In March 2002, Jonathan and Louis gave a performance together at the Théâtre de la Maroquinerie in Paris. Sitting in the audience was the producer Bertrand Burgalat, who was so impressed by the show that he asked them both to make a record for his Tricatel label. (A similar record featuring Michel Houellebecq had enjoyed some success a few years earlier.)
The centrepiece of the album is a complete reading of Jonathan’s story ‘9th and 13th’, with piano accompaniment written and performed by Louis’ long-time collaborator Danny Manners. Danny also composed a setting of ‘Somniloquy’, the sonnet which concludes The House of Sleep. You can listen to both of these tracks on the
audio page, along with ‘Three Views of Cicely’, which includes some extracts from The Rotters’ Club, with a guest appearance by the novelist Esther Freud.
9th and 13th can be purchased here.
Jonathan has also written lyrics for some of Louis Philippe’s songs. You can hear one of them, ‘Seven Years’ (taken from the album My Favourite Part of You) on the audio page. Visit the Louis Philippe website here.
Jonathan also wrote the lyrics to two songs on Theo Travis’s album Earth to Ether. They were sung by Richard Sinclair, formerly the vocalist and bass guitarist for Hatfield and the North.
In addition, Jonathan and Theo have given several live performances together. A central element of The Rain Before It Falls was inspired by Theo’s multitracked flute soundscapes on the album Slow Life, so it seemed appropriate to give some readings from the novel with live accompaniment. The first such occasion was at the Marathon des Mots in Toulouse in 2007, where the parts of Rosamond and Gill were read by Hanna Schygulla and Lou Doillon. At a subsequent performance at the Bath literary festival in 2009, extracts from the novel were read by Stephanie Cole. We’ll post audio clips from these performances as soon as they become available.
The pianist and composer Alex Maguire has also written music in response to The Rain Before It Falls. It was premiered at the Cheltenham Festival in 2009, with Helen Johns reading the part of Rosamond. A nine-minute audio clip can be heard on the audio page.
Say Hi to the Rivers and the Mountains
By far Jonathan’s most ambitious attempt to combine text and music is this piece of ‘spoken musical theatre’, written in response to music composed by Sean O’Hagan for his band The High Llamas.
Originally commissioned by Gary Sheehan for the Analog music festival in Dublin in 2008, the piece consists of twelve tunes by The High Llamas (six with lyrics, six purely instrumental) played continuously behind dialogue spoken by three actors. You can think of it as a 50-minute set by The High Llamas, and a 50-minute play by Jonathan Coe, which just happen to be performed simultaneously on the same stage.
As fans of The High Llamas will know, Sean O’Hagan’s music is melodic and accessible, taking in elements of Brian Wilson, Steve Reich, Brazilian music, Ravel, Robert Wyatt and many points in between. Lyrically he tends to avoid direct emotionalism, preferring instead to paint oblique and abstract word-pictures which emphasise his response to landscapes and buildings.
Taking his cue from these lyrics, Jonathan devised a narrative which revolves around a brutalist 1960s housing estate, a boy who grows up on it and his relationship with the daughter of the architect who designed it. The story was inspired by the Robin Hood Gardens estate in East London, designed by Alison and Peter Smithson (and the subject of a TV documentary back in 1970, directed by their close friend BS Johnson). Following a controversial campaign in 2008, this estate has failed to achieve listed status and is now slated for imminent demolition.
While not constituting a defence of the Robin Hood experiment, Say Hi to the Rivers and the Mountains tries to offer a lament for the failed idealism it represents, and a critique of the cynical consumerism which has replaced it.
(L-R Peter Daly, Hilary O’Shaughnessy and Stephen Swift, performing in Dublin, July 2008)
There are two brief clips from the show on the audio page. The first is a studio recording of Scene 8 (‘Harmonium’), featuring Charlotte Flintham as Susan and Paul Daintry as Jack. The second is a live recording of Scene 5 (‘Honeytrop’), featuring Lee Maxwell, Helen Johns and Alastair Watson. This is taken from the show’s most recent performance, at the Palabra y Música festival in Gijón, Northern Spain in March 2010.