The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part 2

In Part 1 of Tim Bowness’ latest Progarchy interview, Tim discussed his previous solo albums, working again with his first band Plenty, reuniting with Steven Wilson for new No-Man music, and how all this feeds into his new album Flowers At The Scene (released March 1 on Inside Out Music).   We dig into the new album in depth below!  Note that [brackets] below indicate editorial insertions.

Pulling it back to Flowers At The Scene, it’s interesting what you said about how really, there are some [pieces] that you’re producing, there’s some that you and Brian [Hulse] are working on, there’s some that you and Brian and Steven [Wilson] are working on.   It all feels like a unity when I listen to it.  Despite the variety of colors, it’s, as you say, it feeds on what you’ve done before, but it goes in really interesting, different directions.  Are there any particular songs that you feel are at the core of the album?

I would say you’re right, it does feel like an album.  One thing that’s important to me is, I know in this age of streaming and Spotify it’s not particularly fashionable, but I love the album.  I’ve always loved the album as a statement.  And in some ways, although this album is different from the other albums – I mean, the previous three albums had themes to a degree.  Lost In The Ghost Light was a narrative concept album. Stupid Things That Mean The World and Abandoned Dancehall Dreams had linking lyrical themes in a way.  This is different in the sense that it’s eleven very separate moods, very separate lyrics, very separate songs.  And yet it fits together, I think, in a kind of classic 43-minute album format.  And in some ways, I think it’s the album that flows best of all four.  There’s something about it that it kind of moves from one mood to another.  And yet it holds together.

I suppose the key songs would have been when “Flowers At The Scene” and “Not Married Anymore” were written.  And I just felt that Brian and I had been coming up with material that had its own distinct identity.  And I also had a certain idea of how I wanted them to sound – and suddenly that was it!  And I guess that there’s this [Robert] Fripp line, he would always say that a new direction presented itself.  And I think that it’s true, because I’d continued writing material on my own, and I’d continued writing material with Stephen Bennett while I was recording the Plenty album.  And although the material was good, it felt like it was gonna be a continuation of Lost In The Ghost Light or Stupid Things That Mean The World.

And I think that it was when I’d written the fifth song with no purpose really – Brian and I just kept on writing together because we were excited by what we were doing.  And I think it would have been “Flowers At The Scene”, the title track itself, and I thought, “this is the new direction; it’s presented itself.” And from that moment on, it became a very exciting and immersive project and I said to Brian, “I think this is the basis of a new solo album. And it feels like a fresh direction after the other albums.”  And you’re right that, what’s kind of interesting for me is it’s fresh, it’s a reset, but perhaps because of the mood of some of the music and because of my voice, there’s also a sense of continuation.

And certainly one of the things that contributes to it being fresh is this cast of musicians that you gathered, which is really genuinely impressive.  So many great names with great work that have fed into this.  I was wondering if I could just toss out names and, in a few words, you could try to describe what each of these guys have brought to the music for the album.  Starting with Jim Matheos.

Well, Jim’s somebody I’ve known for a few years.  He asked me to guest on an OSI album [Blood], probably about nine years ago now.  And I really enjoyed it.  So the track, which is called “No Celebrations”, felt very different for me; it was very much in that OSI art-metal style, but it accommodated my singing as well.  And after that, we carried on communicating together.  So occasionally he’s asked me for advice about things, and also we had co-written a couple of tracks that had never been released.

And when I was doing this album, I thought I’d love to get him involved.  Because one of the tracks I’d been developing had him on anyway, and he’s an incredibly versatile guitarist.  Very, very nice guy, but what people I don’t think are aware of is how versatile his talent is.  So his own music can be anything from sort of ambient experimental to metal to classical acoustic guitar.  And I knew how good he was as a soloist, and so I got him – really, he was my stunt guitarist on the album on a few tracks.  And he did some fantastic work on it.

Peter Hammill.  What a legend!

Yeah!  Well, Peter’s somebody who when I was growing up, when I was in my teens, he was one of my favorite singers.  And as I’ve said to people, what’s interesting with this album is that, probably my five favorite singers when I was 13 would have been David Bowie, Peter Hammill, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Kevin Godley.  And I’ve two of them on the album, and it’s an incredible thrill to have that!

Over the years, Peter’s become a friend.  We ended up playing on lots of the same albums in Italy, and we got to know one another.  And over the years, he’s guested on my work; and we even live in the same small town in England!  And so he’s probably my sort of coffee and chat companion, where we’ve put the political and the musical world to rights once a month.  And as I always say about Peter, he’s as nice, generous and decent as his music is frightening!

