Ivor Kallin & John Bisset: A Schlep From Strathbungo

Navel-Gazers #39 is an interview with Ivor Kallin and John Bisset who are going to talk to us about A Schlep From Strathbungo. An album which had me in stitches before I even started listening - its title, and the track titles, are utterly outrageous - it’s also quite an unusual concoction, occupying a netherworld between spoken word, improvisation, field recording, travelogue, comedy and performance art. Ivor and John, on a sojourn out of London, wander all over 2000s Glasgow like lost troubadours of the avant-garde, Ivor spouting bizarre poetry in his distinctive brogue while John accompanies on guitar. No attempt is made to find anywhere quiet to record… in fact the ambience of all the various Glasgow locations - the railway station, the botanic gardens, the university cafe etc - is a large part of what characterises the work. That’s until around track 21 where its location permanently shifts to John’s place in Stoke Newington (London) which is where, at John’s suggestion - in a first for this series - I’m conducting this interview in-person rather than over email with Ivor and John. Such a novelty! To take full advantage, we’re all three listening to ‘A Schlep From Strathbungo’ in its entirety, in silence, before starting. Perhaps you readers may do the same…

AC: Thanks for joining me on Navel-Gazers! I’m curious actually John, when I asked which would be preferable, an email interview or in-person, you answered in-person with no hesitation.


John Bisset: Because he who hesitates...

…is lost.

Ivor Kallin: Good answer. Next question.

AC: Right! Well, why don’t you each tell me about yourselves and how it is that you know each other.

Ivor Kallin: You know I was talking to my brother yesterday, he said “where’s Strathbungo”? I said, it’s where we lived in our childhood… he thought it was Shawlands, land of the queer folk, but no it was Strathbungo, a lesser-known, now extremely trendy part of the south side of Glasgow. So I lived there for 20-something years, then I came to London. I’ve lived here twice as long as I lived there. I still feel that you can take the boy oot, but you canny-take it oot the boy!

…how do we know each other John?

John Bisset: Well about 35 years ago, I moved to Stoke Newington and Ivor was here. My friend David who lived around the corner said: there’s a weird guy that does music round the corner from you… his wife worked with Ivor. And then we went to The Gathering which was run by Maggie Nichols, in a room above a pub. The first time, we didn’t even have instruments. Ivor had a book, and I had some keys that I jingled. The keys were for 1 Macaulay House.

Ivor Kallin: The book was “Downriver”.

John Bisset: …why does it matter?

Ivor Kallin: Because you remembered about the keys.

John Bisset: Right so we met there.

AC: So was that the first Gathering, or just the first time you went?

John Bisset: I think that was the first Gathering.

Ivor Kallin: Nooooooooo.

John Bisset: Pardon?

(Ivor and John in unison): Nooooooooo.

John Bisset: There was a donkey there. It was a nativity. It was around when Jesus was being born and Ivor was the donkey, you know, the ass, and I was the ox. So we met in Bethlehem in the year zero, round the manger. And I said here’s the baby Jesus and he said: I don’t believe in him and I said: believe your eyes.

Ivor Kallin: And ever since then I believe. Or I do believe he was there, when we met, at The Gathering.

AC: And John?

Ivor Kallin: John is a figment.

John Bisset: So I was a guitarist and I moved to Stoke Newington… we ran a club called the 213 Club, me and Lester Moses who’s since gone to New Zealand.

AC: Where was the 213 Club?

John Bisset: Behind the library in Stoke Newington. It was called the 213 Club because the clock is stuck at 13 minutes past 2. And if we did things in the afternoon we didn’t have to pay any money for that room, it was a derelict room full of junk. And the clock is still stuck at that time.

Ivor was doing double bass then. Ed Baxter from the LMC used to get us gigs.

Ivor Kallin: We had a thing with Talia Davies who was playing drums… we were called the Pure Sydney Project and we played at a street party 30 years ago. Still the local green grocer refers to my violin playing that day…

John Bisset: …as the worst thing he’s ever heard.

