Mr Benjamin Clementine X Vacheron Constantin
Why the Mercury Prize-winning musician relies on Switzerland’s oldest continuously operating watchmaker to keep time
If The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Fela Kuti, Pet Shop Boys, Radiohead, Oasis and Mr Frank Ocean have all recorded there, then you know there’s something special in the air – and the soundwaves – at Abbey Road Studios. Mr Benjamin Clementine, one of the most unique artists of recent times, joined this long list of musicians on Tuesday night when he performed a private concert there for the global launch of fine watchmaker Vacheron Constantin’s Fiftysix collection.
The British singer-songwriter, the Swiss watch manufacturer and the London studios made the perfect match, sharing as they do creativity, craft and integrity. Mr Clementine was thrilled about playing in the space where Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Bends and Blonde were all recorded. “It’s a musician’s dream,” he says. “This is the first time I’ve played in Abbey Road. There’s been some amazing music recorded here. It’s astounding.”
The man who taught himself to play classical music as a child (and who the US’s influential National Public Radio described as “a musical George Orwell for our time”) first emerged in the public eye in 2013 and within two years had won both the UK’s prestigious Mercury Prize and France’s Victoire de la Musique for his debut, At Least For Now. His second album, 2017’s I Tell A Fly, led to widespread critical acclaim and sold-out venues including New York’s Carnegie Hall. But as we catch him after the gig and off the back of a US tour with former Talking Heads’ frontman Mr David Byrne, there’s the sense of a shift of mood in Mr Clementine – a move towards something lighter, freer, happier.
“I used to say, ‘Life is a joke – that’s why I take it very seriously’,” Mr Clementine says. “But after two albums, I’m just going to try and take things easy. I’m going to record short songs, say simple things, not go as deep and see what happens. When I hear music that’s being played on the radio, artists that have been lauded, one thing comes into my mind: that they don’t take life seriously. So that’s what I’m going to do as well!”
This new lightness of approach is a combination of various things: personal evolution, his marriage to fellow musician Ms Florence Morrissey (now Ms Florence Clementine) and his move to California, where he feels more free to experiment with his lifestyle, his music or his dress. “I’m working on some new projects, a new album, new ideas – just trying new things. I’m forming a band with my wife and we’re going to record some music together and see what happens.” Following on from Tuesday’s concert, they’ll be recording their first songs together at Abbey Road Studios.
Mr Clementine was the prefect choice to front Vacheron Constantin’s new collection, since the award-winning musician and the world’s oldest watch manufacturer in continuous operation both express a constant quest for excellence, openness to the world and spirit of innovation and creativity. While his main craft is his music, Mr Clementine readily acknowledges that his look plays a huge part in his public appeal (he has appeared on the cover of T: The New York Times Style Magazine, after all). “I used to wear coats and got inspiration from Oscar Wilde and French vaudeville, but I’ll change my style. If you look at the albums of David Bowie, there was always a change of style. It’s all about telling a story.
“I’m now based in California and the weather plays a huge part in what I wear,” he adds. “I started wearing white T-shirts and bathrobes and sometimes I’ll just walk around my house naked. I’m from London, so it’s such a great revelation to be able to do that in the middle of nowhere in the canyon.”
Mr Clementine will continue to experiment with his sound and style, all by staying entirely true to himself, which is why there’s the feeling of a shared understanding between the musician and the fine watchmaker of the need for balance between technical expertise and aesthetic refinement, between tradition and innovation.
Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Automatic Complete Calendar 40mm Stainless Steel and Alligator Watch
Vacheron Constantin Fiftysix Day-Date Automatic 40mm 18-Karat Pink Gold and Alligator Watch
Vacheron Constantin Fiftysix Automatic 40mm 18-Karat Pink Gold and Alligator Watch
Vacheron Constantin Fiftysix Day-Date Automatic 40mm Stainless Steel and Alligator Watch