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.
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
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)