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





Slow Electric

29 10 2011

Slow ElectricSlow Electric is a new collaboration between Tim Bowness (no-man), Peter Chilvers (Bowness/ChilversBrian Eno) and the Estonian group UMA (Aleksei Saks and Robert Jürjendal).  The album features Tony Levin (King Crimson / Peter Gabriel) on two tracks.

This album came together when the four musicians played at a festival in Estonia in late 2010. The basis of this album comes from live recordings of the 2010 shows, with re-recorded vocals and added keyboards, plus the contributions from Tony Levin on Towards the Shore & Days Turn into Years.

Towards The Shore / Towards an Ending is a strong opener. Towards The Shore dates back to a previous Bowness band, Plenty and was written in 1986. The 2011 version is beatless and driven by stately piano, atmospheric trumpet and scratched, percussive guitar playing, over the reflective Bowness vocal:

“Too frightened of your feelings
Too frightened of the light
You stripped away the meanings
gave in without a fight… You never moved away”

Listen to the video edit of Towards The Shore below:



iPhone / iPad version

Criminal Caught In The Crime was originally written to be part of the follow-up to the Bowness/Chilvers California, Norfolk album.  One of the few tracks driven by any sort of percussion, the glitchy beats contrast the smooth electronics of the song, and the vocal is bookended by atypical Bowness backing vocals.

Days Turn Into Years was one of the standout tracks on the 2002 Bowness/Chilvers album California, Norfolk.  This version by Slow Electric is the definitive take on the song. The bedsit drama is given a much more elegant treatment that matches the sadness and decay of the lyrics.  At times, sounding like something from David Sylvian‘s Secrets of the Beehive before veering off into a more freeform structure, with vocal loops cascading over the beats, Days Turn Into Years is the highlight of the album for me, and a wonderful reinvention of one of my favourite songs of the past 10 years.

Slow Electric

Slow Electric Hum / Also Out Of Air moves from it’s ethereal instrumental opening into a This Mortal Coil referencing song, with rich, reverb heavy keys, and haunting, heavily treated trumpet.

Another Winter will be known to no-man fans as the first part of truenorth from their 2008 schoolyard ghosts album. It works well as part of this album, and features some lovely trumpet in the second part of the song that reminds me of the emotive playing of Jon Hassell on Sylvian’s Brilliant Trees.

Listen to Warm Winter below:



iPhone / iPad version

Between The Silent Worlds ends the album on a very ambient note.  No piano or beats on this track, just layers of textured guitar and looped trumpet. Evoking snow-covered landscapes, the aching atmospherics suit the reflective lyrics.

“Words become notes become words.”

As proof that the best music is not always instant, on first hearing the album several months ago, I thought this track was the weakest on the album. Several months later, and it has become one of the albums highlights, and is a perfect closer. One of those wonderful late-night soundtracks that when it hits you, hits you hard.

I hope this album from Slow Electric is not a one-off release, and I would like to hear an album of completely new songs written specifically for this project, as there are plenty of possible routes for the musicians to take.

This set of 21st century torch-songs is perfectly suited to soundtrack the change in seasons as the winter nights draw in, and should appeal to fans of David Sylvian, Robert Fripp, as well as those who are moved by the songs of Bowness/Chilvers & no-man.

Watch the Towards The Shore video below:

Video filmed, Edited and Directed by Dion Johnson

Towards The Shore / Towards An Ending (7.23)
Criminal Caught In The Crime (7.43)
Days Turn Into Years (9.35)
Slow Electric Hum / Also Out Of Air (5.24)
Another Winter (5.04)
Between The Silent Worlds (6.37)

Buy Slow Electric from The Burning Shed
Buy Slow Electric at Amazon UK
Buy Slow Electric at Amazon US

Slow Electric website





Memories of Machines – “Warm Winter”

17 05 2011

Memories of Machines is a collaboration between no-man vocalist Tim Bowness and Giancarlo Erra from the Italian band NosoundMemories of Machines formed in 2006, and Warm Winter is the band’s first release.

