Depending upon whom you choose to believe, Steven Wilson is either the saviour of prog rock, in his early incarnation, or is a complete sell-out, based upon his later veer towards a more commercial direction and his latest solo album, The Future Bites. But what’s indisputable is that he’s made his mark, reinvigorating prog rock with his ability to write and produce music which revitalised the prog scene, and Nick Holmes’ book takes an in-depth look at the nature of the mark Wilson’s made with his band Porcupine Tree, looking at all the studio albums, from 1992’s On The Sunday Of Life to 2009’s The Incident, and the two EPs the band released prior to their ceasing to perform after their Albert Hall gig in 2010, plus also the ‘live’ albums made by the band.
Despite the renown he’s held in by his fans, and despite his being included in lists of great prog guitarists, Wilson surprisingly states ‘I was never a good musician and wasn’t interested in becoming one, so I gravitated towards the stuff which was easy to play as it allowed me to continue on my journey without being good’. Many fans who regard him as a genius might disagree here!
Holmes’ book charts Steven Wilson’s journey, from making reel-to-reel tapes as a teenager in his bedroom of songs he made with his imaginary band, Porcupine Tree, to the summit of prog; from the small beginnings of making tapes with names like Tarquin’s Seaweed Farm to becoming a band capable of selling out gigs at the Albert Hall; from making albums which initially only sold minimally to making albums like In Abstentia which sold over 100,000 in the first year. Along the way, his ability to create sounds in the studio has now seen him becoming the ‘go-to’ producer for major bands wanting one of their older, reissued albums remixed/remastered.
One of the issues involved in writing a book about the music of a band like Porcupine Tree is attempting to make it accessible and readable, and to avoid describing the music played with the form of pretentious babble critics tend to abhor. That Nick Holmes is a fan as well as a musician is evident from the tone taken here, and this is a book which both the dedicated fan, who wants to know more about a particular album, and the music fan who knows little about Porcupine Tree but wants an interesting account of the music they’ve made, can pick up and enjoy.
Reading through this book, what becomes clear is Steven Wilson’s desire not to be trapped in any one genre, despite beginning life as a prog/psych band, and his desire to continue moving forward. He’s always tried not just to repeat what’s gone before, leading the band through constantly changing styles, to the sometimes exasperation and bewilderment of his fanbase, which even led to his receiving hate mail, while attempting something a little different. This desire has seen their albums encompassing elements of psychedelia (Up The Downstair), melodic pop (Stupid Dream) and power metal riffs (In Abstentia).
For a band which began life as ‘a bit of fun,’ with no plan to play gigs or make albums, the imprint of Porcupine Tree on psych / prog has been significant, and it’s been quite a journey along the way. This fascinating book will explain how they did it.