2009, the year of no blog, turned out to be a mixed experience.
The completion of the No-Man DVD and the release of the Judy Dyble album, despite delays, went as well as I’d have hoped, while the ongoing gestation of several other projects (Henry Fool, Memories Of Machines and Bowness/Chilvers to name but three) and the death of people in the Burning Shed orbit brought considerably more sober notes to some of the year.
The sole performance of the year, at the 100 Club in London, was also a tale of two halves, with the comparatively unrehearsed Judy Dyble section of the show turning out a treat, and the ‘T-Bo and friends’ part being badly hampered by a poor mix and the ongoing curse of Baron Bennett’s collapsing laptop. Saved by some wonderful Maestro Bingham violin strokes, from a vocal point of view the whole performance felt like trying to walk over a foundation of constantly shifting winds. I fell to earth.
Recording-wise, mini-collaborations with OSI (in which I really did ‘go Metal’) and the Opium Cartel were very enjoyable detours and the completion of No-Man’s first post-Schoolyard Ghosts piece, Death Was California, provided me with one of my favourite ever No-Man songs.
The Judy Dyble album Talking With Strangers was finally released in August and received some wonderful responses. Overall, it was good fun to make and was one of those rare projects that turned out exactly as I’d imagined it would. Co-writing the epic Harpsong was a personal highlight for me.
Work continued on the Memories Of Machines album, with new songs being written, old songs being dropped and fresh collaborations being made (Julianne Regan, Jim Matheos and Paatos‘s drum wiz Hux all got added to the mix).
Elsewhere, in late-November, Samuel Smiles were quietly re-booted in the cosy rooms of an isolated cottage on the edge of an out of season seaside town. As it sometimes can, taking on a legacy of the past, in this case the songs of my pre-No-Man band Plenty, proved to be an ideal kickstart for a possible future.
Years after I’d last heard them, I’d woken up one morning in October with two Plenty pieces playing on repeat in my head. On mentioning this to Michael Bearpark, we decided to get together with Lord Chilvers to try and more fully realise some old songs that we still had an affection for.
Plenty existed on and off for around five years, from the mid-1980s through to the early 1990s. After years of looking, I felt I’d found people working in an area of music I liked who also had a real sense of commitment to music.
Brian Hulse and David Jones had been in an inventive Post-Punk band from Liverpool called A Better Mousetrap (who I’d liked and even auditioned for in my teens).
After I’d drafted in Brian to supervise some recordings I was making in 1986, the idea of a new project came up. Brian brought in David and I asked the 16 year- old super sage Michael Bearpark along and Plenty was born.
Although the band’s production was very much of its era (meaning unsubtle) and my voice was at it’s most histrionic (meaning unlistenable!), Plenty wrote a body of songs that I still consider to be amongst the best I’ve been involved in co-writing.
As Speak demonstrates, courtesy of the man Wilson, No-Man had a more natural sound and more musical scope, but arguably we initially lagged behind in terms of actual songwriting skills (two Plenty tracks were regularly played during the early No-Man live shows).
Given that we’d not heard this material in nearly two decades and did no preparation for the weekend, it was amazing that we totally picked up on the essence/structure of the songs within a couple of run- throughs.
It ‘felt’ like we were replicating the originals perfectly until we played the originals back. The arrangements were much more organic, intimate and cinematic, and while I’d remembered the melodic lines correctly, luckily, my voice was a very different beast from its barking 1980s equivalent.
The motivations were:
a) To complete something quickly (as an antidote to long-gestating projects like Memories Of Machines, Henry Fool, Mixtaped, Bowness/ Chilvers 2 etc).
b) To get the core Smiles trio working together again, with a view to us doing more. With Speak, the past kickstarted something new and gave No-Man a clearer sense of current perspective and future goals and I felt this could do the same for the Smiles..
c) To see what it was like singing songs of love and ageing which were written before I’d had any significant relationships or physical decay.
The music we created was undeniably contained in what was there originally, but the major differences in the new versions gave us a genuine insight into the changes that have occurred since they were written. We also became aware of some good things that might have been lost and a melancholy sense of revisiting an old favourite place occasionally lingered.
As a direct result of the experience, so far, two live dates in April (featuring the Lord, the sage and the Maestro, Steve Bingham) have been arranged. Hopefully, more will follow.
A new year, a new decade and, finally, a new blog.
David Bowie – Heathen (2002)
Harold Budd – Pavilion Of Dreams (1976)
Miles Davis – Aura (1984))
Durutti Column – Paen To Wilson (2009)
Brian Eno – back catalogue 1973-1977
Robert Fripp – A Blessing Of Tears (1995)
Arve Henriksen – Cartography (2008)
It’s Immaterial – Song (Cherry Red reissue) (1990)
Ingram Marshall – Fog Tropes/Gradual Requiem (1982)
Cliff Martinez – Wicker Park OST (2004)
Massive Attack – Heligoland (2010)
Jim O’Rourke – The Visitor (2009)
Brendan Perry – Eye Of The Hunter (1999)
Poco – Crazy Eyes (1973)
Prefab Sprout – Let’s Change The World With Music (2009)
Frank Sinatra – Only the Lonely (1958)
David Sylvian – Manafon (2009)
These New Puritans – Hidden (2010)
Steven Wilson – Cover Version 6 (2010)
Yes – Relayer (1974)
The Apartment (1960)
The Box (2009)
Nowhere Boy (2009)
The Road (2010)
Stardust Memories (1980)
Anne Enright – Yesterday’s Weather (stories, 1989-2008)
John Fante – Ask The Dust (1939)