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Bishopskin share new single ‘Hey Little Sister’

Words by Chiara Strazzulla

As they work towards the release of their debut album later in the year, Bishopskin keep proving that they are one of the most intriguing, unusual acts on the independent London scene. Even more than their refusal to follow any trend, constantly marching to the beat of their own drum - with impressive results: be it a live outing or a single release, everything they have done so far has been nothing short of impressive - what makes this band truly memorable is the strength of voice they have displayed from the very beginning.

Photo: Spela Cedilnik

There is nothing that sounds quite like Bishopskin; this is all the more remarkable because in many ways the inspirations underpinning their sound go back to the very beginnings of music itself, in search for something primal that transcends tradition and connects with the deeper spirituality that lurks at the bottom of folk music. Yet with each new track they have released, an added complexity has also appeared, building on the powerful foundations laid out by that kernel of pure feeling; there is a pleasant ambition in the songwriting, which has seen Bishopskin add more instruments, more flourishes, more layers to their music. It is to their credit that they have managed to do so without losing the immediacy that made their early releases so immediately easy to connect with, as anyone who has attended one of their live shows will easily testify.

This latest single, Hey Little Sister, is in many ways a testament to this whole path of musical discovery: it sums up all of these features and takes yet another step further, it is at the same time more polished and still deeply instinctual, it sounds unexpected without losing its clarity of voice and recognisable personality. It has the band’s fingerprints all over it: the well-rounded, warm, striking bass vocals, the finely woven guitars that provided the backbone to previous tracks like Lean Closer, the balance of mellow and danceable.

'Hey Little Sister' live:

It is also, perhaps, the most easily accessible song Bishopskin have released to this date. It has been for a while a staple of their live sets, and for good reason: it has a bopping opening that draws the listener in immediately, a structure like a series of waves that invites movement, a vocal line that is fairly easy to sing along with while still being intriguing in its own quirks, and it is perhaps less intimidating than some of the band’s other songs, with their intense religious and folkloric imagery.

Here, too, the core of the structure is folk-rock, perhaps more than elsewhere: there is a world in which this song could have been played by Fleetwood Mac, with relatively few changes from what it is now. But as is often the case with Bishopskin, there is also something to it that harkens to an older kind of folk, something akin to what might be found, for instance, in Clannad’s takes on traditional Irish music.

On this core a remarkably sophisticated musical structure is created which is made unique by a clever interplay of guitar and rhythm section, with some clever additions which make the studio version come across more polished than its live counterpart while eschewing the risk of being overproduced. The distinctive staccato flow of the vocals gives the song the feeling of a private conversation, before it is allowed to explode into a broad, powerful chorus; the instrumental bridges have more than a bit of blues in them, and the numerous changes of pace keep the sound flowing without feeling disconnected. At the beginning and end, the track is bracketed by the controlled chaos of Hana Miyagi’s violin, injecting a subtly disquieting note into what is otherwise a warm, comforting sound.

"The verses are for my twin sister. When writing it I had this image of us as little children in a big row boat straining on bending oars against this Enormous Green marbled sea" - Tiger Nicholson

The lyrics to the song, as the title suggests, were written by vocalist Tiger Nicholson for his sister, and there is a depth of personal emotion filling this track that serves as a quieter counterpart to the roaring spirituality of some of Bishopskin’s other work. Where much of what we’ve heard from this band before could be described as a wildly experimental take on some kind of folk-punk, here we are in a territory more aptly described as folk-blues with a tinge of jazz: there is something to Hey Little Sister that summons a memory of the Roaring Twenties and the age of swing, perhaps in its unusual choice of tempo or in the way the warmth of the sax gives it a fuller body. But there is also the trademark Bishopskin voice when the vocals slow down to almost talking, giving the feeling of being in the presence of something spontaneous and viscerally authentic.

The way in which they have managed to reconcile this apparent paradox of spontaneous and polished, joyful and solemn, is perhaps the most intriguing thing about what this band has been doing. In Hey Little Sister they are doing it in a way that is somewhat different from what we had grown used to, but that balance is still there, and this is yet another memorable single, that lingers in the ear long after it has finished playing. It demonstrates, once again, a willingness to try something different which is supported by a clear confidence in the voice this band has built, and a desire to keep perfecting that voice rather than keep repeating what worked in the past. It is an exciting song that promises, no doubt, even more excitement yet to come in the near future.


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