Mar 23, 12, 11, 10, 09, 08
Dec 07, 01
Nov 25, 24, 23, 22, 21, 12
Dec 31, 19
Nov 28, 01
Sep 09, 04
Dec 24, 04
Oct 19, 09
May 27, 03
Dec 29, 08
Nov 20, 14, 10
Oct 31, 23, 10, 05
Jul 29, 17, 14, 11, 07, 02
Jun 30, 29, 12, 05
May 25, 09
Apr 26, 10
Wednesday 26th April 2006. 9 : 30 am
Perhaps I shouldn't be writing a diary entry right now. I certainly don't feel in the proper state of mind to do so but I desperately feel the need to write something down, if only to help me to work through some of my grief. I couldn't imagine, last week, that today I would be in such a state and for such an unforseen and unwelcome reason.
On Sunday, 23rd of April, I was taking my usual morning bath when I heard the 'phone ring. I hadn't brought the cordless 'phone into the bathroom with me as Emi was at home. I thought it might be one of her Japanese friends calling, as often happens at weekends. But then I heard her rushing up the stairs and her footsteps coming along the corridor towards the bathroom. I realised that the call must be for me. She came into the bathroom with the cordless 'phone in her hand, holding it out to me. She was in tears and could hardly speak. With difficulty, through the tears, she said "It's your mum on the 'phone...it's bad news...Ian's died..."
I felt as if the whole world had ground to a sudden, violent halt and then I began to shake and weep uncontrollably. I felt as if my guts were being wrenched from me.
My mother was crying on the 'phone as she told me what had happened only a short time earlier that morning. She had telephoned my brother Ian sometime around 11 am to wish him a happy birthday. (Sunday the 23rd was his 50th.) Ian's wife Diane had answered and told my mother that Ian was still in bed, having a lie-in, but that he really ought to be getting up as they were going out soon. She asked my mother to hold the line whilst she called up the stairs to Ian to tell him that his mother was on the 'phone. There was no answer and when Diane went upstairs to wake him she found that Ian had passed away in his sleep.
The shock has been terrible. Feelings of disbelief, denial, sudden realisation, sickness and bottomless black pits of emotional despair. A violent assault on the depths of our hearts and souls. And it keeps on hitting and hurting. I'm battered and exhausted by its brutality. I feel as if a precious and essential part of my life has been suddenly ripped out of me. And, of course, it has.
Ian was my 'little' brother. I'd known him all his life and, despite those silly sibling rivalries that all brothers experience from time to time, loved him deeply and respected him far more than he probably ever realised. Far, far more than he realised...Oh, Ian, if only I could tell you.
Even though Ian had survived a stroke, nine years ago when he was 41, I always expected him to outlive me, to always be there with his warm smile and dry sense of humour. Ian had become a physically big man, partly as a result of the diabetes he suffered from in recent years, but this largeness suggested solidity, a rock that would stand strong, despite the surrounding waves. He seemed indestructible. Perhaps he felt that he was too.
I saw him last a few weeks ago on Mother's Day, in March. Emiko and I had driven over to my mother's house in Wakefield with a gift and some flowers for her. Not long after we'd arrived, Ian arrived too, to give mum his gifts. I think it was actually the first time I'd seen him since the start of the year. I'm always so intensely, stupidly busy with one project after the other that family relationships and friendships regularly suffer as a result. Ian too had been busy with his freelance career as a funding consultant for arts projects. Both of us had been feeling a lot of stress, under pressure, the usual outcome of trying to keep things together on an unpredictable financial income. But Ian seemed cheerful, he'd recently got himself a new car and proudly led me outside to show it to me where it was parked in the drive of my mother's house. We chatted and joked freely for a while, just the two of us. I asked him if he fancied coming along to this year's Nelsonica convention in October, to play his saxophone with me as part of my solo performance there. I also asked him if he would like to perform with me at a special concert being planned for next year as part of a contemporary music festival at Leeds University's school of music. He was happily enthusiastic and positive about being involved in both projects so I promised I'd keep him up to date with progress for each event. (I've always enjoyed the instrumental duo's we've had in the past, feeling much more comfortable in those situations with Ian alongside me than being up there on my own.) Eventually, Ian had to leave for a prior appointment and we waved him off from my mother's doorstep. I had no idea then that that would be the last time I'd ever see him. Remembering that day now, Emi has pointed out to me that Ian had seemed really pleased to see me, his face being lit up with one of his warm smiles when he saw that I was there. I'm so pleased to have that pointed out to me because I needed his love more than he realised. More than I realised.
