Philip Selway heads to James Yorkston's Tae Sup Wi' a Fifer in Kirkcaldy
- David Pollock
- 23 November 2017
Philip Selway / credit: Kevin Westenberg
Radiohead drummer talks Ringo Starr, composing scores and collaboration
Casually telling an interviewee that you saw them playing drums with Ringo Starr the other evening isn't a common opening gambit, and the very polite and unassuming Philip Selway doesn't seem like the sort to go boasting about his famous rock star buddies. Yet despite his manner, Selway is a famous rock star in his own right, and it's quite possible that Starr may have told his own mates how, at a recent gig at the Beacon Theatre in New York, the drummer from Radiohead joined him for a version of 'With a Little Help From My Friends'.
'We were being interviewed together on the radio earlier in the day, and he very kindly asked to me to join him at his show later,' says Selway, amid discussion of his only slightly less glamorous headline appearance at the first of two wintry instalments of James Yorkston's excellent revue show Tae Sup Wi' a Fifer at Kirkcaldy's Adam Smith Theatre (Selway headlines this weekend, with Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchison appearing next Saturday).
'Ringo's one of my favourite drummers,' Selway continues. 'His ability to interpret songs and find what's appropriate to play within them is amazing, and he wrote the book on what most others have done in rock and pop over the last five decades. It was a huge honour to play with him.' Can he relate to the responsibility Starr held, driving the rhythm of arguably the most revered rock group of his time? 'Well, it never starts off that big, does it?' he laughs. 'We [Radiohead] began at school and learned to play our instruments in the context of each other then, and it carries on like that, so you never struggle to be heard. And doing your own stuff outside the band is a good way to assert your own voice.'
This is another point of similarity between Selway and Starr, and an area in which only Phil Collins has greater claim on being the best in the field; each are famous drummers who have also developed successful solo careers. In Selway's case, his albums Familial (2010), Weatherhouse (2014), and this year's soundtrack to Polly Steele's Holocaust drama Let Me Go, reveal a dense and cinematic musical palette that no Radiohead fan will shy away from.
'Let Me Go was a very steep learning curve for me,' says Selway now. 'I'd always had an ambition to write for film, but I imagined it would be way off in the distance and I'd learn what I needed to learn first. But the director and the producer both approached me with this fantastic screenplay, which had a very powerful message at the heart of it, so I agreed to jump in with both feet and learn along the way. It was a great creative endeavour, finding my own place in amongst the cinematography and direction and performances. In fact, there's a parallel between writing a soundtrack and being in a band, in that you have to find your place in both; if you're listening, you'll know what to do.'
Although Selway's Radiohead bandmate Jonny Greenwood is an award-winning soundtrack composer for There Will Be Blood and We Need to Talk About Kevin, among others, Selway didn't approach him for advice, instead working once again with his Weatherhouse producer Adam Ilhan (formerly one half of Fridge alongside Four Tet and Silver Columns with Pictish Trail). 'I guess I've caught the bug,' he says, 'because I'm working on another score now, although I'm afraid I can't tell you what it is yet.'
This score will occupy most of his time in 2018, as well as some final tour dates in support of Radiohead's last album A Moon Shaped Pool and the beginnings of his next solo album proper: 'I haven't started writing it yet,' he says, 'but I guess everything I'm doing elsewhere, with soundtracks and so on, will somehow feed into that. It's great to have that variety… I find writing my own work a very fulfilling process, although still being able to develop Radiohead's sound over 30 years after we started, and getting a sense of how we continue to move along together as musicians, is a very unique situation to be in.'
In the meantime, there's one last collaboration of 2017 to be made. Although Selway is no stranger to contemporary Scottish folk music – he played on Roddy Woomble, Kris Drever and John McCusker's 2008 album Before the Ruin – James Yorkston is someone he hasn't yet played with. 'He's just somebody I've gotten to know over the years through music,' says Selway. 'I remember opening for one of his shows in London, he's a great performer, and hopefully the day will come when we play together. I couldn't turn down his invitation, it's an event made by a music lover for a room full of them – that sounds lovely to me.'
Philip Selway plays James Yorkston's Tae Sup Wi' a Fifer at Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy, Sat 25 Nov, alongside David Thomas Broughton and Kathryn Williams. His latest album Let Me Go is out now on Bella Union. The final Tae Sup Wi' a Fifer of the year will be on Sat 2 Dec, with Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit, Serafina Steer and Alasdair Roberts.