Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Jim Kroft w/ Ben Barritt – Malzfabrik, Berlin 04/06/11

09 June 2011, 08:08 | Written by Andy Johnson

The bustling Kreuzberg district was the site of my last gig in Berlin, but today provides almost as big a contrast as one could imagine. I have come to an industrial estate in the city’s leafy southern suburbs, to a looming former brewery on Bessemerstrasse. The “Malzfabrik” or “malt factory” was erected in 1914 but is now a dynamic arts venue and business premises. Today it hosts a free summer party with music, arts and crafts, and the sustainable produce that is all the rage in the city. What draws me here are the songs of Jim Kroft, a singer-songwriter who grew up in the Scottish highlands but now is based here in Berlin, having long since cut himself adrift of the bands he played with in London.

The market is conventional enough, nestled between the red brick buildings of the former brewery, but the music area is an odd and striking sight. The stage is at one end of an eight foot-deep pit dug into one edge of a huge 15,500 square meter sandy yard which is in the process of being developed into eco-friendly urban meadow. Beanbags, packing crates and hay bails provide seating around and inside the pit, over which looms the heavy mechanized digger which excavated it.

Ben Barritt

Eventually opening act, Kroft collaborator and London-based singer-songwriter Ben Barritt begins to play. He is dwarfed not only by the wider venue but even by the stage; he sits on a stool, hemmed in by guitars and microphones. His tender but cheerful acoustic pop songs can be slightly muddled and tend to ramble on just a little longer than they ought to, but his acoustic playing is more than accomplished enough to keep the crowd’s interest despite his lack of accompaniment. Barritt played guitar and arranged strings on Kroft’s debut, and remains on stage to play with him, switching his acoustic for an electric guitar.

The peak afternoon heat has by now arrived and it is not long before Jim Kroft exclaims that he “didn’t know Berlin was similar to the Sahara!” Despite the smallness of the stage the Scot still finds room to strut and, able to switch freely between English and German, appears absolutely at ease with his environment. Including Barritt, he is joined by four musicians, the others on bass, keyboards and drums. Appropriately, they open with ‘One Sees the Sun’, a highlight from Kroft’s 2010 debut LP Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. A threat to rock out is enthusiastically followed through, and before long a determined minority of the crowd are dancing.

What are heard here are often significantly reworked interpretations of songs which originally benefited enormously from Barritt’s string arrangements – perhaps none more so than ‘One Sees the Sun’. Barritt does an admirable job of filling in for them on guitar, however, as well as recreating his guitar work from the album. After a slightly uncertain start, and despite Kroft’s seeming unwillingness to quite approach the upper part of his sizeable vocal range, the band are soon in full flow. The hour-long set is roughly a 60-40 mixture in favour of material from Kroft’s forthcoming second album, including darker new single ‘The Jailer’ and highlights ‘Canary in a Coalmine’ and ‘Something Missing in the Heart of the World’.

Fearing heatstroke and missing the plane leaving for London from Schönefeld airport, I must miss the summer party’s special guests – all-female German-language electropop outfit Laing – and make an exit. Kroft’s uplifting pop rock will remain a highlight of my trip, however, and music fans far outside Berlin should be keeping an ear out for future developments from this talented British artist-in-exile; he is too good a secret to keep.

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next