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Benjamin Croft

With: Benjamin Croft



Serge Marcoux - April 2024

ProfilProg (PP): Hello Benjamin and thank you so much for giving us time to answer our questions. From a prog musical perspective, the name of Benjamin Croft is relatively young. Still, you have been playing music since the age of 7. Let us explore a little of the past if you please. When did you start making music and what was the spark that lighted your passion?
BC: My next-door neighbor was an orchestral trumpet player. Also, a very proficient pianist. Around 4 or 5 years old I would ride my tricycle over to his house and sit in the corner of his music room and listen to him play. He promised me as soon as I was old enough, he would teach me. From age 7 I started lessons on trumpet and piano. I developed a love of classical music from these lessons which has remained to this day.

PP: I’ve read that you experienced a life changing moment at the age of seventeen. What was it and how did it change everything?
BC: I used to try my luck buying beer in local bars when I was a teenager! I mostly got rejected as I was underage…One Friday night having been rejected I returned home and turned the tv on. A show featuring Rick Wakeman was on. In the pre-internet days of the mid to late 90s I had no knowledge of rick and the music he played. My curiosity sparked. I asked my mom if she had any albums featuring Rick. I was given “Close to The Edge” on cassette to listen. The title track brought me close to tears as I was so moved. I had never heard sounds like this before and rock music on this scope. From that moment on I decided I would practice to be able to play like Rick. I also raided the local record stores to purchase as many albums as he appeared on that I could get my hands on! From the music of Yes, I discovered other band such as ELP, Genesis, King Crimson. Anything from that era appealed to me.

PP: I find your first professional years different and interesting. Musician on cruises, The Temptations or The Platters are not common in progressive musical progression. But I am sure they can be valuable. Please tell us a little about those experiences if you please.
BC: After graduating Leeds college of music at age 21, I decided to see the world via working on cruise ships. This lasted for a couple of years. Good and bad experiences. Great to see new places but far too many rules and regulations in place for a young iconoclast! It did however give me the skill set to play many styles of music. My job was to back the various fly-on entertainers. One night I was playing opera, the next country and then rock n roll or some late-night jazz!

PP: In the Press section on your Website, most of the reviews I read from your first album, «10 Reasons to… » are from the jazz world. What is the reason behind that?
BC: My first album was very much intended to be a jazz album influenced by prog and fusion. At the time I was performing a lot at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London. The musicians appearing on this album were part of the scene at Ronnie’s. I realized in writing this music that I would have to make compromises. I wrote specifically with jazz musicians in mind. However, it was at the back of my mind that I really wanted to release something more akin to Yes and ELP. My second album has less jazz influences. This album sits on the fence between jazz and rock. I have always been heading over to the rock side. It’s taken 3 albums to get there!

PP: I also noticed an interesting interview made in the Jazz Journal and your top 5 albums in Jazzwise. Would it be a fair assumption to say you were first better known in jazz circles than prog? And by the way, what are those five albums?
BC: My first 2 albums were released on record labels associated with jazz. The were promoted accordingly. I became known in jazz circles because of this. It’s very difficult to list favorite albums. In reality I can’t really narrow this to 5.I was instructed by Jazzwise magazine that I should include at least a couple of jazz related albums! The albums were 1. Close To the Edge (Yes) 2. Romantic Warrior (Return to Forever) 3. Heavy Weather (Weather Report) 4.UK (UK) 5. Hounds Of Love (Kate Bush).

PP: Your second album, « Far and distant things », changed a few things. You had more and better-known musical guests on the album. But also, reviews came from the prog and the jazz world. How did you tackle your sophomore effort that created those changes?
BC: I was much happier with my second album. I didn’t compromise on the production. I started to reach out to my favorite musicians to collaborate with. For example, I wanted to avoid asking a trumpet player to play in the style of Randy Brecker. So, I thought I’ll ask Randy! Stephen W Tayler is a big part of the success of this album. Stephen mixed some of my favorite albums. Including the UK self-titled. Stephen was the first person I thought of to mix the album. It was also great to continue working with him on “We Are Here to Help”.

PP: Your new album, «We Are Here to Help» shows a particularly impressive list of collaborators. Although the use of guest’s musicians is now well-known, how do you decide who will play the guitar on this song or the drums on that one?
BC: I always try and write in the style a particular musician will be comfortable with. I wrote “She Flies Softly On” specifically for Jeff Scott Soto’s voice for example. I only ever considered Marco Minnemann and Simon Phillips to play drums for the album. I knew they would be just perfect for my songs. I am very happy they agreed to play!

PP: In general, is it easy or is it hard to get the collaboration from musicians who certainly have a busy schedule?
BC: The album took a whole year to track! This was because of people’s schedules. I had to wait for the gaps in the various musicians’ tours to record. Half the album was recorded in the UK and the other half in the US.

PP: What king of reactions do you get when contacting them, generally speaking?
BC: All the musicians I’ve worked with have been extremely nice. I never once felt any egos from them. It was a pleasure to communicate with them.

PP: It must be a tremendous feeling to be able to collaborate with musical greats like Simon Philips, Marco Minnemann, Billy Sheehan, Mike Stern or Frank Gambale for example. Please, tell us about your feelings?
BC: I have listened to these musicians since I was very young. I feel like they are in my musical DNA.I think I probably heard Simon Phillips for the first time when I was 5! In the UK we had a tv show that used Gordon Giltrap’s “Heartsong” as the theme. This song of course featured Simon’s incredible drumming. It’s very satisfying to hear these musicians play my compositions. Their interpretations are just perfect.

