Porcupine Tree (1987-2010): a Progressive Metal band from Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, UK.
he origins of progressive rock/progressive metal band Porcupine Tree start back in 1987 as a hoax by Steven Wilson (vocals/guitars/piano/synthesiser/hammer dulcimer/banjo/sampler/various instruments) and Malcolm Stocks (vocals/guitar). Inspired by the psychedelic/progressive bands of the 1970s, like Pink Floyd, the pair formed a fictional rock band to be named Porcupine Tree complete with a fake back-story including information on alleged band members and album titles, and an entertaining career history including events such as a meeting at a 1970s rock festival, and several trips in and out of prison. As soon as Wilson had the money for equipment, he recorded several hours of music to provide a sort of provenance to his creation for "evidence" of its existence".
Up to this point, Porcupine Tree was little more than a private amusement while Wilson worked for his other project, No-Man, with UK based singer and songwriter Tim Bowness. By 1989, however, he saw that some of the Porcupine Tree material might actually be marketable. An 80 minute cassette titled Tarquin's Seaweed Farm under the name of Porcupine Tree was recorded privately by Wilson as a test to this theory. The recording included an eight-page inlay which furthered the hoax of a Porcupine Tree backstory, including references to fake band members such as "Sir Tarquin Underspoon" and "Timothy Tadpole-Jones". Copies were then sent to selected people Wilson thought might be interested. The cassettes floated around to eventually land on the desk of Richard Allen, a writer for the UK counter-culture magazine Encyclopaedia Psychedelica and co-editor of the UK psychedelic garage rock magazine Freakbeat, who gave the work a mostly positive review. Several months later, Allen invited Wilson to contribute a track to the double LP compilation, A Psychedelic Psauna that was being put together to launch the new 'Delerium' record label.
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In 1990, Wilson released Love, Death & Mussolini EP. Only 10 copies were ever pressed. The EP contained nine at-the-time-unreleased tracks as a preview for the upcoming second album. In 1991, that album would come in the form of a second full-length cassette, The Nostalgia Factory, further expanding Wilson's (as Porcupine Tree)'s fanbase. Porcupine Tree was now a fully solo project of Wilson who was still carrying on the charade of the project being some sort of 1970s rock legend.
Soon after, 'Delerium' invited Wilson to sign as one of the label's founder artists and release the double vinyl album (and single CD) compiling the best material from his two cassettes, titled On the Sunday of Life (1992), a title chosen from a long list of possible nonsense titles compiled by Richard Allen. The album also featured future concert favorite and frequent encore song Radioactive Toy. The rest of the music from the initial tapes was released on the limited edition compilation album Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape later that same year.
Up the Downstair (1993) received high praise; Melody Maker describing it as "a psychedelic masterpiece... one of the albums of the year." finally giving Porcupine Tree a bona fide pedigree to hang its hat on! The album was originally to be another double album that was slimmed down to a single record, leaving the Voyage 34 part (originally to be the second disc) released alone as a single.
Now that the act was a real thing, Wilson would have a problem reproducing it all live. So, he formed a real band in the form of himself on lead vocals/guitar, Colin Edwin (bass), Chris Maitland (drums) and Richard Barbieri (keyboards); all three new members had worked with Wilson on various past projects. The Moonloop EP (1995) would be the first recording to feature the new band members.
It would be the follow-up third album that completed the transition from fake pedigree to real by becoming a huge hit among progressive rock fans who cited Porcupine Tree as the Pink Floyd of the 1990s. The Sky Moves Sideways (1995) was an expansive soundscape of melody and ambient rock experimentation. It was, however, a transitional work half recorded before the formation of the band and half recorded after. Most of the album was taken up with a single 35-minute title track, intended to be long enough to occupy the whole album but was cut back. It was also the first of their work to make it over to America.
Signify (1996) was a mixture of instrumental tracks and song-oriented tunes, blending numerous rock and avant-garde styles. It would be the first full album to feature all band members.
In March 1997, Porcupine Tree played three nights in Rome. All three shows were recorded for the 1997 live album Coma Divine - Recorded Live in Rome that was released as a goodbye to 'Delerium' Records. In late 1997 the first three albums were remastered and reissued. Signify being released in the US on Miles Copeland's 'Ark 21' label.
The band recorded their next album without a label, but eventually signed with 'Snapper/Kscope' for the release of Stupid Dream (1999), three singles taken from the album: piano Lessons, Stranger by the Minute and Pure Narcotic, received mainstream exposure in the US and Europe.
Featuring string arrangements by Dave Gregory of XTC, Lightbulb Sun (2000) lead to a tour supporting Dream Theater and Marillion. The compilation B-side album, Recordings would follow later that same year, including nine tracks from the Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun sessions that had been left off those albums.
February 2002 saw Porcupine Tree's first and only line-up change with Maitland's dismissal; drummer and longtime acquaintance Gavin Harrison would step in to take his place. The box set of the band's early work, Stars Die: The Delerium Years 1991-1997 (2002) would then arrive.
In Absentia (2002) would arrive on 'Lava Records' (hosted by 'Atlantic Records'), along with a 5.1 surround-sound version of the album, mixed by Grammy Award-winning producer Elliot Scheiner. The surround-sound version of the album won the award for best 5.1 mix at the 2004 Surround Sound Music awards in Los Angeles later that year.
During 2003, Porcupine Tree set up their own label, 'Transmission', with an online store hosted by 'Burning Shed' record label. The first release was a studio session recorded for XM Radio, Washington, DC. The band used the label to issue supplemental content, such as EPs, demos, and live recordings, as well as re-issues of previous works.
Taking its inspiration from a film script written by Wilson with his filmmaker friend Mike Bennion, Deadwing (2004), their second for 'Lava/Atlantic', would follow. The song Shallow was also featured in the soundtrack for the film Four Brothers.
Peaking at 59 on the Billboard 200, Fear of a Blank Planet (2007), sported lyrics about common behavior concerns, especially within youth, in the beginning of the 21st century, such as bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder, drug abuse, alienation, and deprivation caused by mass media. The concept of the album was inspired by Bret Easton Ellis novel Lunar Park. In December 2007, it was nominated for a Grammy Award for "Best Surround Sound Album" though Love by The Beatles ended off winning the award.
The Nil Recurring EP (2007) featured four unreleased tracks from the Fear of a Blank Planet sessions and included another contribution from Robert Fripp. A recording from the October 4th, 2007 in-store, mostly acoustic, performance at Park Avenue CDs in Orlando, Florida, was released on February 18, 2008 on CD as We Lost The Skyline. The title acting as a reference to the lyrics of The Sky Moves Sideways (Phase One); the opening song on the live set.
The Incident (2009) offered Porcupine Tree's biggest commercial success, offering a 23 UK/25 US. Atlanta (2010), their next live effort would follow.
After finishing the touring in support of The Incident in 2010, Wilson spent the rest of the year, and 2011, recording and releasing his second solo album, Grace for Drowning, and Blackfield's third album, Welcome to my DNA. This work lead to more and more commitments, especially with his solo efforts, resulting in proposed work for Porcupine Tree continuously being pushed further and further back to the point that the project just dissolved, and by 2018 had been declared long dead.
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Steven Wilson at the Strawberry Fair, Cambridge, UK. 1997.
Photo by: Steve Freight
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