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Saturday, 20th April 2019
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Telling Sting to Get Stuffed

Acclaimed songwriter David Rotheray returns with his beautifully crafted new solo album ‘Answer Ballads’, a collection of songs in which Rotheray, and his collaborators, take twelve classic pop songs and attempt to formulate an ‘Answer Ballad’ for each one. Taking existing fictional characters, from The Police’s “Roxanne” to Elton John’s “Daniel”, who are well-known but simultaneously unknown, Rotheray picks up the story from their perspective, using complete artistic licence.

As with his debut ‘The Life of Birds’, Rotheray has created an album with a strong core concept. The idea for the project came in the summer of 2011, inspired partly by watching Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead”, “having always wondered what Jolene, for instance, or Roxanne would have to say, given the chance, I hit upon the notion of a collection of ‘answer songs’” he explains, “however, rather than writing ‘what happened next’ scenarios, these ‘answer songs’ tend, mostly, to be psychological portraits”.

The roll call of collaborators on ‘Answer Ballads’ is truly impressive, with a number of familiar names, who worked with Rotheray on ‘The Life of Birds’, returning for the new album. Former Mercury Music Award nominee Kathryn Williams co-wrote and sings on ‘Roxanne’s Song’ whilst “wonderfully quirky songwriter” Alasdair Roberts takes ‘Dino’s Song’ off on an atmospheric tangent, “he surprised me by eschewing the axework, and coming up with a piano-based tune vaguely reminiscent of ‘Werewolves Of London’”. Radio 2 Folk Award Winner Eliza Carthy takes the reigns on ‘Maggie’s Song’ “I turned up with the lyrics, and Eliza and I bashed out a tune together, eye-to-eye over a guitar. All the other songs I either wrote by myself or simply sent the lyrics to someone and asked them to write the tune.”  

Although she does not sing on the album Eleanor McEvoy, who has performed and recorded with Paul Weller, Nick Cave and Joan Baez, brought ‘Lucille’s Song’ to life “I had the words but could get the tune so sent it off to Eleanor knowing she’d come up with a knockout melody in no time”. McEvoy suggested that Mary Coughlan sing the track for the album, a perfect fit with the distinctive Irish tone of Mary completely suiting the character of Lucille and the piece’s jazz piano melody.

Bella Hardy, an established folk singer who featured on several of the tracks on ‘The Life Of Birds’, and BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award finalist Jackie Oates provide the vocals to ‘Sylvia’s Song’ and ‘Mrs Avery’s Song’ respectively which both provide “answers” to the 1972 hit from Dr Hook “Sylvia’s Mother”.

Mojo Folk Album of the Year winner Lisa Knapp’s delicate vocals on opening track ‘Mrs Jones’ Song’ paint the picture of a woman heartbroken by love lost long after the love affair from Billy Paul’s 1972 hit “Me and Mrs. Jones” ends. On the more up tempo track of ‘Bobby’s Song’, Naomi Bedford’s rich timbre helps illustrate the story of Bobby’s youthful adventures as she looks back on them as an entertaining but misguided phase.  

Kris Drever, who has previously worked with John McCusker and Kate Rusby, is one of the few male vocalists on ‘Answer Ballads’  lending his beautifully warm voice to ‘Daniel’s Song’ whilst English folk guitarist John Smith brings an Americana flavour on the easy going ‘Billy-Joe’s Song’.

‘Marie’s Song’ tells how Marie’s father from the Chuck Berry song “Memphis, Tennessee” never made it home to her. The song was written with Josienne Clarke – one half of the award winning duo Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker – whose voice Rotheray describes as “sweet, young-sounding, yet some ‘knowing’ and suites Marie perfectly.

In contrast, for ‘Pearl’s Song’ Rotheray, having unwittingly written the melody whilst writing the lyrics, was looking for a singer whose voice was strong yet with a hint of vulnerability. Eleanor McEvoy suggested Irish singer Gemma Hayes whose vocals flawlessly portray Pearl’s story having been a winning singer and has left music behind “They say being somebody is hard, and being nobody is worse”.

The album concludes with Jolene’s answer to the Dolly Parton hit, arguably one of the most famous fictional characters in music. Julie Murphy’s ballad superbly complements Rotheray’s somber lyrics of a woman who has endured both male attention and female jealousy.

Roxanne's Song (ft. Kathryn Williams) David Rotheray explains:

In 'Roxanne' (The Police, 1978), Sting chides his prostitute girlfriend and begs her to renounce her profession. In 'Roxanne's Song' , she replies by essentially telling Sting to get stuffed. Roxanne is an independent businesswoman, a successful entrepreneur. She doesn't like being told what to do, or what to wear. She is a child of Thatcher, one year early.


David Rotheray

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