“Oh, my blood and oh my scars / Oh, my love and oh my lucky stars.”
It is no secret that prior to the pandemic, Team GDW could be found several times a year exploring live music in and around Hamilton, ON. We are always in awe of the rugged, steel-city skyline as we approach, and marvel at this welcoming blue-collar city that continues to transform into a thriving hub for the music and arts community. And, returning to Southern Ontario post-pandemic, we continue to be drawn to the heart of this city, knowing that there is still so much local talent there itching to be discovered.
Boasting a stellar lineup of such talent, Hamilton’s inaugural “Steel Town Round” music event easily lured us back to this city this past May, signaling our first post-pandemic concert north of the US border. Of the five acts (four of them local) participating in this singer-songwriter circle, it would be Ben Somer whose name stood as one previously name-dropped in a conversation – still vaguely familiar, but nothing more. Ben went on to impress us with the few songs performed on that spring evening, leaving us ever optimistic for another chance to catch him live and hear more. We would later learn that Ben would open a show in mid June for Jerry Leger at Mills Hardware, one of our favorite downtown Hamilton venues, leaving us to bask in the glory of knowing that tickets to that show had long been secured.
Sporting a seemingly laid-back demeanor, Ben is the type of artist who can easily fool the casual observer into not expecting much based on his humble stage presence. There is no fanfare accompaniment, no novelties or gimmicks – just one man, standing center stage, alone, with an acoustic guitar in hand. But, once the first strum of that guitar is played, and the first line of a song heard, only a fool indeed would not sit up, listen, and take notice. For just under 40 minutes, Ben Somer fulfilled his opening duties for Jerry Leger, captivating an intimate room in the process with a solid set of original compositions. In short, Ben was no regular warm-up act, but a headliner in his own right – which is why we’re devoting an entire feature to him and that performance here today.
Launching immediately into “Let Me Down Easy,” Ben would demonstrate a humorous trait by drawing attention to the creased new pants that he bought purposely for this show. “They need to be ironed, and I didn’t want to do it, so I looked to the internet, and it said ‘shower, and the steam will clear the pants’,” he shared, eliciting chuckles from around the room. “That’s how I found out that people don’t always tell the truth on the internet. Now I don’t know what’s what anymore.” We had the opportunity to hear “The Night I Crossed The Yellow Line” here at Mills Hardware (previously heard during the Steel Town Round), with Ben injecting a little humor once more this time around. “It’s been weird writing songs during Covid, because my wife works from home and is on Zoom,” Ben recalled. “So, I start getting feedback from Ted from Accounting, and Dave from Sales, who’s like, ‘he’s leaning on that a-minor chord a little too often.’ It’s been slow, I’ve been so stressed.”
Progressing through his set list, Ben would perform “Don’t Come Looking For Me,” a track he released this past March on bandcamp, and one produced by Jerry Leger. He would follow immediately with “Scream Again, Shout Again,” an all-new recording also produced by Leger, which would allow Jerry himself the opportunity to share some insights about his early memories of working with Ben. “I guess it was ten years ago when we were here in Hamilton recording a record called Some Folks Know at Boxcar Sound, and Ben Somer was the engineer on that record,” Jerry announced. “We had a great time reminiscing and brought up some memories of recording that, like, ‘we’re gonna go grab some dinner,’ and be gone for five hours … and come back and may be not at our best in some ways, but we were in great form in voice for some rock and roll.”
With the Sound Of Music festival taking place in neighboring Burlington, and the CFL’s Hamilton Ticats playing their home opener down at Tim Horton’s field, Ben found himself playing to a sparse crowd this early in the evening – yet injected his humor once more with a tale about his own Ticats season ticket holder status. “I’ve been getting kind of roasted in our season ticket holders group chat about booking a show, and some people have been trying to suggest ways to be two places at once. Like, we went the Mrs Doubtfire way, and we thought about live streaming, and somebody suggested a cardboard cutout,” he commenced. “And a good friend of mine, a local musician, Matt Fleming, said, ‘the cardboard cutout won’t work because people will be thrown off by the cutout as more entertaining and charismatic than you.’ Matt Fleming said that!” Fits of laughter ensued as the crowd at Mills Hardware started to grow in numbers.
Simply introducing the room to “a song about hockey,” Ben would share his popular cut “99” – another performed at the Steel Town Round that we were eager to hear again. “It started a long time ago / The day she fell in love / It was Hockey Night in Canada / When he bought home the cup / I tried hard to impress her / Every time I’d lace them up / Even though I played my heart out / It was never quite enough / But you were too quiet to bear witness / Old habits struggle when I glide / Oh my blood and oh my scars / Oh my love and oh my lucky stars.” Once again, Jerry Leger would offer some insight later in the evening about this particular track. “I love Stompin’ Tom (Connors), just like the next person, but I think Ben Somer wrote the best hockey song, and I’m not even a hockey fan,” he stated. But there’s just so much beauty in that song, and the lyrics … I love Stompin Tom, but not so much the novelty stuff, and Ben’s hockey song is far from being a novelty song.”
“The one that she adored wasn’t Sid or Bobby Orr / She liked Gordie Howe just fine, but he’s still half of 99 / She kept him on her bedroom wall, a poster for her first kiss / She knew her love would hit him hard / The Great One, he don’t miss / He got me begging for forgiveness / I saw it all in ’85 / Oh my blood and oh my scars / Oh my love and oh my lucky stars / Oh my blood and oh my scars / Oh my love / Oh my god / Past the hash mark / Through the dot / Duck in, cover / A slapshot / Oh my blood / Oh my scars / I’d trade all my hockey cards / And all my hockey cards.”
Ben Somer did more than simply warm up a room for the headlining act, offering an outstanding set of original (and well-crafted) songs and lyrics. But, equally impressive, is Ben’s natural gift for bringing so much sound out of his acoustic guitar. While many artists are comfortable sticking to basic chord progressions, there are only a handful that I’ve seen who can truly bring such an instrument to life and give it a voice of its own. Both Ron Hawkins and Stephen Fearing are the two most obvious examples that come to mind – masters in their own right – and I’m more than confident in adding Ben’s name and abilities to this exclusive list. We sure found a new favorite here with Ben Somer – a musician who is worthy of much greater exposure, and one truly deserving of being heard.
- Let Me Down Easy
- Don’t Come Looking For Me
- Scream Again, Shout Again
- The Night I Crossed The Yellow Line
- I’m Still Here
- 99 (Hockey Song)
- Running On Empty
- Factory Jobs
- Frequent Sanitation
- A Long Time Coming