SongWriter: David Gilmour and Polly Samson Interview

SongWriter is a podcast of stories and “answer songs” featuring Amanda Shires, Joyce Carol Oates, Mary Gauthier, Roxane Gay, Toshi Reagon, and Michael Ian Black.

Songwriters Polly Samson and David Gilmour wrote a song in response to Polly’s bestselling novel, A Theater for Dreamers. Below is an edited version of my conversation with Polly and David about their work.

Ben Arthur: David, you’ve been collaborating with Polly for more than 25 years, ever since she began writing lyrics for Pink Floyd on The Division Bell. Was writing your recent release, “Yes, I Have Ghosts,” different because the song was related to her novel, or is it more or less the same?

David Gilmour: It was really just another collaboration. It’s such a treat to just quietly sit at home and go through these things together, and bounce ideas…for all these years it’s been an absolute joy. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what we have done together, and what she has done for me.

BA: Polly, you were inspired to write “Yes, I Have Ghosts” when you heard one of your characters, Charmian Clift, actually speak that line in your mind. How did that come about?

Polly Samson: This novel is written from the point of view of a character called Erika, who’s 18 years-old, so a lot of the time I walk around as this character, trying to see everything through her eyes. We were in the cemetery and I was having – I suppose it’s a sort of play-through of what I am going to write – and I had Erika turn to Charmian and say “Do you believe in ghosts?” And it was a voice in my ear that said, “Yes I have ghosts, not all of them dead.” And it just made the hairs prickle on the back of my neck.

BA: And what did that mean to you?

PS: All of us have these hauntings by people who are not dead. It’s those rifts where you haven’t wanted someone to disappear and they have. I think that happens when you’ve had your heart broken, and a relationship has ended. I just thought, everyone’s got this. Everyone is haunted by someone and they’re not dead. I can remember telling David, “I’ve got this line, and I can’t wait to write this lyric!”

BA: Leonard Cohen lived on Hydra during the period when the novel is set, and he is one of the characters in the book. Listening to “Yes I Have Ghosts” I could imagine drawing a number of connections between the song and Leonard Cohen’s work – David sings in a Cohen-esque baritone, the song is in ¾, like “Bird on a Wire” and “Hallelujah” – was any of that an intentional reference, or is my mind making connections where they aren’t?

DG: I’m finding that my lower register, singing-wise, suits me better these days – you know, I’m not the young nightingale I was once. So you have to play to your strengths. As you mention, the ¾ thing, I would say as many of the songs that I have written over the years are in ¾ as Leonard’s were. There’s something about the ¾ time signature that appeals to my heart.

BA: The song is not only a collaboration between you two, but also with your daughter Romany, who plays harp and sings. How did she end up working with you?

DG: We went into lockdown and we hadn’t nailed it yet, and so we begged Romany to come in and have a go at it. Her voice and mine do seem to merge beautifully together. It makes such a difference, it gives it such a lift. The harp on it was recorded in this room on a day much more windy than today. I don’t know if you’ve heard any of the wind but this barn rattles. When you solo the sound of the harp on the track, it’s awful. I have got to get her to do it again before it comes out on some album or another.

You can hear Polly Samson read an excerpt from A Theater for Dreamers and the song that Polly and David Gilmour wrote in response on the newest episode of SongWriter. You can also hear a song Ben Arthur in response to the book called “The Beauty, the Sound” and you can follow him @MyHeart on Twitter.

Photo by Sarah M Lee.

Keith Rosson + Antje Duvekot SongWriter

Author and artist Keith Rosson reads his story, "Forgive Me This," and songwriter Antje Duvekot plays her song written in response, "Lottery Ticket." Keith, who has done covers for Green Day and the Goo Goo Dolls, talks about his design and art work, and how his partial blindness informs his approach. Antje talks about her strained relationship with her father, and describes the inspiration for her "confessional" song.
  1. Keith Rosson + Antje Duvekot
  2. Jeremy Welch + Maia Sharp
  3. George Saunders + Ben Arthur (Part 1)
  4. George Saunders + Amanda Shires (Part 2)
  5. Polly Samson + David Gilmour

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