no-man – Love and Endings

9 04 2012

Love and Endings is a recording of  no-man‘s concert at the Leamington Spa Assembly in October 2011, as part of the record label Burning Shed’s 10th anniversary celebrations.

For the those not yet familiar with no-man, they are a British band comprising Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree). Formed in 1987, no-man have produced a fine back-catalogue of work, and boast guest appearances from the likes of King Crimson‘s Robert Fripp and Pat Mastelotto, Porcupine Tree’s Colin Edwin, Richard Barbieri and Gavin Harrison, jazz musicians Theo Travis and Ian Carr, electronic artists Scanner and Faultline, Bruce Kaphan (American Music Club) and Dave Stewart (Egg/Hatfield & The North). Former members of 80s band JapanSteve Jansen, Richard Barbieri & Mick Karn, toured and recorded with the band in the early 1990s.

Since the early 1990s, the band have existed mainly as a studio outfit, rarely venturing into the live arena, so no-man live shows are hugely anticipated events. As well as capturing one of the finest no-man live performances, Love and Endings is also a perfect introduction to the band’s music for the uninitiated. For people already familiar with the band’s music, Love and Endings may come as a surprise, as the live incarnation of the band is a powerful beast.

Recent studio releases from no-man have included twisted, dark electronica (the Wild Opera album), fragile, semi-acoustic / minimalist songs with stark lyrics (Together We’re Stranger) through to their most organic release in 2008’s Schoolyard Ghosts. Recent no-man live appearances, though few and far between, hint at a new direction, and one that will appeal to fans of Steven Wilson’s work in Porcupine Tree.

Opening track my revenge on seattle is very electronic, awash with percussive synths in it’s studio incarnation, but the Love and Endings live version is stripped back, with deep chorused bass, textured guitar and mournful violin. The joyous middle section showcases some wonderful interplay between the musicians and powerful tom / cymbal work from drummer Andrew Booker.

“maybe there’s more to life
than just righting wrongs
maybe not”

time travel in texas is another song from the mid-90’s Wild Opera album, with the 2011 live version losing it’s scratchy Portishead trip-hop atmosphere, mutating into a brooding, twin-guitar heavy assault.

all the blue changes is a more percussive take on the track that originally appeared on 2003’s Together We’re Stranger album. One of the highlights of the live set, with my favourite Bowness vocal on the album and some fine layered keyboards from Stephen Bennett.

“giving up on beautiful
and making peace with strange,
all the blue changes rearranged”

The song shifts up a couple of gears with some brutal Wilson guitar and pounding Booker drums around 3/4 of the way through, sounding like Sigur Rós on steroids or the wall of noise of Mono, I swear you can hear the audience gasp before applauding at the end!

The formerly sample-driven pretty genius is reinvented as a much looser song on love and endings, but remains true to the spirit of the original version, with some beautiful violin work by Steve Bingham, and a great sloping back-beat from Messrs Morgan and Booker.

lighthouse is my favourite no-man song, and the love and endings live version does not disappoint. It’s no-man’s most progressive sounding track, and although originally written in the early 1990s, has not aged at all. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the section of the song from 4:08 onwards is one of my favourite pieces of music of all time. It never fails to move me.

Have a listen to the Love and Endings version of lighthouse, taken from the official no-man SoundCloud, below.

“the love and endings,
the almost starts”

beaten by love is a previously unreleased no-man track, written in 1987 and performed for the first time at this show. The track displays hints of some of the darker This Mortal Coil tracks mixed with a healthy dose of Siouxsie & the Banshees, and is unlike any recent no-man material.

Following the darkest track on the album with one of the most uplifting no-man songs, wherever there is light,  works well, and shows the range in singer Tim Bowness’s vocals (from beaten by love‘s growl to the soft, breathy croon on this emotive and deeply personal song).

“Jane passes through the crowds
outside the mercury lounge.
she loves the city sounds.
she feels that she’s been found.”

The live version of mixtaped is a lot looser than the Schoolyard Ghosts studio take, with some inventive percussive touches, and a wonderful mixture of textures and distorted, heavy guitar from Wilson and Bearpark, and works well as a set closer.

