Why Burning Shed Matters

A great comment from Pete Morgan (founder of Burning Shed).  Very honored to have him post at progarchy.  [Lee, we love you, too; but, you already knew this!]

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Thanks for the comments about us versus Amazon.

Firstly, no we’ll never be able to compete with them. That’s partly due to scale but also because, unlike Amazon, we pay all of our taxes on top of trying to pay our staff a decent wage. In that regard it is not a level playing field.

Nevertheless, we are often cheaper than them on new releases because the ‘free’ delivery is built into the cost of the item or the Amazon Prime fee (there’s no such thing as a free lunch after all).

Packages shipped from one side of the Atlantic to the other will by post always take a week or so. Other than sending everything by courier (at great cost) there’s not much we can do about that, sorry, but we do try to ship as far ahead of release date as possible.

I don’t agree that our postage charges are a ‘bit of a rip off’. International postage is expensive and we charge £3.08 for a CD in a card mailer which is less than Royal Mail’s standard Airmail tariff (£3.30) as we pass on our volume discount to customers.

We’re always looking for cheaper ways to send things though and if we can do it we will.

I hope you’ll continue to give us a go on those occasions where we have something Amazon don’t.

Cheers

Pete

Tim Bowness Lost in the Ghost Light

Years ago, when I was 16 I found an organization that helped with my curiosity about progressive rock, it was called the Classic Rock Society, they were based in Rotherham (a short bus ride away from the small village I lived in at the time) and they met on a Wednesday night in a pub. Beer and prog, all within a short distance from my front door, what was not to like?

One night at the pub talking about prog music in 1995 a friend lent me an album by a band I’d never heard of called No-Man, the album was Flowermouth, and it’s mix of shifting sounds and emotive vocals was my first introduction to the works of Mr Steven Wilson and Mr Tim Bowness, and I was hooked.

Luckily I got to see Porcupine Tree not so longer afterwards, but despite following No-Man and Tim Bowness solo work, it took me slightly longer (nearly 20 years in fact) to see Tim live, with Henry Fool at Eppyfest in 2014, followed quickly by seeing him at the Louisiana in Bristol in 2015.

Continue reading “Tim Bowness Lost in the Ghost Light”

Finding Sublime: Tim Bowness And The Things That Matter

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For such a uniquely talented vocalist and musician, Tim Bowness doesn’t need to fill the frame.  As his band Henry Fool hinted on 2013’s excellent and slyly-titled Men Singing (https://progarchy.com/2013/08/12/men-singing-by-henry-fool/), what a voice is and what it has to say is as elastic as what we’re willing to hear.  His long partnership with Steven Wilson in no-man likewise produces soundscapes that find a wholeness in laying back and cherry-picking essentials.  Getting to the heart of what matters and why is a recurring theme in Bowness’s work, and It is fitting that Bowness’s new album begins with a song titled “Electric Teenage Dream,” the video for which sets images of jurassic 1950s technology against words echoing our slippery grasp on the electronic toys that so demand our attention. 

Stupid Things That Mean The World is rich with rejoinders to a world running over with unfiltered shadowplay.  Teasing out the meaningful from the stupid things (sometimes finding they might be one and the same), trying to jump start a false life on found truths, to, as one song says, “press reset,” is a central struggle, and Bowness’s emotive, low-key delivery makes the struggle immediate, engaging, and deeply moving.

With a voice embedded in British folk and art rock but defining a space entirely his own, Bowness sings towards a quiet grandeur.  And yet while that stately-paced slow burn colors much of the record with the torch-driven songcraft common to his work (thinking particularly of no-man’s Returning Jesus), the album ignites under the heat Bowness brings to “Stupid Things That Mean The World,” “The Great Electric Teenage Dream,” and “Press Reset,” their detailed observations accompanied by taut arrangements moving from the apocalyptic to the pop.  The moods he summons join together seamlessly, so this is indeed an album rather than a collection of songs, a conjuring of Johnny Hartman entwined with Nick Drake and Radiohead and autumn leaves falling.  Jarrod Gosling’s artwork nails the vibe, with its feel of a classic EG Records album cover mirroring the hidden edges and complexities of the music within, and the credits are a who’s who of cross-generational art rock, including Bruce Soord, Peter Hammill, Phil Manzanera, Pat Mastelotto, Colin Edwin, Anna Phoebe, David Rhodes, Rhys Marsh, and members of the no-man live band  (Stephen Bennett, Michael Bearpark and Sanguine Hum’s Andrew Booker), with Andrew Keeling providing string arrangements.  It makes for a complete and satisfying experience, and again shows the kind of standard we’ve come to expect from the music Bowness creates.