Last week, Emi was sorting out some clothes of mine and came across some that were like new but that I hadn't worn. She'd put them to one side to see if Ian might want them. When she told me this I thought that I should give him a call and see how he was. As so often happens, I became so wrapped up in trying to finish some recording work in time for a mastering session next week that this intention slipped from my consciousness. (And now, I've cancelled that same session. I have no appetite for music. Its joy has left me.)
Time always warps when my mind is concentrated on work, as my family and friends and regular readers of this diary know. I look down towards the faders of the mixing desk and it's winter. When I look up, it's Spring. Or so it seems. Months pass like minutes. Life evaporates. How I wish I'd made that call last week. I can't begin to express the anguish I feel at not being able to call Ian now, at this very moment. I can hear the sound of his voice clearly in my head, the way he sounded on the telephone.
My mother called a few minutes ago to tell me the results of the coroner's report: Ian died because of heart disease. A blood clot touched his heart and he was gone. Apparently, there would have been nothing anyone could have done to save him. It was inevitable. Had he been awake when it happened, it would have felled him in an instant. That it happened whilst he was sleeping is a comfort of sorts. What if he had been driving his car with his family on board...? A mercy that he wasn't.
The last two days have brought us a kind of hell. Ian's wife Diane and Ian's three children must have been truly in the depths of it. My mother, who is not in the best of health herself, is suffering terribly from the loss. We all are. We want him back.
The next few weeks will be hard too, particularly the funeral which is to be held on the 2nd of May. I have no immunity or resistance to grief. It comes in sudden waves and drowns me every time. All composure gone. I want to say something about him at the service but know that I wouldn't have the strength, that tears and sobs would be all that would escape me, words buried beneath fathomless anguish. But we will have to get through these next days as best we can, together.
I'm sure that Ian would have poured scorn on any solemnity. He wasn't a particularly religious man, in fact, almost the opposite. He often took a cynical stance regarding my own 'spiritual' foraging over the years.
I remember, one late lost summer back in the early '80's, when I lived in West Haddlesey, the two of us sitting atop a haystack in a field outside the village, discussing various philosophies as the warm harvest sun sank towards the horizon. I was heavily involved in Rosicrucianism and esoteric occultism at that time and had been enthusiastically propounding its theories and principles in the hope of firing up Ian's imagination. I could, as they say, 'talk the hind leg off a donkey' in those days, such was my passion for the subject. But Ian remained scornful and humourously cynical about the whole thing, as he was about ever other 'ism' I experimented with. He couldn't see the point of all that and was far more down to earth and pragmatic than I ever was. It may be that, in this respect, as in so many other things, he had a better grasp of reality than myself. He might have been my 'little' brother in years but he was strong and stubborn and independent too. And sharp and bright and witty. There was so much in him that I admired. I was, and always will be, proud of him. He was his own man and lived his life the way he wanted to live it, and damn the torpedoes.
