Diary

Read Tim's diary entries here

Lockdown Listening 3

By | Diary | No Comments

Lockdown Listening 3 – The final instalment!

The podcast with Mr Wilson, The Album Years, has been dominating my listening choices of late, so I thought I’d draw this extremely short series to a conclusion. I’m pleased to say that the random Covid-19 giveaways are still in place in my neighbourhood (with an excellent Flannery O’Connor short story collection being this week’s choice find), and outside of my podcasting duties, I’ve managed to continue to listen for pleasure and sustenance.

Stay safe.

Tim Bowness – Late Night Laments (2020)

Album sequence and mixes sorted, I still had the masters to approve (courtesy of Calum Malcolm and Steve Kitch). As a result, several more rounds of Late Night Laments have been assaulting my exhausted ears.

Luckily, the 27th (!) sequence stuck and, at the moment, along with Together We’re Stranger this feels like one of the albums I’ve always wanted to make rather than just an album I wanted to make. I hope listeners will feel the same way.

Kevin Coyne – Room Full Of Fools (2000)

I bought this after realising that I hadn’t heard much of Coyne’s later work beyond Sugar Candy Taxi. Luckily, like Sugar Candy Taxi, Room Full Of Fools features a full-throttle Coyne.

Room Full Of Fools is a great fusion of KC at his most endearingly batty, accessibly tuneful, Hard Rocking, sweet and tender, and truly deranged.

After 15 years in the creative wilderness, Coyne had a full-blown artistic re-birth in his last years. My favourite albums of his remain the ones he put out in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but this deserves to be placed alongside them. His son Robert Coyne proves a decent and sympathetic collaborator.

A true original.

Thomas Dolby – The Golden Age Of Wireless (original UK edition, 1982)

This may not be the best Dolby album, but for me it’s the most consistent sonically and emotionally. It’s also the one I come back to most often.

I always saw Wireless as a very vulnerable and very human addition to the mostly cold Synth Pop genre. With his unaffected Estuary-tinged singing, often disarmingly honest lyrics and sophisticated chord vocabulary (closer to Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan than Classix Nouveaux), Dolby created a very different kind of Electro-Pop music.

The engaging hooks and underlying poignancy of the likes of Flying North, Radio Silence and Airwaves are tremendous, but the unabashed beauty of Weightless and the grand Cloudburst On Shingle Street (with its achingly beautiful coda) remain personal favourites for me 38 years on from the album’s original release.

Jack Hues – Primitif (2020)

In my guise as Burning Shed A&R, I get sent a lot of music. This year, the likes of Kavus Torabi’s versatile and gently melancholy Hip To The Jag and Noise In Your Eyes’ cinematic self-titled debut album have been definite highlights, but Jack Hues’ Primitif has been my personal favourite.

Never having more than a passing knowledge of Wang Chung or Strictly Inc, this came as a real surprise. Primitif is a double album which showcases a musically open mind and a genuine talent. Fusing influences from Post Rock, ECM Jazz and Minimalism (Steve Reich references aplenty) with a melodic Pop sensibility (think Prefab Sprout, Thomas Dolby or the Finn Brothers) and some heartfelt lyrical observations, the album alternates between sophisticated short songs, dynamic mini-epics and hushed Ambient Jazz flavoured instrumentals. Hues’ voice has a light touch with none of the affectation typical of many singers from the early 1980s.

A version of the Bacharach & David classic The Look Of Love ends with an unexpectedly long and beautiful coda, and the highly personal Margate Train and pummelling Whitstable Beach are also amongst the highlights on this recommended album.

Rush – Permanent Waves (1980)

Rush is a band I’ve long respected for its individually and collectively distinctive sound(s) and for its ability to creatively change with the times. The band’s run of albums from 2112 to Grace Under Pressure remains an impressive one.

Between 1974 and 1984, Rush evolved rapidly, and convincingly changed from a Cream/Hendrix inspired power trio into a sophisticated Zeppelin-esque Hard Rock band and from there into a distinctive Progressive Rock combo that ended up as a New Wave-tinged Art Rock outfit.

Even in the band’s guise as a fully-fledged Progressive Rock unit – on 2112, A Farewell To Kings and Hemispheres – there was a uniquely neurotic intensity about Rush’s delivery (particularly Lifeson’s razor-edge guitar riffs) that seemed as close to Post-Punk sounds to come (The Banshees, John McGeogh, The Sound and Stuart Adamson) as it did to the band’s obvious influences (Yes, Genesis, and The Who).

At the time PW was released, I was slightly disappointed that the band hadn’t taken the fearless excess of Hemispheres even further (as Hemispheres had taken the extremes of A Farewell To Kings several notches higher), but in retrospect, along with Moving Pictures, it’s something I’d now cite as a Rush career highlight.

