18

Tim Bowness: Ghost Lights and Life Sentences

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
I don’t think it is all is over yet for physical formats or non- mainstream music. The future isn’t always what big companies want it to be. —Tim Bowness
As much as it's something most would prefer to avoid, when a pair of musicians share a lengthy musical history together it's difficult not to compare and contrast the work they do when apart. Beyond contributing added clarity to their individual work, it helps to articulate what each of them bring to the table when they're collaborating. Singer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Tim Bowness may have yet to achieve the same degree of commercial success that his partner in the currently on hiatus No-Man, Steven Wilson, may be enjoying these days; but since releasing his first "real" solo album in 2014, Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and its equally exceptional 2015 follow-up, Stupid Things That Mean the World (both on Inside Out Music), Bowness has managed to achieve a similarly upward trajectory with both increasing critical acclaim and sales at a time when most artists are experiencing a decline in commercial success, thanks to the tectonic shifts that have taken place in the music industry, especially over the past 10-15 years.

"In cold, hard numbers I'm probably at a little more than 25% of No-Man's sales base," Bowness explains, "and I'd say that 25% contains some new fans. A definite positive is that each of the three recent solo albums has done better than the previous one in a climate where albums are generally selling less.

"So, the good news is that there is growth and that the albums do better than anything else I do outside of No-Man," Bowness continues. "The press reactions have also been amongst the best I've ever had—including for No-Man's work. Additionally, it's been a period of learning and evolving, and feeling that everything is new again. At this stage in my career, that's a wonderful thing to experience."

The youthful-looking, fifty-something Bowness' third solo album, Lost in the Ghost Light (Inside Out, 2017), represents a shift for the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist. Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and Stupid Things That Mean the World are both unmistakably influenced, amongst many sources, by progressive rock—a genre that's experienced a substantial resurgence in interest over the past two decades, thanks to an influx of new music from artists like Bowness and Wilson, as well as the reemergence of legacy artists like King Crimson, Steve Hackett and Van der Graaf Generator, who've all managed to balance audience demand for their classic repertoire with new music that's every bit as good and relevant as their best music from back in the day.

Lost in the Ghost Light is, however, not only an unapologetically progressive record; it's also a concept album...another genre touchstone. The album brings together some of the dreamy, nostalgic elements of No-Man—amongst Bowness' many signatures—with aspects of the more aggressive/progressive-leaning Henry Fool, Bowness' group with Ghost Light collaborator, keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Stephen Bennett and a revolving door of additional musicians that has (unfortunately) released just two superb albums since 2001 (Henry Fool, reissued by Kscope in 2013 on the heels of the group's sophomore release, 2013's Men Singing). Bowness also brings elements of his collaborations with other artists including Centrozoon, Judy Dyble, Slow Electric, Opium Cartel and Darkroom; but this time the references to some of Bowness' favorite progressive music of the '70s is much more overt, more direct and more dominant, despite still being defined by his atmospheric approach to color in his music, and a softly understated way of delivering his sometimes direct, sometimes abstract but always poetic prose.

It expresses many of Bowness' concerns about music, the life of a musician and the challenges of a passion that has become, to some extent (and in Bowness' words) a prison sentence through the creation of a band (Moonshot) and singer (Jeff Harrison), told in the now but looking back at events of the past 50 years. As Bowness says in his brief liner notes (and in his characteristically poetic fashion): " Lost In The Ghost Light is an album about the state of a particular type of half-remembered musician in the present day, but it's also a love letter to a memory of a feeling that lingers."

Bowness has compared Lost in the Ghost Light to Steven Wilson's 2013 unexpectedly massively successful The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories (Kscope), about which Wilson said, in a 2015 All About Jazz interview: "I was as surprised as anyone that The Raven did as well as it did. That was a willfully uncommercial move. It had absolutely nothing on it that was even remotely acceptable to the mainstream, and yet it's become the most successful album of my whole career; it's the best-selling record I've ever done. It's extraordinary. And what that tells me is: the more self-indulgent and willful I am, the more likely the album is to appeal; it almost gives me license to keep doing my thing."

