By BRUCE DENNILL
Beautiful Creatures co-creator Alan Glass has expanded the menagerie with a new children’s book called Underwater Zoo, co-written with Ed Jordan.
“The premise is that many underwater creatures have animal names – catfish, lionfish, that kind of thing. That’s the theme of a song on the new album, and the wording for the book is the lyrics from that that have been adapted,” says Glass.
“It’s also educational. I have an old friend who taught me to play blues guitar. He also happens to be a marine scientist – Dr Neville Sweijd – and I took him my notes for the album so that he coyld make corrections and give me tips.”
“It was very satisfying to be able to give a credit on a children’s music album to the person who taught me to play blues.”
There’s still more to the learning curve.
“I did research on each creature,” continues Glass.
“I found out what the current conservation status of each animal is – I was involved in planning the opening sequence for the CITES conference last year, so that information was on my radar. With each entry, there’s a paragraph of credited information about each creature. Hopefully this will start changing perceptions about wildlife for young readers.”
That mindset extends beyond the new book.
“There’s a great hook in the song, and I want to get kids to learn it during our school visits,” says Glass.
Underwater Zoo is just the latest chapter in the Beautiful Creatures series, which comprises seven albums and five books – so far.
“We were making CDs and it was going well, but then two things happened. The CD market changed, and then the recession hit, so books became a natural extension as we trued to maximise the material.”
Glass recalls the genesis of the whole idea.
“Originally, I had material written, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to become books or music. Then one day I heard Ed Jordan on the radio talking about songwriting and I was interested in his approach. So we met up and began a partnership that’s lasted all these years.
“We connected with Paul Choritz, a guy I knew in the music industry, and recorded some demos with him. We did six songs, but Paul said that one of them was ‘too melancholic’. So we built from there. We thought, ‘We have five, let’s write another five.’ And we were working our way through different animals, and we came to a point where we said, ‘We need a lion song!’ And then we said, obviously, ‘Don’t copy anything from the Lion King!’
“Ed and I always had a great musical understanding. I remember writing a verse more or less in my sleep once and then phoning Ed as soon as I woke up, to hear him say he had a chorus that would work with it. We’d also occasionally take songwriting retreats – we could get a lot more done without normal daily distractions.”
For all that prodigious creativity, though, the project didn’t immediately take off.
“We started trying to launch the album,” nods Glass. “We went to Neill Solomon’s studio, where we wanted to get some session guys in. Paul did a roadshow with the material, trying to sell the idea to everyone, but he kept getting told, ‘Nobody will buy children’s music.’
“We had no takers, but Paul wasn’t put off. He said, ‘Let’s set up our own label.’ We owned all the intellectual property, and we did find some friends who were willing to help, including someone at Exclusive books who allowed us to hand out our CDs. That collection, Beautiful Creatures, is now a platinum album, so it was worth sticking it out.”
Glass continues to enjoy the benefits of that solid foundation.
“I liket to put out a book every 18 months if I can,” he says. “That means you – hopefully – get invited to literary festivals, which helps to make sure that people don’t forget you exist.
“For this one, I have Sandy Lightley as the illustrator, and the design is more graphic than some of the others, which were hand-painted. And now I get to promote it. I enjoy going to schools – it’s very satisfying. I remember one experience at a school in Orange Grove that had a good library and reading programme that they were extending to impoverished kids.
“I went to do my thing and was sitting in the library, alone, and thinking nobody was interested. Then a lady came to fetch me and took me to the school hall. There were 600 children in there, and the whole place was decorated with all the animals from our books. And as I played the songs, everyone sang along. They knew every word! I knew I was doing what I’m supposed to do.
“There was another great time at the St Vincent School for the Deaf. I thought I should probably leave the guitar in the car, but the headmistress made me get it, saying that the kids could feel the vibration of the sound and they’d sign the words. So I started with Down Comes The Rain, and by the last chorus, the whole room was signing the words. It was goosebump stuff…”
That kind of job satisfaction is rare, and it keeps Glass going.
“If just one kid reads more or has a better view of writing or making or enjoying music, great. I’m happy.”
Underwater Zoo by Ed Jordan & Alan Glass, illustrated by Sandy Lightley, is available now.