The usual workload plus two house moves and the release and promotion of Abandoned Dancehall Dreams has meant finding gaps to write or record hasn’t been particularly easy since the early part of the year.
Luckily, things have finally settled down and I’ve recently started work on a follow up album to Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and continued to write with Peter Chilvers for our long-delayed successor to California, Norfolk.
Being able to realise ideas or find myself somewhere I wasn’t expecting creatively remains something I never tire of and after what seems like an age of inactivity, it’s felt great to be immersed in the process of making music once more.
Writing and recording again has led to the usual questioning of what it is I produce and why it is that I make the music I do. Despite eclectic tastes and a world of possibilities, a lot of artists find somewhere that feels comfortable to them and end up staying in that place. Although I do go off into some seemingly out of character directions – Henry Fool, Darkroom, Wild Opera etc – my ‘territory’ is still mostly that of the ballad (intimate or epic), the atmospheric experiment and the moodier than Ron Moody sentiment. Judging by what’s recently been coming out of my mouth and guitar, a shift towards Macarena-style euphoria or mid-period Robin Thicke isn’t looking very likely, but as with ADD it feels like the new material (and the refining of old material) represent a confident summation of previous approaches, which are also taking the music somewhere fresh.
The two albums currently in progress subtly reflect different aspects of what I do and what I’m instinctively drawn to. As with no-man and ADD, ADD 2.0 has a bolder, more dynamic approach, while the new Bowness/Chilvers songs develop further the narrative-based material on California, Norfolk (though the sadness may be even sadder than before!).
ADD 2.0 got off to a very special and quite unexpected start in late October when I recorded a song in the studio of one of my long-term musical inspirations, Peter Hammill. Peter provided guitars and backing vocals for one of my songs (and its bizarre, spontaneously conceived coda) and was an encouraging and accommodating presence throughout the process. I was very aware that the teenage me – in awe of Over and Pawn Hearts – would have been delighted to be a part of this experience (the adult me was rather pleased too!).
The next stage of ADD 2.0 will comprise several days of full band recording, plus overdubs aplenty (including the return of Andrew Keeling’s very fine string arranging and Anna Phoebe’s superb violin playing), all followed by the time-consuming process of editing and mixing. At this early stage, the material assembled feels like a logical advancement from ADD and I’m really excited to see where it goes.
After writing what I regard as four of our best ever collaborative pieces in a burst of activity late last year, Peter Chilvers and I resumed ‘the follow-up that’s taking forever’ a fortnight ago. Straight off, we came up with a stark piano, oboe and voice piece that developed into something we weren’t expecting. Lyrically, the song tells a very specific story unlike any I’ve written before. Overall, the new lyrics have something of the narrative flavour of Post-Its and Smiler At 50, and as with California, Norfolk there’s a strong ‘album’ coherence emerging with themes exploring the contrast between youthful optimism and mature reflection. Musically, the pieces vary from being heavily electronic to incredibly spartan and organic, and show how Lord Chilvers’ abilities have impressively evolved as a result of his ongoing work with Brian Eno and Karl Hyde.
If writing and studio recording remain things that excite me, the ’solo’ live experience is something that I still feel needs work before it fully satisfies me.
The recent shows were all enjoyable in different ways and I particularly liked the dynamic shifts in the music and the fact that Smiler At 50 and Dancing For You seemed to come off as well in performance as in the studio. Additionally, the relentless grind of Mixtaped continued to be a pleasure to play.
Myke Clifford was as good as I’ve ever heard him and his temporary replacement for the final gig, Theo Travis, was equally inspired. Doctor Bearpark and Baron Bennett showed their range as soloists/texturalists and the Booker/Edwin rhythm section were tough and flexible giving the band a real scope. The merger of no-man, Tim Bowness and Henry Fool identities was perhaps less effective than the band as a unit, though.
For me, as they all represent aspects of music I’ve made, the fusion made sense, but I could see that rather than present a united creative front, for some people, the combination of styles only served to emphasise the differences between them. My decision not to play guitar (which I did in rehearsal) undoubtedly played a part as it left me physically adrift from the Henry Fool instrumentals that I’d played a major role in writing/creating.
Next time, with another solo album to draw from, I suspect that the live approach will be a very different one.
In very different ways, the 2014 releases by David Bowie, Scott Walker, Peter Hammill and Pink Floyd have been inspiring to me, and have shown that it’s still very possible to make great music well into long-established and seemingly defined careers.
Perhaps the most radical of the releases has been the Bowie double whammy of Sue (or In A Season Of Crime) and ‘Tis Pity She Was A Whore. Experimental Jazz-inflected songs with little relationship to previous Bowie work (or anything really), they’d make for a remarkable statement at any stage in a career. I genuinely enjoyed The Next Day (which seemed to me a logical continuation of Heathen and Reality), but these two pieces have surprised and thrilled me in a way that Low, Lodger, Scary Monsters, and 1.Outside did when I first heard them.
Walker and Hammill have both continued their bold late career adventures with passion and enthusiasm. Both are in superb voice and both are creating some impressively unique textures. Along with Bowie, it feels as if there’s an urgent sense of forward motion propelling these careers that are approaching 50 years ‘in the business’.
By way of contrast, the Pink Floyd release is a gentle elegy that reflects many aspects of the band’s past. Fusing elements of Echoes, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, The Division Bell and even the tribal drumming and textures of Saucerful Of Secrets, it’s an affectionate tribute to the strengths of the band’s more atmospheric identity, and a touching farewell to Richard Wright. Possessing a dreamy timelessness, the album lacks the edge of The Wall and the seductive melodies of Dark Side Of The Moon, but it wasn’t intended to have either and works well on its own terms. To do what you once did as effectively as you ever did, is also an achievement I think, and Gilmour’s voice and guitar tone seem as rare and accomplished as ever (ditto Robert Fripp, who seems truly energised by the recent King Crimson activity).
In the under 65 department, 26 year old Keaton Henson’s Romantic Works has been generating quite a bit of play on my iPod of late. It’s a beautiful, grainy, ‘lo-fi Classical’ collection that sits somewhere between Arvo Part’s transcendent Alina, Max Richter’s soundtracks and Virginia Astley’s underrated 1980s gem From Gardens Where We Feel Secure. At once familiar, but also strange in its eerie intimacy.
Craig Armstrong – It’s Nearly Tomorrow (2014)
Colin Blunstone – Collected (2014)
David Bowie – Sue (or In A Period Of Crime) / ‘Tis Pity She Was A Whore (2014)
Jack Bruce – Harmony Row (1971)
John Coltrane – Infinity (1972)
Francis Dunnery – The Gulley Flat Boys (2005)
Peter Hammill – All That Might Have Been (2014)
Keaton Henson – Romantic Works (2014)
King Crimson – The Elements Of King Crimson (2014)
Pink Floyd – The Endless River (2014)
Steve Reich – Radio Rewrite (2014)
Rotary Connection – Hey, Love (1971)
Stravinsky – The Rite Of Spring (1913)
Scott Walker and Sunn O))) – Soused (2014)
Wings – At The Speed Of Sound (1976)
American Hustle (2013)
Blue Jasmine (2013)
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2013)
Le Weekend (2013)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2013)
Simon Gray – The Year Of The Jouncer (2005)
Marcus O’Dair – Different Every Time – The Authorised Biography Of Robert Wyatt