How did The Bookshop Band come together?
We came together as a band because Ben was asked by Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights (our local book shop in Bath) if he would be up for providing some music for their themed author nights. Ben then asked Beth and I if we'd be interested in joining him in the project as he was intending to write the songs especially for the event and wondered if we'd like to collaborate with him. We were both gigging in and around bath doing our own singer songwriter thing and were both up for the challenge so said yes! The first season of events at Mr B's were based around travel, and each event was focused on a different country. We decided that we would find folk tales from the relevant country and write a song or two based on them. The songs we wrote for this first season we then recorded and made into our first album, Travels from your Armchair, and of course we needed a name and seeing as we formed in a bookshop and so far had played solely in a bookshop we decided to call ourselves The Bookshop Band.
It wasn't until the second season of events that we stumbled across the idea of basing the songs on the books. The theme of the first event in the second season we did for Mr B's was adultery! and the author they were having for the night was Paula McClain with her new book The Paris Wife, which is all about Earnest Hemmingway and his first wife Hadley. It seemed obvious to go to the book for inspiration this time and it proved to be a great way of approaching the songwriting for these events and so we continued to do it and now tour around other bookshops, schools and libraries playing our songs.
Why are bookshops important?
Bookshops are places to be as much as places to buy and I think having now seen so many different bookshops around the UK the main thing I get from them is that they all seem to have a very strong sense of community. They provide a place for people to discover new books, a place where people can have a conversation, and often a very welcoming peaceful and stimulating environment. I think this is important for local communities but also for the book industry as often local bookshops will hand sell the books they love that may otherwise not get into the view of the public. I think bookshops will always be important in this way and there will always be people that want to buy books in this way, but that we may need to remind ourselves of this every so often. After all the discoveries you make or recommendations you get from a good bookshop that knows what you like is invaluable and it would be very sad to lose.
How do you feel playing your songs to the authors?
Terrified! every time, it's extremely nerve racking. But it's also extremely exciting, and can be a very intense experience as in many ways it's is a form of artistic exchange. It's our response to the authors piece of work, and we want to do it justice as well as putting a bit of ourselves and our ideas in there, ideas that have been inspired by their writing. Personally I have felt very emotional on occasion and we have had authors who have also felt very emotional. It's quite a unique experience really and we all feel very lucky to get the chance to play the songs we write to the authors who have inspired them.
You support the ‘books are my bag campaign,’ can you tell us a little about that?
This is a campaign to encourage people to go into their local book shop and buy a physical book, which as I said above can be a wonderful experience, so a good thing to encourage! We wrote a song during independent booksellers week in 2013 inspired by all the bookshops we'd been visiting on our tour and they asked if they could use it as part of their campaign as it is basically about the wonderful world of the bookshop and taking a new book home! We did a slightly tweaked version for them for the campaign. It's being run as a joint initiative between the Booksellers' Association, Saachi PR, and bookshop owners all over the UK and Ireland. Watch it here.
You’ve worked with speculative fiction books such as China Mieville’s EmbassyTown, and Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales. What is it like writing songs inspired by speculative fiction? Do they turn out weirder than the straight literary ones?!
Not necessarily, but then again they can put you in a more surreal mood so possibly! The imagery in this kind of book can be fantastical and very imaginative which makes for quite rich song writing material.
I particularly love ‘When You Speak’, which was inspired by Mieville’s EmbassyTown. Could you tell us a little about writing that? What does the creative process from reading, experiencing and then creating something new look like?
When You Speak was one of those that touched on a slightly more abstract thought about language and the physicality of the word. How when you speak a word it comes to life in a way that is different form on the page or in your head. How it somehow becomes more real and permanent, an idea in the world, a truth. Having a person be a word in a language as Mieville does in EmbassyTown was a wonderful concept for thinking about this subject. Also the book is very much about the nature of communication between two very different entities, this is an idea I am very interested in as a songwriter and so this song evolved from those thoughts inspired by Mieville's book. The book in a sense really allowed me to delve into this subject on a personal level but with a bunch of wonderful metaphors for cover I suppose. The aim was to create something that dealt with what I thought the core subject of the book was, language and communication, in a way that felt connected to the book, but combined my personal emotional response to its subject. We wanted to go for an ethereal, almost fluid sound with the song to evoke the vastness of the world within the book, but also to communicate the symbiotic relationship between the word its speaker and its receiver. And I think with all songs it's not really until you have performed it, that you understand it fully - I feel a song is never really finished until its been sung to someone. So with this one in particular it came very full circle.
We are always looking for new books to read. Do you have any authors or books you could recommend to us?
My most recent favorite and one I've been recommending all over the place is A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. I would also really recommend a book by American author Ben Fountain called, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. Then two slightly shorter but very satisfying reads are The Apartment by Greg Baxter and The Howling Miller by Arto Paasilinna.
The Bookshop Band are Poppy Pitt, Ben Please and Beth Porter
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Poppy Pitt of The Bookshop Band tells us about singing songs to writers, being inspired by China Mieville's EmbassyTown and why bookshops are important.
The song 'When You Speak' was inspired by China Mieville's EmbassyTown
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