Plan B

Ben Drew taps into the joy of fa­ther­hood for soul­ful re­turn.

Q (UK) - - 2018 New Music Avalanche - RU­PERT HOWE

In the five years since Ill Manors es­tab­lished him as the keen­est-eyed ob­server of Bri­tain’s ur­ban underclass, Plan B kept such a low pro­file it was as if he’d done a dis­ap­pear­ing act wor­thy of one of his shady pro­tag­o­nists. Yet as it turns out, he was hid­ing in plain sight, the 34- year-old rap­per, singer and film-maker Ben Drew hav­ing im­mersed him­self in a new role: dad. “Be­com­ing a par­ent changed ev­ery­thing for me,” he says, re­flect­ing on the birth of his daugh­ter in 2013. “I’m a proud dad and I love her to bits. I think when peo­ple hear my new songs they’re go­ing to re­alise how much of an ef­fect she’s had on me.” To­day Drew is tak­ing time out from his stu­dio in King’s Cross, where he’s putting the fin­ish­ing touches to new stu­dio al­bum Heaven Be­fore All Hell Breaks Loose. A lung­bust­ing, heart-on-sleeve up­date of the clas­sic soul sound he show­cased on 2010’ s The Defama­tion Of Strickland Banks, it’s also a re­sponse to Drew’s re­cent life changes – the “heaven” of his do­mes­tic ex­is­tence con­trasted with the “hell” set to erupt when he re­turns to the me­dia spot­light. “I do feel like I’ve been liv­ing in a state of heaven on earth,” he says of his time away. “For me the chaos be­gins [ now] when I get back into my ca­reer. The whole red car­pet, celebrity side of what I do. But it’s ironic the world has started to feel like that as well, what with all the po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty around Brexit, Don­ald Trump, North Korea. Re­ally strange times to be liv­ing in!” Heaven… might ap­pear laden with omens, es­pe­cially given the cover’s eerie, blood-red moon cre­ated by science fic­tion il­lus­tra­tor John Har­ris. The mu­sic it con­tains, how­ever, came to­gether on a much smaller, more per­sonal scale af­ter Drew picked up his acous­tic gui­tar and started strum­ming what, in his words, sounded like “folk songs”. Back in 2015 he took one of these early ef­forts, Grate­ful, to Florence Welch col­lab­o­ra­tor Kid Har­poon to see if they could flesh it out into some­thing wor­thy

of a Plan B re­lease. Re­sult? “It sounded cheesy and aw­ful,” he groans.

“I’d just been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing love and hap­pi­ness, so I had to write about that.”

Never one to give up at the first at­tempt, Drew scrapped his gui­tar part, re­tool­ing the lyrics to fit a fresh melody Kid Har­poon rolled out on his vin­tage Mel­lotron key­board. “Right away I was like, ‘This is the first song off the next al­bum,’” says Drew. “That was the cat­a­lyst.” Over the next 12 months, work pro­ceeded “in bits and pieces”, the songs grow­ing in strength and stature each time. Hav­ing pre­vi­ously recorded with Adele pro­ducer Paul Ep­worth, Drew was also keen to ex­pand his hori­zons, bring­ing in Ill Manors col­lab­o­ra­tor Al Shux for rous­ing sin­gle Heart­beat and Ed Sheeran’s song­writ­ing foil Foy Vance, who en­cour­aged him to stretch his voice on piano an­them Stranger. “My voice had come on a lot from do­ing all the Strickland Banks gigs,” says Drew. “So when I got in [ the stu­dio] with Foy it opened up this chan­nel in me. That voice you hear on Stranger, I’m not sure it ex­ists on any of the ear­lier stuff.” The sturdy soul har­monies that drove The Defama­tion Of Strickland Banks are again front and cen­tre on Heaven…, even if Drew is singing as him­self rather than a char­ac­ter. It’s one rea­son fans won’t hear any rap­ping on the al­bum. “When I rap it has to be about a street en­vi­ron­ment or have a po­lit­i­cal edge to it,” he says. “I’d just been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing love and hap­pi­ness. So I had to write about that.” Look­ing to re­con­nect with the au­di­ence that pro­pelled his last two al­bums to Num­ber 1, Drew also un­der­stands that he’s com­ing back to a pop land­scape dom­i­nated by a new gen­er­a­tion of big soul voices – not least Sus­sex bel­ter Rag’n’Bone Man. Can he han­dle the com­pe­ti­tion? “I don’t look at it like that,” he says, firmly. “It’s ex­pres­sion – and I love to hear peo­ple ex­press them­selves in an hon­est and beau­ti­ful way.” No ques­tion, Plan B still speaks straight from the heart.

Plan B (aka Ben Drew): al­ways been a bit handy.

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