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Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir
Interview by Will Bray

Mix plenty of traditional, deep south, old country blues, a sprinkling of cajun spice and a dollop of bluegrass will only result in an Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir cake. Following the release of the brilliant Ten Thousand, AMGC have been extremely busy and in high demand. The Canadian four piece have just completed a very extensive tour of the U.K and Ireland where they headlined Not The Same Old Blues Crap’s 5th anniversary festivities at The Luminaire. Bob Keelaghan (guitar/vocals) has kindly taken some time out to speak to Blues in London.

WB. How did you all come together and what are your musical backgrounds?

BK. This band started in a strange way. I was in a band with Vlad called the Puritans. It's was a psychobilly/punk blues/punk swing band. For part of that time Vlad did double duty with Judd in a country folk band called Great Uncle Bull. Pete was in some early Calgarian alt-rock/art punk bands in the mid-80s and early 90s, but he gave up music for awhile to attend theatre school.

Around the time both those bands disbanded, Judd got a call from a friend who managed Lester Quitzau, a regional bluesman here in the province of Alberta. Depending on who you talk to, it was either Pete or Judd who had the idea to recreate these sessions that became the Holler cd. You can read about that in one of the archives sections on our web page ( Vlad and I both played on that recording.

I got a call about a week before the gig. I was interested in playing with Judd because he was a rarity around Calgary, in that he knew how to play the blues properly, with ferocious intensity. I got to the first rehearsal, found out that nobody had a set together, so it wound up that it was Judd and I swapping songs and teaching them to the others. I didn't really expect the band to last more than a gig or two, but people kept asking us to play. Eight years later, we're playing the Luminaire in London.

WB. What inspires/influences your music?

BK. It's early blues and country. Judd is big on Son House, Howlin' Wolf, and John Lee Hooker. I'm a big fan of Skip James and the Reverend Gary Davis. Throw in some Appalachian banjo shredders, filter it through Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart - mainly because they're two white guys who were influenced by early blues and made it their own - and you pretty much have the Agnostics.

There's a lot of influences in what we do. We're the sum of the equation. Part of the music comes from the hard-edged rock that Vlad and I like. Part of it comes from Judd listening to Romanian gypsy music. Part of it comes from Uncle Tupelo's March 16-20 1992  disc. I could go on, but it would be a long name dropping session.

WB. Where did the band name come from?

BK. Pittsburgh. Judd found it in a junk shop, written on the back of a home video tape. It was cheap. He likes a good bargain. You know how fate sometimes intervenes? That was one of those times. Despite what you might have read or heard about where it came from, this is the truth.

WB. How and where did you record 10,000?

BK. We recorded it in Calgary at a studio called Sundae Sound with a crack engineer named Dave Alcock.

WB. You’ve just toured the U.K, any plans to return?

BK. We have plans to come back between June and August of 2010. We love coming to the UK and Ireland. The accents are far better than in Canada and you have different names for things. That makes it highly entertaining for us. Actually, my parents were from that part of the world, so playing there once a year is a real treat. Twice a year would be amazing.

WB. Would you say there are major differences between the music scenes in Canada and the U.K?

BK. Canadians are largely devoid of hype. We are a hype-less people. We save most of our hype for foreigners and the occasional political scandal.

I can't really give you a cogent, insightful answer to that one. Despite that we've toured the UK a couple of times, we haven't really immersed ourselves in the music scene over there. As far as I can tell, it's pretty down to earth, at least the scene we've been playing to. That makes us feel at home.

The thing I've been going on about is the difference between the festivals we play in western Canada and the ones we play in England. The English ones, though they are amazing musical and cultural experiences. To me, they're the equivalent of a three-ring circus given everything going on. From an audience perspective, it's amazing. There's not much of a backstage buzz, though. You play, you hang out for a bit, and then you go on your merry way.

The western Canadian folk festivals we play over here foster an atmosphere of camaraderie among the performers. They're set up such that they get the musicians playing together over the entire weekend. Inevitably, they wind up hanging out and drinking beer back stage together too. For a musician, it's an amazing experience. By the way, a western Canadian folk festival is musically more akin to something like the Green Man Festival than a folk purist's idea of a festival. Actually, the Open House Festival in Belfast has this kind of musicians vibe too.

WB. What are you listening to at the moment?

BK. Lately, one of my favourite things is King Khan, both with King Khan and the Shrines and the King Khan and BBQ Show. It's top-notch garage rock soul. I loves it, I do. My tastes are pretty much across the board. I'm also digging a compilation of Nigerian rock and funk from the 70s. I didn't know there were African electric guitar players using distortion back then. Other than that, lately, I'm paying more attention to my John Lomax recordings of Blind Willie McTell and the early Mississippi John Hurt sessions. That too is killer guitar work. I could go on and on. Other than that, I'm still sorting through the CDs I brought back from the tour.

WB. Where do you buy your records?

BK. Megatunes. It's a great shop in Calgary. Sometimes I order stuff online from Amazon. Sometimes I order CDs by phone, as one has to do if buying from Yazoo Records. It's a great label.
WB. What do you most enjoy about AMGC?

BK. I like to believe in whatever you do, you want to achieve the transcendent moment, those instances where time and environment disappear. For a musician, it happens in a gig or a rehearsal where you know everybody is thinking on the same level. Everybody is listening to each other closely. Everyone is playing with intensity and sensitivity. In those moments unexpected music happens, you make musical breakthroughs. That's when you're playing the sincerest music. Of any band I've been in, I've had more of these moments in the AMGC.

WB. Has being Seasick Steve's favourite band been a help or a hindrance?

BK. It's been a help, from the marketing perspective. It was kind of him to give the endorsement based on a couple of gigs we did together. He's a good dude. Lots of people checked us out based on him dropping our name. While it was a nice attention-getter for Ten Thousand in England, being billed as his favourite band is passed its due date. We're on our own for the next disc. I think Steve has moved on. His fave band, now, is probably Grinderman. I can't blame him. Maybe he's really into MGMT. I dunno.

WB. You were nominated for Outstanding Blues Recording at the Western Canadian Music Awards. That must have been cool, tell us about that?

BK. Really, it's not much of a big deal. It was cool the first time it happened. That year, the awards were in our home town and we got to go to the awards which were really disastrous. The hosts nearly got into a fight on stage. The second time we got nominated, it was cooler because we had a nomination for Outstanding Independent Recording, not just a genre specific category. We did a collaborative performance with a rap band from Winnipeg at the ceremony, which was much more successful than the previous awards show. The hosts didn't get in a pissing match on stage. This last time, we could show up because we were on tour in your country. In my estimation, that's more fun than going to Brandon, Manitoba. We've never won an award. They usually give it to someone from Winnipeg. But that's okay, because Winnipeg has a cool music scene. In the words of the Evster, former bassist in Huevos Racheros, "Rock'n'roll is not a contest." I concur.

WB. What’s the future for AMGC?

BK. We've got another CD in the works. If all goes according to plan it will be out in the spring or summer of 2010. Hopefully we'll be playing some other countries with different accents, if not entirely different languages.

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