Bill MacKay & Ryley Walker

BILL MACKAY & RYLELY WALKER return with new colloborative album SpiderBeetleBee. MARC LE BRETON asks the duo about the creative process.


Following their previous collaboration (2016’s Land Of Plenty) which comprised of live tracks assembled from a residency in Chicago, Bill MacKay and Ryley Walker’s second album SpiderBeetleBee is a more focused studio-based outing. A honed, deliberate affair that features mellifluous playing that makes subtle use of some long-standing friends and collaborators. “The tunes all began as guitar songs” says Walker.  “The idea of collaborating with our peers came upon us right before hitting the studio. Definitely a fine choice as I think it expands the music into other universes very well.” MacKay concurs “I agree, Ryan (Jewell, Tabla) and Katinka (Kleijn, Cello) brought those songs into another space that widens the entire record.”

Initial listening brings to mind the searching quality of primitive guitar (John Fahey being its greatest exponent) with the interplay of Bert Jansch and John Renbourn and there’s a breadth of differing international influences that flit across the songs. ‘I Heard Them Singing’ for instance features a Requinto guitar which, says Mackay, “Has special timbres that mix so interestingly with other strings” and gives it a Spanish/Portuguese flavour.  Shindig! asked what makes for the ideal listening environment. Walker grins, “Either coming up or coming down is my preferred experience. I like the idea of the record being background music as well; put it on while you make somebody special some fried eggs, you know”

There’s also a cinematic feel to the album as a whole and MacKay agrees “I think of a lot of the music that I dig, and that I write, as being filmic. So, I think you’ve got a good handle on it there. Get a window seat on the train, and dig in. Some folks who’ve heard it pre-release swear it’s a trusty companion on long drives.”

 

So what is the origin of that strange title Bill? “Well, I was walking around Pittsburgh one day in a fairly green area and came upon this fantastical insect. I couldn’t identify it at all. A wild thing! It looked like this mad mixture of a spider, a beetle, and a bee.” Walker adds, “To me it sounds playful and I always like the idea of putting nature and beasts into words on paper”.

The release comes out on the back of a short UK tour where MacKay played in Walker’s band whilst also doing a solo stint at the start of the evening. How did that go? “Yes, that was a wonderful trip. I felt very free in the solo sets to voyage around, then… free again to do so in the band sets!” Walker recalls it as “The most magical time! (We) got the chance to play new songs which people seemed to dig.”

Shindig! also got to ask them both whether they have any guitar duo heroes? “Bert and John is a big one” Walker enthuses. “Lots of classic rock stuff like Duane Allman and Dicky Betts, Television with Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine… definitely a lot of Grateful Dead stuff too. ” MacKay states “I would second Ryley’s choices here, and add My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher, Chet Atkins/Les Paul and Lou Reed/Sterling Morrison!”


Finally, we asked Walker and MacKay if they would provide an exclusive track by track guide to their new opus in the style of classic ’60s liner notes on the back of albums.

The Grand Old Trout

Walker: I pulled out a book of poetry Bill had around his house with this title. It spoke to me.  This magical fresh water fish.  Very Midwest and pure. I don’t eat fish though.

MacKay: A very stately gem by Ryley, I never tire of it. It is really a pristine statement.

 

Pretty Weeds Revisited

MacKay: The mystery in Celtic music & art…very alluring, and this song aimed at catching a bit of it. The title referred to all of us, people living…pretty weeds…flawed yet often wonderful…struggling to work it out

 

Lower Chestnut

Walker: A short tune that’s an ode to the bizarre characters of the underground streets downtown Chicago. Good place to piss and drink a beer away from the police above the ground where the shoppers are shopping and the people spending.

 

Naturita

Walker: Sweet A side closer. Named after a rural town in Colorado where I bought a microwave burrito and ate it on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains

MacKay: A slice of hazy sun through the pines. Elegiac afternoon. Abstract though clear as the stars.

 

I Heard Them Singing

Walker: (We) came up with this in the studio. Tuned my guitar all weird and we came up with this sweet east meets west Melody. Ryan Jewell sends it home on percussion.