The music on the album effortlessly compresses the band’s signature sound into a combination of micro epics and ballads. Freewill and Natural Science sound like Hemispheres in miniature, but the brooding Jacob’s Ladder, the hook-laden euphoria of Spirit Of Radio, and the tender Different Strings show different sides to the band. The latter, in particular, displays a relaxed sense of space and emotional tenderness that perhaps only Tears, Madrigal and Losing It also hint at.

Permanent Waves is the thrilling sound of a band in transition.

Sparks – Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins (1994)

Another band that has managed to navigate the changing times brilliantly, Sparks were one of the first artists I became a fan of.

At the age of 10, hearing This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Us was an astonishing thing. Complex, hypnotic and infectiously memorable, the song lingered in my mind for years (along with the sight of the perpetually unsmiling Ron Mael). In my mid-teens, the glittering reinvention that was The Number One Song In Heaven became a huge favourite (along with its accompanying Giorgio Moroder produced album). In the mid-1980s, Change marked another massive shift in direction (part ZTT, part Laurie Anderson/Peter Gabriel, all Mael madness). The Minimalist Classical Operatic Pop of 2002’s Lil’ Beethoven offered yet another remarkable departure.

Although Sparks have produced Art Rock, Glam Pop, Electro-Pop, Disco, Heavy Metal, Big Band Jazz and much, much more, due to Russell Mael’s voice and Ron Mael’s witty lyrics and staccato  keyboard rhythms, the band have always been instantly recognisable.

Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins arrived after a six year period of inactivity and sees the band stamp its identity on a set of sophisticated Synth Pop pieces that revolve around ideas of fame / infamy. Although echoing aspects of what the Pet Shop Boys and Momus were doing in the late 1980s / early 1990s, this is still very much its own album. With its generous selection of demos, remixes, b-sides and associated projects, the recent 3CD deluxe edition offers an even greater insight into the band’s creative process at the time. Rather than detract from the main album, it shows the great thought that was involved in selecting the final order. Unlike many odds and sods compilations, it also contains many a piece to equal songs on the finished album.

Toivo Tulev – Songs (2008)

Anther random Covid-19 giveaway found in a box. Confronted by two CDs by Paul Hillier and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, I couldn’t resist and home they came in my bulging pockets. The Powers Of Heaven concentrated on 17th and 18th Century Estonian choral music, while Songs collected pieces by contemporary composer Toivo Tulev.

Drawing primarily from church music / Gregorian traditions, Tulev’s work also contains an atonal avant-garde undercurrent and an interesting use of tuned percussion. The epic Leave, Alas, This Tormenting is for me the strongest and most original piece on this compelling collection.

Farewell!

Lockdown Listening 2

By | Diary | No Comments

Lockdown Listening 2

This rather brief edition of Lockdown Listening is truly a C-19 special. Every day during these ‘unusual times’, various neighbours have been leaving boxes of CDs, DVDs and books out on walls and benches throughout the neighbourhood (thoroughly disinfected no doubt!). This has led to a few discoveries and a fair bit of reassessment. Consequently, I’ve deliberately devoted much of my recent listening to whatever’s been left in the boxes (and ended up in my collection).

Barry Adamson – Delusion (1991)

A long-term fan of BA’s distinctive bass playing with Magazine and Nick Cave, this was a welcome ‘box discovery’. An evocative soundtrack with an emphasis on deep synth textures, brooding organs and occasional Classical guitar flourishes, the ghosts of Ennio Morricone, Bernard Hermann and John Barry hover enticingly in the background.

Balanescu Quartet – Possessed (1992)

Another ‘box’ special. As much as I love Minimalism and the work of Michael Nyman, this was an album I consciously avoided when it was released. The concept seemed too arch and too obvious (Classical musicians flirting with ‘hip’ Pop repertoire in order to boost sales and credibility). In reality, it’s a strong album that I was wrong to dismiss on the basis of a speculative hunch (my bad as our American cousins might say).

The multiple settings of several Kraftwerk pieces work surprisingly well, remaining faithful to the pared-down nature of the original material while possessing a strong personality of their own. That said, the long-form ‘original’ pieces – Possessed and No Time Before Time – are probably even stronger. The sound is comparable to the classic Michael Nyman Band of the 1980s, but the pieces stretch out and ‘breathe’ more than the brief, often frantic, early Nyman compositions were ever allowed to.

