Category Archives: Diary

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….

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… 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.

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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.

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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

no-man 2012 Tour Diary

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26/8/12, Krakow – Klub Studio

The Krakow experience was even better than I was expecting.

As it was the first time I’ve played in Poland, I was hoping for something wonderful and I got it.

The music came together well and the band had the most enthusiastic response it’s ever experienced. At times, the reactions were overwhelming (in a positive way).

tim-backstage-krakow

———

The promoter Piotr and his assistant Konrad were friendly and generous throughout our stay and the during and post-gig fan reactions made the long journey East more than worthwhile.

We had a limited time to explore the city, but what we did see was magnificent. The centre of Krakow was an impressive delight; all picturesque squares and attractive, imposing buildings.

Post-show, I was given presents including copious amounts of delicious E Wedl chocolate and some potent Turkish coffee. At one point during the show we were handed a Polish flag featuring the band’s logo and the phrase, ‘Time Travel In Poland’. Like true natives (or bad Bonos!), Steven and I held it aloft at the end of the gig. Temporarily, our national allegiance shifted!

About an hour or so after the performance, I did an interview with two very nice women from a radio station and the comedy moment of the evening came when all three of us were accidentally locked in the interview room for about 15 minutes after we’d concluded our business. As all we had in the vicinity was a few chairs, a vat of hot soup and an adjoining shower room with no window exit, panic almost ensued!

jethro-man-krakow

———

Most of the material we hadn’t played live before came off well. Close Your Eyes and Back When You Were Beautiful particularly hit the spot. BWYWB had seemed sluggish in rehearsals but ebbed and flowed as intended in front of a live audience. The one new song, The Warm Up Man Forever, was better live than in rehearsal. As it was unannounced and no-one knew it, the song inevitably got the most muted reaction of the night, but was good enough for us to feel it deserved at least one more outing.

The intricate Minimalist / Rock mid-section of Lighthouse was a very fine thing to hear as was the gradual, atmospheric beginning to Together We’re Stranger.

Overall, the band gelled in a way that the soundcheck didn’t even hint at.

This was a strong and emotional performance and one that marked the first time the full version of Days In The Trees had been played live since 1993.

During the last few songs, a sweet 5 or 6 year old girl gently danced and swayed to the music. Like most people who’ve heard the song, until this moment, I never knew it was possible to dance to Wherever There Is Light.

The world of music will be glad to know that my encore Death Metal growl was a Krakow exclusive.

poland1———

28/8/12, Aschaffenburg – Colos-Saal

Anticipating feeling a little flat after our time in Krakow, Aschaffenburg proved an unexpectedly pleasant detour. A pretty city on the edges of Bavaria, the streets exuded good health and affluence. Downtown Mumbai this was not.

Close Your Eyes was once more a highlight and along with Days In The Trees, has become something of a favourite for audiences and band alike. The Warm Up Man Forever had more shape and purpose than in Krakow and, this time, went down well. By God, it lives to be sung again!

In answer to my request to know where the Warrington of Germany was, the city of Offenbach received several nominations from the audience. According to the good people of Aschaffenburg, Offenbach is the place Mad Max’s future dystopia was accurately based upon. I liked the sound of it!

Presents came in the form of some fine looking Swiss chocolate. Post-tour, there will be fat!

———-

29/8/12, Cologne – Gloria Theater

Inspired by the ubiquitous book and record shop presence of local legends Bap, the comedy element of the Cologne show was very prominent.

Together We’re Stranger and Close Your Eyes were perhaps the best versions played so far on the tour, while Wherever There Is Light and the surprise encore of Watching Over Me also felt good.

Ol’ funk-fingers himself – that is to say, Bootsy Morgan – made some inspired and unexpected Darkthrone noises during a couple of moments in the show. As far as I know, he’s still awaiting the congratulatory phone call from Fenriz.

For my part, I couldn’t find any place to enter or any note to focus on during Beaten By Love, as the root notes had disappeared in a beguiling ocean of atonal washes. In response, I produced an avant-garde noise akin to Stockhausen at his spiciest. Deutsche Grammophon know where to find me, I hope.

Once more, Offenbach was elected as the Warrington of Germany. If the Ofsted reports are good, I now know where to move to!

The post-gig reactions were positive and yet again vocal support came in for The Warm Up Man Forever, with at least one person suggesting we should release it as a single and soon.

———-

31/8/12, Zoetermeer – Boerderij

As it was the last time we played here, the Zoetermeer crowd was fantastically responsive and encouraging throughout the longest set of the tour so far. The Boerderij staff and management were also a delight to deal with.

The performance, I hope, lived up to this and the Wilson/Bowness ‘comedy banter’ (not a phrase people would associate with no-man, I suspect) was more dominant than ever toward the end of the show.

Close Your Eyes continued its ascent to the top of the no-man live pile. Like its Returning Jesus companion Lighthouse, it’s a song that’s continued to evolve in its live incarnation and has developed into something altogether different from its studio counterpart, while maintaining its emotional essence.

