We heard about Ben back in January 2016, we did an interview prior to the Wet Wet Wet tour kicking off and as he was playing in Plymouth, thought it would be nice to go and meet up with hm for a chat and see how the tour had been treating him and his backing band 'The Firebrands', I was taken to his dressing room where we got comfy, hit record on the voice recorder and chatted about how the tour came about, getting time off work to attend the shows and last minute changes in order to get the album released prior to the tour, here's how we got on....
You’ve been on tour with Wet Wet Wet recently, you've played some pretty big venues in some major cities, which would you say were the most enjoyable for you?
I think the O2 in London was the most iconic one for us as it’s on home turf and we’ve seen some of our favourite bands there over the years, definitely an important show for us and one that we were really looking forward to but they’ve all been great for different reasons, even the warmup show in Wales, the venue was amazing, it was an old theatre and it was quite an intimate gig, then we headed over to Dublin and played our first ever arena show (3 Arena), we had to step up our game pretty quickly! We’ve played with the setups at different shows, different musicians as not everyone was available to cover every show, sometimes there was just 3 of us where we had to strip things back a bit more and then we’d have 5 on stage and able to create more of a bigger band sound, we’ve just loved every minute of it!
So, you were buying a new guitar in London and you got a call inviting you to support Wet Wet Wet on tour?
Yeah, I was in the Wembley Guitar Centre picking up a new guitar and my agent called and it was at a time when we agreed to take a little time out, Mark (drummer) just joined the band and we’d agreed not to do any shows for a while having just completed a tour, we had a session and just made some great music, then the call came in and I had to go back to the lads to break the news that we have an arena tour coming up in just a few weeks! So Mark got into things pretty quickly....
So let’s put things into perspective, how old were you in the mid/late 80’s when Wet Wet Wet started out?
I was born in 1988 so missed them completely, I guess I was only 6 when their big hit came out (Love is all Around) so I wouldn’t have really paid a lot of attention to that either but having seen them every night on tour, they’re great, such professionals and they are such good musicians too!
When we spoke last you said that your favourite track was ‘Love is all Around’, is this still the case after having watched them every night for the past 2 weeks?
I think so, they do a couple of songs acoustically as part of their set, Gypsy Girl is one of them and it’s stripped right back, the harmonies are amazing and I’ll never tire from watching that! We’re working with this massively iconic band but also, we’re working with the best lighting crew, the best sound crew, these people do arena gigs every day so they really know their stuff, for us, we’re working with the best of the best and they’re the nicest people!
Are you on the Tour Bus with the band?
We have a smaller van that we dive into every night and we’ve been able to do hotels so we always have somewhere to get our heads down at the end of the night.
You got a new iPod for Christmas, did you give the old one a good send off? viking burial?
No, I’ve still got it somewhere, the new one was definitely needed as the old one was on it’s last legs! The new one was a fraction of the size of the old one and I was only halfway through adding the old music to it and it ran out of space so I had to go and change it for a bigger one! They just don’t make them big enough these days!
You play all of the instruments on your recordings, when you play live (with the Firebrands) does it annoy you if things aren’t played exactly how you would have done so in the studio?
No, what we try and do is write the songs and the musical parts and then let the guys have a bit of freedom and they go and play about with things, add a couple of extra riffs and then we agree on what it’s going to sound like at the end.
(to the rest of the band who were in the room) Do you sometimes mess with Ben’s head and play things a little differently on stage?
We do lots of that but it’s Ben who tries to throw us off! When we were rehearsing for the tour, we had 4 weeks to get it all together and we were playing with a full drum kit, electric guitar/bass and we had to make some changes, introduce the cajon (seated drum thingy) into the set and play everything on acoustic guitars instead but this is great as we now have 3 different versions of every song, really stripped back, half and half and then the full on electric version.
Are you mixing things up on the tour or stripping it back a little more?
We are stripping things back, we still use an electric guitar abut we’re probably going to be the loudest acoustic act that you’ve seen! We’ve really enjoyed doing that though, keeps things fresh!
