‘The play is memory. Being a memory play it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic. In memory everything seems to happen to music (that explains the fiddle in the wings).’ So explains narrator, Tom Winfield, in his monologue at the beginning of Tennessee Williams’ ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ We went through, as a family, to see it at The Festival last night and I was caught up again in that great story of a writer trying to make sense of his past and realising that, despite his best efforts, he can neither return or completely leave the memory behind. Thirty Five years on from when I first encountered the play I was moved to tears last night of the depiction of the Laura, based on Williams own younger sister, too frightened of life to fully engage; lost in her own private world and the fragility of her glass animals.
A wise, good friend of mine told me that our deepest spiritual experiences happen within our childhood. Quite a discomfiting thought for some people on the life long soul search. It’s no surprise therefore that all writers return to childhood in some way to make sense of their own lives. This week’s very special Another Country celebrates all of that in a unique two hour celebration of a very real new talent.
Sturgill Simpson’s current album, ‘A Sailor’s Guide to Earth’ is a beautiful long love letter to his young son. In all that imagining of a young life however there is inevitably a sense in which the artist uses his own memories and instincts to project his hopes and fears for his young lad:
Oh, and everything is not what it seems
This life is but a dream
Shatter illusions that hold your spirit down
Open up your heart and you’ll find love all around
Breathing and moving are healing
And soothing away
All the pain in life holding you down
What makes Sturgill so interesting to us that his career is on one level a classic country story and on another a complete counterpoint to everything held true by Music Row. Despite now being on a major record label, all of Sturgill’s career has been based around his own musical instincts. Rejecting the advice of the moguls on Nashville’s 16th Avenue he brought out two of his own albums within a year and within a very short time was touring to such a successful level that the music business was struggling to keep up.
We were lucky to catch on to what Sturgill was doing very early on and he recorded his first ever UK radio session with the AC. We’ve kept faith with him over these few short years and he’s been good enough to keep coming back to see us. Recently we recorded a fascinating conversation with him in the dressing room of his Glasgow ABC show. Reflecting on the birth of his son, his recent chart topping success and his short lived but deep friendship with the late Merle Haggard he gave us a brilliant insight into his current thinking.
For me it was real joy seeing the development of such a great talent and knowing our instincts hadn’t been wrong. It was also life-affirming to know that people can become so successful and still be as natural, warm, engaging and funny as the day you first met them.
Later that evening as Sturgill was in the middle of one of the gigs of the year in that same venue my producer Richard Murdoch turned to me and said, ‘I think I have a brilliant idea.’ He did and it was.
On this Tuesday’s Another Country you can hear that idea in full. Three years worth of conversations with Sturgill Simpson and all the songs he’s recorded in session for us (solo and with his band) in that short time. In between we celebrate the music that inspired this Kentucky troubadour and the music he’s still listening to. It will be a remarkable two hours all based around the talent of a remarkable artist. Join me if you can this Tuesday from five past nine on BBC Radio Scotland.