The waiting is over and the results are in (sort of, anyway).
The last few months have seen a whirlwind of activity, with a new album release, a (by my standards) extensive ‘World’ tour (of 4 dates in 2 countries, no less!), a ten ton truckload of interviews, and a social schedule that involved more than just waving to bleary-eyed kindred spirits on ‘the school run’.
Stupid Things That Mean The World achieved the most (and highest) chart positions of my career. This was both incredibly gratifying and, as always, something of a relief. After the comparative success of ADD, this time there was a degree of expectation surrounding the new album. The consensus was that ADD would be a hard act to follow and I was very much aware of that. Luckily – both in terms of sales and reactions – Stupid Things That Mean The World has appeared to generate just that little bit more than ADD did and maintain forward momentum in a way that I was hoping it would.
This time round there were three Top 10 chart positions (official UK Rock, Prog and Vinyl charts), an entry in the lower end of the ‘general/mainstream’ chart and more reviews and interviews than I can remember doing since the early days of no-man. When you’re at the wrong end of middle age and involved in something highly personal, these unexpected mini-triumphs really are something special.
Though I can’t say Stupid Things is better than ADD, the album did feel as if it was more probing and perhaps an even more honest representation of what it is that I do (and like). Stupid Things possessed more diversity and seemed harder and softer, complex and simpler, and both more accessible and more experimental than ADD. Though coherent, I hoped it had a greater sense of playing with possibilities than its predecessor (which I felt worked as a consistent body of songs). Ultimately, I’m pleased with both albums, which I think have managed to establish a recognisable identity for me outside of my work with no-man and Steven Wilson.
It’s mostly felt like a period where things have been progressing apace, but it’s also sometimes felt like a time of running around frantically in order to maintain the position I was already in (Bono may have said the same thing more succinctly at some point!).
The ‘World’ tour of 2015 was a mixed experience and a reality check, in that it pointed out the difficulty of attracting an audience and the fact that to get to a higher level sacrifices have to be made on what will probably always feel like an uphill struggle.
Holed up in rural Wiltshire with the streamlined five piece Tim Bowness Band, a joyous noise was made for five days in a row. Despite playing a significantly different set than any we’d played before (including 50% new songs), things went surprisingly well and quickly. It was perhaps the best rehearsal period we’ve ever had. The music worked, relationships were good, coffee breaks were plentiful and optimism was high.
In the middle of the rehearsals, I travelled with the newly crowned super-boffin Professor Bearpark to BBC Bristol for an interview and accompanying acoustic session. Enjoyable and relaxed, it reminded me of many similar performances I’d undertaken in the early 1990s with Steven Wilson. Like other things to come over the next few weeks, there was a strong sense of past experiences invading present moments.
As a quintet, the band’s approach had by necessity turned to the more Rock end of what I do. The new material suited the musicians and vice versa. A powerful guitar-heavy counterpoint to the graceful electronica of the 2004-2006 My Hotel Band, without sacrificing the melancholy or introspective nature of much of the music, it felt like we were managing to create something that could communicate on a wider level than we had done previously.
On the fourth and fifth days, we multi-track recorded what we did with a view to a future release of some sort. The live versions of songs had been developing a character of their own and we felt they needed to be chronicled. So chronicled they were.
Straight from an almost flawless rehearsal, we arrived at a Bristol venue that wasn’t quite what we were expecting and promptly massacred two songs in the soundcheck. We were unlearning in real time! The gig itself was on the smallest stage we’d played on in years, which wasn’t conducive to ‘the big gesture’ (or physical movement of any kind!). The sound onstage was poor and the optimism (along with the onstage banter) ran dry. That said, the rehearsing must have paid off in some way as the performance possessed some powerful moments and the audience reaction was extremely positive and warm (justifying the whole affair).
The next day was London. From the off, the venue and sound were much better and the performance reflected this. Reminiscent of no-man’s 2012 show at the Islington Town Hall, there was a confidence on display that seemed to be acknowledged by the audience response.
