A modest but loyal, excited audience has gathered in this rainy corner of Tufnell Park. Bowness’ old partner in crime, fellow No-Man founder Steven Wilson, might headline places like the Royal Albert Hall, but Bowness’ path has evolved more quietly. However, with a brace of beautiful new albums from the last two years, plus a history of No-Man tunes to dip into, he’s well-placed to give a classy performance. And he does just that, melting the depressing weather away with tracks from Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and newest LP Stupid Things That Mean The World, plus select older numbers.
We arrive to the sound of whale-song; or rather, ‘support’ Improvizone, also known as Bowness’ band of Colin Edwin (bass, Porcupine Tree), Michael Bearpark (guitar, from Bowness‑featuring experimental proggers Henry Fool, Darkroom and others) and Andrew Booker (drums, long-time Bowness collaborator with Henry Fool, No-Man and solo work). The whale-song swiftly grows into an interesting, ambient instrumental jam (Steve Roach meets early Floyd), setting the tone for the main event.
A wonderful night of Bowness at his best.
Wilson became a singer out of necessity. Bowness has always been rather more deliberate in that regard, with a distinctive, breathy tone that chimes through opener The Great Electric Teenage Dream. At this early point he’s a commanding, solemn, almost sad stage presence under dark, curly hair. So it’s a relief when he ends with a little jump (“Theatre,” he reasons with a smile), which lightens the mood in time for the propulsive beats and wide-eyed synths of The Warm‑Up Man Forever.
New songs like Press Reset are rockier live, Sing To Me (which started life as a No-Man demo in the 90s) sees Bearpark channel gorgeous post-prog lead guitar, and Know That You Are Loved leads a poetic, melancholic run of what Bowness calls “Slow songs about slow death.” “We’ll be handing out leaflets for Dignitas at the end,” he grins wryly.
The blunt truth: Tim Bowness has fewer ‘killer’ solo songs than Steven Wilson. Partly because he’s done less solo work, of course, but while being a talented writer/musician, his quota of ‘oh wow’ tunes is smaller. This doesn’t stop him being quite captivating, though. And to see tangible pieces of Porcupine Tree, solo Wilson and others evoked in those early No-Man tracks – and then carried through in Bowness’ solo material – is rather special.
Tonight feels like we’re witnessing the birthing pool from whence it all came, back in the late 80s, when Bowness and Wilson were young musical voyagers finding their feet.
The main set draws to a close with No-Man favourite Housewives Hooked On Heroin – pop for the darkest of minds – and finishes with Smiler At 50, with an instrumental climax tantamount to Wilson’s epic Luminol, or Hand. Cannot. Erase.’s Routine. A wonderful night of Bowness at his best – a quietly pivotal figure in contemporary progressive music.