Pete Townshend and The Bookshop Band collaborate on album inspired by books

The Bookshop Band


Pete Townshend has produced a fabulous new album by The Bookshop Band, and plays a variety of instruments on all the songs!

Emerge, Return is a collection of 13 well crafted tracks written and performed by English folk duo Beth Porter and Ben Please, who compose songs inspired by books. The album was recorded at Pete's Upper Woody Studios, and is slated to be released on 28 June, 2024, during Independent Booksellers' Week.

The Bookshop Band's first single Sanctuary came out last week (14 May) and is available to stream at the usual places. A couple more singles are planned to be released before the album release; Eve In Your Garden is coming out on 5 June (inspired by Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments) and Dirty Word on 19 June (inspired by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World).

Sanctuary was inspired by Philip Pullman’s The Book Of Dust: La Belle Sauvage. It is a gorgeous song with evocative lyrics, lovely vocal harmonies, and stunning acoustic instrumentation by Beth and Ben on cello and ukulele. Pete adds wonderful textures to the piece with his vintage Yamaha EX-1 synth and Hammond organs, percussion and bass. It sounds fantastic, and there is a great new video that shows them recording with Pete in his studio!



The Bookshop Band first met Pete at his home studio in 2018, when Beth was recording a cello session that Pete was producing for his friend, singer-songwriter Reg Meuross. It was the inaugural recording session in the newly completed studio. They spent a few days at a lodge on Pete's country estate after the sessions, writing a series of songs inspired by the counter culture Oz Magazine from the 60s that they were commissioned to compose by the V&A Museum in London. Beth and Ben later sent Pete a box-set of their CDs to thank him for letting them use his lodge.

Pete admired the quality of the music and – as a former bookshop owner himself – that their work is inspired by literature. He said, “I listened to the CDs in my car as I was travelling. I was blown away, completely blown away. I got into the whole Bookshop Band technique, which is just two people making this sound like a symphony orchestra. It's quite extraordinary. Each song was special in its own way. So, I reached out.”

Pete sent them his thoughts about the songs in a letter. "I am enchanted with them. Such variation and delicacy, but such latent power as well, really great work. It reminds me of my days listening to Sandy Denny and Fairport, and The Incredible String Band back in the mid sixties – a great discovery, and inspiration."

Since the Oz songs were written there and they were looking for a producer, they asked Pete if he would be up for recording them at his studio. They were thrilled when Pete told him he would love to, and offered to produce a whole album for them!

The first recording sessions took place at Pete's studio in March, 2019. Not only did Pete produce the songs, along with his engineer Myles Clarke, he also played a variety of instruments on the tracks. The studio is full of Pete’s fantastic collection of vintage synthesisers and organs, so he experimented with adding tracks using classic keyboards such as his Lowrey organ and Yamaha EX1 synth. Pete also recorded bass, harmonica, and various percussion instruments.

Ben said: “It's been a rollercoaster working with Pete Townshend, really exciting and not something we could ever have predicted happening. He brought his great musicality and experience to the recording process, doing things we'd never have thought of ourselves, offering a different perspective on the songs. That’s the value of working with a great producer. And the fact that he ended up playing on every track added an extra dimension – I think that fans will hear his influence woven right the way through the album.”

Hear more about working with Pete in this new podcast of The Bookshop Band in conversation with Pete Townshend!


The Bookshop Band

The Bookshop Band


To summarize the album, Ben said: "Emerge, Return embodies the emotional response of two songwriters, inspired and triggered by the books they have read. It is perhaps the darkest of the band's 14 albums, dragging us deep underground, via Robert Macfarlane's Underland, navigating the turbulent waters of Philip Pullman's The Book Of Dust, and beating a path through the oppression of mind and body in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and Margaret Atwood's The Testaments. A yearning for a home, carried by Carol Birch's Orphans of the Carnival, Yann Martel's The High Mountains of Portugal, and The Vanishing Hours by Barney Norris, bracing the wild elements of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Before a resurfacing back to a literal home of Wigtown, courtesy of Shaun Bythell's The Diary of a Bookseller. The songs are a inseparable synergy between the story and the person reading it, as much guided by the personal journey of the band, alongside the book that inspired each one."

