Before launching his career as an acoustic singer/songwriter, Ben Howard grew up in South Devon, England, where his mother’s collection of folk records helped instill a love for Joni Mitchell, Donovan, and Richie Havens. Howard also developed an interest in surfing, catching his first wave at the age of 11 and heading to the beach whenever he wasn’t busy writing music in the folksy style of his influences. While pursuing a journalism degree years later, he briefly moved to Newquay, the surf capital of the U.K., where he received class credit for working at a surfing magazine. Howard dropped out of school six months shy of graduation, though, convinced by the surf community’s enthusiastic response to his music -- which, despite its acoustic folk sound and beachy vibe, sounded more like John Martyn than Jack Johnson -- that he should ditch the newsroom and focus on songwriting.
The surf community proved to be a big stepping stone for Howard, who found himself playing to packed audiences long before his music spread beyond the U.K. beaches. He continued developing his style, too, adding a percussive element to his playing by learning to rap his knuckles across the guitar body between strums. A European tour with Xavier Rudd helped him build a wider audience in late 2008, as did the release of EPs like These Waters and Old Pine. By the time Howard finished recording his full-length debut, Every Kingdom, in autumn 2011, he’d signed a major-label deal with Island Records (the same label that once released music by John Martyn) and graduated to headliner status, thanks to growing fan bases in England, Germany, France, and Holland. Every Kingdom performed very well in the U.K., where it wound up getting nominated for the Mercury Prize and helped him win BRIT Awards for British Breakthrough Act and British Solo Male Artist; it was certified Platinum in that country. For his anticipated sophomore set, I Forget Where We Were, Howard went somewhat electric and was rewarded with strong reviews and sales; it debuted at number one on the U.K. charts. ~ Andrew Leahey