If you’re reading this, like me, you’ve survived 2016. Congratulations!
As mentioned in the Lost In The Ghost Light Album Notes blog, ‘2016 has been a bruising year in terms of societal divisions being exposed in the West, ongoing wars in the Middle East (and elsewhere), and the deaths of prominent cultural figures.’
It certainly feels as unsettled a time as I can remember and I think that’s part of the reason why the deaths of the likes of Prince and George Michael had an even greater impact than they ordinarily would have done. Of course, these deaths also represent the death of eras, the death of youth and more, so there would have been a major response regardless. However, the fact that 2016 seemed relentless in its rate of change possibly accentuated the grief (or at least the media presentation of the perceived grief).
For me personally, the Bowie loss was immense but something that didn’t surprise me having heard Blackstar a day before his death was announced. Lake and Emerson going in the same year was very sad and the reason for the latter’s demise genuinely heartbreaking. Colin Vearncombe of Black’s death was also an affecting one for me as he was a near contemporary of mine and someone I’d met in 2015 and had a very pleasant meal with. He was intelligent, gentle and interesting, and due to shared geography and musical tastes, we had a fair bit in common. His singing voice was still special as he demonstrated in his performance later that evening and his accidental death at 53 seemed far too young (as he certainly seemed like he had more to say). Leonard Cohen’s shuffling off of his mortal coil was also one that got to me. He was 82 and had lived a long and successful life, but he’d just produced one of his best albums in decades and, despite the sometimes mournful tone of his recent interviews, seemed like he’d be a significant presence in the music world for some time to come. For whatever reason, his death felt like something good had been taken away.
Lost In The Ghost Light (formerly Third Monster On The Left) has now been completed and scheduled for release. My ‘Album Notes’ blog goes into (very) great detail about the making of the album, but as always I was struck by how it still only told a quarter of the story (if that).
While making albums, there’s usually a strong awareness of whether it’s working out or not. As mentioned before, regardless of the quality of its contents, My Hotel Year always felt like a patchwork release that wasn’t cohering as well as it should have been. Additionally, the album was always tinged with a tangible air of despair that didn’t necessarily reflect the circumstances of its creation (despite that, I’m still very attached to some of the songs on the album and sometimes harbour a desire to re-record it). Conversely, some albums seem ‘right’ from the off (Speak, Together We’re Stranger, Lost In The Ghost Light and more). It’s complicated as some of the best albums don’t necessarily contain the best songs and a few of the weaker albums contain some of the strongest individual tracks.
Doing interviews for Lost In Ghost Light has helped me clarify some of what it’s about. In retrospect, I realise that in some ways the album could have been subconsciously motivated by the deaths of the likes David Bowie, Chris Squire, Hugh Hopper and others whose music meant a great deal to me when I was growing up. Maybe Lost In The Ghost Light is an attempt to capture a particular world before it disappears, a sort of wildlife documentary about an endangered species (narrated by Richard Attenborough, of course). Alternatively, it could be my equivalent of making a period film or TV series (that I hope is faithful to both the era it’s covering as well as to my musical identity). This got me thinking of other ‘period’ projects I could embark upon. If Lost In The Ghost Light is my Vinyl or Life On Mars, would it be interesting to do an Ashes To Ashes?
I think it’s possible that the massive increase in vinyl sales over the last decade has been partly due to the dominance of streams/downloads and prevalence of TV talent show culture. I suspect a sizeable number of people want something more substantial that they’re more invested in. Streams are frequently free and very convenient (I regularly use them myself), but I don’t feel they encourage detailed listening or an engagement with music / ’the album’ as an art form. On a personal level, the move towards streams (and ‘single’ streams at that) pushes me even more towards making detailed artwork and sonically rich ‘album experiences’. Yes Sirree, I am Canute raging against the tide! All of which, fits neatly into the Ghost Light concept, of course.
One of the working titles for the album was The Last Album (as it is an album length requiem for an album-era artist). Ultimately, music is the all important thing, but formats can assist in dictating the quality and depth of art. When the album emerged in the mid-late 1950s, artists such as Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra brilliantly stretched their visions to accommodate the format. From the late 1950s to the late 1980s, the album was both popular and culturally important. With the advent of the CD, great album statements were still being made, but for me the need to fill all 80 minutes of the new format did lead to some fairly unbalanced and diluted releases. Regardless, here’s hoping that ‘the age of stream’ doesn’t become the sole future for the music industry.
The two November shows with iamthemorning were hugely enjoyable and certainly successful enough to suggest doing more dates together and possibly some joint recording. The ‘iam’ enhanced version of Days Turn Into Years was an epic 12 minute joy, while the Bowness Band / iamthemorning co-performed interpretations of Beautiful Songs You Should Know and Sing To Me were refreshingly different from the originals (featuring a string quartet and two drummers).
At the moment, the only scheduled show is as a special guest to Marillion on the last day of the band’s UK Marillion Weekend in late April. As Marillion has recently released an album that shows several different (more atmospheric) sides to its music (and contains a brave and emotional suite of songs about the plight of touring musicians called The Leavers), I’m looking forward to it.
Elsewhere, the Bowness / Chilvers miseryfest is still awaiting a mix and the Plenty project is still in the process of being recorded. With the latter, we’ve now re-recorded / re-written around 12 of our mid-late 1980s’ Art Pop confections and have also contemplated writing something new together.
As a parting shot, here a list of favourites from last year, plus some current listening:
A best of 2016:
David Bowie – Blackstar
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – The Skeleton Tree
Paul Simon – Stranger To Stranger
Brian Eno – The Ship
Big Big Train – Folklore
Van Der Graaf Generator – Do Not Disturb
Arvo Part – The Deer’s Cry
Old Fire – Songs From The Haunted South
Marillion – F.E.A.R.
Anderson / Stolt – The Invention Of Knowledge
Neil Young – Earth
Three Trapped Tigers – Silent Earthling
Bee Gees – Odessa (1969)
Mark Eitzel – Hey Mr Ferryman (2017)
George Gershwin – Rhapsody In Blue (1924)
The Kinks – Preservation Acts 1 and 2 (1974)
Pink Floyd – The Early Years 1967-1972 (2016)
Supertramp – Crime Of The Century (1974)
Hans Zimmer – Interstellar OST (2014)
William S Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg – The Yage Letters (1953)
Phil Collins – Not Dead Yet (2016)
Jon Ronson – Frank (2014)
Stranger Things (2016)