William's Study (Diary Of A Hyperdreamer)
Saturday 24th December 2011 -- 9:00 pm
Good grief! My previous diary entry was in April of this year: Spring!
Now we're well into December, (it's Christmas Eve as I post this), and 2011 has flown by at light speed without sight of any further diary entries until now.
These increasingly long gaps between entries are, even for me, something of a concern, and this is certainly the longest gap yet.
So, why the radio silence? Well, constant, off-mike activity of one kind or other I suppose...Maybe more frustrating distractions than usual, much of them taking up valuable time and diverting energy away from the creation of these pages. Plus, (I'm almost afraid to admit), an equally increasing disinclination on my part to transfer my day to day life to text, whether typed publicly on-screen or inked privately on paper. It has always seemed inconsequential and of little interest but, as the years roll by, it feels even more so than ever. My inner life manifests more naturally in the music I create, which occurs spontaneously without either presumption or resentment. It seems to require little in the way of explanation. I'll just say that it's grown-up enough to speak for itself, and to choose who it speaks to.
Actually, I did attempt to write a entry in May of this year but it ended up languishing in some dusty corner of my computer's hard-drive, unloved and eventually forgotten. For the record, the following snippet is all that survives. It's dated Monday 2nd of May 2011 and reads:
“A long, blank, bank-holiday weekend, plus Friday's televised Royal Wedding of the lovely Kate to the rather lucky Prince William seems to have put paid to several productive plans I had...the UK's gears appear to have have ground to a halt on an excess of sticky sentiment.
Lots of domestic practicalities to sort out but everything is set against me. The main focus of my energies right now should really be my upcoming solo instrumental concert on May 7th in Sheffield at the 'Showroom' Cinema.
I've only this last week assembled the concert's backing tracks over at Fairview studios with John Spence, (who will be mixing the front of house sound at the venue next Saturday), but I still need to find time to sit down with the set list and a selection of electric guitars so as to familiarise myself with the complexity of the arrangements. The 'top lines' of the majority of these pieces are improvised during the concert itself but it's useful to at least go through the motions, here in my ultra-compact studio, so that I build up a subliminal mental map of where the various key changes and mood shifts occur. Also, which damn pedals might produce the required, spur-of-the-moment sounds...it's as much about tonality and atmosphere as note choices. There are one or two new pieces to be performed too, particularly a long opening piece, complete with video.”
Well...that's as far as that particular diary entry went. In the rapidly rolling and tumbling months since then, I've almost forgotten about the Sheffield concert. Nevertheless, as far as I recall, it went well and attracted a full house. The cinema's screen, behind me, provided a huge canvas for my videograms to be projected on, and I was told that it all looked, (and sounded), extremely impressive from the auditorium.
As is far too often the case though, the onstage sound monitoring was not conducive to relaxation on my part. Getting sufficient clarity on stage from the pre-recorded backing tracks is an all too familiar headache. To be able to interact comfortably with these tracks requires something more akin to a full-range studio monitor speaker system, rather than the stereotypical rock-band wedges.
It's frustratingly difficult to get right because everything I hear on stage emanates from these very basic monitor speakers. There are no guitar amps on stage, no other musicians or live band, no acoustically separated drum kit or individually amplified back line...just a pre-recorded, pre-mixed, fixed-forever in time backing track, fed to those relatively crude blackspeaker boxes at my feet. Even my live improvised lead guitar parts are sent to the very same speakers, (speakers which are designed to punch a vocal through a band's on-stage racket, rather than faithfully reproduce every nuance of a carefully recorded and detailed full-range backing track). All I can tell you is that it makes for an often muddy and uncomfortable performing experience, more shackled to guesswork than free improvisation. But, hey-ho...it's only rock 'n' roll, is it not?
Despite the above confusions, the concert was enthusiastically greeted and I received many positive compliments from members of the audience over the following weeks. I guess it's impossible for me to hear what the audience hears...or to pre-judge their expectations. My own are often unreasonable and impractical...maybe I need to be less demanding.
This year saw the delivery of a new guitar amplifier to my home. It's the revised, re-modelled signature combo made by Dave Gascoigne, the mastermind behind 'Rosewell' amplifiers. It's essentially the same technical spec as the earlier tweed version mentioned in a previous diary entry but this one is different cosmetically, having a more retro-futurist look to it. It is two-tone, dark-red and off-white and really looks the business. (See attached photo'.) Looking forward to trying it out on stage with a full band...
The annual Nelsonica event had to be put on ice this year as I'd been encouraged to go out on tour instead. The master-plan was for the tour to occur in November of this year. However, I was told that it would not be possible to take the 7-piece 'Gentleman Rocketeers' band out on the road due to budgetary constraints, so I had to re-think the line-up and reduce it to a more economically viable five-piece. Not as easy as it might seem.