“you’d kill for that feeling once again”

The final track on the album was the encore on the evening, things change. The highlight of the live version of this track has always been the electric violin solo that is an integral part of the powerful outro. The version on Love and Endings is very different from previous live outings, watch the filmed version on the accompanying DVD to appreciate the performance fully.

“you walk upon the dirt and chocolate wrappers, 
leaving me behind you.”

Love and Endings DVD

Love and Endings also comes with a DVD of the whole performance. The Love and Endings DVD is a very different concert film to the previous live no-man DVD, 2009’s mixtaped, which was a multi-camera shoot.

The HD footage shot by Dion Johnson (of Signify films) captures the performance and the mood of the show perfectly on just two cameras. It was filmed from the front-row of the audience, so you get a real feeling of being in the crowd, and this gives a different perspective to most live films.

The mixtaped DVD does offer a better variety of shots, and more close-ups of individual band members, features a full-length concert and an excellent no-man documentary, so perhaps should not be compared to the DVD that comes with Love and Endings. The Love and Endings film, although it has a few awkward zooms and camera angles that might not normally be kept in an official release, does capture a band performance that was better than the one on the previous DVD, and so is definitely a worthwhile addition to the no-man discography.

The concert was not filmed with a DVD release in mind but the footage came out better than was expected, and the ‘guerilla style’  does give the recording its own, unique identity and captures the performance perfectly, and so offers good value for money as an added extra.

The extra content on the DVD is a photo gallery – with an instrumental version of the live version of mixtaped as background music.

Watch the promotional video for the album / DVD below.

Love and Endings sees no-man’s core duo of Tim Bowness (vocals) and Steven Wilson (guitar) joined by classical violinist Steve Bingham and regular collaborators Michael Bearpark (guitar), Andrew Booker (drums & backing vocals), Stephen Bennett (keyboards) and Pete Morgan (bass).

Tracklist

my revenge on seattle (6.02)
time travel in texas (4.51)
all the blue changes (6.10)
pretty genius (3.58)
lighthouse (8.16)
beaten by love (3.58)
wherever there is light (5.09)
mixtaped (9.32)
things change (8.24)

The Love and Endings CD / DVD is available from The Burning Shed.

For more information on no-man, visit the no-man website, like no-man on Facebook and follow no-man on Twitter.

The pictures of Tim Bowness & Steven Wilson courtesy of Charlotte Kinson.

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no-man live at the Assembly, Leamington Spa

5 11 2011

no-man played live for the first time since 2008 as part of the online record label Burning Shed’s 10th anniversary event on 14th October 2011. This was the same line-up of musicians that the band used for the three European mixtaped shows, the only change was the use of acoustic, instead of electronic, drums.

Whilst the show was noticeably shorter than the Bush Hall show I attended in 2008 (the 2011 gig weighing in at around 45 minutes), it was a much more cohesive, powerful and assured performance.

no-man have been my favourite band since stumbling upon their Loveblows & Lovecries – A Confession album in 1993 (not having heard a note of the band’s music but being hypnotised by the sleeve-notes and album art-work).  With each album, I’ve grown to love the band’s music more – which is unusual, as a lot of band’s peak with early releases and go downhill, desperately trying to recapture past glories. Not so for no-man, whose recordings have shifted away from it’s electronic roots and constantly evolved over the years, though the live appearances slowed to a trickle. Whilst I caught an early Porcupine Tree show (in a tiny local pub in Kent, with about 30 people in the audience), I did not get to see no-man live until Tim & Steven performed at another Burning Shed event, this time in Norwich in 2006, then finally seeing a full no-man show when the band performed at Bush Hall in 2008.

The 2008 Bush Hall show was certainly a memorable and emotional evening, captured perfectly by Richard Smith’s excellent mixtaped dvd.  But for me, the real no-man experience was this magical 45 minutes at Leamington Spa.  I’ve seen hundreds of different live shows across many genres, committing many individual live performances to memory, and of all these performances I have seen since my first live show back in 1979 (Thin Lizzy at Hammersmith Odeon, in case you are wondering),  I have compiled a list of  my favourite gigs (Thin Lizzy never made it into the top 10, though it was a great first gig). Vivid memories of performances by the likes of The Stranglers at The Rainbow, The Police at Lewisham Odeon, Kate Bush at the London Palladium, The Who at Wembley Stadium, Prince & the Revolution on the Parade tour, Nine Inch Nails a couple of years ago and more, have now been joined by this no-man show.

