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Tuesday 9th September 2008. 9 : 00 pm
BILL NELSON DIARY ENTRY: TUESDAY 9th SEPTEMBER 2008. EVENING.
Three hours ago, I returned home after a trip to Manchester airport. Emiko is winging her way to Japan as I write these words. I'm alone in the house and will continue to be so for the next two weeks and two days, until Emi returns.
We had to arrange Emi's trip very quickly, consequently the last few days have been hectic. The reason for her departure is both unfortunate and unexpected.
On Friday we received news that her mother had been admitted to hospital in Tokyo, suffering from intestinal cancer. Her mother, who is in her 80's and quite frail, must undergo an unavoidable operation this coming Thursday. It never rains but it pours.
Naturally Emi became extremely concerned and wanted to fly to Tokyo to be with her mum. It's been two years since we last visited but we were hoping that we'd both be able to go to Japan again at the end of this year. This worrying news suddenly made the issue a much more urgent one.
I desperately wanted to travel with Emi to Tokyo but I have so much personal responsibility here, (Nelsonica preparations and supporting my own mother with her litigation problems, amongst other things,) that it would be impossible for me to just drop everything and fly to Japan. There are simply too many problems for me to deal with here and not even enough time to deal with them properly. But, clearly, it's extremely important that Emi sees her mother.
The doctors seem to be reasonably optimistic about the outcome of the operation, at least at the moment. It seems that the cancer may be confined to one area. They'll know more as the surgery progresses but we're praying for a positive outcome.
The last time Emi and I spent any lengthy time apart was around twelve years ago. I know that some married couples welcome a chance to get away from each other, but not us. We're a very close couple who genuinely enjoy being together, so parting at the airport this afternoon was a traumatic experience for both of us. I felt as if the world was suddenly empty when I travelled back from Manchester on the train after seeing Emi safely through the check-in proceedure.
We'd had a stressful morning, trying to catch the Manchester airport train from York. The station car park was full when we drove into town so I dropped Emi at the station forecourt with her luggage and drove off to find alternative parking, telling Emi that I'd meet her on the platform as soon as I could. The search for an alternative car park ended up being a race against the clock. It seemed that there were no available spaces at any of the car parks within reasonable walking distance of the station.
I finally found somewhere but I was then faced with a frantic dash to meet Emi on the platform and catch the train. In my haste, I hit my head on the car boot lid whilst grabbing my shoulder bag, resulting in a nasty cut to the top of my scalp. These days there's not much hair growing in that nebulous region to cushion any bangs or scrapes, I'm afraid. It hurt like hell and is still throbbing as I write these words.
Anyway, after a heart-pounding scramble to get to the station, I made it back to Emi just in time for us to hop on the train.
The route to Manchester airport took us through Dewsbury and Huddersfield, both towns holding old memories for me. When I was a schoolboy my mother and father used to take me to Dewsbury Market after school on Wednesdays. My father had a 'half-day' off work on that day and this meant he was free to meet me from school in the family jalopy. (An old 1940's 'Jowett.') We would drive over to Dewsbury and browse amongst the market stalls and around the town. I recall getting a 'David Nixon Magic Set' from a shop there once. (David Nixon was a well known conjurer with his own tv show at that time.) Haven't really been there since though.
Huddersfield figures a little later in my life. In the 1960's I had a three-piece psychedelic blues band called 'Global Village.' We had a fairly regular gig at a venue in Huddersfield called 'The Builder's Exhange Club.' It was an exploratory time for me, (and musically a magical time for anyone of my generation.) The small club used to be packed to the rafters when we played there, a fabulous atmosphere, exciting and energetic. We took our cues from bands such as The Yardbirds, early Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
I related these memories to Emi as we trundled past the towns on the way to the airport. Soon we were out in the hills and then rattling through the Pennines, ancient mills crumbling in the rain...
After we'd tearfully parted at the entrance to the departure lounge, ('ticket holders only past this point,') I walked back to the airport station, feeling sad and lost. The trip back to York was filled with brooding thoughts and dark clouds. It was raining when I alighted on the platform and started the walk back to where I'd parked the car. I hit rush hour, people commuting away from the city. As I drove beyond the city centre, my mobile 'phone rang. It was Emi. She had already landed at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris where she was to make her connection with her flight to Japan. We spoke as I drove towards our home. I stopped in the lane that leads to our house and we talked for a few more minutes before she had to go to make the next leg of her long journey.
