It's an unusual International Book Festival event when Alan Bisset, Rodge Glass, A. L. Kennedy, Emma Pollock, Ali Smith, Louise Welsh and Roddy Woomble are to be found sharing the same platform, but 'Ballads of the Book' is a rather unusual production, inspired in part by Roddy Woomble of Idlewild's interest in the poetry of Edwin Morgan, which developed through correspondence between Woomble and Morgan into songs. From these comparatively small beginnings the greater grew, involving the Scottish Arts Council and the production work of Chemikal Underground.
Given the scope of 'Ballads of the Book', only a few of those appearing on the album could be squeezed onto the Main Theatre stage, a goodly number presumably also engaged elsewhere. For those living in the literary equivalent of a broom cupboard for the last few months, a brief reprise of the writers and musicians involved may be helpful; Norman Blake, lead vocalist with Teenage Fanclub, Aiden Moffat, Alun Woodward formerly of The Delgados, Emma Pollock, the Trashcan Sinatras, Karine Polwart and Dundee's chronicler of Calvinism, Bill Duncan. Plus, of course, those mentioned in para. 1.
A goodly proportion of the above featured at a Triptych event in Glasgow earlier this year, further indication of the way this music-based festival is evolving by embracing the influence of other art forms. The event in the Book Festival's Main Theatre was a wee thing more restrained than that in Glasgow - although Edinburgh always strives to be a bit more cerebral, as we know. A fine night, nonetheless, with Smith, Welsh and Kennedy giving as good an account of themselves as ever, and proving themselves more than a match for the rampant male egos of musicians (and writers) sitting beside them.
But would they do it again? (Get involved in songwriting and work with musicians, that is). There seemed to be a consensus that although the process was enjoyable, it was also significantly hard work for folk used to writing initially to satisfy themselves and then an audience, with no middle persons to have to meddle with (publishers, editors, et. al. aside, of course). However, Louise Welsh at least seemed interested in further possibilities, and even if we have to wait rather a long time for an A. L. Kennedy double album, the breaking of barriers, expectations and thereby responses to what writers and musicians 'do' can only be to the benefit of all.
Time: 8.00pm, 16 August
Copyright Bill Dunlop 2007. Published on EdinburghGuide.com August 2007