Christine Tobin – interview with acclaimed composer ahead of Derby date

Christine Tobin by Des McMahonRenowned singer and composer Christine Tobin is set to play tracks from her new album, PELT, at the Derby date of her latest tour when she stops by Déda on 2 February 2018. Ahead of the gig Storge editor Sarah Lay chatted to the singer about poetry, jazz and the making of the new album.


“I admire the people who run provincial gigs such as the ones in Derby tremendously. They have built up a core audience over many years, so there are always familiar faces at these shows if you make a return visit. It’s also always great to get the music out to new listeners as well. I really enjoy the friendliness and intimacy of playing these type of gigs. Derby is particularly special for us as we have family there too and long standing friends.”

Irish born and New York City-based composer and vocalist Christine Tobin is preparing for her latest tour, focusing on songs from 2016 album Pelt. Excited to return to Derby she is set to play Déda for Derby Jazz on 2 February as part of the UK-wide full band tour.

The album, her eleventh solo album and one which has been critically-acclaimed, sets the poems and lyrics of Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Muldoon to music composed by Tobin and reflecting the vitality, rhythm and mood of the verse. “Way, way back, I used to be in a band called Lammas which was led by Tim Garland and guitarist/poet Don Paterson. I’d always been into poetry but wasn’t really familiar with any contemporary poets. I asked Don who he would recommend and he told me that he hugely admired the work of Paul Muldoon. So I got one of his collections and soon fell in love with his poems. The first poem I set was Horses. There’s a powerful clarity in his work. It’s soulful, direct and otherworldly all at the same time.

“Half of the settings on Pelt are Paul Muldoon’s poems and the other half are his lyrics. I chose poems that really moved and meant something to me. Some of them weave powerful stories into their themes, such as Promises, Promises which tells of Raleigh’s Lost Colony and of the subject’s own sense of being far from home and his feelings of loss and being lost.

“Paul writes lyrics all the time and he was keen for me to include words that are specifically written to be set to music. He would send me them as he wrote them and I just chose the ones I felt I could work with. The settings of his lyrics tend to be more rocky in style because of the regularity of the meter and also quite often those words are playful and fun. It takes me a long time to get to know the poem before I get musical ideas for settings.”

Pelt brings together a broad range of influences and styles – from indie rock to blues – reflecting the original composing style she has become known for from her jazz roots, where she is now a leading light on a scene that she has been a part of since the 1980s. “I came to jazz thanks to Joni Mitchell. When I was in my late teens I was at a friend’s house hanging out. I could hear really cool music in the background coming from her sister’s bedroom and I asked my friend what music her sister was playing. She told me, ‘That’s a Joni Mitchell album, Ladies of the Canyon’. I thought her voice and the music sounded very beautiful and decided I must check her out.

“So the following weekend I went into the recored store and bought the only Joni LP they had which happened to be Mingus. Now I didn’t realise at the time that this was actually a very unusual record for her in that most of the music on that album was written by the legendary composer and bass player Charles Mingus. Joni had put lyrics to his tunes.

“Anyway, I absolutely adored this record and it was a completely new sound for me. I was intrigued by the music and decided I must buy a Charles Mingus record. So I went back to the record store and the Mingus LP they had was Ah Um. I loved it and that was it…I was hooked on jazz!”

Undoubtedly rich in sound, the pairing of the Tobin’s composition with Muldoon’s verse is evidently powerful across the whole album with plenty of Americana, and soul that seethes and soars by turn. With some space since its release and plenty of praise Tobin is looking forward to finding the shape the songs take on as she plays them live. “It always brings the music to life in a different way when you play it live. There’s more room to open it up and improvise. This is the biggest band I’ve ever toured so it will be great to have such a big range of sound on stage.”

Tickets for Christine Tobin at Déda on 2 February 2018 are on sale now and available online here. Facebook details for the event can be found here.

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