This Benjamin Clementine article was written by Steven Loftin, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse. Footer photo by José Sena Goulão
It truly is a beautiful thing watching someone perform with pure, raw, unadulterated talent. When a concert is stripped back to one, well in this case, two men and their instruments you can feel the vulnerability in the air. Any mistake will be blindingly obvious and in certain cases can make or break a performance, fortunately for us in attendance none of these things happened. What we witnessed was an absolutely flawless performance from the recent Mercury Music Prize winner, Benjamin Clementine, and his drummer Alexis Bossard.
With no support act and taking to the stage in his now trademark outfit of a blue trench-like coat, black trousers and nothing else, you can’t help but feel he’s doing his best to present himself as being as vulnerable as possible. His fingers touch the piano as if it were an extension of his own body, literally feeling his way into the next song, there wasn’t a single moment that felt contrived.
Due to the strict policy on any form of light i.e. mobile devices or actual house lights during the performance, it was impossible to make note of the entire setlist. But before leaving the stage for the first encore, he informed us he would have loved to have played the entirety of the album but because of the need for strings and their expense he was unable to provide this for us. What he did play though was a perfect run through of everything that makes Clementine one of the most promising and talented artists in the British musical armoury. He’s a storyteller, a poet, a pianist, an artist and more importantly one of us.
There’s an air of mystery that surrounds Clementine as he plays to us, an absolute silence fills the room and every eye is focused upon him. After the first track Bossard appears from darkness and joins in, adding a new dimension that helps keep the idea behind a solo pianist fresh. “It feels like routine, clap, play, clap play…I’ll get back to playing now”, a small excerpt of Clementine’s softly spoken, polite stage talk which is a world away from the singing voice that greatly carries around this nearly sold out theatre.
He engaged with the crowd modestly, with no clear hubris or outgoing confidence, at one point asking if there were any Parisians in the room after a bellow of “oui”, which he merely dismissed as being from Salford (which was discussed earlier in the performance – he learned about the Salford/Manchester divide), he was then met with a perfect reply in French, to which he bowed his head and accepted defeat. Seemingly forming a friendly bond with the crowd is ease for him, utilising the aura that proceeds him, it all works perfectly.
The encore, which didn’t appear as pre-planned, began with ‘London’ after much lauding toward the standout track from his award winning full-length ‘At Least For Now’ and debut EP ‘Cornerstone’, which was followed by ‘Adios’. He finished off with a perfect finale, the same as he started, with a solo piano track. The entire evening felt honest in every format. Clementine is an artist who truly is thankful for what he has and has no intentions of becoming a faded name. Truly, if you ever get the chance to see him, do. You won’t regret it.