Diary

Read Tim's diary entries here

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.

————

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)

————

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.

———

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.

———

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.

———

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.

———

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.

———

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)

September 11 2015

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The waiting is over and the results are in (sort of, anyway).

The last few months have seen a whirlwind of activity, with a new album release, a (by my standards) extensive ‘World’ tour (of 4 dates in 2 countries, no less!), a ten ton truckload of interviews, and a social schedule that involved more than just waving to bleary-eyed kindred spirits on ‘the school run’.

Stupid Things That Mean The World achieved the most (and highest) chart positions of my career. This was both incredibly gratifying and, as always, something of a relief. After the comparative success of ADD, this time there was a degree of expectation surrounding the new album. The consensus was that ADD would be a hard act to follow and I was very much aware of that. Luckily – both in terms of sales and reactions – Stupid Things That Mean The World has appeared to generate just that little bit more than ADD did and maintain forward momentum in a way that I was hoping it would.

This time round there were three Top 10 chart positions (official UK Rock, Prog and Vinyl charts), an entry in the lower end of the ‘general/mainstream’ chart and more reviews and interviews than I can remember doing since the early days of no-man. When you’re at the wrong end of middle age and involved in something highly personal, these unexpected mini-triumphs really are something special.

Though I can’t say Stupid Things is better than ADD, the album did feel as if it was more probing and perhaps an even more honest representation of what it is that I do (and like). Stupid Things possessed more diversity and seemed harder and softer, complex and simpler, and both more accessible and more experimental than ADD. Though coherent, I hoped it had a greater sense of playing with possibilities than its predecessor (which I felt worked as a consistent body of songs). Ultimately, I’m pleased with both albums, which I think have managed to establish a recognisable identity for me outside of my work with no-man and Steven Wilson.

It’s mostly felt like a period where things have been progressing apace, but it’s also sometimes felt like a time of running around frantically in order to maintain the position I was already in (Bono may have said the same thing more succinctly at some point!).

————

The ‘World’ tour of 2015 was a mixed experience and a reality check, in that it pointed out the difficulty of attracting an audience and the fact that to get to a higher level sacrifices have to be made on what will probably always feel like an uphill struggle.

The Rehearsals:

Holed up in rural Wiltshire with the streamlined five piece Tim Bowness Band, a joyous noise was made for five days in a row. Despite playing a significantly different set than any we’d played before (including 50% new songs), things went surprisingly well and quickly. It was perhaps the best rehearsal period we’ve ever had. The music worked, relationships were good, coffee breaks were plentiful and optimism was high.

In the middle of the rehearsals, I travelled with the newly crowned super-boffin Professor Bearpark to BBC Bristol for an interview and accompanying acoustic session. Enjoyable and relaxed, it reminded me of many similar performances I’d undertaken in the early 1990s with Steven Wilson. Like other things to come over the next few weeks, there was a strong sense of past experiences invading present moments.

As a quintet, the band’s approach had by necessity turned to the more Rock end of what I do. The new material suited the musicians and vice versa. A powerful guitar-heavy counterpoint to the graceful electronica of the 2004-2006 My Hotel Band, without sacrificing the melancholy or introspective nature of much of the music, it felt like we were managing to create something that could communicate on a wider level than we had done previously.

On the fourth and fifth days, we multi-track recorded what we did with a view to a future release of some sort. The live versions of songs had been developing a character of their own and we felt they needed to be chronicled. So chronicled they were.

The gigs:

Straight from an almost flawless rehearsal, we arrived at a Bristol venue that wasn’t quite what we were expecting and promptly massacred two songs in the soundcheck. We were unlearning in real time! The gig itself was on the smallest stage we’d played on in years, which wasn’t conducive to ‘the big gesture’ (or physical movement of any kind!). The sound onstage was poor and the optimism (along with the onstage banter) ran dry. That said, the rehearsing must have paid off in some way as the performance possessed some powerful moments and the audience reaction was extremely positive and warm (justifying the whole affair).

The next day was London. From the off, the venue and sound were much better and the performance reflected this. Reminiscent of no-man’s 2012 show at the Islington Town Hall, there was a confidence on display that seemed to be acknowledged by the audience response.

