GUM speaks with Roddy Woomble, Idlewild’s folk rocking front man, to wax literary about the ‘Ballad of the Book’ and find out how the band have matured, moved on and found their new groove.
I first came across Idlewild in fourth year of school. I borrowed their first album ‘Hope is Important’ from a boy at my bench who was caught between disapproval and intrigue at my apparent interest in a band he had considered his ‘thing’. The snappy hard-edged punk-pop appealed to my short attention span and adolescent angst.
The following year I listened to the slightly more grown up ‘100 Broken Windows’ over and over until I knew every tingle of the triangle. Then it was a happy coincidence that in harmony with my aging sensibilities, Roddy’s music took a melodic folk-rock swerve in his 2006 debut solo release, ‘My Secret is my Silence.’ I’d go as far as to say that if a line of best fit were to be drawn up on a graph illustrating Roddy’s musical development, next to one representing my mental flowering, strong parallels would be revealed. I decided it was time to delve into this hypothesis by questioning the man whose voice has been whirling around my head all these years.
Roddy explains his musical progression as a growing need to describe himself as honestly as possible. “The more places you go, the more music you hear and books you read contributes to expanding musical horizons. I think Idlewild is a much better band now although the early records were exciting and loud.”
The band’s development was showcased in December during five successive sell-out gigs at King Tuts. “The idea was originally a Christmas gig, and then it got out of hand. It turned into us playing every song we had ever written.”
Despite Idlewild’s long-lasting success, Roddy freely admits that “you get in to a groove, so to speak,” which perhaps explains his move towards solo projects. In a collaborative 2008 release, ‘Before the Ruin,’ Roddy worked alongside Orkney-born folk guitarist singer-songwriter, Kris Drever, and Scottish fiddler and critically acclaimed folk-producer, John McCusker. “I think it contains some of my best lyrics and playing with Kris and John was an absolute pleasure. They’ve both got a bit of genius about them, in the field of traditional music certainly.” With regards to future collaborations, Roddy mentions Gaelic folk singer Julie Fowlis, winner of ‘Folk Singer of the Year’ at the 2008 BBC 2 Folk Awards and Kris Drever’s band Lau, hailed as one of Scotland’s most sought-after acts in the traditional scene.
Roddy also worked alongside a number of Scottish writers in his ‘Ballads of the Book’ project. It started when Glasgow poet Edwin Morgan sent lyrics to Roddy wondering if they could be of use in Idlewild songs. The initiative was a success at concerts and slowly it grew until a group of writers and musicians, including Aiden Moffat, Ian Rankin and Alasdair Gray, were assembled for the album. Roddy claims his interest in literature is central to his music, naming Robert Frost, and George Mackay Brown among his favourites. “Reading is what I do in my spare time. I incorporate it into my lyrics in that I don’t want them to sound daft. I think the words are important if you can hear them, which doesn’t happen so often in loud rock songs. A rock song doesn’t have to be profound though. In fact, what’s profound about many of them is that they are not trying to be!”
After thirteen years on the scene, Roddy is still moving forward with a new Idlewild release set for this summer. Having settled down with Sons & Daughters bassist Ailidh Lennon and a new baby, I can’t see his music taking the creepy howling electronic turn I was expecting to reflect my exam-induced cabin fever. It crosses my mind to show him the graph. I think better of it and let him tell me what to expect from the new record. “It’s an album full of very good songs that are both melodic and interesting. People are a bit obsessed with everything being ‘new’ or ‘original’ these days, when nothing really is. Idlewild just do what we do.” I breathe a sigh of relief that Roddy has scrubbed experiment and innovation from the graph’s axis. It would have been exciting back in fourth year but now I’m too old now. Instead I mark the point where our lines meet with an x.