Tim Bowness – Abandoned Dancehall Dreams

11 06 2014

Tim Bowness - Abandoned Dancehall Dreams

A mere 10 years after his debut solo album, no-man / Henry Fool singer Tim Bowness releases Abandoned Dancehall Dreams on June 23rd on the Inside Out label.  And it’s a world away from his debut.

The Warm-Up Man Forever kicks the album off in style – the opening song seems to feed off the spirit of mid-80s Kate Bush, from the urgent Sat In Your Lap toms through to the Hounds of Love referencing strings. Although the pace of the song is definitely cranked up a few notches from these Bush classics – imagine the Siouxsie & the Banshees drummer Budgie pounding away in a post-punk stylee, if you will.

“Cruising the backstage, spitting feathers”

The Warm-Up Man Forever is a great opening song, and has really grown from the version performed on the no-man tour a couple of years ago. A blood-thirsty guitar solo from Michael Bearpark brings the song to it’s end.

In an alternate universe, this is the track that opens this weeks edition of Top of the Pops, pop pickers.

But that was just a phase…

Smiler At 50 slows the pace, and sets the tone of loss and regret that runs deep throughout this album.

“The girl that Dads could laugh with, a face just right for first kiss”

A beautiful, aching string refrain signals the middle section of the song, as it heads towards its unexpectedly proggy ending. Fans of Steven Wilson‘s recent albums will love this powerful, dissonant outro. The songs on this album have really been given the chance to stretch and find their own space, with longer instrumental passages that are missing from previous Bowness solo material.

Picture by Charlotte Kinson

Before you have a chance to recover, the most heartbreaking track on the album hits you. Songs Of Distant Summers is in the mould of the classic no-man ballads of years gone by. Hanging piano chords, underpinned by sweet synth layers and deep bass, with a lyric that touches on the feeling musicians sometimes experience during that intense moment of creativity.

“Sweet songs from fading summers, old friends who grew apart”

For some reason, this song reminds of the wonderful, blissed out classic Winter in July by Bomb the Bass. I remember reading an interview many moons ago, I think it was with Bernard Sumner from New Order, who said he woke up to Winter in July playing on the radio and he thought he had died in his sleep and woke up in heaven.

Whilst Songs Of Distant Summers is virtually beatless, it has that heavenly feel mixed with found-sounds buried deep in the mix, and it takes you to another place. Oh, and I’m always a sucker for any song with rhodes piano.

I’ve been living with the album for nearly six months now, and I really do believe that Songs Of Distant Summers is up there with no-man’s Truenorth as one of the finest Bowness songs.

She sees the factory buildings…

Waterfoot has shades of another Bowness vehicle, Memories of Machines, his collaboration with Giancarlo Erra from Nosound. The lyrics and music reference an industrial Northern England long since disappeared (in a similar way to the excellent Big Big Train). Emotive synths (plus more rhodes, yay) and a lovely acoustic guitar reference Steve Hackett and a little of the spirit of early Genesis to these battle-scarred ears. Waterfoot really grows after repeated plays, and it’s playfulness is a joy.

This may be controversial, but I will fight the corner for Dancing For You being on a par with some of the mid-80s Phil Collins ballads. Yep, you read that correctly. Phil Collins has always been an easy (lover) target – but In the Air Tonight, If Leaving Me Is Easy and Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away are wonderful songs. Have a listen, and let go of your prejudice.

Picture by Charlotte Kinson

Anyway, back to Bowness. The piano and 80s drum machine might reference classic Collins, but the lyrics are much more hard-hitting and direct than anything Mr Sussudio has committed to vinyl.

“She was dancing for you, and you looked away.
Dancing for you, another you, on another day”

The 70s sounding backing vocals and decaying guitar top off probably the saddest song on the album. And the sad songs say so much, don’t you know.

Smiler At 52 finishes the story from earlier in the album’s song cycle, and sadly it’s not ended well for dear old Smiler. Glitchy percussion and a nagging keyboard line underpin the story of a lonely, middle-aged Smiler and her mountain of regret.

