In such an image obsessed pop world it is refreshing to see artists like Ben Howard in the mainstream. Seldom is a spectacle centred upon the sound but Ben Howard does not believe in such gimmicks. He arrives on the stage to sold-out Rock city crowd all dressed in black. There is no celebrity or limelight here.
He settles in slowly, opening with the title track off the latest Burgh Island E.P. It gives the girls a chance to catch their breath and the latecomers that green light they needed at the last junction. Almost as if that was the safety advice done, it’s time for the ride.
“Let’s play something for the summer” he orders. Any Ben Howard fan of the past year will at some point have played Old Pine and thought of that perfect summers day. The queue in the rain outside is forgotten. Diamonds and Only Love followed at great speed, only pausing to say hello, as if he’s your friend. You wish he was.
Oats in the Water shows Ben’s darker side before the pacing surge of Esmerelda hits. The wrasping from his throat shakes with emotion in a version that even exceeds the album version.
Ben Howard doesn’t need a choir or a backing track. The accompaniment of India Bourne breathes further life in his sweetened crowded chorus. The Wolves turns Ben from performer to the leader of the pack as the enthusiastic audience start their wolf howls and sing-a-long emphatically.
Then he flexes his big guns. Keep Your Head Up and The Fear follow to a rapturous response. He is marred by technical difficulties, on The Fear in particular, but it never keeps a good man down. Ben bids his farewell.
He returns for the encore with a guitar in one hand, a white mug in the other – maybe tea, possibly coffee, potentially whisky. Whatever the beverage, he warms up the audience with new song The Burrens.
He treats us to one more before home. Promise gives this set a graceful end. A song perfect to drive home to, in silence, in darkness, amongst trees and a crackle of 1995 ford fiesta speaker fuzz.
The only criticism that could be found is if you were a fan of every song he’s ever released, you don’t get to hear them all – mainly those found on the deluxe edition of Every Kingdom. But that can be forgiven. There’s something quite charming about a modest man playing songs which despite being about his own experiences, we can all relate to. His wisdom far extends his young age and his words provide more warmth than whatever was in that white mug.
Oats in the water
Keep your head up