[Laughs] Oh, that’s a great summary!

[Laughs] Absolutely!  Cause, you know, you wouldn’t want him to be as frightening as [Van der Graaf Generator’s] Pawn Hearts really, would you?

[Laughs] No, not in the slightest!

It is true; you’d be coughing your coffee up.  It’s not good!  [Both laugh] So yeah, lovely guy, and we’ve worked on a few things.  And the thing about Peter is he is very honest about his opinion.  So interestingly enough, I’d asked him to work on Lost in the Ghost Light, but he wasn’t as much a fan of that material.  So basically, he works on what he likes.  And he’d worked on the Stupid Things That Mean the World album, and I’d played him this album in progress.  He’d mixed an album for me as well.  There’s a Bowness/[Peter] Chilvers album that’s been unreleased that Peter’s mixed, which is quite an interesting project in itself.

And while I was making the new album I said, “ah, you know, a couple of Hammill-shaped holes here!”  And he heard it, and he heard exactly what I wanted, and he really liked the material.  One of the tracks he put a great deal into it, there’s a track on it called “It’s The World”.  I’d played it to him, and initially I wanted his bite – there’s a real sort of bite in his voice, I wanted this in the chorus.  And he said, “Yep, I know exactly what you want; I’ll get it to you.  But I tell you what else I’ll give you; I’ll give you guitars, because the guitars on this aren’t working!”  And so he completely re-recorded the chorus guitars, and almost went into sort of Rikki Nadir [from Hammill’s proto-punk solo album Nadir’s Big Chance] mode, and did a fantastic job.

So on the track “It’s The World” he’s on kind of backing and lead vocals, and also adds some really ferocious guitar parts.  And he made the piece work.  So that was an interesting case, where the piece I think was pretty good as it was, but he gave it an extra edge and an extra looseness.

Got it!  One of the newer singers on the album is David Longdon.  I know you collaborated with Big Big Train on a b-side [“Seen Better Days (the brass band’s last piece)”].  What did David bring?

Well, I suppose I asked him to be on the piece [“Borderline”] and I’d suggested a particular approach to backing vocal which he used.   I almost wanted this kind of rich, Michael McDonald/Steely Dan approach.  That’s something I wanted: a comfortable bed of David Longdon voice, really, and he gave that.  And then he added some flute as a means of contrasting with the trumpet.  And he did a beautiful job in both cases, really.  So I suppose what he gave was himself, so he kind of knew the places where I wanted him to play, and where I wanted him to be, and with the backing vocal he was effectively re-singing the melody that I’d already sung on the demo.

But with the flute, he performed a really beautiful solo, and it was great!  Because although the trumpet was recorded in the outback in Australia – I used a jazz musician, a guy called Ian Dixon, who’s worked with No-Man, he was on Returning Jesus, several tracks on that, and he’s a wonderful sort of jazz trumpet player.  And his studio is a tin shack in the outback in Australia!  And he said when he recorded it, it was in the middle of the rainy season.  So he’s recording that with crashing rain on the tin roof – which I thought was very romantic!  And David really beautifully worked with Ian’s trumpet.  And to me, it sounds as if the two could be in the room together playing!  So they worked very nicely together, and I suppose in that case, I knew what I wanted, and I got what I wanted.  But it was still different, the playing, the expression that the two of them had given was entirely their own.

Continue reading “The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part 2”

PET SOUNDS, 1966-2016: Fifty Years of Prog

pet-sounds
Arguably, the very first prog album.

Though I’m sure someone could make the case for either REVOLVER or SGT. PEPPER’s being the first prog album, I’ve always turned to PET SOUNDS by the Beach Boys.  I’m sure there’s a bit of the American in me that desires this to be so, so I can’t completely claim to be unbiased.  I know English proggers–understandably–think of Prog as one of their many national gifts to the world, somewhere above the Magna Carta.  And, it is!  Still, it’s conceivable that it came about in California but then was perfected by the English.  Maybe.  Maybe not.

 

As Brian Wilson has noted, he found his own inspiration for the album in RUBBER SOUL by the Beatles.  Is it possible the influence went both directions across the Atlantic?  Most certainly.

Regardless, PET SOUNDS is fifty years old.  And, what an extraordinary achievement it is.  Though one might regard it somewhat probably as a Brian Wilson solo album, it came out under the name of the Beach Boys, and it carries with it many of the trademark Beach Boy sounds and touches.

