For the time being Benjamin Clementine will be known as, Mercury Music Prize winner Benjamin Clementine. As he took to the stage of the Rockhal in a very unassuming manner on Tuesday night, it soon became apparent that he will outgrow that tag very quickly.
Having recently won one of Britain’s most credible music awards for his debut album “At Least For Now”, Clementine will have this accolade banded around his name for the foreseeable future but I’ll be astonished if this award goes on to define him. His talent was there to hear on the record but he is also able to back it up live, where he is carving out quite a formidable reputation.
Clementine came out like the ragtag troubadour, donning a long grey coat with no top underneath and no shoes. He walked into the solitary spotlight shining on a bar stool in front of the piano and with nothing but a slight nod to the crowd he perched on the stool before launching into “Gone”, his voice bellowed through the Rockhal brining a complete hush of silence to the audience.
When he did address the crowd he was like a different person to the one who just knocked you back with his powerful vocals. A shy exposed character was revealed, which explains much of his lyrics.
Here is a young man who has experienced a lot, from having an awkward childhood with few friends, to falling out with his family and leaving home at just 16, to live on the streets in hostels in both London and Paris.
It was during this time in Paris that his music became more focused, he busked in the metro and played in bars around the city, all of which stood him in good stead for getting up and baring his soul in front of so many these days.
He is a performer who is not afraid to have his sound stripped down to the bare essentials; his vocals are regularly compared to Nina Simone and for good reason. The intensity and warmth behind his sound are further embellished by Alexis Bossard’s drumming on “Condolences”, whose jazz fills added another texture and depth to the sound, whilst introducing some nice changes in time signatures.
The emotion his vocals, manages to convey on “Cornerstone” are nothing short of astonishing as he cries out “I am lonely, alone in a box of stone/They claim to love me but they’re all lying.”
And it’s not just the emotion but also his vocal range that can knock you back, which was exhibited on “Adios” as he went from rich bass notes to operatic tenor. Unfortunately he was not joined on stage by his cellist on the night, so some songs were slightly reworked which in itself was a joy but some were abandoned all together such as “Winston Churchill’s Boy”.
As the evening progressed Clementine engaged with the audience more, asking in his soft-spoken tone if they believed in Christmas, to which there were cheers, only for Clementine to say, “well I do not”, with a wry smile on his face. His almost meek persona and comic timing came across all very endearing.
After such rapturous applause from the crowd following his encore he came back to the stage once more. Having been put on the spot he claimed he didn’t have anything else to play, after a moment of contemplation he opted for “The People and I” a solemn end to a quite magical evening.