I have so many fond memories of Ian. I couldn't possibly recount them all now but here are a couple: Back in the late 'seventies or early 'eighties, I was visiting my mother in Wakefield when she was still living on Eastmoor Estate, where I grew up. Ian, I think, was living there too at this point in time but had gone into town. Suddenly the 'phone rang and my mother answered it. It was a local corner-shopkeeper who knew my mother. He was telephoning to say that Ian was in his shop, injured. I jumped into my car and drove the half mile to the shop and found Ian in a bad way. He had been on his way home to my mother's house and had walked through a subway en route. In the subway, a gang of youths were trying to mug an elderly lady and were shoving her around. Ian had stepped into the situation and tried to stop these thugs from continuing their actions, trying to reason with them, asking them to leave the lady alone. The gang violently turned on Ian and beat him up before running away, leaving him to stagger to the nearby shop where the lady explained to the shopkeeper what had happened. He recognised Ian and rang my mother.
I rushed Ian off to the hospital to have his wounds attended. I then set off in my car to search for the bastards that had done this to him. I drove up and down every street on Ian's route but couldn't find them, which is probably just as well as they would have more than likely done damage to me too, had I challenged them. But I was so angry that they'd done this to my little brother, I just wanted to beat the shit out of them. But this incident was a measure of Ian's public spiritedness and bravery. Many people would have left the old lady to her fate and kept out of danger but Ian's compassion wouldn't allow him to walk on by. He had to try to stop what was happening. He had principles and the guts to do something about it.
I have memories of Ian and I first recording music together, in the mid 'seventies with Be Bop Deluxe on the song 'Ships In The Night'. It was the first public recording of mine that he was involved with and it was at Abbey Road studios in London. He was really young and must have been intimidated and overwhelmed by the experience. He'd only just begun playing saxophone at that time, 'though he'd played clarinet for a while previously. I knew he was talented and capable and pushed him hard, as big brother's do. I was often too demanding of him, all throughout his musical life, knowing just how good he could be, given that push. I wanted him to excel, to be great, to be the best he could possibly be. My only consolation now is, if I was too hard on him, too exacting, I at least treat myself equally as hard, was just as critical of my own attempts. I thought that, together, we could change the world with our music. But I was stupid and naive too. I demanded too much from both of us. Ian was a great player without need of any pressure from me.
Later on, he became a member of Red Noise, playing Sax, Clarinet and second keyboards in the band. Red Noise was also his introduction to life on the road and to television and radio appearances.
In the 'eighties he contributed his gifted playing to several of my solo albums and songs. One of the most memorable was 'Do You Dream In Colour?' which featured Ian's incredibly catchy harmony saxophone hook, an important, essential component for the song's commercial appeal. It was one of the most perfectly appropriate parts he ever came up with, an absolutely classic line that everyone who ever heard the song remembers. It was a great pleasure, on the 2004 'Be Bop And Beyond,' 30 year celebration tour, for me to be able to perform that song live and have Ian in the band to reproduce the saxophone part perfectly. The song would be incomplete without it. How can I ever perform that song again without Ian standing next to me?
Ian later became part of Fiat Lux, a band that I initially had produced and released on my own independent 'Cocteau Records' label. The band showed great commercial potential and the single that Cocteau Records released earned them media attention and landed the band a deal with a major label, only for them to later fall foul of incompetent and corrupt management. An old, far too familiar story. Poor Ian suffered from the financial fallout of that situation for several years afterwards. I was going through similar tribulations myself so we both experienced the corruption and callousness of the industry at first hand. Ian's experience soured his hopes of being a full-time musician and he decided to reserve his music for situations that were less likely to produce further unhappiness. He began playing with friends in local bands and occasionally taught music, teaching both privately and in college situations.
Of the two of us, Ian was the one who had a formal, academic musical education. He began playing clarinet under the tuition of our late father, Walter Nelson and then had more formal lessons that resulted in him passing various examinations and gaining certificates of accomplishment. He eventually earned himself a place at Huddersfield College Of Music where he studied the subject academically. Ian was the real deal...not a dumb 'busker' like me who, to this day, still can't read a note of music. My father was so proud of the fact that Ian had done it the proper way. The ironic thing was that, whilst my formal education was in fine art and Ian's was in music, Ian eventually worked in the field of art, and I found myself with a career in music. Not what either of us had originally intended.
