Diary

Read Tim's diary entries here

August 26, 2018

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A gap and then some! This constitutes the second blog entry this year and only the third over an eighteen month period. Below, find some reasons for my protracted ‘slow blog’ absence.

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Work is now complete on T-Bo solo album number five. It feels very much like I’ve pressed reset and, in some ways, has the air of an exciting debut release about it.

Produced by me, Steven Wilson and Brian Hulse, 13 pieces were assembled and though inevitably there’s a suicidal ballad or four in the mix, it’s perhaps the most eclectic and accessible collection of pieces I’ve put together since no-man’s mid-1990s output.

Feeling a little like a re-awakening, it reconnects with elements of my early work while also stretching out into new territories (for me). Overall, it’s the boldest album I’ve made for some time and notably re-introduces the bittersweet early no-man quality of combining uplifting music with downbeat sentiments.

Abandoned Dancehall Dreams logically emerged out of Schoolyard Ghosts and Stupid Things was an extension of the possibilities ADD suggested. Lost In The Ghost Light took an element of the preceding albums – the epic Smiler At 50 – and blew it up into a unified album experience. By comparison, the new album has nothing in common with Lost In The Ghost Light and little that echoes aspects of ADD or Stupid Things.

Other than the dynamic duo of SW and Colin Edwin, I’m working with an entirely new team of collaborators. Virgin solo album contributors include Brian Hulse, James Matheos, Ian Dixon (the brilliant trumpet player on no-man’s Returning Jesus), Alistair ‘Curator’ Murphy (strings) and master drummers Tom Atherton and Dylan Howe.

The superstar guest slots are taken up by Peter Hammill (providing some superbly biting backing vocals, plaintive piano and off-kilter guitar), XTC’s Andy Partridge, Big Big Train’s David Longdon (backing vocals and flute) and one of my earliest musical heroes, Kevin Godley (10cc / Godley & Creme).

Elsewhere Adam Holzman has provided a gloriously impressionistic Wurlitzer part and Plenty bassist David K Jones has recorded three fine performances (including his truly wild debut on double bass).

It feels like an honour to be in such company on such good form.

As always, the fifty two minutes of new material has been whittled down to a classic album length of around 43 minutes and, as always, the process of eliminating songs and creating the optimum running order has been an obsession for me. The quality of the cutting room floor songs is unusually strong, with one piece being a showcase for Kevin Godley’s rich and mournful voice and another including some of the best playing on the project.

If Lost In The Ghost Light was a coherent summation of a very particular and intentionally archaic approach to sound and composition, the new album – likely to be called Flowers At The Scene – is closer to Brian Eno’s description of the Roxy Music debut, which he felt presented as many possible future directions for the band as there were songs.

The release date is looking as if it’ll be exactly two years after LITGL (in February 2019). The waiting for this will seem interminable.

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One of my favourite songs on the new album came out of my teaching ukulele chords and demonstrating studio overdubbing to Bowness Jr.

Finding a pattern I liked, I improvised a song called Lost Quiff (at the age of 7, Bowness Jr is preoccupied with that most contemporary of genres Rock’n’Roll and worships at the altars of Elvis, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent and many others).

The song quickly evolved into something else and the album’s most unlikely source of inspiration was found.

The father / son demo of Lost Quiff - a poignant tale that crosses continents – shall remain on the hard drive of doom!

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As mentioned previously, Bowness / Chilvers 2.0 was completed a year ago. For a variety of reasons, we’re still thinking of what to do with it and when to unleash it upon the world. The only certainties are that time will pass and tears will be shed!

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Despite featuring all too familiar material and being typically difficult to organise, the T-Bo band God Is An Astronaut support at the Brixton Electric in May was an unexpectedly emotional and powerful performance.

John Jowitt – in his first show with the band – was confident, assured and a great visual and musical addition. By God, he even looked like he was enjoying himself (a first for any of us!). Andrew Booker’s playing was as good as I’ve ever heard it – constantly finding new ways of delivering old songs – and the rest of us (me, Professor Bearpark and Baron Bennett) responded in kind by frequently changing our parts.

