Tim Garland



Return to the Fire


The fire in question is a reference to Enter The Fire, a seminal moment in the career of Tim Garland two decades earlier, after it was brought by Billy Childs to the attention of Chick Corea, from whom, by his own admission, this excellent saxophonist from northeast England, has learned more about band leading and jazz.

The big surprise about Return to the Fire is that it should mushroom so closely in time to last year’s double CD, Songs To the North Sky, 23 luminous tracks of breathtaking and epic undertaking by Garland, a homage to his adopted home in England, as if his compositions were interpolated by the spirits of Ted Hughes and Vaughan Williams.

Don Paterson memorably wrote that Garland had put together a succession of thrilling journeys across new terrain others might have decided was impassable.

With Enter The Fire, I was curious whether Garland’s lightning could strike twice, so effusive was I in admiration for the instantaneous radiant sprawl of Songs to the North Sky, as if one were listening to tenor and soprano sax for the first time.

The answer is an unqualified yes: opening with Abiding Love, featuring the irrepressible Jason Rebello on piano, Garland opens and closes the second longest tune on the six track recording, with warm and rapid coloratura passages, and there is no significant departure from an ambience that is calmly reflective in what follows.

It would seem that the motivation behind Return To the Fire, though no arm twisting was needed, was an attempt to capture the essence of Garland and his fellow musicians’ early jazz influences, encapsulated by JJ Johnson, Miles Davies and Wayne Shorter. Garland is reunited with the original  Enter the Fire band.

The beauty behind Johnson’s Lament here is the unforced interplay between Rebello, a survivor from Enter The Fire, and Garland, who shows in his dexterity with the ballad form, especially the embodiment of a romantic narrative, than in paying homage, there is more to interpretation than simply replicating a key influence.

The rapid and playful Return to the Fire is a solid bridge to Valse Pour Ravel which, depending on your ear, summons the compositional tempo of Ascenseur pour l’echafaud, with beautiful harmony between Garland’s lyricism and Gerard Presencer, a salon piece which shimmers until it diffuses like a vanishing smoke wreath. Return to The Fire is a recording you won’t stop listening to. There is about Garland the gift of wakeful attention to everything he does.

Tim Parks

A Literary Tour of Italy

At first I thought, a ha, another itinerary of Italy through the eyes of Byron, Shelley, Goethe, James etc, the usual literary suspects, but no, this is an anthology of essays by acclaimed novelist and translator Tim Parks.

He arrived in Italy over 35 years ago with barely a word of Italian, but didn’t hang about picking up the language, spending three to four hours a day in a library translating words he didn’t know, but within four years was adequately armed to tackle a translation of Moravia’s Erotic Tales.

So, what we have here, note bene, are 23 exemplary expositions of Italian writers from, naturally, Dante and Machiavelli to Bassani and Tabucchi, and Park’s style is to elucidate first, and then judge.

Only when you finish a chapter, or indeed the 370 page book, do you realise how little you knew about the writer and the background to the novel, short story or indeed poem.

Take a novelist who has never been in my cross hairs, Giovanni Verga, who forces his characters ‘to run the whole gamut of their agony’. The summation is not Parks, but Emil Cioran, but Parks is smart enough to use it, and the stage is now propped for his insight which is always lucid, clear headed, and he can get to the root of an issue in a sentence. In Storia di una capinera, Verga’s Maria yearns for acceptance but, as Parks writes, ‘the society she longs for is supremely cruel and only united in its exclusion of the individual it has no time for.’

Alberto Moravia’s novels have a ‘hyper-conscious protagonist whose lucid reflections revolve remorselessly around feelings and events that will remain forever obscure,’ whereas Antonio Tabucchi’s characters ‘are driven by a desire to recover something irremediably lost, or savour an experience that might have been and never was,’ and Parks finds time to effectuate the influence on Tabucchi of the poet Pessoa, particularly the deployment of heteronyms.

The analysis of Montale, Collodi and Leopardi is worth the price of the book alone, though the revisiting of the roles and legacy of two architects of fascism in Italy, political and aesthetic, in the personages of Mussolini and an artist of whom I was previously unaware, Mario Sironi, left a deep impression, with Parks brilliant on Mussolini’s willingness to commit to ambition without the necessary faith (or Hitler’s destiny) to see it through. A reluctant fundamentalist? Perhaps.

