Who Knows Jenny Jones is the new album from surreal indie act Mr Ben and The Bens, the brainchild of polymath Ben Hall. The record is an experimental pop exploration of a kitchen sink narrative with a celestial twist. Originating from Lancaster’s thriving co-operative scene, Ben is now based in Sheffield and his adopted city has had a profound influence on the concept of the new album. With Who Knows Jenny Jones, he tells the tale of a shrinking violet called Jenny from an area of Sheffield called Pitsmoor in the 1970s, who gets abducted by aliens and becomes the best disco dancer in town.
Mr Ben and The Bens have been touring and releasing records since 2017. In a short space of time he has been embraced by BBC 6 Music’s Marc Riley and toured with Lancaster hometown DIY legends The Lovely Eggs as well as indie guitar masters The Wave Pictures and art pop maestros British Sea Power. Being an integral part of the Bingo Records tight-knit community, they performed at the label’s First Anniversary package tour with label family Selection Box, Sun Drift and Dog Daisies.
For the new album, Ben played all the instruments himself (apart from drums) in his tiny bedroom in Sheffield. He branches away from his lo-fi acoustic folk roots to embrace more electronic territory, exploring a new sonic palette whilst still occupying the signature world of Mr Ben and The Bens. Ben has a canny knack of writing songs that reflect his ability to see the noteworthy in the everyday. His ear for melody shines through the songwriting, blending lo-fi experimental folk-pop with an emphasis on melody and lyricism, inspired artists including The Velvet Underground, Jeff Tweedy, Of Montreal and Cate le Bon. As Ben explains; “The nature of the concept of the album has lent each track to being a stand-alone stride into new sounds and styles.”
The narrative for the record was created in collaboration with Lloyd Bent who runs Bingo Records. Ben and Lloyd moved to Pitsmoor in Sheffield, a neighbourhood that occupies the top of a hill which drops onto a big industrial area of Sheffield. As Ben explains; “It feels a bit like the edge of the world sometimes. There are so many spaces around the area that have personal histories trapped inside them. There’s old boarded up pubs / social clubs, manufacturing factories turned into recycling centres and graveyards that are slowly being consumed by edgeland woods. Our neighbour has lived here for the best part of 40 years and though the area is still vibrant now in a different way, I enjoy hearing his version of the neighbourhood in the 70’s and 80’s.”
The album tells a story of a young woman called Jenny who lives in Pitsmoor in the late 1970’s. It seems the whole town is against her as she fails her third job interview in a row. Her family have no interest in her life, opportunity is scarce and the world she lives in seems to be closing in. On the way to a dance that she hasn’t been invited to, she cuts through the graveyard to save some time. Through a series of events she is abducted by aliens who impart some serious disco knowledge upon her. On her return to earth the odds have changed and newly empowered with her dancing skills, she becomes the talk of the town for the night.
The artwork features an X-Files style photoshoot of an alien caught in a graveyard which incorporates a set and motif from the narrative of the album. As Ben elaborates; “Our drummer Zac donned a papier maché alien head I’d made in the kitchen, a metallic spandex suit and a leather tassled biker jacket.” As well as drummer Zac Barfoot, joining Ben for his live gigs (as The Bens) are Lauren Paige Dowling on bass and Tom Diffenthal on guitar and keyboards.
Who Knows Jenny Jones is a fully realized and extraordinary piece of work, full of imagination and catchy hooks, delving in both social realism and fantasy. As Ben says, “It’s funny, dark and surreal but I like how the story kind of represents the exciting, incredible things new movements in subculture can do to young people living in provincial areas. I bet listening to disco music for the first time in industrial Sheffield was like hearing music from aliens!”
released October 25, 2019
Songs written, performed and produced by Ben Hall
Drums by Zac Barfoot
Mixed and mastered by Kane Whitelam
Art by Ben Hall
Story by Lloyd
Zine by Ben Hall and Lloyd
Photography by Ben Johnson
Born as a recording project in a barn in Lancashire in 2012, Ben Hall recorded and self released 7 albums under Mr Ben. Now
a complete outfit Mr Ben & the Bens sound like they were baptised in water from the church of indie classics, the songs of the Lancaster Polymath echo Belle & Sebastian, Teleman, Gorkys Zygotic Mynci and a bit of Bill Ryder-Jones his genuinely great modern songwriting ...more