My previous encounter with Ben Howard was at the marvelous New Music festival right here in Brighton. The small venue was back to the brim and a intermit session with Ben and as his powerful talents, stunning guitar playing and stripped back acoustic music, filled a room with no dry eyes.
But half a year is a long time in the musical world and with the release of his debut album ‘Kingdom Come’ reaching number seven in the charts and now his radio friendly melodies regularly receiving air time on national radio he is becoming more of a success than he ever even thought was possible. He describes his past few months as “an unbelievable roller coaster” and his recent gig at Komedia was no exception.
The first half was unbearable due to the terrible sound system, where instead of Ben’s rusty yet powerful voice, there was an ear penetrating, low frequency rumble drowning out any guitar or vocals. The first few installments, which were of course those which drew him to the dark folk music inspired by the likes of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, were undecipherable. Seeming to lose the subdued audience half way through, times were looking bleak and it was looking like the newly signed Howard was falling short.
But a song writing talent which has been compared to Hendrix and Iver, would not rest and the dramatic change in pace turned in my personal least favorite song ‘Keep your head up’ which, with the encouragement from the audience, lasted for ten minutes. Very uplifting. Very good.
From then on, Ben had the audience playing out of his hand, with the involvement from this talented and diverse two piece band, he changed the pace and tone of the gig. Quiet on stage, possibly only saying ten words throughout the gig, he is not afraid to let himself go once into a song, with many tracks slow-building, effortlessly developing into a rapturous outcry of catchy feel-good loops.
Radio-friendly Ben Howard now maybe, but he has not sold out, for these are still talented songs, with passion and thought embedded especially into the lyrics. This was not the most impressive of gigs from the start but Ben still managed to have the crowd walking away whistling the opening to ‘The Wolves’. Much as I was personally disappointed with Ben’s more heart-wrenching songs falling short, I was still upbeat enough to join in.