“Far from young and not yet old.”

Looped vocals and an engaging bass-line take the song to its fade.

I Fought Against The South is the longest track on the album, and probably the biggest surprise on first listen. It’s the track on the album that really captures that live no-man feel from the recent live dates, and is almost a cousin to one of my favourite no-man songs, lighthouse.

A wonderful, loping beat and heart-wrenching strings and solo violin drive this slow-burning epic track. It’s a perfect headphone track, with great separation between instruments – listen as a dirty, scratched organ smashes into the mix 1/4 of the way through, and then disappears, taking the strings with it.

“The dream was in tatters, so what did it matter? My temper was quick but my movements were slow”

After a few seconds of near silence, the toms usher in the final, powerful instrumental section. Played loud, the fluttering cymbal work and interplay between guitar and keyboards is up there with the finest modern-day progressive music.

Too much is not enough

Normally, I Fought Against The South would be the perfect album closer, but Bowness has chosen to close the album with Beaten By Love. The oldest song on the album, this is the definitive version. A perfect post-punk bookend to the album opener, Beaten By Love is the darkest track on the album, with some fine bass work by current no-man bassist, Pete Morgan. Tim’s partner in no-man, Steven Wilson, as well as mixing the album, contributed the frankly evil-sounding guitar to the album’s menacing closing track.

“So completely, beaten by your love”

Abandoned Dancehall Dreams deserves to be heard by as wide an audience as possible. It’s almost an oddity in the modern era, a throw-back to those carefully sequenced releases from the golden era of classic albums.

Its a release that I think will eventually be considered as a career highlight. The attention to detail is evident throughout the whole package – from the range of wonderful, individual performances from musicians such as Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson), Porcupine Tree‘s Colin Edwin, Anna Phoebe and members of the no-man live band, to the album mastering by Pink Floyd engineer, Andy Jackson.

Potentially my favourite album of 2014? I thought it would be when I first heard the album back in January, and I’ve yet to hear anything released this year to make me think I was wrong.

Picture by Charlotte Kinson

Sounds of Distant Summers

The two CD version of Abandoned Dancehall Dreams contains a companion CD of alternate versions and out-takes. The wonderful Grasscut contribute a string-driven, more percussive take on Smiler at 52.

Ambient keyboard overlord Richard Barbieri (Japan / Porcupine Tree) delivers a colourful mix of Songs Of Distant Summers, seeped in the nostalgic tick of clocks, childrens toys and low, rumbling bass synth.

UXB serve up the most radical alternate mix, with the boy and girl vocals of Dancing for You brought to the fore, and the Bowness lead vocals completely stripped out. It’s almost like an electronic Swingle Singers! Please believe me when I say it works really well.

The 5 remaining tracks are out-takes from the album sessions.  The track Abandoned Dancehall Dream is a bossa-nova beat, scratchy stereogram sounding track over which Bowness croons  “the sound of dead men singing (they love you)”. It reminds me of the music of The Caretaker (think Kubrick’s The Shining), and it’s an intriguing shorter than short song, that whilst it fits the abandoned dancehall concept, sonically does not fit on the main album, but thankfully has found a home on the companion disc.

The same can be said of The Sweetest Bitter Pill – a jazzier song than any on the main album, with some lovely synth work. It featured in early album sequences but always stood out a little, and so found it’s rightful home on disc two.

The Warm-Up Man Forever (band version) sounds like early U2 fed on a diet of Icicle Works albums. It’s good to hear this early take, which sounds like my memory of how no-man performed this track on their last tour, but it’s surpassed by the main album take.

The remaining two tracks are alt-takes of Songs of Distant Summers, recorded during the early band sessions for the album. More guitar driven than the album version, they offer a different perspective, but as WUMF, the seeds cannot compare to the full-bloom.