An impromptu encore version of Housewives Hooked on Heroin caused a stir (with listeners and band alike), and although I genuinely enjoyed playing it, I suspect it could be the song’s solitary live outing. We hadn’t rehearsed it, but as I’d continually suggested we play the song (as a joke), the band decided to call my bluff. The result was a boisterous – possibly horrendous – rendition of an unloved Wild Opera piece. Despite (or because of) this, the audience response was ecstatic and the gig ended on a surprising high.

poland2

————

2/9/12, London – Islington Assembly Hall

As a performance, this was perhaps the most consistently strong and controlled of the five. The impressive theatre style venue served both to inspire and instil a sense of composure.

The set flowed well and both the playing and extended banter possessed a confidence that I don’t think the band had even a year ago at the Leamington Spa gig.

————

For me, this has become the definitive no-man live line-up. Onstage and backstage, musically and personally, it works in a way that the band hasn’t come close to in the past. Everyone plays for the song, rather their egos. All the players are good and Steven’s Bingham and Wilson, in particular, are superb soloists, but what counts is that without exception, everyone plays for the band and not themselves.

I’m not sure it matters or whether it’s important in any way, but we’ve also reached a stage where I genuinely don’t know what kind of music it is that we now make. Compartmentalising music as personal and eclectic as no-man’s has never been easy, but at this point, I feel it’s more difficult than ever before to say what it is we do.

What I do know is that it’s the music and the band that has meant more to me than any other I’ve been involved with in my career and that no-man seems as creatively alive now as it ever has done. For me, the band’s atmospheric combination of the intimate and the epic and the sweet and the abrasive is what I’ve been aiming for all along. Although I may have written better lyrics and given equally good performances in other projects I’ve contributed to, I feel that the best of me (musically) is brought out in the context of no-man.

As the final notes faded out at the Assembly Hall, it felt like the beginning of something rather than an end.

————

With a more balanced sound and in the more sedate surroundings, the quieter music appeared to work better at The Assembly Hall than elsewhere.

The versions of Carolina Skeletons and Back When You Were Beautiful were amongst the most poignant of the tour. Close Your Eyes and Days In The Trees once more worked well and the set placing of Wherever There Is Light seemed just right.

The new song The Warm-Up Man Forever was tight and punchy and, to our surprise, received its best response of the entire tour and one of the best of the night. For those who haven’t heard it, the piece is quite different from most of what surrounds it and most of what the band has done before. Built from a tribal drum riff upwards, its combination of echo guitars, sweeping strings and big choruses places it at the more epic end of the no-man spectrum.

————–

In conclusion, this felt even better than the 2008 mini-tour and was a logical continuation of the Leamington Spa / Love & Endings performance. The behind the scenes support from the Ian, Jason and Big Tim trio was also an important part of why and how this came together so smoothly.

The emotional welcome home from the sweet toddler and the lovely Liz was a perfect way to end a very special week.

————–

Tour listening:

Laurie Anderson – Mr Heartbreak (1984)
The Icicle Works - The Icicle Works (1984)
La Dusseldorf – La Dusseldorf (1978)
Magazine – Secondhand Daylight (1979)
Mike Oldfield – Platinum (1979)
Roxy Music – Manifesto (1979)
The Temptations – Psychedelic Soul (2003 compilation)
UNKLE – Where Did The Night Fall (2010)
The Velvet Underground – Loaded (1970)
Weather Report – Weather Report (1971)
XTC – Apple Venus Volume One (1999)

Tour reading:

Raymond Chandler – The Payback (1958)
Helen Chase – Magazine - The Biography (2009)
Roger McGough - As Far As I Know (2012)
Bruce Robinson – Smoking In Bed (2000)

Tour watching:

Charlie Bubbles (1967)
Private Road (1971)
The Strange World of Gurney Slade (1960)

16th April

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Along with the release of No-Man’s Love And Endings, April 2012 marks 30 years since I started singing in bands.

My Album Notes blog has two new and pretty comprehensive entries on both subjects, but as always, there’s a wealth of information that’s been left out.

As a result, much of this latest diary entry is a little like the extra features you find on dvd and blu-ray discs. So if you like deleted or extended scenes, this may well be the blog for you.

———

The new ‘Pre-History’ blog is a chronological account of all the bands I was in prior to meeting Steven Wilson in 1987 and forming what became no-man.

Between the bands mentioned however, there were quite a few ‘nearly’ projects.

One of the most intriguing of these was a collaboration between me, Mark Olly and a keyboardist/trumpet player who was part of the acclaimed Huddersfield University music and technology course.

In retrospect, all I can remember is that we spent several days in 1985 writing two very strange pieces.

One was an electronic pop song based on Schoenberg’s 12 tone theory (Pretentious? Very definitely!), while the other was a semi-Ambient multi-sectioned 20 minute epic that I remember being really excited by. In my memory, I hear beautiful keyboard sounds, forlorn trumpets, abrupt shifts of mood and a song that marked the beginning of the Angel Gets Caught In The Beauty Trap style of music making. The reality may have been very different, though!

After we’d written the pieces, we spent 14 hours solidly recording in the Huddersfield University studio, which was very well equipped for the time. We got as far as completing the basic keyboard and drum parts when a security guard kicked us out of the building at 7am in the morning. We suggested he allow us time to record the vocals, but one look at the enormous leopard skin drum kit in the centre of the room was enough to convince him that this trio of musical misfits should vacate the campus as soon as possible. Knowing how I’d have sung in the Summer of 1985, he was almost certainly right!

Due to various commitments, family developments and house moves, we never managed to get back in the studio and finish the songs off.