“Stories
Come out of other stories
Lead to other stories
New memories of machines”


The album opener, New Memories of Machines sets the scene for the album, which is a mix of electronic and acoustic sounds, making an album of songs alternating between traditional and ambient / classical arrangements.  The album kicks into life with the second track, Before We Fall, with a powerful interplay between the acoustic and electric playing of Giancarlo, and backing vocals from All About Eve’s Julianne Regan.

“It’s not love how you see me
It’s not love how we touch”

Listen to Before We Fall

iPhone / iPad link: http://soundcloud.com/tim-bowness/before-we-fall

Regular Bowness listeners will already be familiar with Beautiful Songs You Should Know, which appeared on no-man’s Schoolyard Ghosts album from 2008, as well as an earlier Nosound version in 2006.  The Memories of Machines version has a more organic feel than no-man’s take, and is driven by Marianne de Chastelaine’s emotive cello lines.

There is a lot of optimism in the first set of songs on Warm Winter, almost as if the early part of the album maps out the formative stages of a relationship (playing a prospective lover the songs that have defined your life to date, moving to an unfamiliar city, “Trading the ghosts for someone new”) and as the album progresses, the songs document the cracks that appear in the relationship.

Warm Winter is a piece of rare beauty, and I’m sure will be an album highlight for a lot of people.  It’s also possibly the most uplifting song sung by Bowness to date.  I personally find that sad songs are the ones that usually affect me emotionally, but Warm Winter is a rare exception to that rule.  Whilst it is certainly not a KC and the Sunshine Band soundalike, it is uncharacteristically positive.  The track also has one of Tim’s finest vocal performances, with echoes of mid-period Bowie in the vocal phrasing and ending with a powerful guitar solo (one of the few on the album) from Giancarlo.

The optimism starts to peel away with Lucky You, Lucky Me, and the appearance of the mellotron heralds an appearance from Steven Wilson (no-man / Porcupine Tree), who also adds guitar to the track, in addition to his role in mixing the whole album.  One of the highlights of the Warm Winter album is the mix, and the man Wilson (as usual) does not disappoint.  A lot of attention has also gone into the sequencing of the album, and it deserves your full attention, sounding at it’s best played in the way the band intended you to hear it, not with the songs scattered with no care all over some random playlist.

“I take my words
And use my words
To heal the hurt and the blame.”

Change Me Once Again is a tale of control and compromise, with a haunting chorus lit up by a simple piano riff and the layered vocals of Julianne Regan.

Listen to Change Me Once Again:

iPhone / iPad link: http://soundcloud.com/memoriesofmachines/change-me-once-again-1

Something In Our Lives features an appearance from OSI / Fates Warning’s Jim Matheos, whilst Lost And Found In The Digital World is built over Robert Fripp’s soundscapes and haunting trumpet from UMA’s Aleksei Saks, giving the track a Brilliant Tree era David Sylvian feel.

“Lost and found in the digital world.
Lost and found.
It’s time for letting go.”

Schoolyard Ghosts is a solo Bowness composition that was originally destined for the last no-man album of the same name, and although the song didn’t appear on the no-man album in the end, some of the tune leaked into no-man’s Mixtaped.

Add to this the performances on the track from recent no-man live band members Michael Bearpark, Stephen Bennett, Andy Booker and long-term Bowness collaborator Peter Chilvers, and the track Schoolyard Ghosts will sound familiar to most no-man listeners.

“You and Jules down vodka shots
To hide the feelings that you’ve got.
You love her eyes, you love her mouth,
You love her put on Rock-chick pout.”

An intensely personal Bowness lyric and the only track with real progressive leanings (the keyboard solo recalls …And Then There Were Three era Genesis), Schoolyard Ghosts has some wonderful interplay between the musicians.

“The schoolyard ghosts that haunt your dreams,
Hold you back and make you feel unclean.”

As the final note fades, the album’s closing piece, the nearly 7½ minute long At The Centre Of It All slowly fades into view.  This track became my instant favourite when I first heard the album, and my opinion hasn’t changed many months later.

A mostly electronic piece, with suspended piano notes and deep cello cutting through the glacial strings, a delay-heavy Bowness vocal intones

“All the things that were meant to be,
All the love you were meant to feel,
Became too hard to reveal.”

