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Singer Benjamin Clementine: An 'alien of extraordinary ability' lands at Peabody Opera House

British songwriter Benjamin Clementine says he changed his nomadic ways after a visit to the United States inspired his latest album.  6/7/18
Craig McDean
British songwriter Benjamin Clementine says he changed his nomadic ways after a visit to the United States inspired his latest album.

Songwriter Benjamin Clementine calls himself a nomad, and with good reason. Born in London to Ghanaian parents, he left home as a teenager to live and play music on the streets of Paris.

His low profile changed dramatically when his debut album, “At Least for Now,” earned him an international following and won the Mercury Prize in 2015 for best album of the year by a British artist. He has since moved to the United States, where his travels inspired his latest album, “I Tell a Fly,” released last year. He’s on a U.S. tour to promote his new recording, and opens for David Byrne at Peabody Opera House on Friday.

Clementine’s idiosyncratic sound incorporates a blend of influences including jazz and European classical music. His lyrics are deeply personal yet touch on issues of global interest like Brexit and the Syrian civil war.

In a conversation about his music and inspirations, he told Jeremy D. Goodwin that his latest batch of songs was prompted by his travels.

Jeremy D. Goodwin: Is it true that you did some traveling around the United States, and that experience cued some of the themes on the new album?

Benjamin Clementine: I was inspired by my visa, which is an alien visa. This visa is given to artists who come to the United States to perform. So I got inspired by that visa, and I started writing songs.

Jeremy D. Goodwin: What was the language on that visa — “alien of extraordinary ability,” or something like that?

Benjamin Clementine: Yeah, it was beautifully put. It kind of described who I’ve always been, which is an alien, for the most part. I’ve always traveled and kind of lived a very nomad life until just recently, when I moved to the States with the love of my life. And so, that was a really good description of who I am.

Jeremy D. Goodwin: Is there anything you can tell us about merging the personal and the political, and why the crisis in Syria plays into some song that you might choose to write?

Benjamin Clementine: The way that I think is, in order for me to reason or understand something, I have to bring it to a place where I can understand it. What better way to do it than to compare it to a person? When I look at Alepo, for example, I see it as a little girl, or a little man, or a little boy who is being bullied.

When I was a kid, I was bullied in school. And of course these things affected me greatly even until now. Sometimes when I’m walking by the pavement, and I see schoolkids coming up, I sometimes cross the road to the other side, because in my head I’m thinking that they’re going to laugh at me or hit me.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter @JeremyDGoodwin

If You Go

Benjamin Clementine, opening for David Byrne

7:30 p.m. Friday

Peabody Opera House, 1400 Market Street, St. Louis

Tickets: $37-$172

Info: (800) 745-3000


Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.