William's Study (Diary Of A Hyperdreamer)
Wednesday 23rd February 2011 -- 4:00 pm
Begun:- Tuesday 15th February 2011.
Lots going on. Finding a spare moment, (and a long enough one), to bring the diary up to date hasn't been easy.
One of the main things occupying my mind has been an invitation to perform on television with my once-in-a-blue-moon 'Gentlemen Rocketeers' band. This was quite unexpected. It's for an ITV series titled 'Legends' which seems to feature bands such as Van Der Graff Generator and Camel and solo artists such as Roy Harper. The idea is that the band or artist performs in front of a select audience of no more than 125 people for a maximum of 90 minutes. Audience members are given a champagne and wine reception and get to attend a meet 'n' greet session with the artist after the show. Apparently, a DVD of the performance will eventually be released and each member of the audience will receive a free copy and have their name listed on the DVD and on the tv credit roll. The tickets, which are sold by the companies who produce the show, are rather expensive, but perhaps this reflects the exclusivity of the event to some degree.
Truth be told, despite my ego momentarily waking up from its half-sleep, I almost turned down the opportunity to perform as the production costs to assemble a band and rehearse sufficient material for the show far exceeds the artist's fee. However, if we manage to sell out all the seats to our performance, the tv company have agreed to increase the basic fee to help reduce the shortfall. If we sell out, that is. Otherwise, I'll be substantially out of pocket.
Despite the up-market nature of this event, I'm really hoping that fans will support the show and bring their enthusiasm with them. Aside from the financial considerations, the sight of a full house and appreciative faces will go a long way to restoring confidence in myself. I suppose it could be seen by some fans as a mildly 'historic' occasion, particularly as television appearances of your dear diarist are extremely rare these days...
Anyway, the show will be filmed 'live' on the 26th of March and will be broadcast later, sometime in June. I would imagine that the DVD will become available even later in the year, or maybe early next year.
As for now being officially deemed a 'legend' I suppose I should feel honoured. In my case, however, a wry and somewhat cynical smile crosses my face, accompanied by a quizzically raised eyebrow.
I must admit that performing a live television concert focussing, (in the main), on 35 year old songs, at the age of 62, isn't exactly a dream I've secretly harboured, but, hey, what the hell...maybe it will be ok. Just don't expect me to watch myself afterwards, that's all. Horror of horrors. I avoid household mirrors on a regular basis so tv screen images of myself are even more unappealing, especially with the knowledge that what they reveal will travel much further than the four walls of home.
Gut instincts aside, I've signed the somewhat old-school contract that the tv company have presented me with, (nine signatures required, no less), and am now trembling with both anticipation and trepidation. Ahead lies the task of re-learning certain songs for the show. We've scheduled five days of rehearsal to tackle this. The band will be a seven piece and we will mostly concentrate on what have, in recent years, become 'classic' concert songs for me, (at least since the Be Bop Deluxe And Beyond Tour of 2004. And, my goodness...even that's already SEVEN years ago!) I'll also try to include a couple of solo pieces as we don't have enough suitable band material to fill the entire show. At least the solo pieces will provide me with an opportunity to present a little taste of the music of more recent years.
To say that I'm suffering a certain amount of, well, as I've already said, trepidation about all of this is something of an understatement. For the last few years, the only live performances I've given have been at the Nelsonica fan convention. So, basically, it's been just one show per year. (And even then, only in front of loyal fans who I've become to regard more as family than an actual 'audience.')
However, this 'Legends' tag puts a different spin on things, and added pressure to live up to it. Television is a much more intimate and less forgiving medium than Nelsonica's fan convention stage and DVD's of live performances do tend to set everything in aspic. I'm not sure that I'm particularly comfortable, or even physically and psychologically prepared, for such intense scrutiny...but, there's no turning back now. Is it scary? As the late radio DJ, (and Be Bop Deluxe fan), Alan Freeman would have said: "Not half!" (Apologies for the quip...nerves are kicking in already.)
Meanwhile, the Cherry Red/Esoteric Records back catalog re-issue program gathers pace. I've spent several days working with Mark Powell of Esoteric Records on the content and sequencing of the epic career retrospective compilation box-set that will officially kick-off the series of re-issues. What started out being a six cd set has now expanded to become a seven cd set. It could quite easily have mutated into an eight cd set too but a wee bit of restraint was perhaps advisable!
