Many music fans, from Bahrain to the UK, will know of the critically acclaimed multinational band Flamingods, which was established in 2010 by Turkish-Bahraini musician Kamal Rasool. While the band is still active, long-time member Charles Prest has now released his debut album as solo act Noon Garden.
Beulah Spa was released on April 1 and Prest calls it his career highlight to date.
“It’s been a very long time in the making and there were points when I thought it’d never materialise into something, so to actually physically hold it in my hands is quite a personal achievement,” he tells The National.
When an artist from a tiny, little-known island reaches a huge career milestone on an international stage, it’s not only an achievement for them personally, but a source of pride for the whole nation.
Prest, 32, is a Briton of Jamaican and Nigerian descent who grew up in Bahrain. While he spent a number of years also living in Dubai, he’s been in London for the majority of his adult life, since he moved back to the UK for university. There, he's been able to experiment with his passion for music.
“The name Noon Garden came from my love of exotic music. The music I was making and listening to evoked images of garden environments, and afternoon is probably my favourite time of day. I also just liked the way those two words sat together; it set the scene for the sort of music I want to make, which is very colourful and warm.”
Beulah Spa is the name of an area very close to Prest's family home in South London. "I’d always pass it on the bus heading to Brixton and thought it sounded pretty exotic and mysterious, especially for London. In my head, the words conjured up this environment for all the songs to reside in. It became this sonic space where the listener can unwind, reflect and let the mind run, much like what happens when you’re in a spa.”
The musical genre is hard to pin down, since Prest’s inspirations limitlessly span cultures and eras. The sound could be described as bright, global disco-funk-pop, but there is plenty of influence from the feelings and atmospheres he experienced during his time in the Arabian Gulf.
“The whole album basically cuts a throughline from my life in Bahrain to where I am now. Through a psychedelic lens, I’m looking back at all the stuff that’s happened, all the places I’ve lived and grown up in, and remembering all the little words and ideas that have stuck with me.”
Noon Garden has already been recognised by industry insiders and culture critics, making the BBC Radio 6 Music Playlist, Glastonbury Festival’s 2022 Emerging Talent Competition Longlist, and the lifestyle sections of several major publications.
Prest has also completed his first tour as Noon Garden, travelling to the UK and Ireland.
“My first-ever solo shows sold out and they were held at Paper Dress Vintage, which is the venue where we had our first-ever Flamingods shows, so that was a nice full-circle moment and the perfect way to jump-start the live side of the project.”
Prest is still an active member of Flamingods, who have a number of European shows coming up as well as a new album in development. Despite the added responsibilities borne as a solo artist, working on the two projects simultaneously has been synergetic.
“Noon Garden has been developing kind of in parallel to Flamingods for the last six or seven years. I don't personally see them as two separate things; it’s like two worlds that correlate and I enjoy jumping between them. To me, they are constantly informing each other, though it's always pretty subtle.
“There’s so much from Flamingods that’s seeped into Noon Garden, in terms of diverse sonic influences from around the world. Likewise, there are things I've learnt from being on tour solo in the last few months that have already started feeding into Flamingods.
“At the same time, there’s creative stuff that I probably wouldn’t do in Flamingods that I get to do in Noon Garden.”
The song names in Beulah Spa may as well be chapter headings from his autobiography.
Budaiya is named after the area in Bahrain where Prest spent the majority of his childhood. “Budaiya is a track that came out of nowhere. With a lot of the other tracks, I’ve been sitting on them for a while, trying to figure them out, playing with different emotions, whereas that one just wrote itself in a day. It’s really simple and upbeat," he says.
"Lyrically, as is the case with most of the things I write, it’s very subliminal and idiosyncratic.
“Usually, my lyrics won't have meaning for me until about two years later. With Budaiya and the single Villa, I was saying what was on my mind about family and finding a place to live, but it only now fully makes sense to me. It’s not anything too deep or heavy, but it’s kind of like therapy. It’s fun for me to reflect back and be able to hear a track in a new way that I would not have anticipated.”
The instrumental track Blue Jurdab, named after the first Bahrain compound that Prest’s parents lived in, is the album closer.
“It was the first home that I was brought to after being born in the UK. I came up with that piece at Bahrain Airport while waiting on a flight back to Dubai. I was messing around with all the synth sounds that are on the track, then something about it really hit me hard with nostalgia," he says.
“Before even coming up with the track name, I was flooded with the images and feels of being in Blue Jurdab and being super young in Bahrain in the ’90s."
Prest recorded the full album single-handedly, playing every instrument in addition to singing the vocals. He grew up playing the guitar, inspired by his older brother Robert, but his favourite instrument at the moment is the bass guitar.
There are also some more unusual instruments on the album, including an Arabic duhulla bass drum that Prest bought from Global Village in Dubai.
Another regional souvenir that inspires him is Newton, “a massive, majestic ginger cat”, that Prest and Flamingods bandmate Rasool rescued from the streets of Sharjah and brought back to England.