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?
Album launches are a weird and wonderful thing. Usually consisting of either a payback of the latest release in a club to an invited audience where the band sit around disinterested waiting for the bar to open or a gig used to guilt folk into buying the new opus neither are really a celebration of the hard work and effort put into getting the product out.
The approach taken by Tim Bowness for the release of ‘Butterfly Mind’ was, as usual for this most singular of artists, to beat his own path. The Everyman 4, venue for tonight’s performance, is a cinema so not your usual cathedral of rock and roll excess and seats about 50, so not an excuse to shift 1000 copies of the album.
The small queue outside were given access once Tim and his band casually wandered into the venue. Once inside a taste of how tonight was to go came from the sight of Bowness having piles of CDs pushed into his hands by his longtime collaborator Steven Wilson, and this set the tone for what was less gig and more akin to going round to your mates to watch him jam in his living room. With backing consisting of Fierce and the Dead guitarist Matt Stevens and another established Bowness contributor Peter Chilvers on keys, this was not going to be a full on rock and roll show, there was just enough room for a small merch table in the venue, let alone lasers and pyro.
Bowness started the evening by acknowledging the reason for us all coming together, the new album ‘Butterfly Mind’ and then promptly told the audience he is going to ignore that and go for a wander through his own extensive back catalogue. This ‘disregard’ for the new release even extended to there being no copies of ‘Butterfly Mind’ available to buy on the night. As I say, ploughing his own furrow.
Things kicked off with a very early composition ‘Never Needing’. We were then treated, and it was a treat, to ‘Brightest Blue’, a track written with another long term musical sparring partner Richard Barbieri. This was a theme for the evening with a number of unexpected treats played, some for the first time in decades.
The most enthusiastically received tracks were from the band Bowness formed with Steven Wilson, NO-MAN. The first of these ‘Time Travel In Texas’ featured some fine playing from Stevens and apparently a hidden homage to Roobarb and Custard!
The work with Peter Chilvers was represented by the melancholy ‘Days Turn Into Years’ from the ‘California, Norfolk’ album, a holiday destination we were all encouraged to visit.
Anyone who has listened to the excellent ‘The Album Years’ podcast will know Bowness is an engaging conversationalist and this carries forward to his back and forth with the audience. The first set closed with ‘Back When You Were Beautiful’ which was introduced with a tale of shoplifting in a Norwich Thornton’s chocolate shop. As I said, not your typical gig…
The interval was a chance for the band to mingle with the audience in the evening sunshine. This included well-kent faces like John Mitchell and comedian Al Murray. Tim got so caught up in mixing with his guests, he had to be reminded by Peter Chilvers he had a second set to play.
That second set picked up where the first left off with more NO-MAN music in the shape of ‘Wherever There is Light’ and the Bowness track ‘The Warm-Up Man Forever’ which was welcome as it is a particular favourite not only of mine but also the audience.
‘Not Married Anymore’ once again highlighted how wonderful Bowness’s voice is. In an almost ‘torchsong’ setting and with minimal instrumentation, it is allowed to come to the fore. I have never hidden my regard for his vocal style and the up-close nature of this show only reinforces that. His ability to deliver the saddest of lyrical content without it seeming forced is a skill few possess.
A ukulele free ‘Rainmark’ heralded the home stretch for the set which did include one ‘Butterfly Mind track’, ‘It’s Easier To Love’ before that back catalogue was raided for a final time with an excerpt of Sweetheart Raw. This showed age has not diminished Bowness’s vocal prowess despite his worry about the song being in the original key.
There was also welcome outing for the early NO-MAN song ‘Days in the Trees’. Another run through of ‘The Warm-Up Man Forever’ as ‘voted’ for by the audience closed proceedings off.
This was an album launch unlike any I have attended before. It was more a celebration of a career which thankfully, on the evidence of that new album ‘Butterfly Mind’, shows no signs of decline. I look forward to more live outings, hopefully in the very near future.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Tim Bowness
Accomplished musician Tim Bowness celebrates four decades of playing in bands and working with the likes of Robert Fripp, Phil Manzanera and Richard Barbieri by presenting his seventh solo album ‘Butterfly Mind’.
