Still Searching for Angel’s Hands – Eden’s Sean Bowley

Troubadour Sean Bowley in 1996.
Troubadour Sean Bowley in 1996.

Seventeen years is a cavernous interstice between performances, but that crazy thing called life happens as often to musicians as other folk, and so it has been a long wander in the desert of corporate and suburban humdrum for Eden songwriter Sean Bowley. Once a mainstay of Melbourne’s Gothic/Alternative music scene, Eden dropped off the radar in the late 1990s – and I myself never expected to see the ensemble surface again.   For Sean it has been quite a journey. “I shied away from public music making for many years as I adopted other life priorities. Now that my life circumstances have shifted, I find that I have the will and space to make music a main priority again. I understand that I never should have shelved my music. Actually I didn’t shelve it, as I was still writing and dreaming, though I had hidden myself from public sight…”

The band had an impromtu support slot for Mark Steiner & His Problems at Tago Mago in January, which was a test run toward a full-fledged return to the Melbourne music scene – which is happening on Friday October 2nd, with a sumptuous line-up of ethereal music booked at The Old Bar – Eden, Dandelion Wine, Friends of Alice Ivy, and New Zealand songstress Plum Green. The “pre-view” gig in January was a big step for Sean personally. “I was somewhat terrified at the prospect. I was unsure what it would feel like to stand on a stage after all this time. When I was younger, I had no fear of taking risks; so it was great to take this risk, and be the ‘risk taker’ once again! I believe Tago Mago was a very good new start for Eden. We were generating ideas for new songs and instrumentals late last year and into the earlier part of 2015. The opportunity to support Mark Steiner set us on a new trajectory – to create a live set. The audience enjoyed the music. From my perspective, the music and the musicians jelled very well. I remember that in the 90s performing had a kind of ‘Twilight Zone’ ambiance… it was a space where you lost yourself for 40 minutes. In this regard, performance felt no different to how it did in the 90s.”

Sean Bowley performing with Eden at Tago Mago in January of 2015.

Sean Bowley performing with Eden at Tago Mago in January of 2015.

In the intervening months, the band have written and crafted arrangements for more new material, and seen the addition of a fourth band member. “At Tago Mago Eden placed a mark in the sand. At The Old Bar we’ll move beyond that. We have added more songs to the set; some from our past, and new pieces that we will be performing for the very first time. We’ll also be performing as a four piece band with live drum machine, enhancing the range of our sounds. This second show will be both a step forward and a challenge. Our sound is as ethereal as ever and steadily becoming more ethereal. I don’t think that people who saw us back in the day will be disappointed. We are being true to our original sound and building upon it. Ethereal balladry is rare in Melbourne, actually it’s rare no matter which country it hails from.”

Like the set of songs, the current band line-up spans different eras of Eden‘s history. Sean Bowley (vocals, electric 12-string and 6-string guitars) has obviously been with the band since it’s inception in 1987, which followed upon the demise of the band All Things Unseen. Bowley founded Eden with Pieter Bourke, who stayed with the group until 1993. (Bourke moved on to an illustrious music career including collaborating with Dead Can Dance, and with Lisa Gerrard on a number of filmscores that have received Golden Globe nominations [The Insider, Ali]. He continues to carve out a solo career as a composer and music producer.) Andrew Kutzer (12-string acoustic guitar) is Sean’s longtime friend since their days as undergraduate students at La Trobe University. (A caveat: I am providing mellotronesque and ambient legato keyboard counterpoints to Eden, so conflict of interest duly acknowledged! It would be gratuitous [and confusing] to write myself into the piece in the third person. If you are interested in my musical history and present activities outside Eden, you may skim a succinct biography here.)

A very recent addition to the line-up is bassist Matt Sigley, who has his own music pedigree (The Mavis’s, The Earthmen, The Daytime Frequency, The Lovetones, Video Video). Matt possesses many qualities that make him a great fit for the band. “He’s always been a wonderful individual possessing excellent creative flair as a personality and a musician. He plays a Rickenbacker 4003 bass – one of my most favourite bass guitars! Rics are in my musical soul. To me they are the Siamese cats of guitardom – unique and quirky entities that shine light into this weird wonderful world.” Sigley has also taken on the duties of drum machine programming, which harkens back to the very first configuration of the Eden sound. “We used a drum machine or drum sampler for live shows and recording from 1989 to 1994. From that point on we moved to full live drum kit. For our very first live shows in the late 1980s we used a Sequential Circuits drum machine – the same model as employed by the Cocteau Twins. For the upcoming live show we will be using a circa 1982 Oberheim DX drum machine owned by Matt Sigley. My first group, All Things Unseen, used one of these on some studio demos done prior to Eden.  Hearing it again is like ‘going home’. It has such a lovely tonal character. Add a Lexicon Hall reverb and this device is a perfect element in the Eden sound palette.”

The October show also features some other Melbourne luminaries of ethereal wave music – it is rare for the stars to align and have all these sometimes reclusive artists in stage-mode at the same time. Sean had previously shared the stage with Friends of Alice Ivy songwriters, Kylie and Amps, in the 90s when they were known as Ostia; this was at the Edge of Darkness showcase in benefit of Dark Angel zine, which was held at The Gershwin Room (the original 1870s dining hall at The Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda). Reconnecting and sharing the same stage with these fellow travelers brings fond nostalgia. “I simply like the idea. The two groups playing together again has a historic dimension. That was a very interesting show that night back in 1995. There was a very fresh energy and creative optimism to the performances of all the bands that played – a highpoint in the history of Darkwave & Gothic music in Melbourne. I wonder if it had been filmed or photographed? I remember all the artists and performances as being richly charismatic. It was great to meet many of the colourful and eccentric musicians back stage. I remember being typically drunk on a bottle of champagne smuggled into the venue the back of my super reverb amplifier. This was a standard pre-show antic!”

 

Edge of Darkness: The Gothic Showcase - a Benefit for Dark Angel zine flyer.

Edge of Darkness: The Gothic Showcase – a Benefit for Dark Angel zine flyer (1995). Due to an accidental double-booking on the Saturday night by The Esplenade Hotel, all the bands listed performed together on the Friday evening, except for IKON who performed on the Saturday as part of a 3PBS live-to-air broadcast.

The gig at The Old Bar will be the first time Dandelion Wine have shared an official bill with Eden, although not the first time Sean has shared the stage with them. “Dandelion Wine managed to find me back in 2002 and invited Andrew Kutzer and I to support them for a live performance at the Empress of India. They pulled us out of hiding, so to speak. It was a really good live show. I remember some of Eden’s 1990’s audience turning up and enjoying our set. Dandelion Wine I remember as being musically diverse and incorporating a wide range of elements. They were energetic, frenetic, unique and entertaining. I look forward to seeing what they are doing with their musical vision in 2015.”

Not resting on his laurels with assembling a live performance set, Sean is now setting his sights on a return to the studio, and another reunion – with the producer responsible for crafting Eden’s sound in the studio through the many different configurations of the band. “After this gig, Eden will begin to record a new release at Toyland Recording Studios with Adam Calaitzis at the console. We’re going back home to the studio where we recorded all our 1990’s releases with the very same audio engineer and co-producer at the helm. New ideas for the form and content of the first release have been coming to me in recent days… including  new pieces that we will perform for the first time on October 2nd at The Old Bar!”

 

You can find Eden online at the following links:

 

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