Interview: The Bookshop Band

The Bookshop Bank CD CoverEver been to see a band in a bookshop?

This intriguing idea evolved through a collaboration between Ben Please (and his fellow musicians Poppy Pitt and Beth Porter) and Nic Bottomley, the owner of Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights.

As their name The Bookshop Band implies, the band appear at the bookshop, providing a musical accompaniment to author events. The band have gone from strength to strength, with the recent release of their CD and an upcoming tour of independent book shops and literary festivals.

Ben from The Bookshop Band took time out from preparing for their tour to chat to Book Events for Children. 

How did you come to be involved with Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights?

I’d been in another band, called Urusen, for a number of years and we’d released an album called One Day In June, that was bound like a book. I went into Mr B’s, which was my local bookshop, and asked if they would be interested in stocking it. They listened, and liked, and asked us to come in and play sometime. We booked a little show, sold out, booked another for the following night, and we’ve been friends ever since!

How did the idea for a Bookshop Band come about? Are you one of a kind?!

Nic Bottomley, the owner of the bookshop, 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, all read the book well in advance, and write the songs directly in response to the books.

Stories have inspired songs for millennia, so we’re not unique in that way. And there are some songs out there that have been inspired by books, but I think we’re the only dedicated bookshop band. However, I think there are enough wonderful books out there, these concentrated packets of inspiration, to keep us all going for many countless lifetimes, so I don’t see it as a constraint at all!

Have you created songs for any children’s events at Mr B’s or elsewhere?

The only children’s author we’ve written songs for during a Mr B’s event was Patrick Ness, who is known as a teen fiction author. His book, A Monster Calls, is completely spellbinding, and has the most fantastic illustrations.  We also wrote a fun song last week called Twinkle Park, about playing a game called “Hop and Jump” in a park that is really called ‘Twinkle Park’, in Deptford, London.

What was your favourite children’s book when you were a child?

This is slightly cheating, but my favorite book when I was growing up was actually a recording of Peter and the Wolf on vinyl, which is a story told not only through words, but also made all the more vivid by it’s wonderfully evocative music. Both the words and music were written by Sergei Prokofiev, and has probably had some kind of impact on what I imagine a story to be. My father is a great storyteller too, and I enjoyed him telling me stories.

If you could write a song for any children’s book, which book would you choose?

Two other children’s books I remember fondly from when I was little were The Fisherman and His Wife, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, which is a story about a fisherman who is granted a wish or two for saving the life of a fish, who he puts back in the sea. The other is the story of Ferdinand the Bull, by Munro Leaf, the tale of a bull who would rather smell flowers than chase matadors. Both books had beautiful illustrations and would be very inspiring.

Which is your biggest love, books or music?

This is an impossible question really. I love a good story, and you can find those in all sorts of places, in books, in music, from your friends, from places around you. That’s the important thing. I also like anything that can stir a good emotional response, and both good books and good music can do that.

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’. (www.thebookshopband.bandcamp.com) We’ve also 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

As for the future, 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 too.

 

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