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Tuesday 7th December 2010. 9 : 00 pm
BILL NELSON: DIARY ENTRY TUESDAY 7th DECEMBER 2010. Evening.
Just a brief entry. The weather continues to be extremely cold. The snow that fell during the early part of last week has hardly shifted...just become frozen and hard. Our garden resembles an ice-age swamp. Beneath the snow are frozen pools of water from weeks ago, water than never seems to drain during the winter months. An unyieldingly deep layer of snow on top of this means that we can't move the car forward to turn it around to get out...so we are forced to reverse out of the drive onto the lane, which itself is like polished glass at the moment. The refuse collection truck didn't turn up last week and so household waste is piling up. We have managed an occasional postal delivery but the postman treads very gingerly down the path to our door.
Although the main roads into town have been cleared, (sort of,) many of the pavements in the town centre are dangerously icy and it is essential to take care whilst shopping. Having said that, I've hardly been out of the house this week due to being ill with the virus mentioned in my previous diary entry. Today, though, cabin fever got the better of me and, despite feeling cold, weak and miserable, I accompanied Emiko into town where we had lunch at The Guy Fawkes Inn.
Emi has a floral workshop at the Flower Guild this evening so we're skipping dinner and will just have a late, light supper when she returns.
Today is an anniversary. My father passed away on the 7th of December 1976, (which was also a Tuesday.) I was touring America at the time and was trapped in a snow-bound New York when the sad news that he was fading fast was relayed to me. I cancelled the remaining tour dates and caught the first available flight back to the UK, but Dad died before I even boarded the 'plane. The flight home was terrible, so many dark thoughts going through my head.
Dad's funeral was at the crematorium in Wakefield. There's a little shed-like room built onto the side of the crematorium that houses a book of Biblical proportions in which the names of the deceased are inscribed on pages bearing the appropriate date. On the 7th of December, every year, the book is open at my Dad's name, where it was originally inscribed, 34 years ago this year. My mother and I have often gone to the crematorium on December 7th to look at his name in the book and to leave a few flowers and a message in one of the tin vases that are affixed to the outer wall of the building. But, with the weather being so bad and my concern not to pass my cold virus on to my mother, we thought it best to give it a miss this year. Mum says it's not as if we don't think of him often. When I spoke with her on the 'phone this morning, she said she'd been looking at a photograph of him and remembering those long-ago days when life seemed more sweet. My father was a complex but wonderful man. He would sometimes scare the hell out of me but could also be the kindest, most generous person. And, after 34 years, I still miss him. Those readers of this diary who have obtained a copy of my book 'Painted From Memory: Volume One: Evocation Of A Radiant Childhood,' will know how important he was to me, and how fond of him I
remain. And, always at this time of year, my childhood memories of magical Christmas Eve's and Mornings are inextricably tied up with my father's care and love.
What conversations I would have with him now, if only he was still around.
I've done very little since the conclusion of Nelsonica. Not out of any great desire to relax but simply because I've not had the energy due to being ill. There are two new albums awaiting further work, ('Model Village' and 'Lampdownlowland.') but I can't imagine I'll make much headway with those until New Year, what with Christmas and all. I guess one of the pressing tasks will be to think about the content of the 6 cd career retrospective compilation for Cherry Red Records' 'Esoteric' label. That will be a major project which will require a lot of focus and care.
Our Christmas Tree is now up and lit. As are some of our indoor decorations and lights. The old place is looking quite festive already but I've yet to buy Christmas cards, let alone write and send them. This task seems to become more involved each year. I've already received at least three or four cards from friends though.
I've been thinking about this year's fan convention and realised that there were more ladies present than ever before, (despite two regular female fans not being able to attend.) I find the presence of women amongst the convention's attendees encouraging. The male-hormone-centric guitar hero thing needs to be balanced by a lighter, feminine component. It's been pointed out to me that my music isn't totally dependent on the guitar-slinger image that was once the main marketing focus for record companies. There's also the singer/songwriter aspect and the stylistic/visual element to consider. Truth is, I've always tried to balance the Yin and Yang in my work. Sensuality and delicacy are as important as power and energy. There's no dividing line, just a seamless flow, a constantly evolving play of polarities.
