Pick Up Sticks by Bill Wells
Formats: CD Mini-Album (BAY 34CD) Limited Edition Vinyl Mini-LP (1,000 copies) (BAY 34V) Digital (BAY 34E)
Release Date: 10 May 2004
"The unlikely tag of ‘Stirling’s answer to Sun Ra’ continues to amusingly dog Bill Wells, pianist-in-residence with the Glasgow pop underground. His recordings, however, sound less like cosmic signals of revolution and more like the scores to gently melancholy Sixties movies" Uncut
Such is the inability to properly define the work of Bill Wells that he’s connected to everyone from Sun Ra to Ennio Morricone. And yes, both references, and all in between, hold fast. Wells is the go-to man in the Glasgow scene for superior arrangements, having worked with Belle & Sebastian, The Pastels, Arab Strap, Future Pilot AKA, Telstar Ponies…the list goes on. His Bill Wells Octet has been operational for fifteen years, mixing the cadences of floral soundtracks and epic rock within a loose jazz context. Entirely self-taught, the Falkirk-based musician has released a number of albums as Bill Wells Trio and Bill Wells Octet, and currently works with Isobel Campbell (formerly of Belle & Sebastian).
Pick Up Sticks is a collaboration between Wells, famed trombonist Annie Whitehead and To Rococo Rot’s Stefan Schneider, with contributions from Berlin-based singer-songwriter Barbara Morgenstern. The recordings were mainly improvised in a Berlin studio over five days of sessions, engineered by Tarwater’s Bernd Jestram.
Building on the reputation of his last Bill Wells Trio release on Geographic, Also In White, Pick Up Sticks sees Wells moving away from his piano-based work with the emphasis shifting to a warm, engaging group sound, coloured with the tonality of Whitehead’s trombone and Schneider’s distinctive electronic vocabulary.
"I basically just asked two of my favourite musicians to be involved," says Wells of the project. “It seemed to me that even though we were all working in different areas we had a lot in common; strong melodic sensibility and a desire to keep things simple."
"I met Barbara on one of her visits to Scotland and although I hadn't originally planned on her involvement she was so enthusiastic when I mentioned the recording and I’m such a big fan of her music that it seemed only natural for her to be a part of it also. Preparations were done with Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake who recorded and edited the sounds I used on my computer, but all the music that was recorded was improvised in the studio."
And what an extraordinary team of musicians this is. Annie Whitehead has been described as "the woman everyone turns to when they want a class trombone player." She has released four albums under her own name and has worked with a bewildering array of names from the worlds of pop, rock, latin, jazz and reggae, including Robert Wyatt, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, Charlie Watts, Evan Parker, Terry Hall, Abdullah Ibrahim, James Blood Ulmer, Keith Tippett, Dr John, Elton Dean, Paul Weller and Jah Wobble. She has been a member of Chris MacGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, Working Week, The Kick Horns, The Carla Bley Very Big Band and the Penguin Café Orchestra. She has said of herself:
"Music is something that comes from inside. Collaborating with different people keeps me alive musically. In the end it's spirit that really counts".
Düsseldorf-based Stefan Schneider is a founding member of both Kreidler and To Rococo Rot, and records solo as Mapstation. As part of TRR, he co-produced the most recent St Etienne album, The Sound Of Water, and has collaborated with The Pastels, I-Sound and Alexander Balanescu. His work has long provided a bridge between the worlds of rock and electronica, and Pick Up Sticks is no exception; much of the subtle warmth of the album is thanks to him.
Barbara Morgenstern, who contributes to two pieces here, has made an almost unique global success as a songwriter, singing in her native German. Her most recent album, Nichts Muss, was released by Virgin Labels, and she has spent the last year touring the furthest corners of the globe.
1. Pick Up Sticks
2. Three Line Prayer Pt 1
3. Three Line Prayer Pt 2
4. Family Sighs
6. Perfect Window
7. A Soldier's Shoulder
8. The Dust Of Months