Never have I seen a crowd so enthusiastically vocal at a singer songwriter gig.
The warm up music stops. Screams. Lights dim. Screams. Shuffling is heard on stage. Screams. And then, when I thought my ears couldn’t take any more, Ben Howard strolls to the centre of the stage. An unassuming man dressed all in black, from a distance he seems an unlikely heartthrob, but from the first note of Burgh Island it’s immediately obvious why he’s so adored.
His voice comes out of nowhere and before I know it he’s found his way to Under The Same Sun. Guitar face up on his lap, he strums like nothing I’ve ever seen and the crowd remain vocal in their delight. In fact, the crowd – a mix of teenagers, couples of all ages and a few families – seem ecstatic at every song, squealing with recognition at each first chord.
Ably backed up by a very talented multi-instrumental band, Howard holds his own in Old Pine before instruments are switched around for Only Love. The evening is not all about the audio experience though, we’re also treated to visuals in the form of projections that add extra atmosphere to Oats In The Water and much later on the haunting images of headlights down dark, empty streets will close the show with Promise. The lights themselves are pretty impressive too, with the strobe effect on The Fear amplifying the drama to capture the entire venue’s attention.
Completely alone on the stage, Howard performs one of my two highlights of the evening. Introducing it as a ‘depressing song’, a live performance of Esmeralda totally brought the track to life. It was one of the most solemn moments of the show which turned out to be a stark contrast to the other stand out moment.
Cheers were abundant from the introduction of The Wolves. Claps, stomping and “I love you”s were thrown into the mix and by the end of the song the audience were practically fully fledged band members with a singalong going back and forth between Howard and the huge crowd.
All in all, it was a gig like nothing I’ve been to before. For a man with a guitar, Howard has accrued a loyal fan base who know exactly when to silently appreciate and just when to go mental in their appreciation. Humble as he is, Howard clearly appreciates this, although, of course, every “Thank You” he offered was always met with more screams.
Ben Howard has brought guitar playing singer songwriters to mainstream audiences and for that he deserves every clap, cheer and love declaration.