‘Leaving Tennessee felt like leaving home’

Ben Glover
Ben Glover

Ben Glover has just received four star reviews from music bibles Mojo and Uncut for new album Atlantic. LIZ KENNEDY catches up with Ulster’s latest rising star

And prestigious music magazines Mojo and Uncut have just given his new album four star reviews.

No wonder the quietly spoken man from Glenarm has a smile on his face, when he meets up with me for an extended coffee.

Courteous as ever, he’s even texted ahead to say he’s been delayed by ten minutes, unlike others who assume that lateness is their prerogative. It’s the day before his 36th birthday and Ben thinks that might be a bit of a milestone:

“I think I could have a different mindset now and I feel very settled in Nashville. This time it felt a bit like uprooting myself when I left there for here, even though it’s always great to come home. It was just different this time. Leaving Tennessee felt like leaving home,” said Ben.

He’s made the most of his time in the US, visiting the Mississippi delta and Johnny Cash’s old home. And it won’t be long before Ben’s off on the road again, touring Europe, with gigs in the UK, Italy and Norway. Those are with American friend and co-writer Mary Gauthier, who’s no stranger to Northern Ireland herself, but for the moment law student turned musician Glover is back in Ulster, with dates at Flowerfield in Portstewart and the Ulster Museum to come in the next couple of weeks.

The Co Antrim man, who’s been resident in Nashville since 2009 and is married to an American girl, was as modest as ever, when I met him in Belfast to have a chat, despite the fact that he’s been notching up those four star reviews in the heavyweight music magazines. They command respect in music circles across the globe. That’s a major accolade for his new CD Atlantic, which he recorded in Donegal. He’s especially pleased, because he went back to his roots to record it:

“It was a pleasure to go back to Ballyliffin to do it. My mum’s from Carndonagh and we were in the house in Donegal, where we always spent our holidays, when we were kids. In fact, my parents built the house the year that I was born, so it’s an extra special place for me,” said Ben. He also assembled some of his closest friends to play and sing with him on the album, so that it has an intimacy in both the setting and the feel of the music.

Reluctant to over-define the genre, Ben acknowledges it might be Americana, but it definitely has a bit of a gothic vibe too. Tinged with delta blues and lines that carry echoes of Johnny Cash, it’s completely addictive, however, with Ben’s voice deliberately more to the fore than in previous recordings.

Romantic songs like The Mississippi turns Blue and True Love’s breaking my Heart will find him all kinds of new converts, whilst This World is a Dangerous Place and the eerie Blackbirds, in duet with Gretchen Peters, could be soundtrack music for a Coen brothers’ movie. Meanhwile, the jaunty hook of Oh Soul will stay with you, whilst Sing a Song Boys could resonate round the bars of Boston that Ben formerly gigged in, turning out Pogues or Christy Moore numbers. He said that although he went to Queen’s to study law, he was never going to practise:

“I really had no intention of ever becoming a lawyer. I was lucky enough to go to university, before the whole fees system came in and I suppose that was really when I started getting into my music too, in leisure time, as Matt McGinn and Colm McClean and I started doing gigs there. Then I went to the States in the summer of my second year, on my J1 visa. I was in Cape Cod, cleaning windows all day and making music at night.”

Since then, he tours the world and he could even be big in south America. That’s where Coca Cola did their marketing campaign. Ben smiles:

“Whatever happens Will was the song that they used in Latin America, so that was quite a surprise, yes. They asked me if they could use it and I said yes.”

And the Co Antrim man’s music was used in the drama series Stella on Sky TV, starring Welsh actress Ruth Jones, most famous for her creation Nessa in comedy drama Gavin and Stacey.

“Yes, Ruth came along to one of Gretchen Peters’ gigs, when I was doing support and liked my music. Then they asked about using snippets of some songs in Stella. That was another bit of a surprise,” said Ben in something of an understatement. Now it looks like he’s on a roll:

“I’ve got a UK headline tour next springtime and I’ve been named Songwriter of the Week in American Songwriter magazine. Couldn’t be better.”

And with that, having put extra money in the parking meter, he heads off to do a live radio gig with Gerry Kelly. Life has small challenges as well as big.

Ben Glover will perform at the Flowerfield Arts Centre on September 18 and the Ulster Museum, Belfast on September 19. Contact venues for tickets or visit www.benglover.co.uk.