Ben Watt (of Everything But The Girl) brings tunes and Pink Floyd legend to North London
Highly acclaimed on it's release in April, Ben Watt's second solo album Hendra is a heartfelt yet laid back gem, with support from Bernard Butler and guitar legend Dave Gilmour (more of him later), it weaves it's folk rock spell across ten timeless tracks.
Ben Watt Live - Islington Assembly Hall, May 19th 2014
Playing some small gigs in the UK before heading off to the US and Japan, he's clearly enjoying the opportunity to bring the album into a live setting, whether the songs benefit significantly from that process is harder to tell. Watt is clearly a strong songwriter and an effective if not hugely exciting singer but perhaps lacking in that charismatic spark which would make him a more compelling live proposition. Musical support on the night was strong, Bernard Butler appeared throughout and his fluid licks, at times almost reminiscent of Dire Straits (not the bad thing you might imagine it to be) complemented the material beautifully. However, word had got out ahead of the gig that Dave Gilmour, guitar behemoth and all round rock legend would be making an appearance, which had the effect of no doubt boosting the numbers but equally of diluting the atmosphere as some of the crowd were clearly here for the star support rather than the main event. When he did appear on two tracks in the main set and a further track in the encore, the venue seemed to lift a little and while physically he remained in shadow his guitar rang out sparring with Butler on a version of
Young Man's Game which eclipsed the album version and would prove the highlight of the evening.
Anecdotes preceded several tracks giving valuable context about this most personal set of songs laden with subject matter clearly very close to the artist's heart, this was a very human gig and one which suited the low-key, intimate surroundings. Despite that I left feeling as though my experience of the album had not been significantly expanded or enhanced. The best gigs either plug you directly into the core of the artists muse or overwhelm your senses in a way that offers a deeper connectivity with artist and material, whether Watt is a strong enough live proposition to deliver that remains to be seen. Hendra is a strong album, perhaps one of the ten or twenty released so far in 2014 but perhaps it doesn't benefit from a communal environment, it feels like a solitary work, perhaps best experienced in one's own space rather than here.