Benjamin Clementine has packed a lot into his 26 years: heartbreak, homelessness, reinvention, before reaching cult status in Paris and returning home in unlikely circumstances. Raised in a strict religious household in Edmonton, Benjamin started to teach himself the keyboard aged 11, stumbling upon classical 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. “When it finished, I went back upstairs to my piano and started playing chords.”
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. First in the corridors of the Place de Clichy station and then on the metro, building his voice and refining his craft, as he made enough money to move first to a hostel and then into a room of his own. Having eventually returned to his hometown of London, word spread from across the continent to the point where Benjamin Clementine’s UK live debut took place on national TV: he played two tracks on Later…With Jools Holland. At 6 ft 3 – dressed in his now-trademark overcoat and bare-feet – Clementine cut an extraordinary, puzzling presence, causing a small storm on Twitter, and Paul McCartney amongst the first to congratulate Clementine on an “amazing” performance.
“Very little about Clementine is predictable; so far, all of it is worth watching.” The Guardian