IT HAS been a decade since Roddy Woomble has played Ireland. Back then it was as lead singer of Idlewild. This month he returns as a solo artist, armed with a set of songs and perspectives that reflect the many changes in his life over that time.
Roddy Woomble plays the Róisín Dubh on Sunday May 29 at 9pm as part of an Irish tour to promote his new album The Impossible Song & Other Songs.
Like Woomble’s 2006 solo debut My Secret Is My Silence, there is a strong folk influence at work and its lyrics and moods draw inspiration from the Scottish landscape and history.
“My Secret Is My Silence was very much a folk record,” Roddy tells me during our Monday afternoon interview, “whereas The Impossible Song & Other Songs has elements of that crossed with Americana, a jazz influence, and a bit of indie. What I am trying to do is write songs with a narrative quality and use acoustic instruments, and in that sense it is a folk record.”
Roddy is genuinely looking forward to coming to Galway and feels his more folk orientated sound will be well received by audiences here.
“I like traditional music and I think Galway is a home for that in Ireland,” he says. “I’m excited to go back now with a more traditional Scottish sound as well. For years I have been edging away from indie and immersing myself more in folk, and I feel comfortable singing those kinds of songs.”
Idlewild emerged in the late 1990s and from then and throughout the noughties, they were very much an indie band but Roddy’s journey from indie to a kind of modern Scottish folk music, is emblematic of a wider trend in Scottish indie which has become noticeable over the last six or seven years.
“I think it’s inevitable because the old songs are so good,” he replies, “whereas a lot of indie...isn’t...The folk songs and traditional music are so rooted in the country and the areas they come from, so evocative, and their ideas are so universal, and people interested in writing songs, come back to them because of that.”
It is a journey many of his contemporaries have also taken - Malcolm Middleton (Arab Strap ), Frightened Rabbit, and King Creosote are the most obvious examples, while Belle and Sebastian have successfully dipped their toe in the water now and again (‘Piazza, New York Catcher’ ).
In the process, these artists have begun to open a new chapter in and contribute fresh ideas to Scottish folk music and song. However whereas Roddy, Middleton, and Belle and Sebastian have been around since the 1990s, Frightened Rabbit and King Creosote are more recent arrivals.
In explaining this move towards folk, Roddy feels two different impulses are at work and both are based on how these different generations of indie musicians has experienced the consumption of music.
“When I was 18 I wasn’t interested in folk and perhaps you shouldn’t be at that age,” he says, “but as you get older, your needs and perspectives change, but Sorren McLean, who is on the new album and will be playing with me in Galway, is only 21 and loves traditional music.
“I think it’s the iPod phenomenon, young people have access to millions of tracks and that makes them open to different influences, whereas when I was 14 I only had a few records and it was a case of you’re into this and then later you got into that.”
Of course he must also be asked about the future of Idlewild. The band is currently on hiatus, but do they have any plans for the future?
“We are playing two gigs this summer,” says Roddy. “We’re still very friendly with each other so we might play the occasional gig, but we’ve pretty much called it a day.”
Son of Scotland
Roddy was born in Irvine in Ayrshire, western Scotland, but during his childhood and teens his family moved around a lot and Roddy spent time in England, France, and the USA.
“America had the most influence on me,” he says. “I was 12, 13, 14, which is an important time in a young man’s life and development. I got into music and was listening to punk rock, smoked cigarettes, and was interested in that sort of thing, and when I came back to Scotland I wanted to form a band.”
If America ignited his passion for music, the pattern of constant relocation also had another affect on the man, not one of disruption, but of contentment and being at ease with himself.
“Moving around a lot I developed a satisfaction with my own company and being happy on my own,” he says. “I was always the new guy at school. You don’t establish huge bonds that way but I don’t feel I have missed out, I feel I have had great experiences.”
Despite living in many places, Roddy Woomble is fist, last, and always, a Scot. “I feel very comfortable in Scotland and proud to be Scottish,” he says.
The Impossible Song & Other Songs is a testament to Roddy’s passion for the Scottish landscape. Tracks such as ‘Work Like You Can’, ‘Tangled Wire’, and ‘Between The Old Moon’ abound with references to snow, soil, the isles, the glens, trees, villages both inhabited and abandoned, the wind, the sun, the seasons, and the sea.
“In my early twenties I lived in cities and it was exciting going there and playing gigs,” he says, “but then it became ‘I want to get out of here’. I love the Highlands and Islands and I’m much more of a rural person than a city person.”
It is not surprising then that Roddy has made his home on the island of Mull in the Inner Hebrides, where he lives with his wife and children.
“I like the pace of life here and being isolated - I don’t feel isolated - I just love the space and that you have to get a couple of ferries to get to your house,” he says.
Given his passion for Scotland, what are Roddy’s views on the issue of whether or not Scotland should become independent?
“I voted Scottish National Party at the recent elections and have done so before,” he says, “but the idea of not being part of Britain is something I have not considered seriously. I would need to see a bit more evidence but I have an open mind.
“I think it could work if everybody gets behind it. Scotland is a rich country - we have oil, the whisky industry, tourism. We have devolved government, and the SNP are more connected to the arts and culture and with the mood of the people than the other parties, and many people who don’t want independence still vote for them for those reasons.”
Ballads of the book
If the Scottish landscape and music are two of Roddy’s great passions, then the third is literature. The name Idlewild comes from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novel Anne of Green Gables, while Roddy’s own record label is called Greenvoe, after the novel by his favourite poet George MacKay Brown.
“I love his sense of place and I think I’ve read every book he’s written,” says Roddy. “I also love Tove Jansson’s Moominland books. She was writing these into her seventiess. I love their world view and philosophy and the way they introduce themes of loneliness and alienation into kids’ fiction.”
Support is from Irish singer-songwriter Odi. Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and www.roisindubh.net