Keaton Henson: The ‘British Jeff Buckley’ steps out of shadows for classical gig at Meltdown festival
It’s four years since Keaton Henson released a debut album of sad, spartan ballads which earned him comparisons to Jeff Buckley.
Despite being hailed as an “extraordinary” new talent, the London songwriter retreated from the spotlight, as he struggled to cope with crippling stage fright.
In his absence the mystique surrounding the 26-year-old grew, as he occasionally issued further examples of the introverted folk recorded in his Richmond bedroom.
But on Monday night Henson will delight his dedicated cult following when he re-emerges with a sold-out concert at the Royal Festival Hall, in which he will perform a musical suite detailing his stage anxiety.
The reluctant balladeer has, until now, withheld details of the concert, part of the Meltdown festival. However, Henson told The Independent that he will unveil a radical change of direction by performing compositions from Romantic Works, a new classical piece written for cello, woodwind and piano released as a download from today.
Recorded entirely in Henson’s bedroom, the wholly instrumental Romantic Works opens with “Elevator Song”, inspired by an episode of pre-performance anxiety in a lift.
Debuting this new work on the South Bank is a daunting prospect. “I feel as scared, if not more, than any show preceding this and, if I’m totally honest, my main aim is to get through it so I can go back to writing songs and making art,” Henson, who rarely conducts interviews, told The Independent in an email exchange.
“The live performance element of what I am doing is still a huge struggle for me, but I am told it’s a necessary step to maintaining some kind of fiscal living in this industry.”
Henson, the son of actor Nicky Henson and ballet dancer Marguerite Porter, hopes his audience will accept the shift to classical. “Some will enjoy it and others won’t, some may be frightened of it. I saw it more as teaching myself a new way of building a song.
“The pieces on it are the in-between moments when I found it all too much to write a clever rhyme. It started with “Elevator Song”, which I wrote while daydreaming and thinking about a breakdown I had in an elevator in Glasgow.”
Henson will also perform songs from his debut album, Dear..., and its follow-up Birthdays, which prompted such critical rapture.
Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe described his song “You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are” as “one of the most special pieces of music I’ve heard in a very, very long time”. One reviewer said Henson had achieved “genuine greatness”.
But the solitude-craving musician’s inhibitions left him unable make the leap to mainstream success. “As someone who writes songs about my own experience, as honestly as I can, I find myself looking for new emotional wells to draw from all the time. But over the years I have found there are certain subjects I have been unable to mine,” Henson said.
“The fear I deal with is one of them. Fear, by definition, is incapacitating – it strips you of your learned skills and leaves you naked. This ... is a hard place to write from, especially when writing verse or lyrics.”
Out of the spotlight: Reclusive stars
The US singer was repelled by screaming teenagers who latched on to The Walker Brothers’ ballads, and decamped to England where he recorded a series of solo albums. He hasn’t performed live for 35 years.
The drug-addled and mentally unstable guitarist was discarded by Pink Floyd in 1968. He released two solo albums but retired from music, moving back in with his mum in 1978. He died in 2006, at 60.
Her last concert was in 1979. Bush now opts for domesticity and intermittent but well-received studio albums. She stunned fans by announcing she will play 15 shows at London’s Hammersmith Apollo in August and September.
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rihanna 'nude photos' claims emerge on 4Chan as hacking scandal continues
- 2 Frank Lampard equalises for Manchester City against Chelsea: how the internet reacted
- 3 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 4 Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned PR disaster
- 5 Britain First picture: Photographer 'horrified' after first Afghan policewoman killed by Taliban used for 'ban the burka' campaign
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, review: Revolution still seems far off
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since TV series ended in 2004
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, ITV, review: There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God