Beggar in the Heights formed in early 2018, when a series of incidental meetings brought a group of Glasgow-based musicians together. The ensemble features nine members, many of whom are multi-instrumentalists – their large, intricate arrangements create an atmosphere of ubiquitous intensity. By taking an exploratory approach to their compositions, the group has worked hard to develop their music. Their passion for sound is evident in their most recent release, ‘Farewell to the Land’, a song that unfolds with elegance and sentiment while still evoking a certain narrative tension. Their live shows are no exception, and they have performed at venues across Scotland, including two slots at Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, a sold-out show at The Flying Duck in Glasgow, and a support slot with Japanese experimental acts, Vampillia & VMO. In 2019, Beggar in the Heights headlined an underground show at an unnamed art gallery in London, where they also recorded a body of work for an album to be released in the coming months. Their talent and potential have already been recognised by two funding bodies – they have received grants from both the Nurturing Talent - Time to Shine Fund and the Moray Arts Centre.
Fundamentally, they remain artists interested in developing their own sound, and as such, it is difficult to confine Beggar in the Heights to a singular genre. Founding member of anam creative, Michiel Turner, talks to Jacob Reid, lead member of Beggar in the Heights, about his nascent projects and creative processes, and what spurred his desire to be involved with the collective.
MT: Can you tell us a little bit about your group?
JR: Hmm...Beggars is, eclectic? I’m not really sure. We started about three years back and our goal has always been to make music which we think is both engaging and experimental. I think we all like stuff that reaches a larger audience but has other things going for it. Our definition of what that is changes. I think it's like singing along the choruses but feeling slightly unsettled and anxious about it, or dancing along to a beat but feeling a bit confused about the rhythm. I’m singing on this next record, which might help to hook more people in. I’m also glad that I’ve got all of my band members around me supporting me in this. Beggars is nothing without them.
MT: How are you adapting as a band to lockdown restrictions?
JR: Well the main thing we’ve done is record this second record up in the rural Scottish countryside for a few weeks, and when we did that it was the only point we could [record] safely/legally between lockdowns. We usually have a bit of a rhythm to doing things, where there’s a lot of slow build-up to something and then a big thing happens, like recording in London, or up north. After that, things need time to settle and recoup and that’s when a lot of the idle work happens, so it's okay at the moment, but I miss rehearsing with each other and being in a room with drummers.
'Farewell to the Land', artwork by Jenna Fraser
MT: What were your inspirations for this track?
JR: Don’t know! Just came about from trying to change something bad to something good… the song feels youthful to me, and like breaking shit or revving a car engine too much.
MT: What was your process in creating the music?
JR: If I was to relate it to my solo music, which is music that could only be made by myself on a laptop, Beggars is music that I can only make playing with other people in a room, collaboratively. Every time we make something, its got this iterative rhythm to it, like this process of slowly eking a song out. I've noticed that we work best when we only have a vague idea of what we’re doing, and then a deadline or a focus of some kind to get it finished. A lot of the time, when we start with a song, I might have an idea for a part or structure, but the song itself is really vague, even though I’ve got an idea of its essence. How we reach that essence, which could be through any means really, is always up in the air, and usually where I find myself to be wrong about things ha. Most of the good things about our songs are things that we didn’t anticipate or are mistakes, so we need to let something be bad, or messy before it can be good most of the time, but through that not losing sense of essence as to what the song's trying to be.
MT: What are your plans for the future?
JR: To make this second album as good as we can make it, and play as many gigs as we can because that makes it all worth it… and to make this sustainable. I’m sometimes uneasy about saying I wanna earn money from things, cuz people get the wrong idea, but that’s it! I think we all wanna do this for the rest of our lives, as much as possible, playing all over the place, and that means earning money from it. Just keep moving forward, not staying still.
MT: Jacob, what is your involvement with anam creative?
JR: I’ve been involved as a collaborator and as a musician for the first project we did, where we were just beginning and figuring things out. I had to create a reharmonisation for a vocal melody, which isn’t a way I usually work! it’s been good being part of the core group of things, it feels as though everyone involved is moving as a unit, working towards the same thing. At the minute, I think I’m known more for making weird sounds and strange songs, but I really want to start contributing my abilities as a songwriter and lyricist, as part of our collaborative tune-making.
MT: How has anam creative supported you in your own development?
JR: Collaborating during this year I think! I’m not making any new music with Beggars at the moment as we need to be in a room together. We’re also still working on the second album which is a lot more mixing and editing. My own stuff is very isolating to make sometimes. So through this, engaging with a whole other group of musicians, with goals to make music, it’s really great. Learning about whole new forms of musicianship and musicality, as well as new ways of collaborating. Especially because it's such a varied group of people. I’m excited to see what we’ll make and where this will go.
Members of Beggar in the Heights include:
Jacob Reid - Guitar / Other
Sam Welch - Engineering / Production
Marco Gianturco - Guitar
Kyle Hood - Guitar
Liam Brown - Bass
Ali Baillie - Clarinet / Piano
Stephen Buggy - Drums
Lewis Ross - Drums / Percussion
Lambert Segura - Violin