Thursday, July 18, 2013

Porcupine Tree

Well, Pete Clemons has chalked up 50 articles for the Coventry Telegraph with this article!!! Well done Peter.

This is not a Coventry band but Coventry comes into the picture at some stage and is favourite band of Pete Clemons, who has chosen to focus on them for this landmark article. It's an amazing musical story as the band didn't even exist at first but....(no spoilers I'm afraid - read the article..).

Porcupine's Steve Living his Fantasy.
 Pete Clemons 

IT may have escaped some people that British band leader, song writer and producer Steven Wilson recently received his fourth Grammy nomination in the "Best Surround Sound Album" category for an album called 'Storm Corrosion', an album he jointly collaborated with Mikael Akerfeldt of Swedish rock band Opeth. In fact all of his previous three nominations were in the same surround sound category.

Steven Wilson is a pioneer in the field of 5.1 Surround Sound, commonly used by cinemas, but nowadays being preferred by a lot of music listeners. He was previously recognised for Porcupine Tree's 2007 album 'Fear of a Blank Planet', their 2009 release 'The Incident' and the magnificent 'Grace for Drowning' album that Steven released under his own name during 2011.

My own introduction to Steven was around 1989/90 when he was creating music and releasing cassettes of his work through a magazine called Delerium. The roots of this music actually date back several years earlier. A lad who I worked with back then had recommended the tapes to me by initially lending me his copies. I was immediately hooked and subsequently ordered copies of the tapes for myself.

The cassettes came with pamphlets that introduced you to the various band members of a legendary band called The Porcupine Tree. They gave you a brief history of the band, information about where the tracks had been recorded and what festivals the band had performed at. However, it soon became apparent that all this information was a complete work of fantasy and The Porcupine Tree were in fact a fictitious band.

Now don't get me wrong, this was not fantasy of the sinister kind. This was simply a couple of young lads from Hemel Hempstead, Steven and his school friend Malcolm Stocks, who both had incredible imaginations and who probably never imagined or realised at that time the huge interest all this stuff would create.

Promoted by word of mouth those early cassettes soon sold out and Delerium quickly realised they had something rather special on their hands so Steven set about remixing and re-recording some of the tracks from those early cassette tapes. The result was that in July 1991 Porcupine Tree released their debut album 'On the Sunday of Life' on the Delerium record label.

It was a lavish double LP complete with gatefold sleeve.

This was followed up in May 1993 by the 'band's' second album 'Up the Downstair'. Apparently this release was also to have been another double LP release which was due to include the 34 minute CD single called 'Voyage 34' that had been released during 1992.

But in the end it was released as a single LP. Up the Downstair also included other musicians other than Steven. Namely Colin Edwin on bass and Richard Barbieri on keyboards Talk began of the possibilities for the band to play live. Late 1993 saw them recruit drummer Chris Maitland and on December 4 Porcupine Tree made their concert debut upstairs at The Nags Head pub in High Wycombe. The event sold out very quickly pulling in people from all over the country.

A free monthly magazine, that existed at the time in and around Coventry called Deliverance, had picked up quite early on the band and had taken a keen interest by publishing album reviews and conducting an interview with Steven Wilson. Whether this led to the gig or not I do not know but a week after the High Wycombe gig, on Saturday December 11, Porcupine Tree appeared in Coventry at Antics Club, formerly known as the Tic Toc Club.

However, the band had hit a problem in as much that keyboard player Richard Barbieri was unavailable for the gig. So the show went ahead as a three-piece lineup, Rather than play their expected set, the band simply improvised, by performing their ambient/techno/trance track Voyage 34 for the entire evening. This was a time when Coventry was gripped by rave music and venues like the Eclipse nightclub were at the very forefront of that scene. The crowd lapped it up and the evening was a great success. To my knowledge this was the only occasion the band has ever played as a three-piece.

1994 saw the band establishing itself on the live circuit and further gigs ensued, not just in the UK but also on the continent. It also saw the band record their next album 'The Sky Moves Sideways' which was released in February 1995. This was the first Porcupine Tree album to involve the whole band and the first to include real drums.

April 1995 saw the band return to Coventry. This time the gig was at The General Wolfe pub and this time a full set was performed that was built around and showcased Porcupine Tree's recently released third album. It was a stunning gig which again played to a large enthusiastic audience.

To date Porcupine Tree, albeit with a slightly different line-up, have released a total of 10 studio albums along with many live recordings, special editions and other spin-offs. They also have a different record label and management. Porcupine Tree gigs have spread too far off places like the US, Australia and India. In the UK they have performed in grand venues such as the Royal Albert Hall.

Steven Wilson has just released his third critically acclaimed solo album 'The Raven That Refused To Sing'. Another world wide tour has been announced. Over the years he has been involved in many other bands and musical projects, both as musician and producer that include No-Man and Blackfield.

He is also incredibly well respected in the field of re-mixing and has been entrusted with the back catalogue of classic 1970s albums such as those by King Crimson, Caravan, ELP, Family and Jethro Tull.

Having followed Steven Wilson's career as best I can for over 20 years, watching his rise from the humble beginnings of producing and selling homemade cassettes through to the grandeur of today's special editions that accompany each of his releases, has been fascinating.

His dedication to, and the risks he has taken for his art which in turn is for those who enjoy it all, have been truly inspirational.

Surly that illusive Grammy award is not too far away.

It all leaves me to wonder if those pamphlets that were given away free with those early cassette releases, that spoke of this legendary band, do now seem to have been some kind of prophecy as they appear to have turned into reality.

Much more from Porcupine Tree and Steve Wilson on youtube.......

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