Tiken Jah Fakoly



Universal injustice is never too far from the heart of Tiken Jah Fakoly, both as a song writer and an interpreter. On his last CD recorded a year ago, Dernier Appel, he wrote all ten songs, a reggae fuelled invocation to Africa to get its act together:

Africa nation, Africa

This can’t go on, this can’t go on.

Not one to let the grass grow under his feet,  Fakoly is back with Racine, an eleven track homage to the perpetual legacy of reggae to both empower and to disenthral.

In the biography of  Fakoly, and specifically his development as a songwriter,  Racines is an invaluable document as it traces the seminal influences on somebody today whose appeal is almost, in musical terms, as messianic as his forerunner, Bob Marley.

As an exercise in measuring the impact upon the young Fakoly of Marley and indeed Peter Tosh, it is worth listening to Dernier Appel and Racines side by side. Although the comparisons in attitude and melody are naturally similar, Racines is stridently angrier.

Is It Because I’M Black and Slavery Days, offspring of a more vicious discord back in the day, are not in the least mellowed by  Fakoly, but it is the voice of a maturer interpreter.

On the other hand, we can see the eleven covers for what they are, sun bursts of impeccable song writing and music – One Step Forward, Get Up Stand Up – which helped bridged the socio-political chasm between Africa and Jamaica, resplendent in beat and rhythm.

Racines also places  Fakoly in the lineage of Marley and Tosh and Nuju Banton and Burning Spear, whom he first heard on his brother’s turntable in his village close to northern Cote d’Ivoire. Marley would have approved of  Fakoly’s selection and guest performers: U Roy, Max Romeo, Ken Boothe and Jah9.

Perversely, I first discovered Marley and Junior Murvin on my own brother’s turntable, courtesy of Stiff Little Fingers’ and The Clash’s brilliant punk arrangements of Johnny Was and Police And Thieves, proof of reggae’s malleability. Do yourself a favour and listen to both covers: Jake Burns has never sounded better

Kevin Lawlor



In jazz terms, it has been a long wait since Kevin Lawlor’s Exodus, but in the intervening four years, the Wexford-based musician has become a much in demand session drummer and teacher.

When I last saw him play, excluding his Wexford Festival gig in October, at the Aberjazz Festival in the summer, between Wexford and Wales in a 48 hour period, he had guested on four occasions.

He has become a musician’s drummer, a superlative team player, yet, for a percussionist gifted with many styles, is unshowy and is as undemonstrative as a shadow. If you liked Exodus, you will love Eight, which kicks off with the first of seven tracks penned by Lawlor, Payne in the Back, inspired by a concert Lawlor saw on television by Count Basie’s Big Band in which drummer Sonny Payne did a stick trick in a quiet section of an arrangement, hence Lawlor’s catchy melody interrupted by drum fills.

Payne in the Back swings the collection into a busy momentum, with rapid and soaring lines, and never less than melodic, from Konrad Wiszniewski, and terrific piano from long time collaborator Dave Jones, a momentum which Lawlor immediately maintains with In Between.

You have to pinch yourself because this is all original sorcery, from Lawlor’s solo mid stream in Payne in the Back , to the groovy and Motown-like and bass-punctuated In Between (the excellent Stevie Tierney), based around a series of rhythmic stabs and setting the pitch for more flights of intensity from Wiszniewsk.

Lawlor, who recorded Eight in four sessions between April and July, at Co. Wexford School of Music, is a generous arranger: each musician has the floor. On Gershwin’s They Can’t Take That Away From Me, (with Lawlor intentionally rushing the main phrase to take the swagger out of the melody) there is a feel of the collective to the interplay between Lawlor, Jones and Csibi, all of whom appeared on Exodus (with Vesa Anttila on two tracks).

This is a recording with mettle – listen to Jazz Widow Blues (12 bar melody for drums, played open handed, and a swinging solo over walking bass) and Song for Jack Chapman (written a day after his funeral)– almost a jazz lament but with the ambience of a chamber arrangement.

