I’m a late-comer to the music of this man but I’m entranced. Like all the best things, I came upon it by chance – or not. I had just read a profile of him in The New Yorker (of which more later), whilst on the train going to London, thinking I must check this guy out. Two days later, I’m rehearsing with new BOHO guitarist Nick Benjamin, esteemed luthier, in his small workshop (there’s wood shavings on the floor, exotic smells of tropical tone woods). We’d been playing through our set - on acoustic guitars rather than using the electrics. It sounded great. The workshop is about one minute from the Lewes Arms, to which we repaired. I was buzzing with the music, enthusiastically drinking Guinness and jabbering with Leon (who also has a band and loves his music) when I brought up the name Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and this article I’d just read. Turns out Leon is a long-term afficianado of his work and fan. He goes upstairs (Leon’s partner Abbie is the licensee) and returns clutching a stack of CDs – official releases, live recordings - of the man in his various musical incarnations. I go home and stick on this record. Its a very beautiful thing with exceptionally evocative lyrics and spare arrangements. It is steeped in the world of what Greil Marcus calls ‘old, weird, American music’ but it also has touches and flavours of The Incredible String Band and many other influences. Find a quiet space and just down with this this and be amazed and inspired. I started writing poetry while first listening to it – discontinuous verses
‘The mad and the delirious/The strange and the mysterious/Mixed together in a potent brew’
‘Real life i more extraordinary/Than you can imagine/more imaginative/Than you can conceive.’
The songs have unconventional structures and are constructed out of what appears to be very little, yet there is a full sound, illuminated by his affecting voice and lyrical notions. A great album. Also check out ‘The Letting Go’.
‘The Pretender’ by Kelefa Sanneh. [The New Yorker. 5th Jan, 2009]