Diary

Read Tim's diary entries here

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)

September 2016

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

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

Updates:

Bowness / Chilvers 2.0 – Ghosts In The City:

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

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

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

Plenty:

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

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

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

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

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

Bowness 4.0 – Third Monster On The Left:

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

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

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

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

Banco De Gaia – Nine Hearts:

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

Neve / Gregory / Bowness – Speak For Me:

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

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

Watkins / Bowness:

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

The (Half) Live Release:

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

Live:

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

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

Buy a ticket (or four) why don’t you.

The Future:

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

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Listening:

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

Reading:

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

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April 19 2016

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The last few months have been a strange combination of me being creatively busy and occasionally ground to a standstill (one bad Winter cold left me unable to sing for two months which felt like forever), so it’s very much been a time of ups and low level downs.

Despite that, the music is in as good a place as I can remember and the process of making it continues to be hugely enjoyable.

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The second Bowness / Chilvers album is still nearing completion and is still sounding (to us, anyway) like the best work we’ve done together. We wrote another new piece in February (called Ghost In The City) and work on existing pieces continues. As with California, Norfolk, there’s a very particular set of moods and sounds being intimately explored.

Semi-related, the one-off Bowness/Chilvers/Rhodes/Travis Cardiff experience in October provided a nice inspirational interlude and some clues as to how the songs might end up sounding. Joined by Captain Pete ‘Dexter’ Morgan, we played a selection of pieces from California, Norfolk, Slow Electric and the forthcoming B/C misery-fest. Extended ‘band’ versions of the likes of Criminal Caught In The Crime and Post-Its were genuinely exciting to perform and seemed to take the music in fresh directions.

Having admired David Rhodes’ work with Peter Gabriel (and others) for decades, it was great to hear his playing and singing close up and there’s no doubt his ideas and presence added an extra dimension to the patented Bowness/Chilvers brand of aural melancholia.

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Singing two songs (one a cover of David Bowie’s anthemic Heroes) with a powerful three-headed Trance/Electronic/Space Rock beast, I stepped out of my comfort zone by joining Banco De Gaia live on two occasions in February and March.

I may well have massacred a brilliant song by one of my favourite artists, but the experience was still a good one (luckily, the audiences were kind to my mistakes!).

Banco and their entourage were incredibly welcoming and the live group sound was immense (Banco’s effortlessly cool bass player James Eller is someone I saw live with Julian Cope in the 1980s and whose playing I very much liked in The The).

The onstage chemistry was good and it’s looking likely that ‘Cosmic jams’ with the Banco band may take place sooner rather than later.

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In news of another unexpected collaboration, I co-wrote a piece with the extremely gifted former Happy The Man / Camel keyboard player Kit Watkins (someone else I saw live in the 1980s). Appropriately, the new (8 and half minute) collaborative ‘song’ came about wholly by accident.

Developed out of an evocative large-scale Minimalist composition of Kit’s, I provided vocals aplenty, while Plenty’s Brian Hulse added guitar parts. The resulting piece is unusual and hypnotic and possesses hot and cold World Music elements that provide quite a unique setting for my voice.

Talking of Plenty, the original line-up (me, Brian Hulse, David Jones and Professor Michael Bearpark) has been working out the logistics of how to finally do justice to the material it recorded in the mid to late 1980s. As a consequence, chorus pedals, cheap drum machines, big shoulder pads and even bigger hair could be brought out of hibernation just in time for the band’s 30th anniversary next year.

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And if that wasn’t enough shenanigans to report, there’s also been work on what I hope will become my next solo album.

Along with Stephen Bennett, I co-wrote what I consider to be one of the strongest and most emotional epics I’ve participated in making. Something of a spiritual successor to Smiler At 50, Sing To Me and Dancing For You, You’ll Be The Silence is also the latest instalment in the ongoing series of songs from the Third Monster On The Left concept.

In its wake, two more songs were written and as we now have 50 minutes of unreleased music to choose from and develop further, it finally looks like the Monster may have his day.

The Monster compositions are generally more complex than anything I’ve been involved with before, so despite being somewhat stylistically retro (in keeping with the theme of the lyrics) they’ve been a genuine challenge to create (both from a musical and narrative lyrical point of view). They’re also something that I feel an intense attachment to despite them being less directly personal than what I usually write.

Give or take a Henry Fool track or two, in many ways, this is my first serious foray into (song-orientated) full-blown Progressive Rock territory and in my imagination the Third Monster material sounds like the band that I’d have wanted to front in 1975 (if I’d been an adult or creatively active at that time) or perhaps the sound of the band I thought I’d grow up to be in when I was a schoolboy planning my very first musical ‘great escapes’.

For all its elements of sonic time travel and ‘fantasy Prog league’ grandeur, the music isn’t pastiche. I can hear elements of 1970s Genesis, David Bowie and Pink Floyd (for example) colliding with whatever it is that I do, but it’s ending up (for better or worse) sounding very much like itself. Whether that turns out to be an exciting new direction informed by the past, or Bowness The Thotch Years remains to be seen.

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Listening:

American Football – American Football (1999)
David Bowie – Blackstar (2016)
Grateful Dead – From The Mars Hotel (1974)
Billie Holiday – Lady In Satin (1958)
King Crimson – Live In Toronto (2016)
Le Orme – Felona E Serona (1973)
Thelonious Monk – Solo Monk (1965)
Owen – New Leaves (2009)
Max Richter – Sleep (2015)
The The – Mind Bomb (1989)
Three Trapped Tigers – Silent Earthling (2016)

Reading:

Robert Silverberg – Dying Inside (1972)

Watching:

The Hateful Eight (2015)
The Revenant (2015)