Category Archives: Diary

Jan 30 2017

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If you’re reading this, like me, you’ve survived 2016. Congratulations!

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As mentioned in the Lost In The Ghost Light Album Notes blog, ’2016 has been a bruising year in terms of societal divisions being exposed in the West, ongoing wars in the Middle East (and elsewhere), and the deaths of prominent cultural figures.’

It certainly feels as unsettled a time as I can remember and I think that’s part of the reason why the deaths of the likes of Prince and George Michael had an even greater impact than they ordinarily would have done. Of course, these deaths also represent the death of eras, the death of youth and more, so there would have been a major response regardless. However, the fact that 2016 seemed relentless in its rate of change possibly accentuated the grief (or at least the media presentation of the perceived grief).

For me personally, the Bowie loss was immense but something that didn’t surprise me having heard Blackstar a day before his death was announced. Lake and Emerson going in the same year was very sad and the reason for the latter’s demise genuinely heartbreaking. Colin Vearncombe of Black’s death was also an affecting one for me as he was a near contemporary of mine and someone I’d met in 2015 and had a very pleasant meal with. He was intelligent, gentle and interesting, and due to shared geography and musical tastes, we had a fair bit in common. His singing voice was still special as he demonstrated in his performance later that evening and his accidental death at 53 seemed far too young (as he certainly seemed like he had more to say). Leonard Cohen’s shuffling off of his mortal coil was also one that got to me. He was 82 and had lived a long and successful life, but he’d just produced one of his best albums in decades and, despite the sometimes mournful tone of his recent interviews, seemed like he’d be a significant presence in the music world for some time to come. For whatever reason, his death felt like something good had been taken away.

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Lost In The Ghost Light (formerly Third Monster On The Left) has now been completed and scheduled for release. My ‘Album Notes’ blog goes into (very) great detail about the making of the album, but as always I was struck by how it still only told a quarter of the story (if that).

While making albums, there’s usually a strong awareness of whether it’s working out or not. As mentioned before, regardless of the quality of its contents, My Hotel Year always felt like a patchwork release that wasn’t cohering as well as it should have been. Additionally, the album was always tinged with a tangible air of despair that didn’t necessarily reflect the circumstances of its creation (despite that, I’m still very attached to some of the songs on the album and sometimes harbour a desire to re-record it). Conversely, some albums seem ‘right’ from the off (Speak, Together We’re Stranger, Lost In The Ghost Light and more). It’s complicated as some of the best albums don’t necessarily contain the best songs and a few of the weaker albums contain some of the strongest individual tracks.

Doing interviews for Lost In Ghost Light has helped me clarify some of what it’s about. In retrospect, I realise that in some ways the album could have been subconsciously motivated by the deaths of the likes David Bowie, Chris Squire, Hugh Hopper and others whose music meant a great deal to me when I was growing up. Maybe Lost In The Ghost Light is an attempt to capture a particular world before it disappears, a sort of wildlife documentary about an endangered species (narrated by Richard Attenborough, of course). Alternatively, it could be my equivalent of making a period film or TV series (that I hope is faithful to both the era it’s covering as well as to my musical identity). This got me thinking of other ‘period’ projects I could embark upon. If Lost In The Ghost Light is my Vinyl or Life On Mars, would it be interesting to do an Ashes To Ashes?

I think it’s possible that the massive increase in vinyl sales over the last decade has been partly due to the dominance of streams/downloads and prevalence of TV talent show culture. I suspect a sizeable number of people want something more substantial that they’re more invested in. Streams are frequently free and very convenient (I regularly use them myself), but I don’t feel they encourage detailed listening or an engagement with music / ’the album’ as an art form. On a personal level, the move towards streams (and ‘single’ streams at that) pushes me even more towards making detailed artwork and sonically rich ‘album experiences’. Yes Sirree, I am Canute raging against the tide! All of which, fits neatly into the Ghost Light concept, of course.

One of the working titles for the album was The Last Album (as it is an album length requiem for an album-era artist). Ultimately, music is the all important thing, but formats can assist in dictating the quality and depth of art. When the album emerged in the mid-late 1950s, artists such as Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra brilliantly stretched their visions to accommodate the format. From the late 1950s to the late 1980s, the album was both popular and culturally important. With the advent of the CD, great album statements were still being made, but for me the need to fill all 80 minutes of the new format did lead to some fairly unbalanced and diluted releases. Regardless, here’s hoping that ‘the age of stream’ doesn’t become the sole future for the music industry.

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The two November shows with iamthemorning were hugely enjoyable and certainly successful enough to suggest doing more dates together and possibly some joint recording. The ‘iam’ enhanced version of Days Turn Into Years was an epic 12 minute joy, while the Bowness Band / iamthemorning co-performed interpretations of Beautiful Songs You Should Know and Sing To Me were refreshingly different from the originals (featuring a string quartet and two drummers).

At the moment, the only scheduled show is as a special guest to Marillion on the last day of the band’s UK Marillion Weekend in late April. As Marillion has recently released an album that shows several different (more atmospheric) sides to its music (and contains a brave and emotional suite of songs about the plight of touring musicians called The Leavers), I’m looking forward to it.

Elsewhere, the Bowness / Chilvers miseryfest is still awaiting a mix and the Plenty project is still in the process of being recorded. With the latter, we’ve now re-recorded / re-written around 12 of our mid-late 1980s’ Art Pop confections and have also contemplated writing something new together.

As a parting shot, here a list of favourites from last year, plus some current listening:

A best of 2016:

David Bowie – Blackstar
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – The Skeleton Tree
Paul Simon – Stranger To Stranger
Brian Eno – The Ship
Big Big Train – Folklore
Van Der Graaf Generator – Do Not Disturb
Arvo Part – The Deer’s Cry
Old Fire – Songs From The Haunted South
Marillion – F.E.A.R.
Anderson / Stolt – The Invention Of Knowledge
Neil Young – Earth
Three Trapped Tigers – Silent Earthling

Listening:

Bee Gees – Odessa (1969)
Mark Eitzel – Hey Mr Ferryman (2017)
George Gershwin – Rhapsody In Blue (1924)
The Kinks – Preservation Acts 1 and 2 (1974)
Pink Floyd – The Early Years 1967-1972 (2016)
Supertramp – Crime Of The Century (1974)
Hans Zimmer – Interstellar OST (2014)

Reading:

William S Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg – The Yage Letters (1953)
Phil Collins – Not Dead Yet (2016)
Jon Ronson – Frank (2014)

Watching:

Interstellar (2014)
Stranger Things (2016)

September 2016

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Seven months on from the last diary entry and it’s still a case of multiple works in progress.

2016 may be the first year in some time in which I haven’t released anything, but 2017 looks likely to unleash a torrent of sonic abuse. As always, I suspect I’ll still be lagging behind Bill Nelson’s release output for the year.

