Benjamin Clementine on music as a tool for survival
It was 2011 in Paris, around October time. I went there because I had lost all sense of love and family belonging; [the] feeling that someone cares [for you]. So I had to grow up and make decisions for myself.
It was about 4am and I’d been there for two days. I only had a bag, some clothes and my brother’s hat, which he had given me. I didn’t know where I was and I asked [for help] from a man in a hostel, near this place called Blanche. He told me to just keep going and I’d eventually find a hostel that accommodates people with practically nothing. As I walked up Montmartre hill, I had the privilege of seeing the whole of Paris. I was blown away by the scenery. Right there, where I was, was a church. For a second, I thought to myself, “Why am I holding this bag? Why am I here? What is this all for? Why did I leave London and come to Paris just to be holding a backpack and a hat, strolling around with no money?”
At that very moment, I saw a dustbin in front of the church, and dumped the bag in it. I walked from there straight to a train station, put my hat down and started singing. I don’t know why I did that, but this was the moment where I said to myself that if I’m going to go anywhere, if I’m going to survive, then I’m going to do what I think I can do, which is sing. I didn’t expect money, I expected food – because what’s the point of money if there isn’t any food at your disposal? Luckily, I got both. That day, I went straight to that hostel and I paid for about three weeks of accommodation. I didn’t have the luxury of having great instruments, so I had to use my voice and sing acapella. I didn’t have any microphones, so I had to sing out if I wanted anyone to hear me. That helped my projection and how I controlled my voice.
Over the years, I realised that if I hadn’t sang on trains or outside in front of strangers who just didn’t give a damn about me, I wouldn’t have been able to build self-confidence and [learn] not be so frightened on stage. This was the catalyst for my abilities.
And I Have Been is out now via Preserve Artists