Years ago, Ian took a temporary job at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. He worked in the on-site shop, selling Sculpture Park merchandise. The park's director was, and still is, Peter Murray, who had been my painting tutor at Wakefield School Of Art when I was a student there in the 1960's. Ian was eventually employed at the Sculpture Park full time and worked his way up to become part of the park's management team. It was a job he enjoyed tremendously and I was impressed by the way he handled it whenever I visited him at the park's office. I was so proud of his achievement with this. It was a job that I would have had neither the intelligence nor the social skills to do well. He was appparently in line for a directorship until his stroke put him out of commission, nine years ago. Eventually, he recovered from the stroke, only to discover that he had to deal with diabetes as well. Of course, all of those who loved him got sanctimonius about it and we gave him our glib advice, admonishing him if we felt that he wasn't strictly adhering to whatever health regime was appropriate to his condition. Ian, characteristically, didn't respond well to being prodded about these things. His life was his life and back seat drivers were not easily tolerated. To use a nautical metaphor, he was the captain of his own ship and he intended to sail it wherever HE wanted. Both of us were born stubborn so-and-so's but perhaps Ian had the upper hand on me in this department too. So...stubborn, yes, but he was never unforgivable.
One of the things that people seemed to remember most about Ian was his warmth and the way he had of putting people at ease. There was something relaxed, open and easy going about him that made this possible. Again, I lack that quality, being too self-absorbed, nervous or intense, (or something,) and was often surprised and amazed by the positive response he elicited from total strangers. He could make people feel they'd known him for years. And he did it without any artifice. It was 100% genuine empathy.
One thing we had in common was a first marriage that didn't work out. I also had a second one that didn't but when Ian met Diane it felt as if he'd found his soul mate. I remember Ian and Diane's wedding day and the good vibes they gave off. And when Emiko and I had our wedding day, Ian and Diane were our witnesses. Diane has stuck with Ian through good times and difficult ones and she has a deep understanding of Ian's character and life. What she has endured these last two days is powerfully moving and impossible to fathom but she has shown kindness and bravery to all those in her circle and I know that Ian would be proud of her, and of his three children.
Ian's eldest son, Julian, (from his first marriage,) has been a pillar of strength to Diane, to my mother and to his step-brother Louis and step-sister Lucy. I've been so impressed by Julian's thoughtfulness, saneness and compassion. Ian's younger son Louis and daughter Lucy, (both from Ian's marriage to Diane,) have shown tremendous dignity and self control too.They are a tribute to Ian and Diane's parenting skills. I'm proud to be an uncle to all three children 'though I ought to have been a much more present and regular one. I hope they realise just how much their father meant to me.
During these last two days, I've been overwhelmed. I've been overwhelmed not only by what has actually happened, what also by the changes it has thrust upon so many people, overwhelmed by emotions that were far deeper and far stronger than I'd ever expected. At night, a little cinema of memory has opened up in my mind. I close my eyes and, there on the flickering screen are images of Ian and I as young children, anticipating Christmas...Me reading to Ian the story of 'Peter And Pam's Christmas' from a now long lost childhood book, huddled under an eiderdown together on a snowy Christmas Eve at our home at number 28 Conistone Crescent, Eastmoor Estate on the edge of Wakefield. We were electrified with excitement and anticipation, unable to sleep, eager for the morning and our presents from Santa.
A dissolve...School holidays now. I've built plastic model aeroplanes from Airfix kits and hung them from the bedroom ceiling. Ian takes pot shots at them with his pop gun and decimates half a squadron. We run around the back garden in super-hero capes, Batman and Robin, Superman and Superboy, Dan Dare and Digby. Other kids, more inclined to army games, think that we are weird. We don't care what they think.
The scene shifts and Ian and I are at the coast, or outside a caravan, or on the beach with a toy boat named St. Christopher, or on a clifftop flying a home-made kite together. There are images of us standing by our father's car... me with my arm around Ian, protecting him, my little brother. (He had curly blonde hair when he was small, cute as a button.) These images keep coming, flickering, changing, on through the years, our innocence gradually being left behind and with it the wonder and simplicity of childhood. Exhanged for something wilder and more dangerous: real life itself. And real life has taken Ian from us, as real life does. It takes us all eventually. What can we do? What's the point? Well...to live until we can live no more. But above all, to love and be loved in return. And I love my brother so much. I'll miss him terribly.
Ian carried with him a part of my life, a shared childhood, memories of distant times. I think it's not overdramatic to say that a part of me has died with him. But, conversely, a part of him lives on with me. I want to recall more of our times together, to share them with readers of this diary, to let them know what a lovely person he was, to help them understand just why I'm so sad and heartbroken about losing him. For today though, perhaps this is enough, a beginning. So many warm tributes have appeared on the Dreamsville website forum for him. He would have been amazed by how much love he'd generated, how respected he was. You left too soon, Ian, too soon.
The photographs accompanying this diary entry show Ian alone on Lantern Hill in Ilfracoombe in Devon, myself and Ian on Ilfracoombe harbourside and Ian and I outside our parent's caravan at Skipsea, (with Dad's Austin Cambridge car.) The photographs were taken around 1959/'60, I think.
Monday 10th April 2006. 10 : 10 am
Once again, an extremely long gap between diary entries. Perhaps they will appear more frequently in future however, as new software has been installed on the Dreamsville site that will allow me to upload my diary direct to the server, rather than having to ask tech-support people to do it for me, as has been the case until now. I've felt quite guilty of troubling others to post my diaries, 'though that hasn't been the only reason for their infrequency. Distracted by music making the main cause, as usual.
So, what has been happening here in the weeks since I last wrote? More of what usually happens, I suppose. Intense work in my modest studio, as always, along with various mild domestic dramas. I'll record the musical progress first.
My proposed production job for Slava's new band 'Jupiter,' (formerly 'Nautilus Pompilius,') has, unfortunately, been cancelled. Or at least postponed for the indefinite future. Disappointing, for both them and me. The band couldn't raise sufficient funding from their record company to travel to Britain from Russia for the recordings but are hoping to seek additional funding from other sources. They hope to come here later in the year to record the entire album with me. Having experienced the music business first hand for over thirty years, I'm not holding my breath. If it happens, I'll be very pleased, but that 'if ' is a big one.
I've finally completed 'Neptune's Galaxy,' the instrumental album that I've created as a companion to my 'Alchemical Adventures Of Sailor Bill' album of last year. It contains just five tracks but they are long ones and the album clocks in at a total of just over 75 minutes worth of music.
Some might describe the album as 'ambient' 'though the music commands more attention than that categorisation would normally suggest. Three of the five tracks feature electric guitar and beats, one is an electric piano improvisation and the other features electronic keyboards and some subtle orchestra textures.The nautical themes are carried over from the Sailor Bill project but, of course, without lyrics. The track listing is as follows:-
1. 'My Ship Reclines On Clouds Of Sail.'
2. 'She Signals From Across The Bay.'
3. 'All Alone In A Boat Of His Own.'
4. 'Coastal Starlight.'
5. 'Ship In A Bottle Blues,(The Modern Mariner.)'
The entire album is very relaxing, gentle and meditative, occupying a sonic landscape, (or should that be seascape?) somewhere between 'Dreamland To Starboard', 'Crimsworth' and my Harold Budd collaborations.
Listening to the Sailor Bill album and then immediately afterwards to 'Neptune's Galaxy' is a satisfying experience, the final track of Sailor Bill providing a perfect bridge to the first track of 'Neptune's Galaxy.'
Although David Graham and myself are currently creating packaging artwork for the album, I've yet to master the tracks in preparation for manufacturing, so a release date has yet to be fixed. I'm hoping to make this album available as soon as possible though.
