While Aidan Moffat may have found cult fame as one half of the bleak but beautiful rock duo Arab Strap, it's what came afterwards that has exposed the man as a delightfully unpredictable creative force. We've seen Aidan release a Christmas EP, a 7” medley of all three 80s hits titled The Power of Love, five albums under his moniker L.Pierre, numerous full length oddities and also play host to a charming yet chaotic 'twitter party'.
Chief among his post-Arab Strap achievements came in the form of a collaborative album titled Everything's Getting Older with fellow Scottish composer Bill Wells. The record contains some of the most poignant and poetic songwriting Aidan had ever recorded, so when the announcement came that he'd written a children's book to be accompanied by Bill Wells music, it made perfect sense.
The Lavender Blue Dress is completely written in rhyme and follows a tale of a young girl called Mabel and her desire to wear a “beautiful dress to the Christmas ball”. The book is beautifully crafted with art by award winning illustrator Emmeline Pidgen and a removable double sided dust jacket with a 'cut out and play' paper doll. The book also includes a CD with the book read by Aidan and music by Bill. It appears that this is not just a fleeting dip into the kids market but an impassioned piece of work in its own right. We spoke to Aidan on the phone to catch up on his music, the book's creation and what the future might hold for himself and Scotland...
Can you explain a little about how the story of The Lavender Blue Dress' first came to be?
It's a story my grandfather used to tell us when I was a wee boy, he told it to me and he told it to my cousins. He didn't tell it to my brother because my brother was too young to remember, he died when I was about 13 so my brother was just wee. It's transpired and now that I've spoken to the family about it he used to tell it to my mum too and my uncle as well too, so it was just something he used to tell us all. My grandfather was a very sort of working class sort of guy and I think he was scared of money which is kind of the moral of the tale. He had the whole thing that money isn't important anyway but the most important thing is family and togetherness and I think that was his kind of way of telling us that sort of thing to the kids.
You have two children of your own, is that right?
I do, a boy of 6 called Samuel and a girl of 1, called Mabel oddly enough.
Ah! Well I was going to say, just how has their influence bled into the story or is it, as you said, the story has already been written for you?
Well the story I used to be told was very, very basic and I added a lot to it of course as obviously my grandfather didn't speak in rhyme! There's a lot more that was embellished and yeah, I think having children certainly helps you understand in these kind of circumstances how to structure the story. Obviously I read a lot to my son, my girl's a bit too young. The greatest pleasure I have from reading now pauses, well actually he's getting a wee bit too old for it but the past few years it has been from reading kids books to my son because the best children's books, you get sucked into the language which is why I wrote it in rhyme as well which is against all the rules! Publishers will tell you not to write in rhyme because it doesn't translate to foreign markets and all this kind of nonsense, it's a business conversation really. So umm, but my favourite books are always the ones where you get really sucked into the language and they're beautiful to read, they're fun to read and there's a rhythm to them and that's kind of what you pick up on.
The people that follow you on Twitter will have seen that you have quite a grounded, uplifting view of the world despite your bleak lyricism, what key life experiences do you think influenced Mabel's story?
Umm, it's difficult to say, the idea of the detail of The Lavender Blue Dress has been with me all my life and I think certainly the two obvious events are of course my grandfather giving me the story and my son having so much fun reading children's books. I'd read children's books before but it's something I felt I could have a try at because there's no real difference to writing a song, I mean I didn't approach it any differently.
Ah, well you've just answered my next question!
Laughs well there you are! It's exactly the same as writing lyrics to a song except instead of music this time I was looking for someone to do pictures which is pretty much how I always work. I mean obviously sometimes I write songs on my own but for the most part I'm writing them with someone else so it felt like a very natural thing to do. You know I'm not a pop star and I'm not putting the book out because I'm going to sell mountains of copies because I'm selling millions of records. I write words for living so it wasn't a great leap or anything like that.
In regards to promoting the book, can we expect any live readings around the country maybe?
I'm certainly doing some in Scotland, I'll do three or four in Scotland and then see where it takes me after that. It's a difficult thing because the book itself is set at Christmas so if we don't do it before Christmas I might have to wait another ten months to do it again. Yeah, hopefully, I mean I've been performing the story live for ages now like if I do solo gigs or poetry nights and things like that, I've always done it for a long time. I think I wrote the story about five years ago. It's much better now than it used to be, it's been rewritten quite heavily over the years and I'm still not entirely sure that it's finished even though I’ve got a book in front of me! That's just the way everybody feels when they create these things but I'll certainly do it at gigs and stuff but there's nothing planned outside of Scotland. It's a difficult time to do it this time of year, everyone's booked and you know venue's are all booked up very quickly but fingers crossed I'll be performing it whenever I can.
Though the book's told in rhyme and you always say that you're foremost a writer, would you ever see yourself venturing into prose as I can see you writing a very good smutty thriller or something like that?
laughs Yeah, do you know what I'm not really into novels or writing a novel, I don't have the patience or the time for a novel and anyway I couldn't. I do have a plan for a book of short stories but I've had a plan for a book of short stories for about five years now and it still hasn't happened so I'll get there! I have to concentrate on music first of all, that's the thing I like to do mostly. I think next year I've got some time set aside to think about the book of short stories. I'm not sure what kind of thing, umm, yeah, it might be quite sexy! Romantic anyway.
Not Mills & Boon anyway?
