Cast Away in London on a Sunny Afternoon with Tom Robinson

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Castaways 180415

On 18th April, eleven excited Castaways pitched up at the Charles Holden Pub in Collier’s Wood for our “Studio Day” with Tom Robinson.  The sky was blue, the sun was shining, everyone was in great form.  Notwithstanding the fact that most of us had never met before, it was the easiest “blind” meet up I’ve ever experienced.  Everyone was welcoming and friendly, happily introducing themselves and others, and it wasn’t long before we all felt comfortable in our new little group.

The doors opened and in walked the man of the day; easily recognisable, startlingly tall and brimming with energy, Tom wasted no time in getting to know each and every one of us (he knew some of the diehards like Terry from days of old).  There were no awkward moments, no looks of ennui – here was a man who genuinely wanted to get to know his fans, and…

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Cast Away in London on a Sunny Afternoon with Tom Robinson

Castaways 180415

On 18th April, eleven excited Castaways pitched up at the Charles Holden Pub in Collier’s Wood for our “Studio Day” with Tom Robinson.  The sky was blue, the sun was shining, everyone was in great form.  Notwithstanding the fact that most of us had never met before, it was the easiest “blind” meet up I’d ever experienced.  Everyone was welcoming and friendly, happily introducing themselves and others, and it wasn’t long before we all felt comfortable in our new little group.

The doors opened and in walked the man of the day; easily recognisable, startlingly tall and brimming with energy, Tom wasted no time in getting to know each and every one of us (he knew some of the diehards like Terry from days of old).  There were no awkward moments, no looks of ennui – here was a man who genuinely wanted to get to know his fans, and more-so, wanted them to get to know him,.  Tom was totally “cool” from the off; a truly congenial guy, willing to be quizzed and questioned, who genuinely wanted to hear our thoughts, and receive honest feedback.  Actually the word genuine recurred incessantly throughout the day both in respect of Tom and his music.

lee

And then there was Lee (Forsyth Griffiths).  For all I knew he was just another one of us “Tom-cats” – that showed how much I knew (more of which anon).  All was a sea of mirthful calm until Lee started pacing up and down like a caged tiger.  The catalyst for this was the disappearance of his jacket.  Luckily, he had the wit to scour the beer garden of the pub, wherein he found Mr Idiot Lightfingers; light in finger enough to pick up the jacket, but, idiotic enough to hold it in his lap out the back of the same pub from which he’d lifted it.  Twat.  Anyway, positive resolution.

In the meantime, whilst Lee was doing his best Poirot, we were sauntering down to the studio with our host.  After a chat filled 15 minute stroll we arrived at Gerry’s studio – fairy-lit, inviting, and drink laden (nice one!!).

gerry

For those of you that don’t know Gerry Diver, he is an Anglo-Irish (haven’t used that term since I wrote my last assignment on Yeats!) producer and musician, best known for the “Speech Project” and his work with Damien Dempsey, Sam Lee, Lisa Knapp and Christy Moore. (You can find out more here – https://www.facebook.com/speechproject ; https://speechproject.bandcamp.com/ ).

Gerry warmly invited us into his recording hub where we were immediately (and yet again) put at ease by our hosts, who offered us refreshments and snacks to get the “party started”.  Kicking back with a vino (not yet collapso), beer or bev of choice, we had an informal chat with Tom and Gerry (oh lord – just copped that one now!) about how they came to know each other, how the collab got underway, the background to the studio and so on.  A very chilled Q & A was followed by another round of whatever tickles your throat, all the while we were able to click, snap and photo-bomb everyone and anyone in the room.  Seriously, that is how laid back this gig was!!

We were joined by the lovely Kate de Ban, film & video producer//photographer and Tom’s official snapper for the afternoon – Kate has kindly given permission for some of her work to be posted on here!  (@kdeban)

The time came for the “World Private Premiere” of Tom’s first album in 25 years (yes, really, it’s been that long – and long awaited).  Gerry talked us around the intro and off we went, the room full of expectation, anticipation, curiosity.  They had agreed the playlist for that day – this may not end up being the final track list or order of play.

