When you want to talk about polite British gentleman with acoustic guitars there’s one name that instantly comes to you mind: Yes, we’re talking about Ed Sheeran. And there’s really not much you can do about that because Ed Sheeran seems to be fucking everywhere – every radio station, as featured artist on records of other people, in countless Spotify playlists, in a stadium near you … Hell yeah, he even made it into Game Of Thrones, perfecting that ‘nice guy with the guitar’ on a global superstar scale. But for every phenomenon there’s always an alternative – and whether he likes it or not but Ben Howard is that alternative. He broke free from the clichés; he’s not interested in fame, Eminem features and a friendship with Taylor Swift. He’s the ‘Anti Ed Sheeran’ and right behind his redheaded colleague he’s apparently the biggest singer/songwriter from the UK. How did that happen? Well, he surely doesn’t know either.
And even if he would, he probably won’t tell us as Ben Howard isn’t interested in following those ordinary media parts. If he could he would prefer to disappear completely behind his songs. He doesn’t like talking about them, he lets them live freely, tell their own story. His freshly released third full-length Noonday Dream takes this idea to a whole new level. Inspired by ambient textures and effect pedals Howard distances his persona even further from his music and even decided to take his distinctive voice out of the spotlight on many tracks. He almost disappears on the artwork, he’s not showing his face in the music videos – it’s an interesting evolution for the man who won two Brit Awards only five years ago and still manages to fill the bigger venues in Europe and elsewhere.
However you can’t say that this whole development comes as a surprise. The tendencies were right there from the beginning. His 2011 debut Every Kingdom might have some really catchy pop hits like Only Love, The Fear and Keep Your Head Up but the atmospheric depth and introspective notion of Howard‘s songwriting were already quite prominent. The success of Every Kingdom might have also been a classic case of good timing as it followed an increased desire for indie/folk/pop following Mumford And Sons breakthrough a bit earlier. Fun Fact: Ed Sheeran released his debut album only three weeks before Howard. But unlike him traditional pop and song structures have only been of short interest for him. His sophomore album – 2014’s I Forgot Where We Were – already gave the progressive tendencies in his music more space, delivered longer songs and wasn’t heading for the easy listening section of that new indie folk movement. By now the slightly oversaturated scene saw far too many quickly emerging musicians who would rather aim for gentle sing-along-campfire tunes than substantial storytelling. Even Mumford And Sons eventually got rid of their banjo.
Ahead of his audience
Ben Howard however moved on and the people followed him which isn’t a matter of course once an artist decided to free himself from the chains of the mainstream music. His concerts still sell out quite quickly and people love to return because the atmosphere in these shows is pretty stunning .Carried by his band and the impressive live set-up with strings, multiple guitars, basses, synths and two drum sets, he really created a very intense atmosphere during his recent show in Cologne NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION attended. The synthesizers and guitar started building a trance-like soundscape around the audience as the artist’s mesmerizing voice pulled the people through it until the drums kick in and build the architectural frame. Back then, Noonday Dream only came out a day ago and many people didn’t know what to expect from the show. We saw a lot of people been swept up by the music and his performance but unfortunately also those who were desperately waiting for the Every Kingdom hits (who didn’t actually happen), not quite ready yet to embrace the change. I certainly don’t blame them but hope they’ll change their opinion eventually.
‘We are taught these days that being famous is more important than actually doing something. That’s the bit I’m reluctant about.’ Ben Howard once said that in an interview with the Independent in 2014 and it probably became his credo. In many ways his early success also brings a certain burden as he appears to still be mistaken for ‘another pop folk singer/songwriter’, despite have proven more than once that he is so much more. That might be the only reason why he still doesn’t get the same credibility from music critics and nerds like Iron And Wine, Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon get. Judging from quality, skills and attitude he deserves to be mentioned in the same line. Noonday Dream underlines that in quite a fascinating way. Don’t expect any Shape Of You from him anytime soon; expect him to follow his own path. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the more exciting one.
This fall, Ben Howard returns to the stages with three German tour dates. Find the full list of dates below.
November 27 – Munich, Zenith
November 30 – Cologne, Palladium
December 3 – Hamburg, Sporthalle
Get your tickets for these shows from June 15 on via benhowardmusic.co.uk. Please also note that the tickets will be personalized.
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