Whilst you will probably dip into the companion album every now and then, its the main album that you will find yourself returning to time and time again. So treat yourself to a copy from one of the links below.

Order Abandoned Dancehall Dreams from Burning Shed.

Buy the CD from Amazon UK

Buy the CD on Amazon US

Visit the Tim Bowness website

Tim Bowness pictures by Charlotte Kinson





The Opium Cartel – Ardor

6 11 2013

"Ardor" by The Opium CartelArdor is the second album from The Opium Cartel, an outlet for the more pop orientated music of songwriter/producer Jacob Holm-Lupo from Norway’s art-rock band White Willow.

Ardor is inspired by the 80s pop of The Blue Nile, Thomas Dolby, Japan, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, as well as drawing on more modern electronic music by the likes of M83 and Air.

Fans of 80s music will also recognise the warm synth sounds of the Prophet 5, Fairlight, Oberheim OB8, and the PPG Wave, that are scattered throughout the album’s 9 tracks.

Album opener Kissing Moon features Venke Knutson and Rhys Marsh on vocals, and features some wonderful, frenetic percussion and the first appearance of those lovely warm synths!

When We Dream (stream the remixed single version below) has shades of Icehouse and a-ha in the vocal performance from Norwegian singer Alexander Stenerud. The most commercial track on the album, with a very anthemic chorus, and an addictive guitar riff. When We Dream bleed’s pure unadulterated nostalgia.

Silence Instead is an early album highlight, co-written by and featuring  vocals from no-man’s Tim Bowness. A slow-burning song, with some delicious guitar work, and a synth sound that reminds me of my favourite Thomas Dolby track, Screen Kiss. Tim is a regular collaborator of  Jacob’s, featuring on the debut album by The Opium Cartel as well as White Willow’s progressive masterpiece, Terminal Twilight.

“The snowdrifts are real but the mountains are fake”

If you miss a-ha (who split in 2011), you will love Northern Rains, which sounds like a long-lost 1980s ballad from Morten Harket & co, underpinned by the Peter Gabriel rhythm section from 1980.

Sorry about all the 80s references in this review, but it’s fun playing spot the influence, and it helps that the 80s homage in the music is not ironic or cheesey, but playful and pays respect to the creativity and exploration of a much maligned decade.

Watch the Ardor album trailer

Revenant features the only vocals on the album from Jacob Holm-Lupo, and is one of the albums more progressive tracks. I don’t know if it is inspired by the recent French TV series “The Returned / Les Revenants” but there are certainly some nods to the excellent Mogwai soundtrack in the instrumentation.

White Wolf was the first song written for the album, and heralds a change in the album’s direction from this point in, with each track getting steadily more progressive. The middle section is very moving, and veers off into Yes-inspired territory towards the end, with a Chris Squire-like strong, melodic bassline.

The Waiting Ground has the classic synths still present, and features a great performance from Henry Fool (and current no-man live band) keyboard player Stephen Bennett.

“If I run, where do I run to?”

Then Came the Last Days of May is Ardor‘s only non-original track, a haunting cover of a classic rock ballad from Blue Öyster Cult’s debut album from 1972. This is one for fans of Opeth’s Damnation album, and a perfect way to set-up the album finale.

Mariner, Come In is the epic that completes the album. A rare vocal outing for Henry Fool’s Stephen Bennett, this track is more in keeping with recent White Willow, and the latter section of the track is most definitely jazz-rock and proud of it! A wild saxophone solo from Harald Lassen on top of layered synths is reminiscent of parts of the recent Steven Wilson album, and after 11 minutes, the track and the album itself, slowly fades to a close.

Ardor is a very different beast to the first Opium Cartel album, and feels more consistent (even though it has a wider variety of vocalists). It should appeal to a wide audience – from the more mainstream fans of modern electronic / pop to lovers of modern progressive music. Oh, and fans of 80s music!