In the early days of Be Bop Deluxe, there was a deliberate attempt to play around with gender stereotypes: partly to confuse, (or outrage,) those whom I thought of as being conservative 'straights,' or partly to explore the theatrical possibilities of being in a band, or partly because, at that time, androgyny wasn't quite the commercial product it was destined to become. The glam bandwagon hadn't completely been hauled centre-stage so I could regard dressing up in my wife's clothes as a surreal, hip and fashionable act. Maybe it was the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. There was definitely something in the air, something that many creative antennas picked up on and tried to articulate
I guess, being young and impressionable, I hadn't quite thrown off the influence of the sexy 'sixties, (ie: Jimi Hendrix's coy, guitar as cosmic phallus sexuality,) or the mock n' roll pantomime decadence of David Bowie, etc.
Oh, and I mustn't underestimate the discovery that by throwing a cloak of ambiguity around one's sexuality, (no matter how tongue-in-cheek,) a kid from a Yorkshire council-house estate could morph into some kind of fantasy babe-magnet. Ok, I played it for laughs to some degree, but, well enough to conjure up some sort of rock n' roll romance in a life that was, in real terms, humdrum and wilting behind a local-government officer's desk. A genuine need to escape, as much as a predilection to escapisim, was the subliminal engine that drove my dreams.
I was, remember, not so long out of art school and had absorbed all the then fashionable art-school trends, everything from Symbolist painting to Pop Art, Hockney, Fluxus, Warhol and beyond. And a ton of other stuff I've absorbed but long forgotten.
It turned out that I was not entirely alone in being seduced by a plethora of exciting and, seemingly revolutionary new art movements, both high and low: A great number of influential (and now 'household name' status) rock musicians shook their booty at the shimmering, near-legendary Art School Balls that were once held across Great Britain in the mid 'sixties. Oh, my...you who were not there missed a wonderous thing!
Of course, all of this is increasingly forgotten now, and hardly acknowledged at all by the current crop of young pop n' rockers...But, without all the energy, chaos, turmoil, uncertainty, optimism, exploration, deviance, faith, hope and disparity we post-war baby-boomers manifested, everything that we now call 'now' would be radically different.
Check out the high street fashions when you venture out next...look at graphic design, advertising, listen to 'indie' bands, etc, etc. You'll hear the echoes, see the ripples, from a glimmering stone that was long ago thrown into our British cultural pond. Some of it resounds loudly and remains powerful...but most of it just serves to underline the lack of real imagination, the shallow puddle of post-post-modernist pop culture that bleats so ineffectually from the polite confines of our living rooms. Now, of course, the pose is everything. Always was, but once, for some reason, found itself blessed with special, extra features. The dream was anchored in oceanic depths.
Well, that's me done for today. I'd stated that this would be brief. A short diary entry only in so much as it is written quickly...A flow of thought without locks and dams.
The images accompanying this diary entry are as follows:
1: Bill and his father in Bridlington in the 1950's.
2: Bill's father and mother in the 1940's.
3: Bill's father with his saxophone, late 1940's.
4 and 5: Victor the robot takes charge in Bill's studio.
Wednesday 1st December 2010. 4 : 00 pm
Heavy snow and freezing cold weather these last few days, the coldest November on record apparently. We've hardly ventured out due to extremely poor driving conditions. Our narrow country lane escapes the attention of the council's snow ploughs or gritting trucks, and driving Emiko's small hatchback along it from our home to the main road has proved hazardous. Had to get to the village post office late on Monday afternoon and even turning the car around in the back garden was tricky. Snow almost up to axle depth and a ten minute scraping frenzy to get all the frozen white stuff off the car's windows.
