The big winner at last week's Brit Awards, alongside Emeli Sandé, with two coveted Damien Hirst-designed gongs – one for Best British Male and the other for Best Breakthrough Artist – Howard, after spending three days in the pub with friends, promptly escaped to rural Ireland without a phone and has been there ever since.“After the Brits I put a couple of amps and five guitars in the car and drove here,” he says. It was nice to be involved and all that, but it's nice to be away from London and all the craziness.”You can't blame the 25-year-old – an unassuming, folk-influenced singer-songwriter from Devon who divides his time between music and surfing, and whose manner is more laid-back surfer dude than ambitious, posturing pop star – for escaping the craziness.
Despite this and the 300,000-plus sales of his debut album Every Kingdom, until the Brits, Howard remained relatively anonymous. '” In order to make it to the Brits, he had changed a New York date on his US tour, where he'd earlier supported Mumford & Sons' arena shows, with his band members drummer Chris Bond and celloist India Bourne – not because he anticipated winning, but to perform. It definitely felt we were the underdogs and that we didn't belong there.” With sales bolstered by 4,600% the day after the Brits, anonymity is surely behind him.
If the public didn't expect him to win Best British Male in a category that included rapper Plan B, veteran rock musician Richard Hawley, disco star Calvin Harris and X Factor pop graduate Olly Murs, Howard certainly didn't either.“Did you see my speech? If he felt out of place it was, he says, his second-ever awards show (his first was the Mercury Prize last autumn for which he was nominated and lost out to Alt-J), and Howard is more typically spotted in surfers' attire of Quiksilver T-shirts and jeans. It was funny how the album connected to so many people in a way I never really expected.
By the slippery standards of the music industry, you might dare say Bourne and the band had “made it”.
“It’s a funny old thing, ‘making it,’” she tells me on a brief tour break. It wasn’t like we were suddenly flung into stardom …
It’s not something I’m doing to prove that I can write. “I think everywhere you go somehow influences you,” she tells me. I’ve been so spellbound sometimes that I can’t help but write a poem or some lyrics that help me remember and celebrate where we’ve been. This is your time to just go for it, and don’t think too much about where you’re going, or about what job you’re going to get.
You can’t help but channel that into your work.” As for what 2014’s new cohort of students should channel into their first years, India says it’s the capacity to just savour it all:”You have the time and the freedom to be as creative as you possibly can.
My friends really helped me remember that, and I need to remember it now.” India never joined a band as a student – instead, she began to play more seriously with Howard late in her time at university, and after graduating, and after she got a job with the National Opera in London. “Ben said, ‘I really want you you come and get involved with recording our first album’, so I quit my job and moved back home to Devon.” Leaving London and the opera for a miked up barn, India would spend the next 18 months recording Every Kingdom.
The rest is history – but it’s also very much the present; their follow-up record, I Forget Where We Were, is on release in October 2014. We’ve had a great response from people, so we’re really excited,” she says.
I've always thought I crossed this really weird gap between the pop world and some slightly more left-field singer-songwriter music, but everyone's always comparing me with Ed Sheeran.
It's frustrating.” The EP signalled at the new directions in which he intends to go.“The EP definitely shows some cool places you can go with an acoustic guitar.
They were friends as kids and have performed their folk-infused tunes at venues varying from Devon pubs to the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury.