We interviewed Reading singer-songwriter Ben Marwood to discuss his latest release, Bury Me in the Pantheon, his upcoming album Get Found and his upcoming U.K. tour.
Interview by Jane Howkins.
You’ve just released a new track called Bury Me In The Pantheon. What can you tell us about that?
Bury Me In The Pantheon is an entirely fictional story about some young thing swanning in and catching the eye of someone I like. In my head he has good hair and is ten years younger than me, and thinks he’s so swish that he should be buried in the Pantheon. The chorus is more about how it’s a front, and everyone’s a little insecure. For some reason when I picture him, he looks like Simon Amstell.
Do you have an interest in ancient history, or did you choose to name the song that for a different reason? If so, can we expect any more classics based tunes?
I don’t have an interest in ancient history but I did really love Rome as a city. I’d spoken to lots of people who were blown away by it, so I read up on the history around it and who was buried there, booked a trip, and then the song fell into place. When I was there I took about thirty photos and none of them even got close to capturing the general majesty, but maybe that says something about my photography skills. It’s never occurred to me that it could be the first in a line of songs. Maybe I could do some around famous European landmarks. If you see in the future I’ve written a song called Dangle Me From The Eiffel Tower, you’ll know what’s happened.
You also have an album out in April, titled Get Found. It’s been quite a long wait between albums (Back Down was released in 2013), are you excited to finally be releasing it? What can you tell us about the album?
The first thing I can tell you is that I’m very happy with it, and the second thing I can tell you is that I’m really nervous. I’ve played it to a few people who have, unprompted, said it’s the best one of the three albums, and I feel like that’s a great personal achievement. I was in pretty dire health at one point, but recording this album made for some good rehabilitation and it ticks a lot of things off my musical bucket list. One of the songs is just me and a piano, and I can’t even play a piano.
Am I excited? Absolutely. These songs were mostly written between 2013 and 2014, so they’ve been kicking around in my head for a good long while, and I’ve been really controlled in not playing many of them live, so it’s like they’re getting a fresh start. I guess I am, too! Still plenty of boxes left to tick on that musical bucket list though, so I guess I should get planning for album four.
We hear that you became quite ill a couple of years ago, and we’re glad that you’re on the mend. We trust you’re feeling better?
Yeah! This upcoming tour is going to be a test of how well I am. I’ve done some decent prep – I went to New York in November because the closest thing to simulating tour conditions seems to be jet lag: irregular sleep schedules, unfamiliar environments and so on. I came out of it OK, so I guess I’m ready to go! I’m on the road with a good bunch of people so hopefully it’ll be just fine. One of the things I’m taking away from this chronic illness business is how incredibly boring it is to always feel tired and/or unbalanced, but I refuse to just wait until I’m totally better to do fun things like this. What if you never get all the way better? I hope my doctor doesn’t read this. I pretend I’m getting plenty of rest.
You’re also going on tour across the U.K. in April, playing some quite intimate dates. Is that something you prefer to larger gigs? How do you find they differ?
I love both in different ways, but I’ve always maintained that smaller shows are my favourite. Something about my songs seems to work better in smaller rooms. It might have something to do with my favourite venue in Reading, where I live, being the Rising Sun Arts Centre which has a capacity of roughly sixty and is a bit like playing in someone’s living room. Or it might be more to do with how smaller rooms are easier to read and engage with.
You’re playing a show in York, which we’re particularly excited about! Have you played much in this area before, and do you like it?
I suspect I’m at the Fulford Arms! I went into Fibbers once (when it was at Stonebow House), and they were having an indie night. We ended up going next door to Duchess and danced to some ridiculous pop classics. It’s that kind of night that makes touring really special – a chance to hang out with friends amid unpredictable events.
Anyway, I’ve never played this venue before but I’m really looking forward to it, and I love York to pieces. In interviews people often ask me where I most enjoy heading to or where I’d live on this island of ours, having seen a fair bit of it, and York is always one of my answers for both the scenery and the people. The crowd in York are always superb – I think I’ve played for the same promoters every time, they’re called One For The Road and they’re great no matter where we end up.
Helen Chambers is accompanying you as a support act on tour. Do you have much choice over who tours with you, and were you already a fan of Helen before the tour was announced?
I do normally have a choice, and I’m so happy Helen can join us. I met her at a show a few years ago where we were on the same bill, and since then we’ve been threatening to make this happen. In truth I wasn’t the one to set this tour up – it was booked by Non Canon, who is both the main support for this run of shows (with good reason, he’s ace), is one of my best friends in the world, and has seemingly become my booking agent in some strange way.
We both knew Helen and are excited that she can join us for most of these shows, though there is an air of general disbelief that it’s finally happening. The first thing I heard from Helen after this tour was confirmed was a message that just read: “Is this finally happening?!” Will it happen, or will I wake up tomorrow and it’s all been a dream? Let’s see.
We hear that you played alongside Frank Turner at the London Olympics Opening Ceremony in 2012. How was that, and how did you get the gig? We assume you and Frank are friends?
You assume correctly, and I think the most genuine answer I can give is: it was the most surreal moment of my whole life. Have you ever had one of those moments where you are overwhelmingly conscious that you are experiencing one of the peak events in your life? For a lot of people it’s marriage or the birth of a child, but for me it was standing on a model of Glastonbury Tor watching people in costume playing cricket and doing laundry in the company of 60,000+ onlookers. Once we left the hill we passed rows and rows of people dressed up as the Beatles and those giant Yellow Submarine balloons and I thought “well, this is quite a day”. It was probably the best day of my life so far, though I should probably confirm that I’m not married and I don’t have any children.
Frank Turner and I have been friends for a while, he’s very supportive and I owe him so, so much. More than I can ever really give back, short of an organ transplant, but I caught up with him earlier this week and am pleased to report he seems in good health, so no need for that yet.
Why do you think people should come and see you perform, and what can people expect from a Ben Marwood show?
Expect noise and singing and audience participation (the good kind). Expect new songs and old songs, all of them channelled through the medium of an acoustic guitar in a style which is roughly folky with mild swearing. There’ll probably be a song about the Pantheon, so fans of the Pantheon might also like to attend.
Any last words for the fans?
Yes! Generally: enjoy yourselves, have fun and the next time you eat some cake, have an extra slice for me. Thanks!