The performance was more confident than the last no-man gig, and was helped by the addition of acoustic drums, which gave the band so much more power and percussive depth. Opening with a track the band had not performed live before, the sweet pop of wild opera‘s my revenge on seattle, with it’s slow build-up, was a wise choice of opener. By the time the bass drum kicked in during the latter stages of the song, you could feel the excitement in the audience.

The bass heavy, lyrically disturbing time travel in texas ratcheted up the noise, and was a perfect example of where this line-up of no-man could go if transferred to a studio environment (which I hope happens one day).  The 2011 version was so much more powerful, and added a real sense of menace to the song.

all the blue changes was the personal highlight of the gig for me.  together we’re stranger is the album that took a long while to finally hit home, at one point it was my least favourite no-man release but it’s now one of my most cherished albums, what the hell do I know? This edgy live version displayed some wonderful interplay between the musicians and transported the band to a different level on the night. A real shiver down the spine moment.

pretty genius (the third wild opera song of the evening, and no-man’s least popular album according to Tim) felt more like the album version, mainly due to the more powerful drum sound, and then there was lighthouse. A key track on the returning jesus album (and the band’s most “progressive” song) lighthouse retains its power and beauty in a live format, and the instrumental coda after the organ break always sends me somewhere. If they had played just this one track, I would have still left the venue a happy and content man.

The surprise of the evening was the performance of beaten by love, an (unreleased by no-man) song from 1987.  A very dark song, that would not have sounded out-of-place on wild opera or a recent NiN album even, which sort of threw a curveball into the set. Though it went down well with the crowd, the inclusion of an unfamiliar song maybe interrupted the flow a little, but no-man like to challenge and stimulate their audience, so I’m not complaining.

wherever there is light received the warmest response of the evening, and was closer to the schoolyard ghosts studio version than the 2008 live incarnation.  Sad songs are definitely the most uplifting.

The set ended with another track from the last no-man album, the slow-burning mixtaped, a song so much more powerful live than in its recorded form.

The audience summoned the band back for an encore, flowermouth‘s things change, the perfect no-man show-stopper. Tim jumped down from the stage when his vocal duties were over, watching the end of the song, including the wonderful violin solo from Steve Bingham, with the rest of the audience.

And that was it. Hopefully it won’t take another three years to get no-man back together again, and when it does happen, it’s clear the current no-man live band deserves to remain unchanged, as this line-up has got a unique chemistry and a real empathy for the material.

“You’d kill for that feeling again…”

my revenge on seattle
time travel in texas
all the blue changes
pretty genius
lighthouse
beaten by love
wherever there is light
mixtaped
encore: things change

Somewhere in the Midlands, no-man happened to be: Tim Bowness (vocals), Steven Wilson (guitar), Michael Bearpark (guitar), Pete Morgan (bass), Andy Booker (drums), Stephen Bennett (keyboards) &  Steve Bingham (violin).

***Update December 20th 2011: the concert is being released on CD as Love and Endings by Burning Shed in February 2012 – listen to lighthouse (live) from Love and Endings below***

Listen to lighthouse (live) on iPhone or iPad

no-man store on the Burning Shed
mixtaped / returning DVD at the Burning Shed

no-man website

no-man Twitter

no-man on Facebook

listen to no-man on Soundcloud

all photos on this page by Charlotte Kinson

Blog post from no-man live band member Steve Bingham





no-man – mixtaped / returning

29 11 2009


mixtaped
is no-man’s first DVD, and it serves as an excellent introduction to the band once described as “Britain’s most underrated sorrowful sonic architects”, as well as offering much for the long-term fan.

The double DVD comes in two parts. DVD one is mixtaped, which is the whole recording of no-man’s London show from 2008 (the band’s first full live performance in 15 years), plus a live photo gallery.

The second DVD is titled returning, which contains an 85 minute documentary, the complete videos for several no-man songs, a no-man chronology and deleted scenes.

disc one – mixtaped

Wilson, Bowness & Bingham

One thing that really stands out on the live DVD (as it did at the concert) is that no-man live are a very different beast to the studio incarnation.