In many ways, this would be untried territory, a technically uncertain undertaking as, for the last few years, I've become reliant upon a SEVEN-piece line up, one that, other than a couple of musician changes, I've been fortunate enough to perform live with since 2004. The same number of musicians have proved reliable and effective at Nelsonica events too, as well as at the now rather controversial 'Legends' DVD recording in March of this year. And what a peculiar project that turned out to be.
Despite being told that the 'Legends' series was going to be on television in June, (which is the only reason I accepted the offer in the first place), nothing has happened other than a rush-release of a DVD of the performance.
As it happens, 'The Gentleman Rocketeers' DVD went quickly into the BBC's top ten music video charts and seems to have been a big hit with fans (though I still can't bring myself to watch the damn thing...plus I'm still out of pocket with the project, due to the artist-unfriendly nature of the deal).
Anyway, back to the tour: pragmatic choices had to be made for the reduced in size band: a new, experienced keyboard player, (Richard Cottle), was recommended to me and then put on stand-by, rehearsal rooms were pencilled in to prepare material for the, (allegedly), confirmed November UK tour and I began to look at potential material choices. I was also asked to come up with a concept, name and graphic art for the proposed extravaganza, and was told that this was urgently needed for promotional purposes...
I cobbled something together very quickly:- I decided to call the five-piece band 'Combo Deluxe,' (an intentional and rather obvious reference to Be Bop Deluxe but with the word 'combo' suggesting something more compact than the 7-piece GR line-up). I then named the tour 'Return To Tomorrow,' (to make a connection with the older material that I'd been told was part of the tour's remit). I then designed a flyer for it, (as also did my graphic artist collaborator David Graham). Our two flyers were immediately sent, (via Opium Arts), to the promoter...Everything was in place and a sigh of relief was due...or so I thought.
Two days later I was informed that the promoter had unexpectedly decided to postpone the tour until next year. The reason I was given was that there were 'too many bands out on the road in November.' But, surely, in a sane world, wasn't that rather late in the day to decide this? Surely that sort of consideration should be taken into account before getting so far into preparations?
I very much suspected, (and still do), that there was far more to the alleged 'postponement' than met the eye.
By now, of course, I'd abandoned all plans for a 2011 Nelsonica in favour of the UK tour so there was no time left to re-schedule the annual fan-convention. (Several months of planning are needed to put these Nelsonica events together.) As you might imagine, this unexpected postponement was a frustrating waste of time and energy.
In a last-minute attempt to recover lost ground, I decided to work towards an art and memorabilia exhibition combined with an solo (plus trio), instrumental concert at Leeds University's Faculty Of Music in the university's 'Clothworker's Hall,' a beautiful venue well suited to my instrumental concerts. I'd performed there on previous occasions and very much enjoyed the experience.
I was provided, (by the Faculty Of Music), with a stunningly beautiful Steinway grand piano, AND an even larger Marimba than the one I personally own but find so difficult to transport. My own Marimba is now rather careworn but was originally bought from Abbey Road studios in the late '70's/early '80's, where it had appeared on several Beatles recordings, way back when...
I also took along a small selection of percussion instruments: a small gong, a selection of chimes, shakers and so on, plus, (of course), a large and interesting selection of guitars, an ebow, a small transistor radio, a now ancient Casio VL-1 Tone pocket synth AND, (very important this), my custom-built Gus G1 midi-equipped guitar. The latter has become an essential part of my kit with the 'Orchestra Futura' trio, (Dave Sturt on bass and laptop and Theo Travis on saxophone and flute), who were also appearing at the Leeds concert with me. Dave and Theo employ live looping, digital delays and treatments in their playing so it generates a very eclectic and spontaneous performance.
The concert's accompanying exhibition celebrated more than 40 years of my career and placed on display several years of ephemera and memorabilia, including framed posters, artwork, (some going back as far as the psychedelic 1960's), personal letters and other previously unseen items from my musical life.
I was helped in assembling and exhibiting this material by members of the Nelsonica team who did a wonderful job of mounting the visual material on the walls of the exhibition room adjoining the concert hall, as well as assisting with ticketing and so on.
Due to the tour postponement, the Leeds event, (which I titled 'The Art School Ascended On Vapours Of Roses'), ended up being the only live performance to mark this year's 40th anniversary of my recordings. The tour itself became a missed opportunity.
It's a shame that little focus was given to the anniversary...it could have been used as a springboard to draw attention to the body of work I've created over all these years. Rather too late now, of course. Truth is, 40 years may seem little more than ink on a page to some people, but it's a significant slice of my life as an artist.
Not all was lost...A much more appreciative and welcome celebration of those 40 years came in the form of the luxurious box set of 8 CDs released, (this December), by Esoteric/Cherry Red Records.
