Sailing To Byzantium (Trail Belle Records)

Christine Tobin

Released July 2, 2012

Jazzwise Top 10 Releases of 2012



“Have not poetry and music arisen… out of the sounds the enchanters made to help their imagination to enchant, to charm, to bind with a spell themselves and the passers by?” 
W.B. Yeats

Chanting and enchanting, poetry and music have always been of equal importance to Tobin, both as singer and composer. The poems are chosen from Yeats’s early work through to his final collection. She was particularly drawn to the love poems such as When You Are Old, written with the unattainable love of his life Maud Gonne, in mind, and also his poems that celebrate the transformative power of art and his desire to find a deeper spiritual truth, as in “Sailing to Byzantium” and Long-legged Fly. Christine works with the poems on a deep intuitive level creating music that draws you into a world of unalloyed soulfulness, conjuring watercolour accompaniments on The Fisherman, and a hypnotic, prayer-like refrain on “Sailing to Byzantium”. The quiet power of Byrne’s reading of The Lake Isle of Innisfree over Tobin’s sparse, evocative piano accompaniment; brings great warmth and luminosity to the meaning. In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Constance Markievicz captures the spectral quality of friends in a world that has passed and Lockrane’s flute introduction on The Song of Wandering Aengus leads us into a mystical “hazel wood”. Apocalyptic disquiet is conveyed on The Second Coming by a menacing, repetitive 5/4 motif where the “blood dimmed tide is loosed” and culminates in an anarchic crescendo. Romantic and radical, Christine is a musical free spirit who blurs the lines to create her own unique style that manages to be both earthy and ethereal. The rich palette of harmony and colour draws on influences from folk, jazz and twentieth century classical, from Miles to Messiaen. “Sailing to Byzantium” includes special guest, renowned actor Gabriel Byrne reading three of the poems. Byrne’s presence on the album is of special significance to Christine as he was her teacher back in Dublin when she attended secondary school. Gabriel was the school’s Spanish teacher, but he also led drama classes after hours for students who showed a keen interest. His collaboration with Tobin on this recording follows a direct link to an inspirational time in her formative years when she attended, what was then, one of Dublin’s most unique schools. Yeats’s poems came into her life around this time too, when her first boyfriend used to read her ‘When You Are Old’, and a moonstruck Tobin imagined “the pilgrim soul” lay somewhere within.

Track Listing:

1. When You Are Old 04:16

2. The Lake Isle of Innisfree 01:35

3. The Song of Wandering Aengus 05:03

4. The Wild Swans at Coole 06:47

5. The Fisherman 04:57

6. The Pity of Love 00:21

7. The Second Coming 03:39

8. In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Constance Markievicz 06:54

9. What Then? 06:21

10. Sailing to Byzantium 05:30

11. Byzantium 05:28

12. Long-legged Fly 05:27

13. The White Birds 01:42


Christine Tobin: vocals

Dave Whitford: bass

Kate Shortt: cello

Gareth Lockrane: flute

Phil Robson: guitar

Liam Noble: piano

Gabriel Byrne: reader (2, 6, 13)

Recorded on 16th of September & 18th of December 2011 at Curtis Schwartz Studio, Berry House, Ardingly, West Sussex, U.K.

Produced and arranged by Christine Tobin

Executive Producer: Christine Tobin, Gwilym Simcock, Les Curtis

Engineer: Curtis Schwartz

Artwork: Maxine Sutton


This album of song settings of W. B. Yeats’s poetry is the result of a commission (the National Library of Ireland asked Christine Tobin to give a performance -– of four songs – as part of their Yeats ‘Summer’s Wreath’ celebrations in 2010), but such is the haunting beauty of the whole that it clearly fast became a labour of love. 
Tobin herself recalls the effect ‘When You are Old’ had on her when, as a teenager, her first boyfriend read it to her – ‘the power and beauty of the words became infused with the passion of our own romance’ – and this intensely personal emotion infuses the whole project. 
With her affectingly languorous, pure-toned voice and crystal-cear diction, Tobin might have been specially created to sing Yeats lines such as ‘But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you’, or ‘Two girls in silk kimonos, both/ Beautiful, one a gazelle’, and with her regular band (pianist Liam Noble, cellist Kate Shortt, guitarist Phil Robsonand bassist Dave Whitford) augmented by flautist Gareth Lockrane and actor Gabriel Byrne, who reads three poems impeccably, she has produced an utterly convincing work of art, imbued with taste, refinement and grace, but also -– where required – considerable power. 
Musical settings of pre-existing poems frequently sound somewhat contrived; Tobin’s great achievement is to make hers sound so natural and apt that one quickly forgets that the words and melodies were written separately, so absorbing are the resultant songs.

Chris Parker (LondonJazzNews)