- 22 Nov 17
Mercury Prize-winner Benjamin Clementine talks to Peter McGoran about working with Damon Albarn, the influence of Irish writers like Wilde and Beckett, and making art from the chaos of the present.
“In the end, it’s all about how you feel and how it affects you,” says Benjamin Clementine, speaking about his very personal responses to war in Syria, the refugee crisis in Europe, and the rise of the far-right throughout the Western World, themes which dominate his operatic second album, I Tell A Fly. The English artist, with his striking good looks, all-knowing demeanour and effortless sense of style, looks every bit what you’d expect from a man who began as a homeless teenager in Paris before rising to the status of ‘cult-figure’ for his work on the Paris music and art scene. He’s now widely considered to be one of the most influential voices in modern day Britain.
And there are good reasons why both national papers of record and underground musicians are looking to him as an important figure. Most schools of thought seem to acknowledge that Benjamin’s music combines deeply-sourced poetic expression with an original sound that is absolutely peerless in modern music. His oblique modes of expression certainly aren’t to everyone’s tastes, but they are, purely and simply, the voice of an uncompromising artist.
“If I don’t do what I love doing, I may as well just quit it,” says Benjamin in a measured, disarmingly polite voice when I ask him about his decision to move as far away as possible from the commercial route with Album No. 2. “The thing that’s important with being an artist is that I do what I want to do. From that…” he shrugs modestly, “maybe I make something that will help and encourage people who want to push their love into the world.”