Ben Howard: How not to do a gig.

So, I’m thinking of creating some tips for artists after seeing Ben Howard at the Roundhouse, where I was on the guest list after being part of the Poetry Collective there. Sadly I had this idea from a ‘what not to do’ perspective as I was utterly disappointed in Howard’s performance, as were many other audience members. Our only solace was a good old British moan afterwards.

A British lad, one might expect that typical dose of modesty. Actually, it looked more like this Venn diagram:

At times he was overly self-critical, saying ‘you know when you wake up and sometimes you’re not funny and sometimes you are, well today I’m not funny.’ Ensue sparse polite laughter (what this meant to be irony?) Yet, as he whisked through songs from his new album, he told fans ‘Is this how it works? You get free tickets, you get what you’re given.’ This felt deeply insulting to the audience; was our time worth nothing? I would have happily had a night at home instead of this gig, and goodness knows I needed one.

There would surely be people who travelled further than my hour-ish journey to see him. I had been waiting to see him for years and never been able to, and I had been listening to his old album in excitement. Yet, there was a woman in front of me who knew all the words to the only song he’s released from the new album, suggesting there were bigger fans than me out there. How do you think they felt?

Howard also spent a lot of the set sitting down whilst most of the audience were standing, unable to see. Some would have come straight from work, some spending money, no Ben, not on tickets, but on food and drink, and whatever else, to go to the gig. And he’s sitting down. I’m sorry, genuinely, do you have ME? Do you have an actual reason why you needed to sit down? The audience, whoever they are, came to see you. YOU! And you owe them respect if it really was such a privilege to be performing at the Roundhouse after being at The Enterprise a few years ago.


My friend, Hannah, and I bought lovely beef chilli burritos and sweet potato fries for dinner from The Enterprise – that was the best part of the night. This sentimental comment from Howard just seemed contradictory and his point was made clear as he left the stage without an encore and no old album tracks. Do you think we want to buy the album now? Do you think we’re dying to see him live again? I’m afraid not. It may be fun for the artist to play all new material, but it’s about the relationship between the audience too, and whilst we would have been happy to listen to some new material, it would have been best to also play songs we know and love. Instead, the performance was alienating and underwhelming.

So, some lessons to learn from Ben Howard:
1. Give a mixture of what you would like to do and what you know the audience wants.
2. Put your all into it no matter how big or small.
3. Don’t be a dick: appreciate and respect your audience.

40 thoughts on “Ben Howard: How not to do a gig.

  1. Have to agree. Disrespectful would just about sum it up. It wouldn’t have been so bad but the sound stage was over bass’d. All in all a pretty poor show.

  2. Hi Carmina,
    I found it really interesting to find so many negative comments doing a twitter search of Ben Howard after last nights gig.
    I thought you should know that you misheard his comment about tickets, he said that he didn’t know how the ticketing system worked and he assumed that you just turned up and got what you were given so he was pleased so many people wanted to come to an event where they had no control over where they’d be.
    Considering it was a free gig (for both audience and performers), as he has a new album coming out and was only given a strict hour to play (so no encore – blame the organisers) I can only imagine he wanted to give a unique experience. Which you’d hope fans, new or old, would appreciate regardless. He’d just done the same on Radio 1 –
    I’ve noticed he often spends the majority of his live performances sitting so he can play his guitar the way he does, (and/or maybe just because he wants to), and this struck me as a personal and unnecessary criticism, and a bit of a tasteless reference to ME.
    I was personally more offended by the amount of people that spent the entire night in loud conversation, I don’t know if you experienced this where you were. I find it astounding that people would make the effort to go to a gig to spend it being that disrespectful to the person playing and the people around them that want to hear live music.
    It’s a shame you didn’t enjoy your evening, I have to say I thought it was amazing, especially hearing End Of The Affair live, he looked positively drained afterwards so I felt he put his all into it. I didn’t see any ungraciousness, self doubt, or narcissism from where I was standing. Although I’m only 5’3″ so couldn’t see that much anyway.

