It is a novel concept, this coming together of fiercely creative minds – and it has its roots on Facebook. While he was going through something of a creative nadir, David McAlmont and Michael Nyman renewed a friendship begun several years ago – and found they had more in common than first realised.
McAlmont had problems writing songs – so did Nyman, without texts to guide him. The solution, to effectively recycle the composer’s melodic material, updated with the addition of contemporary news stories over the top, unleashed something of a dragon in both writers. For this is the most vital piece of work McAlmont has done for some time, while Nyman, refreshing a role as accompanist, finds a real sensitivity through the use his band.
The songs cover pertinent issues of the day, looking at banking errors (Take The Money And Run), lecherous world leaders (In Rai Don Giovanni – who could they possibly mean?!) and reality TV shows (The Glare).
Perhaps most moving of all is Friendly Fire, where McAlmont sings of an assisted suicide with a beautifully floated, sincere vocal, and Nyman’s music is appropriately reduced. “Didn’t want to end his days in a vegetative state,” he sings, assuming the character of the helper, before “I burned everything that I had on…and threw the cheap handgun into a lake.” It’s a simple recounting of a news story, but uncommonly moving.
Running it close is In Laos, another slower song about a drug mule, frankly singing of how “at least there’s 500 grams of sticky rice to keep me and an unborn child alive.” The title track, meanwhile, adds a lyric to the beautiful stillness of Franklyn from Nyman’s score to Wonderland.
Elsewhere Nyman’s music is typically propulsive, with chugging rhythms and bright scoring that would smother a less able singer. McAlmont, naturally, comes out on top, though the accompaniment to City Of Turin is perhaps too bright. When he sings of how “I feel abandoned in this foggy land, in this city called Turin” the perky accompaniment feels misplaced – which after all may be the intention, to create a double meaning.
The album finishes with an instrumental suite, the saxophone quartet arrangement of Songs For Tony. The set of dances, in memory of Nyman’s publisher friend Tony Simons, begins with perky asides but soon turns into more introverted musings. In doing so it makes an effective postlude, as if commenting on what has gone before.
For what has gone before is a creative project to put the spring back into David McAlmont’s step, a collection of songs that sees him find his natural match in Nyman’s cinematic scoring. As a piece of social commentary it is moving and thought provoking, yet finds solace in each tale of woe. It would be interesting to revisit the project in a year or two, armed with the knowledge of what has happened to each of the subjects.