Mark Ben Wilson: Percussive Guitarist
Published oin 6th November 2015
WHO IS MARK BEN WILSON?
Mark Ben Wilson is a singer and songwriter from Horsham. If you meet him, Mark will do. He utilised a middle name for stage performances as there happens to be an abundance of Mark Wilsons in the music industry.
Mark is known for adopting a percussive form of guitar playing. His technique involves tapping or hitting the guitar top and strings to add percussive elements to his songs and instrumental music.
He said: "The style of percussive guitar playing has been around for a long time. People have been using the guitar as a percussive instrument for
generations, particularly for flamenco music, but it's only recently that it has been used more in
"I think that is because it's such a visual thing. It is interesting to see someone playing differently. Now, thanks to YouTube, percussive guitarists have a visual outlet. Musicians like Michael Hedges were playing a percussive guitar style in the 1980s and found some success, but the internet wasn't there for them to expand their audience."
HOW DID HE LEARN PERCUSSIVE GUITAR
Mark grew up in Skegness, and started playing guitar at the age of 13. The only local guitar tutor was a classical guitarist, so that was the style Mark initially learnt and adopted.
Gradually, he became absorbed in rock music, listening to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Naturally, he picked up an electric guitar and played in several rock bands, but they all petered out. It was whilst studying at the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM) in Guildford that Mark took an interest in percussive guitar.
Mark said: "I met a musician called Eric Roche, who has sadly passed away. He was a well-known percussive guitar player with very precise finger work. It was interesting to see him play the way he did and he was a great inspiration to me. It was a few years before I adopted that style but it was Eric who triggered my interest."
After completing his diploma, Mark studied for a music degree in London, but felt that the course was too focused on preparing students for a life as a session musician. He said: "I learned many different styles at university, from rock to jazz, but to be honest I just wanted to do my own thing, and I love playing percussive guitar."
HOW DID HE TAKE TO LIVE PERFORMING?
Having moved to Horsham, Mark's first solo show came at The Tanners Arms. "I am naturally quite introverted. I'd been the lead guitarist in a rock band before, but never been the front man, the entertainer. So for me it was nerve wracking to sing live.
"I started going to the open mic nights at The Tanners every week, as they were really good supporters of local music. Sadly, it's closed down now. It was a small but appreciative audience and very friendly. That really helped me build my confidence on stage."
Gradually, Mark became comfortable playing his instrumental pieces, so he decided to try singing as well. He said: "I didn't quite realise how much I would love song writing. The first song I wrote was 'You Give Me More' which is about my three children. It's about how everything you do is for them, yet somehow they give you even more back. It's not particularly rock 'n' roll, but you should always write about what you know about, and I'm a family man.
"I really like playing instrumental pieces but my set is now a combination of instrumentals and songs."
Mark plays in showcases around Horsham and also runs one of his own with Phil Jones - The Hanger Sessions at B52's Bar in Piries Place.
In the past, he has found it distracting when people talk over his instrumentals, treating them as background music. But with experience, Mark now views such a scenario as a challenge. "You have to give people a reason to listen; play with passion and captivate them. Some like the songs, some like the instrumentals, but in all honesty you need to play what you love. You can take opinions too seriously."
WHERE DOES THE PERCUSSION COME FROM?
The percussive sound is amplified by a microphone and several pickup systems placed around the sound hole of the guitar.
Mark usually plays a guitar made by David Webber, who builds acoustic guitars from a studio in Vancouver. He has fitted a 'scratch patch' to add a little extra effect. But it is the pickups and microphone that are most important to the sound of a percussive guitar.
Mark said: "The pickups make percussive guitar playing crisp and clear in a live situation, so when I plug in the guitar, the microphone can detect every small tap and hit. Years ago, the pickups were not as technical and didn't
detect every sound so precisely, but now the clarity of the strings and hits is incredible. You can really use any guitar as long as they have a good pickup system."
THE EP IS FINALLY HERE
Mark is releasing his first EP, Blind Feet , this month. It features three instrumentals and two songs, and will be debuted at a launch party on 20 November at B52's Bar in Piries Place, Horsham. The Blind Feet EP will be available through Mark's website as a CD and a download. It will also be available on iTunes and Bandcamp.
At the age of 33, it's been a long road...
Mark said: ""Because I'm independent and don't have a record label, really I'm looking for exposure. It's not really about making money; I just want people to hear my music. It is a bit of a labour of love as it can be hard work to make a living with this niche style of playing, but the audience is growing.
"I look at people like Jon Gomm, who is an inspiration because he is quite anti-establishment and yet has been successful. With the EP, I would like to reach a new audience. Eventually, I would like a big enough fan base to make some kind of living as an independent musician, selling music and performing live."
videos can be found on his website as well as online music outlets such as Soundcloud and Bandcamp. He gives an excellent live rendition of Nostalgia on the Shore for the 'Ont Sofa Sessions' on YouTube and one of his songs, You Give Me More. You can hear more of Mark's music at www.markbenwilson.com He also has Facebook and Twitter pages, and his instrumental track Nostalgia on the Shore is available as a download at