Ben Holland is a London based singer songwriter who has had a colourful career so far, supporting none other than the legendary Joan Armatrading at various venues across the country. He releases a new track every month and plays in London a lot.
We caught up with him recently and chatted about 2 piece super groups involving a triangle, the best album in the world ever and his DIY approach to recording, here's how we got on....
Please introduce yourself and your music in one sentence....
I’m Ben Holland, I was born in Carlisle near Scotland, I now live in London and play songs with a guitar and a harmonica.
Being an unsigned band how hard is it to get noticed and how has social media aided your music?
Social media is definitely a great asset, but I have never known anything else for booking gigs. I’m not even sure how musicians used to promote themselves before the days of social media...
I suppose musicians must have been more reliant on promoters back then. In my experience some promoters are great, and some are the other end of the scale. Nowadays a lot of promoters expect the musicians to do the leg work and supply their own crowd, even as far as asking that you don’t play any other gigs in the area for a few weeks surrounding their gig.
I like to play as often as possible, and there are a lot of gigs out there in London, so I don’t play the gigs that come attached with daft rules.
Where did you record your EP ‘The Dog Kennel Tapes’? What made you choose that studio?
Most of the EP was recorded on Dog Kennel Hill near Camberwell. My friend and guitarist Ross Anderson has a shed at the bottom of his garden, he usually fixes instruments on a work bench in there, but over the past few weeks we’ve been recording a song every now and then. Just one microphone hanging in the middle of the room. Mostly one or two takes, Ross picks things up quickly, and I get bored singing the same song more than twice. It’s a rough way of doing it, but I like it this way.
‘The Bells of Mary’ which is from your latest EP, is a real deep thinking track, is there a story behind this?
Thanks. It’s a boy meets girl, boy likes girl more than girl likes boy type of song...
Two of my favourite tracks by Bob Dylan are ‘John Brown’ and ‘Masters of Wars’. You sound influenced by Dylan, what track of his would you love to cover and what is it about him that you hold to high esteem?
I like a lot of music, all kinds of bands, singers, musicians, but to me Dylan is different. To me he occupies a place all of his own. If I had to pick my favourite thousand songs, each and every one would be by Dylan. I would like to find something I like more, but I doubt I will. He is my favourite writer, guitarist, live performer, vocalist, he is always interesting whatever angle you take. I hear so many people criticise his voice, but I always ask back, if he can’t sing; who can? Do they want Celine Dion or Michael Bubble to sing every song? Songs like ‘John Brown’ and ‘Masters of War’ can’t be delivered any better than the records they arrived on. They wouldn’t work with honey and lemon, slick production, auto-tuned sparkle. They are the way they are, and that’s the best way they could be.
‘Lilly, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts’ is my favourite to cover at the moment. To listen, lately it is mostly late Dylan. ‘Tempest’ is as endlessly great as any of his records, and ‘Shadows in the Night’ is a perfect bittersweet midnight dream.
You Supported the legendary Joan Armatrading in her hometown, what was that experience like?
I began supporting Joan Armatrading in 2012 and have supported her about twenty times over the last few years. It’s an honour and a great pleasure for me. As well as being a great songwriter and performer, she’s also a great and giving person. She always has time to talk to me and offer advice on my own performance. My next gig with Joan will be at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre in August.
What is the best advice you ever received and who was it from?
Joan Armatrading has given me the best practical advice, performance wise, she often rearranges the order of my set and she’s always right. She taught me how to talk and joke with an audience, she taught me ‘If a joke works tonight, don’t be afraid to tell the same one tomorrow’
How do you feel you and your music has evolved from ‘Lethal Love of Mine to The Dog Kennel Tapes?
I’m not sure. It’s not for me to say. I don’t listen to my own stuff really, better to just record and move on to the next one. Hopefully there is a progression and improvement, but that’s for listeners to judge.
You recently played locally to me at the Luna Lounge, how did you find Leytonstone?
I like Leytonstone, I play often at the Luna Lounge. I get on well with the owners there and the drinkers drink well, laugh well, dance well, and the night always goes on till the morning.
In your opinion, what’s the BEST album/record ever released?
Best is hard. I love lots for lots of different reasons. But at gunpoint I’d shout out ‘Blood on the Tracks’.
If you had a chance to put together your own ‘super group’, who would be in it? (only living members please)
Me and Dylan. He can play everything, I’ll play the triangle and listen from a ringside seat.
‘Winter in Spring’ is a great track, what was your process of making this track and how did this tune come about?
I was reading ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy at the time. I wanted to write a song for a world like that. A ruined world, a hopeless and ruthless place where ash falls like snow. I started with the line ‘Sunrise on a dead world, through the grey paper rain’ and the rest followed. It sat in my draw for a few weeks without music, then I happened to take it by accident to a recording session and while the engineer went to get a coffee I started playing it through. When he came back we decided to try it as an experiment, to play it without a melody decided or practiced, not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, but that’s the way we did it, that recording was the first and only take I’ve done of that song. I can’t remember how to play it now.
Can you remember the first gig you ever attended (as a customer) and the first you played yourself?
The first gig I can remember was probably a pub band when I was a kid with my parents. I was a good addition for any audience, so easy to please, if a comedian opened their mouth I’d roll about laughing, if a band made a sound I’d dance about like a madman.
There are many good bands and musicians out there, who would you recommend the readers of musicmuso to look out for?
What are your plans for the rest of 2015?
I have various Joan Armatrading support gigs to be confirmed. Festivals too. Apart from that I constantly play around London. Also, lots more writing and recording; on the first of each month I upload a new song to Bandcamp
Seeing as Ben has supported Joan Armatrading, I checked with the boss to see if we could possibly let him off having to answer the dreaded 'quickfire' questions, being the sour faced grump he is, he said no, sorry Ben! We strapped him in and set the dial for warpspeed!
Coffee or Tea?
Coke or Pepsi?
Recording Studio or Live Show?
Mac or PC?
I don’t have either
Spice Girls or All Saints?
Springwatch or Baywatch
Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan?
Love both, but Dylan
Fry up or Sunday roast
Lemmy (Motorhead) or Ozzy (Black Sabbath)?
CD or Vinyl?
Car or Motorbike?
Acoustic or electric?
Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny?
Love both, but Bugs
Shower or Bath?
Tattoos or Piercings?
Robert de Niro or Al Pacino?
God or Google?
We'd like to thank Ben for taking the time to answer our questions and we wish him every success in the future, especially supporting Joan Armatrading in Blackpool in August. If you can spare a few more minutes, please check out his social media sites, they're all listed below, just point and click....
You can download all Ben's material HERE
Interview by Mark Wincott