Any band that is inspired by books has got to be worth a listen. We first came across The Bookshop Band in Fresh on the Net’s Listening Post back in 2016 and reviewed them as a Fresh Fave when listeners put them in their Top 10 tunes. Good choice!
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!)
Before you read on, The Bookshop Band is giving a FREE download of “O Happy Fair”, from Curious and Curiouser, to Angry Baby readers. If you’re not already subscribed to Angry Baby, just pop the email address that you’d like it delivered to here and it will be on its way to you straight away, together with a bumper collection of music that has been shared by Angry Baby. The music comes from outstanding artists that you may not have heard before. With a mix of rock, pop, folk…you name it…there’s bound to be something new that floats your musical boat, and all for free! What’s not to like about that?!
“O Happy Fair” takes its lyrics from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (how clever is that?!) 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.
As the band are true literary aficionados, you won’t be surprised to hear that the title track is inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures 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 prolifically, all inspired by books, and have been releasing albums at a fair old pace.
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 is the the first musician featured on Angry Baby’s Free Music who has a BAFTA to his name. Together they provide an idiocsyncratic musicality that is deliciously obsessive. Just what bookworms everywhere have been waiting for.
The Bookshop Band offered their advice to anyone just starting out with their music. It centred on collaborations, which is appropriate since “O Happy Fair” is a collaboration – with The Bard himself! Here is what they said:
‘Everyone is their own type of musician. It’s such a broad term and one musician is so different in their skills, approach, style etc… to any other one. With that in mind, it can be so rewarding to look out for other musicians / composers who you’d like to work with and collaborate with. Find someone with a completely different writing style to you, for example, yet who’s music you LOVE, and see what happens when you write / perform together. Let each other go with their flows, give yourself time-limits, tell an open mic night you’ll be down that evening to play a new song, then write the song.
Collaborations can yield far more than the sum of their parts, and if you give each other the freedom to do what each of you do, whilst also unequivocally making room for what the other person does in your work, together you allow yourself the opportunity to create something neither of you expected. Definitely worth a shot, and as a minimum it’s a great way to learn an pretty useful skill to apply in other aspects of life too ;)’
You can grab your copy of Curious and Curiouser from The Bookshop Band’s Bandcamp site.
And get your free download of music from Angry Baby now, including The Bookshop Band’s “O Happy Fair” – just pop your email down below!