Tim Bur­ness

Prog - - Contents - Words: Johnny Sharp Images: Rachael Emily

Prog’s 1980s nearly-man re­freshed and ready for an­other shot.

The multi-tal­ented

Tim Bur­ness is back with a brand new al­bum, as well as some blasts from the past, from when his band Bur­nessence shared stages with neo-prog’s finest. Now he re­veals all about rub­bing shoul­ders with Mar­il­lion, read­ing the stars and record­ing with Daleks…

Bit-part ac­tor, care worker, as­tro­log­i­cal coun­sel­lor, oc­ca­sional stand-up co­me­dian… pro­gres­sive rock mu­si­cian. Tim Bur­ness’ CV is more colour­ful than most, but for a man of sev­eral tal­ents, he’s made a pretty im­pres­sive stab at the lat­ter vo­ca­tion over the years. That was ini­tially un­der the guise of 80s neo-prog hope­fuls Bur­nessence, and more re­cently as a less-than-pro­lific but be­guil­ing and un­pre­dictable solo artist.

Now, with his sev­enth stu­dio al­bum, Whose Dream Are You Liv­ing?, he’s pro­duced his most in­ci­sive, im­me­di­ate set of songs to date. And this time he re­ally means busi­ness – he’s promis­ing there’ll be a follow-up within months, rather than the decade-long gap that fol­lowed his pre­vi­ous long-player, 2007’s am­bi­ent-in­flu­enced Vi­sion On.

Tim Bur­ness looks re­mark­ably well­p­re­served for a man of 56 – a win­ning smile, pale brown eyes and trim physique present a pretty good ad­vert for four decades on a mac­ro­bi­otic diet with the oc­ca­sional marathon run thrown in. He’s full of ner­vous en­ergy as he nurses a chai latte in a café near his Brighton home, and keen to ex­plain why, for all his ap­par­ently dis­parate in­ter­ests, “every­thing is in­ter­con­nected”.

“The mu­sic thing for me has al­ways been the main thing,” he says. “But I’ve had some de­gree of pro­fes­sional suc­cess and on­go­ing work with all those things you men­tion – the care work has mostly been the day job, but I’ve also acted a fair bit, did a com­edy show at the Brighton fringe fes­ti­val re­cently, and I’ve worked quite se­ri­ously as an as­tro­log­i­cal coun­sel­lor…”

He pauses to wait for my re­ac­tion, per­haps ex­pect­ing a scep­ti­cal, even mock­ing look. I sim­ply raise a cau­tiously in­trigued eye­brow. Typ­i­cal Virgo, probably…

“It still gets a lot of stick, but it’s a se­ri­ous thing,” he says. “I’m not talk­ing about the kind of crap you read in the daily horo­scopes in the pa­pers. This is some­thing I’ve been heav­ily in­volved with for 30 years. And quite a few other mu­si­cians are very into it. Fran­cis Dun­nery, for in­stance, re­ally knows his stuff.”

When you hear about a com­mit­ted as­trologer making a prog record, you men­tally prepare your­self for a lav­ishly il­lus­trated zo­diac-themed opus full of mys­ti­cal, mag­i­cal mus­ings on the stars and all who sail in them. But Whose Dream Are You Liv­ing?, orig­i­nally re­leased on­line last year and now out on CD, has a far earth­ier feel. Lyrics on tracks such as Th­ese Are The Days and Stop Them tar­get me­dia pro­pa­ganda, aus­ter­ity and avari­cious busi­ness in­ter­ests over­shad­ow­ing current af­fairs (‘The short-term fix of pol­i­tics/ Tram­pling on the weak and vul­ner­a­ble’), while Grass Is Greener and Cyn­i­cal World seek es­cape from ex­is­ten­tial angst.

“If I was ever tempted to put my cape on and write a con­cept al­bum based on the 12 signs of the zo­diac, I would ac­tu­ally think, ‘No, I’m ac­tu­ally a bit more se­ri­ous about it now. It’s too big a sub­ject,’” says Bur­ness.

