After the launch of his debut album Every Kingdom in September of last year, Ben Howard’s stunning voice has captured the nation. Howard has impressed thousands with the gorgeous, soulful tones of his music. In particular, his songs ‘The Wolves,’ ‘Old Pine’ and ‘Only Love’ appear the most popular favourites. Although his music is slightly indie in tone, the English singer-songwriter stands out as an acoustic, soulful musician, showcasing an art of evocative and beautiful lyrics. Being a huge fan myself, I was excited to finally see Howard perform live in Southampton and the London-bred star certainly did not disappoint. The combination of Howard’s meaningful lyrics, talent on the guitar and dazzling voice provided a magical evening.
Howard’s support act, Willy Mason, performed first. While most support acts seem to simply fill the time before the main artist arrives on stage, Mason impressed on all levels. The singer proved a huge hit with the crowd who clapped along to his Western style set. The American’s Western edge was something different and intriguing. Using his folk background, Mason created a chilled and almost blissful vibe within the Guildhall. His style was a little less modern than that of Howard’s innovative melodies, creating diversity between the two performers. Although, his songs were slightly less engaging than Howard’s, the singer’s performance was confident and effortless. Overall, Mason was a great introduction to the main event.
After a short interval Howard took to the stage. While the singer’s quiet and endearing personality initially came across as shy, his confidence erupted when singing. Howard’s absolute passion for his music was obvious. Howard opened his set with the blissful melodies of ‘Everything’ and the crowd immediately became absorbed in his music. The audience then became lost in the rich tones of ‘Black Flies’ and ‘Diamonds,’ before Howard performed more of his well-known records. Demonstrating his humble persona, Howard repeatedly complimented Southampton Guildhall as a venue of ‘epic’ proportions. The majestic hall complimented the singer’s arresting voice, creating a simply stunning performance.
The talented musician’s set list included much of the new material from his EP, The Burgh Island. Howard’s new songs including ‘Oats in the Water,’ are somewhat darker and more moody than his previous hits. However, his new songs are just as skilful and moving in every sense. Having proved himself as a musician with universal appeal, Howard appears to have set aside the need for a catchy, upbeat chorus. Unlike his earlier, faster paced songs such as ‘Keep your head up’, Howard slows his pace, allowing him to concentrate more on the lyrics that resonate.
Due to the crowd’s enthusiasm, the singer was pleased to announce that he had been able to perform songs that he is never usually able to play. Howard played an encore that saw a repeat performance of ‘Old Pine,’ my particular favourite. What struck me most about Howard’s talent was how close he sounded live to his recorded album. There has obviously been little change to the singer’s voice from microphone to electronic file and CD. This, to me, was most impressive as I had expected Howard to be weaker on stage. In fact, the musician was far better live, using the personal setting to strum his heart out alongside a heavy drumbeat. Howard created intense ‘goose bump’ moments throughout. All in all, Howard provided an uplifting evening of superb music. The only disappointment was that the singer did not perform his cover of Carly Rae Jepson’s ‘Call Me Maybe,’ which, in my opinion, is one of the best live covers of 2012.
Following his Southampton gig, Howard performed in London for three nights before jetting off to other parts of Europe to complete his 2012 Every Kingdom tour.