Porcupine Tree’s Colin Edwin contributes double bass to the song, as Giancarlo’s restrained guitar bookends the deep synth lines, as the “Beautiful Songs You Should Know”  sadly become “Just pointless lists at the centre of it all.”

A moving end to a beautiful album.

Tracklisting:

New Memories Of Machines (1.31)
Before We Fall (5.12)
Beautiful Songs You Should Know (4.59)
Warm Winter (5.34)
Lucky You, Lucky Me (4.17)
Change Me Once Again (5.56)
Something In Our Lives (4.11)
Lost And Found In The Digital World (5.14)
Schoolyard Ghosts (5.32)
At The Centre Of It All (7.26)

Memories Of Machines is:
Tim Bowness – vocals, guitar on Schoolyard Ghosts
Giancarlo Erra – guitars, keyboards

Produced and arranged by Tim Bowness and Giancarlo Erra
Mixed by Steven Wilson at Nomansland
Mastered by Jon Astley at Close To The Edge

© 2011 Mascot Records

Buy Memories of Machines at Amazon UK
Buy Memories of Machines at Amazon US
Buy Memories of Machines from The Burning Shed





Tim Bowness – live at the Estonian Embassy, London 19th April 2010

27 04 2010

Tim Bowness and his band – Michael Bearpark (Guitars), Steve Bingham (Violin / Loops) and Peter Chilvers (Piano / Textures) played a private show at the Estonian Embassy in London at the request of the Ambassador, Dr Margus Laidre.

The 45 minute set opened with the no-man song, Only Rain, which was a similar arrangement to the version played live by no-man in 2008, with Steve Bingham adding layer upon layer of looped violin.

Only Rain sequed into the first of two new songs (or new / old songs, more later), in All These Escapes.

The first of two Bowness / Chilvers California Norfolk songs came next, in the glacial Winter With You. Possibly my favourite California Norfolk song (with Post-Its a close contender), Winter With You has always been a piece of sparse beauty, and it worked well in this beat-free set.


no-mans Wherever There Is Light (from the 2008 album Schoolyard Ghosts) lost none of its emotion in this stripped back arrangement, and was one of the songs that suited the other-worldy feel of the wood-panelled room where the concert was taking place.

“Walk in and out of rooms, fall in and out of love” 

California Norfolk’s Days Turn Into Years was a real surprise, as it was presented as an epic 10 minute re-reading, and was subsequently very different from the album version. The song was driven by plucked violin strings, and deviated from its original arrangement about three-quarters of the way through the performance, building towards a gradual, powerful crescendo.

I always associate Days Turn Into Years with the lonely squalor of a bedsit existence, so it was a little strange hearing this particular song in the safety and comfort of the Embassy.

The third and final no-man song, Flowermouth‘s Watching Over Me, has almost become a signature tune at recent no-man / Bowness concerts, and the song has not aged at all, and I’ve yet to hear a bad performance of this song.

Unprotected was the only song from the My Hotel Year era, and was a b-side (does that term still exist?) from the Sleepwalker single. It worked well, even when shorn of all the electronica of the studio version.

The set ended with the debut live performance of Towards The Shore. This song, along with All These Escapes, was a song from Tim’s pre no-man band, Plenty. Towards The Shore, though written in the mid-80’s, is thankfully free from the midi-madness of that decade, and sounds as organic and as emotive as much recent Bowness related material.

“You swim towards the shore,
just as she drowns again.” 

Towards The Shore was another song that is likely to be a staple of the set-list for a long-time to come, and featured plenty (excuse the pun) of improvisation from the band, and layers of Bowness vocal loops towards the climax of the song.

2010 is shaping up to be a promising year for Tim Bowness fans, with the Plenty sessions, the ever evolving Memories of Machines project with Nosound’s Giancarlo Erra, and the first tentative steps towards a new no-man studio album.

Only Rain
All These Escapes
Winter With You
Wherever There Is Light
Days Turn Into Years
Watching Over Me
Unprotected
Towards The Shore 

Many thanks to the Ambassador, Dr Margus Laidre, for hosting the event at the Embassy.

Lyrics quoted © Tim Bowness
Tim Bowness website
no-man website
Burning Shed Tim Bowness store
All pictures on this page by Charlotte Kinson








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