Updates:

Bowness / Chilvers 2.0 – Ghosts In The City:

Musically, the newly paternal Lord and I completed writing and recording for the album – possibly titled Ghosts In The City – in early Summer.

As mentioned in the previous diary entry, the album definitely feels like a progression from California, Norfolk. Like its predecessor, it has a very focused identity and explores a coherent set of moods and lyrical themes. As these themes frequently relate to crushed dreams and final days, the levity quotient is conspicuous by its absence.

All that’s left before the world can sample the latest from the Laughing Boys are final mixes and textural additions. Oh yes, and a label and a release date!

Plenty:

The original Plenty quartet is in the process of re-recording almost all the material the band ever wrote and the results are proving inspiring.

Although the style remains bound by the era in which the music originated (the 1980s!), the performances are undoubtedly more considered. What’s amazing is both how much some of the music still means to us all, and how easy it’s been for us to enter the spirit of the songs while retaining a sense of our contemporary identities.

The best of Plenty provided a template for a particular type of ballad that no-man and Bowness/Chilvers continue to mine and it’s been good to finally do justice to some of the strongest unreleased songs I’ve been involved in co-writing (I’m genuinely looking forward to the likes of Strange Gods and Broken Nights finally being given an official release).

As Plenty also occasionally operated in an upbeat Art Pop territory, I’ve sometimes had to sing in (and re-personalise) a style I’d long since abandoned. The old feels new again, and in contrast to most of my projects, there are some songs that could even be called optimistic (the horror, the horror)

The results so far are unlike no-man, Bowness/Chilvers, Third Monster, Henry Fool or anything else I’m working on, and that alone justifies what’s been an enjoyable experience.

Bowness 4.0 – Third Monster On The Left:

As with the Bowness / Chilvers album, all the writing has been completed for the album, and only* overdubs and mixing remain.

Since the last entry, Andrew Keeling has added some sumptuous strings to the 10 minute opener You’ll Be The Silence, which, along with Ghost In The City and Sleeping Face from the forthcoming Bowness/Chilvers album, is fast becoming a favourite of my own pieces. Kit Watkins and Andrew K have also sprinkled flutes over various tracks (oh yes, there will be flutes!).

Next come the guest guitar parts, the final touches, and the superstar mixer.

* Always the most time-consuming part of the album making process.

Banco De Gaia – Nine Hearts:

After the two gigs earlier in the year comes a guest appearance on the band’s new album, The Ninth Of Nine Hearts. My contribution is on the atmospheric opening track and, as with the rest of the album, it shows that Banco can function very comfortably outside the World Trance Electronic Dance style expected of them.

Neve / Gregory / Bowness – Speak For Me:

Andy Neve – who contributed some lovely backing vocals to Nick Magnus’s excellent N’Monix album – asked me to sing on a song he’d written for a charity album highlighting the plight of African elephants. The piece is a seven minute epic ballad featuring some sweeping semi-orchestral arrangements and backing vocals from Andy, some great guitar from Dave Gregory (XTC/Big Big Train) and an atypical vocal from me.

A genuinely enjoyable session with a decent result (and for a decent cause), it recalled my experience at ‘The Nick Magnus Vocal Boot Camp’ in that it introduced me to a very different way of recording, which in turn encouraged a noticeably different approach from me.

Watkins / Bowness:

Apropos of nothing, I’ve continued to work with Kit and we’re slowly building up a nice body of cinematic material, plus the occasional unlikely cover version. Peter Coyle from The Lotus Eaters has also co-written a track with us, so the strange musical collisions continue. Kit is an intelligent and talented musician and it’s been nice to find that we’ve established a very natural musical chemistry without any forethought at all.

The (Half) Live Release:

A five track live (and live in the studio) mini-album’s worth of the 2015 T-Bo Band in action may or may not be available from an online store or merchandise table near you. The pieces prepared for release include very different versions of Know That You Were Loved, Dancing For You and The Me I Knew, plus the semi-raucous Rock outs of Housewives Hooked On Heroin and The Warm-Up Man Forever.

Live:

And talking of live, beyond my two Banco De Gaia guest appearances earlier in the year, my shows at the IO Pages Festival and The Bush Hall will be the only dates I’ll be doing for some time. I’ll be playing with the nifty no-man live combo minus the mighty mite Steven Wilson. Steve Bingham and ‘Captain’ Pete Morgan are back on board, and along with material from the recent solo albums, attendees can expect a fair sprinkling of no-man songs.

The gigs will be extra special as they’ll involve a link-up with Russian band iamthemorning (the band’s rather lovely Lighthouse deservedly won the 2016 Prog Magazine album of the year award). iamthemorning’s music is located in a Kate Bush / Tori Amos territory and should provide an interesting contrast to what it is I do. Memories of the 1991 no-man / Tori Amos double bill at The Borderline may well be evoked.

Buy a ticket (or four) why don’t you.

The Future:

Beyond the above, there have been some positive discussions that I’m hoping will lead to some unexpected activity in 2017. Then again, it could be the year of crushed dreams and final days as predicted by those masters of misery Messrs Bowness and Chilvers.

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Listening:

The Bathers – Pandemonia (1999)
Big Big Train – Folklore (2016)
Caravan – For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night (1973)
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree (2016)
Bruce Cockburn – Bruce Cockburn (1970)
It’s Immaterial – Life’s Hard And Then You Die (1986)
Rickie Lee Jones – Flying Cowboys (1989)
Bill Nelson – Fantasmatron (2011)
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)
The Smiths – Strangeways Here We Come (1987)
Van Der Graaf Generator – Do Not Disturb (2016)
Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Have Been Sung (2016)
The Who – Who Are You (1978)
Neil Young – Earth (2016)

Reading:

BS Johnson – Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry (1973)
BS Johnson – House Mother Normal (1971)
Pete Townshend – Who I Am (2012)

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April 19 2016

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Listening:

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)

Reading:

Robert Silverberg – Dying Inside (1972)

Watching:

The Hateful Eight (2015)
The Revenant (2015)

September 11 2015

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The waiting is over and the results are in (sort of, anyway).

The last few months have seen a whirlwind of activity, with a new album release, a (by my standards) extensive ‘World’ tour (of 4 dates in 2 countries, no less!), a ten ton truckload of interviews, and a social schedule that involved more than just waving to bleary-eyed kindred spirits on ‘the school run’.

Stupid Things That Mean The World achieved the most (and highest) chart positions of my career. This was both incredibly gratifying and, as always, something of a relief. After the comparative success of ADD, this time there was a degree of expectation surrounding the new album. The consensus was that ADD would be a hard act to follow and I was very much aware of that. Luckily – both in terms of sales and reactions – Stupid Things That Mean The World has appeared to generate just that little bit more than ADD did and maintain forward momentum in a way that I was hoping it would.

