Bandleader Ben Romans-Hopcraft once again enlisted childhood friend, George Barber, as director. Building on the themes of their first collaborative film, the video for “Californian Light“, George continued to explore the characters and communities of their native south London. Taking over St Laurence’s church in Catford for the day, Childhood ran through a private performance of their stunning soul steeped record, Universal High. They were joined on-stage by Ben’s trumpeter father (who plays for the Sun Ra Arkestraand put together all the horn arrangements on the album), and his sign language interpreter stepmother, Jacqui, who led and signed her deaf dancing troupe throughout the performance.
George commented, “I asked a group of deaf and partially deaf music enthusiasts to observe Childhood’s performance of ‘Don’t Have Me Back’, to explore how deaf audiences would experience a live gig. Led by Jacqui Beckford (Ben’s stepmother), a sign language interpreter, the audience react to the lyrics and the musical arrangement of the song. The energy of the band and Jacqui’s majestic interpretation is received positively by our audience, demonstrating that a musical performance isn’t just for hearing audiences.“
According to Ben the latest single is about “a difficult, drawn out break up. Everyone knows the one, where you never really let the dust settle and still continue to be affectionate towards each other. Usually it’s not a sensible thing to do. I guess it’s me telling my ex to ignore my attempts of making our relationship seem like it could be a reality again. I still care about her deeply so it was hard continuing a friendship without falling into the same habits. Luckily we’re still friends, so something must have worked out.” As with the classic soul that inspired the album, the somber, melancholic lyricism of ‘Don’t Have Me Back’ is set against a bright and beautiful soundscape.
Recorded at Maze Studios, Atlanta across the summer of 2016 where the band decamped for a month, Universal High was produced by the legendary Ben H Allen III (Gnarls Barkley, Animal Collective, Deerhunter) who struck up quite the creative partnership with Ben. You could be forgiven for branding Universal High a rebirth. In places almost unrecognizable from the dub-charged psychedelic indie of their debut, the new sound swells from the southern streets in which it came to life, caked in the Seventies soul of The Isley Brothers, Curtis Mayfield and Shuggie Otis.
Ben says, “‘Universal High’ represents many things to us as a band. It signifies change, both musically and mentally whilst also revisiting influences that confounded our interest in music in the first place. What I think is noticeable is the direct nature of the songs and its influences. Being surrounded by soul music, classic pop songs and music with any form of groove all my life, these influences began to speak for themselves within these new songs we were writing“.
Since the first album Ben has evolved into something of an auteur, with numerous collaborations under his belt as both a producer, recurrently alongside new regular comrade Sean Lennon, as well as numerous teamings with Fat White Family‘s Saul Aamczeski as part of both Warmduscher and Insecure Men.