The view above looks South to Fife and was taken from the Law, a cone-shaped volcanic plug in the middle of Dundee. Behind the city to the North are the foothills to the Grampian mountains, and The Glens – like Glen Clova (left).
The city used to be known for its jute mills until the tail end of the last century when the industry died out. And at one time, because local musicians were heavily into soul music, critics talked of the “jute mill gospel sound”. Local soul food delicacies include Arbroath Smokies (smoked fish), and Forfar/Dundee Bridies – mince and onion in a D-shaped pastry – almost identical to the Siberian cheburek.
Although I grew up in a tenement like most Dundonians – mine had a great situation. There were jute mills all round, but right opposite my bedroom window was Dudhope castle.
Back home in Dundee I started playing as a kid in my grannie’s kitchen, using pots and pans. She used to play piano and improvise within the Scottish tradition.
Above, my grannie and me, and right, my first band at school, aged 15.
A form of improvised singing – called “diddling” – was my joint introduction to folk music and improvisation. She was my inspiration and she encouraged me, giving me my first gig when I was 14 in an old folks club in a church hall. Later I realised she was part of a long line of Picts who lived around Dundee long before the Scots arrived.
Since then, I`ve drummed and played the northern hemisphere the long way round from Vancouver to Vladivostok with a lot of jazz musicians and ethnic musicians including Russian gipsy diva, Valentina Ponomareva , the late Vladimir Rezitisky, Celtic musicians Dick Gaughan and Tomas Lynch, Tibetan and Japanese Buddhist monks, and Siberian shamans.
With Pictish stone at Aberlemno, near Dundee.
At the end of the 1960s I formed Talisker, a band set up to play jazz and Celtic music. We recorded a few albums and played round Europe. I moved to London and began opening up my music to influences further afield.
Back in the DDR, Talisker – with Paul Rogers, bass and Ted Emmett, trumpet – plays the Bauhaus, with Eugen Hahn, tour manager,centre. A boxed set of the Peitz festival we played on that tour has been released, along with performances of a lot of bands. Get it here.
I played with jazz/improv musicians like Maggie Nicols, Elton Dean, Jim Dvorak, Larry Stabbins, Nick Evans, Tim Hodgkinson, Sylvia Hallett and Phil Minton and with folk musicians like Frankie Armstrong, Sainkho Namtchylak, and Scottish piper Dave Brooks.
I also studied Celtic music in Scotland and in Ireland – and shamanic drumming and khoomei overtone singing in Tuva, on the Mongolian border. Since 1990 I’ve done regular tours of Russia, and in particular Siberia where I’ve played with a range of musicians in the area around Lake Baikal, and in Tuva, and the Altai – also on the Mongolian border.
One of my more radical projects was an album of socialist music with Scotland’s strongest folk singer and musician, Dick Gaughan. It was a departure for Dick, not because it was a purely instrumental album, but because it was totally improvised. Here’s what Dick said about it: “The collaboration between Ken Hyder and myself was, on the surface, a strange one – but on closer inspection perhaps wasn’t quite so strange after all.
“I had never really done much free improvisational playing but we jammed together whenever I was in London and did a lot of talking. Especially we talked about the use of traditional Scottish music as the launchpad for improvisational exploration and this album came out of those discussions.
“I found playing together an exhilarating experience and the concept of abandoning all conventional rules of melody, harmony and rhythm and stripping everything down to basic elements then reassembling them, concentrating entirely on expression, was a very liberating one and has had a strong influence on much of what I’ve done since in that most of the song accompaniments I do these days are improvised.”
I’m currently engaged in a range of projects ranging from the freely improvised to rhythmic music coming from funk and other areas.
Among the other musicians I’ve worked with are Keith Tippett, Paul Rogers, the Scottish Lindsay Cooper, Marc Meggido, Gendos Chamzyryn, Jo’burg Hawk, Marcio Mattos, John Edwards, a number of Japanese and Tibetan buddhist monks (with the Bardo State Orchestra), Tony Marsh, Bolot Biryshev, z’ev, Nick Stephens, Shiku Yano, Davie Webster, John Rangecroft, Radik Tyulyush, Julie Tippetts, Julian Bahula, Lucky Ranku, Ernest Mothle, Roberto Bellatalla, Lyn Dobson, Siberian shamans including Dopshun-ool Kara-ool, Sergei Tumat, Kungaa-tash ool-Buu and the wolfman-shaman Tepan Manzyrykchy, Chanter, R.D. Laing, Harry Beckett, Art Themen, Gary Windo, Pete McPhail, Chyskyyrai, Harry Miller, Mark Hewins, Vladimir Miller, Raymond MacDonald, Andy Knight, Ntshuks Bonga, Hamish Henderson, Ted Emmett, Don Paterson, Lu Edmonds, Werner Ludi, Chris Biscoe, Jon Dobie, Scipio, Davide Piersanti, Gianfranco Tedeschi, Piero La Rocca, Gandolfo Pagano, Geoff Hearn and Lello Colombo.
Pic of Madonna supervising Scrusci festival soundcheck in Sicily by Antonio Siragusa
“Ken Hyder’s drumming always appears connected to the world beyond narrow musical concerns. It comes with a context, picking up on place, the past, people met and local practices.
“At the same time he favours strong, well-defined musical statements, entirely free from ornamental excess and fuss.”
“Hyder has one of the strongest strokes in jazz, deployed with an astonishing technique. Not for a moment does his polyrhythmic machine falter, his four limbs continuing to beat with an implacable precision”
One of the many impressive people Tim Hodgkinson and I met in Tuva was a Lama, Kungaa-tash ool-Buu. We first met in him 1992 on the day his temple – or khram -was opened and consecrated. Before that he had been studying to become a Lama, over the border in Mongolia.
He was warmly generous and had a particularly strong presence and he told us that his father had been a shaman. A few weeks later he wrote and said that in fact he had been an underground shaman for the last 30 years, dodging KGB officers who sent shamans to the gulag if they discovered them. He is also a painter and a magnificent stone-carver, and now carries on the local tradition of shamanism centred in Erzin on the Mongolian border.
Kungaa died on March 5, 2018
Since then I made quite a few field trips back to Siberia to study shamanic music with several senior shamans.
The Siberian/Scottish connection is strong – you can now stock up with Irn Bru in Kyzyl, Tuva.
And back home, getting re-connected in a stone circle near Loch Tay, Scotland.