We had the chance to interview the Late David Turpin ahead of his performance in the Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival on September 17th. You can read the results below…
Why is this performance called ‘Romances’?
When I was a child, we used to watch Sister Wendy’s TV programme, “Story of Painting”, on BBC. I remember her talking about Klimt’s painting, “The Kiss” – of a couple dissolving into a gold mass – and how she described it as a depiction of “the loss of self that lovers experience”. I suppose that stayed with me because of the incongruity of hearing it from a nun, but it came to my mind when I started writing new songs a couple of years ago. For me, music has always been about trying to find a way to get out of this body I’m trapped inside – that’s one of the reasons I love writing for other people’s voices. When I write a song, and then ask somebody else to sing it, they’re transforming into me and I’m transforming into them. For me, that’s a kind of love affair.
The show also plays on the antiquated use of the word “romance”, meaning “narrative”. I like the idea that the songs are stories – or extracts from stories – that the audience has to fill in from their own imaginations. I think that’s heightened when you have a lot of different guest singers, as this show does – each of them has their own implications for people to build stories around.
Finally, I’m working with a lot of male singers this time, which I’ve never done before. I don’t think you can use the word ‘Romances’ without being alert to the way in which it’s used – particularly in publishing – to denigrate subjects that are perceived to have a particular appeal to women. So I wanted to upend that convention, and I wanted to hear male voices singing about love without whining or leering.
This is called a ‘theatrical concert’. What does this mean? Will there be elements of theatre?
I guess when I describe it as a ‘theatrical concert’ it’s a way of letting people know that it may not tally with their usual expectations of a concert – that it might surprise them. I like to think of it as a concert with smoke and mirrors. I’m wary of the word ‘theatrical’ because it’s so often used as a synonym for ‘extrovert’, and anybody who knows my music will know that’s not really my style. For me, the theatrical element comes from the way the show creates its own world – its own environment in which the songs unfold.
Project Arts Centre is my favourite venue in the city for this kind of show. It’s not tethered to any one discipline. The doors close and you’re in this black box where anything could happen. Also – although I know it’s celebrating its 50th anniversary next year – it had a very rich history around the 1980s and early 1990s, which is a period that this show draws quite heavily upon.
What will be the musical arrangement on the night, or will it vary?
There’s a lot of variety in this show – more than in any I’ve done before. There are multiple lead singers – Samyel, Elephant, Gar Cox, Bear Worship, Jaime Nanci, Martin McCann, Veda, and more – and there are also a couple of different configurations going on in the band, which includes Hunter- Gatherer and Benny Smiles, as well as my regular band, Derek and Julie. On top of that we have singers from Tonnta Vocal Ensemble appearing on several of the songs. No two songs are exactly alike.
Do you like performing in a theatre? Is the atmosphere of the gig different?
I love doing theatre shows. Unfortunately, because mine are so elaborate, I don’t get to do them very often. ‘Romances’ is really a once-off – the lighting alone is far beyond anything I’d be able to do under normal circumstances.
I’m really excited to come back to the Dublin Fringe Festival, because they’ve been so important to my work in the past. This feels like the right way to premiere my new music, and show people what’s become of me over the past two years.
Are seated audiences different from standing ones?
There’s less kicking, biting and scratching with a seated audience. Also, praise be that there’s no bar in the same room as the stage! I am all for people having a Chardonnay before and after the show – but ‘Romances’ isn’t the kind of show where you can go and get a cider during the slow numbers.
There are so many slow numbers you’d miss the whole show – and come down with alcohol poisoning.
Why do you think the poster for your gig was not allowed on Facebook?
Truthfully, I don’t know. I shot that image with a photographer called Phelim Webb – who was working as a duo with another photographer, Molly O’Neill – and at no point did any of us rub our hands together thinking we’d come up with a salacious image. The aesthetic of this show draws a lot upon the British filmmaker Derek Jarman, so I was channelling his film “The Angelic Conversation” (1985), which is about as far from obscenity as it is possible to get.
I don’t even know how these decisions are made by Facebook. They sent me a rather accusatory email advising that I “advertise my product or service in a manner that is not sexually suggestive”, and they ignored me when I queried the decision. A week or so later, they were contacted for a quote on the subject by a newspaper, and claimed the decision had been made ‘mistakenly’. I would assume that had more to do with squashing the story than rectifying an error, but draw your own conclusions – it’s all very “Michael Clayton”, is it not?
Do you think if you were holding a woman, would it have been allowed?
Who knows? Are these decisions made by an algorithm or a person? Many of my friends who work in nightclub promotion and so on were very emphatic that the image had been banned because the figures are both male – but as Facebook haven’t clarified, it’s impossible to know. For me, the bigger gripe was always the Orwellian aspect of it. Facebook has given me many laughs over the years, but to find myself having to defend my morality to it – not knowing whether I was communicating with a person or a machine – felt very wrong to me.
You have a lot of guest artists performing with you on the night. Who would be your ideal guest vocalist, living or dead?
Good question! For me, the rule always has to be that the guest should be doing something I could never do, and that I should be asking them to do something they would never do in their own work. I did a little bit of bilingual work with Samyel for ‘Romances’ (in French and English), and it got me thinking about what it would be like to work with more bilingual vocalists.
I think at the moment I would choose Jeanne Moreau. She can sing, if she likes – but mostly I’d just like to hear her speak on something I’ve written. Nobody has a speaking voice quite like hers.
The Late David Turpin – Romances – Tiger Dublin Fringe Festival.
Date Sep 17 @ 21:00. Tickets €16 / €14 conc.
Duration 70 mins.