Ivor Kallin: No he says I’m a brilliant violinist.

John Bisset: This was a band that lasted about 5 minutes. We were also with a group before then called the London Electric Guitar Orchestra. It was a band that I kind of ran, it was six guitarists and one bass player (Ivor). It was improv but there was a lot of silliness in it, a lot of really ridiculous pieces actually.

Ivor Kallin: We had a squatted studio which was plugged into the electricity generator. This was in Brick Lane, before it became really fashionable. We went there once a week and we’d go for a rice-and-spice…

John Bisset: It literally was a substation.. we probably all got brain cancer. It had this hum all the time and all the recordings we did there have got this hum in the background.

We also worked in the same field in our jobs. Ivor still is working in that area, he’s in Early Years Education and I was an infant teacher.

AC: How do you two initiate projects? Does one of you say: let’s have a jam? let’s start a group? let’s make a video? let’s write a song? etc.? or is it by accident?

Ivor Kallin: I can answer this. He has the ideas, and I have to do them! Again and again and again until I get it right. And I’ve never got it right really.

John BIsset: He’s my bitch really. I was even throwing sticks at him at a gig the other day. I am the brains and everybody thinks it’s him.

Ivor Kallin: I’m the eye candy.

John Bisset: The conflict that we always have between us is that I tend to overdo the planning and Ivor tends to want to under-do it.

AC: A lot of creative partnerships are like that right?

John Bisset: Yeah like Morecambe and Wise, Morecambe never did anything did he? Or.. George Formby actually, it was his wife who was the driving force, he was always trying to get away and play golf… Laurel and Hardy…

So it’s… the fat one.

Ivor Kallin: Eating all the biscuits.

AC: So with ‘A Schlep…’ did one of you say: let’s record poems all over Glasgow?

Ivor Kallin: Well I’ll tell you what happened. John was doing a project of collaborations with people from their hometowns. So they’d go to wherever they were from and record stuff in places that were significant. So I was going up to Glasgow for a memorial known as a stone setting in which - in the Jewish tradition - a year after somebody dies, the stone is unveiled.

John Bisset: Yeah I never quite found out what you were doing.. so in the stone ceremony the grave, has it been covered over for a year?

Ivor Kallin: I can’t remember, it’s a bit like Liz Truss’s… thing with the black bag over it…

John Bisset: I’ve no idea who Liz Truss is.

Sound Studio 80s
So Ivor was going up to Glasgow and I said, I’ll come with you. And his wife said that was ok - this would be the second time they’d slept apart in 20 years.

Ivor Kallin: On the way up I thought, there’s a lot of Celtic supporters - with Celtic and Rangers the fans don’t just come from Glasgow, they come from all over the place. And then we realised it was the Cup Final, so we thought we should incorporate that, use the noise from Hampden which also was one of my favourite sites.

We’d go to various places which had significance for me. Football grounds, railway stations, cafes I used to go to, parks, bandstands…

AC: Pie, Beans and Chips/Conception is a particularly unique soundscape with that chanting from the cup final. Did you guys seek out locations specifically for the sounds?

Ivor Kallin: Absolutely. Hampden yes, the railway station yes.. we went to the cafe because we wanted to eat something.

Pie beans and chips was a thing for me growing up. Glasgow cuisine in the 70s.. when I went to college at the canteen the delicacy was you would get pie beans and chips every day, but I didn’t eat the pie because it wasn’t kosher. So all I had was beans and chips, every fucking day. It became kind of a ritual.

So we went to create ‘Pie Beans and Chips’ in one of my favourite cafes, the university cafe on Byres Road. It’s an old Italian art-deco cafe. We went there to be in the ambience with the sound of the coffee maker and the cutlery.

AC: So it’s the sounds + the significance of the place.

Ivor Kallin: Right so getting on a bus, it’s a pretty horrible sound but you know... I went on horrible buses when I was living there.

John Bisset: And didn’t you do the street names while on the bus? I enjoyed listening to that earlier.

