Butterfly Mind marks 40 years since I started performing in bands.
The album was written and recorded between October 2020 and September 2021 and mixed and mastered by Steven Wilson in October and November of 2021.
The title is intended to reflect the eclectic nature of the music as well as the fantastic contributions from the many, diverse guest contributors, who range from the legendary likes of Ian Anderson, Peter Hammill and Dave Formula – all of whom I adored as a teenager – to more recent talents such as Martha Goddard and Mark Tranmer, whose excellent work I’ve only recently discovered.
As with Flowers At The Scene and Late Night Laments, my sounding board and co- producer on the album was the pride of St Helens himself, Mr Brian Hulse. A statue in Clock Face awaits.
Say Your Goodbyes part 1
With a paranoid and claustrophobic lyric, there’s more than a hint of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four or Kay Dick’s They about this. There’s also a distant echo of the sort of music I made when I started to write songs in the very early 1980s.
Musically, SYG has three very distinct sections in three very distinct tempos that are based on ‘feel’ rather than musical logic. Partly inspired by Rick Beato’s videos on contemporary music, I was keen to escape the ‘single bpm’ rigidity of a lot of latter-day productions.
Butterfly Mind’s powerful rhythm section – Richard Jupp and Nick Beggs – holds the chaos together admirably, while Ian Anderson’s flute and Peter Hammill’s demonic chant disrupt the groove, enhancing the unsettling nature of the piece. I put some of this together using Frank Zappa’s xenochrony method of utilising solos and sounds from entirely unrelated recordings and re-purposing / editing them within a fresh context.
My trusty M-Tron Pro was taken out of digital storage for the first time in nearly a decade for the Optigan and Mellotron parts.
Always The Stranger
The lyrics – chronicling an ‘outsider’ unable to cope with the pace of cultural change – offer a reflective counterpoint to the music’s nagging insistence.
The title of the song derives from the name of my first ever 1980s solo project. Despite being pretty experimental – I was a very intense teenager! – and only existing on home- produced demo cassettes, ATS got a lot of very welcome support from local media (BBC GMR, Piccadilly Radio, Manchester Evening News and Warrington Guardian, in particular).
The lyric is something of a ‘what might have been’ or even ‘what may be’ scenario. It’s about what can happen when you don’t embrace change or challenge and creative restlessness gives way to fearful stasis.
Musically, this was the last song to be written for the album. I was really happy with what was being created for Butterfly Mind, but I felt it still needed a very different burst of energy that could work as an effective counterpoint to the album’s more melancholy moments. In the pursuit of ‘surprise’, the writing was instinctive and trance-like.
Richard Jupp’s drumming is phenomenal on the track and the beautiful, airy backing vocals from Martha Goddard add an ethereal, otherworldly quality to the surrounding jittery chaos.
As a fan of Elbow, I’d loved Richard’s drumming on the band’s early albums. He was versatile, inventive and sensitive and these are all qualities that I think he brought to his playing on Butterfly Mind. Richard wasn’t booked to play on ATS, but once he heard it, he insisted on contributing. As with a lot of his playing on the album, he went above and beyond my expectations.
Throughout the album, Richard and the bass colossus that is Nick Beggs made for a brilliant rhythm partnership that I sincerely hope can be revisited at some point in the future.
It’s Easier To Love
A song about entrapment and dreams of escape.
This is something I wrote with Brian which features tender and sympathetic contributions from Nicola Alesini, Saro Cosentino, Devon Dunaway and Dave Formula.
Devon (aka Craig Roseberry) was a promoter for No-Man in the US in the mid-1990s. One evening in his Manhattan apartment, he played us some of his music. An unusual fusion of Quiet Storm R&B warmth and glacial 4AD style atmosphere, Steven Wilson and I were immediately impressed. Consequently, I’ve always had it in mind to work with him (though I wasn’t quite expecting a gap of 27 years between thought and execution!).
