The History of
The Headwhiz Consort
It was late October 1990 in Dakar Senegal that the two guitarist/composers Babakar Wade (pronounced ‘wad’) and John McGrail first met. John was visiting his brother who introduced him to Wade. They found they both had an interest in adventurous experimental music and this led to long conversations over Nescafe. As he had brought some tapes for his brother of his music, both experimental and more conventional forms such as folk and rock he naturally played them for Wade who was impressed. This of course led to more conversations and more Nescafe and /or Pastis. Whenever John’s travels brought him into Dakar, Wade’s home at the time, they would meet up and Wade would insist they listen to John’s tapes. John being easily flattered and an egomaniac to boot was only too happy to comply with the request. John’s visit lasted about a month and the 3 of them were able to get together 3-4 times as John and his brother traversed the country. The whole experience has lasted a long time with McGrail as he thinks back to the trip both for its influence on his music but also for his deep friendship that he has gained with Babakar Wade. Wade for his part has found someone who "seems to write the music I wish I could".
It was in 1992 that Wade founded the Consort. "I was looking to put together a group that would have a wide range and a sense of adventure. Of course my first choice was my good friend Samba. But where else to look? I had traveled extensively at one point and had made many contacts around the world. I remember meeting Hans in Berlin one night at a gathering of some people who I knew that lived there and he seemed very quiet with a certain disdain for people. Oddly enough after watching him in the room for about a half an hour I decided to go and introduce myself. He seemed different when I was talking to him. He smiled which I had not seen him do yet. I took that as a good sign. Later that evening I was off talking politics with my hosts and I noticed he had reverted to the same demeanor. I asked him why he was different with me and he smiled again and said "Because you are". This led to us renting a guitar and amp and setting up where he practice his drums and just jamming. His timing was impeccable. I’d never played with such a precise drummer in my life. All too often the drummer has been the least rhythmic, thus I turned to him and Samba and I flew to Berlin to play with him and he could meet Samba. They hit it off. Hans ‘doesn’t do’ percussion. He likes it but plays strictly the drum kit. This was a good sign we all felt. On top of that Hans introduced me to Jean-luc and Mairead who introduced me to Art and Lady Bret who introduced me to Bob. We needed a bass player and I was hoping for a second guitarist, preferably one who could play lead. I thought of John himself but he was too busy getting his debut album "The Sun" together. It was then that I first met J. Kinslow, Mind Fry's President. He told me of a guitarist out of New York City that was one of his favorites. He contacted him for me and set up a meeting. It was just the 2 of us but we jammed on acoustics and the chemistry felt so good that he agreed without ever hearing the rest of the band. He would have to take time for his own group "The Swingin’ Shards" on occasions but other than that he was on board . The only missing piece was a big one. A bass player. Hans said the bassist he most liked to play with was Vladimir Polchinski. There was one problem he was difficult to track down and sometime difficult to keep track of. Seems he would disappear periodically. He lived in a small town near the Estonian border. Hans would try and call him and there was never any answer. In the meantime we kept trying out different bass players from around Berlin. There just wasn’t anyone that had both the ability and that the group seemed to like personally. Liking, if not loving, the people you play with can be so important. We felt there had to be a consensus on this person. Oddly during our 10th audition in comes Vladimir. Seems he hadn't 'disappeared' but was in town to play in the orchestra for a rock opera. He came to Hans’ carrying 4 bottles of good Russian vodka. Well the Vodka alone was enough for everyone to want to end the audition. Rudely asking the auditioning bassist to leave we welcomed Vlad. Then, after everyone had been sitting drinking a bit, Vlad picks up the bass and starts to noodle a little bit. It’s clear he’s good. Then Hans gets behind the kit and pretty soon a full blown jam is going that lasts until 4 in the morning. We had our bass player. Not long after Art was added on lambeg drum and voice.
We practiced initially in Berlin a lot because it was most central and Hans had a nice rehearsal space. The Consort toured around Europe for a bit just to get the feel for playing together. I continued to correspond with John and he kept sending me tapes of his music. One day while listening to one, Hans walks in with Mairead and they hear the music and are impressed. Then in 1995 I propose we do an album of John’s experimental music. John has no problem with that and, with some significant financial input from J. Kinslow McGrail, our first release is born. (A cassette only release as was common at the time for independent groups.) Over the last decade we have played a lot of concerts but our recorded output is limited to the compilation or tribute album here and there. It is getting more and more difficult to get us all together. When J. Kinslow approached me about a second album I am flattered and agree but then I must get a hold of everyone else. Unlike the first album where everyone was there for its recording "Baobob" was put together piece by piece. We didn’t have the luxury of having us all in the room at the same time as on the first album. I think that lent to a fuller sound but perhaps less spontaneity. Overall it is a much more mature album and for that I am happy.
With the release of Perdido I can only say that I feel the Consort is continuing to evolve and learn and create. If providence smiles on us every new release will be a positive step from the last. Our latest release continues on in our quest to ignore boundaries and rules. The players, I have to say continue to hone their craft and continue to play together with only the music as their goal. It is always been a great honor to be associated with such a fine and talented collection of musicians and such wonderful souls.
Since Perdido we managed to accumulate plenty of new material which we have most recently put out some of it as the album "20,21,22............." Which of course is a reference to the years of the worldwide pandemic. We managed to keep creating despite the pandemic. Of course many of the titles on this album reference the pandemic. It was inevitable that this occur.
Founder of the HCMI
Dakar, Senegal 2023