Monkey Puzzle Trio – The River Lee (from the album The Pattern Familiar, Slowfoot Records)
I get sent quite a bit of music, covering a broad range of, let’s call it pop music. This is a first in my time doing the show – a piece of music that references Cork city directly, explicitly and funnily enough the band isn’t even from Cork.
‘The River Lee’ caught my eye straightaway – that’s the river that runs through Cork. The song also mentions Shandon, an area of Cork city. (The only other group I can think of to do this is Cork 80s band Five Go Down To The Sea in their classic ‘There’s a fish on top of Shandon (swears he’s Elvis)’.) First, here’s some background on the band.
Walking a tightrope between song, improvisation and sound-as-sound, Monkey Puzzle Trio is an ongoing project which features drummer Charles Hayward [This Heat, About Group, Massacre], bassist Nick Doyne-Ditmas [Pinski Zoo, Crackle] and the words, voice and textures of singer and sound artist Viv Corringham. Their music is driven by the restless energy, invention and power of Hayward’s drumming underpinned by the languid and exploratory double bass playing of Doyne-Ditmas, to which Corringham adds, with the aid of a loop pedal, her unique collage of words and sound. Together they create a distinctive sound world, both exhilarating and immersive, which relies on the sensitivity and experience of all three musicians. All three musicians are obsessed with song as an ideal, and are adept and fast thinking improvisers.
So, Shandon. Intrigued, I listened more closely. Later in the piece, there’s a mention of a woman who took her shoes off and lay down in the river, the Lee. So I sent off an e-mail asking for more information. Did any of the band have a direct connection with Cork? These words came back from Viv Corringham.
“Yes, it is about Cork. The words are taken from what Stephen O'Reilly (who ran the tripe shop in the English Market) told me - about his family having to move from Shandon when they cleared the laneways, and about some of the characters he remembered from the old days. He was in his late 80s at the time - about 2004. The last part - the woman taking off her shoes and lying down in the river - comes from a tale Conal Creedon told me.
I have a warm connection with Cork and Cobh through doing several artist residencies there over about 4 years. (I worked with Danny McCarthy on one, who you probably know.) I have an ongoing project called Shadow-walks, which started in Cork. I ask people to take me on a walk that's special to them and record what they say. Then I sing their walk along the same route, this time alone. The final piece became an audio installation in the old post office. Stephen and Conal were two of the people I walked with.”
So small world. I do indeed know Danny and Conal – Conal’s my brother in law in fact! He’s a well-known author and playwright in Cork, aswell as further afield, and Danny is a renowned sound and installation artist.
Viv also added these links -
“Otherwise there is lots of documentation on more recent installations based on the same project in different countries at my website: vivcorringham.org/recent_work.”
There are some fascinating accounts contained in there which are well worth a look. Apart from the Cork intrigue, this piece has a kind of trance-like atmosphere due to the incantation-style vocals and meditational drum patting. There's an air of mystery about it that you'll find lacking in most daytime (or night time) radio fodder, in keeping with the rest of the album.
It’s highly effective, and not only if you’re from Cork.