This time round there were three Top 10 chart positions (official UK Rock, Prog and Vinyl charts), an entry in the lower end of the ‘general/mainstream’ chart and more reviews and interviews than I can remember doing since the early days of no-man. When you’re at the wrong end of middle age and involved in something highly personal, these unexpected mini-triumphs really are something special.

Though I can’t say Stupid Things is better than ADD, the album did feel as if it was more probing and perhaps an even more honest representation of what it is that I do (and like). Stupid Things possessed more diversity and seemed harder and softer, complex and simpler, and both more accessible and more experimental than ADD. Though coherent, I hoped it had a greater sense of playing with possibilities than its predecessor (which I felt worked as a consistent body of songs). Ultimately, I’m pleased with both albums, which I think have managed to establish a recognisable identity for me outside of my work with no-man and Steven Wilson.

It’s mostly felt like a period where things have been progressing apace, but it’s also sometimes felt like a time of running around frantically in order to maintain the position I was already in (Bono may have said the same thing more succinctly at some point!).

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The ‘World’ tour of 2015 was a mixed experience and a reality check, in that it pointed out the difficulty of attracting an audience and the fact that to get to a higher level sacrifices have to be made on what will probably always feel like an uphill struggle.

The Rehearsals:

Holed up in rural Wiltshire with the streamlined five piece Tim Bowness Band, a joyous noise was made for five days in a row. Despite playing a significantly different set than any we’d played before (including 50% new songs), things went surprisingly well and quickly. It was perhaps the best rehearsal period we’ve ever had. The music worked, relationships were good, coffee breaks were plentiful and optimism was high.

In the middle of the rehearsals, I travelled with the newly crowned super-boffin Professor Bearpark to BBC Bristol for an interview and accompanying acoustic session. Enjoyable and relaxed, it reminded me of many similar performances I’d undertaken in the early 1990s with Steven Wilson. Like other things to come over the next few weeks, there was a strong sense of past experiences invading present moments.

As a quintet, the band’s approach had by necessity turned to the more Rock end of what I do. The new material suited the musicians and vice versa. A powerful guitar-heavy counterpoint to the graceful electronica of the 2004-2006 My Hotel Band, without sacrificing the melancholy or introspective nature of much of the music, it felt like we were managing to create something that could communicate on a wider level than we had done previously.

On the fourth and fifth days, we multi-track recorded what we did with a view to a future release of some sort. The live versions of songs had been developing a character of their own and we felt they needed to be chronicled. So chronicled they were.

The gigs:

Straight from an almost flawless rehearsal, we arrived at a Bristol venue that wasn’t quite what we were expecting and promptly massacred two songs in the soundcheck. We were unlearning in real time! The gig itself was on the smallest stage we’d played on in years, which wasn’t conducive to ‘the big gesture’ (or physical movement of any kind!). The sound onstage was poor and the optimism (along with the onstage banter) ran dry. That said, the rehearsing must have paid off in some way as the performance possessed some powerful moments and the audience reaction was extremely positive and warm (justifying the whole affair).

The next day was London. From the off, the venue and sound were much better and the performance reflected this. Reminiscent of no-man’s 2012 show at the Islington Town Hall, there was a confidence on display that seemed to be acknowledged by the audience response.

If it’s the weekend, it must be Poland! Ino-Rock provided a great educational experience. The same set that had been effective in a club setting felt sometimes exposed when performed in front of a couple of thousand people at an open-air festival. Two thirds to three quarters of the music genuinely worked in the larger environment, while a quarter to a third seemed more fit for intimate theatre performance than stadium assault. Regardless, when it did come together the performance was a powerful example of what this particular band can do well. The audience was very receptive and a post-gig wander through the crowd yielded many wonderful encounters, countless selfies and some of the most probing questions I’ve been asked in years. As in Krakow in 2012, the Polish experience was energising and a lot of fun. The organisers, the fans and the people we met (including Fish and his very fine band) were a delight, and over two days in the hotel lobby I conducted one of the most in-depth interviews I’ve ever done (for the US-based Progression magazine).

After a week’s absence from the stage, the end was nigh in Manchester in a similar venue to the one in London (though smaller, both in terms of audience and stage size). We were supported by old friends and former band mates Nerve Toy Trio, who unexpectedly proved to be more Prog than Rick Wakeman’s golden cape (in a good way). The T-Bo Band started off well, but tentatively. Half-way through something seemed to click. The audience had been vocally supportive throughout, but from Dancing For You onwards I was at my most verbally communicative and the band locked into some powerful grooves with absolute conviction. An additional – genuinely spontaneous – surprise was that the encore of All The Blue Changes featured the Nerve Toy Trio’s Howard Jones on drums (alongside Andrew Booker). Howard is a gifted drummer who was a major part of several of my earliest bands including The Roaring Silence and After The Stranger, and this was the first time we’d appeared on a stage together since 1986 (past experiences invading present moments, once again). A double drum solo was hinted at and then it was all over. After the gig, the members of the audience I spoke to seemed extremely appreciative of the evening’s music, and on a personal level it was genuinely nice to reconnect with old friends and even older family.

Conclusions:

Aside from the Polish festival, stupidly, I’d organised everything myself. And at a bad time of year. As such, promotion was minimal (being a gig promoter is clearly not my forte) and attendances were on the low side bar Poland. Artistically it felt good, though. The new music thrived in a live setting and the band seemed stronger than ever. Being reduced to a five piece meant that the instrumentalists had more space as well as more to do to fill some of the extra space. Colin, Mike, Stephen and Andy raised their already high games. Time Travel In Texas was harder, funkier and stranger, Sing To Me soared, the guitar solo in Dancing For You became an unexpected concert highlight (grown people wept at the Professor’s emotional six-string outpourings!), Know That You Were Loved hit a sweet melancholy spot and Smiler At 50 sounded bigger than Digby. Whatever disappointment there was about attendances seemed insignificant in light of the band’s performances and the encouraging audience reactions.

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Outside of the tour, I attended the hugely enjoyable fourth annual Prog Awards and also saw the mighty King Crimson live (for the first time since 1995).

At the awards, I was on the Inside Out table, and it was tremendous fun to meet up up with the likes of Peter Hammill, Bill Nelson, Steve Hogarth, Nick Beggs, the genial Gentle Giant and, of course, Steven Wilson (amongst others).

King Crimson, as ever, asked as many questions as they answered and, as ever, they remain a firm touchstone in my musical world. The band’s collective sound was immense and it was great to see Mel Collins back where he belongs, Jakko fronting his favourite band, and to hear new songs mingling with old classics

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Next up is a special one-off gig in Cardiff with Lord Peter Chilvers, David Rhodes and sax royalty Theo Travis. There’ll be more work on the forthcoming Bowness/Chilvers release and Third Monster On The Left, and there are semi-concrete plans to create a live Tim Bowness (and band) album and studio single.

