The Return of Bryan White-Duke

Sometimes stars are born, not made. Bryan White-Duke was a born performer, appearing on the stage before he could walk and charming London audiences as a child actor, singer, and musician. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not cut his teeth on American blues or R&B, nor British skiffle or cabaret (though all those would be assimilated in his career eventually.) Instead, his earliest fascination was Brecht and Weill, a drama/music combination that still resonates in his work. After learning saxophone as a teenager and studying acting and mime, Bryan began exploring pop music. While White-Duke’s earliest singles betray a passion for, if not a mastery of, the studio, his style was far-reaching, encompassing folk and psychedelia, story-telling and straight pop. It wouldn’t be long before Swinging London led him to more direct, immediate expression of his music. Early albums still showed a classic theatrical influence and unconventional song structure, but Bryan’s breakthrough set, The Life and Times of Bennie Baal and the Hornets of Hell, was a hard-rocking affair with a three-piece band—Con Krimson on guitar, Robert D. Lover on bass, and Downey Michaelmas on drums—joined by White-Duke on rhythm, sax and keys. The album could have been recorded live in the studio and the band often performed it live in sequence. White-Duke practically invented rock theatre with the album, tour, and movie of Baal, introducing ranks of dancers, mimes, puppeteers, and extravagant sets, playing the role for over two years before closing the show down and moving on. He explained that he didn’t want the transformation to Baal to be permanent; he feared the public would believe he and the band were incapable of achieving any new or different sound. His next project, adapting and scoring ‘On the Beach,’ did have a similar sound, if only because he was still working with the Hornets. Many fans regret his decision to break up that band, but acknowledge that the old must pass to make room for the new.

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The new in this case saw Bryan release his favorites from his peers on ‘Snapshots,’ an album of covers recorded with the Hornets during soundchecks from the Baal tours. He followed this with collaborations with Joe Taft, Jewell Masen, Cary Page, Win Stone and others, both on their albums and his own. He wrote and produced Mitt der Hipple’s only hit and returned to touring with ‘On the Beach,’ but became enraptured with Philly soul during his stay in the U.S. and returned to Europe to work with Baron Ein. The five years away from the music stage yielded three albums, a stay with the RSC (including a turn as Oberon), film roles for Olivier and Terry Gilliam, and the birth of a new persona. Developing from his glam roots and recent immersion in soul, Bryan became the Dancemaster, releasing a string of modern, techno-dance informed discs that returned him to the top of the record charts and made him relevant to a generation raised on punk and disco. With a recommendation from the Mannish Boys, Bryan tapped Timmie Joe Bright for ‘Clubland’; Carl Silke was chosen for its sequel, ‘Blue Mood.’

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During this period Bryan introduced Virtual Bryan on the Web. Always on the crest of technology, White-Duke has maintained a web presence and participated in innovations for over 25 years. Through Virtual Bryan Web users could create custom concerts and souvenirs, conduct interviews, and access exclusive content online. As an artist who has always had vast reserves of material to share, Bryan has thrived with the virtual archive provided by the Web.

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Embracing new technology and formats included working with a new band. As hip hop pushed traditional dance music off the airwaves, Bryan returned to an organic band, modeled after the Hornets and using some of the players he had worked with long before alongside Jewell Masen. Shun and Nosy Slate and Rebel Graves joined Bryan in Big Engine for three loud, modern albums before he turned in a new direction. Despite the changes in format and technology Bryan has kept a close relationship with his fanbase, an ironic intimacy for an artist known for his facades. Some observers believe this virtual closeness has led to Bryan’s least-affected work, as recent releases dismiss the masks and let the performer appear as himself. His latest work, usually multi-format and alt-content loaded, have presented no discernible persona.

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Those personas, however, are a trademark part of White-Duke’s career, and luckily for the quanta program he has been a frequent contributor. His quantaparts are numerous and popular, from the first, the Silver Age Image II, capable of creating anything imaginable in sound or vision, to the glam-derived Space Driver, the techno Savaj, the current/classic incarnation the Morphing Man, and many others.

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 Discography

World of Bryan White-Duke

Silent Turning

Starship Troopers

Peachey Keen-O

The Life and Times of Bennie Baal and the Hornets of Hell

Gilgameshugginah

Snapshots

Time of My Life 64-67

On the Beach

Bryan Live

4000 Miles East of Detroit

Locus Pocus

ImagesOneBryan

Less

‘Icons’

Proscenium

Hostel

Beneath the Bed

Images2Bryan

Madeleine D (soundtrack)

Ode to Shakira

Bealz

Clubland

Golden Age

Bennie Baal (Soundtrack)

Pride and Precocity

Blue Mood

Minotaur

Always on My Time

Light and Loud

Live Loud London

Big Engine

ImagesBryan

Big Engine 2

Formal Feedback

Lama at Leisure

Beyond

Terracyte

Passage

Heretic

Cosmos

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