is a podcast of stories and “answer songs,” featuring performances by Roxane Gay, David Gilmour, Susan Orlean, Joyce Carol Oates and Amanda Shires. You can hear an exclusive preview of next week’s episode featuring Polly Samson and David Gilmour only at Paste.
Bestselling author Polly Samson and her husband, the musician David Gilmour, have been collaborating for more than 25 years. This started when Samson contributed lyrics to Pink Floyd’s 1994 album, The Division Bell. Their most recent collaboration was on Samson’s historical novel, A Theater for Dreamers, about a young woman’s time on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s.
“I love Greece, so it was an easy decision to go to Greece when I finished my last novel,” Samson says. “And then while we were there I read this long-out-of-print novel by a long-forgotten writer called Charmian Clift … and that just switched something on, and I was straight into research.”
Gilmour was taken with the story as well, and contributed to the research for the novel. The artistic community on Hydra in the 1960s was documented by an extraordinary group of photographers, writers and musicians, including a young Leonard Cohen.
“These lovely search engines that one goes onto,” Gilmour says, “They lead you down all these strange little alleys … we just pulled together all the stuff we found in all the different alleyways we slipped down.”
As well as research, Gilmour recorded the audiobook of the novel, and wrote and recorded brand new music to act as a sort of soundtrack.
“I just listened to the book as the audiobook progressed and tried to find little bits—at the end of chapters, mostly—that would inspire something,” Gilmour says. “These things happen in a very strange way. They just pop into your head.”
Something like this happened with Samson the day she came up with the idea for “Yes I Have Ghosts.” The song was inspired by a line that she heard one character saying to another as she rehearsed what she would write.
“We were in the cemetery, and I was having a sort of playthrough of what I’m going to write. And I had Erika turn to Charmian and say, ‘Do you believe in ghosts?’ And it was a voice in my ear that said, ‘Yes, I have ghosts, not all of them dead,’” Samson says. “It just made the hairs prickle on the back of my neck.”
The song is not only a collaboration between Gilmour and Samson, but also with their daughter, Romany.
“We went into lockdown, and we hadn’t nailed it yet, and so we begged Romany to come in and have a go at it,” Gilmour says. “Her voice and mine do seem to merge beautifully together. It gives it such a lift.”
Ben Arthur is the creator and host of SongWriter. You can follow him @MyHeart and hear a song that he wrote in response to A Theater for Dreamers, “The Beauty, the Sound.”