10 Questions: Songs of Friendship's James Rowland

News 3 Mar 2020

Writer and performer, James Rowland, tells us about his award-winning trilogy of plays Songs of Friendship, reminds us all to be kind, and shares his love of Bruce Springsteen as part of our 10 Questions.

Image: Rosie Collins

1. What compels you as a writer and performer?

Ha, straight in swinging with a big one... authenticity is really important to me as is generosity. Shows should be for the people who watch them not the people who have made them.

2. Can you tell us a bit about each play in the trilogy and the themes they explore?

Team Viking is about my childhood friend Tom dying of heart cancer then myself and our other best friend Sarah giving him a Viking Burial.

A Hundred Different Words for Love is about Sarah getting engaged and married and a relationship that I had during that time.

Revelationsis about Sarah and her wife deciding to start a family and asking me to be the sperm donor.

So death, love and new life are the big themes but I try to find time to talk about language, animals, truth in art, friendship, religion and McDonald's. It’s quite hard to condense four years work and three hour-long shows into a palatable paragraph!

Image: Rosie Collins

3. What’s it like to create work based on your real experiences – what are the challenges and benefits?

I think it’s impossible to make drama (or comedy) based on anything else. Even if those real experiences are researching something that you want to write.

At a base level, all art is indivisible from its creator... there will always be an interplay between the imaginary and the real in any piece of work. I think it’s really important to remember that however true a story is, talking about it or replicating something on stage is not the same as that thing happening again (thank goodness). The other beautiful side of that is that if a story is made up it doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

4. The play is a mix of stand-up, live music and theatre. Can you tell us how these three elements will come together on stage?

Well, I've never self-identified as a stand-up but people do laugh with me (and at me) in the shows! I suppose that a combination of influences (Stewart Lee, Terry Pratchett and Carrie Fisher are big ones) and inspirational friends along with an eclectic load of experiences have thrown me into the particular mix I have.

Image: Rosie Collins

5. What are you looking forward to most about bringing the show to the Traverse?

As always, it's a joy to share the stories with people, having performed them more than three hundred times! It’s audiences that make it work I love. Also just being back in Edinburgh. It’s a wonderful place and I love it.

6. What are your favourite Edinburgh haunts?

Apologies to vegans and veggies, but I love Wings, I love it so much. I also love the Captains Bar and the Royal Oak... and loads of places. I also get to see some great pals while I'm here too - love you, buddies.

7. How do you want audiences to feel having watched the show?

Like it has been worth their while to part with some money and a fragment of precious time to share a room with thoughts and feelings that I help them have.

Image: Rosie Collins

8. There might be a hundred different words for love, but can you describe the Songs of Friendship trilogy in just three?

Love. Friends. Emotions.

9. What are your favourite songs about friendship?

Holy crap I’ve never thought of this before...

I guess you have songs that you share with people rather than songs that are about that stuff but now I think about it there are loads. So I’ll just name the first three I thought of: Steal Smoked Fish by the Mountain Goats, Free Pizza for Life by Ghost Mice and Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out by Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.

Incidentally, I’m a massive Bruce fan and about six months after I named the trilogy Songs of Friendship Springsteen released an album with the same name so it’s nice to know the admiration is mutual.

10. What’s the best piece of advice you think you’ve been given, either as a writer or performer?

Be kind and if you can’t be kind be nice.

James' Songs of Friendship trilogy including Team Viking, A Hundred Different Words for Love and Revelations comes to the Traverse Wed 11 - Sat 14 Mar.