William's Study (Diary Of A Hyperdreamer)
Sunday 11th February 2007 -- 6:00 pm
An entire month has passed since the previous diary entry. I've simply not felt able to write 'though there's been more than enough to write about. I just haven't had the energy or inclination to do so. An emotional low, as if dark clouds have been gathering and getting darker each day.
I'll attempt an explanation of some kind but, I don't think it's wise to lift the lid too high on this latest Pandora's Box of tricks. I've already dwelt far too long on the mortal thoughts that it inevitably contains (and there's always the possibility that further introspection may conjure even darker skies). Nevertheless, I have to admit to feeling more melancholy than is probably healthy for me and it would be dishonest to pretend that things are otherwise.
I've hesitated to call this feeling out and out depression, but maybe that's what it is, 'though I don't feel I have the right to allow myself such an excuse. The cause? Several possiblilities. Some that are understandable and some that are less so. Some external, some internal. Whatever the reason, the accumulative effect is the same. I seem to be caught in a negative space of my own making.
Just before Christmas, my mother's husband George, (whom mum married several year's after my father died), was diagnosed with cancer. Coming so soon after the passing of my brother Ian last April, this has come as an additional family blow.
George is in hospital at this moment, recovering from the major operation he underwent last week. His condition seems fragile, 'though we're hoping for improvement. George is in his '80's and we're all concerned about him, particularly my mother who is by nature a worrier. She frets and fusses about everything and no amount of sage advice can change that. Perhaps that's where my own nervous disposition stems from. I try not to think of myself as being overtly prone to such things but people who know me well always seem to come up with the cliche "you worry too much." I deny it, of course, but maybe they're not far off the mark.
Anyway, I'm worried about George and worried about my mother who, as regular readers of this diary know, has herself been fighting a skin cancer problem for some years. (Thankfully, this has responded to treatment and, whilst there's still progress to be made, she is much better than she was a couple of years ago.) Unsurprisingly, this latest development has made her feel as if her world has been thrown even more off balance.
I've tried to keep in touch with mum far more frequently than usual, calling her two or three times each day to offer whatever support I'm able. Currently laid low with a nasty cold bug though, I've been unable to go to the hospital with her. Unwise to risk passing on my germs as George is especially vulnerable at the moment. The last thing he and mum needs is to catch a virus from me. So I've tried to help from a distance, which is far from ideal but perhaps the wisest course for the moment.
And whilst a cold virus is a minor complaint compared to what else is going on, it's been debilitating enough to add to the lowering of my own spirits and energies. In view of everything else though, I have no right to complain whatsoever.
I've tried to get on with my work...and there's plenty of it to deal with as usual, all backed up and demanding immediate attention. As I've probably noted in these pages before, a lot of it feels more like duty than inclination.
For instance, do I really want to deal with those ancient Be Bop Deluxe Decca audition tapes? I know that there are certain fans eager to hear these recordings but...I'm finding it harder than ever to get up the head of steam required to mix them. Not that I'd ever consider passing the job on to anyone else...I'm absolutely determined to do it myself, once the creative compass swings in the right direction.
Right now though, it's pointing towards a far distant island of dreams, uncharted territory, not to harbours long since left behind.
I'm by no means ungrateful for the commercial success that Be Bop Deluxe brought me back in the '70's...but sometimes, just sometimes, it feels more like an a millstone around my neck, rather than just one of several milestones on a long and ongoing musical journey. (Oh, poor, self-centred me!)
But as I've so often noted in these pages, that sort of frustration goes with the 'job.' Even modest success tends to fix the public's conception of an artist at a particular point in time, like a butterfly pinned to a board, identified, dated and framed under glass.
Over the years, I've fought hard against the kind of industry stereotyping that has, perhaps predictably but also lazily, branded me as 'ex-Be Bop Deluxe front man,' but, no matter how reluctant I've been to acknowledge that tag, it's proved a tough one to lose. Surely there's more to it than that? O.k, so to some people I probably DO sound unfairly dissmisive of my past, but...any ambivalence I express regarding my own musical history may simply be the result of an awareness of failure, of how much distance I still need to travel to find creative satisfaction.