There’ll also be more school runs, I expect.

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Listening:

Be Bop Deluxe – Sunburst Finish (1976)
Ornette Coleman – Dancing In Your Head (1977)
David Crosby – Croz (2014)
FFS – FFS (2015)
Led Zeppelin – Presence (1976)
Magazine – Magic, Murder & The Weather (1981)
Bill Nelson – Quit Dreaming And Get Off The Beam (1981)
Siouxie & The Banshees – Hyaena (1984)
Troyka – Ornithophobia (2015)
Kamasi Washington – The Epic (2015)

Reading:

Kent Haruf - Our Souls At Night (2014)
David S Wills - Scientologist!: William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult’ (2013)

Watching:

Grace And Frankie
The Last Man On Earth
Transparent
True Detective

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may 12th

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Stupid Things That Mean The World, my third solo album, was finished in mid-April.

Compared with Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, the making of the album was a bit of a long slog with many obstacles (illnesses, recording problems, moving house and so on), but despite (or because of) this the result definitely feels like something of a progression from its predecessor, and very much like the second part of a new chapter that ADD began (which, luckily, was exactly what I was after when I started the process of making the album).

That almost all the album’s music was written in 2014 and 2015 (and mostly recorded in 2015) was also pleasing. Two very different songs emerged at the very end of the sessions and they may be amongst my personal favourites of songs that I’ve been involved in making. The Great Electric Teenage Dream is one of the most aggressive pieces I’ve sung on, while the other new song (Know That You Were Loved) shares the quiet ‘end days’ melancholy and introspection of perhaps my all-time favourite no-man song, Things I Want To Tell You.

One of the exceptions to the 2014 / 2015 rule is All These Escapes, which is a new version of an old Plenty song from 1988. Re-recording lines I’d originally sung over half a lifetime ago was less strange than I thought it would be, and it was surprisingly easy to inhabit the emotional core of the song, while also being aware that (certainly lyrically) it was something that I wouldn’t (or couldn’t) have come up with over the last two decades.

Another part exception to the 2014 / 2015 rule is Sing To Me, which evolved out of a no-man demo from 1994 called Best Boy Electric. I heard BBE for the first time in over 20 years when Steven Wilson sent it to me in October 2014 (for consideration for a possible reissue of no-man’s Lost Songs album). I’d completely forgotten the song, and on re-hearing it in 2014 couldn’t understand why we’d abandoned it (it being so at odds with the emerging Wild Opera material is my guess). I wrote a new lyric and a couple of new instrumental themes, and Stephen Bennett suggesting doubling the length. As a result, a one and a half minute fragment from 1994 turned into a six minute epic from 2015. Sing To Me reminds me of aspects of the early no-man that I loved, while also feeling very much a part of the music I’m currently making.

My STTMTW (not as catchy as ADD, I grant you!) collaborators have been both returning (Bennett, Bearpark, Booker, Edwin, Keeling, Phoebe, Hammill) and new (Bruce Soord, David Rhodes, Rhys Marsh) and, overall, there’s a greater diversity of mood and style than is common on most of my releases. Jarrod Gosling once again provided some unique artwork and Charlotte Kinson came good with promotional photographs (acting on the difficult instruction, “Make me look human.”).

As with ADD, it’s great at this stage of my life to still feel that I’m releasing some of my best work and to still be excited by the process of making and releasing it.

————

Listening:

Big Hard Excellent Fish – And The Question Remains (2013)
Bjork – Vulnicura (2015)
Captain Beefheart – Sun Zoom Spark: 1970 to 1972 (2015)
Electric Wurms – Musik, Die Schwer zu Twerk (2014)
David Cross and Robert Fripp – Starless Starlight (2015)
The Flaming Lips – Peace Sword (2013)
Glenn Gould – Bach: The Art Of Fugue (1962)
Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti (1975)
Sanguine Hum – Now We Have Light
(2015)
The Who – Who’s Next (1971)
Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015)

Reading:

Emily St John MandelStation Eleven (2014)
Chuck PalahniukHaunted (2005)

Watching:

Better Call Saul (2015)

Nov 20th

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The usual workload plus two house moves and the release and promotion of Abandoned Dancehall Dreams has meant finding gaps to write or record hasn’t been particularly easy since the early part of the year.

Luckily, things have finally settled down and I’ve recently started work on a follow up album to Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and continued to write with Peter Chilvers for our long-delayed successor to California, Norfolk.

Being able to realise ideas or find myself somewhere I wasn’t expecting creatively remains something I never tire of and after what seems like an age of inactivity, it’s felt great to be immersed in the process of making music once more.

———

Writing and recording again has led to the usual questioning of what it is I produce and why it is that I make the music I do. Despite eclectic tastes and a world of possibilities, a lot of artists find somewhere that feels comfortable to them and end up staying in that place. Although I do go off into some seemingly out of character directions – Henry Fool, Darkroom, Wild Opera etc – my ‘territory’ is still mostly that of the ballad (intimate or epic), the atmospheric experiment and the moodier than Ron Moody sentiment. Judging by what’s recently been coming out of my mouth and guitar, a shift towards Macarena-style euphoria or mid-period Robin Thicke isn’t looking very likely, but as with ADD it feels like the new material (and the refining of old material) represent a confident summation of previous approaches, which are also taking the music somewhere fresh.

The two albums currently in progress subtly reflect different aspects of what I do and what I’m instinctively drawn to. As with no-man and ADD, ADD 2.0 has a bolder, more dynamic approach, while the new Bowness/Chilvers songs develop further the narrative-based material on California, Norfolk (though the sadness may be even sadder than before!).

————

ADD 2.0 got off to a very special and quite unexpected start in late October when I recorded a song in the studio of one of my long-term musical inspirations, Peter Hammill. Peter provided guitars and backing vocals for one of my songs (and its bizarre, spontaneously conceived coda) and was an encouraging and accommodating presence throughout the process. I was very aware that the teenage me – in awe of Over and Pawn Hearts – would have been delighted to be a part of this experience (the adult me was rather pleased too!).

The next stage of ADD 2.0 will comprise several days of full band recording, plus overdubs aplenty (including the return of Andrew Keeling’s very fine string arranging and Anna Phoebe’s superb violin playing), all followed by the time-consuming process of editing and mixing. At this early stage, the material assembled feels like a logical advancement from ADD and I’m really excited to see where it goes.

After writing what I regard as four of our best ever collaborative pieces in a burst of activity late last year, Peter Chilvers and I resumed ‘the follow-up that’s taking forever’ a fortnight ago. Straight off, we came up with a stark piano, oboe and voice piece that developed into something we weren’t expecting. Lyrically, the song tells a very specific story unlike any I’ve written before. Overall, the new lyrics have something of the narrative flavour of Post-Its and Smiler At 50, and as with California, Norfolk there’s a strong ‘album’ coherence emerging with themes exploring the contrast between youthful optimism and mature reflection. Musically, the pieces vary from being heavily electronic to incredibly spartan and organic, and show how Lord Chilvers’ abilities have impressively evolved as a result of his ongoing work with Brian Eno and Karl Hyde.

