MARK SOMERS – Restless Poetry (own label)

Restless PoetryTo your list of famous Belgians add the name of Mark Somers because if you don’t know about him now you will soon. Mark is a singer and songwriter who plays guitar and bass and seems to place no limitations on his musical imagination. Restless Poetry is his second album and Restless Poetry is a fitting title for this collection of songs. There are two strands to the record: six songs are written by Mark and the rest are settings of poetry by Langston Hughes, of whom more later.

To begin at the beginning, the first two songs are about migration. ‘Refugee’ comes from the migrant questioning his situation: “How can I be illegal on this earth?” while ‘Hordes’ frames the words of the bigot but also tells the unvarnished truth about the immigrants’ role in the world. It’s clever but not comfortable listening because we know it’s true. The third song is ‘Letter To Norma’ and I smiled stupidly as I wondered if it was about Norma Waterson. It is.

The first of the Langston Hughes lyrics is ‘Fascination’. Like many of Langstone works it’s a short poem, barely more than fifty words even with repeats, but Mark expands it with bluesy guitar and harmonica. Hughes was a poet and black activist in the mid twentieth century and most of Mark’s selection come from his early work in the 1920s. Early racial profiling meant that most musical adaptations of his work were jazz or blues based but Mark has necessarily fallen into that groove because, as he says, he can feel the rhythm inherent in the words. ‘Fascination’ uses a blues structure and the final track ‘Gods’ is a full-blown jazz work-out but ‘Empty House’, for example, is heading for prog and ‘Afraid’ uses unaccompanied harmony  Mark’s style is so varied as to defy description. There’s brass, encompassing his jazz leanings, but ‘Better’ sees the first appearance of Sekou Dioubaté on kora and percussion taking us off in a new direction and ‘Sweet Turmoil’ has a vaguely middle-eastern feel.

Restless Poetry isn’t the album I was expecting but I’ve enjoyed it immensely. If we can do a little to raise Mark Somers’ profile, I’ll be very pleased.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.marksomers.co.uk

‘Better’ live:

Tom Baxter – new single and tour dates

The ArcWith the release of his beautifully crafted new single, ‘The Arc’, due for release at the end his tour of UK and Ireland on 14th June 2015, Tom Baxter is once again placing his soulful, emotionally literate songwriting in the spotlight. And he has love to thank for the opportunity.

Tom wrote ‘The Arc’ for the wedding of his friend, the actor and director David Schwimmer. The two have been close ever since the former Friends star included Tom’s now classic song ‘Better’ in the hit film Run, Fatboy, Run.

“When David called to let me know he was getting married he asked me if I could write a song for his wedding ceremony – he had a poem in mind called ‘The Arc Of Your Mallet’ from a 13th century Persian poet called Rumi,” explains Tom.

“By complete chance I happened to be reading a book of Rumi’s poetry at the time and neither of us could quite believe the serendipity of the moment. I used three or four lines from the poem, but really it was the title that got me inspired.”

The poem considers mankind’s connection to all things divine that we never see and so many of us struggle to grasp.

“Perhaps it is an analogy for that which is so hard to explain, like the mystery of love,” wonders Tom. “When I read the poem I had the image of a 13th century woman working in the fields cutting the golden barley and then another image of her lover drenched in sweat in a blacksmith’s workshop beating the metal into shape.

“It’s this combined struggle for life and their hard graft that is where the song breathes. I eventually sent the song over to David and Zoe his wife (to be) absolutely loved it and asked if I would sing it as they stood at the altar to take their vows.

“It was one of the most special moments for me and as I sang them the song I watched two great people unite, beaming from ear to ear!”

Tom will be showcasing ‘The Arc’, which features backing vocals by Judie Tzuke and was mixed by Rupert Christie (Bellowhead/Lou Reed), alongside songs destined for his eagerly anticipated new album on tour this spring when he’ll be performing solo using his six favourite guitars and a piano.

Incredibly it’s more than a decade since Tom’s self-titled debut EP with its stop-everything-and-listen lead track ‘My Declaration’. He followed that with the acclaimed first album Feather and Stone and its follow up, Skybound, which was accompanied by pieces of art he made for each track.

Tom’s songs have since been covered by artists as diverse as Boyzone, Shirley Bassey and Engelbert Humperdinck and his track ‘Miracle’ was memorably used by the BBC to soundtrack its final montage of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

Tom’s most recent album, 2013’s intensely personal The Uncarved Block, was only available through his website, but the release of ‘The Arc’ heralds a new album is on its way for release through Sony in March next year.

‘The Arc’ will be available for free on Tom’s website www.tombaxter.com from 14th June.