Continue reading “PET SOUNDS, 1966-2016: Fifty Years of Prog”

Dave Gregory: Progarchy Episode 5

Nonsuch_P_DaveG

A special episode of Progarchy Radio, featuring NOTHING but the music of Dave Gregory, guitarist extraordinaire for Big Big Train and Tin Spirits.  Also featuring Gregory playing in and for XTC, The Dukes of Stratosphear, Peter Gabriel, Porcupine Tree, Steve Hogarth.

 

 

 

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*****

And, after you’ve listened to our episode, be sure to check out Gregory’s amazing interview with Mark Powell:

 

$350. Not a Cheap Book.

Andy Partridge and Todd Bernhardt – Complicated Game – Inside The Songs Of XTC – One-Off Hardback Edition (book preorder)

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Andy Partridge’s new book is rather pricey.  Are WWII paper restrictions still in effect?

A truly unique hardback edition of Complicated Game – Inside The Songs Of XTC.

Covers will have a one-off dust jacket depicting a song title from XTC’s career hand-painted by Andy Partridge himself. Additionally, there will be a bookplate signed by Andy inside the book.

The book is presented as a black clothbound hardback with muted green endpapers and lilac page edging.

Limited to one copy per customer. Only 50 copies are available.

Shipping from 31st March onwards (as paintings are completed).

All Rise! The Feast of St. Dave Gregory

Mister Lazy he's not.  Photo borrowed from guitargonauts.info.
Mister Lazy he’s not. Photo borrowed from guitargonauts.info.

I’m not sure if I could exactly articulate my reasons as to why, but I’m not the least surprised that Dave Gregory’s birthday is two days away from the Autumnal Equinox.  There’s a fullness and a force of the seasons not only in the calmness that radiates from Gregory’s humane qualities (he’s a true gentleman), but there’s also an intensity of life in all of his art.

Clearly, his music resides somewhere in that last joyous blast of summer love and freedom.

Regardless, happy birthday, Mr. Gregory.  I know I speak for many upon many when I thank you for all you’ve given to the music world over the past four decades.  Whether it’s pop, punk, new wave, rock, chamber, or prog, you give your absolute all.

The best way to celebrate such a feast?  Listen and watch away!

And best of all, a brilliant interview with Dave.  Well worth watching it all.

Arrived at Progarchy This Week

Lots of good stuff–old, new, redone–arrived at progarchy hq this week.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.

In no particular order:

Aronora, the new project by Ben Cameron.  The album: Escapology.

aronora

New Order, Brotherhood (collector’s edition)

NEW-ORDER-BROTHERHOOD-COLLECTORS-EDITION-L825646936991

XTC, Nonsuch (the Steven Wilson remix version)

nonsuch xtc 2013

ABC, The Lexicon of Love  (deluxe edition)

abc lexicon of love

Neal Morse, Neal Morse (Morse’s first solo album)

neal morse

Mayfield, Mayfield (Curt Smith’s side band)

a0031168066_10

U2, War (deluxe edition)

u2 war

AndersonPonty Band, Better Late than Never

andersonponty

The Catholic Imagination of Roland Orzabal: Tears for Raoul

Review retrospective: Tears for Fears, RAOUL AND THE KINGS OF SPAIN (Sony, 1995; Cherry Red, 2009).

Twenty years ago, Roland Orzabal (born Raoul Jaime Orzabal de la Quintana to an English mother and a Basque/Spanish/French father) released the fifth Tears for Fears studio album, RAOUL AND THE KINGS OF SPAIN.

Overall, we should remember, 1995 was a pretty amazing year for music—really the year that saw the full birthing of third-wave prog.

Raoul's mythic mother.
Raoul’s mythic mother.

Not all was prog, of course, but there was so much that was simply interesting.  Natalie Merchant, TIGERLILY; Radiohead, THE BENDS; Spock’s Beard, THE LIGHT; The Flower Kings, BACK IN THE WORLD OF ADVENTURES; Marillion, AFRAID OF SUNLIGHT; and Porcupine Tree, THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS.

As the time that RAOUL came out, I liked it quite a bit, but I didn’t love it.  The first five songs just floored me, but then I thought the album as a whole fizzled in the second half.  Or course, when I write “fizzled,” I mean this in the most relative sense.  Even Orzabal’s weakest track is far better than most musicians will ever achieve in and with their best.

So, I’m judging one TFF song only with another by TFF.

There’s a bit of interesting history behind the release of the album.  This would be the second of only two albums that appear under the name Tears for Fears without Curt Smith.  Whereas the first, 1993’s stunning ELEMENTAL dealt with the breakup of the twosome, RAOUL tells a mythical story about himself.

