A Place Like This

by Ben Walker

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about

When I was looking for gigs with Mike Pierce-Goulding in 1996, he was described in our misguided promotional material as 'seeing part of his future in pop'. Mike played piano on my final recital on the Middlesex University BA in Performance Arts course in 1994. He is very good at jazz but told me at the time that he saw himself more as a guitarist. When he got into home recording around 2000, his guitar/pop side flourished.

In the first years of the 21st century, both Mike and I were living in public housing in areas of Britain with high crime rates and racial tension. I was in Manningham, Bradford; he was in Tottenham, London. During times when I wasn't working to pay off an expensive recording I was making at the time (my first CD, 'Bahaudin'), I would come down to London and fashion songs out of some of the musical ideas Mike had stored on his computer.

On one occasion I remember going to an Anarchist book fair at , I think, Conway Hall in Holborn. It was packed out and I saw my mum and dad (who had made the train trip from Suffolk) there across a crowded room. I felt claustrophobic and went up to the balcony. But when I got there I couldn't see them. They had gone to the pub with a friend, unaware that I was there or even in the south of England. I also brushed past an attractive woman at some stage, a moment which is described in the lyric to the song 'Altitude'.

Another time when I was staying at Mike's I went to a gig featuring Thea Gilmore and Nigel Stonier at the Borderline in the West End. They were both involved with the expensive recording I was making in the north at the time. There were crowds of well-heeled young people milling around outside the venue. It was a successful gig, part of an album-promoting tour. But Mike and I were at the other end of musical Britain. We were in the type of London environment the films don't show, but most of the capital's inhabitants have to deal with.

The experience of living in near-war-zone conditions, trying to make music with seemingly no access to an audience and basically just gritting your teeth and trying to get by was described in the title track of this album. 'A Place Like This' is one of three songs from those sessions which has been started again from scratch. I always felt that this collection of tunes was 'nearly there'. The two songs which I wrote solo didn't really turn out right on the original recording. So I've tried to play them in Mike's style, even though he's a far superior musician to me.

There was also one song which never made it off Mike's computer. After staying up all night mixing with him sometime in 2003 I went round to a friend's in nearby Stamford Hill, most likely in order to sleep. To a somewhat enthusiastic response, I showed my friend's housemate the lyrics to 'All the Same', something we were still working on and hoped to complete. It was never finished in its native time period but has been reconstructed from memory.

I think these tracks are a good document of the state of being down but not out, a postcard from early 2000s urban Britain, where you had to laugh, or else you would cry. We were heading somewhere, maybe not somewhere good but at least somewhere different. In the meantime, we were sticking it out in A Place Like This.

credits

released July 2, 2019

Miserere, Looking For Sparks, Can't Keep Breaking Down, Altitude, Church of the Second Chance, Dear Lord & Dandelion recorded in Seven Sisters, London in 2000-2. All the Same, A Place Like This & Sweet Amanda recorded in Baby Point, Toronto in 2019. The cover photo is by Jakey Thomas (cc-by-sa/2.0).

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Ben Walker Toronto, Ontario

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