Mary’s Soldiers is about war, all wars, unseen wars, unheard of wars. Mary is the Virgin Mary.
When I was waiting to be born, an infant suckling inside its mother’s stomach, I was carried every day down the narrow steps of a Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem to the tomb of the Virgin Mary. For months the woman prayed that her man return. He came through with a dusting of shrapnel, nothing more. Sight unseen father asked that the baby be named Mary, but soon after the christening in the Nile my name was changed to Gillian.
Olivier Mellano is a gift from Ludovic Merle and David McKenna who bring unusual French music to London on Resonance.104.fm. Ludovic and David were organizing a concert to raise funds for the radio station, performing on stage terrifies me but this was a valid reason to emerge from my bolt-hole. Olivier sent me several pieces of music he had written, one in particular had an atmosphere that felt right for “Mary’s Soldiers”, a text I had just finished. I immediately stopped listening, set the tape rolling and sang a line of music over his, cutting, re-arranging, and balancing the placing of words while I was going along, then I tried another version - that is the one I took.
Music comes spontaneously. It happens in the first couple of bars if I feel a connection with a track I have not heard before – I don’t want to be influenced - but I have to quickly record my own composition, what I call my “collage”, otherwise I lose it.
Un jour un oiseau siffla et je me retrouvais
Dans une église de l’autre côté de La Manche.
Rayonnante, Gillian Hills m’y attendait. Nous
Parlâmes peu et tout se mit en place.
Je lancais une boucle martiale et les mots de
Gillian s’y posèrent comme s’ils avaient
Toujours été là. Comme une evidence.
La marche des soldats était lancée.
I began to communicate in the sung word a few years back. They are a form of incantation: ‘songs’ - that is what Christian Marclay calls them. It is a privilege to be able to record as I please, in a good studio, for myself, when I have a piece I want to put down properly. And then I place the recording in a drawer.
Olivier arrived for rehearsals fresh off the train from Paris – I didn’t know he had planned to do “As If”, it was among several pieces of mine I sent him so he would know what I was up to – and he didn’t imagine I would place a collage over one of his compositions. Before Olivier could speak I asked him to please play “Mary’s Soldiers” and then he was playing his music mixed up with my hybrid, and when we were finished he had a great big smile. This was a luminous day for me.
Sometimes Olivier plays at ciné-concerts to films that interest him. I went to see him at the French Institute in London, 2007. He was accompanying a cult film with Gérard Depardieu, “Buffet Froid” for which he had written the score. Suddenly from the screen came the familiar music that had inspired “Mary’s Soldiers”.
The show took place at St Giles in the Fields, London April 2007. There is a film of “Mary’s Soldiers” lying peacefully in a drawer.