There is darkness. There’s a rumble. There’s a frantic, erratic, echoing screech which pierces the sound. As the lights foulder, they hit the ground, and Ben Howard appears onstage at the Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham.
"Am I in Your Light?" is the opener for this set. It is dark as it is beautiful. There are a few people around me who were earlier talking about the Kylie Jenner 'lips challenge’. They have now shut up.
Everyone in the arena has.
The moment Ben starts "Rivers in Your Mouth" he glances at the ocean of devotion his fans are giving him; it's the first smile of the night from him. We’re six songs in and it’s been a great start. No OTT talking, no introductions, no standard and very boring “How are we doing tonight, [insert name of place]?” Just music. Amazing music.
A few people are here to jump up and down and sing “Keep Your Head Up” then shout occasional lines they know from giving his album a few spins while they’ve procrastinated over coursework, or from those moments when they've needed to think long and hard about something on a train journey home and have listened to all of the Radiohead they own.
A few people are here for that and that’s fine. But those same few people need to understand that for important, mood changing, thought provoking music there needs to be an atmosphere. And Ben Howard creates this aura of uncertainty and wonder absolutely perfectly.
After set closer "End of the Affair" there’s a bit of back and forth between Ben Howard and one of those few people who’d been talking into their phone for most of the gig - except for when "Keep Your Head Up" was on, of course. The singer-songwriter isn't rude about it, just correct. Encore time; we get a great performance of "The Wolves", he introduces members of his backing band and after that the first notes of "Esmerelda” are played. It's one thing to start a set with a bonus track but it’s another to do that AND finish with a song from a little known EP.
The last line has been said, he thanks us for being here and says goodbye to a sell-out venue as we all clap in unison with utter adulation.
The lights go off. There is darkness.