This sort of weather looks set to continue. Today, (Wednesday,) we've had a continuous blizzard since early morning. Only now, at 1:35pm as I write, has the sky cleared a little and the snow stopped, but not for long, I expect. It must be costing us a small fortune to keep the heating on in the house and the freezing cold at bay. I need to find someone to come and sweep the chimney, and mend our damaged wood burning stove so that we can back up the central heating with something a little hotter and slightly less expensive.
The sore throat that threatened to turn into a cold last weekend has finally morphed into the real deal. I was awake much of last night feeling miserable...runny nose and sneezing. Feeling tired and weak today. Hoping it is just a cold and won't turn into flu or some nasty virus or other.
The main topic of this diary entry is, inevitably, this year's Nelsonica fan convention and its successful completion last weekend. A relief to be able to slow down a little these next few days.
After a week of intense rehearsals and various other last minute scrambles and panics to get everything in place, Nelsonica 10 opened in a blaze of technicolour and stereo sound. From the reaction of attendees on the Dreamsville Forum, it seems that everyone had a wonderful time.
For me, as always, the event brings with it a certain amount of trepidation. It's impossible for me to just kick back and enjoy it as I'm always concerned that there will be enough content to keep people entertained, and also that the live concert sections will be the best we can offer under the circumstances. (A large events room in a hotel isn't always the ideal location in which to perform highly amplified music!)
Nevertheless...this year, we presented the biggest and most ambitious Nelsonica ever.
Because 2010 marked the 10th anniversary of the convention, I'd decided that Nelsonica should be a little bit 'grander' than usual, hence the decision to hold it over two days instead of one and to include three concert performances, (solo, trio and 7-piece band,) instead of just my usual solo set. But, as always when coming up with ideas several months before an event, turning them into some sort of reality is quite another thing. It's very easy to underestimate just how much work might be involved. And it turned out that there was a LOT of hard work involved with this one!
Most people are probably unaware of the finer points of putting Nelsonica together. The routine usually goes like this: Early in the year, I play around with various Nelsonica concepts to try and come up with a theme and title for the year's event. This process could go on for several days or a few weeks, depending on how quickly I arrive at a conclusion. Sometimes, even if I think I've got it right, it's best to wait and let it 'settle' to see if it really sticks or suddenly feels inappropriate and vapourises.
Once the concept and title is decided I begin to search through various archives for possible visual images that might be adapted to the theme. In this year's case, the source material was found by my 'Real Men With Rayguns' partner, David Graham who searched the internet for suitable visual starting points. These are then adapted, altered and tweaked, text added and so on. Dave and I pass the images back and forth and I'll comment, add or suggest things where necessary. It's a quite unpredictable process, sometimes it comes together immediately, sometimes we have to chip away at it more slowly. This year's visuals were, I think, relatively straightforward as the title was a little less ambiguous than some other Nelsonicas.
Sometimes, interpreting the title requires lateral thinking, coming at it from odd angles, (A Day Trip To A Wah-Wah Galaxy' being one example. 'Secret Club For Members Only' and 'The Experimental Time Travellers Ball' being others.) Happily, this years 'Circus' theme gave us a very direct reference point so the process wasn't too laboured and we were soon discussing a stream of circus-related images that captured the slightly 'eccentric' feel that I hoped the title would suggest.
Dave and I work together on our computers via the internet so it's perhaps a little more time-consuming to get to the finishing line than if we were sitting together at a desk in a design studio...but, whatever the method, the results speak for themselves and we've developed a terrific working relationship. Dave is always open to making changes and understands my approach to visuals very sympathetically.
Fairly early in the year, a meeting of the Nelsonica team and myself is arranged to work out a rough outline of what the event might include. This year, of course, I proposed the band concert plus Orchestra Futura trio and solo concerts and an expanded two day time scale. The special limited edition DVD, as well as the usual Nelsonica cd, were also part of the plan, as was the exhibition of some of my guitar collection and the inclusion of live-on-stage interviews.