Co-produced by long-time collaborator Brian Hulse and mixed by NO-MAN bandmate Steven Wilson who he began his recording career with, ‘Butterfly Mind’ has been hailed as Bowness’ most surprising release yet. Eclectic it certainly is and this is not to be unexpected given his vast knowledge of music history as articulated on ‘The Album Years’ podcast with Wilson.
The success of his Burning Shed label and online retail platform has only driven his own artistic integrity even further; Tim Bowness said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in 2019: “The good thing about the success of Burning Shed is that it’s meant that I’ve become even more bloody minded and idealistic concerning my own music. I only ever release what I believe in and what I believe deserves to be heard in the wider world.”
After ‘Late Night Laments’, ‘Butterfly Mind’ is not that much more cheerful and begins with ‘Say Your Goodbyes, Pt. 1’, an intense art rock barrage with flute from Ian Anderson of JETHRO TULL and additional vocals from Peter Hammill of VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR. Meanwhile, ‘Always The Stranger’ funks up it with noted bassist Nick Beggs in tow as Bowness comes over vocally like a cross between Thomas Dolby and Paddy McAloon.
‘It’s Easier To Love’ exudes the chill of winter featuring sax from one-time David Sylvian and Harold Budd collaborator Nicola Alesini, but as ‘Lost Player’ offers a haunting atmospheric ballad, ‘Only A Fool’ surprises as a brilliantly feisty synth driven number swathed in a Cold War presence with “so much blood on our hands”.
Continuing that aesthetic theme, ‘Glitter Fades’ crosses forlorn piano with a light but dramatic synthetic rhythm construction while the lengthy ‘Dark Nevada Dream’ imagines THE BLUE NILE meeting TALK TALK with MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula working his magic on a Hammond organ and Ben Coleman providing the solemn violin.
Given the quality of its supporting cast, the musicality of ‘Butterfly Mind’ cannot be faulted while Bowness remains as intense and grumpy as ever. Despite the forlorn melancholy expressed, as with all good popular music, there is some hopefulness too.
“It’s such a strange day, in such a lonely way” sang NEW ORDER on ‘Truth’ in 1981.
The coronavirus crisis of 2020 put the entire live music industry into limbo as concerts were postponed and tours rescheduled.
The situation was affecting everyone with several musicians like Bernard Sumner, Andy McCluskey, John Taylor and Sarah Nixey publicly stating that they had contracted the virus. Even when all pupils returned to schools in the Autumn, there was a ban on indoor singing in English classrooms. It was an indication that out of all professional fields, the arts was going suffer the most.
To make up for the absence of live shows, online streamed events become popular. Two of the best live online gigs were by Swedish veterans LUSTANS LAKEJER from the KB in Malmö and Sinomatic techno-rockers STOLEN with Lockdown Live From Chengdu. Not strictly a lockdown show but available for all to view on SVT was a magnificent live presentation of KITE at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm recorded in late 2019 combining synthesizers, orchestra and choir, proving again why Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg are the best electronic duo in Europe.
Concluding his ‘Songs: From the Lemon Tree’ series, Bon Harris of NITZER EBB presented a wonderful set of four electonic cover versions including songs made famous by Joan Armatrading, Connie Francis and Diana Ross. Meanwhile among independent musicians, Dubliner CIRCUIT3 led the way with an innovative multi-camera effected approach to his home studio presentation and Karin My performed al fresco in a forest near Gothenburg.
Taking the initiative, ERASURE did a delightful virtual album launch party for their new album ‘The Neon’ on Facebook with Vince Clarke in New York and Andy Bell in London, talking about everything from shopping to classic synthpop tunes.
Other streamed forms of entertainment came via podcasts and among the best was ‘The Album Years’ presented by Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness. Their knowledgeable and forthright views on selected years in music were both informative and amusing. It was interesting to note that at the end of the 1976 episode, the pair nominated ‘Oxygène’ by Jean-Michel Jarre as the most important album of that year while for 1979, it was ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by Gary Numan.
