The Black Box, Belfast
1st June 2018

It’s fair to say quite a few people had high expectations for this Ben Glover gig. Riding on the back of the best album of his career, and excellent reviews of his recent solo gigs, a full-house at the Black Box were anticipating a stellar night.

Well, the man from Glenarm, Co. Antrim delivered. In spades. This was a night to be savoured as some of the best local talents around came out to support a very relaxed Ben Glover, playing what is essentially a hometown show.

Backed throughout the night by the supremely talented John McCullough on keyboards and accordion, Ben showcased much of the new album ‘Shorebound’. Of the 12 tracks on the record, 10 are co-writes with artists of the caliber of Gretchen Peters, Mary Gauthier, Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue, and guests for the night, Matt McGinn, Anthony Toner, and Malojian.

Kicking off the night with ‘Keeper Of My Heart’ and What You Love Will Break Your Heart’, with his distinctive mellow voice with that little rasp to it, and upbeat pace, the audience was immediately on board, and knew this was to be a special night.

Ben has an easy self-depreciating way with his chat with the crowd, hinting that the sad songs were to come later, and then intonating, that the sad songs may be called Matt and Anthony!

There is an excellent stagecraft on evidence here tonight, built on years of playing clubs and pubs that belies this easy manner, and the humour is spaced with consideration on the nature of the songs.

‘Song Of Home’ is a reflection on Ben’s position between two shores, as an emigrant to The States, yet with so many obvious ties to Ireland. ‘Catbird Seat’ was, Ben suggested, a bit like Brexit. No one is really sure what’s going on, but you know it’s not going to end well!

Dealing with inner demons was the subject for ‘Dancing With The Beast’, another co-write with Gretchen Peters.

Next up was a duet with Matt McGinn, the delightful ‘Northern Stars’. Sadly Malojian, who would have also appeared on stage for this song, couldn’t make it as he is recovering from donating a kidney to a family member.

Anyone who knows Malojian’s main man Stevie Scullion will also know this is a typical act of kindness from the musical magician.

Ben and Matt’s voices blend superbly, with Glover trying to fill Malojian’s high bridge. Matt McGinn sang a beautiful rendition of ‘Somewhere To Run To’ from his latest album ‘The End Of The Common Man’ sounding uncannily like Van Morrison at times.

Next up, was the highlight of the night. A stunning version of Ben’s ‘Oh Soul’ with Anthony Toner showing how slide guitar should be played and Matt and Ben sharing vocals. That’s worth the admission alone.

After a short break, Anthony again joined Ben for a touching ode to the much missed Bap Kennedy in the form of ‘Shipwrecked Friend’, which was met with a reverential silence by the crowd.

Let the mighty ocean roar. Let it bring us all ashore. We will meet again. My shipwrecked friend.

The format of the evening gave us a solo from Anthony Toner in ‘Sailortown’, a song of our times, and as relevant now, where the Black Box is situated in the Cathedral Quarter, as was when first penned in the noughties about the gentrification of one of the oldest parts of our city.

Ben and the amazing Mr. McCullough breathed a different quality into two Orphan Brigade tunes, ‘Trouble My Heart (Oh, Harriet)’ set in a haunted house in the American deep South, and ‘Flying Joe’ about a levitating priest in Italy. You couldn’t write this stuff. Well actually, Ben Glover does.

Following what was always going to be a standing ovation, the encore, we had been told to expect by Ben, occurred, and managed to up the bar even further. A blistering version of Dylan’s ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’ by all four players on the night, lead to quips that they should form a new Northern Ireland boy band. “Take Thon” was one suggestion, “Boys a Dear” was another. Calls to play ‘Tiger Feet’ and ‘Shang-a-lang’ were thankfully ignored.

The bonhomie of the artists on stage was infectious, and the crowd would have loved more, but sadly all good things come to an end, and Ben left us with a song which will be no doubt covered by numerous singers in the future, the sublime ‘Kindness’, which is a call to our better nature in these harsh times, and a blessing to us all.

More than all, may this be true. May you know kindness. May Kindness know you.

Sometimes a special gig comes along and it is a privilege to have attended it. This is a gig that people will remember and talk about for a long time. It reminds us the depth and sheer quality of the talent that we have locally, and the star in our midst that is Ben Glover.

The sheer quality of his writing is enough to raise him to a different level. The fact that he delivers these exceptional songs with such skill, versatility and sensitivity sets him a cut above most of his contemporaries in the Americana scene. If a certain Danish Brewery did gigs, they would probably look (and sound) like this!

Ben Glover Setlist The Black Box, Belfast, Northern Ireland 2018