Ivor Kallin: Yes.

John Bisset: “Drumbottie”… and was it… Scragbum? Bog-something?

Ivor Kallin: Bogstank, Dobbie’s Loan.. they were all real places. They may not exist now but they’re all taken from the A-Z in Glasgow. A lot of them are places I know… I just went through the A-Z and picked out places I liked the sound of and put them together.

John Bisset: He is the Iris Colomb of Glasgow. It’s the same sort of thing of picking out from books…

Ivor Kallin: People say that, they do. People have been saying that for years, it was said way before she was even born. In fact I think her parents thought: that’s a nice name, we’ll take that. We’ve heard that there’s a guy called “the Iris Colomb of Glasgow”, so…

AC: This explains a lot!

So John who were the other people whose homes you went out to?

John Bisset: It started with Rhodri Davies, harp player, do you know him? Most things start with Rhodri. He’s a bit of a Machiavellian, he makes things happen. I went back with him when we were really young, he’d just left college and we went back to Aberystwyth where he’s from, and there was a studio there in an old malt house.

So then I thought I’d do that with other people that I know, so I did it with Burkhard Beins in northern Germany, Alex Ward in Grantham in the crypt of a church… and also on my own because my uncle was a blacksmith and I did it in the smithy, with the anvil and the furnace and everything, in Stockport near Manchester.

AC: So what did that project sound like?

John Bisset: They’re acoustic guitar improvisations in an empty smithy. I based a lot of them on a Scottish students songbook. My dad went to St. Andrew’s University and in those days they gave you a book of music on your first day, full of songs. We used to sing them as children. I’ve got it in fact, it’s about the only thing I’ve got of my dad’s.

AC: So how did people react to you guys doing this stuff in public places? Tracks 7 and 8 in particular appear to have been at a public lavatory, what was that like?? And tell me about your encounter with Hugh Davies.

Ivor Kallin: A place that was significant for me was the Third Eye Centre in Glasgow, a centre for contemporary arts. I used to go to gigs there a lot. It was the happening place. We thought it would be great to record something at this place, but we figured the only way we could do it was to go to the toilets.

I’d done a radio show with Hugh Davies the week before, and he said: I’m doing a gig in Glasgow so if you’re there let me know, I’ll put you in at the door. So anyway John and I went into the lavatory to start recording and in walked Hugh Davies.

AC: So where in the room were you exactly?

Ivor Kallin: By the urinals.

AC: Just…standing by them?

Ivor Kallin: It’s probably on CCTV.

AC: We’ll have to go up and ask about that.

Were people other than Hugh Davies going in and out?

John Bisset: No! Just Hugh. And we both knew Hugh because he’d been to the 2:13 Club anyway, so we kind of knew him from the scene…

Ivor Kallin: But the weird thing was… he was totally non-plussed!

John Bisset: You mean he didn’t react. You don’t mean non-plussed…?

Ivor Kallin: He wasn’t.. put-out.

John Bisset: He was… un-plussed.

Ivor Kallin: He was… well, we didn’t put him out.

John Bisset: No.

Ivor Kallin: We let him come in.

John Bisset: We let him in. And then we let him out.

Ivor Kallin: Yes. In, out…

John Bisset: Shake it all about.

Ivor Kallin: In fact if you listen closely to the recording you can hear him shaking it all about.

AC: Ivor were the poems improvised or were you wandering around with sheets of paper?

Ivor Kallin: I had sheets of paper on this occasion, but a lot of the poetry I do is improvised or uses certain words as a basis. There’s nothing improvised in the poetry on that record as far as I can remember.

AC: Could you attempt to explain your use of language in the pieces? To take a track which I think is the best example, Chutz version 1, I’ve no idea is that English? Yiddish? Gaelic? Pig Latin?

Ivor Kallin: Well I’ll tell you what the story is. I use a mixture of languages that I grew up with that I don’t necessarily understand but love the sound of. When I was growing up in Glasgow I’d hear a lot of Glaswegian Scots, which is not just a variation of English - there are words that are completely different to English. I also grew up hearing some Yiddish, I’d hear a lot of Hebrew, occasionally a bit of English, and I suppose all of these things feature and I use these words from different languages.