Many artists who had scheduled releases in 2020 went through with them, although in some cases, there were the inevitable delays to physical product. But a few notable acts couldn’t help but abuse the situation, notably a certain combo from Basildon.
There were already “quality control issues” with the lavish ‘MODE’ 18 CD boxed set, but there was uproar even among the most hardcore Devotees with the ‘Spirits In The Forest’ release. The cardboard packaging was reported to be flimsy and prone to dents, while there was continuity errors galore as Dave Gahan rather cluelessly and selfishly wore different coloured outfits over the two nights in Berlin that the live footage was filmed under the direction of Anton Corbijn.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was an Anton Corbijn official illustrated history of DEPECHE MODE entitled ‘DM AC’ in the form of a coffee table photo book published by Taschen which retailed at €750; even though it was signed by Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher, the price tag was a mightily steep. The increasingly ironic words of “The grabbing hands grab all they can…” from ‘Everything Counts’ were not lost on people, who are people, after all!
But Andy Fletcher did provide the most amusing and spot-on quote of the year; during DEPECHE MODE’s acceptance speech into that dinosaur institution The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, when Dave Gahan remarked to his bandmates that “I dunno what the hell I would have been doing if I didn’t find music to be quite honest…”, the banana eating handclapper dryly retorted “YOU’D HAVE BEEN STILL STEALING CARS DAVE!”
There were lots of great albums released in 2020 and Berlin appeared to be at the creative centre of them.
There was ‘LP II’ from LINEA ASPERA who made a welcome return after eight years in hiatus and the playful debut by ULTRAFLEX, a collaborative offering from Berlin-based Nordic artists SPECIAL-K and FARAO which was “an ode to exercise, loaded with sex metaphors badly disguised as sports descriptions” .
The DDR born Jennifer Touch told her story with ‘Behind The Wall’ and resident New Yorker DISCOVERY ZONE was on ‘Remote Control’, while Lithuania’s top pop singer Alanas Chosnau made ‘Children of Nature’, his first album in English with Mark Reeder, who himself has lived in the former walled city since 1978; their collected experiences from both sides of the Iron Curtain made for a great record with the political statement of ‘Heavy Rainfall’ being one of the best songs of 2020.
Synth-builder and artist Finlay Shakespeare presented the superb angst ridden long player ‘Solemnities’ with its opener ‘Occupation’ tackling the social injustice of unemployment. A most frightening future was captured in musical form by New York-resident Zachery Allan Starkey who saw his home become a ‘Fear City’, while WRANGLER got themselves into ‘A Situation’.
SPARKS discussed ‘The Existential Threat’ and ‘One For The Ages’ while pleading ‘Please Don’t F*ck Up My World’ on their eclectic 25th album ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’, just as NIGHT CLUB reflected what many were thinking on ‘Die Die Lullaby’ with ‘Miss Negativity’ looking to ‘Die In The Disco’ while riding the ‘Misery Go Round’.
ASSEMBLAGE 23 chose to ‘Mourn’ with one of its highlights ‘Confession’ illustrating what DEPECHE MODE could still be capable of, if they could still be bothered.
But it was not all doom and gloom musically in 2020. With the title ‘Pop Gossip’, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP did not need to do much explaining about the ethos of their second album and drum ‘n’ synth girl GEORGIA was happily ‘Seeking Thrills’.
Veterans returned and 34 years after their debut ‘Windows’, WHITE DOOR teamed up with the comparative youngster Johan Baeckström for ‘The Great Awakening’, while CODE made a surprise return with their second album ‘Ghost Ship’ after an absence 25 years.
‘The Secret Lives’ of German duo Zeus B Held and Mani Neumeier illustrated that septuagenarians just want to have fun. Along with Gina Kikoine, Zeus B Held was also awarded with Der Holger Czukay Preis für Popmusik der Stadt Köln in recognition of their pioneering work as GINA X PERFORMANCE whose ‘No GDM’ was a staple at The Blitz Club in Rusty Egan’s DJ sets.
Incidentally, Rusty Egan announced that Zaine Griff would be joining him with Numan cohorts Chris Payne and David Brooks in a live presentation of VISAGE material, although the announced dates were postponed, pending rescheduling for 2021.
