Ben Howard
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Ben Howard


Band Folk Singer/Songwriter


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"Troubadour Keeps His Feet on The Ground"

Rising Westcountry star Ben Howard abandoned his degree course to follow his musical dreams. He tells Jackie Butler why

THE thrill of significant doors flying open is spicing up the creative life of fast-rising Westcountry acoustic troubadour Ben Howard. Over the past 12 months the 22-year-old from Totnes has been reaping the rich rewards of a steady apprenticeship on the local gig scene – and the gamble of abandoning his degree course at University College Falmouth to concentrate on his musical ambitions.

With sponsorship in place from surf and skate brand Quiksilver, this week Ben's been in Paris for the Tony Hawk skate show, which opened the company's 40th anniversary celebrations; before that he was touring European cities with US artist Brett Dennen; then there were American dates with Jason Mraz and some high-profile shows with Aussie eco-star and multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd, whom he supports on a British outing in the New Year.

Oh, and there's the little matter of beating hundreds of hopefuls to win last year's Red Stripe Music Award for promising new artists. But his is no X-Factor-style fast-track story.

"You have to start at the bottom and play showcases and little gigs and then it gets better and better. Someone told me once that you can never skip any of the stages – you need to do them all," says level-headed Ben.

"I think it helps you to feel at ease in front of an audience. I am now very comfortable performing for people and I am very grateful that my songs are so well received. I always wake up in the morning and think it's pretty cool to get the opportunity to play my music as some sort of career."

He delivers a distinctive and unexpected sound. See a long-haired, blond, surfer-type dude stride on stage with an acoustic guitar – especially overlooking a Cornish beach – and you probably conjure up a soundbite of the summery folk pop that might ensue. So, young Mr Howard's thoughtful, personal, almost meditative songs, tap-style percussive guitar and full-bodied, empowered vocals come as some surprise.

With a drummer and cellist (his sister Krysia's best friend India Bourne) embellishing his atmospheric set, he drew a healthy crowd and rapturous applause at this year's Relentless Boardmasters Festival at Newquay's Watergate Bay – coupled with great sales of his self-released debut EP These Waters, which has shifted more than 3,500 downloads and copies to date.

Now he's embarking on a short headline UK tour, with a warm-up at an Exeter pub and a gig at the new Powder Room at Truro's Wig and Pen, as well as dates in London, Bristol, Newcastle, Brighton, Birmingham and Norwich before devoting time to recording his first, highly anticipated long player. "I had a romantic idea of recording it overlooking the River Dart in this little summerhouse," says the country boy.

"I wanted to sleep out there and do the whole thing; but when I talked to producers they said there was no way they would get involved in that.

"So I'll probably end up in a studio in London. I really don't want to spend too much time there. I love being home and I love the outdoors. I'm not really a city person," adds Ben, who has been a keen surfer since he was 11.

He grew up in a household where music was always a feature if not the main focus.

"My mum and dad both played a bit of guitar and we have always had an awesome tape collection," he says. "We have all sorts – Pink Floyd, Van Morrison, Springsteen, Meatloaf. There was always something on the stereo."

But he wasn't a natural born guitarist. His mother, who also plays flute, was keen for him to learn Spanish guitar and he had a couple of lessons at school when he was about eight. "The guitar is such a frustrating instrument – it's a nightmare really," he says. "I remember thinking guitar lessons were rubbish and having to stay after school for them was awful. It was a good skill to learn, but it frustrated me a lot."

Songwriting came into the equation quite early on, with Ben and Krysia making up their own songs, especially on car journeys. "We would sit in the back of the car and make up words and tunes and sing them as loudly as we could."

Ben carried on picking out his own tunes on guitar, but didn't fully embrace its possibilities until he was 17 or 18 when jamming sessions with an old family friend ignited his interest. "Suddenly playing became fun and it reinvented my guitar life," he says. "And if you love doing something, it makes you really try."

He had a few singing lessons with local teacher Sandra Smith a few years ago and regularly uses the breathing techniques he learned.

"They really opened me up and gave me confidence," says Ben.

"Your voice is the most intimate instrument of all because it comes from right inside you; it makes you feel very self-conscious to use it.

"I was rubbish when I started, but I have a good ear, the tone came fairly naturally and when I used the breathing it all came together and I could become more experimental with how I used it."