The audience response was incredibly encouraging, but regardless of the positives I felt out of place and out of sorts on the night. As soon as I walked on the stage, I wanted to walk off it.

The Summer’s End Festival appearance in October is all that’s left on the live agenda and may mark the last time this version of the band – albeit with the wonderful Maestro Bingham added to the cast – plays live together. (Or not.)

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Just to see if it could work if required, the Plenty trio convened – in the Woolley Valley near Bath – to make a collective noise for the first time in 30 years.

Initially, it was surreal going through ancient material in much the same way we used to. The approach echoed the Plenty of old and the early no-man, in that backing tapes were used and, consequently, no error in timing was allowed. Improvisation was also strictly forbidden. After a couple of run-throughs everything became more natural and the band sound re-emerged. On the final run-through, there were more than a few special moments.

Whatever it was we had was still there and whatever it was we had was different from the later incarnations of no-man or the T-Bo live band.

Before, after and during the rehearsals, we’ve been recording songs for a follow up to It Could Be Home. Featuring a more organic sound – plus drummer Charles Grimsdale – the music has opened up in some surprising ways. The 1980s well of songs hasn’t run dry (yet).

Talking of which, while clearing my house for an upcoming move, I accidentally found the very first Bowness / Hulse song from the Summer of 1986. A John le Carré inspired ‘Cold War ballad’ called This Side Of The Border, I’d remembered it existed while others doubted my sanity. I’d always loved The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, but could I really have written a song so directly inspired by it? As it turns out, yes I really could.

Written at the same time as Towards The Shore – on an old school piano – both songs represented the best things I’d done up to that point. However, between those – still worthwhile to me – songs and Forest Almost Burning (in early 1987), my rare tape discovery suggested we were creatively adrift for six months or so (recording awkward A Better Mousetrap style versions of After The Stranger songs and even more awkward ATS style takes on ABM pieces).

A day after it’s rediscovery, This Side Of The Border was re-recorded with Plenty 2 in mind. It remains a favourite song for me and, due to its lyrical theme, a genuine outsider in relation to my other work.

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Recent sessions have included singing a duet (in the magnificent Real World Studios) with David Longdon on Big Big Train’s lovely Seen Better Days, performing an atmospheric version of This City for Twelfth Night, and writing new pieces with Italian collaborators of old Saro Cosentino and Stefano Panunzi (both lusher than lush).

Recent highlights have included meeting up with Pete Morgan and Baron Bennett at Ian Anderson’s rather impressive abode. IA was courteous and talkative and it was great to finally meet him outside of a more pressured back stage environment. Following the Tull tales, the Bowness / Morgan / Bennett trio of reprobates had an all too rare coffee and chat catch-up.

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Toodle pip!

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Listening:

A Certain Ratio – Sextet (1982)
Bernice – Puff: In The Air Without A Shape (2018)
Blood Sweat And Tears – 3 (1969)
David Bowie – Welcome To The Blackout (1978)
Chromatics – Kill For Love (2012)
Ian Dury And The Blockheads – Do It Yourself (1979)
Elvis Costello – Spike (1989)
Dylan Howe – Subterranean (2014)
Johnny Jewel – Windswept (2017)
Majical Cloudz – Wait And See (2016)
Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent (2017)
Joshua Redman – Still Dreaming (2018)
Joshua Trinidad – In November (2018)
Steely Dan - Gaucho (1980)
Yes – Fly From Here – Return Trip (2018)

Reading:

Elizabeth Taylor – Mrs Palfrey At The Claremont (1971)
Philip Roth – Everyman (2006)
Derek Taylor – As Time Goes By (1973)

1st January 2018

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Happy New Year and thanks to everyone who’s supported my music over the past 12 months.

2017 was a great year for Lost In The Ghost Light which gained the most reviews and sales of any of my work outside of no-man. The album’s artwork winning a Prog Award and live performances at the Marillion Weekend, IB Expo and Birmingham’s Blue Orange Theatre were also memorable and enjoyable experiences during the year.

