Ben Glover's Emigration
Situated in the civil Irish parish of Tickmacrevan and settled in the long past kingdom of Dalriada, Glenarm is the hometown of singer songwriter Ben Glover.
In Glenarm, the main street leads directly to the forest; the commanding castle gate keeps a watchful eye on the village. Glover spent his youth with a backdrop of music from Ireland, alongside classic songs from the likes of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. By his early teens, he was performing in the local pub, where all those influences started to take shape.
Glover traveled to the States a number of times over subsequent years, and eventually moved to Nashville in 2009. Consequently, the last couple of years he's been embroiled in the process of gaining his US green card -- a process of assessment that awakened in Glover a self-analysis regarding his sense of place, where he has landed on his life-journey, and where the road will lead.
He says that “contemplations like ‘what and where is home’” brought the realities of immigration to this analysis, as he stands connected to two very distinct shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
As a singer-songwriter to the core, Glover dealt with these questions through his music. He returned to the traditional Irish music he grew up with, looking at it now through a very different world view. He penned songs that laid bare his own personal version of immigration and its accompanying sense of dislocation. He released the resulting album, The Emigrant, in September on Proper Records.
“This album is more concerned with the emigrant’s journey and the experiences that accompany that, rather than the end point,” Glover told me in a Belfast-Nashville email exchange. “Is there really an end point for any of us, though, aside from the ultimate one? I think it’s a dangerous illusion for anyone to believe that they have ever fully arrived at a place.”
With The Emigrant, Glover makes no claims of knowing how it feels to be a refugee, to be displaced, or set starkly adrift. However, he is fully aware of the times in which he has released this album. “There’s so much fear in the world right now," he says, "and the consequence is that it’s causing people and society to react in ways that are frighteningly destructive. It seems more than ever we need to be reminded of our responsibility to be compassionate, empathetic and tolerant. I believe that it’s vitally important that we choose connection over division, something that many recent world events seem to be at odds with.”
He says that it was important to him which traditional songs portrayed the message of the album; deciding which ones to include was a labor of love. On traitional tunes like "The Parting Glass" and "The Green Glens Of Antrim," Glover carved his own meaning into the words and arranged the music himself.
“It was quite overwhelming when I started out gathering songs,” he admits. “Just prior to and during the recording process, it became evident which songs fit best on this album. They had to sit well with the other songs, they had to develop and further the themes on the album, and most importantly I had to believe my performance when I heard myself singing them.”
He co-wrote the lovely "Heart in My Hand" with long-time writing partner Mary Gauthier, and notes that it's one of the most special songs on the album for him. “When I close my eyes and go searching for a moment’s peace, I usually find myself drifting back to Ireland,” he says. “That in itself probably reveals the depth of the spiritual connection I feel with [that song].”
The haunting title track, "The Emigrant," was a co-write with Gretchen Peters. “The restlessness, the discontent/That’s the curse of the emigrant,” he sings, with sparse, deep piano underlining the thread that runs ultimately through the course of the album.
This year, 2016, is the centenary year of World War I's Battle of the Somme, with remembrance ceremonies and commemorations througout the year to mark the anniversary. “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” (Eric Bogle) is a gut wrenching song of surviving WWI. It sings of what happens to the survivors of our wars, of the other side of memorial ceremonies. It’s as relevant to veterans today as it was 100 years ago. Glover first heard it as a child at family sing-alongs. The language and the imagery have stayed with him to this day, and I found it an interesting choice for an album about emigration.
“This album isn’t just about physical emigration,” he explains. “It’s about the emotional displacement that we may experience in life due to all kinds of factors. The character in this song went off to fight in World War I, even though he had no choice in the matter. He witnessed and felt the brutality of war and now, years later, is still reeling from that devastation. This song is the story of someone who is still trying to come to terms with his journey and figure out his place in the world, just like the emigrant. For those reasons the song had a place on the album as it tied in with that aspect of the concept.”
All told, Ben Glover is a troubadour, a traveler. Every time he wanders, he leaves people that he loves behind him.
"I’m getting better at letting go of the fear that farewells bring," he says. "The sadness and emotional challenge of departures doesn’t get easier but the fear has lessened. I’ve also let go of the hope of finding a really good pint of Guinness outside of Ireland."