Blondie – Greatest Hits (2002)

Yes, from a box! Like every child in the late 1970s, I was very aware of Blondie. Along with the likes of The Police, the band dominated the British charts. In an era of great singles artists (Squeeze, XTC, Police, Gary Numan, Stranglers, Madness and many more), Blondie were undoubtedly one of the best. Combining New York New Wave sensibilities with 1960s British Invasion hooks and artful nods to trends of the day (e.g. Heart Of Glass’s infectious Disco beats), for a time the band were unstoppably great. As the 1980s wore on and egos grew, Blondie’s magical Pop sheen became a little tarnished and tired, but the brilliance of songs like Rapture and The Tide Is High testifies to the fact that something special remained.

Tim Bowness – Late Night Laments (2020)

After trying out 26 sequences, the album continues to torture me. The latest version is a shorter 9 track 39 minute affair. Here’s hoping it sticks and that it doesn’t appear in the next Lockdown Listening list!

Depeche Mode – Some Great Reward (1984) / Black Celebration (1986) / Music For The Masses (1987)

More from the box. These three albums represent the peak of Depech Mode’s output for me. A massive leap forward from the more straightforward Electro Pop of their early work and more to my tastes than the bands Rock-infused experiments of the 1990s, this mid-1980s trilogy consistently hits a creative sweet spot.

There’s a real sense of discovery about these albums. Sonically playing with elements of Industrial, cinematic soundtracks, Minimalism and cutting-edge synth technology, the band also delivered their strongest set of songs on these releases. Hook-laden Pop epics sit comfortably alongside unexpectedly dramatic ballads and intriguing, brief instrumentals.

The other thing that struck me on re-listening to the albums was how ‘English’ the band sound at this stage in their career. Gahan and Gore sound like debauched Church Of England choirboys singing at the altar, while somewhere in the background the rest of the band have cheekily replaced the pipe organ with a bank of shiny new synths and pneumatic drills. A good thing!

Yes – Tormato (1978)

Ah Tormato, let me count the ways I love thee. Well, more than two anyway.

After mentioning this last time, I felt obliged to listen to the album as a whole to confirm my feeling that this really is a special release in the band’s remarkable body of work.

Tormato’s main problem was that it followed the towering artistic and commercial success of Going For The One (an album that stands alongside Close To The Edge as my personal favourite by the band). There’s no doubt that it lacks the focus of its predecessor and doesn’t have anything approaching the scope of the mighty Awaken or the accessibility of the ever-delightful Wondrous Stories. There’s an ‘after the party’ sense of confusion about the whole project. The throwaway title and sleeve, and the accidentally thin sound* didn’t help with its reception either.

While there are attempts to embrace then current styles (the Disco groove of Don’t Kill The Whale, the raw Rock rush of Release, Release, the overall brevity of the songs), the album seems as wilfully Yes-like as anything in the band’s catalogue. Anderson and Howe are at their most playful and eccentric, and the White/Squire rhythm section is by turns inventive and thunderous. Wakeman’s use of the Birotron isn’t to some people’s tastes, but I feel it’s something that gives the album a unique flavour.

Madrigal and Onward are two of the most beautiful ballads in the Yes repertoire, while the euphoric epics Future Times/Rejoice and On The Silent Wings Of Freedom could honourably grace any Yes Best Of compilation (ditto the Funktastic Don’t Kill The Whale for me). While I’d agree that the likes of Release, Release, Circus Of Heaven and Arriving UFO couldn’t be described as classics, they are unmistakable in their Yessy Yes-ness. The album may well be mad, muddled and twee on more than a few occasions, but as on all the band’s best releases, Tormato superbly captures the sound of a band making it up as it goes along. There’s a thrilling lack of hipness and self-consciousness in the crazed guitar soloing on Arriving UFO or the children’s voice on the coda of Circus Of Heaven. In some ways, this may well be the last time the band sounded unashamedly like itself. Drama and 90125 are more confident and more aligned to the times they were released in, but as good as both albums are there’s an overriding sense that they’ve been minutely micro-managed to work effectively in a commercial environment (which they did brilliantly of course). Tormato is the dying gasp of an impossibly exotic beast.

* In 2013, Yes remastering engineer Brian Kehew said that the album sounded, “Thin, flat and terrible”. He observed that Eddie Offord (Yes’s regular producer) usually incorporated Dolby A in his production work and that it hadn’t been used on Tormato. When he applied Dolby A to the original master tapes, he said, “Everything sounded amazing”. Kehew believed that the engineers who replaced Offord during the end process of the album’s production may not have known about Offord’s use of Dolby noise reduction.

Lockdown Listening

By | Diary | No Comments

This may be the start of an occasional series or it may just be an end in itself.

I thought it might be interesting to offer an honest, unedited lockdown listening list along with comments explaining some of my thoughts about the music. In effect, a collection of what I’ve been listening to since sitting indoors became the new sunbathing outdoors (alongside my pitiful justifications for making the terrible choices I did!). 🙂

For me, music’s always provided succour and emotional comfort in times of need. ‘Now’ is definitely one of those times where music has come to mean even more (for me, anyway).

