Benjamin Clementine’s bohemian and at times difficult Parisian past has lent him an almost mythic quality. In keeping with this, the Londoner’s debut album was a spell-binding introduction to an atypical singer-songwriter.
Clementine has packed a lot into his 28 years; heartbreak, homelessness, reinvention, before reaching cult status in Paris and returning home in unlikely circumstances to make his UK live debut on Later…With Jools Holland, since described by the BBC as “one of the greatest Jools moments of any era.”
More recently you may have heard his material on the new Gorillaz LP, ‘Humanz’, particularly on standout track ‘Hallelujah Money’ – a song that cuts to the core of the strange world of modern politics.
Raised in London’s Edmonton, his household was a strictly religious one, where children were barred from the living room unless it was a weekend dinner. 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. Further 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. This tale of two cities is enshrined in his breakthrough debut LP’s key themes and artwork: blue for France and red for the UK, with Clementine caught in his ‘box of stone’ (a lyric from ‘Cornerstone’).
Clementine’s broad tenor voice dominates, sweeping at will between the extremes of his range to deliver a dramatic and often despairing lyricism. Underneath this, his accompanying piano arrangements help give his songs a soulfulness that feels both raw and studied.
“Clementine’s voice is a force to be reckoned with – throaty, powerful, and theatrical to the point of histrionic – and his piano-playing bears all the hallmarks of unorthodoxy you would expect from a successful autodidact.” – The Quietus
“Remarkable, beyond-categorisation debut album – genuinely heart-wrenching.” (Debut Album of the Week) – Sunday Times Culture
“Anyone attending last night’s concert would have realised that Clementine has talent to burn” **** – The Daily Telegraph
“by turns bold, brave, beautiful and at times quite brilliant.” – The Guardian