It’s probably unusual to open a record with a passionate modern madrigal to the physics of gases. You wouldn’t expect to find the work of NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory on the long-awaited new record by a BBC Folk Award winning guitarist. It’s unexpected, too, that a broadside ballad from the 1700s would work brilliantly as a trip hop track. But then, Ben Walker has always been quietly full of surprises. One of UK folk’s true time travellers, he is an acute observer of patterns – in language, in history, in people.
Born in Worcestershire, trained in classical guitar from a young age and with a postgraduate degree in maths, Ben is now a BBC Folk Award winner with more than seventy records under his belt as a producer and player and a reputation among his peers for fusing tradition and innovation, and for playing like no-one else.
His musicianship has been sought out from Rough Trade to the Royal Shakespeare Company, from punk to proms.
Reviewers of Ben’s first solo album Echo called it quite simply, ‘stunning’ (The Guardian). So now this, Ben’s second album Banish Air From Air hits no lower, exploring the relationship between mankind and nature. Exquisite instrumentals, traditional material and reimagined poems sit alongside Ben’s first forays into songwriting, featuring an enviable list of guest vocalists. These include Mercury Music Prize nominee Sam Lee and fellow BBC Folk Award winner Nancy Kerr alongside some newer voices – indie-folk songwriter Sophie Jamieson’s evocative vocals, Emily Mae Winters’ dramatic storytelling, Louis Brennan’s bleak growl, Lucy Alexander’s post-punk swagger, as well as Ben’s most recent tourmate, acclaimed singer-songwriter Kirsty Merryn.
The first single, the instrumental track “Starlings” is out now. Listen and watch striking new video by Marry Waterson here:
Speaking about “Starlings, Walker commented: “This was the first thing I wrote for this album, inspired by the murmurations of starlings on the seafront where I live. Every time I see them, it never fails to make me stand and stare. We still don’t really know how they do it. They don’t need words to communicate, so nor does this.”
As Ben says: ‘It’s both humbling and strangely comforting to think just how small and temporary we really are, it puts all the everyday rubbish back in perspective. That being said, it’s a very human instinct to try to put a justifying narrative to the chaos. I’ve been a mathematician as long as I’ve been a musician. I’d usually default to music or science to describe the world but folk superstitions offer their own explanations of things we’re still figuring out. We’ve got hypotheses which go back centuries, from folk myths to religion, from alchemy to science. I love the satisfaction of peeling back the layers of a folk tale and finding that, in its own way, the story still makes sense. I started to play with developing a few of the folk stories I was reading into lyrics to work with musically, and found that I rather liked a couple of them. With everything that’s been going on in the world, it’s taken me nearly three years to make this album, but I hope it’s better for the extra time spent thinking, testing, trying a few things.
I’ve worked with some wonderful artists for this record. It’s a privilege to make music with such generous people, so incredibly good at what they do. I really enjoyed making it, so I hope it speaks to you too.’
Banish Air from Air will be available online and in record shops from 24 February 2023.
Pre-order now at https://ffm.to/starlings
For more information visit :Ben Walker