It doesn't take a psychologist to tell you that birth order can have a profound affect on a person's life. One look at the Gallagher Brothers shows in technicolour the impact being the first or second born can have. Such is the case with Jamie Hartman, frontman and founder of Ben's Brother, a five piece from London about to launch their engaging songs of life and love on the British public.
Jamie grew up, as second children often do, in the shadow of his elder brother, Ben. 'I always felt like the beta male in our home,' the Londoner says. 'The alpha role definitely went to Ben.'
While Jamie displayed a precocious musical talent, and started writing songs on the piano as a teenager, it was Ben's brilliance as a sportsman that made the early headlines in the Hartman household. 'I soon realised that I was trying to capture in my music the feeling says Jamie. 'A lot of my songs are about stoicism in the face of insecurity.' His first experience of unrequited love at 16 - 'I told this girl I loved her and she just said 'oh' and walked off'- helped to fuel his musical persona as the bard of sturdy also-rans.
When he taught cricket for the summer in South Africa in 1997, Ben Hartman took a CD of his kid brother's tunes with him. He gave copies to various friends he met along the way who knew nothing about the boy with the sweetly serrated voice and the heart-meltingly soulful melodies - beyond the fact that he was Ben's brother. As more copies of copies spread further, the name stuck. When Jamie ended up staying with one of Ben's South African buddies in the States in 2000, he saw it written on the sleeve of a CD-R and realised that the band he had always dreamed of playing with had already got a name.
After years of scuffling and busking on Portobello Road - 'I found I could make £70 in an hour and a half' - Jamie's songs began to turn up on other people's albums. It was when a song he had penned first hit the charts that he decided this beta male supporting role palaver had gone far enough. In 2006 he formed a band of his own. With Kiris Houston (keyboards/guitar), Dan McKinna (bass) Stuart Anning (drums) and Morgan Quaintance (guitar) completing the line-up, the music Ben's Brother play soundtracked their adolescence.
'I couldn't stand the music that was around me at that time,'Jamie says, 'It always seemed so glossy and pointless.'
After copping an old Rolling Stones album from his brother's collection, Jamie felt moved to explore the pop and rock archive. The young Rod Stewart caught his ear: 'I have no issue with Rod. He's got a great voice and he's still got all his hair.' But the vocalist he particularly gravitated to was Rod's main inspiration, one of the founding fathers of soul, the late Sam Cooke. Jamie first heard Wonderful World on a Levi's TV ad in 1996. Nobody can make the hair on your neck stand up the way Sam could.'
Well maybe, but that guy who fronts the band Ben's Brother runs him pretty damn close. Jamie Hartman's astounding voice can break your heart in one line and send it soaring in the next. Located somewhere in the middle of a spectrum of emotional conjurers that runs from Sam Cooke to (classic 70s) Elton John to Thom Yorke, Hartman already possesses a style and a timbre that are entirely his own.
Ben's Brother's songs are a pure revelation. Most of those on the album 'Beta Male Fairytales' sound like immortal classics that have been hanging around forever just waiting for somebody to turn up and sing them. The miracle is that they have all been written by Jamie Hartman. Ranging from the old school soul of the single Beauty Queen to the gloriously vulnerable ballad I Am Who I Am, the lessons in love of 'Find Me An Angel' and the emotional brace that is 'Carry On', to the heartfelt rally-cry of his first commercial single release 'Rise', they articulate a kind of tenderness that is often sad but never self-pitying. Songs of experience, songs with which everyone can relate to at some point in their life, beautifully articulated and set to soaring music, an aural lifting of the spirits. 'Most of my songs start out feeling blue but become more hopeful by the end,' says Hartman.
And everyone's a winner in this story. For Ben, a glittering cricket career gave way to an even more glittering advertising career, the brainchild behind the Virgin Train ad with the Apache Indians. But now Jamie is proving more than a match for his elder brother..
Less than a year after Jamie formed Ben's Brother, he has stepped out of the shadow for good when the record label which gave us multi-platinum selling artists Joss Stone and KT Tunstall heard his songs and couldn't get them out of their heads, giving hope to beta-males everywhere. 'Writing songs is my way of dealing with the painful complexities of life. I've realized there's a common theme which seems to unite all the best songs. The one thing we think separates us from everyone else - that sense of not fitting in, of Beta-male (or female) ness - is the one thing we all have in common.'