I asked you before if you see a difference in the audiences when you move around the country, having done 12 dates with Wet Wet Wet and covering most of the UK, would you say this is true?
Not that I’ve really noticed, I think it depends on who you’re supporting, I think the Wet Wet Wet fans are so loyal, we met a lady in a hotel and she gave us a lift to the show and she wished us all the best and said that she’d been to the last 3 shows and had bought tickets for the next 4 shows too, she’d been on almost as many dates as we have! As the tour has progressed, Wet Wet Wet have been great in mentioning us more in the press and we are now becoming more known to their fans as well so it's great to widen our fanbase, we went from selling just a couple of CD’s a night to having our own section where we can do signings and photos, back in the day, we’d just huddle around the bar and the occasional person would come and say ‘Hi’ so that’s really good and it really gives you a boost too, knowing what you’re doing is making people happy!
Your album ‘Life & Love in England’ was released recently, was it always your intention to release it then or was it because of the Wet Wet Wet tour that you thought it’d be a good time to get it out there?
It wasn’t going to be released for ages! It was finished and I was going to take some time out to decide on what to do with some of the tracks, then again, the news of the tour made me decide that the best time to promote an album would be on tour and as this was such a big tour, it made perfect sense to get it out as soon as possible. It was a bit hectic, I made two music videos before going on tour, we had to nail the album photos, artwork, find a distributor, it was pretty full on, things have really calmed down now we’re on tour but looking back, I’m glad the tour came about when it did as it made me think and focus and get things done rather than sit there for the next 6 months debating on whether changes need to be made etc…
I guess the tour sort of gave you an incentive to get things finished off and ready, would you liked to have had a bit more time to get things tidied up?
It's always good to have more time, but there’s never a perfect time, it all worked out for the best and we had it ready on time for the tour so all’s good!
I checked out the video for ‘Morning I’m Gone’, quite a deep song, drawn from personal experience?
Not really, I tend to get influenced from what’s going on around me, I consider myself to be a bit of a storyteller and the single is probably the most obvious track on the new album, it wasn’t anything personal, it just happened pretty quickly. A lot of people think the song is about a one night stand, it’s more like an awkward situation when you’re just not feeling it but the other person is and you wanting to get out of there, I will say that I’m in a happy relationship right now so not drawn from personal experience.
It must be quite tough being away for so long on tour?
Funnily enough, we were just saying that all our girlfriends are finding it quite difficult, we literally packed a suitcase and went then we pop home for one day at a time and then we’re off again, all of them are extremely supportive and love what we do, they’ve also been to quite a few of the dates and it’s nice to know they’re in the same room as you when you’re on stage.
Where are you all based?
All from the Home Counties, just outside of London, Paul (guitarist) lives in Birmingham now so not too far apart.
How does it work for band practise/rehearsals?
It’s all fairly simple, we have a rehearsal studio close by and we normally go there on a Friday, have a couple of drinks and just bring new ideas to the table and work through them.
Are you treating this tour as your album release tour or are you planning on something else for that?
No, this is the album release tour, the single and album release tour actually, the single came out a couple of weeks before the tour and the album dropped on the same date we played the Birmingham arena, it all picked up pretty quickly. I woke up on the morning of the Birmingham show to a load of missed calls from my producer, I called him back and he told me that the album had charted (iTunes Singer Songwriter charts) at number 32 and then for the rest of the day it climbed to number 6 and at the end of the day, I was on the front page of iTunes next to Ed Sheehan! That to me was proof that it was the right time to launch it! I’ve had some great comments from people which goes to show that they’re enjoying the new album.
My son (aged 10) asked me to put some new music on his iPod for a party he’s off to shortly, he wanted some Grime and Urban and I was lost….Are you at a stage in your life where you’re still ‘down with the kids’ or is it all a foreign language to you too?
I think I’ve always had an older mind, I don’t understand these genres that seem to pop up and are about for a year and then forgotten so quickly afterwards (take Nu-Rave for example), I’ve always been influenced by older, classic bands, I find it really difficult to get emotionally attached to new music as the shelf life is so short and it’s so ‘throwaway’ if you want to call it that whereas I can find a rare B-Side by Eels and love listening to it over and over again! So to answer your question, no, I’m not ‘down with it’, I don’t even have a Spotify account but my music is on there so I’m unsure how that happened!
