Interview with Alasdair Roberts

Alisdair_robertsAlasdair Roberts wowed audiences at this years Green Man Festival, mixing up traditional folk songs from his ‘No Earthly Man’ LP, and newer songs. Roberts’ LPs are always a stunning affair, mixed with the raw tender emotion, along with his canny ear for a melody.

I caught up with him to have a chat about his new LP, ‘The Amber Gatherers’, his plans and Leonard Cohen.

So, tell me about your new LP.

The new LP is called ‘The Amber Gatherers’. It has eleven self-written (as opposed to traditional) songs and was recorded in Glasgow in June. The other players are Tom Crossley, Gareth Eggie and Gerard Love. It was recorded live in three days, then one day of overdubs, then two days of mixing. I would say it’s a pop record, certainly when compared with ‘No Earthly Man’ – the songs are shorter, more upbeat. Lyrically I think it’s a little more playful than anything I’ve done before. There’s a preoccupation running through it with all things littoral – shells, seaweed, tides, and amber, of course. We recorded 14 songs, so there are three outtakes which might one day somehow see the light of day.

What influences go into your music?

The Reverend Robert Kirk of Aberfoyle and Thomas of Ercildoune are two big influences, as are Robert Graves and Lewis Hyde. Some of my favourite guitar playing is by Ali Farka Toure on his ‘Red’ and ‘Green’ records and by Martin Carthy on ‘Shearwater’ and ‘Sweet Wivelsfield.’ I have a love for the early Leonard Cohen records, especially ‘Songs of Love and Hate’, which I used to listen to obsessively in the middle of the night lying on the floor as a teenager, with or without a girl by my side. I like a lot of singers, basically any singer whom I find convincing. One of my current favourites is a singer of traditional ballads called Duncan Williamson. My father Alan was also one of my favourite guitarists and I’m fortunate to have inherited his instruments. He introduced me to playing guitar and the fun that could be had by playing with other people. Apart from musical influences, I just try to remain open to being influenced by things which I think are good, as well as being inspired into action by things which I think are not good.

Where do you get your traditional/folk songs from?

I get them from friends, field recordings, books… Instead of trying to emulate Pentangle or Fairport (and
thereby sounding like a revivalist band from the late sixties) it’s better to go back further to the earlier versions. You get a deeper understanding and feeling of the song if you go back further…

What do you think of other new ‘folky’ artists… like many of the groups who played at Green Man for example. Are you differerent to them?

I don’t know much about it, but I like some of it, some less so; some a lot, some not at all. “Folkishness”, by whatever definition, is certainly not a prerequisite for me enjoying music (often quite the contrary, as it happens). I also like to think that I’m different from them, as I’m sure they like to think that they’re different from me and from each other – otherwise what would be the point in any of us continuing to do what we do?

Explain how Bonnie Prince Billy/Will Oldham became involved with your music.

Round about 1995 in Glasgow he was passed a cassette of four-track home recordings I’d done as a teenager under the name Appendix Out; then the people in charge of Palace Records got hold of the tape and wanted to put out a single of the first two songs on it.

Any plans for a tour? What next?

I’m touring USA with the Decemberists in November. I have a short ‘Jewels of the North’ tour of Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow in October. Then I think in 2007 I’ll tour England solo, possibly with some other Scottish acts, and then maybe later in the year tour again more widely with a backing band. I’ve also contributed a track (‘The Bird’) to a Lal Waterson compilation put together by Charlotte Grieg.

Mof Gimmers


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