As Christmas shoppers fall over one another in the hope of finding that elusive bargain or a limited edition 'Hannah Montana sings Magma' doll, I guess now is as good a time as any to provide an update on my various nefarious activities:
The live DVD, both in terms of audio soundtrack and visuals, has now been completed (and approved by myself and the man Wilson). A lovely looking document of a special performance, it successfully captures the soulful fragility and gritty dynamics of a performance that, for me at least, suggested new sonic possibilities for future No-Man music.
More interviews have been conducted for the documentary. Despite Richard Smith's professionalism and encouraging presence, yet again I think I realised how much I'd rather have silence as my soundtrack to what I'm sure will be an interesting chronicle of No-Man's career. Hopefully, Richard will agree to present me as a wildly gesticulating mute, or just write me out of my own history altogether!
Words often seem inadequate to express intensely emotional experiences, and in conveying hopes and ideas I always feel embarrassed by how pretentious and repetitious they can sound spoken out loud. Overall, I'm left feeling that interviews (especially on camera) only seem to express a small aspect of a personality. On a personal level, I always feel as if I've let both myself and the music down by being so woefully inarticulate. 2009 resolution number one - never speak again!
The two new No-Man studio pieces are coming together nicely and 'Maestro' Steve Bingham has added some mighty fine violin to the No-Man version of The Place Where You'd Hide. The pieces, which aren't scheduled for a new album, are likely to appear as extras on the forthcoming DVD, or as downloads.
At the moment, we're hoping that both DVDs will still be ready for a Spring 2009 release.
Judy Dyble - Talking With Strangers:
Almost finished, this has produced some wonderful songs (and some wonderful performances from its extensive cast of guests). In my role of co-producer, I've been acquainted with Folk Rock royalty (including Fairport's Simon Nicol, Pentangle's Jaqui McShee and All About Eve's Julianne Regan) and heard some of Ian McDonald's finest playing since his work on 1969's In The Court Of The Crimson King. The 20 minute epic, Harpsong, is perhaps the piece King Crimson fans will be most interested in, as it not only features Pat Mastelotto, Robert Fripp and Ian McDonald, it also possesses a ripping Henry Fool-esque riff in 14 time somewhere in the middle (an atypical moment on an otherwise blissed-out, ambitious singer-songwriter album)
Again, a Spring 2009 release is looking likely for this. I've extensively sung backing vocals throughout the album and played the occasional instrument, but the first single is likely to be a full-blown duet called, Grey October Day. The 'Rene and Renato' crown is now officially under threat!
We'll be doing more work on our collaboration album in early 2009. All the songs have been written, and we're just waiting on final performances and mixes. As stated previously, the resulting album is something of an unofficial (and potentially more upbeat) follow-up to Schoolyard Ghosts. As my idea of an upbeat experience is listening to David Bowie's Low while reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road, I may be wrong.
I'll be appearing on a couple of tracks on Norwegian band The Opium Cartel's new album. An interesting Folk/Electronica hybrid from White Willow's Jacob Holm-Lupo, my main contribution will be on a cover of Brian Eno's classic, By This River.
Bowness/Chilvers, Bowness/Murphy, Bowness/Bowness and Henry Fool have recorded albums worth of material over the last few years, but so far, no proposed release or finish dates are on the agenda. The same goes for the Fjieri Group and Stefano Panunzi albums. In the case of the Fjieri Group, two very well produced songs featuring my lead vocals, alongside superb contributions from Gavin Harrision, Mick Karn and Richard Barbieri, still appear to be sleeping on a computer somewhere in Rome and awaiting an awakening kiss.
With the release of Schoolyard Ghosts (something I still rate amongst the best of what I've done) and the return of No-Man to the live stage, 2008 has been a good year.
Thanks to those of you who have read my very sporadic diary ramblings, bought and enjoyed SG and made the No-Man live experience such an enjoyable one.
Good luck in finding the Hannah Montana doll.