    1. I think I would have enjoyed the new songs more if I was sitting down, but I had different expectations. If he had said he would do all new songs in advance, I may have thought differently. I came to listen to old songs, well, a mixture of old a new, but old songs I could dance and sing along to. Expectations not met = disappointment. No expectations = happiness. So, partly my own fault. Same for those who didn’t enjoy it as much.

      The comment about tickets may not be word for word, but the ‘you get what you’re given comment’ was 100% loaded with implication about him only playing songs off the new album (which he referenced, making it undeniable). An hour was enough time to do a mixture of songs. I’m not some idiot that wanted him to just play “the hits”. I put his name down on my request for guest list tickets because I had been waiting to see him for years. I know I probably would have enjoyed Placebo more because my expectations would have been different. Whether a gig is free or not, as a performer, you need to give it your all. Perhaps it was the organisers, but my friend saw other bands during the iTunes festival who played until 10.30pm. There was a 11pm curfew after all.

      The comment about sitting down isn’t personal. I am short too and most of the time I couldn’t see him, but this was made harder by him sitting down. There is no “personal” reason about this, unless he had a particular condition, and so it is a performance choice, and one that I feel he shouldn’t have made considering the size of the venue. I am a performer myself and sitting or standing is going to give a very different performance. Sitting would have been appropriate to The Enterprise, but not to the Roundhouse.

      I agree with you about the audience talking. I saw Laura Marling at In The Woods recently and it angered me so much. I think there needs to be mutual respect, especially with such soft, lyrical music. Perhaps some were disappointed later and had ‘given up’, but really there’s no excuse for the audience talking. I didn’t experience it too much where I was as I moved closer to the front.

      This is a review as someone who had certain expectations that were not fulfilled, as well as a performer… so it is from that perspective that I write. I like Ben Howard, but I am not fanatical in the way that others who did enjoy the gig have been. I think everyone is entitled to their feelings, and I’m glad you enjoyed the performance, but I did not for reasons that I think are justified.

    2. With regards to the encore, I was at the gig with a friend who works for Apple, and he was sent the set list in advance, and… well, basically Ben didn’t play the last two songs. According to the set list, he was meant to play Oats in the Water and The Fear, and up to that point he’d been following the list to the letter. And it’s not a timing issue either, as all the gigs have been – and contractually have to be – a minimum of 70 minutes long, and Ben played for 55 minutes last night.

      I left feeling really disappointed, not necessarily because of the fact it was all new stuff, but because he appeared to be so lacklustre. No audience interaction, nothing to say ‘this song’s called…’ etc. It just smacked of a guy that frankly didn’t want to be there, which was a real shame. Compare that to the BBC the night before with Zane Lowe and it sounds completely different… I know which one I’d have rather been at.

      Having watched the gig back today, I do agree with you rellenger about the ‘get what you’re given’ comment. It didn’t seem to be a ‘it’s free, so you’ll get what you’re given and like it’, but more of a ‘You just buy tickets to a random gig, and I’ve shown up so thanks for listening’.

      I didn’t expect him to play anything off his old album – which I’m all for, but I thought that there might have been something off Burgh Island, and that would have been plenty for me.

      It’s the second time I’ve seen him live, and I think I would go again, but next time I wouldn’t bother standing. I’d sit down, with a beer and just enjoy it for the music.

      1. Yeah, I think the encore would have restored my faith a bit more. Agree with the standing/sitting thing. After a long day a work, I wouldn’t have minded chilling out to it in that way. Just watched back and I will admit, I was probably wrong about the ‘get what you’re given thing’ as the sound quality wasn’t as good in person, plus I couldn’t see his face, which now I see didn’t reflect the tone I had imagined.

  3. Totally perplexed by that show too. I have to say I love his music, but wasn’t blown away the first time I saw him either, even though he played all the hits and seemed to be more into it. I think the music is best listened to by yourself while staring at the clouds. If you watch some of his interviews he has tough time dealing with fame and expectations, and that definitely showed last night.

