Today’s Song: Bess Atwell’s “Ventnor Villas” Radiates Summery Nostalgia

Bess Atwell © Jantina Talsma
Wistful, gentle, and visually idealistic, “Ventnor Villas” by Bess Atwell blurs escapism and reality in a way that’s perfectly suited to the summer season.
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Stream: “Ventnor Villars” – Bess Atwell


Each season has its own distinctive aura. There’s the magic of autumn, the cosiness of winter, the vitality of spring. Summer, more than any other season, tends to be attached to nostalgia. It’s in the long days warmly washed with light and the blending of fantasy and reality that comes with vague past memories and ideals of future vacations etc. 

Big Blue- Bess Atwell

Ventnor Villas” by British singer-songwriter Bess Atwell captures this essence of the season. The slow strums are the lazy unconcerned movements that come with lounging on freshly cut grass and Atwell’s wistful vocals are the flowing movements of soft waves. Its accompanying video shows scenes of empty beaches and countryside landscapes glazed with retro colouring and grainy effect. 

The song is taken from the recently released EP, Big Blue, five reflective songs gently complimenting each other. “A year after we recorded the rest of the EP I wrote “Ventnor Villas”,” Bess Atwell tells Atwood Magazine. “Straight after I called my guitarist and then boyfriend, Christopher Matthewson, and told him we needed to demo it as a bonus track for the EP. The initial 4 tracks are engulfed in feeling, whereas “Ventnor Villas” looks back on the same relationship with more perspective. It’s a painful song for both of us so there was a strange magic in recording it together. He did such a great job producing it that we decided it didn’t need to be labelled a demo and deserved a place on the main project.”

 Met you by the rock that’s been here since
They opened the park in 1906
So far out there, so far out there
It’s summer in February so we walk in t­-shirts
A stack of papers underneath my arm
 And you said you’d been missing me
I guess I’ve had my head in the books finally

Summery melancholy features throughout Big Blue. In opening track “Swimming Pool”, she sings ‘You are my swimming pool/ I close my eyes and pinch my nose/ You are the only one/ Who goes with me there’ as one imagines sinking into refreshing and glistening water with faded love heart eyes. In “Grace” the lines ‘Looking crazy in/ a daisy dress I’d been in morning through to evening/ Before the apple tree’ conjure up imagery of the cosy outdoors. Throughout all the songs there’s an exploring of the tensions between escapist imagery and reality and the video for “Ventnor Villas” heightens this relationship. It was shot in Camber, a sandy village in East Sussex, England, but its scenic lonesomeness and the heat emitted from the visuals means it could easily be any far-flung idyllic location. 

Watch: “Ventnor Villas” – Bess Atwell

“I wanted to shoot in Camber because there is a summery loneliness to the place outside of peak season,” Atwell explains. “The concept for the video is very simple: because the song is written in the aftermath of the madness of a romantic relationship, the nostalgic feel was very intentional.” Lyrically the present is met through the lines ‘you said you’d been missing me/ I guess I’ve had my head in the books finally’ which is repeated at the end of the song with delicate emphasis on ‘finally’. “Towards the end of the video you see the retro filter start to burn away,” Atwell adds, speaking of how the video and music go hand-in-hand. “The last few shots are unadulterated go pro footage.”

Find me playing Tetris, I work when I’m bored
Help you with texts to your brother from abroad
So far out there, so far out there
 I can’t say I feel like I’ve known you all my life
But we can walk down Ventnor Villas all alright

The notions of reflection and allowing the imagination to roam are further conveyed through the candid approach to production. Directed by Atwell and filmed by Matthewson, it has a homemade quality to it- the snapshots of white-bricked houses, people diving into a public pool, and a dog wagging its tail, for example, feeling like fragments of everyday moments that remain slightly distorted in the memory over time. 

Bess Atwell © Jatnina Talsma

Bess Atwell © Jatnina Talsma

It’s easy to be swayed by the aesthetics of nostalgia, sucked into the charm of the comforting and utopian, but as Atwell acknowledges, “money is so tight for young people (especially creatives) at the moment, and I think that’s one of the main reasons this nostalgic trend is so rife – it’s incredibly cheap to make something beautiful by using an 8mm app on your iPhone. It suddenly made me feel proud of my generation’s resourcefulness and I stopped seeing it as “faux retro” but rather as a reclaimed style, born out of necessity.” 

In that regard, maybe it’s not really retro at all. It’s just a conveying of a mood that has relevance throughout all of time. Haziness, spontaneity, a sense of joy combined with longing: these all make up the way memories are viewed in our mind and capturing new memories always feels all-important. With “Ventnor Villas”, Bess Atwell demonstrates how song and visuals can work in harmony to create a mood we’re so familiar with. 

 

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Francesca Rose

Francesca is a writer who considers music a form of storytelling. She's fascinated by the connections that songs can form, whether it's relatable lyrics or the personal associations a sound conjures up.