2013 has simultaneously been an inspiring and frustrating year. Creatively it’s arguably been the best since 2006, with a lot of (what I consider to be) strong new material being written and a personal sense of anticipation and excitement surrounding the writing and recording. The frustration has come in the slow progress involved in getting definitive versions of the songs and subsequently assembling what’s been written into more substantial (album) contexts.
I’ve rarely had so many songs and instrumentals in states of near completion and the current list of things that may be ‘on the way’ includes:
Postcards From Space – This project with Alistair Murphy started in 2006 and around two album’s worth of songs were written by 2008. Progress was halted by no-man’s Schoolyard Ghosts, MoM’s Warm Winter, Alistair’s solo work, and our joint production of Judy Dyble’s 2009 album Talking With Strangers. Earlier this year, track listings were agreed upon and Pat Mastelotto and Steve Bingham added some excellent parts.
In some ways, the project is the most ‘difficult’ of any I’m involved with. The proposed album consists of one very long, atmospheric piece – awash with analogue synths, unexpected deviations and multi-layered vocal dissonances – and five shorter songs, which are more conventional in their singer-songwriter structures, but less so in terms of their arrangements. Outside of this, there’s an EP’s worth of more abrasive tracks, which have a distinct Post-Punk/King Crimson/Swans-esque ‘toughess’ about them.
The truth is that I’m the one holding this project back. As much as I like the music and feel it represents something different for me, it never seems quite right to release. As with my unreleased vocal loops, it’s at the minority end of what I do (which isn’t at the majority end of anything!), and some other project always seems to take precedence. A pity in some ways as Postcards have produced some genuinely interesting and surprising music.
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Henry Fool – The March 2013 release of Men Singing was a relief. 12 years of writing had left us with a lot of material that wasn’t quite complete, or just didn’t work as a whole. The decision to concentrate solely on the instrumental aspect of the band resulted in something both coherent and significantly different from anything we’d put out before. Once a course was agreed on, things happened quickly and the last minute additions of Phil Manzanera and Jarrod Gosling proved inspired.
Outside of this, there remains 50 minutes of songs – some of which I rate amongst the best I’ve been involved with – and another 50 minutes of instrumentals. The songs in themselves work well, but put together as a sequence, don’t quite gel. The issue might be with pacing, or the fact that they currently sound too alike, but a further problem lies in that they represent a polar opposite to Men Singing. The songs – compositionally detailed in a way the songs on HF’s debut weren’t – feature a stellar rhythm section of Colin Edwin and Huxflux Nettermalm, but are at odds with the current feeling that the directions hinted at on Men Singing should be developed further using the Henry Fool live band.
The reaction to Men Singing was far better than Stephen and I expected. Releasing a wholly instrumental ‘Jazz Rock’ album in 2013 was hardly a recipe for success based either on the uncompromising nature of the music itself or the fact that I’m known as a singer working in completely different genres. Overall, it picked up some of the best reviews I’ve ever had, which was truly gratifying.
The one live performance in support of the album – at the Kscope 5th anniversary event – was horrible on a personal level, but worked artistically. Suffering from a bad cold, I was unable to talk (or sing) and felt ill throughout the day. Playing in blazing heat a half hour before we were scheduled to go on didn’t help matters, nor did having to drop songs we’d rehearsed at the last minute. In complete contrast to my openly emotional performances on the 2012 no-man dates, I was in full, hunched ‘back to the audience’ Miles Davis mode (very Jazz Rock!). Regardless, the live Henry Fool had a real bite and a fizzing fuzz-box energy that we felt brought something fresh to the band’s approach. As well as the ongoing work on the songs – which may be released under a different project name – the live band will be recording some instrumentals in the studio in December. Expect noise and tricky time signatures galore.
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Slow Electric / Bowness/Chilvers – Partly as a result of the reissue of California, Norfolk, I’ve recently been writing with Peter in the most concentrated way since the early 2000s. My feeling is that C, N was as coherent as it was mainly due to us working more closely together than ever before (and for a longer period of time). For me, proximity can give a focus to creative work that working by sending files alone can rarely equal. Discussing and executing ideas in real time can often be more intense, more fun and produce more immediate results.
Re-listening to California, Norfolk I could hear its clear links to the surrounding no-man albums (Returning Jesus and Together We’re Stranger). Like Returning Jesus and Together We’re Stranger, California, Norfolk seems a very complete album experience both musically and lyrically. By contrast, the likes of Centrozoon‘s Never Trust The Way You Are, Henry Fool’s debut, Wild Opera, Postcards From Space and My Hotel Year seem much more episodic and restless (not necessarily bad things, but less satisfying to me personally).