Then various tasks are allocated to team members. The live musical performances obviously are my main responsibility and I have to decide the content of these. Also, I have to create the Nelsonica album and original artwork for the auction, etc.
Dave continues to provide visual counterpoint as the year progresses, adding flyers to the website and adapting our core designs to things such as posters and wall panels that will be used on the day. These are beautifully printed for us by team member Ian C and always look absolutely stunning when put in place at the event.
The Nelsonica album then has to be written, recorded, mastered, designed and manufactured. The writing and recording can occupy a great deal of time, depending whether I'm happy with the material or not. Sometimes a good enough piece will emerge but it won't feel right in context with the other pieces...so it gets set aside and I begin again from scratch. Eventually, the convention album begins to take shape and Dave and I work together on the packaging design. Sometimes, the basic art for the album is in place before the album itself is completed.
Often, the Nelsonica album simply 'mops up' any leftover tracks from the previous year's recordings, pieces that didn't quite fit on other album projects. But this year, the convention album was shaped around the event itself and therefore took longer to put together. (And, of course, before Nelsonica, I'd put together, and released, the 'Modern Moods For Mighty Atoms' album which did contain both 'left-over' material AND specially written material.)
Also, as has now become traditional, a second, more 'major' album is created for simultaneous release alongside the Nelsonica one. This year it is the 'Fables And Dreamsongs' album. Again, the whole process of writing, recording, mastering, designing and manufacturing has to be gone through before we arrive at the end result. Sending off the finished master discs to the factory for manufacturing is overseen by Paul who acts as co-ordinator when it comes time to put the final album packages into physical production.
Paul also took care of the pressing of this year's special DVD, (titled 'Picture House,') once I'd decided on its content and worked on the design with Dave. The key to the DVD artwork was a projector image which I'd adapted a few years back for possible use in my online diary or as a Dreamsville flyer. It had lain dormant but, whilst searching for a starting point, I'd found it again and it shouted out to be used. I filtered the colour of the image, tricked in a beam of projection light and sent it over to Dave who then began to work on the 'framing' of the image and the fonts for the text. I then had to write appropriate sleeve notes and go through the video pieces themselves to find images that I could turn into still frames for the 'filmstrips' that appear as part of the package's artwork.
Paul then created a DVD menu page and wrote the digital codes for accessing the individual pieces on the master disk. We then checked that this worked before committing the finalised master DVD to the pressing plant for manufacture.
Whilst all of the above listed activities were going on, I simultaneously adjusted and polished volume one of my autobiography. This actually meant that I had to completely re-write several sections of it to make proper use of more recently discovered information, a quite complex, time-consuming task.
I also searched through extensive family archives to choose and caption over 80 photographs to include in the finished book. The job of getting the book's digital files ready for the printer was undertaken by Martin Bostock. Martin and I liaised over a few final details regarding text styles, size and costs and print quality, etc. Then the printing process itself began.
Eventually, a batch of 500 was delivered to Martin but, upon opening the boxes, it was discovered that all the books were 'warped.' Martin complained to the printers who initially tried to escape responsibility by claiming it was nothing to do with them. Eventually though, they agreed to reprint the book. After a week or so, a second batch of books arrived...with exactly the same problem as the first batch. Completely unacceptable. We then decided to try a different printing company. The first company was asked to take back all the warped copies. According to the second print company, the problem lay in the poor quality paper that the first company had used for the book's cover. They assured us they could do a better job. We were now getting extremely close to the convention deadline and there was a distinct possibility that the books might not be ready in time. Luckily, the new printing company was on the ball and the books did arrive just in time for Nelsonica and, thank goodness, were printed and manufactured to a much higher standard. But it was touch and go for a while, not to mention costly and time consuming.
