After work on the hugely enjoyable Plenty lockdown project Enough ended in April, T-Bo Solo Album #7 returned to centre stage and four months later it’s getting close to completion. Once more, my creative co-pilot is the ever-prolific Bobian Hulse.
Between mid-October 2020 and late July 2021, we wrote 11 new songs that we deemed album-worthy (seven Bowness/Hulse co-writes and four written by me). I stress the word new as nothing is a leftover from previous projects and nothing has been recycled from earlier songs buried deep in ’the hard drive of doom’. A first, as even Late Night Laments contained one track – Hidden Life – that was an upgrade of an abandoned piece from a decade earlier. The first song written for the album, Lost Player, appeared after an eight month period of only recording covers or new versions of old tracks. Drought over, more songs quickly followed in its wake. Unlike Late Night Laments, there was no clear musical or lyrical direction that presented itself and each successive piece seemed to occupy its own specific soundworld.
Though there’s no conceptual element in terms of unified story, there’s definitely a sense that all the songs are thematically linked. In this case, the theme is creating, procreating, protesting, collecting, loving, hoping and railing ‘against oblivion’. It seems like all the songs are chronicles of attempts to leave something substantial behind in a rapidly changing and ultimately indifferent world. Thinly veiled autobiography, then!
Musically, the songs are far more diverse than those on Late Night Laments and befitting the more dynamic and widescreen arrangements, the guest star slots are overflowing. Fit to busting, in fact (more information soon, but there are some very fine musicians involved and some exciting reunions).
The great thing is that a few of the pieces have genuinely taken me by surprise, both in terms of musical style and lyrical content. A couple of connected songs – Say Your Goodbyes Parts 1 and 2 – unexpectedly recall the feel of my very first solo recordings – under the name Always The Stranger – from the early 1980s. Primarily influenced by Peter Hammill / VdGG, John Carpenter soundtracks and Nico, my earliest work was relentlessly intense and bleak (unreleased with very good reason, the only legacy can be found in the dissonant piano line on Beaten By Love). The Say Your Goodbyes duo possess more light and shade than the early 1980s pieces, but the mood of eerie paranoia is something I’ve rarely revisited over the decades. A sign of the times! Elsewhere, one song is perhaps the most uptempo piece on any of my solo albums and another (Dark Nevada Dream) is, for me, the best epic No-Man ballad No-Man never wrote or recorded. It’s an unplanned continuation of ’the beauty and the beat’ approach that resulted in the likes of Days In The Trees and Housekeeping and, like those two pieces, I love it (all eight and a half minutes of it).
Performances are coming in thick and fast and the drum and bass recordings will take place early next month. The album – working title Against Oblivion – is likely to be released in the Summer of 2022 (which seems an age or two away) and I hope it’ll be a fitting testament to my – by then – 40 year musical journey (I first started being in bands and writing songs at the age of 18 in 1982).
A recent attic clearance uncovered a large folder full of notes, short stories, lyrics and more from between 1985-1995.
The most interesting discovery was that one of my oft-repeated anecdotes in interviews – that my singing and lyric writing significantly changed after I heard myself on vinyl for the first time* – turned out to be 100% true. Without exception, the lyrics from 1985 up to the Summer of 1986 are embarrassingly overwritten (as if I’d swallowed 35 dictionaries and spewed out the contents randomly in anger!), and then – with no transition period whatsoever – by August 1986 they’re not. There’s a complete transformation of character and style, and seemingly overnight the language has become understated and the subject matter more emotionally direct. Relating to Plenty’s Enough and the new solo album, I realised in retrospect that this significant change also coincided with me starting writing songs with Brian Hulse. The first lyrics in the new style that I found included those for The Other Side and Towards The Shore.
* With the band After The Stranger, I put out a self-released vinyl album in 1986 called Another Beauty Blooms. It was meant as a showcase to take the band out of the demo cassette / local gigs limbo we were stuck in. On getting a mastered copy, I listened to the album as I listened to everything else I valued at the time (on a good turntable through decent speakers). My excitement quickly turned to crushing disappointment as I realised how far I was from where I thought I was or wanted to be. The band played well and there were some interesting musical ideas on offer, but my singing was diabolically bad and my lyrics were even worse. Reader, I was shit. Directly confronted by how awful I was provided a massive incentive to alter the way I wrote and sang songs. From that one listen onwards, I’d like to think that my tendency has been to respond to music rather than impose myself on it.
Along with a solo cassette I put out in 1985, Another Beauty Blooms received a smattering of radio play and reviews. For whatever reason, both were receiving attention at the same time as one another and one or two of the reviews were seen by a teenage Steven Wilson. What Steven read prompted him to write to me and ask me to contribute to a compilation album he was putting together and this led to the formation of No-Man. The solo cassette – released as Always The Stranger – was mainly based around my songs and featured me on guitar, but was produced and musically enhanced by Robert Cox. Robert was in his 30s and married with children. He was cultured, kind, enthusiastic and, in a good way, a ‘character’. His own fascinating experimental recordings went out under the names of Rimarimba and The Same. He was an exotic, heavily bearded, creature to the 21 year old me. Living in a fine old property in Felixstowe, he had shelf upon shelf lined with often rare books and vinyl, and a living room dedicated to music making that housed an early home computer (which he composed music on), a reel to reel and an assortment of instruments. Despite what I delivered being a horror show of immense proportions, Robert’s production was interesting and the cassette garnered some decent reviews, including a glowing Cassette Of The Month in One Two Testing by Martin Aston (still a supporter of my music). Due to a typo, the magazine credited the music to After The Stranger (hence the name for the band that made Another Beauty Blooms). Another positive review in Electronic Musician referred to the music as being, ‘The unique sound of an eccentric Morrissey-esque crooner atop some mad computer bastard.’ That’s the one that I hope intrigued the teenage Wilson!
As mentioned in the last blog, I’ve been doing a few interesting sessions of late. The first to be released is an atmospheric version of Gillian Welch’s marvellous Everything Is Free that appears on Jim Matheos’s latest Tuesday The Sky album. It’s a fine record that showcases a very different side to Jim’s massive and eclectic talent and I strongly recommend it (Gavin Harrison is the other main guest).
Reluctantly, I’ve asked for my vocals to be removed from the 17 minute ‘all-star’ Prog tribute track I was asked to sing on. The song was sounding great, but the vocals – to my ears – sounded low in the mix and underproduced compared to what surrounded them. I’d put a fair amount of work into the piece and recorded some unusual double-tracked / stereo-panned lines and massed harmonies (think 10cc and Beach Boys), but none of this was used and what remained failed to make its mark on the track (which was better off without me in my view). There was no offer of a remix, so my parts will be replaced by Graham Bonnet. It’s possible that I may resurrect the vocals in a very different version of the song at a later date.
Fans of The Album Years will glad to know that Steven Wilson and I haven’t abandoned the show. There should be some new editions being recorded in August and September. There may even be some TAY related merchandise available soon.
Yay for TAY!
The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody (2017)
Billy Mackenzie – Beyond The Sun (1997)
Max Richter – Henry May Long OST (2009)
The Same – Sync Or Swim (1981)
Joe Orton – Up Against It (1967)
Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2021)
Jeanette Winterson – Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011)
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)