The man stopping by the beach each morning is new on the island. Oahu, Hawaii, one of the world’s most remote destinations, has long been an escape for tanned beach bums from mainland USA and they’re a part of the landscape now. But this man looks different. He’s native to another small island - Great Britain - and his pale complexion accentuated by a shock of peroxide white hair are a dead giveaway.
But it’s not just the islanders and surf dudes who look at this guy funny. This man makes a habit of turning up at places he doesn’t quite belong. In fact, he’s made a career out of it. A musician, he remembers his introduction to that world like some innocent endless summer: “You go outside, play some football, do some colouring in, or you play the piano, don’t you?”
Playtime is over. Ben Hudson McIldowie, aka Mr Hudson, is in Hawaii today to work on tracks with US hip-hop superstar Kanye West. Last year he appeared in a music video singing with the iconic Jay-Z. Musicians in this circle are the prize-fighters of pop. So how did a pasty-faced featherweight David Bowie obsessive from Birmingham make the weigh-in? It could have something to do with training. Mr Hudson is part of a select group of artists to have passed through the doors of the Red Bull Music Academy, a month-long music workshop that lands in a different city each year, with the objective of inspiring a batch of young talent under the tutelage of heavyweight music icons. A musician all his life, it was during his two-week visit to the Academy in Seattle in 2005, that Mr Hudson began refining the sound, receiving the recognition and making the contacts that would smooth his entry into a merciless industry.
“I was this apologetic guy on the dole just demoing songs,” he says. “I’d been ignored in London, I wasn’t getting anywhere. When I got to Seattle I met all these lovely people from places all over the world like South America, Singapore and Switzerland telling me that actually my stuff was dope!”
It’s a husky-voiced, bleary-eyed Mr Hudson who greets us this morning. He was in the studio until 4am the night before working on tracks, and the strain shows during our 10am talk. But he’s no prima donna.
“Give me five minutes and a coffee and I’ll be a bit more useful,” he says optimistically. “I’ve been in the studio every day for the last two weeks, apart fromjust one day off.”
From his first gig aged 12, drumming for a heavy metal band above a pub in Birmingham, to sharing a stage with Kid Cudi and Kanye at a sold-out Camden Roundhouse last year, the boy who grew up stabbing at his parents’ piano doesn’t know anything different.
“I just wanna have lots of cool music to play to the world,” he says. “I probably make 50 to 100 songs a year. It’s not for a new album as such. I’m just always making music.”
Since appearing on the British pop landscape with his band Mr Hudson And The Library in 2007, the songwriter, producer and performer has bucked musical trend and fads in preference for pursuing the essence of a timeless pop song. He’s produced two albums, 2007’s A Tale Of Two Cities, and 2009’s Straight No Chaser. The first, with The Library, was an eclectic burst of eccentric pop underpinned by a hip-hop sensibility. The latter is far more commercial, aimed at the mainstream. For a man who’s built a career by trading on merit and staying clear of ego and trendiness, it seems a bit ironic that Mr Hudson is now regularly called upon for inspiration by the biggest, most brash personas in the business...