Lambchop - Oh Ohio (2008)
Momus (back catalogue)
Roy Harper (back catalogue)
Scott Walker - Tilt (1995)
Scott Walker - The Drift (2006)
Burn After Reading (2008)
The Caretaker (1963)
Disco Pigs (2001)
The Mist (2008)
Cormac McCarthy - The Road (2006)
It's 2am and it's a Friday morning in Düsseldorf. With the last performance of the No-Man mini
mini-tour of 2008 over, the members of the band that are still awake go in search of life and strong coffee. Explorers all, excitement is high.
Two hours of aimless wandering later and it's clear that beyond the dubious delights of Doctor Jazz and the somewhat bizarre allure of the transvestite café, Euro 2008 ('your non-stop café', apparently), bed is the only option for the five exhausted would-be Dr Livingstones.
This, along with eating too many vegetables backstage in Germany (an act that nearly ended up in 'Maestro' Steve Bingham being hospitalised!) was as close to rock'n'roll excess as we got. Clearly, the Iggy Pop gene ran rampant in this group of intrepid sonic warriors. Not.
There's no doubt that the experience of No-Man's first live dates in 15 years was an energising one and that the desire to do it again seems strong in all the participants.
Breathing new and powerful life into the material, while remaining totally true to the fragility and intimacy at the heart of No-Man's music, songs such as All The Blue Changes, Time Travel In Texas, Pretty Genius, Mixtaped and Carolina Skeletons became vital and vibrant performance pieces that in some ways eclipsed their studio counterparts. Days In The Trees once more seemed alive to me (a former favourite that had faded from memory now restored to its rightful place) and Things Change, Watching Over Me and Wherever There Is Light hit the highs I hoped they would. The only disappointment occurred with Truenorth, which seemed very empty and slight compared to the vastly superior Schoolyard Ghosts version.
Performance-wise, with less pressure and no intrusive cameras present, the German and Dutch gigs were technically the best, with the Dutch performance also seeming more open, physical and fun than the others. Without doubt, however, the London show had the most magical atmosphere. What it lacked in finesse (and stage size), it had by the bucketload in spirit.
The post-gig reactions were very touching and numerous, and I was genuinely moved both by how much people seemed to like what they'd seen and by how far some people had travelled to see what they'd just seen. At times, the gigs appeared like an unofficial UN convention. Aftershow gifts of flowers, sour herrings and apples with (German) worms were strangely welcome and strangely strange.
Many people (including the man Wilson) were surprised and excited by the more than expected rock/noise quotient and whisper to a scream dynamics in evidence with this incarnation of the band. Classic Rock's Dave Ling felt my 'No-Man - Monsters Of Rock' joke was very nearly an accurate description of events on stage.
For me, the best part was that there was no element of nostalgia. This wasn't a revivalist band (no hint of 70s, 80s or 90s replication), this was a band creating a distinctive and eclectic rock music in the here and now. Elements of Minimalist Classical fused with Rock dynamics and evocative electronic sounds, while all the time remaining true to the core songs. The Bearpark/Wilson guitar coupling worked superbly, the Morgan/Booker rhythm section had real bite, 'Maestro' Bingham shone and 'Baron' Bennett justified his position as first choice for the keyboard slot.
Beyond the music, the social element worked well too. Nine* opinionated men in a small space for several days could have been a recipe for justified serial killing, but in this case, the atmosphere was consistently upbeat and the exchanges sympathetic and funny.
* We were joined on the tour by ever-charming film maker/TV presenter, Richard Smith, and Alan Price/Gerard Depardieu lookalike come agent, Rob Palmen (a man not frightened to insist on moist toilet tissue and fresh fruit for 'his boys'!).
As the tapes are being listened to and the visuals are being sorted for the forthcoming DVD, my hope is that this is the start of something beautiful rather than merely a wonderful one-off.
Alain Bashung - Bleu Pétrole (2008)
Gavin Friday - Shag Tobacco (1996)
Steve Reich - Daniel Variations (2008)
Roxy Music - Manifesto (1979)
The Who back catalogue (1965-2006)
Harold Pinter's No Man's Land - Dublin Gate (with Michael Gambon)
Harold Pinter - Plays Volume Four
Having had more interviews and reviews for Schoolyard Ghosts than for any No-Man album since Flowermouth, it's been interesting to see how the resulting articles reflect the changes that have taken place in the publishing industry over the last decade and a half.