I’ve often stated previously that most people’s tastes are far more eclectic and wayward than the media would have us believe (fashionable/unfashionable, obscure/obvious etc). This exercise in self-indulgence may or may not prove that assertion.

John Luther Adams-In The White Silence(2004) /Become Ocean(2014) /Become Desert(2019)

Ever since hearing Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Philip Glass at the dawn of the 1980s, I’ve been a huge fan of Minimalist music. Over the years, I’ve bought hundreds of CDs/LPs/downloads in the genre and discovered artists such as Gavin Bryars, Arvo Part, John Adams, Meredith Monk, Michael Nyman, Robert Ashley, Ingram Marshall, Max Richter, Andrew Poppy, Glenn Branca, David Lang and many others. While Reich remains my favourite composer (with Different Trains/Electric Counterpoint being a particular favourite release), John Luther Adams’ work has leapt up my personal Minmalist rankings (we all have them!).

In some ways, JLA’s compositions fulfil the role of traditional Classical music in that they’re attempts to aurally evoke natural landscapes. The above three compositions deal with snow, oceans and desert respectively and are exquisitely calming, meditative works with a constantly shifting ebb and flow and, more importantly, a distinctive compositional identity within a sometimes crowded and samey field.

David Bowie – Conversation Piece(2019)

This is a fascinating release collecting Bowie’s material between his Anthony Newley-esque 1967 debut (which I like, so there!) and his first major statement, 1969’s David Bowie/Space Oddity (which I love). With the likes of its title track, Letter To Hermione, Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud, Space Oddity displayed Bowie’s beautiful voice and lyrical observations at their most tender and melancholy. The works ‘in-between’ that this set mostly chronicles are less sure-footed than Space Oddity and still bear the influence of the West End Musical-tinged debut, but there’s still a lot of ground covered. Morphing from Theatre Ballads to Folk Rock via a Ray Davies’ influenced wistfulness and Syd Barrett-esque whimsy, songs such as April’s Tooth Of Gold, When I’m Five and Angel, Angel Grubby Face are well worth discovering.

Tim Bowness – Late Night Laments(2020)

Completed in late March, the album is still scheduled for an August release.

Ever since its completion, it’s been on all too regular rotation as I’ve been trying to work out the most effective sequence. With 52 minutes of new music recorded, the optimal edition appears to be a 42 minute 10 song affair. It’s consistently atmospheric and emotional, but hopefully there are enough sonic surprises to keep it a constantly engaging listen. That said, the consistency of tone is what makes this the most difficult of my solo albums to sequence.

At this stage, the main plus is that it stands as a distinctive statement very far removed from both Flowers At The Scene and Love You To Bits.

Chic – Risqué (1979)

The darkest and sweetest of the Chic Organisation productions. Smooth strings, unresolved heartache, seductive Jazz harmonies, the overwhelming sense that ’the party’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The Cure – Disintegration(1989)

In late 1989, along with my No-Man partner in crime Steven Wilson, I went on a writing holiday to Devon. During that time, we wrote several songs that marked the end of our early ‘ethereal’ phase (the next step was the far from delicate Swagger EP). Most of the songs we wrote have been lost (or were never fully developed), but one remnant of the break is the Speak track Night Sky, Sweet Earth (which was written late in the evening outside the church on the hill overlooking Ilfracombe Bay).

On the trip, our listening consisted mainly of recently released music, Kate Bush’s The Sensual World, The The’s Mind Bomb, Prefab Sprout’s Protest Songs, Steve Reich’s Different Trains/Electric Counterpoint, and the mighty Disintegration by The Cure. We’d both been fans of the band since 1980’s Seventeen Seconds, but this seemed to represent a grand, doomy peak that effortlessly combined the sweetly accessible and the gloriously excessive. 31 years (!) on and it’s still a welcome occasional companion.

Richard Dawson – 2020(2019)

One of the more maverick talents to emerge over the last decade, Richard Dawson’s music isn’t for the fainthearted. His latest release is a maelstrom of traditional Folk melodies, brash Electronics and dislocated, dissonant Rock (topped off with savage / perceptive lyrics about life in contemporary Britain). Though the production is firmly modern Indie/Electronica, (accidentally?) there’s a strong Prog element in the unusual time signatures, dissonances and imaginative genre mash-ups. I may be wrong, but there seems to be more VDGG, Captain Beefheart, XTC, Gentle Giant and King Crimson in the mix than The Fall. Unexpected and refreshing, Dawson may not be an easy listen, but he’s always an interesting one.

Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin(1999) /Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots(2002)

When they were released, I liked these albums (along with Mercury Rev’s not dissimilar delights Deserter’s Songs and All Is Dream). At the time the Rev albums got more play and appreciation, but at some point in 2010 (when my partner was pregnant with our son), suddenly both these albums clicked for me in a big way. First it was Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell and Suddenly Everything Has Changed, and then it was all the tracks on frequent repeat. Wayne Coyne mentioned that the albums were made at a time of intense change and there is a sense of dealing with something bigger than the individual on both releases. Universal, intimate and imaginative, this is ideal lockdown comfort music for me.

Magazine – Magic, Murder And The Weather(1981)

Commonly regarded as the weakest album in Magazine’s career, it may be my favourite. A little like The Smiths’ Strangeways Here We Come, it has a greater eclecticism and playfulness than any of the band’s previous albums. From the buoyant Pop of About The Weather to avant-Reggae of The Great Man’s Secrets to the brooding groove of The Honeymoon Killers, there’s a sense of shackles being taken off and anything goes that runs rampant throughout the album.

Ennio Morricone – The Good The Bad And The Ugly(1966) /Death Rides A Horse(1967) /Once Upon A Time In The West(1968)

Three typically striking Spaghetti Western soundtracks with enough invention, beautiful melodies and dramatic dynamics to fill most people’s careers. Death Rides A Horse is perhaps the most experimental and the least known, but is still a fine testament to EM’s astonishing versatility.

Morrissey – I Am Not A Dog On A Chain(2020)

I know, I know x 5000. In the current climate, this does feel a little like me buying a pretty painting by Hitler and saying, ‘Forget the atrocities, look at the brush strokes,’ but…..

Outside of his politics (which I firmly oppose) and seemingly narcissistic personality, Mozzer remains a unique and vital artist. His unmistakable voice is as good as it ever was and on Dog, he’s at his most musically playful and adventurous. Alongside the brilliant and underrated Kill Uncle, this is perhaps the most eclectic and experimental album of his long career.

The ’should I listen to / read / watch the work of despicable people’ argument is one I’m acutely conscious of. I’m also very aware of the fact that from John Martyn to Miles Davis, Stan Getz to Nina Simone, several of my personal favourite musicians were difficult, and frequently objectionable individuals. I do seriously debate whether I should listen to the likes of Small Hours or In A Silent Way ever again, but I feel art can transcend the worst in us. It’s something of a conundrum, but I feel the ‘complicated’ individual can find some redemption in work that provides inspiration too many. That said, I still waver in that conviction and it’s a debate that no doubt will be continued.

John Prine – John Prine(1971) /Souvenirs(2000)

This one’s a C-19 special. I’d never properly listened to John Prine prior to reading about his contracting (and subsequently dying from) Coronavirus. I thought I’d rectify that and bought his debut album and a later collection (where he revisits what he considers to be his best songs).

In some ways, Prine (especially on his debut) is the missing link between early Bob Dylan and late Roger Waters. Add to that the astute character studies of Randy Newman and you have a flavour of these two albums. Souvenirs is possibly my favourite (as Prine’s voice is very much his own by this stage in his career), but poignant songs such as Hello In There and Angel From Montgomery work beautifully in both contexts.

A genuine talent I’m sorry I didn’t discover much earlier.

Labi Siffre – So Strong(1987)

For me, Labi Siffre is one of the great unsung heroes of British music. His earliest albums embrace anything and everything from singer-songwriter, whimsical McCartney-esque Pop, Folk, Jazz and, by the mid-1970s, Funk. 1972’s Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying and 1973’s For The Children would be my suggestions for the curious to start with, though 1998’s The Last Songs is also well worth hearing. Something Inside (So Strong) is an iconic song, but I’d always avoided buying Labi’s 1980s mega-hit album until recently.

In truth, this is an album very much of its time. Shiny synths and drum simulators abound and while it remains an acceptable approximation of the sound of the then zeitgeist, it doesn’t really transcend it or do anything interesting with the musical components. The high points all come courtesy of Siffre’s impassioned vocal contributions and the strength of his sincere songwriting. For some (Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno, Prince, Jane Siberry, Trevor Horn etc), the technology of the 1980s sparked creative career highpoints, for others (Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Paul McCartney), the period led to confused artistic choices. By comparison, Siffre’s 1980s represented neither a peak nor a trough. This is one of those albums I’ve listened to in order for me to get to like it more. So far, it’s not working.

Talking Heads – Speaking In Tongues(1983)

Remain In Light is undoubtedly a more vital and innovative album and it continues to be a brilliant example of unexpected fusions. Despite that, Speaking In Tongues is the Talking Heads album that I come back to most often. It has a simpler, more era-defined (as opposed to era-defining) sound, but a wonderful set of warm, sweet songs and infectious grooves.