Lost in the Ghost Light's progressive references—and, in particular, its adoption of many genre qualities and characteristics, from more sophisticated compositions with episodic writing, irregular meters, more advanced harmonies and more, to overall coloration and signature sounds like that first (albeit tape-driven) orchestral/choral "sampler," the mellotron (albeit, in this case, a later model renamed the Novatron 400), and vintage analogue synthesizers—may, indeed, create a causal link to The Raven. That said, it also contributes—as have all their albums since Wilson took the first leap into solo territory with 2009's Insurgentes (Kscope) and Bowness followed in 2014—to articulating the commonalities and differences between these two longstanding musical collaborators and friends, and what each brings to their work together in No-Man. Neither Ghost Light nor The Raven would have been possible had it not been for classic progressive rock of the '60s/'70s—music from a time when it not only seemed that anything was possible, but also allowable—but they're also albums that simply could not have been made 40 years ago.

"To a degree, The Raven and Ghost Light are coming from a very similar place," says Bowness. "They're both strongly informed by the elements of 1970s progressive music that still speak to Steven and myself, and they're both trying to reconnect progressive music, with its emotional and spontaneous elements. I've often said that, contrary to its reputation as being distant, bloated and exhibitionist, for me the best progressive rock contains soaring imagination alongside rare emotional intensity.

"We both favored organic, period sounds and we've both contributed some trademark ballads," Bowness continues, "but I think The Raven was trying to bring back the exploratory jazz-infused nature of early prog—something that 2001's Henry Fool also did to a degree. Steven also wanted to reinvigorate the idea of meaningful virtuosity and signature playing. The likes of [keyboardist Adam] Holzman, [guitarist Guthrie] Govan, [drummer Marco] Minnemann and [woodwind multi- instrumentalist Theo] Travis are truly great modern day musicians and Steven provided them with a superb framework within which they could exhibit their skills.

"In that respect, The Raven reminds me of a latter day version of the trailblazing albums by Yes and Mahavishnu Orchestra," continues Bowness. "By comparison, Lost In The Ghost Light does stretch out musically and does contain some strong solos, but it's more reliant on atmosphere, rich chord shifts and wistful melodies. In that respect, I see Ghost Light as a contemporary take on those dense mid-to-late 1970s 'soft' prog albums such as [Camel's] Moonmadness (Decca, 1976), [Chris Squire's] Fish Out Of Water (Atlantic, 1975), [Strawbs'] Hero And Heroine (A&M, 1974), and Genesis' Wind & Wuthering (Charisma, 1977) and ...And Then There Were Three... (Charisma, 1978)—all of which I'm an unashamed fan.

Lost in the Ghost Light may refer to those softer progressive albums, but it still kicks hard when it needs to, in particular on the frenetic "Kill the Pain That's Killing You" and the second half of "You Wanted to Be Seen," that moves into a harder-edged, Genesis-informed 7/4 section with a gradual build to one of the album's most climactic peaks.

"I suppose," Bowness concludes, "that we were both trying to bring back elements of the progressive music legacy that we didn't hear elsewhere."

Amongst the aspects of the progressive music legacy to which Bowness refers is its exploratory nature, its aspiration to the new and its forward-thinking drive towards making music that stretches boundaries and breaks rules in a thoroughly contemporary fashion. There have been, with progressive rock's resurgence, a wealth of bands (including some legacy acts) paying tribute to the music of the '70s, but there's always the risk of sounding too retro, too derivative. While Bowness and Wilson know the history of progressive rock more than many, even when they are being more directly referential as they are, respectively, on Ghost Light and The Raven, they are both unmistakably modern records.

It's no surprise—more serendipity, in fact—that just a few years after he began life as a musician in the early 1980s, Bowness would meet Wilson and, together, form No-Man, a group which enjoyed critical and commercial success with a string of albums on labels including One Little Indian, Kscope and Epic. Originally a solo project for Wilson called No Man is an Island, once he met Bowness and the two shortened the group name to No-Man, not only did the group enjoy increasing success in the U.K., it also broke into the United States with its Billboard Top 40-charting 1993 single, "Taking It Like A Man."

