Bill Ryder Jones is set to perform his debut solo album If… live a week today (9 October) at Manchester Cathedral as part of Manchester Camerata’s Upclose series of gigs with the Manchester Literature Festival. See Manchestercamerata.co.uk for full details. The record is a ‘soundtrack’ Italo Calvino’s novel If On A Winters Night A Traveler, and in a guest column for Q, Ryder Jones explains how suffering from agoraphobia, depression and more inspired its creation.
To put it simply, I’m writing this piece to advertise the first ever performance of my woefully underappreciated 2011 album If…. The album was my musical interpretation of Italo Calvino‘s novel If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler. Amazingly, the album didn’t sell; in fact it was so unwanted that it seems to have been rubbed from the annals of time and in the process my last record developed the muddy prefix of “first album proper”.
Not that I’m bitter…
I didn’t really do many interviews about If… and the ones I did I made sure didn’t touch upon the big depressed elephant lurking shadily. So I thought this a decent opportunity to talk about the real point of making this album you’ve never heard of. I’m also aware that “grief puts bums on seats” soooo…
In many ways this performance is the money shot to a very beautiful and serious porno (the ones that don’t have music). The whole thing was written in a series of rooms while I was suffering with long-term agoraphobia, neatly interspersed with bouts of depression, derealisation and depersonalisation. Needless to say performing live at the time of writing wasn’t ever something I could consider. Most of the melodies were mulled over on my daily walks between the two lamp-posts I could make it to, and the best of them written after failed attempts to pass my comfort points and get as far as the Londis. The reason I didn’t want this highlighted at the time was because – even though I think openness and people speaking frankly about mental illness is incredibly important and helpful – I was aware that for an artist (hate that word) the dangers of having your condition romanticised are there and I consider that type of thing not only very hurtful but irresponsible. That being said, the truth is only the truth; I guess it’s a thin line.
I only really started to talk about my conditions when I felt I had something positive to say about them. I feel in the last few years I’ve somehow got a grip on my mind and that’s why I believe it’s a very positive thing to open up about and prove that certain things can not only be dealt with, but beaten. So here we are, performing an album that was never going to be performed: it’s something I’m incredibly proud of.
The novel itself creates worlds that are never fully realised or wrapped up; they stay fixed in the possibility of imagination. They are left as things that could perhaps have ticked all those boxes you yourself have drawn up, and in that way you find yourself investing in the stories in a very personal and emotional way. The idea being that those first few pages of a novel or first few plays of a song are the purest, before you’ve learnt their formula or before they’ve succumbed to the inevitability that is an absolute end. The real skill here is Calvino’s, as he had to deal with a solely literary medium whereas us lowly musicians deal always in the abstract (wordless music being completely open to interpretation).
So if you want to hear If… performed live for the first time come along to Manchester Cathedral on 9 October, 8pm. I’ll be joined by Manchester Camerata and guests including Sean Payne – drums (Zutons, Lightning Seeds), Liam Power – guitars (By The Sea), Nick Power – various keys (The Coral), MiNNETONKA and Frankie Ross – vocals.
Tickets from The Bridgewater Hall Box Office on 0161 907 9000 or manchestercamerata.co.uk.