Christine Tobin and Liam Noble: Unraveling Tapestry
Noble's memory of the Vortex gig also emphasizes the spontaneity: "I don't remember what made her think of the ideaalthough I know that her sister had recently passed away. She said that she fancied doing it, we had one run through, and then we did the gig. It certainly wasn't played in much when we first performed it." How different was that first performance from the version that became Tapestry Unravelled? "That's a good question...it's probably not that significantly different. I guess we're both that little bit more familiar with the material. Certainly, it's taken me a while to get used to the structure of the songswhat you can change and what you can't. I try to make it a little different on every gig, but it's a very fine line. Do it too straight, it sounds too much like a restaurant gig: but you don't want it to sound too much like a jazz odyssey with too many funny chords either...There's not a huge margin for error."
The songs are primarily pop songsdoes that give Noble less to play with, especially with the vocal on top? "I've always liked the combination of voice and piano. I like the way that you have to play the instrument differently, vary it from singer to singer. For example, I used to play with Anita Wardell a lotshe has a much lighter, more fragile voice. Christine's voice is very strong and it's almost like playing with a saxophonist. I know she won't hit duff notes, or if she does I hardly notice. I can slide about, underneath and in between, and she doesn't mind." The songs were written in the main for a four- or five-piece band, so a voice as soulful as Tobin's is needed to carry the songs with just the piano accompaniment. "Yes, that's the thing. I think it has to be distinctive..." agrees Noble. "Carole King has quite a lot of character in her voice."
The Vortex performance had been advertized as focusing on songs from Tapestry, but an album was not initially planned. As Tobin says: "We didn't know, when we did the gig, that we were going to do an album, but people at the gig were asking for the recording, so I thought that we should do a recordand lo and behold, that's what happened, three weeks later." Surprisingly, given the quality of the recordings on Tapestry Unravelled, Tobin and Noble had barely played the tunes together before entering the studio apart from that night at the Vortex, as Tobin explains: "Me and Liam got together just once, the night before the gig. We knew we didn't want to change the tunes and we did discuss the kind of atmosphere each piece would have. Then we tried each one out a few times, 'til it felt like we were capturing something, some magic. Then you feel like you're stepping into a slightly different worldwhich is what music should lead you into anyway, I believe." According to Noble, "We figured out, just by playing the songs, what was possible to change and what needed to stay the same. We arrived at a fairly straight reading of it."
While the Tapestry Unravelled versions of the songs are instantly recognizable, this is not merely a copy of the original. "I don't usually do many covers" says Tobin "and to do almost a whole album is a big step. But I just felt that I couldn't split the songs up. They belong together." However, Tobin didn't slavishly keep to the original running order. "We didn't go in to record with a fixed order. We just went in to the studio and thought 'What shall we do first?' But I did think of the running order for the album quite a lot. Because it's just the two of us the sound is quite sparse, some of the tempos are quite slow and you don't have the punch of bass and drums. So that dictates how you actually plan out the album to get the right mood... I thought 'Beautiful' was right to put first. I sang it at Deirdre's memorial service. It seemed appropriate because she was so positive, kind and generous."
"Beautiful" is a great start to the album. Tobin's voice comes out strongly from the opening note and has a real impact: an impact that's sustained across the record. Tobin acknowledges the importance of the engineer, Curtis Schwartz: "His studio is one of the best. You don't have to ask him for very much, he just knows." Noble approaches every song afresh and there is real variation in his playingin some cases it sounds extremely complex, technically and structurally: in other cases it seems to be simple and pared down. A highlight is his playing on "So Far Away," one of the more straightforward arrangements, characterized by an exquisite solo: "Yes," says Tobin "that's my favorite. I really like his style. He's very skilful, he's studied all of the great masters and he's got an incredible imagination. For me, on that one, his solo really lets you feel this person drifting awayI can almost see pictures from it, it's very dreamlike."