Some of the poetry is taken from opening the Scots Concise Dictionary, and picking words that go together quite well, or I’ll match them with Yiddish or Hebrew words. Some Gaelic maybe as well. It depends maybe how much you want to get into this but it’s about reclaiming languages which have been suppressed and minoritised and put down. When you went to school, you were taught to speak in a certain way, which was a bit like The Queen’s English. If you spoke in Glaswegian vernacular, that was stamped out. You became almost embarrassed about being Scottish.

I was reading an interview with Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai in the paper last week, and he was saying he remembers when The Proclaimers had their big hit, Scottish people were embarrassed to hear someone singing in a Scottish accent.

Gaelic was suppressed by the English in the 18th century…

John Bisset (from the next room): Well we tried..!

Ivor Kallin: …Yiddish was suppressed by the Nazis, the Glaswegian Scots was put down, I’ve tried to reclaim these but it hasn’t caught on yet!

AC: So you assemble a lot of these pieces by flicking through the dictionari(es)?

Ivor Kallin: Yeah. So there’s two books I flick through, The Concise Scots Dictionary and the other is called “The Joys Of Yiddish”, and I’ve gone through them and picked words that I think go well together. So if I write something, it doesn’t make any sense but that’s not the point. It’s about the sound. It’s usually devoid of meaning but a means of expressing myself through languages that are significant to me, which I don’t understand.

AC: So. “Chutz”…

Ivor Kallin: I don’t know what it means. And some of the words I grew up with, I don’t know if they’re Glaswegian Scots, Yiddish or Hebrew. For example if you go outside and say: it’s pleuching now (raining), is that Scots or is it Yiddish…?

Actually a lot of Scots comes from the Norse, and a lot of the Yiddish comes from Germanic...

AC: So you think there’s actually a linguistic connection there?

Ivor Kallin: Well who knows… like my surname, there’s a village in north Uist in the Outer Hebrides with the same spelling, apparently a Norse word. But my ancestors weren’t from there, they were from Russia.

AC: It irritates me very much by the way, there being no ‘Chutz version 2’.

Ivor Kallin: I’m working on it. I don’t just churn them out, you know…

AC: Well, yes. Take your time.

You guys have produced some videos for your music which are incredibly cool. Were you saying there are some which are associated to these tracks? If so which are those? and tell me about them.

John Bisset: Chuddering Wingspoon: I always liked that poem, it’s done twice on the record. That’s one of our bigger productions, we actually had someone help with the filming. It’s all done in the room which formerly was my kitchen. At one point, when we started doing the films, to make more room I moved the kitchen out and made it the film room.

It’s so good to see that again, I forgot all about it… I put Tiger Balm on my eyes to make me cry, I was just in agony the whole way through it.

At one point, to try and keep Ivor on board a bit more - he’s a slightly reluctant performer on these videos - I said, let’s do your poems! We started doing the videos in 2009 and we kept on for about 5 years. There’s over a hundred of them.

AC: I like the one with the leaves.

John Bisset: Oh yeah for that one we brought in bagloads of leaves… I made a greenscreen in the end so we could change the backgrounds.

Then there’s Chootz and Belly Bean

Ivor Kallin: You know I have grandchildren who’ve been singing ‘Chootz and Belly Bean’ for many years… it’s a big hit with the wee ones.

John Bisset: We were just doing all the things you do when you’ve first got a camera. Have you seen where we got trapped in the wall? We do this thing where, when you get hit with a leek, you get trapped in the wall.

Ivor Kallin: We just thought that happened to everybody.

AC: Is that helium on the track titled E?

John Bisset: No. But the track called Helium, we were on E.

Why do you ask?

AC: Ivor’s voice is very high-pitched.

Ivor Kallin: I’ve just got incredible range.