I've also attempted to make a start on the mixing of the Be Bop Deluxe Decca audition tapes. I've had these transferred to a Mackie external hard-drive so that I can work on the four songs here in my home studio. Unfortunately, technical problems have thwarted this for the time being. My HDR 24/96 hard disc recorder is an early model and the transfers were made using a newer version of the software. Basically, my machine can't read the files. My friend Paul Gilby has been helping me to get to the bottom of the problem which we eventually discovered hinges on the conflict of operating systems. Updating the OS has nor been as straightforward as hoped though. The HDR 24/96's floppy drive appears not to be working. (Required to load the latest operating system.) I also need a new e-prom fitting to cope with the larger external drive on which the Be Bop audition tapes have been transferred, so the saga is ongoing. It's been a frustrating and time-consuming piece of detective work. Hopefully, I should be able to access the files in a week or two when time will allow me to have the machine out of commission for a couple of days whilst the technical repairs are done.
Meanwhile, I've been recording more new material, six songs for what started life as a limited edition 'mini'-album. It may yet turn out to be a full-length album.The direction is jazz inspired.
I've often featured jazz stylings on some of my albums but, as Paul pointed out to me, I've never actually made an album given over to that particular style.This set me thinking. Anyway, I've now completed six songs for the project and there is still enough inspiration left over to write more. At one point, I wasn't sure how long I could sustain that particular mood but, at the moment, the ideas continue to flow. The six songs completed so far provide just over thirty minutes worth of music. If I can come up with another four songs I'll have a complete album.
The songs are: 'Windswept;' 'Take It Off And Thrill Me;' 'October Sky;' 'The Girl In The Galaxy Dress;' 'Always You;' and 'The Song My Silver Planet Sings.'
All six titles are vocal based compositions and I'm particularly fond of 'Windswept' which has a jazz blues mood somewhere between the worlds of Billie Holiday and Chet Baker. (But still 'me' somehow. How could it be anyone else?) 'Always You' has a touch of Bobby Darin on Mars about it. Or a Vegas showtune from a parralel universe. Could this be the closest thing I've done to an easy-listening lounge album? Well...not quite, but close.
The overall performance of these tracks is a little looser than the performances on 'Sailor Bill' but that is appropriate to the style. These are 'feel' pieces with improvised solos. They are not strictly jazz, of course, but just 'jazzy' or 'jazz inspired.' (Emiko described them as 'techno-jazz' but I'm not sure about that either!) As usual, I'm too close to the music to know what the hell it is. It's probably a curious side-project rather than a major statement. Other's may feel differently when they hear it. I will confess that there's some slick guitar playing on it though, if you like that kind of thing.
Working title for the mini-album is 'Return To Jazz Of Lights.' It may be a keeper.
I'm working through some visual concepts for the packaging at the moment, before sending images to David Graham for him to lay out and add typography. The path I'm pursuing is based around some old 1960's snapshots of Emiko. I've been going through her family album. She was a stunningly beautiful teenager and I couldn't have imagined myself landing a catch like her back then if we'd ever had the good fortune to meet, (which would have been impossible anyway, bearing in mind the distance between Tokyo and Wakefield and my reliance on the bus at that time in my life!)
One photograph I've selected for use is very odd. It could almost be a still frame from a dramatic moment in a movie. The young Emi is standing centre frame, gazing off to the the right and slightly up into the sky. She is surrounded by people, nearly all of whom have their back to the camera, looking over the edge of a railing, beyond which a white statue stands, its back also to the camera. Emi is dressed in a fashion that wouldn't look out of place on a young teenage girl of 2006, low slung skinny jeans, a tight fitting Japanese boy-scout shirt with embroidered badges, a large white bag. She looks, to use the well worn vernacular, 'cool.' The photograph's colours have faded over the years since it was taken, so I've scanned it and subjected it to a long sequence of colour, contrast and filter manipulation, giving it a vintage cinematic quality. It's an enigmatic picture, achieved without artifice. Whoever took the photo did it quickly and unthinkingly...the camera angle isn't straight but this adds to the tension. Only one person in the crowd is looking at the camera, a plumpish Japanese lady sat at a table in the middleground. She has an inane grin on her face. Its an intriguing photograph. Using it, (and the other's I've picked,) is not an obvious choice for the style of music on the album, but then again, it twists the album concept in a slightly surreal, ironic way. As the songs are all love songs, using Emi as an iconic image is perfectly apt anyway.
