There’s something deliciously charming about an artist who managed to chart at seven on the release of his debut album, ‘Every Kingdom’, remaining in awe of a crowd of three hundred people. The cheeky smile on Ben Howard’s face and his constant thanking of the audience for coming to see him was enough to make me leave this gig feeling content. As is only to be expected though, the music was also simply magical.
The Rescue Rooms itself is an interesting venue. Despite the fairly large number of people, the gig itself still felt cosy and intimate. Ben also seemed to like it, commenting on the Christmas lights surrounding the bar area. Despite his recent fame, Ben seems very grounded and personable, littering the gig with personal anecdotes and comments. One particularly amusing example is how he is planning to spend Christmas abroad as most of the album was written about one particular girl and “to be quite honest, [I] don’t want to see her”.
Ben opened the set with ‘Diamonds’, the opening few bars sending a ripple of cheers through the crowd. On the album this has a relaxed vibe, however it has a much more up tempo feel for the live shows, ending with what can only be described as an almost hillbilly-style jam. The show varied in style throughout, with some fairly quiet tunes such as ‘Everything’ and ‘Old Pine’ and other more upbeat songs such as ‘Keep Your Head Up’ which had the whole crowd singing along. The favourite song of the audience seemed to be ‘The Wolves’, probably the most popular and well recognised song of Ben’s. It was the last song of the nights set and everyone seemed particularly excited to hear it. For me, the best performance was ‘Black Flies’, Ben’s favourite track off the album. Whilst at some points of the gig there was a murmur of noise from the crowd, during this song there was complete silence apart from the haunting sound of Ben’s voice. The intensity on his face whilst he was singing was something quite magical. Another high point was ‘These Waters’, a song that is only on the deluxe edition of the album but displays another of Ben’s skills; a mastery of percussive guitar.
A few words should also go to Ben’s backing band; India the cellist and Chris the drummer. Whilst both are clearly very skilled musicians, India was particularly fascinating to watch. Throughout the gig she played a number of different instruments ranging from cello and bass to percussion instruments, all of which she played with ease and style. Her vocals are also quite beautiful when listened to live.
This was Ben’s first headline gig in Nottingham, something he seemed to be particularly proud of, but it follows a long string of gig destinations that only prove how much hard work he has put in to achieve his recent success. The dates he performed in the UK follow from a tour around countries such as the Netherlands and Germany and are a precursor to yet another European tour in January and February; unfortunately many of his UK dates are already sold out.
The only criticism I could muster is that he didn’t play ‘Empty Corridors’. There is absolutely no reason why he should have, it is not on the album, nor was it ever released as an unsigned single. But it has nostalgic value for me, being the first song of his I discovered. That is literally the only complaint I could come up with. And having said that, if I had been closer to the front and shouted my request, from what I’ve heard from his other gigs, he probably would have played it!
In all, the evening was a pure, charming acoustic delight. Let’s hope that only more good things can come of this new and exciting artist.
Please click here for another review of Ben Howard’s show.