AC: It’s a surprising answer to the question actually.

Ivor Kallin: If it’s easier, I’ll say yes. Some of the time we were using argon, a bit of lithium…

John Bisset: Xenon…

Ivor Kallin: …plutonium I think, breathing in.

John Bisset: It’s a good question because neither of us have ever been into any recreational drugs. Ivor won’t even take paracetamol.

AC: Ibuprofen?

Ivor Kallin: No.

John Bisset: Hebrewprofen?

Ivor Kallin: …

AC: Ivor I have to ask: why are you so vacuous and lacking of peuch?

Ivor Kallin: …

AC: You’ve both been involved in the London improv scene for many years. It’s how we know each other. What was the scene like in 2004 and how does it compare to today?

Ivor Kallin: The improv scene prior to that period was predominantly male, and there was an improvised music idiom. Then there was the start of Resonance, the start of The Wire…

Sound Studio 80s
Lots of things used to happen at the Red Rose Club in Finsbury Park. I think when Red Rose closed and Cafe Oto opened, the improvised music scene changed and became a bit more mixed in terms of different genres, people crossing boundaries and borders, more open, lots more women, a fair more people from black and global majorities. And also suddenly you could go to Cafe Oto and an improv music gig could be absolutely packed out. So these are good things.

John thinks improvised music is now in the mainstream - I think he and I would disagree on that. It’s had an influence but in terms of mainstream radio play, I used to hear improvised music on the radio in the 70s, 12:00 on a Saturday night, Friday at 11 on Radio 3.. I don’t think it’s increased.

AC: John could you comment on that? You’d say improv is more mainstream now?

John Bisset: I would say that Ivor would say that I would say that.

Ivor Kallin: I didn’t say that… that he would say that I would say that he would say it.

John Bisset: You did. And I would disagree with him saying that if I would say that, I would disagree with what he said.

Ivor Kallin: Ok, well say what you have to say.

John Bisset: I’ve just said what I had to say.

…I’m a post-structuralist, you know.

Ivor Kallin: Since when?

… oh right since yesterday when you were a structuralist.

John Bisset: Exactly, you’ve got it.

My relationship with improvised music is not the same as Ivor’s anyway, in that I moved away from it a good ten years ago. After London Electric Guitar Orchestra, I then had a kind of twin-guitar surf band with Alex Ward, and I lost interest in improvised music.

I’ve recently come back into it again. What really helped me was going to places like Skronk. To me, going to Cafe Oto became almost like watching a classical music version of improv. And then I read this book by Steve Beresford, and I went to this “boat” gig where he was playing with Fara (Afifi) and it was… chaos. I decided to get back into playing with the lap steel, and went to places like Skronk, which was just an eye-opener. It’s all over the place there, and genuinely mixed audiences.

Prior to that, to me the music had got a bit genre-fied… or gentrified, or John-Cage-ified, or something.

Ivor Kallin: See you and I do have a different opinion on this. To me, politically it’s good, just like The Gathering it’s great that anybody can be involved in this kind of thing, and it’s open and validating and non-hierarchical. But what I used to find with The Gathering is that musically it’s not very interesting… the process is important, but also what you’re creating should be important.

John Bisset: But see for me, I would question your definition of music in the first place.

Ivor Kallin: Oh! Well.

John Bisset: Well I’ve had this argument with many improvisers over the years - I don’t think improvised music is about making music. It’s more about improvising, than it is a way of making music.

Ivor Kallin: See to me the extension of this is: why record and put it out?

AC: So if you look at this record, ‘A Schlep From Strathbungo’ - and a lot of improvisers have records like this - to me it’s clear why you made it. It’s a gesture of its own, a piece of work. Do you think of it that way?

John Bisset: Well when I asked Ivor about this, it’s not as though he said oh yes, I’d like to record my poems. He’d quite happily not do it.

Ivor Kallin: To be honest, it’s just that I think a lot of my poems sound quite shit, so that’s why I don’t really want to hear them again. But then I do feel proud of a lot of the recordings.

