Recent Recording

Billy Goes to Durban 

Derek Gripper 

A collection of solo guitar compositions and improvisations recorded in multiple environments.  
Released September 24, 2021 

It was just after internal travel restrictions were lifted in South Africa. My children and I made the fifteen-hour drive from Cape Town to a small farm next to a forest where my good friend Guy Buttery was living. The plan was to record a follow-up to our live album in Guy’s new home studio. I brought along a Nagra reel-to-reel recorder with a box of old five-inch tape reels that had recently been given to me. When I arrived, the first thing Guy and I did was pull out the tapes and wind one onto the recorder. We pressed play. The tape welcomed us to Durban stadium in 1974, to a sermon by the American preacher Billy Graham, given to over seventy thousand (white) people in Apartheid South Africa. He talked a lot about universal love. We thought that was pretty wild. I’d just brought this tape all the way to Durban, and here it was welcoming me to a Durban of fifty years ago (not to mention the weirdness of the occasion itself). We had a good laugh and put the tape aside for when our sessions started. Billy was going to be recycled.  

Three days later, after some beautiful writing sessions surrounded by trees and greenery, Guy was called away to see to his father, who was very ill. I soon heard from him that he wasn’t going to be able to return, and I realized that Billy and I were going to have to continue our journey alone. I set up two mics, got the tape rolling, and started playing: three tracks, two based on a 2009 recording I made with the late great Alex Van Heerden (“Ayo” and “Sissie My Kind”) and a third that I had used as the basis for an arts publication called Risk commissioned by the A4 Gallery.  

Back in Cape Town, I was visiting Milestone Studios in the center of the city every few weeks to lay down tracks in a more pristine environment. The track “Seeing Nobody” was one of the first to go down, a track I had written while alone in an apartment in New York City some years before, after missing a flight back home. This song arrived after some days of late-night playing and mornings walking around the city.  

There are also two spontaneous improvisations on the record. The first was made for a photobook exhibition by South African photographer Lindokuhle Sobekwa. Sobekwa’s beautiful series of photos about his lost sister was playing on repeat on my laptop, at my kitchen table, and the record button was flashing red. The piece “Lindokuhle: Photobook” is what happened, largely unchanged from that one take, all the material arriving in response to his images.  

The second improvisation on the record was made in the Cederberg in South Africa while I was staying in the mountaintop hermitage of my friends Marc and Katherine. They have a gravity-fed fountain next to a pond filled with tadpoles (you can hear them both in the background of the recording), and I sat with the endless mountains surrounding me on all sides, not another house in sight, just mountains for miles. The idea was simple and was inspired by a phone call I had just finished with an Alexander Technique teacher called Barry: play a phrase and wait. In silence. For the next phrase. Then play again. Eventually I had a thirty-minute recording, with a lot of silence. When I took out the silences, the recording now called “Cederberg” was what was left.  

“Blue Light” is the studio version of the composition I made for the New York Guitar Festival’s tribute to the late, great classical guitarist Julian Bream. This was a piece written on paper, a little bit each day over a period of two weeks. I started with a tuning developed by Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu and slowly, mark by mark, built up the piece, working on it only a few moments each day.  

Then there was another studio session at Milestone, this time recording a short sketch made, as part of a larger series, inspired by ink works by Pablo Picasso, of bullfights. Simple, expressive, dramatic, and energetic, these works encapsulate the directness that I wish for in guitar music, this instrument of so many colors and shades, but which is really just a simple device designed to amplify the sound of stretched strings.  

This is my first completely original recording since I released Kai Kai in 2009. Three tape recordings erasing Billy Graham, two studio recordings, a home recording, and a mountaintop field recording. Billy Goes to Durban, my sixteenth studio album, was released by Platoon on the September 24, 2021.