Even after all these years, I still feel as if I'm at the start of something, rather than at the conclusion of it. And, the older I get, the more acute is my sense that time spent re-visiting my musical past is time that could be spent searching for my musical future instead.
Then again, it may simply be part of a desire to escape the limitations of labelling, a sheer cantankerousness in the face of anyone attempting to 'figure me out.'
And yet...I DO go to some lengths in this diary to make myself understood, to offer a kind of clarification, to give some intimate indication of the various experiences that underpin the music. All part of the equation, I guess...and riddled with the usual personal contradictions.
I don't pretend to understand why these issues should be so complex, but...in my defence, I do struggle, perhaps amusingly rather than heroically, with the implications of the complexities and contradictions that I find myself tangled up in.
Weirdly, (and sometimes shockingly,) it's a struggle that is conducted as much in public as in private...the former via the pages of this diary and with every new piece of music I allow out of the studio.
In any case, it's not just me, is it? Isn't everyone on the planet riddled with similar contradictions?
It's the swiss cheese of existence. Even God is full of holes...
Ask Richard Dawkins: wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Dawkins
And he's a professor as well as an existential cheese maker.
Why anyone should expect consistency from artists is laughable. Contradictions and uncertainties are an artist's lifeblood. All this endless pondering is part of the process, the fundamental fabric of the artist's curse.
Being measured by mass appeal, (or more correctly, SALES revenue), rather than artistic merit, is an unavoidable fact of life in the wonderful world of the music business. Fairly obvious, but I never thought that 'business' was where I was headed when I picked up a guitar all those years ago. I was naive enough to think that I was setting sail for my aforementioned island of dreams. Guitar in one hand, telescope in the other.
But it seems these are dreams that money can buy, hence the inevitable entry of 'business' to the arena. Dreams for sale, the fevered imaginings of creative minds piped into the consciousness of a dream-hungry public via the conduits of industry. It's a kind of science-fiction.
Amazingly, I still eke a living from this stuff. I stand on street corners and whisper into the ears of passers-by. " Hey, kid, wanna hear my dreams?"
I'm drifting...writing a book instead of a diary.
Back to recent news:
I've now completed the music for my collaboration with American comic-book artist Matt Howarth. The final two pieces of music were posted to him last week. 'The Last Of The Neon Cynics' is an ambitious tale of a tram-travelling, (yes, that TRAM not 'time'), space-cowboy with a talking guitar. I've worked on the music for the last two or three years, on and off, (mostly 'off' due to other work pressures), and poor Matt has displayed the patience of a saint whilst I've labouriously got my act together. (Or found time to deal with it.)
The idea we have is that pictures, story and music will be available as a download, though details of exactly how we'll do this are still to be finalised.
I've also completed some additional recordings for an instrumental album that currently bears the title 'Gleaming Without Lights.' As mentioned in previous diary entries, this album is centred around the almost 40 minute long soundtrack that I created for the 'Memory Codex' autobiographical video which was screened at last year's Nelsonica. The title of the piece is 'Dreamland Illuminated.' To make up the rest of the album I've recorded some new instrumentals that compliment the soundtrack. I've also decided the album's running order, which is as follows:
1: 'Gleaming Without Lights.'
4: 'Billy Builds The World Of Tomorrow.'
5: 'Glittering Rails.'
6: 'Dreamland Illuminated.'
7: 'Pilgrim (Fantasia On A Distantly Remembered Hymn.)'
The entire album is instrumental and electric guitar oriented, falling somewhere between the 'Dreamland To Starboard' and 'Neptune's Galaxy' album stylings. I've also added extra textural details to the 'Dreamland Illuminated' piece that were originally absent from the Memory Codex soundtrack recording.
This isn't a 'major statement' album but an interesting side-project, a pleasant diversion which will only be manufactured in limited quantities.
Next job up on my list of to-do items:-
The aforementioned Decca audition tape mixes plus selection of some live Be Bop Deluxe bootleg recordings to be included on the 'Tomorrow The World' album.
Also the Mitchell Froom remix project which I haven't yet found time to address. (But will do as soon as time is available.)
One frustrating bit of business has been the repeated attempts to install some new effects in my Mackie D8B mixing desk. Technical mysterioso.
