Ben Portsmouth, an Elvis Presley tribute performer, chats with Kevin Cooper about getting his Green Card, appearing on The Late Late Show in Ireland, releasing an album of his own work and his Taking Care Of Elvis Tour of the UK
Ben Portsmouth, a multi-talented musician, singer songwriter had Elvis’ DNA in his blood from an early age. His father was an avid Elvis fan and Ben grew up on a diet of Elvis songs. Having honed his musical talent Ben started his journey as an Elvis Tribute Artist in 2005 when he formed the Taking Care Of Elvis band.
Audiences and promoters quickly realized that this was someone with a special talent. He looked like Elvis, sang like Elvis and had an on-stage charisma that had audiences believing at times they were watching the King himself. This talent saw Ben rapidly rise through the ranks of Elvis Tribute Artists.
In August 2012, Ben made history when he won the Elvis Presley Enterprises’ Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest which took place in Memphis, crowning Ben as the Worldwide Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist; the only artist from outside the USA to ever win this prestigious title.
This success has led to offers from US promoters and all over the world for Ben to headline shows and in 2013 Ben was chosen to headline a special Elvis week on the David Letterman show. There was only one Elvis but Ben is the closest you will ever get in terms of Elvis’ looks and his singing voice. He is a fitting tribute to the King of Rock and Roll.
Whilst preparing for his forthcoming tour, he took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Ben how are you?
I’m very well thanks Kevin, how are you?
I’m good thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
It’s my please. No worries at all.
We last spoke on 6th August 2016 so tell me just how have things been going since then?
What can I say, things have been going really well since then. Since we last spoke I have been granted a Green Card which means that I will be going over to the USA even more now than I used to and I will be performing even more shows over there.
Are you actually telling me that Mr Trump is now letting you in and out of the country whenever you feel like it (laughter).
(Laughter) he is at the minute and a friend of mine actually knows him which is quite handy (laughter). It’s all about who you know.
Now that you have got your Green Card can you ever see the day when you will leave the UK and live over there in the USA?
Theoretically I am already a resident of the USA so I can now actually put that down whenever I am applying for gigs. I suppose that at sometime in the future I will just come over to the UK to do my tours and then I will go back to the USA.
And what about taking American Citizenship, have you given that any thought?
Not as yet but that is something that I will consider at some stage in the future. I will see how it goes first now that I have the Green Card. I will have to check and see if the lifestyle over there suits me.
You have recently appeared on The Late Late Show over in Ireland. How was that?
It was great for me to get on the show. Here in the UK it is extremely difficult for me to get onto the TV but over there in Ireland they just seem to be more up for helping me announce my tour and promote me in a good light. However, here in the UK they still seem to want to take the mickey out of me for some reason. They still don’t see me as being a serious performer. So it was all good for me being on TV over in Ireland. What you shouldn’t forget is that it is the longest running Irish TV show in the history of television.
I know the show well and it has in the past launched some very big names within the music industry.
That’s right, they have all appeared on the show; U2, Sinead O’Connor, Boyzone, they have all done it.
I have been looking at your tour schedule and I see that you are already booking for 2018.
Yes I am and to be honest with you I really do have to book a year ahead because of theatres and venues becoming booked up. I need to get in there early in order to keep the fans happy.
When do you manage to get any time for yourself?
The honest answer to that is that I don’t know (laughter). I have got a bit of time off in June I believe, so I intend to make the most of that.
I see that you are going over to Memphis in August this year for the Elvis Week. Is that your busiest time of the year?
Funnily enough no it’s not. It will be nice for me to go there and to see Graceland again, but honestly I wouldn’t say that it is the busiest time of my year. It’s pretty cool but I would much prefer to go somewhere where there are less Elvis’s who want less attention.
Is there anywhere in the world where you haven’t performed yet but would particularly like to tour?
There are places like the Czech Republic and the Ukraine where they tell me that the ladies are really pretty, so it would be good to go down there if I am honest (laughter).
I was talking about singing (laughter).
