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: