Boo Hewerdine‘s new solo album Harmonograph is made up entirely of covers – of his own songs, originally made famous by other people. It is a marker in a quietly remarkable career evolved over two decades. Hewerdine’s first significant musical foray was with the ’80s band The Bible, which ended suddenly and mysteriously after six albums.
Since then he has continued to forge a successful solo career, interspersed with writing and producing for artists as diverse as Eddi Reader, Natalie Imbruglia and Fame Academy-winning pixie Alex Parks.
musicOMH caught up with him during a rare moment of rest, complete with jovial hangover, and began by asking him what was the mystery behind The Bible’s split…
“It was never very dramatic really. We split up twice,” says Hewerdine. “We reformed because I got another record deal and asked them if they wanted to get back together and make a new record. But it does get really difficult if you can’t afford to do stuff together and band members are your friends. We’d probably get back together now if something came up.”
The split was quite mundane then? “There were dramatic things but I can’t really talk about that!” It has been documented that The Bible appeared by mistake on a German TV talent show, winning only 12 votes and that the humiliation cemented their split, but Hewerdine forged on. “I made another record straight away actually, and I worked with Gary Clark for a while, playing in his band,” he counters.
“It’s simple, just a matter of having the right clothing and shoes mostly!” – Boo Hewerdine on writing for ladies…
It was around this time that he met Fairground Attraction singer Eddi Reader. “I was helping produce a record for a woman called Laurie Freelove and Eddi was singing backing vocals,” says Hewerdine. “She asked me if I knew a band and I told her that my band had just split up and she could use us.”
Hewerdine and band played with Reader for several years before he began to write for her. “She was doing a TV show and then went to America to make her next record and she was in this studio in LA, with musicians but no songs. She rang me up and liked the songs that I played down the phone for her.”
He also developed an ability to write from a woman’s perspective while writing for Reader. “It’s simple, just a matter of having the right clothing and shoes mostly! And keeping references to beer and football out of it!” he jokes. “But actually, usually it would be a conversation and one of us would say, ‘oh, that would make a good song’ but I’d have to try and get inside her head a bit, as she’s the one who’s singing it.”
And are they really good friends? “Well, yeah, I like to think we are, and were saying the other day how well we get on. But we don’t go round each other’s house or anything. We keep it musical. We might even get on first name terms soon, I’m hoping. And she just got an MBE in the New Year’s honours list, so I’m a bit in awe!”
“I don’t like playing with other people, they annoy me!” – Boo Hewerdine on going solo…
During this time, Herwerdine was busy with his own solo projects. Getting familiar with playing solo after years of being in bands was a challenge he found quite scary at first. “Now I enjoy it so much, I don’t like playing with other people, they annoy me!” he says. “No, I’m joking! But it does take a long time to learn how to be entertaining by yourself. When you’re in a group, you can just look enigmatic at the front.”
Most recently Hewerdine finished his sixth solo album, Harmonograph, a quietly gorgeous record full of lyrical, understated and finely crafted songs. On the album he has recorded his own songs, many of which had been recorded by other artists – most famously the Ivor Novello nominated Patience of Angels (a big hit for Fairground Attraction). How did he choose which tracks, from over 400 hundred songs, to include on Harmonograph? “I just put a piece of paper on the floor and thought, ‘Yeah, that might be alright’. I’m not very disciplined like that. I totally changed my mind after the recording was complete, but we didn’t have long to complete it so… If I ever get the chance, I’ll do it again. I didn’t even scratch the surface.”
And his favourite song is? “Probably Slow Burner, which is nostalgia for the time I wrote it. It was meant to be a B-side, but I liked it so much it went on the album. I was sent to Nashville by my publisher to try and write songs, and it was… hell, I had a terrible, terrible time. But then I met this songwriting guy in a bar and went back to his house, he said it was okay as his wife was in jail for drink driving… It was just so Nashville. So we wrote it together and it was great fun.” And he lets slip: “It’s also been covered by a band called The Nashville Bluegrass Band – who were Brother Beyond! – and the version they do is just so fantastic.”
What then next for this constantly working man? “Well, I’m in the studio at the moment with Eddi, mixing her new album that was meant to have been out last April! I’m also touring with Eddi, and solo for Harmonograph, and starting my new album at the end of the month – or when I have time…”
There’s talk of an album of completely new songs by the end of 2006, but in the meantime you can catch Hewerdine on tour in the UK and Italy before he heads over to Australia with Reader. For an evening of simply beautiful music, see him.
Boo Hewerdine’s album Harmonograph is out now through Red Grape.