No tags :(

Tony Wilson & Bill Smith
learning new tricks – shire editions cd001
released in a limited numbered edition of 100 copies on November 22nd, 2001

New Tricks Cover

Tony Wilson: guitar, prepared guitar, kalimbas, PVC pipe, electronics
Bill Smith: snare, high hat, cymbals, junk percussion, gongs, bells, sopranino saxophone, concertina, Waisvisz crackle box.

Recorded live on October 19/2000 (Trick #1 & #5) & February 8/2001 by Michael Lobban on Hornby Island.
Mastering Dylan van derSchyff.
Original cover art by Michael Hornsby.

As I arrive at my 75th birthday certain truths become apparent, clarified, one for sure is that this duet recording embedded in the following story is my final recorded statement. Hey, it’s not because there is nothing left in me, after all words still keep tumbling out, but more because I’ve either lost interest in that aspect of my life or my particular talent – if that’s what it is – is no longer required, replaced by the music of a younger, more relevant group of players.

Over the years there have been some great moments, a couple of bands playing songs our mothers taught us, golden oldies from a time past; hilarious theatre projects taking us on cross-country rock & roll extravaganzas, cruise ships, trips to the moon…, whatever subject took our fancy, relieving the tedium of damp winter days, all launched from the stage of the community hall; art openings, usually duets, the early days, when my arrival on Hornby was still a novelty, numerous evenings with Dana’s string bass, later with Dutch or the Easy 3, and finally this duet with guitarist Tony Wilson.

1. Fetch (1:47) Wilson & Smith

2. Old Joe Clark (4:01) Traditional

3. For Albert (4:59) Tony Wilson

A time frame is necessary. As always. Don’t forget to put the year on the poster Sheila always warned. How else will you be able to fix it in time, later, when memory fades? If memory serves it was the fall of 1999, October maybe, the year confirmed in a clipping from a Nanaimo newspaper. The blurb, promoting an off-island tour some three years on, claims that me and Tony were invited by artist Gordon Payne to entertain his guests at his first-ever one man show at the community hall. He had a specific notion in mind: improvised music only. No tunes allowed.

Gordon rarely has public art shows, his ever evolving garden gallery satisfying his ego, so this evening at the community hall, closing off the 20th century, is a rare event. As always we, the players, arrive ahead of time. The show is already mounted, some around the walls, but the eye-catcher dominating the centre of the room is one of Gordon’s sculptural fantasies aptly titled Soar. Our community hall is a wonder of acoustic design, perfect for our newly formed duo, offering a number of set-up locations. The stage is a tad pretentious, more suitable for theatrical production or large orchestras, the galleries running around three sides will make us too prominent, so we set up in a corner of the main floor, furthest from the entrance, out of the way of the expected horde.

Apart from Tony’s guitar plugged into a variety of electronic effects, and my saxophones and miniature drum kit, there is, spread about the floor, a collection of noise makers, too many to describe in detail. Among Tony’s extras is a gadget constructed by one of the local wizards, its function to collect recorded sounds in forty second loops, store them and then cyclically broadcast. On and on. Over and over.

The crowded hall is humming with the expectation of well wishers, critics, the art intelligentsia and the usual collection of hangers-on come for the free food and booze. So off we go, our improvised soundscape mingling with the chatter of the guests which increases as the complimentary wine freely flows, inspiring Tony to record a forty second snatch of the hubbub to be integrated into the next series of improvisations. Up until this point in the proceedings, with the exception of a few dedicated fans, no one had taken the slightest notice of our music, but the addition of an electronic replication of their own babble attracted the attention of one of the guests, its repetitious loop rubbing on his nerves, making him threaten to head home, fetch a gun, and end its life. For the second half of the evening we reverted to tunes of a bluesy nature. Some stragglers gathering chairs in a semi-circle. Concertising.

