Venue : The Rosemary Branch Theatre, Islington, London
Date : Saturday 22 August 2009 (2pm and 7pm)
Date of writing this review : 23 August 2009
20 years after performing their debut concert at the venue, no-man returned to Islington for the launch of the forthcoming double dvd, Mixtaped. There were two showings, at 2pm and 7pm, and I decided to attend both. Neil Matthars (from Paradise9) and his far better half, Emma, were there in the afternoon, which came as no surprise to any of us because we do tend to end up at the same gigs – and will again next Saturday when I attend Mattfest at The Peel, although mainly because Neil is playing with Casual Affair. Then in the evening I met Alison, Jeff (crazyj), and even though my other fellow gig-stalkers Keith and Rachel could not be there, Rachel’s parents and sister came along – so they can tell Keith and Rachel what they missed, and also let keith know that one of his University lecturers was there, in the form of guitarist, Michael Bearpark. I will detail what happened at the afternoon showing, and add in any further details from the evening.
While we were waiting to go into the upstairs viewing room I had a short conversation with no-man vocalist, Tim Bowness, who explained that when they played their first gig here in January 1989 it was a much different venue, very much a working man’s pub, and they played to about 10 people and 2 dogs. Today, they had sold out the event, and there were about 60 people at each viewing. And as Richard Smith, director and producer of the dvd, said in his introduction to the viewing, the gig itself actually took place in a downstairs room round the back of the pub. Richard explained the format of the event – there would be three little films. The first would be 20 minutes from Returning, a documentary about the band from Richard and Andrew Swann, this part being particularly the most untold of the untold stories, detailing the mid 90s period when they went out on their own after leaving the One Little Indian record label, and after they had parted company with violinist, Ben Coleman, who is present at the evening showing. The second would be a new video for Back When You Were Beautiful, from the Together We’re Stranger album. This new video had been put together by Neil Whitman. Richard explained that when they were putting together the documentary they kept coming back to white gaps which were labelled ‘insert video here’, but the band had not produced many videos, or even had any still shots from the relevant times. It soon became clear they would not be able to put together all the video they wanted, but this was one they had completed. The third would be about an hour of Mixtaped, the live dvd recording the band’s performance at Bush Hall, London, on 29 August 2008. And at the evening showing Carl Glover is taking photos throughout the introduction.
The clip from the documentary is fascinating, stark, open and honest, and has a wonderful flow to it, excellently mixing musical parts into the ongoing female narrative. It contained much of great interest, including a discussion of how no-man fits with Porcupine Tree, and Steven Wilson suggesting no-man are the haze of smoke after the party has ended. Carl Glover was prominent in this clip and comes across very well, suggesting Steven and Tim are the French Pet Shop Boys, while also talking about the ‘tea ceremony’ of playing a vinyl album for the first time – I was fortunate to be able to chat with him between viewings and he is an extremely pleasant and likeable person, very humble with his immense talent, and very willing to agree to all my autograph demands. The clip ended with a couple of moments from the show at The Garage in Norwich on 16 June 2006. I do not want to say too much in case I spoil a first viewing of the full documentary for you, but I was left wanting to see more, to hear the rest of the story, to see how it would be portrayed, and overall had a feeling of being very impressed with the quality of the clip that had been shown.
The new video for Back When You Were Beautiful was an animated piece, quirky but gentle, featuring an old character with accentuated, characature features, remembering his wife, who has passed on, seeing her in the mirror, watching a cine-projection of them dancing, walking off to the church graveyard in the rain and seeing a vision of her there before we are taken up into the clouds and see them dancing together again as it fades to a close. It has a poignant feel to it, and very well matches the music.
The main part of the event is the showing of much of the forthcoming live performance dvd. We had a wonderful violin opening for Only Rain, which leads straight into Time Travel In Texas. Then the guitar echoing in to Pretty Genius, followed by All The Blue Changes. This was followed by the culmination of the concert, Lighthouse, followed by the cymbals ticking into Carolina Skeletons, electronic drums and an oriental feel to open Returning Jesus, and the guitar rolling through into Mixtaped, from the latest album, Schoolyard Ghosts, which brought the main set to an end. We also got the encores, first of all Ben Coleman joining them on stage for Things Change as Tim says, “this is a track from Flowermouth” (and Jeff tells me he shouted out ‘Things Change’ at the gig, just to be on a Steven Wilson release, but they seem to have edited him out !), and finally Watching Over Me. The dvd then closes with Mixtaped playing behind the credits. I have to say that what I saw looked and sounded brilliant. It superbly captures the dark, brooding character of Tim Bowness, while not ignoring the musicians around him – and does not simply focus on Steven Wilson in that respect. The mix of closeups and wider shots comes together very well, and there are some interesting angles at work, while not becoming overly complicated. It is expected to be released at the end of September or the beginning of October and I will be ordering my copy from Burning Shed as soon as it is available.
I would just like to mention thanks to the guy and girl manning the Burning Shed desk, who were helpful throughout, and to Steven Wilson, Tim Bowness and Carl Glover for being so pleasant and accomodating in putting up with my many (very many) autograph requests. Their presence made this an especially enjoyable occasion, and should be a model for events of this sort. It was also great to be able to meet members of the live band, and to have a chat with violinist, Steve Bingham – there are rumours of future gigs, so hopefully that will happen in the not too distant future. In the meantime, you can catch Tim Bowness performing as part of the launch for the new Judy Dyble album, Talking With Strangers, at the 100 Club in London on Thursday 27 August, singing backing vocals for Judy’s set, as well as performing a set of no-man songs.