Surfing, songs satiate Brit Ben Howard

You don’t have to dig too deeply into “Every Kingdom,” the delicate debut from Ben Howard, to discover what  floats this British minstrel’s boat.

The album cover photograph features the Devonshire-based lad, diving deep into the Mediterranean, near his parents’ coastal abode on Ibiza.

The gently-plucked album opener “Old Pine,” he says, “is a song about my first surf trip away from home, when I went to France and nearly got killed by a pine tree.”

Howard likes the ocean a lot, and “Old Pine” is one of the few places where his two passions — songwriting and short-boarding — overlap.

“Surfing and music have always been two separate sides of my life. I’m quite a fun-loving person most of the time, but I feel like I always get the serious side out when I’m playing music, and then I have fun the rest of the time when I get in the sea,” says Howard, who plans on hitting California beaches when he plays San Francisco this week.

English surfing, Howard says, is dramatically different: The ice-cold waters always require a wet suit, and the waves are choppier.

When he first discovered the sport at age 11, British surfing was limited to a hard-core group of enthusiasts. Now, there are more than half a million serious U.K. boarders.

“So it’s nowhere near the California dream,” he says. “It’s more like this funny little adventure we all go on, and it’s usually pissing down rain, and you may get a few waves. But it’s nice to just swim out and float about, really,” he says.
The surf scene actually launched this Donovan-influenced neo-folkie.

After playing several seaside concerts overseas, he says, “I met Xavier Rudd at a surf festival in England. And he asked me if I wanted to go on tour with him the next time he came to Europe. So that’s how it all started.”

Soon, Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett had inked him to his new Communion imprint for “Every Kingdom.”

Howard repays the scene that spawned him by performing benefit shows for his homeland’s Surfers Against Sewage charity. “The U.K. is pretty good at being environmentally conscious,” he says.

Since “Kingdom” went Top 10 abroad, life’s a beach for Howard, who loves going on surfing safaris.

“I just went to Senegal, Morocco, too,” he says. “I like slightly obscure places, where the waves may not be world class, but you can tie some culture in with your surf trip.”

If you go

Ben Howard
Where: The Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday Tickets: $15, sold out
Contact: (415) 771-1421, www.theindependentsf.com

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