Here’s where the disparate strands of Wilson’s musical DNA finally start coming together. The Space Era is named for Porcupine Tree’s predominant aesthetic sensibility—a spacey psychedelia—from its inception to the release of Stupid Dream in 1999. In the meantime, what did we miss, because your author couldn’t find much of this stuff online?
- In 1986 Wilson participated heavily in Coltsfoot’s demo tape Action at a Distance, performing on some tracks and producing others. The tape would be released in 1988.
- No Man Is An Island released a single in 1987 called “From a Toyshop Window,” which Wikipedia describes as a hybrid of progressive rock and synthpop.
- Also in 1987, Wilson was briefly the keyboardist for Pride of Passion / Blazing Apostles (they rebranded and renamed themselves right around when he was there).
- 1989 saw two No Man Is An Island EPs, The Girl from Missouri and Swagger. Wikipedia describes the title track of The Girl from Missouri as a “waltz time ballad” that would later be disowned, and Swagger as “aggressive synth-pop,” indicating a band (befitting, considering the relative turbulence its lineup was experiencing at the time) that didn’t quite know what it wanted to do yet. Evidently once No-Man stabilized they felt that some of the stuff off these two EPs were good enough to be re-recorded and re-released, and we’ll get to those versions eventually.
I couldn’t find a whole lot from anything up there. From Blazing Apostles, all I could dig up from the two songs he played on were their live renditions at the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden in 1987. They sound a lot like A Flock of Seagulls.
From Coltsfoot there’s In The Hour Between, which is a perfectly serviceable prog ballad. The tape it’s on is mostly important as the first thing Wilson’s produced for a band of which he was not himself a member, and it sounds exactly like how you’d expect it to sound in 1988. That’s a roundabout way of saying it owes more to Altamont/Karma than anything he did later.
As for No-Man, first up is Forest Almost Burning, off The Girl from Missouri, which has some properly twitchy violin work. It has the distinct air of a band, from its precarious perch in 1989, gesturing toward a sound still under construction…which makes sense, considering No-Man would become influenced by trip hop and Blue Lines wouldn’t be released for another two years. The other one was Bleed, from Swagger, which sounds all right. The percussion is nice, the guitar work is proper heavy, but it’s…very strange listening to Tim Bowness alternate between his usual vaguely Bowie-esque croon and that weird, uncomfortable growl/snarl thing he does at the chorus. Can also understand why we don’t hear much of his climactic bellowing after this, too. If both songs are representative of their output at about this time, then these EPs are clearly the work of a band who are still trying to figure themselves out.
Should probably also mention that I am not a particularly huge fan of No-Man myself, but they nevertheless feature prominently at this stage in Wilson’s musical history, so we’ll see how much I can look past that and be objective.