Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

6. Bonnie “Prince” BillyEase On Down The Road

I think if I could only take the music of one person to a desert island, it would be Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. Experiencing his music and following him in real time has been, I would say, the greatest musical pleasure of my life.

I think I was played the I See A Darkness album in, probably, 2000. I remember really liking the title track. That album is bleak, but hopeful in a mad way. And since then, more than anyone else, his music has been with me like a comrade.

Picking an album of his, again, was made easy by how difficult it was. There’s all sorts of aliases and bits and bobs. There’s an album which he just recorded on a cassette and gave to the record company. He’ll do stuff like that, and you find out it’s suddenly available. This is such a such a hipster thing say, but he really is the Daniel Kitson of Americana.

But as obscure as he can be, and at times frustrating in the way he releases stuff, but the reason behind it is incredibly honourable. None of his music is on Spotify, which is a ballache, but I’ve heard a podcast called American Masters in which he talks why that’s the case. And he’s absolutely right about how he wants to be able to walk into someone’s living room and see their music collection. And discover it, and thumb through it, and pull out records. He doesn’t want to be told by an algorithm what he should listen to next. And he says that the most important coincidences and discoveries he’s made in music have been through people, and through trying things.

So there’s a number of things on this album that connected with me, especially his treatment of sex and how, with a lot of his love songs, he writes vocals for the male and the female voice. Sometimes he’ll be providing both parts, but often there’ll be a female voice on it. So on this album it’s Catherine Irwin and on other albums he’s worked with Dawn McCarthy and Angel Olsen. It’s – how to put into words something I’ve been thinking about 15 years – it’s an entirely equal opportunities discussion of love and sex. So, often the female voice will pick up the male voice on something he said that’s completely out of order. Yet the description of sex, whilst at times quite frank and quite animalistic, is is entirely shame-free. There’s a great line in a song on Ease Down The Road where it’s “Baby, why don’t we feel guilty? Why does it seem we’re doing right when we’re doing something filthy in a rented room tonight?”, and then the answer is “I think it’s because we love the now”. And whenever I come to him, I feel less ashamed about sex, but also what’s fantastic is that honesty about about two voices in a relationship, and how well they are explored. I mean, one of the last lyrics on the whole album is “I lick you dry until you’re laughing, my fingers in your behind.” And yet it’s not pornographic. It’s real. That’s sex, and it’s joyful.

I’ve walked past him three times in my life, and each time, I have just nearly died. Once I said “I’m looking forward to the show” and he said “Thanks a lot”. Another time I got a photo. The other time he just jogged past in a pair of tiny shorts at Green Man.

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