 

Stretching My Dollar In Plano

Walker: Another spontaneous composition. Reminds me of a Ry Cooder ‘Paris, Texas’ soundtrack sort of thing. I love this song.

MacKay: Yeah, this was another spot where we used maximum freedom as a platform. I see the sea, the desert and the city in it.

 

Lonesome Traveler

MacKay: This one is dear to me. It’s dedicated to Jack Kerouac who wrote a book using this same title. Ryley played a wonderful solo on it.

Walker: I’m probably the worst guitar soloist in the world but somehow, I pulled off a cool solo where it sort of seems like I know how to play! Ha ha!

 

Dragonfly

Walker: Cello on here slays hard. A psychedelic tango where the sun melts into your eardrum.

MacKay:This one is another one where the mood took over. We hit it pretty intensely with our friend Katinka Kleiijn joining on cello. It’s a bracing and haunted air…a kind of short film in song…I feel the characters in it. A fitting end I think to the record, drawing you in as it disappears in its smoke.

SpiderBeetleBee is released today on Drag City

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Hoppy – Underground Head

 KRIS NEEDS watched an array of film clips from Hoppy – An Underground Head and took in a rather surreal performance from fellow head and friend Michael Horovitz on a wet Saturday day afternoon in Alexandra Palace


 

Michael Horovitz’s ebullient song-poetry rang around Alexandra Palace on Saturday – just like 50 years ago when the UK’s original beat poet and counterculture instigator was one of countless performers at The 14 Hour Technicolour Dream.

Although famously visited by a tripping John Lennon and closed by Pink Floyd as the sun beamed in through the mighty windows, The Technicolour Dream became something of a watershed for London’s burgeoning underground scene but also marked the end of this brief age of innocence as the media and establishment prepared to pounce and destroy.

There would follow numerous establishment persecutions and drug busts, including underground dynamo John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, who got nine months for supposedly possessing marijuana but was really a prime target for establishing International Times, starting the UFO club with Joe Boyd (where London experienced its first all-night raves), promoting The 14 Hour Technicolour Dream and co-founding The Notting Hill Carnival as an annual event.

Hoppy, who died in January 2015, was the main reason filmmakers Malcolm Boyle and Carl Stickley organised The Happening Tent at the Pally on Saturday, showing working footage from Hoppy – Underground Head, their proposed film designed to celebrate this crucial figure in the UK underground before his rich but fragmented history is lost forever. The pair have already shot interviews with Hoppy and his contemporaries for the film, providing a first-hand account of the original London underground as it felt at the time.

Although trained as a nuclear physicist, Hoppy soon discovered his talent for nailing the perfect music photograph, including the shot of Brian Jones with his back turned to a steaming Ally Pally crowd that suggested the venerable Great Hall would be a suitable venue for a gathering of the clans and party celebrating the new underground (while raising money to finance IT). But on June 1st, he was hauled up on trumped up drugs charges that saw him sent down by a judge who described him as “a pest to society”. As a “Free Hoppy” campaign kicked up, he served six months while becoming a martyr to the new drugs consciousness as Stephen Abrams started a campaign to liberalise the cannabis laws and Paul McCartney took out a full-page ad in The Times calling for its decriminalisation.

The film is essential, both as a document of this vitally influential time and as a tribute to one of the key figures in pioneering everything we hold dear today. It was slightly eerie hearing the Floyd ringing out at Ally Pally again half a century later and incongruous but life-affirming to see the 82-year-old Michael Horovitz still at it, giving animated readings of his poems and playing imaginary kazoo to mainly an audience of families driven in by the torrential rain. The man’s a story in himself and also deserving of a movie, as shown by his epic answer to just one question from Malcolm Boyle that included being at the meeting where CND was launched and staging 1965’s landmark Wholly Communion poetry event at The Royal Albert Hall now credited with being the global underground’s first show of strength and unity.

Let’s start with Hoppy. Go to www.hoppyfilm.com to find out more and how you can contribute.

