REVIEW | Ben Howard, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

When Ben Howard was named as the BRIT’s British Breakthrough Act in 2013, it seemed as though he was on a path to become one of the most endearing solo acts with critics hailing his charming yet, eery talent.

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His stunning debut album Every Kingdom rocketed to the top of the charts upon its release, and it remained in the CD player of my car for a vast majority of 2012, where it became the soundtrack of my summer, and the summer after that for that matter.

To this day, it remains one of my most treasured albums of all time, but for Howard, it seems to be an item that’s been shut in a box, with the key to the lock lost in the bottom of the ocean.

The days of hearing ‘Old Pine’, ‘Promise’ and ‘Keep Your Head Up’ are far behind the BRIT Award-winning solo act, who told his sold-out crowd at Symphony Hall that they “might as well get up and sing it yourselves” when cries for ‘The Wolves’ simply weren’t met. And it’s a heartbreaking thing to see.

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Any chance of hearing ‘Only Love’ and ‘Black Flies’ were ripped away, as the focus remained on his latest release, Noonday Dream.

It’s undeniable that Noonday Dream is a truly stunning record, but it’s hard to feel any form of connection as Howard appears more closed off than ever before, only muttering occasional thanks to his audience throughout the entire set.

Although ‘Every Kingdom’ and ‘Conrad’ were both worthy enough to earn a spot on the set list, Howard’s worked so hard to disguise them that it seems like the originals have been pushed to the back of the cupboard and reimagined to reflect the musician that he’s become.

There’s so much to adore about Howard, but it felt more like sitting in a rehearsal session than actually becoming immersed in the beauty of what he’s created. It feels like he’s holding back, sheltering himself away and relying on visuals, clever lighting and his band to carry him through the set, and as a result of that, I felt myself yearning for more.

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Howard told the audience that he wanted to create an album based on romance, but the whole thing felt too serious, like the joy had been sucked out of each and every part of it, even though each song was meet with applause from the crowd.

Ben Howard will always remain one of Britain’s most skilful songwriters and his music is a true work of art, but if you come looking to find you’re old favourites, then you won’t find them here.

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