Progarchy sat down with Tim via email to talk about the new album, his music and career, and what’s next for him.

The production on Stupid Things That Mean The World is immediate, it feels live, and you are upfront in the mix. What sort of decisions did you make to have this record sound the way it does?
I’d have offered opinions about mix/instrument levels, treatments and so on. Pretty much as I usually do on any project, except on my solo works no-one argues with me and I get rejected less! 🙂

I have ideas about sounds and approaches to music and inevitably I pursue those (for better or worse). I quite like live and direct approaches to drum, strings and vocal production in particular, and I also like allowing quieter elements to dominate busy arrangements.

Tell us about the title of the record, and what brought you to the themes you explore, particularly in “Electric Teenage Dream,” “Press Reset,” and the title track?
The title song is about a relationship, but not necessarily a romantic one. It could be about a collapsed close friendship, or life in a band or a business with a sort of kindred spirit.

The title concerns the small and seemingly trivial things that make us who we are or help us through our lives. It could be an old toy, art/music, shared intimate language, a belief system, an annual holiday, the image or idea of someone you loved in your youth etc etc. I was also thinking of something like the significance of the seemingly insignificant Rosebud in Citizen Kane.

Press Reset and At The End Of The Holiday are my two favourite lyrics on the album and have more of a short story quality about them. The first is a depiction of someone desperate to escape the pressures of their life, while the second is about a temporary escape from domestic difficulties. Press Reset’s theme is something that has interested me for a long time – people consciously disappearing from their own lives and families – and something that in retrospect I realised had happened in my own family.

The lyric to The Great Electric Teenage Dream is part of a larger project called Third Monster On The Left, which is about what it’s like for musicians of a certain age to make music at this point in the 21st Century. A few tracks from it appeared on Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and I’m hoping to present it as a complete project at some point in the future.

Know That You Were Loved was the last song written for the album and it’s possibly the most emotional song on the album. To an extent, it deals with death bed reminiscences and has roots in the work I used to do with the elderly at old people’s homes in the 1980s.

Cheery!

3) What’s your favorite song on the new record?
For very different reasons, Know That You Were Loved, Press Reset and The Great Electric Teenage Dream are my favourite songs on the album. Partly because they either achieved or exceeded my ideas of what the songs could be and partly because they were developing all the time due to some really nice contributions from the guest musicians.

4) You’ve said that this record and Abandoned Dancehall Dreams constitute a new chapter for you. Why do you think that is?
Due to my input in terms of writing and production, ADD and Stupid Things feel more like ‘solo’ works than anything else I’ve done.

In both cases, there was a lot less co-writing than on most projects I’m involved with. Also, with both these albums everything had to begin and end with strong input from me. I assembled the collaborators, booked the studios, provided the material, suggested the sonic approach and so on.

While I might contribute a fair amount to no-man, Henry Fool or Bowness/Chilvers, my input is still being filtered through somebody else’s wishes, opinions and organisational ability, so they’re very much collaborations.

5) What’s your approach to arranging on your solo records as opposed to other projects like no-man?
I think my approach to arranging varies from project to project and song to song as arrangements have to work for the benefits of the song or the musicians involved in the recording.

A good example of differences between projects would be the piece Press Reset. If I’d have presented the song to no-man (for example), Steven would have most likely complicated the final section’s chords and not allowed through the more simplistic pummelling coda rhythm. Conversely, Steven may have simplified compositional aspects of Know That You Were Loved while suggesting a more dense arrangement. Basically, if I’d have presented Press Reset to no-man, Peter Chilvers, Henry Fool or Memories Of Machines, the finished result would have been different and in some cases radically different due to the involvement of other people.