Amongst other things, I have two albums prepared for 2018 release and some festival dates arranged (tba).

In some ways, the Plenty album – called It Could Be Home – is a debut release 30 years after the event. Despite this, it’s been a fresh and exciting project to work on and the end result is extremely satisfying and uplifting. The band has been writing songs since the album was completed, so hopefully a follow-up will take less than 30 years to finish! It Could Be Home will be released on Norwegian label Karisma in late March.

The Tim Bowness/Peter Chilvers album has recently been mixed by the wonderful Mr Peter Hammill and is certainly a step beyond California, Norfolk: Intimate, bleak and, hopefully, beautiful in places. Release date and label tba.

Outside of this, I’ve been rehearsing with the superb bassist James Eller (The The / Julian Cope) and the talented Toby Marks (Banco De Gaia). We’ve been writing music spontaneously and may decide to release some of the results in the future.

Here’s hoping that the frequently discussed new no-man album is also a possibility for the year ahead.

Some releases I liked in 2017 (in alphabetical order):

Big Big Train – Grimspound
Benjamin Clementine – I Tell A Fly
Ray Davies – Americana
Mark Eitzel – Hey, Mr Ferryman
Elbow – Little Fictions
Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
Samuel Hallkvist – Variety Of Rhythm
Peter Hammill – From The Trees
The Horrors – V
Morrissey – Low In High School
Randy Newman – Dark Matter
Max Richter – Three Worlds: Music From Woolf Works
Sparks – Hippopatamus
Thundercat – Drunk
The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
Roger Waters – Is This The Life We Really Want?
Devon Welsh – Down The Mountain
Steven Wilson – To The Bone

The magnificent 50th Anniversary Sgt Peppers reissue also deserves a mention and it was great to see A Certain Ratio’s excellent back catalogue getting re-promoted on the Mute label.

11 August 2017

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Two blogs in a month. Clearly a sign of bad things to come or a serious mental decline!

This diary entry is partly prompted by Jakub Kurek and Piotr Zdunek, two very enthusiastic and knowledgeable no-man fans from Poland. Not only did the dynamic duo send me songs from the 1990s and early 2000s that I’d completely forgotten I’d recorded, they also reminded me of the fact that it’s the 20th anniversary of the release of no-man’s Dry Cleaning Ray.

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The unreleased tracks were a revelation in many ways, not least because I’d entirely erased them from my memory and don’t have copies myself.

My ‘hard drive of doom’ contains several album’s worth of unreleased material. Some of it’s good and some – probably courtesy of my Bandcamp downloads page – might even end up being heard. Sadly, it doesn’t contain the original – Flame outtake – version of Wild Opera’s Taste My Dream, which I recorded with Richard Barbieri.

Amongst the lost and lonely:

- A half-finished Bowness/Chilvers album of Nick Drake songs from around the time of California, Norfolk. We were genuinely pleased with our versions, but felt that there were too many Nick Drake covers in existence at the time and didn’t want to add to the clutter. The result, one abandoned project.

- A Bowness/Chilvers album of Ambient/Electronica meets spoken word. Fully completed (around 2001) and featuring some interesting music, this was deemed too pretentious to ever be heard (by anyone, including us!). Consequently, the lock and key is strong on this one! The spoken word parts were drawn from poems and short stories I’d written in the 1990s.

- A very eccentric Postcards From Space (me with Alistair Murphy) album circa 2007. Hugely ambitious, this never felt quite right to me. The first side contains five self-contained, and slightly melodramatic (in an early Bowie/Hammill sense) songs, while the second consists of a demented 22-26 minute ’suite’ which has elements of very early Tangerine Dream, Stockhausen, Pawn Hearts-era Van Der Graaf Generator and some prettiness to counter the aural horror. This was put aside when I started to write for no-man’s Schoolyard Ghosts. Alistair and I subsequently got together to co-produce and co-write Judy Dyble’s Talking With Strangers and that album’s 20 minute epic Harpsong scratched my sidelong itch.