Guitars have loomed large in recent months. I may have mentioned on the Dreamsville site a while ago that Campbell American Guitars have been working towards a signature guitar for me. Dean Campbell has sent various drawings and ideas over for me to add my own input. I've sent drawings and suggestions back to Dean and a limited edition Bill Nelson signature model is not only on the drawing board but currently being developed in prototype form. It's all under wraps for now but all will be revealed when ready. Like all Campbell American guitars, it will be a hand made in the U.S.A. instrument.
Meanwhile, I've been playing my green Precix model, (see photo number one at the foot of this diary entry,) and will soon be getting delivery of a blue vibrato-arm equipped Precix. These instruments play beautifully and respond senistively to the touch of the player. I'll also be appearing on the Campbell American stand at the London Guitar Show held at the Wembley Exhibition Centre on the 6th of May. Not to perform but just to 'meet and greet' fans and fellow guitarists. A very early version of my signature guitar may be ready to display, although we're aiming for a more developed version by June. Naturally, I'm extremely excited about having a signature model after all these years of playing. If all goes to plan, it should be something really special.
But the guitar magic hasn't stopped there. I've long been a fan of unusual 1950's and '60's guitars. When I first became besotted by the instrument, at the end of the '50's it was almost impossible to see, in my local music shops, any of the expensive Gibsons and Fenders that our early guitar heroes played. Import restrictions on American goods meant that they were rare and definitely out of reach of the average player's pocket.
In my home town of Wakefield, the local music shop, 'Webster's,' (later to become 'The Wakefield Music Centre,') only stocked British and European guitars. These were inexpensive instruments, often with unusual design ethics, lots of chrome and push buttons, bright colours, accordion factory plastic, retro-sci-fi creations that really looked 'electric.' Burns and Fenton Weill guitars were amongst the main British makes but there were also a variety of quirky models from continental makers such as Hagstrom, Hopf, Gallanti and Wandre. Japan was also starting to licence designs to, or build for, some of the European manufacturers and some Japanese instruments were often 're-badged' for the western marketplace.
Of course, these weird and wonderful guitars didn't have the finesse of the more expensive American instruments but they did have a flashy visual appeal. These originally inexpensive guitars have now become collector's items and exchange hands for high prices, particularly the Wandre models which are rare and sought after.
Generally though, these budget instruments didn't play too well and their appeal was mainly in the visual department. And even then, perhaps, only if you had a taste for the kitsch. I still harbour a fond enthusiasm for them, despite being able to play much more upmarket brands these days. But I do prefer to play my guitars, rather than just look at them.
Enter Mike Robinson, a musician and collector of oddball vintage guitars who came up with the idea of manufacturing reproductions of some of the most sought after instruments. His plan was to make them look exactly like the original '50's and '60's rarities, but have them play and sound better. With this in mind, he started Eastwood Guitars, (based in Canada,) and set up a manufacturing operation to re-issue some vintage 'thrift-store' brands using modern manufacturing techniques. The results are guaranteed to attract players such as myself who grew up with those kind of guitars during our teens. (And some younger players who have taken notice of the 'Airline' models favoured by The White Stripes and Calexico.)