From the vantage point of 2012, I still remember the excitement of writing the pieces and what my hopes for them were, but have no memory of what any of the music actually sounded like. Perhaps some things are best left to the imagination.

In 1984, I briefly joined Neo-Prog band, Gothique.

I’d put an advert in Melody Maker and various shops along the lines of, ‘Distinctive vocalist seeks ambitious band. Influences include Scott Walker, Peter Hammill, Peter Gabriel, David Sylvian, Durutti Column, Virginia Astley, Eric Satie, Kate Bush and Nico,’ and received quite a number of incredibly varied replies.

The responses included a Talking Heads/Japan-esque band from Manchester, a political Punk trio, a Simple Minds influenced band from Urmston, a Catford-based Genesis flavoured group with an actual mellotron (!!), an electronic duo signed to Aura Records and Neo-Proggers, Gothique.

The bands from Urmston and Catford were interested in me joining, but probably due to reasons related to transport, I didn’t take anything further. The duo on Aura Records sounded ideal and we talked a great group over the telephone, but somehow in those pre-email days, we lost one another’s contact details.

That left my audition with Gothique.

I travelled from the North to the fabled streets of Biggleswade and Letchworth and was pleased to find a very professional band of good musicians with a sense of ambition. I passed the audition.

I loved (and still love) many of the 1960s/1970s Prog bands, but in 1984 my big passions were the music of Laurie Anderson, Scott Walker, The Smiths, This Mortal Coil,, Prefab Sprout, Kate Bush, David Sylvian, Steve Reich and so on. As such, the mix of a talented band in the Marillion mould and a pushy singer with a tendency to croon and growl probably wasn’t made for those (or any) times.

We performed one song together at the Letchworth Town Hall, supporting The Enid. I joined the band for its Progtastic 12 minute encore, which was intended to act as a means of introducing me gently to its audience. As was my way of the time, I barked like a loon throughout the piece. Despite that, it went down well with the capacity crowd. As I discovered three years later, one of the attendees was a certain Mr Steven Wilson, who was then in successful local band Karma.

I enjoyed the performance, but understandably, after my persistent attempts at trying to get everyone to consider a direction inspired by Climate Of Hunter, Brilliant Trees and It’ll End In Tears, the band were beginning to think they’d made the wrong choice.

Back to the North it was then.

Gothique

Tim on stage with Gothique, 1984.

——–

I’ve recently been writing and recording with Stephen Bennett for the long-delayed second Henry Fool album.

The latest additions have all been in the rhythm department and have come courtesy of Huxflux Nettermalm from Paatos and the soon to be legendary Stuart The Drum from Mulbarton.

Whereas the first album took early 1970s Prog, Jazz and Kraut Rock as starting points, the second is firmly pitched in the second half of the decade, with its musical cues coming from 1976-1980. Genesis (the love that dare not speak its name!), in particular.

Inevitably, that’s not the whole story in terms of the sonic, musical and, especially, vocal and lyrical approaches, but it gives an idea of the lush textures, complex chord progressions and song-orientated nature of the material. This is a very different Henry Fool from the mostly instrumental/Jam band featured on the band’s debut.

As with the first album, it’s been a lot of fun writing the material and deliberately working with a pre-determined palette of sounds. On this album, Solina string synths, polymoogs and Yamaha CS-80s and CP-70s figure more prominently than the Mellotron and the Hammond.

The sessions in between albums, recorded in 2003 and 2008, constitute an entirely instrumental body of work, which we intend to release as part of the Henry Fool debut album reissue.

———

I’ve also been writing with Jacob Holm Lupo and Andrew Keeling. The new music is a direct response to how happy we all felt with the songs Kansas Regrets and Twenty Turbines.

Jacob and Andrew are superb and sensitive musicians and I think the combination of Jacob’s innate good sense of arrangement and Andrew’s excellent orchestrations could produce something very special.

I’ve also been writing a lot more on guitar of late and I’m hoping that some of these new solo pieces will also be incorporated into the project (or a future no-man release).

Working title – The Great Moon Hoax.

The pleasing aspect about what I’m currently working on is that lyrically and musically, there have been surprises. Whereas last year’s Slow Electric and MoM albums were perhaps better and more confident versions of things I’d done before, the new Henry Fool, Great Moon Hoax and solo compositions represent a departure of sorts (for me, at least).

———

Like his last two solo albums and last year’s VDGG release A Grounding In Numbers, Peter Hammill’s new album Consequences is certainly one that can be counted amongst his better releases.

It contains some great backing vocals, some fresh ideas and at least two tracks that would make it on to my personal desert island PH collection (with the haunting Perfect Pose being my favourite). For a thirtieth solo album in his 63rd year, this is an impressive and inspiring achievement.

I met up socially with Peter at the beginning of April and we cordially discussed music, books, ‘the industry’ and Subbutteo (!) over tea.

For over two decades, I’ve worked with people whose music I’d grown up with, but it’s something that I never take for granted.

Dealing or working with the likes of Robert Fripp, Dave Stewart, PH, Steve Jansen and Bruce Kaphan remains a thrill.

——–

Steven Wilson’s post GfD material is another reason to feel good about music.

Taking the more fanciful aspects of GfD even further, SW is now fearlessly taking his music into some fairly extreme territories and obviously enjoying himself greatly while doing it.