Swiss trailblazers YELLO were on ‘Point’ and continuing their occasional creative collaboration with Chinese songstress Fifi Rong, while one time YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA collaborator Hideki Matsutake returned as LOGIC SYSTEM and released a new long player ‘Technasma’, his project’s first for 18 years.
It was four decades since John Foxx’s ‘Metamatic’ and Gary Numan’s ‘Telekon’, with the man born Gary Webb publishing ‘(R)evolution’, a new autobiography to supersede 1997’s ‘Praying To The Aliens’. Meanwhile, the former Dennis Leigh teamed up with former ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon plus his regular Maths collaborators Benge and Hannah Peel for the blistering art rock statement of ‘Howl’ as well as finally issuing his book of short stories ‘The Quiet Man’.
Back in 1980, it was not unusual for bands to release two albums in a calendar year as OMD did with their self-titled debut and ‘Organisation’, or JAPAN did with ‘Quiet Life’ and ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’.
It appeared to be a tradition that BLANCMANGE were adopting as Neil Arthur delivered the acclaimed ‘Mindset’ and an enjoyable outtakes collection ‘Waiting Room (Volume 1)’.
PET SHOP BOYS and CERRONE proved they still liked to dance to disco because they don’t like rock, but the year’s biggest surprise came with THE SMASHING PUMPKINS whose single ‘Cyr’ crossed the templates of classic DEPECHE MODE with DURAN DURAN.
Interestingly, Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS and Michael Rother of NEU! used sketches recorded many moons ago to inspire their 2020 solo creations, proving that if something is a good idea, it will still make sense years later. Veteran Tonmeister Gareth Jones released his debut solo album ‘ELECTROGENETIC’ having first come to prominence as the studio engineer on ‘Metamatic’ back in 1980, but Jah Wobble was as prolific as ever, issuing his ninth album in four years, as well as a run of download singles over lockdown.
ANI GLASS had her debut long player ‘Mirores’ shortlisted for Welsh Music Prize and OMD remixed her song ‘Ynys Araul’ along the way, while SARAH P. was ‘Plotting Revolutions’. NINA and a returning ANNIE vied to be the Queen Of Synthwave with their respective albums ‘Synthian’ and ‘Dark Hearts’, although Canadian synth songstress DANA JEAN PHOENIX presented her most complete and consistent body of work yet in ‘Megawave’, a joint album with POWERNERD.
RADIO WOLF & PARALLELS contributed to the soundtrack of the film ‘Proximity’ released on Lakeshore Records and from the same label, KID MOXIE made her first contribution to the movie world with the score to ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need To Have A Serious Talk’ that also featured a stark cover of ALPHAVILLE’s ‘Big In Japan’. Meanwhile gothwavers VANDAL MOON made their most electronic album yet in ‘Black Kiss’ and POLYCHROME got in on the kissing act too with their new single ‘Starts With A Kiss’.
It would be fair to say in recent times that the most interesting and best realised electronic pop has come from outside of the UK; the likes of TWICE A MAN explored the darker side of life, although TRAIN TO SPAIN used the dancefloor as their mode of expression, 808 DOT POP developed on the robopop of parent band METROLAND and ZIMBRU preferred disco art pop.
In Scandinavia, there was the welcome return of UNIFY SEPARATE (formally US) and HILTIPOP aka Magnus Johansson of ALISON who finally released some music in his own right; once he started, he didn’t stop with 9 releases and counting in 2020! APOPTYGMA BERZERK released ‘Nein Danke!’, their self-proclaimed return to “New Wave Synthpop” and out of that set-up sprang the very promising PISTON DAMP.
Within the PAGE camp, Eddie Bengtsson continued his Numan fixation on the ‘Under Mitt Skinn’ EP although his musical partner Marina Schiptjenko teamed up with LUSTANS LAKEJER bassist Julian Brandt to ride the Synth Riviera for a delightful second helping of their electro crooner concept cheekily titled ‘For Beautiful People Only’.
