An influence on making music, and on being a father. It's only beginning to dawn on me just how iconically counter-cultural people like my dad and grandfather are becoming for present and future generations. Their inevitable route through a Scottish working-class manhood, with their pivotal roles as husbands and fathers, must have struck them as fairly mundane and mainstream in their day. The upheavals and disruptions of recent decades have made many of us look again at their taken-for-granted lives, with a strong sense of wistfulness and loss.
We all know now that working-class life has been hit hard in recent decades. First of all, the traditional communities have been disrupted physically by uprooting and dislocation. More potently and toxically, they have been disrupted socially and spiritually by the breakdown in marriage, family life, and through drug and alcohol abuse.
The rest, they say, is history, except that a lot of people have not only been left behind by that history, but have been wasted and trashed by it. Rediscovering the role of the father seems an urgent task. Not as some emotionally remote, powerful patriarch, but as a patient enabler. The first of his tasks is to give space to the beloved, the mother, to build her nest of love. There has been a historical breach which has made a generation lose sight of how that may be done. It will require hard work in building the ideal vision again.
Can a musician contribute to this much-needed counter-revolution? Can artists be weaned off their toxic hedonism to provide new ways of imagining our human condition and its flourishing in a universal sense of the good life? I have no idea.
Nevertheless, something strange happened to me and my long-time collaborator, the poet Michael Symmons Roberts, when we first became fathers in the 1990s. We were overwhelmed at the new experience. No one warns you that you fall head over heels in love with the new arrivals — these tiny, insignificant little bundles — who can do nothing for themselves, but turn your lives inside out. Maybe mothers know about this, but as usual, fathers, perhaps a bit slow on the uptake, are the last to find out. We noticed that there was not much in our culture which reflected on this, or celebrated parenthood, and fatherhood especially. Neither was there much which rejoiced in the family, or marriage or the fullness of human sexuality, other than the usual stuff from popular culture.
We wondered if we could address this vacuum in our own work in some way. It is not the first time that Michael and I have been accused of muscling into territory recently colonised by militant, exclusivist feminism. But you know what? We couldn't have cared less! The result was Quickening, a large oratorio co-commissioned by the BBC Proms and the Philadelphia Orchestra.