The Bookshop Band with Pete Townshend. Credit:  Martin Tompkins.
The Bookshop Band with Pete Townshend. Credit: Martin Tompkins.

The Who guitarist Pete Townshend records album with Wigtown band

The Who guitarist Pete Townshend has recorded an album with a pair of musicians based in Wigtown – after being blown away by their music. 

The rock legend said the work of musicians Ben Please and Beth Porter – The Bookshop Band – was extraordinary and he decided to get in touch with them to suggest working together.

Beth and Ben formed The Bookshop Band in their former home city of Bath in 2010, as a collaboration between a group of musicians and local indie bookshop.

The duo now live in Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book Town, where they are important contributors to the well-known annual book festival.

Townshend, who himself is a former bookshop owner, not only produced the album and recorded it at his own studio but played on every track.

‘I listened to the CDs in my car as I was travelling,’ he said.

‘I was blown away, completely blown away. I got into the whole Bookshop Band technique, which is just two people making this sound like a symphony orchestra. 

‘It’s quite extraordinary. Each song was special in its own way. So, I reached out.’

The album was inspired by themes in popular books. Credit: Martin Tompkins

The album Emerge, Return, all written by Ben and Beth, was inspired by themes in the books The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and The Book Of Dust by Philip Pullman, which all explore oppression of bodies, free will and free speech.

The title of the dark album, which has 13 songs on it, comes from a song inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s Underland, which glimpses our underworlds and morality in the scale of deep time.

It is already attracting praise with Shaun Keaveny describing it as ‘hypnotically beautiful’ on Radio 2’s The Folk Show and Zoe Ball said it was ‘amazing’ on the Breakfast Show.

‘It’s been a rollercoaster working with Pete Townshend, really exciting and not something we could ever have predicted happening,’ Ben said.

‘He brought his great musicality and experience to the recording process, doing things we’d never have thought of ourselves, offering a different perspective on the songs. That’s the value of working with a great producer. 

‘And the fact that he ended up playing on every track added an extra dimension – I think that fans will hear his influence woven right the way through the album.’

The band, which has worked with many celebrated authors, plays gigs in small bookshops across the UK, USA and Europe. 

Credit: Martin Tompkins

It is much admired among writers, with best-sellers such as Kate Mosse (The Ghost Ship) specifically asking them to write songs for the book launches.

The band has existed largely off-grid, occupying a creative space between the music and book worlds. 

Their approach is to read books, respond by writing a song, then bring the work to new audiences by performing in (mostly independent) bookshops.

They have previously recorded 13 albums, which have been sold at gigs and online. Emerge, Return will be their first wider, commercial release.

The 28 June release will take place alongside a podcast series of conversations with the authors of some of the books which inspired its tracks.

It will be supported with a full, 71-date UK tour by Ben and Beth, mostly in indie bookshops – starting at Glastonbury Festival with a set at Toad Hall.

‘Ben and I are really excited to be touring this album,’ Beth said.

‘Playing these songs live and getting to share stories in bookshops is what this band is all about.’


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