Dispatch Number Three from the Something Else! Creative Music Festival ‘Listener-in-Residence’ –– see 10 June entry for background on this series.

I first met Arthur Bull in 2007 at Somewhere There, a venue for creative music in Toronto that I ran from 2007 to 2010. He was living in Digby Neck, Nova Scotia, but was traveling regularly to Toronto for day-job responsibilities, and was glad there was a space where he could play small concerts with some old friends and colleagues –– violinist David Prentice, bassist (and Zula team-member) David Lee, and drummer John Heward among them –– as well as some newer ones like drummer Nick Fraser and myself.

I already knew some of Arthur’s history, playing improvised music in Toronto dating back to the seventies, and had heard his superb duo with fellow Nova Scotian, Daniel Heikalo, in Guelph. But I really got to know Arthur, both musically and socially, at Somewhere There, where the intimate (read ‘sparsely attended’) concerts would segue into long sessions of hanging out over drinks, talking about music, poetry, politics, and our lives in general. Arthur’s is always a genuine, curious, witty, and thoughtful presence –– a true gentleman –– and, not surprisingly, his music-making exhibits similar traits, always in the spirit of the goodwill of the group, with enough surprises and provocations to keep things delightful.

His guitar-playing has always impressed. That most fetishized of instruments –– “A lover’s instrument” as Derek Bailey drolly put it –– invites flash, ornament, and filigree: super sleek models to caress, blinking pedals on which to stomp, and blazing instrumental techniques to match. It’s often a recipe for empty gestures, but my favourite guitarists always keep the musical idea firmly in mind, and Arthur is one of them. His unadorned electric guitar sound has something in common with early electric bluesmen like John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters as well as, more importantly, some of the same spirit. If, like most improvisers, he uses a broad instrumental vocabulary, it feels like Arthurs’s is only as broad as it needs to be to deliver the musical idea –– a lean, soulful, almost folksy approach that is very satisfying.

I’m looking forward to hearing Arthur play with his mates in The Spokes –– David Lee, Chris Palmer, and Bob Vespaziani –– Thursday night at Homegrown Hamilton.

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