Folk became a huge influence and driving force; a turning point was going to a John Martyn gig and watching supporting singer songwriter John Smith (another Devonian) playing percussive guitar.

"I thought, 'I've got to learn that'. It took me a while, but I've done it," says Ben, who also cites Cara Dillon and Erik Mongrain, recently seen at Exeter Phoenix and on TV on Later... with Jools Holland, as inspirations. Appearing on that particular BBC show is one of Ben's great ambitions... as is touring with the mighty Bon Iver; they might be dreams right now, but they're not unachievable. As Ben concedes, he will constantly raise the bar and giving himself fresh challenges.

"I am almost too ambitious; I forget to have fun sometimes and that really annoys me," he admits. "It's a cliché, I know, but it's not about where you go but the fun you have getting there and I need to remind myself of that."

Ben has worked hard to get to this important and promising point in his career and grasped opportunities as they arose. He left his journalism degree course at Falmouth just five months away from completing his third year.

"If I had done those final five months it would have closed a lot of doors that had opened for me in the music scene, so I know it was the right thing," he insists.

"I needed to be writing songs. There are so many different elements to songwriting and I love how diverse a spectrum it is," says Ben, who strives to pen honest and truthful lyrics, but enjoys the freedom the folk tradition of storytelling offers.

A voracious consumer of novels, he is often fired up by something he has read.

"I am in awe of so many people who write and consistently write well. I read in admiration..." - Western Morning Newspaper

"Ben Howard Player"

Ben Howard was born in London and spent his teen years in Totnes, Devon. Ben, now 22 years old, is currently working between Falmouth and London. His organic style has been compared to the likes of Damien Rice and Ray Lamontagne.

With his rare yet unique style of guitar playing, he has gained lots of plaudits during his live performances, also notably for his guitar and distinctive string tapping. In April 2009, Ben won the Red Stripe music award, in front of a packed crowd at the Kentish Town Forum, and beat off thousands of other aspiring acts from across the UK. - Quiksilver

"Music Club: Quiksilver sponsored acoustic songwriter & surfer Ben Howard"

Ever been to a gig of someone you've never listened to, with no expectations, then been completely spell bound, so you get spine tingles, hairs standing on end and goosebumps? Ben Howard's gorgeous acoustic poetry has that power, as I witnessed after seeing him live.

Born in Middelsex, London, Ben moved to the South Coast city of Falmouth, Devon, in his teens where he developed his surfing talent as well as phenomenal musical ability. Sponsored by Quiksilver, he's performed his beautiful tunes at contests and festivals across Europe - and is now hitting the road again to support Xavier Rudd in February.

Timeless and introspective, his pure sound draws on acoustic legends like Joni Mitchell and John Martyn, but also embraces modern folk singers like Iron and Wine, (my personal favourite) Ani DiFranco, Willy Mason, Ray LaMontague, Jose Gonzales, Scott Matthews and even a little early Devendra Banhart or the technical genius guitar skills of Kaki King.

With cellos, drums, and female guest vocals added on occasion, Ben's music is raw heartfelt emotion captured in gorgeous melancholy-tinged melodies. Even more incredible live, with a very down-to-earth, cheeky persona on-stage, you can't help but fall in love with him. -

"Ben Howard"

When your a twenty something singer/songwriter from Devon, it’s risky business. Well-travelled John Mayer types who like surfing and Joni Mitchell are about two dreary heartfelt songs away from becoming the next James Blunt. Sorry about that (to any James Blunt fans who aren’t thinking ‘fair call’ right about now), but for someone who possesses all the qualities linked with those sort of charades it is difficult not to have any other preconceptions. Ben Howard’s pretty liked though, toured with Xavier Rudd and played with many other grooved up male singer/songwriters with deep meaningful lyrics who just don’t care what you think of them.

Ben Howard has a nice sort of humbleness about him. Just a chilled out kid from Devon, only 22, loving life and having been playing guitar and writing since he was a kid, why wouldn’t he be!? Also having played at the Café de la Danse in Paris and other black and white movie settings, he gives off a sort of jazz musician jamming at 5am and drenched deeply in cigarette smoke sort of vibe; which wins over the more cynical of my judgements. This probably makes the Komedia Studio Bar a perfect setting for this night. A small, intimate gathering of hip artistic types drinking glasses of red wine and swaying slightly to the mellow guitar sound. It’s a shame that bloody smoking ban still applies or we’d be living the dream, I really think someone should write to the government with a petition to allow it every now and then as a mood setter.