PP: Did you had the chance to meet or even play with some of them?
BC: I have met and played with many of the musicians on the album as they frequently come to the UK. I caught up with Simon Phillips recently on his last visit to London for the Mo Foster memorial concert. However, one artist who’s based here In the UK I haven’t met yet! I’m yet to meet Lynsey Ward! I fell in love with her voice after listening to tracks from her band. «Exploring Birdsong». Lynsey recorded her parts remotely. I’m looking forward to meeting her, hopefully in the near future.

PP: For the first time, you have vocals in your compositions. What are the reasons for that change? And what was the hardest thing associated with such a change?
BC: I am inspired by great vocalists as much as musicians. It was a natural development for me to add vocals to my compositions. The music of Yes and ELP etc. that has been my source of inspiration throughout the years always had strong vocals. Adding vocals seemed the logical step forward. Both vocalists on my album performed amazingly. I was very happy with how these songs turned out. The only parts that needed adjustments in the writing process was for me to write for the range of their voice. Once I knew this it was easy.

PP: This new music represents your current state of using your influences and the result of reflections that immerged from the pandemic. Can you give us an idea of that process?
BC: I reflected during the pandemic on what had originally inspired me. I also discovered some new music which was a source of inspiration. The music of “Sons of Apollo” made me want to take my music in a heavier direction.

PP: I read that the album has a “loose” concept about it. Proggers do love concept albums even as loose as they can be. Please satisfy our curiosity.
BC: The concept is loosely based around the title. «We Are Here to Help». It’s a double meaning. It’s all a matter of perspective if this is good or bad. The title track explores my thoughts on the music industry. «Caught In the Flypaper” depicts a young girl “helped” by a “Kind” old lady. This song is based on the 1980 TV show “Tales of The Unexpected». The episode is called “Flypaper”.

PP: This third release of yours marks important steps in your musical career. First, you are saying that is a big change and a return to your source of inspiration. Tell us more?
BC: I felt that most of the jazz influenced aspects of my music had come to a natural conclusion with my second album. In fact, I had been happier with the prog and classical aspects of my first two albums anyway. I was keen to have my music and name known for prog rock rather than jazz. As I mentioned before it all began for me with “Close to The Edge». Of course there is still a crossover. «Lower Moat Manor” and “You Made Me Miss” both feature incredible jazz musicians. Frank Gambale and Mike Stern. The music is still much heavier than my previous releases on these tracks, however. Incidentally “You Made Me Miss” is all based on the Music of “Rush»! The tracks that I’m hinting at are “2112”, “YYZ” ,”Distant Early Warning” and “Between the Wheels». The title of “You Made Me Miss” comes from the movie “An American Werewolf in London”.

PP: Another major step is the creation of your own record label. We certainly are interested in why? But also, if you intend to extend it to other musicians?
BC: I had been signed to two different record labels for my previous releases. They were nothing more than glorified secretaries. Posing as middlemen between myself and the distribution label. I was never given a budget by these labels. So, my plan was to take full creative control and eliminate the middleman. It’s slightly more admin for myself but there are less people to disagree with over putting “logos” on record sleeves for example! I do hope to release other artists in the future. At the moment I am just focusing on my current release as its early days.

PP: Prog amateurs know the talent of Mr. Hugh Syme for album covers. Us Canadians especially, because of what can be considered our biggest prog band, Rush. How did your paths meet?
BC: My three favorites of all time have always been Roger Dean, Hipgnosis (Storm Thorgerson) and Hugh Syme. Well Storm and Hipgnosis are no more and as much as I love Roger Dean on other people’s album covers, I don’t think he would quite work for me. Hugh Syme however always creates very contrasting covers. I knew he would be just right for my music. I literally sent him an email. He was very quick in responding and we had a very lengthy phone conversation discussing concepts. I am very happy with the artwork he has created for “We Are Here to Help” and “Far and Distant Things”.

PP: I am a horror movie fan and I like Hammer Film Productions quite a bit. They have a charm and a feel that often goes without showing that much. I guess you share a little of that taste since you made a song about it.
BC: I am a huge fan of 60’s, 70’s, 80’s Horror and Sci-Fi.” Lower Moat Manor” is based on the 1980 TV show “Hammer House of Horror». The episode is called “Rude Awakening». It’s about a recurring nightmare. My days during the lockdown period of the pandemic also seemed like a recurring dream!

PP: I really like the album overall but, for me, «Age of Magrathea » is a favorite. It is a great prog song. What can you tell us about it?
BC: The title of this track comes from Douglas Adams “The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy». And to quote Douglas. “In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.”

PP: Do you feel the need to try to put on a show or the recordings are enough at this moment of your career?
BC: I promoted my previous albums live in the UK. I’m hoping to play my new material live later this year. This is still in the early planning stages though. It would be nice to take this out of the UK. It all depends on if I find the right promoter.

PP: On a lighter note, I quote you: I've spent a lifetime eating curry, enjoying it in all four corners of the globe, including India! And you are writing about it. Where is this taste coming from? And do you have feedback about that kind of writing?
BC: Ha! I’m glad you enjoyed my curry blog. I think there is some history there with prog rock. Rick Wakeman famously ate a curry live onstage at the Manchester Free Trade Hall during the Topographic Oceans tour! I actually received a recommendation from Rick for his favorite Indian restaurant in London! I haven’t received any death threats yet for my reviews so people must like them!

PP: Benjamin, thanks very much for that beautiful music you are offering us with « We Are Here to Help ». The last words are for you.
BC: Thanks. It’s a pleasure to talk about my music and influences. I am very happy you like my latest album and there will definitely by more in the future.

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