As Saint Saviour, Becky Jones has trodden an unconventional and uncompromising path towards artistic salvation. It hasn’t always been easy. It’s astory that stretches from the workhouses of Dickensian London to the arena house concerts across the globe. But throughout it all, and with her spectral and hypnotic debut album, she may just have emerged as one of the defining solo artists of her time.
Her adventures began on escaping from her hometown of Stockton-On-Tees at the earliest opportunity, before moving to London for a traditional musical training. A developing love of electro however and a yearning to produce and write her own material saw her turn her back on music school and form The RGB’s. The band were immersed in an East London scene of electronic creatives – “We existed only from Old Street to Kingsland High Road, we played all of those venues on constant rotation. I only listened to music that Fact Magazine told me to.”
Increasingly taken with production techniques, with Factory Records and the seminal Martin Hannett, her only real creative ambition had been to be a session singer, but now she began writing her own songs simply to get the chance to sing. In developing a mastery of bedroom programmes like Logic and Cubase, she discovered the freedom of not needing a band, and doing it herself gave her the imperative to discover her calling. “It came out of wanting to write music that meant a bit more,” she says. With the seeds of what would become Saint Saviour duly sown, suddenly her life changed.
An acquaintance with Groove Armada soon turned into a creative relationship, and as a co-writer and de facto frontwoman, she found herself plunged into the high life. “It was an amazing few years of insanity. It really was ‘the dream’ for a couple of years; posh hotels, flying around the world and living the high life.”
And while that was great fun while it lasted, the experience gave her the final push needed to completely realize her own vision. Back entirely on the DIY circuit, she was ready. And after going on that journey, the debut Saint Saviour album is finally here.
Uniquely crowd-funded through PledgeMusic, the process has allowed her to enjoy complete creative freedom and a unique relationship with her growing army of fans. “The Saint Saviour music is me daydreaming about crazy things, romantic things, sad things. I think this is more the blood and guts of me.” With one foot in the proud lineage of female electric pioneers like MIA and Robyn, the other pulling along the line of classic songwriting like Scott Walker and Carole King, it is by turns bewitching, challenging and delightful, as Becky’s dancing soprano twists and turns around a collection of songs, both electronic and organic entirely written, A&Red, produced and performed by herself.
While she has always vowed to never write from a personal romantic perspective, the music is unquestionably raw and keenly felt. “In the world I used to live in, real life can feel at arm’s length and everything is arty and edgy, about being cool. So when these songs come out, I’m sometimes like, ‘shit!’”
So there is ‘Fallen Trees’, concerned with global warming where Becky “wonders if we are designed to destroy ourselves or whether someone will come and make the world work properly.” Other times, she is inspired by history and her surroundings. On the gorgeous, spectral ‘Reasons’, she contemplates the history of her surroundings in central London, having delved into a local cemetery used as a pauper’s grave for prostitutes in Dickensian times. The song concerns “imagining being one of these prostitutes, looking through the window of a workhouse, knowing that your child’s in there and you have to get them out. Everyone thinks it’s a love song, but it’s actually about something horrible!” Even her nom de plume came from that very workhouse, Saint Saviour’s.
I Call This Home - which deals with the “complicated relationship you have with your roots and when you try to escape them” - sees insidious drums piling over a shimmering backdrop and building to a heady sense of transcendence. The Rain Falls On The Just mines the best traditions of early Eurythmics to power its moral soul-searching . Elsewhere on the album, the propulsive Domino – about “surviving the production line of pop” drops angelic vocals over plucked, dancing strings before Ampllify Dot pierces the reflection with an aggressive rap. On the Mazzy Star-ish Mercy it’s Becky’s gentle soprano that does the piercing with Fight proof of Becky’s mastery of the most classic songwriting.
“I never ever write about my own experience, my family life or relationships. I’m not really interested in badgering on about my own life, I’d rather write about daydreams and the news, stuff that’s important rather than being self-indulgent.”
Where the organic human does collide with the daydreams is in her life performance, as notable for her extravagant, theatrical costumes (Joan Of Arc projections on the walls, exploding balloon full of petals) and set-ups as they are for her visceral stage persona. “I’ve been in situations as a performer where I’ve been told off, to learn to control myself,” she chuckles. “I tend to get very, very excited onstage. I just let myself go mad. It’s the best thing about what I do as well as the worst, because sometimes it’s driven by anger and it’s not very pleasant. It can sometimes be my absolute downfall!”
But from within that comes something truly magical. Indeed, you might say that this music is borne out of a tension between her twin world’s, the throb of electronic pop and the elegance of something more refined. And as such, Becky might have to sometimes endure what it is to suffer for her art. But when this album is released, the benefits of that will be there for us all to reap.