Not so long ago Mr Hudson came with The Library suffixed to his name and a folk-meets-ska musical aesthetic. But since those days he’s decamped to the States and curiously become some kind of protege of one Kanye West.
Back in London ahead of his second album, Ben Hudson repeatedly apologises for his long absence and tells his audience that although the rest of his booked UK tour was postponed till May (something to do with more time needed to work on the album) he wanted to do this one date.
If he wanted affirmation of this decision, it didn’t quite work out like that. Almost from the (45 minutes late) off there’s a problem. “You’re a disgrace,” yells somebody near the front repeatedly, apropos of who knows what. “Thanks, I love you too,” says Hudson, too polite to rise to it.
Faced with a packed and expectant showcase audience after such a long period away, such interjections could easily have proved catastrophic, but by carrying on with his set Hudson showed confidence in himself and his material. Hecklers are frowned on by anyone who’s paid good money to go to a gig but, all the same, it would’ve shaken more delicate souls.
Rumoured appearances on Jay-Z‘s next record, as well as Kanye’s adoration stretching to designing him his own pair of trainers, only add to the perplexing mystery that is Hudson’s artistic transformation. New track Supernova, the set’s first, elicited the best response of the previously unheard material. “Now I feel like taking off, let me be a supernova,” he pleads in an uplifting chorus punctuated by a rough-around-the-edges verse rap and some tinkly, uncertain keyboard phrases.
Maybe the crowd’s cool response was to do with the auto-tune vocal treatment for There Will Be Tears, one of the new tracks betraying those US-influenced stylings. The set was front-loaded with such new material, none of which had been much evaluated before tonight, so such singalong moments as there might be were left rather listless. Reaction to them will surely improve once they become a little more familiar.
Pulling the situation back, Ask The DJ’s cloyingly twee lyrics don’t quite dampen a tune that remains memorable two years on. But debut album A Tale Of Two Cities’ standout Too Late remains Hudson’s biggest ace. As the set’s final number it appears in extended form, finally persuading just about everyone to allow Hudson to entertain them. It’s been one of the toughest gigs these eyes have seen, even in London, but somehow Mr Hudson has got through it and lives to tell the tale of this city for another day.