Monday, November 18, 2013

Ben Howard: Oats In The Water

I heard today’s Media Monday’s feature for the first time last Sunday on “The Walking Dead.” In fact, Ben Howard’s “Oats in the Water” was featured twice in the episode “Internment.” As my custom is on Sunday evening, I turn the computer off at 9:00 PM so I can concentrate on my favorite show. I immediately liked the tune, so I when last week’s rerun came on yesterday at 8:00 PM, I had an opportunity to search for the song and found it easily.

There’s something about “Oats in the Water” that grabs me. I’m not sure what it is, but it speaks to me. The song fits the scenes where Rick is driving back to the compound at the beginning of the episode and then later towards the end when Hershel is alone in his cell. The song exudes despair and loneliness – both men are at low and lonely points at the time Howard’s song plays.

Two things about this song grab me: Howard’s guitar and his voice. He finger-picks his left-handed guitar as it is unusually tuned to the modal DADAAD. Similar to DADGAD, the DADAAD tuning allows him more freedom on the fret board to do open barre chords – which he doesn’t do much on this tune, but they are occasionally present.

Since I am currently away from a guitar, I can’t wait until I get to try this one out as I am always interested in different tunings. Although DADAAD is not the most unusual I’ve encountered (that would be Stephen Stills’ EEEEBE), it is unique enough to attract my attention.

Speaking of unique, his voice has an indescribable timbre. He also sings with an accent that is different to my ears – perhaps a confluence of the speech of his native West London and that of Devon – where he lived during his formative years. “Oats in the Water” appears on Howard’s “The Burgh Island EP.”

Live Version from the BBC

To get the full impact of Howard’s playing, one must see him live – and the following video is a-live-in-the-studio recording of “Oats in the Water.” He is joined by India Bourne on bass and drummer Chris Bond. It is interesting to watch the three of them create and communicate.

Bond doesn’t use the garden variety of drumsticks on this cut, but rather he prefers mallets and the strangest brushes I’ve ever seen. They resemble small witches’ brooms and are appropriately called “broom sticks.” So cool.


  1. I have seen multiple tunings for this song. DADDAC# works real easy. Check out this instruction.

    1. Thanks for the additional info Rob.