Irish singer Christine Tobin recently returned across the Atlantic. After five years in New York, she and her partner Phil Robson are now based in rural Northwest Co. Roscommon. She is looking forward to a few concerts in England with completely contrasting programs.
The first two concerts are on April 29 at Teignmouth Pavilions then to London at Jazz Cafe POSK April 30. Both nights, Christine Tobin’s Singing Tower, are trio performances of his arrangements of Leonard Cohen songs alongside some of his own material. These two dates will be with longtime musical companions Phil Robson guitar and David Whitford bass
She will also be at Dean Street Pizza Express on May 9, with the pianist Liam Noble and Phil Robson in a program called ‘You have a friend’. This includes songs from her and Noble’s 2010 “Tapestry Unraveled” album, featuring Carole King favorites, alongside originals from all three and some choice jazz classics.
She also talks about her new song project…. “There are a lot of leaving and farewell songs, it’s the music of coming back and coming back.» Interview with Sebastian Scotty.
London Jazz News: How does it feel to be back on this side of the Atlantic?
Christine Tobin: It feels good! At first it was quite strange because it was an unexpected movement that took me like a wave and carried me away but now I feel at home here. Also, I had spent most of my musical years in London and later Margate, so even though I was returning from across the Atlantic, I was headed for a different place, uncharted territory.
This probably seems contradictory because I’m Irish and was coming back to Ireland after all, but I hadn’t planned, thought long and hard or researched thoroughly where to make a home. The trip kind of triggered itself. I clicked my heels and followed. I am originally a city slicker from Dublin where I grew up, attended school and took my first jobs before deciding to leave the civil service and become a full time musician. I left in my early twenties with my polka dot handkerchief over my shoulder and, like many before me, took the ferry to Holyhead, sailing from a town to everyone’s daddy, London.
So, fast forward through the decades, here I am back in Ireland, but in a rural area among the wetlands, bogs and lakes of North West Roscommon. I didn’t realize I was coming home or being “called home”, but I did. Reconnecting with my roots has been a profound experience and it is an absolute joy to discover and explore the vast cultural richness that thrives in the music scene and through the arts here. It is deeply inspiring.
LJN: Your Leonard Cohen program resulted in the album 1000 deep kisses in 2014. But how did you first become interested in his songs?
CT: My older sister Deirdre had some of her albums so I listened to her from a very young age. She was ten years my senior and took care of me a lot when I was a child. Much of our time was spent listening to the music she listened to on the family record player. I see they now sell vintage style versions of these at Lidl. The world is going round in circles for sure!! Even as a child, I really liked Cohen’s voice. I loved the depth of his sound and I could hear the kindness in his tone. I thought the words were amazing but I had no idea what they meant. I thought of him as some kind of mysterious, older friend.
LJN: Has your view of him changed
CT: My affection and respect for him only deepened. He remains one of the great poets of our time and many of his songs like ‘Everybody Knows’, ‘Democracy’ and ‘The Future’ are prophetic and so relevant today.
LJN: And your program is called “Tower of Song” what’s the story there?
CT: This is the program we will be playing at the Jazz Cafe POSK and the Pavilions Teignmouth. The title is taken from one of my favorite songs of all time, “Tower of Song”. I love it because it so wittily portrays Cohen’s dedication and responsibility to his calling as a songwriter. You get a great idea of his journey on this path and it’s very humorous. Other Cohen songs included in this program will be Famous blue raincoat, everyone knows it, dance me to the end of love and much more. We’ll also be playing some originals so I think ‘Tower of Song’ is a good title to honor the art of songwriting.
LJN: Tell us about the Carole King “You’ve Got a Friend” program
CT: This is the program I will be performing at Pizza Express Jazz Club on May 9 with pianist Liam Noble and guitarist Phil Robson. The title is taken from Carole King’s beautiful song that was featured on her iconic 1971 album “Tapestry.” In 2010, Liam Noble and I released our own version of this record called Tapestry Unravelled. I wanted to make a recording of these songs to honor the memory of my sister Deirdre who sadly passed away in 2009. ‘Tapestry’ was an album we listened to together again and again and I knew every song by heart. I used to sing them to him so these songs are full of good memories of the good times spent sharing and discovering music. On May 9, we’ll be playing a selection of songs from “Tapestry Unraveled” alongside originals and jazz classics.
LJN: And it will be a kind of reunion with Liam Noble?
CT: Yes! It certainly will. I’ve worked closely with Liam for many years touring and recording, but I think it’s been about five years or more since we’ve played together. I can’t wait to reunite with a dear friend and a great musician. I’m very excited about this.
LJN: Are you currently writing songs?
CT: I just finished writing a suite of new music titled “Return Weather” and will record it this summer for release later this year. This is a collection of new music and songs that I have been commissioned to write by the Dock Arts Center in Carrick on Shannon. They received a Music Commissions Award from the Arts Council of Ireland for me writing the music. The idea and concept of return time was triggered by my unexpected return after living abroad since the late 1980s. It was a profound experience and sparked a lot of things for me around belonging, finding a home , a sense of identity, of reconnecting with where I come from and with my cultural background. I think I felt these problems all the more intensely as I moved to a rather rural area and until then I had always lived in the city. This contrast highlighted everything. So these are the themes that run through the music and they are all set in and inspired by the enigmatic landscape between Frenchpark, Boyle and Ballaghadereen in Co Roscommon. There are a lot of leaving and farewell songs, it’s the music of coming back and coming back.
LJN: And you participate in a work comprising poems by Eva Salzman…who is she?
CT: Eva Salzman is a wonderful poet and dear friend. Originally from Brooklyn, she lived for many years in the UK where we met and I have set some of her poems to music for a long time. The songs “Muse of Blues” and “Bye-Bye”, from previous albums, are originally two of his poems. In my new work ‘Returning Weather’ all the words are self-written except for a poem by Eva, ‘Still, Life’. It’s a long poem about a big old empty house where Eva once stayed. There was no electricity and it was an abandoned property.
A feature of the landscape where I currently live is the presence of derelict and derelict houses. They are often old family homes abandoned after the emigration of all the inhabitants years earlier, testimony to a difficult economic past. They have a strange and dark quality, disturbing but also strangely reassuring with their mixture of decay and fragments of ordinary family life. For example, there may be a hole in the roof and a gaping wound where the window was, but there may also be a thin lace curtain still flapping in the wind and a cup on a half-broken table above. away in the kitchen. In a weird way, when I see these dwellings, I feel like I’m looking back into my childhood, my childhood and my family home, only in the sense that, that time has long passed now and all that’s left is fragments. It evokes the same feeling as looking at old family photos. Either way, I wonder who these people were. I guess it reminds me that my past is deeply rooted in this country. I thought that Eva’s poem captured the strangeness of these dwellings and that it would be good to set it to music as part of this collection.
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