That’s not to say he doesn’t have a pretty de­tailed stargaz­ing take on the world’s current sit­u­a­tion, one that partly in­forms the top­i­cal, semi-polem­i­cal na­ture of many lyrics on Whose Dream Are You Liv­ing?

“The big thing to con­sider is Pluto go­ing into Capri­corn, from 2008 to 2023,” he says. “That’s a 15-year pe­riod, which we are two-thirds of the way through, en­com­pass­ing the 2008 fi­nan­cial crash. Pluto is all about death and re­birth, trans­for­ma­tion, wip­ing every­thing out and start­ing again. It’s about dredg­ing up poi­son, buried stuff, de­cay and bring­ing it to the surface like sewage, and then we all have a look at it and by the end there’s a re­birth, like a phoenix ris­ing from the ashes. Capri­corn is all about struc­tures, or­gan­i­sa­tion, eco­nom­ics, pol­i­tics, re­al­ity.

It’s all about lim­i­ta­tions – Capri­corn is the most de­press­ing sign of the zo­diac. So it’s con­fronting is­sues around lim­i­ta­tions – for ex­am­ple, global warm­ing.”

OK, I’m strug­gling al­ready, which may back up Bur­ness’ view that it’s too com­plex and wide-rang­ing a sub­ject to tackle within the grooves of an hour-long rock’n’roll record.

One thing that’s eas­ier to grasp is his faintly bo­hemian, eco­cen­tric take on the way the world is run right now – some­thing touched upon amid the spec­tral synth washes and yearn­ing melan­cho­lia of Dream­ing Of A New World and A Space For Our Love To Grow.

“We need to ad­dress this idea that we must have eco­nomic growth, and I’m like, ‘No, you haven’t got it!’ We’ve got to have a com­plete about-turn on the way we think about GDP in the era of global warm­ing.

“All th­ese things,” he adds, “they’re all a con­se­quence of cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­ety go­ing bonkers, just go­ing too far. It’s all in­ter­con­nected as far as I can see. All the things I’ve done in my life are at­tempts to… not be a cap­i­tal­ist bas­tard, ba­si­cally!”

That mod­est aim has driven Bur­ness over more than four decades since the coun­ter­cul­tural ideas and en­er­getic rush of pop­u­lar mu­sic turned his head as a kid in the 1970s, much to the dis­may of his par­ents.

“My mum and dad were both suc­cess­ful clas­si­cal mu­si­cians, and they were very against me get­ting into rock and pop, say­ing, ‘It’s not real mu­sic.’ But then I saw The Who at Charl­ton Ath­letic foot­ball ground [in 1976] – which broke the record for the loud­est gig ever – and a few months later I saw Queen and Steve Hil­lage at Hyde Park, and I thought, ‘I want to do some of that – cre­ate that pos­i­tive en­ergy.’”

Bur­ness so­lid­i­fied his own musical vi­sion in the form of Bur­nessence in 1983, and the band soon found them­selves on the fringes of the bur­geon­ing neo-prog move­ment that Bucks neigh­bours Mar­il­lion were spear­head­ing.

With sup­port slots for the likes of IQ and Pal­las, the fu­ture looked promis­ing.

“There seemed to be a lot of pos­si­bil­i­ties,” says Bur­ness. “When I was grow­ing up, Mar­il­lion were based down the road so one week I’d see them in our lo­cal vil­lage hall and six months later they were on Top Of The Pops. Then I saw Howard Jones at the same venue and six months later he’s on TOTP too.

“I had a bit of money be­hind me [from what he de­scribes as “a timely in­her­i­tance”] and I thought, ‘I could do that,’ but it wasn’t that sim­ple, of course. I pro­duced some stuff that still holds up very well, I think, but

I didn’t have enough, I dunno… fire, enough back­ing, enough abil­ity, enough sup­port to push it fur­ther.”

Bur­nessence re­main one of neo-prog’s great could­abeens, as you may well agree if you delve into the se­lected tracks from their only stu­dio al­bum that Bur­ness has put up on YouTube in re­cent years.

Spo­radic re­leases since then have slowly built up a de­cent body of work for Bur­ness, while he grap­pled with the less glam­orous but al­ways press­ing need to make an hon­est liv­ing.