More on this in a bit.

So, not only was this the last album without Smith, it was also the first album on the new label, Sony.  Previously, Tears for Fears had shared label space with Rush: on Mercury Records.  Mercury had gone so far as to release promo copies of RAOUL, complete with different artwork and a different track listing.  I’ve never actually seen a copy of the Mercury promo, but I’d love to get my hands on one at some point.  Instead of the tracks “Hum Drum and Humble” and “I Choose You,” the original listing had “Queen of Compromise.”

Since its official release in 1995, there have been three different versions of the album: the Sony 12-track original; a deluxe cigar box edition; and the 2009 Cherry Red edition—the original release remastered, five b-sides, and acoustic versions of the tracks “Raoul and the Kings of Spain” and “Break it Down.”

Not surprisingly, given Orzabal, the b-sides are every bit as good as the full-blown tracks, and the acoustic version of “Break it Down” is quite moving with its additional line: “No more walls of Berlin.”  My favorite of the b-sides is “War of Attrition,” a martial exploration of relationships that simply slide out of existence.

Though written and produced in a post-LP/vinyl world, RAOUL has, for all intents and purposes, two sides.  Tracks 1 through 5 make up the first side, and the seven remaining tracks, bookended by versions of “Los Reyes Catolicos,” make up the second side.  This isn’t surprising either, given that SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR and ELEMENTAL have the same structure.  Orzabal has never embraced the term “progressive,” identifying it with Pink Floyd, but he is certainly the most experimental pop musician alive—rivaled only by Paul McCartney, Robert Smith, Andy Partridge, and Peter Gabriel.  From my perspective, Orzabal is the greatest living pop musician, but I think this would be open to debate.  And, of course, the debate would demand a proper definition of pop.

Side one of Raoul is jaw dropping.  The first time I played the second track, “Falling Down,” for fellow progarchist, Kevin McCormick, back in late 1995, he replied, “Wow.  It’s just so earnest.”  I’ve never read or heard a better description of the song.  It is, utterly and essentially, earnest.  There exist both revelation and humility in the song, perfectly intertwined.

Some of us are free

Some are bound

Some will swim

Some will drown

Some of us are saints

Some are clowns

Just like me they’re falling down

All five songs of side one—again, as I’ve defined the sides—flow so readily from one to the other.  No break in sound.  Essentially, these are five parts of a single track.  While my favorite track is “Falling Down,” “God’s Mistake” is also a standout.

And, frankly, so is the finale of side one, “Sketches of Pain,” an obvious and intelligent allusion to Miles Davis’s “Sketches of Spain.”  As with “Falling Down,” this track is confessional without mere navel-gazing.

Side two, gives the listener snippets of what can really only be described as a mythic autobiography.  And, yet, despite the autobiographical nature of the entire album, side two seems to look at the life of the protagonist from a broader perspective than side one.  If side one is confessional, side two is almost historical and analytical.

What if, as family history has suggested, Roland had been Raoul, descendent of the Catholic kings of Spain?  Naturally, this side begins with a version of “Los Reyes Catolicos”:

When time is like a needle

And night is the longest day

A home is a cathedral

A place where a king can pray

Ghosts all gone

Ghosts all gone

The following track, “Sorry,” explodes into a bitterness that emerges every once in a while in TFF songs.  Accusations and questions fly.  “Do you love or do you hate?  Why do you hesitate?”

“Humdrum and Humble” begins with an experimental loop before transforming into a clever pop song.

“I Choose You,” a piano ballad of emotional depth follows.

Immediately after comes an up-tempo song filled song effects as well as some appropriate absurdities, “Don’t Drink the Water.”  This is pure pop sweetness.

The penultimate track, “Me and My Big Ideas,” sees the return of soul diva, Oleta Adams.  Much as they had on “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” she and Roland offer a meaningful—if not downright profound—duet, balancing the strengths of each other well.

The album ends with a softly building version of “Los Reyes Catolicos.”

My blurry picture of TFF in Denver, June 2015.
My blurry picture of TFF in Denver, June 2015.

Like all of the music of Tears for Fears, this album holds up very well, even after twenty years.  Indeed, the flaws I thought I perceived when this album first came out simply don’t hold up.  I don’t think the flaws have disappeared as much as I simply didn’t understand or appreciate what Orzabal was doing in 1995.

In hindsight, I appreciate the art and the choices he made to make this art.  Not that he needs my appreciation, but Orzabal certainly has it.