————

If writing and studio recording remain things that excite me, the ’solo’ live experience is something that I still feel needs work before it fully satisfies me.

The recent shows were all enjoyable in different ways and I particularly liked the dynamic shifts in the music and the fact that Smiler At 50 and Dancing For You seemed to come off as well in performance as in the studio. Additionally, the relentless grind of Mixtaped continued to be a pleasure to play.

Myke Clifford was as good as I’ve ever heard him and his temporary replacement for the final gig, Theo Travis, was equally inspired. Doctor Bearpark and Baron Bennett showed their range as soloists/texturalists and the Booker/Edwin rhythm section were tough and flexible giving the band a real scope. The merger of no-man, Tim Bowness and Henry Fool identities was perhaps less effective than the band as a unit, though.

For me, as they all represent aspects of music I’ve made, the fusion made sense, but I could see that rather than present a united creative front, for some people, the combination of styles only served to emphasise the differences between them. My decision not to play guitar (which I did in rehearsal) undoubtedly played a part as it left me physically adrift from the Henry Fool instrumentals that I’d played a major role in writing/creating.

Next time, with another solo album to draw from, I suspect that the live approach will be a very different one.

————

In very different ways, the 2014 releases by David Bowie, Scott Walker, Peter Hammill and Pink Floyd have been inspiring to me, and have shown that it’s still very possible to make great music well into long-established and seemingly defined careers.

Perhaps the most radical of the releases has been the Bowie double whammy of Sue (or In A Season Of Crime) and ‘Tis Pity She Was A Whore. Experimental Jazz-inflected songs with little relationship to previous Bowie work (or anything really), they’d make for a remarkable statement at any stage in a career. I genuinely enjoyed The Next Day (which seemed to me a logical continuation of Heathen and Reality), but these two pieces have surprised and thrilled me in a way that Low, Lodger, Scary Monsters, and 1.Outside did when I first heard them.

Walker and Hammill have both continued their bold late career adventures with passion and enthusiasm. Both are in superb voice and both are creating some impressively unique textures. Along with Bowie, it feels as if there’s an urgent sense of forward motion propelling these careers that are approaching 50 years ‘in the business’.

By way of contrast, the Pink Floyd release is a gentle elegy that reflects many aspects of the band’s past. Fusing elements of Echoes, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, The Division Bell and even the tribal drumming and textures of Saucerful Of Secrets, it’s an affectionate tribute to the strengths of the band’s more atmospheric identity, and a touching farewell to Richard Wright. Possessing a dreamy timelessness, the album lacks the edge of The Wall and the seductive melodies of Dark Side Of The Moon, but it wasn’t intended to have either and works well on its own terms. To do what you once did as effectively as you ever did, is also an achievement I think, and Gilmour’s voice and guitar tone seem as rare and accomplished as ever (ditto Robert Fripp, who seems truly energised by the recent King Crimson activity).

In the under 65 department, 26 year old Keaton Henson’s Romantic Works has been generating quite a bit of play on my iPod of late. It’s a beautiful, grainy, ‘lo-fi Classical’ collection that sits somewhere between Arvo Part’s transcendent Alina, Max Richter’s soundtracks and Virginia Astley’s underrated 1980s gem From Gardens Where We Feel Secure. At once familiar, but also strange in its eerie intimacy.

————

Listening:

Craig Armstrong – It’s Nearly Tomorrow (2014)
Colin Blunstone – Collected (2014)
David BowieSue (or In A Period Of Crime) / ‘Tis Pity She Was A Whore (2014)
Jack Bruce – Harmony Row (1971)
John Coltrane – Infinity (1972)
Francis Dunnery – The Gulley Flat Boys (2005)
Peter Hammill – All That Might Have Been (2014)
Keaton Henson – Romantic Works (2014)
King Crimson – The Elements Of King Crimson (2014)
Pink Floyd – The Endless River (2014)
Steve Reich – Radio Rewrite (2014)
Rotary Connection – Hey, Love (1971)
Stravinsky – The Rite Of Spring (1913)
Scott Walker and Sunn O))) – Soused (2014)
Wings – At The Speed Of Sound (1976)

Watching:

American Hustle (2013)
Blue Jasmine (2013)
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2013)
Le Weekend (2013)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2013)

Reading:

Simon Gray – The Year Of The Jouncer (2005)
Marcus O’Dair – Different Every Time – The Authorised Biography Of Robert Wyatt

7 July

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I’ve been really grateful for all the positive comments about ADD. Thanks to everyone who’s bought the album and left feedback about it.

After such a long time living with the music and obsessively trying to make it what I wanted it to be, objectivity had long since departed. As such, I suffered plenty of trepidation regarding the potential reactions to what had become a year long labour of love for me.

The making of the album was a great experience and although the starting points and final say were mine, the likes of Steven Wilson, Stephen Bennett, Andrew Keeling, Colin Edwin, Pat Mastelotto, the no-man live band and others also deserve credit for making the finished material work as well as it did.

I hope that what came out was an honest summation of what I’ve done previously, but with occasional surprises that hinted at fresh possibilities ahead.

As I’ve said many times before, albums seem to have their own defining qualities and their own sense of momentum. They often become what they become in spite of artist intervention and this was very true of ADD. The album always seemed to possess a level of confidence and coherence whatever the circumstances involved in putting it together were. Generally speaking, things went right even when the situations suggested that failure was a more likely outcome.

The critical response, both from journalists and those who have bought the album, has been as good as I could have hoped for. One of my favourite emails regarding the album amusingly stated, “I got the Abandoned Dancehall that I ordered. It has the required melancholy. Thank you.” In response to that and other messages of goodwill, I can only say, my pleasure!

————

ADD reaching #18 in the official UK Rock chart was also genuinely pleasing.

Seeing my name improbably wedged between Linkin Park and Green Day felt a bit like coming across a photo of Emma Thompson out on the town with Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson, but it also felt like the original spirit of Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show was accurately being honoured.

For those of outside the UK (or too young to know), The Friday Rock Show was a popular BBC radio programme that started in the late 1970s. On an average show, Jefferson Airplane might be followed by a Kate Bush ballad, or a new Rush single would be preceded by Elvis Costello, or a knotty Robert Fripp instrumental. The incidental music came from the likes of Van Der Graaf Generator, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Stanley Clarke, there were innumerable Genesis and Pink Floyd specials (always a good thing!), and Folk, New Wave and Jazz Rock artists were played alongside emerging talents in the Metal and Progressive scenes. In retrospect, I realise that it was via Vance that I was introduced to enduring favourites of mine such as Sandy Denny, The Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa and Neil Young. I’ve never been a great radio listener, but in my early to late teens, along with John Peel’s equally eclectic show, the early episodes of The Friday Rock Show were an invaluable source of musical knowledge for me.

