Review: Sarah Gillespie - The War On Trevor
The War On Trevor
|Album:||The War On Trevor - With Variations On A Theme By Joseph Haydn|
|Date of Release:||2012/04|
|Country of Release:||UK|
2) Vocal Jazz, Contemporary
|Date of Review:||2012/04/12|
The War On Trevor
Sarah Gillespie's The War On Trevor is a fifteen-minute (13:05 if you're pedantic) narrative song cycle and was released earlier this month on Pastiche Records as an EP - it is not Ms. Gillespie's third album. The project is supported by a PRS 'Women Make Music' Award.
Cozy and comforting is not something you would ever accuse Ms. Gillespie's superior, beat poetry oriented lyrics of. However, with The War On Trevor she moves into much more disquieting, Kafkaesque territory with the most sinister, yes downright terrifying over- and undertones. This is anything but a smooth ride but rather a roller coaster ride through contemporary post - 9/11 reality that should terrify all of us sufficiently to wake up to what our 'society' has become and is still becoming.
Musically, The War On Trevor is presented with Gillespie's usual genre-defying blend of jazz, folk and blues, with the addition of a classical element in the form of Brahm's Variations on a Theme by Haydn which turn this melody into a brief but all the same epic war march in the fourth and final song, The Banks Of The Arghandab. Ms. Gillespie's natural gift for melody is in full flow throughout, with plenty of scope for Gilad Atzmon's fabulous saxes and clarinets and great solid bass lines for Ben Bastin, and one hell of a groove from Enzo Zirilli on The Shami Chakrabarti Blues and a superb restrained march beat on The Banks Of The Arghandab. The superlative arrangements and production also stand out, as does the overall recording quality.
However, to get down to the real beef. The War On Trevor could be described as an anti-war song cycle, and it is that, but it is also clearly so much more.
The title, very obviously, is a pun on the slogan of the age, 'The War on Terror.' The narrative, told with Gillespie's customary immense wit and intelligence, is centred around Trevor, an ordinary Joe, like millions of others. Unlike millions of others, Trevor becomes embroiled in a series of unlikely events not of his making, nor under his control. In many ways, quite like Brian in Monty Python's The Life Of Brian. An unlikely ordinary Joe who is mistaken for the 'Messiah.' In a parallel way, Trevor is an unlikely ordinary Joe who is mistaken for a 'terrorist.' But where Brian is comic, Trevor is tragic. Deeply so.
Trevor, through no fault of his own other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, is caught up in an anti-capitalist demonstration; unable to find a public toilet, he finds himself forced to urinate in public, and is arrested for committing an indecent act. As he does not respond to his girlfriend's texts and calls and she consequently suspects him of infidelity, she dumps Trevor. But things take a far more sinister turn when he is mistaken for a terrorist and interrogated by intelligence services.
So far, the story unfolds entirely in first person narrative, but never that of Trevor himself: the copper who arrests him, his girlfriend, the intelligence operative. Nor is Trevor ever actually referred to directly. Only in the final song, which starts in third person narrative, do we finally hear the voice of Trevor, asking to be allowed to cry on the banks of the Arghandab (Afghanistan's main river). For the first time, he realises the true nature of the world around him, and grief and shock turn into despair and ultimately, dissociation.
Black humour and pathos are mixed both lyrically and musically by Gillespie throughout, and it this mix that makes this dark tale bearable.
Aside from the anti-war implications - the illegal war in Iraq, in Afghanistan, the war on terror and the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of lives that these have cost and that they have destroyed - The War On Trevor also looks at the effect that these wars have had on our wider society and culture. Both aspects are, ultimately, equally horrifying and terrifying. There is the paranoia of Islamophobia and almost anything and anyone either Arab or Muslim, or indeed even of anyone even vaguely olive skinned (Jean Charles de Menezes ring any bells?) or in any way non-Western even. And there is the paranoia of terrorism and terrorists, this wholly and unholy irrational obsession.
The picture that The War On Trevor paints is indeed a terrifyingly bleak one, and moreover a terrifyingly, astutely observed accurate one. And if reality has not scared you witless so far, then Ms. Gillespie's The War On Trevor should at least and at last awaken you to the real terror we live in and under. A society that sanctions the murder of millions of people, in the name of liberal democracy. That may yet sanction a nuclear attack on another country and the deaths of millions more. In the name of liberal democracy. A society that has sanctioned - and possibly still does sanction? - inhumane practices such as 'extraordinary rendition' and torture. In the name of liberal democracy. A society where civil rights and human rights are constantly being alarmingly eroded or abused. In the name of liberal democracy, security and freedom! A society that tries to eliminate even privacy. In the name of liberal democracy, security and freedom!
We are already living in a near-perfect surveillance society. Every time you use your plastic to pay, it leaves a record of what you bought and where and when. Your loyalty card does much the same, only it allows retailers to use that information to - hopefully - make you buy more of what they want to sell you. Got a mobile phone? That lets your location be traced at any time and leaves a record of whom you talked to and texted. Got internet? Facebook? And then there is CCTV tracking almost your every move in glorious Technicolor! In town centres, at stations, airports, even corner shops. Can you still breathe? Sometimes it feels like you can't even fart anymore without it being logged somewhere! What kind of freedom is all this?
And then there is Trevor. Good old ordinary Trevor. Yes, he is a fictional character. But what happened to him could just as easily happen to YOU! Trevor could be me, you, your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, mother, father, sister, brother - Trevor could be anyone of us. Wake up!
An utterly compulsive piece of musical narrative, The War On Trevor is breath-taking in its perceptiveness and scope, as brilliantly conceived as it is executed. A kind of extended Lili Marlene for the 21st century. As terrifying as it is hauntingly beautiful. And it is a wake-up call that cannot, must not be ignored. In the best traditions of the protest song, this is the nearest thing to the ultimate anti-war recording yet.
Sarah Gillespie's The War On Trevor is an absolute must have, for anybody. For Everyman. Especially for Everyman.
Sarah Gillespie - vocals & guitar
Gilad Atzmon - accordion, saxophones, clarinets
Ben Bastin - double bass & cello
Enzo Zirilli - drums, percussion
All songs by Sarah Gillespie
with Johannes Brahm's Variations On A Theme By Joseph Haydn
The War On Trevor can be purchased from:
General CD stores and online sources
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