Two albums in and it looked like things were progressing well for singer-songwriter Ben Marwood.
Signed to Xtra Mile Recordings, he had joined labelmate Frank Turner on a US-wide tour and accompanied him at the opening of the 2012 London Olympics.
But then an an inner-ear illness floored Ben for much of 2014-15, bringing his music career to a virtual standstill while he got better and regrouped.
‘It was like a post-viral thing,’ explains Ben. ‘It’s been intense.’
‘Stress was a factor as well. The more shows loomed up, the more I would stress about that, and it went from there. There came a time when I just had to can it all. I was making these plans months in adavance, assuming I’d be all right by then, but of course I wasn’t. In the end I had to take an enforced hiatus.
‘I used the time to upgrade my home studio, so it was well worth it!’
Yes, now Ben is back with a new album of acoustic pop – Get Found.
‘It’s been a strange few years- a bit up and down, but it’s more or less under control now which is why we’re taking this on the road for the first time in three years. There are lots of places I haven’t seen in the UK for a long time!’
A couple of songs make reference to his illness. ‘I’m not dead, I’m not dying, I just can’t get up,’ he sings on I’m Wide Awake, It’s Boring, and The Devil Makes Work For Jazz Hands, a meditation on death and immobility.
There’s also a rather pretty piano piece on there, cryptically called DNFTTTS. It’s lovely, but what’s the title mean?’
‘I don’t know if I should pretend that it stands for something deep and meaningful,’ he laughs, ‘but it’s literally Don’t Forget To Title This Song, so I used that as the code and then that just became the name. Officially it’s called that, but I’m thinking about coming up with a load of elaborate titles to fit it.
‘It was good fun to record that, we did that in one of the arts centres in Reading that was kind enough to open up for me on a Sunday. I can’t actually play piano, so it was interesting – I bought a cheap charity shop keyboard and learnt this one song. I did one piano lesson as child and ditched it in favour of guitar, but now as a 35-year-old man I think: “Ah, maybe I should have stuck at both”, because piano is amazing.’
Because of his illness, a lot of the songs are actually a couple of years old.
‘I was kind of stuck in that tour/write/record cycle, so all these songs were written at the end of the second one, so it was about summer 2013/4.
‘Probably the newest song is about two, two-and-a-half-years old, which is kind of weird, because I’ve been living with these songs for three years but it’s the first time anyone else will have heard them.
‘I have started writing some other new songs, so I’ve got a bunch of new songs already which I can’t play yet.
‘It should be really good, I’ve got my favourites from the new album so it should be good.’
The album was recorded in Reading but mixed at The Old Blacksmiths Studios in Portsmouth – Ben is friends with local act The Retrospective Soundtrack players, and sang on their Christmas album at the studio.
It’s not his only connection to the city – he saw his first ever gig here, Put Your Hands On rockers Reef at the Pyramids.
‘It was in about 1997, I think. Later, I think the singer Gary Stringer went into another band who were signed to the same label I was – Xtra Mile, which was a bit odd.’
There follows some discussion about the merits of ’90s rock which takes in a mutual love of The Mallrats Soundtrack, the relationship between pro-wrestlnig and music and leads to the uber-cool Seattle radio station KEXP, which you can catch here on the internet.
The radio station is entirely listener-funded, and Ben likes to do his bit from here: ‘I try to give them money once a year, so I have this membership card that gives me money off for shops thousands and thousands of miles away! As a resource for music the station’s absolutely invaluable. I am planning to make some weird Seattle pilgrimage out there to go and bow down before the new building and congratulate them on their hard work.’
Like his music, it’s a typically thoughtful moment.
At the start of Get Found, there’s a child’s voice. It is actually Ben, in a recording his parents found at their home after Ben moved back for a while to recuperate during his illnees.
‘They found all of these old cassette tapes of me as a child. When it came time to record this album and I needed something to start it, so I started listening to them – most of them were me singing Michael Jackson songs, so I used this one about how I wanted a rabbit, and I did get that rabbit.
Southsea Sound, Southsea
Saturday, April 8, two shows