Is it a film or a gig? Plan B’s performance at the O2 is as much a showcase for his filmography credentials as his singing ones, as clip after clip rolls past on a giant screen behind him, like a huge showreel. “Directed by Ben Drew”, “Produced by Strickland Banks,” “Written by Plan B”, “Starring Ben Drew as Strickland Banks” roll the credits.
Of course, they are all him, the 29-year-old singer, rapper, writer and film director born Benjamin Paul Ballance-Drew. In fact, his real name is the only one excluded from the fanfare of film credits.
But the acting CV doesn’t stop there. The first half of the night is devoted to performing as Strickland Banks, Drew’s alter ego; a soul singer imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. In a burgundy checked suit, Drew warbles songs from his second album The Defamation of Strickland Banks. Motown-influenced “Love Goes Down” shows off the expressiveness of Plan B’s voice, with soulful backing from his band, the B team, while on “The Recluse” he infuses a striving poignancy with the hard-hitting lyrics.
Part two of the evening is more hard edged and high-energy, as Drew drops the crooner guise and becomes Plan B, the rapper and hip-hop artist, dressed in khaki trousers and T-shirt. His guests add texture; hip-hop number “Playing with Fire” features an appearance from Labrinth, the track's producer and mixer, and Faith sfx brings an impressive bout of beatboxing to the stage.
The backdrop shows excerpts from ill Manors, Drew’s feature film. It’s a series of graphic moral tales of how one bad decision can lead to a bleak ending. “ill Manors” is also the name of the title track from his most recent album. It’s a response to the London riots, performed while dancers in black hoodies pass cardboard boxes into the audience.
Drew’s gestures become bullish as he abuses the audience for not making enough “mosh pits”, then, seemingly fed up with the crowd’s limp attempts at controlled violence, the encore concludes with him rolling around on the floor, fighting his guitarist and a second rendition of “ill Manors” (the single, not the album, or the film). It’s hard, with all these identities, to figure out who Ben Drew, the singer, really is, but as a showcase for his acting and directorial talents, the night is a triumph.