Conceived by Opera North Projects, Mercy and Grand celebrates the music of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, and other composers, in arrangements by Gavin Bryars, James Holmes (former Head of Music at Opera North) and violinist Joe Townsend. There are two pieces by Kurt Weill, some folk music, a John Tams fairground ballad, a tango and a gypsy waltz, so at the same time it expresses something of the great American and European songwriting traditions from which they spring. The music is performed by an unusual sevenstrong ensemble (in which Gavin Bryars plays the double-bass) with mezzosoprano Jessica Walker.
Bryars says: “It is not a pastiche of Tom’s own band nor does it replicate Tom’s inimitable performing style. Our singer, Jess Walker, is classically trained, female and English, and this can help to draw a different kind of attention to the words and the music, especially for those more used to Tom’s unique qualities as performer.”
“In the song ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ the words ‘Mercy and Grand’ refer to a place, a corner where two roads meet on the edge of a town. We too have tried to find meeting places: between musicians and between song-writing traditions, making intuitive connections across a range of styles and musical genres. We focused on particular themes - memory, loss, journeys, the circus… - and although there is no specific narrative in the sequence of songs, there is a sense in which the music does take us on a kind of journey.”
Tom Waits and Gavin Bryars famously first worked together in 1993 on the hypnotic fulllength recorded version of Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.
“I’m honored to have an artist of Gavin Bryars’ stature dress these songs up and take them out to an elegant night on the town.” Tom Waits.
Jess Walker (mezzo-soprano), Joe Townsend (violin, trumpet-violin), Dai Pritchard (tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute); Karen Street (accordion), James Woodrow (electric guitar), Jim Holmes (piano, harmonium, harmonica), Gavin Bryars (double-bass, harmonium) & Simon Allen (percussion, including musical saw, waterphone)