Music review: Benjamin Clementine

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Edinburgh International Festival: With just one album to his name and another in the offing, the utterly distinctive singer/pianist Benjamin Clementine has already been embraced as an artist in whom fans place their faith – a faith that was eventually rewarded after tech-related delays with an absorbing and audacious showcase of his forthcoming album, I Tell A Fly.

Festival Theatre

****

With just one album to his name and another in the offing, the utterly distinctive singer/pianist Benjamin Clementine has already been embraced as an artist in whom fans place their faith – a faith that was eventually rewarded after tech-related delays with an absorbing and audacious showcase of his forthcoming album, I Tell A Fly.

As rendered on drums, bass and keyboards with a funky female five-piece chorale, the new material was more an expressive, dynamic cantata than a collection of songs, a celebration of what sounds the voice can make – and Clementine’s has a rich, inherently dramatic soul – taking in along the way contemporary classical, jazz, cabaret and African inflections, even Lou Reed-style psychodrama, and always the similarly genre-straddling influence of Nina Simone.

Barefoot and bouffanted, in a utilitarian jumpsuit and white fluffy stole, Clementine was a superficially delicate flower, bashfully muttering his thanks, but he gradually emerged as an unlikely comedian in his extended exchanges with the audience, which produced a new improvised number about a fan from the misheard locale of 
“Alberfelty”.

Clementine’s purpose in these interludes, he said, was to counterbalance the “grim and sad” nature of his music but, on this evidence, he has created a bold new suite of music in which to revel rather than wallow.

Fiona Shepherd