Initially when I heard the Ben Howard gig had been moved up to the ABC I was a bit disappointed; it would have been wonderful to see the Every Kingdom songsmith in the cosy upstairs at Oran Mor, but as soon as he hit the stage it was clear that he has already far outgrown venues of that size, and was in a fitting surrounding.
As he took to the stage, accompanied by Chris Bond and India Bourne, it was instantly clear that the audience was highly anticipating the evening.
By the time he announced he was going to play “a song about summer”, which turned out to be the wonderful Old Pine, the whole crowd was completely drawn in. This was the first upbeat number of the night, and the mixture between the high tempo and slower moments really made the evening.
It was wonderful to watch Ben and the band at work, with the singer-songwriter moving between a seated to standing position, and Chris and India taking turns at playing bass and percussion at the same time.
Ben’s intricate guitar work, and stunning voice – with multiple tones and gears – was clearly the star of the night, but the rhythm section gave the songs a massive dig that was brilliant and out-stripped my own lofty expectations.
Tracks from debut album Every Kingdom made up most of the set, with Diamonds and Only Love standing out, but some earlier material made a welcome appearance, including the brilliant Further Away.
Recent single Wolves brought the biggest response of the night; as soon as the opening vocal “wooh’s” washed out over the audience you could hear people firing it straight back, and the bounding rhythm had the place in a party mood.
There was a great moment as the crowd echoed Ben’s chants of “love love love” – a thousand-plus people showing what they felt about this special talent in the most vocal of ways.
The applause after Wolves finished was one of the longest embraces I have heard from a crowd of that size, running so long that Ben had no choice but to start the next song or risk standing there for the rest of the night while it ringed out.
Keep Your Head Up was the ‘final’ number, beautiful in its poise, and carrying such an encapsulating melody and message that had it really been the last song I don’t think anyone would have left.
After a short break Ben strolled back on, with electric guitar in tow, and took the moment to thank the audience. He had earlier told of his last visit to Glasgow to play King Tut’s and it was great to see a performer so genuinely thankful for such a crowd response.
He then proceeded to treat us to a new song, Bear Island (I think), about his home and “the craziest girl he’s ever met” who just happened to be Scottish. He claimed the song needed work, but it was a poignant touch as he took centre stage in front of an enchanted crowd.
I don’t think anyone was in doubt The Fear would be the final song of the night, and with the electric still plugged in Ben and band set about planting the flag on the highest of summits with a fitting finish.
The song has so many peaks and was given extra emphasis in this live setting, with the dual drum efforts sending the song and crowd over the top.
This was a very special gig, with Ben Howard showing he is one of our finest live performers, and it was only fitting that he and the band took a bow at the end.