To describe the music of the Sun City Girls in the short space of this article is next to impossible. Their music combined sea shanties, free jazz, Middle Eastern-inspired jams and out-and-out noise improvisations into a sonic stew that openly defied categorization.
Early last year, the trio was dealt a crippling blow when its drummer, Charles Gocher, died of cancer.
In the wake of the loss, brothers “Sir” Richard and Alan Bishop decided to retire the Sun City Girls moniker, but not before doing one last tour to celebrate the band’s 20-plus-year history, as well as Gocher’s life and work.
“It wasn’t difficult to put together at all. Nor is it difficult to do (now),” Alan Bishop says. In fact, he says that the concerts, which include a screening of a film about the band as well as some of Gocher’s own video experiments, are anything but mournful affairs.
“We are not mourning Charlie’s death,” he adds. “We are celebrating him with these shows. Obviously it took a while to get beyond what happened last year, and that’s why we’re doing this now instead of then. He’s still a huge part of this tour and travels with us wherever we go.”
That’s not to say that the tour is without its challenges. As a three-piece, the Sun City Girls produced a wealth of complex music that relied as much on the connection between the Bishop brothers and Gocher as it did their individual skills. Rearranging and performing the same pieces as a duo would be a daunting task for any group.
But Alan declares that the Bishop brothers aren’t intimidated.
“We don’t have a problem with things like that,” he insists. “Before we met Charlie, we were doing acoustic-guitar duets at open mikes and gigs so this is a very natural setting for us.”
Musicians have long used tragedy and hardship as a source of motivation and inspiration. And, in a few instances, they have also used it as a means of cashing in, springboarding from “farewell tour” to entirely new tours and recordings. But for the Bishop brothers, this hardly seems to be the case. Alan says that he’s not even certain the brothers will work together again at all after this tour.
“That’s not the intention,” he explains. “Rick and I have not discussed what projects we’ll work on together in the future. Not seriously, anyway. But I’d wager that whatever we do next will not sound like this tour. That’s why you need to see this show. There’s nothing like it anywhere else, so see it while you can.”
And what is it, exactly, that audiences will see? A brand of inspired lunacy, with gorgeous and haunting melodies performed in the same set as thrashing works that walk the thin line between experimental music and pure noise. It’s the kind of music that leaves no stone unturned, no opportunity missed.
Alan actually agrees with much of this description, but openly objects to the notion that any of his songs are gorgeous.
“Many would argue that none of them are gorgeous—that they are disgusting, foul-mouthed and filled with horrible images,” he says. “You are much too kind. Remember that one man’s sea shanty is another man’s ballad or folk song. And this show has so much more happening than that anyway.”
Musical adjectives aside, the important thing to remember here is that this is the farewell tour for what remains of the Sun City Girls. It’s the end. It’s also a tribute and a collective goodbye to Gocher, who was seen by many different people as many different things: visionary percussionist, devoted friend and collaborator, and outright daredevil. It’s that last one that comes to Alan’s mind.
“We saw him cheat death countless times over the years,” he says. “He had a multitude of lives at his disposal and he used them all.”
[Jason Bugg is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]
who: Alan Bishop and Richard Bishop present The Brothers Unconnected
what: A tribute to Sun City Girls and Charles Gocher
where: Grey Eagle
when: Thursday, June 26. 9 p.m. ($14. www.thegreyeagle.com 232-5800)