'Shouting is my trademark', says Ben Ottewell during the evening's set. To an extent it's a light-hearted acknowledgement of the power of his very rich baritone and bluesy voice, which actually feels like a sound wave when he opens his mouth for the first time, the force of which is tangible. And tonight he is having to fight a little bit harder to be heard. Not that he minds though, he knows this is a hometown gig and the audience is filled with many friends and family, inevitably they all want to catch up with each other. But where better to do this than within the environment of a warm and cuddly Ottewell singing his heart out as always?
Tonight's show is made up of a mix of material from his two solo albums ‘Shapes & Shadows’ and the as-yet-unreleased ‘Rattlebag’, plus some choice Gomez cuts including fan favourites ‘How We Operate’ and ‘Tijuana Lady’, plus lesser known gems such as ‘Love is Better Than A Warm Trombone’ (for which he apologises for singing, as the original singer, Gomez member and fellow Brighton resident Tom Gray is in the audience tonight…).
Never flashy on the acoustic guitar, his mix of strummed and fingerpicked songs have much of the flavour of the late 60s and 70s about them. For instance the stunning new track ‘Rattlebag’ could have come from Nick Drake, but with the inherent melancholy and yearning voice of Ottewell at the helm. Although some of the intricacies and nuances of the songs may be lost tonight with such a buzzy crowd in attendance, his voice still manages to rise and be heard above the hum, such is its power, albeit controlled… never does he actually 'shout' despite his earlier claim to the contrary.
Ben was always going to be the one who could carve out a solo career if needed, his highly distinctive voice being perhaps the most remembered feature of Gomez, a band who have enjoyed considerable worldwide success since the late 90s but who are seemingly lacking enough enthusiasm to make it work any longer – they haven't gigged for 18 months… But, news reached me at the gig that Gomez are ready to do some shows later in the year, including one in Brighton. Watch this space…