In an age of dreary X Factor hopefuls and manufactured pop acts it’s always easy to forget the existence of raw talent in the music industry.
Benjamin clementine represents a refreshing alternative to the norm having been born in London-he plied his trade busking on the Metros of Paris. He was picked up and had his first big televised performance on Later. His recent win at the Mercury prize confirmed his talent as well as restoring faith in creative music in general. His acceptance speech related back to the Paris attacks which he caused him to break down and he also asked for all nominees to join him on stage.
No sooner was he announced as recipient of the prize his show tonight at the Lowry along with his other tour dates became a sellout which all explains how highly sought after a ticket for the gig tonight is.
In the compact intimate surroundings of the Quays theatre the tension is building there seems to be an air of anticipation and excitement in the air tonight that we’re all about to witness something quite special.
A tall shadowy figure enters from stage right he sits down and places his hands delicately on the grand piano and is lit by a solitary spotlight. This is the first introduction to the prodigiously talented introvert that is Benjamin Clementine.
What is strange about his presence is not the fact that he is tall but he’s perched on a high bar stool bent over the piano which he explains later on how this came to be a regular fixture for his performances.
Once people get over his strange poise what comes next is a selection of his material from his debut album including the stunning condolences with its piano refrain and the song perfectly showcases his gorgeous soulful vocal. He is at times brash and disorderly sometimes using his voice as instrument or reverting to spoken word mid song but he is never boring. ‘Cornerstone’ is one of his other key tracks from the album might be stunning on record but its given a new lease of life in a live setting becoming a heartbreakingly beautiful lament to a broken home, you can feel his anguish and pain as he stretches his vocals to their limit. It could easily be his ‘Hometown Glory’ and is destined to be a classic but it doesn’t stop there because he demonstrates the extent of his songwriting talent with ‘London’ which is a sweet ode to his English upbringing along with the playful ‘Nemesis’ which no doubt is in debt to his time spent in Paris with its cabaret-esque stylings.
His songs here have a raw honest feel without the inclusion of the string flourishes on his album which astonishingly doesn’t taint the performance if anything it makes him more captivating and more breathtaking live.
Whilst he may have elements of Anthony Hegarty, Rufus Wainwright and of course the sheer vocal power and gravitas of Nina Simone where he differs is that his songwriting is very much his own and throughout his blistering set he retains complete control of his vocal even when it seems like he is losing it. He is also very softly spoken and never raises his voice and much prefers to let his music do the talking which makes him all the more alluring.
Throughout his hour and half set he speaks little only to introduce the percussionist say thanks to the audience remark about the venue and the weather. Towards the end he addresses the audience in idle chatter which encourages some hecklers to point out the fact he is on high stool and it isn’t good for his posture. He reacts brilliantly by relating the story of him finding a Bar Stool for his flat in Paris and thanks the member of the audience for their concern and carries on. It seems at one point the performance is about to descend into ridicule but with his own humour he brings it swiftly back to the music.
Finishing with Adios he says quietly ‘that’s it now’ after which he stands up which causes a rapturous applause and a standing ovation from the crowd. He takes a bow along with his percussionist and walks quietly off stage the same way he entered leaving the crowd to ponder what a spellbinding performance this was from a unique British musical talent.