Over in Germany, U96 teamed up Wolfgang Flür while RENARD, the solo vehicle of Markus Reinhardt from WOLFSHEIM teamed with Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE and Sarah Blackwood of DUBSTAR. DUBSTAR themselves released a striking corona crisis statement entitled ‘Hygiene Strip’ which saw reconfigured duo reunited with producer Stephen Hague. Meanwhile another poignant song on the topic ‘Small World’ came from SNS SENSATION, the new project by Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK. In lockdown, TINY MAGNETIC PETS recorded an entire album which they called ‘Blue Wave’.
Of course, 2020 was not full of joy, even without the pandemic, as the music world sadly lost Florian Schneider, Gabi Delgado-Lopez, Chris Huggett, Andrew Weatherall, Matthew Seligman, Dave Greenfield, Rupert Hine, Tom Wolgers, Harold Budd and Ennio Morricone.
An introspective tone was reflected the music of female fronted acts such as and ZANIAS, PURITY RING, WE ARE REPLICA, KALEIDA, LASTLINGS, NEW SPELL, WITCH OF THE VALE, REIN, BLACK NAIL CABARET, GLÜME, GEISTE THE FRIXION, FEMMEPOP and SCINTII. However, countering this, the optimism of RIDER, ROXI DRIVE and NEW RO presented a much brighter, hopeful take on life and the future.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrated 10 years as a platform and affirming the site’s intuition about synth talent in anticipation of them achieving greater things, SOFTWAVE opened for OMD on the Scandinavia leg of their ‘Souvenir’ tour. The Danish duo became the sixth act which the site had written about to have become part of a tradition that has included VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND and TINY MAGNETIC PETS.
On a more cheerful note, S.P.O.C.K beamed down to Slimelight in London before lockdown for their first British live performance in 17 years. Meanwhile on the same night, LAU NAU and VILE ELECTRODES did modular sets at Cecil Sharp House, the spiritual home of English traditional music.
At that event, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK took delight in curating a DJ set comprising of John Cage’s 4’33” in variations by DEPECHE MODE, GOLDFRAPP, ERASURE, NEW ORDER and THE NORMAL from Mute’s Stumm433 boxed set. This defiant act of silence even caused a curious Jonathan Barnbrook to raise an eyebrow, this from the man who designed the artwork with the white square on David Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’ 😉
The final live event that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK attended before the March lockdown was an informative lecture at Queen Mary University in London presented by noted cultural scholar Dr Uwe Schütte, in support of his book ‘KRAFTWERK Future Music From Germany’.
Also attending was Rusty Egan who held court at the reception afterwards by having a debate with another musician about the state of UK synth music. He then loudly beckoned ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK over and mentioned how the site was only interested acts that scored “9 out of 10” before admitting that a number of acts he supported only scored “6 out of 10”, with his reasoning being that if acts aren’t supported, then there will be no synth acts existing at all. After a decade in existence, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK remains proud that it is still extremely selective.
In 2020, the notion of reviews being needed to achieve a promotional profile underwent an existential crisis among media platforms. With streaming now being the main method of music consumption, why would anyone want to read a blog for an opinion about an album when they can just hit ‘play’ and hear the thing for themselves on Spotify, Amazon, Tidal or Bandcamp?
The sound of classic synthpop does live on happily in today’s mainstream via singles by THE WEEKND, DUA LIPA and even STEPS! In that respect, the trailblazing kings and queens of Synth Britannia from four decades ago did their job rather well.
From SUGABABES mashing-up ‘Are Friends Electric?’ for ‘Freak Like Me’ in 2002 to ‘Blinding Lights’ borrowing a bit of A-HA in 2020, the sound of synth is still strong.
It is up to any potential successors to live up to that high standard of Synth Britannia, which was as much down to the quality of the songwriting, as much as it was to do with the sound of the synthesizer. It is a fact that many overlook and if aspiring musicians could pay more attention to the song, instead of making the synthesizer the excuse for the song, then classic electronic pop music may still be around for a little longer and continue to evolve.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2020
The current global pandemic has highlighted across the board differences between many modern recording artists.
For some this has meant not sticking their head above the parapet and beyond what was already on the release schedule, they haven’t done anything to support their fan base through lockdowns and social distancing.