The musical preparations for the live performance had been taking shape. I'd chosen material for all three sets and spent several weeks creating new backing tracks for my solo set and the Orchestra Futura set. These tracks were eventually mastered over at Fairview with John Spence but, at the last minute, I abandoned most of them and substituted other tracks along with four brand new, totally improvised trio pieces. Yes, a fair amount of time was spent recording new backing tracks but, although many of them were ultimately abandoned, they definitely will not be wasted. I fully intend to use them on an album of instrumentals next year.
The band set also went through a couple of revisions, as did my solo set but Nelsonica Ten eventually ended up with approx thirty three individual pieces of live music across the three performance sets. A lot of music to master over a relatively short rehearsal time. (5 days in total but maybe four in real time as equipment had to be transported to the rehearsal space, and set up, then dismantled and moved from rehearsal room to venue.)
Choosing the right material is never an instant thing...it's a drawn-out, involved process. I need to consider such things as the flow of key signatures from one piece to the next, tempo pacing, changes of atmosphere and so on. Also, (most importantly,) the technical practicality of each piece is of prime concern, particularly when choosing the vocal numbers. The pacing of songs with regard to my voice requires that I take on board the physical need to warm up my voice a little at a time. My vocal range has changed through the years and I sometimes struggle with the earlier songs which were written when I was a young man in my twenties. My current 'mature' vocal range is far more suited to recent recordings, rather than than those long-ago 'boyish' vocals of the 1970's.
Still...despite all these concerns and time-consuming attention to detail, the event itself was very well received by those who attended it. The musicians who graciously worked with me did the music proud and I'm very grateful for their help and the care that they brought to the task.
The Orchestra Futura set was, for me, sublime. I love the idea of having no fixed map or template. We simply launched ourselves off a cliff into an indeterminate sky and went wherever the breeze carried us. Trust, faith, belief, letting go...whatever you want to call it. This is what, for me, Orchestra Futura has at its core. Simply 'being' is its 'reason for being.'
The 'Gentleman Rocketeers' set, by comparison, was built on less mysterious foundations: rock n' pop and leather trousers! Simply get into the role and play the part. Loud guitar music and a couple of romantic ballads. During the set, I glanced round at Steve and Jon on their respective keyboards and saw that all was good!
Nick Dew, (Be Bop's original drummer,) who graciously consented to occupy the Gentleman Rocketeer's drum chair, is a lovely man who has always accepted my musical restlessness and, thankfully, never harboured any resentment when I had to re-shape the original Be Bop Deluxe line-up to comply with EMI Records' pressure after the first album, back in the '70s. Anyway, we had a ball!
Weather on Day One of the convention became atrocious by the end of the evening. Emiko and I had a difficult time driving home on Friday night. At one point, I imagined us having to abandon the car and being forced to walk the last few miles through the blizzard. Luckily, we made it home without any mishap, though my nerves were somewhat frayed.
Day Two was more physically tiring. In fact I felt weary even before I arrived at the venue. (And somewhat late due to weather and traffic conditions.) However, there were moments during my solo set when I was genuinely comfortable with the music and, I think, managed to pull a few white rabbits out of my battered old top hat. I'd chosen some of my own favourite solo pieces and enjoyed playing them for the Nelsonica attendees.
The non-musical aspects of the convention were very well received too. The live-on-stage-interviews with John Leckie, Nick Dew and myself seemed to entertain and amuse the audience wonderfully. Even the almost three-hour meet n' greet, where I attempt to autograph various items, went reasonably smoothly apart from a surreal moment when I noticed blood dripping onto the table I was using to sign autographs. At the final rehearsal I'd accidentally hit myself in the mouth with the edge of my Fender Stratocaster as I was slipping its strap over my head. On Friday morning, I noticed in the mirror that a blood-blister had formed on my upper lip. During Saturday's meet n' greet session, I must have caught the blister with my hand and burst it, hence the sudden flow of blood. I had to apologise to the people waiting in the queue and dash off to apply tissues and cold water until the bleeding stopped, then resume my place at the signing table. People must have wondered what on earth was going on.
As always, many fans generously brought along little gifts for me, and sometimes not so little ones!