When I opened our front door, our cats, Django and Tinkerbell came to greet me, then looked around for Emi. They've gone off into the surrounding fields now, as they usually do about this time, but it's clear they're wondering where she is.
So, here I am...an enforced bachelor of sorts for the next two weeks and two days. I had a microwave meal at dinnertime and haven't done the washing up yet. I came up here to the studio to write this diary entry in the hope that it might ease my feeling of solitude. I need to keep myself occupied and try not to be too miserable. It's not as if I have nothing to do...in fact there's far too MUCH to do. And without my wife to help back me up with day to day 'real world' issues I'm going to feel even more stressed than before. Nevertheless, I must try to get on with it. Nelsonica is getting nearer and nearer with every panicky moment.
Talking of which: one previously uncertain Nelsonica task has now been confirmed. There WILL definitely be a seven piece band performing at Nelsonica, although the component I was hoping would fall into place didn't actually materialise...but someone else has bravely offered to take up the challenge and help make the band more than just an idea. I'll try to post something on my website forum soon, revealing the members names and the band's name. (I've yet to decide upon the latter. It won't be 'The Lost Satellites' but something new.) I may even write another diary entry in order to record my bachelor misery for posterity. Or at least for Emiko to know how much she's missed. Right now, I'm going to go and mope into a glass of wine.
Thursday 4th September 2008. 5 : 00 pm
The following diary entry was begun two days ago but I only now have found time to complete it and post it, hence the difference of date headings.
BILL NELSON. DIARY ENTRY: TUESDAY 2ND SEPTEMBER 2008. MID EVENING.
I'm in a mood...and a low one at that.
It may be exhaustion, or stress, or the depression that I always try to deny I suffer from, or all three demons colluding together. Whatever the cause, I wish I could escape it.
Nelsonica is only eight weeks away and there's SO much still to do. I accept that there's always going to be a lot of pressure to get everything ready in time for the convention, but this year it feels even more extreme than usual. There have been lots of good intentions but the practical side is far more complicated than it might appear.
One serious concern for me is that we're making little, or very slow progress regarding the confirmation of a band for the live concert side of Nelsonica. The band proposal has been on the agenda for several weeks now, yet it's no further advanced than it was when I last wrote about it in an earlier diary entry.
Almost everything needed to make the band materialise, (apart from the time-consuming task of choosing, preparing, learning and rehearsing the songs,) is in place. But there's still ONE essential component as yet unconfirmed. And unless this firms up soon, I fear that the whole idea will sadly have to be abandoned. Unfortunately, assembling and rehearsing a seven-piece band is not something that can be done at the drop of a hat. It needs the right combination of people plus a lot of careful planning and thought.
The other tricky thing is that I really, here and now, should be finalising what material to assemble for the Nelsonica live performance. IF a band IS to be part of the day's programming, my solo set needs to be appropriate for that inclusion, both in length and in musical content. If the band set finally doesn't take any part in the day's schedule, then a much longer solo set will be required from me, and of a different nature.
Not only do my solo performance backing tracks have to be chosen, then mastered at Fairview (and rehearsed) so that they make up a balanced and cohesive live concert, but I have to choose appropriate video backdrops to fit the set too. Once the sequence of music is settled upon, the video master-disc must be assembled with everything in the correct order of performance.
I also have a couple of specially composed new solo instrumental pieces that I'd like to include amongst the older material but, at this point in time, there are no video backdrops to fit them. This will require the creation of new video pieces within what is rapidly becoming a frighteningly short space of time.
I have to admit that my earlier feelings about completing all this work to a sufficient standard have not been particularly positive. I suspected that the idea of putting a band together and getting it rehearsed to a suitable level of accomplishment, within a less than ideal time frame, was going to be a risky proposition from the off. The fact that there have already been so many other pressing problems and commitments this year has not helped me either. I've been wondering whether I should not have not taken the band proposal on board to start with and instead just concentrated on the other things I need to do for the convention.
Well...it's difficult to forsee how things might develop. I suppose there IS still a possibility, (albeit a faint one,) that the band thing might come together, but it's looking very tight right now. Far more than I'm comfortable with.
Unfortunately, I'm not the sort of person who can casually accept a poorly prepared performance as being o.k. I can't just scrape through then walk away and shrug it off as if it isn't particularly important. My basic attitude is, and has always been: 'if it's not good enough, bin it.'
