Sweet Billy PilgrimWe Just Did What Happened and No One CameKscope Music
My how things have changed. Upon first encountering Britain's Sweet Billy Pilgrim at the 2007 Punkt Festival
in Kristiansand, Norway, funding was so diminutive that singer/songwriter/guitarist/multi-instrumentalist/erstwhile leader Tim Elsenberg was unable to bring the full group; instead, he came with bassist/banjoist/background vocalist Anthony Bishop...and even had to use a borrowed Fender Stratocaster, which caused no shortage of tuning difficulties throughout the duo's still-impressive set
Just shy of a decade later, the group has been nominated for a Mercury prize (for its 2009 sophomore effort, Twice Born Men
), earned significant critical response which, in addition to All About Jazz
, was found in important rock/pop periodicals including Uncut
and, in particular, MOJO
, which awarded Twice Born Men
's follow-up, 2012's Crown and Treaty
, a rare Five Star/Instant Classic rating.
The group has also gone from being a self-produced DIY band with its 2005 debut, We Just Did What Happened and No One Came
(Wonderland)a characteristically self-effacing title that pretty much nailed the group's early years (as is so often the case with any new group)to having its records released by avant-songsmith David Sylvian
's SamadhiSound label (Twice Born Men
), the majors (EMI, for Crown and Treaty
) and, now, Kscope Records (2015's Motorcade Amnesia
), one of the preeminent labels for progressive and post- progressive music, with artists like Britain's Pineapple Thief and Anathema, Norway's Gazpacho, and its most successful artist to date, Steven Wilson
, whose star has continued to rise on a rapid upwards trajectory since putting Porcupine Tree on hold and going solo.
And Elsenbergin addition to becoming both a remixer and engineer/producerhas written songs for other groups as well as becoming a music educator at a local school. A long way from running LAN lines as a day gig, when we first met at Punkt in 2007.
Subsequent opportunities to catch SBP live were in its four-piece touring band glory; along with Elsenberg, Bishop and fellow founding member, drummer Alistair Hamer, SBP live included a revolving-door keyboardist/vocalist for a few years, until singer/guitarist/keyboardist Jana Carpenter joined the group as a full-time fourth member, making her first appearance on Crown and Treaty
but afforded considerably more presence and freedom on Motorcade Amnesiacs
. Appearances at Punkt 2009
, again, in Kristiansand, and then, a few months later that same year, as part of a "road version" of Punkt, in a quadruple bill over two nights in Mannheim, Germany (which really meant eight shows: four performances and four live remixes), as part of the annual Enjoy Jazz Festival
, were nothing short of exceptionalcompletely accessible but, at the same time, idiosyncratic and, more importantly, intelligent
pop music that made clear it's possible to write music that draws on everyone from King Crimson
's Robert Fripp
and British singer/songwriter/guitar wizard Richard Thompson
to musicians in-between and beyond these stylistically diverse artists' broad range to create something unmistakable, despite primary writer Elsenberg and the entire group's far-reaching musical proclivities.
Being with a major label may have had its pluses, but Kscope seems like the right home for Sweet Billy Pilgrim. No only did the label get behind Motorcade Amnesiacs
giving it both the regular and two-disc deluxe treatmentsbut they've also given SBP the opportunity to bring back into print the subject of today's Rediscovery
: the group's long out-of-print, hard to find debut, We Just Did What Happened and No One Came
, in an attractive new digipak format with a re-envisioned cover that still captures the original's curious nature; an eight-page booklet with lyrics and liners from Elsenberg that shed light on the group's genesis for those coming more recently to the band; and tastefully (but not drastically) remixed/remastered sonics. As Elsenberg writes:
"This album was originally recorded and mixed on the most basic of equipment, with lots of enthusiasm but little in the way of technical know-how. In the intervening years, we got a bit better at making records and so we have taken this opportunity to improve the original mixes (alongside Francis [Kimberley]' careful remastering) to bring out a little more of the detail, without interfering with the homespun, DIY spirit of the enterprise."