Ben Walker’s Polar Bear, and Another World Away

cover, Polar BearBen Walker comes from Stockport, near Manchester, England. Amazingly, he has only been involved playing the Uilleann pipes, guitar and traditional Irish music since about 1995. Previously, he gained at lot of experience playing music for many years, mostly jazz on the piano, saxophones and flutes, etc., in and around the jazz clubs and bars in Manchester. A true multi-instrumentalist, he now also adds another string to his bow and plays guitar to accompany himself as a singer-songwriter.

Apart from guest musician Chris Knowles on bouzouki and harp, Ben multi-tracks all the other instruments himself, these being guitar, Uilleann pipes, keyboards, fiddle, flute, and bass flute. On Polar Bear Ben treats you to five tracks of some fine instrumental sets of Irish jigs and reels plus a slow air played on the pipes. Coupled to this are eight songs written by Ben and one David Francey song, ‘Red Wing Blackbird’. Should you need them, the album sleeve notes contain all the lyrics to his songs. Shades of influence gleaned from David Francey, James Keelaghan and Gordon Lightfoot, can be detected. So clearly, Ben has excellent taste!

Some of the subject matter and lyrics for his songs had me puzzled for a while, until I learned that Ben has worked as a psychiatric nurse and teaches a special-needs music class for adults with learning difficulties. Ben has drawn on his own life experiences and emotions, so then it all came into place. Songs such as ‘September Skies’ and ‘Still Sitting Here’ deal with institutionalisation and Alzheimer’s disease. The title song ‘Polar Bear’ was written after Ben visited a zoo with his children and observed the sad and sorry plight these animals all to often have to endure in captivity. Other songs, like ‘Playing the Fame Game’, ‘Wanting to Be Famous’ and ‘Gone For Ever More’ add more variation to the subject matter.

On the album Another World Away there are nine tracks made up from eight songs written by Ben plus a cover of the Tony Kaduck/James Keelaghan song ‘Princes of the Clouds’. On this singer-songwriter album, there are no Uilleann pipes. It has gentler feel to it, as Ben, for the most part, uses just acoustic guitar for accompaniment.

Another World Away starts with ‘What’s The Use’, a song about the fear of the unknown after leaving the institution. The album mellows with a couple of songs that are about the memories and innocence that children possess before they have to face the pressure of adult life, ‘Don’t Throw The Magic Away’ and ‘Come Around’. Then the song ‘After All’ tells about a woman’s struggle with an eating disorder. Most of the songs are based on characters Ben has encountered along life’s highway and take on a similar theme. The songs are sung well and delivered in a very profound style.

In short these are two very nice albums that ably demonstrate the superb musical ability and different facets of Ben Walker. On Polar Bear the entertainment value is increased by his ability to switch from a lively Celtic jig or reel on the pipes to a sensitive modern contemporary song. On Another World Away you find him in a slightly different mood as a solo artist plying his trade as a contemporary singer-songwriter. On balance, of the two albums, Polar Bear held my attention the most, mainly because of the added flavour of the Uilleann pipes — as on the opening song ‘Fine Line’ (which could be about a hidden truth or meaning of life). You really need to get both albums to truly appreciate the songwriter’s art, and at the price he is selling them for, you won’t be disappointed. See Ben’s Web site for more details.

(Bedspring music, 2003)
(Unreleased demo, 2004)

Peter Massey

Born in 1945, Peter Massey, Senior Writer, is now living in the city of Chester, England with his wife Sandra. Now medically retired he worked for 35 years in the shoe business. He has been a semi-professional musician and singer performing mainly traditional / contemporary folk songs for over 38 years as part of the duo (and sometimes trio) 'The Marrowbones'. His musical interest started at the age of 14 with Rock 'n' Roll and by the time his seventeenth birthday came along he was already playing rock 'n' roll and R&B in and around the local dance venues and clubs such as the Cavern in Liverpool. Thankfully he was saved from the evils of rock 'n' roll when he discovered real music and folk clubs. His collection of recordings houses over 3500 folk songs alone. Other interests and hobbies include Computers and Amateur Radio (he has a class A G4 call sign) His latest project is 'The Little Room Studio' dedicated to making 'live' recordings of folk artists and producing their work on to CD using a portable digital recording studio. To date he has written and composed over 12 folk songs and co-wrote with Gordon Morris another 10 that have been recorded on CD. The song writing has continued and they have another 10 songs in the pipeline not yet recorded to CD. Favourite music / bands at the moment are Steeleye Span, The Battlefield Band, Little Johnny England and Fairport Convention, (in that order), and much admires the work of Martin Carthy, Martin Simpson, Roy Bailey, Vin Garbutt, and Bob Fox, to name but a few! You can visit the crummy Web site here and read about The Marrowbones and how to get your free songbook.

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