Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sir Richard Bishop interview - director's cut

Photo copyright Mark Sullo

This is a director's cut of the preview of Sir Richard Bishop's Glasgow gig I did for The List. A slightly lazy director's cut admittedly - it's just the preview with the full Q & A tacked on rather than a through-written feature, but hey, I've got a PhD to do! Hopefully Bishop's tales of magick, travel and Arabic guitarists, as well as some choice youtube clips, should make up for it. Be sure to check out his new heavy psych band with Ben Chasny and Chris Corsano, Rangda.

For the past three decades, avant-garde guitar wizard, Sir Richard Bishop has dazzled, confounded and disturbed, both as a member of Arizona freaks Sun City Girls, and as a wildly inventive solo artist. While less deranged than Sun City Girls’ sprawling oeuvre, Bishop’s own albums are just as eclectic, deftly leaping from gypsy jazz to Indian ragas, or between psychedelic rock and electronic soundscapes. Reflecting his Lebanese ancestry, Bishop’s current album, the excellent Freak of Araby, pays homage to the Arabic surf-rock of Egyptian guitarist Omar Khorshid.

You're on tour just now, but have you been on any other travels

I recently returned from two months in Thailand and Laos where I was doing a little research and taking a lot of photographs for some potential projects in the future. I had a guitar with me as well and Idid work on some new material. I may go back to India later this year unless things get too busy.

You've recorded an album with Ben Chasny and Chris Corsano as Rangda. It's more psych rock and less improv than I expected. Perhaps you can tell me about this project?

Ben and I had been discussing this idea of working with Chris and forming this trio for a couple of years now. Chris was pretty busy for a while but the chance to get together finally came about last September and we did our first show after about an hour and half of practicing. The record which we recorded a day after the show did include a lot of improvisation based on some loose ideas that each of us had but we also wanted to concentrate on creating a few structured songs. We will be
touring in Europe in late May and there will probably be equal parts improvisation and compositions. We have been discussing a lot of possibilities and it is a project that all of us are excited about and we hope to continue touring and make a lot of records over the next few years.

You mentioned that you and Alan Bishop might start another band. Has this happened yet? Any other projects in the pipeline?

We've discussed a few options but haven't done anything yet since both of us have been quite busy - myself with touring and Alan has been extremely occupied with Sublime Frequencies. Seems like there just isn't enough time to do everything we want to right now but I am hoping that changes in the future. But it's sometimes difficult to think about another band with Alan without Charlie (Gocher, the late SCG drummer) being part of it. It will take some more time to come to terms with everything.

Does your interest in magic and the occult influence your music making in any way? Some might say your pieces are like invocations.

It influences most aspects of my life in one way or another including musically but I try not to think about it too much. I think the influence may have been stronger when Sun City Girls was performing live and making records because there was a ceremonial aspect to a lot of what we were doing. But with my solo music it doesn't seem to play as big a role as in the past but that is okay. I am aware of the energies that are present, but the less I think about it, the better.

Freak of Araby was a tribute to Omar Khorshid and Arabic surf rock. Was this a project you'd long planned, or was it more spontaneous?

It was something that just happened. I had been listening to a lot of Omar Khorshid's music prior to the recording session but it wasn't my intention to make any kind of Arabic or Middle Eastern type record. But after recording a couple of original pieces that were "eastern" sounding, I decided that I wanted the entire record to reflect that sound, even though I had a number of other songs that I was going to record but I decided to scrap those. So I scrambled to find some traditional songs to record and a number of them were songs that Khorshid also played. I then wrote a couple more pieces which fell into the same category. It all happened so fast. So it just kind of worked out the way it did and The Freak of Araby was the result.

I've heard Khorshid's album Rhythms of The Orient, which I love, but are there any other albums by him, or similar artists, you'd recommend?

Rhythms of the Orient is great! But Khorshid's records are hard to locate. He made nine full length records in Lebanon in the early 70s, plus he composed the soundtracks for numerous Egyptian and Lebanese films. The soundtracks were never made available commercially. You can, with a little digging, find some download links online but in order to get the actual LPs (or cassettes) from the 70s, you'd probably have to go to Cairo, Damascus, or Beirut. Some to seek out are: Belly Dance From Lebanon, Tribute to Oum Kalthoum, Tribute to Farid-Al-Atrache, and Belly Dance with Omar Khorshid (Volumes 1-3). There is also a Lebanese guitar player from the 70s named Mohammed "Mike" Hegazi who made at least two LPs. These are almost impossible to find but they are great if you can locate them.

It's interesting that this is an electric solo tour. Any particular decision for switching from acoustic? Does it suit the Freak of Araby material better, or are you doing something else altogether?

I just needed to step away from acoustic guitar for a while. I wanted to force myself to try something different and not play the same material that I had been playing during the last few tours. I am doing a couple of pieces from the Freak of Araby which work best with electric guitar but since I don't have a backup band, I can't do much more from the record. I am also doing a fair amount of improvisation and trying out some new songs and some older pieces that I haven't really played live before.

You help gather material for Sublime Frequencies. Are you encouraged by its recent success? For example, people went crazy for Omar Souleyman when he played here in Glasgow. Also, have you made any recent musical discoveries for the label on your travels?

I've collected some music and film over the last couple of trips abroad for the label and perhaps some of that will be released at some point. But there is quite a backlog of material already and a lot of other people are now submitting stuff as well. Either way the label will continue to release incredible music that hasn't been heard. I am excited that the label is finally getting some good recognition and it is quite inspiring on many levels. I wish I could have seen some of those live shows from the Souleyman/Group Doueh tour. I have seen quite a bit of video footage from the tour but I want to experience it in person. We're trying to get Omar to come to the United States later this year. I just hope the authorities will grant him permission to enter the country.

Sir Richard Bishop plays Stereo, Glasgow on Wednesday 24 Feb, with support from Graeme Ronald (RememberRemember) and RM Hubbert.

1 comment:

Tim London said...

Thanks so much for finding the Omar Khorshid clip - I discovered it years ago (and it blew my mind!) then it disappeared from youtube and I hadn't made a note of who it was. Just 3 and a half minutes of sun baked perfection. Still not sure what the significance is of the guy in the cowboy get-up, though...