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article imageInterview with acclaimed songwriter David Rotheray Special

By Adrian Peel     Nov 8, 2013 in Entertainment
One of Britain's most revered and respected tunesmiths talks to Digital Journal about 'Answer Ballads', his second solo release.
Best known for his 20-year stint with The Beautiful South, where the successful songwriting partnership he forged with singer Paul Heaton led to favourable comparisons with Lennon and McCartney, Dave Rotheray is enjoying life as a solo artist and has just released his sophomore album, Answer Ballads, on Navigator Records.
A unique and rather interesting concept, the 13-track CD takes some of the most iconic 'name' songs ever written, Daniel, Sylvia's Mother, Lucille, Maggie May, Me And Mrs. Jones etc., and imagines what became of their eponymous protagonists. Intriguingly, the idea came to the Hull-born guitarist after watching the Tom Stoppard play, Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead.
"Yes, well half of it was that..." explains the down-to-earth 50-year-old, one half of the team that brought us such unforgettable classics as Song For Whoever, A Little Time, Prettiest Eyes, Good As Gold (Stupid As Mud), and Manchester.
"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two really minor characters in Hamlet and in the Tom Stoppard one they look at the story of Hamlet, but from the point-of-view of these two little characters. So it's the same events, but instead of seeing it from Hamlet's point-of-view, it's from the point-of-view of these two minor characters.
"So it's a combination of that and whenever I hear songs like Jolene or Roxanne, I always think: 'I wonder what they would have said if they had a chance to say something back?' I thought I could do a record where it was giving people a right to reply."
"I made a list," replies Dave, responding to the question of how he came up with the tunes he wanted to revisit. "I made a list of all the songs I could think of that had someone's name in the title and I think I had about 40 or 50, nearly all women's names by the way. It was quite a problem getting men's ones...
"I then tried to think if there was anything I could say back, if I was that person, and quite a lot of them there wasn't anything obvious to get hold of and answer back to. So I whittled it down to 15 or 16 in the end.
"Some of them I found really easy, like Roxanne... I'd never really liked that song much; I think the idea of Sting going out with a prostitute always struck me as a bit laughable really. Obviously it's a great song, I'm not knocking it — I know it's a really good song and a great single and everything — but there's something about it that always slightly peeved me, so I found that really easy..."
"It's not necessarily all the songs I like that I did answers to," he continues. "In fact in some cases I didn't really like them - it's just ones that gave me an angle... I started by writing a little imaginary biography of each character, just a couple of paragraphs. I tried to imagine what would have happened to them - or what their situation was - and once I'd done the biographies, I wrote the words.
"Then I think it was four of the songs where I wrote the music as well, but most of them I sent the words to somebody — to the singer — saying: 'Could you write the music for these words?' That was what happened in the majority of them."
Does the creative northerner think that the likes of Sting or Elton John might actually get to hear what he and his musical cohorts have done with their characters?
"I'd like to think that some of them would, and I'd be interested to know what they said... But so far I haven't heard anything from any of them; I haven't read anything that any of them have said, but I'm looking forward to it if they do... I suppose it's a little bit cheeky in a way, taking someone else's character!"
Since The Beautiful South split, due to 'musical similarities', in early 2007, Dave Rotheray, the 'Creator and Curator' of Answer Ballads, has taken his music in a more folk/country direction, his "default mode" (he expresses admiration for Iris DeMent, Randy Travis, Vince Gill, and Clint Black), and the artists with whom he has collaborated on this ambitious project are some of the biggest names on the English folk scene, some of whom also worked on his impressive solo debut, 2010's The Life of Birds.
The willing participants this time around include: Lisa Knapp, Eliza Carthy, John Smith, Josienne Clark, Alasdair Roberts, and
Kathryn Williams.
"There were quite a few people I really wanted..." says the non-singing Mr. Rotheray of his reliable team of vocalists, "but who either were too busy or they couldn't get the free time. So I missed out on a few, but I was very happy with the line-up because they were all people that I was a fan of..."
When asked if he has a favourite of all of the tracks on Answer Ballads, the Hull City fan states, "I do actually... I really like the Kris Drever one, which is an answer to Elton John's Daniel... I don't know if it's because I'm a big fan of Kris Drever or a big fan of that particular song... and I also like the Julie Murphy one, the last one on there, which is an answer to Jolene, where I imagine Jolene becoming a nun and retiring from the world because she's so sick of people staring at her!"
Following the positive reception the album has received, I concluded by asking Dave if we might we see an Answer Ballads Volume 2 at some point in the future?
"Well I had three or four left over, but I found it quite a struggle to get an album's worth because there aren't many songs like Roxanne and Jolene that have a really specific situation that's painted for you...
"There's a lot of songs where it's very vague, for instance Marie in Memphis, Tennessee by Chuck Berry. All you really know is it's a little girl whose dad's been trying to telephone her, so you sort of have to make it up. The same with Mrs. Jones in Me And Mrs. Jones...
"All you really know is that she meets her lover every day in a cafe. So if you're gonna write an answer, you have to make it all up, which is interesting, but I don't think I could find enough to do another one..."
Answer Ballads is out now.
For more information, visit Mr. Rotheray's official website.
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