Everyone who worked on Emerge, Return should be very proud. The songs are incredibly powerful, and the whole album is superb. You can tell a lot of heart and soul went into these recordings. Fans of Pete Townshend should definitely check it out!

Congratulations to The Bookshop Band and Pete Townshend for such an amazing release!


Pre-order the album at:

Pre-save a listening link for the new album when it comes out:

There are also special limited editions of vinyl and test pressings signed by Pete Townshend and the band available at:


Many thanks to The Bookshop Band for providing all the great photos, quotes, and information!

To see more photos from the recording sessions, check out our 2019 article.


The Bookshop Band

The Bookshop Band


A few words from Pete Townshend to The Bookshop Band.

"When I realised that these songs were about books and were rooted in books, were testaments to books, and essays and reflections and reactions and responses to stories - this is story upon story upon story. What was actually happening was a poetic response by Ben & Beth to what was, in some cases, poetic writing. That is what's so extraordinary about what you do.

The musical side - it's good to be able to feel I can say all this without it being a puff - I really do love what you do and I wouldn't have produced the work had I not loved it. But the fact that when I did start to look deeply into what the songs were about, what I found was the most incredible substance. And intelligence and creativity and humanity and sensibility and kindness, but also darkness, sometimes quite scary darkness. So it's very, very, very rich stuff. Make sure you put the lyrics in the CD's. I think that's because once I saw the lyrics I started to realise, Wow, these guys are terrific wordsmiths and lyricists and poets, as well as wonderful musicians.

What was interesting for me, when I heard the first CD’s, and when we started to exchange a few notes, was the idea that all these songs had been born out of a bookshop experience. For most artists, an event like this is one of the most nerve wracking. If you're a performer in a small audience where you can you can see every twizzle of every face, if you're like me and you can lip-read, you can actually see what people are saying to their friends. So in a way the intimacy of the experience is something valid too. One hopes that The Bookshop Band can go on to play The Sphere in Las Vegas to transport you to this intimate space. It's a possibility, I would like to think. You can imagine saying to the brilliant designer Es Devlin, “Come up with something that is equal to this incredible music. Come up with something visual that is equal to what I hear and I feel when I hear this music. You must hear the songs if you haven't heard them, they're just astounding. Really wonderful."

Pete Townshend


The Bookshop Band

The Bookshop Band


About The Bookshop Band

The Bookshop Band was formed in Beth Porter and Ben Please's former home city of Bath in 2010, as a collaboration between a group of musicians and local indie bookshop, Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights. The bookshop photoshoot for the album took place at Mr B’s in Bath.

The band, which has worked with many celebrated authors, plays gigs in small bookshops across the UK, USA and Europe. It is much admired among writers, with best-sellers such as Kate Mosse (The Ghost Ship) specifically asking them to write songs for the book launches.

Beth and Ben bring the books to the stage along with a multitude of instruments, including cello, harmonium, glockenspiel, guitars and ukuleles which, along with their distinct voices, create a cinematic sound that draws the audience right in to a highly intimate performance, at once touching and mesmerizing, heart wrenching and funny. No previous knowledge of the books is required as the band guide the audience through the stories behind each song’s inspiration.

They have existed largely off-grid, occupying a creative space between the music and book worlds. Their approach is to read books, respond by writing a song, then bring the work to new audiences by performing in (mostly independent) bookshops.

They have previously recorded 13 albums, which have been sold at gigs and online. Emerge, Return will be their first wider, commercial release.

The duo now live in Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book Town, where they are important contributors to the well-known annual book festival.


The Bookshop Band


Emerge, Return concert tour

The Bookshop Band will support the release of Emerge, Return with a 70-date UK tour, mostly in indie bookshops.

Beth said: “Ben and I are really excited to be touring this album. Playing these songs live and getting to share stories in bookshops is what this band is all about.”

Here's a list of tour dates. Check them out if they are playing at a bookshop or venue near you!


The Bookshop Band

The Bookshop Band


About the cover art

The cover is taken from a series of paintings in Stanley Donwood’s Modern Landscapes exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery and was given to the band to use.

