07 December 2015 (gig)
08 December 2015
Just over six miles separates Benjamin Clementine’s old stomping ground of Edmonton and tonight’s sold out Hackney venue, a grade II listed church.
The route to such evenings, however, has been less straightforward – but crucially, massively influential.
Sojourns in Camden and Paris have clearly left their mark on the singer-songwriter’s compositions.
Despite significant acclaim and exposure on the Continent, recognition on this side of the Channel has, until recently, been less forthcoming. So much so, that, up until a month ago, tickets to tonight’s show were fairly easy to find. That all changed when Clementine’s debut album, At Least For Now, scooped this year’s Mercury Prize.
Time will tell if the coveted award becomes a “dead albatross around the neck”, as Gorillaz described it way back in 2001. On tonight’s evidence, that’s unlikely.
With no support act, tonight is rightly all about birthday boy Clementine the performer. Sat at a large, polished black piano, the untrained artist is accompanied by drummer, Alexis Bossard, then, later, accomplished cellist Barbara le Liepvre. So often seen performing alone, Clementine excels in this balanced trio.
An impromptu audience rendition of Happy Birthday stops the understated Clementine in his tracks and the whispering 27-year-old admits he has little to say. That's left to his lyrics, combined with delicate and at times pounding piano notes.
The People and I is sublime, while Adios and Cornerstone stir this great old building. As yet unreleased, Bendy Buses gives "Boris" a mention, while London's North Circular - or A406 - pops up on reminiscent opener Gone.
Even louder than Clementine is the rapturous applause he receives before returning for a haunting cover of Nick Drake’s River Man.
Looking back is a major theme of the barefooted Clementine’s work. As his voice resonates and fills this somewhat vacuous church for delightfully drawn-out set-closer London, one wonders where next for such raw, unique talent.