How are you getting on booking festivals for 2016, anything confirmed yet?
Yep, we’re playing at a festival called ‘Wendover Celebrates’ where we’re the 2nd headline act, we are supporting the biggest English Bowie tribute act so we’re looking forward to that. We just haven’t had time to sort anything out, sorting the album out, we’re trying to get some time set aside now to look into more but there are shows coming in every day so it’s just a case of being able to sort them out really!
How does it work in relation to availability to play at festivals and shows, do any of you have 9-5 jobs?
Yes, Matt and Paul work regular jobs, Mark is a self employed drum teacher so he’s got a bit more flexibility, Mike is a primary school teacher so as long as the event falls in school holidays, he’s pretty much a free agent. It works out quite well, if we can’t all do the show, we change the set so the songs fit around who and what we have to play with, I’m used to touring solo so having anyone else with me is a bonus!
(to the rest of the band who were in the room) Do you find it difficult having to go to the boss and ask/beg for time off so that you can do a tour or a show?
Matt (bass) - My boss was so good and was able to offer me the entire month off to play all the dates, I do a bit of remote work but I was really grateful but I guess in the back of his mind, if he were to say no, would I still do it anyway and potentially leave my job as a result?
Ben - I think that they also see that it’s such a big opportunity that’s not going to be around every month and it’s great that they have the flexibility
Matt - My boss is the owner of the company so there’s no chain of command to go through, I go straight to the top! I also had a couple of weeks of leave to take and it needed to use it up so great timing!
Ben - I think it;s nice as we are on the cusp of doing this full time now and it’s about getting to the next level in order to make it work, this tour has helped with that.
I watched some YouTube footage of the Birmingham Wet Wet Wet show the other night, it sounded like the audience were in good voice, did Marti or any of the other members do a trip to the march table after the show like you guys do?
We do it after every show which is great, I think they are just too big and they’d just get mobbed if they were to do it! They tend to stay backstage and venture out when things have calmed down a little! We love to meet people after the show, if they buy a CD, even better and if I can do the meet and greets, we’ll always try our best to get out there. A while back, we pulled into a venue and there were people waiting outside the stage door, we popped over, spent a few minutes with them and they were really made up so it’s good to spend some time with the fans, they are what makes you after all!
What’s been the funniest thing that has happened to you on the tour so far?
I’ve had a few fans who have tried to steal my pass. A mum wanted me to sign her daughters arm, originally she asked me to sign her forehead but I had to say no! It’s been great, there were a few people I’ve met who tend to know all about you, I was walking around a venue a while back and someone asked if my cold had cleared up, made me think as I know I never posted anything about it…spooky! It’s mainly complimentary, not too many stalkers just yet, we have a couple but nothing too scary, just people with a healthy interest in the band….so far!
Please give me the name of a band or artist that I should go and check out.
Augustines, they were one of the main influences for my album, I love them, I read about their story and fell in love with it straight away, the singer clearly has a few demons, I like that as they have something to say. Take Eels for example, Mark Everett songs have ben a real influence for me, probably the reason I picked up a guitar in the first place, I listened to a lot of Eels material and I went to see them in Oxford a while back, I got in touch with their support band as I wanted to support them live, eventually heard from the manager who has since become my agent and from there, here we are playing arenas, so one day I’ll meet Mark Everett and thank him!
Another act that you should check out is an unsigned guy who goes by the name ‘Coates’, he’s a friend, Oliver Coates is his name, we’ve toured together. I set up a music video production company and we did him a video for his track ‘Throw me Down’, he’s a really cool guy, I was actually in the video as his drummer was unavailable on the day, definitely check him out….
We'd like to take the time to than Ben and his band for chatting to us before the show in Plymouth, they're a great bunch of talented guys who have a bright future ahead of them. Ben's new album is OUT NOW (see image below), I've also listed all his social media channels, please take a few minutes having a browse through them.