The Alchemical Adventures Of Sailor Bill
Bill Nelson and his Lighthouse Signal Mechanism Orchestra
album - 6 November 2005
01) The Lighthouse Keeper's Waltz
02) The Ceremonial Arrival Of The Great Golden Cloud
03) Here Comes The Sea
04) Dream Of Imperial Steam
05) Sailor Blue
06) Ship Of Summer, All Lights Blazing
07) Illuminated Promenade
08) The Ocean, The Night And The Big, Big Wheel
09) A Boat Named St. Christopher
10) Moments Catch Fire On The Crests Of Waves
11) The Sky, The Sea, The Moon And Me
12) My Ship Is Lost To Semaphore
The Alchemical Adventures of Sailor Bill is a mainly vocal album issued on the Sonoluxe label in a single print run of 1000 copies. It was first made available on the opening night of Nelson's UK tour on 6 November 2005, which went under the banner of Popular Music From Other Planets. The remaining stock was then sold through SOS.
The album represented something of a departure for Nelson as it was a concept album centered around his childhood memories of time spent near the coastland of North East England.
The album went out of print in October 2007 and in 2013 tentative plans were announced on the Dreamsville Forum for a physical reissue as 2CD set with the companion album Neptune's Galaxy, but alas nothing came of this.
Available for purchase as a digital download here in the Dreamsville Store.
"It wasn't conceived as a 'concept' album, at least in the usually perceived sense. It is, as the subtitle reveals, a 'suite of songs' dealing with a central theme. But many albums of mine either start with, or eventually develop, a 'concept'. This doesn't have to be some grand operatic thing, just a shining thread on which to string the musical beads. This album started with me feeling my way forward a bit at a time, like a blind man with a cane. I'd originally intended doing a very simple, stripped down set of songs that might easily be reproduced live but, somewhere along the line, the coastal, oceanic thing emerged and hijacked my original intentions. Before I knew it 'The Lighthouse Signal Mechanism Orchestra' had entered the frame, and it became clear what the muse was demanding of me. The instrumental interludes...were designed to both 'bridge' and further elaborate the various songs. The album is meant to be taken as a single, constantly unfolding piece of music. It contains a strong sense of place, of landscape and seascape, of characters and visual impressions. A kind of Ealing Studios film rendered as song."
"On a personal level, the album preserves these memories in sound and lyric as a meditation on loss and longing. On a more general level, it's an impressionistic album of seascapes and landscapes and the beautiful nature of our English coastline."
"One of my favourite tracks, "The Ceremonial Arrival of the Great Golden Cloud" works on several levels: 'The Great Golden Cloud' could actually be the name of a big sailing ship, its arrival in harbour after a trip to exotic lands being celebrated by those on dry land. It could also be a literal cloud, turned golden by the setting summer sun, watched by my boyhood self whilst standing on the east coast cliffs with my late father. The song makes a clear reference to my father who, 'loved the sea'. He and I used to walk on the empty beach together at dawn and explore the cliff tops at Reighton Gap and Witherensea. I recall he and I watching wild waves hit the harbour at Ilfracombe in Devon too. That song has many personal resonances."
"Re: 'The Lighthouse Keeper's Waltz' - it is intended to act as an 'overture' to the Sailor Bill album, setting the atmosphere and visual mood for the songs that follow. The lighthouse keeper is a romantic character for me, living in harmony with the elemental forces of the sea and providing a light for sailors to steer by. There are obvious metaphysical symbolisms involved here. The circular and spiral nature of the lighthouse evokes a kind of oceanic carousel. The coda section of the piece is meant to conjure up the idea of mermaids or sea-sirens singing on the rocks beneath the lighthouse, trying to lure the sailors to their doom. The textures, melodies and instrumentation of the piece are deliberately chosen to paint exactly that picture. It's one of my favourite compositions, not only on that album but generally, because it felt, when I'd finished it, as if I'd painted an epic picture of the scene as I'd originally imagined it."
"I invested a lot of time and thought in the project and I think this shows in the multi-faceted nature of the finished result. Its structures, textures and economical use of language were carefully chosen to convey both interior and exterior states of experience. It's filled with personal metaphor and symbolism and deals with innocence, experience and memory. It attempts to address the poetic nature of life and our longing for spiritual transcendence, but without spelling it out in those terms. I wanted it to have more than one level of meaning but also a 'secret key' that, once discovered and turned, would open the whole thing up like a treasure trove.
"Ultimately, it's an album about the process of inner development, the possibility of transcendence mirrored by our interpretation of the world as it impacts on us in moments of wonder and lucidity. It's my attempt to read the mystery of my own life through the interpretation of memory and imagination. Conceptually ambitious? Perhaps so, and perhaps an unattainable goal. But it provided me with a personal revelation, simply by approaching it from that angle. I discovered a lot about myself in the process of making the album. In that sense, it really was a voyage of discovery and adventure, beyond the island of my past."
