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A blues masterclass.

REVIEWS Ben Harper SYMPHONY HALL BLUES musician Ben Harper seemed a little lost when he shuffled on stage at about 8.30pm in a wide-brimmed hat, green-checked lumberjack shirt and jeans. Indeed, he seemed to have difficulty finding the right instrument among the array of guitars and pianos (two) and wandered off again.

It was a low-key opening to a gig promoted as An Acoustic Evening With Ben Harper. Two of the first four numbers were instrumental - beautiful, yet hardly rousing - albeit separated by a moving rendition of a personal favourite, Welcome To The Cruel World.

He said little for the first hour or so, as he moved from slide to acoustic to electric guitar to piano, delivering an epic Please Bleed on electric (not exactly what it said on the tin, but who was complaining?).

What was never in question was how magnificently the renowned acoustics of the hall delivered every bent blues note, every grainy vowel of that remarkable voice with crystal clarity. Towards the end, Harper himself exclaimed: "What a hall!" And as the concert progressed, he grew into the space. And as he grew into the space, he chatted more.

He disappeared after barely an hour, returning to call his mum Ellen up on stage (he's clearly not one to hide his softer side) to perform a couple of songs from their forthcoming joint album.

He returned a second time alone, performing some eight songs, including the popular Walk Away and Burn One Down, as well as a cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. He was now positively loquacious.

Introducing the song Forever, a favourite with wedding couples, he went into a lengthy soliloquy - "a public private moment," he called it - about the mysteries of song writing.

Then finally, after about two-and-a-half hours, he invited his support act and friend, Tom Freund, back on stage for a final duet version of Pleasure And Pain.

MICHAEL WOOD Childhood HARE AND HOUNDS, KINGS HEATH Sometimes there's nothing better than seeing a new band genuinely flourishing. Sarcastically dubbing themselves as a "hot boyband from London making tunes [and] making moves", hazy indie five-piece Childhood are most certainly on the way up, gracing the cover of NME and earning some serious playtime on Radio 1 in recent months.

Gearing up to release their debut album in the summer, they visited the warm and intimately-welcoming surroundings of Hare & Hounds as part of a headline UK tour to further spread the word.

As they loped onstage, Childhood's founders Ben Romans-Hopcraft (vocals/ guitar) and Leo Dobson (guitar) cut contrasting figures.

While Dobson appeared unfazed by the whole experience, Romans-Hopcraft, Hendrix-style afro and denim jacket in check, often appeared possessed by his guitar playing. It made for quite a spectacle from the off, where they launched into the effortlessly stylish Blue Velvet.

Infused with a psychedelic quality, hearing this talented act perform cuts from their burgeoning catalogue was an exciting prospect; a sentiment shared by the admirably-sized audience in attendance. Mount Chiliad lived up to its name, its airy guitar effects floating around the room as Romans-Hopcraft delivered a vocal that alternated between melodic whispers and emphatic screeches.

Pinballs, meanwhile, chugged along like a runaway train powered by guitar riffs before melting into the most laid-back of instrumentals.

Closing with the epic Solemn Skies - the false ending that gives way to a captivating second section was particularly euphoric - it only confirmed further that Childhood are very much deserving of the hype that's been poured on them thus far.

Earlier in the show, Romans-Hopcraft implored the crowd to "come forward - it's not scary, I promise you!" Give more solid performances like this and he can be certain that people will be desperate to get closer to this bright-eyed band.

SAM MOORE

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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:May 1, 2014
Words:629
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