If there are explicit elements of 1970s experimental ideas in what he does, they’re all filtered through his own identity and contemporary production prowess.

For me, I’d say that GfD, his new work and Storm Corrosion are Steven’s way of saying it’s still possible to succeed on a large scale with remarkable music.

Listening:

The Groundhogs – Who Will Save The World? The Mighty Groundhogs. (1972)
Peter Hammill – Consequences (2012)
R.E.M. – Murmur (deluxe) (1983)
Steve Hogarth & Richard Barbieri – Not The Weapon But The Hand (2012)
Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Crown And Treaty (2012)
Talking Heads – Speaking In Tongues (1983)
Traffic – The Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys (1971)
Traffic – When The Eagle Flies (1974)

Reading:

Douglas Coupland – Generation A (2009)
Marshall McLuhan – The Medium Is The Massage (1967)
David Melling – Hugless Douglas (2010)

Watching:

Midnight In Paris (2011)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

22nd October

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The October 14th No-Man live performance at the Leamington Spa Assembly has been an inspiring highlight of 2011 so far.

As confident and hard-hitting as any show I’ve ever been a part of, from the first rehearsal onwards it was clear that the band had recaptured the essence of the 2008 Mixtaped performances, while also managing to expand the dynamic and emotional range of the music. It was louder, quieter and more focused than before and reminded me of how much I love No-Man’s music and how thrilling being part of an inventive Rock band is.

no-man2011

no-man live in 2011 – photo by Charlotte Kinson

Due to the predominantly discreet nature of a lot of what I do, finding the balance between being true to the essence of the music and creating a performance that communicates to an audience can be difficult.

Using backing tapes and Ambient linking sections, the first No-Man gigs in early 1989 were much like performances I’d been a part of in Liverpool and Manchester with Still and Plenty earlier in the decade.

The band’s live sound was in keeping with its studio recordings, but the lack of flexibility and dynamism meant that if the music didn’t click with the crowd or if the venue wasn’t right, things fell apart quickly and stayed that way for the duration of the set. Consequently, one in two gigs worked (as the audience bought into the band’s rarefied moods and Ben Coleman’s stunning playing) and one in two ended in the likes of Days In The Trees climaxing to deafening silence.

With the departure of former Still guitarist The Still Owl in late 1989, Steven moved from keyboards to fretboard and in the process brought a toughness to No-Man’s music that had previously only existed on a select few studio outings. The backing tapes were still in place, but this short-lived trio incarnation of the band had a fiery intensity that transcended the limitations of the programmed beats and electronics. Ben’s playing was impressively energetic and ornate, while Steven developed a brilliant wah-wah guitar technique and played some wonderfully inventive solos.

Between 1990 and 1993 (initially augmented by Jansen, Barbieri and Karn, and then by Silas and Chris Maitland), No-Man evolved into a potent groove-driven live unit that had the ability to honour the poignant character of its songs while also being able to win over sceptical gig-hardened audiences. A subtlety had been lost, but the bliss-out noise finales to songs such as Housekeeping, Sweetheart Raw and popular set closer Swirl were the gains that made this loss bearable.

By 1993, No-Man’s studio material had become more complex and delicate and Porcupine Tree had emerged as a powerful live band with a growing following.

tblspa2011

Tim backstage at the Burning Shed 10th Anniversary – photo by Charlotte Kinson

Waiting for the right venue and moment, 15 years passed before the next No-Man gig.

I was genuinely excited by the three performances in 2008 as I could see how a live No-Man could not only exist again, but also creatively thrive and inspire another change in the band’s sound. More overtly Rock and more overtly Minimalist Classical than anything I’d previously done, the very different versions of old No-Man songs contained core elements of the band’s identity (the melancholy, the romanticism, the violin, the return of the ‘bliss-outs’), while suggesting something fresh (organic band interplay, Hard Art Rock, whisper to a scream dynamics).

The Bush Hall gig was incredible in terms of atmosphere and audience response, but due to nerves, over-rehearsing and the onset of a cold, I gave one of my weakest vocal performances of recent years.

The following gigs in Holland and Germany featured much better band performances and by the last date in Dusseldorf, everything clicked in a way that suggested this was a live project worth taking further.

Waiting for another opportunity to do so, 3 years passed before the next No-Man gig.

Rediscovering the joy of noise, while remaining respectful to No-Man’s identity, the 2011 band chemistry was just as strong and with simpler keyboard and drum set-ups, the music sounded even more dynamic and flexible than in 2008.

In a live context, Things Change, Lighthouse (with a restored vocal mid-section) and Mixtaped seemed immense in their sonic scale, while the intimacy of Wherever There Is Light and My Revenge On Seattle remained intact.

Although Steven’s epic sound and Maestro Bingham’s virtuoso solos were deservedly singled out for praise, for me, it was the cohesion of the band as a whole that made the Assembly performance so special. Andrew Booker’s unintrusively intricate drumming was a vital ingredient as were the well judged contributions from Morgan The Bass, Doctor Bearpark and Baron Bennett.

Musically and in terms of the enthusiastic audience reception, ‘the return of the Man’ was a uniquely energising experience for me and one that I hope happens again before another three years has passed.

Plans for a live album and for re-recording some material with the No- Man live band are currently being discussed.

No-Man’s 25th anniversary is shaping up to be a memorable one.

