BEN Please and Beth Porter have just about done it all as musicians. They’ve released 13 studio albums, been on tour and performed for hundreds of people across their careers.

It’s not exactly a bad pair of CVs. They also include composing the music for the Oscar-nominated short film Robin Robin.

The singer-songwriter couple, currently based in Wigtown, are the two members of the award-winning Bookshop Band.

Please is originally from Bath and Porter from Warwickshire but both fell in love with Scotland’s national book town following a last-minute gig there.

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In an exclusive interview with The National, they sat down to discuss their music, their love of Wigtown and what the future holds for the band.

Humble beginnings

The band’s origins can be traced back to Bath, where Please returned to around 2010 following the end of his time at university.

“I was in a band called Urusen and my mum kept persuading me to put CDs in this bookshop called Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights,” he explains. “I developed a friendship with the owner and he wanted to rejuvenate what they did in the bookshop, especially when it came to author evenings.”

Please explains that the events tended to be very similar, with authors discussing their book, signing a few copies and answering a few questions.

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In a bid to mix things up, Please combined forces with Porter and her friend Poppy Pitt, who is no longer with the band. Essentially, its ethos is to write music inspired by literature and perform at bookshop events.

“We picked folk stories from across the country, say Japan or Greece or wherever the author was from and perform these at the start of the night,” Please explains.

“The first time we did these events was around September 2010 and by December we had 10 songs and recorded them in my mum’s living room and got a CD out in time for Christmas.”

With a CD, though, came the challenge of naming the band and Please laughs as he recalls his initial attempt at the important task.

“I remember thinking, guys I’ve got this, and said what about ‘the lost art of the mixtape’. Poppy and Beth both thought that was rubbish and one of them said we should just be The Bookshop Band. That’s what we are and we realised it was much better.”

A chance in Scotland AS the band developed, Please and Porter found themselves touring various bookshops across the UK.

In spite of their clear love for Wigtown, the Scottish town where they’ve been based for a number of years, they only discovered the place by chance.

“We were meant to be playing an event in Penrith but the gig couldn’t happen for some reason,” Porter says. “Ben looked up bookshops that were relatively close by and we found there were quite a lot in Wigtown.

“We’d never heard of the place before so we thought it was worth checking out.”

The pair got in touch with Adrian Turpin – the director of Wigtown Book Festival – who invited them to come along and perform at a volunteer night for those who would be working at the festival. From there, they fell in love with the place. They even rented out the Airbnb that allows you to run your own bookshop.

“We actually moved back to Bristol but couldn’t stay there and were just on the road touring. Eventually a place came up in Wigtown for rent and so we headed there,” Porter adds.

Career highlights

Since launching, the pair have worked with some of the biggest authors in the business. They were recently commissioned by Kate Mosse to create a “pirate pop” tune to accompany her latest novel The Ghost Ship.

They’ve also finished working on an album with songs inspired by Scottish children’s literature although are still figuring out the best way to have this released.

“We’d love to have that one be available in schools,” Please says. “It’s all finished and it’s all these books that have been curated by different festivals and booksellers. It’s basically an introduction to Scottish literature down the years.”

Among the inspirations for the album are Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Goodnight World by Debi Gliori, Peter Pan by JM Barrie and Whispers in the Graveyard by Theresa Breslin.

When asked for his own highlight, Please thinks back to an event with Philip Pullman – the author of His Dark Materials – at the launch of his Book of Dust novel.

"The publisher had asked us to write two songs and it was a bit out of our comfort zone this launch as it was livestreamed to tens of thousands of people,” he says.

“We had our daughter Molly who was about six months old and we were chasing our tails. Normally we don’t write the songs till very close to the event but we had a call from the publisher a week before asking to hear them and we didn’t have them.”

He laughs as he recalls telling them to “give them until the morning” before pulling an all-nighter to get the songs written, while suggesting they had them ready to go well in advance.

Looking back, Porter points to their work on the short film Robin Robin – which picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short Film in 2021 – as a particular highlight.

The National:

“That project basically saved us over lockdown. We got asked to do the music just for this,” she explains.

“We didn’t get to go to the Oscars but I think the accolades that film received helped us feel justified. That we are writers of music and deserve to be in this place, especially in an industry with so much self-doubt.”

Animation is something the pair are continuing to work on, having provided the music for the stop-motion children’s series Tweedy & Fluff, set in a weaver’s shed in the Isle of Lewis.

It aired on Channel 5 on Christmas Day and will also be coming to BBC Alba at some stage next year.

“It’s great working on an animation for children and although the music is not necessarily story-based, it’s been really exciting,” Porter says.

It’s yet another project The Bookshop Band can add to their impressive CV. Whatever else comes next for them, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone quite like them.