The Vortex was completely full last night for the first outing of Christine Tobin ( above*) and Liam Noble‘s Carole King Tapestry show. And there was something different about that audience too. Something about which, surely, nobody could complain (thinking about it, one rather odd friend of mine would!): it had a higher percentage of women than I have ever seen attending a jazz gig.
The songs of Carole King’s 1971 album, either in their original recorded versions- or Aretha Franklin’s Natural Woman – are very deeply ingrained in most listeners’ minds. Tobin described the songs as “perfect in themselves. ” She talked to the audience with openness about the challenge she and Noble had embarked on: not just to do “carbon copies” of them, but rather to “do something with them.”
And that, even on this first performance, is exactly what Tobin and Noble have done. For my ears it works already, and is bound to develop. It certainly caught the audience’s mood last night.
It works because Tobin and Noble create a different vibe, a different world maybe, for each and every one of Carole King’s songs. This happens in the first split-second of every song. The hushed simplicity of Home Again was there in the gentle pulse of the opening, slowly shifting chords from Noble. The trance-like world of the title song Tapestry came alive instantly in psychedelic colours. I liked Tobin’s artful protestations of childlike innocence in Will you still Love me Tomorrow. Many of the tempi were slow, but every phrase Tobin sings is leading somewhere. There is always delicacy and poise in her melodic line, but also power, conviction and direction.
I found myself mesmerised by the endings last night, whether of the King songs , or of the others performed , a Tobin original I’m your friend and a Brazilian worksong Cancao do Sal . Tobin has an astonishing way of taking her leave of a song. Very often it’s a perfectly in-tune fade-to-nothing in the lower part of the voice, which stays full of colour and personality all the way through to silence. There are so many singers, but I can’t think of another completer-finisher quite like Tobin.
The support, the dialogue which Liam Noble provides are infinitely varied. Just as nobody would ever say there was monotony in the nineteen different versions of a babbling brook which Schubert provides in Schoene Muellerin, Noble is always off somewhere different, he states the harmony which the listener is expecting, but also asks teasing questions of it. Noble’s artistry, variety and intensity will have won over some new converts last night.
This is already a perfect package. It suited the listening atmosphere of the Vortex. But it will also grow and bloom and go places. I look forward to hearing it again as it travels. Maybe in a festival in a town with a weaving tradition….Ghent? Aldeburgh??
*Photo: Helena Dornellas