Although the process was well underway by the end of the 1980s, there's no doubt in my mind that the quality of writing and debate (in the UK at least) has been simplified. When I was younger, mainstream music journalism was aspirational, now it appears purely functional.
My feeling is that as the internet allows absolute freedom of speech and immediate access to information, magazines should do what the web can't. For me, that's develop higher standards of editing and journalistic excellence and play more with the possibilities of image, texture and design. Too many journalists I know (who write for major publications) feel frustrated by the demands of creating fairly meaningless, bite-size reviews and interviews that exhibit few ideas, little of the journalist's own writing style or passions and even less of the subject's qualities.
It's usually no-one in particular's fault, but regardless of the subject's words or the journalist's knowledge and intentions, the demands of space, market and publisher's commercial visions often get in the way of meaning, accuracy and stylistic invention. In their attempts to directly appeal to a perceived audience, published articles can sometimes unintentionally short change the subject, the writer and the readership.
I've been pleased that we've had coverage and I'm genuinely grateful to magazines for featuring us, but it strikes me as something of a pity that the most perceptive and inventive reviews and interviews I'm seeing at the moment are mainly on the web or in fanzines (places and pieces that aren't at the whim of sub-editors or market forces).
The No-Man rehearsals have continued to go well. The third major get together proved something of a breakthrough, and if I wasn't in the band already, I'd have asked to join!
Next time around, the man Wilson gets involved, so everything could change significantly, but the basis for an intriguing set has already been created and at this stage, that's as much as I could have asked for.
Exactly 21 years after first writing with Steven, a new No-Man song emerged last week. More traditionally written than the Schoolyard Ghosts album (Steven provided me with a backing track to work from), the piece, tentatively titled Death Was California, has a languid, country, feel and a great sense of space.
Talking of Schoolyard Ghosts, my song of the same name (which served as the basis for Mixtaped) is now up on the www.myspace.com/timbowness page. Listen, digest and ponder whether it was rightfully condemned to the No-Man walk of shame. :-)
The Edge Of Love (2008)
The Fountain (again!) (2006)
Haruki Murakami - After Dark (2007)
Sigur Ros - Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (2008)
Schoolyard Ghosts was finally released in May and the response so far has been almost as good as I could have hoped for.
More interviews and more positive reviews than for anything the band has done since the Indie Top 20 (hey)days of Loveblows & Lovecries, it's been gratifying that something so personal has seemed to strike a chord with so many.
Perhaps the strangest (though welcome) interest has come from the Metal magazines of Europe. Attention from Classic Rock and Rocksound in the UK and Rolling Stone in Mexico is understandable, but extremely positive and perceptive reviews followed by enjoyable interviews in Metal Hammer (German, Polish and Spanish editions) came as a surprise (clearly, Pantera better watch out, as Bloodstock here we come!).
Elsewhere, the reaction has also been good. Inevitably, some people don't like it as much as No-Man album X or Y, and some people don't get anything at all from it, but generally speaking, Schoolyard Ghosts is already being seen as one of the strongest achievements in the band's history.
For me personally, I see it as a quintessential No-Man album: something that encapsulates everything that the band is about and has been about, while also taking us somewhere new.
Whether it provides a new template for the band, or something for us to rebel against, time will tell.
Direct from the heart of Nomansland, filming began on the prospective Richard Smith No-Man documentary, with myself and the man Wilson talking openly about the band and its history.
As a long-term fan of the band, Richard proved a genial and well informed interrogator. More Louis Theroux than Jeremy Paxman, hopefully we won't come out quite as badly as some of Theroux's subjects!
As a demonstration of how we work in the studio, we created something 'new' for the cameras (albeit in a Blue Peter 'this is something we prepared earlier' kind of way), and the good news is that two new No-Man pieces are likely to result from this. More an extension of Schoolyard Ghosts than a fresh direction, it was good to see that the creative relationship withstood the sometimes intrusive glare of the camera eye.