———

The ‘other’ Burning Shed 10th anniversary event in Norwich was a more muted affair both in terms of attendance and musical content.

Slow Electric’s live debut was mixed, with a slightly faltering beginning (due to technical issues) morphing into a very fine conclusion.

A new piece, The Boy From Yesterday, worked surprisingly well, while versions of World Of Bright Futures and Days Turn Into Years were full of nicely nuanced performances.

As with the Estonian gigs, the band communicated effortlessly. Joined by Captain Morgan The Bass, the sound seemed even more complete than it did in Tallinn in 2010.

With possible dates in the former USSR being considered, the SE adventure looks like it’ll be an ongoing one.

———

My two 2011 album releases, Warm Winter and Slow Electric, differed stylistically, but were similar in the way that they seemed to mark a coming to fruition of particular areas of music I’ve been involved with over the years.

Both albums may be amongst my least radical statements, but I feel that they’re also amongst the most satisfying albums I’ve been a part of making, with both exhibiting a strong sense of confidence and accomplishment.

The overwhelming majority of the reviews and responses to Memories Of Machines’ Warm Winter were as positive as I’d hoped for and the album appears to be reaching people beyond the expected No-Man / Nosound circle of interest.

Conversely, Slow Electric (which I think represents a more assured continuation of the spirit of Bowness/Chilvers and Samuel Smiles), has had some excellent fan reactions, but virtually nothing else.

Disappointing perhaps, but as my main sense of satisfaction comes from making music and releasing albums I’m personally pleased with, it’s a minor setback for what I hope will become an evolving long-term project.

Outside of these albums, Kansas Regrets, my collaborative song with White Willow appears on their extremely fine new album Terminal Twilight, and I’ve recorded two pieces with Andrew Keeling. One features a lovely string arrangement and both highlight Andrew’s excellent acoustic guitar playing. A video for Kansas Regrets is currently being made by Dion Johnson who did some fine work for Slow Electric’s Towards The Shore.

Elsewhere, I’ve been enjoying the process of revisiting old songs – both released and unavailable – and re-writing / refining lyrics. Some pieces have become richer and closer to their intended meanings as a result of this retrospective tinkering, the main object of which has been to more fully realise text that now appears to me as underwritten or unclear.

——–

SamBowness

Sam Bowness – pictured by Liz

Sam, the sleep-fighting man, had his first birthday a few days before the Assembly performance.

Ushering in a year of massive change, his sweeter than sweet presence has become a life-enhancing part of my and my partner’s everyday experiences, while also painfully highlighting the fragility of life and the all too rapid passing of time.

With joy and poignancy existing side by side on a daily basis, the bittersweet nature of the music I make is unlikely to change sometime soon.

For now, the uplifting Pampers Concerto in D Major is on indefinite hold.

——–

Seeing Van Der Graaf Generator and Peter Gabriel perform earlier this year was inspiring proof that creativity and commitment need not dip with advancing age.

VDGG were perhaps more insanely driven than at any time I’d seen the band previously. Playing new and old songs with equal enthusiasm and abandon, VDGG’s third coming seems to have been revitalising for all concerned.

The band’s new album is amongst its most demanding and best and it was good to see this being acknowledged by an enthusiastic audience of all ages.

PG’s New Blood show was beautifully staged. As a voice, he remains as unique and compelling as ever. For me, the album works less well than the shows, but it’s always exciting to see artists of a certain vintage find new ways to express what they do (Scott Walker, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Robert Fripp, Brian Eno, Brigitte Fontaine and the late Alain Bashung also fall into that category for me).

——–

I was sad to hear about the deaths of the extremely gifted Mick Karn and of Steven’s father. Both were rare individuals. That Mick didn’t survive to see an inevitable rise in the fortunes of his music was extremely cruel, as was his untimely loss to his wife and young son. The forthcoming Dali’s Car EP will make for a fitting swansong for a unique musician I’m proud to say I worked with.

——–

Listening:

Bjork – Biophilia (2011)
Lindsey Buckingham – The Seeds We Sow (2011)
Alice Cooper – Billion Dollar Babies (1973) / From The Inside (1978)
Dali’s Car – Artemis (2011)
Thomas Dolby – Oceanea (2011)
Food – Quiet Inlet (2010)
Peter Gabriel – New Blood (2011)
Roy Harper – Songs Of Love And Loss (2011)
Jefferson Airplane – Crown Of Creation (1968)
King Crimson – Discipline (1981) / Starless And Bible Black (1974)
The Kronos Quartet - Uniko (2010)
Julian Priester - Love Love (1974)
Queen – Queen II (1974)
Steve Reich – WTC 9/11 (2011)
Pharaoh Sanders – Music Is Wisdom (1974)
The Smiths – Complete (2011)
Van Der Graaf Generator - A Grounding In Numbers (2011)
Steven Wilson – Grace For Drowning (2011)

Reading:

E.L. Doctorow – Ragtime (1975)
Nicholas Pegg – The Complete David Bowie (2011, revised edition)
Walter Tevis – Mockingbird (1980)
Walter Tevis – The Man Who Fell To Earth (1963) Peeko Baby! (2005)

 

9th December

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Thus ends another year with no major releases and only a handful of gigs to my name (more of which later).