Track 1 got us off to a strong start; plenty of guitar and attitude.  The tempo slowed down to a mellowed out ballad for the second offering. However, the third track ripped up the joint – it was searing and punchy and full of clout.  And we LOVED it.  Now for the benefit of those who weren’t there, it needs to be pointed out that full personnel line up for this album was no more than five perm musicians:-

TOM ROBINSON, VOCAL, BASS GUITAR, PIANO

LEE FORSYTH GRIFFITHS, VOCAL, BACKING VOCAL, GUITAR

ADAM PHILLIPS, GUITAR

ANDY TREACEY, DRUMS

GERRY DIVER, PRODUCER, VIOLIN, SPECIAL EFFECTS, SAW GUITAR*

That’s it – no more, no less.

For the techie geeks amongst you, the recording software used was Presonus Studio One; 99% of tracks are live instruments.  The MO was in the main to start with vocal and guitar, and build up around these using an iMac.  For the hard-core out there, Gerry used U87, Sony C48 and AKG mics, outboard compressors and pre-amps!

AKG  Sony C48PC

Gerry worked his way down the playlist track by track.  By now there was a FRISSON in the room, a little bit and then more, of an electrical charge was buzzing through us all.  We knew it was going to be good, but we had no idea it would be this good.  Good?  GREAT.  FANTASTIC.

Polar Opps

I might as well ‘fess up now and admit that I hadn’t a notion of how good, bad or indifferent it was going to be.  You see I was not a Tom music fan; I was a Tom “The Voice on the Radio” fan. And up to the 18th April, I had only ever heard one of his songs – ” War Baby”.  It was from back when. I watched a clip of it, before travelling over (live with another song called “Martin”) and that was my knowledge of Tom’s repertoire.

What was amusing was that during the chat n drink we’d had earlier, Lee had stated that everyone knew Tom from the song “2-4-6-8” – he was famous for it seemingly.  I didn’t want to disillusion him – the only “2-4-6-8” I’d ever known, was the one that was followed by “who do we appreciate”!!  (When I got back home, I made a point of listening to this song, and when I heard it, I recognised it, but had never known who the singer was, probably hadn’t paid attention if I’m honest).

Gerry cracked on with the tracks and then it happened.  That rarest of magical moments – and it didn’t just happen once, it happened twice.  Firstly with “Don’t Jump, Don’t Fall”, the first single from the album which is streaming now on Spotify and which will go on general release on Tom’s 65th Birthday June 1st.  The song came on and I can’t even bring myself to tell you how it felt to listen to that spine tingling vocal on that song whilst sitting opposite Lee.

Tom and Gerry  Lee etc

There was this unassuming guy, avoiding everyone’s gaze, whilst we were sat there listening to this amazing voice creating the most beautiful, heart rending vocal.  The track finishes with Lee pleading “Don’t Jump”.  Silence.

There was silence in the room.  We were speechless with emotion, with the unexpected effect this bolt out of the blue had had on us.  Spontaneously we started clapping.  I think the guys knew this was no sycophantic way-hay moment.  I think they knew just then, in real time, that they’d hit the musical jackpot.  That once in a blue moon song that just sweeps people away in a current of raw emotion.  I’m glad I was there, dammit I’m proud I was there.  All of us were.  It was a MOMENT.  One that none of us will forget.

All the songs bar “Don’t Jump” and one other were still rough mixes.  “Don’t Jump” was the final edit.  The other was a demo called “Only the Now” and was the catalyst for the second magic moment of the day.  Here was a song – simple, pure, true, unadulterated.  An unwashed vocal with an acoustic guitar instrumental – clean, fresh, off the huff.  Tom had only written the song a few weeks before.  He laid down the demo, which was simplicity and yet not.  It is a song with a heart and then some.  It reduced some of us to tears, all to silence.  When we found our voice, it was to plead with the guys not to touch the song; to leave it as it is, a sentiment even echoed by Lee.  It is a wonderful piece, and I live in hope that if it does have to be edited for the album, that at least the original untouched demo will see the light of day in the form of a rarity or b-side.  Everyone needs to hear this song in it’s “virgin” state.

What else to tell you about the album – well they started recording in November 2014, and should finish up in the next month or two.

Whilst “Don’t Jump” is due out 1st June, the album itself won’t be released until Autumn.  The album features a list of contributing artists to bring the yellow into any artists’ eye:-

LISA KNAPP   @LisaKnappMusic 

MARTIN CARTHY   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Carthy

BILLY BRAGG @billybragg

and then,

DRUM ROLL PLEASE –

SIR IAN MC KELLAN

sIR IAN

Anecdote – Gerry plays Saw Guitar on the album – and when I say play, I mean he whistled it – if you ever get to meet him, a Saw Guitar request should be top of your priority list!