I'd also hoped to avoid an ill-prepared and manic few weeks before the event itself, to have a more enjoyable and less stressful lead-up to the day, (and throughout the day itself too.) But this now seems highly unlikely. Something will have to give, something will be unavoidably compromised. There's just too many other Nelsonica-related things that I'm duty-bound to take care of within the time that remains.
The fact is, my day to day life has been punishingly intense throughout the last 8 months, for all kinds of reasons. My tiny studio's output has been astonishing for that length of time...constant, obsessive, compulsive creativity. More than SIX album's worth of compositions recorded already, a massive amount of expended energy by anyone's standards.
I still have no idea how I've been able to accomplish all this, considering the time-consuming domestic concerns that I've had to deal with, (especially my mother's ongoing and very stressful legal situation.)
Anyway, whatever the reasons for it, my self-imposed, highly driven work schedule has had a debilitating effect. To put it bluntly, I feel shattered, exhausted and drained by it all.
Yes, I know I often complain about such pressures in this diary but, this time, it's gone just that little bit beyond what any sensible person would consider to be their reasonable limit. My own fault, to some extent, I suppose.
So why did I jump through these particular hoops? To escape from other worries? Sheer stupidity? Concerns about income? A sense of time running out...sand slipping far too fast through the hour-glass? A kind of ego-driven mortal desperation? Or just trying to reach new heights within my personal dark sky?
There's no real rationale involved whatsoever, (though trying to keep my head above the economic waters has to be one real-world motivating factor.)
Sometimes, I really should try to locate the off' switch, the 'not now' button, the 'pause' control...
In fact, I really should let go of it ALL for a while, let it drop, float away, forget it, take a holiday.
(A holiday? No chance whatsoever of that.)
So here's the state of play as of this moment:-
The recent instrumental trilogy is about to be completed with the upcoming release of the 'Mazda Kaleidoscope' album. A lovely, floating, drifting canvas of colours. Music to glide in, or swim in, or bathe in. (But the release date now delayed until the 8th Sept. Apparently a manufacturer's glitch.)
I've also finally completed work on the vocal album, 'Golden Melodies Of Tomorrow,' nailed down its 18 song track-list and got the whole shebang mastered over at Fairview Studios with John Spence tweaking the frequencies. It's a darkly rich collection of songs which will take the listener a little while to absorb. Black lava reflecting ancient starlight.
Actually, John paid me a wonderful compliment whilst we were listening to this material. He said he's not heard anyone else get such a warm and rich sound from digital recordings. I'm flattered as this is exactly what I'd hoped to achieve.
The album seems to have taken on a character of its own. It's more like a location, an environment, than a set of songs. For me, it feels like a city from a long-forgotten tomorrow, the kind of place we wander through in our dreams, lost but unafraid, a labyrinth of memory and shadows, lit suddenly by lightning and sunbeams.
The final running order for 'Golden Melodies Of Tomorrow' is now as follows:
1: 'Welcome To Electric City.'
2: 'Once I Had A Time Machine.'
3: 'Summer Hums In The Bee-Loud Glade.'
4: 'Frosty Lawns. (Snowballs And Oranges.)'
5: 'God Glows Green In Small Town Park.'
6: 'My Empty Bowl Is Full Of Sky.'
7: 'When Aeroplanes Were Dragonflys.'
8: 'Night Is The Engine Of My Imagination.'
9: 'The Old Nebulosity Waltz.'
10: 'Help Us, Magic Robot.'
11: 'Time's Quick-Spun Globe.'
12: 'Fountains Are Singing In Cities Of Light.'
13: 'The Emperor Of The Evening.'
14: 'I Saw Galaxies.'
15: 'Until All Our Lights Combine.'
16: 'Heaven Is A Haunted Realm.'
17: 'Golden Melodies Of Tomorrow.'
18: 'Golden Coda, (Farewell To Electric City.)'
Besides the above, I've also made an adjustment to the track-list of CD 2 of the Nelsonica 'Clocks And Dials' double album whilst transfering all 38 tracks and before signing them off for mastering. This, again, over at Fairview with the professional and talented help of my long-time friend John Spence. The track-list adjustment is as follows:
The instrumental track titled 'Dreamland Airships' has been removed and substituted with a new vocal track titled 'Clocks Wind Slow.' (And all better for it, I think.)
