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Christine Tobin and Liam Noble: Unraveling Tapestry

Bruce Lindsay By

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Christine Tobin is an uncompromising singer whose distinctive voice has graced the British jazz scene since the mid-1990s. Whether singing her own songs or interpreting the work of others, Tobin brings a unique sensibility to each number; creating atmospheric and, at times, emotionally intense performances. Liam Noble, one of the UK's most original jazz pianists, has worked with Tobin for some years as part of her regular band, as well as leading his own projects. Both performers can be expected to produce original and exciting work, and new music from either of them is eagerly awaited.



In 2009, Tobin and Noble got together to produce a new duo album, but instead of recording new material they took the somewhat bold step of reworking a classic '70s recording that went on to become one of the biggest-selling albums of all time—Tapestry (Columbia,1971), by Carole King. The idea of reinterpreting this album was Tobin's, but the finished work—Tapestry Unravelled (Trail Belle Records, 2010)—is the result of the unique combination of voice and piano that arose from the collaborative approach of the two musicians.

King's original recording collected together a group of songs that have, over the intervening 40 years, become part of the history of popular music. A decision to rework the entire album might be considered brave or foolhardy—and, indeed, in the hands of less confident and imaginative musicians disaster could have resulted. But Tobin has a very personal love for Tapestry, and the innovative approach that she and Noble have applied to the songs has created a body of work that stands on its own merits.

Tobin's relationship with Tapestry goes back for some years, to her early childhood and the influence of her older sister, Deirdre, who sadly died in 2009. "I grew up in Dublin and my sister had a copy of the album, not when it was first released but a few years later. I listened to it with her and I used to sing along, like you do when you're a kid. And almost effortlessly I knew the songs. I used to get asked to sing "Tapestry" as my little party piece, so I associate it with very warm memories. I think it has warm memories for many people, in fact." Indeed, for people who were at college in the early '70s, the album was almost universally part of the scene—a late-night, laidback album to play as things calmed down in the early hours. But does Tapestry mean anything to later generations? Tobin feels that it does: "I was talking to my niece about it—she's not really familiar with the album, but when I sang her some of the songs, just fragments, she'd say 'Oh, yes, I know that one,' so somehow they have filtered through."

While Tapestry has very meaningful personal connections for Tobin, Noble's relationship with the album is more casual. How familiar was Noble with the record? According to Tobin, "He knew it, but he didn't know the tunes as well as I did." On its release the pianist was barely three or four years old: "Yeah, but it was my favorite album of the moment," Noble claims, unconvincingly, before reflecting for a few moments. In fact, Noble was aware of individual numbers rather than of the album itself: "Obviously I knew some of the songs, but I wasn't aware that they were all by Carole King... I'd actually played a lot of the songs with singers in restaurant gigs over the years. About 10 years ago I'd had the album, so I knew of it, but it had slipped out of my field of vision. So when Christine suggested doing it I kind of knew the sort of territory it was in."

The album arose from a gig which Tobin was invited to play at London's Vortex jazz club in August 2009: "That was a spontaneous, last minute, arrangement and I decided to try out the Tapestry songs. It was a quiet time of year and I wasn't expecting much of a crowd, but it turned out that it was packed. Each time I announced the title of a song I could see people nodding and smiling and everybody was saying after the gig, 'Oh, I remember exactly what was going on in my life when I first listened to the album.' So it seems to generate really warm memories."

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