Stanley said: “These colourful sacred landscapes are based on hybrid cartographical and topological forms exploring the ancient landscapes that surround mysterious sites such as Stonehenge, Wayland’s Smithy and the Cerne Abbas Giant, amongst many others. These are not mystical, new age depictions as such but rather brash, bold colour field interpretations showing centuries old field boundaries, trackways and paths.”

Ben says: “The album title, Emerge, Return is from a lyric in the song inspired by Robert Macfarlane's Underland, whose cover Stanley Donwood had also created. The synchronicity of that, as well as the oppressive overtones of the bold red drips rising from the landscape, fitted the mood of the album perfectly.”


The Bookshop Band


Books that inspired the songs


The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood.

The band shared a stage with her in Albuquerque in 2019 and wrote the song for her book launch tour in Canada.

Margaret Atwood said: “The band are great. If I had a bookshop, I’d stock all their albums.”



The Book Of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman (David Fickling Books & Penguin).

The two songs were written for the book's launch at The Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Beth says: “When we read the book Molly was the same age as the main character, Lyra. I was feeding Molly while reading, and it felt like we were in sync. Malcolm, a young boy whose parents own a pub on the Thames near Oxford, has a boat called ‘La Belle Sauvage’ that he rows up and down the river. It comes into its own when the waters start rising and Malcom is forced to take on two more passengers, as they search for safety.”



The Vanishing Hours, by Barney Norris (Transworld).

Performed for the first time to the author and book at his Mr B’s Emporium event.

Ben says: “It’s a meeting of two strangers and a recounting of a life story. Of a man who craves the breadth of experience of life, who moves from one life to another, inhabiting countless stories, never abating in his pursuit of success and vitality, but feeling at the end as if he were a stone that only skimmed the surface of the water, touching so many places but never sinking any deeper.”



Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (Vintage).

Written for a concert at The V&A, as part of their Censored and Banned Books season, celebrating 50 years since the Theatres Act 1968 which abolished censorship in UK theatre.



Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë & Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (Penguin Classics).

Written in response to the Brontë exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Beth says: “We were travelling at the time, and I had a lovely old copy of Jane Eyre. Unfortunately, mid-way through reading, I accidentally left this copy under a pillow in the bedroom of somewhere we’d been staying before travelling on. I bought a new copy the next day. It made me realise how attached you can become to a particular edition. The typeface was different, it felt different, it even smelled different! I managed to track down a similar edition to the first a few days later and finished the book. It’s up there with the best things that I have ever read. I went on to read Wuthering Heights, which again drew me into their landscape and place, and the song became an inevitable entanglement of the two.”



The Diary of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell (Profile Books).

The band’s way of embellishing a story, after Shaun included the band in a diary entry for his book, which they felt was a bit too short.

Shaun Bythell says: “Time listening to The Bookshop Band is always time well spent - wit, wisdom and extraordinary musical talent shine through in every track. Particularly the one about me.”



The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel (Canongate).

Written for the author's event at Mr B’s Emporium.

Beth says: “This is one of the most surreal books I have ever read. It has three stories over different time periods, with new characters, but each with an emerging sense of something that binds them.”



The Orphans of the Carnival, by Carol Birch (Canongate).

Written for the author's event at Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights.

Beth says: “The last event we did at Mr B’s Emporium before we moved from Somerset was for Carol Birch’s book Orphans of the Carnival, based on the real life of Julia Pastrana, a Mexican woman who was born with hair all over her body. She was an orphan at birth, raised by another family and soon drawn to a life in the circus. Despite her talents as a musician and dancer, she found herself part of the ‘freak’ show. Julia travelled everywhere. She was never allowed to show her face in public, for fear of undermining ticket sales for the show, and so was veiled everywhere she went. She suffered cruel words and treatment, yet became a very popular attraction in her own right. In the book she dreams of what it might be like to lead a normal life, settle down and maybe even have a child of her own. When we were reading this book, I had just found out that I was pregnant. We had just moved out of our home and were not sure where we would live next. I was drawing parallels to the life on the road, performing concerts but not always getting to explore the town we were playing in. I was wondering how having children would affect our future. Settling down might lose the crowd, but I’m ready for a change.”


The Bookshop Band