Call & Response: Ben Poole

Ben Poole standing in front of a white wall, looking to his right.
Ben Poole: making friends in high places.

The Coventry-born, Bedford-raised singer and guitarist Ben Poole grew up surrounded by instruments. “My dad was a professional musician for over a decade, there were always guitars lying around the house, a piano, ukuleles, flutes, a sax and a big record collection too, with everything from Frank Sinatra to David Bowie to learn from,” he tells The Blues. “I picked up one of his guitars when I was nine and started playing, I guess it was kind of inevitable I’d end up making music myself.”

After graduating, he quickly made his name with his 2013 debut album, Let’s Go Upstairs and also widened his audience with endorsements from Jeff Beck (“fucking amazing, I really loved his playing,” said Beck) and Gary Moore (“a really great player”). In 2014, he issued Live At The Royal Albert Hall and this year sees Time Has Come, which features a stellar line-up of guests including Aynsley Lister, Henrik Freischlader and Todd Sharpville on guitars and Stevie Nimmo on backing vocals.

Time Has Come is infused with a live energy.

It was important to keep the energy and excitement of the live show on the album, so we recorded as much as we could live. The drums, bass and Hammond organ were tracked live, it was three guys in the room together and there is a lot of bleed, so it sounds more raw and edgy. Then I tracked the guitars and vocals and made them sound as exciting as I could to fit in.

You’ve got Wayne Proctor as your producer on this album.

Our paths kept crossing, we became good friends and started talking about making this album. We have great chemistry and he has a lot of good ideas. He’s passionate about what he does and what I do and he understood what I wanted to do with this album. We threw the same names into the hat before we had even started as markers, like Jonny Lang, John Mayer, Robert Cray. Guys on the bluesy rock side, but with mainstream sensibility, which will hopefully open up a few more doors for me. This album has a really nice overview of my style, covering everything from rock and blues to soul and pop, and even elements of funk and gospel.

Aynsley Lister is on the album too.

I was a big fan of his, I used to go and watch him play when I was 15, 16. He really inspired me to get into blues. We first met in 2011 at a festival, we were both on the bill. We continued to cross paths and became good friends and when I asked him if he wanted to play on the album, he was totally up for it. He came down to the studio and we jammed eyeball to eyeball.

You like jamming?

It’s a great culture, kindred spirits drawn together, with the same mind-set, no competition or rivalry. Just a bunch of guys trying to make a living, embracing each other and going out and spreading the word and having some fun.

Jeff Beck was lovely, he gave me some of his birthday cake.

You jammed with Jeff Beck. How did that come about?

One of the directors at the Brighton Institute Of Music had always been really supportive of me. He saw I had a niche with my love of blues and soul. He was also friends with Jeff Beck, so when he got him to come and take a masterclass, he got in touch with me. I’d graduated by then, but he said Jeff Beck was coming in and needed someone to play guitar with. Jeff was awesome, not only an amazing player, but also one of the most lovely guys I’ve met. It was his birthday the day he came in and he was playing the Brighton Centre in the evening. He invited me to the soundcheck, to the gig and to his party after, and gave me some of his birthday cake too.

Did you suffer nerves?

I’ve never really got nerves. I love being on stage and playing in front of people face-to-face so you get to see their immediate response. Actually, that was one of the reasons Jeff Beck wanted to play the masterclass before his show at the Centre. He gets very nervous and wanted to get the nerves out of the way performing in front of 100 people first.

One of those 100 people watching the masterclass was Gary Moore, wasn’t it?

I’d been a big fan of his for a long time too. So to hang out with him, it was amazing but weird as I’d had posters of him on my wall. There we were in the pub after the class having a few beers. We both lived in Brighton at the time and he came to see one of my shows there. I asked him if he wanted to jam, he said yes and we played for a very long time, did loads of songs: Cream’s Crossroads, BB King’s The Thrill Is Gone. He gave me great advice too.

Which was?

He was obviously still very humble when discussing his influences. He was still so in awe of Peter Green and Eric Clapton and Albert King and he was talking about them with such enthusiasm, and his advice was to go and listen to them, to their phrasing and their tone, cos that’s what he did.

Who were the musicians who changed everything for you?

When I heard Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile when I was 12, I knew I wanted to play electric guitar. Then at 16 I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Live At The El Mocambo and I knew I definitely wanted to do this. Around the same time I heard Jeff Healey’s See The Light, that was an inspiration too. All three were really on the edge of things, they created such an exciting, energetic sound, you can feel they are putting their entire body and soul into what they are playing.

Time Has Come is out now on Manhaton.