John Bisset

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British guitarist John Bisset (born 1960) made his live debut in his teens, but he began to get noticed on the London free improv scene only around 1995. Before that, he led parallel artistic careers…
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British guitarist John Bisset (born 1960) made his live debut in his teens, but he began to get noticed on the London free improv scene only around 1995. Before that, he led parallel artistic careers in painting and children's performance. Since 1995, he has focused on his musical activities, performing in a number of small groups based in London and Berlin, leading the London Electric Guitar Orchestra (or L.E.G.O.) and participating to the London Improvisers Orchestra (L.I.O.). His guitar playing draws from the legacy of Derek Bailey, but adds a refined sense of simplicity.

Bisset started piano lessons at age five, switched to guitar at age 11, and at age 15, popped his head in the Manchester Musicians' Collective, brushing elbows with composers Trevor Wishart and Simon Holt and bassist Tony Friel of the now-legendary rock group the Fall. His first public performance took place in November 1977 with the group Pride, opening for the Fall at a show organized by the collective. At around the same time, he got involved in the Spherical Objects and in Grow Up. The latter rode the Manchester new wave for a while, recording two LPs and a couple of EPs and singles. All the while, Bisset also frequented avant-garde circles, composing Dadaist pieces of tent poles and paint cans, and attended Ravensbourne Art College from 1979 to 1983.

During the 1980s, Bisset tried to bring together, in various ways, his painting, composing, and love for children and the absurd. Very little remains of these attempts staged as Margaret Thatcher ruled Brittania. Giving up painting in 1990, the guitarist started to play more often and got involved in the free improv scene as a promoter. First came Relay, an annual event premiered in London in 1993. A year later, he opened the 2:13 Club. Both projects expanded in the form of franchises with the help of Berlin percussionist Burkhard Beins and Athens (Greece) cellist Nikos Veliotis.

In 1995, Bisset formed L.E.G.O. For the next five years, it remained his primary vehicle and recorded a string of albums released on his own label 2:13 Music. With L.E.G.O., he explored the possibilities of the electric guitar, favoring noisy soundscapes and crunching compositions. In smaller groupings, he began to favor the acoustic guitar, developing a stripped-down style that paralleled the evolution of Beins and harpist Rhodri Davies, both regular partners. In 1997, Bisset got drafted for Lawrence "Butch" Morris' Skyscraper tour of England. The touring group evolved into the L.I.O., of which he remains a regular member. Other projects include the duo Hell, with Kaffe Matthews, and Pocket, a surprising surf rock quartet.