Others have given swathes of material away on platforms like YouTube in the form of remastered concert footage, acoustic lockdown sessions and unexpected collaborations.
This has been the approach of the likes of PINK FLOYD and GENESIS who have also no doubt picked up a few more sales along the way. A third group have used the lockdown to produce. From this, we will have a new CABARET VOLTAIRE release by year end which irrespective of the circumstances is a good thing and, amazing as it may seem, we have more from the non-stop musical mind of Tim Bowness.
With ‘Late Night Laments’, we are presented with what is his second solo album in just over a year. This is in conjunction with the release of the excellent NO-MAN album ‘Love You To Bits’ at the tail end of last year, running the eclectic Burning Shed AND producing hours and hours of entertaining podcast material with bandmate and fellow music polymath Steven Wilson, who hasn’t been sitting at home himself watching re-runs of ‘The Professionals’ on Netflix during this time. And it’s ‘The Album Years’ podcast that points to the content of ‘…Laments’. Anyone who has listened will be taken by the variety and depth of both Bowness and Wilson’s influences and many of them are on show here.
If you are coming to this solo work from the ‘Love You To Bits’ album, be aware this is more like the organic work on NO-MAN releases such as ‘Schoolyard Ghosts’ than the driving electronica of last year’s gem. Not that this should put you off as there is much to love with this album. Performed and co-produced alongside long-time collaborator Brian Hulse, opener ‘Northern Rain’ sets out the stall clearly.
This work wears its influences on its sleeve and when those influences are the likes of THE BLUE NILE, that isn’t a bad thing. The atmosphere created by the interplay between electronic instrumentation and the more traditional vibraphone and acoustic drums counterpoint the main reason you should give this album “ear time” and that is Bowness’s vocals.
Simply put, he is in possession of one of the best voices in the UK at the moment. It foregoes the modern bombast of gymnastics and over production and goes down the more downbeat route favoured by the likes of the late Mark Hollis (TALK TALK are another clear influence here). What this means is we have a set of performances that are dripping with intimacy and allow the frequently dark lyrics to come through. This is a voice you listen to.
The laidback ‘I’m Better Now’ is as darker as anything you would get from a modern DEPECHE MODE album and musically more rounded too. Next track ‘Darkline’ is a personal highlight. Again Bowness delivers a staggeringly effective vocal against instrumentation that features a keyboard solo from Richard Barbieri who also provides additional synths on this and later cut ‘The Last Gateway’.
What is notable is none of the tracks outstay their welcome, which from someone that is associated with the dreaded Prog word is commendable. There are progressive elements on many of the cuts here, but they are restrained so as not to frighten the horses.
The vocal arrangement on ‘The Hitman That Missed’ tips the hat to Bowness favourite Donovan. ‘Never a Place’ is another highlight, building, as many Bowness songs do, on a repeating and falling motif this features more of that most rock and roll instrument, the vibraphone played by Tom Atherton. His work across the album has brought a new and unexpected appreciation of the instrument only previously associated with a certain Mr Hitler and his guest appearance with the BONZO DOG DOO DAH BAND. ‘Hidden Life’ is infused with the same sadness that made the best ASSOCIATES tracks so memorable and features some of the best playing on the album.
Closer ‘One Last Call’ is equal to anything Bowness has released either solo or across his collaborative work. The sparse instrumentation allows everything to breathe and highlights the excellence of the production from Bowness and Hulse and the mastering work of Calum Malcolm. It’s no surprise that Steven Wilson is involved on mixing duties which he probably fitted in between the forthcoming ‘Vienna’ remaster and his lunchtime Pot Noodle…
This is an album in the old school sense of the word. It is crafted by musicians and following Bowness’ own mantra, doesn’t go on longer than is required to get the point across. Though billed as a late night release, this is one that deserves to be heard irrespective of the time of day. It is heartening we still have artists like Tim Bowness, more power to his elbow.
Oh and if you love music do yourself a favour and sub to ‘The Album Years’; as a grumpy old man, it’s the most fun you can have listening to grumpy old men out with Waldorf and Statler.