Contemporary management speak takes me to the fair – that cold, remote lingo that reduces us to economic units and maybe if worthy, key stakeholders. That sort of thing. The irony does not go amiss at No Alibis, with a wry twist, an old style pavement blackboard announces: “Recreational Literature Dispensary” – this way.
Tonight, the medicine is music, pure and simple; with words that say what they mean, mean what they say. It’s Ben Glover.
No Alibis is only little with a big soul. I guess capacity is fifty to sixty seated at a push. Last Saturday I was here for Malojian. It has a special place in their heart, and Glover shares that sentiment. Artists love it here – the intimacy, the warmth, the milk of human kindness.
Ben says he’s supporting himself tonight – tongue in cheek, he’s giving himself an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to introduce ‘The Orphan Brigade’ and tell that story. The remarkable result of a creative collaboration in Octagon Hall, alleged to be America’s most haunted house. Opening with ‘Sweetheart’, up-tempo, dark theme.
Now, here’s a tale. It’s not every day Coke say they want one of your songs for an advertising campaign. ‘Whatever Happens Will’ from Ben’s 2012 album ‘Do We Burn the Boats?’ was picked by Coca-Cola for a TV ad in South America, the money changed accounts, but the advertising campaign was never seen or heard from again. For the record, nothing to do with Pablo Escobar whatsoever.
Although Glover misses home, the opportunities being Nashville-based bring are boundless. ‘Blackbirds’ – a happy little murder and incest ballad – written with Gretchen Peters, goes where other songwriters fear to tread. It won Best International Song at the UK Americana Awards last year.
From the ‘Atlantic’ album – written on the edge of the world at Ballyliffen with Matt McGinn and assorted others, a song about coming home – ‘Sing A Song Boys’, but it’s material from ‘The Orphan Brigade’ that features high in this first half. ‘Marching On Christmas Day’, based on a seventeen year old soldier’s diary, found at the spooky Octagon Hall, and ‘Oh Harriet’, the feisty female ghostie that took a shine to Mister Glover according to the haunted house’s visiting paranormal people who know about such things.
‘The Orphan Brigade’ are working on a new project – deep set in Italian catacombs. One to look forward to.
The second half of the gig sees Ben play the new album, ‘The Emigrant’ in order, in entirety for the first time. On keyboards, Rod McVeigh. It starts with ‘The Parting Glass’, usually a parting anthem in Irish gigs and pubs and parties. But Ben deliberately put it at the beginning – to signify the leaving of the emigrant – saying goodbye for a new beginning. It makes sense in this context.
‘Song Of Home’ was written in Nashville with Tony Kerr from Derry. A beautiful song that seeps into a kind of homesick stream of consciousness. The gift tonight is not just the music, but the bits in between that enlighten on the making of ‘The Emigrant’. The title song was formed but not finished when Ben was at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Monaghan, a type of creative retreat hub for Irish and other artists.
‘Moonshiner’ – covered by many from the Fureys to the newest Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan – was a song Glover first heard as a small boy in his Uncle’s hotel in Malin, Donegal. It was the Fureys and Davey Arthur. Trays of Guinness were sent up on stage, and wee boy Ben thought Finbar Furey a giant of a man. Decades later, in one of life’s surreal moments, Ben ends up playing a round of golf, with Finbar Furey in Nashville. He wins, the wheel has turned full circle.
Ralph McTell’s folk favourite ‘From Clare To Here’ features on ‘The Emigrant’ – as fine a version as you’ll hear about leaving but not letting go – and although Ben has gone to and fro across the Atlantic maybe fifty times or more, the ache for home never fully dissipates – in fact, it gets harder, as played out in ‘Heart In My Hand’.
Glover’s version of ‘The Auld Triangle’, attributed to Brendan Behan from his play ‘The Quare Fellow’ came about as he listened to an RTE podcast about Behan while up a ladder painting the back of his house, as you do. It’s a song about psychological displacement, as experienced by a prisoner, and a nod to the mind-forged manacles we make.
What can I say about Glover’s cover of ‘Waltzing Matilda’, except to say, please listen – a song about the futility of war, as true for today as it was one hundred years ago.
Finally, Glover never, ever, ever thought he’d cover a song like ‘The Green Glens Of Antrim’ – but for ‘The Emigrant’, it is the perfect ending – even if he displaces Cushendall in the lyrics for Glenarm.
Start to finish, The Emigrant, with Rod McVey on keyboards, in No Alibis was as good as it gets. Yet, one more tune is called for – impromptu, unrehearsed, Johnny Cash, ‘Ring Of Fire’. And on that note, it ends.
The upcoming gig in the Londonderry Arms, Carnlough is sold out, so you’ll have to wait to 2017 to catch Ben live on home ground – Friday 24th March in the Black Box or the 25th in Bennigans, Derry.
They’ll sell out too, so be quick.