As the group moved from purer pop to art-rock and, finally, the dreamy, progressive-leaning balladry of Returning Jesus (3rd Stone, 2001), Together We're Stranger (Snapper, 2003) and, in particular, the group's last studio effort, Schoolyard a Ghosts (Snapper, 2008), No-Man was met with increasing critical and popular acclaim...all the more remarkable given that the group took a 15-year hiatus from performing live, until its 2008 performance in London, England documented on the two-DVD set Mixtaped (Kscope, 2009).

But Bowness' tastes have always run even broader and deeper than the music he's made, and many of the musical touchstones that have crossed his path over the past half century can be found buried, at different depths, within his music, whether it be solo or in a collaborative group like No-Man or Henry Fool.

"I started making music in the early 1980s and by 1987 I'd met Steven Wilson and we formed a creative partnership that eventually became No-Man," Bowness explains. "No-Man were signed in the early 1990s to various companies (including One Little Indian in the UK and Epic/Sony in the US) and, luckily, we've both continued to make music ever since."

Bowness' formative years were a bit unusual for a child of the '80s. While most children are first exposed to the music listened to by their parents, there's a moment in time when they discover the music of their generation, whatever that might be, causing a paradigm shift in how and why they listen to music.

"My very early musical interests included John Barry's film music and parts of my parents' very dated record collection," Bowness continues. "Their collection mainly comprised Dionne Warwick singing Bacharach and David, Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross, Andy Williams and so on. My favorites were singles by the Moody Blues and Procol Harum, Simon And Garfunkel's Greatest Hits (Columbia, 1972), The Beatles' 'red' and 'blue' albums, Sinatra's Nice 'n' Easy (Capitol, 1960) and a Neil Diamond album called Rainbow (MCA, 1973), which contained songs by Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen (all of whom would become future favourites for me).

"I really didn't like the contemporary pop music that my primary school friends were listening to and it wasn't until I heard the likes of Sparks' 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us' and 10cc's 'I'm Not In Love' that I started to like pop...and not until I heard Kate Bush's debut single in 1977 that I fell in love with it. Around the same time as I discovered Kate Bush (not hard, as she was everywhere in the UK media!) courtesy of a friend's father, I got to hear Led Zeppelin, Mike Oldfield and Pink Floyd. The enigmatic artwork in combination with the haunting and atmospheric music of the latter two drove me to seek out other progressive rock artists. Prog certainly wasn't fashionable when I was at school (I left in the early 1980s), but there were still albums such as [Pink Floyd's] The Wall (Harvest, 1979), Peter Gabriel 3 (Charisma, 1980) and Genesis' Duke (Charisma, 1980) that had a big commercial impact.

"As I say in one of my blogs: 'Whether it was the sentimental beauty of a Genesis ballad, the atmospheric explorations of Pink Floyd, the nostalgic eccentricity of the Canterbury scene, the giddy inventiveness of Gentle Giant, or the brute-force of VDGG [Van der Graaf Generator] and King Crimson, progressive rock transported me to a world of creative possibilities and somewhere more interesting than suburban Warrington.'

"Basically, I was excited and moved by albums like [VDGG's] Pawn Hearts (Charisma, 1971), Yes' Close To The Edge (Atlantic, 1972), [Robert Wyatt's] Rock Bottom (Virgin, 1974), [Oldfield's] Incantations (Virgin, 1978), [Genesis'] Foxtrot (Charisma, 1972), [Gentle Giant's] Free Hand (Chrysalis, 1975), [Egg's] The Civil Surface (Caroline, 1974), [Caravan's] In The Land Of Grey And Pink (Deram, 1971), [King Crimson's] Islands (Island, 1971), [Pink Floyd's] Dark Side Of The Moon (Harvest, 1973) and many more. Outside of prog and Kate Bush," Bowness continues, "I loved David Bowie, The Beatles, Roy Harper, The Who, Led Zeppelin and then-contemporary artists such as Associates, XTC, Teardrop Explodes, John Foxx/Ultravox, Magazine, Japan and Joy Division.

"As much as my tastes have evolved over the years and my own music has developed along different paths, the idealism of progressive music remains a touchstone," concludes Bowness. "Prog may have been occasionally ridiculous, pompous, and overreaching, but it was rarely boring. And on a personal level, it also acted as a gateway to classical, folk, jazz, psychedelic and other types of music that have been influential on progressive itself."