Saro is a gifted Italian composer and producer who I’ve worked with on a number of occasions since the late 1990s and he beautifully adds to the piece with a keyboard string arrangement which brings his film soundtrack / orchestration skills to the fore. His regular collaborator Nicola Alesini further enhances the soundscapes with some delicate and sympathetic saxophone contributions.
Richard Jupp adds to the carefully programmed Hulse percussion parts with some fine shaking of shakers, while Dave Formula’s subtle Hammond playing grounds the song superbly.
A brilliant, bubbling Nick Beggs bass contribution didn’t make the album mix but can be heard on the alt version of the song.
A song about protest, I’d like to think that this ‘Rocks like a bastard’ (as a post-it note on an LP in Manchester’s Piccadilly Records once said).
Nick Beggs virtuoso Stick playing is a highlight here as is the wonderful Ian Anderson flute solo (a man who is very much himself whatever the context). The joint Peter Hammill / Brian Hulse guitar riffage provides the motor for the song.
Atypical from its demo beginnings and featuring some unusual Hulsian chord progressions, this got better with each guest contribution.
This was the song that kicked the whole album off in October 2020. After eight months of only recording covers, I finally felt the desire to write again after feeling exhausted following the completion of Late Night Laments.
Like Say Your Goodbyes, this has several distinct sections in distinctly different tempos.
My original voice/guitar/fx demo – on the second disc of the CD release – is something I’m still really pleased with, but the Hulse-enhanced ‘proper’ arrangement certainly adds more layers (plus a liberal dollop of Joy Division’s magnificent Atmosphere). My casual Johnny Cash inspired humming from the demo remains.
To a degree, this is about finding the strength to survive in a time of seeming hopelessness. Proof that I can be optimistic (albeit in a downbeat way!).
Only A Fool
Another outlier on an album comprised of them, lyrically and musically Only A Fool is a sometimes fractious and sometimes playful exploration of contradictions.
Rather inevitably – given the times we’re in – this is my (ambiguous) take on the dehumanising and divisive nature of social media discourse. Some of the phrases were plucked from Twitter and daily newspaper ‘below the line’ comments, and adapted to fit the song’s rhythm and narrative.
Uncompromising and accessible, grand yet direct, Dave Formula’s synth and piano parts set the scene superbly, while Brian’s spiky guitar additions and the fast, furious and flexible Jupp / Beggs rhythm section provide the propulsive momentum.
I’ve long been a fan of Dave Formula’s work with Magazine, so it was a joy to get him involved in the album. This piece, with its insistent Post-Punk drive, was the one that made me get in touch with him in the first place.
After The Stranger
A strange, Dub-inspired concoction built out of Always The Stranger offcuts (plus specifically recorded additions), the title comes from the mid-1980s band that was formed after my solo project ran its course. Conceptual!
As the paranoia intensifies, Gregory Spawton excels on vintage Taurus Bass Pedals and Martha’s vocals and Richard’s drums imaginatively swirl around their solid pulse.
With a lyric evoking the elegance and decadence of a group of artists from The Roaring Twenties, Glitter Fades was written in early 2021.
This is one of those pieces where the words closely follow the evocative nature of the music. There’s a weird sense of ‘future nostalgia’ about Brian’s elegant Electro-Ballroom backing and the lyric revolves around the thoughts of a group of artists who once had the ears and eyes of the world, but now exist in a state of limbo (unaware that both they and the culture they forged are long dead and forgotten). The party is well and truly over.
Stephen W Tayler’s swirling clarinet and Martha Goddard’s ghostly backing vocals ramp up The Gold Room from The Shining atmosphere.
About The Light That Hits The Forest Floor
Beams of love shining through dense darkness.
This comprises a series of ‘reflections from the hospital ward’ as a devoted partner witnesses a long-term spouse dying (something given greater poignancy as one of the players on the song lost their long-term partner to cancer soon after the recording).
From Nick Beggs slinky fretless bass to Ben Coleman’s elegiac violin and Mark Tranmer’s celestial guitar contributions, this is very much an ‘all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain,’ affair. Then again, to quote Philip Larkin, perhaps it’s more of a, ‘What will survive of us is love,’ production?
