‘Love, Heartbreak and Intoxication’ – Helen Bailey on Mercy and Grand: The Tom Waits Project

We recently asked around the office to see which Festival events our staff were particularly excited about, and why. First off, Office Manager & Volunteer Coordinator Helen Bailey gives us an insight into Mercy & Grand: The Tom Waits Project, and why this event is particularly special to her...

Tom Waits! Gavin Bryars! Circus band! In Shoreditch Church!

When I first heard that this was going to be one of our Winter Festival concerts, I leapt in the air with delight. Tom Waits has had a place in my heart for over 25 years, since I first heard him sing Somewhere from West Side Story. And Gavin Bryars is simply one of the most interesting British contemporary artists there is.

Tom Waits’ songs, co-written with his wife Kathleen Brennan, are a carpet bag of waltzes, shuffles, sidesteps and lurkings in the corner. Big human landscapes and tiny human detail. They are full of moons and deserts, small towns, lost dogs and human behaviour. Images so evocative you end up with them dancing on the inside of your eyelids. And as full of images as they are, they also contain acres of space.

Mercy and Grand is a journey of ‘love, heartbreak and intoxication’ threaded through with some Kurt Weill, a sea shanty, a hymn, a couple of instrumental gypsy tangos and a classic Fellini film score. Played by an exceptionally skilled and specially put together circus band (accordion! harmonium! violin!) there is enough poetry in this show to keep you going through the darkest nights.

And I can’t wait to hear gravely-voiced Tom Waits songs sung by Jessica Walker.

I like to think Tom and Kathleen will be there, hanging over the balcony, or leaning against the back door together, watching the Shoreditch moon rise.

Listen to Alice, A little drop of poison and Heartattack and Vine on the Winter Festival Spotify playlist – and get your ticket very soon…

Helen Bailey
Office Manager & Volunteer Coordinator

Mercy and Grand: The Tom Waits Project (in partnership with Opera North) will take place on Tuesday 13 December, 7pm at Shoreditch Church. Tickets are available from our website (spitalfieldsmusic.org.uk) or from our box office on 020 7377 1362 (10am – 6pm Mon-Fri).


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