Roddy Woomble: afterword afterward

Roddy Woomble is a Scottish singer/songwriter who I first came across once his first band, Idlewild, had begun to achieve some mainstream recognition: this tune bounced into my life on repeat. Live in a Hiding Place (2002). Opening, appropriately enough, with Woomble at the typewriter, the Wim Wenders cowboy clip is archetypally nineties as a video, but it was the music I heard first.
The use of the 12-string caught my ear along with this phrase:
…you think about meaning more as an after word
As in afterward

Idlewild’s earlier work is much heavier, punkier, I guess: it was once described by NME as  sounding like “a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs”. In the turbulent teacup of the English music press, that’s a relatively poetic description: apt, really, because Roddy’s lyrics are poetic, they turn in on themselves and take you somewhere else. Poet Edwin Morgan appears on the final track of their album The Remote Part.  There’s an assumed and persistent antipathy between poetry and music that holds water yet continues to intrigue me: Scottish poet Don Paterson says

Poetry is already set to music. Music has its own poetry.

And I like that differentiation. He’s a great poet. And a musician. But Woomble often pitches his lyrical tent between these two poles: a reflexivity emerges in his sung words. As Idlewild’s tunes got bolder, their apparent introspection – a problematising of words and how they’re supposed to perform – became rather more more accessible. In American English (2002):

And I won’t tell you what this means, ‘cause you’ll already know

And I won’t tell you what this means, ‘cause you already know

So sing a song about myself, keep singing the song about myself

Not some invisible world

…and this amazing set of lyrics at the coda of El Capitan (2005), which you can enter and exit at a number of points and absorb a different meaning each time. The song’s repetition of this complex and beautiful phrase does what poetry on the page could never do.
You were looking at pictures in the distance
Hoping to see the future in your pictures
Of the distance, hoping to see
The future looking at pictures in the distance
“… I can decide to put out records under my own name, playing music that wouldn’t be considered rock music, but I can also play with the band and put out rock albums. It’s not like I wake up in the morning with a beard and a tammy and warble folk songs, and the next day it’s all leather jackets. The two things run in tandem pretty well.”
For Roddy Woomble, his band and co-writers, holes are for pigeons. On Idlewild’s last (and final?) album Post Electric Blues (2009), the band shifted between powerful rock and gentler, folk-influenced tunes such as Take Me Back To The Islands 
Woomble’s first solo album yielded this gorgeous track, I Came In From The Mountain (2006). So simple and adorned by little other than the addition of Kate Rusby’s harmony in the final chorus. One of my favorite songs. Ever. You’ll notice there’s never anything showy about the way he plays his songs live. Keeps the focus on the music.  
The natural world of oceans and mountains is a constant presence in his writing. The regular column he  kept in a scottish newspaper (revisited here on The Quietus) was focussed on walks through country. Here’s his current band (featuring Sorren McLean on guitar) sound checking Every Line of a Long Moment 

Every line of a long moment written down in my handwriting
It makes me feel free to do anything
As I look out across the wall
Look out across the wall and into the Atlantic
As I look out across the wall
Look out across the wall and into the Atlantic Ocean
Until it becomes a sea

Woomble seems particularly interested in collaboration, and one of these projects yielded one of the best contemporary folk albums I’ve ever heard, Before The Ruin: a partnership between writer/guitarist/vocalist Kris Drever and multi-instrumentalist/composer John McCusker. Their song Into the Blue is here performed by a larger ensemble which also incorporates singer/songwriter Boo Hewerdine. (Hewerdine’s tune The Birds Are Leaving is gorgeous and worth seeking out as a taster)
Roddy Woomble is one of the finest songwriters working today. In any genre. His willingness to experiment and refusal to sit in any one genre may mean that the quality of his music is in inverse proportion to the number of folks enjoying it, but I sincerely hope that’s not the case. The guy’s a one-off: there’s a solidity and depth to his material that keeps on giving.
This tune, Make Something Out of What It’s Worth  (2011) seems to evoke an addicted couple walking together on a road into town: further listening, repeated listening, opens up other layers you can only consider… afterwards.

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