Albums that change the way you think and listen to music are very far and few between. Gerry Diver’s Speech Project did just that…he explores the natural melody and rythmn of spoken word in the most remarkable way and at the same time connects at a very instinctive primal level of the sub-consciousness.
I found the whole listening experience an emotional roller coaster, I don’t think I’ve been moved by an album like this for a very long time.
The project received funding to be taken on tour in March 2012 and premièred at the Liverpool Irish Festival. Whilst on tour the band is made up of Gerry Diver, Lisa Knapp, Gaz Wilkins, Francesca Ter Berg, Colman Connolly and Declan Daly.
We caught up with Gerry to talk about the project and also asked Lisa Knapp about the experience of performing it.
The seed for this project was sown almost by chance when you were carrying boxes up a ladder one day…you could hear an interview in the background…it was with the great Irish accordion player Joe Cooley…why do you think it clicked that day and not before?
I suppose that like many people, I feel that there is music in everyday life and that music doesn’t just occur when one sits down at the piano or the guitar. I’ve always been fascinated with language and the way people speak. Speech project is my way of playing with the uniquely Irish way of talking. Irish people tend to have their own rhythm and cadence. Speech Project is about taking these innate features of the Irish dialect to create something new and (hopefully!) exciting!The two Joe Cooley tracks came about very much in a “what would happen if…” Kind of way. There was no grand plan! I’m absolutely fascinated with hypnosis and have done quite a bit of study and training in that area. A lot of hypno and trance work is about listening to non-verbal cues and using elements such as voice intonation, rhythm and tempo to induce trance. Perhaps my interest in listening in that way, (paying lots of attention to the way people talk as opposed to listening purely to what they are saying) coupled with the sheer emotion in Joe Cooley’s voice allowed the music in Joe’s voice to jump out at me.
The voice is a stronger driver on some tracks such as Famine. Did the voice always drive the music or did you compose music to the voice, almost in empathy? Or maybe both?
The voice was usually the driver behind the music but not always. It really depended on what felt right when I was composing. The Joe Cooley, Christy Moore, Danny Meehan and Martin Hayes tracks certainly were all very reliant on the tones I teased out of their interviews. These melodic motifs then became the materials with which I used to build the tracks.The only track on the album which did not start with the voice was the Shane MacGowan piece – Music for Tape Loop. This track started life with a very old, eerie sounding recording of an unknown pub singer in a very noisy pub setting. I composed a string quartet, piano and flute ensemble accompaniment around this old tape recording. It was only after the already written piece had incubated for a while that the idea of asking Shane to take part emerged. I’m very glad I did! Shane’s voice is filled with character and the story of a certain aspect of the Irish diaspora in London is captured beautifully. It’s one of my favourite pieces!
At times throughout the album there is an overwhelming sense of emotion coming through, at times melancholic (Music for Tape Loop / My Margaret). When you go through the process of composition do you feel you are imprinting your own emotions that you have when hearing the interview recordings or are you trying to create an atmosphere for the listener to hear and appreciate the recordings within?
The words of poet Robert Frost come to mind “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Although he was talking about writing poetry, this certainly would be the approach I try to take when writing music as well. I feel that one must enter an emotional space when creating if they are to convey emotion to the listener. I think that music can convey emotions which we cannot accurately express through words alone – it certainly can provide a gateway to some very emotional almost mystical experiences. Where that emotion comes from? Who knows!
How did you chose artists to record and was it a difficult process?
I chose the artists I would like to interview in a very intuitive way. There was no set of criteria, only whether I really felt drawn towards interviewing them. Of course I am an admirer of each of their work as well.
Arts Council England awarded you funding take the project on a tour of England in March 2012. You use videos for the live performance, can you tell us a bit more about them?
Live there will be specially commissioned video art projected onto a large screen on the stage. I’ve had some amazing filmmakers work on the visuals, namely, Will McConnell, James McDonald and Matt Jamie. The visuals are running in tight sync with the musicians on stage. There are some talking heads, some archive footage and plenty of stunning montages.
The Tour is being featured at some very prestigious locations including the Southbank and The Sage. When you started this project did you ever conceive the impact it would have?
I’ve been very encouraged with the support that speech project has received and it is great to showcase the work in these very fine venues. When I was writing the music I tried not to think too much about where it might end up. Joseph Cambell’s idea of “following your bliss” would be akin to how I’ve approached things creatively – It really has been one step at a time. I’ve been fortunate in that there are some absolutely amazing people working with me on speech project!
What was the reaction to the premier at the Liverpool Irish Festival?
The reaction to the Premier at Liverpool Irish Festival was absolutely terrific! fantastic! Damien Dempsey was in the audience along with a host of performers from The Big Sea Sessions also a journalist had flown in especially for the concert so of course there was no pressure whatsoever to get things right!!
Lisa, what was experience of performing it like?
Lisa Knapp: Performing Speech project is a thrilling experience for me. It’s enjoyable in a different way to what I’m used to, in a ‘not having to be front person’ way. Not that I can sit back or anything, what with the visuals and electronics and the arrangements flying all over the place, there are many aspects to it, so plenty to keep everyone on their toes. All the musicians in the Speech Project band have been so generous in their time and spirit, they’re so professional, we all get on and totally get into the music which fundamentally works beautifully, it’s full of intensity. There’s lots of atmosphere and movement in there so you can’t go wrong really. The other musicians are Gaz Wilkins, Francesca Ter Berg, Colman Connolly and Declan Daly.
Have you any further solo projects planned for the future?
Gerry: I do indeed and have started work on several interesting things – still very much at an embryonic stage – but very enticing!
Fri, Mar 2 Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London
Tel: 0844 875 0073
Sat, Mar 3 North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford
Tel: 01865 319 450
Wed, Mar 7 The Junction, Cambridge
Tel: 01223 511 511
Thu, Mar 8 The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendall, Cumbria
Tel: 01539 725 133
Fri, Mar 9 Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury
Tel: 01743 281281
Wed, Mar 14 Lincoln Drill Hall, Lincoln
Tel: 01522 873 894
Thu, Mar 15 Waterside Arts Centre, Sale, Manchester
Tel: 0161 912 5616
Fri, Mar 16 The Met,Bury
Tel: 0161 761 2216
Sat, Mar 17 MAC, Birmingham
Tel: 0121 446 3232
Sun, Mar 18 The Sage, Gateshead
Tel: 0191 443 4661
Sat, Mar 24 Howard Assembly Room at Opera North, Leeds
Tel: 0844 848 2727