On Tuesday 3rd July The Bookshop Band will be visiting Blackwell’s as part of their tour of independent bookshops and festivals. We are most excited! Ben Please is the founder and guitarist, here he answers some questions about how the band came into existence and what the future holds for them:
How did the idea for a Bookshop Band come about?
Nic Bottomley, the owner of Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, asked me if I wanted to come in and play at the shop’s new series of author evenings. They didn’t want them to be normal ‘author evenings’ where an author might just read something from their book and answer a few questions. Instead they gave the evening a theme, of which the author formed a part, but which also included themed food and drink… and themed music. The first season was called Travels from your armchair, and each night was based on a different part of the world; Russia, Greece, Central Europe, Japan and then Brazil. Nic asked if I could put together a little group of musicians to play a cover song relating to the theme, to start the evening off. I could have said yes, but I’m awful at doing covers, so I just said I’d write a song instead. As I walked out of the shop I realised how silly and unworkable this was, so I immediately phoned up two other local musicians who I had recently become friends with. One was a songwriter called Poppy Pitt. Just the previous month we’d had a lock-in in a public house and we had agreed not to leave until we had written and recorded a whole album. And we did, well, nine songs. Poppy is amazing like that. If you play a guitar idea to her for four minutes, she will have written a beautiful and insightful four minute song by the end of it! She had to be on the team, I thought. Then there was Beth Porter. Beth is a cellist who, if you ask her to play or sing over some music, will do so in a such an easy and musical way. She’s one of these people that naturally create music that is wonderful to stop and listen to. She’s also a great songwriter and singer as well, so she had to be on the team too. Luckily they both said “yes”. We went straight into the season of events, and over the course of two months we wrote two songs for each of the five nights. Instead of responding to the actual book, we chose instead folk stories from each of the theme countries. We didn’t have very long to write the songs, most were done in half a day, so there wasn’t time to read the books properly. For the first few events we didn’t have a name. The In-house Band, or once I think we even went crazy with “The Lost Art Of The Mix Tape”. But by about the third event we unanimously decided to call ourselves The Bookshop Band, because that is what we were. After the first season Nic asked us if we’d like to do another. After saying yes, we decided to go for it. This time we would all read the books in advance, and write the songs in response to them.
How do you write songs about books?
These books, which authors invest with so much of their creativity, time and so many ideas, are wonderful songwriting starting blocks. As to how exactly a book might inspire a song, it’s different for every book. Some songs are about a really specific moment in the book, others might be a character or a place or even a mood. Some songs are inspired by just one sentence, while others might try to be an overview of the whole thing. I think the key is that we need to find something within the book that we can emotionally connect to, then the songwriting becomes natural and can just flow. Something in the book usually resonates with something happening in one of our lives, so the songs are definitely an amalgamation of our own personal experiences, all mixed up with the imagery, narrative or emotions from the book.
How’s it gone so far?
It’s been a real eye opener for us in terms of songwriting, each book inspires a whole range of completely different songs. It takes us out of our individual comfort zones, to somewhere much more exciting! The response, from bookshops, publishers and people who love books, has been amazing, and really motivating for us too. What does the future hold for The Bookshop Band? We have just finished recording all the songs from the first four seasons of events from last year. These will all be ready in June, and we’ve made a nice box to put them all in. Our ‘Complete Works – Year One’. We decided to go exploring the UK and play some of these songs in other bookshops. It was something we all wanted to do, and it felt like the perfect way to round off the year’s work. You can see our tour dates here: www.thebookshopband.co.uk Since recording the last four albums we’ve already finished season five at Mr Bs, so there is another one to record if we ever get the chance. There’s a lot more bookshops and literary festivals in the UK to play at, let alone the rest of the world. And we think it’d be a wonderful way to see it. Poppy has also been desperate to write a whole album specifically based on children’s books, so one day, we’ll definitely do that.
As a very special treat for Blackwell’s customers we have agreed with The Bookshop Band that YOU can suggest a book for them to turn into a song and that one of these will be played on July 3rd. Please leave suggestions in the comments…
Tickets for this very special event cost £5 and are available at our Customer Service Desk on the second floor of the shop or by calling 01865 333623