Skywalk guitarist Harris Van Berkel makes like Larry Carlton for The Bohemians



By Steve Newton

Skywalk guitarist Harris Van Berkel carefully ponders the suggestion that his group’s new album has sort of a West Coast sound to it.

“There’s a slight one… There’s a kind of a West Coast affiliation, I guess. We definitely don’t have an East Coast sound, you know what I mean. As a matter of fact, people in Toronto tend to put us down for that. It’s kinda weird.”

It will definitely be weird if people in the East don’t begin to rave about the Vancouver sextet’s second LP. L.A. connection or not, the music on The Bohemians is world-class, and is expected to do even better than their 1983 debut album, Silent Witness. That record went to number 12 on the Billboard jazz chart, and has been in the top 100 for over 40 weeks.

Van Berkel says the second album shows the band’s progress.

“The first album was made on a real shoestring and it was done really fast. With the new album we had a little bit more money and we took a little more time to get some sounds. As far as tunes go, it’s hard to write another ‘Silent Witness’. That’s a great tune.”

However, Van Berkel says the group is trying to forge a more original direction. “We still want to keep say ‘Jesse James’ and what we call our woodburning stuff, ’cause they’re nice tunes.”

The Skywalk lineup on their new disc is the same as it ever was. Van Berkel, keyboardist Graeme Coleman, bassist Rene Worst, saxman Tom Keenlyside, percussionist Jim McGillivray, and drummer Kat Hendrikse. Since recording the LP, however, the group has undergone a major change, with Hendrikse handing over the sticks to new drummer Daryll Bennett.

The switch came as quite a surprise to fans that have been following the band since day one.

“The basic problem with Kat is that he’s an insomniac, and he doesn’t like to go on the road ’cause he never sleeps. I mean we’re all a bit like that to a degree–in a strange room every night it’s hard, you know. And he’s got quite a career doing sessions in Vancouver here. He didn’t want to rock that boat.”

New drummer Bennett, “just a young guy” at 25, has previously played with the Mark Hasselbach Band, and the fusion group Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Van Berkel figures he’ll fit in with the group alright.

“Kat’s got authority to his playing, and it’s something to be missed for a while, for sure. But Darryl will come along just fine.”

Although an important factor in the Skywalk sound, Hendrikse was not a major contributor composition-wise. Coleman and Keenlyside write most of the music. In fact, The Bohemians is the first record to include a song by somebody else: Van Berkel’s “Larry”.

“I wrote a tune for the band and we were playing it, and Rene or somebody mentioned that it was kind of like a Larry Carlton riff. We were jokin’ around, and the name just stuck. It wasn’t really a tribute to Larry Carlton, although he is one of my favourite guitar players.”

As far as other faves go, Harris listens to “anybody from Jim Hall to Allan Holdsworth“, and counts among his local faves Ed Patterson and Brett Wade. Van Berkel is quite an acclaimed player himself, taking the best guitarist honours in Tuesday’s Tribute to West Coast Music. He had also been nominated in the best songwriter and best producer categories. Another group which he’s a member of, the Rick Scott Band, took best club act of the year.

Isn’t being in two outfits at once a bit uncomfortable?

“Yes. I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it when both of the bands start to take off. It’s gonna be tricky. Hopefully it’ll all work out, because Skywalk is a band that doesn’t work all that much. But it looks like this year we might be.”

The work for Van Berkel and his Skywalk mates starts at the beginning of April when they head out on a 17-date, 26-day tour of the U.S. Vancouver fans won’t be able to see the band again till June, when they’re slated to play the Landmark Jazz Bar.

For now, all fans can do is sit back and enjoy The Bohemians till the Bohemians that made it get back to town.



One thought on “Skywalk guitarist Harris Van Berkel makes like Larry Carlton for The Bohemians

  1. Almost quaint to read Harris Van Berkel’s comments on how challenging it was in 1986 to balance two projects—Skywalk and The Bohemians.

    From what I understand, musicians these days often juggle three or more projects to ensure they make a living out of music. And even then, may hardly get by.

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