String arrangements recorded at Angel Studio.
Porcupine Tree – producers
Steven Wilson – mixing, audio mastering, string arrangements
Dave Stewart – string arrangements
Steve Price – engineer
Lasse Hoile – photography
Formed in 1987 in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire – Suspended activity since 2010
The band started as a solo project of singer-songwriter-guitarist STEVEN WILSON who, back in the early nineties, released a series of increasingly spaced-out ambient excursions. PT is one of the most innovative bands in prog today combining intense musicianship, unconventional composition and superb studio production. They are unquestionably one of the UK’s most inspired and inventive rock groups.
The bands 4th studio album from ’96. “Signify” saw Porcupine Tree truly gell as a studio band producing a blend of psychedelia, heavy rock, melancholic pop, kraut rock, and wild experimentation that brought the best out of each band member. Their latest two albums (“Stupid Dream” and “Lightbulb Sun”) move the band further away from their influences and into their own catagory, by which other bands eventually will be compared. But if you are a fan of progressive, thoughtful, briliantly executed and flawlessly produced music, you will do no better than PT.
PORCUPINE TREE’s eighth studio album, “Deadwing”, was released in March 2005 by Lava Records / Warner Music. Less rock-oriented than the previous album “In Absentia”, “Deadwing” is partially based on a “surreal ghost story” screenplay written by Steven and sometime PORCUPINE TREE / NO-MAN art collaborator Mike Bennion. The 60-minute, nine-track album contains material varying from short airplay-friendly songs such as ‘Shallow’ to lengthier pieces like the 10-minute-plus ‘Arriving Somewhere But Not Here’. Most of the music was written by Steven but the album features the largest amount of full-band compositions since “Signify” in 1997. The album also features guest appearances by Adrian Belew (KING CRIMSON) and Mikael Åkerfeldt (OPETH).
In 2007 the band scored it’s biggest chart success to date with “Fear Of A Blank Planet”. Featuring contributions from Alex Lifeson and Robert Fripp it made the album charts in both the UK and USA and saw them play to larger and larger crowds on the subsequent world tour. This uplift in fortunes was due in part to the band signing to Roadrunner Records who really got behind the band. In 2009 the band released “The Incident” their most ambitious work to date and also their most successful, charting highly in the UK, USA and across Europe.
Porcupine Tree were an English rock band formed by musician Steven Wilson in 1987. The band began essentially as a solo project for Wilson, who created all of the band’s music. By late 1993, however, he wanted to work in a band environment, bringing on frequent collaborators Richard Barbieri as keyboardist, Colin Edwin as bassist, and Chris Maitland as drummer to form the first permanent lineup. With Wilson as lead vocalist and guitarist, this remained the lineup until February 2002, when Maitland left the band and Gavin Harrison was recruited to replace him.
Porcupine Tree’s early sound evoked a style of psychedelic rock comparable to that of progressive rock band Pink Floyd. Upon signing with Kscope record label in the late 1990s, the band approached a more mainstream alternative rock sound. By the early 2000s, the band had signed to a major record label and shifted their sound again, this time in a more progressive metal direction.
After the release and tour in support of their tenth studio album, The Incident, their biggest commercial success to date, the band became inactive as Wilson committed himself to his solo work, and other members began working on their own separate projects. Wilson hasn’t ruled out a reformation, but has no particular plans for it either.
During a career spanning more than 20 years, Porcupine Tree earned critical acclaim from critics and fellow musicians, developed a cult following, and became an influence for new artists. However, their work mostly stayed away from mainstream music, being described by publications such as Classic Rock and PopMatters as “the most important band you’d never heard of.”
Porcupine Tree was born in 1987 as an outlet for the home studio explorations of Steven Wilson (born in London, 3rd November 1967) into psychedelic, experimental and progressive music. In fact Wilson had already been making music for several years prior to this and was a musically precocious teenager who taught himself to play guitar and keyboards. His early tape releases with bands such as Altamont and Karma had already become known in the musical underground although Wilson later described the fact that these tapes had become collectable amongst his fans (largely because of the inclusion of early versions of later P.T. tracks like “Nine Cats”, “Small Fish” and “This Long Silence”) as “a bit like a painter having his nursery school blots exhibited”.
In 1987 Wilson started the 2 projects that would take him into the professional music world. The first of these was an art-rock trio NO-MAN formed with singer Tim Bowness and violinist Ben Coleman. But the second began life almost as a joke between two friends. SW and his friend Malcom Stocks developed an almost entirely fictional history of a legendary seventies group complete with non-existent band members and an absurd discography this was The Porcupine Tree.
To back up the story Steven recorded several hours worth of music supposedly by this imaginary band. This was all done as pure self indulgence but by early 1989 Steven rated some of the music highly enough to compile a cassette “Tarquin’s Seaweed Farm” and sent out copies to people that he felt might be interested. One of them went to the underground UK magazine Freakbeat, run by Richard Allen and Ivor Trueman. Unknown to Steven at the time they were in the process of setting up their own record company. Despite the fact that they gave the tape a rather lukewarm review in the magazine they invited Porcupine Tree to contribute a track to their first release, a compilation album of the best underground psychedelic groups.
