Singer draws himself as Manchester's own Springsteen

Weekend!Music: Person of the Week
by: ©2007 EWEN SPENCER, What’s under the ever-present hat is a mystery, but what’s inside the head of Damon Gough comes out in the sweet melodies of Badly Drawn Boy’s songs.

Damon Gough, frontman and prime mover of the British band Badly Drawn Boy, is back in Portland this weekend showcasing his album 'Born in the U.K.'

If that title seems reminiscent of a certain Bruce Springsteen blockbuster, Gough has made no secret of his desire to shelve the indie music life and all its deprivations for chart success, in the hope of gaining financial security for his wife and two young kids.

He certainly pushes all sorts of new buttons on the album: The strongly melodic songs have been fluffed up with big string sections and wide-open piano parts, and the track 'Welcome to the Overground' sounds like a lost cut from the musical 'Rent.'

In the studio Gough recorded 120 vocal parts for the song, all sung by him.

With its pedal-steel guitar and lush groove, 'The Way Things Used to Be' is a country-pop song from an unlikely place called Manchester.

As a live performer, Gough is known for his intersong chat and occasional rambles through the audience as much as for his trademark wool hat and facial hair. But he lives up to the troubadour role with his songwriting prowess.

His talent for sweet melodies sometimes exceeds his lyrical ability, but those tunes carry the day. The beautiful love song 'One Last Dance' closes the latest album on a note of hope overcoming a volatile cocktail of nostalgia and regret.

'We almost didn't record that one,' Gough says by telephone. 'I was sitting at the piano, and we literally put down a take before going to bed. I hadn't written the words, but me and the band fumbled through.'

The 37-year-old singer calls the song 'an imaginary visit to the past for re-evaluating where you're at,' and it's a good example of a song that channels an emotion into tune.

A lot has been made of the influence of Springsteen on Badly Drawn Boy's music - not least by Gough - and he ends the song saying, 'And if we still don't have a plan we'll listen to 'Thunder Road' ' (a song on Springsteen's 'Born to Run').

'People ask, 'So how come your music doesn't sound like Springsteen?' But I think true inspiration liberates you to do what you do best, not copy people.'

The title track, 'Born in the U.K.,' is more of a time-lapse history of Britain from punk rock onward, swathed in mid-30s soul searching.

Again, this song started as a vibe, with the microphone cranked up with reverb and a chugging guitar line. The band also had just one line, the final 'I was born in the U.K.'

'It was difficult, almost like having to write it backwards,' he says. Gough had so many references to throw in that they came up with five or six versions before it was done.

As for being on the road, the Brit singer has hazy notions about Portland being a 'really nice place,' based on vague memories of the street that may be Northwest 23rd Avenue, and a record store that may be Music Millennium. He gets precious little time for sightseeing.

Flying these days has become a drawn-out process thanks to the security measures, so the band crams into a bus, taking off after each gig while watching movies.

'We're not at the U2 stage where each band member has his own bus,' he says with a guffaw.

In conversation he can be as emotionally open as one of his songs. He talks about missing his children, Edith, age 6, and Oscar, who will be 5 in March, while on tour. His daughter always has been a daddy's girl, but his son was harder to reach.

'I got Oscar his first Game Boy recently, and we bonded playing the SpongeBob game together. And one day he turns to me and says, 'I love you now, Dad.''

That sounds like a Badly Drawn Boy song in the making.

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Badly Drawn Boy

When: 8 p.m. Sunday, March 25

Where: Aladdin Theater, 3017 S.E. Milwaukie Ave., 503-233-1994

Cost: $17-$20, all ages