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Any band that is inspired by books has got to be worth a listen.
The Bookshop Band are Ben Please and Beth Porter, who express their love of books through their music and by playing it in bookshops, starting out in their local Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights (make a note to pop in their next time you are in Bath – the town, not the tub) and including my local Big Comfy Bookshop, where they will be appearing on 10th September. Check out their extensive gig list here.
As true literary aficionados, I doubt it’s a coincidence that The Bookshop Band’s first album, Curious and Curiouser, is being trailed around the time of World Book Night in the UK. You won’t be surprised to hear that the title track is inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and it offers a glimpse into Alice’s surreal world, both in the lyrics and the increasing tempo which rises from a dreamy, floating opening section to an almost frantic pace. And speaking of a frantic pace, The Bookshop Band are no shirkers – they have written and recorded 120 tunes, all inspired by books, to be released on ten albums at a rate of one a month during 2016. Now that’s what I call musical proliferation!
“O Happy Fair” takes its lyrics from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (how clever is that?!), so it’s just begging to be heard this week, since it coincides with international celebrations of 400 years since Shakespeare’s death. If borrowing Shakespeare’s words for your lyrics is a bit cheeky; setting them to a sweet backing track of simple strings repays the loan. Further into the album, “Oberon” takes up the theme, offering a musical interpretation of The King of the Faeries which mimics his melancholy and playfulness.
Burton and Swinburne in The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack have clearly been a big inspiration to The Bookshop Band, being the creative muse behind three tracks on this album – the intriguing mix of perky playing and spooky singing that is “Watch Your Back”, the pure storytelling of “Edward Oxford and The Ballad of Spring Heeled Jack” and (my favourite of the trilogy) “Smog Over London”. Reminiscent of Oliver and Sweeney Todd, this track nods towards Ben Please’s interest in film and musical theatre.
Another musical muse, Sam Leith’s The Coincidence Engine sits behind two tracks. “Keep Your Head Down” masquerades as a simple ballad but tricks the listener with eccentric time signatures, while “Knock Knocking” brings a quirky pop vibe and catchy hook line reminiscent of The Roches. And listen out for the unusually-placed woodwind in both numbers.
“The Other Side” is the track that first introduced The Bookshop Band to me. Providing a tinklingly fantastical soundtrack as the perfect backdrop to Beth Porter’s crystal clear vocals, if you’ve never read David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, this may well be all the inspiration you need. But if you are still not convinced, Fiona O’Shaughnessy provides a reading from the work as a bonus track. You’ll also get a reading from Humor by Stanley Donwood, so you don’t even have to do the hard work of peeling the words off the page for yourself. Cool, huh?
Time for a quiz before you go? Take a listen to “Once Upon a Time” – this track alone is worth the price of the download. Possibly one of the cleverest literature-related tunes I have ever heard, it is based on the first lines of great books. How many can you spot?
As well as writing, recording and playing with The Bookshop Band, Beth Porter is an in-demand cellist. You’ve possibly heard her accompanying household-name musicians and on film tracks. Ben Please works as a film maker and has a BAFTA to his name. Together they provide an idiosyncratic musicality that is deliciously obsessive. Just what bookworms everywhere have been waiting for.
You can grab your copy of Curious and Curiouser by pre-ordering from The Bookshop Band’s Bandcamp site.
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