I soon had a couple of carrier bags crammed with goodies. This aspect of the meet n' greet session certainly eases me through the three hours it usually takes to share a few words with everyone!
At the end of the day, I gave my closing speech, thanking all those members of the team who had given so generously of their time and talents. Then, to my great surprise (and pleasure,) I was presented with a very special gift from a number of American fans, some of whom were in attendance and some who were not able to be there.
The gift? An absolutely fantastic robot, constructed from a guitar amp, a vintage radio and various other bits n' pieces. I'm still overwhelmed by this most fabulous and imaginative act of generosity. Such a thoughtful, kind gesture.
Pictures of 'Victor,' (as I've titled him, due to his head being an RCA Victor radio,) accompany this diary. Those kind American fans can be assured that he will always be treasured by myself. And he seems quite at home in our snow-bound house!
I'd like to mention the names of the people who collaborated to have Victor brought into being for me: Dar Shelton, Dave Fordyce, Dean Campbell, Dennis a.k.a.Wonder Toy, Gary In Merryland, Michael Cardwell, Perry Weissberg, Peter Coulombe, Phil Watkins, Radium Girl, Robert Galisa, Robert (Robbot) Schaad, Stephen Weis (Chromiumlad,) and Walt Richmond.
Thanks are due to Jon Wallinger too who conspired with the above to get Victor over to the UK from the 'States. A plaque on Victor's back says: 'Dear Bill, this bot is an emissary from the New World: an automaton built especially for you to remind you of all your friends in faraway places.' Fantastic!
After the presentation of the robot, I was given another lovely gift from the team members...a huge framed panel containing all ten Nelsonica album discs above a big photograph of the entire Nelsonica team with Emiko and myself sitting at the centre. All the team have signed this piece for me and it's a wonderful souvenir of ten years of the event. I was deeply touched by this gift and, once again, will treasure it.
I must also mention Andy Newlove who stood in for my usual guitar tech Pete Harwood who wasn't available. Andy took on this complicated job at short notice and acquitted himself, (and thereby myself,) magnificently. I have a mind-numbingly complex guitar processing system but Andy figured everything out just fine. Also, I owe my thanks to the skills of Ian Thorpe and John Spence who, between them, guided the sounds from the stage to the audience's ears by the magic of the mixing desk. Sonic Wizards!
Also nice to see Mike Robinson of Eastwood Guitars who had kindly donated a guitar for the star prize draw. I'd decorated this with a 'Sailor Bill' theme...made it into a kind of art object. It was won by long-time fan Derek Walklate and I was very pleased for him!
Another special thank you is due to Stuart Gray, Nelsonica's star auctioneer, who every year entertains the audience with a highly amusing routine. He seems to be as talented a stand-up comedian as he is an auctioneer! (Though, sadly, I usually miss most of his performance due to being locked into the long meet n' greet session.)
Nelsonica also supports the 'Sara's Hope Foundation' charity and this year the auction raised just over £1,000 for that cause. (I've also recorded a new song for the Foundation which will soon be available to download in return for a donation to this very worthwhile charity.)
There were so many other people behind the scenes, all of them contributing to the fabulous two days that made up Nelsonica 10. There's a great team spirit about the whole thing, no egos, no grandstanding, just a broad commitment to putting on a great show for everyone who attends.
But...Whether I can summon up the energy to continue with this annual event is, at this current point in time, not exactly certain. I do need to take some sort of break, ('though this is looking less likely as the days roll by.) One way or another, I hope to continue to keep up the pace. As always, we'll see...
All for now though. My cold is definitely worsening since I began to write this diary entry...and the snow is still falling. Looks like we'll be holed up here at home for a few more days yet. Time for some mulled wine, I think.
The photographs accompanying this diary entry are as follows:
1 and 2: Views from Bill's home's windows showing the surrounding snowy landscape.
3, 4, 5 and 6: Victor The Robot enjoying the snow outside his new home.