A simple set-up. A small room, a few lights and a lot of chairs. That’s all this 24 year old needs to play a set that will entirely enthral this room. Just like the scene in which tonight’s show is set, Keaton Henson needs no embellishment. The plain white walls of the Freud Museum, which houses such precious objects, perfectly mirrors Henson’s persona. This fragile and curious relic that sits before us is admired by countless onlookers yet seems so delicate and breakable and remains just slightly out of reach.
A cello solo begins the show and Henson wanders in. Dressed in his signature smart suit, the singer-songwriter takes his seat on stage. The impact of the whispered vocals of ‘Sweetheart, What Have You Done To Us’ ripples through the room. The vulnerable quiver in his voice deepens the rawness of his lyrics and alerts each hair on every neck in the room, setting the tone for the rest of the night. At times the intimacy is almost unsettling; the distraught honesty of Henson’s heartbreak recalled so gently in this small space is unavoidably affecting.
Staple standout tracks ‘Small Hands’, ‘Sarah Minor’ and breakthrough single ‘You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are’ from last year’s debut album ‘Dear...’ are scattered between material from the sophomore, ‘Birthdays’.
New track ‘Best Today’ is a beautifully charming account of an Underground encounter whilst our protagonist is “stuck in a metal tube.” He ponders, “I wish I could wake at dawn, to see you without make-up on, I wish I had the guts to say, you look the best today." Forthcoming tracks see Henson self-referencing and perhaps baring more of his soul than before. On ‘In the Morning’ he sings, “You woke up and looked at me and you said, ‘Keaton is it morning yet?’” whilst on ‘Gare Du Nord’ he begs “Please do not hurt me love, I am a fragile one.”
The terminally-shy musician remains head-down for the majority of the evening. There are times when he looks as though the flash of a camera may startle him like a frightened animal. He looks up between songs and with a surprised glance anxiously comments, “Thank you very much. God. There’s a lot of you...” Henson is renowned for his private nature and outright fear of live performances, making tonight’s show evermore special.
Keaton Henson is a fascinating artist. In a world where modern technology makes public sharing the norm, it’s his limited appearances and timid personality which draws people to him and adds to his already huge appeal. He’s a self-created hidden gem. Henson’s unassuming stage presence ironically commands attention and his talent is unmistakeably admirable. His talent as a songwriter enables him to pen the deepest, inner-most details of heartbreak which have the power to break others’ hearts. In just forty five minutes the room feels coloured with emotion and weighted with a lovelorn tenderness.
Words by Sarah Williams
Photos by Anna Kroeger