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David Paul Jones – Something There

When a track from David Paul Jones' Samuel Beckett inspired Something There album was played on the radio, a remarkable thing happened. Jones' contemporary classical suite, performed by the Ayrshire-born composer's eight-piece DPJ Ensemble, had been released by Linn Records, and was picked up by Australia's ABC Classic FM station. The third track, the wistfully named The Sun Comes and Goes in the Land of Woop-Woop, was a particular favourite. Over its nearly sixteen minutes duration, the music's layers of piano, cello and saxophone soaked ambience evolves into a heartfelt emotional meditation made flesh by its vocal arrangements.

When it was played, one listener emailed Jones care of Linn, to thank him for the piece. More specifically, the writer of the email was hospital-bound and in constant pain with terminal cancer. When he turned on the radio and heard Jones' music, however, as Jones remembers it, “He said for that moment, or for the track's duration, he went somewhere without pain. To read that as an artist and a human being is really powerful.”

Fifteen years on, Jones is knee-deep in a burgeoning career as a composer and sound designer for theatre. This has recently seen him score Grid Iron's production of Jury Play at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, and Dundee Rep's look at Jean Genet's play, The Maids. For one night only, however, Jones has reconvened a seven-piece version of The DPJ Ensemble to revisit Something There in a unique concert environment.

“I was quite amazed that every member of the Ensemble bar one was available,” says Jones, sitting on a piano stool in the calm of his home studio in Edinburgh beside the baby grand to which the stool belongs. “Donnie Gillan, who's one of the cellists, he's part of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and I thought, there's no way we'll get Donnie, because, on a Saturday night, the SCO are bound to be playing somewhere, but by a total fluke, they were all available.

“It's still quite a challenging task to get all seven people into the same room at the same time. Today I'm working with Carolyn Murray-Hamilton, who's the female vocalist, and who's ex Scottish Opera, and I've rehearsed with Greg Sinclair, another one of the cellists. He's new to the ensemble, but is doing a beautiful job, and yesterday I was with Steve Kettley, the saxophonist.”

The DPJ Ensemble is completed by another original member, cellist Lucy Gillan, and double bass player Emma Smith, who plays with jazz bands, and has been a touring member of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's band, Gorillaz. Also on board is actress and director Alison Peebles, who will give a poetic introduction to the performance.

“It will be the first time we'll have played together as a unit since 2004.”

Something There was originally commissioned by Cathie Boyd of what was then Theatre Cryptic, now Cryptic Productions, for the multiple arts-based company's 2002 Beckett Time festival of work by or inspired by Samuel Beckett. The performance was directed by Graham Eatough, then of Suspect Culture theatre company. Jones had previously worked with Cryptic on the company's productions of Parallel Lines in 1996, and Electra in 2000.

“Cathie basically offered me a blank canvas, and left it up to me, “ says Jones of the Beckett Time commission. “At that time, I wasn't particularly familiar with Beckett's work, but, either through Cathie or else myself, I came across Beckett's poetry, and the poem, Something There, really stood out. It totally connected with me. Although the lyrics are my own, the piece as a whole is very much a response to that poem, which is basically about the enquiring mind observing its own processes.

“It's about the preciousness of life, it's about death, it's about loss, it's about wonderment, which are all things that are recurring explorations in most of my work anyway. Just reading the poem sparked something. My music isn't a transcription or a setting of it, but it's certainly an inspiration. Something I think that is within the poem, and which always speaks to me, is its sense of wonder and the unknown. This is why a lot of my lyrics are non-literal, in a way that recurs all the way through it, but with little glimmers of literal meanings that come and go.”

Since Something There's original outing, Jones has focused largely on theatre work. This has included a long relationship with site-specific auteurs, Grid Iron, performing in shows such as Those Eyes, That Mouth, The Devil's Larder and Barflies. Jones worked with the National Theatre of Scotland on John Tiffany's production of Chris Hannan's play, Elizabeth Gordon Quinn, and with Peebles on her look at Liz Lochhead's Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off.

More recently, Jones has sound-tracked new work at the Traverse, including the Michael Boyd directed Right Now, and has developed working relationships with children's theatre company, Catherine Wheels, and with contemporary dance company, Curious Seed. The time was right, however, for Jones to re-engage with his personal muse.

“I just felt that, as a musician who comes from a background of training as a concert pianist, I really miss writing and playing with that classicalesque type of musician performing my own work. I do solo gigs, but I find that increasingly lonely, when I know I have part of a pool of great musicians, and I just thought, in order to dive back into that energy, let's revive Something There.”

Jones categorically isn't attempting to recreate the album's complex orchestration to it, and has abridged the record's seventy-two minutes to what he reckons will probably end up as just under an hour, with the fifth part excised completely.

“The fourth part was the first one I ever wrote, and there's a real sense of finality to it,” he says.

Jones' notion of non-literal singing in part relates to his long-time love of the Cocteau Twins, the Grangemouth sired band whose vocalist Liz Fraser twisted language in similar ways to create ethereal soundscapes with guitarist and co-writer, Robin Guthrie. One of Jones' numerous current projects is to score the Cocteau Twins 1986 album, Victorialand, for orchestra.

“That's an idea I've had since I was about fourteen years old,” says Jones. “I discovered the Cocteau Twins at the same time as my classical sensibilities were tapped into as a student. I was playing Debussy and Ravel at the same time as I was listening to Victorialand. Even before I knew the Cocteau Twins, I would play around with words and write things. Aged sixteen as I was, when you hear how beautiful and unique that world is, you realise it's okay to do that, and it really works.”

Beyond Something There, Jones will be working with children's theatre company, Starcatchers, and will also be working on a new production with students on the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland's British Sign Language and English course. With other theatre shows in the pipeline, for now, at least, The DPJ Ensemble is back.

“What's special for me is revisiting Something There with an ensemble of other musicians,” says Jones. “My direction now is all about collaboration in some shape or form. It's about bouncing off the energy of other artists. Yes, I wrote the work, but it's pointless sitting with an ipad, or just having a score in a drawer. It's people who bring it to life, and with Something There I think we've got a lovely line up to do just that.”

David Paul Jones performs Something There with The DPJ Ensemble at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, November 25th.
www.traverse.co.uk


The Herald, November 14th 2017

ends

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