Anyway, the final running order and track choices have all been decided upon and so it is now down to Cherry Red/Esoteric to secure agreements from the various major labels to license some of the selections that they still control. I've also added a few examples of recordings from the last ten years of my career so that some of my more recent music will be represented too.
I was amazed to discover that the tracks the box set will contain covers a period of forty years, beginning with selections taken from the 'Northern Dream' album. Haven't really been counting, just getting on with it, but, that's a LOT of work across a relatively expansive musical territory. Maybe I should call it, 'Time Travel For Beginners,' (even though I've already used that title for a live solo performance piece).
Yes, and there's another unsolved problem...I'm still struggling with finding an appropriate title for the box set. Naming an 'ordinary' album is a little easier. Usually, there is a thematic starting point or a specific atmosphere to be evoked, but with a compilation of this size and stylistic/generic variety, coming up with an appropriate title is proving tricky. Most of the titles I've short-listed so far have been abandoned after living with them for a few days. My antennas are still out and awaiting signals but reception is, at the moment, rather poor. Hopefully, they will pick up something soon.
In my previous diary entry, I wrote about the Rosewell guitar amplifier that has been built for me by Dave Gascoigne. Dave is now working on what will become a Bill Nelson Signature Model. (Gosh, was that the sound of my ego stirring itself from its ancient sleep again?) The signature amp will be built to the same technical specification as the tweed combo that sits in my studio, (photographs of which appeared in my previous diary entry), but, in this instance, it will feature a cosmetic design more appropriate to what some observers would regard as my signature 'retro-futurist' visual style.
The signature combo will sport a two tone burgundy and cream tolex finish and a 'tv' front. Very 'BN' for want of a better description! Dave is still working hard on the amp's design so I haven't as yet seen anything in a finished state, but, as you might imagine, I'm very excited about it.
Once we're happy with the prototype, Dave will hand-build these amps individually, as a commercially available item, and each one will carry a metal plaque bearing my hand-written signature. (Not mechanically engraved, mind you, but personally and individually signed with an indelible ink specially formulated for writing on metal.) These will be custom items and quite different from the mass-produced, production-line amplifiers on offer from mainstream companies.
On a totally different subject: My nephew Julian, (my late brother Ian's eldest son), and his charming wife Lyndsey, have just been blessed with the arrival of their first child, a daughter who has been named Bethany Anne Nelson.
Bethany is my late brother Ian's first grandchild. Had Ian still been with us I know how proud he would have felt. Ian used to rib me about my own grandfather status when my own grandson, (Luke), was born. I regret that Ian isn't here now so that I could return his 'grandfather Bill' witticisms in equally affectionate and brotherly fashion. I deeply miss him and always will. I also know that Julian is profoundly sad that his father isn't here to share in this joyful family moment. But, perhaps he is here in spirit. I'm convinced that the warm-hearted soul of Ian hovers benignly over this happy event. Such things radiate beyond the limitations of flesh and blood. God and Buddha bless and welcome to the world, Bethany.
Another shift of gears: Media interviews are being lined up to promote the 'Legends' tv show and the career retrospective box set. I have a 'phone interview on Monday morning for 'Classic Rock' magazine. It's based on the subject of songwriters. Apparently, the idea is that I should choose and talk about a songwriter whose work means something to me. It seems that my initial choices have already been covered by previous interviews in the series so I've had to dig a little deeper. (Probably all the better for that too.) So, my main choice is Hank Williams, and I might also discuss my appreciation of Smokey Robinson's songwriting.
I had originally thought of Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waites or Neil Young, but it seems that they have already been taken by other interviewees in the series.
(Hmm...maybe a mention of the great and now, sadly, late Captain Beefheart might also be worth sneaking into the picture. 'Blabber And Smoke' from 'The Spotlight Kid' album, is one of my favourite songs of all time, by any artist.)
Last night, in a fit of wine-fuelled nostalgia, Emi and I decided to watch the DVD of the excellent 'Tribute To George' concert. This, along with 'The Last Waltz' is, in my opinion, one of the very best rock music concert videos ever made. It serves George Harrison's memory beautifully, a touching and heartfelt tribute to the man by his fellow musicians, many of whom were also George's personal friends. And what fabulous musicianship is on show here. Eric Clapton gave his all to this concert, both in the role of musical director and performer. His devotion to the project is something to treasure. Only a philistine could denigrate the genuine love in evidence throughout. The quality of playing from everyone involved is masterful and deeply heartfelt.
