Jem Kid depends on people deciding that his music worth paying for, even though it’s available for free. You can buy this track and many others on his Bandcamp page: https://thatjemkid.bandcamp.com/album/nearly-live

A sinister song for a sinister time: Song of the Day #2 ‘Audrey, Audrey’

Telling the creation story behind each song in the Jem Kid Catalogue

Written: October 2016, Ghisonaccia, Corsica.
EP: Nearly Live, Jem Kid & Company.
Best line: ‘Leaning on the olive branch / Weeping at the cross’
Influences: Baroque classical music, The Oompa Loompa Song from the original Charlie & the Chocolate factory.

This is a pretty wacky song at first impression. That’s because it’s relatively old, dating to 2016 which was the year I started writing music. Typically of this phase, the lyrics don’t exactly shove it under your nose – but listen closely and you’ll find they’re quite sinister. A sinister song for a sinister time.

Ghisonaccia in Corsica was the first stop on my Wwoofing trip, part of my year abroad. I was there to learn French, work the soil and play my brand new pink guitar which I’d just found in the charity shop for £15. (To be fair, it sounded like £20.)

Audrey (not her real name) was my first host, and I stayed at her farm for almost a month. Her farm was a sort of impromptu refuge for the overlooked, populated by a dozen stray dogs, a dozen cats, a dozen sheep, a few horses, two goats, an elderly mother, an alcoholic partner a schizophrenic friend.

Her heart for this motley crew and for any passing wwoofer was big; her ability to care for us, questionable. If you want the full tale, clear out half an hour of your day and call me. Suffice it to say that it was a prime example of what my grandmother calls a C.F.E – a ‘character-forming experience’.

As with any of my songs, I’d encourage you to listen closely and let the lyrics suggest their own version of events. This is a rare case in which the allusions made in the song are less exciting than the true story of the ‘dancing girl boss‘.

JK

As an independent artist in the time we’re in, Jem Kid depends on people deciding that his music worth paying for, even though it’s available for free. You can buy this track and many others on his Bandcamp page: https://thatjemkid.bandcamp.com/track/audrey-audrey

 

What I stand for and what I don’t: Song of the Day #1 ‘Water & You’

Telling the creation story behind each song in the Jem Kid Catalogue

Written: November 2017, Oxford.
EP: Nearly Live, Jem Kid & Company.
Best line: ‘I’m quite the lover, on my day / I’m quite the poet, in my way /What I see is what I say.’
Influences: Country rhythm, acoustic-pop chords, bossa nova finish. References Santa Fe (RENT the musical), Candidate/Sweet Thing (David Bowie, Diamond Dogs)

If I had done a single release, this would have been it. It’s my portrait in song, the picture of an assured yet modest artist starting out, finding his place: ‘Not quite a boy, not quite a man’.

I was playing with ideas, working out what I stand for and what I don’t – ‘Don’t have a castle in the sky/don’t have a castle in the sand.‘ All you need in life are the bare necessities, or as the French say, ‘de l’amour et de l’eau fraiche’; love and water, water and love. That line refers to the person the song is dedicated to: who else but to Louise Fischer, my girlfriend.

The tune and chords were developed by playing around with the D-D7-Dm sequence, then at some stage incorporating the switch to F major, keeping that edgy A major as a pivot to switch back to D.

The pre-chorus honours a riff from ‘Santa Fe’ from RENT (the iconic bassline features that major-minor progression) The trumpet outro honours a guitar solo in Candidate/Sweet Thing by David Bowie (3:04). Don’t ask me why I made it into bossa nova. Dextrous or disastrous? Who knows?

JK

As an independent artist in the time we’re in, Jem Kid depends on people deciding that his music worth paying for, even though it’s available for free. You can buy this track and many others on his Bandcamp page: https://thatjemkid.bandcamp.com/track/water-you

What’s in a name?

or, why I’m choosing a new one

When you give something a name, you draw a line between its existence and your own. Adam, so the story goes, gave names to all the animals and plants. But notice that he did not name himself. He was named by his creator, made in the image of God, but not actually made a god. And gods are constantly named and renamed by mankind. All of us are named through the point of view of another – well, most of us. Why on earth and how on earth do we choose our own names?

On the 17th March 2017, I turned twenty-one and made a decision: I was not merely a boy who played music, rather I was a boy and a musician. And musicians belong to the groups of people who choose their own names, along with writers, drag queens, priests, trans people… These are people who need to draw lines: between private and public, between dead and new, between the stage and the street. Like all of them, I observed a new quality in myself, let it grow and eventually gave shape to it through a new name: JEM KID.

Choosing a name can feel quite momentous, as if what you choose will stick forever. But a name can be donned and doffed like a fashionable hat. JEM KID came to me as I sat before my half-completed Facebook business page. It was snappy and easy to spell. People would hear the name and know it belonged to an artist. It ticked a number of boxes, and I liked to tell myself that there was nothing more to it.

My friends were enthusiastic about the name for a different reason. For them, it represented me faithfully, evoking the playfulness with which I wrote my songs. Irony could be defined as the distance between a name and what it represents. Thus, a childish name for a grown-up performer (around this time, for the first time in my life, people began to perceive my appearance as that of a man, not a boy). And like my new name, my performances were saturated with irony. My best-received song from this time, Othello, embodied that tongue-in-cheek spirit.

When I was a boy, I was a good one
I’d write my girl a sonnet every week
And she was hardly sugar cotton candy
But I swept her off her feet
Like a proper old-fashioned chimneysweep

Othello

That day of Spring marked the start of a rich season for performance. I threw myself into my music with a vigour lain dormant since childhood. The drive to create and perform has never faltered. But that Autumn I realised that I was no longer singing out of joy, rather out of need or perhaps habit. The reward of each show felt scanter than it had at the beginning. All of that irony was creating a distance between me and those who listened to me, and I couldn’t engage. The only song that reached across that gap was one I sniffed at for its naivety, scribbled in a moment of darkness the winter before and long ignored in favour of cleverer, less honest numbers.

If you knew
who I really was
If you knew
what kind of man I was
If you knew
would you still be my side?
I’m scared of all the things I hide

Marvellous Friends

If my writing has improved since this realisation, it’s mostly because time has passed and I have grown. Perhaps choosing earnestness over irony was precisely the nature of that growth; perhaps it’s no more than normal betterment with time and practice. Either way, the name I gave myself two and a half years ago (is that all?) now feels like an old school blazer, short at the hems. It’s time to slip out of it.

So on the 13th October 2019, I’ll perform under a new stage name for the first time, at the Kindl Stuben Open Mic. You could see this as a quite superficial change, a rebrand for functional purposes. The new name has a classic sheen which makes it a truer signpost for the genres I’m associated with.

But I’m also using the opportunity to give life to the latest image of me. No more visual or verbal trickery this time – nothing to hide. For I know that’s how I write the songs that reward me the most: when I speak and speak clearly.

So he threw all the words on the fire
All the twists and the charms that he did not require

and the shadows, they scattered and fled
Oh, schoolboy – lift up your head!

Older with Age

ROOKLING