6) You have a distinct, instantly recognizable style, and a signature delivery. What/who shaped your development as a singer?
Ultimately, as with the music, what comes out is instinctive and natural. It may sound corny, but my singing’s my emotional response to whatever music I’m singing over really.

When I started out, my singing inspirations would have been the likes of Kevin Godley, Peter Hammill, Peter Gabriel and David Bowie. Later on, I really liked Paddy McAloon, John Martyn, Nick Drake, David Crosby, Mark Eitzel and others, plus female singers such as Joni Mitchell, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Kate Bush.

I hope I’ve developed my own voice over time. It’s something I don’t think about much when I’m actually singing, so I’m not sure how much influence from others comes through.

7) How would you describe your writing process?
Anything that works basically.

Songs can come from me writing on acoustic guitar or playing on my synth or programming within GarageBand or Logic. I can either start with a strong sense of something I want to create, or an idea can naturally emerge out of the process of just playing.

Songs like Know That You Were Loved, I Fought Against The South and Everything You’re Not/Everything But You developed out of me playing on the guitar. The likes of Press Reset and Smiler At 52 came out of programming and then making the pieces more organic and loose with instrumental additions. The Warm-Up Man Forever came out of a combination of looping, playing keyboards and programming.

When I co-write, it can be in real time (generally me with a pianist or a live band) or retrospectively working from existing backing tracks.

8) Can you talk a little bit about Jarrod Gosling’s artwork for Stupid Things and Abandoned Dancehall Dreams?
I think Jarrod’s got a really distinctive style and I used him in order to distinguish the look of my work from the look of no-man’s, and also to reinforce the sense that the solo albums represented a new chapter for me.

Artwork is important to me. I started buying music in an era when the imagery of album covers was a significant part of the music experience and I’ve never lost that fascination with attention to detail or the evocative link between sounds and image.

Jarrod’s a lovely guy and very easy to work with. He listens to other people’s ideas without compromising his own singular style.

9) As someone who is not only an artist but also involved in the business of music, what’s your take on the way music is distributed today?
A big and complex issue!

The internet has been a blessing and a curse to musicians. It’s allowed Burning Shed to thrive internationally in a way that would have been difficult before, so the immediacy of access has mostly been a positive thing for the company. I’ve always felt that Burning Shed has pushed forward traditional ideas – elaborate packaging, physical product, conceptually intentional albums – via an innovative, contemporary medium.

On a personal level, I feel extremely lucky that I can still release music I believe in and that there’s still an interest in what I do. Also, the internet has allowed Burning Shed to thrive internationally in a way that would have been difficult before.

10) What are you reading? What’s a current favorite record, and why?
I tend to read several books at the same time, so at the moment I’m reading Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted, Clive James’s Sentenced To Life, Kent Haruf’s Our Souls At Night and Pete Townshend’s Who I Am. I recently finished Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel which I enjoyed, but the best book I’ve read in recent years is E L Doctorow’s Homer & Langley. It’s a brilliantly written chronicle of obsession and retreat from the world.

Musically, I go through phases of listening to back catalogues by artists (currently David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Bill Nelson/Be Bop Deluxe and The Who) and new things. Of late, I’ve liked albums by Sanguine Hum, Keaton Henson and Troyka (a really interesting contemporary UK band who are carrying on the Progressive tradition of 1970s Rock influenced Jazz).

What’s next for you?
Immediately, a new Bowness/Chilvers album. We’ve completed 90% of a follow-up to California, Norfolk and it really feels like a progression from that album. Lyrically it’s more dense and musically it really shows how Peter’s work has evolved since he’s been working with Brian Eno and Karl Hyde. I’m looking forward to hear how it develops.

Tim Bowness, Stupid Things That Mean The World (Burning Shed/Inside Out Music, available July 17, 2015: https://www.burningshed.com/store/timbowness/product/71/6640/).

