No-Man – Returning Jesus
By Pete Clemons
No-Man are: Steven Wilson Tim Bowness
No-Man – Returning Jesus
I guess we could all make that great claim for a great band yet to be discovered. One that has been around for a while, that’s totally gotten into your soul, while all around nobody but nobody seems to bring them up in conversation.
Well for me that band is No-Man. And their splendid release from 2001 ‘Returning Jesus’, is getting a whole new makeover. In addition the original album will be accompanied by a host of other tracks recorded during the ‘Returning Jesus’ sessions.
Formed in the early part of 1990, eclectic art rock trio No-Man - previously known as ‘No Man Is an Island (Except the Isle Of Man)’. At the core of the band was vocalist Tim Bowness, Ben Coleman on Violin and Steven Wilson on guitars and keyboards.
No-Man released their first self-financed single ‘Colours’ in August of the same year. A sensuous reworking of a Donovan original, it quickly achieved the attention of the music press.
A second single ‘Days in the Trees’ described as ‘an ambitious attempt at fusing timeless classical grandeur and modern dance momentum’ achieved similar critical success and set the musical agenda for what was to follow.
The albums, ‘Lovesighs – An Entertainment’ released April 1992 and ‘Loveblows and Lovecries – A confession’ released May 1993, confirmed the promise of No-Man’s early singles and solidified their reputation as a creative entity and an ability for combining the extremes of pop and added experimentalism.
Among those who recognised the bands potential were ex-Japan members Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Mick Karn, who toured as No-Man’s backing band in October 1992 and contributed to the ‘Loveblows and Lovecries’ album.
During 1994 No-Man released their next album ‘Flowermouth’. During the sessions for the album the band lost violinist Ben Coleman who had made significant contributions towards it. No-Man would also stop performing live in 1994 and would not return to the live stage again until 2006.
‘Flowermouth’ featured significant contributions from Robert Fripp, Mel Collins, Steve Jansen and Lisa Gerard and further enhancing No-Man’s growing reputation.
And understandably, I guess, as the profile and workload of Steven Wilson’s other band ‘Porcupine Tree’ grew the less you began to hear of No-Man. Despite that new releases did continue to appear. During 1996 the album ‘Wild Opera’ was released soon to be followed by a companion release ‘Dry Cleaning Ray’ in 1997. A clear change of direction was noticeable with these releases. Gone had the more ‘danceable’ rhythms and in came darker, more powerful, jazzier tempos.
I personally cannot remember the initial release of ‘Returning Jesus’ as being heralded in in any great fashion. It had kind of evolved over four years or so after an EP of new material titled ‘Carolina Skeletons’ appeared in 1998. In an old newsletter released by the band during September 1999 mentioned that the much delayed new album, formerly titled ‘Lighthouse’ had been completed. It featured Steve Jansen, Colin Edwin, Ian Carr, Theo Travis, Ben Christophers and Ian Dixon and would be released early 2000. And then another newsletter from April 2000 simply mentioned that the new album would be available later that year. And then I remember at a Porcupine Tree gig I attended in Northampton during the early part of 2001, there it was on the ‘merch desk’.
A shimmering introduction soon to be followed by Ian Carr’s unmistakeable trumpet opens up ‘returning Jesus’ on a track called ‘Only Rain’. And through to its finale, the stunningly beautiful ‘All That you Are’ this is indeed as fine an album that I have ever heard.
‘Returning Jesus’ is as powerful and intense as it is delicate. And upon re-release it will be out there once again, just waiting to be discovered by a whole new generation of listeners. And its re-release date just happens to coincide with Steven Wilson’s 50th birthday.