Iain Ballamy to play tribute to Matthew Sweeney

English saxophonist Iain Ballamy first met late Irish poet Matthew Sweeney on the finish of the Nineteen Nineties, through the making of a jazz tv sequence filmed in Southampton. The pair had a passionate and mutual love of jazz, but the connection between them appeared extra highly effective, quick and unstated. 

“I think by the way I played, and by the way he wrote, we just knew that we liked each other,” says Ballamy. “We could relate. We clicked.”

 The saxophonist remembers Sweeney studying two poems: one a few man swimming the Channel – on the again of a horse (‘Crossing’); one other on an all-night card sport between 4 males and their Uncle Charlie, who was “stretched out in his coffin”, useless (‘Poker’).

“I was struck by the way Matthew’s mind worked, by his extraordinary flights of fantasy and imagination,” says Ballamy. “He thought like a jazz musician: the poems were free-flowing, a stream of consciousness – they made all kinds of unpredictable connections. There was also something dark, humorous and bitingly honest about his writing, and that appealed to me too.” 

After filming, the lads made off with a bottle of purple wine from the studio’s inexperienced room, and jumped on a practice again to London. “We talked and drank and laughed the whole way,” continues Ballamy. “By the time we pulled into Waterloo, Matthew already felt like an old friend.”

 Over the following 20 years the bond between the duo deepened and developed, helped maybe by their related outlook on the world. Both, for instance, had a staunchly European sensibility that reached out past the borders of beginning and abode.

Sweeney was born in Lifford, Co Donegal, moved to London in 1973 and lived in Berlin, Paris and Timisoara in Romania; he settled in Cork in 2008. His guiding gentle was Kafka, his work stays extremely regarded in Germany, and he’s the second-most translated trendy Irish poet, after Seamus Heaney. “I don’t think Matthew was a Vote Leave person,” jokes Ballamy.

Iain Ballamy. Picture: Lis Wormsley
Iain Ballamy. Picture: Lis Wormsley

Fifty-eight-year-old Ballamy could also be famend as “the fantastic Englishman” who was one of many founding members of iconoclastic British ’80s collective Loose Tubes and a key member of English prog-rock drum legend Bill Bruford’s band Earthworks, but he has additionally solid a distinctly continental identification.

In the late ’90s he shaped Food, an ambient electronica duo (plus occasional friends) with Norwegian drummer and electronics wizard Thomas Stronen; up to now three Food albums have appeared on quintessential European jazz and new music label ECM. Ballamy additionally has a second Anglo-Norwegian pairing, Little Radio, with virtuoso button accordionist Stian Carstensen.

Both musician and author had been adventurous spirits too, non-conformers ever-eager to problem themselves and develop their work and observe. As properly as his 16 award-winning collections of vibrant, mischievous and darkly fabulist poems, Sweeney wrote poetry and novels for kids and co-wrote a satirical crime thriller with English poet John Hartley Williams.

The scope of Ballamy’s work is dizzying: from collaborating with famed English people singer June Tabor to writing movie soundtracks and showing as a soloist with the BBC Philharmonic. Ballamy and Sweeney had been additionally dedicated and beneficiant lecturers and mentors. “I think we were both fascinated by the many different facets of the disco ball, of the whole,” says Ballamy.

The pair labored collectively on various intriguing ventures, from a 2001 joint fee to mark the opening of the Jerwood Library at Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London, to gigs at a Berlin jazz membership and an bold cross-arts venture titled An Ape’s Progress as a part of the 2015 Manchester Jazz and Literature Festivals.

The world premiere that brings Ballamy to Cork this month, nonetheless, is a posthumous one. A live performance co-commissioned by Triskel Arts Centre and Cork World Book Fest, and supported

The English saxophonist is coming to Triskel to play a bit impressed by the work of his buddy, the Cork-based poet who died in 2018

by the Arts Council of Ireland, The Owl is Ballamy’s response to a poem of the identical identify that Sweeney wrote over 12 haunted and helpless nights in October 2017 whereas ready for a neurologist’s prognosis. The information was not good. Sweeney was to die of motor neurone illness ten months later, aged 65.

“Matthew sent me ‘The Owl’ shortly after he’d written it and I promised him that, whatever was to come, I would make a setting for it,” says Ballamy. “And then, after he died, I wrote the music as a way of both cauterising the loss and paying a tribute to him. I think of it as a response piece – to Matthew, our friendship, his poetry and his predicament. It’s also all tied up with ideas of mortality, darkness, hope, music and truth. I tried to be honest about it all.” 

 Ballamy’s music for ‘The Owl’ is structured in the same approach to the poem: the composition alternates between “quiet ambient improvisations” that accompany the 12 stanzas – recited by celebrated stage and display screen actor Denis Conway – and written tunes that echo the various themes and moods of every one, closing with “a kind of Irish air” titled “Donegal Son”. The excellent quartet Ballamy has assembled contains the chief on saxophones, Huw Warren on piano, Matthew Sharp on cello and Roy Dodds on percussion.

“In my imagination, Matthew is something like Jiminy Cricket – he’s there with me, like a partner or presence,” says Ballamy, smiling. “I can imagine so strongly how he’d react to the concert. I know he would like it, that he’d have been thrilled.” 

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