Men Singing by Henry Fool

ImageHenry Fool’s new album, Men Singing, is an alternate history, a prog rock proclamation that it was the Soft Machine, not Elvis, who invented rock and roll, out of the ashes of bop, not blues.  Led by keyboardist Stephen Bennett and stellar no-man vocalist Tim Bowness (who joins his bandmates in not singing on the album — he plays guitar here), Henry Fool conjures first wave English prog and ambient while alternately dodging and burning the spirit of King Crimson’s “Starless” and Soft Machine’s Third.  If anything could convince me this is the way rock’s mainstream should have shaken out, Men Singing is it.

In writing* and on record, the project’s relationship to first generation progressive rock is explicit and real — Phil Manzanera is a collaborator here — but also cautious, with an important ambition to avoid simple mimicry.  Any way you look at it, this is not an easy thing to pull off, and in fact is the central obstacle to bands consciously working in the contemporary prog rock genre.  How to avoid stylistic forgery? The early prog groups had an entirely different set of references that, naturally, did not include prog, and there’s an uneasy recognition that once it’s “prog” it’s no longer prog.  With that said, if it’s possible to meet expectations while pushing boundaries, Men Singing more than succeeds.

The four-song album begins with the longform “Everyone in Sweden,” which maps the record.  The aggressive, energetic rhythm section structures the melodic builds and mixes, suggesting the work of Robert Wyatt with Soft Machine, Jaki LIebzeit with Can, and Klaus Schulze with Tangerine Dream.  Which is to say that Bitches Brew-era Miles hovers like some benevolent deity.  But this is not a music stuck in the past.  It has a smartly produced, live sound that brings the drums and bass up front — with a rising and falling cadre of guitars and horns and glockenspiels and mellotrons working alongside — while avoiding the airtight digital separation or cleanness of many contemporary prog albums.   It works anew the fertile ground turned over by post-rock instrumental bands like Pell Mell and Tortoise, and arguably offers a more focused experience than either of those estimable groups.

At 40 minutes, Men Singing is well-paced and doesn’t linger too long, which might have been a problem in different hands or in different eras.  Terrain is explored, not exploited, and the two 13-minute cuts are satisfying in their development.  The two shorter pieces make their point even more powerfully, with “My Favorite Zombie Dream” going some distance towards explaining the band’s name, a homage to Hal Hartley’s late 90s movie but really a nod to Hartley’s music, which colors his films in a moody, darkly humorous palette.

It’s hard to recommend this album too highly, which, given Bowness’s involvement, should be no surprise.  And while an instrumental album called Men Singing might feel clever, the voices on this record show it’s only half a joke.

*http://timbowness.wordpress.com/album-writings/henry-fool-men-singing/

But Is It Good? The Dreaded Year’s End List

Years ago, I had something of an obsession with the movie Jimi Hendrix, which was made shortly after his death, and which along with Bob Dylan’s Don’t Look Back got heavy rotation in the VCR (I had ‘em back to back on a fuzzed out VHS cassette).  Once, after watching it and glowing about it and Hendrix to my girlfriend at the time, she asked me, with a sly smile, “But was he good?”

It was a bizarre and funny question, a great question.  Because of course my first reaction, most people’s first reaction, to that question regarding Hendrix, would be, “Of course he was !#$*&^!! good!  You can’t get more good.  None.  None more good.”

But, she was testing me in a good way.  What she was asking, really, was did all that talent create something worthwhile? Shouldn’t received wisdom about art be less immutable than it often is? And suggesting, too, that even established (and dead) rock gods need new evaluation, continued consideration. This is why I think year’s best lists are something of a conceit and are really part of the pop world.  In reflecting on my favorite records of the year, I realize: there are no “new” artists in my brief list; only two of the albums were released this year; and, one of the albums is actually over 30 years old.  But ah well, nobody ever accused me of being at the cutting edge of pop.  I’m always just catching up.  These are the records that were new to me in 2012, would be of some relevance to the prog listener, and which answered in the affirmative the question, “But is it good?”

