Ben Howard is a young Devonshire musician, a ‘singer-songwriter’ for want of a better phrase, and an artist who has exceeded all of his expectations within a whirlwind two and a bit years.
2011 was, in Ben’s own words, “quite hectic”. In the space of just twelve short months, Ben inked his record deal, self-recorded and released his beautiful platinum-selling debut album, Every Kingdom. The year was then mapped out on the motorways and back-roads of the UK and Europe, where Ben toured relentlessly as the demand to see him soared. Every single show sold out, and yet more tours were added and upgraded to bigger venues.
And yet, Ben will explain, that both 2011 and 2012, and 2013’s travels were just a continuation of what he’s already been doing for years, albeit on a much bigger, more frantic scale. Things have changed though. They’ve had to. Ben is of course now the proud owner of two Damian Hirst designed Brit Awards (winning Best Breakthrough Act and Best Male Artist in 2013), and was nominated for a prestigious Ivor Novello Award for Best Album.
Life on the road with old friends - India on cello, and Chris on bass and drums – has made them a close knit unit, and given them all a "heightened awareness of sound”. You can hear it too, in the gentle, note perfect harmonies and the fragility in which they are delivered.
As a three-piece on stage, they hush rooms, scatter the audience with a sense of euphoria, and leave them desperate for much more of the same. "I think people can hear that when the band and I play, we really mean it. I have always written songs that draw on my own emotions, and I don't want to try and hide any of it. I guess everyone relates to raw emotion." Ben explains.
In what is often an overbearingly crowded stable, Howard is a young acoustic troubadour who will make you feel as though he is the first young acoustic troubadour you have ever heard. He brings freshness to the form, gives it lustre, and making it all seem brand new, even as his songs have about them a quality of wisdom and a rootsy authenticity as old as the hills. He is something of an acoustic guitar whiz, having mastered the art of strumming, plucking and hammering the instrument for rhythmic purpose.
Growing up in Devon, a county in the South West of England, Ben surrounded himself with the richly textured music in his parents' record collection. “Van Morrison, John Martyn, Nick Drake, Richie Havens, Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel,” he says. “That’s what we’d listen to in the house and in the car wherever we were going.” It was these records that encouraged him to pick up a guitar, re-stringing his mum’s Spanish nylon acoustic as a young lad.
The cliché ridden associations of the term ‘organic growth’ manifests itself in the music industry more than any other, but in this case it’s another phrase one struggles to offer an alternative for.
The core UK surf scene in the quickly took Ben under their wing, and were fiercely passionate about promoting him wherever they could. If labels weren’t yet throwing themselves at his feet, the big name surf brands were and just as Ben contemplated doing the whole thing alone, in came an offer from Island Records, UK. It is testament to his hard work that he was selling out venues in London and right across Europe before a label wanted a slice of the action. And so long before the hustle and bustle of press teams and radio pluggers, marketing campaigns and BBC sessions, Ben was filling the van with mates and tapes, and making himself a living on his own terms. It is something he is incredibly proud of, but the safety of a record label that had nurtured the likes of John Martyn and Bob Marley proved the tantalising carrot he couldn't ignore.
When it came to focusing on the debut record, Ben shirked any outside influence or label-financed gloss. Every Kingdom was recorded in India’s mum’s barn, and is produced by drummer, Chris. "Nobody knows the music like we do. Chris is brilliant at capturing a mood and an atmosphere so we kept close to what we know so well. I am really proud that we did." muses Ben. And it is Chris once more that quickly ‘captured’ the dark, brooding Burgh Island EP; a four track record that finds Ben ditching the acoustic guitar for an electric.
Ben is currently back in the studio in Devon and with work on album two well underway, 2014 could be busier than ever.