Music: British singer-songwriter Bobby Long flexes his wings

Long, who had a hand in a hit song from "Twilight," has built a fan base in Philadelphia.
Long, who had a hand in a hit song from "Twilight," has built a fan base in Philadelphia.
Posted: June 18, 2010

The fates have been kind to British singer/songwriter Bobby Long. So can you blame him for not wanting to tempt them?

To date, this lean and lanky, balefully singing and forcefully strumming talent's major claim to fame has been co-authorship of a haunting ballad called "Let Me Sign" that his London performing pal Robert Pattinson snapped up and sang in the huge film hit "Twilight."

Yet, Long confessed, "that's not a song I've recorded or sung on stage. Robert's version is the definitive one, so why not leave it at that?

"I'm not sure I could even play it at this point," he added with a laugh. "And if I'd ever guessed which of my songs would become a hit, change my life, I don't think I'd have picked this one. That tells you what a judge of character I am."

But bless their vampire-loving hearts and blogging natures, the "Twilight" fanatics of the world have been rallying 'round Long since he decided last year to put aside (temporarily) his course work at London Metropolitan University to try performing in earnest, with several laps of the U.S. as top priority.

Long has discovered a special hotbed of support right here in Philadelphia, thanks also to WXPN (88.5 FM), long an advocate of briery-voiced and romantically tortured kindred spirits, from Bob Dylan to Elliot Smith to Damien Rice.

Long has sung several times at the station-adjacent World Cafe Live in both the small and big rooms, last time just a couple of weeks ago for a radio programmers convention at the behest of WXPN music director and event organizer Dan Reid.

Tonight, Long's back at WCL for another public showcase - his first with a band. Next month he'll perform at the station's XPoNential Music Festival in Camden's Wiggins Park.

"I'm already worried I'm wearing out my welcome," Long shared in our recent chat. "But now that I've got other people thinking through my career, planning the next moves, I'll probably not be able to come back more than once every six months."

Reason being, Long has just scored himself a deal with ATO Records, one of those artist-owned (by Dave Matthews) labels that's "still in it for the music," Long said, and that's also behind the organic likes of John Butler Trio, My Mourning Jacket and Rodrigo Y Gabriela.

Though the ink's still wet on the contracts, Long already has cut his first album for ATO. That's because he did it his own way, self-financing the project with dough accumulated from movie royalties, "relentless" touring and the sales of two stripped-bare solo discs available only at shows - a made-in-the-bedroom set called "Dirty Pond Songs," then a collection of 2009 U.S. concert recordings, "Dangerous Summer Tour."

"There was interest from labels before. But I was in no rush," he explained. "So I recorded this first real album [name and release date not yet set] in London with producer Liam Watson and his favorite bunch of musicians, including a wonderful country singer from Iceland named Lay Low."

Inspired by the classic folk, country and blues recordings he grew up loving in a music-centric household, "from Dylan to George Jones, Mississippi John Hurt to Joni Mitchell's 'Blue' - maybe the most perfect album ever made," Long and band "cut everything live in a room together. That's the way they used to make records 50 years ago."

His producer/engineer was "riding the faders as we played, working his instrument. Nothing was digital. No computers were used. Everything went straight onto analog tape. End result is that it sounds fresh but has an old sound, too."

Coming into contract negotiations with this almost finished album "showed ATO I'm independent," Long said. "It was saying, 'This is who I am - let me do my thing.' That's important nowadays. A lot of labels want to take complete control, and if you show you're not resisting, they'll happily do that. Doing a recording on your own also shows you can be trusted. There are no surprises. You've already started building a relationship."

Long clearly has his career in focus. It wasn't surprising to learn this thoughtful, now 25-year-old was "majoring in music and sound scoring for films at university," even completed a 12,000-word dissertation on the subject and managed to finish up his education between tours and recording "just six months ago."

But it also wouldn't be fun (or prudent) if he didn't leave some stuff in fate's hands. Last week, the guy had yet to rehearse even once with the musicians he's bringing out on the road, the self-contained Kalob Griffin Band. "They were supporting me and Matt Pond on one of our tour dates, and we got to chatting backstage. A good bunch of guys my age, and hungry to play. Not to worry. We'll work it out."

World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., 8 tonight, $21-$26, 215-222-1400,

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