Holy procrastination Batman, I digress….

————

… and talking of digression, I’ve probably done more interviews over the last month than I’ve done in the last five years.

As always, I very quickly got to the stage where I felt I had little to say of any substance and that my rambling was in some way betraying the music (or at the very least had nothing to do with it). A melodramatic response perhaps, but I feel the best of me creatively is found in the music and lyrics and that most of my attempts to describe them are superfluous/nonsensical.

Email interviews (and Album Notes) are preferable to me as at least my thoughts are ordered and more succinct. The tendency to go off on meaningless tangents in real-time conversations constantly gets the better of me.

Despite that, there have been some good interviews published (Anil Prasad’s Innerviews epic, for example) and many of the conversations with journalists have been genuinely enjoyable. As it stands though, I am seriously considering not doing interviews for whatever I release next. My theory is that getting a cardboard cut-out of myself or randomly picking a stranger off the streets to answer the questions might produce equally satisfying results.

————

The rehearsals for the forthcoming shows went well.

As with no-man live, we’ve been playing to the strengths of the band rather than working on creating replicas of existing recordings.

The no-man material has developed in a way that echoes the 2012 live approach, while the ADD songs have translated into a live setting far better than I was expecting.

Colin Edwin and Myke Clifford’s involvement has given the material a looser feel compared with the Pete Morgan / Maestro Bingham combination (which worked really well in a more disciplined Minimalist Classical meets Post-Punk kind of way). Myke Clifford’s ‘Jazz hat’ may have provided an early clue as to his personal contribution!

The final rehearsal took place at Real World Studios and a day later we played a ‘secret gig’ as part of the Eppyfest in Stroud. All the band were relishing the prospect of seeing how the music worked with an audience rather than a solitary DAT machine in attendance and, luckily, the very nice and receptive crowd in Stroud made the hours spent in darkened rooms seem worthwhile. It was particularly good to see how the new tracks came alive in front of an audience. With two of the crowd doing a ballroom dance to the song section and the ’noise’ finale working as we’d hoped, Smiler At 50 generated the most positive response of an enjoyable evening.

I look forward to seeing some of you at the forthcoming shows. An experience awaits!

————

Listening:

Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots (2014)
Art Blakey – A Night In Tunisia (1960)
Kevin Coyne – Blame It On The Night (1974)
Eno / Hyde – High Life (2014)
King Crimson – Starless And Bible Black (1974)
Funkadelic – The Electric Spanking Of War Babies (1981)
Jon Hassell – City: Works Of Fiction (1990)
The Knells – The Knells (2013)
Joni Mitchell – For The Roses (1972)
Propaganda – A Secret Wish (1985)

Reading:

JG Ballard – The Atrocity Exhibition (1969)
Simon Gray – The Smoking Diaries (2004)

6th May

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To honour its recent completion, I’ve written a 4000 word ‘album notes’ account of the making of my new album Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and its individual songs (to be given away free with pre-orders of the album).

The notes chronicle a very exciting time for me and what has been an exceptionally hands-on process for the last six months or so.

While ADD may well have provided the basis of a strong no-man follow-up to Schoolyard Ghosts (as originally intended), I think it’s become a coherent release in itself and not only represents a far more genuinely solo recording than My Hotel Year, but also a more powerful band-style statement than most things I’ve done.

As I say in the album notes, ‘although I have a strong affinity with intimate approaches to making music, ‘big and bold’ is as much a part of my taste and musical identity as ‘small and stark’. In terms of what I enjoy and what I aspire to create, the ‘grand statement’ is as personal to me and as great an interest as the stripped-down song. I like Apocalypse Now as much I do Kes, Pink Floyd as much as Pink Moon, The Wasteland as much as Not Waving But Drowning, and so on.’

While not an extreme departure, I’d like to think that the music possesses a scope closer to no-man’s work than my other projects. I’d also like to think that it’s taken what I do into some unexpected areas.

Aided and abetted by some very talented people, it’s been a delight hearing the material evolve in the way it has. The likes of ‘Hurricane’ Pat Mastelotto, Colin Edwin, Anna Phoebe and the no-man live band have added a great deal to the songs, and along with some superb string arrangments by Andrew Keeling and typically wonderful mixing from Steven Wilson, given ADD a strong character of its own. ADD may be something I’ve produced and co-ordinated, but like a lot of solo albums it owes a tremendous amount to the collaborators who helped develop the material and wouldn’t be the same (or as good) without the contributions of others.

Outside of the main album, I’ve compiled a bonus disc containing outtakes, alternate versions (including recordings the no-man live band made in a studio recently vacated by Motorhead!) and three very different mixes. One mix is courtesy of Grasscut (one of my favourite bands of the last few years), one is by UXB (one of my favourite business partners of all-time!) and one has been done by Richard Barbieri. Richard’s mix features his vision of the piece and his inimitable atmospheric musical contributions. 20 years after our last major collaboration Flame, beyond his mix being special, it was nice to reunite with Richard for what felt like unfinished business.

Jarrod Gosling has provided the artwork and, as with his imagery for Henry Fool, has managed to create a distinctive visual universe that encapsulates (and defines) the feel of the songs on Abandoned Dancehall Dreams.

With less than two months to go to its release, my nerves and anticipation surrounding the prospective response are greater than usual. A good sign perhaps in that it shows I still care! :-)

——–

The release of ADD will be commemorated with what will be my first two ‘proper’ live performances since the no-man mini-tour of 2012. Playing with what is effectively a fusion of the no-man and Henry Fool live bands, I’m really looking forward to hearing how the album’s material works in a live context.

My hope is that what we produce will be a logical progression from what was suggested by the 2012 performances. Colin Edwin and Myke Clifford offer a Jazzier perspective than Steve Bingham and Pete Morgan‘s root Minimalist classical/Post-Punk influences, so the band’s balance has subtly shifted.

As noodling comes with a punishment of broken fingers, the difference in musical flavour will be an interesting one, I think.

——–

The result of my collaboration with Nick Magnus has now been released on his very fine Esoteric label album N’Monix.

The session was very different from any that I’ve done before and Nick and his collaborative partner Dick Foster acted as much like theatrical directors as music producers. The episodic nature of the recording and the performance / stage instructions weren’t remotely typical of my previous recording experiences, but definitely brought out something new and more dramatic than usual from my vocal delivery. Whereas normally I’d write lyrics and melodies, this time I submitted to somebody else’s idea of what my voice should do and could be. Resulting in an emotional 8 minute ballad about Alzheimer’s, the track also featured Steve Hackett and the wonderful sax playing of
Rob Townshend
.

