London’s Barbican – Wednesday, April 1, 2015 (TICKETS)
Watch the video for lead single ‘Nemesis’:
“Very little about Clementine is predictable, all of it is worth watching” – The Observer
“Sombre piano balladry that goes straight for the gut” – DIY
“Nina Simone’s brother steps into an elegant French café, sits down at the piano and tears open a vein” – Rolling Stone
“An extraordinary new musical talent. Incredible” – The Evening Standard
“Visceral doesn’t even begin to describe Clementine’s songs, which combine the hurt and danger of Nina Simone, Antony Hegarty’s tremulous passion and Laura Mvula’s boundary-straddling music” – Sunday Times Culture
North London newcomer Benjamin Clementine will release his debut album, At Least For Now, on March 23 2015 via Virgin/EMI Records. The record will be supported by a new single ‘Nemesis’, released on the same day, and a headline date at London’s Barbican on Wednesday April 1, continuing a journey which has taken Benjamin from busking around Paris to a debut performance on BBC2’s Later..with Jools Holland late last year, and then sold-out headline shows at London’s Purcell Rooms, Koko and Emmanuel Centre. With additional backing from the likes of Zane Lowe and Lauren Laverne – plus dates supporting Cat Power and Tune-Yards – Clementine will confirm further single and live plans shortly.
Benjamin Clementine has packed a lot into his 25 years: heartbreak, homelessness, reinvention, before reaching cult status in Paris and returning home in unlikely circumstances. Raised in Edmonton, his household was a strictly religious one, where children were barred from the living room unless it was a weekend dinner (“my parents, even though they were quite devilish, acted like Christians, and we weren’t allowed to play anything other than gospel music”). When Benjamin started to teach himself the keyboard aged 11, he stumbled upon classical radio rather than contemporary pop; a sparse piano solo by Erik Satie in particular transformed the way he played. At 16 years old, in a rare moment of permitted TV watching, he caught New York avant-gardists Antony and the Johnsons performing the disarmingly naked ‘Hope There’s Someone’ on the BBC. “I was confused, scared…it was another world,” says Clementine. “When it finished, I went back upstairs to my piano and started playing chords.”
Inspired by figures like Leonard Cohen and Jake Thackray – and with no emotional or employment ties to keep him in London – Benjamin absconded to Paris aged 20; sleeping rough, working in kitchens and busking out of economic necessity. First in the corridors of the Place de Clichy station and then on the actual trains. A brutal baptism of fire, he’d perform covers along with French language numbers by Jacques Brel and Leo Ferre (despite not being able to initially understand the language). ‘The reason I feel no fear when I go onstage is because of what happened in those trains. I just used to sing my guts out”, he says. This tale of two cities is enshrined in the album’s key themes and artwork: blue for France and red for the UK, with Clementine caught in his ‘box of stone’ (a lyric from breakout track ‘Cornerstone’).
At Least For Now, then, is the result of this self-education and wandering spirit. Opening track ‘Winston Churchill’s Boy’ begins with the line, “Never in the field of human affection / Had so much been given for so few attention”, paraphrasing Churchill’s legendary WWII speech to pinpoint the gulf between himself and his family, growing up. That tone of freedom also defines the ten tracks that follow, as does Benjamin’s vocal style: sometimes soulful, but occasionally breaking into the startling (the spoken word, song-within-as-song aria of ‘Adios’, befitting a visit from angels, or the manic laugh of ‘Quiver A Little’). Unfettered but equally focused, the rhythmic, string-laden ‘Nemesis’ was written after the disillusioning end of an affair, when Clementine found himself back sleeping rough on the boulevard where his girlfriend once lived (the rolling peals of ‘Cornerstone’ also cover this period). And though ‘London’ chronicles the push-pull bonds of returning home, At Least For Now ultimately sticks to that more singular path – the album title itself derives from a failed attempt to play a Dutch festival, where Benjamin (thrown off a train) attempted to walk the rest of the way.
Having eventually returned to his hometown of London, word spread from across the continent to the point where Benjamin Clementine’s UK live debut took place on national TV, of all places: he played two tracks on Later…With Jools Holland, caused a small storm on Twitter, and Paul McCartney was among the first to congratulate Clementine on an “amazing” performance. At 6 ft 3 – dressed in his now-trademark overcoat and bare-feet – Clementine cut an extraordinary, puzzling presence. He had hardly, however, come from nowhere, and Benjamin Clementine’s debut album offers a fascinating glimpse into that shadowy figure hunched over the piano. At Least, that is, For Now.