But, whilst nostalgia is one part of the Eastwood appeal, the sound and playability of the re-issues is something else. They are much more solidly made and player friendly than their original inspirations. I recently got myself an Eastwood reproduction of a Hopf 'Saturn 63' in black and chrome.The original late '60's/early '70's European instrument was quirky, a semi-hollow body with two cat's eye style sound-holes, both mounted, unusually, on the bass side of the body. Chrome metal strips were used to 'pipe' the guitar's edges and sound-holes and the resultant effect was retro sci-fi in keeping with the model's 'Saturn' name. The modern Eastwood reproduction re-creates the vibe wonderfully and the guitar has a very unique sonic character as well as being an unusual looker. (See photo number two at the foot of this diary entry.)
So, my guitar dreams continue to inspire my imagination ...Fans who have attended my live concerts in recent years will have noticed that all the guitars I favour are somewhat out of the ordinairy, not a Les Paul model amongst them, (as much as I adore Les' playing.) Maybe it's my art school background but a guitar's appearance is as important to me as its playability and an instrument's visual style will always be a major consideration in my choices. Nearly all the guitars I play reflect some special design ethic, whether modern or retro. My Gretsch guitars also sit in perfectly with that sensibility, as does my Gus 'Orphee' which pushes that approach into a 21st Century, midi-equipped, industrial design arena. What's truly wonderful for me though is that, after all these years of playing the instrument, I still get a thrill out of looking at my guitars and using them to make my music. I'm as in love with the instrument as I was when I got my first guitar at the age of 11 or 12. And I still can't read a note of music or espouse any musical theory. Despite all the recordings I've made, I've yet to understand how the music gets from 'in here' to 'out there'... I'm just thankful that it does.
I've spent some time with my friend Jon Wallinger recently, tracking down a new venue for this year's Nelsonica fan convention. After exploring various alternatives, we've settled on the York Hilton Hotel. I think this will prove to be an excellent location for the event, certainly for those fans who travel from abroad to attend. York is a beautiful, historic city with lots to offer its visitors. Hopefully, some fans will bring their families and make a weekend of it. There's even a York version of the London Eye big wheel being constructed. Should be open soon, certainly in time for Nelsonica 06. Along with the historic Viking and Roman sites, York has the National Railway Museum, the Yorkshire Air Museum, two more general museums, river trips, the gothic Minster, a good art gallery, plenty of interesting shops, old pubs, modern cafe-bars and restaurants, almost all within an area that can easily be accessed on foot. Convention attendees can stay in the venue itself at preferred rates which we will negotiate with The Hilton Hotel so the whole package is much more attractive than ever. And easier to get to than North Ferriby.
The next step is to create the content for the convention. There are some new ideas that I'd like to introduce, including a presentation aimed at the guitarists amongst the fans. I think that, if all goes to plan, this year's Nelsonica will be even more special than previous ones. Jon and the team are really professional in their attitude to organising the convention and put a lot of thought and effort into making it a special day. It's impossible not to respond positively to such dedication and enthusiasm.
Another project that I'm about to immerse myself in is the mixing of some old live Be Bop Deluxe tracks to be included in a box set that EMI Records are planning to issue later this year. The box will collect together everything the band recorded, every official album and some out-takes and alternative mixes, plus a few unreleased live tracks. I will be going into Fairview studios soon to take care of the mixing of the latter.
On the domestic front, the usual stresses and strains. Far too many bills piling up on the kitchen table and repairs needed for the house. Cars have been up to their tricks too, both Emiko's and mine requiring new exhausts and tyres. Mine is rapidly going rusty, but a re-spray would probably cost more than the car is worth. Perhaps the weather will improve soon and I can get the pushbike out of the shed.
My son Elliot has joined the car set, having passed his driving test recently. He's got himself an old VW Golf and came to pick me up to take me into town the other week. It seems like only yesterday I was helping him to learn how to ride a little two wheel bike. I can remember the day that I took his stabilisers off and ran behind him, holding on to his saddle. I let go and off he went, perfectly balanced. When he turned around and realised that I wasn't holding him upright, the look on his face was priceless. He was just a little kid then...That thing of time evaporating so quickly. Life is so short.
Well...having said that, I'll get back to the music making.