Up Close & Personal with Alasdair Bouch

A review of ‘First Person Singular´ and an interview with the singer-songwriter

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 28.05.2010 11:07:28 (updated on 28.05.2010) Reading time: 6 minutes

Alasdair Bouch has paid his dues at many a venue around the city.  With the release of his masterfully produced debut album, ‘First Person Singular´, one of the mainstays of Prague´s singer-songwriter scene shows no signs of slowing down.

Throughout all ten tracks of the album, Alasdair showcases his sophisticated songwriting abilities; every song strikes you as an instant classic.  But the familiarity of his sound is nicely counter-balanced by an almost confrontational level of honesty.  Perhaps the most important aspect of the album is that, through combination of pure craft, wit, and candor, Alasdair easily manages to avoid the death trap of sentimentality.

While Alasdair is accompanied in most of the songs by a solid ‘pocket orchestra´, this intensely personal album begins as it perhaps should: with a solo piece.  ‘The Conquistador Repents´, is a song sung by a Casanova-type who has come to lament the loneliness his ways have earned him.  Sure, there is a lot of heartache on the album, but Alasdair is clearly able to have fun with it as well.  From the beginning, this song has strong forward momentum and he really seems to be enjoying himself when he jolts your ear with playful stops and starts.  The song also closes with a delightfully funny ‘trumpet´ solo that – in spite of this warning – will take you off guard.
‘Charlie Parker´s Postcard´ sounds like Tom Waits in 1972 – well before the voice changed.  This was strongly confirmed for me when Alasdair sings, ‘Got all the friends that whiskey can buy´.  And yet, the song still comes off as original; he manages to invigorate the spirit of a bygone era without sounding redundant.

Most of Alasdair´s lyrics focus on both love and love – too much and not enough, that is.  While every note and word clearly comes from the heart, you never feel alienated by the album´s honesty.  It shows a lot of ambition to begin his recording career with such a revealing work of self-portrayal and it pays off.  There are only 1000 copies of ‘First Person Singular´ available, so pick yours up while they last.

Interview with Alasdair Bouch:

‘First Person Singular’ has been released as a hand-numbered, limited edition; I have number twenty-eight.  What was behind this decision?

Ever since I had pocket money, I´ve been spending it on music.  The rarer, or harder to find it was, the more special the place in my heart it found.  I am a sucker for coloured vinyl, special editions and signed posters.  It made me feel somehow closer to the artist to know they had put out a limited number of these artefacts, and this one was especially for me.  They were rewarding the fans that turned up every Monday at their local record store to check out the new releases.  

Even the cover pays homage to old vinyl sleeves – a simple, ecologically conscious, cardboard slipcase.  In a sense, by only making 1000 of these, I wanted to foist my collector´s mentality on the unsuspecting public.  Buy this now, or it´s gone forever, folks!  

You refer to your album as ‘a throwback to when music was wooden and meant something´.  Yet, there isn´t one cover song to be found.  What does an original ‘throwback´ mean to you?

Haha, I did, didn´t I?  I´m not a purist, but I love that era of honest, clever singer-songwriting – Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, and the like – people with experience, singing about what they knew best.  If you can pull that off without a studied pose, you´re going to have career longevity, not just be a flash in the pan, like the latest flavour-of-the-month the media tells us to listen to.  

I saw little point in including covers on this album – I had so much I wanted to add already.  Also, the songs I really love are sacrosanct to me – why change a good thing?  Jeff Buckley was able to do this, in effect, by making a cover almost unrecognizable, and creating a new beast.  But I still wanted to hear more of his original material!

Over the past number of years, I would say that your songs have become increasingly more personal, but, possibly as a result of this, you have at the same time met with greater success. All success aside, has this latest project taken a greater toll on you as an artist?

That´s true, well spotted!  I´m not sure about the greater success, though!  I suppose it´s relative to how much time and care has gone into this album.  It´s incredibly personal in a sense – the songs reflect varyingly momentous periods of my life – but at the same time, I have to put it out there and let it go.  The production process was no smooth ride for me – I am a perfectionist, and this being my debut album, I was concerned about getting it right for posterity.  But the strangest thing is standing in front of an audience and spilling my heart out every night, through these songs.  Sometimes I hope people aren´t paying too much attention to the lyrics!

Before the release of this album, people were only able to hear your music in a live setting.  How do you feel about your fans bringing you home with them?

(Laughs) There´s not enough of that going on!  But seriously, what´s interesting is that everyone has a different favourite song from the album.  It´s not like there´s one big hit that everyone picks.  I think that´s a good thing!  More than that, people are able to take their time to listen to it, when they´re in the right mood.  It´s a totally different experience to hearing me over the hubbub of a crowd.  The feedback has been incredible so far; I´m humbled.

How does it feel to be one of the featured musical acts in the Fringe Festival Praha?

Fantastic.  Steve, Carole and the team consistently put on an amazing selection of acts, and I´m honoured to be selected.  I go every year, and there´s always something extraordinary to discover.  I´m looking forward to hearing some other musical acts there too – The Human Jukebox and Ocean vs. Daughter, in particular.

Playing regularly in Prague, you´ve made quite a name for yourself.  What do you have in store for your fans both new and old at the Fringe festival performances?

My Fringe shows are going to be unique, in the sense that they will reunite some of the original musicians from the ‘First Person Singular’ album.  So this will be the first chance for people to hear those songs in a live setting with Lucy Fillery-Murphy on cello and Byron Asher on clarinet and saxophone.  I have also composed a special instrumental for the Fringe, in co-operation with the marimba-led MaMa Tones, which will feature a spoken-word piece by Prague-based poet Anne Brechin, whose work I find tremendously moving.  But there´ll still be the odd solo tune by yours truly!  Also, the venue is incredible – an ancient church, by candlelight.  Don´t miss it!

What can we expect from your next project, “Second Hand Lullabies”?

The next album is already half-finished, and it´s taking quite a different direction.  If the first album is more introspective, acoustic alt-folk blues, the second is what I call ‘blue-eyed soul´ – lighter-in-the-air, arm-waving anthems.  I´ve been playing a lot of the songs from it live so there´ll be some audience favourites on it.  But considering how long it took to get the first album out, I wouldn´t hold your breath!

Joining Alasdair Bouch on ‘First Person Singular´:
Byron Asher (clarinet, saxophone), Lucy Fillery-Murphy (cello), Mathieu Gautron (accordion), Tom Smith (piano) and Geoff Tyson (bass).  The album was produced by Geoff Tyson (www.geofftyson.com) in Prague.

It is available directly from the artist at live concerts. You can also find the MP3 version on Amazon.com and iTunes. Alasdair is playing the Fringe Festival Praha 2010 (www.fringe.cz) in Kostel sv. Jana Křtitele Na Prádle on June 3, 4 & 5 at 20:30.

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