Meeting Wilson, Bowness quickly realized that he'd found a common spirit; another aspiring musician with broad but, to a significant degree, similar musical tastes and who viewed music as one huge continuum. "I'd say that Steven and I share around 60% of our tastes (which, given how much we listen to, is a lot)," says Bowness. "We both like soundtracks, classic rock, 1960s psychedelia, progressive rock, singer/songwriters, post-rock, ambient/electronica, jazz, post-punk, soft rock, electro-pop, ECM, trip hop, disco, minimalism, classical chamber music and more. We've also never cared for fashion, so our tastes embrace many supposedly embarrassing musical pariahs.

"In terms of differences, when we met I liked American art punk (Patti Smith, Talking Heads, Velvet Underground/Cale/Nico/Reed, etc.) and Steven didn't; and he liked avant-garde classical (Stockhausen, Xenakis, Boulez), drone music and metal and I didn't.

"Even though No-Man's early music was often disciplined and very restrained (though some unreleased No-Man music is incredibly aggressive), we always loved the idea of bloody-minded idealistic excess, so albums like Scott 4, (Scott Walker), Tales From Topographic Oceans, Common One (Van Morrison), 666 (Aphrodite's Child), Get Up With It (Miles Davis), Consequences (Godley & Creme), Tusk (Fleetwood Mac), Odyssey (Terje Rypdal), Starsailor (Tim Buckley) and Lizard (King Crimson) appealed to us both equally."

While Bowness considers Abandoned Dancehall Dreams to be his first proper solo album, there was one that came before, at a time when No-Man was still active. "My debut solo album (My Hotel Year, from 2004) always felt like a compromise, as it consisted of pieces from several separate projects I was working on in the early 2000s. It's a solo album in name mainly, though I did define its shape and sound.

"Abandoned Dancehall Dreams emerged out of demos I'd written and co-written for a follow-up to No-Man's Schoolyard Ghosts, which also developed from material I initially brought in," Bowness continues. "Steven [Wilson] was too busy with his solo work at the time to commit to making a No-Man album, so he kindly offered to mix whatever I came up with. I took that as an incentive to make my proper debut solo album. I'd written much of the music as well as the lyrics/melodies. That said, to an extent ADD was my idea of what a No-Man album could sound like. The reaction to the album was surprisingly positive, and that inspired me to quickly embark upon making a follow-up that took the sound of Abandoned Dancehall Dreams that bit further. I see ADD and Stupid Things That Mean the World as strongly linked, in that Stupid Things was a direct continuation of ADD, both musically and visually. [Despite all three albums having artwork by Jarrod Gosling, the artwork for ADD and Stupid Things share certain commonalities; Lost in the Ghost Light, with its cover image of a cluttered dressing room counter, and lit mirror reflecting where the album takes place, takes a completely different approach that better fits the album's concept.]

"I constantly work musically, though I don't constantly rate what I'm doing. Creatively, things have seemed good over the last few years and I hope that what I've come up with of late compares well with what I've done with No-Man," Bowness continues.

"Lost In The Ghost Light sprung from the concept and the music was written to enhance the lyrical themes. As I've mentioned elsewhere, in some ways, it's my version of a Moonshot album," Bowness concludes.

But, like its other sources, Bowness manages to subsume that idea into something that sounds like no-one but Bowness. At his blog, timbowness.wordpress.com, Bowness writes about the inspiration for Ghost Light:

"It all started with me seeing a sixty-something jogger in an expensive tracksuit rifling through the vegetable racks at my local Co-Op. His intense glare combined with his thinning long grey hair and Mick Fleetwood beard left me wondering which veteran rock band he'd once played with.

"This got me thinking about the moment when music first came into this person's life and whether it still informed his music making in the present. Other questions followed about the tensions between commerce and art, career and idealism: Could the creative 'spark' be lost then rediscovered?; What were the costs of dedicating a life to music and how much did 'real' life get in the way of the 'magic'?; What was the effect of the changing nature of the industry on music itself as physical objets d'art became unpaid streams?; Were, as Brian Eno suggested, professional musicians like blacksmiths, echoes from another age and, if so, what was the impact of that realization on a performer playing to an aging crowd?"

