Sweet Billy Pilgrim are an English experimental rock/art rock band, composed of bassist/banjo player Anthony Bishop, guitarist and singer Jana Carpenter, singer, guitarist and songwriter Tim Elsenburg, and drummer/percussionist Alistair Hamer.
The original three members met whilst at school, Elsenburg and Bishop are from Wingrave and Hamer from Wendover, both near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. American born Carpenter joined the band in 2010.
Sweet Billy Pilgrim formed in 2003 after their previous band, Cordisto, came to an end. The band are named after the main character in Kurt Vonnegut's book Slaughterhouse 5.
After repeated rejections from both major and independent record labels, Elsenburg bought a Power Book, they installed Logic, and the band began to record themselves. Due to financial restraints, the early Sweet Billy Pilgrim recordings up until 2012s "Crown and Treaty" were (apart from the acoustic drums) produced in a garden shed using a laptop and one quite good microphone. The band feel this has had a positive influence on their sound.
Their first release "Experience", was distributed amongst fans and was followed up by the Stars Spill Out of Cups EP. Released on their own label (Luxor Purchase) and featuring hand-stamped artwork, it contains three songs "Stars Spill Out of Cups", "God In The Details", and "Atlantis". The band also gave away a recording called "Forget to Breathe" as an .mp3.
As of 2012, they have gone on to release three albums.
We Just Did What Happened and No One Came was released in 2005 and awarded four stars by Mojo magazine, and The Sunday Times called it, "a rather special debut", making the track "Stars Spill Out of Cups" one of their songs of the year.
Twice Born Men was released in 2009 and was awarded 5 stars and made CD of the Week by The Sunday Times, later that year it made The Sunday Times' top 100 albums of 2009 list. The album was also awarded 4 stars by Mojo and Uncut, and was made a Mercury Prize album of the year for 2009.
Crown and Treaty was released on 30th April 2012. Critical response was very positive, with all major UK national papers awarding the record 4 or 5 stars out of 5. It was awarded 5 Stars and Instant Classic by Mojo and 4 stars by magazine. The majority of the recording for this album took place at Elsenburg's cottage, with the exception of the acoustic drums which were recorded at Earth Terminal studios. Crown and Treaty was self released on their own label (Luxor Purchase) much like the early recordings, but distributed through EMI label services.
Besides their work as Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Bishop, Hamer, and Elsenburg have worked together as session musicians having toured as members of Martin Grech's band during the Open Heart Zoo era, and playing on the Toyah Willcox album Velvet Lined Shell.
Carpenter writes for, sings, and performs with folk band Piefinger.
Bishop currently plays electric bass in The Boy Least Likely To's touring band, and his playing is featured on both of the band's albums.
Hamer toured with The Boy Least Likely To until 2008, and his drumming is featured on the James Dean Bradfield album The Great Western.
Elsenburg has recorded and performed with Steve Jansen, recorded with Adem Ilhan, remixed for David Sylvian and Steve Adey, and written with Toyah Willcox.
Due to the complexity and layering of sounds used on the recordings, recreating the songs live requires the members to play many different instruments on stage. Bishop plays electric bass, banjo, and vocals. Carpenter plays acoustic guitar, cymbals samples keyboards and vocals. Elsenburg plays guitar, keyboards, harmonica, and vocals. Hamer plays drums (usually a Yamaha Rock Tour Custom), samples, and vocals. They are typically joined live by musician Dan Garland playing piano, keyboards, samples, vocals, and square waves, Barney Muller on electric guitar and backing vocals; and sometimes by Adam Chetwood (I Am Arrows) playing acoustic guitar, electric guitar and banjo.
On 9 July 2010 Sweet Billy Pilgrim appeared as themselves in series four, episode three ("Something Happened") of The IT Crowd.
On 13 July 2010 their song "Future Perfect Tense" was made available as a download for the game Rock Band 2
In August 2010 they recruited Jana Carpenter and started recording their 3rd studio album.
In April 2013 in collaboration with Mojo magazine, the band gave away a free download of Crown and Treaty (album) with the full artwork in exchange for signing up to their mailing list.