- An EP with Tony Harn from 1998. Containing four songs – one of which emerged on World Of Bright Futures – this was a surprising and surprisingly accessible fusion of Tony’s virtuoso Summers/Fripp meets Pat Metheny guitar approach and my vocals. Lyrically, the songs were more in the Modernist/disjointed style of no-man’s Wild Opera and Centrozoon’s Never Trust The Way You Are.

- An EP’s worth of Samuel Smiles’ World Of Bright Futures rejects from 1999. Of the many tracks brought to my attention by Jakub and Piotr, these were perhaps the best and most fully formed. With a line-up of me, Michael Bearpark, Peter Chilvers, Sandra O’Neill and Myke Clifford the music operated in a lyrical, Ambient-tinged singer-songwriter style. Take The Sadness was perhaps the strongest of the pieces, with rich textures, ethereal flute solos and nice vocal harmonies. Should it ever happen, these outtakes may find their way onto a World Of Bright Futures reissue.

- Outside of the above, ‘the hard drive of doom’ also contains many solo experiments/songs, half an unreleased no-man album, the original 1992 version of Loveblows And Lovecries including a 12 minute take on Tulip, the completed Plenty album, the very nearly finished Bowness/Chilvers 2.0 (we’re almost there!), an EP with Jacob Holm-Lupo, two unreleased collaborations with James Matheos, two unreleased pieces written with Kit Watkins, dozens of Henry Fool works in progress etc etc.

The horror, the horror!

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As for the odds and sods mini-album that is/was Dry Cleaning Ray:

Originally, it was intended as a single or an EP featuring Wild Opera outtakes and alternative mixes of songs (including the shorter – re-recorded – version of DCR itself). Pretty quickly it became something more substantial.

The main reason the project expanded in the way it did was that Steven and I were excited about three new songs we’d written. The songs seemed like a more crafted evolution of the Wild Opera ‘hourlong experiments’, and we liked the idea of material being released very soon after it had been completed. Outside of this, I think we already had in mind the notion that no-man’s next album proper would be something quite lush and different from Wild Opera. Consequently, the new pieces seemed out of place with what we imagined for the band’s future. By contrast, when we wrote Carolina Skeletons in 1998, we knew for certain what direction the band should take (a direction that led to 2001’s Returning Jesus).

Dry Cleaning Ray and Diet Mothers – which along with Wild Opera outtake Born Again Lovechild represents no-man’s solitary flirtation with Dub – were new mixes of Wild Opera material. Evelyn was a cover version of a Serge Gainsbourg song, which I believe we’d been asked to do for an American Serge Gainsbourg tribute album. Kightlinger and Urban Disco were outtakes from the Wild Opera sessions.

Jack The Sax, Sicknote and Sweetside Silver Night were the three pieces we wrote in 1997. Originally intended for whatever was going to be no-man’s official Wild Opera successor, all three songs share a similar sense of melancholy, fear and desperation. They’re softer than most of Wild Opera, but they still possess the sonically experimental edge and playful lyrical quality that marked out Wild Opera from all other no-man releases.

Twenty years on and I still like all three songs. For me, they point to something different for no-man and stand apart from the rest of Dry Cleaning Ray in terms of their quality and emotional intensity. In retrospect, my feeling is that an album could have emerged from a starting point of these songs – one quite unlike Returning Jesus – and that the pieces would have worked better had they been released as a self-contained EP. Conceptually, all three songs carried on the Wild Opera obsession with victims of fame and victims of the pursuit of fame, but there was a consistency and seriousness about these pieces that was absent from most of Wild Opera and the rest of Dry Cleaning Ray.

1997 was the year I left London and in some ways – lyrically, musically and in terms of its cover artwork – Dry Cleaning Ray represented a goodbye to a particular way of life and a particular way of writing songs.

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I’ll be attending this year’s Prog Awards sitting at the Inside Out table alongside be-caped Gods from the past and present.