All in all, it was incredibly enjoyable to be a part of and it was something my teenage self would have been very pleased with*.

* I first saw Steve Hackett in the early 1980s with Nick on keyboards. The live versions of the likes of Clocks and The Steppes were incredibly powerful and highlighted Nick and Steve’s rare abilities, as well as the phenomenal ‘presence’ of the Taurus Bass Pedal (and, yes, I still want one!).

——–

Coinciding with the recording of Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, I’ve moved cross-country from Norwich to the Bristol / Bath area (with no disruption to my Burning Shed commitments), and signed a contract with Inside Out Music.

In all cases, interesting new beginnings, I hope.

——–

listening:

The Kate Bush back catalogue (1978-2012)
Elvis Costello & The Roots – Wake Up Ghost (2013)
Elvis Costello – Blood And Chocolate (1986)
Mark Eitzel – Glory (2014)
Elbow – The Take Off And Landing Of Everything (2014)
Eno / Hyde – Someday World (2014)
Steve Hackett - Wild Orchids (2006)
IQ – The Road Of Bones (2014)
Sun Kil Moon – Benjie (2014)
The War Against Drugs – Lost In The Dream (2014)

reading:

Julian Barnes – Levels Of Life (2013)
Wendy Cope – Family Values (2011)
Jeanette Winterston – Weight (2006)

25th September

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Thanks for all the supportive emails about my last online diary post.

To clarify some things, I didn’t mean to say that no-man is over. The band has had protracted periods of silence in the past and I genuinely believe that at some point in the future, Steven and I will make more music together as no-man. Steven and I still get on well personally and as he’ll be mixing my new songs (and probably adding some musical parts), our creative relationship is ongoing.

I’m disappointed by what’s happened, but I completely accept it. Steven is in great demand and has too many possible options at any given time to deal with. It isn’t realistic for him to do everything he’d like to and in order to do what he chooses to do well, focus is required.

I’ve also held back projects and potential collaborations due to just not having enough time, or feeling that ‘it’ isn’t right for ‘now’. The combination of making music, co-running Burning Shed and fatherhood/life in general sometimes just gets in the way of what I’d like to be doing. Multiply that by five and you have Steven’s situation.

When I talked of flux and uncertainty in terms of recording the new ‘solo’ album, I meant that I still wasn’t sure what material to choose, which directions to highlight and what name to use for the project. There’s always a remote possiblilty that this could still become a no-man album (after all, Schoolyard Ghosts started out in similar circumstances to this).

The issue is that I don’t have a particularly stong idea about what to present as a solo artist as the possibilities are less restricted than developing an established band identity further.

Three examples:

1) Peter Chilvers and I completed a piece four days ago that I think is one of the most moving things I’ve done. As I think it’s strong, do I use that on the new album, or leave it for Slow Electric?

2) Of the material recorded with the no-man live band (minus Steven), I’d say that 20 minutes of it I definitely want to release. It’s a logical continuation of the music no-man made on the 2012 tour and although I wrote the songs, I wrote them with the band in mind and the recordings possess a strong group identity. Is that Tim Bowness solo, or something else?

3) Last week, Stephen Bennett played me an instrumental I’d written years ago. Sounding very ECM (Pat Metheny, Ralph Towner etc), I’d completely forgotten it existed. Do I use that to show that I have more scope than some of my releases suggest, or do I keep it on my ‘hard drive of doom’ forever? One weird highlight of the ‘hard drive of doom’ is a piece I wrote using a Jim Matheos Metal riff and a lyrical Aleksei Saks trumpet line. Again, Slow Electric, Tim Bowness, or something/nothing else?

Questions, questions!

One harsh reality is that names matter. The exact same album released as no-man will sell 7 to 10 times the amount a Tim Bowness solo album will sell (released as Pink Floyd, it’d sell even better!). The only concern for me is that when you really believe in the music you’re making, you want as many people to hear it as possible. For me, the act of creativity is selfish and is driven by ideas, emotions and catharsis, but (pathetically/egotistically?) knowing that something I’ve done has touched other people in the same way that certain books and music have affected me almost equals the significance of the creative process itself.

Ultimately I’d be doing what I do even if there was no audience, but reading reviews such as the recent Echoes And Dust one on Together We’re Stranger (and the comment beneath) and knowing that some people are sad that there may be no new no-man album is humbling and makes ‘the selfish act’ seem more worthwhile.

22nd September

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2013 has simultaneously been an inspiring and frustrating year. Creatively it’s arguably been the best since 2006, with a lot of (what I consider to be) strong new material being written and a personal sense of anticipation and excitement surrounding the writing and recording. The frustration has come in the slow progress involved in getting definitive versions of the songs and subsequently assembling what’s been written into more substantial (album) contexts.

I’ve rarely had so many songs and instrumentals in states of near completion and the current list of things that may be ‘on the way’ includes:

Postcards From Space - This project with Alistair Murphy started in 2006 and around two album’s worth of songs were written by 2008. Progress was halted by no-man’s Schoolyard Ghosts, MoM’s Warm Winter, Alistair’s solo work, and our joint production of Judy Dyble’s 2009 album Talking With Strangers. Earlier this year, track listings were agreed upon and Pat Mastelotto and Steve Bingham added some excellent parts.

In some ways, the project is the most ‘difficult’ of any I’m involved with. The proposed album consists of one very long, atmospheric piece – awash with analogue synths, unexpected deviations and multi-layered vocal dissonances – and five shorter songs, which are more conventional in their singer-songwriter structures, but less so in terms of their arrangements. Outside of this, there’s an EP’s worth of more abrasive tracks, which have a distinct Post-Punk/King Crimson/Swans-esque ‘toughess’ about them.

The truth is that I’m the one holding this project back. As much as I like the music and feel it represents something different for me, it never seems quite right to release. As with my unreleased vocal loops, it’s at the minority end of what I do (which isn’t at the majority end of anything!), and some other project always seems to take precedence. A pity in some ways as Postcards have produced some genuinely interesting and surprising music.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Henry Fool - The March 2013 release of Men Singing was a relief. 12 years of writing had left us with a lot of material that wasn’t quite complete, or just didn’t work as a whole. The decision to concentrate solely on the instrumental aspect of the band resulted in something both coherent and significantly different from anything we’d put out before. Once a course was agreed on, things happened quickly and the last minute additions of Phil Manzanera and Jarrod Gosling proved inspired.

Outside of this, there remains 50 minutes of songs – some of which I rate amongst the best I’ve been involved with – and another 50 minutes of instrumentals. The songs in themselves work well, but put together as a sequence, don’t quite gel. The issue might be with pacing, or the fact that they currently sound too alike, but a further problem lies in that they represent a polar opposite to Men Singing. The songs  - compositionally detailed in a way the songs on HF’s debut weren’t – feature a stellar rhythm section of Colin Edwin and Huxflux Nettermalm, but are at odds with the current feeling that the directions hinted at on Men Singing should be developed further using the Henry Fool live band.

