Beth Orton, Brit Award winner and twice Mercury Music Prize nominee, was in a bad place.

As the first lockdown hit she was dropped by her record label, and was unable to tour, with husband Sam Abidon, a fellow musician, in the same boat.

They were, Orton admits, unsure how they'd keep paying the mortgage. The solution? The 51-year-old took out a bank loan. Not to cover pandemic costs but to work on her eighth album, Weather Alive, which was released last month to rave reviews.

She tells The Herald: "I essentially started writing the songs for this record in December 2017.

"It was very spare, very piano-led, which is something I’ve never done before and I decided I’d make a piano record.

“That was the first step but at the time I was about to go in and work with a producer, then lockdown hit and that couldn’t happen.

"Gradually, as the lockdown went on, I had done three days’ recording with the three musicians - Tom Skinner, Tom Herbert and Sam Best - and at that point the label I was with just let a lot of people go, and I was one of them.

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“That was really brutal because my husband had lost all his work during the lockdown as so many musicians and venues had, so many artists generally.

“It’s funny, because that’s what kept everyone going throughout the lockdown – literature, film, definitely music, definitely books.

“So it got to the point where I just felt so broken down by the whole situation, it was so brutal, so I took the very last of the advance they’d given and got a loan out from the bank and just decided to finish the record.

"Honestly I did it because if I didn’t I didn’t know what I’d do with myself, I was just up against the wall with it and I felt the other option would be just to give in and I didn’t want to do that. I just couldn’t give in, it was too depressing.

"Look at what happened during the lockdown, look at all the artists who were just hung out to dry. We knew so many people who were just screwed, who just couldn’t carry on making music, couldn’t carry on doing the thing they loved but all the time they were being listened to – like I say, that’s what got everyone through.

“I think as a woman, as a mother, I’d been out of the game and people just think you’re done, right? They think you’re a certain age and that’s it. And as a woman especially, quite honestly.

“I wasn’t trying to prove anything, it wasn’t an ego move. I love what I do, I love my work. There is dignity in this work.

“It’s funny because I live in this area in London that’s a bit la-di-da and my neighbours didn’t give a toss. They were doing their home working throughout the whole thing, just piling it on.

"It started out as a pandemic that everyone was part of, it was this global situation that’s so rare, and it ended up being us vs them as usual.

“It was brutal to live right next door to that kind of selfishness, but I just had to put my head down, find my space, find my atmosphere and luckily I’ve got a shed at the end of the garden I could relocate to.

“It was cold but it was brilliant, my piano was out there and I had a little set-up, a UAD, a little interface, I had my laptop, a good pair of headphones. I just knuckled down and got on with it.

"It was just a really amazing experience that came out of this adversity, quite deep adversity where we weren’t sure we could pay next month’s mortgage.

“So I thought, ‘yeah I’m doing to take the money I do have and put it into a record that doesn’t have a record deal and my husband said, ‘do it’. So I did.

“Then it got picked up by Partisan and that’s my happy ending. They’re an amazing artist-led label and now I’m about to go on tour. So it’s kind of crazy to be honest.”

That sense of isolation pervades the album, with the title track proclaiming "the world calling out to me/But the world out beyond my reach/It almost makes me wanna cry/The weather's so beautiful outside".


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Orton explains: "I hadn’t been well, I felt very disconnected from the world, very disconnected from myself actually. I felt very isolated before the isolation.

“For me the lockdown kind of got rid of that isolation because suddenly everyone was on my time, everything was slow and people were all living a similar experience to what I’d had.

“It became something else at that point, we were all made witness to the seasons and how beautiful that first spring was.

“I think it was universally just beautiful, that March, that April. People were f****** stuck in doors, kids with asthma or whatever stuck in tenements and not allowed to leave your flat – are you f****** kidding me?

“But at the same time I still believe and understand the logic of looking after the most vulnerable first, we should look after the most vulnerable first in every capacity. We should all be thinking about getting rid of the one per cent and thinking about what the people need, what do the most vulnerable in our society need?

“I felt for a minute that the world was a safer place with that logic – though it was quite an extreme version of it to say the least.

“Then I suppose it became about the weather of the music, the weather of the songs came alive and everything was taking on a life of its own.

“Then since then and around that same time you’ve had the extraordinary events we’ve hit up against, the fact the climate crisis is ever-present and you cannot escape it now.

“Nature is going to have the last say, it doesn’t matter what the humans are trying to manifest and shuffle around and keep for themselves. The earth is going to shake us off, and I suppose that became a subject matter too at a certain point.”

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Weather Alive is the first album the singer-songwriter has produced on her own.

Previously she had done ground-breaking work with the late Andrew Weatherall, who passed away aged just 56 in February 2020.

And while the sound of the album may not conjure thoughts of his signature production, the mood is very much inspired by pioneering DJ.

Orton says: "When Andrew died, his funeral was the last thing I went to before the lockdown kicked in and it just really hit me when he died.

“I thought we’d get the chance to finish what we started, I never felt we finished what we started.

“I was going in with this producer and I was like, ‘can we go back and listen to that atmosphere that was created between Andrew and I?’. It kind of confused him, I think, and what I meant wasn’t something literal but it was something Andrew and I did when we worked together that gave space to the songs and gave them a sonic world that expanded the meaning behind them.

“For me it was really, really important and then the label were like, ‘she likes to be remixed, cool, let’s get her remixed because that’s going to bring in the punters’. I never felt like Andrew remixed me, I felt he and I created a space together, created an atmosphere and it was something very new at that moment.

“Obviously there was Portishead, there was Massive Attack, there were loads of people doing incredible music. The 90s was an incredible time. But at the same time what he and I were doing to bring something as vulnerable and fragile and very female-led like I was doing, and he was from such a male world but he just had this openness and expansiveness and working with him was just a dream.

“I was a huge fan of Primal Scream and Screamadelica and his work on that record, that’s how I knew about him.

“When we got together something happened that was of its own making and I think when I went into the record I thought, ‘I can’t copy that, I can’t even try, but what was the feeling? What was the space that was around those songs?’.

“I listened to ‘Galaxy of Emptiness’ or ‘Touch Me With Your Love’ and those songs have stayed in tact, they lived on because they were given the space to.

"On my last record I got involved in the production and the engineering and editing and stuff.

“With this record I didn’t necessarily know if I wanted to do the same thing, I was just aware that if a singer-songwriter does that it can sometimes be a real ego move and I didn’t want it to be an ego move, I didn’t want it to be because I’m trying to prove a point.

"I did also bring in an incredible mixer right at the end called Craig Silvey. I took what I was doing to him and I was pretty well underway with this new process of editing down the musicians, bringing in musicians remotely like my friends from New York.

“I took that to Craig and said, ‘so I guess you’ll probably want to produce this now and finish it?’ and he was like, ‘no, you should finish it’."

The final step, of course, will be playing the new songs live and Orton will perform at Glasgow's Classic Grand on October 13.

Of her return to touring she says: "I’ve just had this little in-store tour and if I can play these songs in HMV in Nottingham, in some shopping mall under strip lighting, I can play them anywhere.

“I think going out and playing them to people is kind of mind-blowing and it’s kind of my most exciting tour, putting together a beautiful band, putting together good people, kind people. It’s important who you have around you.

“I’m excited, you try not to have expectations but I’m just trying to give people as beautiful an experience as I can.”

Beth Orton will perform at Glasgow's Classic Grand on October 13. Tickets are available here.