Buy Ardor on Amazon UK 

Buy Night Blooms  on Amazon UK

Buy White Willow’s Terminal Twilight on Amazon UK





Tim Bowness / Peter Chilvers – California, Norfolk

3 11 2013

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

california, norfolk cover

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!

Picture copyright Carl Glover

disc two

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.

Deluxe-edition packaging

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.

Buy california, norfolk from Burning Shed

Visit the Tim Bowness website





Henry Fool – Men Singing

1 03 2013

"Men Singing" coverMen Singing is the long-awaited follow-up to the band’s 2001 self-titled debut.

The 2013 line-up of the band includes new collaborators Jarrod Gosling (I Monster/Regal Worm), Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music) and classical violinist Steve Bingham and drummer Andrew Booker (both part of the current live no-man line-up).

The debut Henry Fool album was a mixture of instrumentals and songs, whereas Men Singing is a solely instrumental album, and is a much more coherent listening experience.

Men Singing was recorded over a long period of time – between 2006 and 2012, with Jarrod Gosling and Phil Manzanera adding their contributions towards the end of the recording process. Phil Manzanera adds guitar to Everyone In Sweden and Man Singing. Jarrod Gosling appears on all four tracks, contributing Mellotron, glockenspiel and the excellent album artwork.

Album opener Everyone In Sweden sets the mood, with shifting time signatures, and solos alternating between guitar, jazzy saxophone, and very distorted bass. The music shifts across genres, often two or three times in the same song, which is a great way to keep you listening, especially in the longer pieces. Some instrumental albums can be hard to listen to in one sitting, but Men Singing is certainly not background music, and the performances demand your full attention.

The vintage keyboards often give a real early to mid-70s feel to the pieces. There’s a wonderful section 7 minutes in to Everyone In Sweden, the album’s longest track, where everything breaks down, and keyboard washes give way to a mournful sax and guitar line as the piece ends.

Man Singing, which of course has (no) man singing, is a slower paced affair, and features no-man’s Tim Bowness on very angular chord/arpeggio guitar. There are hints of Adrian Belewesque guitar sounds on the album, which along with the keyboards, sometimes give a feel of Bowie‘s Berlin trilogy as well as more obvious King Crimson influences. The cut to the basics chorused guitar and strings ending works perfectly on this track.

Track 3 is the perfectly titled My Favourite Zombie Dream, which has a real feeling of dread and anticipation about it. Oscillating strings from Stephen Bennett underpin the piece, as it slowly builds to it’s climax, like a soundtrack to a yet-to-be released George A. Romero film.

The final track on Men Singing is the 13 minute plus Chic Hippo. The violin playing of Steve Bingham features heavily, and Stephen Bennett (according to the sleevenotes) is credited with Miles Davis, Mavis Riley and Terry Riley impressions. Mavis Riley? That must have been difficult to pull off – “ooh, I don’t really know”.  Apologies, no-one under 45 (or anyone outside of the UK) will get that cultural reference.

The mid-section of Chic Hippo is one of the most rewarding parts of the album. Fluttering church organ sounds give way to sax riffs from Myke Clifford that would not have sounded out of place on early Bowie or Roxy Music albums, topped off with some wonderful slide guitar from Michael Bearpark. The percussion work from Andrew Booker is another highlight of Chic Hippo.

Men Singing is a strong second album from Henry Fool, and a radical departure for Tim Bowness. Have a listen to the edits on this page, via SoundCloud and YouTube. Another indication of the quality of this album is that it was mastered by award-winning Pink Floyd sound engineer, Andy Jackson.

The album is likely to appeal to fans of mid-period Porcupine Tree as well as those intrigued by Steven Wilson‘s recent foray into more improvisational / jazz-rock influenced material. If you like albums that disturb as much as entertain, then let the men of Henry Fool sing for you.

Henry FoolMen Singing
(KSCOPE244 / 836) – March 11th, 2013 – available in vinyl and CD versions

Order Men Singing from Burning Shed

Buy Men Singing on Amazon UK








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