Rumours of a descent into chronic alcoholism, daytime TV addiction, and a forthcoming Bowness/Chilvers Justin Bieber tribute act have all been greatly exaggerated.

———

Both in personal and musical terms, gestation is the word that best sums 2010 up for me. Most of the year has consisted of long hours (days, weeks, months…) of waiting and constantly refining.

Undoubtedly, the biggest personal news was that my partner and I had a child (a first for both of us) in mid-October.

The experiences leading up to the birth and the period after were ones of genuine joy and discovery, but also possessed the inevitable anxiety and self-questioning that accompanies such a monumental event.

Although aspects of fatherhood may creep into my lyrics, it seems highly unlikely that ‘Babystyle Oyster – The Concept Album’ (incorporating ‘The Tummy Tub Overture’) will ever see the light of day.

That said…….

———

The year in gigs started off in February in Norway with Judy Dyble, The Curator (ne Megabonce) and some mighty fine Norwegian Jazz players who came to us via the wonderful Termo Records people.

Three short performances on Breakfast TV, late-night TV and daytime radio were hugely enjoyable, and hearing the songs performed with a simple but effective line-up of grand piano, saxophone, flute and double bass was a genuine thrill.

Elsewhere, sharing a bed with Lars Frederik Froislie‘s Mellotron was an unexpected delight.

In April, the long-term Bowness, Chilvers, Bearpark trio assimilated ‘Maestro’ Steve Bingham into its Borg-like consciousness.

The new quartet co-headlined the Tonefloat festival in Holland and played a set at the Estonian Embassy, and it seemed to all of us that the Samuel Smiles concepts of fusing singer-songwriter intimacy, textural experiment and Jazz spontaneity had rarely sounded better.  The immensely talented Maestro gave the band a fresh confidence and also very effectively blended his Classical Minimalist influences into the existing musical mix.

The year in gigs ended in early December, when Lord Chilvers and I joined forces with Estonian Jazz duo UMA to play two performances (in Tartu and Tallinn) as part of the Estonian Jazz festival.

Dec2010

Tim Bowness, Peter Chilvers and UMA, St Niguliste Museum, Tallinn, 3rd December 2010

These were preceded by a private performance in a country home 30 miles outside of Tallinn. Playing to a select audience of 80 people, it was obvious from the first notes that we’d hit on something interesting.

The ‘straight man’ songs of the Bowness/Chilvers partnership effortlessly merged with the tasteful atmospheric Jazz of UMA, creating a sort of ECM-ised rendition of California, Norfolk.

Performance highlights included the lengthy 5/4 groove piece Criminal Caught In The Crime, the resurrection of Also Out Of Air, and extended takes on Days Turn Into Years and Towards The Shore.

The hope is to continue to perform with Robert and Aleksei and to properly record the results sometime in 2011.

Tallinn was as fairy tale pretty as I’d hoped it would be, especially in the snow (at minus 12!). Tartu was more austere and even colder, but equally picturesque.

tallin

The memorable trip also included being given a guided tour of Tallinn by the marvellous Dr Margus Laidre, and Peter and I being accosted by a man uttering the immortal words, ‘Gentlemans, I show you the ways to beautiful womens.” We politely declined his kind offer by saying that we had, “Beautiful womens of our owns.”

———

Recent sessions have included singing with UMA, Stuart The Drum and UXB, while a White Willow guest appearance has produced a haunting song which might possibly be my favourite of the bunch.

———

Giancarlo Erra and I finally completed the Memories Of Machines album in late November (four and half years after we started!).

Beautifully mixed by the gifted Mixmaster Wilson, the album sounds more substantial and rich than before. Featuring several excellent guest performers, the album bears comparison with the recent work of No-Man, while definitely having a strong identity of its own.

More organic and more Rock-orientated (in an atmospheric, almost Floydian way) than my typical output, several of the songs contain the most optimistic and soaring melodies I’ve come up with since Flowermouth. That said, the album closes with two uncompromising Chamber Classical / Ambient hybrid pieces. The most recent, Lost And Found In The Digital World, contains a hypnotic Robert Fripp Soundscape.

Excited by the album and with a new, highly promising, record company deal very nearly in place, Giancarlo and I are hoping to take MoM on ‘the road’ sometime next year.

———

The one bit of 2010 No-Man activity involved me visiting the all-new, all-swanky Nomansland 2 to do some more work on the ever-evolving Disco Epic, Love You To Bits.

The piece now features some interesting additions from Pete Morgan (in his funked-up UXB guise) and yet more extra Bowness/Wilson input.

The lyrics have expanded enough to cover the whole of a triple gatefold vinyl album (in small print!), but as with the song in general, I suspect that there’s going to be a whole lot of pruning going on over the next year (or two).

16 years on and we might just be over halfway to completing this most elusive of No-Man compositions.

———

As reported last year, the Plenty album was 92% complete by late November 2009. This year’s update is that it’s 95% complete this December.

Ditto, albums by Postcards From Space (with The Curator), and Henry Fool.

Add to this the fact that I’m considering releasing a limited edition album of my demos from the last five years, and after only releasing 3 full-length albums since 2004, 2011 (coincidentally, Burning Shed’s 10th anniversary) may bring an unexpected avalanche of Bowness related material.

Run for the hills.

