Gig review: Ben Howard

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Photo credit: tmrwmagazine

After a hectic journey across London and sweaty scramble up the lawn, it is a relief to be welcomed by Ben Howard’s soulful voice swelling through the high vaulted ceilings of the Alexandra Palace. Opening with Am I in your Light, a spine-chilling track from his latest album, the audience are immediately drawn into the haunting atmosphere of the gig. The show is a sell-out and tonight the great hall is packed out with the surprisingly eclectic mix of people drawn to Howard’s “folk-pop” style.

Following on from the opening number much of the set is drawn from his outstanding new album, I Forget Where We Were. Highlights of which are the delicate Time is Dancing, and the final song of the night The End of the Affair, during which the emotional intensity reaches its peak with Howard howling out “What the hell love?” and lyrics breaking down into an extended instrumental soundscape. After five minutes of applause Howard returns for the encore. Relenting to the nostalgia of the crowd for classic tracks of his first album he plays both Old Pine and The Wolves; although with a different take that suffuses the traditionally beachy tracks with a darker tone and anxiety befitting his latest album. The audience sings along, their voices mingling together in a manner fitting for the reverberating style.

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Photo credit: livedesignonline

A phenomenal staging, including not only lighting but also projection, adds to the evocative feeling of the gig. Acid blue wreaths of smoke spiral up behind Howard’s own rolling vocals and, as the outline of a sprawling bare branched tree contorts itself into a spider web, I am struck by a comment by a fellow concert goer that the set is “like a twisted fairy tale”. Indeed Howards new album I Forget Where We Were is arguably the darker Grimm brother to the uplifting Every Kingdom that fuelled his rise to acclaim in the summer of 2011.

Originally from Devon, Howard attended Falmouth College of Art (sharing a campus with Exeter’s Penryn Campus) where he gained a reputation for his melodic, folksy guitar that quickly spread across Devon, Cornwall and the rest of the UK. In contrast to the dramatic stage-show Howard himself is no entertainer, he has often professed his shyness to the limelight and tonight he lives up to his word. Cast into darkness by his own lightshow he himself becomes a silhouette for much of the performance, almost indistinguishable from the multiple guitar-bearing shadows that circle the walls. There is a sense of honesty in this lack of banter with the audience however. Howard’s absorption in the raw emotion and confessional quality of his songs creates the connection to the artist the audience craves without needing to resort to the façade of a stage persona.

Overall the gig surpassed all expectations. There has been a lot of talk by critics about the quality of either Howard’s work or his fans; but as the crowd spilled cheerily out onto the terrace it seemed that everyone (from the teenage girls to the burly blokes) was buzzing from the shared experience of witnessing the performance of a genuinely talented musician.

Sarah Scott

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