As mentioned previously, I've also been working with David Graham on the packaging art for the 'Golden Melodies Of Tomorrow' album. We've just last night finalised that particular challenge. It looks fabulous and enforces the 'Busby Berkley Of The 22nd Century' mood that the music evokes.
Now we're attempting to start on the 'Clocks And Dials' digi-pack artwork. I've spent most of yesterday and all of today trying to come up with images that I can adapt and tweak and send to Dave for him to lay out in the digi-pack format. Still lots more images required though. A LOT more.
Putting these package designs together is not an exact science. Sometimes it can fall into place over a couple of days...othertimes it can take a couple of weeks or more. It's not nearly as quick and easy as it might seem. Unfortunately, due to holidays and other distractions, we don't yet have a template for the digi-pack. I need to chase up Paul on that score. (But he's away on holiday too.)
Work that I still have to do before Nelsonica:
Create a selection of drawings/artwork for the Nelsonica auction.
Make new stage backdrop videos to fit the new solo-set pieces.
Create this year's 'Nelsonica Workbox' art and contents
Choose and master backing tracks and rehearse my solo set performance.
Prepare performance charts for above.
Choose and learn and rehearse a band set performance. (SHOULD the band finally materialise.)
Prepare performance charts and lyric sheets for the above.
Choose, repair and set up an appropriate selection of guitars/instruments for the live performances.
Dismantle all musical equipment needed for the performances from my studio, (processors, cables, pedal boards, guitars, stands, etc, etc.) Pack everything up and haul it downstairs ready to transport to rehearsals and convention. (There's a LOT of gear and it's damned heavy and I seem to get weaker and creakier every year!)
Get a haircut!
Choose and dry-clean my stage clothes and pack them ready for the event.
PLUS: Several other things the Nelsonica team have asked me to do but that I've since pathetically forgotten. (Senior moments...don't ya just love 'em!)
Enough already...I'm changing the subject.
My mother's 80th birthday just over a week ago. I booked an Italian restaurant in Wakefield and her remaining family gathered around her to help her celebrate. She's had a very difficult six or seven months since her husband passed away, as noted in my previous diary entry. A rotten time for her which has been compounded by the hard-nosed calculations of others.
My eldest daughter Julia and my grandson Luke came up from London just for the day. Also my youngest daughter Elle, my nephew Julian, my sister-in-law Diane and Julia's friend Michael attended the dinner, as did Emiko and, of course, myself. Unfortunately, Elliot was working and couldn't make it. My nephew Louis and nice Lucy were also unable to attend but it turned out to be a very pleasant evening with good food and warm conversation.
My mother was much cheered by the support of her family. She is very much in need of love right now and that's exactly what we gave her, along with cards, flowers and birthday gifts.
It's unfortunate that she still has all the unpleasantness of the legal struggle regarding her late husband's will to contend with. No love from that quarter whatsoever, it seems. The legal dispute is ongoing but is now moving firmly towards litigation. I've been helping my mother to deal with the preparation of witness statements for her Barrister and progress IS being made. We all want to see things sorted out for her and the support she is recieving from her close family is incredibly important, particularly in view of the shabby treatment she's received from what I'll simply refer to as 'the other side.'
What else to tell? Something positive: My new Peerless 'Deep Blue Custom' guitar arrived and has helped to lift my own flagging spirits. Somewhere between a Gretsch and a Gibson but yet entirely its own thing. It's a beautiful matte-finish blue colour, a thin-line semi-acoustic without 'f' holes. It has a 'varitone' control similar in function to that on my Gibson 345 stereo guitar. It's also beautifully bound with abalone markings and feels comfortable and inspiring to play. I'm really enjoying playing it and have been using it on some new recordings. I've always been fond of guitars that don't strictly conform to popular or mainstream taste so the 'Deep Blue Custom' suits my personality and sounds great too. A character instrument, like the 'Monarch' archtop I've also been recording with of late.
Every instrument has its own unique personality and inspires different aspects of one's creativity. A guitar's tone, shape, colour and feel are all factors that contribute to the playing experience. Choosing the appropriate guitar for any given piece of music is like choosing brushes and paint to work on a blank canvas. And I'm very lucky to have some wonderful instruments to work with.
I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to line up several of my favourite guitars at Nelsonica and play them all in public, (instead of keeping them to myself in the studio!) The Campbell Nelsonic, the Gus G1, a couple of Eastwoods, a Gretsch, a D'Angelico, and the two Peerless models should, between them, help to make the day a colourful one.
