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.

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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.