———

Listening:

Nik Bartsch’s Ronin – Llyria (2010)
The Cure - Disintegration (1989)
Jethro Tull – Stand Up (1969)
Portico Quartet - Isla (2010)
Steve Reich – Double Sextet / 2 x 5 (2010)
Sufjan Stevens – The Age Of Adz (2010)
David Sylvian - Sleepwalkers (2010)

Watching:

Arrested Development
Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
Inception (2010)
The Kids Are Alright (2010)

Reading:

EL Doctorow
Louis Macneice
Gerald Scarfe (The Wall)
Hunter S Thompson
Your Baby Week By Week

15th January

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2009, the year of no blog, turned out to be a mixed experience.

The completion of the No-Man DVD and the release of the Judy Dyble album, despite delays, went as well as I’d have hoped, while the ongoing gestation of several other projects (Henry Fool, Memories Of Machines and Bowness/Chilvers to name but three) and the death of people in the Burning Shed orbit brought considerably more sober notes to some of the year.

The sole performance of the year, at the 100 Club in London, was also a tale of two halves, with the comparatively unrehearsed Judy Dyble section of the show turning out a treat, and the ‘T-Bo and friends’  part being badly hampered by a poor mix and the ongoing curse of Baron Bennett’s collapsing laptop. Saved by some wonderful Maestro Bingham violin strokes, from a vocal point of view the whole performance felt like trying to walk over a foundation of constantly shifting winds. I fell to earth.

———-

Recording-wise, mini-collaborations with OSI (in which I really did ‘go Metal’) and the Opium Cartel were very enjoyable detours and the completion of No-Man’s first post-Schoolyard Ghosts piece, Death Was California, provided me with one of my favourite ever No-Man songs.

The Judy Dyble album Talking With Strangers was finally released in August and received some wonderful responses. Overall, it was good fun to make and was one of those rare projects that turned out exactly as I’d imagined it would. Co-writing the epic Harpsong was a personal highlight for me.

———-

Work continued on the Memories Of Machines album, with new songs being written, old songs being dropped and fresh collaborations being made (Julianne Regan, Jim Matheos and Paatos‘s drum wiz Hux all got added to the mix).

Elsewhere, in late-November, Samuel Smiles were quietly re-booted in the cosy rooms of an isolated cottage on the edge of an out of season seaside town. As it sometimes can, taking on a legacy of the past, in this case the songs of my pre-No-Man band Plenty, proved to be an ideal kickstart for a possible future.

Years after I’d last heard them, I’d woken up one morning in October with two Plenty pieces playing on repeat in my head. On mentioning this to Michael Bearpark, we decided to get together with Lord Chilvers to try and more fully realise some old songs that we still had an affection for.

Plenty existed on and off for around five years, from the mid-1980s through to the early 1990s. After years of looking, I felt I’d found people working in an area of music I liked who also had a real sense of commitment to music.

Brian Hulse and David Jones had been in an inventive Post-Punk band from Liverpool called A Better Mousetrap (who I’d liked and even auditioned for in my teens).

After I’d drafted in Brian to supervise some recordings I was making in 1986, the idea of a new project came up. Brian brought in David and I asked the 16 year- old super sage Michael Bearpark along and Plenty was born.

Although the band’s production was very much of its era (meaning unsubtle) and my voice was at it’s most histrionic (meaning unlistenable!), Plenty wrote a body of songs that I still consider to be amongst the best I’ve been involved in co-writing.

As Speak demonstrates, courtesy of the man Wilson, No-Man had a more natural sound and more musical scope, but arguably we initially lagged behind in terms of actual songwriting skills (two Plenty tracks were regularly played during the early No-Man live shows).

Given that we’d not heard this material in nearly two decades and did no preparation for the weekend, it was amazing that we totally picked up on the essence/structure of the songs within a couple of run- throughs.

It ‘felt’ like we were replicating the originals perfectly until we played the originals back. The arrangements were much more organic, intimate and cinematic, and while I’d remembered the melodic lines correctly, luckily, my voice was a very different beast from its barking 1980s equivalent.

The motivations were:

a) To complete something quickly (as an antidote to long-gestating projects like Memories Of Machines, Henry Fool, Mixtaped, Bowness/ Chilvers 2 etc).

b) To get the core Smiles trio working together again, with a view to us doing more. With Speak, the past kickstarted something new and gave No-Man a clearer sense of current perspective and future goals and I felt this could do the same for the Smiles..

and

c) To see what it was like singing songs of love and ageing which were written before I’d had any significant relationships or physical decay.

The music we created was undeniably contained in what was there originally, but the major differences in the new versions gave us a genuine insight into the changes that have occurred since they were written. We also became aware of some good things that might have been lost and a melancholy sense of revisiting an old favourite place occasionally lingered.

As a direct result of the experience, so far, two live dates in April (featuring the Lord, the sage and the Maestro, Steve Bingham) have been arranged. Hopefully, more will follow.

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A new year, a new decade and, finally, a new blog.