The cover for Lost In The Ghost Light has been nominated, which is pleasing as it’s the most detailed of any I’ve been involved in. I sent Jarrod images for reference and several pages of notes about Moonshot, Jeff Harrison’s character and the specifics of the place and time the cover should depict. As with Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and Stupid Things That Mean The World, the gatefold king took my ideas and made them into something far more substantial than I could (in the way Carl Glover does with no-man’s artwork). For me, this provides another example of the difference between the recent ‘Inside Out trilogy’ and My Hotel Year. My Hotel Year – with a title derived from a Douglas Coupland short story – was patchwork in all ways. The music came from a variety of sources, the title was ‘borrowed’, and the artwork was entirely Carl Glover’s concept based on the title and the feel of the music. While the last three solo albums feel like mine, My Hotel Year will always feel like somebody else’s compilation album with my name accidentally printed on the cover. As negative as that sounds, it’s not meant to denigrate the album, which contains some material I still like (especially Last Year’s Tattoo and Sleepwalker).

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It looks like I’ll be playing at this year’s Isidurs Bane Expo (alongside Peter Hammill) in Halmstad, Sweden in November. Utilising the members of IB and associates, I’ve been encouraged to put together something I couldn’t and wouldn’t do elsewhere. A unique tribute to the Syco and Stock Aitken and Waterman catalogues could well be on the cards.

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Listening:

The Art Of Noise – In Visible Silence – Deluxe Edition (2017 / 1986)
Randy Newman - Dark Matter (2017)

2nd August 2017

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Another belated blog and a belated thank you.

Lost In The Ghost Light was released in February to the best reviews and best sales of any of my work outside of no-man. Given the fact that the album was a time-consuming labour of love that took seven years to beat into shape, it was genuinely gratifying that people (and reviewers) embraced the concept and the music so positively. As pointed out in my last blog, it was very much a homage to the era of the ‘classic album’ – in terms of its densely detailed artwork and unified lyrical theme – and represented my attempt to personalise the aspects of Progressive Rock that – alongside other influences – were instrumental in me falling in love with music in my early teens.

In using a veteran Rock musician as a protagonist, my aim was to question how the music industry (and music itself) had changed between 1967 and 2017. Unexpectedly, one possible answer emerged during the promotion for the album when I spent a day signing postcards in the Sony Music building in London. Sony occupies a vast and impressive open plan office, and what used to be independent record and publishing companies now work side by side in almost invisibly divided cubicles (Inside Out are next to Music For Nations and both face the Now That’s What I Call Music staff and so on). Business seemed good and as always it was a delight to meet the enthusiastic and knowledgeable Inside Out team. The fly in the ointment, however, was that the offices of Pop svengali Simon Cowell’s Syco label were located on the floor above the canteen staring on all below. I’d like to say that there was a larger than life cardboard cut-out of Simon laughing and pointing at the unfortunate worker ants beneath (while crushing copies of Dark Side Of The Moon, OK Computer and Bitches Brew in his other hand), but I’d be lying. Despite that, I suspect that Jeff Harrison wouldn’t have liked what the all too visible supremacy of Syco suggested about the state of music in 2017.

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Talking of labours of love, Bowness / Chilvers 2.0 has been tantalisingly close to completion for the last four years. As of the writing of this blog, guess what? It’s still almost ready.

On hearing the latest version of the album in June, it became obvious that two of the tracks were out of sync with the other pieces sonically and stylistically, and also seemed overlong and underdeveloped by comparison.

The final touches – hopefully – to The Boy From Yesterday and Blog Remember Me were applied earlier this week as new vocals were recorded over what have been constantly evolving arrangements. ‘The project with no end’ feels like it really is nearing its completion, though don’t be surprised if it’s still ‘almost there’ by the time of my next blog (sometime in 2020 probably).

While California, Norfolk was recorded in one location over a very short period of time, its successor has been pieced together over more than a decade in a variety of places. Despite that, the singular and highly intimate nature of the music’s character remains. Yes Sirree, you’ll be glad to know that we sound completely and utterly defeated and doomed!

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Talking of long gestation periods, the Plenty album It Could Be Home was finished in May.

