Dark, damp Dalston. Bob Crow’s spectre hangs heavy over London’s lines of purgatory, the public scowls as the streets swell with corpses of commuting. A tube strike is on and everyone badly needs a holiday, including Chad Valley who for daily intents and purposes goes by the name Hugo Manuel. “I’ve always romanticised the idea of being on holiday,” he smiles. “I love holidays, who doesn’t?!”
We’ve settled for the most affordable vacation going: a Turkish restaurant on the Stoke Newington Road, where we get plied with flatbread as Hugo ruminates on London life. Caught in the strike crossfire with winter closing fast (it took Hugo an age to reach us today), it’s moments like this that the charmingly erudite Oxford-born resident can enjoy the (dis)pleasure of our great capital city. “I don’t feel like I need to move to London to make it like a lot of people,” he says. “Y’know come to London, live the dream. From what I’ve noticed from friends in bands it’s quite suffocating; there’s so much competition and just to get yourself heard is a big deal. Don’t get me wrong I like London and I’m here so often it’s like I live here anyway…” Hugo trails off.
Not totally averse to a spot of City dwelling, then, but Hugo would have plenty to leave behind. His band-mates from Jonquil for one – as front-man for the successful alt-folk group he’s still very much part and parcel of the Oxford scene. “It’s being a big fish in a small pond,” he nods. “If you know someone from Oxford then I will know them. It sounds silly but it’s true. Jonquil has changed a bit as three of us have left. They’re now in Trophy Wife, but they left amicably and I still live with them.”
Chad Valley is Hugo’s fervently personal project; a one-man show that is sonically way off line to the sounds of Jonquil. “I went to Ibiza just before I started doing all this stuff,” he explains of his new electronic concern, “maybe it’s subconscious and looking back it must have something to do with it. It’s not like you go to Ibiza and you’re surrounded by awesome music though, quite the opposite. But to recreate the feeling of being on the beach is something I strive to do,” he says, and his blissful use of synths and Mediterranean melody manage it, lifting you to lapping waters and sun-kissed shores, all very intentionally.
“Imagine music that sounded like Oxford,” he frowns. “Jesus. It would sound like academia.”
Clearly an academic himself, Hugo seems no slouch when chewing the intellectual fat, but turn to technology and his white flag is surprisingly in hand. He confesses: “It’s taken me a while to work out the world of blogs. I’m not a big blog reader. I love the idea but I don’t really remember the ones I look at. My computer isn’t organised, its a world of messy nonsense. I spent three hours on YouTube last night watching old Freddie mercury interviews. He is the best interviewee ever; I was practicing for this you see…
“But, yeah, Pitchfork was one of the first ones I noticed [with a Chad Valley review],” he continues as more flatbread arrives. “I saw it on my own then e-mailed the guy who wrote it straight away; a ridiculously gushy e-mail. Embarrassing I know but I was really pleased.”
Modest and self-effacing, Hugo smiles, his time in Jonquil perhaps grounding expectations. “It doesn’t translate to anything immediately,” he reasons. “People think it means more than it does. The knock on effect is very delayed; it’s not quite that simple from what I have noticed.”
Something’s bubbling under and waiting to drop though, and it looks like the dominoes will start and end amongst the city of dreaming spires, where a new Oxford collective dwells.
“Yeah, I don’t want to say collective or cult or anything but there is a movement called Blessing Force,” nods Hugo. “It’s yet to really kick into shape but its a few like-minded bands who throw parties and hold exhibitions. We are setting up a label too. It’s the idea of creating something where there is not much going on at all. It’s only recently become a more serious concern as a lot of bands are getting noticed,” he explains, “people like Trophy Wife and Pet Moon. We’ve been talking about it to journalists and stuff and we have always liked scenes and the inter-relation of bands. Instead of journalists putting us with say Stornaway or something we can give it a name ourselves and say to the journalists use that.”
Maybe it’s us that should be moving up to Oxford.