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Listening:

David Bowie – Heathen (2002)
Harold Budd – Pavilion Of Dreams (1976)
Miles Davis – Aura (1984))
Durutti Column – Paen To Wilson (2009)
Brian Eno – back catalogue 1973-1977
Robert Fripp – A Blessing Of Tears (1995)
Arve Henriksen – Cartography (2008)
It’s Immaterial – Song (Cherry Red reissue) (1990)
Ingram Marshall - Fog Tropes/Gradual Requiem (1982)
Cliff Martinez – Wicker Park OST (2004)
Massive Attack – Heligoland (2010)
Jim O’Rourke – The Visitor (2009)
Brendan Perry – Eye Of The Hunter (1999)
Poco – Crazy Eyes (1973)
Prefab Sprout – Let’s Change The World With Music (2009)
Frank Sinatra – Only the Lonely (1958)
David Sylvian – Manafon (2009)
These New Puritans – Hidden (2010)
Steven Wilson – Cover Version 6 (2010)
Yes – Relayer (1974)

Watching:

The Apartment (1960)
The Box (2009)
Nowhere Boy (2009)
The Road (2010)
Stardust Memories (1980)

Reading:

Anne Enright – Yesterday’s Weather (stories, 1989-2008)
John Fante – Ask The Dust (1939)

22nd December

By | Diary | No Comments

As Christmas shoppers fall over one another in the hope of finding that elusive bargain or a limited edition ‘Hannah Montana sings Magma’ doll, I guess now is as good a time as any to provide an update on my various nefarious activities:

No-Man:

The live DVD, both in terms of audio soundtrack and visuals, has now been completed (and approved by myself and the man Wilson). A lovely looking document of a special performance, it successfully captures the soulful fragility and gritty dynamics of a performance that, for me at least, suggested new sonic possibilities for future No-Man music.

More interviews have been conducted for the documentary. Despite Richard Smith’s professionalism and encouraging presence, yet again I think I realised how much I’d rather have silence as my soundtrack to what I’m sure will be an interesting chronicle of No-Man’s career. Hopefully, Richard will agree to present me as a wildly gesticulating mute, or just write me out of my own history altogether!

Words often seem inadequate to express intensely emotional experiences, and in conveying hopes and ideas I always feel embarrassed by how pretentious and repetitious they can sound spoken out loud. Overall, I’m left feeling that interviews (especially on camera) only seem to express a small aspect of a personality. On a personal level, I always feel as if I’ve let both myself and the music down by being so woefully inarticulate. 2009 resolution number one – never speak again!

The two new No-Man studio pieces are coming together nicely and ‘Maestro’ Steve Bingham has added some mighty fine violin to the No-Man version of The Place Where You’d Hide. The pieces, which aren’t scheduled for a new album, are likely to appear as extras on the forthcoming DVD, or as downloads.

At the moment, we’re hoping that both DVDs will still be ready for a Spring 2009 release.

Judy Dyble – Talking With Strangers:

Almost finished, this has produced some wonderful songs (and some wonderful performances from its extensive cast of guests). In my role of co-producer, I’ve been acquainted with Folk Rock royalty (including Fairport’s Simon Nicol, Pentangle’s Jaqui McShee and All About Eve’s Julianne Regan) and heard some of Ian McDonald’s finest playing since his work on 1969′s In The Court Of The Crimson King. The 20 minute epic, Harpsong, is perhaps the piece King Crimson fans will be most interested in, as it not only features Pat Mastelotto, Robert Fripp and Ian McDonald, it also possesses a ripping Henry Fool-esque riff in 14 time somewhere in the middle (an atypical moment on an otherwise blissed-out, ambitious singer-songwriter album)

Again, a Spring 2009 release is looking likely for this. I’ve extensively sung backing vocals throughout the album and played the occasional instrument, but the first single is likely to be a full-blown duet called, Grey October Day. The ‘Rene and Renato’ crown is now officially under threat!

Giancarlo Erra:

We’ll be doing more work on our collaboration album in early 2009. All the songs have been written, and we’re just waiting on final performances and mixes. As stated previously, the resulting album is something of an unofficial (and potentially more upbeat) follow-up to Schoolyard Ghosts. As my idea of an upbeat experience is listening to David Bowie’s Low while reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I may be wrong.

Elsewhere:

I’ll be appearing on a couple of tracks on Norwegian band The Opium Cartel’s new album. An interesting Folk/Electronica hybrid from White Willow’s Jacob Holm-Lupo, my main contribution will be on a cover of Brian Eno’s classic, By This River.

Bowness/Chilvers, Bowness/Murphy, Bowness/Bowness and Henry Fool have recorded albums worth of material over the last few years, but so far, no proposed release or finish dates are on the agenda. The same goes for the Fjieri Group and Stefano Panunzi albums. In the case of the Fjieri Group, two very well produced songs featuring my lead vocals, alongside superb contributions from Gavin Harrision, Mick Karn and Richard Barbieri, still appear to be sleeping on a computer somewhere in Rome and awaiting an awakening kiss.

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With the release of Schoolyard Ghosts (something I still rate amongst the best of what I’ve done) and the return of No-Man to the live stage, 2008 has been a good year.

Thanks to those of you who have read my very sporadic diary ramblings, bought and enjoyed SG and made the No-Man live experience such an enjoyable one.

Good luck in finding the Hannah Montana doll.

Listening:

Lambchop – Oh Ohio (2008)
Momus (back catalogue)
Roy Harper (back catalogue)
Scott Walker – Tilt (1995)
Scott Walker – The Drift (2006)

Watching:

Burn After Reading (2008)
The Caretaker (1963)
Disco Pigs (2001)
Made (1972)
The Mist (2008)

Reading:

Cormac McCarthy – The Road (2006)