But there's much more to Bowness' tale of an aging rock star reflecting on his life...and how it has changed. "On one level," Bowness says, "Lost In The Ghost Light is a requiem for a type of music, a type of musician and a particular form of music production: the album. It's an album-length homage to a golden age of classic rock music and to the album as an art form.

"As I say in the Album Notes, I've always been fascinated by the iron grip music holds over fans and musicians alike, and how a supposedly adolescent obsession can become a lifetime's passion (or prison sentence) for some of us."

On the brief title track—which possesses the dark gravitas of classic VDGG but with his more understated delivery a less weighty alternative to the more melodramatic (albeit wonderfully so) vocals of VDGG's Peter Hammill—Bowness writes directly about the "self-imposed prison sentence" that makes music as much an addiction, as much a pathology, for some as it is an art form and irresistible means of expression:

"Is it real?
Has it heart?

When the bluster falls to silence,
Does it gel or fall apart?

Is it pure?
Is it art?

When they gather in the foyer,
Does it linger, does it smart?

Has it heart?

Is it real?

Is there more?

Does your self-imposed life-sentence
Make the grade or hit the floor?

Is there more?"


But Bowness' story also tackles some of the serious issues that began to plague the music industry in the 1990s and have led to the second decade of the new millennium, where artists are working as hard as they ever have at creating the music that, more than entertains, sustains many of its fans.

"I was interested to know how the fact that people don't financially or culturally value music as much as they did in earlier eras impacts on musicians who grew out of the 1960s revolution; a time when music was vitally important on so many levels and in so many sectors of society. I'm also interested to know how playing to an older audience just wanting 'the hits' affects a musician who once believed they could change the world with their music," Bowness explains.

"Another factor was my interest in how the punk era derailed so many great musicians," Bowness continues. "Certain classic rock, folk rock, fusion and progressive rock artists were treated appallingly in the late 1970s, and many careers went into artistic and commercial free-fall. Of course, some 'classic' artists thrived, as Pink Floyd, Genesis and Yes went on to greater success in the 1980s and the likes of Peter Gabriel, Peter Hammill, Robert Fripp and Bill Nelson defined the 1980s as much as any of the hip gunslingers (as the [British periodical] New Musical Express might have said!). They were in the minority though. Of course, this sort of thing has happened throughout history: the talkies killed off many silent screen actors; bebop made big band seem excessive; The Beatles made jazz clubs seem passé; etc., etc. But I had a special interest in 'the punk effect,' as it was something I witnessed while it was happening.

"As for the rock opera element," continues Bowness, "in my early teens I was smitten by albums like [The Who's] Quadrophenia (Track, 1973), [Genesis'] The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (Charisma, 1974) and The Wall. Consequently, I've always harbored a desire to make 'a story album.' [The Who's] Pete Townshend, in particular, has been a great chronicler of music, musicians, fans and the culture surrounding them.

"However, I think that despite being written by genuine rock stars, and despite being interesting albums, the likes of The Wall, The Kinks' A Soap Opera (RCA, 1975) and Townshend's Psychoderelict (Atlantic, 1993)—all of which essentially deal with 'the rock star's lot'—are actually as fantastical and borderline incomprehensible as [The Who's] Tommy (Decca, 1969), [Yes' Tales From] Topographic Oceans (Atlantic, 1973) and The Lamb. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but I wanted to write something plausible and relatable that had a simple premise—an aging musician sits post-gig in front of a dressing room mirror and reflects on how he reached this moment in time—but also contained some fairly complex and emotional themes that developed out of this basic scenario."

While he's collaborated, compositionally, with others including Wilson, Phil Manzanera and Henry Fool-mate Stephen Bennett on his previous two albums, only one of Lost in the Ghost Light's songs are written solely by Bowness (the title track); six of the remaining seven tracks are collaborations with Bennett.

"Generally, all the separate projects I've done have a separate identity and pretty quickly on I find myself writing for the specific album project or set of musicians and become immersed in whatever it is that's emerging," Bowness explains. "The nature of the music often dictates the lyrics. As an example, the [No-Man] Wild Opera album and Centrozoon collaboration generated some fairly experimental and tangential lyrics (in keeping with the music). By contrast, [No-Man's] Together We're Stranger and Lost In The Ghost Light featured tightly focused and themed lyrics.

