Benjamin Amos tasted success as front man of The Good Fight, one of the most revered bands the scene has spawned. After that he charmed us as part of dynamic duo Sullivan & Gold, releasing an acclaimed album in ‘For Foes’ in 2013.
Now branching out on his own, Benjamin is releasing his first full length solo album, Letters. The record is an intimate and honest offering from the artist in a collection of letters delivered in musical form, from the last ten years of his life. Some of these letters have been delivered, some are yet to be delivered, and some, he’s too scared to send.
As the album makes its way out into the world, Benjamin was kind enough to share some insights behind each letter of this beautiful record.
I visited Jura with my dad on a cycling trip about 10 years ago. I got the boat over from Larne, and then cycled around Arran, across Kintyre and on to Islay. We spent a few days there and then took a boat over to the remote Jura. It is truly spectacular, covered in deer and surrounded by mist, moors, mountains and an ancient mystique. We cycled and walked for miles, up and down Paps and across the narrowest A-Class roads I’ve seen.
Eventually, after pushing our bikes over roughly stoned paths and around aggressive Scottish snakes, we came to the very northern point of the island. It’s one of the remotest parts of the United Kingdom, it was where George Orwell wrote the classic 1984. Maelstrom tries to capture all of this in a musical love letter to my dad and the island itself. Complex, mysterious, and beautiful.
Archie was a quick song to write and record. I’d been listening to lots of Sufjan Steven’s Carrie and Lowell over the last few years. There is a simplicity and sincerity when he reduces his song-writing to vocal, banjo with some accompanying acoustic textures. I wrote this song for my daughter’s best friend. She was only two and a half at this point. She was, and still is, mesmerized by her friend Archie. I wanted to incorporate some of that naïve innocence, like Sufjan, into the track lyrically and sonically
#3 The Weight
Until last summer, when I moved back to NI, I’d spent the last 8 years of my life working and living in the north-east of England. I worked as a primary school teacher in a small town south of Sunderland. The people were great and accepted me as one of their own. After a while working in the school, I grew to understand the complexities in their employment landscape over the last 20/30 years. Once a thriving mining town, it was a ghost town compared to its former glory when the pits were functioning at their peak.
This song is tell the story of a colleague listening to me trying to comprehend this broken situation on their last day before retirement. The weight of responsibility she took on for every one of the kids was remarkable. A challenge for me!
#4 Never Far From Home
This song has been kicking about for quite a while. I’d worked on the little guitar motif and lyric with Andrew Ferris during my days on Smalltown America with Sullivan &
Gold. I could never find the verse to help tell the story. When my sister moved to Cameroon to work, I realised that was the story to tell, and the song began to flourish and come to life.
The oldest song on the album, it’s been about since the days of a band I fronted in my 20s called The Good Fight. We could never quite work it out. I kept crafting and chipping away at it. It’s a response to losing a close friend too soon, the confusion and thoughts emerging from that death among a close group of friends.
#6 Difficult to Tell
The banjo I used in Archie, helped with this one too. I was in a bit of a writing rut and wanted to experiment using instruments I couldn’t play to escape the shapes and patterns on guitar and piano I had been using. In the end, I used the same chords and shapes on an instrument without realising. This is probably my favourite track on the record. Michael Lamont who mixed Letters did a great job creating light, colour and real shade in this.
It’s an emotionally complex story so the music leads the listener through the ups and downs. I’d just become a dad and was considering what it could be like to parent a child through life choices you don’t agree with.
Andrew Ferris and I spent a long time on this one. I must have about 10 different versions recorded on my computer. I just couldn’t get it to sit correctly. I started playing in a band called Nel Unlit when I moved to England, we had a great string section and once I stole them to help with the recording the tone of the song totally changed. Lyrics, melody and mood just clicked.
#8 Now I Know I Need You
Just before my son Amos arrived, my wife and I started to clear boxes and general build-up of stuff around the house. When spring cleaning we found an unmarked, but official looking, envelope. I opened it and there was a letter telling us the sex of our baby. It was wonderful, exciting, surprise all at the same time – we wanted it to be a surprise. Opening that letter allowed the baby growing in my wife’s belly to become a reality.
I’d found it hard to adapt to my first daughter entering the world, even though I could see my wife’s belly growing something beautiful it was a shock when this bundle of noise, energy and beauty burst into the word. Opening that letter made Amos’ life all the more real.
#9 Hawthorne Dene
Over lockdowns I started walking the public footpaths in my locality. I miss these on returning to Northern Ireland, however the north coast more than makes up for the lack of meandering footpaths over farmer’s fields and through narrow hedgerows. I walked lots with my friend Dave over lockdowns.
One day we walked along a beautiful dene just south of Sunderland, only to emerge at a tall cliff. Here, meandering down the chalky cliff was a beautiful hidden path to a stunning cove. This song’s a letter to that place and the challenging conversations we tussled over in that walk.
#10 Black Balloon
Black Balloon is the last track on the album. It was a working title for the album for a long time. It’s similar to Foreigners, in that I can’t remember when it first came about and the number of variations of this track which have existed. I’ve not managed to play this one live yet with the band. The last section is really exciting musically for me and builds to a great crescendo at the end.
Caolan Austin from Smalltown Studios very patiently listening and then skilfully play beats on the tracks. It was unusual because he recorded his drums on top of some very loose demoes. I love his playing in the last minute of this track, hoping that I can introduce this to my band and feel the euphoria of playing that final section live.