Despatches – Louis de Bernières

Though perhaps best-known for his writing, Louis de Bernières has always harboured a burning passion for music and 'Despatches' is a first glimpse into that world.


Louis de Bernières

  • Folk
  • Rock

  1. St Geoffrey's Day
  2. Cinderella, Prince Charming & Me
  3. The Romance Of Margarita
  4. Vagabond Soul
  5. Foxes In The Park
  6. Innocent Angel
  7. Manifesto
  8. London Town
  9. Lavender & Rosemary
  10. Princess Of Wands
  11. Iphegenia
  12. Your Little Paradise
  13. Stab In The Entrails (Delicate Lies)
  14. Defenceless
  15. Don't Go Out of the Door
  16. Louise
  17. Lady Of Mine
  18. Olives, Wine And Bread
  19. If This Be Love
  20. Farewell Rejoice

I opened the familiar jiffy bag knowing there was something for review inside, slightly bigger than usual. I pulled out the beautifully packaged CD 'Despatches', by Louis de Bernières. Could it be the same Louis de Bernières? The writer who kept me up all night in 1998 reading Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, the author of many other acclaimed novels. The release revealed that indeed it was that same Louis de Bernières. Immediately intrigued, I was not to be disappointed.

As expected, this double album oozes drama, poetry, beauty, pain, disappointment, cynicism, spiritualism, the magical, the historic, trauma, entrails, joy, despair and delight. It’s all there, and the writer’s natural inclination for storytelling, through music and lyrics, makes every song a novella in its own right.

Steeped in myths, legends and folklore, it’s no stranger to the twists of the imagination – of magical realism, flights of fancy, brought down by grounded realism.

The opening tracks of both CDs sort of reach out and slap. In ‘St. Geoffrey’s Day’, we learn that it’s cold and lonely in the afterworld, the bloodlust and pointlessness of war laid bare:

Got a lust for blood in my fingernails. Raw flesh in the mesh of my teeth

‘Iphegenia’ – the opening track of disc two – is chilling to the bone. The daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra was given as human sacrifice by her father for offending the goddess Artemis. This story is told through the voice of her brother and really is high drama.

The imagery throughout is often stark and evocative. And of course, there is no St. Geoffrey hence there is no ‘St. Geoffrey’s Day’, like the twelfth of never.

Bulging with people, places, and things – characters you almost want to get to know –  the tarot’s ‘Princess Of Wands’, the ‘Vagabond Soul’, ‘Louise’ and sensual in bringing to mind taste, smells, visions, and sounds, its rich texture is as tongue in cheek as it is profound.

There’s certainly, in my view, a nod to Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits. The almost spoken, yet melodic, throaty, lilting voice of the balladeer.

This is a complex album as you might expect of a complex mind, and I suspect it has been a labour of love and longing. Now aged 66, de Bernières’ passion for music was always close to the surface. He is a natural poet, and so it’s no surprise that he had a desire to persevere with his desire to make music and to make it his own.

His first foray was with the ukulele, aged eight. He was a child of the hippy era and so a guitar was inevitable – at the age of seventeen, as Janis Ian might say, he bought one for the princely sum of seventeen pounds. He turned his hard-worn hands to every genre in the book – folk, ragtime, baroque, classical, and even flamenco. The mandolin seemed like the most natural progression. Naturally, the music of Greece and Latin America has influenced his work – with influences from Bach and Beethoven to Paul Simon and Ralph McTell. Only recently has he become more comfortable with performing his work in public, and here’s hoping we hear these live sometime.

Guests on the album include Beth Porter, Selina Hawker, and David Booth who also recorded and mixed the record.

This is a double album with pure soul, heartfelt lyrics, flights of fancy and great trips of the imagination. It’s reflective, pensive, and intelligent. I’m sure there are far more literary references hidden within than my lowly mind picked up, but I thoroughly enjoyed the album.

A joy from start to finish. For all you hippies out there, old, young, and in-between, this is for you.