Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Brooding style is Howard's way as fans enjoy his triumphant return

In November 2011, Ben Howard played his debut Belfast show at the Stiff Kitten nightclub.

Twenty-one months, two Brit Awards and half a million sales of his debut album, Every Kingdom, later, he returned triumphantly on Saturday night for a headline slot at this year's Belsonic festival.

In between, he has also played the Waterfront Hall, but whereas that venue's bright, white expanses seemed an uncomfortable fit for this brooding performer, the open-air setting in Custom House Square complemented Howard's introspective indie-folk rather well.

Taking to the stage as darkness fell, the singer-songwriter's meandering jams and shadowy backdrops certainly conjured an intense mood in the audience.

As he delivered the John Martyn-influenced likes of Old Pine, Only Love, Keep Your Head Up and The Fear, there wasn't a lot of energy, but there was loads of atmosphere.

Announcing it was his "second-to-last show for the foreseeable future", Howard made sure his fans knew the night was special to him.

"Thank you," he said.

"Thank you for welcoming us back.

"Thank you for braving the rain."

For an artist often characterised by his lack of communicative skills, it was as chatty as he's likely to get.

From the back of a capacity crowd (Howard's was the first of this year's Belsonic gigs to sell out), it was hard to tell exactly what was going on, but a bit of distance from the stage allowed the night sky to become part of an already enigmatic spectacle.

ANDREW JOHNSTON

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