    1. I think I would have enjoyed it more with older songs mixed in, but it was more than that. I would be willing to understand if there was some mental complexities to explain this – very interesting point. I don’t know much about him as a person, so I am willing to admit that he just didn’t know how he should have done the gig.

  4. Totally agree with rellenger, please go to iTunes and watch his performance again, or skip to 48:20 where he talked about the you get what you’re given thing, I think you misheard it or something. I wasn’t there but I’ve watched the live stream and absolutely loved every second of it. Don’t really get all the negativity..

    1. I guess I heard it, but misinterpreted it as I couldn’t see his facial expressions when he said it. I admit I was wrong about that. I think I would have enjoyed it more sitting or from the comfort of my own home. The sound quality is really good when streaming.

  5. You should shut the fuck up and not butt into how people do their gigs , he is a great man , he does everything for the love of music and cares about his fans. I watched him play and it was really emotional and felt a connection with him. If you don’t appreciate his music go listen to other musicians WHO YOU’D LIKE TO STAND UP IN GIGS JUST SO YOU COULD SEE THEM. And ps – he sits down because he is using a wah pedal and shit ton of other pedals and it’s really uncomfortable while standing up …

  6. Fella, lemme tell you a few things:
    Most of the time when you go to a concert you stand on your feet. It is not a opera neither a theatre. No one cares you have to buy food, get there straight from work or whatever other stupid excuse you gave because that doesn’t even matter. It has absolutely nothing to do with Ben. AND YOU SHOULD NOT EVEN COMPLAIN ABOUT IT BECAUSE THE GIG WAS FUCKING FREE. The things you wrote about the sitting versus standing ARE ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS AND I CAN’T EVEN BELIEVE THAT YOU MEAN THIS SERIOUSLY. Mikela explained you this part. And if you saw his live performances you would know that there are some songs he sits down to, yeah I would watch you scream to the guitar standing and using pedals at the same time. He puts a lot into his music and into his fans.

    YOU COMPLAINING ABOUT SOME “WOMAN” WHO KNEW THE LYRICS IS RIDICULOUS. COMPLAINING ABOUT THE FACT THAT BEN DID NOT PLAY OLD SONGS IS RIDICULOUS. THEY WERE TOURING EVERY KINGDOM SINCE 2011 FOR FUCKS SAKE AND IN A MONTH HE HAS A NEW ALBUM COMMING OUT AND HE SAID I QUOTE : “I don’t think anyone realises that we’re not going to play any of the old stuff.” Ben will play what he wants to play, ya know why he does that? because he actually enjoys what he is doing and is not there for the fame and to please everyone arround him.


    1. Again, you raise good points, but there’s no need for the shouty-capitals and to be so rude. Many others agreed with points I’ve made, and so some disagree… that’s life. When he said that, I took it for arrogance, but I have admitted that not being able to see his facial expressions meant I had misinterpreted the comments he was making. Again, I’ve already noted that I wasn’t aware of the pedal difficulties. Everything else still stands. It’s not the first time I’ve been disappointed and not realised things for lack of doing research, so you do also have a point there, but I haven’t had the time and simply thought he would do more of a mix. He had planned to do two oldies but then didn’t, so I think that might have said how he had been feeling about the performance. I could go and edit my post, which I might add at the end so the same things aren’t said, but there are areas I was wrong about and having a dialogue about these things is all well and good. All the swearing and stuff isn’t really needed. If I disagreed with some small scale review on a gig I enjoyed, I probably wouldn’t bother with it, or I wouldn’t even know it existed. If you’re that angry about it, please move along elsewhere.

  7. I saw Ben play last night in Miami. My girlfriend and I took a liking to his song “Old Pine” after it came up on our internet Radio a couple times. I listened some more to Ben and figured since he was coming to town we would check him out.

    The only thing he said to the audience all night was – “sorry but I’m not good at requests.” Which was later repeated “Maybe you didn’t hear me, but I don’t do requests.”