It's far too easy for some people to knock the 'old guard' these days but the performances here really set the bar high. A sharp reminder that rock music can have emotional depth and transcendant beauty when written and played by musicians of this calibre and experience. It's a concert that makes me feel proud to have been a rock guitarist, rather than my usual feeling of being embarrassed about my past associations with the genre.
Click, buzz, whirr: On the more mundane domestic front: My car's battery is as flat as the proverbial pancake, as is one of its tyres. Haven't driven the thing since before Christmas and my indifference to its condition shows. Emiko's little VW Polo hatchback has served as our chariot of choice for more than two months now, but I really need to get my own vehicle up and running soon as I'll need to travel to and from rehearsals for the tv show, when they begin next month.
Also need to decide on which guitars to use on which numbers for the 'Legends' performance. I thought of cutting it back to three or four guitars for practicality's sake but, I suspect that won't be nearly enough. Television, being such a visual medium, may actually benefit from me using several colourful instruments on the programme, rather than adopting a more limited, sensible approach. I do have some beautiful examples and it would be nice to have them make an appearance for posterity's sake. And, as a bonus, they might take the viewer's attention away from the person playing them!
As for the two unfinished albums sitting here in the studio...virtually no progress since Christmas. Too many other distractions. It's most unusual for me to not work on the recordings for such a length of time. However, I did fire up the studio last week to try and complete one of the tracks I'd been working on, only to discover that my Yamaha SPX 90 processor has given up the ghost. I suspect it's the internal battery that powers the program memory. It's lasted quite a long time...I bought the unit in the early 1980's and only now has it broken down, despite punishingly intense use over the years. Unfortunately, the battery isn't an easy item to replace. It requires the unit to be fully disconnected from my fx rack and the casing opened up. It's not a common battery either and is in fact soldered or hard-wired into the unit. It requires someone with more experience than myself to remove and replace it. It will have to wait until I have more time and energy to pull the studio gear apart to get at it.
Having said that, I'm almost at the point where one of the tracks I've been working on is ready for a final mix. Although the Yamaha SPX 90 is crucial to the vocal sound I get on my recordings, it may well prove worthwhile to try and attempt a mix without using this unit on the vocals and guitar tracks. Over the years I've become reasonably adept at working around various equipment failures and technical shortcomings so...perhaps it might be ok.
Time, as always with these things, is the major limiting factor. I do spend rather a lot of time dealing with forum postings on my website, (another daily task I feel duty bound to engage with, and regularly moan about). Also, writing these increasingly lengthy diary entries takes up more time than readers might realise, despite the casual air of my writings.
It may well prove more productive to leave such things to themselves for awhile and instead try to advance the 'Model Village' and 'Lampdownlow' albums. (Let alone the long overdue 'Last Of The Neon Cynics' project.)
Even though I've decided to abandon 'Nelsonica' this year, it seems that the space vacated by it is already filling up. But, more of that later as things develop. It's said that nature abhors a vacuum...well, yes, apparently so. Another cliché, perhaps...but also a truism.
An inevitable gap here in the diary, between one day and another. I've now completed the 'songwriters' interview for 'Classic Rock' magazine. It is now Monday and the Hank Williams piece was conducted by Max Bell. Max, rather like myself, has been a devotee of music for many years. He recalls seeing Be Bop Deluxe on the Cockney Rebel tour in the early '70s. He probably recalls more about that tour than I do. Anyway, it was nice to speak with him.
Got involved in a lengthy debate on my website. It's a recurring topic. Nebulous downloads versus CD albums or other physical sound carrier pigeons. As may be evident from these diary entries, I'm a tactile sort of chap. I like to get my hands on stuff, touch and feel it, stack it on my shelves, involve myself in the sensory experience. I need something 'solid' rather than a bit stream sent down my 'phone line. I also prefer the shopping in a store experience to browsing the luminous fishtank of my computer screen. But that's not to say that there aren't times when the musical equivalent of fast food consumption isn't handy. (Though for me, it's not so much handy as it might be for other people.) There is still something sad and unsatisfying about accessing music via downloads, or even streaming. It doesn't engage my heart and soul and feels cheap and commonplace. I'm a sucker for something special and, well, 'physical.
