Published on May 27th, 2014 | by Niall Norbury0
Rdg Bands: Ben Marwood
One of Reading’s biggest success stories in recent years, Ben Marwood has managed to break out from Reading’s local music scene and now found success on a national level. Having just completed a tour of the US with Frank Turner, we spoke with Ben Marwood about Reading bands and how to break out of a local music scene…
What first got you into music?
Genuinely, I don’t know. I mean, there must have been something but I’m not conscious of it. I’m told that my Mum took me to the shop to buy my first vinyl when I was two (I think?), so maybe we should be asking her instead. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t into music, anyway. On second thoughts, don’t ask my Mum anything, she’ll bust out the baby photos and embarrassing stories.
Who are your influences?
I’m not sure how I ended up sounding how I sound, but it’s probably a mixture of [late 90s indie kids] Hefner, Frank Turner, Ben Gibbard [of Death Cab for Cutie], Mountain Goats and Elliott Smith.
What are your most interesting experiences touring and performing?
Quite often my most interesting experiences come from accidentally wandering into a scene that you didn’t know existed. I love finding the little gems tucked away in the high streets. For example, amongst all the chain bars and restaurants in Leicester there’s a great independent cafe/venue called the Crumblin’ Cookie and everyone’s so welcoming. You can find places like that from time to time. I recently played in Glasgow at the Glad Cafe which looks just like a normal cafe, until you wander through some double doors and you’re in a proper venue. I welcome any place where you can watch a show, then turn around and walk twenty paces back and be able to buy some cake.
What is the best place to perform in Reading?
For me it’s the Rising Sun Arts Centre. There’s no stage, a pretty bare lighting rig, and in the old days (not now) you could never guarantee the PA was going to work, but the atmosphere in there was magic. Originally it was claimed by squatters, and so there’s always that feeling that you’re playing in someone’s front room. Without the centre, the volunteers and Club Velocity – the promoters who first gave me a chance there (against the advice of some, as I recall) – I wouldn’t have made it half as far as I have. The only thing that stops me playing there more often is its limited capacity.
Outside of the RSAC, my second favourite is the back room of South Street Arts Centre.
What is Reading’s music scene like?
Honestly, I rarely tend to make it to gigs much these days as if I have free time, I tend to spend it doing something non-musical. You can have too much of a good thing. When I do make it out to shows I tend to go to see Club Velocity shows or head out to see my friends Quiet Quiet Band or Damien A Passmore & the Loveable Fraudsters, or Bear and the Woods. Or Amy’s Ghost. I caught August List recently too, and they were pretty impressive. I think I fell a bit in love with the lead singer.
How did you brake out of a local music scene and into a national/international one?
The year was 1654, and..
Actually it’s a mixture of hard work and better luck. Through the Jetplane Landing message board (back when Jetplane Landing were a full-time band, and being on a message board was cool), I met a dude called Kieran who promoted shows in Devizes and so I played some gigs for him, and he put me on with a guy called Frank Turner who I didn’t know much about back in 2006, and over the next few years FT effectively laid waste to the UK, then the world, and I got pulled along in his wake.
It’s probably not as simple/easy as that. I owe Frank, and others, a lot but I put in my hours too, it wasn’t just a case of waiting by the phone like I always tend to make it sound. Me and a couple of friends set up a label imprint (Broken Tail Records) in early 2007 to promote ourselves, we scouted other acts, got ourselves on the radio, managed to worm our way into shops and got ourselves a digital deal through the awesome people at Josaka who I still work with, and as soon as I had that, other promoters started to sit up and listen and I got invited to festivals and so on. Between touring with Frank, self-releasing my own CDs and getting on the radio, I started gigging further afield, and before I knew it I was part of a little scene. I’m boring myself now so I’ll shut up about that and talk of someone else. I’d like to make a special mention to Oxygen Thief (or, Barry) who I met at a more or less empty Cambridge gig in 2008, and he pushed me to go on the road and meet all these people and without him, or Frank, I’d probably be at an open mic night right now crying into my lemonade.
I’d say in all I feel extremely fucking lucky to have all this happen after so many years of playing to not many interested parties. I used to be quite a bitter/acerbic man. It’s absolutely impossible to be that these days.
How did touring the US compare to touring the UK?
Touring the US was fantastic. Bearing in mind that sometimes if I play a show in York, some people a few miles down the road in Leeds can complain that I’m not playing in their town, out in the US everyone just expects to drive everywhere. They have no problem crossing states on a road trip just to come to shows. In the short time I was touring out there people had driven eight or nine hours, or flew in from the other side of the US.
I think if there are some stereotypes that hold true, it’s that the southern English crowd (not so much midlands/north or Scotland) can be a bit more reserved in looking like they’re enjoying themselves. I know I am. But there was an energy and enthusiasm about America that held true with just about every flag-waving, up-for-a-party stereotype and I missed it from the second I left the stage on the final show. I plan to go back, though finding funds is tough.
Finally, are there plans for an upcoming tour of the UK?
Yes. It will happen. Not right now though, because I have five shows between now and August and then I’m going to do something other than gigs for a while. I expect to be back out running around the UK sometime early in 2015.
Photo courtesy of Ben Morse.