    After playing a relatively slow song, he left the stage without so much as a goodbye or thank you. We were waiting for the encore, but then all of a sudden Jimmy Hendrix started playing and the house lights turned on.

    I’m a huge music advocate and love Ben’s style. Sorry to say – that was probably one of the poorest shows I’ve ever attended. I felt sorry for all the Europeans that flew in for the show (lots of accents in the crowd!) But the girl in the band rocks – I would see her play a gig, but not Ben!

    1. Sorry to hear that. I think that what he doesn’t understand is that people do want to hear his new music, but they also want to hear some old ones too. Seems he’s really having issues with the idea of compromise!

      1. You don’t get that his old songs would not have fit in with the new ones! Maybe to a normal listener like yourself it would sound good and you’d be happy but he wouldn’t want to perform like that, it would be all over the place. And don’t get me started on all the extra configuration he’d need, eg different amps, his old guitar, old pedal board set up etc.. That’s why he doesn’t play his old songs on these shows, he’s all for the music and if he could choose between making a regular fan happy or making someone that actually understands and appreciates good music happy he’d always pick the latter.

      2. Sure, I can get that… Bit out of my knowledge, so good to know, thank you. I would say most people defending him are actually deluded by their fandom than people who “appreciate good music” because, believe me, I personally do. However, he could say ‘oh, I’d love to do some older stuff too’ and explain this to those less musically minded, but instead he has been repeatedly rude, and I won’t be a “fan” for the sake of it. I will always be understanding, but I remain critical of such an experience. Musically, I wouldn’t criticise him – he’s incredibly talented. But as a professional artist who performs, there’s more to that, and from what I’ve heard from others’ experiences, he’s just not up to it at the moment. I would also hope he performs at smaller, more intimate venues, as I do believe how he played this gig would have been more appropriate for a different space.

  8. Same thing happened in the miami tonight. It was disgusting. The crowd at the Filmore is typically annoying but however he had no reason to just leave a show like that playing only 9 songs on the set list. Very disappointing.

    1. Yeah, that’s why I included a “how not to be a crowd” post too, as I realised the audience wasn’t ideal. But I guess as a performer, you can’t be a reflection of the audience as you’re there to entertain.

  9. I’ve been slowly coming across comments about Ben Howard and quite frankly it’s relieves me knowing he wasn’t just a jerk at the folk fest I went to in my home city . We went to see him because me and my husband have been huge fans of his forever . We even had “only love ” as our first dance . we paid $200 bucks to see him preform what was supposed to be a hour and a half set which ended up being maybe half an hour with 3 songs I hardly knew and him sitting looking like he hated every min of it and then just walked of stage . Even posting a photo on instagram about how boring our city was . Are you serious !? I was practically crying so excited to dance and have fun and he had me so and by the end of it . What a joke . He lost fans and I honestly tell everyone not to bother spending the money . He’s talented but an awful persons

    1. That’s so sad 😦 I really think he shouldn’t be performing at the moment. Some people have said he’s found he fame difficult, so he needs to just take a break or he won’t have a choice as he keeps putting fans off him!

    1. Like I said, it wasn’t about playing just the old album, it was about Ben Howard giving a poor performance and not valuing fans. He needs to remember he wouldn’t be anywhere if it wasn’t for his fans. I felt I had wasted my time and would have been better off at home. Secondly, regarding the content of the music, though understandable he would want to play new music, a mixture would be better. Don’t be a fan so blind that you can’t critique. All those who wanted to see him are fans of his music after all.

      1. “He wouldn’t be anywhere without his fans”? No. Incorrect. He is an insanely talented man, a very unique player who has mastered his trade. Yes fans play a part but it is almost entirely his raw talent and gift for songwriting that has got him to where he is today. Disgusting comments.

      2. Look, you don’t have to make a comment on everything you disagree with, you’ve had your say now. It’s a perfectly reasonable comment to make, and I’m not denying his talent by making it. I’m not saying he wouldn’t be making incredible music, I’m saying he wouldn’t have the same kind of success.

