NO-MAN, the long-term musical collaboration between Tim Bowness and the musical juggernaut that is Steven Wilson is now amazingly well into its fourth decade and this retrospective boxset takes us way back to the beginning to cover the early output on the OLI label.

Featuring the band’s first two studio albums, ‘Loveblows & Lovecries’ and ‘Flowermouth’ alongside with the singles compilation ‘Lovesighs – An Entertainment’, the deluxe 5CD collection is rounded off with outtakes, alternate versions and the sessions for radio from the period.

Taking things chronologically, we come first to the ‘Lovesighs’ mini album which includes the band’s debut two singles with additional material from that era. This is where I came in having heard the cover of the Donovan hit ‘Colours’ in my local record shop (remember those?) one rainy afternoon and being taken by the spin on a song which I was all too familiar with.

Also featured here is the wonderful ‘Days in the Trees’ in various guises. A staple of Tim’s solo shows to this day, this is still one of Bowness’s finest vocal recordings and includes some wonderful early guitar work from Wilson. ‘Heartcheat Pop’ and ‘Kiss Me Stupid’ are also on this disc, both great slices of pop with a darker edge and even at this point, interesting instrumentation to make them stand out. That instrumentation is further augmented by Ben Coleman’s violin which at times is driving on these songs and at other points haunting as a counterpoint to the upfront beats offered.

Disc 2 is an expanded version of the full debut album ‘Loveblows & Lovecries’. In this remastered state, the album is returned to, I feel, its rightful place as not only a evergreen NO-MAN release but also an essential 1993 cut, acting as counterpoint to the grunge overload of the part of the decade. Coleman instrumental workout ‘Loveblow’ segues into the single ‘Only Baby’ which gives more than a passing nod to the Moroder produced Donna Summer who Wilson is such a fan of. This really is a great slice of pop which deserved so much more exposure than it received back in the day.

Casual readers of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK will have their interest piqued by the track ‘Sweetheart Raw’ featuring as it does JAPAN members Mick Karn on bass, future Wilson bandmate Richard Barbieri on keys and drum programming by Steve Jansen. Once again presented in remastered form which has breathed new life into this whole album, it allows the listener to be immersed in the true depth of the soundscape offered by the musicians here and is a piece you will find yourself returning to again and again as Bowness flexes those wistful vocal chords to fabulous effect.

There is so much to enjoy on this album, from the beautiful ‘Housekeeping’ to ‘Break Heaven’ and ‘Babyship Blue’ from the ‘Heaven Taste’ compilation alongside songs like ‘Tulip’ and ‘Painting Paradise’. This album in reworked form would be worth the price of admission alone but there is more to savour in this set and savour we must.

Disc 3 entitled simply ‘Singles’ pulls together the orphaned tracks not featured thus far and, as a collection works well as a standalone album in its own right, which is a testament to the writing and performing of the core members of the band and their invited guests. ‘Swirl’, an early NO-MAN track, features at its close a sample from the 1971 movie ‘Klute’ which starred Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda so elevates this already great track to essential listening in my eyes / ears. This sample augments a building evolving arrangement that rewards repeat listening.

Also included is the aching ‘Long Day Fall’ and the 20 minute plus closer ‘Heaven Taste’. Once again featuring the trio of JAPAN alumni mentioned above, this is a piece full of twists and turns that demands a listen with headphones. ‘Heaven Taste’ also acts as a suitable off ramp to the next part of this set, a remaster of ‘Flowermouth’.

‘Flowermouth’ has been an album I have returned to over and over since I specially ordered it from that local record shop more years ago now than I care to mention on its original release. The musical ideas, execution and production on ‘Flowermouth’ make it one of those long players I tell folk who will listen that they should have in their collections and I make no apology for evangelising as such.

Is this new remaster worth the time to listen? The answer is a resounding yes. Opening with the ambitious ‘Angels Get Caught in the Beauty Trap’, this is perhaps what listeners of later NO-MAN albums will find more familiar ground. The track rises and falls, leaving you emotionally drained and there’s more to come!

The funky workout that follows in the shape of ‘You Grow More Beautiful’ once again showcases one of no-man’s biggest strengths and that is the vocal of Tim Bowness. Alongside TALK TALK mainman Mark Hollis and Paul Buchanan of THE BLUE NILE, he is one of the few singers with the ability to emotionally charge the seemingly simplest of songs. Every track on this album highlights this wonderfully.

There is so much here to revel in, from the treated rhythms of ‘Soft Shoulders’ to ‘Shell of a Fighter’ with yet another wonderful violin performance to the driving programming on ‘Teardrops Fall’. Closing this disc is perennial favourite ‘Things Change’ which is one of a number of tracks that has not only benefitted from a remaster polish but also a slightly revised mix. ‘Flowermouth’ is a classic and in this guise cements that claim with a sparkling remaster that sounds fresh and vital.

The fifth and final disc in the set fills out an already bursting at the seams collection with a number of Radio Sessions from 1992-1994. Like much of the output from Bowness and Wilson, these songs really come alive when performed live. Augmented across the various sessions by guest musicians, the most interesting cuts are from BBC Radio’s Hit the North featuring as they do those pesky JAPAN chaps that have popped up time and again on this set. The version of ‘Days in the Trees’ from this session in particular is wonderful with the tightest of tight Jansen drumming allowing the much missed Mick Karn to duck and weave around Tim’s vocal. A taste of what might have been…

Other tracks here feature PORCUPINE TREE alumni Chris Maitland and Colin Edwin to offer sufficiently different spins on familiar tracks to command repeat listening. This disc elevates an already great set above a mere quick buck compilation, proving this has been properly curated, something many could learn from. To underscore this even more, the set is rounded out by the inclusion of a hardback book designed by Carl Glover featuring essays from NO-MAN All The Blue Changes blog author Matt Hammers, Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson along with rare photos and memorabilia.

The importance Tim Bowness has had on independent music distribution with Burning Shed cannot be overstated, giving many acts that would struggle to find a route to market exactly that, a true outlet run by artists for artists. That is before we consider his excellent body of solo work.

In turn the impact that Steven Wilson has had across the musical landscape in the last decade plus cannot be underestimated from PORCUPINE TREE to solo work through the remasters of acts as diverse as KING CRIMSON, XTC, TEARS FOR FEARS and ULTRAVOX, oh and tours, further no-man releases and production work, the man clearly never sleeps… that’s before we take into account their always listenable and enjoyable podcast ‘The Album Years’. True music fans.

And all of the above had its seeds in these early NO-MAN releases. Whether you are new to this early work, revisiting after a few decades break or a long-term fan, there is much here to recommend ‘Housekeeping’, the first indispensable release of 2024.

Tim, if you are reading this can we please get the rest of the back catalogue given the same treatment?

‘Housekeeping: The OLI Years 1990 – 1994’ is released as a boxed set on 26 January 2024 via One Little Independent Records, available from

Text by Ian Ferguson
19 January 2024