GaborSzaboIn Stockholm by Gabor Szabo (1978) – A jazz guitar master whose work with Chico Hamilton in the early 1960s landed him a solo career on the venerable Impulse! label, Szabo was at once an emblem of swingin’ 60s lounge pop and serious jazz improviser.  His Eastern European gypsy roots are all over his records, which typically capture Szabo working out a handful of originals against a backdrop of covers (these can veer towards the cheesy, but his cover of Donovan’s “Three Kingfishers” is stunning, and his interpretation of Sonny and Cher’s “Bang Bang” (with vocal!) absolutely without peer.  His 60s work is topped by “Gypsy Queen,” which a lot of us already know as the tail end/outro of Santana’s cover of “Black Magic Woman.”  Carlos loved his Gabor.  But instrumental jazz pop had a short shelf life, and the 70s saw the hits wane.  Szabo went back to Europe to record, and the album In Stockholm compiles two sessions, one recorded in 1972 and one in 1978, with Janne Schaffer (best known as Abba’s guitarist!) joining Szabo on guitar.  This is pure jam music, with rock and jazz getting equal voicings.  Bass and drums create droning, searching backgrounds on extended versions of Szabo classics like “Mizrab” and “24 Carat.”  The only distraction on the set is a nod to Szabo’s lounge-pop leanings, with the overripe chestnut “People” probably getting the best treatment it’s ever gotten but, come on, it’s “People who need people” and I personally don’t need it.  The rest of the double album more than makes up for this pale first track though.  This is first-rate stuff — really mindblowing.

BenAllisonThink Free by Ben Allison (2009) – I love Ben Allison’s work.  He’s one of the few modern jazz composers I keep up with, and his records always have something to say.  Think Free is kind of an amalgam of older and new compositions, with “Green Al” and “Peace Pipe” getting fresh makeovers with the addition of guitar by Steve Cardenas, who’s been working with Allison the last few years.  This is melody-driven jazz that never strays into smooth territory; if anything, it verges on rock (although not as much Allison’s wonderful Cowboy Justice from 2006).  The recording is organic, earthy, with Jenny Scheinman’s violin contributing an almost rustic feel to some of the tracks.  I caught up with Think Free late and since then Allison’s released Action Refraction as well, which is also great, but the nice thing about Think Free is that I think it stands as a great introduction to his work in general.

LOVE FC LThe Forever Changes Concert by Arthur Lee & Love (2003) – I may be preaching to the choir, I know, but if there is one rock album from the psychedelic era that has stood the test of time it is Love’s Forever Changes (1967).  A sonically bright, lyrically dark masterpiece, Forever Changes combined rock with smooth jazz, Spanish classical music, and garage punk, forging what is in my opinion the first American progressive rock record.  Arthur Lee, the cracked master behind Love, refused to tour outside of California, and never capitalized on the potential of Forever Changes or its two predecessors (both wonderful in their own way, and classics as well).  Jack Holzman, head of Elektra Records, has called Lee one of the few musical geniuses he ever met and signed (these are big, big words), but Arthur Lee could never translate that genius into success.  Drug problems, jail time, on-again off-again performances through the 70s, 80s, and 90s did nothing to help his legacy.  Then came word that he was gigging regularly with Baby Lemonade, a West Coast psych revival band who took their name from a song by another 60s casualty, Syd Barrett.  And in 2003, this band, with Lee fronting, performed the entirety of Forever Changes in London, a performance not only beautifully executed but also wonderfully recorded.  In fine vocal shape, Lee delivers on the promise of what Forever Changes could have been for him had he pursued it with such ferocity 35 years earlier.  That he got this down before he died is a gift to us all.  I’m embarrassed to say that although I’ve long been a fan of Forever Changes (easily in my top 5 of all time), I hadn’t heard this concert until this year.  So do yourself a favor….

