Emerge, Return by The Bookshop Band

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Bookshop Band

By Writing.ie

The Bookshop Band and Pete Townshend Collaborate for Album Inspired by Dark Tales . . .

Rock legend Pete Townshend was so “blown away” when he discovered The Bookshop Band that he offered to produce their next album. The result, Emerge, Return, is released June 28th.

Townshend was gifted a set of Ben Please and Beth Porter’s CDs and admired the quality of the music and – as a former bookshop owner himself – that their work is inspired by literature.

He said: “I listened to the CDs in my car as I was travelling. I was blown away, completely blown away. I got into the whole Bookshop Band technique, which is just two people making this sound like a symphony orchestra. It’s quite extraordinary. Each song was special in its own way. So, I reached out.”

Townshend threw himself into the project wholeheartedly, not only producing the album and recording it at his own studio but playing on every track.

Emerge, Return is a dark album of 13 songs, all written by Ben and Beth, responding to themes including the oppression of bodies, free will and free speech that are explored in books such as:

  • The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood
  • Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  • and The Book Of Dust, by Philip Pullman.

The title comes from a song inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s Underland, which glimpses our underworlds and morality in the scale of deep time.

Ben said: “It’s been a rollercoaster working with Pete Townshend, really exciting and not something we could ever have predicted happening.

“He brought his great musicality and experience to the recording process, doing things we’d never have thought of ourselves, offering a different perspective on the songs. That’s the value of working with a great producer.

“And the fact that he ended up playing on every track added an extra dimension – I think that fans will hear his influence woven right the way through the album.”

The band, which has worked with many celebrated authors, plays gigs in small bookshops across the UK, USA and Europe. It is much admired among writers, with best-sellers such as Kate Mosse (The Ghost Ship) specifically asking them to write songs for the book launches.

The band has existed largely off-grid, occupying a creative space between the music and book worlds. Their approach is to read books, respond by writing a song, then bring the work to new audiences by performing in (mostly independent) bookshops.

They have previously recorded 13 albums, which have been sold at gigs and online. Emerge, Return will be their first wider, commercial release.

The release will take place alongside a podcast series of conversations with the authors of some of the books which inspired its tracks (15-22 June). It will be supported with a full, 70-date UK tour by Ben and Beth, mostly in indie bookshops – starting at Glastonbury Festival with a set at Toad Hall.

Beth said: “Ben and I are really excited to be touring this album. Playing these songs live and getting to share stories in bookshops is what this band is all about.”

The Bookshop Band was formed in Beth and Ben’s former home city of Bath in 2010, as a collaboration between a group of musicians and local indie bookshop, Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights. The duo now live in Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book Town, where they are important contributors to the well-known annual book festival.

Books that inspired the songs

Bookshop Band

The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood (Chatto & Windus). The band shared a stage with her in Albuquerque in 2019 and wrote the song for her book launch tour in Canada.

Margaret Atwood said: “The band are great. If I had a bookshop, I’d stock all their albums.”

The Book Of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman (David Fickling Books & Penguin). The two songs were written for the book’s launch at The Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Beth says: “When we read the book Molly was the same age as the main character, Lyra. I was feeding Molly while reading, and it felt like we were in sync. Malcolm, a young boy whose parents own a pub on the Thames near Oxford, has a boat called ‘La Belle Sauvage’ that he rows up and down the river. It comes into its own when the waters start rising and Malcom is forced to take on two more passengers, as they search for safety.”

The Vanishing Hours, by Barney Norris (Transworld). Performed for the first time to the author and book at his Mr B’s Emporium event.

Ben says: “It’s a meeting of two strangers and a recounting of a life story. Of a man who craves the breadth of experience of life, who moves from one life to another, inhabiting countless stories, never abating in his pursuit of success and vitality, but feeling at the end as if he were a stone that only skimmed the surface of the water, touching so many places but never sinking any deeper.”

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (Vintage). Written for a concert at The V&A, as part of their Censored and Banned Books season, celebrating 50 years since the Theatres Act 1968 which abolished censorship in UK theatre.

Underland, by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton). Written to perform at the book’s launch at Daunt Books, London.

Robert Macfarlane says: “The Bookshop Band make magic; conjuring words off the page and into song, bringing books to strange, new lyric life, singing their ways into collaboration with writers’ voices and visions in ways that are thrilling and original.”

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë & Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (Penguin Classics). Written in response to the Brontë exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Beth says: “We were travelling at the time, and I had a lovely old copy of Jane Eyre. Unfortunately, mid-way through reading, I accidentally left this copy under a pillow in the bedroom of somewhere we’d been staying before travelling on. I bought a new copy the next day. It made me realise how attached you can become to a particular edition. The typeface was different, it felt different, it even smelled different! I managed to track down a similar edition to the first a few days later and finished the book. It’s up there with the best things that I have ever read. I went on to read Wuthering Heights, which again drew me into their landscape and place, and the song became an inevitable entanglement of the two.”

The Diary of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell (Profile Books). The band’s way of embellishing a story, after Shaun included the band in a diary entry for his book, which they felt was a bit too short.

Shaun Bythell says: Time listening to The Bookshop Band is always time well spent – wit, wisdom and extraordinary musical talent shine through in every track. Particularly the one about me.

The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel (Canongate). Written for the author’s event at Mr B’s Emporium.

Beth says: “This is one of the most surreal books I have ever read. It has three stories over different time periods, with new characters, but each with an emerging sense of something that binds them.”

The Orphans of the Carnivalby Carol Birch (Canongate). Written for the author’s event at Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights.

Beth says: “The last event we did at Mr B’s Emporium before we moved from Somerset was for Carol Birch’s book Orphans of the Carnival, based on the real life of Julia Pastrana, a Mexican woman who was born with hair all over her body. She was an orphan at birth, raised by another family and soon drawn to a life in the circus. Despite her talents as a musician and dancer, she found herself part of the ‘freak’ show. Julia travelled everywhere. She was never allowed to show her face in public, for fear of undermining ticket sales for the show, and so was veiled everywhere she went. She suffered cruel words and treatment, yet became a very popular attraction in her own right. In the book she dreams of what it might be like to lead a normal life, settle down and maybe even have a child of her own. When we were reading this book, I had just found out that I was pregnant. We had just moved out of our home and were not sure where we would live next. I was drawing parallels to the life on the road, performing concerts but not always getting to explore the town we were playing in. I was wondering how having children would affect our future. Settling down might lose the crowd, but I’m ready for a change.”

About the cover art

The cover is taken from a series of paintings in Stanley Donwood’s Modern Landscapes exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery and was given to the band to use. 

Stanley Says: “These colourful sacred landscapes are based on hybrid cartographical and topological forms exploring the ancient landscapes that surround mysterious sites such as Stonehenge, Wayland’s Smithy and the Cerne Abbas Giant, amongst many others. These are not mystical, new age depictions as such but rather brash, bold colour field interpretations showing centuries old field boundaries, trackways and paths.”

Ben says: “The album title, Emerge, Return is from a lyric in the song inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s Underland, whose cover Stanley Donwood had also created. The synchronicity of that, as well as the oppressive overtones of the bold red drips rising from the landscape, fitted the mood of the album perfectly.”

Bookshop Band

Listen to the album

A listening preview copy of the album is available here https://emergereturn.com/epk

The password is: PleaseLetMeIn

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