Ben Howard, Lusty Glaze Beach, Newquay
With waves gently rolling in the background, cliffs looming overhead and wet sand wedged between the toes of a 1,000-strong crowd, up-and-coming West Country singer-songwriter Ben Howard's biggest headline show to date is no ordinary gig.
Having amassed a devoted following among the UK's surf lovers (Howard is himself a surfer) the dramatic south coast surroundings of Lusty Glaze Beach near Newquay offer the perfect venue for Howard to showcase his latest (and first since being snapped up by Island Records last year) EP, Old Pine. But at a sold-out gig that could easily have been memorable for its gimmick, it's credit to Howard that his performance makes it all the more extraordinary.
Sitting casually centre stage, the 23-year-old easily wins the laid-back crowd from the off. Murmurs of excitement greet the opener, the old favourite and title track from his debut EP, These Waters. Nimbly finger-picking and lightly tapping the body of his acoustic guitar, Howard is impressive as he combines intricate melody and tender rhythm, fronted by consistently strong, trilling folk vocals.
It's little wonder that Howard has been marked as one to watch this year, but in the face of his growing popularity, he uses his introduction to the title track of the new EP to reaffirm his allegiance to the surf set, possibly at the cost of new would-be fans. Having played in London a couple of weeks ago, he pokes fun at the kids in "skinny jeans, checked shirts and little shoes singing along to a song about a surf trip in the south of France."
Fan rivalries aside, backed by a cellist, drummer and guitarist (who display their own skills, swapping instruments, sometimes playing more than one at a time), Howard's rendition of "Old Pine" is even more heartfelt than the recording, capturing the atmosphere of the cosy barn near his Devon home, "neatly nestled between the moors and the sea", where it was made. It's the enchanting laments of "Black Flies" which provide the set's most poignant offering, made all the more touching by the accompanying sunset.
Upping the pace for "The Wolves" and "Three Tree Town", Howard reawakens the crowd to prove he has more to offer than campfire lullabies and clearly, what it takes to emerge as a musical staple this summer.
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