Benefits @ Hare and Hounds Birmingham, 29th April 2023

Kingsley Hall’s lyrics are what brought me to Benefits a couple of years ago. He is one of only a very few that are holding a mirror up to the ludicrous yet frightening circus of what has become right wing Britain in 2023. I did worry that in the same way Bruce’s ‘Born in the USA’ would be picked up by those who didn’t understand it, the bulldog breed in this country would miss the point of ‘Flag’ and think it is celebrating flag wavers: “wave yer fucking flag” – so they wave their flag. Maybe because Benefits are still playing to a cult crowd, their message has not been brought to the attention of the Sun readers in this country yet. This is a good thing in a way, because as powerful as the Benefits message is, there are many who will never agree with it.

Benefits on record are a powerful force so I did expect an intense performance, however, my expectations were met and then exceeded beyond measure as the set unfolded. The ferocious delivery live is actually only different due to the volume; Hall is not more vocally animated on stage (as every syllable is still spat out with venom like on the recording), but it does make a difference when you feel the music beating you physically as well as mentally.


The opening tracks’ arrangements are built around Kingsley’s vocal and the drum kit (tonight with Rick Mcmurray, formerly of Ash on drums, as their usual drummer Cat Myers was unable to attend). You can’t deny how powerful this sounds as voice and drum match each other hit for hit, with seemingly ever increasing speed and volume. Where you lose the odd spoken sentence due to the sonic intensity of the drum rolls and synth noise, you win with the overall impact. I do want to hear every word uttered, as Kingsley’s poetry is biting and clever and witty, but the execution is unquestionably formidable.

With the introduction of melodic synths, courtesy of Robbie and Hugh Major, and then a proper groove on ‘Shit Britain’ you fully appreciate that Benefits are not all about white noise and shouting. The crowd even dance to the songs where there is a solid four four beat, but the meaning and honesty of the lyrics are never lost, it is just somehow easier to digest. This is as close to pop music as Benefits get.

The absolute focus point of the band is Kingsley Hall, with no disrespect to the other musicians. He is a giant on stage. He is like a boxer, perfectly poised and perfectly balanced at all times. His intense stare is captivating and his vocal delivery and movement borders on shamanic. The set works up to a furious climax with synths droning on all frequencies and Hall’s voice utilising every great orators’ trick, from the use of dynamics (a whisper to a scream) to the hypnotic repetition of phrases: “We can win this, we can win this, we can win”. He is like a beautiful fusion of Crass’s Steve Ignorant, Martin Luther King and the late Gil Scott Heron. Hall really is part performance artist, part stand up poet, part ballet dancer or tai chi martial artist and part battering ram.


Before the final song there is a break when the band are introduced and heartfelt thanks given to the Birmingham crowd. You witness a brief metamorphosis in Hall, from this larger than life on stage character, back into Kingsley Hall, the part time rock star and working class hero. You see where the man starts and the artist begins. When he sings he is consumed by his words – never have I seen an artist perform where every moment could be a classic image for a poster or album sleeve. He is so focussed it is terrifying if it wasn’t for the knowledge he is on our side: the good side. And when he talks to us in the break, he speaks softly, you see the considered writer, the human being that has spent hours and days and weeks carefully piecing together thoughts and phrases that so beautifully express the pain and frustration of living in this country right now.

Sadly Benefits are here now because the world has turned to shit and no one else is talking about it. The best political bands are born out of struggle because there is something to fight against: in 1979 bands like Crass led the way, and in 2023 there is more corruption, xenophobia, mis-information, media manipulation and general ennui from the general populace than ever before. Now more than ever we need truth and Benefits are the absolute truth – no posturing or flag waving, just a single clear voice, screaming cold hard facts and actually offering hope. It is easy to dismiss their music as plain, unfocussed anger, but it really isn’t – it is absolutely focussed and it presents a positive alternative viewpoint to the one we are force-fed daily by newspapers and television. The opening track “Marlboro Hundreds” gives easy to follow instructions: “Formulate your own ideas. Don’t get bullied by hate speech. Ignore cartoon fascists. Reject hate… Question everything. QUESTION EVERYTHING”. This is the lesson of today and every day.

The Benefits album ‘Nails’ is available now and the band will be playing live at UK festivals this summer as well as in Europe. Hopefully another tour will come around our way very soon.


Marlboro Hundreds
Divide and Be Conquered
Shit Britain
Council Rust
What More Do You Want?
Taking Us Back

Review and photos from the crowd- Alan Neilson

Feature photograph courtesy of

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