The 2008 European shows surprised many with the power behind some of the songs. time travel in texas from this DVD is a prime example. The studio version (from 1996’s wild opera) is from the trip-hop era, and is dark and glitchy. The 2008 live version keeps the main arrangement but adds real muscle to the performance.

all the blue changes is one of the stand-out performances on this DVD. A slow-building crescendo, the song includes some wonderful interplay between guitarists Michael Bearpark and Steven Wilson. 

no-man live on the "mixtaped" DVD

days in the trees is a re-invention of one of the more well known no-man songs. Whilst it still keeps the spirit of the original song intact, this classic song, served up without the break-beats, and performed by this 2008 version of no-man, had a fresh new momentum.

lighthouse, from 2001’s returning jesus album, stayed faithful to the studio recording, and seemed to be a definite highlight for the audience on the night.

In fact, this performance reminded me why lighthouse is my most-played no-man track, and why the final section of the song is one of my favourite pieces of music ever. The guitar / violin interplay and subtle mood changes within in this performance are so moving.

A wonderful, slide-guitar infused take on carolina skeletons follows, and the atmospheric returning jesus is performed with a real lightness of touch.

The mixtaped DVD ends with two flowermouth tracks. things change features a guest performance from former no-man member Ben Coleman, who gives a blistering performance on electric violin. The concert ends with the beautiful watching over me.

Ben Coleman guests on "things change"

The clarity of sound on this DVD, especially if played on a 5.1 system, is amazing. There is wonderful separation between the instruments, and tracks such as returning jesus, lighthouse and all the blue changes raise the bar on what a live DVD should sound like. The picture quality on the live disc is sharp and the colours are vibrant.

The detail is such that you can read the set-list on Stephen Bennett’s Mac that shows that the early no-man track housekeeping was to have been the last song in the set. In the end, this song was only played on the German date, and an audio only soundboard recording of this performance plays whilst the picture gallery is displayed on the mixtaped DVD.

The Director, Richard Smith, deserves special mention for the way the live disc is presented. It’s free of un-necessary quirky / gimmicky fade-ins and camera tricks.  As someone who was at the concert, I feel that mixtaped serves as an honest and accurate reminder of that special evening.  For those who were not lucky enough to see the live show, and are maybe new to the bands music, this DVD is a perfect introduction to the music of no-man.

DVD tracklist:

only rain / time travel in texas / all sweet things / pretty genius
all the blue changes / truenorth / wherever there is light /
days in the trees (version) / lighthouse / carolina skeletons /
returning jesus / mixtaped / things change /watching over me

Oh, and before anyone pulls me up on the lack of capitals in the song titles, no-man are a band best experienced in lower-case, always.

disc two – returning

All too often, documentaries are tagged onto DVD’s merely as extras, and they often consist of a few soundbites tagged onto clips of the main feature. This is not the case with returning. Producer / Director Richard Smith has put together a feature that could have easily been issued as a standalone disc.

Steven & Tim in nomansland

The 85 minute documentary features contributions from all previous members of no-man, as well as collaborators such as current live band members and the man responsible for the bands iconic artwork, designer Carl Glover.

The most revealing parts of returning come from seeing Bowness & Wilson working together in the studio and from some of the painfully honest comments about the background to certain key no-man albums.

One particularly poignant section is where the departure of Ben Coleman is discussed, from Ben’s perspective as well as from Tim & Steven’s. The wounds still seem to be raw, which make Ben’s appearance in the live show particularly touching.

The only disappointment with the documentary is that the bands’s former label One Little Indian declined to take part, and that some no-man material could not be used in the documentary (wild opera‘s music had to be replaced by demo versions).

The new video for "back when you were beautiful"

The whole history of the band is covered, from the early days (including clips of a key 1989 gig) through to the recent schoolyard ghosts album. The collaboration with former Japan / Rain Tree Crow members Jansen, Barbieri & Karn is also covered, along with clips of videos and TV appearances from various points in the band’s history.

Disc two also includes the complete videos for several no-man songs, including a wonderful newly commissioned animated film for back when you were beautiful.

So, if you come to no-man as a curious outsider who is maybe a fan of Steven’s other band, Porcupine Tree, or as a long-time admirer, the mixtaped DVD is a must-have purchase, and one that stands up to repeated viewings.

View the mixtaped trailer:

Buy mixtaped at Amazon UK
Buy mixtaped at The Burning Shed

Visit the no-man website








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