Different operating systems, system conflicts, various software builds, and most of all a rather indifferent and sometimes confusing user back-up service have confounded expectations of performing a simple, straight-ahead installation. And this isn't exactly software installed in a computer but a dedicated hardware recording system.
We may be nearer, (Paul and I), to success,as nearly all our available options have been exhausted. One more thing remains to be done, (in the next week or so), which, fingers crossed, may see the problem finally resolved. I love my Mackie recording system but...there are certain issues that the company needs to talk about with artists such as myself, not least because they've now stopped manufacturing the particular equipment I've come to rely on so much and seem to have left those of us who use it to flounder with a less than clear, (or working), website.
Another rapidly looming task: Preparation for my live concert at Leeds University School Of Music on the 28th of April.
I'd originally hoped to have created an autobiographical video/film titled 'Ghosts Etched On Glass' to screen before my performance. Unfortunately, events have overtaken me and I don't have enough time available to begin work on this particular visual piece.
For one thing, I need to gain permission to browse through the Yorkshire Film Archives as well as applying to search for suitable photographs at Wakefield City Museum's archives if I'm to gather the period footage and still images needed to add to my own family photographs and 8mm cine material. (There's also the matter of obtaining legal and financial clearance for the officially archived footage that I might want to incorporate in my film.)
Then there's the script writing and recording of my own voice narration for the story, plus the assembly of appropriate music. And all this before I can actually sit down and concentrate on the painstaking process of editing all this diverse material into something resembling a cohesive documentary film. There's simply not enough time available to do all this before 28th of April, especially as I have a list of other pressing things to complete .
So...I'm unfortunately going to have to fall back on plan 'B.'
Instead of 'Ghosts Etched On Glass' I'll screen the 'Memory Codex Volume One' video that I made for last year's Nelsonica convention. I may also show 'Personal Ghosts' from the 'Flashlight Dreams' DVD as it ties in with the generally autobiographical theme of the evening.
If time allows, I'll try to create a video for 'North-East' (from 'Gleaming Without Lights'), using east coast footage I've personally shot during the last couple of years.
I have some evocative Whitby sunsets that would work well with this, along with some Flamborough Head and Reighton Gap material.
But lots to do, including sorting out a live performance set for the event. It will be all instrumental and, (as the performance constitutes part of a contemporary music festival), more in the area of contemplative, introspective, exploratory music than straight ahead rock. For like-minded souls only, I suppose. As some might say, an art event.
I'm confused...Why the hell do I still try to explain and segregate this stuff? Am I SO conscious of the fact that some potential listener's need a guide book when I stray outside of the Be Bop Deluxe territory alluded to in the earlier part of this diary entry?
The venue in the School Of Music is more suited to a carefully controlled sound system than anything like the heavy duty thunder of rock. It's a kind of converted church or chapel within the School Of Music building, the same venue I gave a brief performance in a couple of years ago as part of a guitar-oriented event put on there.
So, it will be a narrowly focussed, possibly quite intense, listening experience. And tightly connected to the concept of inwardly oriented music. Not remotely Be Bop Deluxe for those who are expecting a set featuring songs and mainstream music.
Ironically though, Be Bop Deluxe tracks such as 'Blimps' and 'Futurist Manifesto' gave ample warning of where certain aspects of the music was headed. Even all those years ago.
Let me try to return to more personal issues:-
I visited my brother Ian's grave again a couple of weeks ago. Only the second time since his headstone was erected and the first time since the turn of the year.
Emi and I took flowers and placed them in the two vases that are an integral part of Ian's headstone.
It was twilight, lighter than the occasion of our previous visit, just before Christmas when our car's headlights had been neccesary to see the gravestone.
This time there was a soft electric blue sky stretching overhead, puncutated by pastel-smudged cream and orange clouds. In the near distance, Sandal Castle Hill was visible, a place that Ian, once upon a time, like myself, enjoyed visiting.
Church bells echoed on the breeze and evening birdsong was audible. Just beyond the walls of the older part of the cemetary, across Sugar Lane, could be seen the lighting towers surrounding the grounds of Wakefield Trinity rugby football club, a location famously featured in Lindsay Anderson's film of David Storey's 'This Sporting Life' novel.