“I took a long time to find a job that would strike a bal­ance be­tween do­ing some­thing worth­while and earn­ing money,” he says,

“and in the end, be­com­ing a care and sup­port worker was a good com­pro­mise. I’ve done ev­ery type of care work you can do with­out be­ing a qual­i­fied nurse, in­clud­ing three years in home­less hos­tels with heroin ad­dicts, which is pretty chal­leng­ing when some­one is over­dos­ing in front of you and you’ve got to make sure they get an am­bu­lance.”

Hav­ing re­cently taken a break from the day job to con­cen­trate on mu­sic, as well as con­tribut­ing to a book on the as­trol­ogy of pro­gres­sive rock (if you want to ex­plore the birth charts of every­one from Rick Wake­man to Kate Bush, Tim’s your man), Bur­ness still feels that drive to con­trib­ute to so­ci­ety in some sort of con­struc­tive way, and that’s where the heal­ing pow­ers of prog come in.

“When I was grow­ing up, Mar­il­lion were based down the road so one week I’d see them in our lo­cal vil­lage hall and six months later they were on Top Of The Pops.”

‘Re­lease the en­ergy, set­ting your spirit free,’ he sings on And Set Your Spirit Free, to a spi­ralling back­ing from erst­while Damned key­board vir­tu­oso Monty Oxy­moron, and that sums up an­other part of Bur­ness’ artis­tic ap­proach.

“I be­lieve mu­sic is a form of magic that can touch peo­ple’s souls and help peo­ple strug­gling with all sorts of prob­lems,” he says. “When I was jump­ing up and down at the Mar­quee at those early Mar­il­lion gigs it was all about the range of emo­tions – like be­ing on acid with­out the drugs! If mu­sic be­comes too much of an ab­stract, un­emo­tional process, it loses that spir­i­tual el­e­ment. I even got into the rave scene in the 1990s. I wasn’t into the drugs, but the con­scious­ness-rais­ing as­pect of it was great, and the best of that stuff, The Orb and Or­bital, it’s ba­si­cally tarted up Tan­ger­ine Dream, with all those bounc­ing polyrhythms.

“Mu­sic is all about that pos­i­tive en­ergy, con­scious­ness-rais­ing, making me feel good and other peo­ple feel good. There’s a de­press­ing el­e­ment in there too be­cause that’s re­al­ity, but ul­ti­mately it’s there to lift peo­ple up. And for me, the best prog has some­thing pretty so­phis­ti­cated to say about aware­ness, about spir­i­tu­al­ity, all the things

I’ve touched on. It all con­nects!”

If all that sounds fairly in­tense, an­other Bur­ness trait that sets him apart from a lot of other mod­ern prog is a sense of hu­mour. From the ran­dom rhymes of Grass Is Greener to the Dr Who ref­er­ences of What’s Go­ing On In Your Head? (re­plete with Dalek back­ing vo­cals), it

re­flects the in­flu­ence of a more play­ful strand of mu­sic that isn’t of­ten heard th­ese days.

“Ju­lian [Tardo], who pro­duces the al­bum, would say, ‘You can’t put that in there – don’t you want to be taken se­ri­ously as an artist?’, and I’d say, ‘Hang on, you’re the one that dug out those Bonzo Dog al­bums!’ I loved the hu­mour in stuff like Gong’s work, and there’s a lot of in­tel­li­gence ex­pressed through that kind of stuff.”

And that, ul­ti­mately, is one of the great strengths of Tim Bur­ness’ mu­sic – all hu­man life is here. Heart­felt and emo­tional

soul-bar­ing along­side fu­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal rant­ing; pro­found phi­los­o­phy along­side daft rhymes; and broad pop rock tunes along­side am­bi­ent sound­scapes, in­stru­men­tal ex­cur­sions and Dalek noises. It’s the per­fect ad­vert for a man who de­scribes him­self as ‘a jack of all trades and master of none’. Have a lis­ten, then de­cide for your­self whether that lat­ter part of the phrase is strictly ac­cu­rate.

Whose Dream Are You Liv­ing? is avail­able now and is self-re­leased. See www.tim­bur­ness.com for more in­for­ma­tion.



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