How did the idea to do the album Tapestry Unravelled come about?
Tapestry was an album that was played in my house when I was a child and belonged to my elder sister Deirdre. We used to listen to it together and were familiar with all the songs. At the beginning of 2009 my sister died, and at the memorial service I wanted to sing a song and I thought it would be appropriate to sing something from Tapestry. I decided on ‘Beautiful’ as it’s very positive and upbeat, which is the way she was as a person.
After that, the Tapestry songs were floating around in my mind and during that summer I was asked to do a duo gig at The Vortex jazz club with pianist Liam Noble. I thought maybe we could try all the songs from Tapestry. People loved hearing those songs and after the concert everybody was saying: ‘It’s brilliant, I remember what I was doing when I was listening to Tapestry’. People were saying ‘Have you recorded the songs?’ and I was saying ‘No, I’ve only just had the idea’. We got such positive feedback that within three weeks we went into the studio and recorded it in one session.
You’ve changed the order of the original album and put ‘Beautiful’ first…
I love the piano introduction – it’s a good one to set up the basic sound of the album and it’s quite uplifting. When we were recording it in 2009 it just seemed like we were entering into grim times with gloom and doom in the economy. I thought it was like throwing open the window and letting some fresh air in.
How much did you consider the original arrangements?
We did change the arrangements in small ways – Liam changed the chords and there was some improvising – but basically we didn’t want to change the tunes too much because they are so special to a lot of people and in a way they are perfectly formed. If something is so right, why radically alter it? It would have seemed gratuitous to set about major surgical tactics.
How did the textile-themed album artwork come about?
That was bizarre, because it can be a long process finding the right cover and that seemed to all fall into place. I went to a design company, called Designmap, based here in Margate where I live, to get them to build me a website. While I was there I saw Maxine Sutton’s cuckoo – used on the album’s cover – up on a board, and I said ‘I really like that, that’s gorgeous’. Her husband owns the design company and she has her own studio. She was really pleased and said ‘You’re welcome to use it for the album’.
What got you into jazz in the first place?
The first jazz record I heard was a record by Joni Mitchell and it was her first real jazz record – an album called Mingus – a collaboration with bass player Charles Mingus. It was a real departure and had people like Herbie Hancock and [saxist] Michael Brecker on it.
I loved it and thought I must find out more about this music so I went into a record store and said ‘Have you got anything by Charles Mingus?’ and I got Mingus Ah Um – so then I branched out from there. I joined the music library and didn’t know what to pick so I picked Sonny Rollins A Night at the Village Vanguard because I liked the cover – and it turned out to be one of the greatest records in the jazz archive. I thought ‘I’d really like to sing this kind of music’, so somebody said ‘Have you checked out Billie Holiday? – so that’s what I did. I started listening to Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson, Betty Carter – I became obsessed then, and continued to try and learn the language – and that was it, that was me!
Interview by Neil McKim
Christine Tobin and Liam Noble will be performing material from Tapestry Unravelled in Kent at the Hilderstone Theatre, as part of Broadstairs Folk Week, on Saturday 7 August at 7.45pm