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Benita Johnson: A Talented Songbird Worth Catching

We’re blessed to have an abundance of live music in our counties ranging from visiting high-profile acts at cost to free pub gigs by professional, semi-professional and amateur artistes.

 

Along with friends, I very much enjoy attending pub open mic/jam nights where a great variety of styles and abilities can be savoured in one night for the price of a few drinks and possibly tasty pub food.

So it was that I found myself appreciating an array of acts a few weeks ago, dipping in and out between chatting to friends when a singer/songwriter/guitarist took to the stage (well, the allocated corner of the pub) and stopped us all in our tracks.

The moment Benita Johnson started singing, something magical happened and the pub fell silent.

 

Benita is slight, quiet,  unassuming and enigmatic.  Hidden behind an acoustic guitar that seems too big for her delicate fingers yet in full command.  Every so often, a barely perceptible smile reaches her lips, as if she’s remembering something mildly amusing.  She adapts her playing style to suit each song, sometimes tapping the strings throughout, now picking, occasionally strumming.  And when she begins to sing, I’m certain there are angels weeping in the galleries. Her vocals are breathy and ethereal with a Dido-esque quality.

One song touched me so deeply the first time I saw her that I wanted to weep right there in my chair.  I settled for dabbing my watery eyes.  There was something about that song that stretched across the room and wrapped its tendrils around all our hearts.  I looked at others and could see they were feeling the same.  Incredible!

But don’t get the idea that Benita’s a one song pony.  The rest of her set was strong and fabulous, too so naturally, I had to catch up with her and find out where she’d been hiding all our lives.

What follows is in her own words:

I grew up in a West Country village. Life was slow and ordered. Lots of space for my imagination to grow. Wide horizons – when you got up high enough – to dream of reaching. When I left home, I lived in Bristol for many years. It’s my favourite city. I came to Sussex about ten years ago. This is my home now.

When did you get started playing and how?  Have you always played solo or been in bands?

My earliest memory is of being a toddler, sitting at the back of a group of toddlers, eyeing up the stickle-bricks and wondering what all these other dribbly creatures were. Then in walked a lady with a guitar and started singing – probably Wheels on the Bus or something. I was captivated. I wanted to be THAT. After 6 or 7 years of hearing my repeated whining about getting a guitar, my parents finally sourced one second hand and I was on the way!

I started writing songs in secondary school and I sang these with a few of my friends. It’s something I just kept doing and when I started venturing onto the music scene in Bristol, mainly I sang solo. I also sang backing vocals and played percussion for my friends’ band the Funkinsteins for a few years. I learned a lot about band-craft and harmonies then. Over the years I collaborated with people at times, but mostly gigged solo. I’m in the process of forming a band now, though, so that feels really exciting for me.

Was it a conscious decision to only play originals?  Did you ever play covers?

I do tend to play all originals, hence the “singer-songwriter” tag. It wasn’t conscious and I have at times thrown a few covers in. I find it hard to learn covers. I think this is because when you build a song in your head you have the blueprint, so it stays there. I find it hard to work to other people’s plans – it feels like there’s always something missing. I do try. But I get a happier return from writing and playing my own songs. It just feels right.

If you were playing covers, what would you choose?

Well, I’m thrashing out a bit of Georgia Ku and Amy Macdonald at the moment. Nothing really compares with that first time I heard Wheels on the Bus though.

What music do you like to listen to when you’re “off duty”?

… scrolling through playlist… in no particular order: Michael Kiwanuka, Sarah Blasko, London Grammar, k d lang, Portishead, Melissa Etheridge, Stevie Nicks, Adele, Frazey Ford, Beth Hart, Muse, Ella Fitzgerald, The Killers, The Verve, Radiohead, John Williams (soundtracks) and Mumford and Sons.

What influences your song writing?  Do you favour particular themes? Where do you get your ideas?

People. And also myself – I am also people.  This can be in the abstract or very specific. It doesn’t really matter how it starts – the songs take on a life of their own anyway.

You have some recordings available – are they for download/CD purchase?

I have a Bandcamp page where you can find almost everything I’ve ever recorded. There’s more dotted about the place on Spotify and other download/streaming sites. If you search “Benita Johnson Music” that will get you started.

My Bandcamp is here: https://benitajohnson.bandcamp.com/

What are your future plans/goals/dreams?

To be happy, safe, helpful. To give all that I’ve got. Running through all of this, there must be music.

Tell us a surprising fact about yourself that nobody would guess…

I can’t drink tea without biscuits, beer without crisps or coffee without chocolate. Them’s the rules!!

So there you have her.  Do visit her Bandcamp page and let her wash over your senses.

https://benitajohnson.bandcamp.com/

There, you’ll find four separate releases – all original compositions.  There’s a 7-track and two 10-track albums as well as a 2-track charity release called Feel Your Way.

Feel Your Way is the song that affected us all so deeply the first time we heard it.  It’s about the ‘unravelling of the self’ that occurs through dementia.  All proceeds from the sale go to the Alzheimer’s Society UK and Parkinson’s UK.  By all means listen and download this but then do yourself a favour and explore the rest of Benita