January 15, 2016 by Robb Powell
Blogging and podcasting about music for nigh on four years now I have come across a myriad of hugely impressive bands and solo musicians. While the quality of material is always great and inspiring, every now and then something comes along that stuns to such a degree it can be difficult to find the words that can best encapsulate the vast scale of thoughts, emotions and feelings stirred up. Seeing singer-songwriter Ben Maggs play live at one of his album launch gigs at the end of November was just such a something.
However, let’s start at the beginning. It was seemingly rather random how I happened to stumble upon his marvellous music – on the back of a tweet linking to just one particular live video. This isn’t exactly an uncommon occurrence these days of course, but when the level of WOW hits so high it completely shatters the internal WOW-o-metre, then interest is duly piqued. Based on this video alone I was signed up wanting the album, due out imminently. As live music is such a huge and important part of my life, seeing a few more of Ben’s live videos kindled a yearning to see him perform live. Click, click, click and what’s this? An album launch in the town next door. In a matter of a week or so. At a venue I praise continuously for its astounding acoustics, too. Every gig I go to at The Stables in Milton Keynes sounds so pristine but it can never be forgotten how it takes the great talent and skills from an artist for the magic to truly work. Great for acoustics, yes but such conditions merely amplify the inherent capabilities of those up on the stage. Being the end of the month before Christmas it really was touch and go whether I was going to make it but in hindsight, I would have walked to Milton Keynes if I couldn’t have filled up the car that evening.
As all writers, I do at least try to avoid obvious cliché terms but I really was blown away with such tremendous force by the power, strength and quality of Ben’s performance that night. He is nothing short of outstanding! Magnificent! Or Maggsnificent, we could say. Far beyond even these descriptions, he is something unique. Knocked for six by the quality from those live videos I had gorged on prior, the Ben Maggs live (in the room) experience knocked me for a thousand! Or more, even. Kicking the evening off with a phenomenal run through of Let in the Light, it takes gumption to get a recently and by now already comfortably sitting crowd, up out of their seats on just the second song in. Ben charmed almost every single person up with the kind of ease that comes from a longstanding well-seasoned performer amongst long time loyal fans. The couple sitting next to me were enjoying the gig as much as everyone, don’t get me wrong (I heard them discussing how awesome Ben was at several points throughout the evening), but they were nevertheless in the minority of those not up and joining in. A few years ago this might well have been me too as shyness and a slight lack of confidence can hinder one just letting go. Even when one wants nothing more than to do just that. Not now, though and certainly not at the bidding of someone so enlightened who encouraged maximum involvement with this new song he hadn’t even really got a title for yet. By its very nature it shone the brightest of lights on its creator revealing the inherent beauty of the soul of this travelling troubadour.
One special element of these intimate gigs that seems prevalent from such soulful and philosophically inclined talented musicians, be the genre folk-infused or otherwise, is the depth of the detail and story they often share with you for each song as they work through their set. Ben takes you on a journey far beyond the warm cosy room you’re in so you can feel those bitter north winds blowing off the coasts of remote north-western Scotland. The intensity rouses in you an urge to batten down the hatches and shelter from The Storm being conjured up and hurled out towards you so imaginatively and at times ferociously via guitar and song. Until the winds subside and Ben renders the resulting calmness just as perfectly. There’s also more peaceful adventures like the sacred silence of midnight walks under star-filled skies, bathing in the soothing moonshine of that Winter Moon. Later, the exquisiteness of Shadows on the Water is just so spiritually moving, prepare to be, well, incredibly moved.
The set list contained a mix of songs from new album Come As You Are like Bear Cub, My My My and Bread of Life as well as being scattered with aurally delicious delights from previous EP, Let in the Light, with one or two exceptional extras to boot. Through Ben’s stories, the songs build from already lofty foundations up to something greater. Something even more enriching as he then knocks your socks off with such strong immersive performances to follow. The full story behind Man on the Moon is sad yet instantly intriguing and the inspiration flows from it in waves. His proficiency and oneness with the guitar are exemplary as he dazzles with a depth of instrumentation and dexterity that cannot but mesmerise as you watch and listen. And that vocal range! It’s intoxicating to hear the clear and crisp emotive boom move up the scale to a falsetto so divine I didn’t want it to stop. It was magic! These captivating true tales and the music that accompanied them awoke a thirst for new adventure within me that I seriously need to address this year. I want to live The Traveller’s Song. And that’s just for starters.
Closing the night with the beautifully delicate Hearts, the encore saw a repeat of that rousing second number Ladies And Gentlemen only this time after our earlier audience practice run, everyone was even more up for and into it. Everyone was up joining in the true spirit and dare I say achieving a certain degree of enlightenment. That’s what it felt like to me. From gentle, soft and soothing through to bursts of vibrant energy that carried me off out into the cosmos so I finished songs as breathless as the performer, magic really does sound about right. There’s certainly a giant spark of wonderful wizardry and enchantment to the music and aura of Mr Maggs. I attend countless gigs from month to month and while I select carefully and enjoy every one on its own merit or circumstance, there was something so striking about this particular experience, something so fresh and original that many weeks later I’m left beaming by the memory of it. I cannot wait for the next time which I know will never be a simple repeat but a whole new and exciting experience. My advice to you is, get yourself along and don’t miss out on some of the best live music you’ll see and hear this coming year. http://www.benmaggsmusic.co.uk/