I met up with Ben after
his gig at the
Skegness Rock & Blues Festival,
What are your first musical memories?
Ben: Probably Great-Grandad playing the piano and singing “I am a
cider drinker”. Also, we had this Japanese student with us and the
first record I ever got given was from her and it was 'Sick Man
Blues' by the Goodies.
Alan: Did you always want to become a musician?
Ben: No. I had nothing to do with music until I went to secondary
school and all the kids were into soft heavy metal, bands like Kiss but
it just never did anything for me. Then Fats Dominos 60th
birthday party came on TV and I just fell in love with him the minute he
came on. And that’s when it changed for me and I thought, “Yes, that’s
what I want to do”.
Alan: How did you learn to play piano?
Ben: By watching videos of Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis and
mimicking them. Also, my Mum and Dad used to go to a lot of gigs and my
aunt and uncle used to put bands on. Ian Stewart, who formed the
Rolling Stones with Brian Jones, was a friend of the family so he played
at my cousin’s 18th birthday party and my aunt’s 25th.
I used to go and watch him on the left side of the piano and work out
what he was doing and I just learnt like that.
Alan: So what kind of material were you playing in the early days?
Ben: Similar to what I’m doing now. Although I’m always writing
songs and changing, I like the feeling of Fats Domino and Jerry Lee
Lewis and try to keep that sort of feeling going.
Alan: Probably a daft question, but who are your favourite artists?
Ben: All sorts really but obviously all the early boogie woogie piano
players like Pete Johnson, Fats Domino, Jack Dupree, Ray Charles, Jerry
Lee Lewis. I love the Stones, Bruce Springsteen, the stuff that’s got a
bit of energy to it. John Cleary...I just love piano-based music
Alan: So what switched you on to boogie-woogie in particular?
Ben: Fats Domino. But I should also mention a piano player called
Diz Watson who was a really good friend of the family and he used to
show me stuff on the piano and I think he’s fantastic.
So what first attracted you to the New Orleans sound?
Ben: Professor Longhair. When I was into the Fats Domino stuff
several people told me to listen to Professor Longhair and I heard
Tipitina and spent the next six weeks trying to work it out.
Alan: Are there any particular songs which you play which have
special meaning to you?
Ben: My wife always loves the Ray Charles 'Alleluia, I Love Her
So' so when I play that I think of her.
Alan: You’ve played with an amazing range of artists and bands in
your career so far. You must have some fond memories – any you could
share with us?
Ben: Mmmm, anybody in particular
Alan: Perhaps Jools Holland?
Ben: He’s been so fantastic. I first met him when I joined Shaking
Stevens when I was 18, and he had Chris Holland on piano as well.
Shaking Stevens said, “You’ve been recommended so you can do half the
gig and Chris can do half and then you can chat to each other and see if
it’s going to work out”. So we went up to the TUC Conference in
Scarborough, played half each and Chris thought it went well so he got
me to do the support for Jools, some 17 years ago. We remained friends
and he played on my CD and is playing on this next one. He lent me his
studio to record a CD and got me to play at his wedding. He’s just been
really helpful over the years. He’s a sort of honorary member of this
new band, the ABC of Boogie Woogie, he sort of joined it but can’t
really join because of his TV show, his radio show and his own band.
But all the gigs he can, he makes.
Tell me about this project you’ve got coming up?
Ben: I decided to make an album and, as I said earlier, Ian Stewart
was a massive influence on me. Last time I did a totally original album
I spent ages on it, and I was wondering what to do with this one and
thought that I’d really love to say Thanks to Ian Stewart because he was
such a massive influence on me, and thousands of others. Everyone loved
him to bits. I said to Charlie Watts that I was doing this album for
Ian Stewart and he told me loads of stories about him, like how he
refused to play the parts of Stones tunes he didn’t like but they all
loved him to bits because he was such a character. As soon as I told
Charlie about it he said “I’ll come on it” and then I told Dave Green
and he offered to play bass. Then I bumped into Jools Holland and told
him what we were doing so he said, “Have my studio to record it. I
loved Ian Stewart, he was really kind to me. Have my studio.” We are
doing it for the Heart Foundation. Then I saw Dave Wood and he said
he’d come and do it. Everytime I speak to somebody, they want to get
involved. I’ve just been in the other room talking to the Blues Band
and they said “Oh, he used to play with us. We loved Stu, he was
fantastic”. He was one of those people that I’ve never heard anybody
say a bad word about him.
Alan: Tell me about your current band.
Ben: We’ve got Andy Milward on drums whose been with me for years and
years and years. He lives around the corner from me and we’ve toured
all over the place. Brilliant mate. He’s doing loads of other gigs
...... unfortunately at this point Ben had to move his equipment off
stage, and of course there wasn’t time to complete the interview. Hope
to catch up with Ben soon. Meanwhile many thanks to Ben for sparing what
free time he had.
Check out more photos of Ben at the
Skegness Rock & Blues Festival,
Blues Interviews List
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