Live Music + Gig Reviews

Benjamin Clementine @ Somerset House, London

9 July 2016

Benjamin Clementine

Benjamin Clementine

Somerset House feels like an apt setting for a Benjamin Clementine performance. The eccentricities of both his character and music make him somewhat timeless. So, to be planted inside the courtyard of this impressive 17th century building used in a very modern way to host popular music as part of the Summer Series, you would supposed, would suit him well. And for the most part it does.

The Heritage Orchestra take to the stage to add additional flourishes to this already dense music. Clementine joins them kitted out in his usual garb – summer or no summer the woollen trench coat has not been banished to the back of the cupboard. They steam straight ahead with Winston Churchill’s Boy. The deep stokes of strings add grandeur to this fine opener and really make it fly, despite slightly disappointing sound that isn’t as bright as you might hope. The string section suffers in particular, feeling a little too deep in the background, and someone should have made a dive for the volume knob.

The Mercury Prize winning At Least For Now was an extraordinary record, but it’s not without flaws. St-Clementine-on-Tea-And-Croissants, whilst a curious interlude, wasn’t the record’s finest moment. Live it’s a different matter – the theatricality of the song is brought out by Clementine’s playful dramatics. He takes the track to hysterical levels with outrageously hight pitched vocals, which earn him a rowdy round of cheers.

It becomes clear as the gig goes on that he has evolved as a performer. Although when he speaks to the audience his jittery whisper is still very much present, he has clearly grown in confidence since his Mercury win. He’s all about the bants this time around, and he has shed some of the awkwardness he displayed before. Even musically he has blossomed and embraced showmanship, nowhere more so than on Condolences. The strings remain quiet for this one, it’s just him on keys and his drummer. They both play with a ferocious intensity that makes it the most dramatic and affecting track of the evening.

Elsewhere, his performance of London is resplendent. Clementine is often compared to Nina Simone, but here he recalls Shirley Bassey wringing out prolonged vowels for all they’re worth. Adios bristles with a bass-y cello intro, Then I Heard a Batchelor’s Cry is sumptuous in its mournfulness and Cornerstone’s refrain of is “It’s my home, home, home” is delivered acutely and movingly.

Of course Clementine only has one long player to his name, so he does fill out the set with, sometimes, unnecessarily stretched out versions. The last third of the gig does hit a bit of a wall for a while, not helped by Clementine getting booed for confessing he didn’t vote in the recent referendum. His pleas of “I’m just being honest!” fall on deaf ears. So, it’s left to the music to redeem the situation, and he pulls it back admirably with the aforementioned Batchelor’s Cry. He then chooses to end on a new composition which is entirely instrumental. It’s a brave choice, and ultimately a sound one. Bon Champs is a warm, bright and powerful piece then ends the evening on a very satisfying note.

Benjamin Clementine is a captivating and intriguing performer and his surroundings at Somerset House added to the theatre he creates. He’s certainly not one for characterless venues, and given his innate theatricality it makes you wonder where else might suit his singular style – Wilton’s Music Hall, perhaps?

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More on Benjamin Clementine
Benjamin Clementine – I Tell A Fly
Benjamin Clementine @ Somerset House, London
Benjamin Clementine – At Least For Now