The Sound of Renfrewshire: Bensider
From growing up Lewis to making a new home in Renfrewshire, Graham MacIver has a wealth of life experience to divulge. Now, as the frontman of Bensider, he’s channelling it through intimate folk and Americana.
You came to songwriting in your 40s. What inspired you to take the leap?
I’ve played music since I was about 12, but I was always just a party guitarist. When I was growing up on Lewis, it was stuck in the 60s in terms of music.
So, I was really confused as I was supposed to be into punk, but I was all about Skynyrd, Deep Purple, Allman Brothers and all that. I played in a covers band until I was about 18, but I had a bad accident and almost lost the tip of my forefinger and I thought well, my career is over.
Cut to my early 40s when we moved to Lochwinnoch and suddenly, I was meeting up with other musicians for a jam and a dram. I’d earmarked some songs for a solo project but I wasn’t that confident in my abilities, so Roy [bass], Mike [trumpet] and my old friend, Seth [drums], came aboard and Bensider was born.
“We moved to Lochwinnoch and suddenly, I was meeting up with other musicians for a jam and a dram”
Thankfully. They more than make up for my musical shortcomings (laughs). I bring the music and lyrics, then these guys elevate it to something special. It’s a wonderful thing and I never take it for granted. In my life, I’ve been blessed to come to a lot of things later on.
When I was younger, I tried to write songs, but I think you have to have lived first. In my youth in Lewis, a lot of us were listening people like Springsteen, Steve Earle and John Cougar, who were all singing about trying to break out of a small town.
So, while I always related to that, it’s the country ideal of ‘three chords and the truth’ that really inspires me.
Although you’ve settled in Renfrewshire, it often feels as though Bensider’s material is a way to commune with your island. Does that ring true?
Absolutely. I left home in 1989 and while I’m glad I left, a big part of my heart is still there. I do miss my home and a lot of my songs reference the sea, the mountains, the wind, everything I associate with it.
They paint a picture and it’s not to say ‘hey, look what you’re missing’, it’s for my own benefit. On My Island Home, I call it my ‘secret love affair’ and I think that covers it. We want people to come up and see it, but don’t tell anybody or put your pictures on the internet (laughs).
After releasing 2018’s Live at Kyoti, 2019’s Blue Star Line and 2020’s Lockdown Sessions, you’re now gearing up for another release. Can you tell us a little about it?
Having come to the recording process later, that first time going into the studio with Mark Freegard (producer, Del Amitri, Eddi Reader, The Breeders, others) is still so fresh. We walked in that day and recorded nine songs in one go, hence Live at Kyoti was accidentally born.
Then, he really brought my voice out on Blue Star Line. When it came to The Lockdown Sessions, I had to try and record to a click track and it felt like music by numbers, but Mark was good at getting more out of us.
It allowed us to keep the wave that we had from performing in Stornoway just days before it all started. It was mostly songs that were lying about gathering dust and it made me think, right, let’s do something with these.
As is often the case, I’ve been revisiting and updating songs to the point that we’re heading into the studio for a new four track EP. This time around, we’ve teamed up with Jim McDermott of the Kevin McDermott Orchestra, who’s also plied his trade with everyone from Kylie [Minogue] to Lulu and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
We whittled it down from ten and in typical Bensider fashion, there’s a Lewis song, a love song and a break-up song! (laughs).”