Titled 'The Practice Of Everyday Life,' this more than 150 track compilation, drawn from almost the entire span of my recording career, is the jewel in whatever crown I might presume to be wearing. Although not 100% comprehensive the box set compiles a feast of tracks from 1971 through to more recent years.
I invested a fair amount of time and energy in this particular project, as archivist, interviewee, and advisor. The real mastermind behind it all though, is Mark Powell. Mark founded the 'Esoteric' record label and has been responsible for setting in motion a professional re-issue programme focussed on many of my back catalogue recordings, (mostly material drawn from the '80's and early '90's).
The 40 year celebratory box set compilation, ('The Practice Of Everyday Life'), covers a wide territory...from my first solo album, 'Northern Dream,' through Be Bop Deluxe and Red Noise, including rarities, to my '80's Cocteau Records solo era and then beyond, including a selection of tracks from the last 10 years or so. It's an epic journey.
The set has been beautifully packaged with brilliant attention to design detail by renowned graphic artist/designer Philip Lloyd- Smee. I'm extremely pleased with the way the whole thing has been handled and am proud of the end result. It will be, I expect, a big hit with fans and will stand as a testimony to my enthusiasm for making music, as well as chronologically illustrating the still unfolding development of my work over the years.
Simultaneously with this, EMI Records have released a compilation set of Be Bop Deluxe's studio albums, comprising five CDs. The fifth CD in the set contains some previously unavailable recordings, including several of my original home demo cassette recordings of songs which were eventually recorded by the band itself.
I was involved in the preparation and shape of this compilation too, particularly in the mixing of several live recordings that have, until now, never been previously available to the public. The set, (which is jewel-cased rather than boxed), is titled 'Futurist Manifesto' after a 1970's recording released by the band.
These complex re-issues have taken up quite a lot of time, both in terms of preparation and promotion. I spent several days giving radio and press interviews to help spread the word to a wider audience. A very enjoyable part of the promotional work was giving an interview to Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie for their BBC 6 Music show. Two really knowledgeable and likeable fellows who genuinely care about music and have the talent to talk about it in entertaining and intelligent terms.
Whilst the primary focus has been on these re-issue projects I have devoted a lot of time to new recordings. 'Fantasmatron,' 'Signals From Realms Of Light' and 'Model Village' are the three new albums that have been released this year.
Two more albums have also been completed and are ready for release early in 2012. These are: 'Songs Of The Blossom Tree Optimists' and 'The Last Of The Neon Cynics.' (This latter album is the long-awaited collaboration with American comic-book artist/writer Matt Howarth.)
But already on the drawing board for 2012 are a further two albums. One is a rock-style vocal-based album currently titled 'JOY THROUGH AMPLIFICATION: THE ULTRA-FUZZY WORLD OF PRIAPUS STRATOCASTER.'
The other new album will be a long-form instrumental affair which, as yet, has no title.
Both these albums are, at this moment in time, incomplete so I'll need to set aside some time to work further on them.
My involvement with the day-to-day Dreamsville website forum seems to have increased. The site's registered membership continues to grow and I receive a larger number of private messages (or 'PMs' as they're known), than ever before. This results in a full-to-the-brim inbox which I find difficult to keep up with. It's simply become impossible to answer every single PM I get, though I try my best. I tend to focus more on the public forum on the site, engaging with fans there on a daily basis. In fact, I spend every morning just dealing with website related work.
Have recently created a new Christmas videogram for the website...it's titled 'The Christmas Book' and uses images from a children's annual I had in the 1950s, when I was a very young boy. These videogram Christmas cards of mine are always nostalgic and sentimental but designed to re-create the festive spirit of more innocent times.
I am, though, as usual, way behind with my Christmas shopping and the writing and posting of real Christmas cards. I've already missed the deadline for overseas cards so will have to send email greetings to my friends in other countries.
There's still a lot of preparation to be done with regard to family this Christmas too. I'm bringing my mum over to us on Christmas Day and she will stay here through Boxing Day when Elle and Elliot will join us. Also on Boxing Day, my nephew Julian, (my late brother Ian's eldest son), his wife Lindsey and baby daughter Bethany will be paying us a visit.
I need to clear the spare bedroom for mum to stay over on Christmas Day night. At the moment it is filled to the rafters with large framed artworks from the Leeds exhibition, plus cases of memorabilia and musical equipment, not to mention piles and piles of clothes. Where all this stuff will go is both a mystery and a problem. My guitars and musical gear occupy so much space in our modest-sized house...and there are more books on shelves and stacked on the floor than our village library could hold.