I thought, once again, of the transcience and fragility of life and the distance I've covered, the overwhelming amount of change I've experienced, the losses and gains, the things I've sacrificed to expediency and progress. I thought about Ian's own life and the absence of his prescence amongst the lives of those of us who loved him.
I looked at his headstone and the dates boldly carved in silver script on it: 23 April 1956 to 23 April 2006. Such dreadful symmetry, exactly fifty years from start to finish. Then, next to his name, a tied pair of musical notes cut into the grey Indian marble and, at the headstone's base, the inscription 'Tree Of Life' in Latin.
I felt angry, then hurt, then suddenly and unexpectedly overcome. I held close to Emi for a little while, then took a deep breath and tried to gain a hold on my emotions.
Should I relate this kind of thing in a public diary? I have my doubts about the wisdom of it. But there it is. So why do it?
Do I believe that by doing so it may help me come to terms with it in some way? Or that it may be of some use to others who have experienced, or may in future experience, similar grief?
The bottom line is, I don't really know. I don't know much of anything anymore.
What little I know is this: The loss of my brother is still difficult for me to accept. I still expect him to drop in for a chat and a cuppa, (as he sometimes did when his work brought him within striking distance of our home.) I still imagine that the 'phone will ring and he'll be on the other end of the line with some dryly humourous tale to tell. I still expect that we'll find each other on a stage together, faking our way through the music we shared.
I didn't spend nearly enough time with Ian since we attained our debatable 'adulthood'...but I wish I had, I really wish I had.
And there you have it. Another reason why my spirits are less than positive. You see, I'm far from over it yet.
One further negative outcome of all this introspection has been my decision to postpone the proposed American Nelsonica convention that a handful of dedicated and enterprising US fans were hoping to stage in the 'States later this year. I've come to this decision reluctantly but with a great deal of thought.
I've been agonising over what I should do about this for several weeks now, (as close friends know). I've fretted about it, wrestled with it, lost sleep over it, turned it this way and that... but, until a couple of days ago, I couldn't face up to the reality of the situation. The reality being that I already have far too much on my plate this year,that I'm going through an inner crisis of some kind, that I have neither the will nor the strength needed to make such an event the success it deserves to be. For these and other reasons, I've come to the conclusion that it's just not the right time for me to engage wholeheartedly with the proposal.
I finally got up the nerve to write to the American team's chief organiser and offer my apologies, explaining that I've basically got more to deal with than I can confidently handle, both in terms of work and personal issues. I explained that an American Nelsonica would be one responsibility too far, for this year, at least.
Nevertheless, I've suggested to the US team that I'm willing to keep the option open for next year but right here and now, it's something I sadly don't have the strength to cope with.
Thankfully, despite my concerns, the team members have all responded to this disappointing news with kindness and unqualified support, letting me off the hook with generous grace. They're thoughtful, perceptive and understanding of my current situation. Such a relief...
I still, unsurprisingly, feel terribly guilty about not being able to commit to the project as I know that quite a few people were looking forward to it becoming a reality, but they've generously told me, in typically positive American fashion, 'not to beat myself up about it.'
Well, I'll try to ignore the bruises already inflicted but I can't help but feel bad about declining, even though an American convention was, at this stage, still a possibility, rather than a certainty. There were still some essential details to finalise before a green light could be given, although the team were very optimistic that it would soon become a more than feasible proposition.Perhaps waiting for a better opportunity to stage such an event might, in the long run, prove practical, allowing further planning and more programme content to be added. It could prove to be to everyone's advantage. Or am I just trying to justify my inability to commit? Unfortunately, for me it's a complex issue.
Nevertheless, I'm grateful that some of the stress I've felt has been lifted from my shoulders. It will give me a better chance of dealing with the other tasks in front of me.
Of course, there's still a UK Nelsonica to consider...At the moment, we've yet to settle the various issues linked to staging the English convention. We haven't properly begun to look at venue options either.
It may be that last year's Hilton venue in York is used again, (provided we can get the hotel to provide a much larger number of seats than last year), but we would still like to investigate possible alternatives before making a final choice.
Of course, this means putting time aside for Jon Wallinger and myself to draw up a list of venue possibilities and then make appointments for the two of us to visit them to inspect their facilities. Then comes the team meetings where various details are discussed and fine tuning takes place. A lot of thought goes into these annual conventions, perhaps more than is apparent to the casual observer.