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Jesse Ed Davis: Washita Love Child

Native American guitar prodigy JESSE ED DAVIS was sidesman for legends such as John Lennon, Gene Clark, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, and released a trio of solo albums in the early ‘70s. THOMAS PATTERSON hears personal memories of a man who died young but burned brightly from Mike Johnson, producer of new compilation Red Dirt Boogie: The Atco Recordings 1970-1972


I was a big fan of Jesse, because I’m a Beatles’ freak. I had a lot of the bootlegs, going back into the early ‘70s. I had the Walls and Bridges session that he was very prominent on.

Being in LA, I read in the LA Weekly that Yoko Ono was doing an art show. This was in 1985, and I thought, “I’m going to crash it and see if I can get in.” I was waiting in line at the gallery, and I noticed Jesse was in line a few people back. I invited him up to where I was standing, two from the door. I said, “I’m a big fan, I know your work.” I ran his discography by him. He was very interesting, he wanted to talk. When the door opened, we went in and mingled, and Jesse saw Yoko, and took me with him, and introduced me. “Mike Johnson, this is Yoko Ono.” And I thought, “Holy cow, I’ve arrived!”

We spoke for a few minutes then Jesse took Yoko off to the side. I don’t know what they talked about but it looked very serious and then she left. Was he there to ask her for money, was he there to ask for a favour, as he there just out affection? I never knew and I never asked. But while we were in line, we exchanged phone numbers. A few days went by and he actually called me. I was at work, and he asked if I were ever around, could I give him a lift? And I said, “Sure, I can take you wherever you need to go.” And that’s where it started.

I was always really honoured when Jesse would call and ask for a favour like that. It was just really cool having that audience with him, one on one in my car as we’re driving some place. Many times I didn’t ask him why we were going somewhere, it was kind of weird. Of course, this was way back before Uber. But by picking him up and driving him places, I could ask him questions.

He lived on Sawtelle in Palms. Often, I’d be in his apartment and he’d show me things – he had tapes, he had photographs. I was seeing Polarioids and photographs that weren’t in an album but were in a shoebox. And he this old TV tray, and underneath this tray was the box of photos. He’d loan me cassettes, things like Taj Mahal live at The Fillmore. He was a giving sort, it was tit for tat. And sometimes he’d come and hang in my condo in Redondo, and he’d sit on the sofa and play the blues.

One day I showed up at his, and he said “Did I ever show you this?” It was The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus. It was a rough cut, years before it came out andhe said Bill Wyman had given it to him. And I sat and watched it in his apartment. I thought, “What a wonderful in into this world.” And all I had to do was occasionally loan him twenty dollars and drive him someplace. Read more Jesse Ed Davis: Washita Love Child

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Jimi Hendrix in… Norfolk

Monterey, The Isle Of Wight… and Dereham!

STEWART TURNER recalls that time Jimi Hendrix played in a tiny Norfolk market town


 

Supergroup Cream playing a pokey village hall usually reserved for jumble sales and scout groups, fuzzy garage-rockers The Electric Prunes headlining in a ramshackle seaside pavilion: one of the most defining aspects of the ’60s was the ability of nondescript, provincial towns to attract big names to their venues.

Dereham, a small market town in the middle of Norfolk, is the perfect example. Bands like The Small Faces, The Move and The Action all played The Tavern Club at the height of their fame. Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd even passed through with their acid-propelled freak-outs and psychedelic light show, passing way over most people’s heads in a county that proved stubbornly resistant to the dubious charms of eastern mysticism and flower-power. But Jimi Hendrix is the one that sticks in the minds of mid-Norfolk baby boomers. Dereham-born Nick Sands witnessed Hendrix’s crunching guitar pyrotechnics back in October 1967 as a 17-year-old, and recalls that promoter Brian Cross pulled off the coup of the decade by booking the Experience to play at a time when they were pretty much the hottest band on the planet.

