Bishopskin | Preaching to the Lost who Need to Be Found
Words by Angelika May
Photography by Anya Rose
Right now, Bisopskin are incomparable in the current London music scene. Combining elements of folk, blues with a religious influence they have created a sound of times of yore. It feels honest, sincere and heartfelt. As a multi-faceted, multifarious, often 8, 9 or 10 piece band they push the tapestry of collective music. Attending their gigs is always a heartening experience, not solely for the sound but for the community Bishopskin seem to have revived.
I was lucky enough to catch Tiger, James and Adam of Bishopskin (Bishopskin, Bishopskin, Bishopskin) before their gig at Paper Dress Vintage to discuss the fabric in the meaning of the universe, Francis of Assisi and Captain Underpants.
*Warning Wolf Hall spoilers contained in this interview*
Congratulations, you became a father recently. Do you think that fatherhood has inuenced the way you write and create music?
Tiger - I think when I got married my songs started to become a bit more sincere. There’s a song about Elvis in the album. We sampled her gurgling and making baby noises, which is a really nice texture that pulls you out of the song. Have you ever seen a compilation video of photographs containing dierent settings, such as people at a bar, or a football match, from all over the world? The songs texture has a similar affect, it gives you a birds eye view of life, or adds weight to a certain moment.
Ave Maria is dedicated to your wife?
T - I suppose it’s definitely become that. It was written just after our honeymoon, (that is when Elvis was conceived) so as the song was being built, it became the story of the Madonna and child. Which reflected Mimi and our baby, Mimi was doing a lot of art at the time, taking pictures where she was pretending to be Mary. That’s sort of how it came about.
At your gigs, there is a sense of the mystic, almost sermon like. Is the way you perform inuenced by your own relationship with mass?
T - I grew up in a charismatic tradition, but not in comparison to the charisma of say, American preachers, which David Byrne for instance is inuenced by. They have this incredible rhythm with the way that they talk, it’s pre-rehearsed in so many ways so that it ebbs and flows consistently. I don’t think that I was ever exceptionally influenced by the sermon itself in England, as they weren’t remarkably aesthetic. The sermons are more practical, to spark thought. Where as in American churches, specifically Evangelical or African services, the sermons themselves are these incredible performances. Gospel churches for instance, sing inbetween sermons or parts of the mass, it’s bizarre but it sounds incredible and it’s beautiful.
Did you grow up going to church?
T - I did for a while, then I stopped going when my dad started taking me to play rugby in London; as my school didn’t play and I wasn’t very good at football, so that’s what I did on Sundays. I joined it again later.
So you attend now?
T - I’m sort of inbetween Churches at the moment. When I left London, I went to a High Church in Oxford and to a Russian Orthodox, we’ve also been to Ethiopian services. When you have faith, you’re always questioning what is the right way to worship a God and when you get a little bit older, you can start to question theology that doesn’t stand for you any longer. I never felt discouraged by the dierences between churches, there was such a beauty in seeing how dierent people worship their God. A lot of it is deeply humbling. Currently, we like going to the Russian Orthodox in Oxford, because it’s so stunning. Sometimes, we go to the Anglican village church which is the bread and butter of English churches. We’re in a congregation of six, so me, Mimi and Elvis make up half of the congregation. It almost feels like I’m the last Christian in England when I attend, I get a real dystopian vibe from it. I do think we are getting to a point where there won’t be any Christians in the UK, recently there was a census that there are more Non-Christians than Christians here. However, that is important because previously people simply went to church, just because that’s what you do. It’s a lot richer when you are armed by your faith, for example in places like China where Christianity is under scrutiny, the faith is a lot richer there because it is taboo.
Folk is often attributed to Paganism, however there seems to be a lot of Catholic inuence in Bishopskin. What do you take from folk and/or Catholicism and how do you blend these?
T - It’s completely subconscious, it’s not like painting where you can accurately draw influences. I take a lot of solace in the fact that if i am trying to copy someones song, it always sounds really different. I think it has become folk, rather than us conjoining that, it’s great because the folk tradition is so impressive, particularly in this country and the British Isles. The whole Pagan thing is cool, anyone who makes a decision whether that’s Paganism or atheism is admirable because that takes faith. If anyone is in a position where they’re unsure, and say it (God) is real then the the stakes are pretty high and maybe you should spend a good proportion of your life working it out
because it’s fucking important; this is the fabric in the meaning of the universe. Music wise, I was a big fan of Benjamin Clementine’s first album. I loved it so much, it wasn’t so much folk, as it was piano but his melodies are insane. The way we make the songs is, I usually write a bit of them, or write a melody and James, has the music knowhow. He’s seriously good on the guitar. He does this beautiful sort of Flamenco Spanish style, which then works with my writing. I suppose that’s how the folk has come through. It’s gotten heavier as we started playing live, my wife calls it “punk folk”. Some people really know their sub genres, but it may not even be that helpful to try to define it.
