california, norfolk was the debut album from Tim Bowness (no-man/Henry Fool) and Peter Chilvers (Brian Eno/Karl Hyde). Originally released online, with no promotion and in very limited quantities in 2002, california, norfolk has been given a well-deserved deluxe-edition treatment by the Burning Shed label in 2013, and will now hopefully reach a wider audience.
Disc one contains the original album, which is improved by the sympathetic Michael Bearpark remaster. This is not a brickwall, pump-up-the-volume remaster, but one which breathes space and separation into the original recordings.
So the bass sounds fatter, the strings cut through the mix and you hear sounds that were somewhat hidden before (such as what sounds like a clock in album opener hostage).
If you haven’t heard california, norfolk before, it’s a perfect late-night album. Echoes of The Blue Nile’s debut album filter through on hostage.
“the girl you never forgot,
went underground, defences shot”
Lyrically, hostage can be filed under the same heading of unrequited as Everything But The Girl’s sublime Missing. Both touch on memories of people who have moved on, whereas in hostage, I get the impression that the subject did not find “some better place”.
The title track has a real feel of a decaying seaside town, and reflects on the characters who remain behind when the glamour has faded.
post-its is one of my favourite songs, period. The perfect torch-song.
It’s the track I’ve played most from this album, since it’s original release 11 long years ago. A processed old drum machine, yearning strings, and slightly off-kilter guitar serve as a perfect backdrop to some of Bowness’s most direct and emotive lyrics.
“We spent a lifetime devising plans, to waste our lives.”
post-its is a song I never tire of hearing, and it’s wonderful to hear this song again with the added clarity of the remaster.
“In this town not meant for kissing, we sat and kissed”
also out of air wasn’t one of my favourites when the album first came out, but has grown on me over the years. Some lovely Frippesque guitar on this track.
days turn into years is the bleakest song on the album. Set against a backdrop of textured synths and relentless rain bouncing off rooftops, this tale of being trapped in a situation where little changes is not for the faint-hearted.
“Photos of cats, in northern landscapes
lie on the bed, all wet with tears.”
rocks on the green is the album’s proggiest moment, with marimba, bass and guitar slowly building in intensity throughout the song. Some lovely synth lines creep into the mix towards the end.
winter with you is a track that divided listeners when the album was originally released, mainly due to the footsteps in the snow effect that runs through three quarters of the track. Personally I think this effect adds to the mood of the song, and offers an alternative rhythm that makes more sense than taking the easy option of just dropping a drum loop into a song thats so obviously rooted in the winter months.
Maybe it’s my love of snow, but around November of every year winter with you appears on my playlists. I love the sound and feel of walking through deep, fresh snow and I love sad, melancholic songs, so that’s all the boxes ticked right there.
“It never felt the way you wanted, she never came the night you cried.”
Its the longest track on the album by far, but one of those rare album epics where it doesn’t seem to last that long. Marimbas make another appearance to usher in the second part of winter with you.
“Don’t want to be a part of this.”
This track is a great companion piece to the winter-themed Iceland by All About Eve and Kate Bush’s 50 Words for Snow from 2011.
dreamer’s song end the album, and lifts the mood, like the arrival of spring. Musically uplifting, a pastoral sounding piece originally written for Henry Fool, lyrically it’s as miserable as ever, thank goodness!
The second disc of california, norfolk is made up of a remaster of the overstrand alternate / outtakes collection, with some previously unreleased studio cuts and live recordings.
winter with you (alternate) is a snow-free zone, with fender rhodes piano and a much more chaotic string arrangement.
post-it’s (alternate) has a wonderful piano line after the first chorus, and is a good alternative take on the song, but cannot surpass the original version.
One of the highlights of the second disc is the version of sorry looking soldier (alternate), a song from the long out-of-print World of Bright Futures album, and this is one of my favourite versions of the song.
The alternate version of rocks on the green has a Mike Oldfield feel to the arrangement. world of bright futures (alternate), is a wonderful wurlitzer-like version of the Samuel Smiles song, and another great version.
criminal caught in the crime is a track that was re-recorded for the Slow Electric album from 2011, and gives a hint of what the second Tim Bowness / Peter Chilvers album might have sounded like. It’s a much more electronic piece than anything on the main california, norfolk album, and has some lovely textures and organ sounds.
Four live songs bring the second disc to a close. Hearing the songs performed with just piano and voice in a live environment shows how they have evolved over the years, and the short version of post-its is my favourite of the four live songs.
The 2013 version of california, norfolk comes in a deluxe dvd-sized digi-book, which includes sleeve notes by Tim Bowness and Peter Chilvers, plus previously unseen artwork from Carl Glover.
Visit the Tim Bowness website