‘The Voluntary Butler Scheme At Breakfast, Dinner, Tea’ is the debut album by Rob Jones, a 23-year-old pop prodigy penning songs of classic sound, vivid imagination, and tin-pot ingenuity. Rob’s studio may, by his own admission, be nothing much – “just a bedroom full of wires and keyboards” in his native Stourbridge in the Midlands – but his ambition is by no means stuck in the bedsit. Three singles to date, ‘Trading Things In’, ‘Multiplayer’ and ‘Tabasco Sole’ have blended The Jackson 5 and classic Motown to an instinctual, home-made aesthetic. Not lo-fi, nor hi-fi, but a sweet marriage of the two.
“I love loads of classic production sounds, but then I’m trying to be disrespectful to it somehow,” says Rob. “You know Money Mark? He’s got so many classic elements in there, those great Stevie Wonder keyboard sounds, but he messes around with them, disrespects them – that’s the approach I love.”
Such production ingenuity might mean nothing, mind, if it were not for the wonder of the songs – warm, observational pop polaroids that live in the everyday, but suddenly seize your heart with a simple but affecting turn of phrase. Whether he’s singing “You can’t go treating my heart like bagpipes no more” on the gleaming beat-pop of ‘Multiplayer’, or pleading “Until my watch runs out of battery, I hope you stay by me” atop chiming piano and soft brass on ‘Until My Watch Runs Out Of Batteries’, the Voluntary Butler Scheme write songs that make you smile, but ring true, too. “A lot of my lyrics could be construed as slightly novelty, but I don’t think they come across that way,” says Rob. “Like, the line on ‘Multiplayer’ – it’s kind of funny, but you wouldn’t laugh at it. I think it’s a bit sadder than that”.
‘The Voluntary Butler Scheme At Breakfast, Dinner, Tea’ was recorded in a month-long stint at a studio in Stockwell with producer Charlie Francis, known for his work with REM and the High Llamas, and a handful of guest musicians. For live shows, though, Rob is insistent – right now, the Voluntary Butler Scheme is him, and him only. “Onstage, I’ve got a piano, guitar, drums, and a synth, and I try to loop things together to a big climax before I get on the drums and finish it.” It’s a scattershot approach, but that’s part of the appeal. “People are always quite generous when things go wrong… I think a little bit of unprofessionalism is a bit endearing!”
Which isn’t to say you can’t get involved. Head over to http://www.myspace.com/thevbschopshop and you can find the materials to make your own remix of ‘Tabasco Sole’ – or simply listen to remixes by the likes of Akira The Don or Gold Teeth. Or follow the example of the Christal Connections Line Dancers, who heard the Voluntary Butler Scheme play a session on Dermot O’Leary’s Radio 2 show, emailed to ask where they could get the song, and wound up dancing in the video. Some might say it takes a special talent to write music of such broad appeal, but Rob doesn’t sweat it. “I read something that Phil Spector said in some sound magazine about the recording of ‘Be My Baby’,” says Rob Jones. “He was asking, ‘Is it dumb enough? Are people going to get it?’ I’m not trying to make my music dumb, but I think maybe there’s something in that… stuff feels so much more honest when it’s simple.”
To hear more the Voluntary Butler Scheme check out his myspace page here.