By Mamoon Alabbasi – London
Politics and human rights have always been among the dominant themes in Sarah Gillespie’s albums ‘Stalking Juliet’ and ‘In the Current Climate’, but her latest release ‘The War on Trevor’ – a fifteen minute music narrative divided into four sections – indulges her passion for these topics further, as the whole piece was exclusively dedicated to them. The narrative follows a Londoner named Trevor during perhaps one of the most unfortunate days in his life. Caught up in an anti-capitalist riot, he fails to find a public toilet to use and in an instant where he probably thought no one was paying attention, he was caught urinating by the police. The first segment of the narrative, entitled ‘ The Miranda Warning’, beautifully captures the disdain of both society and the state for what Trevor did: "You think you can mock the good people who toil / by urinating on Her Majesty’s Soil?"
The second segment, ‘Signal Failure’, is by far my favourite. It could work on its own as a love song about jealousy, had it been released separately. But within the context of the whole narrative, it enriches the story with a very touching dimension. It shows that Trevor is already in a strained relationship with his partner, but the fact that his phone isn’t ringing and he hadn’t replied to her text messages made her wonder if his silence "spells indifference or rage / ’cause no one forgives in this day and age". Having no idea that he had been arrested, she begins to wonder if he is with another woman, and bounces back and forth between moments of anger – "Don’t call me back / I don’t dance to your tune" and instances of pleading – "Darling run to me, run to me".
The fact that he did not call to let her know of his arrest could be explained by the next segment – ‘The Shami Chakrabarti Blues’ – when we learn that Trevor is now being suspected of terrorism, and neither the director of the pro-human rights pressure group Liberty nor the "left wing Twitterati" can help him now. The segment explains that a police and surveillance state has put Trevor "in a jurisdiction-free domain" because it has "got a civilisation to maintain." The stakes are now much higher; he is no longer just a nuisance to society or on the wrong side of the law, he is now a threat to civilisation. In fact, he appears to be such a threat to civilisation that it is worth suspending civilisation in order to save it. This is perhaps the reason we never learn of Trevor’s guilt or innocence. The narrative reserves its judgement only to those who are judging him – I think as a way of saying that a high moral ground should be maintained no matter who you’re dealing with.
The fourth and last segment – ‘The Banks of the Arghandab’ – gives a pessimistic conclusion to the now dark narrative, where the earlier comic incursions will not save Trevor nor end our dampened mood. But aside from the powerful messages that one is accustomed to expect from Gillespie’s albums, the new release also bears her trademark captivating style of music, produced by Gilad Atzmon, whose playing of the accordion, clarinet and saxophone can be pleasingly traced throughout her work.
The live performance of ‘The War on Trevor’, launched last week at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London, was met by a very appreciative audience. In the words of one person, Sarah Chaplin, who was present:
"I enjoyed the gig, found it refreshingly different, both Gilad and Sarah are edgy, deliberately awkward but highly competent performers and it was great to hear them combine their musical languages to find a creative space for collaboration – the political lyrics, country guitar vibe and the eastern/gypsy/klesmer tinged sounds of the sax and clarinet were very engaging, cutting across musical tastes and genres to forge a new territory. It was also very personal music, and I like that."
I couldn’t sum it up more eloquently.
– Mamoon Alabbasi is a news editor and translator based in London. His op-eds, reports, and reviews appear in a number of media outlets.