'I also object to being herded like a doe-eyed cow into a future that treats everyone the same, a future that presumes we're all palpitatingly desperate to have the next flavour of the month gizmo in our pocket, regardless of whether it is of any damn use to us or not. There's a great deal of subtle consumer manipulation at work here, sometimes of such psychological sophistication that we find it difficult to resist. Advertising as hypnotism, fashion as Fascism, desires twisted and turned until they squeak like hungry mice in innocent minds already over-stuffed with over-ripe cheese.
Whilst I'm in the 'grumpy old man' mood here: 'Smart' 'phones and their associated apps raise yet another cynical eyebrow with me. Kiddie stuff. Sci-fi for beginners. Star-Trek communicators that 'really work'...but communicating what exactly? Facebook? Twitter? Low resolution photographs of drunken partygoers letting it all hang out? Hmmm... 'Smart' 'phones...More like 'dumb' 'phones. But, hypocrite that I am, I actually upgraded to one the other day as my previous basic mobile was well over five years old and about to give up the ghost. Didn't cost me anything to upgrade, of course, other than the price of my capitulation, (which can't be measured in any other terms than those of embarrassment and frustration). But...Hallelujah! I can now access this website from my mobile! The fact that it's a pain in the bum to read the forum without donning spectacles and carting a powerful electron microscope around with me is totally beside the point. At least I can now sit in any bar, train, or restaurant bleeping and pecking and peeking away at a tiny little screen with the rest of the herd. What should I twitter, I wonder? "Just got out of the bath, fed the cats, ate a croissant for breakfast?"
Better not go down that route or this diary will be rendered redundant. Only joking, of course. The 'phone may well prove useful in some situations. (But not if I can avoid those situations first.)
Bought Jeff Beck's 'Rock N' Roll Party' DVD today. A tribute to Les Paul filmed at The Iridium Club in New York where Les had a weekly residency for several years, right up until his passing. Not watched the DVD yet but will try to find time tonight. I'm looking forward to it.
Also bought Neil Young's 'Le Noise' album. Just had a quick first listen and really like the guitar treatments that producer Daniel Lanois created for Neil. It's like an acoustic guitar based singer/songwriter album except that Neil is playing electric and singing without any band. Nice photo', (on the inner sleeve), of Neil playing his big Gretsch 'White Falcon' guitar during the recording of the album at Daniel's LA house. The entire recording sounds wonderfully distorted, delayed and filtered, quite unique in its approach. My favourite track on this first toe-in-the-water listen is titled 'Rumblin.'
I continue to feel an affinity with Neil's work and have done so ever since his Buffalo Springfield days. We're driving in two different cars but down similar highways. (And both own and appreciate Gretsch White Falcon guitars.)
Browsing guitar web pages the other day, I came across a picture of a beautiful Monteleone archtop guitar.
It is loosely based on a famous D'Angelico archtop known as 'The Teardrop' but adds even more flair to that instrument's design. (See pic accompanying this diary entry and also check out www.tgpwebzine.com
Not only does it have the D'Angelico Teardrop's lower 'fin' but incorporates a mandolin-like scroll to the upper bout...and a 'german carve' too. If I ever get to build the signature, 'Gentleman Rocketeer' archtop I've been dreaming of for the last few years, I think I'll base its design on this, but with my usual retro-futurist twist, plus a vibrato arm and Charlie Christian-style pickups. And a two-tone grey and buttermilk paint job.
The Monteleone is way out of my price bracket though. But very classy.
How long is this diary entry? I'm sure I've missed out several things that were meant to be meaningful and interesting. But I've completely forgotten what they were. Mustn't have been important, as my mum used to say when she forgot something or other that she meant to tell me.
I've become a 21st Century sort of chap...skating the surface of everything.
The images accompanying this diary entry are as follows:
1: 3 black guitars. L to R: Eastwood Saturn 63, Les Paul Custom, D'Angelico NYS33
2: 3 white guitars. L to R: Airline 'Map' guitar, Gretsch White Falcon, Burns Marvin Anniversary.
3: 3 quirky guitars. L to R: Campbell American Nelsonic Transitone, Campbell American Del'Drago 'Rocketship' Nelsonic, Italia Mondial.
4: 3 jazzy guitars. L to R: Peerless Deep Blue Custom, Musima 'Record', Peerless Monarch.
5: Monteleone Teardrop.
6: A flyer for the 'Lampdownlowland' album. (Photography and treatments by Bill Nelson.)