Late Night Laments: Track by Track

English singer-songwriter Tim Bowness released his sixth solo album Late Night Laments at the end of last month. Tim is primarily known as vocalist/co-writer with the band no-man, a long-running collaboration with Steven Wilson. His new album features his first collection new songs since signing a publishing deal with Real World. In this blog, Tim talks us through the inspiration and writing process for each of the songs on the album.

1. Northern Rain

To an extent, this is about a person seeing their partner slowly descend into the fog of dementia, reflecting on their happy life together and coming to terms with their powerlessness and eventual demise. I’m more of a ‘rage against the dying of the light’ person, but this is a song of blissful acceptance; a song about coming to terms with ever-shifting change and being replaced.

It’s a sort of companion piece to the Bowness/Peter Chilvers song Sleeping Face (which has a similar scenario, but deals with a ‘malcontent’ closer to myself) and was influenced — in the abstract — by the difficult experiences that my dad and step-mum and (co-producer) Brian Hulse’s parents have been going through over recent years. There was also an echo of their lockdown experiences in some of the lines. The ‘You’re laughing; a laughter close to crying’ phrase was inspired by seeing a seriously ill friend.

The music has its basis in a wonderful Hulse piece written at the dawn of the 1990s, but the arrangement, lyrics and performances are from early 2020. Brian rightly felt that this was a perfect fit for Late Night Laments and as soon as I wrote the melody and lyrics, it felt like a key song for the project.

Evan Carson’s restless percussion, Tom Atherton’s vibraphone and Melanie Wood’s backing vocals breathe life into the predominantly electronic arrangement and Brian’s synth solo provides an unexpectedly powerful blast of hope amidst the ruins.

 

1. I’m Better Now

This is written from the perspective of a perpetrator of a hate crime.

For a variety of reasons, society has become increasingly febrile and polarised over the last half-decade and along with an increase in intolerance and aggression, there’s been a real sense of more and more people feeling adrift in the modern world and feeling like they’re slipping through the cracks of society. When people feel unheard and invisible, violence can result. In Britain, we had the tragic killing of a politician (Jo Cox) and that may have been one of the many stories that lodged in the back of my mind.

I wanted to present an extremist view and an extreme act in a way that ‘almost’ made it appear normal. The banality of evil.

There’s something of A Clockwork Orange and Taxi Driver in the song’s unresolved tension, especially in the ambiguous assertion of the chorus lyric.

Kavus Torabi and Mel Wood’s contributions came at the very end of the album’s recording process. I knew I wanted a particularly type of singer to back me on a few of the pieces and I also knew I wanted a particular type of ‘bite’ in the IBM guitar solo. I was getting nowhere finding what I was looking for when I received an email from Kavus with a link to his excellent Hip To The Jag album. Remembering his and Mel’s fine work in Knifeworld, I knew I’d found the missing pieces.

I’m Better Now evolved out of one of my demos and as with most tracks on the album, it utilised marimba, vibraphone and mallet instrument samples. To humanise these, throughout the album, the mighty Tom Atherton replaced fake with real. Beyond being a talented rock drummer, Tom’s a gifted classically trained percussionist. He’s a useful asset to have.

3. Darkline

More late-life regret! The title was inspired by a Warren Zevon quote where he said — when he was dying of cancer — that he wanted to live in order to write ‘that last dark line’. The feel of the lyric was partly influenced by Margaret Atwood’s magnificent Hag-Seed (which in turn was based on Shakespeare’s barmiest play, The Tempest).

As good as the demo was, I could hear a Richard Barbieri shaped hole in it. After much deep contemplation, I came up with the extraordinary idea that there was no-one better to fill that particular hole than Richard himself. Luckily, the great man agreed. RB’s lead and textural synth lines were exactly what the piece needed and greatly enhanced Brian’s existing electronic pulses and atmospheres. RB has rightly been recognised as an exceptional sonic architect, but his ability to create astonishing solos (a synth equivalent of Robert Fripp or Adrian Belew?) has been greatly underestimated in my opinion. The Hulse / Barbieri combination of ‘woozy’ electronic textures is a delight.

4. We Caught The Light

This was written in the middle of the night on New Year’s Day 2020. I had a strange sense of foreboding and a strong feeling that the year ahead was going to be significant and not in a good way.

Concerning generational divides, part of the idea behind this is that a Boomer (the currently most hated demographic) is trying to convince both themselves and a younger person that their history was revolutionary, their intentions were good and that they had a meaningful impact on the world.

