Festival Music

Benjamin Clementine

Festival Theatre

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Rob Adams

two stars

THERE were two gigs going on here. One featured a very fine, very well drilled and dynamic keyboards, bass and drums combo with an excellent, uplifting five-piece choir, and the other featured a chap with a very distinctive hair-do.

Benjamin Clementine, for the “do” is his, seems very concerned that people might come along to hear him and think he is – his word – “shit.” Well, your reviewer wanted to like him, but Clementine doesn’t make that easy. Not the least of the reasons for this is that, for someone who is put forward as a poet, Clementine seems to have little regard for words. He mumbles them and even with the choir’s best efforts, the potentially anthemic By the Ports of Europe’s repeated line took quite a few listens to decipher.

The main obstacle to liking Clementine is that everything about him seems so mannered, including the mumbling. He sits on an office chair to play piano, possibly to draw attention to his height. Randy Weston was taller and he managed with a piano stool. Then there are his attempts at audience interaction. In the smallest of voices he asks what’s being said and then has excruciating “fun” with someone who has clearly made the most of the delayed start, due to PA problems, in the bar.

Clementine can undoubtedly sing. He hits all the notes and has an appealing tone at times. His piano playing is sufficient and he has a great band. The parts where they sat out and he did the work might have been better had the roles been reversed. There may well be a significant talent in there but this wasn’t its best showcase.