I always play music when I’m writing. To work in silence feels rather bleak and lonely, and I’m distracted more easily and keep wandering off to stuff food in my mouth or tackle non-essential chores. I need music that’ll keep me rooted to my seat, at my desk.
I play a wide variety - a mix of vinyl, CDs or my Spotify playlists. I enjoy radio when I’m not working (I love Craig Charles’s Funk and Soul Show on 6 Music) but find the talking bits too distracting if I’m trying to write. Weirdly, the background chatter in cafes doesn't bother me at all. You get to know yourself, what distracts you and the kind of environment that’s most conducive to a few hours of steady writing.
Most the time I want fairly unobtrusive music to create a nice, mellow feeling; songs that meander along in the background. But now and again I need something to shake me up and give me big kick up the rear.
My favourites change all the time but these were my top tracks during the writing of The Little Bakery on Rosemary Lane…
On A Clear Day You Can See Forever - The Peddlers
I first heard this in an episode of Breaking Bad, which my whole family was obsessed with. It was used in a cooking up crystal meth scene in some secret basement lab. I love the croony vocals and the groovy organ. So cheesy it’s cool!
Happy - Pharrell Williams
When I’m writing I can become quite stressed and wound up, convinced that what I’m doing is rubbish. An buoyant and uplifting track like this helps to convince me that everything will be okay, if I can just hammer on through all the self-doubt!
It’s A Shame - The Spinners
I’m a soul and disco lover really, and this track shakes off the writing-induced cobwebs and makes me smile.
Let’s Stay Together - Al Green
I just love Al. I saw him perform in Glasgow a few years ago, and as soon as he started singing, tears were pouring down my face. That has never happened to me at any other concert. Al just has it.
Groovin’ - The Young Rascals
A lovely summery track that evokes images of picnics and drifting along on river boats. It has a gorgeous, chilled vibe that makes me believe that everything will work out in the end - and chapter 32 will get written.
Stoned Love - The Supremes
Quite simply the best Supremes track, in my opinion!
Sugar Man - Rodriguez
If you love Bob Dylan you’ll like Rodriguez too. I’d never heard of him until I saw the brilliant documentary about him, called Sugar Man. It revealed how he had an enormous following in South Africa - yet, as he scraped a living as demolition worker in Detroit, he simply had no idea that he was so revered and loved. I was lucky to see him perform in Glasgow a couple of years ago. He was quite frail but his voice and presence were still incredible.
Tears Dry On Their Own - Amy Winehouse
My favourite Amy track by a mile.
Yeh Yeh - Georgie Fame
As a teenager, living on the west coast of Scotland, I was obsessed with the mod revival movement of the late seventies. We loved Stax, Motown, the Small Faces, the Stones and the Kinks - 60s R&B and pop really. I backcombed my hair and bought my ski pants and skinny rib polo neck sweaters from The Barras market in Glasgow. A bunch of us used to go to an under-18s mod club in Glasgow called The Scene, where this was played regularly and had everyone up on the floor.
Each And Every One - Everything But The Girl
This is from the album Eden, and if there’s one record that evokes my bedsit and flat-sharing years in Dundee, this is it. I thought Tracey Thorn was the epitome of cool and loved her melancholy voice and strange, slightly off-kilter glamour. Her debut solo album, A Distant Shore, was brilliant too.
Everybody’s Talkin’ - Harry Nilsson
If I had to pick one track, this would be it - the title music from the film Midnight Cowboy. Whenever I play it the young Dustin Hoffman shimmers into my mind.
English Rose - The Jam
Paul Weller was my first pop star crush. He might have a penchant for slightly worrying belted knitwear now, but giving this a listen still propels me back to my teenage bedroom, in a good way.
Across 110th Street - Bobby Womack
I love pretty much everything Bobby Womack has ever done, but this in particular - used brilliantly for the opening sequence of the Tarantino film, Jackie Brown. On holiday in New York last summer, I had to have my photo taken grinning beneath the 110th Street sign, because I am an idiot.
Get Lucky - Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams
One of those sure-fire, shake off the doldrums tracks. Without songs like this I’d be sitting there, wracked with self-doubt and staring at a blank screen, forever.