SMS Success: Northern Light

A debut album from our jazz student Ben Clare

Guitarist and songwriter Ben Clare aka Northern Light joined LCoM’s Saturday Music School program after doing our Jazz Improvisation weekend in 2013, and weaving his way through learning different styles has written his first album!
Reflecting great storytelling, multi-instrumentalism and technical ability, Ben’s story is one of hard work and success. Here he talks us through his learning and songwriting process, structuring textures in a song.
My name is Ben Clare, or more commonly known as ‘Northern Light’ when I am in the music world! I was once primarily a guitarist, and still regard guitar as my primary instrument as nearly all of my songs on my debut album were originally written on guitar and transferred onto other instruments. I produced my album as well as composed it, for two reasons, one I wanted it to reflect my thoughts and emotions, and the more obvious reason, it is cheaper! 
I started playing guitar when I was fifteen, and very quickly became infatuated with its endless possibilities and expressive nature. I like the organic nature of guitar, and the way it feels when you play a note or chord, it feels as if the guitar is physically part of my body. I was inspired by the thought of perhaps being a professional musician one day, that is by far my biggest inspiration, the thought of this ever coming true is enough to make me practice for hours and hours on end, because I feel that if I am not practicing, I a wasting my time. 
When I first joined the SMS Plus program I didn't know what to expect, I had a very clear idea of what I wanted it to be like, and it was exactly that! I absolutely love SMS Plus, it is by far my highlight of every week. I have learnt so much about how to play in an ensemble setting, as I had little experience before hand, and wrote my whole album on my own!
The environment in which we play is perfect, there is no arrogance, it is just a very nice and productive place to be, and you get the sense that everyone, students and lecturers are all on the same page. We play a huge array of styles of genres, from the Beatles to Snarky Puppy to Brecker Brothers to Fela Kuti to Frank Zappa! My musical horizons have been broadened hugely, and I listen to so much more variety in music than ever before. The great thing about SMS is the way we are taught. It doesn't even feel like you’re in a lesson, which for me is the best type of lesson. It is only after when I realise how much more musical knowledge and experience I have gained, it is a truly amazing programme, and I would urge anyone who wants to gain knowledge and experience quickly, to join!
I was inspired to write an album, by the love for music I have. It was not intentional, I just began to write. About a year and a half ago I began to develop the skill to build songs. I say build, because that is how I see songwriting. In my mind, everyone instrument, or chord, a scale, is a material, and different combinations of materials create different appearances and textures. That is how I approach I approach my music.
The album has an underlying theme of war and peace, and the prospect of just living every day as it comes, instead of picking petty fights. I became increasingly interested in the New Age music movement from Poland, and was heavily inspired by Estas Tonne, a spiritual guitar player. This lead me to look into the other side of the spectrum, war. I was instantly fascinated by some of the biggest disasters caused by mankind. 9/11 was a topic I really wanted to address, so I wrote ‘A Day of Terror’. The bombing of St Martins in the Fields in WWII was another.
Many of my songs have almost subliminal messages attached to them, which was what I wanted to achieve, I didn't want to write a crude and blatantly obvious album, I wanted it to be open to interpretation. I loved the process, and in hindsight, it was very educational. I can distinctly remember a few occasions where I became very frustrated, I doubted myself constantly, but I think that was the reason I was so determined to do it!  Attending SMS was almost like a rest from the writing process, and refreshed me, which definitely helped. It was also very good as I learnt lots of new techniques and applied it to my album!
My next step is to start working on album number two. It doesn’t have a name yet, but I already have about 4 or 5 songs written, they are a development on my first album, with far more guitar in, and more complex arrangements and some crazy time signature changes! So far it my direction is very much progressing to a new sound, and so far it is going well, but I can’t say any more than that! I’ll keep the suspense brewing!
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at LCoM, and I hope my journey with the college continues for many years to come, because it is the only place I can see myself currently. I still have so much to learn, and as I only applied to Leeds College of Music, my passion and determination to be part of the college is rather blatant!
Thank you for reading a little bit about my life over the past few years, and I hope you like my music!

Listen to Ben's Northern Light album on Soundcloud, and read more about his work.



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"I absolutely love SMS Plus, it is by far my highlight of every week. I have learnt so much about how to play in an ensemble setting, as I had little experience before hand, and wrote my whole album on my own!"

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