Tim Bowness is well known as the vocal half of the band No-Man, formed in 1987, along with Steven Wilson. Before there was No-Man, Tim was a member of a band named Plenty. While the band released several EPs back in the day, a full album was never released until April this year. Iris Hidding interviewed Tim Bowness about his band Plenty, their latest album It Could Be Home, touring, and Tim’s new collaborations.
How did Plenty arise back in the eighties?
I’m going to be exceptionally lazy regarding this as it’s an incredibly complicated and convoluted story involving failed auditions, occasional sessions, and different bands splitting and coming together.
Here’s a link to the 90,000 word answer:
What does Plenty’s discography look like? Did Plenty get any recognition back in the day? Why didn’t Plenty continue making music after that?
Over a period of two and a half years we released four cassette EPs, played two gigs, and contributed two songs to Steven’s Double Exposure compilation. We also wrote a few other pieces we didn’t release in any way (which we’ve only recently rediscovered).
Plenty got very little recognition at the time. We had a couple of local newspaper articles and some radio play on local stations (in Liverpool and Manchester mainly) and that was it. Previous bands I’d been in had received far more radio play and more (international and national as well as local) media coverage, but for some reason, Plenty was only a legend in the mind of its band members. Despite that, I was very emotionally attached to the band’s music and I think it’s undoubtedly where I came of age as a songwriter and lyricist. Everything I did prior to Plenty seemed clumsy by comparison and several things I did afterwards (especially bits of early No-Man and Bowness/Chilvers) had a Plenty influence.
Plenty split because I chose to move to London and make No-Man my main band. It was a difficult decision – as I loved the music of both bands – and I offered to stay if Brian and David would agree to dedicate themselves to Plenty.
Ultimately, it was the right thing to leave for London as Steven Wilson and I had a similar level of ambition and we both had a total obsession with both listening to and making music.
After 30 years Plenty reunited again to finally make their first full album. How did the band reunite, and why?
It was a 2017 New Year’s resolution made good!
After years of discussing the possibility of reuniting – and of having performed Plenty pieces in No-Man, on Stupid Things That Mean The World and with Peter Chilvers – everything came together quickly. Suddenly, we were all in a position where we could dedicate time to the band. We’d all retained an affection for the songs and I think our abilities were finally up to making something good out of the promising material. We decided to make the album we always felt the band should have done.
How and where is the album It Could Be Home recorded?
In our home studios in various parts of England. We all have fairly decent home studios, so we swapped files. Additional recording was done by Jacob Holm-Lupo in Norway. Jacob also mixed the album.
Why are you releasing some of the old demos on an EP, along with the album release?
To show the contrast between recordings and performing styles, and for historical interest.
With It Could Be Home, we aimed to re-record the original material in as authentic a way as possible, but we’ve all changed as performers so differences were inevitable. I think my voice has altered significantly since the late 1980s and I hope that we brought a greater sense of taste and space to the material during the re-recording process.
Who made the album artwork, and why this design?
Carl Glover based on my description the album’s themes. I thought he did a wonderful job and it’s one of my favourite Glover covers (along with his work for No-Man’s Together We’re Stranger). In both cases, he’s tangentially captured the essence of the albums.
With all my solo work and some No-Man albums, I have much more input into the artwork and give very specific instructions, but on this occasion Carl did it all.
How would you describe the music Plenty makes?
It derives from that blissful Post Post-Punk era that produced artists including Prefab Sprout, It’s Immaterial, The Blue Nile, Talk Talk, Durutti Column, This Mortal Coil, and David Sylvian’s solo albums, and also witnessed great work by Art Rock icons such as Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. I wouldn’t know what to call the music, but I hope it’s a distinctive entry in its field.
Will there be a tour with Plenty and/or a tour with the Tim Bowness band?
Hopefully a yes in both cases.
We’ve rehearsed the Plenty material. It was the first time we’d met in 30 years and it was a completely different way of working for me. Initially, it was okay but very self-conscious (partly because Plenty material is considerably more structured and disciplined than my solo work). It harked back to how both Plenty and early No-Man used to play live (with backing tapes), but from the second run through of the material onwards, it felt very good and it was genuinely emotional on occasion.
Early this year you mentioned you’re working with Peter Chilvers on a new album. When can we expect the follow up of California, Norfolk?
We finished the album last year and it was mixed by Peter Hammill in the Autumn of 2017. It’s a definite progression from California, Norfolk but is similarly introspective and atmospheric. We’re still deciding on how and when to release it.
What can we expect in the future? Another solo album? Any collaborations? Will Plenty continue making new music as well?
A yes to all three!
I’ve recently guested on music by Banco De Gaia, Twelfth Night, Anthony Reynolds, Stefano Panunzi, Saro Cosentino and Big Big Train.