If it’s the weekend, it must be Poland! Ino-Rock provided a great educational experience. The same set that had been effective in a club setting felt sometimes exposed when performed in front of a couple of thousand people at an open-air festival. Two thirds to three quarters of the music genuinely worked in the larger environment, while a quarter to a third seemed more fit for intimate theatre performance than stadium assault. Regardless, when it did come together the performance was a powerful example of what this particular band can do well. The audience was very receptive and a post-gig wander through the crowd yielded many wonderful encounters, countless selfies and some of the most probing questions I’ve been asked in years. As in Krakow in 2012, the Polish experience was energising and a lot of fun. The organisers, the fans and the people we met (including Fish and his very fine band) were a delight, and over two days in the hotel lobby I conducted one of the most in-depth interviews I’ve ever done (for the US-based Progression magazine).

After a week’s absence from the stage, the end was nigh in Manchester in a similar venue to the one in London (though smaller, both in terms of audience and stage size). We were supported by old friends and former band mates Nerve Toy Trio, who unexpectedly proved to be more Prog than Rick Wakeman’s golden cape (in a good way). The T-Bo Band started off well, but tentatively. Half-way through something seemed to click. The audience had been vocally supportive throughout, but from Dancing For You onwards I was at my most verbally communicative and the band locked into some powerful grooves with absolute conviction. An additional – genuinely spontaneous – surprise was that the encore of All The Blue Changes featured the Nerve Toy Trio’s Howard Jones on drums (alongside Andrew Booker). Howard is a gifted drummer who was a major part of several of my earliest bands including The Roaring Silence and After The Stranger, and this was the first time we’d appeared on a stage together since 1986 (past experiences invading present moments, once again). A double drum solo was hinted at and then it was all over. After the gig, the members of the audience I spoke to seemed extremely appreciative of the evening’s music, and on a personal level it was genuinely nice to reconnect with old friends and even older family.

Conclusions:

Aside from the Polish festival, stupidly, I’d organised everything myself. And at a bad time of year. As such, promotion was minimal (being a gig promoter is clearly not my forte) and attendances were on the low side bar Poland. Artistically it felt good, though. The new music thrived in a live setting and the band seemed stronger than ever. Being reduced to a five piece meant that the instrumentalists had more space as well as more to do to fill some of the extra space. Colin, Mike, Stephen and Andy raised their already high games. Time Travel In Texas was harder, funkier and stranger, Sing To Me soared, the guitar solo in Dancing For You became an unexpected concert highlight (grown people wept at the Professor’s emotional six-string outpourings!), Know That You Were Loved hit a sweet melancholy spot and Smiler At 50 sounded bigger than Digby. Whatever disappointment there was about attendances seemed insignificant in light of the band’s performances and the encouraging audience reactions.

————

Outside of the tour, I attended the hugely enjoyable fourth annual Prog Awards and also saw the mighty King Crimson live (for the first time since 1995).

At the awards, I was on the Inside Out table, and it was tremendous fun to meet up up with the likes of Peter Hammill, Bill Nelson, Steve Hogarth, Nick Beggs, the genial Gentle Giant and, of course, Steven Wilson (amongst others).

King Crimson, as ever, asked as many questions as they answered and, as ever, they remain a firm touchstone in my musical world. The band’s collective sound was immense and it was great to see Mel Collins back where he belongs, Jakko fronting his favourite band, and to hear new songs mingling with old classics

————

Next up is a special one-off gig in Cardiff with Lord Peter Chilvers, David Rhodes and sax royalty Theo Travis. There’ll be more work on the forthcoming Bowness/Chilvers release and Third Monster On The Left, and there are semi-concrete plans to create a live Tim Bowness (and band) album and studio single.

There’ll also be more school runs, I expect.

