From Donegal to the deep south
Nashville-based Co Antrim singer/ songwriter Ben Glover has just released his fifth album, although he says it 'feels like my first'. Ahead of two gigs next week, he talks to Brian Campbell
COUNTIES Donegal and Antrim and the US states of Tennessee and Mississippi loom large on Ben Glover's new album.
Ben describes himself on his Twitter account as an Irish singer/ songwriter who "nests in Ireland and Nashville but passing through many places either side and in between".
He has lived in Nashville since 2009 and the title of his accomplished fifth album - Atlantic - is a nod to his travels between Ireland and America.
The album cover photo is one Ben took on the beach at Ballyliffin in northern Donegal and it was at this Atlantic outpost that the Co Antrim singer/ songwriter recorded the album.
He explains how he relocated to Donegal from Nashville last winter. "It started when Matt McGinn (bass, acoustic guitar) and I went down to Hilltown in Co Down in November 2012 for a couple of days of writing and recording in a house there. During that process, I thought, 'This is how I want to make the next record'. I wanted to get out of the studio environment."
He chose Donegal because it's his mother's county. "We had a house in Donegal and I spent all my summers there. When I was about 15 I started gigging in bars, so I've always been very connected to it. "When I raised the idea of recording in Ireland with [producer] Neilson Hubbard, I think he booked his flight an hour later," he laughs. "It was an easy sell for him and I brought over Kris Donegan (guitars). Then here I brought in Matt McGinn and Colm McClean (guitar, pedal steel). So we went to the house and set up a studio in the living room. We lit a turf fire every day and made the record live. I wanted to capture an atmosphere that you wouldn't get in a studio."
The album is a slick slice of Americana, with Too Long Gone, Prisoner and Sing A Song Boys just some of the highlights.
Ben says the up-tempo latter track took a couple of takes to get right. "It sounds relaxed and jovial but it took us a while to get the right vibe.
It didn't feel great at first, then Matt went out and came back in again with his shirt off. Then Chris went out and took his trousers off," he laughs. "So all of a sudden it was a different scene. That's how we got it to sound the way we wanted."
It's a long time since the teenage Ben was in bars singing songs by the likes of The Pogues, The Waterboys and Johnny Cash but he returns to play a gig at the Ballyliffin Hotel on October 11. First up, though, are gigs in Portstewart and Belfast next week.
Ben says the album was written in Nashville but says some of the lyrics - and the album title - came to him in Mississippi (where his wife comes from). He has always been fascinated by the blues singer Robert Johnson, who has achieved mythical status because of the story that he sold his soul at a crossroads to achieve success. "He's a musical hero. Two years ago we took a trip down to the Delta to find his grave but it turns out there are three reputed burial sites. "The Mississippi Delta is fascinating to me. There's a spirit there that's very similar to here. Ireland and the [American] south have produced great musicians and artists. Both places were oppressed over the years and the oppressed dig deeper to find their identity and that's expressed in their art."
He says he's happy with how Atlantic turned out. "To be honest, this feels like my first record. I feel I'm getting closer to sounding the way that I want to sound. I'm getting more comfortable in what I'm doing and this record feels like I'm stepping into my shoes for the first time."
* Ben Glover plays the Flowerfield Arts Centre, Portstewart, next Thursday and the Ulster Museum in Belfast on Friday September 19. Atlantic is out now (BenGlover.co.uk).
* ON THE ROAD: Ben Glover