Saturday 18 January 2020

'Where are the Casements of today?' asks Gavin Friday

Gavin Friday tells our reporter about his new project, The Casement Sonata, and why Roger Casement was 'the unsung hero of the Rising'

Gavin Friday’s The Casement Sonata, featuring artwork by Friday, runs at the Hugh Lane Gallery until August 21
Gavin Friday’s The Casement Sonata, featuring artwork by Friday, runs at the Hugh Lane Gallery until August 21
Artwork to accompany 'The Casement Sonata' by Gavin Friday at Dublin's Hugh Lane Gallery
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Sir Roger Casement was hanged on August 3, 1916, at Pentonville Prison for High Treason - his naked body buried without a coffin in quicklime. So ended the life of one of the greatest Irish humanitarians and visionaries. Yet to this day, his vision and his legacy lives. Gavin Friday's sublime The Casement Sonata at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin breathes further life into Casement's legacy. The 'blue room' - painted blue by Friday and where the sonata is played back - is in tribute to the last words written in Casement's diary: "Death is not dark, but only deeper blue."

This beautiful, meditative, long-form ambient poem is an edgy exploration of the life and death of the man that Friday calls "the establishment's most threatening rebel spirit".

The sonata starts with Banna Strand, where Casement is arrested on Good Friday, 1916, before the Easter Rising.

"It then flashes back to Congo and Peru and Ammersee, his time in Germany, and concludes in Pentonville, where he was hung on the 3rd of August, 1916 - exactly a hundred years ago tomorrow," Gavin told me last Tuesday. "Roger Casement is in some ways the 'unsung' hero of the Rising. The man is in my mind a giant. His humanitarian work in Congo and Peru is monumental. He basically laid down the train tracks for Amnesty." Friday' last album, catholic, was one of the finest releases of 2011 in Ireland or anywhere, and featured Friday on its cover laid out in a funeral pose - inspired by a painting by Sir John Lavery of a certain other Irish visionary, Michael Collins, lying in state in 1922. In an essay In Requiem For The Fallen that came with catholic, novelist Patrick McCabe writes: 'Both now, in tandem, intoning "Mea culpa", in sympathy with the Fallen, on broken knees, crouched against the epochal sky . . .' This time, Gavin's requiem is for another of the fallen, Sir Roger. "Obviously, this is a homage to the great man Roger Casement. I had admired him for many years." Friday's admiration was enhanced when he read the Hispano-Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa's book, The Dream of the Celt.

Once he had finished the book, Friday's admiration, he says, became "obsessive...resulting in me reading and researching all things Casement".

"It was mid last year, when there was talk of various 'musical' events to honour the centenary of 'The Rising', that I had a real yearning to create an original piece of music/narrative.

"I heard that the Hugh Lane Gallery was concentrating on Casement for the Rising's centenary; it just seemed the 'obvious'. So I approached director Barbara Dawson late last year. . ."

The narrative for The Casement Sonata was written by Friday and the poet James McCabe. He recorded the work from April to June of this year. "I basically ate, drank and slept Casement; very much for me it not only became a narrative/musical project but also I drew on the role of actor," explains Friday, "as the opening line quotes: 'I am Roger Casement'. "I very much in my head went there - from Banna Strand to Pentonville; the recording of Pentonville I found to be one of the most challenging and engaging pieces I have ever recorded."

To play devil's advocate, I ask Gavin what relevance Casement has to modern Ireland.

"Jesus, the man has every relevance to modern Ireland! He was so forward thinking, so ahead of his time as a humanitarian. Today's political leaders should bow down in awe of this man, and take a page out of his book - not only his book but also the book of Pearse and Connolly. They had poetic vision. Where are the visionaries today?"

The Casement Sonata, played twice daily at 12pm and 3pm, runs until August 21st at the Hugh Lane in Dublin.

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