I’m currently working on a solo album, which I feel is a departure from my last three. It feels very fresh to me. I think it’s very recognisably what I do and, of course, it has quite a number of melancholic ballads, but the arrangements and performances are quite different and, overall, it’s a very varied collection of songs. In some ways, it feels like I’ve pressed reset. The last three albums logically evolved out of No-Man’s Schoolyard Ghosts and out of one another, while this is coming from somewhere else. I’ve used quite a few musicians I’ve not worked with before, although there are a few returning players such as Colin Edwin and Jazz musician Ian Dixon (who played trumpet on No-Man’s Returning Jesus). Putting it together has been an exciting process and as with the last three solo albums, I’m really looking forward to seeing how people will react to the material.
Recording the Plenty album was great fun and we’ve continued to re-record our 1980s songs. We recently rediscovered some of the earliest songs we’d written (in 1986). One piece called “The Other Side Of The Border”, along with “Towards The Shore”, was the earliest piece we wrote. I remember both it and “Towards The Shore” as being good and then us having six months in the creative wilderness until we wrote “Forest Almost Burning” in early 1987. After that, we were mostly happy with what we wrote. The good news was that “The Other Side Of The Border” was every bit as good as I’d remembered it to be. After not hearing it for 32 years, within a day Brian and I had recorded a new version. It was a definite highlight of some enjoyable sessions.
Photo taken by Mark Wood
Photo taken by Charlotte Kinson
Fan questions, feel free to answer the ones you’re willing/able to answer:
Zachary Nathanson (USA):
1. Do you plan to make a short film based around the concept behind Lost in the Ghost Light? Because when I would listen to the album, I imagine it as a movie inside your head.
I do see Lost In The Ghost Light as something more than an album. For me, it has theatrical possibilities and, of course, it would be great (though extremely unlikely) to see a film or musical / stage play based on the concept.
At one point, I had the idea of a band performing as Moonshot (the band the protagonist of Lost In The Ghost Light is in) and developing aspects of the story theatrically. A Liverpool based band have been recording pieces from Lost In The Ghost Light (and conceptually related songs that ended up on Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and Stupid Things That Mean The World). They’ve been doing it in the period styles Moonshot would have performed the material in. There’s a very good chance their Ghost Light album will come out and I would hope that there may be shows to accompany the release. The material doesn’t feature me and it’s fascinating to hear other people’s versions of the songs and the story.
2. Since Steven Wilson has done the score for the 2017 Video Game, Last Day in June, do you plan to follow in the same league as if Wilson has opened the door to say come on in by doing a score for a Video Game in the near future?
I have no connections in that world, so it’s unlikely unfortunately. No-Man has had pieces used on TV shows in the past, and I’ve recorded music for short films and installations. Like many musicians, I’d love to get something used in a major film.
Anthony Ferraro (USA) & Paul Kooijmans (NL):
Any chance no-man will be back together and will do a tour in Europe and the USA?
I really hope and think so and it’s something SW and I have discussed very recently.
There are definite plans to release another studio album (some material has been recorded) and tour, but a lot depends on Steven’s availability. I hope I’ll live to see the reunion! 🙂
John White (USA):
Will there be another collaboration with centrozoon again?
It’s a never say never answer, but I’ve no idea to be honest. Since we worked together in the early 2000s, luckily, we’ve all been busy and our careers are in a better place than they were then.
For a time – between 2001 and 2004 – we did quite a number of gigs (in Germany, Austria, Finland and the UK), but we haven’t communicated much over the years. Markus spends a lot of time in the US these days.
Paul Tinker (UK):
Why did you leave Warrington?
To move to London in order to be closer to where Steven Wilson lived and to dedicate myself fully to No-Man. The irony is that I left in 1988 and returned – slightly disillusioned – in 1990. Within two months of my returning, No-Man released the single Colours and it generated several major Single Of The Week reviews and BBC Radio One airplay. This led to us getting offered recording and publishing contracts, so I moved back to London very soon after.
I was brought up in Stockton Heath, which is a village on the outskirts of Warrington. It was a nice place to be brought up in as it was quiet, but within 20 or so minutes drive of Manchester, Chester and Liverpool (so within easy access of big city concerts and record stores). Although I’ve not lived there for a long time, the distinctive local landscapes of canals and swing bridges are ones that still resonate strongly with me.
John Eje Thelin (Germany):
How is Smiler doing?
Much the same, so badly! 🙂
The character of Smiler was something of a composite of people I knew (both male and female), so was strongly rooted in real life. The song chronicles someone living in permanent stasis through indecision, a fear of being exposed to the world, and poor life choices. It also touches on a theme that has run through a lot of my work since I started singing and writing lyrics, that a single moment can change a life forever. I’ve seen people respond to death, insults, rejection and so on, in ways that have impacted on the rest of their lives.
Martin McDonagh’s play The Beauty Queen of Leenane – something I read after writing the Smiler songs – has something of a similar concept and atmosphere.
You can buy Plenty’s It Could Be Home (and other albums of Tim Bowness) at https://www.burningshed.com/