The Tim Bowness contribution to 2021 is a fascinating trip back into his formative days with Plenty.
Release date: 25th June 2021
Label: Available at Burning Shed
Format: 2xCD / digital
I’ve read somewhere (and now, of course, I can’t find the actual quote) that Tim Bowness rates the Eighties work he did with Plenty very highly. Here’s an abundance of evidence to appreciate why. Historically, the post-punk/art rock hybrid of Plenty has proved a fascinating part of the Tim Bowness story. The bridge to No-Man and beyond.
Having reunited for the excellent It Could Be Home in 2018, it’s a period that has had a major impact on the Bowness career path. One only needs to listen to The Album Years podcasts to gain an understanding of the breadth of his musical appreciation. So yes, you can expect some polish and lush textures that you’d find with the likes of The Blue Nile, David Sylvian and Talk Talk – as well as the influence of icons whose names are part of the ‘name bingo’ you can play listening to The Album Years like Bowie, Eno, Gabriel and Kate Bush. Maybe we should expect the Fripp and Hammill inspiration to be somewhere in there too? Let’s see.
The trio of Tim Bowness (vocals, backing vocals, FX), Brian Hulse (guitars, pianos, synths, drum programming) and
David K Jones (bass, fretless bass, double bass, bass pedals) are joined by a crew who were destined to become long term musical collaborators – Tom Atherton on drums, Michael Bearpark -on guitars, fretless bass, Peter Chilvers on piano, synths and second drummer Charles Grimsdale.
Quite wisely, they’ve presented the ‘new’ (the reunion album!) and old on separate discs. Old delivers present-day reworkings of songs that are very much cut of the cloth with which Tim Bowness has cloaked his contemporary work. A mini-album in itself that contains seven contemporary interpretations of 1980’s Plenty songs not included on the reunion record.
First impressions are of the lovely David Rhodes style groove that’s not for the first time, reminiscent of something Gabrielesque in The Blessed Ones. And Tim Bowness croons and guides us through the irony of being those blessed ones. The Walker makes me want to do an Alan Partridge style air bass – the drum sound and rubbery bassline being perfect fare for the Partridge mobile home. Add some discordant keyboard notes (a la elbow’s Craig Potter) and then a snakey Fripp-like guitar line and spoken word vocal and you’ve emerged into a terrific little piece. By contrast, War Games By The Sea and particularly Towards The Shore are more typical breathy Bowness pieces amidst less is more, stark atmospherics.
The Other Side (The Other Version) may be familiar to some from the inclusion on the extras disc to Late Night Laments from 2020 and I have to go back there but there’s a definite Gabriel (More Than This) vibe about this version. Underneath lies a nagging repetitive figure that hints at something dark and ominous.
Bleed A Little perhaps gives the biggest clue about the origins of these songs. An insistent fizzing synth line instills the hard to resist urge to lapse into that jerky Eighties dance style that we all recall from countless Top Of The Pops. A friendly distant cousin of OMD and of course Plenty had their roots in a similar neck of the woods. And anyone intrigued by “three generations from clogs to clogs” will have to do their own googling…
And onto Borrowed, where the presence of five cover versions always piques the interest. There’s something about a band doing a cover version; how far their interpretation will reimagine the original. There’s probably an article on ‘cover versions that are better than the original’ somewhere. Either that or one that’s in gestation. In any case, here we get the Plenty trio to stamp a different identity on songs by It’s Immaterial, Suzanne Vega, The Teardrop Explodes, Kevin Coyne and Hank Williams.
So the curios begin as we go to “New Brighton in the rain,” all empty boarding houses and closed arcades. Written to be sung by Tim Bowness to be fair. Suzanne Vega’s Soap And Water gets a little more meat on its bones and an injection of life. Tiny Children is pretty faithful although next to Julian Cope’s clipped vocal, one that Tim was born to sing and there’s a satisfying lushness about the general stipped back arrangement. For me, the pick of the borrowed section along with Kevin Coyne’s futuristic Forgive Me running a close second. Hank Williams? Hmm. Whilst the subject matter is totally apt, the jury here is out. Maybe a Marmite selection but the opportunity to appreciate a significant reworking, forty years on.
Older takes us back to the original and unfiltered Plenty demos. The roots untouched, the seven songs give a window into what’s literally a different time and as we’ve mentioned elsewhere, the chance to uncover the roots of what some of them became. They find the Bowness/Hulse songwriting partnership flexing their fledgling wings. They might be presented in a warts-and-all state, but there’s no way you could say these tracks were unrefined. let’s face it, by his stringent standards, Tim Bowness wouldn’t let anything less than quality see the light of day. Hidden treasures is perhaps the best term and all the ingredients are there and the delivery owes a little more to Nick Cave particularly on the haunting shimmer on Brave Dreams. Understated and as crafted as you’d expect, Old provides a fascinating glimpse into the archive.
In fact, the whole project is a highly worthwhile undertaking and in no way compromises on quality. As we’ve seen with some of the No-Man demos and alternate takes on Returning Jesus and Schoolyard Ghosts, you can always count on Tim Bowness and his associates for cool class.
Here’s the video for I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry: