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‘No one loves a sob story and I love being told no’: Montrose musician Ben Walker beats the bullies as he joins The View on tour

The singer-songwriter is "part of The View family" after 'grain shed songs' recorded on family farm shot him to TikTok stardom.

Ben Walker stands on stage with a Fender guitar and microphone against a red backdrop.
Ben Walker is living the dream, but getting there wasn't easy. Image: Supplied.

He may spend his time “flying planes, driving tractors, and singing songs to people” – but Ben Walker wasn’t always this cool.

Then again, not every 20-year-old who can boast that there are “eight people on this Earth with tattoos of my lyrics or autograph” or that they’ve had their face “printed on to a stranger’s birthday cake”.

So the Montrose musician has to admit that his post-adolescent set-up is pretty sweet, despite being on his “third phone number this year”.

“They keep getting leaked, it’s a nightmare man!” he sighs. But the grin on his face says he’s not too upset about his newfound fame. And nor should be.

On tour with Dundee rockers The View – and managing their social media to graft his way – Ben’s living his teenage dreams straight out of the gate.

Ben Walker with The View frontman Kyle Falconer, right. Image: Ben Walker.

“It’s a bit mad!” he laughs as he sits in “the hot seat” (i.e. the studio booth) after recording “the mother of all vocal takes” for his upcoming single, the aptly-named Busy Smiling.

“This is potentially going to be on a new album or new EP, it just depends on who’s willing to make what offer!” he says, tapping his nose.

“But that’s the side of this that I try not to get involved with – it gets messy.”

A sensible head on youthful shoulders, it would seem, as Ben’s savvy to know that his strengths lie in making music.

As for making it big, he’s just happy to be here, and not quite sure how ended up as a support act for one of Scotland’s biggest bands.

Ben on stage with Kyle. Image:@jackgeddesmedia.

“I never really considered this,” he continues candidly.

“I always wanted to be at home on the farm, or go away and be a pilot. That was it, that’s what my eyes were set on. The only thing cooler than rocking up to school on a tractor – which I used to do – is flying a plane!

“And then a couple of weeks before I left school, I was like: ‘Err, I think I want to sing’ and my careers advisor was like: ‘That’s a terrible idea!’

“But no one loves a sob story, and I love being told no, so I was like: ‘Ok, I’ll go away and do that then’.”

‘I’ve got until August to become Ed Sheeran’

And he did. Inspired by the likes of Sam Fender, Luke Combes and Jake Bugg, Ben built up a library of original songs between pursuing education, work, and Air Cadets – at the behest of his parents.

“I was getting into bother as a teenager, so they were like: ‘Pick up a guitar, fly a plane, just stop doing illegal stuff!’,” chuckles Ben. “Then I could tell girls: ‘I’m different to other guys, I can show you the roof of your house if you want!’”

Ben Walker hasn’t got his pilot’s licence – yet. Image: Ben Walker.

Now, a mere two years out of school, Ben’s got his shot at the big time – and he’s not going to waste it, even jacking his popular music course at the University of the Highlands and Islands to give his all to touring.

“I was at uni until last week,” he laughs, shaking his head. “I’ll tell you, doing a full time uni course with two jobs was not amazing. There’s not enough hours in the day.

“I’ve asked to take a year out. So I’ve got until August to become Ed Sheeran, or I’ll go back for a final year.”

Ben Walker has been learning from big names including Cammy Barnes. Image: Supplied.

The way things are going, that deferred course may have to wait a little bit longer than a year.

He was already on his way to success after fellow local voice Calum Bowie encouraged him to “find a niche” on social media platform TikTok.

“He said to me: ‘Listen lad, you need to get on to this TikTok thing. You fly planes, and you live on a farm. Use one of those’.”

At home on the farm is Ben’s natural habitat. Pictured: A young Ben Walker on a tractor. Image: Supplied.

After noting that planes are “cool, but pretty noisy”, Ben settled on the farm angle, and set about posted his “grain shed songs” – recorded in the shed of his family farm – on TikTok, where they received upwards of five million views.

“Calum and I had the same guitar teacher for a while, Michael Brechin,” reveals Ben. “He used to play us off against each other. He’d tell Calum: ‘You need to learn this solo in 10 minutes, cause there’s a lad up in Laurencekirk who did it in 11’.

“And I never knew who this other guitarist down in Banchory was, but I wanted to beat him!”

‘I’m singing Same Jeans with the guy that wrote Same Jeans’

But it was a chance meeting with View frontman Kyle Falconer following a Greenock gig where he’d played to “about three people, including the bar staff and sound tech” which shot Ben’s career into hyperspeed.

“My manager at the time was making this indoor festival, and he put me on at one of the smaller venues, first on,” he grimaces.

“Then by the end of the night, I was in someone’s log cabin in Greenock, singing with Kyle Falconer!

The View’s frontman helps out with song writing at the Alicante villa. Supplied by La Sierra Casa/Facebook.

“It was one of those really weird moments. I was like: ‘I’m singing Same Jeans with the guy that wrote Same Jeans. This is really quite mental’.

“Now I’m like part of the family.”

A firm friendship was born between Ben and Kyle, and stints at Falconer’s Spanish songwriting hub, La Sierra Casa, followed, where Ben got the chance to write songs with established headliners like Cammy Barnes and The Vistas.

“There’s definitely no right answer when it comes to songwriting,” he reflects. “Kyle’s very much of the opinion that it’s a verse and chorus and that’s the song done, you can finish it in the studio.

Dinnertime at La Sierra Casa. Image: Ben Walker.

“Whereas other people will want to have everything sitting there before they go to the studio.

“So I’ve come on, I think I’m getting better. Which is good, because if you’re not learning something you’re getting stagnant.”

Caird Hall gig will be ‘full circle moment’

Now, he’s gearing up to play five Scottish dates with The View as a support act, including two extra-special performances at the Caird Hall in the band’s hometown.

“That’s going to be a real full-circle moment,” Ben smiles.

“I saw my first gig there in 2015 with my mum and dad – Texas!

Zoe, Vicky, Ben and Colin Walker stand backstage at a gig.
Ben Walker with his mum Vicky, dad Colin and sister Zoe. Image: @jackgeddesmedia.

“One night when we were away bowling, Kyle was like: ‘You wanna be on the tour?’ and I was like: ‘I would love to just play one day in the Caird Hall!’

“Kyle said: ‘Let me speak to my manager.’

“The next thing I know, I’m on holiday, I was lying by the pool, and people started phoning me, saying: ‘I’m at TRNSMT, your name’s on The View poster!

“My nana had just passed away, so we were away just having some family healing time together. So it was quite a dark time, and this feels like it was meant to be.

“It was definitely one of those ‘dream come true’ type moments. Hopefully not the last!”

Even rockstars miss their mums

Mind you, for all he’s grateful for “getting to go to bed on a bus and wake up in a new city”, Ben admits that being away from loved ones can make the road a lonely place.

“You miss a few births, a few deaths,” he nods solemnly. “Even just there in summer when I lost my nana, I was coming back from Spain and I got a phone call saying: ‘Listen, I don’t think your nana’s going to be here when you land’.

A young Ben Walker, wearing sunglasses, with a Guitar Hero guitar.
‘It wasn’t a phase’: A young Ben Walker plays Guitar Hero. Image: Ben Walker.

“And one of my friends, it’s his 21st the night of my O2 Academy date, and he’s begged me to come out, and I’m like ‘I can’t give up an O2 Academy date for a night out’.

“I phone home after a good night, you know, and mum’s going: ‘I wish I could give you a wee hug’. So those things sort of suck. But it’s definitely worth it.”

School bullying and violence saw Ben shy away from guitar

Indeed, despite his sunny demeanour, Ben doesn’t shy away from tough topics, in his conversation or his songwriting.

And although playing guitar is what got him to where he is, he admits that a campaign of intense, violent bullying at school made him more concerned with fitting in than standing out for a few years.

“I was in S1 when I first picked up the guitar. My music teacher Miss Cockburn made me stop drawing willies on desks and join the band, on the threat of detention!” he recalls.

Ben Walker, wearing an orange button-down short over a white T-shirt and blue jeans, sits with his acoustic guitar in what appears to be a bedroom.
Playing guitar helped Ben deal with bullying at school. Image: Jack Geddes

“I picked it up and was like: ‘Wow, this is unreal.’ It was difficult, but it scratched an itch.

“My mum and dad got one of those £50 eBay starter guitars, and I was just so grateful to have it.

“Then I put it down for a bit, it got really uncool. People started laughing at me, I was getting all the ‘one time at band camp’ jokes. That’s when it was all kicking off with the bullying.

“And that’s when I started finding that maybe it wasn’t as safe to go out at break time and lunchtime, so I’d go to a practice room and play guitar by myself.”

Tragedy pushed Ben to be bold

After the bullying at Montrose Academy became untenable, Ben moved to Mearns, where he was embraced by a community of new friends. But that made standing out feel even more dangerous, until tragedy struck and moved Ben to be brave.

“I had another chance to be cool and not get the s*** kicked out of me every day, so I was trying to be as generic as possible and fit in with the crowd,” he shrugs.

“Then one of my friends sadly died. He had been one of the biggest influences on me, saying I had to post my guitar covers. So I did – I posted Wonderwall.

“I know,” he grins sadly. “Criminal.”

Ban Walker (centre, with a guitar) and his four band members stand on stage. Behind, an audience holds up the torches on their phones.
The crowd lights up for Ben Walker and his band. Image: Ben Walker.

Now, with songs like Just A Boy, which reflect on some of these early experiences, Ben is realising that he can connect to a young audience and encourage young men to carve out their own paths.

“You see some of the S4 lads in my wee sister’s class wanting to take drama or dance, and they get the mick taken out them by their friends,” Ben says sadly.

“And I probably would’ve been guilty of doing that at that age as well. It’s just about convincing some of these younger kids that it is acceptable to push the boat out and do something different.”

Giving back to Montrose music scene

Part of that, for Ben, is trying to revive the music scene in his own hometown.

And last weekend he organised a headline gig at Sharky’s, which featured support from Montrose lad Cammy R, Arbroath musician Liam Grieves and Kirriemuir’s Katie Nicol.

Katie Nicol plays and acoustic guitar on an outdoor stage, wearing a pink jumper and pink-and-orange scarf.
Katie Nicol, from Kirriemuir, supported at Ben’s hometown gig last week, and has joined he and Kyle in Spain. Kim Cessford/DC Thomson.

“Growing up in Montrose, there was never any music going on, certainly not from young guys,” he explains.

“Montrose Music Festival used to cater to that crowd, we used to have really big bands like the Kaiser Chiefs, The Who, Status Quo, those sorts of things.

“I just want to see that scene get a wee bit of a kickstart again.”

Ben Walker is playing Dundee’s Caird Hall with The View on December 17 and 18. His next headline show is at King Tut’s in Glasgow, on January 21 2024.