William's Study (Diary Of A Hyperdreamer)
Saturday 22nd January 2011 -- 3:00 pm
One of my recordings, ('Zoom Sequence' from 'After The Satellite Sings'), has a voice sample that says, "Time becomes a loop...". Bob Dylan once sang, "Time plays strange tricks when you're tryin' to be so quiet...". Nick Drake sang, "Time Has Told Me". Sandy Denny sang, "Who Knows Where The Time Goes" and "It'll take a long, long time...".
What has that got to do with this? Well, here we are, it's already the 22nd of January 2011 and my first diary entry of the year is, typically, overdue. Time seems to have not only passed quickly but somehow become compressed, twisted and folded.
No matter how good my intentions are with this journal, time zips by at light speed. Whilst the gaps between entries become longer and longer they, weirdly, seem to have hardly any duration at all, at least in my own mind. Yes, time plays strange tricks and just when I was trying to be so quiet.
Perhaps in growing older our thoughts slip through the temporal cracks more easily, as if the thinning out of our being makes us ever more prone to Time's sneaky side-steps and unpredictable glitches. Maybe we're all unconsciously engaged in the act of vanishing, both conjurors and conjured.
Ok...Christmas came and went, wrapped in a blur of shopping madness and the usual nostalgic anticipation of childhood miracles, until the inevitable 'well...what was that all about?' despondency kicked in.
Actually, it was ok. I brought mum over to our house on Christmas Day and Emi prepared a traditional Christmas dinner. Mum stayed here with us overnight, (bravely enduring the extremely cramped quarters of our spare bedroom), and Elle and Elliot came over on boxing day. Amongst their other Christmas gifts, I'd bought them each a 'Recording King' acoustic guitar, decorated with rather kitsch and colourful graphics. Elle's featured a cowgirl motif and Elliot's boasted a Hawaiian surfer design, palm trees and a big ship. As far as playability goes, I guess they were fairly basic...but were really intended as kitsch art-objects to prop up in a corner of a room to make the place look pretty. So...visually, 10 out of 10.
I can't recall much of what we did on New Year's Eve...not that I celebrated to the point of drunken amnesia...just that Emi and I did little more than sit in front of the television trying to stay awake. Channel after channel of dumb, bland, dull as dishwater programming. Enough to turn even an intelligent teenager into a grumpy old man. Oh yes, television plays strange tricks when you're trying to be so quiet....
Since then? A flurry of activity to do with the re-releasing of a number of albums from my back catalogue. Activity in terms of mental energy more than physical at this point in time. As I think I've noted here before, Cherry Red's 'Esoteric' label are planning to assemble a career compilation boxed set: 6 cds containing examples of my music from the early 1970's up until recent years, all packaged together as a career overview. This last week, I've been occupied with trying to create a suitable title for it. A very long list of possible titles to begin with, then the tough process of attempting to cut it down to size. Not there yet with this really, 'though Mark Powell, who runs 'Esoteric Records' and is the person behind the re-issue program, has come out in favour of 'Further Adventures On Planet Earth.' I'm not sure whether this might be a wee bit too lengthy, 'though I did actually like it when it originally occurred to me. Perhaps I should post a selection of titles on my website forum and get fans to vote on it. Then again, maybe not. Creating art by committee is not something that I've ever found of much value. Maybe it's better to stick my own neck out for what I believe in rather than to delegate and diffuse ideas via some sort of popular consensus.
A very nice thing happened a week or so ago. I was contacted by Dave Gascoigne of ROSEWELL AMPLIFIERS. www.rosewell-amps.co.uk
Dave hand builds '50's style classic amps that look and sound like vintage models. Models that would normally cost over a couple of thousand pounds. Rosewell amplifiers have all the style and vibe of vintage amplifiers, with the singular, hand-built excellence of high-end boutique American product, but are actually hand made here in the UK, (and in Yorkshire at that), to a far more realistic price than any equivalent US amp.
The Rosewell custom model I now have sitting beside me here in my studio is, quite simply, a gem. A tweed covered combo, in the style of a mid '50's Fender, but with so much more going for it. It has three 10" genuine vintage speakers, (not modern re-issues), and is all tube throughout. Dave rates it at around 35 watts but it is an extremely loud 35 watts. And sweet as a bell.
Plugging my D'Angelico semi, my Peerless Monarch archtop, my Gretsch White Falcon or my Guild X-500 archtop into the Rosewell produces rich and warm jazz tones that bring to mind the sounds of Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell and Joe Pass. Just the right tonal balance of lows and highs. Wind the amp up and you get beautifully textured blues and rock tones. Add an overdrive or distortion pedal and the thing screams like a jet-pack angel. A pallette of classic guitar tones in one box.
Now, whilst many fans will have been aware of my enthusiastic use of digital guitar processors for the last 20 years or so, I've never ruled out the benefits of a traditional valve amp. I'm not the sort of player who thinks one approach is 'better' than another. It's always a 'horses for courses' situation as far as I'm concerned and I try not to draw hard and fast lines (or erect unnecessary barriers), with technical equipment, or with the music itself.
