In the echo of harmonies cast to the wind, a reverence for the Virgin Mary, and tales of a bygone England, Bishopskin emerge as a profound repudiation of the modern world. Their latest LP Babble is an ethereal pilgrimage, an escape to a mythic, Blakean England, interwoven with threads of folk revivalism and avant-garde artistry.
Founded by James Donovan (formerly of HMLTD), and visual artist Tiger Nicholson in 2020, their debut draws from a wellspring of early 19th Century Romanticism, traversing realms of childhood innocence, exaltations of the natural world, religious revelations, and patriotic odes. Each song in Babble is a meticulously chiseled creation, born from a selection of fifty, honed through years of recording, refining, and embellishing. James Donovan likens the process to crafting “triple cooked chips”—a labor of artistry, constantly seeking new perspectives. Tracked initially in Stoke Newington under the skilful hands of Nathan Ridley, edited by Donovan at home, and then fittingly overdubbed in Nicholson's rustic Oxfordshire cottage outhouse, this album is a testament to the meticulous sculpting of sound
Bishopskin's live performances are a testament to the transcendent power of communal music. Inspired by the ethos of HMLTD's Henry Spychalski, Tiger Nicholoson endeavors to instill the "Fear of God" into audiences with his extravagant and spontaneous stage presence. In a South London music scene often associated with post-punk and a certain edge, Bishopskin stands as a beacon of uplifting, communal power. Their music provides an opportunity for transcendence, a respite from the somber and godless aspects of the modern world. With Babble, Bishopskin crafts an auditory tapestry that invites listeners into an enchanting realm, an idyllic escape into the heart of England's timeless landscapes, where Arthurian legends and ancient giants stride across moors.
Congratulations to you both on the creation of this exceptionally moving album! Babble deftly weaves together elements of English Folk revivalism, 19th-century Romanticism, and Blakean spirituality. Can you elaborate further on the specific conceptual constituents that have informed the making of this body of work?
My (Tiger) background has been more in sculpture and painting rather than music. So when James and I started writing and the band started to slowly form I borrowed a lot of the colours and shapes I was already mining and naturally began trying them in this new art. Old bald men with straggly beards, tonsures, crucifixes, Christ’s haunted story, England’s old mythology, blue skies and thick black lines.
From the enchanting, romantically styled fiddle accompaniment in Hey Little Sister to the spirited, almost Balkan-inspired staccato of strings that graces Stella Splendens, I find myself utterly captivated by the rich tapestry of violin and other stringed instruments woven throughout the LP. Could you delve into the artistic process that brought forth these opulent arrangements? How did you envision the incorporation of such instrumentation enriching the narrative and emotional depth of your music?
We have a very talented violinist called Hana Miyagi. I remember the first time we practiced with her, she instantly elevated these childish rhymes into full maturity with the extraordinary rare gift of truly exceptional improvisation. All her takes on the album were improvised and all of them were in one take. Extraordinary. We are utterly blessed to have her.
Your lyrics in compositions like Holy Mary evoke a profound reverence for a bygone England, offering blessings to its 'golden hills' and 'heavy peace.' It's as if your music serves as a love letter to this mythologised past. How far do you perceive your music as a form of resistance against the pace of modernity, while simultaneously beckoning towards spirituality, ushering listeners into this enchanting, almost otherworldly, rendition of England? How do you imagine these thematic threads will resonate with audiences in our ever evolving and irreverent cultural milieu?
Well that’s Bishopskin! And so beautifully put! Will it resonate? The honest answer is I don’t know - it comforts me that you have so clearly identified what I feel is this rich source of inspiration for Bishopskin, but maybe in more insecure moments I often feel that we may not find our audience. Even if that’s so, that would be okay. It’s always comforting to have people enjoy your art but if no one was listening I hope we’d have a heart to continue to make.
Much of the album thematically reads like an otherworldly minister preaching virtuous exaltations to a world too far gone to listen, while simultaneously leaving the world behind in favour of a land of environmental harmonium. Would you say that your lyrics of are any didactic messages interwoven into your lyrical imagery, or are the tales of this idyllic land unspoiled by the trappings of modernity purely an escapist fantasy?
The short answer is both. The ‘heavy peace’ you mentioned before is a reality. Truly I tell you there is a peace so creamy, golden and heavy, like the hot sun sleepy lidded eyes. This peace is accessible and free in a sober mind through Christ the Creator. But I draw a lot of inspiration from a more mythologised England, with Arthur and giants on the moors. These ideas historically have been a sort of escapist fantasy for the English, and before them for Britons, for literally thousands of years - but this  escapist fantasy is not really a fantasy, nor is it escapist but a rich well of inspiration which holds many of the realties and truths of our little world in a seemingly unrealistic fantasy. It has the same effect of a parable: “they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!”
