Ben Howard at the Hammersmith Apollo
Quietly humble Devon-born singer-songwriter Ben Howard returns with double shows at the Hammersmith Apollo. Winner of two Brit Awards and nominated for prestigious prizes such as the Ivor Novello and Mercury Awards, the artist performs a long-anticipated calming and meditative set.
The creeping intro to A Boat to an Island off the Wall, his first single from latest album Noonday Dream, sets the mood for the evening, utilising a soothing array of instruments and fraught with a suspended urgency that slowly reveals itself as the show proceeds. The stage setup is vast, holding a cello, two violins, several electric and acoustic guitars, two drum kits and an electronic drum machine – the band as eclectic as Howard’s music. Someone in the Doorway permeates with a long jazz-like opening, the singer’s vocals mirroring those of The Maccabees’ Orlando Weeks. The frontman and his band continue with the similarly long intro to There’s Your Man, the use of the electronic drums again a nice touch.
The tracks start off more or less in a similar fashion: slow, with gradual chord progressions, the instruments culminating for the final finish. Motion backdrops with moving images of Howard’s albums are juxtaposed with each track, creating cool visuals. A highlight of the set so far, The Defeat is a spiralling electronically infused song, showing the artist’s ability to compose in various genres simultaneously.
The singer finally breaks the audience-artist silence and humbly thanks the crowd, playing an emotionally charged rendition of the much loved Small Things from 2014’s I Forgot Where We Were, following this with the eponymous single. Fans sing the lyrics, sensitive and touching as any of Howard’s material. Murmurations is another highlight, sounding very different to the recorded version, the electronic beats pulsing through. Completing the encore with the heartbreaking End of the Affair and Promise from his debut Every Kingdom (2011), the songwriter skillfully displays acuity in translating his music for a live performance, the ensemble coming together to create a powerful climax. With tonight’s show, the vocalist pleases the crowd as well as providing his songs with a renewed and refreshing vigour.
Not one to express much stage presence, making you focus more on the music than any showy anecdotes or jokes, the soloist’s set is sonically exquisite, his music effectively and effortlessly making you conjure up the past, the songs almost painfully nostalgic. Gifted with the ability to work varying genres into his albums, with lyrics soaked in affecting realism, Howard has forged his name in the singer-songwriter folk music scene and it would seem he intends to remain there.
Photo: Maggie Boyd
For further information and future events visit Ben Howard’s website here.
Watch the video for Nica Libres at Dusk here: