I discovered the happy news (or hint of it) on 7th February via his quiet, quiet Instagram. With one very ‘Ben Howard’ post he teased thousands of us, giving us just enough to get us going, but not enough to ruin the suspense and aura he has created. For fanboys like me (I understand the cliché of being in Falmouth AND being in love with Ben Howard but allow me this please – he is a God after all, right?). On the 14th March he gave us EVEN MORE of a tease – some actual music (all 40 seconds of a dark, slow, and panning clip anyway). And a couple of days ago, he released some tour dates (I hear those gasps – me too).
His last released music was in 2014, a whopping four years ago. A tragedy. I Forget Where We Were was a more experimental album, giving us a dark and moody track list with some insane guitar playing, showing off his tapping and general craftsmanship. There was a real tone change considering Every Kingdom, but definitely no drop in quality. Perhaps the 2012 Burgh Island E.P marks more of a leaning towards the darkness of his later music. Both these darker pieces of music can be seen as influencers over the very Cornish A Blaze of Feather, fronted by Mickey Smith – photographer, filmmaker and one of Ben Howard’s old band members. If you haven’t checked out their stuff, you need to. EP1 in 2017 followed their initial release of the single Carousel and later on in 2017 they released an album titled A Blaze of Feather. Their music cannot help but take you to Cornwall on a stormy and dark day – it is an expression of the landscape we are in, and you can really see these stormy pieces of music reflected in the photography of Mickey Smith. The whole project is testament to the possibilities within multi-media.
So, for four years we’ve heard nothing new from Ben Howard (besides his own endeavours with A Blaze of Feather) – he’s been mystically silent. So now, with the prospect of some new music and some concrete tour dates we are faced with the prospect of something new, and hopefully different. The (maybe?) album cover is blue, sunny, and ‘chilled’ looking. Shock. This might signal something lighter, more upbeat. Maybe you can’t speculate over the colour of a cover, but it does add up with his previous releases. Every Kingdom – blue. Burgh Island Ep – dark. I Forget Where We Were – darker. So, the new blue could represent something different from his most recent releases.
But as much as this is an exciting prospect, it is also a scary one. What if it doesn’t work? What if this third potential album flops? I sincerely hope it doesn’t and I’m not insinuating it will. But what if he’s reached his peak, and anything to come will tarnish his name? The new The Wombats release, while no disaster, isn’t exactly a burning success either. I really like Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, but the songs you think of when you say ‘The Wombats’ tend to be (for me at least, and maybe the other non-die hard fans) are Techno Fan, Greek Tragedy, and Tokyo – Vampires and Wolves (feel free to disagree). What if this new music is forgotten? Or what if new generations of Ben Howard only hear what he’s criticised for, not the amazing music we all love him for?
It would be a huge shame for us, and a big disappointment for him and everyone involved in producing the music. But I can’t see it being the worst thing in the world. For me, he seems to represent a pretty humble guy. He hangs around Cornwall a lot despite his huge fame, he’s clearly passionate about what he does and the music he plays (anyone can see that written on his face when he performs). I’ve heard some people give him a hard time, saying he’s grumpy etc. As a grumpy guy myself, that’s not so bad. He’s reacted badly to audiences requesting the hits – but why shouldn’t he? He’s a musician, he wants to play the music he wants to play despite the cost to fans. The merit of that may be arguable, but for me at least it is commendable.
You may have guessed that I quite like the guy, so I apologise for the tirade of love coming from my direction. I’ll take my head back to where the sun shines now.