Gerry DIver

And that’s all I can really tell you about the album for now…if you want to know more, you’ll just have to go along on 9th May and ask all the questions we didn’t think to ask! (Now that you know all this info!!). If you do go, you won’t regret it!

tom on piano

We picked ourselves up and dusted off the emotion when Tom cracked open more wine and beer. There was a buzz.  We were elated.  That was special, very special, and we had been very privileged to have been a part of a moment in musical history.  The stalwarts among us – Terry, Andy, Amanda – declared this to be the best of the best that they had ever heard.  Tom’s voice has withstood the test of time; his bolshiness is still in-yer-face, and his lyrical prowess is still A-grade.  This is a cracker, trust 11 people 100% on that one.

Glug, laugh, glug, chat.  Kate was doing a photo/video session outside, so we took it in turns to go outside and “pose” or stay indoors and chat about the wondrousness we’d just witnessed.  Then came the totally fun bit – the group backing vocal.  Lead by the TOM on the Baton, we partook of a rather rousing group rabble-vocal about the “Mighty Sword of Justice” and boy did we CUT IT! (Takes bow on behalf of group!).  It was top fun!  We did two versions – the standard sing-along-a-Tom group backing vocal followed by the Demonstrator-Sees-Red vocal.  It was great craic and a great way to wind up the day.

Malek and Tom

Or so we thought.

tom on guitar

We hung outside,  finishing off our drinks, getting personal photos with Tom and just generally chit-chatting.  Yapping away to Gerry – who is, one of the most laid back chaps you could ever hope to meet – nothing was too much trouble – amiable, personable, funny and enormously interesting – we noticed everyone had disappeared back inside and so, in we went for a nose.  Cue impromptu gig – and back down sat we – in silence, in awe, aware of the fact that we were well beyond “closing time” and thankful for every further drop of music that Tom, and Lee were prepared to pour out to us faithful.

Lee treated us to a rendition of “Astronaut” – comes with an anecdote – you’ll have to go on the 9th and find out for yourselves.  Here it is, check it out

https://www.facebook.com/andy.simons/videos/vb.636834091/10152926182129092/?type=2&theatre

Lee is so much more than Tom’s backing vocalist – he is a very important part of the process and it is clear there is a strong synergy between their two very like minds.  Lee has his own solo career in it’s own right and you can check it out here on Soundcloud.

Tom gave us renditions of oldies but goldies on both piano and guitar – and oh my can the man play!  Here’s a snippet of “Closing the Door”.

https://www.facebook.com/andy.simons/videos/vb.636834091/10152925933804092/?type=2&theatre

Thanks to Andy Simons for allowing inclusion of his videos!

The evening finally came to and end.  Eleven people left Collier’s Wood feeling blessed, privileged, happy, content, proud.  It was the best of days, something for the memory chest, an intimate “concert” we will none of us ever forget.

The laughs, the tears, the surprise, the feeling of being present in the right place at the right time, of witnessing something very, very special.  If I could do it again I would, but I’d never get that element of surprise back again.  That is still open for those of you that weren’t there, that can still enjoy the novelty of having this special time with Tom on 9th May.  I would urge you to go, I know all of us that were there on 18th would.

You will never have this moment again…I’m glad I had mine.

I’ll leave you with the new single – “Don’t Jump, Don’t Fall”

You can order your copy of Tom’s forthcoming album, bag yourself a starring role in a Tom video or get yourself on-board for the next and final studio day on 9th May London here – http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/tomrobinson

Special thanks to:-

Tom – You are a total gentleman, a genuinely lovely guy, and, for me, your voice now extends beyond the radio. #converted

Gerry  – For taking the time to answer a plethora of questions, for opening up your studio to strangers, for great conversation. #cheers

Lee – For being you, for being so talented, for pointing out my Irishness, and standing on my toe.  The pain will live with me. #teeshirtprinted

Missis Trellis – For organising a wonderful day, and being a 100% genuinely cool cat. #appreciative

Kate de Ban – For the use of your photos, and for your patience with us novices. #shutterbug

Andy, Terry, Amanda, Malek, Viv, John. Valerie, Sandro, William , Jonas – thank you for your company and conversation. #Castaways180415

Winding Down with The Hedge Schools’ new album .. A Review

Truth be told, the first I heard of The Hedge Schools was via a recommendation by another music enthusiast two weeks ago.  This came mid conversation about 80s group Talk Talk.  Whipped up by the warmth with which she spoke of this wonderful new find, I looked up their website and listened to some of the tracks on their latest production.