Jon and I still plan to concentrate on York and it's environs as we feel it offers a reasonably practical location for travel from around the UK. York is situated more or less in the centre of the country and is on the main north-south rail route as well as being connected to major motoways. It's certainly far more user, (and family), friendly than the North Ferriby location that we booked in previous years. Also, being 'local', York is practical in terms of the movement to and fro of my equipment and so on, which allows more time for preparation, sound checks, etc.
Anyway, at the time of writing these words, there's nothing definite decided about the UK convention. It may well end up being a last minute thing...but, as it's intended to be here, on the 'doorstep' so to speak, it shouldn't be too much of a problem. I'm sure that the team will work their usual magic.
But first we need to secure a venue and a date, then I need to give it a conceptual title, (last year's was 'Arcadian Salon'), before we make any official announcement.
Then, of course, comes the little matter of programme content, visual design, live performance set, special presentations, limited edition cd and the rest. (Last year's convention saw me preparing my personal input over a three month period. A lot of work for a one-off event.)
Besides the above, there are still hopes of tackling some of the other projects on the wish-list that I made in an earlier diary entry. The main one, for me at least, is the writing and recording of a new vocal album. This will occupy the greatest amount of my time, once the process gets underway. But decks must be cleared first. Then inspiration found.
Fitting some kind of domestic life into this work schedule doesn't get any easier. I generally try to reserve the weekends for spending quality time with Emiko but, I often find myself stealing an hour or three to answer website forum questions and to generally connect with the Dreamsville community. And, as I've noted before, even this diary takes up a fair amount of time, once I sit down to write it. (Especially this entry, for some reason.)
Despite the above, I HAVE had one or two brief opportunities to escape the studio this last month.
I recently spent a couple of days with my old friend John Leckie who came up to visit me before heading over to Sheffield to meet up with a young band he's been hired to produce. John stayed overnight at Maison Nelson and, during dinner at a local Italian restaurant, we had tremendous fun discussing music, past, present and future.
John has become a highly respected and famous producer since those distant days when we first worked together as a production team. His work covers a lot of ground, from XTC, Simple Minds, Magazine, The Stone Roses, Kula Shaker, to Cast, Muse, Radiohead and all time legends such as Doctor John and Los Lobos. A great portfolio that started with Be Bop Deluxe's 'Sunburst Finish' album.
John's success is very much deserved and I'm so pleased to see that his talent has been so widely recognised. Whenever we meet up, it's as if there's not been a gap in our conversation.
John had lots of interesting stories to tell me about his experiences with various 'artistes' he's worked with...some of them highly amusing and possibly scandalous. I'll not divulge these confidences here, (or anywhere,) but just say that rock music doesn't seem to have become any more sophisticated or adult since the days when John and I sat next to each other at the mixing desk in Abbey Road studios. Quite the opposite, in fact.
John brought lots of old photographs he'd taken of me during the Be Bop Deluxe recording sessions at various studios we worked in together. He'd digitised them and put them on his laptop as a slide show, complete with music. Most of them I'd not seen before. It was unavoidably nostalgic looking through them but at the same time it did, weirdly, feel as if it were only yesterday rather than thirty years or so ago. Only the music felt like it was made in another era and by a different person.
John also, generously, brought me a very generous gift: a vintage Japanese Railway Station Announcer's microphone, (and in pristine working order too).
The microphone has a predicatably nasal, high-mid frequency dominated tone but will work perfectly as a special vocal effect on the right piece of music. I'm looking forward to using it, perhaps on the proposed new vocal album.
Emi and I managed to get to Whitby for a Sunday trip. Lunch at the 'White Horse And Griffin,' (not up to its usual standard this time for some reason,), then a browse around the old town, followed by a walk out to the edge of the harbour to sniff the ocean, the nearby smokehouse with it's kipper aroma coming and going on the evening breeze. After that, across the old harbour bridge for a drink at a relatively new place, a cafe bar called 'The Moon And Sixpence' which we were both impressed by. It has great views across the harbour towards the church on the cliffs. We resolved to try the food there on our next visit.
It was my son Elliot's birthday last week. He's now 26. I can't quite grasp that fact, especially as he's the youngest of my three children.