This was ultimately to take another 18 months or so to come to fruition and in the meantime Steven began to distribute Porcupine Tree’s music in the form of “Tarquin’s Seaweed Farm” and it’s follow up “The Nostalgia Factory”, both complete with booklets containing the imaginary history and other misleading information. These tapes built up an underground interest in the name which was added to by the eventual release of the newly named Delerium record label’s first compilation album “A Psychedelic Psauna” which featured the Porcupine Tree track “Linton Samuel Dawson”. Delerium also reissued the first 2 Porcupine Tree tapes. Shortly afterwards Steven was invited by the new label to be one of the first artists to sign to the Delerium label. The original invitation was to reissue both the tapes as double albums, but Steven decided instead to compile the best material onto one double album which became “On the Sunday of Life…”, the 3rd release on the new label (most of the remainder of the music from the original eventually emerged on the “Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape” album). “On the Sunday of Life…” was issued in early 1992 in a small run of 1000 copies in a deluxe gatefold sleeve. Such was the interest from the press and public that this small run sold out almost immediately and was repressed along with a CD version. Among other tracks the album contained a future Porcupine Tree classic and frequent concert encore in “Radioactive Toy”. By 2000 “On the Sunday of Life…” had racked up sales of 20,000 copies.
While this was happening Steven’s other group NO-MAN had signed a record deal with One Little Indian (home of Bjork and The Shamen among others) and were beginning to release records to an ecstatic press response. It was NO-MAN that allowed Steven to give up his day job in the computer industry and become a full time professional musician and therefore dedicate even more time to his “side project”. As the first Porcupine Tree album had been very much a self indulgent and in some ways nostalgic look back at Steven’s favourite music from the 60’s and 70’s he felt in order to take the project forward it was important to develop the sound into new and more contemporary areas. The first fruits of these new sessions was a 30 minute single that fused the Orb (then the biggest thing in music) and liquid rock guitar soloing, all strung together with a narrative taken from sixties LSD propaganda LPs. It was a major underground hit, reaching the UK independent Top 20 and a perfect representation of how the dissolution of boundaries between genres characterised the best music of the nineties.
In fact “Voyage 34” was a track recorded for another prospective Porcupine Tree double album “Up the Downstair”. However, when the album eventually emerged in mid 1993 the decision not to include the single had
slimmed down the album to a single record. “Up the Downstair” was greeted with rapture, Melody Maker describing it as “a psychedelic masterpiece…. one of the albums of the year”. The album continued the fusion of dance and rock and also featured guest appearances from two future full-time Porcupine Tree members Richard Barbieri (ex-Japan) and Colin Edwin.
In November of 1993 “Voyage 34” was reissued alongside an additional 12 inch remix by Astralasia. With non-existent radio play it still managed to enter the NME indie chart for six weeks and became an underground chill-out classic.
The profile of Porcupine Tree had now grown to the extent that the question of live performances could no longer be ignored. Thus in December 1993 Porcupine Tree became a live unit featuring in addition to Steven, Colin Edwin (bass) Chris Maitland (drums) and Richard Barbieri (keyboards). All three new members of the group had worked with Steven on various projects over the preceding years and all were excellent musicians sympathetic to the sound and direction of Porcupine Tree. The new line up had an immediate chemistry as illustrated by the “Spiral Circus” album (issued on vinyl only in 1996) which contained recordings from their first ever 3 performances, including a BBC Radio One session for Mark Radcliffe, who was an early champion of the group.
New music was already underway. The next album would not emerge until early 1995, but was preceded by the classic single “Stars Die / Moonloop”, the last 2 tracks to be recorded during the album sessions and the first to feature the new band. The subsequent album “The Sky Moves Sideways” was as expansive soundscape of melody and ambient rock experimentation, but would prove to be a transitional work with half recorded before the formation of the band and half recorded after. Most of the album was taken up with the 35 minute title track, which at one point Steven intended to be long enough to occupy the whole album ! It also entered the NME, Melody Maker and Music Week charts. Together with the “Moonloop” EP, this album became the first Porcupine Tree music to be issued in America in the autumn of 1995 and attracted very favourable press on both sides of the Atlantic. The band supported the album with numerous gigs throughout the year at major venues in the UK, The Netherlands, Italy and Greece.
Partly unsatisfied with the half band/half solo nature of “The Sky Moves Sideways”, Porcupine Tree promptly got down to the task of recording the first proper band record and worked sporadically over the next year on developing a tighter and more ambitious rock sound.
