THE ARTS festival has long had a flair for presenting shows in which artists from different backgrounds combine to fruitful effect, and Cover My Tracks, by playwright David Greig and singer-songwriter Charlie Fink, is very much in that tradition.
Fusing theatre and music, Cover My Tracks is part gig and part folk tale and sees Fink - former frontman with Noah and the Whale - perform songs from his just released solo album of the same title, within the frame of a story about a singer who has vanished without trace. Produced by the Old Vic Theatre in association with Fane Productions and directed by Max Webster, the show also features actress Jade Anouka, as a character trying to track down the missing singer.
Fink previously worked with Greig and Webster when he contributed music to their staging of Dr Seuss’s The Lorax in 2015. I ask if has he always had an interest in theatre.
“I used to go to theatre but never thought it was a medium I would write in,” he replies. “Then the Old Vic contacted me to say they were doing The Lorax and would I like to write songs for it and I said yes, and making the music for that was one of the most professionally satisfying things I have done. I loved the process and the people I was working with and that made me want to do more.”
Fink goes on to talk about why he decided to release his debut album through the medium of a stage play. “There were two things really; one was that the album as a form in the modern day means something different to what it did only 10 years ago," he says. "The way that people, myself included, listen to music is usually to pick songs and make a playlist. I always loved the album as a form and I think it is a shame that it doesn’t quite have the same meaning that it once did. So I was wondering how can you make a collection of songs, an album’s worth of material, feel necessary and all together.
"As someone who has always enjoyed story-telling as part of song-writing, theatre seemed like the place to do it. That thought combined with speaking to David and Max about this idea, and particularly talking with David about folk music in general and our shared passion and interest in it. Through those combined and shared conversations we ended up with Cover My Tracks.”
How did the partnership between Fink and Greig work in practice? “At the very beginning I had a conversation with David about the show and what would an album that was also a show, an evening of live storytelling and music be like,” he explains. “I had a very vague idea of a character who disappears and left a book of songs and those songs, which are the songs in the album and the show, inform us in some way about the character who has disappeared.
"There was a process then of me convincing David to do it because he is a very busy man. Once he was on board we had a handful of workshops with Max where we developed the story. Between the workshops I would go off and write some songs and bring them back to the next one. At a certain point David went and wrote the script and took it in his own magical direction. An additional part of the process was marrying the songs to the script and making sure they worked together.”
I ask how he would compare performing his new songs within the context of theatre rather than his more accustomed concert settings. “I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been a challenge because I’ve never really acted before. This show is more storytelling than straight acting or being a conventional play. But any performer is in some way inhabiting a character, and that’s true for the Bob Dylans and Tom Waits of this world, as much as for someone playing to 20 people in a bar. With any performance there is some level where being a performer allows you to be the person you want to be, you get freedom from it so this feels like a natural shift to be honest.”
He tells me how Jade Anouka came on board; “When the casting director of the Old Vic read the script, Jade was the first person she thought of. So then we met and she auditioned and we hung out for a while and immediately clicked. We were fortunate that we did that early enough that we were able to get her into the final workshops and that helped David to really know how she would inhabit the character and then we developed the show with her in mind.”
Fink winds up our chat by suggesting he might well do more work in the future in theatre; “The thing I’ve always been most drawn to is telling stories and finding different ways to do that. When I was in a band that would be doing the songs and making music videos; of all the things I do, the thing I most enjoy is that and theatre is the ultimate form of story-telling in emotional, visceral, and challenging ways of telling a story, and having worked on this project I’d definitely like to do more.”
Cover My Tracks runs at An Taibhdearc from July 25 to 30 at 9pm, with 6pm shows on July 28 and 29. There will be a post-show talk with the company on July 26. For tickets see www.giaf.ie or call into the festival box office in the Galway Tourist Office, Forster Street.