"If someone asked me to define my true self, the 'inner man', with just three albums, I'd point them to Sailor Bill, Rosewood Volume One, and Dreamland to Starboard with Sailor Bill occupying the number 1 slot. Of course, with such a large body of work to my name, there are quite a few other essential 'signifier' albums I could add to the essentials list, but, those three are the ones I'd save from the fire first. In some ways, they'd be the most suitable albums from which my soul and personality could be accurately reconstructed after I'm gone from this earth. I think of them as a kind of 'hologram' of the 'real me', the creative essence of myself."
"Sailor Bill is the classic, the timeless one, the BIG statement and the one you should give your undivided attention to. THIS is the one I passionately want you to hear above all others!"
"Give Sailor Bill's musical ship of dreams time to reach your harbour...it's an epic, extended song-suite, rather than a collection of disconnected songs. It's almost operatic in its scope, a kind of concept album where each track makes up just one facet of the overall picture. I spent several months creating the album and it really requires proper listening to appreciate all the detail that went into it. But give it time and patience and it should unfurl its sails and carry you off to a coastal dreamland. Enjoy!!"
"More than lives up to the descriptions and promises Bill had made about this recording. Bill's albums always ooze artistry, creative energy and intelligence, but this album is simply on fire! I'm amazed that a musician with so many albums behind him, can produce something as beautifully fulfilling and desperately passionate as this. Incidentally, it is dedicated to Bill's late Father, his Mother and the memories of childhood seaside holidays.
To the unconverted, if you want to see/hear a player at the very top of his game, you're not 25 years too late - IT'S NOW!"
"Living, and indeed having grown up in a seaside town, the songs for me conjured up personal childhood memories of Tram rides, sandcastles and rain soaked-windswept trips through Blackpool Illuminations. Indeed, after we had listened to the CD and stepped out into the cool October evening air, I had that same excited feeling I would get when, as a boy, my Grandparents would take me to the 'Lighthouse Toy store' and would return home clutching some new piece of treasure. The Alchemical Adventures of Sailor Bill is a treasure chest, with each piece therein a finely polished & many faceted gem. Destined to become one of those must have Bill Nelson classics."
"Everything about this album is BIG...Sweeping Orchestras that would work well as soundtrack music, haunting melodies, seagulls, wind, distant Wurlitzers, somewhere a 60's beat combo plays on the end of a pier...it's a very romantic album, each track an epic. I've never heard anything like it before, and it's going to go down as a classic Bill Nelson album."
"What a jewel. As always, Mr. Nelson reaches and connects...interesting, multi-layered, dynamic, emotional, evocative, imaginative and challenging, yet familiar, another lovely musical adventure for us all to take."
"To this day it blows me away...rich, complex, elegant and full of passion. A rewarding stew of nostalgia, genuine emotion and the brilliant musical explorations I expect from Bill. And the guitar...what can I say?
"A Boat Named St. Christopher" is so achingly beautiful I want it to last forever. 'Moments Catch Fire"? C'mon...that one is so gorgeous!"
"WOW! What an outstanding album. Bill, you sound the best in every way I can imagine, your voice sounds amazing, your guitar playing is better than ever (which is saying a lot). EVERYTHING! The keyboard parts, arrangements, lyrics. I could go on and on. You have raised the bar once again as I suspect you will very soon again too."
'The Alchemical Adventures...are 'musical paintings' of the landscape of place and memory, and they do draw you in. In objective terms, there's nothing striking or startling about the topography of the North East Yorkshire coast (I must have visited 200 times in my life), but the process of assimilation acquired over donkey's years of familiarity leaves a mutable, absolutely personal, mental imprint. Alchemical Adventures are an aesthetic exploration of these imprints, and it's a testament to Bill's genius that he can take you to Whitby or Robin Hood's bay, or some ghostly historical resonance of same, in the 'stationary, supine' journey of your bathtub."
"This album, although hinted at on previous recordings, is different stylistically to previous albums. Mainly sweeping Orchestral arrangements. The music has emotional depth and resonance. Frankly, it rather affected me. I think it is clear that it is a very personal album.
The album has 12 'tracks'. Though it must be said that so many melodies appear, disappear and reappear within them that it seems an insult to refer to them as 'tracks'. I think this is one of those collections that demand the listener listen to it as an entirety rather than dipping 'in and out'. The tracks flow and blend into a rather intense listening experience.
The album is full of glorious melodies and moving lyrics. Beautifully played, beautifully sung. The arrangements are cleverly arranged, complex and transport the listener through a full range of emotions. The words that come to mind are: Epic, majestic, emotional and melancholy. In addition it made me smile.
It seems unfair to pick 'standout' tracks. I will simply say that 'The Sky, The Sea, The Moon And Me' is a truly affecting piece of music that brought a tear to my eye.