Masterfully mixed by White Willow supremo Jacob Holm-Lupo, the album possesses the lushness and scope Plenty had always wished for its debut album. Given that that debut would have been released some time in 1987 or 1988, we waited a long time for wishes to be fulfilled. At 30 years and counting, It Could Be Home holds the honour of taking longer to complete than any other album in my catalogue. Take that Bowness / Chilvers 2.0!

As I’ve written about in a soon to be unleashed Album Notes blog, I was genuinely surprised that re-interpreting the melodies, words and mindset of a me more than half my current age wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d imagined it would be.

We stayed close to the original 1980s arrangements and very quickly inhabited the ‘Plentyverse’ of old. The band sound returned without any self-conscious attempts to evoke it. Brian and David’s playing and attention to detail had evolved and the present day me (hopefully) improved upon the original vocal and lyrical performances, while the younger me re-introduced ways of singing and writing I’d long ago abandoned. The ghosts of old relationships and old feelings were evoked, but the experience was firmly rooted in the present and felt as creatively ‘current’ and challenging as anything I’ve done.

The resulting album is due out over the next six months and may even be accompanied by some live dates. The band’s first for three decades.

As it always did, Plenty’s music operates in a 1980s Art Pop territory that has crept into aspects of music I’ve subsequently made, such as the Electro-Pop elements of early no-man and the ballads of Bowness/Chilvers etc.

Without doubt, it’s been an enjoyable and emotional experience finally fulfilling a long-held ambition to properly realise songs that I still believe to be amongst the best I’ve been involved in co-writing/co-creating.

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The limited edition release Songs From The Ghost Light collects songs relating to the Lost In The Ghost Light concept, some of which appeared on Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, Stupid Things That Mean The World and Lost In The Ghost Light. In all cases, in order to make a coherent album statement, the versions are different (either newly recorded or live). In many ways, the stripped-down nature of the new studio arrangements and the harder-edged quality of the live performances make Songs From The Ghost Light as much a sonic successor to My Hotel Year as a companion release to the Inside Out label albums. That said, for me, the quality of the material and the consistency of the subject matter ultimately make for a more satisfying listen than My Hotel Year.

Mixed by my MoM companion Giancarlo Erra and containing three tracks taken from a 2015 Band On The Wall performance, the release accurately captures the character of the live band, which differs greatly from the studio ensembles, and gives a flavour of the live mini-album I was planning to release in 2016.

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If all of that shenanigans wasn’t enough, I’ve started a Bandcamp page as a means of presenting official releases I own as downloads, and also providing an outlet for unreleased projects I deem interesting but not worthy of physical release (including singles and EPs, that are sadly no longer financially viable to issue physically, and live performances).

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Talking of live performances, the April support to Marillion at the band’s annual Weekend event provided a great excuse to get the gang back together again. Although it wasn’t Team T-Bo’s best performance it was still decent. Particularly so given that we had only one day of rehearsal beforehand, yet still managed to insert some new and untested material into the set. The event itself was inspiring and uplifting, and I was truly grateful for the audience’s patience and friendly disposition.

Next stop is Birmingham in late September, with a version of the band that sees the return of bass colossus Colin Edwin. Expect Rocked-out explosions in addition to intimate Ambient excursions.

Outside of that, it’s looking likely that I’ll be performing at a few festivals over the coming year, one in Sweden in November 2017, one in the Netherlands in March 2018 and, possibly, one in Norway in June 2018. Four dates in a year? My Lord, it’s a World Tour!

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Listening:

The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Giles Martin remix) (2017 / 1967)
David Byrne – David Byrne (1994)
Focus – Hamburger Concerto (1974)
Jethro Tull – Songs From The Wood (The Country Set) (2017 / 1977)
Father John Misty – Pure Comedy (2017)
Bill Nelson - Plectrajet (2015)
Pet Shop Boys – Nightlife: Further Listening (2017 / 1996-2000)

Reading:

William S. Burroughs – Exterminator! (1973)
Milan Kundera – The Festival Of Insignificance (2014)

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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)