As one man behind me commented that Howard’s ‘far too good looking for one of those’ and sweetly humble. After mocking himself by pointing out that he seems to take song writing a little too seriously, he then said with mild sarcasm, “This is a new one, and it’s semi-political… I’m trying to improve my song writing and diversify and mature… ay, there’s nothing wrong with that”. It wasn’t quite Bob Dylan-worthy but it was a fine start, all about celebrity and generally being rubbish to the environment; or at least most first attempts are. His voice was stirring, it seemed he’d tried to concur the vibrato at some point and come up with something of his own, really undeniably beautiful. Oh, how I wanted to dislike this man! He was like Damian Rice but ever so slightly less floppy, he even comes with a pretty violinist/singer by the name of India. He tapped away rhythms on the side of his guitar like all those bedroom guitarists try to copy off YouTube, damn cool. And the applause shocked and stunned them, grins from ear to ear. Bless. - XYZ Magazine

"Ben Howard: Carving his own niche"

Sponsored by Quiksilver, Ben Howard tell's us about carving his own niche... - Acoustic Magazine

"Ben Howard - What A Talent"

My oh my…

When I first saw this guy in 2009 supporting Fink I was absolutely stoked.
I literally can not remember when an opening act blew me away like that. Probably because no one ever did it that way before.

Ben Howard. Singer, songwriter, surfer, traveller from Devon, England.

He just sat there with his guitar and his voice like quiet a lot artists do but with the first note he had them all. I really never saw an act nobody knew before getting such a feedback. People just went crazy. You could easily tell it was a hard match for main act Fink later that night.

Saw Ben another two times since then and he got even better. So if you like truly talented songwriters like on our SongRise series you should seriously check him out. - Wavemusic

"Sessions: Ben Howard"

Sessions: Ben Howard
By americansongwriter on October 20th, 2009


Ben Howard stopped by the American Songwriter office for a session performance while on a recent trip across the pond from his native United Kingdom. Ben talked to us about his distinctive lap/slap style of playing and his writing inspirations, and played a few songs from his self-released EP These Waters. We look forward to hearing more from this talented young songwriter.
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What was the song “London” about?

About London… [Laughter] I think it’s like London from a country standpoint.

It seemed like that…

I used to have a girlfriend up there and I’d travel up there on the train and it’s kind of about the whole place –it just reminds me of that…. it’s just life, I’m not a big fan of the city. So it’s just like the strain of the city on me.

Do you live in London now?

No, I still live down in the South. So many people have tried to get me to move to London but I’m staying at home, I’m staying in the country. It’s just more country compared to here. London’s supposedly miles away but it’s like three hours, four hours on a train, which is like “up the road” here, isn’t it? [Laughter]

What do you think of Nashville?

Great. We’ve had a really cool few days actually. It’s just quite chilled down here, and I haven’t been to America too much and it just seems nice, you know. The people are friendly and it’s quite relaxed.

It’s kind of a good mix. It’s not as big as like London or New York…

Yeah, exactly, there’s still stuff going on…

It’s the country in the city.

Yeah, it’s a cool place. You’ve definitely got something going on down here.

Cool, so it sounds like you might be coming back?

Yeah, yeah, at some point hopefully, yeah. Definitely, we’ll have to see, yeah!

How did you learn to play guitar like that?

I saw a guy do it at a gig once and I just wanted to learn.

And you just started writing songs, playing like that?

Yeah, it’s quite simple, you know. You can start off just going [plays a rhythm]…

Can you give us a lesson?

[Plays a complex rhythm] It’s like you just get some beats and, I tend to drop in to drum and bass a little bit, where it’s like: ‘umm-umm-keh-umm-umm-keh’ [Ben plays a fast drum and bass rhythm while sounding the beat]

Do you play drums at all?

No, I think I just used to be a hyperactive kid. [Laughter, as Ben plays a drum beat on his guitar]. I was always getting told to stop playing with things.

Good that you found the guitar!