Whilst on the subject of guitars: Most readers of this diary will be aware that I took up the guitar many years ago, around 1959. I started out messing around with a small toy guitar my brother Ian received as a Christmas gift, then I was given a slightly larger plastic 'Elvis Presley' toy guitar of my own, made by Selco. But what REALLY inspired me to continue with this initial interest and gave me the desire to aquire a full size, proper instrument, was hearing a particular guitar instrumental on the radio. Its title was 'Because They're Young' and it was recorded by Duane Eddy. Hearing Duane play that tune literally changed my life. Duane Eddy was my first guitar hero, followed by Hank B. Marvin of The Shadows. Then it was The Ventures, Chet Atkins, Les Paul and others. But Duane was the first.
It's probably impossible for a youngster of today to understand what a mighty impact electric guitar instrumentals made on musically inclined 1950's schoolboys back then. It was the start of something that has, over the years, become a taken-for-granted aspect of popular musical culture. But it was startlingly fresh, even shocking, at the time.
The reason I'm talking about this is because of a feature in the latest issue of 'Twangsville,' the newsletter/magazine of the 'Duane Eddy Circle,' (of which I'm a proud and honary member.)
The feature comprises an article with photographs relating to a recent special concert held at The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. It was a 50 year anniversary concert celebrating the half-century since the Hollywood Bowl first put on rock n' roll concerts. This famous venue was originally intended for classical and light music but in 1958 it gave way to the tidal wave of rock and roll and put on its first rock concert. One of the stars of that original 1958 show was Duane Eddy who was enjoying hits with his raunchy, twangy guitar instrumentals at that time.
The recent anniversary show, held in June of this year, brought Duane back to the Hollywood Bowl along with B.B. King and Liza Minnelli and an 80 piece orchestra. Duane opened the second half of the show with 'Rebel Rouser' and closed the concert with a epic rendition of 'Peter Gunn' featuring added guitar parts by B.B. King and the full strength of the 80 piece orchestra. (Plus Liza Minelli dancing on stage to the whole thing.) Sounds like a blast!
But there's a nice and very personal aspect to this 50th anniversary concert: The special programme that was printed for the event contained a biography of Duane Eddy's career. (It's reproduced in the 'Twangsville' magazine, which is how I know about it.) The biography concludes with Duane talking humbly about how many world-famous guitarists have cited him as being the reason they first took up the guitar. And a handful of those guitarists are name checked in the Hollywood Bowl programme's biography: George Harrison, Hank Marvin, The Ventures, Mark Knopfler, Bruce Springsteen and...surprise, surprise! yours truly! I know I've been playing a long time now and I should be cooly jaded about such things, but to see my name listed alongside Duane, Hank Marvin, George Harrison and The Ventures in the official programme of such a special Hollywood Bowl concert gave me a genuine thrill.
Still an awe struck kid with a guitar and a lot to learn? You bet I am!
Still on the subject of guitars and guitarists...(and fandom.)
I recently bought a copy of a new book titled 'The Les Paul Legacy.' It deals with the early years of Les Paul's career and makes a nice companion volume to the more elaborate limited edition Les Paul autobiography that I already own and treasure.
I also recently received a message from a very kind fan in America who has obtained an autograph for me from Les, personally signed to myself. It's being sent to me soon and I intend to frame it and proudly display it on my studio wall.
Les Paul plays every Monday evening at the Iridium Club in New York...two sets per evening, and he's now in his 90's! Inspiration? In spades! He even signed a Nelsonic Transitone guitar that the above mentioned fan owns...an honour in itself. A copy of my 'Return To Jazz Of Lights' album was also passed to Les. Hope he'll find time to give it a listen.
Once again, another long diary entry, 'though I've missed out quite a few details. Actually, I may leave the diary alone for a while, perhaps until after Nelsonica. Every minute counts at the moment as there are so many pressing duties to attend to and not nearly enough time. As always, we'll see...
Back to work.
the images accompanying this diary are:
1: Flyer / advert for the 'Clocks And Dials' limited edition double album.
2: Advert for the Visu-Luxe DVD series, to be launched later this year.
3: Bill's Peerless 'Deep Blue Custom' guitar.
4: Another photo of the 'Deep Blue Custom.'
5: First of a series of 'dream' albums that don't actually exist.
6: Another 'Visu-Luxe' advert.