The reaction to Men Singing was far better than Stephen and I expected. Releasing a wholly instrumental ‘Jazz Rock’ album in 2013 was hardly a recipe for success based either on the uncompromising nature of the music itself or the fact that I’m known as a singer working in completely different genres. Overall, it picked up some of the best reviews I’ve ever had, which was truly gratifying.

The one live performance in support of the album – at the Kscope 5th anniversary event – was horrible on a personal level, but worked artistically. Suffering from a bad cold, I was unable to talk (or sing) and felt ill throughout the day. Playing in blazing heat a half hour before we were scheduled to go on didn’t help matters, nor did having to drop songs we’d rehearsed at the last minute. In complete contrast to my openly emotional performances on the 2012 no-man dates, I was in full, hunched ‘back to the audience’ Miles Davis mode (very Jazz Rock!). Regardless, the live Henry Fool had a real bite and a fizzing fuzz-box energy that we felt brought something fresh to the band’s approach. As well as the ongoing work on the songs – which may be released under a different project name – the live band will be recording some instrumentals in the studio in December. Expect noise and tricky time signatures galore.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Slow Electric / Bowness/Chilvers - Partly as a result of the reissue of California, Norfolk, I’ve recently been writing with Peter in the most concentrated way since the early 2000s. My feeling is that C, N was as coherent as it was mainly due to us working more closely together than ever before (and for a longer period of time). For me, proximity can give a focus to creative work that working by sending files alone can rarely equal. Discussing and executing ideas in real time can often be more intense, more fun and produce more immediate results.

Re-listening to California, Norfolk I could hear its clear links to the surrounding no-man albums (Returning Jesus and Together We’re Stranger). Like Returning Jesus and Together We’re Stranger, California, Norfolk seems a very complete album experience both musically and lyrically. By contrast, the likes of Centrozoon‘s Never Trust The Way You Are, Henry Fool’s debut, Wild Opera, Postcards From Space and My Hotel Year seem much more episodic and restless (not necessarily bad things, but less satisfying to me personally).

Prior to this year, we had four Bowness/Chilvers co-compositions, a whole host of Plenty pieces, and a couple of my solo songs to work with. 2013 has brought two songs co-written with Colin Edwin (who’s joined Slow Electric) and four new Bowness/Chilvers pieces, three of which we both feel rank amongst the finest things we’ve done. A logical (contemporary) extension of California, Norfolk (in terms of the lyric as short story and the cinematic/electronic musical elements), it’s been a thrill to see the duo enthusiastically rekindle its creative spark. One of the new pieces is surprisingly beat driven, while another sprung from a wonderfully evocative Lord Chilvers piano progression that lent itself perfectly to an emotional, fx-drenched ode to loss. The question now is, what’s Bowness/Chilvers and what’s Slow Electric?

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

no-man - Perhaps the most frustrating and disappointing thing of all this year has been putting no-man on indefinite hold due to Steven’s work committments.

The band and its music still means a lot to me and it felt like the 2012 tour was a breakthrough that suggested many possibilities for future no-man music. Over the last couple of years I’ve been writing material with a new no-man album in mind and during the Summer recorded around 30 minutes of music with the no-man live band (minus Steven). The results were mostly good and combined with various solo demos and co-writes meant that I had more (and more consistent) material to play Steven than I had during the Schoolyard Ghosts listening sessions. One late Summer encounter with Steven later and the feeling was that the new material had promise and a follow-up to Schoolyard Ghosts was on. One week after that, it wasn’t.

Mainly due to ongoing solo work and a whole slew of other projects, Steven understandably felt he couldn’t provide the time the album deserved if it were to become an official no-man release (neither of us would want to release anything sub-standard under the band name). His suggestion was that I put together the strongest songs for him to mix (and possibly add to) and that I release the result as my second solo album.

At the moment, this is the plan we’re working towards. My only real problem with this is that the material was written with no-man in mind. Weirdly, I have a very strong idea of what no-man can be and is (ditto Slow Electric and Henry Fool etc), but I don’t have a particular vision of what a Tim Bowness solo identity should be. In some ways, I express what I want to express more effectively and more completely within a band context. My Hotel Year did have a character, but it featured less of my own music than most of the albums I’m involved with and represented an aspect of my work I don’t feel like taking further. My wholly solo demos generally sound nothing like any of the bands I’m in, but again they operate in an area I’m not interested in developing. In general, I prefer collaboration and like what I do being creatively filtered through others (rather than just through me). The main issue is whether I create my idea of what a new no-man album should sound like, or I branch off and create something entirely different.

At least three of the band pieces work well for me and will be pursued. Outside of this, a couple of more intimate electronic pieces, a couple of acoustic songs (including one recorded with Phil Manzanera) and a couple of mini-epics are being developed. Colin Edwin has added fretless bass to two of the tracks, and composer Andrew Keeling has written string quartet arrangements for three of the pieces. Elsewhere, Baron Bennett is working on a choral part for a song that features one of the best Michael Bearpark guitar solos I’ve heard. Other than the debate over what (or who) this is, I’m really happy with the material and the ongoing recording. As such, things are exciting and progressing, but somewhat in flux and clouded in uncertainty.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

The box set - Outside of the above, amongst other things, I’ve recorded material with Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow, The Opium Cartel), Nick Magnus (Steve Hackett Band) and Jim Matheos (Fates Warning, OSI). Alongside the unreleased Plenty album, the abandoned Nick Drake covers album and various odds, sods and collaborations, there’s probably enough for a multi-disc box set (replete with a signed certificate with an authentic teardrop stain!). However, my reluctance to release things for the sake of it may well get in the way of this ever happening.

‘Expect a 2014 update on all the above with nothing new to promote!

listening:

David Bowie – The Next Day (2013)
The Clash – Sandinista! (1980)
John Coltrane – Africa/Brass (1961)
The Flaming Lips – The Terror (2013)
Heirlooms Of August – Down At The 5 Star (2013)
Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaValle – Perils From The Sea (2013)
Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Sings Newman (1970)
Laura Nyro – Christmas And The Beads Of Sweat (1970)
Robert Palmer – Clues (1980)
Pink Floyd - The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)
Todd Rundgren – Todd (1974) / State (2013)
Patti Smith – Wave (1979) / Banga (2012)
Dave Stapleton – Catching Sunlight (2008)
Sugarcubes – Life’s Too Good (1988)

reading:

William Hjortsberg – Jubilee Hitchhiker -
The Life And Times Of Richard Brautigan

William Hjortsberg – Symbiography
Michel Houellebecq - Lanzarote
Andrew Kaufman – The Tiny Wife
Paul Myers - A Wizard , a True Star: Todd Rundgren in the Studio