A busy few months has seen trips to San Francisco (which rapidly ascended to favourite city status for me), Baron Bennett’s lovely Swedish hideaway, and Borg Central, London.
Add to that heady brew, convulsive syncopes on planes, earthquakes rather than passion rocking my bed, video shoots with flute-wielding gothic brides, and half my house being ripped apart (then put together again) by lethally efficient men known only as ‘the tomahawk’, ‘the sleeper’ and ‘the marshall’.
Somewhere in between, came the music.
Sessions for No-Man’s Schoolyard Ghosts culminated in a wonderful orchestral session at Air Studios in mid-March.
Arranged by Dave Stewart, it was a delight to a hear a 22 piece string orchestra shimmering beautifully throughout the 13 minute epic Truenorth. My first such experience, it was easy to see how this could become addictive. Next time, it’s all orchestra (and all debtor’s courts)!
The intoxicating string sensation was followed by an ultra-rare Carl Glover No-Man photo shoot and a pleasant meeting with Markus Reuter and his new collaborator Tovah. All in all, a fine day.
The January and February sessions successfully progressed from where we’d left off in September and, once back in the No-Man groove, the writing and camaraderie seemed as strong as ever.
For a writing relationship that’s nearly 21 years old, it was gratifying for both myself and the man Wilson that we still enjoyed what we did together and still felt that we could say something different. That the writing sessions ended on such a high that we felt we could have carried on for longer was an unexpected bonus.
The initial recordings in August were artistically fruitful, but were somehow marred by a fear that we might not be able to equal or go beyond Together We’re Stranger (a favourite for both of us). On listening to the results of the first sessions, the potential became obvious and the fears soon diminished.
Subsequently, in many ways, it seems to me that we’ve created the definitive No-Man album.
All our previous albums are distinctive statements I feel, but it’s still possible for me to detect influences/creative starting points external to the band, whereas throughout the writing and recording of Schoolyard Ghosts, it seemed to me like No-Man itself was our main creative starting point.
Surprisingly, the tone of the new album is more optimistic in places than anything we’ve done before, evoking the sense that after a long period of struggle, a state of grace has been reached. Despite that, there’s melancholy aplenty (naturally!) and a couple of the pieces are undoubtedly amongst the darkest and most experimental the band has written since the Wild Opera period.
I feel we’ve created a collection of songs that we’ll both regard as a high point in both our musical careers and, regardless of the response, that feels like reward enough for the effort involved.
Along with the orchestra, highlights for me included Theo Travis’s ongoing Theosophy, Pat Mastellotto’s ‘Pigeon Pat’, and getting to work with the extremely sensitive and talented San Franciscan, Bruce Kaphan (ex-American Music Club), who added some soaring pedal steel to two of the album’s tracks.
For me personally, I feel that All Sweet Things and Truenorth are perhaps the pinnacle of the band’s achievements, with most of the other pieces not far behind.
After four years of writing a lot but releasing nothing, it feels good to come back with what I feel is No-Man’s strongest work to date. The experiences, the hard choices, the constant waiting and internal debating definitely make more sense in the light of what’s completed.
More detailed Schoolyard Ghosts information and images can be found on Tony Kinson’s micro-site, found on his very nicely reworked, a confession…
Margaret Atwood – The Tent
Stanislaw Lem – Solaris
Clive James – North Face Of Soho/The Book Of My Enemy
Clive James ‘Talking In The Library’ (www.clivejames.com)
Lost series 4
No Country For Old Men
Skins series 2