Tim talks candidly about his inspirations and influences, ‘The North’ and the creative process surrounding the album with its central theme the mystique of a derelict dancing space and the untold stories we all store and suppress. Get your glad rags on …
Why the gap in solo albums? What else has been occupying your attention?
Between my debut solo album and ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’, I’ve done quite a few things, including releasing albums with No-Man, Henry Fool and Memories Of Machines, and co-producing and co-writing an album for ex-Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble.
I’ve always preferred hiding behind group identities, so I’m surprised there’s a solo album at all!
What’s the story behind the title? Is there a story?
I like each album I make to have a distinct atmosphere, and having a linking theme, mood or even image helps with that.
I was always intrigued by the sight of grand buildings that had fallen into a state of disrepair, so the image of an abandoned dancehall and the lives that passed through it became something of a focal point for this album. The abandoned dancehall is the sort of building I used to see growing up in the North West of England in the 1970s and 1980s.
The album is very atmospheric and at times claustrophobic, what were your inspirations and influences before and during its creation?
I go into every project as if it’s my first, and I’m directed by the music as much as much as anything else, The inspirations were primarily emotional and other than on The Warm-Up Man Forever – where I had a mish mash of intentional references from Kate Bush to Peter Gabriel and Benny Goodman to Michael Nyman – and the obviously Nick Drake influenced Waterfoot, I didn’t consciously think about influences.
Beyond the linking theme, I just wanted to make something coherent. I’m pretty obsessive when it comes to track selection and it took me months to sort out an order that satisfied me. In the process, I dropped three songs. For me, the success of the overall album flow is more important than keeping songs on for the sake of it.
To my ears the album is a story, a narrative with themes of desperation and desolation yet hope lingers throughout. Would you say that’s an accurate perception or total tosh?
There’s definitely something in that. In some ways the songs are about how people cope with change (or force it into happening).
I saw the dancehall as a linking framework, so the one thing the people in the songs have in common is that the dancehall had significance to them at some stage in their lives. It could have been where they made their living (as a bandleader, for instance), where they escaped to from everyday boredom, where they reluctantly went once with a partner, or perhaps what they dreamed of from a distance.
Although there’s plenty of gloom and doom from the tomb in the lyrics, I hope there’s some hope and optimism in there too.
Is the ‘Warm-up Man’ based on anyone in particular or is he an amalgamation of people you’ve met over the years?
The latter. It’s about a victim of the pursuit of fame.
I’ve met a lot of people on the fringes of the industry – some who were very talented – who have a desperate need for the spotlight. When they don’t achieve this, bitterness can grow. In my experience, that bitterness can either turn into a toxic resentment about others not recognising their talent, or a sort of crippling fear of exposing their ‘art’ to the public in case it only generates an indifferent response.
Just in case you’re wondering, it wasn’t about me!
It also sounds like an analogue album pertaining to an analogue world – aside from the mention of ‘email’ –the setting is hard to place.
I think that’s because it’s set in different times. Some of the pieces I imagine being set in the 1960s, some in the 1980s, some in 2014 and so on. Waterfoot is set in the 1900s.
It’s a very ‘English’ sounding album. Would you agree with that assessment?
People tell me that. I guess I have a very English sounding voice and despite having eclectic influences (including many American and mainland European artists), I’m blessed (or cursed!) with the voice I have.
Who is ‘Smiler’?
Smiler’s an amalgam of several people I knew. It’s a speculative ‘where are they are now?’ lyric. It’s bleak, but there are real life equivalents I drew inspiration from.
The name was taken from a nickname my Dad gave to a girl he used to see when he’d walk the dog. She was irrepressible and very innocent and I often wonder what happened to her. The lyric suggests it wasn’t a happy life! Hopefully, the reality is different.
What is the thinking and story behind ‘I fought against the South’? With you being Northern, what are fighting against?
Billy Liar – both the book and the film – has been one of my long-standing obsessions and the flight to London that the Julie Christie character takes definitely resonated with me as a teenager. Growing up, many of my friends saw the South as being a cosmopolitan escape from the provincial Northern towns we grew up in, so in this song the South represents change and the male character is fighting against it. The song was a depiction of a relationship in crisis. No offence was intended either to the North or the South!
Are there any plans to extend the live dates?
I really hope so. We’re doing a couple of UK dates plus a Dutch one, and the idea is that we’ll play more UK and European dates later this year or in early 2015.