If it’s the weekend, it must be Poland! Ino-Rock provided a great educational experience. The same set that had been effective in a club setting felt sometimes exposed when performed in front of a couple of thousand people at an open-air festival. Two thirds to three quarters of the music genuinely worked in the larger environment, while a quarter to a third seemed more fit for intimate theatre performance than stadium assault. Regardless, when it did come together the performance was a powerful example of what this particular band can do well. The audience was very receptive and a post-gig wander through the crowd yielded many wonderful encounters, countless selfies and some of the most probing questions I’ve been asked in years. As in Krakow in 2012, the Polish experience was energising and a lot of fun. The organisers, the fans and the people we met (including Fish and his very fine band) were a delight, and over two days in the hotel lobby I conducted one of the most in-depth interviews I’ve ever done (for the US-based Progression magazine).
After a week’s absence from the stage, the end was nigh in Manchester in a similar venue to the one in London (though smaller, both in terms of audience and stage size). We were supported by old friends and former band mates Nerve Toy Trio, who unexpectedly proved to be more Prog than Rick Wakeman’s golden cape (in a good way). The T-Bo Band started off well, but tentatively. Half-way through something seemed to click. The audience had been vocally supportive throughout, but from Dancing For You onwards I was at my most verbally communicative and the band locked into some powerful grooves with absolute conviction. An additional – genuinely spontaneous – surprise was that the encore of All The Blue Changes featured the Nerve Toy Trio’s Howard Jones on drums (alongside Andrew Booker). Howard is a gifted drummer who was a major part of several of my earliest bands including The Roaring Silence and After The Stranger, and this was the first time we’d appeared on a stage together since 1986 (past experiences invading present moments, once again). A double drum solo was hinted at and then it was all over. After the gig, the members of the audience I spoke to seemed extremely appreciative of the evening’s music, and on a personal level it was genuinely nice to reconnect with old friends and even older family.
Aside from the Polish festival, stupidly, I’d organised everything myself. And at a bad time of year. As such, promotion was minimal (being a gig promoter is clearly not my forte) and attendances were on the low side bar Poland. Artistically it felt good, though. The new music thrived in a live setting and the band seemed stronger than ever. Being reduced to a five piece meant that the instrumentalists had more space as well as more to do to fill some of the extra space. Colin, Mike, Stephen and Andy raised their already high games. Time Travel In Texas was harder, funkier and stranger, Sing To Me soared, the guitar solo in Dancing For You became an unexpected concert highlight (grown people wept at the Professor’s emotional six-string outpourings!), Know That You Were Loved hit a sweet melancholy spot and Smiler At 50 sounded bigger than Digby. Whatever disappointment there was about attendances seemed insignificant in light of the band’s performances and the encouraging audience reactions.
Outside of the tour, I attended the hugely enjoyable fourth annual Prog Awards and also saw the mighty King Crimson live (for the first time since 1995).
At the awards, I was on the Inside Out table, and it was tremendous fun to meet up up with the likes of Peter Hammill, Bill Nelson, Steve Hogarth, Nick Beggs, the genial Gentle Giant and, of course, Steven Wilson (amongst others).
King Crimson, as ever, asked as many questions as they answered and, as ever, they remain a firm touchstone in my musical world. The band’s collective sound was immense and it was great to see Mel Collins back where he belongs, Jakko fronting his favourite band, and to hear new songs mingling with old classics
Next up is a special one-off gig in Cardiff with Lord Peter Chilvers, David Rhodes and sax royalty Theo Travis. There’ll be more work on the forthcoming Bowness/Chilvers release and Third Monster On The Left, and there are semi-concrete plans to create a live Tim Bowness (and band) album and studio single.
There’ll also be more school runs, I expect.
Be Bop Deluxe – Sunburst Finish (1976)
Ornette Coleman – Dancing In Your Head (1977)
David Crosby – Croz (2014)
FFS – FFS (2015)
Led Zeppelin – Presence (1976)
Magazine – Magic, Murder & The Weather (1981)
Bill Nelson – Quit Dreaming And Get Off The Beam (1981)
Siouxie & The Banshees – Hyaena (1984)
Troyka – Ornithophobia (2015)
Kamasi Washington – The Epic (2015)
Kent Haruf – Our Souls At Night (2014)
David S Wills – Scientologist!: William S. Burroughs and the ‘Weird Cult’ (2013)
Grace And Frankie
The Last Man On Earth