Having been a recurring attraction at Cambridge Rock Festival since 2011, renowned guitarist and singer Ben Poole returned to set foot on the Blues Rock Stage once again on Sunday the 6th of August, marking his fifth appearance at the festival. After his performance, I was lucky enough to sit down with Ben to discuss his history with Cambridge Rock Festival, his recent accomplishments and what the future holds for the prodigious bluesman.
Having been a frequent act at Cambridge Rock Festival since 2011, could you just give us a very general overview of your journey over the past six years to start us off?
It’s gone quickly, for a start. Luckily, it’s been a steady build and I’ve broken into new territory each year. It started off with me breaking into Holland and then I’d break my way into Germany and then Austria and Switzerland and now it’s Spain and Italy. This year, I’ve done Russia for the second time and America a few weeks ago, so it’s been gradual, but I think that’s good, in a way.
Also, I know you’ve played the Royal Albert Hall, you’ve toured with some pretty big names from across the blues rock map and you’ve been up to a lot of other really significant stuff recently, so is there any one experience you can pinpoint as being pivotal to your growth as an artist?
Well, doing the Albert Hall thing was definitely cool because we got the album out of it, which was a step-up on the ladder for me without even realising it, seeing as it was just another gig for me at the time and then it went on to be recorded by the BBC and released. Playing with Jeff Beck was undoubtedly big for me, though, because so much stuff came from that, like meeting Gary Moore, and this was back in my early 20s, maybe six or seven years ago. It was definitely pivotal for me because I got the kudos from Jeff Beck and I used that quote he said about me for promotion, which would help me get gigs and stuff. You have to make the most of these things and milk those lucky little moments as much as you can to expand your career. For me, at that point, I had no management, no record label, so getting that little fix helped me get noticed. To be honest, though, there have been so many cool things to happen to me in the last few years. I’ve been very blessed, very lucky.
Seeing as you mentioned Jeff Beck, could you just briefly run us through your main inspirations, not just as a guitarist, but also as a singer and a bluesman in general, and talk about whether or not attempting to branch out from these influences is a factor in your music?
Well, it’s not like I set out to be unique, I just do my thing and hopefully the amalgamation of all my different influences will create something unique because that’s all you can do, really. Earlier in my career, the big ones for me were Jeff Healey, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, who are the kings of the blues rock guitar thing. These days, I’m really into soul music and, as a singer, I really love Otis Redding, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye. Band-wise, I love Free, Humble Pie, Small Faces, Faces and just all the early Rod Stewart, really. Perhaps more surprisingly, though, I love a lot of country guitar players. Some of the best country guitar players are amongst the most ridiculous guitar players in the world and are often wrongfully overlooked, I think. So I pull from quite a few places, really, and in terms of more modern stuff, I admire James Morrison – I think he’s awesome – and also Paolo Nutini and James Bay cool. Funnily enough, James Bay supported me at a gig when I first moved down to Brighton and now he’s absolutely smashing it. I love what all these guys are doing, though, because they’re kind of bringing back blues and soul. I mean, James Bay is a soul man and you can hear it in his voice and the way he sings. To be honest, I just appreciate anyone who sings with soul.
So, given that you pull from quite an eclectic array of influences, what made blues music specifically stand out to you and made you want to make it the bedrock of everything you do musically?
Like I was saying, anything where you can hear that it’s heartfelt and soulful stands out to me, and I guess blues is the most primitive form of that, so that’s what inspired me when I was starting out. My dad was a musician, so I was always surrounded by good music, but my parents were never into blues, so I had to find the blues myself and that maybe helped it connect with me.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to catch all of your set, but for the parts that I did catch, not only was I enamoured by your playing, but your band was also exceptionally adroit, so could you tell us about how you came to form this band and how long they’ve been with you and such?
Well, this show is actually only my drummer’s third gig. He produced my album and played drums on some of it, but this is only the third gig we’ve done with him. Friday was his first gig whilst we were in Germany. There were no rehearsals, we just went straight in and he smashed it. He’s a world-class drummer and he’s played with a lot of my heroes and a lot of the big UK blues guys I listened to whilst I was growing up, like Aynsley Lister, Ian Parker and Oli Brown, and he plays in a band called King King now, so I’ve always looked up to him and knew he was a great drummer. Of course, with him having produced my album, he did already know some of the songs before the gig on Friday because of the recordings, but it was still wicked having him on board, jamming out these songs. Amongst my band, there’s just so much positivity. Sometimes you’ll be in a band where people don’t really want to talk about the music or the set after a show, but with this band, it’s always like, “ah man, what can we do to get better?” and we all feed off this positivity. Joe, the keyboard player, I met in Poland. I was doing a show over there and I just had a three-piece band at the time, so I had no keyboard player then. He was playing in the headline band and I hadn’t really even heard him play that much, but it was just one of those crazy nights with a lot of alcohol involved and we were just sitting together drinking Cognac at five in the morning and we hit it off straight away as people and as mates. Like I say, I didn’t really know what his playing was like. We did an after-show jam at one point and I could tell you that he was good, but I was so drunk at this point that I couldn’t say exactly what he sounded like. We stayed in touch for a couple of years and eventually I got him to gig with us, which is great because we’re just really good mates. Bo is the bassist and he’s absolutely brilliant. He lives in my town in Brighton as well, so I met him through the music scene down there. But yeah, my boys are all awesome and it makes my job so easy when I’m backed by such talented and passionate musicians.
Lastly, with the release of your album last year, what does the future look like for you? Are you hoping to focus on touring, are you eager to get back in the studio and write some new material, or do you have any other plans in particular?
Well, me and Wayne are talking at the moment about doing the next album basically, so we’ll hopefully record that at the end of this year. So over the next couple of weeks, I’m just concentrating on writing because I’ve got a couple of weeks off now, which is great because I’m totally burnt out, to be honest. It’s been a busy, busy few months touring, so I’ll be going back down to Brighton and doing some writing with a few different people. In fact, one of the guys who I wrote ‘Time Might Never Come’ with was here tonight, so I’ll try and do some writing with him for a couple of days and work with a few different songwriters for another couple of days and I’m basically sort of hoping to be a sponge for the next few weeks and see what I can pull together. The more songs I can get together, the better, and then I’ll just pick the best 10, 11, 12 for the album. So yeah, we’re looking forward to doing the next album because it’ll give us something big to tour again and we need a new product and new songs to play.