CD Review by Tom Calderbank
1. that part of the mouth or lower course of a river in which the river’s current meets the sea’s tide.
2. an arm or inlet of the sea at the lower end of a river.
In 2015, Liverpool’s premiere literary festival Writing on the Wall (WoW) debuted Estuary, a performance based on Seán Street’s poetry of tides, rivers and harbours, with musical settings by composer/guitarist Neil Campbell and featuring vocalist Perri Alleyne-Hughes.
On Thursday 18th May 2017 at Liverpool’s Capstone Theatre, also as part of WoW, the three artists will launch their new Estuary CD, a 50+ minute album combining spoken poetry, fluid classical guitar textures, atmospheric soundscapes, and beguiling vocals.
The special launch performance will include the presentation of an immersive quadraphonic mix of the new album specially created for the event by Marty Snape along with projected visuals by artist Peter Dover and live contemporary dance by choreographer Rachel Sweeney. It should be quite a special event, and if you can get to Liverpool that night, don’t miss it.
The CD, which will be available for purchase on the evening of the performance, is a true work of art, a fusion of spoken word, sung vocals, guitar and electronic ambience. The whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. Special mention to artist Jemma Street, who contributes the beautiful cover image ‘Fog Music 2’, acrylic on canvas.
Structured as a 12 poem sequence by Seán, Estuary is drawn from two of his books: ‘Time Between Tides’ and ‘Cello’, both published by Rockingham Press. Together, the words and music draw on the rich association between Great Britain and the seas, estuaries, rivers and harbours that have throughout history been a part of the fabric and psychology behind what it means to come from the British Isles. We are never far from the water, and indeed, its sounds and feelings ebb and flow through every moment of this piece.”
Although the 3 key performers rightfully take centre stage, a tip of the hat needs to go to Marty Snape, whose expert engineering and electronics add so much to the piece.
I recommend listening to it on headphones to appreciate the textures in full. The swirling water effects become amniotic, womb-like. It begins with ‘Change’, appropriate for a piece exploring the thresholds, those limbic places where rivers meet seas, land meets water, this becomes that. Birdsong ushers in spacey, atmospheric electronic sounds, relaxing and transportative. Then in comes the guitar’s signature refrain, beautiful, rolling, insistent, immediately recognisable as Neil Campbell. This sets the scene for Seán’s poetic voice, mellifluous and sibilant. The music and words begin to dance in harmony. I’m ignorant about Sean’s work, but he has the ear and delivery of a true performance poet, teasing out elusive meanings in lines such as “growing shadows like the green darkness from which canvas apostles stare”.
‘Shipping Forecast, Donegal’ brings in for the first time that staple in the psyche of seafarers and cultural life of this nation, “this pattern of names on the sea”:
Fair Isle, Faeroes, South East Iceland, North Utsire, South Utsire, Fisher, German Bite, Tyne, Dogger…
…names at once comfortingly familiar and yet strangely mysterious….
“Lundy, Fastnet and Irish Sea…now falling, falling….” The wind blows, and the listener is all at sea.
Then the pulsing electronic rhythm and breathiness of ‘Fog Redux’ drives the aural narrative forwards. With the driving bass and skittering drum patterns, we’re moving on the water. We’re fully in motion, now, as Perri’s vocals come in like a mantra, like a sweet, sweet prayer.
In ‘Another Place’, Seán evokes the haunting mystery of Gormley’s famous installation on Crosby Beach. The haunting melody underscores the evocative language. The Iron Men “left behind by imperatives of outward freight and ferry”, “speed you safe, arms open”, “frail fish set fresh”. It establishes Liverpool as a key location in the self-contained world of Estuary. ‘Pier Head With Ferry’ confirms just how great this poetry is, with Sean delivering with firm conviction lines like: “tides make their escape in spite of themselves.”
‘Tidal’ brings back the lovely signature melody, as the words evoke “the current’s hard imperatives”. Spring and neep, river arms, sea, land, rivers, streams, flood. Showing the interconnectedness of it all. There is a longing here, a feeling of something just out of reach…
As we move forward (motion, motion, always in motion), ‘Vigil Redux’’s melody aches with longing, rolling like the waves, whilst ‘Storm Blind’ is a gorgeous marriage of electronica, Perri’s vocals and Neil’s guitar. The title track takes us to Leigh-on-Sea, whilst ‘Fog Music’ evokes San Francisco General Hospital, showing us that the scope of this work is GLOBAL in nature. All rivers and seas flow into one. The hospital monitors “sings on solo” in the “routine of mortality, the rush and brush of invisible tides”. It made me reflect that perhaps WE are estuary, where humanity meets world. ‘Sestina’ takes us to Nova Scotia, 1917, moving us through time as well as space, the past as well as the future (“all future dreams flung back by silence”). The music recedes here, leaving Seán’s voice alone, stark and powerful. ‘Sestina (part 2)’ brings the music back, with Perri singing key words back “Silence. Memory. Island. Ignites. Thought.”
In ‘Shipping Movements’, the piece ends back in Liverpool, at Canada Dock, a place of historic arrivals and departures, where human society breathed in and breathed out.
Ultimately, ‘Estuary’ is a journey, a meditation on mortality, of the ebb and flow of life itself, reminding us of a fundamental truth:
Time and tide wait for none….
Launch Event Details:
Thursday 18th May 2017, 7.30pm
The Capstone Theatre, Liverpool Hope University, 17 Shaw St, Liverpool L6 1HP
Admission: £9.50 (£6.50 concessions)
Box Office: http://www.ticketquarter.co.uk/Online/estuary
Tel: 0844 80000410
Other information and Links
Estuary (CD) will be available from http://neilcampbell.bandcamp.com/album/estuary
Writing on the Wall Festival: http://wowfest.uk
The Capstone Theatre: http://thecapstonetheatre.com
Seán Street’s poetry is available from: http://inpressbooks.co.uk
Seán Street: http://www.seanstreet.com
Neil Campbell: http://www.neilcampbell.org.uk
Rachel Sweeney: http://www.rachelsweeney.org