Introducing Shaun T. Hunter: Rock's Quiet Rebel

He may consider Liam GalIagher a soul singer, but Shaun T. Hunter is the singer-songwriter with a big heart and an even bigger voice that you need to hear, and he's playing in London on Saturday...
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He may consider Liam GalIagher a soul singer, but Shaun T. Hunter is the singer-songwriter with a big heart and an even bigger voice that you need to hear, and he's playing in London on Saturday...

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There are so many great soul singers. I mean, I think Liam GalIagher, on Definitely Maybe, before Oasis turned into self-parody, were a great soul singer.’

I’m listening to Shaun T. Hunter talking about his musical influences and I have to stop him there. I’m not having that, not in my house, where Brit-pop is a dirty word. Undaunted, he then goes off into a ten minute reconstruction of an interview between Jools Holland and the Manc-band frontman in which both voices are pitch perfect and the characterisations are spot on, skills straight out of his acting background.

It’s the sign of a born entertainer. This is a guy for whom music is a drug, and his knowledge of it is encyclopaedic. The skilful delivery of his immaculate impressions dovetails in my mind with the assured, self-possessed performance I’d seen him give earlier to a roomful of South Londoners captivated by and completely in the palm of the hand of a gruff looking northerner from Cleckheaton.

Under the statement of a stage name Quiet Rebellion, Hunter is a one-man wonder, performing solo with the help of an array of pedals, a feedback loop gizmo of the type used by Schlomo and Beardyman (the comparison ends there), an acoustic guitar and an occasional bit of percussion. For much of the set, the guitar was the percussion, as he played it like a slap bass, applied various objects to it and at one point put it in front of his face and sang into it. For a minute, I’d dreaded that he was going to pluck it with his teeth.

But even above Hunter’s considerable skill as an instrumentalist, the key sound-element is his voice. As my mate Paul said, not many singers are willing to use their voice as an instrument.

But even above Hunter’s considerable skill as an instrumentalist, the key sound-element is his voice. As my mate Paul said, not many singers are willing to use their voice as an instrument. By the chorus of the opening number, Hunter’s voice fluttered sweetly into the upper registers like a magic flute, his lips quivering operatically, and the audience was entranced. There is no catch in his voice when he slides into falsetto, it rises and falls eerily and mellifluously. When he sings, he sings with nuance and intelligence, impeccable phrasing and emotional drama. Comparisons were bandied about, none quite apposite, but imagine Peter Hammill mixed with a touch of Enya.

But Hunter is his own man, oddball perhaps, unique in the way that distinguishes original artists from the copyists. Unique like Jake Thackeray, Wild Man Fischer, John Martyn, Kate Bush, Durutti Column, Laurie Anderson, Tracy Chapman, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Bobby McFerrin, The Cocteau Twins, Jane Siberry, Sa Dingding or Fleet Foxes, and nothing like any of them. They are all artists channelling themselves, rather than just an idea of themselves. Rather than his influences, the only thing Hunter wears on his sleeve, like all the above, is the mark of a creativity let loose from the strait-jacket of categorisation.

Which of course is the sticking point. Despite winning Acoustic/Roots Artist of 2006 in the Independent Leeds Music Awards and touring and shifting CDs across Europe, a series of good deals gone bad, including with a major North American agent, may ultimately be down to corporate lack of vision as to how he can be marketed. Of course, that matters in a practical, financial sense. But it’s not going to kill his music. Shaun’s talent is of the unstoppable sort, something that can’t be switched off, ever.

Onstage, between songs, he is unassuming, charming, funny and reassuring. When someone gets up to go to the loo early on, he makes a gentle comment on it before lamenting, ‘I feel like Bernard Manning now.’ (The second time it happens, just before his last song, he says, ‘Oh God, I am Bernard Manning.’) Even when he is singing away from the microphone, he can effortlessly project his voice to the gallery then bring it down to a whisper, and not one clink of a glass is heard in the room. The audience hung on every word because they could hear every word clearly, and the words were beautiful.

The pace was slow, drawn out, tortured, and it beautifully fit Paul Weller’s lyrics, the niceties of which probably few in the audience had fully noticed before, including me.

Two cover versions particularly benefited from the Quiet Rebellion treatment. One was Bill Withers’ ‘Grandma’s Hands’, segueing into Prince’s ‘Kiss’, during which he got the audience singing the chorus – no mean feat for someone they’d probably never heard of.

Even more impressive was his unique take on The Jam’s ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’. The pace was slow, drawn out, tortured, and it beautifully fit Paul Weller’s lyrics, the niceties of which probably few in the audience had fully noticed before, including me. The poetry of violence in that song perfectly complimented the tragedies and hard-fought wisdom from which Hunter’s own lyrics have sprung. By the end of that dark journey on the underground, with Hunter as our guide, making us watch the thuggish beating and bear witness to its life-ruining consequences, the overwhelming response was the feeling of one’s heart breaking.

You can sense his star power. Shaun T. Hunter’s rightful place would be on Later With Jools Holland, one of the few music programmes left where he would fit right in with the spiky, the quirky, the awesome, the original, the classy, the off-the-wall, the legendary and the heartfelt from all the corners of the musical world, regardless of trends and the jackbooted stamp of celebrity. Perhaps the place where oneself merges with the idea of oneself is where true musical importance can be achieved.

Quiet Rebellion’s latest album is called Still Talking Scribble. Upcoming appearances in the next couple of months are in Mansfield, Clapham Common, Heckmondwike and Salford. Click here for more details...

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