Typified by the gorgeous This Must Be The Place, Speaking In Tongues is the most human and approachable of TH releases and yet it never fails to be as interesting and cerebral as the band’s best work.

Van Der Graaf Generator – Pawn Hearts(1971)

Along with King Crimson, VDGG’s apocalyptic music seems as if it was made for the times we’re currently living through. Pawn Hearts (for me) remains the band’s pinnacle. Brutal, beautiful, strange and never content to stay in the same place for even half a minute, the album can still surprise after countless listens.

Yes – A Personal Playlist (1969-1978)

As with the Flaming Lips, the other-worldly sound of Yes at its best is ideal comfort listening in times of trouble for me. Includes Soon, To Be Over, all of Close To The Edge, Heart Of The Sunrise, Awaken, Turn Of The Century, Wondrous Stories, Onward, Madrigal, Sweetness and more.

Tuesday 31 March 2020

By | Diary | No Comments

One problem with very occasional blog writing, as I’ve just found out, is that the world can be in a very different place at the end of the process compared with where it was at the beginning.

I started this in January/February in the midst of a song-writing frenzy (well, 7 songs completed in a month) and ended it in lockdown in March.

————

Welcome to ‘the year of living miserably’!

Following the dynamic duo of Flowers At The Scene and Love You To Bits, I’ve been writing more material for what will be a consistently atmospheric new solo album. Started in August – under the working of title of Late Night Laments – seven more new pieces have been written since the start of 2020 and a couple of unreleased older songs (that are unlikely to make the final album cut) have been re-worked in the style of the new songs.

The music differs wildly from Love You To Bits and also marks a departure from FATS. The overall approach is intimate while retaining the cinematic and widescreen production aspects of my previous Inside Out label solo albums. This is an album that’s been created ‘in the wee small hours’ and designed for late night (or headphone) listening.

As on FATS, my main musical collaborator and sounding board for Laments is Bob/Brian/Bobian Hulse. What’s been wonderful is that we’ve managed to create a cohesive soundworld for the new material without forcing anything or creating songs in a self-conscious way. There’s been an inspirational back and forth between the two of us that’s naturally pushed the music into some, hopefully, fresh territories. As with all the recent album projects, it’s developed an obsessive momentum and the biggest triumph is that I still feel compelled to write and still feel that I’m not yet repeating myself. Three of the stronger new songs feature the word ‘last’ in the title and there’s an emotional urgency in the music’s relaxed style that points to this being conceived as if it’s a final statement. The air of despair hangs heavy over the songs, which means the album is unlikely to grace any party playlists alongside Clean Bandit or Smokey. More’s the pity!

For me, the new music harks back to the 1980s and 1990s when I’d often only listen to music very late at night. During this time, albums like Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, Joni Mitchell’s Hejira, John Martyn’s One World, Peter Hammill’s And Close As This, David Sylvian’s Secrets Of The Beehive, Steve Reich’s Tehilim, Billie Holiday’s Lady In Satin, It’s Immaterial’s Song, Scott 3, The Songs Of Leonard Cohen, American Music Club’s Everclear, The Blue Nile’s Hats, Miles Davis’s In A Silent Way and countless others would be repeatedly played and they firmly imprinted themselves on my brain.

While the music is delivered in an intensely personal way, the lyrics are quite diverse and more often than not revolve around political or sociological issues.

12 brand new songs have been written and two old Plenty songs have been re-recorded. Out of this, its likely that I’ll opt for an 11 track, 46 minute album focusing solely on the new material (partly because of the consistency of tone and vision that they share).

Mixed by Maestro Wilson, production is by Bowness and Bobian, and guest performances have been delivered by regulars including Colin Edwin, Tom Atherton and Alistair Murphy, and newcomers such as Evan Carson, Kavus Torabi and Melanie Woods. Also of note is that my old sparring partner Richard Barbieri has provided some wonderful (and typically unique) synth solos on some of the songs.

————

The Bowness / Chilvers album Modern Ruins is finally scheduled for release after three years in limbo.

Finished in 2017, the music was written over a period of 10 years, though about half of it was created in 2016. For me, it’s odd to think that it was put together at the same time as Lost In The Ghost Light (a very different proposition indeed). It’s also odd that it’s four albums old for me as its completion came before Plenty’s It Could Be Home, Flowers At The Scene, Love You To Bits and Late Night Laments. As such, for me it’s almost like a missive from another time.

As before, I feel it takes the spirit of California, Norfolk further and contains three of the strongest songs Peter and I have written together.