————

Listening:

Be Bop Deluxe – Sunburst Finish (1976)
Ornette Coleman – Dancing In Your Head (1977)
David Crosby – Croz (2014)
FFS – FFS (2015)
Led Zeppelin – Presence (1976)
Magazine – Magic, Murder & The Weather (1981)
Bill Nelson – Quit Dreaming And Get Off The Beam (1981)
Siouxie & The Banshees – Hyaena (1984)
Troyka – Ornithophobia (2015)
Kamasi Washington – The Epic (2015)

Reading:

Kent Haruf - Our Souls At Night (2014)
David S Wills - Scientologist!: William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult’ (2013)

Watching:

Grace And Frankie
The Last Man On Earth
Transparent
True Detective

————

may 12th

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Stupid Things That Mean The World, my third solo album, was finished in mid-April.

Compared with Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, the making of the album was a bit of a long slog with many obstacles (illnesses, recording problems, moving house and so on), but despite (or because of) this the result definitely feels like something of a progression from its predecessor, and very much like the second part of a new chapter that ADD began (which, luckily, was exactly what I was after when I started the process of making the album).

That almost all the album’s music was written in 2014 and 2015 (and mostly recorded in 2015) was also pleasing. Two very different songs emerged at the very end of the sessions and they may be amongst my personal favourites of songs that I’ve been involved in making. The Great Electric Teenage Dream is one of the most aggressive pieces I’ve sung on, while the other new song (Know That You Were Loved) shares the quiet ‘end days’ melancholy and introspection of perhaps my all-time favourite no-man song, Things I Want To Tell You.

One of the exceptions to the 2014 / 2015 rule is All These Escapes, which is a new version of an old Plenty song from 1988. Re-recording lines I’d originally sung over half a lifetime ago was less strange than I thought it would be, and it was surprisingly easy to inhabit the emotional core of the song, while also being aware that (certainly lyrically) it was something that I wouldn’t (or couldn’t) have come up with over the last two decades.

Another part exception to the 2014 / 2015 rule is Sing To Me, which evolved out of a no-man demo from 1994 called Best Boy Electric. I heard BBE for the first time in over 20 years when Steven Wilson sent it to me in October 2014 (for consideration for a possible reissue of no-man’s Lost Songs album). I’d completely forgotten the song, and on re-hearing it in 2014 couldn’t understand why we’d abandoned it (it being so at odds with the emerging Wild Opera material is my guess). I wrote a new lyric and a couple of new instrumental themes, and Stephen Bennett suggesting doubling the length. As a result, a one and a half minute fragment from 1994 turned into a six minute epic from 2015. Sing To Me reminds me of aspects of the early no-man that I loved, while also feeling very much a part of the music I’m currently making.

My STTMTW (not as catchy as ADD, I grant you!) collaborators have been both returning (Bennett, Bearpark, Booker, Edwin, Keeling, Phoebe, Hammill) and new (Bruce Soord, David Rhodes, Rhys Marsh) and, overall, there’s a greater diversity of mood and style than is common on most of my releases. Jarrod Gosling once again provided some unique artwork and Charlotte Kinson came good with promotional photographs (acting on the difficult instruction, “Make me look human.”).

As with ADD, it’s great at this stage of my life to still feel that I’m releasing some of my best work and to still be excited by the process of making and releasing it.

————

Listening:

Big Hard Excellent Fish – And The Question Remains (2013)
Bjork – Vulnicura (2015)
Captain Beefheart – Sun Zoom Spark: 1970 to 1972 (2015)
Electric Wurms – Musik, Die Schwer zu Twerk (2014)
David Cross and Robert Fripp – Starless Starlight (2015)
The Flaming Lips – Peace Sword (2013)
Glenn Gould – Bach: The Art Of Fugue (1962)
Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti (1975)
Sanguine Hum – Now We Have Light
(2015)
The Who – Who’s Next (1971)
Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015)

Reading:

Emily St John MandelStation Eleven (2014)
Chuck PalahniukHaunted (2005)

Watching:

Better Call Saul (2015)

Nov 20th

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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.

————

Listening:

Craig Armstrong – It’s Nearly Tomorrow (2014)
Colin Blunstone – Collected (2014)
David BowieSue (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)

Watching:

American Hustle (2013)
Blue Jasmine (2013)
Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2013)
Le Weekend (2013)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2013)

Reading:

Simon Gray – The Year Of The Jouncer (2005)
Marcus O’Dair – Different Every Time – The Authorised Biography Of Robert Wyatt