“It’s the voice. Rich and deep, there is no one who sounds like her. She has the vocal mobility of a jazz singer, but also a kind of monumental and immovable quality.” Liam Noble previews a rare return visit to London by Christine Tobin on 15 November:
Liam Noble writes: Now residing in County Roscommon, in Ireland, following a spell in New York, Christine Tobin hasn’t been seen so much in the UK lately. That alone would be enough of a recommendation to see this gig. If, however, you are not familiar with her music, there is something else you should know. You will not hear anything remotely like it anywhere else.
The words “true original” are slung around quite liberally, but in Christine’s case I would have no hesitation in using them. Just listening to her new recording on which this new live show is based, I’m hearing such varied and disparate influences and yet, as is always the case with her music, it’s so indisputably hers. Stravinsky famously said “lesser artists borrow, great artists steal”, and Christine’s skill at moulding her wide ranging interests into a strongly personal language is unmatched.
Full disclosure, I’ve played in many of Christine’s bands over the years and have simultaneously grappled with, and marvelled at, the complexity and soulfulness of the writing. I often wondered what held its far flung worlds together, but when you listen you’ll soon know. It’s the voice. Rich and deep, there is no one who sounds like her. She has the vocal mobility of a jazz singer, but also a kind of monumental and immovable quality…I want to say “force of nature” but that’s not right, it’s more like something from nature itself, a warm wind blowing through an open window. World Heartbeat Embassy Gardens is a new venue to me, but I can tell you, you’ll feel like that voice is coming out of the walls. You’ll wonder how she makes that sound.
This newly commissioned work brings spoken word, images of the landscape, traditional Irish instruments and Phil Robson’s discreet use of electronics into the mix, all of which create a warmly immersive experience. Ruminations on washing lines rub shoulders with the bleak history of violence, and this sense of location, the focus on a single story, feels like a new departure . The traditional musical forces of uilleann pipes, whistles, violin and viola inevitably evoke nostalgic images, yet they are also pulled into Christine’s unique musical world as colourful and complex harmonies rub up against abrupt changes of mood, probing improvised passages and elegant melodies. Perhaps homecoming demands that we adjust to a new environment, yet the person returning retains their own, independent history. It’s in the interaction, the push and the pull between these two poles, that these songs, poems and images work their magic.
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Christine Tobin vocals, spoken word & composer
Aoife Ní Bhriain violin
David Power uilleann pipes & whistles
Phil Robson guitar & electronics
Steve Hamilton piano