No-Man are a British art-pop duo formed in 1987 as No Man Is An Island (Except The Isle Of Man) by singer Tim Bowness and multi-instrumentalist Steven Wilson (the latter also of Porcupine Tree). The band has so far produced six studio albums and a number of singles/outtakes collections (most notably, 2006's career retrospective, All The Blue Changes). The band was once lauded as "conceivably the most important English group since The Smiths" by Melody Maker music newspaper.
Originally creating a sample-based proto-trip hop/ambient/electro-pop-styled music, No-Man has pursued a more organic, diverse and band-oriented sound in subsequent years. Drawing from a diverse mix of singer-songwriter, post rock, minimalist, progressive rock, jazz and contemporary ambient sources for inspiration, No-Man's musical style is distinctive yet difficult to categorise.
Steven Wilson originally launched the band in 1986 as a solo project called No Man Is An Island (Except The Isle Of Man), recording an instrumental track called "From A Toyshop Window" which blended progressive rock with synth pop. In 1987, he linked up with singer, lyricist and occasional guitarist and keyboard player Tim Bowness, who at the time was singing with Liverpool-based art-pop band, Plenty. Both musicians brought an extremely wide set of influences and ideas to bear on the project and recorded two very diverse tracks on their first day of working together - the epic atmospheric ballad "Faith's Last Doubt" and the abrasive "Screaming Head Eternal". Both songs were later released on underground compilation albums ("Screaming Head Eternal" appeared on Plastic Head Records compilation, "Expose it").
Bowness and Wilson continued working together on recording sessions for the next two years. Some of the results surfaced ten years later on the Speak album. Influences at this point included Minimalism, 4AD artists such as This Mortal Coil, and 1960s singer-songwriters, Nick Drake and Scott Walker. However, as Wilson and Bowness state on the sleeve notes to Speak, the band's music from this period seems surprisingly distinctive and unaffected by the prevailing trends of the era it was recorded in.
Violinist Ben Coleman joined the project after becoming involved with recording sessions in late 1988. The band established a four-piece live line-up in 1989 by adding guitarist Stuart Blagden (who had previously played with Bowness in the Manchester-based band, Still). The track "The Hidden Art Of Man Ray" acted as an audition piece for both Coleman and Blagden.
No Man Is An Island released their debut single, a waltz time ballad called "The Girl From Missouri", on Plastic Head Records in mid-1989. The band was disappointed with the single and soon disowned it. Subsequent band evolutions saw flirtations with aggressive synth-pop (on the "Swagger" cassette EP) and the departure of Blagden (who would later become a well-respected jazz and Latin music player).
No-Man's pop years (1990-1994):
By 1990, No Man Is An Island had shortened their name to No-Man and become a voice/violin/guitar-and-tapes trio (with Wilson handling all other instruments and programming in the studio).
Inspired by artists such as Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest. the band incorporated dance beats and hip-hop influences into its art-pop sound. The first release under the No-Man name was the self-pressed June 1990 single release, "Colours" (a cover of the 1960s Donovan Leich song with crooned vocals and a dub-loop arrangement anticipating the later arrival of trip-hop). The single achieved Melody Maker, Sounds and Channel 4 teletext "Singles Of The Week" accolades and was re-released by Liverpool-based label Probe Plus in October, 1990.
The attention which "Colours" had received gained No-Man a recording contract with the high-profile independent label One Little Indian (at the time, famous for The Shamen and Björk) and management by Talk Talk's manager Keith Aspden (who would stay with the band until 1994). During this period, the band received highly positive UK music media support (including more Singles Of The Week in Melody Maker, Sounds and Irish music paper, Hot Press) and had 2 indie top 20 hits ("Days In The Trees" and "Ocean Song") plus a Billboard Top 40 dance hit (the US only single, "Taking It Like A Man", at #34). The band also enjoyed high profile contracts with Hit & Run Publishing and Epic/Sony in addition to their One Little Indian contract.
No-Man's debut mini-album (a compilation of EP tracks called Lovesighs - An Entertainment) was released in April 1992, and in October of the same year the band toured England with a six-piece line-up including three ex-members of the band Japan - Mick Karn, Steve Jansen and (most significantly) keyboardist Richard Barbieri. The band's first full-length album (the more pop-oriented Loveblows & Lovecries - A Confession) followed in May 1993. By this time, the live band included bass player Silas Maitland and the (unrelated) drummer Chris Maitland. (The latter would join both Wilson and Richard Barbieri in the live lineup of Porcupine Tree).
