It’s ten years since Ben Glover first visited Nashville and embarked on two life-changing love affairs.
On that fateful first trip he fell both for his future wife and the Mississippi Delta, where music, politics and storytelling are as closely interwoven into the region’s heritage as they are in his native Northern Ireland. A year after first stepping foot in Nashville, Glover returned to set up home and start a new phase in his career. His latest album, Shorebound (out now on Proper Records), is a celebration of the musical relationships he’s built since then.
Collaboration plays a huge part in the creative process for Glover. He works with a tight network of trusted friends, many of whom – Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters, Ricky Ross, Kim Richey and Matt McGinn – are present on the album as co-writers and performers. Neilson Hubbard co-produced the album, which was recorded in Nashville. It is their fifth together.
Kindness is the second single to be released from Shorebound. Of this song he says, “I only realised how deep the need for light was when I performed this song live for the first time. Never before had I such a reaction to a song — people came up to me in tears afterwards saying that it really touched them, really moved them. It was very evident to me, at that moment, that it’s essential we try and offer some light through our music. Art connects directly with the soul, and the soul always responds to the light. I would go as far as saying that, if there were testimony that I could leave this world, then this song is it.”
Glover is also a member of the Orphan Brigade: a group of muso friends who write and record in offbeat locations. Past venues include a haunted house in Kentucky and a 2,500-year-old cave in Italy.
“I always used to write alone,” Glover says, “but collaboration is such a big thing in Nashville. When I first moved here, I tried to write with as many people as possible as it’s such a good way to meet people in the industry.
“It wasn’t easy at first; songwriting is such a personal thing. I felt self-conscious but then I realised it’s okay to have a dumb idea sometimes and that the other person in the room is in the same situation as you.”
The process taught him much about the craft of songwriting and the art of being selective.
“After a while, I realised I was writing a lot of okay songs but not a lot of great songs. It’s important to understand the craft but what makes a song great is its heart and soul. I only get there when I work with people regularly and when there’s chemistry.”
One such person is Peters, a key member of his musical circle. The pair shared an instant creative connection. On their first songwriting session together they wrote Blackbird, a haunting tale of murder, incest and arson, which won International Song of the Year at the UK Americana Awards in 2016.
“Usually, on your first co-write you can be a little hesitant but with Gretchen and me it was completely different” he says. “We were able to dive straight into the deep dark themes.”
Glover attributes his fascination with storytelling to his childhood in Glenarm, Northern Ireland.
“I’m the youngest of six and we would all sing or recite poems at Christmas and family gatherings. That’s what everybody did; I think it’s an Irish thing.”
At 13, Glover started playing the guitar and writing. He spent his teenage years listening to Bob Dylan and Irish music, while his mates were immersed in the Britpop scene.
“I definitely wasn’t edgy or cool,” he chuckles. “I just always wanted to be a guy on stage with an acoustic guitar.”
After school, Glover studied law, although he says he never had any intention of becoming a lawyer. Following university, he focused on gigging and songwriting.
“I floated through my 20s somewhat. When you’re that age you can be free and spirited and get away without being too anchored. But there came a point in my early 30s when I realised I had to totally commit.”
The move to Nashville was an extension of that commitment. “When I got here I realised where the bar was regarding songwriting and singing – and that bar was exceptionally high.
“When you go to a big music city – be it New York, LA, London or Nashville – you realise how tough it is. It either scares you and makes you want to go back to a safe environment or it inspires and motivates you. “There can be a downside, though. In Nashville you’re always aware of what your peers are doing and there’s always something going on. This can be great, or actually quite lonely.”
When he wants to escape the music business, Glover travels around the Delta region with his wife, a southerner.
“I love the Delta, the landscape and the pace of life. I love Leonard Cohen, Hank Williams and the blues.” Glover sees the parallels between the blues – born in the Delta out of the work songs and narrative ballads of the African-American slaves – and Irish music.
“Music was the only way they (African Americans) could express themselves. In many ways, it was the same with Ireland and all the troubles they faced. There’s a sadness and a melancholy that I recognise in both cultures.”
Cover photo: Jim Demain
- 10 May – London, Kings Place (supporting Mary Gauthier)
- 11 May – Carlisle, Carlisle Folk and Blues Club
- 12 May – Aberdeen, The Blue Lamp 15 May – Birmingham, Kitchen Garden Cafe
- 16 May – Tadcaster, Everything Good Goes
- 17 May – London, Kings Place (supporting Mary Gauthier)
- 18 May – Worthing, Coastal Connections
- 19 May – Cambridge, Cambridge Junction 26 May – Culdaff, McGrory’s [Ireland]
- 31 May – Larne, N. Ireland, Larne Town Hall 1 June – Belfast, The Black Box