DPRP: Tim, Lost in the Ghost Light is brilliant. I have been a fan of your work since No Man but I believe this is your finest album to date.
Tim: Thank you.
Considering the concept and how it touches, in part, on the current music scene, streaming and its effect on an established artist, what is your take on the current music scene? Do you think it is tougher for musicians to get noticed nowadays versus what it was like back in the 70s or 80s?
Very much so. I only have experience of the 1980s and 1990s music industry, but even then it wasn't easy. Only a tiny proportion of bands ended up with contracts and only a tiny proportion of those bands ended up with long-term careers. However, one thing that was much easier, is that mainstream radio stations and magazines were more open to taking risks and more open to giving out contact details. I was brought up near Manchester and Liverpool, and my early amateur demo cassettes were played on all the local radio stations and reviewed in all the widely-read local newspapers.
As a point of comparison, in 1985 there were only four local stations in the Manchester/Liverpool area of north west England and all four would play my music even though it was on a self-promoted cassette format. In 2017, there are dozens of channels in that same region and none of them would play anybody's demo. 99% of the new stations are Top 40 chart stations, Golden Oldie Top 40 chart stations or talk radio. As such, more choice, has actually meant more conformity and less opportunity.
Along with the subject matter, there is a very effective 70s classic rock vibe to the Lost in the Ghost Light album. How did the music of that era influence you and who are your musical heroes?
Well, to quote a recent blog I wrote about the album: "When I first got into music in the mid to late 1970s, progressive rock was a huge influence. I was a big fan of many things, but at the time, bar my love for the work of Kate Bush, prog trumped them all." Contrary to its reputation for being distant, bloated and exhibitionist, for me it provided an emotional release from a difficult adolescence. 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 and King Crimson, I was transported by a world of creative possibilities to somewhere more interesting than suburban Warrington.
I was excited and moved by albums like Pawn Hearts, Close To The Edge, Rock Bottom, Incantations, Foxtrot, Free Hand, The Civil Surface, Lifemask, In The Land Of Grey And Pink, Islands, Dark Side Of The Moon and many more. 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. Prog may have been occasionally ridiculous, pompous and overreaching, but it was rarely boring.
My musical heroes included (and still include) the likes of Kate Bush, Pink Floyd, Robert Fripp, Peter Gabriel/Genesis (and off-shoots), Peter Hammill/VDGG, David Bowie, Robert Wyatt, Mike Oldfield and lots more.
Steven Wilson recently made a comment that I thought was quite interesting. He talked about (and I am paraphrasing a bit here), how a lot of the classic rock bands and artists created their greatest and most influential work at a young age and in a small window of time. Yet, he feels that he and other more recent artists are creating some of their best work later in life; that the window of time has expanded in terms of quality material. I would certainly include you in this analogy, as I believe that your three recent solo albums are all highlights of your career thus far. What is your feeling on this topic?
It's something I have discussed with Steven. Artists we both admire such as Scott Walker, Peter Hammill, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and the late David Bowie all continue(d) to produce great music in recent times. Although it is fair to say that quite a number of artists from the 'classic' age of progressive, rock and other genres seemed to make vital, emotional and revolutionary music within a limited timeframe.
In some ways, that's an issue Lost In The Ghost Light addresses, as it's about someone who was once musically adventurous and is now a ghost of themselves, performing golden oldies to an ageing audience. On the album, I speculate that the reasons for this are due to a gradual falling-out-of-love with music, as the pressures of career, distant family, substance abuse and tour-induced boredom kick in. I also think that subsequent musical revolutions such as punk and new romantic derailed a lot of prog and rock artists. Suddenly (and unfairly in my opinion), they were made to look old-fashioned and irrelevant. Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd and Mike Oldfield (for four) went on to great commercial and artistic success in the 1980s, and the likes of Peter Hammill and Robert Fripp continued to innovate. But for every Genesis/Peter Gabriel, there were 20 other bands whose career collapsed, either because of bad artistic choices, or bad timing (as they were so unfashionable, no one would write about them). Having spoken to musicians from that era, I know that the fact the UK music media suddenly deemed a lot of the classic artists "dinosaurs", really hurt and affected career and artistic choices.
As for artists of mine and Steven's generation producing our best work at an older age, I really hope that's true. I guess one thing, is that although we've had some success (Steven more so than me, obviously), it hasn't been on the scale of progressive artists of earlier eras. As such, we've had fewer industry distractions. The other factor is that Steven and I remain huge music fans, while a lot of earlier musicians fell out of love with music a long time ago and, sometimes, that shows.
Ian Anderson does wonderful work on the album and it is fantastic to hear Kit Watkins as a guest as well? How did that come about and are you a fan of Happy the Man and/or his solo work?
Kit got in touch with me a few years back. It turned out that he liked some of my work. I was flattered because Kit had been the keyboardist at one of the first gigs I ever attended (Camel at the Manchester Apollo in 1981). I liked the fact that he'd moved on from Camel artistically in a major way and I did enjoy both of the Happy The Man albums.
I've been a huge fan of Ian Anderson's music since I first heard it in my early teens. I think he's a wonderful and intelligent lyricist, a strong songwriter and a great player. A rare, all-round talent. 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 which 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.
Will you be touring for the new album and is there a chance for shows in areas where you haven't performed at all or recently, such as the USA?
I'd love to. More so than the majority of what I do, this would need a very disciplined, accurate and, possibly, theatrical approach to the music. As such, more organisation than ever before. The short answer is, if there's the interest, I'd love to play it live and I have looked into a very unusual way of realising the album properly. As for the US, I do get offers of festivals, and it's somewhere I'd like to play, but so far every proposal has been one that would mean losing a lot of money in order to achieve the aim.
Not to be greedy (considering that you have only just released this excellent new album), but are you working on anything that we can begin to look forward to?
Quite a bit. I've finished a second album with Peter Chilvers. This is much more atmospheric and singer-songwriter-based than Lost In The Ghost Light. I've also been re-recording songs I wrote in the late 1980s with my pre-No-Man band Plenty. It's been great fun and inevitably we've done a lot of re-writing, as we've changed a lot as musicians and people since then. Outside of that, there is the possibility of a new No-Man album over the next year or two and I'd love to get my teeth into another major album project such as Lost In The Ghost Light.