Miss Fliss 12/02/2009
In the short 7 days between the first part of this interview and this second part appearing, tickets for intimate Idlewild album shows at London's Dingwalls venue were announced, released and immediately sold out. Part one deals with Idlewild territory, now for some talk about Roddy Woomble's solo folk ventures and collaboration work, with John McCusker - of the Drever, McCusker, Woomble lineup that has been touring the UK recently - also speaking. Fliss Collier asks the questions.
Is there still a division in folk music between the Scots and Irish?
Roddy: I think there is still a wee bit in terms of the hardcore people. But I don't know anyone likes that. But Kris (Drever, who is currently working with Roddy) is a traditional Scottish musician, he sings all the old songs and he brings them back to life with his own style and his own take on them.
John: I think when you get asked questions by journalists, I don't think there's many musicians who think in those terms. I recorded with Teenage Fanclub recently, and I sat up drinking wine with them after a day's recording, listening to unaccompanied traditional singers, and they were introducing me to stuff… and I think with Idlewild you can hear folk melodies, but they might be treated in a different way. But most musicians listen to all different kinds of records, it wouldn't be healthy if you played the fiddle and you just listened to fiddle players all the time, you know. You have to find different influences. So I think that's why it gets confusing when people say 'is it folk music or is it rock?' You don't really know, you just try and make a good record. Certainly with this one, we tried to rock out and it was just ridiculous and it didn't work. So as Roddy said, you try and make music that keeps you true to yourself.
What are your folk influences?
J: My mum's from Ireland. I left school at 16 to join a folk group. This is all I've ever done. It's funny when you hear people talk about the folk scene, because the difference between the folk scene now and when I started 18 years ago, is it's more popular now, young people play it and it's on the telly and the radio now and people give it more of a chance. But it's still the same, nothing's changed, I've grown up with people listening to Bob Dylan, it's funny people's perception of it. I mean the people wearing Aran jumpers were more rock and roll than any rock band - they drank more, they smoked more, you know - Kelly from The Dubliners, for example. He was so political, angry, passionate.
What's the link between the countryside and folk music; the rural aspect?
R: It's more evocative. I think that's why people associate it with landscapes. I don't think it's necessary that it was recorded in a farm or all folk singers live in the country. I think the music is just much more evocative, it soundtracks things better. Rock music is more direct, though it can be evocative as well.
J: It's interesting that if you play fiddles or stuff then you hear a style that is from there. The Shetlands play the fiddle to a different way to the way they play it in another part of the country. So it's just because of that's how it's taught. If I hear someone play a fiddle, more often than not I can tell you where they're from without having spoken to them. I grew up just outside Glasgow, so I've got a little bit of everything.
Folk music is bound up in the past and tradition…
R: It references the past all the time, and that's why I think a lot of people are drawn to it because it seems more substantial, it has a lot more meaning behind it. And it's got a lot more history to it, 'cos rock music is still a relatively young art form. And folk music is centuries and centuries old.
J: It's a shame, really. Not many young people would go to a folk club now, and they're kind of dying out. But you see old black and white footage of people at folk clubs, and the places were just jammed, it wasn't polite, it was just people getting drunk. There was something fantastic about it, but then it became - everyone was searching for something cool, and there was nothing cool.
There seems to be no ego involved.
J: It's just good fun. It's the same as going to a Ceilidh, when young people go to a Ceilidh they can interact, it's not like going to a club where you can't talk… I sound really old! Anyway, it's very hard to convince people to get into folk music.
What folk stuff would you recommend?
J: Dick Gauchan is amazing.
R: He's a 60s singer. He's got an album called 'Handful of Earth' which is a bit of a seminal record, it's incredible. There's a lot of sugary sweet folk around at the moment, which isn't to my taste. But there's tonnes of stuff, there's a lot of stuff out there.
Who are your favourite poets, Roddy?
R: I like Kathleen Jamie, she's my favourite contemporary Scottish poet. My favourite Scottish poet of all time is George McCkay Brown, he's incredible, he's a short story writer too. And then I like Gordon McCkay, Edwin Morgan, Sorley Maclean, all these people. And Jen Hadfield who won the TS Eliot prize. You know when you glance around a room and the impression you make in your head doesn't make complete sense, that's what poetry is to me - glances or glimpses of things but put into language. And lyrics are a bit like that too. Although the music can give them meaning - if you have a sad chorus, for example. And that's what really interests me. I mean, I'm not really interested in writing songs that make sense - I appreciate it when people do it, write stories and put chords to it, but I've never been interested in doing it. Maybe because I don't think I can do it very well. I do sketches with words.
Do you write poetry?
R: No, I don't.
I wondered if you might in the future, if there wasn't the music.
R: I write columns for newspapers. I do a column for a Scottish Sunday newspaper and for some magazines. I've always kept a diary, so it's just an extension of that. I'd be interested in writing a book of non-fiction like that, but I haven't started it yet. A few years down the line, I think.
Do fatherhood and touring mix? [Roddy is now a proud parent of a 5 month old boy called Uist]
R: Well, this is the first time I've actually gone away properly. I've done bits and pieces, nights here and there, but this is definitely hard. I mean, my wife and son are coming to the gig tomorrow for the rest of the tour. In this kind of environment it's great. Although in the band now, Colin the drummer he's got a baby, so it's much more civilised. When we were young we got all that out of our system and we're not like that as people anymore, so you can just bring your children along.
You made the new Idlewild album available for pre-order in exchange for fan exclusives and special access, plus it's being released by yourselves rather than through any label - are you worried about the effect of downloading on music?
R: It's depressing if you make a living from music and people don't buy. If you do it this way, it's a cottage industry. And you see more money than if you do it through a label. I mean, sooner or later people will realise that if you don't buy an album by an artist, the artist is not gonna be able to make another album 'cos there won't be any incentive. If you can't make a living out of it, you have to do something else. And I know so many bands in that position. More bands than you'd think struggle. We managed to make a living out of live gigs, so we thought, 'What's the point of signing to a record label, why don't we just do it ourselves?' We remain in control of it. We might not even release it, we might just sell it at gigs and through our website. It makes sense, because if you want it you have to buy it from us. I kind of think that's the way we'll go.