Throughout the album, there are prominent allusions to Catholicism, notably exemplified by your unique reimagining of the Schubert classic Ave Maria. Could you delve into the elements you draw from both folk traditions and Catholicism? How have your own experiences with Catholicism informed your artistic choices.
For over 1000 years the Western art world was inspired by the story of Christ. The amazing thing is that it’s been mined and over mined yet it still has more to give, new springs are popping up all of the time, it is and will be endlessly a captivating form of inspiration. Even now you see the imagery from it everywhere from the new band The Last Dinner Party to the renowned Kendrick Lamar - it’s everywhere, and in my opinion it will always give more birth to much richer art than anything about an ex-lover, from whom many songs seem to be inspired.
Emerging as a project born out of the constraints of lockdown, Bishopskin's inception raises an intriguing question: did the contemplative atmosphere and stillness of those uncertain times serve as a catalyst for deeper connections to an ecclesiastical divine and the spiritual realm? How profoundly did this period of introspection and uncertainty shape the evolution of your musical expression and artistry?
We’ve been asked this before, and I believe we may have written it so somewhere, but I don’t feel it was formed in lockdown. Like with everything, it gradually grew over a long time with different people. If anything the writing slowed down during lockdown, but we did start releasing stuff. So, if anything, we did seem to get organised during that strange global pause.
Mother's Steel Bike is steeped in the nostalgia of childhood, capturing the beauty of recalling those early moments filled with wonder and imagination within the familial embrace. Could you take us on a journey into the specific memories or emotions that served as the wellspring for this evocative composition? Moreover, how does this piece align with the overarching narrative of Babble?
You are right that it was written from childhood memories, but to disclose anymore would make the song too vulnerable.
The album was recorded across contrasting locations, from Stoke Newington to a rural Oxfordshire outhouse. How did these environments, urban and pastoral, contribute distinct atmospheres and nuances to the overall sonic palette of Babble?
It’s a good question. We felt it was necessary to record it in Hermitage Works Studio in London initially, to lay down most of the tracks live in order to create a frame to build on in a more simplistic studio later. We kept all the drums and bass and magic moments in the tracks but basically overdubbed everything else later. Also the engineer Nathan Ridley was exceptional at getting the best out of us and basically became our producer telling us when we were shitting up the song and how to not shit up the song. Practically it worked but - but for the next I believe under constraints like not having a drum kit or all of Nathan’s fancy kit, it might push us to find better alternatives to a traditional sound.
As you embark on your upcoming tour, spanning across London, Manchester, and Paris, I am curious to hear your thoughts on the evolving nature of your live performances. How do you envision the experience of sharing Babble with diverse audiences and settings? Do you anticipate your messages resonating differently within the distinct cultures you perform to?
I don’t think there will be much difference apart from the size of the dwindling crowd coming to see us, having it be our first tour. Maybe after more experience we’d be able to notice the nuance of each city and where we will be most warmly received. A Baltic tour is on the cards and I imagine that may be a little different to our silly little tour.
The inclusion of clarinettist and qualified priest Tati Gutteridge on Mother's Steel Bike is a captivating addition. How did this collaboration come about? In what ways did this collaboration inform and influence the direction of the rest of the album?
Tati has been a monumental addition with her insane harmonic choral style. It’s really brought a new sound that I believe I’ve never heard before. There is a song called Come Home on the album where a traditional Latin hymn comes in sung expertly off the back of a folk vocal riff, combining this ancient sound with a new, warmer folky wave. I believe that song may be a new catalyst for the spawning and budding of many new songs from us.
Your entrée into the London Underground scene has been met with enthusiastic embrace, marked by noteworthy support slots alongside luminaries such as Opus Kink and Wooze. Yet, the ethereal tableau of Christian folk scriptures that defines your sound seems to stand apart in its uniqueness. Are there any fellow artists within the scene whose musical expressions resonate with you, perhaps influencing or inspiring your own sonic journey?
HMLTD’s new album Wyrmlands, Oscar Browne, Kendrick Lamar - Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, Kevin Morby - Oh My God and Aldous Harding.
The album's cover art is a striking image of Tiger cradling a child, and given your recent journey into parenthood, one might presume that the child in the photograph is your own. Congratulations, by the way! Could you share how this significant shift into fatherhood has left its imprint on your music? Is the halcyon world you've crafted throughout Babble perhaps a realm you wish your child could escape to, sheltered from the moral complexities and transgressions replete in modern society?
I hope she won’t cringe too much at me including her in this record when she’s older, but it’s likely she will think it’s annoying and normal probably. She did actually make it onto a song, babbling in the background of Jerusalem - it gives it a touch that caught me by surprise.
What’s next in store for Bishopskin? What can we expect to see from you in the future?
A lot more shows, better music, and more and more members!