This is a review written by Steve Crowe April 2023.
I’ve been listening to and exploring music for well over fifty years. There have been dozens of great artists I’ve discovered and continue to listen to. Many are gifted musicians, some have incredible songs, some can affect you emotionally and others you marvel at for the quality of their production. However, it has been my experience, that few artists, new to me, have ticked all the boxes.
In December 2022 a recommended YouTube video popped up. It was called Hi REN, by an artist called REN whom I had not come across before. I didn’t know what to expect from this guy sitting in a wheelchair, dressed in a hospital gown, in a decrepit room lit, incongruously, by a standard lamp and a table lamp. The fact that he was wheeled in by an orderly with a pig’s head simply added to the strangeness of the scene. I sort of got a clue that what followed was likely to be, perhaps, more unsettling than comfortable. From the first few notes I was transfixed. I discovered subsequently that REN, full name Ren Gill, is a Lyme disease survivor, who has suffered daily bouts of severe pain and lived with debilitating mental issues for years. Originally from Wales, he now lives in Brighton where he has been on the busking scene, playing solo, with his band, The Big Push, and in collaboration with many local artists.
As the performance progressed REN displayed his talent for guitar, singing, rapping and, more than anything, his ability to tell a story. It is his story and comes straight from the heart. I won’t go into further detail about the video as I want you to make your own mind up. There is a link below. As an audio-visual experience Hi REN is truly a work of art. It left me with tears in my eyes. A rare event which I last recall happened when I watched Johnny Cash sing Hurt in 2002. There have been previous pulls to the heart strings such as With a Little Help From My Friends by Joe Cocker. Also, three videos from Steven Wilson, The Raven That Refused to Sing, Drive Home and Routine, have come close.
When you discover an artist that has such an effect on you it is inevitable to want to explore their other music. There is plenty on YouTube. In fact, so much that you are spoilt for choice. Playing with The Big Push REN immediately surprises you, not only with his vocal talents, but his skills on electric guitar and bass. He clearly loves playing live and brings his arranging talents to bear on cover versions of well-known songs, making them his own in the process. His collaborations tend to show the more delicate side of his talents – always musical, always unforced.
I’ve linked five videos which will give you a good feel for what this guy can do. Play them through a good system and I doubt you will be disappointed with the sound quality.
I Shot The Sheriff/medley, played with The Big Push. Bear in mind this was recorded live, in the street.
Chalk Outlines and How To Be Me. Collaborations with Chinchilla, another artist you may wish to explore. I’ve included both as, to me, they form a pair. Chalk Outlines is recorded in a basement, with an acoustic that reflects the sparseness of the location, and How To Be Me is recorded on a promenade, in the open air. Both have a simple acoustic guitar accompaniment and the beauty in the songs is in the interplay of the voices.
The Hunger is a brilliant rap video one of many that have received rave reactions on YouTube.
You may wonder why I have put Hi REN last, as this is where I started. The reason is that after watching this video it is difficult to follow. It left me speechless. This video is the story of REN’s life.
Since the release of Hi REN, Ren’s career has started to take off, with nine point eight million views of this video alone on YouTube. Ren, himself, is undergoing daily experimental treatment for his condition under a specialist in Canada. You can only hope that he comes out the other end much stronger. I’ve been down the REN rabbit-hole and watched about fifty videos. If you choose to do the same, I hope you enjoy the trip as much as I have. To me, REN is the most important artist of a generation.