  10. Hey there! You call yourself a Big Ben Howard fan. I respectfully disagree. Any fan of Ben knows that he is not in it for the performance, he performs for us because he loves the music and I’m ashamed that you were unable to see that at this concert where he truly showcased his artistic talents – did you see how fast his fingers were moving for goodness sake?
    As a guitarist myself who has seen Ben recently as well as being at this gig, I see your disregard for him sitting down totally and utterly stupid, a clueless remark. It’s all about how Ben wants to perform it and if he feels sitting down is best then so be it, he isn’t going to change. Not only that, but try playing these songs stood up, especially the ends of ‘Small Things’ and ‘The End Of The Affair’ where he uses slaps, finger style and harmonic techniques, something that would be near impossible to emulate whilst stood up having tried it myself.
    Playing old songs would not have fit in with the set either. More recently on his recent tour he has played few old material and when he has he’s adapted their style to fit with his new material, his new set and his new stage design.
    Finally, he was not being distespectful in any way, shape or form; you simply misunderstood. As I’ve said Ben doesn’t choose to perform his songs in the style someone like Ed Sheeran may, he lets the music do the talking. Don’t judge on his character he loves his music and just wants to play it to the best of his abilities to anyone that will listen – his remark was stating that he was pleased so many were enjoying his show, an understandable gesture.
    So yeah, maybe you misunderstood. This was by no means a poor concert; I personally felt privileged to be in the same beautiful, intimate venue as one of my musical idols. He is a special performer and it’s a shame you couldn’t see that – I’m a big fan of guys like Ed Sheeran and John Mayer and he topped them both, by a considerable distance.
    What I’m really annoyed about is that you chose to vent this online, there was no reason for this. The tickets were free, you got an insane gig at an outstanding venue and you were treated to some of the most unique guitar playing around the music scene at the moment. Maybe have an idea what you’re talking about before you next slam your next gig – these are professional musicians. They know what they are doing, they aren’t going to change because they love what they do and they love the way they do it. Deal with it.
    Yours truly,
    James (a real Ben Howard fan)

    1. Yeah, I guess I’m a fan, as in I like him music (used to love it, but recent experience has put me off), but I’m not fanatic, in the traditional sense of the word. It’s been a while since this gig now, and whilst I see a lot of your points, I stand by a lot of what I said. I honestly feel like he shouldn’t be performing if his recent gigs are anything to go by. I’ve got tickets to see him for free again at a festival, but I will probably pass and see someone else sadly.

  11. I must say Ben Howard is abit of a dick, especially when performing live. I listen to alot of music and goto a lot of gigs. His music was okay in Perth, Aus, but he just disappeared off the stage at the end with no encore. Don’t do live gigs if you don’t enjoy performing live.

    We bought tickets to see him in Fremantle – then he changed the whole set of tour dates – so I got a refund and vented my anger by removing him from my ipod. Ha!

    Oh – and I paid for my tickets too.

    (an ex Ben Howard fan)

  12. You ain’t got a clue. Ben Howard is a genius. Obviously your ears don’t hear the same as mine. Yea go and see somebody else. I’m sure he will survive without your negative bollocks.

    1. I am loving his latest stuff and still like his music, and this is really interesting, thank you! I definitely think he should be true to himself as an artist and play his new work, but throw in some oldies for those who this could be a one-off experience for. He sounds a little pretentious: “people have to learn”. Pretty rude and presumptuous about his audience/fans. He can literally do both things, so why not? I like the mix and I’m not backing down either, Ben (as if he reads this or even give a toss).

  13. Dear carminamasoliver ,

    You are right in everything you wrote. You published this post in 2014 and it remains true. After years listening to his music, I feel really disappointed after listening to his gig in Lisbon.

    All this “introvert, anti-music business, anti- entertainment” BS is turning him into one of the divas he claims to hate.

    The so-called “true fans” can go and keep on feeding is ego and pockets. I will gladly listen to other artists who actually respect their fans.


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