Ben Howard aims to crack the American market

Ben Howard
Ben Howard
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LIKE Ed Sheeran before him, Ben Howard is another young British singer-songwriter who seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of the hottest rising stars in the country.

But the Devon native, who has built a massive fan-base through little more than word-of-mouth, has been honing his craft since he was in short trousers.

“I started when I was eight or something,” says the 24-year-old chart star ahead of his visit to the Queen’s Hall on Saturday.

“My mum put some new strings on a guitar she had that she’d not played for years and I started playing. I’ve actually still got that guitar and played it on a few songs on the record.

“I had lessons, but never really took it all too seriously. I didn’t like what I learned in the lessons, I just wanted to play songs I knew. So I gave them up, and just learned to play by ear. I can’t read music or anything, I just play what I think sounds good.”

When he was 13, Howard rebelled against his parents insistence that he take music seriously, but within a year he was back playing.

“The electric guitar sparked my interest again and that’s how I got back on track,” he confirms. “My parents had a great taste in music - Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan for example - and that influenced me a lot by setting the tone of my song writing.”

Since the release of his debut album, Every Kingdom, he’s been riding the crest of the wave of acclaim, but he isn’t just making a splash on the music scene.

The laid-back singer has been a keen surfer since he was 11 and says he now has to separate the two.

I’ve always played music and I’ve always surfed but I think people pick up on it quite a lot and link the two together,” he explains. “I’ve played music ever since I was a kid and I’ve surfed ever since I was about 11, they’ve always been a part of my life.”

Since his music career took off he’s had less time for catching waves, though he still tries to get out on his board as much as he can.

“I can’t make a living out of surfing, so music often takes the driving seat,” he says. “I try to surf as much as possible, especially when I’m home, but it’s hard to get in the water as much as I’d like.

“It’s only recently the music and surfing have come together,” he continues. “I’m not saying I play the guitar while surfing, but I’ve been playing a lot of surf events and stuff. And the other way as well, I’ve had a lot of surfing friends and peers coming to shows and enjoying the tunes, which is cool.”

Growing up by the sea in Devon and being part of the surf scene down there had a definite influence on his musical tastes.

“I listen to quite an eclectic array of music”, he says. “I think imagery in the songs I write has definitely strong ties to my surroundings.

“The surf scene down in the South West definitely played a big part in what I listened to for a fair few years - the likes of Ben Harper and Xavier Rudd were always being played somewhere,” he adds.

Despite having only one album to his name, Howard already has a devoted following and his sell-out gigs are described as ‘less like gigs, more like prayer meetings’.

“We’re just quite blessed,” he smiles. “There are a lot of cool people who have followed us from the start. I’ve been playing music for a while as well and playing gigs for a long time and we’ve just met some really cool people along the way.

“We’re just fortunate, you know... if you work hard and you play enough and people enjoy it, then they’ll keep coming to shows. We’ve always got good crowds – people who I’d definitely hang out with. I’m always amazed when I wander out into the audience and there are loads of people I get on with.

“You can never tell what kind of people are going to like your music, so we’re quite fortunate there,” he adds.

The Keep Your head Up hitmaker’s organic style has been likened to that of Damien Rice and Ray Lamontagne, but he finds the constant comparisons to other singer-songwriters ‘irritating’ and ‘lazy’.

“I think sometimes it’s a bit frustrating,” he says. “Sometimes people are a bit lazy and they don’t listen to something, and they’ll just say you sound like something else and it’s quite clear that you don’t.”

Having firmly established himself in this country, Howard now wants to crack the lucrative American market - and he already has plans to play a string of shows across the pond later this year.

“The America stuff is one of those things as a musician where it’s like a real holy grail,” he enthuses. “I think we’re going to try to do a tour in a Vida bus as well.

“There are so many ideas and so much scope for different directions, and there are so many venues,” he adds. “I’m just really excited.”

Ben Howard, The Queen’s Hall, Clerk Street, 7pm, £13, 0131-668 2019