Talking of Lost In The Ghost Light, Worlds Of Yesterday the Moonshot compilation that I curated is definitely worth hearing for those of you of a more Progressive musical bent. The performances are uniformly excellent and the band have done an amazing job of accurately evoking the eras that the songs ostensibly come from.

————

After years of off-hand mentions in interviews, the oft-discussed No-Man ‘Disco Symphony’ Love You To Bits finally made it’s way into the world in late November 2019. As many of you know, the seeds grew out of a song written in 1994 (around the time of the release of Flowermouth) that we returned to sporadically over a twenty year period. We always knew what we wanted to achieve with it, but the song either seemed out of step with where No-Man was at or appeared beyond our abilities at the time. Being both ambitious and accessible, for me the finished album represents aspects of no-man at its very best.

————

Fortunately, the sales and critical reception for both Flowers At The Scene and Love You To Bits were positive and built on where Lost In The Ghost Light left off in 2017. FATS getting recognised in both the critic’s and reader’s polls in Prog magazine was very pleasing indeed. As always, thanks for the continuing support.

Stay safe!

——————

2019 Favourites (belated!)

1) John Luther Adams – Become Desert
2) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
3) Thom Yorke – Anima
4) Cate le Bon – Reward
5) The Who – WHO
6) Leonard Cohen – Thanks For The Dance
7) Brian Eno/Roger Eno/Daniel Lanois – For All Mankind
8) Isildurs Bane & Peter Hammill – In Amazonia
9) The Specials – Encore
10) Baby Bird – Photosynthesis
11) Richard Dawson – 2020
12) Angel Olsen – All Mirrors

Lockdown Listening

John Luther Adams – Become Ocean (2014) / Become Desert (2019)
Richard Barbieri – Planets + Persona (2017)
David Bowie – Conversation Piece (2019)
The Cure – Disintegration (1989)
Nick Drake – Pink Moon (1974)
Jethro Tull – Stormwatch (40th Anniversary Edition) (1979)
David Lang – Pierced (2008)

8th September 2019

By | Diary | No Comments

The seven month gap between diary entries has been taken up with the release of solo album #5, a mini-tour, recording for no-man’s forthcoming studio release, and – most recently – the start of what may very well be solo album #6.

Yippee ki-yay!

————

In terms of recording, the first part of this year was spent re-singing the vocals for no-man’s new album and adding guest musicians to the framework SW and I had come up with in October 2018.

Bringing professionalism and skills aplenty to the table, Ash Soan, Adam Holzman, David Kollar and the Dave Desmond Brass Quintet greatly enhanced the energy and texture of what was already there, while Bruno Ellingham – known for his work with Massive Attack, amongst many others – provided the final mixes and particularly enhanced the dynamics and rhythms.

Without giving a great deal away, the album feels definitively no-man while being completely unlike anything we’ve released previously. Consisting of two long (lyrically and compositionally related) pieces, in some ways the album is the logical follow-up to Flowermouth that Wild Opera wasn’t (albeit a follow up filtered through two and half decades of accumulated experiences and influences).

The opening section of the core piece – Love You To Bits – was written in the Summer of 1994 (around the time of Flowermouth’s release) and the original idea for what we wanted to do emerged around that time as well. As it better represented the way we were feeling by the end of 1994 (bad!!), the more aggressive and spontaneous Wild Opera material took over and became our focus. As a result, Love You To Bits remained on the no-man back burner, occasionally being added to but mostly being ignored and never feeling quite right for inclusion on any of our subsequent releases.

Once we took the decision to complete LYTB in late 2018, ideas flowed and it finally became what we’d always wanted it to be. As with Lighthouse, Angel Gets Caught In The Beauty Trap and Days In The Trees, this was a piece many years in the making, but as a lot of writing and the majority of recording has been done over the last year (particularly on the second piece) the album also feels fresh.

For me, what we’ve come up with is exciting and unexpected. It’s also something that needs to be listened to as a whole (it evolves in a way wholly unanticipated by the beginning) and as they always used to say on records, ‘loud’. As with Flowers At The Scene, only more so, I have no idea what the reaction to the album will be and at this stage of my music making that’s a good thing.

The late 2019 release is still on.

————

Due to work on the no-man album and the recent live dates, I had the longest period of not writing in some years. From October 2018 to August 2019, I spent time recording and re-writing music, but didn’t come up with any new material that could be added to my bulging ‘hard drive of doom’.

Over the last month I’ve written and co-written six songs – just over half an album’s worth of material – plus several instrumental fragments that might end up being used somewhere. Emerging in an unforced way and pretty much out of nowhere, it’s been a relief to know that I still feel compelled to write and an even greater relief that what’s been written is a departure from both Flowers At The Scene and no-man’s forthcoming album.