"Certainly, despite the shifts in style over the years, there is a 'No-Man quality'; something of a lush, cinematic melancholy," Bowness continues. "Inevitably, some of that quality has seeped into my solo work as I'm very drawn to the epic in a way that several of my other collaborators aren't (Stephen Bennett being an exception). [Keyboardist/bassist/multi-instrumentalidst] Peter Chilvers, for example, is attracted to intimate and stripped-down productions, while [guitarist] Michael Bearpark thrives in the wilder Henry Fool jazz-inspired territory.

"Henry Fool material is easier to define as it's much more jagged, rough and ready, and mainly riff-based. With the two Henry Fool albums, we recorded most of the music direct to tape live in the studio. I tended to write the riffs we used as a basis for improvisation a day or two before the sessions. I wrote a lot of the music on those albums as I was the weakest link musically. I can play what I write, but don't have a clue how to respond—on guitar—to anybody else's compositions. Basically, I can improvise vocally, but not on guitar.

"If I'm writing straightforward songs on guitar, they could potentially go anywhere: No-Man; solo; Bowness/Chilvers etc.," Bowness continues. "Obviously, different projects approach songs differently in terms of arrangement; my eclectic tastes are, however, strongly filtered through the limits of my ability, my emotional predilections and my own sense of what I want to do artistically. Ultimately, I approach every project as if it's a blank slate, but because making music is an instinctive process for me, I always end up imposing myself, my limitations and my natural tastes on whatever it is I do.

"In terms of my own solo songwriting, on Stupid Things That Mean The World the title track and 'Press Reset' were examples of pieces I wrote by manipulating samples, while 'Know That You Were Loved' and Everything You're Not / Everything But You' were examples of songs I wrote on the guitar. I can write on the computer, and on guitar I'm capable of creating standard singer/songwriter pieces and time signature riffs (as Henry Fool bears witness to!). That said, compared with Steven Wilson, Peter Chilvers, Stephen Bennett etc., I'm musically limited. Sometimes it's fine to live with those limitations and it can produce decent results, but Lost In The Ghost Light needed more."

While some of Bowness' "usual suspects" participate on Ghost Light—specifically, in addition to keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Bennett, the ever-creative anchor of Burnt Belief/Porcupine Tree bassist Colin Edwin ("a tremendously versatile player who's been a part of my live band for the last few years," says Bowness), arranger/multi-instrumentalist Andrew Keeling, drummer Andrew Booker and violinists Charlotte Dowding and Steve Bingham—there are a few new faces and "name" guests. Along with appearances including ex-Jethro Tull leader/flautist Ian Anderson, Happy the Man flautist Kit Watkins and Peter Gabriel guitarist David Rhodes, Bruce Soord— guitarist, singer and songwriter for post-prog British group The Pineapple Thief—contributes many of the album's soaring, lyrical guitar solos and accompaniment.

"With Lost In The Ghost Light, I used musicians that I felt were right for the songs," Bowness explains. "Bruce Soord was chosen because I think he has a songwriter's approach to guitar solos, in that he's direct and melodic. Michael Bearpark, my usual guitarist, is great but he's from the abstract school of noise that includes David Torn and Neil Young. The Ghost Light songs needed something different.

"In most of the cases, I've had some social or professional involvement with the musicians in the past," Bowness continues. "In all cases though—as with working with Peter Hammill, Robert Fripp, Mick Karn, Phil Manzanera and so on in the past—I never forget how privileged I am to be on recordings with people whose music shaped mine. I have failed in getting [Gentle Giant's] Kerry Minnear and Ray Shulman, and [10cc/Godley & Creme's] Kevin Godley on any of my music...but there's still time!"