Prior to this year, we had four Bowness/Chilvers co-compositions, a whole host of Plenty pieces, and a couple of my solo songs to work with. 2013 has brought two songs co-written with Colin Edwin (who’s joined Slow Electric) and four new Bowness/Chilvers pieces, three of which we both feel rank amongst the finest things we’ve done. A logical (contemporary) extension of California, Norfolk (in terms of the lyric as short story and the cinematic/electronic musical elements), it’s been a thrill to see the duo enthusiastically rekindle its creative spark. One of the new pieces is surprisingly beat driven, while another sprung from a wonderfully evocative Lord Chilvers piano progression that lent itself perfectly to an emotional, fx-drenched ode to loss. The question now is, what’s Bowness/Chilvers and what’s Slow Electric?
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no-man – Perhaps the most frustrating and disappointing thing of all this year has been putting no-man on indefinite hold due to Steven’s work committments.
The band and its music still means a lot to me and it felt like the 2012 tour was a breakthrough that suggested many possibilities for future no-man music. Over the last couple of years I’ve been writing material with a new no-man album in mind and during the Summer recorded around 30 minutes of music with the no-man live band (minus Steven). The results were mostly good and combined with various solo demos and co-writes meant that I had more (and more consistent) material to play Steven than I had during the Schoolyard Ghosts listening sessions. One late Summer encounter with Steven later and the feeling was that the new material had promise and a follow-up to Schoolyard Ghosts was on. One week after that, it wasn’t.
Mainly due to ongoing solo work and a whole slew of other projects, Steven understandably felt he couldn’t provide the time the album deserved if it were to become an official no-man release (neither of us would want to release anything sub-standard under the band name). His suggestion was that I put together the strongest songs for him to mix (and possibly add to) and that I release the result as my second solo album.
At the moment, this is the plan we’re working towards. My only real problem with this is that the material was written with no-man in mind. Weirdly, I have a very strong idea of what no-man can be and is (ditto Slow Electric and Henry Fool etc), but I don’t have a particular vision of what a Tim Bowness solo identity should be. In some ways, I express what I want to express more effectively and more completely within a band context. My Hotel Year did have a character, but it featured less of my own music than most of the albums I’m involved with and represented an aspect of my work I don’t feel like taking further. My wholly solo demos generally sound nothing like any of the bands I’m in, but again they operate in an area I’m not interested in developing. In general, I prefer collaboration and like what I do being creatively filtered through others (rather than just through me). The main issue is whether I create my idea of what a new no-man album should sound like, or I branch off and create something entirely different.
At least three of the band pieces work well for me and will be pursued. Outside of this, a couple of more intimate electronic pieces, a couple of acoustic songs (including one recorded with Phil Manzanera) and a couple of mini-epics are being developed. Colin Edwin has added fretless bass to two of the tracks, and composer Andrew Keeling has written string quartet arrangements for three of the pieces. Elsewhere, Baron Bennett is working on a choral part for a song that features one of the best Michael Bearpark guitar solos I’ve heard. Other than the debate over what (or who) this is, I’m really happy with the material and the ongoing recording. As such, things are exciting and progressing, but somewhat in flux and clouded in uncertainty.
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The box set – Outside of the above, amongst other things, I’ve recorded material with Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow, The Opium Cartel), Nick Magnus (Steve Hackett Band) and Jim Matheos (Fates Warning, OSI). Alongside the unreleased Plenty album, the abandoned Nick Drake covers album and various odds, sods and collaborations, there’s probably enough for a multi-disc box set (replete with a signed certificate with an authentic teardrop stain!). However, my reluctance to release things for the sake of it may well get in the way of this ever happening.
‘Expect a 2014 update on all the above with nothing new to promote!
David Bowie – The Next Day (2013)
The Clash – Sandinista! (1980)
John Coltrane – Africa/Brass (1961)
The Flaming Lips – The Terror (2013)
Heirlooms Of August – Down At The 5 Star (2013)
Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaValle – Perils From The Sea (2013)
Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Sings Newman (1970)
Laura Nyro – Christmas And The Beads Of Sweat (1970)
Robert Palmer – Clues (1980)
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)
Todd Rundgren – Todd (1974) / State (2013)
Patti Smith – Wave (1979) / Banga (2012)
Dave Stapleton – Catching Sunlight (2008)
Sugarcubes – Life’s Too Good (1988)
William Hjortsberg – Jubilee Hitchhiker –
The Life And Times Of Richard Brautigan
William Hjortsberg – Symbiography
Michel Houellebecq – Lanzarote
Andrew Kaufman – The Tiny Wife
Paul Myers – A Wizard , a True Star: Todd Rundgren in the Studio