The song that kickstarted the process – One Last Call – shares something of the atmospheric desolation of What Lies Here, though it has a very different sound and is conceptually a world away.

Lyrically and musically the new pieces are strongly related and the mood and soundscapes are deliberately limited, and very coherent as a result. As with FATS, my chief collaborator on these pieces is Bobian Hulse. Elsewhere, those mighty fine critters John Jowitt and Tom Atherton have been adding parts.

Working title, Late Night Laments.

————

Flowers At The Scene was released in March to possibly the best reviews and definitely the best chart positions of any of my albums. A genuine and pleasing surprise.

The album felt like a new beginning and being so different from Lost In The Ghost Light, it was difficult to know what the response might be.

Feeling somewhat like no-man’s early work – in that it presented several directions my music could possibly take in the future – it was truly gratifying that FATS seemed to connect with an audience.

Thanks to those of you who bought the album.

————

Bar the ‘funeral in Berlin’, all the live dates were enjoyable with Wroclaw and London being highlights – for very different reasons – and The Night Of The Prog a suitably grand finale. At the latter, Gary Kemp and Saucerful Of Secrets were great company and performed the early work of Pink Floyd (a little-known beat combo I’m rather partial to) with genuine enthusiasm and flair.

Bobian Hulse’s return to the stage after a 31 year absence was a roaring success. The bow-tied Beau Brummel cut a dash, while John Jowitt’s addition to the band continued to pay dividends both musically and in terms of his powerful stage presence.

A big thank you to everyone who attended the shows and an avalanche of pats on the back to Graham Harris and Nellie ‘Lady Nellington’ Pitts for their help.

————

It was an honour to be in Prog magazine’s centenary issue list of Prog icons. Even though what I do doesn’t operate within recognisable Prog Rock styles (bar Lost In The Ghost Light and Henry Fool, perhaps), the magazine – which has an admirably eclectic musical scope – has been very supportive of my music since its inception and I remain extremely grateful for it.

————

Anil Prasad managed to extract a War And Peace sized interview out of me earlier this year. Thinking about it, maybe that’s why I didn’t find the time to write any new songs for the first eight months of the year! As always, Anil got some things out of me that I’ve never shared in interviews (the redacted version had far more).

I think that the section near the end – regarding the current state of the music industry – does hit on issues rarely openly discussed and I’d suggest people who haven’t seen it take a read. Audiences don’t owe musicians a living (though most even well-known musicians struggle to make a living via music alone these days), but I think it’s worth considering the repercussions of the future the current industry model is dictating and may define for decades to come. In short – and I accept that this may just be natural selection in action – the sort of music that inspired and inspires me is at risk of disappearing altogether. Given the state of the world politically and environmentally I realise this is a very First World problem, but as someone who still considers music important I think it’s worth fighting for.

Here it is https://www.innerviews.org/inner/tim-bowness

————

This will be the final diary entry formatted by my long-term webmaster Tony Kinson, who’s been a great help in sympathetically promoting my music for many years (his no-man – a confession… site was an excellent resource).

I’d like to thank Tony for all his creative input and assistance over the last decade and a half, and also introduce Rob Skarin (one half of the wonderful Crystal Spotlight) who’ll be taking over my web activities from this point onwards.

————

Farewell!

————

Listening

Babybird – Photosynthesis (2019)
Be Bop Deluxe – Futurama (1975)
Cate Le Bon – Reward (2019)
Johnny Cash – American IV – The Man Comes Around (2002)
Dead Can Dance – Anastasis (2012) / Dionysus (2018)
B Eno / R Eno / Lanois – Apollo (1983/2019)
Richie Havens – Richard P Havens, 1983 (1969)
Shuggie Otis – Inspiration Information (1974)
Pere Ubu – The Long Goodbye (2019)
Prefab Sprout / Paddy McAloon – I Trawl The Megahertz (2003)
Bill Pritchard – Midland Lullabies (2019)
Queen – News Of The World (1977) / Jazz (1978)
Klaus Schulze – Mirage (1977)
Labi Siffre – The Last Songs (1998)
The Specials – Encore (2019)
Swans – The Burning World (1989)
Eberhard Weber – The Following Morning (1977)
Yes – Close To The Edge (1972)

Reading

Stan Barstow – The Human Element and Other Stories (1970)
John Le Carre – Call for the Dead (1961) / The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1963) / A Legacy of Spies (2017)
Roger McGough – joinedupwriting (2019)
Brian Patten – The Book Of Upside Down Thinking (2018)
Claudia Rankine – Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (2004) / Citizen: An American Lyric (2015)
Crystal Zevon – I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Life and Times of Warren Zevon (2008)