In summer 2008 I returned to India and travelled by bus on a gruelling 34 hour journey over the Himalayas to the high altitude region of Ladakh (aka Little Tibet).  The colourful experiences, extreme landscapes and warmth and kindness of the people I met there have profoundly influenced my music and life.  The tracks Dorje’s Place, Farewell Ladakh, Pangong Tso and Pashmina are directly connected with this land.

On the way to Ladakh I stopped for a week in the bustling town of McLeod Ganj high in the foothills of the Himalaya.  I arrived during the onset of the monsoon and it rained nonstop.  I wrote Bhagsu Road to the background drumming of raindrops splashing on the balcony outside my room. 

Whilst staying in the tiny capital, Leh, I was fortunate enough to attend a talk by linguist and localisation activist Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder of The International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC).  The ISEC is a non-profit organisation whose purpose is to raise awareness about what it identifies as the root causes of contemporary social, environmental and economic crises, namely global consumer culture and the nature of international trade, particularly in the food industry.

Her work drawn from years of first hand experience living in remote Ladakh during its initial “opening up” to the world during the 1970’s, right through to the present day.  She emphasises that Ladakh provides a remarkable case study for understanding the effects of globalisation on a society.  Tracing the last 35 years of development and ‘westernisation’, and observing the subsequent changes in society, offers a unique and powerful perspective on the western world from the outside and how we may wish to change things for the better.  Helena’s intuitive answer is that we promote economic localisation and other locally based alternatives to the global consumer culture which protect both biological and cultural diversity.  Farmers’ markets are one example of this.

Buddhist prayer flags fluttering high above Leh

Thiksey monastery in the Indus Valley, taken around 5pm before staying the night there and waking up the next morning at 6am to experience the monks chanting their breakfast puja.

Two views of the sublime monastery at Hemis.  Taken just before the monks’ breakfast prayers and washed down with salt butter tea.  A taste I have yet to acquire.

Towards the end of my stay in Ladakh I travelled to the remote lake Pangong Tso, a truly magical turquoise glacial lake circled by snowy peaked mountains.  The lake is inhabited by only a handful of pashmina goat herders along its 140km length as it stretches serenely into Tibet. 

The ascent up onto the startlingly beautiful Tibetan Plateau

The view from Leh Palace towards the Zanskar range

At the tender age of 26, Ben stumbled across an album, so bewitching, that it change the course of his life.  He downed tools, bought an acoustic guitar, and locked himself in a room with Solo by fingerstyle guitar legend Martin Taylor.  Seven years later he emerged having rediscovered his childhood love of guitar and clutching a bunch of original guitar melodies which became Preliminaries (2010).  The album has gone on to receive critical acclaim in the UK guitar press and is one of Acoustic Guitar (USA) magazine's Essential Acoustic Album's of 2010.

Prior to his wake up call, Ben was studying philosophy and travelling extensively throughout Asia and the Middle East.  This existential and explorative period provides the foundation for his creative approach to the guitar.  A passion for melody; for making the instrument sing so as to paint giant landscapes, meditative sunsets and romantic moonlit strolls.  "I think of myself as a musical travel-writer whose journal contains notes rather than words". Ben is no stranger to the extreme technical demands of contemporary fingerstyle guitar, but his emphasis is primarily on communicating a coherent musical vision.  The result is, as Celine Keating describes Preliminaries, "a gorgeous meditation, at once ethereal and earthy".

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