The No-Man live rehearsals have gone well so far, with an interesting direction suggesting itself, and one new musical recruit who will hopefully end up sticking around for future projects.
Outside of the 'Man', I've continued to collaborate with Giancarlo Erra (another productive trip to the wilds of Sweden) and started work on co-producing an album for ex-Fairport Convention singer, Judy Dyble.
The album with Judy sounds totally unlike anything I've done before, but is shaping up nicely and looks likely to include some mighty fine special guest appearances.
Ideal (Series Four)
Slaughterhouse Five (1972)
This Is England (2006)
Paul Morley - Joy Division: Piece By Piece (2008)
Haruki Murakami - After The Quake (2000)
David Peace - The Damned United (2006)
A busy few months has seen trips to San Francisco (which rapidly ascended to favourite city status for me), Baron Bennett's lovely Swedish hideaway, and Borg Central, London.
Add to that heady brew, convulsive syncopes on planes, earthquakes rather than passion rocking my bed, video shoots with flute-wielding gothic brides, and half my house being ripped apart (then put together again) by lethally efficient men known only as 'the tomahawk', 'the sleeper' and 'the marshall'.
Somewhere in between, came the music.
Sessions for No-Man's Schoolyard Ghosts culminated in a wonderful orchestral session at Air Studios in mid-March.
Arranged by Dave Stewart, it was a delight to a hear a 22 piece string orchestra shimmering beautifully throughout the 13 minute epic Truenorth. My first such experience, it was easy to see how this could become addictive. Next time, it's all orchestra (and all debtor's courts)!
The intoxicating string sensation was followed by an ultra-rare Carl Glover No-Man photo shoot and a pleasant meeting with Markus Reuter and his new collaborator Tovah. All in all, a fine day.
The January and February sessions successfully progressed from where we'd left off in September and, once back in the No-Man groove, the writing and camaraderie seemed as strong as ever.
For a writing relationship that's nearly 21 years old, it was gratifying for both myself and the man Wilson that we still enjoyed what we did together and still felt that we could say something different. That the writing sessions ended on such a high that we felt we could have carried on for longer was an unexpected bonus.
The initial recordings in August were artistically fruitful, but were somehow marred by a fear that we might not be able to equal or go beyond Together We're Stranger (a favourite for both of us). On listening to the results of the first sessions, the potential became obvious and the fears soon diminished.
Subsequently, in many ways, it seems to me that we've created the definitive No-Man album.
All our previous albums are distinctive statements I feel, but it's still possible for me to detect influences/creative starting points external to the band, whereas throughout the writing and recording of Schoolyard Ghosts, it seemed to me like No-Man itself was our main creative starting point.
Surprisingly, the tone of the new album is more optimistic in places than anything we've done before, evoking the sense that after a long period of struggle, a state of grace has been reached. Despite that, there's melancholy aplenty (naturally!) and a couple of the pieces are undoubtedly amongst the darkest and most experimental the band has written since the Wild Opera period.
I feel we've created a collection of songs that we'll both regard as a high point in both our musical careers and, regardless of the response, that feels like reward enough for the effort involved.
Along with the orchestra, highlights for me included Theo Travis's ongoing Theosophy, Pat Mastellotto's 'Pigeon Pat', and getting to work with the extremely sensitive and talented San Franciscan, Bruce Kaphan (ex-American Music Club), who added some soaring pedal steel to two of the album's tracks.
For me personally, I feel that All Sweet Things and Truenorth are perhaps the pinnacle of the band's achievements, with most of the other pieces not far behind.
After four years of writing a lot but releasing nothing, it feels good to come back with what I feel is No-Man's strongest work to date. The experiences, the hard choices, the constant waiting and internal debating definitely make more sense in the light of what's completed.
More detailed Schoolyard Ghosts information and images can be found on Tony Kinson's micro-site, located on his very nicely reworked, a confession... website.
Margaret Atwood - The Tent
Stanislaw Lem - Solaris
Clive James - North Face Of Soho/The Book Of My Enemy
Clive James Talking In The Library
No Country For Old Men