It was no sooner listened to, than ordered, and now here we are, CD turning out some of the loveliest music I’ve heard produced by a group of Irish musicians for a long time.

The Hedge Schools

Playing the eponymous opening track, ‘At The End of a Winding Day’ for the first time, I was flat-footed by it’s “Hollis-ness”.  The track has all the hallmarks of the opening ambient sequence of ‘The Rainbow’, spaciousness of ‘Myrrhman’ and soul of ‘Taphead’ – that is not to say it is a replication, far from it – but it (and the arrangement/production of the album as whole) harks back to Talk Talk’s latter day stark, minimalist sound, filled with silences, the voids plugged with string and brass sequences, in this case, the trumpet of Donagh Molloy, resonant of the uncompromising Miles Davis.

In fact, it melds the essence of Mark Hollis from “Spirit of Eden” through to his own solo production in 1998.  Sparse, stripped back piano playing, delicately props up direct, crystalline trumpet playing.  Definitely the most interesting track on here.

Talk Talk aside, Hedge Schools are about much more than space and brass.

Take the song ‘Home’ for instance, a ballad with acoustic guitars, simple, soft melody and harmony.  Nothing fancy, yet very effective.

“Feel awakened in the morning like the early dawn of summer,

You are light, you are home”.

The more than divine ‘Winter Coats’ features all four HS musicians and combines the subtle cello playing of Kevin Murphy with some suitably muted trumpet.  The vocal hangs above the instrumental, the arrangement is exquisitely balanced, bringing out the sentiment of the lyric without being gushing.

“This is all there is” … the haunting words of ‘Halo’ … slow, spiritual, almost hymnal.

“All you want to do is breathe, all you have to do is breathe” – pared back vocal, piano, guitar – nothing more, nothing less and yet for all it’s simplicity, it is one of the stand out tracks on the album.

Hedge Schools 2

The ninth and final track, the quirkily titled ‘A Song for JM Barrie’, is four minutes of sonic melancholia, beautifully stitched together, the instrumental hums like an electronic power line under the dusky vocal.

“Fly me through the window, off to Neverland,

Take me home, my soul is weary …

To live would be an awfully great adventure”

“At The End Of The Winding Day” is an album that lives up to the definition of minimalism – “stripped back to the most basic component”.  It is stark but strangely alluring, doleful and yet uplifting.  It is technically stripped back resulting in a beautiful and mesmeric production.

It was no small feat, and a testament to it’s worthiness, that this album set a forum of some long standing, and, very well connected Talk Talk aficionados alight!  The Hedge Schools are now preaching (or singing) to the converted.

Two weeks ago, I’d never heard of the band or this album, now it has left me needing to find out, and listen to, more.

And then, all I’ll need to do, is find out if they, like me, are Hollis fans, and if they ever did in fact, listen to “Spirit of Eden” et al, or it might just be me, that ends up being the “Laughing Stock”.

The Hedge Schools are made up of :

Patrick M Barrett, Voice, Guitars, Piano

Joe Chester, Voice, Guitars, Piano

Donagh Molloy, Trumpet

Kevin Murphy, Cello

The new album “At The End Of A Winding Day” is currently on release and can be purchased via their website

http://thehedgeschools.bandcamp.com/

Photo copyright of Ruth Medjber

“Upon a Fit of Sickness, Anno 1632” – A Poem by Anne Bradstreet.

For this exercise on Anne Bradstreet and her work, I’ve chosen to look at one of her earliest poems, “Upon a Fit of Sickness, Anno 1632”, written when the poet was just 19 years of age.

This poem exhibits some of the disquietude experienced by devout Puritans like Anne; transience of life, inevitability of death and desire for eternal salvation.

“Upon a Fit of Sickness, Anno 1632”

“Twice ten years old not fully told

since nature gave me breath,

My race is run, my thread spun,

lo, here is fatal death.

All men must die, and so must I;

this cannot be revoked.