He requested a Chet Atkins DVD and album for his birthday so I sorted them out for him. He's been wanting to give himself a new challenge by getting to grips with music and techniques that fall outside of his usual rock music style, so has been learning some Django Reinhardt pieces. He thought Chet Atkins might provide another angle too. I'm pleased to see him taking such a broad interest in the wider potential of his instrument. So many young guitarists seem to think that music doesn't exist outside the boundaries of the latest skinny jean fad. But, come to think of it, Elliot isn't exactly a 'young' guitarist anymore. Not by today's infantile standards anyway.
Emi and I recently went to see him and his sister Elle play with the latest incarnation of their Honeytone Cody band in the basement bar at the City Screen cinema, in the centre of town.
I was impressed. Their new drummer is absolutely terrific and the bass player, whilst the youngest member of the band, is talented and imaginative. Elle's vocals and Elliot's guitar playing just gets better and better.They sounded like real stars and completely outshone the other two bands on the bill, including the headline act. Such power and authority. They could easily stand proud alongside any well-known band and aquit themselves with honours.
I just hope that, this time, they hold this line up together and get the break needed to bring their music to the wider audience that it deserves. And, no, I'm not saying this because I'm their father, but because they're just so damn good. Really.
Valentine's day coming up this week. I've managed to book a restaurant to take Emi out for the evening. Being a florist, she's always extremely busy around this time, especially on the 14th when she works late. The only table I could get at the restaurant of my choice was for 8:15 pm so, all being well, Emi will have finished work by that time and we can have a romantic dinner together. Even though we've been a couple for 14 years now, (since 1993), we're still very much devoted to each other and enjoy each other's company tremendously. True love. In that respect, I'm a lucky guy.
Have been playing my Campbell Nelsonic Transitone guitar which is featured on some tracks from the 'Gleaming Without Lights' sessions. I'm particularly fond of the sound of the neck pickup, a Seymour Duncan Jazz humbucker. It really suits the cleaner tonalities I've favoured of late. Dean Campbell is building a special Campbell Caledonian model for me at the moment. I need to get back to him with a pickguard design idea. When I find time to design it, that is.
This guitar will have three P90's, a Bigsby vibrato and a powder blue paint job. Guitars still thrill me, even after all this time. As readers of this diary may have noticed.
Whilst on the subject of guitars, the long awaited issue of the Japanese 'Player' magazine featuring an interview with myself plus photographs of my guitar collection has finally been published. (Since the article was put together, there have been some further additions to the collection so, whilst relatively comprehensive, it's not completely up to date.)
Four copies of the magazine arrived by mail from Tokyo. It's a big article. The guitars look good, though I'm not so keen on the photo's of myself that they've used. Don't misunderstand, technically, they're excellent, but it's just that they seem to have chosen rather unflattering shots. But, these days, there's probably no possibility of obtaining a 'flattering' photograph of me whatsoever. I'm beyond the reach of such a thing. It's beyond the laws of physics. And I used to be such a pretty boy too.
Weather is cold but none of the snow that has troubled London and the south. Some signs of spring in the garden already though too early, I suspect. Nature not what it used to be, or should be. A weird winter.
The latest scientific information on the subject of climate change/global warming reads like the stuff of nightmares, like a science-fiction disaster movie.
And still world leaders dance around the topic. Some of them pick up on it but as if it were a fashion trend, to be worn but not completely understood. What sort of planet are our grandchildren going to have to deal with when they hit old age? No wonder so many of us feel down these days. The news is always bad.
Books: Bedtime reading only, (as usual), but the personally signed Les Paul autobiography that was given to me as a gift at Nelsonica 07 is proving to be a delight. A hero. How I wish I could shake his hand and add my appreciation to all the thousands of other grateful people he has inspired through the years.
Music: mostly working and therefore listening, to my own but, in an odd moment or two, I've enjoyed listening to some swing era stuff and also Ella Fitzgerald.
I've felt the need for a kind of patinated elegance, copper-plated 78's rather than shiny gold discs or silver CDs. Sex under sophisticated wraps, silk gowns, nylon stockings and patent red leather stilletos. Oh, well.
This could be one of the longest diary entries I've ever written. I could, amazingly, add more but won't. Time to deal with other things.