U.S singer/ songwriter, Ben Jordan originally came to the UK for a seven-day tour a few years ago. While this week was a success, the promise of an extended tour fell through and he soon found himself with no money and nowhere to live. He made his way to Cornwall and it was here where he rebuilt his life “gig by gig and note by note”.
The St. Ives-based musician has since played at major festivals in the Ireland and the UK, such as the Isle of Wight Festival, plus numerous gigs in pubs and events, busking, and performances on BBC radio shows.
Originally from Colorado in the United States, Ben has toured all over the United States and befriended the likes of Derek Trucks, Soulive, Adam MacDougall, The Slip, Warren Haynes, Kelly Joe Phelps, and Adam Levy. He released the “Ghosts Breathing through Our Strings” album in 2010 and he is about to record another two albums next month.
His music is a blend of acoustic soul, rock, blues and country, while his lyrics are honest, captivating and raw.
Ben tells us about his life and musical career in both the United States and Cornwall, and his plans for the near future.
How long have you been singing/ performing and how did you get started?
About 13 years. I started playing guitar pretty late and I didn’t really start writing songs and singing until my third or fourth band. I’d done a bit with other bands but I didn’t really get serious about writing and singing till about 2000 or so. Until then, I played a lot of jazz and was primarily a lead player.
Who are your musical influences?
Really almost anyone who’s had the guts to give this life an honest go. Or any sort of artistic life for that matter. People who live as they believe I find very inspiring. In terms of direct musical influences, everyone from Miles Davis to Neko Case, and all points in between. I love all kinds of music from all over the world and I try to keep myself open to new things all the time,
Where does the inspiration for your lyrics come from?
Again, pretty much everywhere. Some things come from my life or dreams. Some things come from stories I’ve heard or made up. Mostly, I’m looking for ways to establish a connection or emotional common ground for anyone who listens to the music and finds part of themselves in the songs
When and where was your first gig?
I don’t really remember, probably a house party in college in the U.S.
What is your favourite song to perform?
Depends on my mood, I love ballads and I have a lot of ‘em but I also like more foot-stompin’, hand clapping songs as well. So, for the ballads right now it’s probably a song called Breathing Fire, and for the upbeat numbers a song called Jump in the River. Both of which will be on my new album.
Who did you listen to growing up and what was your first album?
All sorts of stuff. My dad loved The Beatles which was great and my mom loved Abba and Neil Diamond, which left scars. I loved, and still do, skate rock, power pop, classic rock, jazz; a ton of really varied things. I was really lucky, the college that I grew up across the street from had an AMAZING radio station, WCWM, with some really hip student DJ’s. That was where I got my real musical education. I pretty much stopped listening to anything having to do with mainstream media by the time I was 14 or 15.
I listened to The Clash, The Replacements, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Generation X, The Damned, The Smiths, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, 7 Seconds, The Descendants, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Grateful Dead. It was really all over the map and my listening tastes still are to this day.
Where is your favourite place to play live?
The Salisbury Arts Centre is cool. The Spiritual Bar in Camden is great, along with the Quay Arts Centre on the Isle of Wight and the Isle of Wight Festival. I also really like The Grapevine in Exmouth and the Studio Bar in Penzance. For home venues in the U.S, The Fox Theatre and the Boulder Theatre in Colorado are still my favourites.
What are your aspirations and plans for the next 12 months?
I plan on recording two new albums in December, one with my good friends Sam Green & the Midnight Heist, and the other with a bunch of friends from down here in the West Country. They will be released within the next year, the one with Sam in early 2014, and the second later in the year. Lots of touring is on the dance card too. I’d like to find a band of my own soon, that’d be great.
As far as aspirations go: a booking agent, playing more festivals next year, and support for bands I really like in more music-oriented venues. I love playing in pubs, but I’d like to be playing in proper venues more often than not. Working consistently would be a great place to get to before the next year is out and having a well-established enough name to not have to play phone tag for five weeks to get a gig!
If you could play on stage with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
That’s a really tough question so I’m going to be cheeky and pick one living and one departed.
Alive: Ryan Adams
Dead: Jerry Garci
What do you think of the Cornish music scene and what improvements would you like to see?
I think overall there are a lot of great artists and bands in Cornwall. I’d be great to see people working together more often for the fun of it instead of wondering if there’s something in it for them.
It would be nice to see people getting paid what they’re worth and for venue owners to take an active role in promoting the shows they put on, not just relying on the artists’ perceived success to bring them success. If places that host music regularly invested in sound systems instead of relying on the artists to bring them, that would help. These are all just pet peeves, but still important.
I think there are the makings of a really vital, sustainable music scene, but there is work that needs to be done to get it there. The talent is here for sure. It’s all a matter of the region realising what a treasure these talents are and nurturing them
Are there any current Cornish artists you see going far?
Hold the Sun is great, I really like that band. Kezia is really cool and she’s a friend, and the same with Louella Jade Eke. Blue Horyzon – I really like them, Jeffery Nuthin’, Soundless Exit, and of course, my good friend Willie & the Bandits are AMAZING!! I’ve been on the same stage as them the last two years in a row at the Isle of Wight festival. There are TONNES more that I like and even more that I have yet to hear!
What is your most memorable gig?
One of my very first solo gigs was opening for Stanley Jordan at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colorado. It was sold out and for whatever reason most of the audience showed up early. I had a bunch of solo Ryan Adams shows on disc I’d been listening to at the time, so I kind of had an idea of what a great solo show could be like. It was terrifying to be honest, BUT it went great. People were really quiet during the tunes and loud and encouraging in between them. It was one of the best musical experiences I’ve ever had in my life.
On par with that are the times I got to sit in with Derek Trucks’ band, which was a huge honour and TONNES of fun!!!
Do you have any pre-stage superstitions/ routines?
Cigarettes and whiskey
Describe your music/ style in three words
Brings people joy