AC: But it’s not just poems, these recordings, it’s a conceptual work. You go to Glasgow, visit all these places…

Ivor Kallin: Yes that’s right.

John Bisset: Yeah and I don’t like live recordings generally speaking. I like for somebody to go into a studio to make a recording, and I’ve never released a truly improvised record - there’s always some editing of some kind. Or a concept. See what you’re touching on here, is why is it “that”? I didn’t say: let’s me and Ivor just get together and record poems. It had to be made into a story of some kind.

AC: Yes that is what I’m getting at. And the record is also an object I can hold in my hand, it has the titles, the cover… it’s this thing you can marvel at.

John Bisset: As a child I made them, I’ve always loved this kind of thing, making objects.

Ivor Kallin: Sometimes “things” are simply a document. But this one is not just a document. This is a project and it’s using the sound of the space, and the location…

John Bisset: And also there’s me saying: I really like Ivor’s poetry, can we go and record it, and Ivor saying: but it’s all shit… and part of it is me pushing him uphill.

Ivor Kallin: Absolutely. Funny isn’t it…

AC: Yeah I also like your liner notes Ivor. This is an example of where I particularly liked liner notes. They were very much a part of the listening experience. So there’s that, and there’s the cover image which gets my imagination going as well.

Ivor Kallin: That image, that was our local train station but obviously 100 years ago.

John’s right in the sense that it was important to go to these places that meant something to me, but by being there it did in fact inhibit me. I didn’t feel that I could actually let rip. Not because I’m in an area where I might bump into somebody that I know but… I suppose because I know what Glasgow’s like. You know, if you come across as too much of an arsehole on a bus in Glasgow, you could well get your head kicked in.

John Bisset: A Glasgow Sandwich?

Ivor Kallin: A “Glasgow Kiss”.

When I was on holiday in the Outer Hebrides I was really letting rip. I was on a beach and there was nobody else there, for miles. Which… well I’ll send you the recordings!

But I find the trouble with streaming and downloads is that it’s all just floating about. With an object you feel a connection - and it’s not just a bourgeois sense of possession or accumulation of objects. With a record you’re more likely to listen to it again and again.

John Bisset: There is such a lot of stuff floating out there. There’s either a need for editing or a giving in to the fact that we’re living in an endless stream. And it’s all improvised now… what people are releasing, it’s all just thrown together.

AC: Yeah that’s why picking out what’s interesting from all of that.. well I’ve made it a bit of a mission for myself.

In fact I do like the physical object, but with ‘A Schlep From Strathbungo’ I didn’t even know originally that there was a physical version, and yet I still sensed there was that album-ness to it, with the cover, the title etc.

Ivor Kallin: Ah right.

Do you know what “A Schlep From Strathbungo” means?

AC: Schlep is.. Yiddish?

Ivor Kallin: Yes. It’s a bit of a long walk. You know, you spend all day walking around, carrying stuff.

AC: So it’s a walk from Strathbungo?

Ivor Kallin: Well in a sense, but in actual fact the record’s the opposite…

John Bisset: For me I thought of it as Ivor defining his life as a schlep from Strathbungo.

Ivor Kallin: Well yes that’s what I meant. I’ve schlepped all the way from Strathbungo, carrying all this weight, all this heritage!

AC: Also on Track 21 you come back to London, so isn’t there a sort of schlep from Strathbungo after all, two-thirds of the way in…?

John Bisset: Yes!

AC: So just to go back to what you were saying about improvisation, it seems there were two schools of thought we were discussing. Ivor you’re saying improv is about making music whereas John is saying improv is about… improv.

…have you guys ever talked about this before?

(Ivor and John in unison): Yes.

John Bisset: We argue on a regular basis.

Ivor Kallin: No we don’t.

John Bisset: …what’s interesting about this is there’s a reverse mirror somewhere in it. As politically Ivor would claim to be more about process…

Ivor Kallin: Yes that’s right.

