First post of the year!
Sincerest apologies for the lack of blogging.
Since the new year chimed in I’ve been incredibly poorly and trying really hard to get better, whilst battling seizures and juggling assignments and volunteering. Have I mentioned how much I hate winter? Like seriously, I feel like every winter I age another ten years. Earlier this week during my therapy session, we used dolls for play therapy and when I had to choose a doll that represent me, I picked the oldest lady in the bunch, because that’s how I feel!
So I will blog about Vienna soon, but firstly I want to talk about my first gig of the year, which was Ben Howard at the O2 Brixton Academy. Brixton Academy used to be one of my fave venues until last year when I went to see Feeder, since which it’s unfortunately been a venue that makes me incredibly anxious. However, one of my new year’s resolutions is to have “Big Dick Energy” LOL. It’s a term we use a lot on “Black Twitter” for having insane amounts of confidence and while walking around Vienna, I realised that I was no longer walking using long strides and had my head down a lot, probably projecting to passersby that I’m not only not very confident, but also a target for pushing around. In a city like London, you cannot show any weakness, especially when walking through the streets and Underground stations, otherwise you get picked off by the fittest.
So, since I’ve been back, I’ve been experimenting with my hypothesis and I think I’ve proven it true! People tend to not push you out of the way if you’re walking down the streets with long strides and a fixed stare facing your front.
Anyhoo, I digress; since the Feeder gig I’ve been too anxious to go to gigs on my own and have felt extremely vulnerable, exposed to the elements of victimisation. (In December I went to see Razorlight on my own and not only did I ensure to arrive late so that I wouldn’t have to stay long, I also stayed at the back to ensure that I was around as few people as possible.) However, having booked the ticket to see Ben Howard a while back, I’ve had ample time to prepare myself mentally and was very much able to protect myself. Going to a gig is very much like a battle: you must stand firm and protect your territory and people become almost fearful of disrupting you! For the first time in ages, I had people apologising for bumping into me, and asking permission to pass me by, basically treating me like a fucking human being. For the first time in ages, I also felt safe in a crowd again. Giving off “Big Dick Energy” I guess also gives off the impression that you belong in that space, just as much as everybody else.
The last time I saw Ben Howard was at Citadel Festival in 2015. I barely remember his performance to be honest, because by then I was absolutely wasted, but I do remember it being beautiful (he was headlining so it was night time) but being extremely annoyed by the people around me screaming out the lyrics to his “hits” and then talking loudly during the songs they didn’t know the words to. It just kinda ruined the atmosphere for me (I’m a snob get over it). His last album Noonday Dream is incredibly atmospheric, so I was glad to read that during his first night at Brixton, he played it in its entirety. Many critics and “fans” however took this as him snubbing his true fans who wanted to hear him sing his classics from his debut album. So, I Forget Where We Were came out almost five years ago, this is his current album tour, so is there not a clue somewhere that he might be promoting his latest album as opposed to first hits? In 2008, I went to see Radiohead in Victoria Park for their In Rainbows tour and was not disappointed that the majority of the set contained songs from that album! It wasn’t a greatest hits tour! I knew what I was getting myself into!
So many critics accused Ben Howard of refusing to play his hits and “getting too big for his boots, forgetting his roots and the people who put him there”. When did musicians become such public property?
I know that Ben Howard has struggled with his fame and growing up in the public eye, which has had negative effects to his mental health. The public tend to struggle with the concept that people do grow as artists, hence their art grows too; some people perceive artists as Peter Pans who never age and I’m sure that this has a lot to do with our connections to certain songs, for instance Ben Howard’s “Keep Your Head Up” played a significant part in my mental health journey while I was still living at home when I was 27. However, just like musicians, I’ve grown too; I’m not the same person I was when that song came out and I love when artists grow with you. It almost feels like they continue to be a part of your life because you’re both changing and moving forwards, sometimes in similar directions both mentally and psychologically.
Many people online also commented that although he’s very much a studio performer, he should alter his performance to accommodate for bigger venues by interacting with the crowd more. However, interacting with the crowd is asking him to change his personality and why should he be forced to do that just because he’s famous? Secondly, to me he’s a poet who also sings (in fact, he took a break from music to focus on poetry and came back with the STUNNING Noonday Dream), so I would expect his performance to focus on lyrics as opposed to stage presence.
Finally, he did adapt his performance for a bigger venue by having two drummers and an orchestra for sound, and lighting and imagery for production! And even if he did apparently did “take 40 minutes to say hello to the crowd” (he didn’t), at least he didn’t call us a bunch of c*nts like he apparently did a few years ago!
For me, last night’s gig was beautiful: Atmospheric, mesmerising, heartwrenching – everything I needed and expected the gig to be.
It’s just a shame that so many others failed to appreciate that. There was A LOT of talking within the crowd – which I always find incredibly rude anyway (who the fuck comes to a gig to talk?? That’s what bars and social media is for!) but it was clear from the talking on and off social media that people found the set boring.
I, on the other hand, did not.