Music

The Bookshop Band writes new chapter at SOMOS

By Tamra Testerman
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 1/23/19

Scottish musicians Ben Please and Beth Porter are partners in life and as the duo The Bookshop Band. They will be in town Tuesday (Jan. 29) to record a concert album called "Best of …

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Music

The Bookshop Band writes new chapter at SOMOS

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Scottish musicians Ben Please and Beth Porter are partners in life and as the duo The Bookshop Band. They will be in town Tuesday (Jan. 29) to record a concert album called "Best of The Bookshop Band," starting at 7 p.m.

It all happens at SOMOS, 108-B Civic Plaza Drive. The Bookshop Band's recording at SOMOS is funded by a grant from the Scottish government and SOMOS. An image of Taos will be on the album cover.

The duo started in Bath, England, at a small pub called Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights, which features author-themed evenings paired with themed food and music.

Prior to the event the duo had a short time to read and digest the featured book, then present a song. Please described the experience as a "songwriting challenge - books are so rich and inspiring, there is so much content in a book, [and] the challenge is to trust your instincts about what resonates with you ... close the book, go with your first thought and that can come from anywhere in the book." He continued, "We always talk about the book before - you take the stimulus, pause and translate your emotional response, which then becomes another work of art."

According to the duo's website, since their start in Bath, The Bookshop Band has "played in over 200 bookshops around the United Kingdom, Ireland and France, writing songs inspired by over 100 books curated by Mr. B's."

Please said the songwriting and performance form the musicians' "letter to the author." Most people are surprised and moved by the interpretation. "Sometimes there are tears and delight from the authors in the audience; some get very emotional," he said. The night they performed a piece inspired by "Don't Let the Dogs Out Tonight," a memoir by Alexandra Fuller about life with her family on a farm in Zimbabwe, the author became emotional and bolted from the audience which, according to Please, was "rather inconvenient because she was presenting her work next."

According to a SOMOS press release, "Audiences can expect to hear songs about everything from 'The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland' by Lewis Carroll and Shakespeare's 'Richard II' to Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World' and Hilary Mantel's 'Bring Up the Bodies.' There's also a good chance that they will perform one of the songs they were commissioned to write for the launch of Philip Pullman's work 'The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage.' "

Porter and Please have collaborated with celebrated authors such as Ben Fountain, who wrote "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" - which became a feature film directed by Ang Lee - and Armistead Maupin, who wrote "Tales of the City." Some even feature as musicians on the band's 13 albums, like Man Booker winners Yann Martel ("Life of Pi") and Ben Okri ("The Famished Road"), and best-selling authors Joanne Harris ("Chocolat") and Louis de Bernières ("Captain Corelli's Mandolin").

The Bookshop Band has received commissions from the BBC, the Victorian and Albert Museum and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. They are regularly featured on "The Tom Robinson Show," and have been championed by Bob Harris on BBC Radio 2, describing their "fabulous new music." They are also mainstays of the annual Wigtown Book Festival, which attracts visitors from all around the world to the 10-day event in Scotland's National Book Town, situated in the rural region of Dumfries and Galloway.

Tempo asked Please if the duo continues to write as they started their career, inspired by one book at a time. He said they were looking forward to the American Booksellers Association's Winter Institute in Albuquerque this month, an event at which they were invited to perform as a response to a challenge issued by New York Times literary critic Dwight Garner, who said "The Bookshop Band is not just good but achingly good … If America's independent booksellers can't figure a way to get these two … to tour America, they're doing something wrong."

According to Please, author Margaret Atwood is presenting at the event. He said they haven't decided which of her books they'll read to inspire another song, but they plan to compose something. Please said he is thankful to the duo's sponsor, All Media Supply, which made the trip to the United States possible, paying not only for the plane ride but also the costly visa process.

Tickets to the recording session are $10, $8 for SOMOS members, although no one will be refused a seat for lack of funds. For more information, call the venue at (575) 758-0081 or visit somostaos.org.

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