[Photo from Boston 2011 by Tim Bugbee/tinnitus photography]
To say Rick Bishop is peerless among contemporary guitarists is a bit of a half-truth. Along with his brother Alan Bishop (aka Alvarius B), they continue in the tradition of their long-running band Sun City Girls, who covered every genre of music imaginable. Rick Bishop’s solo music isn’t quite as wide-ranging but his body of work is massive, composed largely of solo guitar songs often steeped in the inflections of Indian and Middle Eastern music. And yet he always sounds like himself—his playing with Sun City Girls, as a solo guitarist, and as one-third of Rangda is inimitable. In a recent interview with Premier Guitar, he says of his craft: “My style is a mish-mash that comes out of improvisation, with mistakes and everything along the way. I never worry about what the style is, and whatever comes out, comes out.” Born of a love affair with a nineteenth-century guitar, his latest album for Drag City, Tangier Sessions, features seven improvised songs recorded in a room in the Moroccan city on a handheld Sony PCM D50 digital recorder. It’s a true collaboration, not between musicians but between a musician and the history of a truly singular instrument. The story of the album is the story of how Bishop was bewitched by this guitar and he’s spoken about it recently in interviews as well as in the appropriately titled “Guitar Talk” video promoting the album.
Bishop stopped by Brooklyn’s Union Pool on his ongoing tour for Tangier Sessions, bringing along the famed instrument. To see and hear Bishop play this guitar in person is simply jawdropping. His guitar musings, whether structured songs that have appeared on albums or in-the-moment improvisations, are brought to life in vivid detail by this guitar and his deft playing. Bishop improvises often, sometimes trading on a phrase or theme of a recorded song, and I’ve done my best to identify what I could. The most recognizable tracks are “Safe House” off Tangier Sessions and “Abydos” off Fingering the Devil. “Maqam” (if I hear him correctly) appears to be an improvisation named after a type of melody in Arabic music.
In addition to playing improvisations and a couple of his solo tracks, Bishop treats us to three Sun City Girls songs and each is indicative of that band’s irreverent humor: “Porno Shop” (from Horse Cock Phepner) is about the closing of a porno shop for ostensibly moral reasons; in “Six Kids of Mine” (from Dante’s Disneyland Inferno) a father at the end of his rope resorts to infanticide; and in “Bitter Cold Countryside” (also from Dante’s Disneyland Inferno) a town bands together to murder a carpetbagging preacher. From Bishop’s “NPR shit” (his words!) to the absurdity of the Sun City Girls tracks, the crowd is with him all the way knowing full well that it’s not often you get to see a Sir Richard Bishop show like this.
I recorded this set with the AKGs mounted to the balcony and a board feed from Union Pool FOH Leah. Despite some ambient noise from the bar—inevitable for a quiet show like this—the sound is excellent and I only hope that it does justice to Bishop and his guitar. Enjoy!
Bishop is currently rounding out his US tour and will hit Europe next. Dates here.
Stream the complete show:
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Sir Richard Bishop
Exclusive download hosted at nyctaper.com
Recorded and produced by Eric PH
Soundboard (engineer: Leah) + AKG C480B/CK61 (FOB, LOC, PAS) > Roland R-26 > 2xWAV (24/48) > Adobe Audition CC (align, balance, compression, mixdown) > Audacity 2.0.5 (amplify, fades, downsample, dither, tracking, tagging) > FLAC (16/44.1, level 8)
06. Porno Shop [Sun City Girls]
07. Six Kids of Mine [Sun City Girls]
08. Safe House
11. Bitter Cold Countryside [Sun City Girls]