The gig was originally pencilled in for January, but when Jimi’s brooding, slowed-down version of US garage band staple ‘Hey Joe’ shot up the charts, he was bundled into the studio to quickly record a follow-up. He agreed to play later for the same fee, and by the time the band returned to this tiny town with a population of fewer than 10,000 in October, they’d already played The Monterey Pop Festival and toured America.

From the picture Nick paints of Dereham in the ’60s, it’s amazing anyone ever played there at all. He remembers Melody Maker running a feature on the 10 worst places to gig in the country, polling the biggest bands of the day for their thoughts. Dereham came fifth – one place higher than The Gorbals, a bleak, post-industrial area of Glasgow, which was widely regarded as the worst place to live in the country.

This was a place where bottles once rained down on Rod Stewart and battered Jeff Beck’s guitar to the point of no return. Geno Washington once played part of a frenzied set to an empty venue because of the townsfolk’s peculiar tradition of leaving the venue for a late-night conga around the market place. By all accounts, it was a weird place to perform.

But Jimi was different, and The Tavern, by now rechristened The Wellington Club, was so crammed with bodies that impromptu al fresco congas were a physical impossibility. Undeterred by the promoter’s canny price hike, hundreds of wide-eyed and sweaty teenagers witnessed a set that ran through most of the Are You Experienced? album, with ‘Foxy Lady’, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Hey Joe’ soundtracking the bizarre spectacle of a couple of bouncers chucking pints of water onto the crowd in a bid to cool things down.

The defining moment that cemented the gig in Dereham folklore was a typically theatrical pelvic thrust that planted the head of Hendrix’s Stratocaster through the false ceiling, taking out a few spotlights in the process. The 24-year-old star was firmly cut down to size when he had the costs of repairs deducted from his wages later that night.

This wasn’t Hendrix’s first visit to Norfolk – he’d earlier pocketed £39 for playing Norwich’s notorious Orford Cellar, a place where the emphasis was on more on raucous, sweaty R&B rather than personal space and fire escapes. But The Wellington Club was the one that stuck, and with plans afoot to commemorate the gig later in the year; the story looks set to live on for a long time yet.

 

Read Kris Needs’ Hendrix epic in the next few issues of the magazine

 

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WIN exclusive signed Ebbot Lundberg & The Indigo Children artwork

THOMAS PATTERSON talks with EBBOT LUNDBERG about Christmas, art and the future. (Comp question after interview)


Shindig!:  Are you looking forward to Xmas? What will you be doing this year for the festive season?

Ebbot Lundborg: I haven´t been looking forward to Xmas since my grandparents passed away. I just prefer to go away to Sri Lanka or someplace else that is not so dark and depressing as Sweden during winter solstice.

SD!:  What does a typical Swedish Xmas look like? Are there unusual traditions non-Swedes will find fascinating?

EB: Heavy drinking with sugar on top basically.It has always been like that long before Santa entered the picture.
In the past It was called “Supa Jul” which means “Drinking Yule”.
As a non Swede I don´t know if that´s fascinating though, except maybe the silly moonwalking around the christmas tree and the astonishing amount of booze that is consumed.

SD!: Do you have any favourite festive music you like to slip on the stereo this time of year?

EB: I may listen to Jan Johansson Svenska Folkvisor,  or anything by The Free Design this year. If not maybe something by Upside Down Cross.

SD!: As you know, we’re giving away some signed artwork as a competition for our readers. What can you tell us about the artwork? Where was it taken and what does it mean to you?

EB: It´s taken in the woods where I live by the west coast of Sweden. This is where I mostly spend my time relaxing. The photographer´s name is Dan Isaac Wallin. A brilliant artist who´s very much into using 19th century cameras.

SD!: What does the new year hold in store for you and the band?

EB: A lot of things because there are so many interesting changes happening in the world right now. So musically we are probably going to do something exciting and scary.


COMPETITION

To win a signed print of the below artwork answer this simple question: “What was the name of Ebbot’s break through band?”

Email your answer to win@shindig-magazine.com with “EBBOT COMP” in the title by Jan 31st

 

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