Matt Benson shares his experience living the dream with the star
A talented trombonist from Co Down has said that he is “hugely proud and happy” to have performed on pop star George Ezra’s latest album ‘Gold Rush Kid’ which hit number one in the charts on the first week of its release.
Matt Benson, who is originally from Rostrevor, has been part of George’s core band since May 2017 and, after a two-year hiatus from live music due to the coronavirus pandemic, said he is excited to hit the road again with the award-winning artist.
“I feel very lucky to be back doing what I truly love,” he told Belfast Telegraph.
“The pandemic, as I’m sure it did with lots of musicians and artists, made us all appreciate how lucky we were being able to do what we love.
“It kind of kicked the legs out from under me, definitely every musician out there feared when the return to live music might be but it reaffirmed that I was on the right track,” he said.
“I feel so privileged and really ecstatic to be back on the road again, the guys in the band are just like family to me.”
Matt has already toured all over the UK, Norway, Denmark and Malta with the ‘Budapest’ singer just two weeks after the album launch.
“It’s definitely taken some getting used to, especially when you were used to sitting in your house for two years staring at the same four walls to all of a sudden living on a bus with 16 people!” he said.
“But they are a great bunch of people and it doesn’t feel like work at all.”
The talented musician said that at the end of 2020 he received a phone call from George asking him if he would return to work and play on the new album.
“I was in Belfast at a funeral at the time when I got a missed call from George, he left a voicemail to see if I was interested in recording the new album,” said Matt.
“If I ever needed good news, that was certainly a good day for it.
“The rest, right up to the album launch, is really just a blur really – a great big happy blur – we have all worked very hard and put a lot of time in and I am just so happy to have been involved on four of the tracks on the album,” he added.
“It is great for an artist to have the live band on their album as well as it is quite rare these days.”
The Co Down man said that the band all had a “good feeling” about the album when they were making it.
“I think we all knew it was going well, we had a good feeling about it, but we didn’t see it going straight in number one- knocking Harry Styles off the top spot!” he said.
“We are all over the moon and feel confident about the future.”
Since performing some of George’s latest hits -such as ‘Green Green Grass’- to fans at live shows such as Glastonbury, Matt also performed on TV with George on Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway recently and the Graham Norton Show as well.
He said that his most famous audience to date was part of the prestigious Queen’s Jubilee concert performing for none other than the royal family.
“It has to be the most high-profile audience we have ever performed for – when do you see that many big stars in one place? It was bizarre, and quite surreal. Doesn’t get much bigger really, does it?” he said.
Other notable performances in recent years prior to the pandemic include the famous Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, the Jools Holland Hootenanny, The Brit Awards and hit US shows The Late Late Show and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
Despite the countless star-studded events he has performed for since his career was thrust into the limelight only five years ago, Matt has ensured his feet remain firmly on the ground and has proven to be just as down-to-earth as his celebrity counterpart.
“George is just an absolute gentleman, he is very loyal to the band, very thoughtful and just a really genuine guy! We all very lucky to have him” he said.
Matt said that the latest album “makes you feel good” and is something a little bit upbeat, especially after such a long break from live performance.
“I am hugely proud and happy to have played brass and some backing vocals on this mega album,” he said.
“Some of the gigs we have played at recently have been just mental, it was just like we hit the ground running after not performing to a live audience for so long.”
The trombone and brass music in particular is a key sound to George’s musical stylings and Matt said it is great that a chart-topping musician is so passionate about making something “that little bit different”.
“I think George is saving this style of music in some ways; he is resurrecting an old tradition of using brass in live music and as a trombone player – which is a bit more rare than trumpet or saxophone for example- he’s kind of a saviour in a way for this instrument.
“I think he is going to do a lot for bringing brass music back and, for me, it’s very exciting to be involved; I often feel like the luckiest man in the world.”
The role of performing in George’s band was of course down to countless hours of hard work by the musician but said that he started off his love affair with the brass instrument by unexpectedly picking it up in his dad’s music shop at the age of ten.
“There was a fire at my dad’s shop in Belfast and a trombone was found on the top floor in still working order despite the black plastic case melting onto the instrument,” he explained.
“It played beautifully and I began lessons soon after that - and I guess you could say I never looked back!”
His collaboration with George Ezra, which came about in 2017, was not his first brush with fame and Matt worked with a number of famous artists in the past.
He started out his musical career in 2010 when he started performing with New Orleans-style brass band ‘Brassroots’ during his studies of jazz trombone at the Trinity College of Music in London.
This opportunity then led to recording on the Balkan/Ska number one single ‘BomBom’ with ‘Sam and the Womp’ in 2012.
For the following three years, from 2013 to 2016, Matt then joined the New Orleans virtuoso pianist Dom Pipkin to play in his band ‘The Ikos’, later touring with Ska band ‘Bad Manners’ from 2015 to 2017.
Other notable recording and performance credits include The Pogues, Amelia Warner (Slow Moving Millie), legendary ‘The Meters’ drummer Zigaboo Modeleste, and playing with the incredible Hot 8 Brass Band at their residency in The Howling Wolf in New Orleans in 2019.
Despite a number of exciting projects now coming up with George Ezra’s band, Matt hopes to make some time in between performing for royals and appearing on TV to work on his own music.
He said that the pandemic and the hiatus from live music allowed him some time to work on his own sound and also to appreciate his love of music that little bit more.
“I think I, like many musicians, had to rethink and re-evaluate our lives a little bit in the pandemic; everyone was wondering when live music would return with venues closing and music and performance grounding to a halt, it was quite scary,” he said.
“People wondered was there any point still practising their art and it was a big test for musicians, but I think – myself included- many stuck it out and it was a good thing in the end because you had the time to explore creatively.
“I personally found a new love for singing and song writing and started to write music on the piano as well,” he added.
“The time off made me appreciate my role to a whole new level and I feel I have now developed a whole new skill in singing and writing”. “I am a very happy man right now. And extremely grateful for everything.”
‘Gold Rush Kid’ by George Ezra is out now.