Benjamin Clementine has led a storied life, moving from his native London to Paris after failing most of his GCSE’s and a falling out with his family, living on the streets busking his way out of poverty with no shortage of lyricism, musicality and hard work. He has literally been down and out in Paris and London, just like Orwell’s book, and he is the winner of the 2015 Mercury Music Prize. Sometimes the only time we can find ourselves or who we truly are is remove ourselves from our everyday, our familiar environment, and in difference find out who we are, such as in the opening track, Winston Churchill’s Boy.
Where is your family/Where are your loved ones/Someone uttered/As he went on, crossing the channel/Well they say no man can be a prophet in his own country/So I left, here I am
The feeling of departure, and of being a man with a foot in both worlds is replete all throughout At Least for Now, like a constant push and pull, but also a sonic biography. In Then I Heard a Bachelor’s Cry, he sings of “walking round the boulevards, looking for magicians” and “looking for answers”, but the only thing he finds and can offer is pain, so he finds himself alone. London examines the hardships of trying to make it as an artist when no one is buying your material and people telling you you can’t make it, whilst fiercly struggling and fighting on to become the potential you know you possess when he sings “When my ways are not happening I won’t underestimate who I am capable of becoming.”
There’s hints of Nina Simone, Antony and the Johnsons high register, but also of Beirut and Sting in Benjamin Clementine’s voice. It’s a voice that although you can hear his influences is entirely his own, filtered through his own experiences. He has a sound that can range from the deepest hues of the blues to eccentric moments of rock opera, classical music and chamber pop. This is a man who has literally bled for his art – in a concert at Paris in 2015 he accidentally cut his finger whilst playing piano and kept on playing. This album has on it possibly some of the most intricate and fascinating piano playing I’ve had the pleasure to listen to since Regina Spektor. It’s a complex, brilliantly composed album handled with such dexterity and emotional depth I find it difficult not to recommend it.
Monthly music columnist for the Kirkby Extra, sometimes article writer for Get Into This. Freelance writer/artist/maker.