It wouldn’t be St. Patrick’s month in New York City without the return of Pierce Turner. He’s back with a show at Joe’s Pub on March 7 and a fantastic new album, The Verry Small Orchestra.
As the name would imply, Turner has created an orchestral pop masterpiece steeped in ready, steady, go-era, sixties Brit-rock. He has the quirky wordplay of the Kinks’ Ray Davies and the mad musical genius of Sergeant Pepper, all rolled into one. In some tracks, the sunniness of Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds shines through your iPod’s earbuds.
“That’s a pretty great compliment to me because I love Brian Wilson,” said Turner when I mention that during our interview last weekend.
“That’s kinda the combination of influences I had, with the classical influences gelling with the emergence of sixties pop. I was always interested in that juxtaposition.”
The Verry Small Orchestra begins with a lazy church organ riff. “I saw the book lying face-down on an open page/I need to pay attention/don’t stay on your own/I know I can be blind/caught up in a thousand tasks,” Turner sings on “You Won’t Catch Any Effect,” the album opener.
It’s the most straightforward rocker on an album that zigs and zags with oboes, cellos and other flights of fancy.
The Verry Small Orchestra is a portable affair, with different arrangements presented as the concert venue would tailor. “The Orchestra makeup changes constantly in what it is,” Turner explains. “It’s an unusual lineup. Sometimes viola and violin.
“For the Joe’s Pub gig, Fred Parcels is on trombone and Imundo Penaforte is this Juilliard graduate and professor that plays everything -- keyboard, mandolin, guitar and percussion. He has this joyful rhythm, and we have been playing for 20 years.”
Fans of Black 47 will know Parcells for his rocking trombone, yet Turner will remind everyone that he began playing with Parcels first.
“Fred also has a great voice as well and it meshes well with mine,” he says. “He had electronic pedals on his trombone and he played these three part chords through the pedals, which is extraordinary. He even chants through the trombone, which sounds pretty extraordinary.”
Like most artists trying to make their art work inside of a broken music industry model, Turner turned to fundraising online to get the new album done.
“It’s an interesting thing that had a positive effect I wasn’t expecting,” he says. “You still have a feeling in your heart that you might not sell any records. When you pre-sold it, it acts as this encouragement and motivates you.
“It’s one thing when people say they’re going to buy your album, but when people go online and actually commit, it means so much to you.
“You are working against the grain when it comes to the finance and constantly asking for things to be done for nothing. The fact that the pledgers were behind you the whole way made me fight harder to not let them down.”
The reviews of the album have been fantastic, garnering many pairs of “thumbs up” in the Irish press. After a smattering of gigs in Manhattan, Turner will return to Ireland to be part of The Gathering 2013 initiative with the Irish government, where he will play May 10, 11, and 12.
“It’s a big gig in Wexford town where I am from,” Turner enthuses. “We are hoping to bring people over from America. We’re then going to take people through the pubs of Wexford and give people a little history of the town. I’m really looking forward to the whole weekend of stuff.”
The pinnacle of the weekend will be a church concert with new music from Turner. “Church music was always a big influence for me -- the Sanctus, the Gloria and other texts,” he says. “It will be new melodies to existing prayers and texts. I wrote this one new piece called ‘Union’ about the communion of bringing all religions together. It’s an eight minute long piece.”
Turner will hit the stage of Joe’s Pub on March 2 at 7 p.m. and is in the process of finalizing other dates while on this side of the pond. For more information, keep it tuned to www.pierceturner.com.