May 1996 saw the release of the first fruits of these sessions, the single “Waiting” which entered all UK indie charts and the UK National chart attracting airplay all over Europe. It was followed by “Signify” the first album to fully reflect the powerful live sound of the band, blending together numerous rock, and avant-garde styles whilst absorbing many diverse influences and relying on none. A large amount of major European Press followed the release, with the UK’s Q magazine describing “Signify”, as “a powerful album”. The band went on to complete a highly successful European tour.
Porcupine Tree continued to increase in popularity abroad during 1997 and in March played to an audience of over 5,000 in Rome over three nights – all of which were recorded for the 1997 live album “Coma Divine”. This album was released as a goodbye to Delerium Records who felt they could no longer offer the kind of resources the band needed in order to continue to build their profile worldwide (however Richard Allen from Delerium continues to be involved in the day to day running of the band with his company Big Brother Management). In late 1997 the band’s first three albums were remastered and reissued. “Signify” also saw a release in the USA on Miles Copeland’s ARK 21 label.
Steven, Richard, Colin and Chris spent all of 1998 recording their fifth studio album, a release that reflected the band’s move towards a more song orientated sound. At the time of recording the band had no record deal but later that year they signed to the international Snapper/K-Scope label and in March of 1999 the album “Stupid Dream” was issued, supported by a lengthy tour of the UK, Italy, Greece, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, France, Poland and the USA. The 3 singles taken from the album – “Piano Lessons”, “Stranger By the Minute” and “Pure Narcotic” – all achieved mainstream exposure in the USA and in Europe and appeared well placed in the UK independent charts and on radio station playlists. Although initially the album was such a departure that some older fans were unsure, it brought the band many new fans and went on to become the band’s best selling and most acclaimed release to date. The band ended 1999 with a sold out show at the Scala in London.
The time spent looking for a record deal had not been wasted and only a few months after the release of “Stupid Dream” the band were ready to begin work on a follow up, recorded during the transition into the new millennium and completed in February 2000. With string arrangements provided by Dave Gregory of XTC “Lightbulb Sun” built on the mix of songwriting, soundscaping and rock dynamics of “Stupid Dream” but developed it into something altogether more intense and organic, a band confidently in control of their sound. The album was released on May 22nd 2000, preceded by the single “Four Chords That Made a Million”. Another sold out show at the Scala in London began a short run of UK shows, to be followed later in the year by European festival dates and a major tour supporting Dream Theater.
The band continued to tour through the end of 2000 and the start of 2001, taking in Israel for the first time, as well as their first major tour of Germany. A special double CD edition of the Lightbulb Sun album was issued in Israel and Germany and in May “Recordings”, a limited edition collection of EP tracks and out-takes from the previous two albums, was released as the band’s final release under their Snapper/KScope contract. In June 2001 the band played a short US tour, culminating in a sold out show at the Bottom Line in New York City. Shortly afterwards Porcupine Tree announced that they had signed a new international record deal with Lava/Atlantic Records.
In February 2002 Porcupine Tree’s first ever line-up change occurs when drummer Chris Maitland leaves after 8 years with the band. The band welcomes new drummer and long term acquaintance Gavin Harrison to the line-up.
In March, as a major retrospective box set of the band’s early work, “Stars Die – the Delerium Years 1991-97” is released. At the same time the band commence recording their first major label album, drawing from a pool of 30 new songs written by Steven in the previous 2 years. Sessions take place in New York and London, with veteran engineer Paul Northfield (Rush, Ozzy Osbourne, Hole) and string arranger Dave Gregory also playing major roles in the making of the record. Mixing of the new album is completed in LA in May with Tim Palmer. The new line up of the band is further augmented by additional touring vocalist/guitarist John Wesley for a short pre-album release US tour in July 2002. Many venues are sold out and the shows are received rapturously by both old and new fans alike.
The eagerly awaited new album “In Absentia” is released by Lava Records in September 2002 (European release Jan 2003). It is the band’s most accomplished and complete work to date, featuring a much heavier sound on some tracks, but also some of the band’s most beautiful and fragile works. The album receives great praise worldwide and, despite little or no airplay, goes on to become the band’s best selling album shifting over 100,000 copies in it’s first year of release, and charting in several European countries. To promote the album the band undertake four further tours of Europe and North America, including one with acclaimed Swedish metal band Opeth. During these tours the visual element of the band’s performance is taken to new heights with the involvement of film-maker and photographer Lasse Hoile who creates a dark and surreal visual counterpoint to the PT’s music. The long promotional campaign for In Absentia ends on November 30th as the band play a homecoming show to a packed out London Astoria.
During 2003 Porcupine Tree also set up their own label and on-line store. The first release on the Transmission label is a studio session recorded for XM Radio, Washington. The band plan to make a series of well recorded and packaged live and studio recordings available through the label.
2004 will see the band commence work on an ambitious new Porcupine Tree album, their second for Lava/Atlantic. The album will also take the form of a film script (and therefore hopefully later a film). The band’s first DVD project is also planned for later in the year, as well as further live releases through their Transmission label.
Porcupine Tree – “Fear Of A Blank Planet” Album cover photo (front)