Ben Howard is a young acoustic troubadour who will make you feel as though he is the first young acoustic troubadour you have ever heard. He brings freshness to the form, gives it lustre, making it all seem brand new even as his songs have about them a quality of wisdom and a rootsy authenticity as old as the hills.
He is something of an acoustic guitar whiz, having mastered the art of strumming, plucking and hammering the instrument for rhythmic purposes. And he's only 23 but already - minus any of the usual army of public relations people and pluggers behind him - can sell out a 400-capacity venue, including some of the capital’s coolest venues, at the drop of a plectrum, having amassed a secret society of fans via the UK’s fiercely loyal surfing community that has already spread over the water to Germany, France and Holland.
Devonshire based since a young child (his parents now live in Ibiza, where his granddad has lived for about 50 years), Ben was steeped in music as a child. His mum was "a bit of a hippie" who played guitar and flute and appeared at open-mic nights around Dartington’s music college whilst his dad, an interior designer, would strum a guitar every now and again too.
Because of his parents' record collection, Ben is, he admits, "still fairy addicted" to all the classic 60s and 70s singer-songwriters, from Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan to Van Morrison and Richie Havens.
Educated in Devon, Ben studied journalism in Falmouth but following a short-lived placement on a surfing magazine in Newquay, he gave up six months before graduation when he realised he could "get away with being a musician full-time".
"A lot of people said I was crazy to leave that close to the end of the course," he laughs, "but a friend of mine said, 'The most beautiful lives are the ones that take risks', which was encouraging. And my parents were very supportive. They told me to do whatever makes me happy."
His forthcoming debut album, Every Kingdom, due for an Autumn release through Island Records was recorded in a converted barn in Devon, and has turned out darker in its lyrical content than he imagined it would. The melodies come easy, but he worked hard on the words. "There's a lot of stuff about people and relationships, and about myself – I'm quite self-indulgent in that respect."
Life on the road with his band – India on cello, and Chris on bass and drums – has made them a close knit unit, and given them all a heightened "awareness of sound". You can hear it too, in the gentle, note perfect harmonies and the fragility in which they are delivered. They hush rooms, scatter the audience with a sense of euphoria, and leave them desperate for much more of the same.
And it's thus no wonder that Island were keen to sign them, especially after the label witnessed an ecstatic reaction during a performance at London's prestigious Water Rats which had followed a month long sold out headline tour throughout France, Holland, Germany, and the UK.
Ben sees himself as the latest in the lineage of pioneering Island's rootsy, folk-rock acts. "They sold me the idea on the back of their involvement with Nick Drake and John Martyn. That's my era. When I saw their roster I couldn't say no."
Dark and alluring on tape, and creating this unique live story before the story's truly yet begun, Ben Howard harks back to a classic and comforting time of old, albeit with a forward-thinking method of guitar performance. Spring is afoot, and Old Pine is a timely breathe of fresh air.