Derek Bailey: Barcelona Chronicles

John Eyles BY

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Barcelona Chronicles is the collective title for two Incus DVDs and one CD which document guitarist Derek Bailey playing on three occasions in Barcelona between February 2004 and May 2005. Bailey had moved there from Hackney, London, in 2003. During the spring of 2004, he began experiencing muscular difficulties; in June 2004 he dropped his plectrum during a solo performance. He was initially wrongly diagnosed as having Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. In August 2005, he was diagnosed as having Motor Neuron Disease. Throughout the period documented here, Bailey experienced the progressive effects of his disease and adapted his playing technique accordingly, including playing with his thumb not a plectrum.

In those circumstances, Barcelona Chronicles could have made depressing listening and viewing, watching the decline of this great musician. In fact, the complete opposite is true; Derek Bailey's talent shines as brightly here as it ever did, as does his spirit and his wit. This ends up as a celebration of Bailey's music and of the man.

Derek Bailey
Barcelona Chronicles No. 01: Live at G's club

The music here was previously released on CD-R as At the Sidecar (Incus, 2004). Excellent as that is, this DVD adds immeasurably to the listening experience. Bailey is filmed giving a continuous solo performance. Although there are distance shots which show him on stage, most of the time the camera is tight in on Bailey allowing viewers to see his hands clearly and so to fully appreciate the ways in which he produces his music. It also allows us to see his facial expressions—some smiles of satisfaction and some frowns too.

In typical fashion, Bailey makes occasional comments to the audience that display his trademark dry, self-deprecating humour. So, after his beautiful opening improvisation he announces, "It's like that, see. That was a traditional American tune called 'Mabel, Mabel, Take Your Elbow off the Table.'" Later, during one rather more rhythmic passage of playing, with a wry smile he quips to the audience, "You can dance if you like." Yes, Bailey was a natural-born entertainer.

Throughout, Bailey uses a plectrum, playing on different parts of the guitar's body and neck to alter the tonal qualities. He makes good use of volume pedal to sustain notes and also to occasionally get close to feedback. All of these techniques contribute to an integrated performance. There is never any sense of Bailey dipping into a stock of practiced techniques or tricks.

This DVD would have been a valuable document at any time over the past quarter of a century. It captures Bailey in peak form producing free-flowing, coherent music that gives the lie to any talk that he was difficult or required effort to appreciate. On the contrary, it is easy to relax into the flow of this music and be carried along by it.

Personnel: Derek Bailey: solo electric guitar.

Production Notes: 56 minutes. Recorded February 10th, 2004 at the Sidecar, Barcelona. Filmed and DVD-Mastering by Josef M Jordana.

Derek Bailey
Barcelona Chronicles No. 02: All Thumbs

Some five months later, the month after the incident when he dropped his plectrum, Bailey is filmed on a rooftop, seemingly playing to a group of friends and acquaintances. There is no brouhaha or fuss. (It may be a rooftop but this isn't The Beatles in Saville Row.) As the DVD begins, Bailey is sitting playing with a plectrum. There is a great sense of continuity with the first DVD; Bailey's playing seems unchanged. After about five minutes he stops and calmly announces to those watching that because of a problem with his right index finger he will continue to play using his thumb instead, which he does.

The most obvious effect of the change is that the tone of his playing is mellower with thumb than with plectrum. In other respects, the music remains remarkably unchanged. There are no signs that Bailey was having problems with his left hand; he manages to hold chord patterns with a firm, steady grip. Neither is there any obvious change in his attitude; he is as adventurous and innovative as ever. Although its playing time is shorter (and, hence, it costs less) this DVD is the equal of the first one.

Personnel: Derek Bailey: solo electric guitar.

Production Notes: 23 minutes. Recorded July 26th, 2004 on a rooftop in Barcelona. Filmed by Andy Davies, Robert Iolini & Lluis Escartin. Directed and Post-production by Andy Davies.

Derek Bailey and Agusti Fernandez
Barcelona Chronicles No. 03: A Silent Dance

Bailey and pianist Agusti Fernandez had recorded the duo album Barcelona (Hopscotch Records, 2003) in Barcelona in November 2001, a visit that was influential in Bailey's decision to relocate to the city. So, it was fitting that this last public performance was again a duo performance with Fernandez. Recorded at the magnificent Gaudi-designed building known as La Pedrera, there is an appropriate sense of occasion about the event. Bailey always spoke of the virtues of playing with others ("in company") over playing solo. The solo playing on the DVDs is mighty fine, but this duo does highlight another side of Bailey's playing.

Initially, Bailey and Fernandez are both tentative and restrained here. Neither seems keen to step into the limelight. The CD is well titled; it feels as if the two are indulging in a slow shuffle to check out if they can manage to dance together. Gradually they decide that they can and things warm up considerably. However, they still allow each other plenty of space and do not rush or crowd each other, giving the whole CD a slowly-evolving, languid feel to it. A fine way to bow out of live performance.

Personnel: Derek Bailey: electric guitar; Agusti Fernandez: piano.

Tracks: Two tracks, untitled.

Motor Neuron Disease eventually led to Derek Bailey's death on Christmas Day 2005, aged 75. Barcelona Chronicles is the first release of new material on Incus since then, and serves as a fitting memorial to this wonderful musician and great human being. The DVDs and CD are available separately, but they complement each other very well and together form a coherent document. This trilogy seems highly likely to be one of the year's best releases.

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