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on Tue, 28 Feb 2017
Scottish songwriter and song interpreter Alasdair Roberts heads out on a headline tour in support of his latest solo album. Entitled Pangs, it’s a collection of original songs recorded with his band (and guests) and spans such topics as travel and faith.
To support the album, Alasdair visits Coventry’s Warwick Arts Centre on 15 March 2017. Opening the show are Sound Of Yell, featuring Alasdair’s band members Stevie Jones, drummer Alex Neilson, and on hurdy gurdy, Roberts himself. Incidentally, Roberts also forms one quarter of the acclaimed Furrow Collective (with Emily Portman, Lucy Farrell and Rachel Newton), who’ve been nominated for Best Band at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2017.
What are some of your personal highlights from Pangs?
Most of the songs are fairly recently written, but I'm happy to finally have a recording of Song Of The Marvels because that was written in about 2008 or 2009 and has never before been satisfactorily realised in the studio (I've tried to record it a few times before). I also like Wormwood and Gall – I think that Tom Crossley's flute and Rafe Fitzpatrick's fiddle work well together on that song, and I love Stevie's piano too.
When did the material for Pangs start to come together?
Most of the songs were written in the year or two before recording – we recorded in January 2016.
Themes of religion and faith feature in several of the songs – can you give us some examples?
The Downward Road draws on some material from the apocryphal infancy gospels, which describe the boyhood of Christ – there's a beautiful story of him moulding sparrows of clay. The Angry Laughing God was a musing on Malthusianism, in which I don't believe, interspersed with some more personal ruminations.
This year marks 20 years since you first signed to Drag City - any plans to mark the landmark?
There are no specific plans. In the past, however, there has been some talk of the idea of a compilation of miscellaneous recordings from over the course of my career – live recordings, outtakes, B-sides, alternative versions, etc. That may happen one day, perhaps...
The Furrow Collective’s second album, Wild Hog, has been very well received. Has the quartet's success taken you all by surprise?
It's good, because it's such a new group in a way – we played our first gig together three years ago and Wild Hog is the second album.
What qualities, or skills, do you think you bring to the Collective?
I always sing 100% in tune – it's a system I devised myself called 'approximate tuning'. Recently I've started playing electric guitar in that group too, which is a new colour I'm enjoying.
Did making Wild Hog influence how you approached Pangs?
Not in a direct or easily definable way... the approaches were quite different. It tends to be the case that things are done pretty much as live as possible, and that was as true of Pangs as it was of Wild Hog. But Wild Hog was recorded entirely in the digital domain, whereas Pangs began in the analogue domain (although we cheated and moved over to Protools to complete the session when it moved from Ireland back to Scotland). Wild Hog definitely has a 'bigger' sound than the first Furrow Collective album – that first one was basically just the four of us recording live in a church hall, with maybe a couple of overdubs, but the second one was recorded in a couple of different studios as well as in the producer Andy Bell's house, and featured guest appearances from Stevie Jones and Alex Neilson on bass and drums respectively... and a lot more overdubs and more varied instrumentation. I suppose that's another commonality, the involvement of Alex and Stevie, who form, along with me, the core trio at the heart of Pangs. I've worked with both of them for years - Alex since 2005 on the album No Earthly Man, and Stevie since 2010 and the album Too Long In This Condition.
I understand that for the Coventry show, you'll also be opening the show as part of Sound Of Yell with Alex Neilson and Stevie Jones, who also form your own "power trio" - is that right?
Yes, Sound of Yell is Stevie's project. His album Brocken Spectre features his compositions, arranged and performed by quite a large cast of mostly Glasgow musicians... I think it's a beautiful record as well as a really good sort of snapshot from a certain angle of a certain aspect of the contemporary Glasgow music scene and its various interconnections. Sound of Yell shows are always different – sometimes it's just Stevie alone on guitar, or accompanying himself with some lo-fi electronics too, or sometimes he'll have various configurations of all the various musicians who played on that first album.
What are your plans for the coming year?
I'm touring with Alex and Stevie, then there is quite a lot of Furrow Collective live activity throughout the year too. Perhaps at some point I'll attempt to make a concerted effort to begin work on some new song material – I already have two or three new songs towards the next record but I'd say that recording is still a long way off. But there's also talk of making a third Furrow Collective record at some point in late 2017 or early 2018.
Any other projects or collaborations on the horizon... ?
Yes – I've just been invited to collaborate with one of my favourite Glasgow-based musicians, Richard Youngs, but I won't say too much about the project other than that it sounds very intriguing indeed.
The Alasdair Roberts Trio (plus Sound of Yell) are at Warwick Arts Centre on Wednesday 15 March. Tickets are available from warwickartscentre.co.uk.