Speaking of books, my recent bedtime reading has been comprised of the following:
'Austin Osman Spare: The Life And Legend Of London's Lost Artist' by Phil Baker; 'John Piper and Myfanwy Piper: Lives In Art' by Frances Spalding; 'Here And Now! The Autobiography Of Pat Martino;' by Pat Martino with Bill Milkowski; 'Go Ahead John: The Music Of John McLaughlin' by Paul Stump; 'Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists, and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper' by Alexandra Harris, and 'We Called It Music' by Eddie Condon. The latter book I read a long time ago, in 1962 when in my early teens, I think, but recently picked up a copy at Ray's Jazz bookshop at Foyles in London and am enjoying re-aquainting myself with it.
A very sad loss, only a couple of months ago: My cousin Ian Boyle passed away suddenly as a result of illness. Those of you who are long-term readers of my diary will recall how I re-gained contact with Ian and my other cousin Walter, (who now prefers to be known as James), after many years in the wilderness. Both were born to my father's sister, (my Aunt Nell), and had a profound influence on me when I was a child, particularly as they were both creative people and both musicians. (See my autobiography for more on that.) Cousin Ian was a painter and a talented jazz trumpeter and, in recent years, I'd helped him to embark on a home-recording hobby which he seemed to enjoy very much. He attended the 2009 Nelsonica convention in Harrogate and also came to some of my UK concerts, including the Bloomsbury Theatre show in 2004. We spoke on the telephone quite often, (though not, now, sadly, often enough), and I enjoyed his dry sense of humour. He lived a long way from here, near Cantebury, so it wasn't easy for he and I to get together socially. I liked Ian very much and was shocked and deeply saddened to hear of his passing. I'll remember him with great fondness and miss his warm and witty 'phone calls.
And, even more sadness: Mike Levon, the man who was behind Wakefield's legendary HOLYGROUND record label, also passed away suddenly in September of this year. Another unwelcome shock. I had been in touch with Mike only a few weeks before his passing. I had recorded my 'Northern Dream' album at the 'Holyground' studio in 1970. (It was released, as a very limited edition, on my 'Smile Records' label in 1971.)
The Holyground studio was literally a spare bedroom at Mike and Shirley Levon's Cass Yard abode, just off Kirkgate, in Wakefield. It was recorded with a simple home-made mixing desk and a two-track tape recorder.
I'd first become involved with Mike and the local hippie scene in the 1960's and had donated my musical services to two independently released albums which were recorded by Mike at his Holyground 'studio.' The albums were titled 'A to Austr' and 'Astral Navigations.'
There was a very small, but minty-fresh, creative local scene back then...students from Bretton Hall College mixed with various Wakefield 'heads.'
'Heads' was the slang term applied to anyone who had: A: smoked marijuana, or at least tried to get high by smoking a banana skin, (a myth which originated from Donovan's song 'Mellow Yellow'), or B: actually read 'The Politics Of Ecstasy' by Timothy Leary, or C: owned a copy of Richard Farina's 1966 novel, 'Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.'
At the time, I qualified on all counts, except that I'd never smoked dope...and the banana experience was once tried and forever abandoned as little more than a 'yellow herring.' I was also a subscriber to the 'International Times' newspaper, (or 'IT,' as it was known), and also 'OZ' magazine and various other counter-cultural publications. These were proverbial 'happy hippy days' and my youthful experiences at Holyground are still fondly remembered, as is Mike Levon and his wife Shirley, Chris Coombs and all the other colourful denizens of Cass Yard.
I was terribly sorry to hear of Mike's passing and attended a memorial event at Wolley Hall on the outskirts of Wakefield where I met several old faces from those times. Mike's life was warmly celebrated by everyone and I was very glad that I was invited to attend the memorial. He will be missed by many of us.
And so, another Christmas, right on the doorstep, then, one week hence, New Year...2012. The economy is still going downhill here in the UK, despite the Government's attempts to talk it up. I'm no fan of this lot at all, too smug and authoritarian. It might just be politics but the personalities involved are a complete turn-off. Can't see things improving in the short term...or even in the long run, to be honest. All I can do is stay true to whatever drives me and continue to attempt to make music, and thereby some sort of sense of the world...
There are several things/events that I've omitted from this diary entry, but this will have to do for now as it has already taken up more time than I have available. There are gifts still to wrap, and I'm exhausted.
Perhaps I'll try to create more regular diary entries next year, (well, at least more than I've been able to do THIS year.)
So...all for now.
A VERY Merry Christmas to all readers of these pages...and every good wish for 2012!
bill nelson: december 2011
The images accompanying this diary are as follows:-
1: Promo flyer for the abandoned November tour.
2: The cherry blossom tree in Bill's front Garden...Spring 2011.
3: A photograph of Be Bop Deluxe enjoying dinner in Villa St. George, Juan-Les-Pins, South of France, during the recording of the 'Drastic Plastic' album in the late 1970s. (Pic by John Leckie.)
4: Bill Nelson signature model Rosewell combo guitar amplifier.
5: Personal greeting card from Bill and Emiko, 2011.
6: An alternative 'Rocket Rabbit' shot by Martin Bostock.