For Adam’s sake this word God spake

when he so high provoked.

Yet live I shall, this life’s but small,

in place of highest bliss,

Where I shall have all I can crave,

no life is like to this.

For what’s this but care and strife

since first we came from womb?

Our strength doth waste, our time doth haste,

and then we go to th’ tomb.

O bubble blast, how long can’st last?

that always art a breaking,

No sooner blown, but dead and gone,

ev’n as a word that’s speaking.

O whilst I live this grace me give,

I doing good may be,

Then death’s arrest I shall count best,

because it’s Thy decree;

Bestow much cost there’s nothing lost,

to make salvation sure,

O great’s the gain, though got with pain,

comes by profession pure.

The race is run, the field is won,

the victory’s mine I see;

Forever known, thou envious foe,

the foil belongs to thee.”

Anne Bradstreet Portrait

Firstly, some background.

Anne Bradstreet was born in Northampton, England on 20th March, 1612, into comfortable surroundings.  The daughter of an ardent lover of books, and, in the spirit of the Elizabethan tradition, Anne was well (home) tutored in the classics.  Married at sixteen to Simon Bradstreet, the couple along with her parents, left England as part of a fleet of Puritan emigrants in 1630, arriving in New England in June 1630.

Shortly after their arrival into this stark, sparse new world, Anne’s father, Thomas Dudley wrote in a letter to England:-

“We found the colony in a sad and unexpected condition, above eighty of them being dead the winter before; and many of those alive weak and sick; all the corn and bread amongst them all hardly sufficient to feed them a fortnight”.

These are the same conditions then, in which we find the poet in 1632.

Here we have a young woman, who having come from a well to do background, now finds herself and her family, trying to cope with the new and unfamiliar struggles of sickness, hunger and lack of basic comforts.

Almost hymnal, “Upon a Fit of Sickness” reflects what was to be a major theme in Bradstreet’s work – religion, life, death, eternity and the human battle with tolerance, denial and submission to achieve the greater end.  Undoubtedly pious and diligent, Bradstreet is still not beyond questioning her faith, or, expressing her love for this earthly world versus her desire for a place in the eternal kingdom.  Existence battles faith, penance over creature comforts, the ambivalent tussle is constant.

The bones of the poet’s intent – to highlight the brevity of life, inevitability of death and dream of salvation, are summed up in these lines:-

“O bubble blast, how long can’st last?

that always art a breaking,

No sooner blown, but dead and gone,

ev’n as a word that’s speaking.

O whilst I live this grace me give,

I doing good may be,

Then death’s arrest I shall count best,

because it’s Thy decree;”

We feel the strife between body and soul, hear the plea to give this young woman the strength to overcome the will and weakness of the flesh, in order to carry out God’s will.  Bradstreet was to continue with, and mature this theme throughout her life, probably reaching poetic climax in the acclaimed “Contemplations” (33 majestic stanzas full of the glory of God and nature.  Of man’s fall from grace, his subservient place on earth, and in facing certain death, his finally giving himself over to God’s will, in the hope of redemption and a place in the everlasting).

.

“O Time the fatal wrack of mortal things,
That draws oblivions curtains over kings,
Their sumptuous monuments, men know them not,
Their names without a Record are forgot,
Their parts, their ports, their pomp’s all laid in th’ dust.
Nor wit, nor gold, nor buildings scape times rust;
But he whose name is grav’d in the white stone
Shall last and shine when all of these are gone.”

from  “Contemplations” – Anne Bradstreet.

.

As with Adam in “Upon a Fit of Sickness..”, neither Kings in all their finery, nor “sumptuous monuments” can escape decay and death.  In the end, only God and his glory remain.
.
Written in the more melodic “ballad meter” (four iambic lines), this poem’s alternate rhyming gives it a freer, more conversational flow.  Bradstreet’s language is striking in it’s honest simplicity.  Here is a woman, who for want of a better term, doesn’t mince her words.
.
“O great’s the gain, though got with pain”.
 .
Bradstreet was a woman, wife, mother, Puritan and poet.  Her view of life is honest and arresting, challenging yet suppliant.
Her poetry like her life is filled with intelligent questioning, inner strength, consideration of failings, a strong but not unerring faith, and above all, love and perseverance.  It is not hard to understand how she has been deemed the “foundational spirit of American poetry”