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Film, Album, Single and Event Reviews

Live Review: Ben Caplan at Kew Gardens

  • By SteveGamble
  • 10 Jul 2013
  • Event Date 9 Jul 2013
SupaJam meets the wonderfully bearded, charming, and passionate Ben Caplan.

With the sun beaming down on Kew Gardens, Ben Caplan confidently strides onto the stage just a couple of days after his success at Glastonbury 2013. A wonderfully bearded Canadian in his late twenties, Caplan is charming and exuberant in equal measure; he exudes energy even without the presence of his backing band, the Casual Smokers. The expansive arrangement of his tracks requires a little more work to fill in the gaps when playing solo, but he’s certainly up to the challenge. In opener ‘Southbound’, Caplan’s voice swings between mimicking gypsy-style fiddle melodies and articulating bluesy growls, followed by the charging chords and folky inflections of ‘Birds with Broken Wings’.

The audience at Kew Gardens consists wholly of seated, sun-soaked picnickers, and I found myself fighting the urge to stand and stomp along to Caplan’s dancier tunes; the infectious ‘Beautiful’ evidences the musician’s uninhibited passion, and is carefully juxtaposed by the tender ‘Drift Apart’. “What use is a sunny day if you can’t bring a bit of bitter heartbreak into it?” he inquires, and quite justifiably - the song’s poignant nostalgia is conveyed with excellent dynamic control. 

Both ‘Down to the River’ and his closer ‘Stranger’ are executed with the same consistent charisma - the former with a philosophical sense of yearning, and the latter narrating a tale of misanthropy, bellowing his Russian waltz-style tune with alveolar trills and booming chants aplenty. After Ben had played, we sat in his dressing room behind the astonishingly beautiful and grandiose greenhouses of Kew Gardens and discussed his style and influences, life on the road, and of course, that brilliant beard...

How was Glastonbury?

Smashing. Yeah, it went super well. You don’t know what to expect with Glastonbury, but I was fortunate - all three of my shows were just packed. Over the course of the weekend, I probably played to 5000 people, which is wonderful.

I seem to be catching you at the end of a very busy touring period - how has that been? How’s life on the road?

It’s life, you know? I’m into a rhythm now... I’ve been on tour pretty much since my record [2011‘s In the Time of the Great Remembering] came out.

That’s very impressive - a testament to a dedicated touring musician.

Well, you know - when I started I had nothing but the sweat on my back and a credit card. I just sort of made it work and at this point it’s sort of flowing... so it seems like the investment and the insanity has paid off.

How do you feel about ‘breaking into’ the British music scene?

It’s a goal I set for myself. To me, it’s part of a very long project - I just wanna be able to do my thing, you know?

I bloody do. How are the British fans? Have we “not been perfect for you”?

<laughs>

Sorry. 

No, that was good, that was good. British fans have been wonderful actually, even from the early days. People got connected right away, and offering to help me. I’ve been lucky that there’s always been a few people who have gone above and beyond!

Great to hear. How would you want your style to be described to entice new fans?

I’ve been saying recently... folk rock mixed with gypsy soul.

I like that.

That works? Yeah. There’s a few different things in there.

What’re your thoughts on the UK-based scene right now - what critics are calling nu-folk? Mumford and Sons, Laura Marling...

Yeah, sure - I dig it. I guess in general I’m just turned on by acoustic sounds. [Bowie plays in the background.] It’s just about sounds which I can understand... it connects me to something aesthetically.

A lot of people have compared you to Tom Waits. Is that a heavy Waits on your shoulders?

No, no, <laughs> it’s flattering - I’m a Tom Waits fan for sure. In a lot of ways, he’s been an inspiration for me, but he’s one of maybe thirty different artists who I take inspiration from. Singing-wise, I probably learn more from Louis Armstrong than Tom Waits. But he’s probably the most well-known artist which informs my sound. But yeah, I always find it flattering.

Do you prefer being in the studio or on tour?

I think I probably prefer being on tour. The live thing is something that I’ve done a lot of, and I’m in my element and I know how it works. If something goes terribly wrong, I know how to recover it and roll with it, whereas in the studio it’s like - you’ve got to put everything under the microscope and have all of the right mistakes and none of the wrong ones. 

Yeah. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had an awful trainwreck gig, because people always remember the energy, not the notes. But it’s the opposite on an album.

Sure. It definitely seems that you really give it your all in live performance - have you ever broken an instrument on stage?

Er.. yes.

Several?

A couple pianos. Yeah... you don’t want to break a piano on stage.

And on the studio side of things, what’s on the horizon for another release?

I’ll be heading to the studio first thing in the fall, as soon as I get off this tour.

Ace. Your Street Team are the Beard Brigade, so I have to ask - what do you call your beard style? If I try to emulate it, am I growing a ‘Ben Caplan’?

I think you’re growing a Ben Caplan. <laughs>

Do you secretly hate the beard, and it’s just for the ladies?

The ladies do love the beard.

 

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You can grab Ben’s 2011 album In the Time of the Great Remembering, or ItTotGR for short (or for confusing), online, or in any good retail stores if they still exist. And you really should. Because we love you, you can also download a free version of Ben's track 'Stranger' from here.


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