BOO Hewerdine is a man who doesn’t like to elaborate on his music. Ahead of his UK tour with Americana-tinged soulful rootsy outfit State of the Union, Hewerdine talks about his latest outfit and his songwriting experiences and - briefly - how he puts his albums together.
For more than two decades Hewerdine has written songs for the likes of kd lang and Natalie Imbruglia but this week he’ll be the performer of his own material, alongside blues stalwart Brooks Williams.
But despite years of being a secret talent, hiding behind his hits while other artists take the glory, Hewerdine is more than happy to hit the stage this week, as he succinctly explains. “I love it. I’m really enjoying playing with Brooks Williams.”
The Williams / Hewerdine outfit formed when Hewerdine called Brooks at the 11th hour in the lead up to his annual Christmas event to ask if he’d be interested in working with him on some songs, as Brook Williams explains.
“Boo rang me up that morning and asked: ‘Could you, would you?’ To which I responded, ‘Yes’. The audience loved it. We loved it, and soon we were playing together as often as our schedules allowed, and working on a collaborative album.”
The pair joined forces and wrote a number of songs in Hewerdine’s front room, using nothing but an iPhone. These roughly-recorded tracks were soon whisked off to the studio in Glasgow and State of the Union - a rootsy, rag-time album - was created.
State of the Union follows Hewerdine’s God Bless the Pretty Things and Harmonograph. The latter’s title was inspired by a book about harmographs - two-dimensional patterns created by swinging pendulums - that Hewerdine stumbled upon years ago.
Harmograph, unlike State of the Union, is a ‘chocolate box’ album on which Hewerdine picked an album’s worth of tracks from a grand total of 400 songs from his prolific career. Though the selection process was easier than one would think. “I just picked the songs I fancied doing that day, he said. “It was like picking chocolates from a tin.” When asked what made him choose the songs on the album he said: “The ones I fancied playing.”
Fortunately, his songs benefit from a greater degree of reflection and analysis. In one track, which was written for Eddi Reader, Hewerdine was asked to write from the perspective of a single mother.
“Writing for Eddi, I’m forced to write from a woman’s point of view,” said Hewerdine. “She sets me homework. One song she asked me to write, which I nearly did a version of on Harmonograph, is called Forgive The Boy - she said, ‘I’m a single mother and I’ve got two teenage sons and I want you to write a song about how women should sometimes forgive the way that men behave’. I like doing that.”
But he’s happy working to a brief. “I love briefs, they are like commissions. It’s how all art used to be done. It focuses the mind,” says Hewerdine. “I feel very lucky that so many people have recorded my tunes. It’s always an adventure to hear what songs become.”
Yet he’s a fan of the uncomplicated song, too. “Having come from bands where the songs were complicated, I keep trying to get more and more simple,” said Hewerdine. “I like Lucinda Williams,” he says, “because her songs sometimes seem almost stupid they’re so simple, but they’re brilliant. There’s a song called Lonely Girls that I love where she just sings ‘lonely girls’ four times in a row and then goes something like ‘they’re lonely’ - phenomenally brilliant.”
Hewerdine brings his passion for the simple ditty to the Greystones, Greystones Road, on Sunday.