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Sir Richard Bishop

A self-appointed knight of whatever realm, Phoenix, Arizona-based improv guitar maestro SIR RICHARD BISHOP (born August 19, 1960, Saginaw, Michigan) is probably better known to fans of experimental outfit the SUN CITY GIRLS; in fact his first official solo album SALVADOR KALI (1998) {*6} – delivered from JOHN FAHEY’s Revenant imprint – drew from these roots and sources.
Experimental but in a worldly avant-folk template – FAHEY, Reinhardt and Shankar were particular influences, one surmises – it would be six long years before Locust Records came up with a follow-up, IMPROVIKA (2004) {*7}, a free-flowing fingerpicking set with a title that more than suggested what was within; the Eastern flavours of `Rudra’s Feast’ and `Gnostic Gem’ displayed him dexterity to the max.
While ELEKTRONIKA DEMONIKA (2006) {*5} was vinyl-only – later given free with his God Damn Religion DVD/film in 2008, FINGERING THE DEVIL (2006) {*7} was BISHOP’s next proper port of call. Drawn from London label Southern Lord’s “Latitude” series (think John Peel sessions), the concept was recorded unrehearsed in July 2005; the Turkish-tinged `Anatolia’, the desert-bowl boldness of `Dream Of The Lotus Eaters’ and the Gypsy-jazz of `Romany Trail’ were impressive examples of his to-die-for talent.
Conjuring moments of frenetic acoustic fingerpicking, WHILE MY GUITAR VIOLENTLY BLEEDS (2007) {*7} – a playful reference to a 60s GEORGE HARRISON song – BISHOP weaved his Eastern-style folk explorations through a triumvirate of freak-out instrumentals, kicking off with `Zurvan’. In the manner of say, PETER WALKER in his `Rainy Day Raga’ 60s period, or early PINK FLOYD/TANGERINE DREAM, the 11-minute drone of track 2 `Smashana’ could be safely filed under feedback-folk, while his guitar indeed, bled – to death. A test of musical survival and endurance, 25 minutes of finale `Mahavidya’ (think ROBBIE BASHO on a POPOL VUH soundtrack), was arguably daunting, but the skill and technique of Sir Richard won out on the day.
Moving stables from Locust to Drag City Records, POLYTHEISTIC FRAGMENTS (2007) {*7}, comprised of shorter tracks, with the exception of the minimalistic, 10-minute `Saraswati’. If world-fusion music – beset with Flamenco tango, Brazilian samba and Appalachian folk – be one’s bag, the free-flowing of Richard’s electrifying improvisations would set one’s pulse-rate into overdrive. Deep from a Louisiana back porch, `Hecates Dream’ and `Tennessee Porch Swing’, explored a cinematic RY COODER avenue by way of their dreamy cactus soundscapes, while the 12-string wonderment of `Free Masonic Guitar’ was quite breath-taking. The weirdness of short composition `Cemetery Gates’ (and the Dick Dale/bluegrass-surf cut `Canned Goods & Firearms’, gave a little light relief to an almost decadent and elegant set. The album closed with the luscious `Ecstasies In The Open Air’, a horizontally laid-back piece that recalled the likes of GARY MOORE on `Parisienne Walkways’ mood.
Turning his idolatry to revered Middle Eastern guitarist Omar Khorshid, THE FREAK OF ARABY (2009) {*7} took on a handful of Arabian sourced music (`Sidi Mansour’ a reverb delight) and a few from that particular neighbourhood (Mohamed Abdel Wahab’s `Enta Omri’ sticks out), this was indeed BISHOP’s entry into Egyptian raga.
As prolific as in his SUN CITY GIRLS period, BISHOP duly demonstrated that one could get by issuing the odd CD-r now and then, while waiting for some sort of quality control from Drag City. A fan could spend a mouthful of absorbing adjectives on at least a handful of the ten self-financed post-“Araby” limited-edition releases, but GRAVITON POLARITY GENERATOR (2010) {*6}, INTERMEZZO (2011) {*6} and, with W. David Oliphant, BEYOND ALL DEFECTS (2012) {*6}, showed the man was driven and dextrous.
Come early 2015, that elusive Drag City release TANGIER SESSIONS {*7} displayed BISHOP’s usual organic virtuoso, helped along this time around by a “C Bruno” guitar he’d bought while in Geneva. Capturing the essence and the Mediterranean history of the 1890s-made instrument, time spent in a Tangier hotel room provided the man ample opportunity to click on record for the “Sessions”. Richard’s free-flowing fingerpicking weaved its magic on seven cuts, none more deeper and poignant than `Bound In Morocco’, `Mirage’ and `Safe House’.
BISHOP subsequently shared German-only limited-edition records (for the Unlock imprint) with Ava Mendoza and Alvarious B, respectively, on the album IVORY TOWER (2016) {*6} and the 10-inch EP, `Strange Fruit’ (2017).
On the back of a brace of shared/split vinyl for Unrock Records, in 2019, alongside W. David Oliphant (one side of CARTE BLANCHE) and Ed Yazijian (SIR RICHARD BISHOP & ED YAZIJIAN) respectively; with not a compact disc in sight, the omnipresent Drag City team unfettered the cool guitarist’s long-awaited and almost conventional solo outing, ONEIRIC FORMULARY (2020) {*7}. Needless to say an experience best savoured while in full-on horizontal mode, SRB explored soundscapes that swayed like the wind between minimalist jazz-surf exotica (`Mit’s Linctus Codeine Co.’) or Middle Eastern (`Celerity’ and `Renaissance Nod’). Whilst highlights were strictly in the ear of the beholder, the cascading effects on `The Coming Of The Rats’ portrayed a deeper design. Anchor piece `Vellum’ embellished a cocktail of disquieting strums and staccato, whereas Richard might well’ve delved into the sounds more northerly for the pipes ‘n’ reels of `Dust Devils’.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Feb2015-Jun2020

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