In 1994 No-Man released their second album Flowermouth. This was a far more ambitious recording than their debut release and featured many guest performers including Barbieri, Jansen, Robert Fripp and Ian Carr. The album also demonstrated Bowness and Wilson's diverse range of influences including New York Minimalism, Miles Davis and progressive rock. Although the band parted company with violinist Ben Coleman during the sessions, he made a significant contribution towards most of the tracks on the record. (Coleman would go on to work with Mick Karn, Alice and Nick Laird-Clowes as well as pursuing a career as a visual artist.)
No-Man also stopped performing live in 1994, and would not return to the stage until 2006.
The move towards art-rock (1995-2000):
Two albums released in 1996 closed the first phase of the band's career - a set of ambient dance reworkings of Flowermouth material called Flowermix and a compilation of the band's more ambient and atmospheric One Little Indian-era B-sides and rarities called Heaven Taste.
With each subsequent release the band moved further away from its more conventional pop and rock roots, mirroring the evolution of artists such as Talk Talk, David Sylvian, Radiohead, Scott Walker and Kate Bush. Since the mid-1990s, No-Man has released a steady stream of albums via Snapper Music and 3rd Stone/Adasam, featuring guests such as Fripp, Barbieri, Jansen, Theo Travis and Pat Mastellotto The band has maintained a healthy cult following as well as continued critical acclaim.
1996's Wild Opera and its 1997 companion release Dry Cleaning Ray (both released on 3rd Stone Ltd.) explored a combination of darker dance sounds, experimental art-rock and deep trip-hop, while maintaining No-Man's particular skill with ballads.
In 1999, the band released Speak, a compilation of mostly-unreleased early ambient songs recorded a decade previously but which Bowness and Wilson considered to be of equal merit to the music released on One Little Indian or 3rd Stone Ltd.
Organic balladeers (2000-present):
Speak's quieter and more atmospheric approach pointed the way towards No-Man's subsequent output. 2001's Returning Jesus (the last album to be released on 3rd Stone Ltd.) resurrected and expanded the eclectic ballad, jazz and progressive rock influences of Flowermouth and brought the band to a new and revived audience, some of whom had come in via the continued success of Wilson's other main project Porcupine Tree.
Signing a new deal with Snapper Music, the band went on to release Together We're Stranger in 2003 - a sombre, moving record with strong tone poem elements detailing (in abstract) the break-up of a relationship and responses to bereavement.
In 2006, No-Man made a rare live performance in 2006 at the Norwich Garage (part of a Burning Shed label event).
The band released Schoolyard Ghosts on 12 May 2008, receiving some of the most favourable reviews of the band's career (the album was described as "truly sublime" by Classic rock magazine). Guest musicians included Pat Mastelotto, Theo Travis, Gavin Harrison, Colin Edwin, Bruce Kaphan (ex-American Music Club) and The London Session Orchestra (arranged by Dave Stewart).
On 27 May 2008, it was announced that No-Man's music will be featured in the film by award-winning student film-maker Dan Faltz, Weak Species. The film is based on the writings of Dennis Cooper and is currently being considered for expanded feature film treatment.
No-Man played its first full performance in fifteen years at London's Bush Hall on 29 August 2008,. This performance was followed by two more concerts in Zoetermeer (The Netherlands) and Düsseldorf (Germany) on the 3 and 4 September respectively. The Zoetermeer concert was No-Man's first concert outside of the UK.
Mixtaped - a double DVD package including a film of the sell-out London performance, a documentary of the group's history and assorted promotional videos - was released in October 2009. Early releases of the DVD ordered from Burning Shed included an audio CD recording of highlights from the Bush Hall show. The DVD was voted #5 in the Classic Rock Presents Prog 2010 critic's poll.
On 22nd December 2011, the band announced through their Facebook page that a new live recording, titled Love and Endings, recorded the Leamington Spa Assembly in October 2011 would be released on the 27th of February 2012.
Tim Bowness - lead & backing vocals (plus occasional guitars, keyboards, tapes and programming) (1987-present),
Steven Wilson - guitars, keyboards, programming, samples, various instruments, backing vocals, engineering (1987-present),
Ben Coleman - violins (1988-1993),
Stuart Blagden - guitars (1989-1990),
Guest studio contributors
All four other past and present members of Porcupine Tree, Steve Wilson's other band, including bassist Colin Edwin, drummers Chris Maitland and Gavin Harrison, and keyboardist Richard Barbieri.,
electronic artists Roger Eno, Faultline, Scanner, Muslimgauze and The Shamen,
jazz musicians Ian Carr and Theo Travis,
King Crimson personnel Robert Fripp, Pat Mastelotto, and Mel Collins,
ex-Japan and Rain Tree Crow members Steve Jansen and Mick Karn,
US pedal steel Bruce Kaphan (ex-American Music Club).,
Most recent live members
Stephen Bennett - keyboards,
Pete Morgan - bass guitar,
Michael Bearpark - guitar,
Steve Bingham - electric violin,
Andy Booker - electronic drums