Who are you listening to at the moment, what was your Spotify wrapped this year?
T - My Spotify wrapped was crap this year, I’ve been listening to the radio whilst I’m driving and my car doesn’t have an aux. So a lot of radio 3 but when I heard it, I was like why is no one listening to this? It’s basically classical, jazz and really experimental stu. Also, Abel Selaocoe he is fucking amazing, he’s a cellist with these incredible vocals, I think Yo-Yo Ma played on one of his albums. It’s so dierent from our music but I thought, if we can nd someone who can play a cello we will get them in.
James - I’ve been listening to a lot of 60s English folk revival, such as Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Nick Jones those kind of sounds where they use “unpleasant harmonies”, if it’s horrible we like it.
James, what drew you to starting this project with Tiger?
J - I was living with Tiger over lockdown, Tiger suggested we do some music, as a way to pass the time. When we worked on these songs, I really liked them, I thought they were sick. So we came up with this EP over lockdown which is on Spotify and its gone from there. Adam, who is a really good friend lived with us for a bit, he plays in a lot of other bands, so we roped him - you were one of the original members Adam - I was? J - You were one of the rst! A - I’ve quit the band a couple times, but here I am. J - We always welcome him back with open arms. It is just like that, everyone’s busy so we have people coming and going but tonight we have ten people on stage. T - The term is modular J - Is that how you see us all? Were modules are we? A - But it is good, because if I’m unable to attend a gig, there are like at least two other people that can step in. T - We have one band member James Moss, who is particularly talented. He is the modular piece. He can play bass, drums, guitar he's so helpful. He started on drums and now hes on synth, guitar,
vocals he’s done piano and bass. He’s like a one man band...he actually has a one man project going on. Wait for that, because it will be incredible.
What are your most treasured possessions?
J - Right now, it’s the harddrive that contains the whole Bishopskin album, which I haven’t backed up. I broke the last one, if I break this one I would be mortied. The whole thing would be over. I should probably back it up. T - I think it was almost a year and a half ago, I completely fell in love, with a guy from the 12th century called Francis of Assisi, I’m fucking nuts for him. He loved animals, that's what hes famous for. I read a book about him by accident, which completely changed my life I couldnt stop thinking about it, about him and everything that he did and said. He is probably the closest that anyone has ever come to replicating Jesus Christ. I couldn't stress enough, if you’re ever at a loose end - there was a film done in the 70s about his life, which is pretty good and easier than reading the book. A - Wait, so is Francis of Assisi your most treasured possession? T - Yeah I love that guy so much. I could have said this tiny, leather Bible that I used to carry around with me, that used to make me want to weep when I felt it in my pocket because I loved it so much. Or I could say my wedding ring. A - I wanted to say my friends but I shouldn’t really refer to my friends as possessions.
What was your favourite story growing up?
J - So mine would be- T - Oh, I know what you’re going to say. Should we do it together? J - Yeah, yeah! J + T - Three, two, one...WOLF HALL! J - It’s a book by Hilary Mantel, she died recently but it’s about Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII. He’s a pauper, he comes from a very humble beginning but manages to become the second man in England behind Henry VIII. Just the way that Hilary Mantel writes it, is just, and he orchestrates the beheading of Anne Boelyn, he orchestrates the movement of England from Catholicism to Protetenstism. He was a genius, but eventually beheaded because he was not of noble blood and betrayed.
Is that the book ruined?
J - Yeah that’s the end ruined but it’s in history, I mean, that’s the third book ruined, not the rst. A - I liked Elmer the Elephant T - Nelly the Elephant?
A - No, Elmer the Elephant. The multicoloured Elephant. T - I’ve got a really low brow one, like really low brow. A - What? Like Captain Underpants? T - Yeah! Captain Underpants. I remember some nerdy kid at school bringing in a Captain Underpants book, and I was like that shit looks super lame. Then I started reading it and it’s actually pretty engaging.
Listen to Bishopskin here
Keep up to date with Bishopskin via Instagram: @bishopskin
Photography by Anya Rose