Ben Howard is not an artist I have ever been crazy about but I was very excited about visiting the impressive St Luke’s venue, which didn’t disappoint. Steeped in vibrant blue light, this huge building in East London has the ideal acoustics for musical performance. I didn’t know what to expect at the Barclaycard Mercury Prize concert of Ben Howard and Roller Trio but it turned out to be a very enjoyable night.
We began the evening downstairs indulging in endless salty nibbles and glasses of champagne. The ticket marked a 7pm start time, but in fact the music didn’t kick off until 8 which gave us a whole hour to polish off the wasabi peanuts, cheese straws and mixed nuts. Bellies heavy, we followed the crowd up to the stage where we managed to find a good viewing position. The room is grand, tall and spacious, ideal for loud resonating bands and hordes of people.
The Roller Trio are a purely instrumental outfit. I would describe them as experimental jazz funk although I’m not sure that’s how they would define themselves. The sound is bold and powerful, impressive for such a small group. Aside from the erratic compositions, I immediately noticed the talent of these three young men, and in particular saxophonist, James Mainwairing. They bear little relation to Ben Howard’s music but the Mercury shortlist is known for its eclecticism.
At 8.30 ish Ben Howard casually strode onto the platform, band in tow. The group seemed more mature in the flesh and strummed through the first few numbers thoughtfully. Ben soon relaxed and became rather less tame, bouncing around, head dropped and hands strumming furiously. Suddenly there was passion. The male band members seemed less bothered going through the motions of each song (let’s be honest they are all quite similar) and at times looked a little bored. The lone female was the most enthusiastic of the bunch and played with intense concentration and dedication at all times. The music produced was balanced and together with some beautiful playing of Ben’s varied melodies. The set came to an abrupt end after only four or five songs, unfortunate as they seemed to really be on the up.
If I’m honest Ben Howard still wouldn’t win my vote for the prize but after witnessing his passionate set I may put a few of his songs on my iPod. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and excitement at the Mercury Awards gig and loved being involved in the run up to this prestigious award. Congratulations to winners Alt-J who took home the prize a few nights ago.