With Boo Hewerdine’s career spanning retrospective My Name In The Brackets due for imminent release, he kindly took some time out of a flurry of live shows with Eddi Reader to answer some questions and give FRUK a little exclusive insight into the compilation and career to date. Over 30 odd years, he’s been one of the country’s most consistently admired songwriters and the compilation takes some of Boo’s songs originally recorded by others, mixing in highlights from his own recording career. It’s a truly stunning collection and on the eve of the solo tour to support the release, Boo tells us a bit about the journey and the whys and wherefores of compiling a life’s work onto a CD, that is all of the proof you need as to the wisdom of that acclaim.
The compilation goes right back to The Bible days, Boo’s rock ‘n’ roll band, albeit one that never gained a reputation for louche behaviour and hotel wreckage, which introduced us to his thoughtful lyrical style. It’s amazing how kind time has been to those early tracks, but then that is the essence of what is contained herewith. Right for the sublime pop of Graceland to the most recent acoustic based singer songwriter modes of Snowglobe and The Last Shot On The Roll, this is a collection of pure quality, which will sound good in another 30 years from now and more.
What music did you grow up with and who were your songwriting inspirations? Have your influences (and possibly heroes – if that’s not too strong a word) changed down the years?
I remember hearing River Deep Mountain High on a portable radio under the sheets in my Grandmother’s boarding house and was transported. I had no idea why but it seemed to be the most enormous thing I had ever heard. I lay there and imagined songs of my own. I have been doing that ever since. At school when everyone was listening to prog-rock I would be hunting out the source. Robert Johnson seemed to be the start of something to me. Then Dr Feelgood’s Down By The Jetty came out and I felt the excitement of being in step at last. I was always fascinated by the writers, the names in the brackets. My heroes? The Beatles (always), Cole Porter, The first punks, The Brill Building, Motown, Tom Waits, Michael Marra, Jake Thackray, Ivor Cutler – anyone who understands the form and monkeys with it.
Was there a moment when you committed yourself to a musical life, or did things happen more gradually?
Even as a kid I dreamed of being a songwriter. I got my first record deal when I was 19. By sheer determination rather than any merit! That has been my life ever since. An amazingly insecure way of making a living (it’s my trade) but the adventures! I’ve had shite jobs along the way but it was always the driving force…
What was the first song that you were prepared to share with the world?
I believe it was a song called Time Is A Magnet, I sang it to my school mates. I didn’t pick up the guitar till quite late, so I would premier my works in an unaccompanied unruly squawk. I was gratified when REM had a hit with an almost identical melody years later.
In compiling this, what did you feel? Did the memories come flooding in? Does this feel like your life in song? Could you compile your autobiography from songs?
Every song could be expanded into a book, to me songs are condensed movie scripts, that’s our job! The thing that got me was nothing was sonically how I recalled. The songs are in my DNA now but the sounds are from then. I never listen to myself. So that was quite a shock. I found myself overwhelmed with memories. I tend to eschew nostalgia. It can be a painful business!
Were The Bible days your most rock ‘n’ roll? How did downsizing happen after that, when was the change towards more solo performances and how does that feel in comparison?
As Lemmy said, once you leave a band nothing is ever the same again. It’s true. The Bible drove me mad and used to frustrate the crap out of me. But! When we play together now (we do occasional shows) there is another character in the room the band. I think everyone should experience being in a band at some point in their life. It teaches you more than almost anything else. Having said that I now have the best of both worlds. I LOVE playing alone and I LOVE playing with Eddi Reader (20 years!). I started playing solo when all other options had gone. It became the most positive thing that ever happened. My first year solo I opened for Richard Thompson and Loudon Wainwright – the masters.
Do you have a song writing process? Is there a way that things generally work for you? Do you have a room or place where it’s best to write?
No. I once built a songwriting room and starred at the walls for three months. My only method is to be open to ideas all the time. I run songwriting courses. My message is learn the nuts and bolts so that when inspiration comes you are ready.
In all of your nearly, almost brushes with fame, what has seemed the most promising?
Ha-ha! I suspect that at some deep level fame is not the goal for me. Success, yes. I’m still striving for that. It’s always been about trying to do good stuff. If that sounds disingenuous I have seen at close quarters what a pain the arse fame can be. When I was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award, the recognition of my peers was really thrilling. My Name In The Brackets!
What have been the highs (highest) and lows (lowest)? Did you ever pay much attention to your press?
This is my job. Everyday something wonderful and something rubbish happens. You get some good news and some bad news. Someone has recorded a song and a tour has been cancelled, that sort of thing. I’m used to it. I tend not to read stuff because it either makes you big-headed or REALLY hurts.
My highs? Hearing Drever’s recording of Harvest Gypsies was one… on tour with Heidi Talbot in a tiny car blasting out of the tinny speakers on a glorious spring morning. Lows? Being dropped by Warners really upset me at the time. We experience a lot of rejection. It’s character building apparently.
How does it feel to hear others sing your songs?
It is what I do it all for. Endlessly thrilling. It is also the only way to hear your songs properly. “Oh, it’s quite a good song”. I like that…
What about arrangements and production. Have you always been hands on? Have you always had a clear idea of sound? How has your own studio craft developed?
I have become a producer by accident. Jon Kelly (Macca everyone!) and John Wood (Nick Drake, Squeeze) were my mentors. I was lucky to have worked with them. I was thrown in the deep end when I was asked to produce Eddi’s Burns album. Orchestras, budget constraints, band dynamics, deadlines, sonic expectations. It was a massive learning experience. The main thing I learned was to trust your instincts and leave your ego at home.
If you could pick three people to write with or for from any era, who would they be.
Honestly? The next three people I write with. All my true songwriting partnerships have happened by accident. Whenever I have had expectations things have gone a little awry.
To keep going! And get better at it all, it is in the nature of what I do, to never quite be satisfied.
Interview by: Simon Holland
09/11 – Trades Club – Hebden Bridge
13/11 – Fat Lil’s – Witney
14/11 – King’s Place – London
15/11 – Squash Club – Tring
16/11 – The Railway – Winchester
18/11 – Kingskerswell Parish Church – Kingskerswell
20/11 – CCA – Glasgow
22/11 – Winter Festival with Eddi Reader – Kinross
27/11 – Henry Tudor House – Shrewsbury
28/11 – Belmont Bull – Belmont
29/11 – Bollington Arts Centre – Bollington
30/11 – South Street with Eddi Reader – St Andrews
06/12 – with Eddi Reader – Skegness
13/12 – Acoustic Tearoom with Brooks Williams – Kirkby Stephen
16/12 – BOO HEWERDINE XMAS SHOW!!! – Ely
12/01 – Colchester Folk Club – Colchester
17/01 – Celtic Connections with Findlay Napier – Glasgow
29/01 – Rothbury Roots Rothbury
12/02 – with Eddi Reader – Kilkenny
13/02 – with Eddi Reader – Mullingar
14/02 – with Eddi Reader – Sligo
16/02 – with Eddi Reader – Belfast
17/02 – with Eddi Reader – Dundalk
19/02 – with Eddi Reader – Dublin
20/02 – with Eddi Reader – Limerick
21/02 – with Eddi Reader – Skibereen
22/02 – with Eddi Reader – Ballymaloe