It’s a measure of just how relaxed Benny Tipene is that he only got around to buying a guitar for his first European show on the day of the gig itself.
When I arrive to meet him, he’s chilling with a beer in the warm June sunshine outside Bedroom Bar – a dumpling restaurant/pub/music venue on a bustling sidestreet in Shoreditch – after a busy day trying out guitars on Denmark Street.
For someone who took part in the New Zealand version of The X Factor, reaching the final in 2013, he’s remarkably without pretention – it’s like chatting with an old friend.
Tipene, like many Kiwis, tells me he is on something of a European odyssey rather than a promotional tour. Prior to arriving in London he’d been sampling veggie haggis in Scotland (where his dad is from) and this week he’s paying a visit to Sweden to do some writing, before catching The Strokes’ British Summer Time gig in Hyde Park.
For the many ex-pats keen to see him play then this London gig represented a rare chance and it was no surprise to find that, come show time, Bedroom Bar was crammed to the rafters.
Despite having never played his new Guild guitar before nor practised for several weeks, Tipene was on tip-top form – showcasing his impressive vocal range with a mixture of new songs, old songs, covers and traditional Kiwi tunes that had the rowdy crowd singing along at the top of their lungs.
It was certainly a bizarre experience for a Brit – it was like I’d been transported to Tipene’s hometown of Palmerston North in New Zealand’s North Island.
Whether playing Weezer, Elvis or one of his own hits, Tipene certainly knows how to entertain and, coupled with his Heath Ledger looks circa Ten Things I Hate About You, it’s no surprise he had plenty of female fans swamping him for selfies after the encore.
For these fans, the news that the singer-songwriter is hoping to extend his stay in London to avoid New Zealand’s cold winter will be warmly welcomed – as will the news he’s lined-up a second gig at Brixton East tomorrow night.
Despite this adoring attention, what really impressed me is that Benny remains resolutely himself – a thoroughly down-to-earth and top bloke, who even remembered, in the post-gig melee, to give me the CDs he’d promised. Now that’s an X Factor.
You can follow what Benny gets up to on his European adventure via Twitter @bennytipene.