The 1960s was a great era for civil rights protests, artistic innovation, environmental awareness and feminism, yet the ‘progressive’ generation responsible seem to be the main object of the current revolutionary generation’s ire. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of this, it struck me as an interesting culture war between two tribes who might actually agree on more than they disagree on.

This started off as a purely solo T-Bo demo featuring a fleet of ukuleles and primitive rhythms, and was the first outing for my electric ukulele. An odd fact is that I was brought up pretty much round the corner from where Britain’s ukulele / banjolele king George Formby spent most of his childhood and early youth (London Road, Stockton Heath). Clearly, it’s in the blood!

5. The Hitman Who Missed

I visualised this as being about someone who was expected to succeed in life (a school ‘jock’, a failed a pop star, a real hitman?) ending up adrift from the world around them.

There are shades of John Cheever’s The Swimmer — a favourite story and film — in this.

Brian’s backing is evocative throughout, but my favourite sections are where the song explodes into colour near the end with the unexpected entrance of Bacharach & David ‘ba bas’, Colin Edwin’s double bass, Tom Atherton’s vibraphone and Alistair ’The Curator’ Murphy’s home-made beauty, The Dianatron.

An Introduction to Late Night Laments by Tim Bowness

Tim, whose music is published by Real World, releases his new album on 28th August.

 

6. Never A Place

This was a song I saw as being about someone feeling outside of society and having an instinctive sense of not belonging. In some ways, it concerns an innocent coming face to face with a societal cruelty that brands them ‘different’.

The initial idea/feeling I had was of a Jewish child during the rise of Hitler feeling apart from most of the people around them, yet not fully understanding why. I also saw it from the perspective of being disabled in a mostly able-bodied world (one of my grandparents was wheelchair-bound for a lot of their life).

Brian’s drum programming on Late Night Laments is a league above his previous experiments in the field and they were good). For me, the constantly shifting groove on ‘Never A Place’ is amongst his finest work yet.

7. The Last Getaway

This is a song about the children’s author Harry Horse and I partly wrote the lyric in the sentimental style of his books (the ‘Dear child’ repetition is a device he uses and his main books begin with ‘The Last’ in their titles).

Harry Horse was an award-winning author who used to be a political cartoonist. I read a couple of his books to my young son, who loved them. I thought it was strange that these best-selling books of the 1990s were so difficult to find less than 30 years later, so I looked into why that might be the case. What I discovered was far removed from what I expected.

Horse and his wife moved to an idyllic spot in Scotland and were living a happy life until his wife was diagnosed with a degenerative disease. Soon after, reportedly, Horse went mad, stabbed his wife to death, killed all the family pets and then committed suicide. However it played out, I found it a truly harrowing story, and the contrast between his sweet children’s books and truly dismal end provided the inspiration for the song.

Musically and vocally this has a deceptively light and soulful quality and once more the Hulse / Barbieri team works wonders in the textural department.

8. Hidden Life

This is almost a lockdown scenario. Someone looks out of their window as the world passes them by.

The original demo (made with Pete Morgan and Peter Chilvers) didn’t feature the final fifth of the song (a Hulse contribution), which I feel brings some warmth and hope to what initially seems a bleak and lonely scenario.

Once more, I go into spontaneous Bacharach & David ‘ba ba’ mode near the song’s climax. My parent’s record collection has a lot to answer for!

9. One Last Call

The subject is ideologically motivated terrorism, but the scenario is intensely personal. This — like ‘I’m Better Now’ — is about someone finding a (dangerous) sense of purpose in a seemingly indifferent universe and committing a heinous and destructive crime in the name of a supposedly greater cause. I wrote it in an ambiguous way that almost suggests it could be a love song.

With its atmospheric textures, vibraphone patterns, double bass and mood of contemplation, this provided the sonic and emotional template for Late Night Laments.

The beginning became the end.

Featured release

Tim Bowness - Late Night Laments album artwork

Tim Bowness – Late Night Tales

Late Night Laments offers a collection of lush, atmospheric songs with a wide lyrical scope marking the most intimate yet universal of Bowness’s solo releases. The album is out now on Inside Out / Sony Music.

Buy the album

By Tim Bowness

Published on Tue, 15 September 20

Further reading

New Apple TV+ series ‘Long Way Up’ to feature music by Real World artists

Les Amazones d’Afrique live at Real World Studios available on Qwest TV

You can now stream the full concert, which was filmed during the launch tour for their new album.

10 tracks from across the globe to check out right now

Listen to these great tracks and many more on our regularly updated World playlist.

An Introduction to Late Night Laments by Tim Bowness

Tim, whose music is published by Real World, releases his new album on 28th August.