Tuesday 1 October 2013

Planet Hugill in Hamburg: Benjamin Clementine and Douglas Dare

Douglas Dare, Schulmuseum photo credit: ninazimmermann.com
Douglas Dare, photo credit: ninazimmermann.com
On Saturday night (29 September 2013) I caught two singer/song-writers, Benjamin Clementine and Douglas Dare,  doing acoustic sets at the Schulmuseum as part of the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg. The venue is a 19th century school converted into a museum of school life, The concerts took place in the former school hall, a lovely double height room with floor to ceiling windows. The events were popular, there was a huge queue for Benjamin Clementine's recital, and for both the hall was full to bursting, with everybody sitting on cushions on the floor. Audiences for both artists were very mixed with a good range of ages.

Benjamin Clementine arrived on stage without a flurry, suddenly appearing at the piano. He is a young guy from North London, tall and rangy wearing black and bare-foot. In style, he reminded me of Nina Simone, combining an inventive piano technique with a strong baritone voice and heavy admixture of blues and soul. All his material was his own and he has just recorded a CD.

His second song Give her a little opened with a Clementine just accompanying himself with his left hand, singing turned to the audience in an intensely mesmerising performance. His songs explored quite complex concepts in  their texts, being anything but simplistic. Two different songs made reference to his home town, London Calling and a slow bluesy number dedicated specifically to Edmonton. Barbarian Girl  made an interestingly complex use of rhythm and repetition, and his final number, Cornerstone, was the first song he ever wrote, a rather wistful number.

He chatted to the audience in a relaxed manner and seemed genuinely surprised at the warmth of the audience reaction. His songs combined all sort of influences but re-imagined in a rather entrancing and intelligent package, literate attractive songs.

Clementine was followed by Douglas Dare, another young Briton. Dare had a high tenor voice which reminded me somewhat of Neil Simon. Dare accompanied himself with a varied and complex piano texture. Slight and rather geeky, his performance was much more contained and personal, unlike Clementine who sang to the audience, Dare remained facing the piano as if we were eavesdropping. There was a strongly wistful element in most of his songs. He performed a mix of number, some very recent including ones off his new EP, Seven Hours, plus his first ever song Heart Strings. His most recent number, Whitewash had a clear political message, contained in a typically wistful, lyrical package, not hard edged at all.

Dare explained that he tended to start with the words, writing poems from which he would select his song texts. With his lyrical, poignant melody line articulated with a gently rhythmic accompaniment, combined with his laid back delivery, there was something late night about his style.

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