THE TYBURN TREE
By John Harle and Marc Almond
The Tyburn Tree - a video artwork by Richard Scott
John Harle and Marc Almond, The Tyburn Tree - My Fair Lady
JOHN HARLE AND MARC ALMOND, THE TYBURN TREE - FORTRESS
The Tyburn Tree and Marc Almond - London's Anti-Hero
By John Harle
The voice of Marc Almond is well known to almost all of us as a well of emotion, sincerity and power.
For the last few years he has been thrilling audiences with renditions of familiar songs sung in an unfamiliar way, but his singing always seems edgier, more dangerous and riskier than other singers.
This is what I heard in his masterful, shattering performance of Mark Ravenhill and Conor Mitchell's "Ten Plagues" at Wilton's Music Hall this year, where he channelled the emotional kaleidoscope of love and death into a performance that surpassed the greatest opera singers I have heard.
Marc and I are both from the North of England, but we both grew up musically and artistically in London in the 70's and 80's - in different worlds, but with London as the focus for our dreams and ambitions. As 'outsiders', from the North, our perception of London was probably different to London natives - and the eyes of the outsider see both the light and the dark sides easily and quickly. I personally wanted to find the roots of Englishness, to investigate my fear of the unknown and the unpredictable but above all, to experience it with intensity. After teenage years spent listening obsessively in Newcastle upon Tyne to Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Soft Machine and Pentangle, I was ready for London, and for me, London became all about its secrets - the mysteries, the masonic, the anti-history and the Gothic. Always looking below the surface for things not being what they seem.
Marc's lyrics for the album have been taking shape one the last year or so, and it's from these lyrics that form the backbone of the songs. It's from these lyrics that we see his own breadth of experience and inner, personal knowledge of Dark London. Other writers join the fray - William Blake, (1757-1827) the London poet, provides his 'epic theatre' of London with words from 'Jerusalem' and 'London' - always the socially critical, and with absolutely equal relevance today as in the early 19th Century. Iain Sinclair reads his own work on the album from his monumental works on Dark London, Lud Heat and Suicide Bridge, and poet Tom Pickard writes on London Bridge and the hanging of the innocent in 'My Fair Lady' and 'Black Widow'. The lyrics for 'Dark Angel' are an extract from the writings of John Dee (1527-1609) and are a first-hand account of his most fearful session of spirit-calling. The words of the alluring, child-like incubus Madimi is sung with a spine-tingling and chilling purity by the soprano Sarah Leonard, one of my regular team of collaborators - Sarah is the ethereal vocalist on my theme to BBC1's 'Silent Witness'.
But it's the voice of Marc Almond that is the spiritual medium from which appears the ghosts of Dark London. In working with Marc over the last year or so, I've heard how he transforms the ordinary to the meaningful by the vocal colours his rich emotional palate creates. His voice has a quality that makes much of what he sings seem heroic - without being bombastic. In The Tyburn Tree, that heroism has been turned to darker subjects and darker purposes, and the tension of his heroic voice applied to shadowy subject-matter is what makes his performances authentic, thrilling and eerie. That natural heroism is all about the frame it's put in. It supports both the dark and light sides. In Blake's 'Jerusalem' - a hint of optimism at the end of an otherwise dark album, the words are supported by what we perceive as a natural optimism in the heroic voice, as the converse works equally well where that optimism is turned on it's head and the voice heroically supports Marc's transformation into Jack the Ripper in The Labyrinth of Limehouse. Jack the Ripper as hero or anti-hero? It's up to the listener to decide.
Marc is a true artist and true performer - showing total openness and vulnerability alongside an experimental, non-judgemental view of Art, and in The Tyburn Tree, London has found its Anti-Hero.