Well no, it certainly won't be Mills & Boon because Mills & Boon always have a happy ending, so you can forget that! It's something I've been toying with for years, I did actually try and start a novel about ten years ago but I got about give pages in and I let a novelist I know read it and he gave some pointers and I thought ah fuck this I can't be bothered. I was only five pages in and I got fed up with it already so I didn't feel wrong about it.
Just fucked it off?
Well you know I took the idea for the book and turned it into a song which became an Arab Strap B-Side and then just forgot all about it! laughs.
Can you tell me what that B-Side was?
No it's a secret...... actually no it's not a secret I just can't remember what it's called. Laughs It's called 'Go Back to the Sea', that's what it's called. I don't even remember, it might not have even been a B-side, it might on a Japanese version of something, it exists somewhere, I dunno.
You were once again accompanied by Bill Wells who wrote the music for the accompanying CD, how did he first respond to the idea of you writing a children's book?
Well he was very happy! He's actually just in the middle of working on an album of children's songs funnily enough. He's done that sort of things before, he's done workshops with kids before so it seemed like quite an obvious thing for him to do. I think I'd heard the melody a long time ago, parts when we were making our first album. It was one of those things were we thought it was going to be a song and then, when I knew the book was going to happen, I knew that melody would have worked very well.
So it was quite a swift process, there wasn't any hurdles to overcome?
No, it's been a very, very easy thing. I've been very lucky with Cargo, the publisher, who trust me to make the decisions. The illustrator Emmeleine Pidgen whose done an amazing job, I mean, if nothing else whatever you make of the story I think it looks gorgeous. I went to go find her myself because, you know that's also not the done thing. With publishers your told don't ever find an illustrator before you go to a publisher but they were very happy to let me work it out myself and find somebody I was happy with. We all agreed that it's been a pretty smooth process, yeah!
Can we expect a follow up to Everything's Getting Older any time soon?
Yes you can. Soon is another matter, I think, we're certainly going to do one, yes. We've attempted, we've started, the discussions have been made and things have been set moving but bare in mind that the last one took us years to do. So we'll see, there are other things we've all got planned so yes, the answer there is yes but I don't know when but hopefully soon.
You've been very vocal on your views about the Scottish referendum, and I was sad to see it go the way it did but what are your hopes for Scotland's future?
To be perfectly frank I don't have a lot of hope for Scotland. I think all the promises that were made from Westminster and the better together campaign were pretty much dead within 7 days of the no vote. I mean everything. I don't understand how anyone believed anything that they said, they have nothing but a history of lies and I'm not saying that the SNP any other party that supported independence were any different but you know the shock and surprise of some people to find that it wasn't quite as easy as being offered extra powers as they thought it was gonna be. You know, we're obviously already part of a war that I think most of us, including England and Wales and Northern Ireland don't want to be part of either. We're all embroiled in a third wave of war in Iraq and I think it was pretty bleak just now but it's an ongoing process and it's certainly engaged the country. I think the good thing, the other side of it is there is a lot more people engaged in politics and that they can maybe make a difference and be involved. I mean the vote turnout was fantastic, I mean I'm sure that's not gonna happen in any other election in Scotland for a generation so yeah there's certainly positives to be taken. I mean in all honesty I never expected to win, umm, I always thought it would be close. I didn't expect to lose by such a margin, I thought it would be closer but saying that we were only 6% points away from victory so it's quite an astonishing thing when you consider most of the media was against it. So it's very much a movement among people and engaging with people locally, the term they always use is the grass roots movement and that's absolutely true, to get 45% with one Sunday newspapers full support of it. That's fantastic. All it would have taken is one other newspaper to come out in support of it, for instance The Daily Record who supported the no vote and they published two days before, the front page was 'the vow' and it was a pledge from all three leaders of the Westminster parties that they would give more powers to Scotland. Then two days ago they had a front page with a very similar cover and it just said 'please honour the vow' because they already know that it was just fucking nonsense. So yeah, there's a lot of positives to take from it and I think the next election will be very interesting and I can see the SNP gaining seats in Westminster which would be quite incredible and the next Scottish election is gonna be amazing. I think Nicola Sturgeon is pretty great and I think having her as a first minister could work out very well for us too but on the whole it's hard not to feel bleak.
Sorry I must have ranted on there for ages!
A little daft off the record chat about Cornwall and Scotland lead to...
Would you and Malcolm ever consider touring again?
Oh, we talk about it when were drunk certainly, it's a possibility. I think it might be nice to do a gig one day or something, you know it's strange because Arab Strap was such a part of our youth. I mean it's about a time in our lives that seems like a long time ago and I think it's probably easier for Malcolm to play the music than me singing about girlfriends I had when I was 21, it's not necessarily something I want to be doing at this time of my life... You know I would quite like to do it as well, I understand the attraction. The only thing in my mind is I don't think I've ever seen a reformed band that were as good as they used to be. Though I did quite like Dinosaur Jr when I saw them. I don't really go to these sort of gigs, I went to see Slint recently but that doesn't really count because they didn't really play anyway when they first existed so, you know, I'm not really interested in these sort of gigs. I think as well though, people, I don't know however long it's been since Arab Strap split up but in the 17 years or so since we started people are still finding Arab Strap music and there's a lot of kids out there who have just discovered it.
The Lavender Blue Dress, the debut children's novel by Aidan Moffat, featuring illustrations by award-winning graphic artist Emmeline Pidgen, is out now.