Bowness also co-operates Burning Shed—co-founded in 2001 with Pete Morgan and Peter Chilvers, and emerging from an idea about which Bowness had been thinking for a while. Both a record label and an online series of web stores largely devoted to progressive and post-progressive music, Burning Shed has become the go-to shop for archival and reissue releases by legacy groups like King Crimson and Ian Anderson/Jethro Tull, Peter Hammill, Gentle Giant, XTC and more, alongside new music from entire labels including Kscope and Peaceville, and contemporary artists that, in addition to Wilson and Porcupine Tree, features The Mute Gods, Riverside, echolyn and Big Big Train, amongst others. But beyond all the things expected from a label/webstore, Burning Shed has led to other things as well. "Burning Shed-related musicians have always collaborated," Bowness explains, "so Dave Stewart worked with No- Man, Anathema and Steven Wilson; Theo Travis worked with everybody; and Burning Shed hosting web stores led to me working with Ian Anderson and Phil Manzanera."

Bowness' approach to writing varies, naturally, from album to album...from song to song. "When I write alone, it's an instinctive process that always starts from nothing and develops out of either playing with sounds or rhythms on the computer or strumming chords on the guitar," Bowness continues. "Usually, 'something' interests me and I become determined to see where that 'something' leads. At a certain point, the creative itch seems scratched and I stop. Subsequently, the lyric writing, sound selection and production additions are the result of afterthought and obsessive tinkering. Sometimes—the title track of Lost In The Ghost Light being a case in point—I have a very specific idea of the mood and sounds I want to use and pursue.

"When I'm writing with others, they may well have a pre-composed instrumental that I respond to vocally and then lyrically. There'll then be collaborative production choices," Bowness continues.

"With the co-written pieces on Lost In The Ghost Light, however, they started with me giving Stephen Bennett a set of instructions. He has a greater chord vocabulary than I have and he can certainly do 'progressive' better than I can. With 'Moonshot Moonchild,' as a casual aside I'd mentioned to Stephen that Genesis b-sides from the late 1970s and early 1980s had a chordal sophistication and exploratory shape that seemed absent from contemporary pop (I was thinking about pieces such as 'It's Yourself' and 'Evidence Of Autumn'). So it started from an idea of personalizing an almost extinct, unfashionable form of popular music. The autumnal feel was something I wanted as the lyric concerned the autumn of the musician's career. From that point on, once the piece had been written, I thought about who could best realize the music.

"I've been a huge fan of Ian Anderson's music since I first heard it in my early teens," Bowness continues. "I think he's a wonderful and intelligent lyricist, a strong songwriter and a great player. A rare all- round talent. His playing on 'Distant Summers' was tremendous I thought, and I was delighted that he was willing to be involved in the album. He was very positive about the finished song and that meant a lot too. I chose Ian specifically for 'Distant Summers' as the song details the early musical passions of the musician Lost In The Ghost Light revolves around. As such, although it was part of the wider concept, due to Ian's involvement, there was some autobiography in that piece as well."

At a time when studio costs are prohibitive, Bowness has, like many musicians, adopted file sharing as a means of getting other artists' participation...but only when the music suits it. "The two Henry Fool albums were entirely recorded live in the studio with the band; there was post-production, but almost all of what's on the albums is what happened in the studio. With Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and Stupid Things That Mean The World, around a third to half of the albums were recorded by a band in the studio. As an example, [Abandoned Dancehall Dreams'] 'I Fought Against the South' was a song I taught to the band and we did a few takes live in the studio. Ultimately, I want what's best for the music and that varies from album to album and composition to composition.

"Lost In The Ghost Light was almost entirely done via file share," Bowness concludes, "and I think it works well. Strangely, there was still room for spontaneity, compositional evolution and so on."

Beyond the subject matter of Lost in The Ghost Light, the album also speaks to Bowness' firm opinions about the current state of the music industry and how it impacts artists at various levels of success. Despite there being some dire circumstances, at the end of the day Bowness remains optimistic.

"Of course, some of my own fears are wrapped up in the story and the idea of my music and the music I admire becoming valueless in my lifetime is very real," says Bowness.

"Streaming may be offering a future for major music corporations, but it's potentially harming professional musicians and may mean massive record company personnel layoffs in the longterm," Bowness continues. "My feeling is that some of the big companies are wanting to move on from physical formats altogether. At the moment, there are still strong sales for physical formats and some companies/artists are actually selling more than they were a few years ago (others aren't, of course). However, as happened with vinyl in the late 1980s/early 1990s, I believe that the major music companies are forcing the issue and want to make streams the future of the industry (as CDs once were). I suspect that it's all about warehouse space, production costs, staff numbers and shareholders. In other words, I don't think it has much to do with music, art, or fans. As someone who prefers physical formats, I find it a sad development."