4. Roll Over (9:16) Wilson & Smith

5. Drop It (9:55) Wilson & Smith

6. Mean Old World (2:22) Traditional

new tricks cd art

There were a number of opportunities over the ensuing years for our duo to perform, artsy parties a specialty, once an afternoon filled with our love for the blues, a demonstration out back of the community hall, again in a corner, shielded from the blazing sun, attempting to convince a member of the Blues Society committee that we should be included in the upcoming yearly blues workshops. Man, he said, You sound like you come from fucking Mars. The end of that idea.

Not everyone is alarmed by what we produce, and that night at Gordon’s art opening, the performance of our duo was heard by Sally C, inspiring her to invite us to play the following summer at a shindig on Denman Island in celebration of her upcoming divorce.

It’s a bright sunny afternoon, perfect for the occasion, when we arrive to set up on the porch of Sally C’s seaside cabin. A delightful location, the beach stretching down to the waters of Bayne’s Sound, across which can be seen the east coast of Vancouver Island, with the village of Fanny Bay – the location of some of the world’s most delicious oysters and the Fanny Bay Inn, which is fondly known by islanders as the FBI, settled into a backdrop of the Beaufort Range.

We have decided to bring the whole shebang: Tony his guitar, kalimbas, home-made PVC pipe didgeridoo and a bag of electronics, including the one that had irritated the guest to such a degree at Gordon’s event. I’m fully equipped with a snare drum, high hat, cymbals, a bag of junk percussion, gongs, bells, sopranino saxophone, a concertina and a Michael Waisvisz crackle box.

By now we have a program, a show no longer based in pure improvisation, developed to include several original compositions, a couple of traditional country tunes such as “Old Joe Clark” and “Mean Old World”, even Albert Ayler’s anthem “Mothers”.

At first Sally’s guests are oblivious to the subtle deceit of our soundscapes blending with their chatter and the screeching of seagulls arriving to search out free treats, only to be, as Belle herself was, eventually enamoured. Apart from food and beverage, we actually received payment for this, including a ferry ticket to send us back home to Hornby.

7. Down Boy (2:13) Wilson & Smith

8. Mothers & Daughters (9:38) Albert Ayler, Wilson & Smith

9. Play Possum (1:58) Wilson & Smith


In the Spring of 2003 Tony makes plans to take Learning New Tricks on the road, an island tour. A five concert jaunt beginning at the Joe King clubhouse on Hornby and ending at 1067 in Vancouver. To begin, Tony convinces a saxophonist friend in Nanaimo to present us at his studio, a funky, down home space filled with his objets d’art. Access to toilet facilities available in another building across the car park. The audience, the largest number of the tour [50], are enthusiastic, afterwards approaching the bandstand, curious, fascinated by our multifarious collection of musical instruments, asking questions, hanging out sharing a cup of fruit tea and homemade cookies. Victoria has the hippest poster, being as how it’s an official government sponsored art space, the small audience mostly friends and relatives. On to Bowen Island, a gig in a popular hanging-plant restaurant as guests of guitarist Alex Varty, who will share the evening with us playing solo. Who are those noisy people at the front table, talking throughout the performance? They’re some of the local musicians, we’re informed. The highlights of this evening are the huge tips left in envelopes at each of the tables, and afterwards at Alex’s house, ogling his fabulous collection of guitars and sampling his superb selection of Scottish malt whiskey.

Our Vancouver arrival is early in the day so I’ve booked myself into the Sylvia Hotel intending to treat myself to a little luxury after sleeping for the past five days, what I would consider, in the rough. Their underground car park a safe haven for the elderly Toyota Tercel station wagon crammed full of our paraphernalia.

Another friend, an artist and musician, who has in recent years found his way to Hornby, lives and works in a downtown Vancouver studio, where on Friday nights starting around 10:00 at night, musicians, mostly playing outside the normal boundaries imposed by commercial venues, unveil personal projects.

The difficult to find unlit entrance is in the lane-way a block off Granville, and partially hidden by a garbage bin that’s emitting an overwhelming stench, the shadows threatening lurking lunatics, an acrid reek of urine. Once up the stairs I’m welcomed into another world, the large square room furnished with an assortment of beat-up comfy couches, the postered walls suggesting another era, and a contingent of jazz friends come to hang out. The tour all but over.

10. Hymn (2:12) Tony Wilson