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Behind the doors: Bertie Anderson on composing (and family life)

Bertie is a multi-instrumentalist (viola, piano & voice), composer, producer and member of the anarchic theatrical string quartet Bowjangles,

who are currently touring the UK with the hilarious comedy stage show Dracula in Space.

Bertie talked to us about her creative process and the challenges it can present to a working mum:

"Inspiration can come at any time in any form. Sometimes it will be a word or phrase or a snippet of melody and it might take time and work to find the whole song. On my phone I have a note page filled with phrases and words and ideas and hundreds of voice recordings of me humming melodies. I have used ideas from 20 years ago that finally find their place in a song!

Sometimes a song will come in one big rush. In those cases it will consume me and it’s all I can think about until it’s out of me. It sometimes feels like I am the conduit, channeling the music from who knows where through me and into the world. Midwinter was one of those songs. I had been working on a couple of very different Christmas songs which were proving to be ‘ hard work songs’ then out of the blue this melody hit me with the word ‘midwinter’ and I couldn’t let it rest until it was finished so I was a very distracted mum for a few days! I go into hyper focus mode when writing, it’s like I go into a soundproofed room in my head and it can happen at any time. My kids are becoming more aware of it, my 6 year old daughter says she can tell from the look on my face, my 3 year old just shouts at me!! It’s also when I often burn food even when standing a foot away from the cooker...

I’ve used composing and writing songs as a sort of therapy for many years now. Difficult emotions or unsettling thoughts running round my head when turned into lyric and music lose some of their power over me and when turned into verse and melody it helps me process it and move on.

I think Midwinter was in part a reaction to the news coming out of Cop26. Also since moving out of London to North Norfolk, living on a cliff top so close to the sea I have become so much more aware of the weather, the seasons and the Earth and sea. Christmas songs are so often about people and all that human stuff whereas I felt inspired to write something about the land and the time of rest and sleep before the spring. The beauty of the cold hard earth and the hope it holds.

Of course this is all the internal part of composing and creating. When it comes down to the physical aspect of rehearsing and recording and filming its a whole different thing especially when you factor in children and dogs and the TV. In this footage I was working on the song to get it ready to record and was trying desperately to not be distracted…! I have been known to film many of my films in the middle of the night to avoid interruptions!

With Midwinter I ended up deciding to create something a bit different. Like last years Good Matches I wanted to make an animated film. It was my Dad who offered up a bag full of Christmas cards that he’d kept hold of over the years..."


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