I feel this will be remembered not simply as a hugely enjoyable album but as a key album in a glorious career.
Yep, I kinda like it. Thanks Sailor Bill."
Honeymoon on Mars:
"Put quite simply, Sailor Bill is a masterpiece which produces such a reservoir of emotion it takes the breath away. I found it more accessible than many of his other works, and although I am a guitarist, I did not rue the lack of that instrument in any way."
"Well, just when you think Mr. Nelson can't get any more diverse, he gives us The Alchemical Adventures of Sailor Bill. I can't put into words how deep and rich these compositions are. Bill has a natural gift for orchestration, I really think he needs a good publisher for his music (yes, notes on page), and a contract for a good film score. I'm really impressed by this new direction."
"I've got a theory about why Bill (and some of his fans) may consider it to be one of his finest works:
It's about the sea, powerful, dangerous, mysterious, atmospheric and calming.
It's about genuine emotional attachments that we can all relate too.
Bill's vocals fit the music perfectly and are at their strongest in recent years.
The songs stand alone as does the piece as a whole.
"Those of you that don't have it in your collection should commit heinous crimes in order to obtain it!!"
"I could listen to all this music back to back, day in and day out and never be bored. And every time you listen, you hear something you didn't hear the last time, there is just layer upon layer of deliciousness waiting to be unpeeled. Every song tells a story and every story holds a memory. And there is nothing more precious than that."
"I was fortunate to hear it at Nelsonica, the track "The Ceremonial Arrival of the Great Golden Cloud" had a lump in my throat both then and now as I type. It must rate as one of the most powerful tracks Bill has ever created. Unbelievable."
Tourist in Wonderland:
"I think the guitar solo on "Moments' is as close to perfection as is possible within a song, to these ears anyway, it makes me want to hear/experience it again and again...and that's no mean feat...goosebumps..."
"Ship of Summer": "The tightest distillation on the album of the simultaneously tragic and salvific power of memories. Lyrically, the song is the most direct statement of loss on the album, and the most direct expression of renewal and ecstasy. It also establishes an explicit metaphor for the dynamic interplay of past, present, and future. ("Ships come sailing..."). If anything on the album is the thematic summation, I'd say it's "Ship of Summer"."
"My first experience listening to The Alchemical Adventures was one of simultaneously watching a film in muted colours and an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for people, places and things both known and unknown.
That first listening experience was so overwhelming in fact that I'd had to hide from the CD for a couple of months, and then certain tracks kept calling me...Just as ocean waves draw one towards the ocean...I believe the first track to call me back was "Sailor Blue' and then it was "Moments Catch Fire on the Crest of Waves."
It's now a favourite of mine."
Wasp In Aspic:
"I would say that The Alchemical Adventures of Sailor Bill is one of the key works of Bill's career...Sailor Bill is one of those albums that is much more than the sum of its parts. It's an holistic experience. As always with Bill, modern; yet a journey through time to the English seaside of the fifties and sixties and you can almost taste the candyfloss. A rosy glow of a multi-faceted nostalgia trip. The closing instrumental, "My Ship is Lost to Semaphore" not only perfectly evokes the picture of a compass-deprived ship drifting and lost to eternity on a fog-cloaked sea, but also captures the feeling of loss of youth and naivety and carefree times."
"Alchemical Adventures is an apt title. The "blending" and mutation of sounds and textures is hypnotic and an amazing endorphin rush. The music is epic, surreal and at the same time very intimate - arm tingling stuff. I just love the mix of Bill's vocals and the orchestral washes - I must admit it has taken several listens to 'unlock' the magic - I had to remove my Rosewood, Satellite Songs and Custom Deluxe filters which were almost permanently attached after the last few months. There are some of the most magnificent musical moments I have ever heard in this music - I actually get the vision of flying over the scenes Bill creates with the music and lyrics. I am and always have been in absolute awe of Bill's ability to create such Beautiful music...Many thanks Bill for such a wonderful creation."
"Although it is radically different from any other of Bill's albums, it is quite easily one of his best, ever. Instant classic material, IMO. Bill's singing is very strong here, as is the songwriting and orchestration. I particularly love the self-harmony bits. Very nice. A must-have for any self-respecting BN fan.
Thanks Bill; you continue to move me--25 years and going strong."
"When Sailor Bill began it was magical and each piece brought back childhood memories, hidden surprises and a wonderful voyage on the high seas of Nelsonica. The orchestrations are epic and grand and it is a wonderfully theatrical and atmospheric piece of work, as always there is a twist and listening to each track brought many a smile to my face. Sailor Bill is a very personal album and I can honestly say that in my opinion it is one of Bill's finest pieces of work to date."
"I only hope Sailor Bill receives the recognition it deserves - anyone who hasn't heard it, I'd definitely recommend buying a copy - in my opinion it is one of Bill's finest pieces of work."