The Rosewell amplifier adds another dimension to my sound palette. An authentic, physical tonality that couldn't be replicated any other way. There's a possibility that this particular amplifier, which Dave designed exclusively with me in mind, might be made available as a signature model, literally with my autograph personally added to each one produced. At the moment, Rosewell amps are built entirely by hand by Dave in his workshop. As such, they are made to order, rather than rolling off a factory production line. This means that each amp takes a few weeks to complete, but the wait is very much worth it.
Ironically, despite my extensive use of digital gear, I now have, unbelievably, here in this tiny recording room of mine, 9 guitar amplifiers and just 4 digital guitar processors. For readers of this diary who are interested in such things, my amps are as follows:
1: The aforementioned, custom-built Rosewell Combo. (My latest acquisition and a really fabulous and authentic sound.)
2: My custom built Carlsbro Nelsonic Amp and Cab which I designed in conjuction with the one-time Carlsbro 'custom shop' team. (As used on the 2004 'Be Bop Deluxe And Beyond' tour.)
3: A small 'Booker' valve combo with art-deco radio-style wooden cabinet.
4: A Line-6 Vetta 2 combo. (Also featured on the 'Be Bop Deluxe And Beyond' tour.)
5: A '70s era Pignose mini-amp. (Used on various Be Bop Deluxe recordings.)
6: A '70s Vox mini-amp. (Also used on Be Bop Deluxe recordings.)
7: A very rare, vintage early 1960s 'Shaftsbury' 'tv front' style combo with two elliptical speakers.
8: A rare and unusual Carlsbro 'Tower' combo that resembles a space-age humidifier more than a guitar amp!
9: A late 1950s Selmer 'Little Giant' mini-combo that is missing it's gilt-plastic Selmer logo but not its vintage sound.
So...Not bad for someone who has recorded and performed so often with digital processors!
Whilst on the subject of recording, I've been dipping in and out of one of my upcoming but as yet unfinished album projects. 'Lampdownlowland' is an album I've mentioned before in these pages. I have two more currently unfinished tracks to add to that album... Both are 'non-linear' pieces which began life as abstract instrumentals but which now contain lyrics and a vocal top line. They're interesting, atmospheric, constantly evolving songs but I haven't yet got to the point where I feel they're ready to mix. I've had quite a few other things to deal with though, which may have contributed to my current distracted state. I'm not even sure if I will retain 'Lampdownlowland' as as title for the album, although it will contain a song bearing that title. We'll see...
The almost three weeks of unbroken snow we experienced before Christmas now seems like a distant memory. Nevertheless, it has turned really cold again and we've been forced to keep the central heating switched on for far longer periods than usual. Yesterday and today have felt particularly chilly, especially here in my studio where the only source of heat comes from the equipment it contains.
I've been trying not to get too stressed about what 2011 might or might not hold. This time of year always feels grey and slightly depressing. I've not yet made any hard and fast decision about whether to stage a Nelsonica convention this year but I think that, if a small number of live concerts could be arranged at nice or 'interesting' venues, it might be good to take a break from the demands of Nelsonica and give some time over to other things.
The next new release will be the long-overdue 'Last Of The Neon Cynics' project, the collaboration with American comic book artist Matt Howarth. As I've mentioned before, this was begun a few years ago but due to the intensity of my work rate, has developed at a very slow pace. It's almost ready to manufacture now but requires me to write some sleeve notes and work with David Graham on the physical package design.
I read several pages of my 'Painted From Memory' autobiography last week, just out of curiosity to see how it felt now that it has assumed book form. Immediately, I spotted several things that I would phrase quite differently, or expand on, if I was able to go back and work on the book again. A few little typos I hadn't spotted previously too, plus a missing chapter heading and number. If I ever decide to reprint, these are things that could be picked up and corrected. But at some point in the near future, I really ought to make a start on volume two which will cover the 1960's and '70's. Strangely, the closer to the present my story gets, the more blurred it becomes. I can recall my childhood with an uncanny clarity but the 1970's are somewhat foggy. I'll need to dig into my substantial but highly disorganised career archives to help me with that particular era.
That's all for this entry, though there may be another one fairly soon. I'm awaiting confirmation on an upcoming event which might prove exciting. I'll not say any more for the moment but...stay tuned!
Images attached to this diary entry are as follows:-
1: Bill's studio with Peerless Monarch guitar and custom built ROSEWELL guitar amplifier.
2: A closer view of the ROSEWELL amp.
3: An even closer view of the ROSEWELL with 'GOLDEN AGE' ribbon microphone.
4: Spare bedroom with a handful of guitars.
5: A closer view of the above guitars, left to right:- a Gibson Les Paul Custom, a Peerless Deep Blue Custom, a rare Musima Record archtop semi, a Gretsch White Falcon, a Greco parlour-sized jazz archtop, a Peerless Monarch jazz box and, on the sofa at the back, an old Arnold Hoyer 'Man In Black' acoustic archtop.
The teddy bear in the background is as old as Bill...it was bought for him by his parents when he was born, 62 years ago.