(Laughter) Okay, well being serious. I really would like to go to those places because having been under the culture of Russia for all of those years; it really would be nice to perform in those kinds of places and China. It would be quite nice for me to just see what it is like.
The recently released album The Wonder Of You: Elvis Presley With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, does that put any pressure on you to turn up to gigs with a forty piece orchestra?
(Laughter) I really do hope not. I do have a Yamaha keyboard in the boot of the car (laughter). But seriously, whenever I play at the bigger gigs I do have a string quartet with me but obviously nothing quite on that scale. I think that the record is a good thing really because it regurgitates his music and it puts it out there so it makes different people become aware of Elvis and what he has done. I’m sure that it helps me a little too. They may come to watch me in order to see just what the man was all about.
Your UK tour starts in May, are you looking forward to being back out on the road here in the UK?
Yes I am. I love getting over to Ireland because they really do have some decent Guinness over there and the people are always up for a laugh (laughter). But yes, I really am looking forward to being back out on the road here.
What would you say is the average age of your audience, are they getting younger?
In general my audience is middle aged but obviously they have offspring so I do tend to get a mixture of all ages. I sometimes have five and six year olds right up to ninety year olds. It really is across the board. In general they are usually fifty years old, their kids have grown up and they have a bit of spare cash. With Elvis it really is across the board. It really is unbelievable.
Will there be anybody opening for you or is it just you?
It’s just me, I do the whole show covering four eras of Elvis’ career. In the first half I cover The Sun Studio era, the movies together with his comeback. In the second half I perform a 1970s Elvis concert.
So what would you say is your favourite era of his career?
For me it would have to be the 70s. The reason for that being his voice had matured, the music had got better and there was more depth and emotion in his songs. The music had got better and for me his voice was at its best.
Despite the extra weight and the jumpsuits?
Yes that’s right. Unfortunately Elvis had started taking prescription medication which eventually killed him. He simply didn’t look after himself and that’s what happens.
The power of being too powerful; no one would say no to him.
That’s exactly right. He had fame from a relatively young age and as you say no one would be strong or brave enough to say no to him.
After the tour what next for Ben Portsmouth?
Retirement perhaps (laughter). Actually there are a couple of things. Firstly, as I said earlier I have a Green Card now and for me I have always thought that America offered a lot more opportunities for me simply because it is bigger and more diverse. Although the Elvis market is saturated there are far more opportunities over there for me than there are here in the UK. Secondly, I want to take a bit more time out so that I can do a bit more of my own thing. I have been writing my own songs and recording them over in Nashville. So I really do want to focus a bit more on that and just how far I can go with that really.
What sort of time scale have you given yourself to release some of your own material?
Well apparently I have got June off so I just need to get myself back to Nashville, keep recording and as soon as I have ten or twelve songs that I am happy with, then I can put out a CD of my own. So really it is just a case of getting the time off to enable me to do it (laughter). At the moment I am here, there and everywhere.
If you take Elvis out of the equation what is Ben Portsmouth’s style of music?
I would describe my style as easy listening pop music with a slight country slant hence recording in Nashville. It’s just pop music really which is aimed quite specifically at the mothers and the daughters.
Is it Ben Portsmouth and a guitar or is it Ben Portsmouth and a band?
It is most definitely Ben Portsmouth and a band. Whenever I get into the studio over in Nashville I give the songs that I have written to the conductor of the house band, we have a chat as to how the song goes and we sit there and record it. It works really well and in fact one of the songs we recorded we did it on the second take. These people are doing this every single day and they truly are great musicians. They immediately get what it is that you are trying to capture, it’s great.
Do you ever get nervous when you think of all of the artists that have gone before you in Nashville?
No I wouldn’t say that it makes me nervous but it is great to be there. It really is a melting pot of styles and a really great place to be if you are trying to make it as a musician.
On that note Ben let me once thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been great. I hope to see you here in Nottingham and bye for now.
It’s been a pleasure Kevin. I’m so looking forward to playing up there in Nottingham as I have never played there before. I know that the show is selling really well and I thank everyone for buying a ticket. Make sure that you come and say hello when I get to Nottingham.