Yeah, exactly!

It’s an even better find…

No, no that’s true.

Do you get calluses on your fingers?

I sort of grow little lumps here and there, yeah. But it’s all right. It’s nothing too deformed. I’ve got slightly bent fingers anyway. [Shows interviewer]

Yeah, little bit… No big deal.

Now, I’m wearing the rings on the wrong hand though I should though, like, I might start changing over so I put some sort of padding there or otherwise I’ll just have this massive lump on thumb…

It seems like your rhythm hand, you’re kinda going like this (interviewer makes shape with his hand) holding that in and…

It’s like a ‘boom-boom-kah’…

Yeah and when you’re strumming, it’s like this hand is flicking like that and most people use these fingers to pick and you’re really using…

I’m a big fan of the whole ‘slap back’ sort of sound when you strum and slap.

How did this start? I mean, like did you go through different phases of like, ‘Oh maybe I’ll put it flat’ or did it evolve? Was it just one day you got up and it was like, ‘This is cool, I’m having fun doing this!’ and it was as good as it is right now?

Yeah, well obviously it’s developed, umm… when I started I was shit. [Laughter] It’s just one of those things, like, I kind of, the rhythm sorta felt natural and sort of, I started mixing it up a bit more so I’ve got different rhythms going on.

What about those bends? That’s like what a steel player does.

It’s mostly just bass lines, probably if you watch the video it’s like [plays three chords]


So drop tuning’s really helped and then you just fill in the bits and kind of a natural progression. You get used to playing it like that rather than like that… just ridiculous really but my thing is not to get too tech on the guitar stuff and write songs out of it, you know, like, make it functional rather than showy, and then I do the odd little crazy instrumental bit… just for the craic.

A little Van Halen… [Laughter]

But most of the time you can keep it really stripped back and it’s just about sitting down and writing a tune on your own going, ‘Right, I’ve a guitar, I haven’t got a bass player, I haven’t got a drummer… So if I do (plays three chords) ‘that, that, that’ then you’ve got like a little drum machine going. No it’s good fun though, people seem to like it and I enjoy it. People always come up to me in America so far and just go: (suspected American accent) ‘Oh my God, have you seen August Rush?’ Because there was the film, August Rush, where a little kid going (plays the guitar)

Oh, he’s doing the…

And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I was doing it first.’ [Laughter] But they’re still, ‘Is that where you learnt it?’

‘The film’s about me…’

[Laughter] Yeah! That was actually me! - American Songwriter Magazine

"Interview with music new surfing phenom Ben Howard"

What are your influences? What influences your music?

Mostly people I guess. There’s obviously a few musicians who’ve had the biggest impact in terms of the style I play but it can be anything. Nature’s always a big factor, guess I’m just a romantic at heart!

Surfing and music are intertwined in our everyday lifestyle and ’surf’ culture. Does surfing or the ocean influence your music or do you try to separate the two?

Yeah, music’s always been a sort of split personality thing for me. It’s always been something I’ve done in my own time as a sort of reflective practice. It’s only recently the music and surfing have come together. Not saying I play the guitar whilst surfing but I’ve been playing a lot of surf events and stuff. And the other way as well, I’ve had a lot of surfing friends and peers coming to shows and enjoying the tunes which is cool.

{filedir 3} 2 Interview with musics new surfing phenom Ben Howard

What do you think about more, surfing or music?

Surfing… I think we all suffer from that.

Any life changing experiences?

I think life changes every day. Without sounding like a full on hippy I reckon even the smallest things mould you and change you as a person. I’ve had a couple of scary times when things look pretty bad. Septicaemia in a Sri Lankan was probably the funniest. But I think those experiences often have the same amount of effect as a few choice words from a stranger.

Fave wave? Favourite place to surf?

There’s a couple of waves back home that I love but I rarely get to see them anymore. Had some really good surfs in the North East recently. Fucking cold but some cracking waves shared with some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Starting to realize that the company’s almost as important as the waves.

{filedir 3} 3 Interview with musics new surfing phenom Ben Howard

Explain the last 6 months.. highs/lows?