"I don't feel streams encourage detailed listening or an engagement with music/'the album' as an art form, and, on a personal level, the move towards streams (and 'single' streams at that) pushes me even more towards making detailed artwork and sonically rich 'album experiences.'

"Spotify is great for discovering things,"Bowness continues, "but it's frequently poor in terms of visual representation and accuracy of information. I'd say that half of the albums I have on the service have incorrect dates and that's true of much back catalogue on the service. History seems to be getting mangled and the mechanics of recording seem missing altogether (detailed credits and so on). It is possible that 'the album as app' could make something more substantial and visually appealing, but at the moment that requires a lot of money to develop and a degree of expertise that isn't common.

"Vinyl has come back from the dead and has had an unexpected resurgence over the last decade (which is continuing apace) and I think that's a reaction to the dominance of seemingly valueless streams and ubiquitous talent show culture," Bowness concludes. "As such, I don't think it is all is over yet for physical formats or non-mainstream music. The future isn't always what big companies want it to be."

With Lost in The Ghost Light on the cusp of release, Bowness is looking forward to the near-future and some exciting possibilities. "Hopefully, there will be a tour," says Bowness. I did short tours with my band in 2014 and 2015, and also did a couple of shows with Russian band iamthemorning at the end of 2016. At the moment, I'm due to be a special guest at the UK version of the Marillion Weekend and I'm hoping to add more dates to that soon.

"More so than the majority of what I do, Ghost Light would need a very disciplined, accurate and, possibly, theatrical approach," Bowness concludes. "As such, more organization than ever before. If there's an interest in it happening, I'd love to play the album live."

A sentiment that Bowness fans no doubt share. But there's another exciting possibility on the horizon as well. "Steven and I have both talked about doing some No-Man dates and making a new album," says Bowness. "Additionally, we did write something new a few years back that was very promising. I'm excited to see where No-Man goes next and I'm also sure that whatever happens won't be like the work we've done before. At least in the sense of us not making Schoolyard Ghosts 2 or Together We're Stranger 2, anyway.

"When working with Steven in 2013, we developed a new No-Man piece out of something the band had been working on since 1994. The new piece was at once very different from the composition it developed from and was immediately, definitively No-Man. There was something in the harmonies, textures and mood that wouldn't have worked on any of the other projects Steven Wilson and I are involved with."

But most important, perhaps—and not something that all people share as they get older— Bowness continues to be a pathological music addict, always on the lookout for the next discovery, whether it's contemporary or an older group that yet to be experienced. "I was obsessed about music from my early teens onward," Bowness explains. "Along with books and films, music provided a great escape from a pretty miserable adolescence. Beyond the usual teenage tribulations, I was surrounded by chaos for a while (deaths, nervous breakdowns and more) and being able to immerse myself in music and also to sing the heartache away (a cliché, but a true one for me) was important.

"I really don't regret what I did. I properly pursued making music my life from the age of 18. I know it's not common these days, but I've managed to make a living out of music. Financially there were precarious times in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when every contract I had was lost; but aside from that, from 1991 to the present day I've managed to survive doing something I love.

"I'm still an avid music listener and purchaser and I constantly listen to music old and new," Bowness concludes. "I love discovering back catalogs I didn't know (over the last few years that's included Max Richter, The Strawbs, Judee Sill, Michael Chapman and Labi Siffre). I'm still excited by how some favorites are continually evolving (Kate Bush, Peter Hammill, Elbow, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen before their deaths) and it's great to make new discoveries (like Ryley Walker, Troyka and Keaton Henson). I also still play albums I loved a long time ago, of course."

On the strength of his work with No-Man, Henry Fool, Peter Chilvers, Centrozoon, Opium Cartel, White Willow and others, but most notably in his recent solo efforts Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, Stupid Things That Mean the World and now Lost in the Ghost Light, it's a sure thing that Bowness' own superlative work will also continue to be loved and played well into the future by his growing fan base.

Photo Credit: David Owens
About Tim Bowness
Articles | Calendar | Discography | Photos | More...

Tags

Watch

Playlist

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

Related