Lawlor toured with Rusty McCarthy in 2012 when the guitarist took a homeopathic medicine called ‘No.9’ for a cold: Number Nine is constructed around the number with nine beats in each measure and a 9/4 rhythmic figure for the drum solo. This is ensemble playing of the highest quality, devoid of unnecessary longueurs, with Lawlor pulling the strings and melding the rhythm: Postscript is a Lawlor take on a Jones arrangement, and shifts through the gears into a festooning piano allegro, while on Long Distance, Wiszniewsk hijacks Csibi’s mellifluous bass and brings the melody to terra nova: Jones grounds it, and Wiszniewsk brings conclusion.


Jessie Greengrass


An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It

I was nine the summer my father took me to the aquarium to see the dolphins, and my parents’ marriage was drawing towards its inevitable conclusions – although I supposed it wouldn’t have seemed inevitable then, or at least to them,” writes Jessie Greengrass in Dolphin, one of a dozen short stories in An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It, a collection suffused with isolation and memory but, and critically, a collection that is wrought by a brilliant and original stylist, not something I thought I would have the pleasure of admitting anytime soon.

I guess a review should be a window into the soul of a new work, followed by a resume of the good, the bad and the ugly, as if the noble ark of the writer has become the disassembled detritus of the reviewer, so that, logically, I can tell you what lurks behind The Lonesome Southern Trials of Knut the Whaler, or Theophrastus and the Dancing Plague, and wax lyrically, in a final flourish, about the merits of Dolphin or The Comfort of the Dead, but I won’t.

Unusually, for me, with a new collection of stories, I found myself returning again and again to a particular passage, or several pages, because I felt I had missed something as I surfed gladly on the cusp of the author’s tightly pared and spun momentum, my attention to narrative details occasionally skewered as I took a step back from the action, or the passage of time, to admire her craft, her pyramids of words and tone and mood and deductions which smack with the force of a pane of glass halting a hawk in full flight.

Each story is like walking from the departure lounge of an airport in a new country: the doors open, and the tableau of Greengrass is automatically estranged, coolly remote but psychologically familiar, like threading barefoot in the cold to the boot of a car, and forgetting why.

Scropton, Sudbury, Marchington, Uttoxeter, which anchors the collection, to me is the purest distillation of this collection’s strength, where formal style can mirror formal lives, where warmth is on a par with a song by The Smiths, where the ordinary has its own unhummable but musical pulse, where Sarthe’s existence precedes essence is turned on its head, and where prose of a measured economy is epically revelatory.

An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It, is  published under a new list by John Murray (Byron’s publisher), JM Originals, for fresh and distinctive writing. Whoever saved An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It from the slush pile, should be knighted in the New Year’s honours list.




Guglielmo Ratcliff

Successfully resuscitating an opera fossilised by neglect or indifference, such as Guglielmo Ratcliff at the National Opera House in Wexford, depends primarily on vision.

The libretto is a like a dawn in winter, just barely suggestive of what may arise, but what emerged at Wexford, from David Agler’s bold choice to the chemistry strung together by director Fabio Ceresa, set designer Tiziano Santi and costume designer Giuseppe Palella, was an illuminative fabrication of brilliance.

There is too, in opera, the importance of pace: conductor Francesco Cilluffo shepherded this fantastical tale on a Shakespearean scale – with perhaps a greater body count than Macbeth – and interwove the melodrama, an absolute visual feast, with stirring decorative musical flights.

Strong characters abound in the mayhem of star-meshed lovers, where only the fittest survive, and the principals, specifically Mariangela Sicilia, Angelo Villari and David Stout, need to be of equal strength to balance the drama, which is both unforgiving and unrelenting. The supporting cast, including a chameleonic Sarah Richmond, gilded the production further.

Wexford achieved even higher levels of excellence in design and presentation, a credit to the National Opera House, with deft and ingenious sets and costumes, right for the music, right for the libretto and a pleasure for the senses to absorb.

Annunziata Vestri’s casting as Margherita was inspired, for she has an intuitive comedienne’s face, haunting the nooks like the anemic Nosferatu. She is the portal which separates the metaphysical from the physical, the glue which binds the everyday and the supernatural.

History has viewed Guglielmo Ratcliff as a difficult opera because of its complicated staging and with a first act that needs a quicker ignition, but Wexford recognises that it could only unveil its secrets through catharsis, and did so magnificently, taking as much time as the literary text required.