It’s been a bit of a mad one really. I had some pretty bleak times at the beginning of the year, playing up in London town, not surfing much, suffering from winter, and generally not enjoying myself. A few things have come together since then though. Quiksilver taking me on board has been a treat, a sunny mix of festivals and trips to France this summer was a roar. Playing poker with Slater, Jake Patterson, Peter Mel and so many childhood heroes was up there with the best times for sure. I got to support Xavier Rudd on a few dates through Europe over Xmas as well which was a big highlight. Real honour to get invited to play that.

What does the future hold?

Lots of music hopefully. I’ve dropped out of studying to be a travelling minstrel so yeah, lots of music. I’ll be doing a lot of stuff with Quik this year, snowboard and surf events and the like… and then setting up a summer of festivals and beer I reckon. But after that we’ll see. If I could do this full time I’d be stoked.

{filedir 3} 4 Interview with musics new surfing phenom Ben Howard

Being a surfer and a musician how do you feel about the cliche’d comparisons with Jack Johnson, especially in the mainstream media? Are you ‘the next jack johnson’?

I can take it. I think once you get to know the music you realize how different we are. But for now it’s fine, I have a lot of respect for how Jack Johnson got into the music world. He blew the doors down and in some respects was the first person to genuinely combine music and surfing. It’s a much better comparison than a few others I’ve heard that’s for sure! James Blunt popped up once. That hurt!

Where can we see and hear, buy your music?

At the moment I’m living and playing down in Cornwall a fair bit, so yeah a few dates there. Also up in London still. There’s the Quik Sessions coming up soon and there’s plans to be in Europe come the summer so we’ll see. I’ve just sold out of my first EP so I’m recording a bunch of stuff at the moment, the idea is to get a few free downloads on Myspace within the next couple of weeks. - Surf Europe

"Falmouth Musician Wins Music Awards"

Picked from more than 150 bands that have played around the UK since January 09, Falmouth musician Ben Howard has won the coveted title of Red Stripe Music Award for unsigned bands.

Ben who dropped out of university in Falmouth in December to concentrate wholly on his music was selected to play alongside Gomez in London's Kentish Town in front of a crowd of 2,500.

BBC Radio Cornwall's David White spoke to Ben on air. Hear the full interview here:He won a £5,000 worth of Fender kit, clothing and is also now due to play at The Great Escape festival in Brighton.

Ben said: "What has amazed me is that they usually go for bands, but here I am just with my acoustic guitar.

"I didn't expected it at all. I went up (to London) with the drummer and a few friends from Cornwall and it was a real treat to win, I didn't expect it at all."
Ben Howard winner of 2009 Red Stripe Music Award

"It was great to be there with the final four, we are all very different, a real mix of styles. It was a cracking audience as well, they went mad."

Jonny Kirkham, Red Stripe said: "There’s not much original territory to be ploughed by singer-songwriters, so you have to admire the innovative, enthralling efforts of Ben Howard, who uses his guitar to build swirling, percussive beats around plaintive plucking and melancholic vignettes." - BBC Cornwall

"Ben Howard Interview"

You use the body of your guitar to add percussion to your songs while you play, is that another thing you’ve taken from him?
Funnily enough, the first time I saw percussion on a guitar was a guy called John Smith who was playing the support at a John Martyn concert I went to. I remember seeing that and being a little spellbound.

What are your inspirations in life?
I'm a firm believer that inspiration is all around us. Everything from the sea to my parents to everything in between. I don't think you have a choice in what you absorb.

You’ve recently played at the Quiksilver Pro France in Hossegor, how was that?
Unreal! Quik had the whole event dialled this year so it was a real pleasure. We got the most amazing introduction from Kelly Slater - I was actually on the soundtrack to his film Cloud 9. I also had a dressing room overlooking the square and the sea. That goes up there with my best gigs for sure.

Playing music looks like it's quite an emotional thing for you?
Yeah, I like to put a lot into it. I always wondered how people sing about things they don't believe or aren't passionate about. Music is a form of expression so it's good to think about what you're giving out.

What do you like to do when you’re not playing music?
Drink tea and surf as much as possible. We don't get too much downtime at the moment but when we do, we try and get near the sea or out in the sticks somewhere for a little wander. - Huck Magazine


- Every Kingdom - October 2011
- Keep Your Head Up Single - August 2011
- The Wolves Single - June 2011
- Old Pine EP - December 2010
- These Waters EP - June 2009



It has been an explosive introduction to a broader audience in 2011 for 24 year old Ben Howard. Having only signed his record deal with Island Records at the beginning of 2011, Ben had already accrued a hefty fan base across Europe, US and Australia through sheer hard touring and the word of mouth support that followed.

