Ben Howard And Howler – Live At The Hospital Club, London

Barclaycard Mercury Prize Sessions

In the underground venue of central London’s Hospital Club are two bands waiting to perform to an intimate crowd. Two bands with two very different sounds.

First up is four-piece band all the way from Massachusetts: Howler. Young, colourful and ready to impress, lead singer Jordan Gatesmith greets the crowd with a friendly, “Hey, how ya doin’?” His turquoise guitar is quite the eye-catcher. The boys leap into their surf trash sound and whip up a frenzy of energy, theatrical lights flashing rhythmically behind them. Their songs are undeniably Strokes-esque, but with a dose of ‘60s California vibes thrown in it’s a fresh approach.

Man on drums, Brent Mayes, wears an “I’m Not Prince’s Son” t-shirt and, with biceps the size of small houses, it’s not something you’d start to question. Midway through the set, Gatesmith seems to forget where he is, “Are we in London?” he asks. Whether it’s a casual mention of their busy touring schedule or genuine confusion is hard to say, but given the darkened, tucked-away location, we could be anywhere. Nonetheless, the lead singer engages the audience in some well-practised witty banter, and charm seems to ooze off him like an invisible tidal wave. Having supported The Vaccines on tour and with Latitude on the horizon (pun intended), these boys have already caused a stir on this side of the pond – their energetic performance justifying the response.

Part Two of the evening is a whole different barrel of musical fish. Ben Howard is the British fast-riser who’s already sold out the Shepherd’s Bush Empire twice before the tender age of 25. It can be such a disappointment when an anticipated act can’t cut it on the live stage, but an absolute pleasure cruise when they sound even better than they do on the album. Thankfully, Ben Howard is the latter.

Kicking the night off with the track ‘Black Flies’ from his debut album ‘Every Kindgom’, Howard casts a spell over the audience with his acoustic sound. An audible “Wow” is murmured by one enchanted fan at the end of the song. Howard is positioned a few feet off the centre of the stage, just right of his drummer. A metaphor if ever there was one. Clearly not eager to wear the crown of attention, Howard is an unassuming figure in jeans and a plain t-shirt, addressing the audience in gracious tones.

It’s easy to slip the singer into the folk category of musical definition, but there’s an edge of something more exciting that eliminates any risk of post-listening melancholy. It’s his surf upbringing and Jack Johnson comparisons that make the difference. The passion for his craft is evident, and it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if his heart impulsively burst open and poured out loved-coloured musical notes. With the rest of the band seamlessly pairing up with cello, bass and support vocals, tracks like ‘The Wolves’ and ‘Diamonds’ are more than worth coming down to watch.

Words by Ellie de Rose

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