I discovered Mark’s beautiful work with The Montgolfier Brothers and GNAC during the first lockdown of 2020. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t encountered it before and I instantly became a fan and collector of his output.
The alt version on the bonus CD – primarily featuring Brian Hulse’s guitars and an absence of drums – provides a wonderfully weightless counterpoint to this.
Dark Nevada Dream
A sweeping epic depicting an emotional meltdown in a motel on the edge of nowhere, Dark Nevada Dream might just the best thing I’ve ever written with Brian Hulse.
My voice, Brian’s synths and Ben Coleman’s violin float above a mighty fine Richard Jupp and Nick Beggs groove. Dave Formula offers a brilliantly playful Hammond organ solo and US singer Devon Dunaway joins in once more to provide some sensuous backing vocal support.
Slightly recalling two early No-Man favourites of mine (Housekeeping and Days In The Trees), this feels like something of a return to the ambitious ‘beauty and the beat’ aspect of No-Man’s output (no doubt enhanced by Ben’s presence).
Dark Nevada Dream is an attempt to get inside the mind of someone falling apart after the collapse of their family life and career aspirations. The lyrics are trying to capture a disconnected sense of reality as someone attempts to come to terms with what they’ve lost and who they really are. Despite this, musically I think there’s a genuine sense of optimism in the piece. There’s an element of the character emerging from a period of chaos somehow changed for the better.
Say Your Goodbyes part 2
‘In The beginning is my end / In the end is my beginning,’ as T.S. Eliot might say.
A reprise of SYG part 1 with the dystopian nightmare – like a Spinal Tap amp – set to 11. This features a grander than grand Dave Formula organ part and a stunning electric violin solo courtesy of Ben Coleman that just might match his magnificent playing on No-Man’s Things Change. As with part 1, some xenochrony was involved.
Although I was really happy with how it turned out, Clearing Houses was replaced on the album at the last minute by About The Light That Hits The Forest Floor (which I felt worked better from an album sequencing / flow perspective).
The lyric partly came about as a result of a conversation with It’s Immaterial’s JJ Campbell.
John had been clearing the house of a painter he knew who’d recently died. During the conversation, I suggested that Clearing Houses struck me as a perfect It’s Immaterial title. With the band producing an album every 20 years or so neither of us were confident it was a song that would get written soon! John’s evocative description of his day’s activities set me off on a series of reminiscences of my own experiences of clearing houses (for relatives who’d died or moved into old people’s homes) and viewing places while looking for somewhere to live. I always found the sight of abandoned prams in cupboards, old photographs, discarded books and pencil lines on walls (marking the growth of children) especially poignant.
Brian’s soundbed and guitar playing are suitably mournful and atmospheric, while Ian Anderson’s flute and tin whistle performances add a delightfully nostalgic touch to the piece.
As a fan of the song, IA saying that the lyric reminded him of Roy Harper’s When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease, I took as a big compliment.
While obviously sounding like me (you can never escape yourself completely), the finished Butterfly Mind felt different from anything I’d released before and I wanted the cover to reflect this.
Jarrod Gosling’s work on my recent albums has been exceptional, but I felt BM required a complete change of approach so over to Aleph Studio’s resident magician Carl Glover I went.
My original concept was to reinvent the cover of my debut solo cassette release from 1983 (as Always The Stranger). Influenced by Peter Hammill’s logo, this featured a complex symbol on a plain background. Ultimately, I wanted something both immediate and intricate.
Carl presented me with dozens of very different ideas, but when I saw a photographic image featuring a symbol in the midst of a cityscape (eventually used as the inner cover), I knew I’d found what I was looking for. I asked him to develop this further with a variety of colour backgrounds and we ended up with what I hope is something fresh for both of us.
Along with his work on Plenty’s It Could Be Home, and No-Man’s Flowermouth and Together We’re Stranger, this is my favourite of the covers CG has done for me.
Tim Bowness, August 2022