No-Man: Urban Disco

Posted by in Music, Record Cover Design, Travel

Dry Cleaning Ray: Sydenham Road back in the nineties and right, in 2019


Near the end of 1988, Steven suggested that no-man become the main musical focus for both of us, So in October 1988 I headed Dick Whittington style to the nation’s capital (sans cat). – from Tim’s Speak blog (abbreviated mix by moi)…

In the run up to No-Man’s first new album in over a decade and my unexpected return to Blighty, I decided to construct a blog about Tim Bowness‘s time in London. As we can see from the excerpts Tim’s London begins in Autumn 1988 and lasts until sometime in 1997.

Mine began in Spring 1999 and has recently been reactivated in the east end. Being in this part of London has allowed me to catch the recent Steve Jansen exhibition down in Greenwich but also reveals clues to the hidden art of man Bowness.


In the streets around Sydenham train station we find the former dry cleaners that leant itself to the cover art of Dry Cleaning Ray (at 9a Sydenham Road). Tim seems rather remorseful of its passing but according to designer Carl Glover, who I also had the privilege of speaking to (via email), the place looked on its last legs at the time!

The site could yet become to No-Man fans what the Wandsworth cafe is to admirers of A-ha seeking a Take on Me video moment much to the Cypriot owners bemusement!

The first London song Tim mentions is the epic opener that begins the band’s second disc Flowermouth – Angel Gets Caught in the Beauty Trap which Tim says ‘ambiguously addresses some of my feelings about being in London.’ The next is Wild Opera, never my favourite but nonetheless it began life with a sign for the future in that the forthcoming album’s title (see below) had its origins in the sessions that lead to Wild Opera.

The detailed analysis (by TB) below gives a fascinating glimpse into the band’s working methods (as most of his album blogs do). You could run a marathon of information through the mind and end up tangled in a spaghetti like ball of No-Man-ology.

It would take a dedicated student to remember all of the intricate lines of demos, half written, half finished and alternative takes weaved by the guys over the years. Some songs immediate, others taking over 20 years to reach a satisfactory conclusion. The albums that were or might have been, anyway, here’s TimBow on Dry Cleaning Ray…

No-Man at the British Museum, London circa early 2000s.


…the odds and sods mini-album that is/was Dry Cleaning Ray: Originally, it was intended as a single or an EP featuring Wild Opera outtakes and alternative mixes of songs (including the shorter – re-recorded – version of DCR itself). Pretty quickly it became something more substantial.

The main reason the project expanded in the way it did was that Steven and I were excited about three new songs we’d written. The songs seemed like a more crafted evolution of the Wild Opera ‘hourlong experiments’, and we liked the idea of material being released very soon after it had been completed. 

Dry Cleaning Ray and Diet Mothers were new mixes of Wild Opera material. Evelyn was a cover version of a Serge Gainsbourg song, which I believe we’d been asked to do for an American Serge Gainsbourg tribute album. Kightlinger and Urban Disco were outtakes from the Wild Opera sessions.

Jack The Sax, Sicknote and Sweetside Silver Night were the three pieces we wrote in 1997. They’re softer than most of Wild Opera, but they still possess the sonically experimental edge and playful lyrical quality that marked out (WO) from all other no-man releases.

Twenty years on and I still like all three songs. For me, they point to something different for no-man and stand apart from the rest of Dry Cleaning Ray in terms of their quality and emotional intensity. Conceptually, all three songs carried on WO’s obsession with victims of fame and victims of the pursuit of fame.

1997 was the year I left London and in some ways – lyrically, musically and in terms of its cover artwork – Dry Cleaning Ray represented a goodbye to a particular way of life and a particular way of writing songs. – from Tim’s website diary (not to be confused with the Speak album notes above – again edited by moi).

Amber on Blackheath.


Although Tim had left London in ’97 the capital still makes an appearance in both Returning Jesus (the pair photographed outside the gates of the British Library) and on its follow up Together We’re Stranger. Only three shots were taken for the album’s cover image. Taken on Blackheath by designer Carl Glover, you can see the slender spire of St Micheal’s in the background.

It’s also in London that I manage to catch them in action at Shepherd’s Bush Hall and the theatre setting very much suited them. You can read more about that as well as Tim at the now defunct 12 Bar, Denmark Street and Porcupine Tree at the also deceased Astoria on my Remember That Night blog.

Welcome to the Urban Disco: the no-men in Ladbroke Grove 2019


And rather fittingly, the disco imagery of the new album Love You To Bits was again shot on the backstreets of London. Does the pink and blue relate to men and women, a homage to The Human League’s Dare? Or Neither? Either way, it’s as if every time I try to think, more life gets in the way and by the way, Jason pulled on Saturday.


Thanks to Tim Bowness for generous correspondence on this one and to you for reading here. Should anyone be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, please contact me for a FREE Overview PDF. Meanwhile, stay tuned with Kulture Kiosk via The Atlas or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Playlist and credits follow…

Dry Cleaning Ray (from Dry Cleaning Ray) – No-Man
Angel Gets Caught in the Beauty Trap (from Flowermouth) – No-Man
My Rival Trevor (from Wild Opera) – No-Man
*I’ll dedicate this one to a certain Trev – he knows who he is if he’s reading 😉 
Time Travel in Texas (from Wild Opera) – No-Man
Urban Disco (from Dry Cleaning Ray) – No-Man
My Revenge on Seattle (from Wild Opera) – No-Man

Close Your Eyes (from Returning Jesus) – No-Man
Chelsea Cap (from Returning Jesus – Complete Sessions) – No-Man
Together We’re Stranger (from Together We’re Stranger) – No-Man
Love You To Bits (from Love You To Bits) – No-Man
Love You To Pieces (from Love You To Bits) – No-Man

Photo Credits: 
Together We’re Stranger outtake kindly supplied by Carl Glover @ alephstudio
Love You To Bits artwork from No-Man official Facebook.
Photos of Tim and Steven by Carl Glover.