by Ian Mann
May 21, 2012
A thought provoking piece of work that will help to keep Sarah Gillespie in the public eye. Intelligent and confrontational she's one of the most interesting female artists around in any genre.
“The War On Trevor”
(Pastiche Records PR 0003)
Following the success of the excellent albums “Stalking Juliet” (2008) and “In The Current Climate” (2010) singer/songwriter/guitarist Sarah Gillespie returns with “The War On Trevor” , an EP that can perhaps be best considered as a mini concept album. The four interrelated tracks tell the tale of the hapless Trevor who finds himself arrested for a minor offence but is subsequently incarcerated and interrogated as a potential terrorist. Gillespie notes state that the work is “inspired by the stories of Jean Charles de Menezes, Moazzam Begg, Bradley Manning and countless other souls terrorised in the name of progress”. It may all seem a little contrived but it makes a salient political point and of course the music is terrific. Gillespie brings her regular quartet to the proceedings with right hand man Gilad Atzmon on clarinets, saxophones and accordion, Ben Bastin on double bass and cello and Enzo Zirilli at the drums. As on the albums Atzmon’s presence is key, both in terms of the imaginative musical arrangements but also informing the political agenda of the piece.
The story begins with “The Miranda Warning” in which Trevor, on his way to work, gets caught up in an anti capitalist riot. He needs to pee but can’t find a public lavatory. He is arrested for committing an “indecent act”. Gillespie sings lasciviously of him “unleashing his meat & two veg”.
It may seem childish but the sorry tale has its roots as a response to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan Howe’s assertion that “the key to total policing is to enforce maximum penalties on people who pee against walls”. Trevor’s simple act of relieving himself is thus viewed by the “authorities” as a political gesture “you think you can mock the good people who toil by urinating on Her Majesty’s soil” runs the lyric.
The piece is brief, acting as a scene setter. Musically it features Gillespie’s more than capable acoustic guitar playing and distinctive cockney inflected vocals together with the rich textures of Atzmon’s overdubbed horns and accordion. The melody includes variations on a theme by Joseph Haydn who is given suitably prominent thanks on the cover.
“Signal Failure” is sung from the point of view of Trevor’s increasingly paranoid lover who is unable to reach him on his mobile as Trevor languishes in a prison cell. It’s a fine song in its own right, a twisted love ballad that could easily stand alone from the rest of the album. Gillespie’s lyrics are highly poetic, often vicious but also leavened with a sense of humour “don’t call me back, I don’t dance to your tune, do I look like I sailed down the Thames on a spoon?” she enquires at one point. In addition to his other problems Trevor finds himself dumped.
Musically the arrangement centres around Gillespie’s guitar and Atzmon’s accordion. At times he singer adopts a sensual, almost Dylan-esque drawl which is highly effective. Gillespie’s use of language borrows from Dylan, Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell but filters it through a highly contemporary British perspective.
Musically speaking “The Shami Chakarabati Blues” is something of a romp but the lyrics , although once again laced with humour, tell a darker tale as Trevor, misidentified as a potential terrorist has his computer, mobile and bank account investigated and is subjected to the classic “good cop, bad cop” interrogation routine. Bastin and Zirilli set a cracking rhythmic pace overlaid by Atzmon’s wall of horns. Gillsepie’s witty lyrics reference Liberty chair “Shami Chakrabati and your left wing Twitterati” plus Atzmon himself, Anti Zionist activist and author of the book “The Wandering Who?”
The final piece in the jigsaw, “The Banks Of The Arghandab” is more elliptical as “Trevor wonders if liberal democracy is all it’s cracked up to be”. There are no glib conclusions, even Trevor’s “guilt or innocence” remains subject to debate. Instead Gillespie challenges the values of Western Society, the strange, paranoid world where the authorities seem to regard us all as potential terrorists. Her imagery is both poetic and apocalyptic, questioning the morals and values of our so called “leaders”. The music is relentless, driven by Zirilli’s martial drums and with Atzmon delivering a final, biting clarinet solo.
“The War On Trevor” is a thought provoking piece of work that will help to keep Sarah Gillespie in the public eye prior to the emergence of her next full length album. Some of the humour may seem a bit throw away but the message is deadly serious. In a world of anodyne jazz standards singers and wannabe pop starlets Gillespie stands out from the crowd but is perhaps a little too exotic for mass consumption. Intelligent and confrontational she’s one of the most interesting female artists around in any genre. I’m almost loath to mention gender at all but the work was supported by the “Women Make Music” award scheme.
There’s also an entertaining and similarly thought provoking film to accompany this music which can be viewed on Sarah’s website http://www.sarahgillespie.com
The film was directed by Gilad’s wife Tali Atzmon.
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