Along with his road tested and stunning live show, Ben Howard's debut album release is the final piece in the jigsaw which will ensure his voyage onto the list of great British singer-songwriters a safe one. Drawing inspiration from timeless greats such as John Martyn, Nick Drake and The Rolling Stones his otherworldly vocals and rapped knuckles on the body of the guitar make for a new sound that's built upon the shoulders of giants, allowing him to be refreshingly unique but familiar.

Dark and alluring on tape, and creating this unique live story before the story’s truly yet begun, Ben Howard is deserving of the acclaim as a captivating, unique and clever young British songwriter.

Some recent 2010/2011 highlights:

* Release of debut album 'Every Kingdom' on Island Records.

* Multiple sold out dates on European tour.

* 'The Wolves' chosen to accompany Danny Macaskill's YouTube video 'Industrial Revolutions' with close to 3 million hits.

* 4th highest preorder sales of any Universal artist behind James Morrison, Nirvana, and U2.

* 2 songs played live on French TV show 'Taratata'.

* Added to MTV and NME TV playlist

* Single added to the Radio 1 B-List, Absolute Radio B-list, Xfm Daytime Playlist.

* Massive international Radio support from Radio 1 including live sessions, Record of the Week, Hottest Record in the world and live festival highlights.

* Regional UK radio tour with live sessions and interviews.

* Summer festival circuit including Firefly, Greenman, Wakestock, Arrifana Sunset, Reeperbahn, Transmusicales.

* All 3 official videos growing in Youtube views by 8k-12k plays day on day.

* Huge press coverage from Q, Mojo, Total Guitar, Music week, major broadsheet and tabloid newspapers.


* Number 2 in the French iTunes Album Chart with 'These Waters' EP

* Publishing Deal with Warner Chappell

* EU support tour with Xavier Rudd (Ireland, UK, France, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland) and an upcoming run in November including (previous territories plus Italy and Portugal)

* EU support tour with Angus and Julia Stone (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, France, Holland)

* European headline tour in May ( 200-400 capacity venues in Germany, Holland, France, Belgium, UK)

* The following cities sold out: Paris, Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Nijmegen, Rotterdam, London

* In September Ben will undertake his second headline tour of Germany (5 dates) and his first 2 headline shows in Spain (Barcelona/Madrid)

* UK Willy Mason Support Dates

* The 'Wolves' featuring on a DVD cover mount 'Protect Our Waves' on Surfers Path Magazine. 30,000 copies

* 2 Live BBC Devon Radio Session's

* Live Performance on Manu Katche's 'One Shot Not' show broadcast on Arte 1 - French and German TV

* First ever 'Live at the Apple Store' show in France (Louvre, Paris)

* Licensing deal with French Indie label 'Tot ou Tard' (Belgium, Switzerland, France, Monaco, Andorra)

* Festivals including Eden Sessions mainstage support with Paulo Nutini, Into The Great Wide Open (Holland), Quik Pro France, Secret Garden Party, SAS Ball, Les Nuits Secretes... etc etc

* Supported Xavier Rudd, Fink and Brett Dennen's European tours.

* In December Ben completed his first UK headline tour. 7 dates in association with Surfers Against Sewage (close to 1000 tickets)

* Winner of The Red Stripe Music Awards

* Ambassador and sponsorship with the surf brand Quiksilver

* Independant release of the These Waters EP (Over 5000 copies sold at gigs alone since June '09)

* Digital distribution of the EP through Dualtone

* 190,000 free downloads of Cloud 9 in the US through iTunes/Starbucks since mid-November

* Cloud 9 was also the title track to Kelly Slater's new film 'Cloud 9' televised globally

* 2000+ free downloads of garage band recording of Three Tree Town through Musicglue

* US shows with Jason Mraz

* Festival appearances including Glastonbury, Quik Pro France, Love Box, Blissfields, White Air, Relentless Boardmasters, Gold Coast Ocean Festival, Grass Roots Jersey, Eurosonic and The Great Escape.