The last few months have been a strange combination of me being creatively busy and occasionally ground to a standstill (one bad Winter cold left me unable to sing for two months which felt like forever), so it’s very much been a time of ups and low level downs.
Despite that, the music is in as good a place as I can remember and the process of making it continues to be hugely enjoyable.
The second Bowness / Chilvers album is still nearing completion and is still sounding (to us, anyway) like the best work we’ve done together. We wrote another new piece in February (called Ghost In The City) and work on existing pieces continues. As with California, Norfolk, there’s a very particular set of moods and sounds being intimately explored.
Semi-related, the one-off Bowness/Chilvers/Rhodes/Travis Cardiff experience in October provided a nice inspirational interlude and some clues as to how the songs might end up sounding. Joined by Captain Pete ‘Dexter’ Morgan, we played a selection of pieces from California, Norfolk, Slow Electric and the forthcoming B/C misery-fest. Extended ‘band’ versions of the likes of Criminal Caught In The Crime and Post-Its were genuinely exciting to perform and seemed to take the music in fresh directions.
Having admired David Rhodes’ work with Peter Gabriel (and others) for decades, it was great to hear his playing and singing close up and there’s no doubt his ideas and presence added an extra dimension to the patented Bowness/Chilvers brand of aural melancholia.
Singing two songs (one a cover of David Bowie’s anthemic Heroes) with a powerful three-headed Trance/Electronic/Space Rock beast, I stepped out of my comfort zone by joining Banco De Gaia live on two occasions in February and March.
I may well have massacred a brilliant song by one of my favourite artists, but the experience was still a good one (luckily, the audiences were kind to my mistakes!).
Banco and their entourage were incredibly welcoming and the live group sound was immense (Banco’s effortlessly cool bass player James Eller is someone I saw live with Julian Cope in the 1980s and whose playing I very much liked in The The).
The onstage chemistry was good and it’s looking likely that ‘Cosmic jams’ with the Banco band may take place sooner rather than later.
In news of another unexpected collaboration, I co-wrote a piece with the extremely gifted former Happy The Man / Camel keyboard player Kit Watkins (someone else I saw live in the 1980s). Appropriately, the new (8 and half minute) collaborative ‘song’ came about wholly by accident.
Developed out of an evocative large-scale Minimalist composition of Kit’s, I provided vocals aplenty, while Plenty’s Brian Hulse added guitar parts. The resulting piece is unusual and hypnotic and possesses hot and cold World Music elements that provide quite a unique setting for my voice.
Talking of Plenty, the original line-up (me, Brian Hulse, David Jones and Professor Michael Bearpark) has been working out the logistics of how to finally do justice to the material it recorded in the mid to late 1980s. As a consequence, chorus pedals, cheap drum machines, big shoulder pads and even bigger hair could be brought out of hibernation just in time for the band’s 30th anniversary next year.
And if that wasn’t enough shenanigans to report, there’s also been work on what I hope will become my next solo album.
Along with Stephen Bennett, I co-wrote what I consider to be one of the strongest and most emotional epics I’ve participated in making. Something of a spiritual successor to Smiler At 50, Sing To Me and Dancing For You, You’ll Be The Silence is also the latest instalment in the ongoing series of songs from the Third Monster On The Left concept.
In its wake, two more songs were written and as we now have 50 minutes of unreleased music to choose from and develop further, it finally looks like the Monster may have his day.
The Monster compositions are generally more complex than anything I’ve been involved with before, so despite being somewhat stylistically retro (in keeping with the theme of the lyrics) they’ve been a genuine challenge to create (both from a musical and narrative lyrical point of view). They’re also something that I feel an intense attachment to despite them being less directly personal than what I usually write.
Give or take a Henry Fool track or two, in many ways, this is my first serious foray into (song-orientated) full-blown Progressive Rock territory and in my imagination the Third Monster material sounds like the band that I’d have wanted to front in 1975 (if I’d been an adult or creatively active at that time) or perhaps the sound of the band I thought I’d grow up to be in when I was a schoolboy planning my very first musical ‘great escapes’.
For all its elements of sonic time travel and ‘fantasy Prog league’ grandeur, the music isn’t pastiche. I can hear elements of 1970s Genesis, David Bowie and Pink Floyd (for example) colliding with whatever it is that I do, but it’s ending up (for better or worse) sounding very much like itself. Whether that turns out to be an exciting new direction informed by the past, or Bowness The Thotch Years remains to be seen.
American Football – American Football (1999)
David Bowie – Blackstar (2016)
Grateful Dead – From The Mars Hotel (1974)
Billie Holiday – Lady In Satin (1958)
King Crimson – Live In Toronto (2016)
Le Orme – Felona E Serona (1973)
Thelonious Monk – Solo Monk (1965)
Owen – New Leaves (2009)
Max Richter – Sleep (2015)
The The – Mind Bomb (1989)
Three Trapped Tigers – Silent Earthling (2016)
Robert Silverberg – Dying Inside (1972)
The Hateful Eight (2015)
The Revenant (2015)