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Ben Parcell

Ben Parcell is an Independent musician/producer/singer songwriter from Yorkshire.  Probably one of the hardest working independent folk artists in the north, Ben kindly took some time out to catch up with Samuel Barrington for a well overdue interview.

You have been writing and producing your own music for quite some time now. Tell us the story of how it all began for you as an artist.

Originally in my late teens I started a band called The Trailers.  We did pop punk covers of a lot of songs and then one day in my bedroom I decided to have a go at writing a song.  Having no idea how to go about it, I sat down and wrote the first one and demoed it all in about an hour, 'No Cure For Broken Hearts,' which is ironic as most songs these days take me weeks to complete writing.

Since going solo in 2010, you have supported some well established artists such as Chris Helme. Any particular favourite support gigs that stand out for you?

Chris Helme was such a joy to support, we didn't have much contact at the gig but his performance and the relaxed aura that goes with him got me into a trance, I subsequently went on to cover one of his songs which is usually in my live set.

The 'Close Your Eyes' music video has been on regular rotation on Greatest Hits TV (Sky Digital), as part of the Lava TV Showcase. How did that all come about?

My friend who filmed the music video, Jason Bennett, had successfully managed to get his band, Forever and a Day, put onto the show and was having some success with this so I looked up the telephone number and rang the station.  I submitted the video by email and actually never heard anything back for about 3 month.  It was only when someone messaged me on Facebook and told me they had seen my video on Lava TV that I knew anything about it.  It was actually on the playlist for a good 5 months before the TV channel was taken over by a bigger company and only mainstream pop music got played.

Your song 'The Only One' is featured on the benefit compilation 'Unity' for the Japan Tsunami Children's Charity by Engineer Records. I hear there were some big mainstream acts involved in that record. It must have been nice to be asked to appear on there for such a good cause. How did that come about & who else appeared on it with you?

There are a few heavy weight artists such as Fightstar and Funeral for a Friend on there. I've been good friends with Mikee at Engineer Records and we've been talking about doing something for ages, I obviously leapt at the chance.  I also donated all of my sales of my album for that week and raised £40.

Your first album 'Humble Beginnings' was released independently in 2010. You play all the instruments heard on the record. How long did it take to record and produce that album?

It was a case of learning the recording techniques and software as I went along, some of the instruments I even learnt to play too such as the mandolin! As a result the production is a little rough around the edges. I'd love to revisit this album in a few years time and have a go at re-recording certain songs. The whole album was produced and recorded in about a year. I'd had a few songs up my sleeve before I started out as a solo artist.

Your 2011 EP title and artwork for 'Painted By Numbers' was really quite unique. Was there an Ed Sheeran inspiration there & who designed the cover?

It was my idea for the cover, I;d seen the concept for the painting kits since when I was a kid.  I asked my good friend Jan Moat of Identity Tattoos if he'd like to have a go at it and he literally hand drew the outline with a pen and I scanned it in.

'Expectations' is the new EP for Summer 2013. Have you taken a new direction on the record at all, or can we expect a familiar style?

I've worked with Harry David on the new record 'Expectations' which I've now decided will be an 11-track album and also on CD.  The result is a middle ground between traditional folk and pop music.  But there are also a couple of really dark tracks on there too such as 'Forget the Pain' and 'Light at the End Of The Tunnel'.  Also there is a self-written instrumental on there and a duet with the wonderful Gracie Falls.

You have worked really hard on your music. What would be your ideal outcome to your music career when you look back on your life in later years? What would you like 'The Ben Parcell Story' to read like?

I think what sums up my existence would be when I've played to literally 2 or 3 people - which still occasionally happens on quiet nights - and I still give it my all.  In fact on one of those quiet nights I have been booked up for a private party. Which is how I find hidden gems by being patient, when other artists might call it a day.

You once wrote a guide for independent artists on your social media.  Would you be kind enough to share it with our readers?

I'd like to talk about the first 12 months of a band's / musician's life.  This period can make or break your band, set your identity for the future and is really all about making an impression which will set you up for the long run.  Think of it as an investment or taking an unpaid apprenticeship. (Yes, it's unlikely that you will make a profit during your first year)

1. Register with PRS. PRS offers musicians in the UK real money for performing original material, the payments per gig may be quite small, think £4-£6 but multiply this over a year and the money soon adds up, you could use this money to make a debut recording. Join PRS!

2. Don't burn your bridges - be polite to promoters and don't slag them off if you are not selected to play or are dropped from a gig, it will come back to haunt you! If you played a venue which had horrible turnout or the crowd wasn't paying attention, you are either playing the wrong venue or you need to work on your engagement with the crowd.

3. Show an interest in other artists material by networking with similar bands. A little niceness goes a long way.

4. Don't try to play gigs which are more than 50 miles away for the initial period unless you are supporting a breakthrough artist or you are being covered for your expenses.  Spending £100 on fuel and over night stay to play in London to a room of 10-15 people isn't a good way of using your finances sensibly.  Travel costs make up the musician's main outlay so don't bankrupt yourself or put yourself into debt by being over-ambitious.

5. Play as many gigs within your 50 miles radius as possible as there are no shortcuts to the experience of playing in front of people.  Don't turn down gigs because you cannot get travel costs, if you are a new band finding paid gigs is very hard, but by all means ask.

6. Keep in touch with your fans by using social media, the main one here is a Facebook artist page.  Let the fans know that you are serious by keeping up a presence, if people come to your page and they see a few out of date posts, they will soon leave.

7. Don't complain about how tough it is to get heard when you've not done everything you can for free promotion such as Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud, emailed local press, played at open mic clubs, flyered the streets, etc.  Just thinking 'I want this so bad' will not get you by.

8. It's inevitable that you will have quiet times when you are not gigging, use these periods to work on new material and record demos, YouTube videos, etc.

9. Create an identity.  Decide whether you want to be an original band or covers band and stick to it.  For you will be known for this. e.g a prominently covers band who throws in the odd original song will not be praised for their songwriting, and you're unlikely to have people sing along to your songs.  Whilst playing a full set of covers can get you pub gigs and quite often paid this will more than often sidetrack you from what you set out to be.  Don't fall into the 'covers trap' as I call it, if it's not where your heart is!

10. If you put the effort in by being proactive in your first year, you will get to a stage where you can start looking for paid gigs and be happy with a decent following.  Remember gigging in the real music scene is not like X factor, it can take years to get noticed.  Very few artists make it 'overnight'.  Most of all,  enjoy the early stages, it is something of an eye opener.