Paddy and I had travelled from Oxford, Mississippi to Lafayette, Louisiana where my prowess on the pool table drew a crowd of at least two people before the strong beer took effect. The following day we drove to Beaumont, Texas along Highway 10. We spotted a traffic sign telling us to tune in to the radio to find out about holdups on the highway. We dutifully did this and found a strange artificially produced voice warning us to get off Highway 10 at the next exit. We obeyed although no other cars seemed to follow our example. We ended up driving through a small town called Sulphur, Louisisana. This was exciting as it was where Steve Earle lived for a few years as a young child. It didn’t look like a great place as we drove through and its name doesn’t sound great. On one hand, it is the third best city in Louisiana to raise a family according to the Southwest Daily News of 2014. On the other hand its crime rate is 26% above the Louisiana average.
However, this got me thinking about whether the beauty of a place where musicians grow up has an effect on the music that they make. Now, Steve Earle is one of my favourite artists – I think he has the best rock’n’roll voice of all time – but I wouldn’t describe his music as lovely. Roddy Woomble was born in the Western Highlands of Scotland and now lives and records on the Isle of Mull. He was born in a beautiful area and he makes beautiful music.
Roddy Woomble has made four solo albums, one recently released EP, one fantastic collaboration with Kris Drever and John McCusker and he is a member of the group Idelwild. He has a conversational style of singing. That really doesn’t describe it properly. Lou Reed has a conversational style of singing. Bob Dylan speaks a lot of “Rough And Rowdy” but whereas these latter two make an art form out of being confrontational and difficult, Roddy Woomble sounds relaxed, gentle and gracious.
Roddy Woomble has a blog which is so good, I feel like stopping mine immediately.
Here is an extract from Roddy Woomble’s blog a few years ago.
“I have a friend that used to joke with me that by the time I was 40 I would be into Free Jazz – as a music fan you are always looking for something new, inevitably you are going to get bored with one genre. I listened to so much rock music growing up – metal, into punk rock, into indie rock that by 26 or 27 was just hearing the same things repeated again. Any genre is is cyclical I suppose, like the generations listening. I looked back, I moved onto 60’s and 70’s singer songwriters, then folk music became my interest, and simmering underneath it all was a developing taste for jazz. When you discover musicians like Albert Ayler, Ornetter Coleman, John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy then things start to get very interesting, and any notions you had before of what the music was, get challenged in the best possible way. It’s a progressive musical language, one that’s quite hard to understand. Not understanding, just feeling, is probably the point. A bit like being in Spain and enjoying hearing people speak Spanish even though you have no idea what they mean. Free Jazz. 40. yes, you were right Ally”
So what type of music does Roddy Woomble play? Certainly not free jazz, despite the above post. Not folk music because some of the songs have drums on them. Hang on, that’s ridiculous. It is definitely folk music but it’s also tuneful, melodic and occasionally up tempo with a rock feel to it. Well arranged folk-rock music – exactly the sort of music I love. Gentle, beautifully sung and well arranged folk-rock music. That’s a new genre and I claim it for myself. Here’s how Roddy Woomble describes his music: “I’ve had it on in the car recently – I think it’s a good driving record, certainly for me, hopefully for others. It’s diverse, not folky, quite introspective I suppose, a midlife crisis record some suggest? hmmm, maybe, but if so it’s still got good tunes, and they work with well with the moving landscape.” That describes “Listen To keep” very well.
My favourite song is the opening song “Making Myths”. I once, after several beers, accused one of my good friends as continually “perpetuating his own myth”. It was a brilliant thing to say because neither of us knew what it meant. He did get his own back by accusing one of my friends of “completely reinventing yourself” which, again, defies true understanding. He also, brilliantly, when asked in an interview for a weakness, replied “I sometimes show too much humility”. What on earth can that mean? Incredibly clever.
“Making Myths” describes the singer being turfed out of somebody else’s bed at 5:00 in the morning. It’s another mysterious song – the best sort – that evades true understanding. To me, he is fed up with falsehoods – myths – which both he and his soon to be ex partner perpetuate. He asks “If you consider the song that you’re singing, I’m tired of asking you why it’s only a song”. Towards the end, he contemplates the fact that everyone dies at some point, even the luckiest person in the world, and I’m inferring that he thinks we should all make the best of who we are and not pretend to be anything we are not. Listening to this live version this afternoon, I was completely overcome with emotion.