Ben Ottewell – The Prince Albert, Brighton – 9th December 2018

Photo by Anna Claxton

Holiday Oscar is a personable, likeable fellow from London who used to be in a rock band and, instead, now writes lovely pop-country ditties about a teacher who thought he was a c*nt and a relatable over-reliance on his mobile phone. Apparently fuelled by weed, he possesses a darkly cute humour, professing that he only writes about things he knows about.

“I don’t chat sh*t like George Ezra,” Oscar says of a love song he penned with his partner that likens his enduring relationship to a pair of boots. Despite the fact that he has a clenched David Gray tone to his voice live, that isn’t audible on recordings, his is an endearing act, so much so that he deserves to be fed through sales of his new orange vinyl. Holiday Oscar is definitely an artist to support and he creates an amiable atmosphere in the little pub room that even he can’t seem to comprehend.

Since when did Ben Ottewell become such a beef cake? Probably best known as the gravel-throated part of late-90s favourites, Gomez, his once geeky indie image always betrayed the voice that came out of him. His body appears to have caught up with his big vocal as he cuts a fine figure of masculinity, with just enough hipster style that one might expect of a now Brighton local, big beard and all.

Anyway, how amazing to see and hear him in such a tiny room. It’s a general consensus. An old dude in the crowd shouts “Mutha f*ck yeah” after one song, while another gyrates and jolts at the front throughout, despite the stripped-back acoustic ambience. Thankfully, everyone else hangs on his every word, to the point that Ottewell comments that he is used to one of his bandmates talking at the back but that he’s not here, so it’s really quiet. He isn’t sure which he prefers. True enough, it is an uber-reverent gathering, possibly because the crowd don’t want to miss a moment, even the bits where his startling baritone literally reverberates through the chests of those standing close enough.

A performer at ease with his audience, Ottewell is truly superb, frankly far superior live than on record, if that can be believed. Alternating between either a skilfully picked ukulele or guitar melody, what is surprising is just how moving he is to listen to. Needless to say, Ottewell’s voice is mesmerising and dynamic, moistened by whiskey this evening and showing off a power and distinctiveness that hasn’t lessened in a career that has spanned over two decades. Did he open his mouth and one day that sound came out? It is clear that the quality he displays has been honed through years of just loving to play, a raw talent as a blues singer that still manages to cross the additional genres of folk, indie and rock through his songwriting.

Genuinely unexpectedly, he plays some old Gomez tracks, including ‘Rhythm and Blues Alibi’ and a gorgeous cover of Grateful Dead’s ‘China Doll’. Interspersing material from his three solo albums with some intensely emotional moments courtesy of his own inspiration, particularly ‘Blackbird’, which drips with Nick Drake-inspired melancholy and beauty. Ottewell is lovable, natural, musically more than anyone could ever hope for and so much better than many of his so-called contemporaries. Special doesn’t even cover it; he left Brighton wounded. Hope he didn’t trip over the jaw bones on the floor on his way out.

Anna Claxton