benedictfolk

Benedict Benjamin takes the stage like a slightly awkward sixth former surprised to be receiving a prize at Speech Day. But he interacts with the audience in the easy, charming and affable manner of one accustomed to the spotlight. His polite soft-spokenness itself commands attention, particularly in the intimate setting of the basement of the Harrison Pub on a Wednesday night.

The songs similarly start in a quietly unassuming manner and you might anticipate some mildly toe-tapping pleasant folk fare, his voice pretty but a little brittle like an overnight frost glittering on a morning field. But then it unexpectedly swells into a potent, full-bodied instrument that soars and swoops like a flock of starlings involved in their mysterious manoeuvres in the sky. The sound is lush and spacious, captivating and other, with choruses that swirl round your head in triumphant crescendos. You’re swept up as by a wave crashing on a beach, transported to another realm, carried away on the tide.

The first time I experienced this beguiling effect was when Benjamin supported the North Carolina folk duo Mandolin Orange at the Borderline. It was like witnessing a nightclub act in a David Lynch movie, deep scarlet velvet curtains and all, at times as if he were channelling Roy Orbison or Bobby Vinton in some beautiful and haunting homage, conjuring up adolescent sweethearts clinging to each other for the last dance at some long ago school hop (‘I Would Like to See You Tonight’, ‘Coward’).

Melodies edged with melancholy showcase lyrics that demonstrate an honest and mature self-awareness, rather like those of a young (and old) Ray Davies, someone who’s recognised and come to reluctant terms with their own weaknesses and foibles.

There is a dividing line

Cutting through the will and the design

There is who I’d like to be and who I am

I’m the sum of choices made

I’m the sum of errors and mistakes

There is who I’d like to be and who I am

 (from ‘Thin Skin’)

Benjamin characterises these resonant, passionate, confessional songs as ‘depressing’ but in fact their very intensity renders them strangely uplifting and cathartic. The refrains of ‘Thin Skin’, ‘Change Your Mind’, ‘Had What You Had’, ‘My Feet Have No Need for the Ground’ entwine themselves into your memory like cats around your ankles and you find yourself humming them for days after.

Like a dead or dying star

Still present in the night

There’s a love inside my heart

That will not yield its light

 […]

Like a song or symphony

Whose melody remains

long after the singer’s tongue

has sung its last refrain

(from ‘Love That’s Left Behind’)

 

Setlist as far as I knew it

Move on Those Tired Feet

Change Your Mind

Thin Skin

[Illegible note – may have been

I Would Like to See You]

Feet Have No Need

How Weak and Unguarded

Coward

Had What You Had

Love Left Behind

Encores

Hardest Thing

Something in My Blood

The venue in Harrison Street, just off Gray’s Inn Road, was an ideal fit for this once a fortnight event, and I couldn’t really recommend it more. Three (or even four) acts and it’s all free – what’s not to like? It’s worth getting there an hour or so early to enjoy a vegan stew in the bar beforehand too. Find out more here.benedict

Benedict Benjamin’s album Night Songs is on CD now.

He is supporting Slow Dancer and Jack Robert Hardman at the Lock Tavern, Chalk Farm Road on Wednesday 25 May.

Here’s a poem about ‘Waterloo Sunset’, a song tinged with a similar sense of pathos.

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One response »

  1. Phil Gooch says:

    For some reason, I thought you meant this chap: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Clementine

    Phil x

    On Thu, May 19, 2016 at 6:23 PM, bashfulbadgers blog wrote:

    > bashfulbadger posted: ” Benedict Benjamin takes the stage like a slightly > awkward sixth former surprised to be receiving a prize at Speech Day. But > he interacts with the audience in the easy, charming and affable manner of > one accustomed to the spotlight. His polite soft-spo” >

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