CelebrationDayCelebration Day by Led Zeppelin (2012) – Like the Forever Changes Concert, Celebration Day captures Led Zeppelin performing one show, the Ahmet Ertegun tribute in 2007.  Of course, this Zep isn’t the Zep of yore, as John Bonham’s son Jason is behind the drums, but Jason Bonham has long been the replacement of choice for his legendary father.  The wonderful thing about live Led Zeppelin is that they are like they are on their records but more so.  Make sense? Jimmy Page and Robert Plant always tend, intentionally, towards the unpredictable, even messy — and make no mistake, this is an Art — and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  It works here.  Celebration Day finds Plant, Page, and John Paul Jones in fine trim.  Robert Plant, working the lower register, has really never sounded better, and Page is, well, Page.  He is a master of infusing the big hard rock riff with soul, wit, and the hammer of the gods.  John Paul Jones, an absolute anchor, is in a way the real puppet master of this band.  He and Bonham tie down the dirigible that is Page/Plant.  This was one show, one take, with songs that speak to fans who wore out the deep cuts:  “In My Time of Dying” (really??? Yippee!!), “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” “For Your Life”….  Although the band has been well-documented now regarding its live performances during its heyday, this is the best live Zeppelin I’ve heard.

david_sylvian_robert_fripp_damage_reissueDamage by David Sylivian & Robert Fripp (2002) – A fellow Progarchist turned me onto this record and I was immediately blown away.  Somewhat familiar with Sylvian’s work, and holding Fripp in high esteem for his adventurousness, my first reaction to hearing song’s like “God’s Monkey” and “Brightness Falls” was an affirmation that artists like Fripp and Sylvian do better working in pairs than strictly solo.  This live set, recorded during their 1993 tour, draws songs primarily from an LP they made together, The First Day.  Fripps poetics on guitar and “Frippertronics” are matched by Sylvian’s words and voice, and backed by Trey Gunn on stick (a sort of bass with a cazillion strings), drummer Pat Mastelatto, and guitarist Michael Brook, there is a confidence in delivery that comes from two artists well into the second, third, fourth phases of their careers.  The sound is hard, funky, emotive, the sound of Fripp and Sylvian unmistakable.  The set misses “Jean the Birdman,” which they did perform on the tour but is not included here.  Otherwise this is a gem, and I’m probably going to spend 2013 tracking down more on Sylvian.

StormCorrosionStorm Corrosion by Storm Corrosion (2012) – I reviewed Storm Corrosion on Progarchy this fall so won’t go into it in great detail, but I find it a marvelous collaboration.  Like Fripp and Sylvian, Mikael Akerfeldt and Steven Wilson seem to do better working in collaboration rather than as heading groups or as strictly solo.  Perhaps it’s the balance.  In any case, this is a rich and wonderful album I look forward to getting even more out of in the next year.

ReturningJesusReturning Jesus by No-Man (2001) – In preparing for my Storm Corrosion review, I came across No-Man, which I had never heard before.  A collaboration of Steven Wilson (instruments) and Tim Bowness (vocal), No-Man has made a lot more records than I’m comfortable thinking about because I’ve had my head in the sand this entire time.  On the other hand, there appears to be much to discover.  Returning Jesus is a great starting point.  This is slow, crooning stuff, and is much more in the vein of David Sylvian/Bryan Ferry British vocal music.  Wilson is restrained, and there is service to the song lyric here that isn’t present in all his music.  Romantic, rainy-day music, this could also be comfortable next to Johnny Hartman’s early 60s recordings.  Really, really prime.

Wild riverWild River by David Longdon (2004) – I reviewed David Longdon’s Wild River on Progarchy and really would like to give it another thumbs up.  Wonderful acoustic instrumentation and production accompany David’s supple vocal, on a recording that goes fairly effortlessly from British soul ala Seal to more rustic excursions reminiscent of Ronnie Lane.  I’ll be listening to this record a lot in 2013.

That about wraps it up.  I could say that in 2013 I’ll make more of an effort to listen to new releases, but that would be a cheap promise I wouldn’t have much interest in keeping.  I’d much rather pick and choose records I haven’t heard yet, and listen because they’re good.

Happy new year!

Craig Breaden, December 29, 2013