John Bisset: …and social events and people and democratisation and all the things that are behind improvised music, whereas politically I’m not in that area but when it comes to improvised music I think it’s all about the process and the people.

Ivor Kallin: And also when I work with people who work with young children, I’m talking to them all the time about the importance of the process rather than the end product.

John Bisset: …and yet you’ve said to me when I try to get you to go to improv things: I don’t want to go, because I don’t want to waste my time and go somewhere if it might not be good.

Ivor Kallin: Yes that’s true. I only go to things if I really think it’s going to be fantastic.

John Bisset: But that’s not improv is it? Once you’re asking if this is any good, you’re in the wrong game…?

Ivor Kallin: Music has got to move me. If I’m making the effort to go somewhere, I want to know it’s having an impact on the way I feel. At times it can feel that this is as good as it gets. Having the opportunity to walk down the road and hear these amazing musicians do this fantastic stuff… is such a privilege. In fact I’d rather sit at home and listen to a record that I know is wonderful, even if it’s not of improvised music, than take a chance and go to something I’m not sure about.

John Bisset: Yeah. We differ greatly with this.

Ivor Kallin: I was listening to an interview on the radio yesterday with Caroline (Kraabel) and Sofia Vaisman Maturana, a Chilean cellist. Sofia was talking about playing at a gig in Chile, improvising, and someone in the audience whipped out a flute and just started playing with them, but wasn’t listening at all, interrupting it all. And she was thinking, this is really pissing me off. She felt that politically, it’s fine to break that barrier down, but you’ve got to sign up to the principle that you respect people, you listen, you respond.. this guy was just doing his own thing. After the gig she went up and spoke to him and said, please don’t do that again, it was really not in keeping.

AC: Yeah, I see what you’re getting at. If anything I’m of a similar mindset to John on this one, but I think you articulate this well Ivor. I suppose we’ve all been to events where that kind of thing happens.

John Bisset: Were you there at Skronk the other night when it happened to me? I came on stage with a children’s nylon string guitar, and Rick sent up a woman whose act seems to be screaming as loud as she can down the microphone, and an electric guitarist. She gets up on stage and says to the electric guitarist: don’t be afraid to be loud. And I said, what about not being afraid to be quiet? And we had kind of a tussle.

They started, I couldn’t hear a thing so I just got a mic and sang over the top of them. It was quite confrontational in a way.

AC: But considering the format of that event, each set is 10 minutes long or whatever. One set might be ruined but there’s always the next one?

John Bisset: No I’m actually not saying it was ruined. On the contrary.. what happened is I was pushed to the edge of my habit, I was challenged very strongly there.. we went somewhere I never would have gone, if everyone had politely listened.

It woke me up!

AC: It’s a bit dangerous.

John Bisset: Yes!

See to me I want to challenge the idea of the performer and the audience. It’s sort of like the teacher and the class. That’s what Relay is all about as well, where you think: I’m not quite sure who’s playing here!

Ivor Kallin: But you’re right about teaching, John. That’s why I’ve always worked in early years education, because I think that is the role of the teacher, to be a facilitator and a provoker, rather than a top-down instructor. Pedagogy means walking with the child, following the lead of the child. And in Early Years Education that is still the orthodoxy.

John Bisset: Which is where we’ve both worked most of our lives, in Early Years.

AC: So do you follow that same orthodoxy, John?

John Bisset: No in this context I disagree with Ivor!

Ivor Kallin: !

John Bisset: I think young children need boundaries, need to know who’s in charge…

Ivor Kallin: Oh no of course they do! It’s not a free-for-all. But it’s about enabling children to develop that autonomy and that independence, but at times you have to intervene.

John Bisset: We’ve argued about it before but I think we do meet in the middle on this - there’s something about Early Years that unites us.

Sound Studio 80s
Ivor Kallin: Yes. And it’s all about play, and about the importance of play as adults as well, which adults are not necessarily great at, because there are so many repressions and restrictions.

John Bisset: Well one such restriction… to go back to my dad, his big argument would be: “it’s not music”. That was… everything post-Mozart. I argued with him on that from when I was a child. For him, the word “music” was a narrowly-defined thing, so that’s a personal reason why I’m uncomfortable with ideas of what’s music and what isn’t, what’s good music or what isn’t…

Ivor Kallin: Well but you know, I don’t think Mozart is good music. It doesn’t do it for me.

John Bisset: So when you say good music, you mean music you like.

Ivor Kallin: Yeah I suppose I shouldn’t say… “good music”.

John Bisset: Well you can say what you like!

——*ouch*! I got a cramp!

Ivor Kallin: Aha! That’s what you get for being so aggressive!

…I need to get water.


AC: What’s next for you both, collaborating or apart? Any projects going on or in the works you’d like our readers to be aware of?

Ivor Kallin: I’m going to continue to do radio on Resonance FM. I’ve been doing it on and off for nearly 20 years. When I was in the studio before lockdown, I’d invite different guests for a weekly show where we’d improvise together, talk and play music. Since then I’ve been doing the show from home, thanks to John helping me set up the mixing desk. And I just put the word out to people to send me stuff, and I keep getting inundated.

Because I’ve got a large record collection, I tend to prepare a bit, get a few records ready, but I can be spontaneous. I do it as if it’s live. So if I screw up, I use that as part of the program. 150 shows are archived there. I feel quite privileged to have been allowed to do that.

…and of course carry on with the London Improvisers Orchestra.

A couple of years ago I recorded a lot of improvised songs on the piano, while on holiday. I can’t play the piano… and some of the stuff that I recorded in the Highlands this summer, I’ll be bunging out on the radio.

John Bisset: Do you think you and I might do anything Ivor? (None of his plans include me).

Ivor Kallin: Well we did do some stuff in the studio recently.

John Bisset: Yeah we did a bit of recording.

But yeah this new thing with the cassettes, I’d like to do a bit of that… me and Rhodri have done this thing of recording direct to cassettes, and then having a Polaroid on it. I really like that as an idea now. It’s immediate, no second take… so it goes into some semi-permanent form and yet it’s erasable of course as well. C15s, so you’ve got 7 minutes on each side.

It’s quite hard to schedule Ivor, his time is very limited.

Ivor Kallin: It’s weird isn’t it? Because I don’t do much in my life… but I work full time, go and see grandchildren, do a radio show, go to football, go to a gig, go to see my mother who’s round the corner, and also I really like spending the evening sitting and reading a book.

John Bisset: We’ve done some films recently, and I would like to do more…. We did one for Mopomoso TV recently where I fixed the camera onto the end of my guitar, so Ivor’s all over the place.

Ivor Kallin: Oh yes.

John Bisset: I really like working with Ivor. I did this gig on Friday night and my favourite bit was where I dropped a drumstick on the floor, it flew out of my hand and Ivor came out of the audience and put it back, and I just put it back on the floor and we had this whole kind of routine going on.

Ivor Kallin: It’s interesting I was thinking just after, I wonder how he felt about that? Was he really pissed off?

John Bisset: Well this is just it, what we’ve been talking about.

AC: …right. Yeah you probably loved it.

John Bisset: Yeah I loved that because there was almost a conversation, like a sub-plot. If someone drops something, it’s part of the thing. There are no accidents. So then Ivor comes up and puts it back, thus breaking the fourth wall. And so on. It’s like the old jazz adage, “If you make a mistake, do it again”.

I really liked the way it was shifting around. People were laughing because there was something.. edgy about that. It was funny.

Ivor Kallin: Yes it was good. Well in fact because it landed behind me.. and the people behind weren’t quite sure whether to give it to me…

John Bisset: And then someone else said: it was like he was your dog. I was throwing the stick and he kept bringing it back.

Ivor Kallin: ....

“I want to be your dog.”

John Bisset: No you’re my b——

Ivor and John can be found at 213TV on YouTube. Ivor runs the Ambrosia Rasputin Show on Resonance FM and John has a page at Bandcamp.

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