Sunday 24th July 2005 -- 11:45 pm
A long gap between the previous diary entry and this. Far too long. Work demands have been overwhelmingly intense and I've had little time or energy for anything else. Perhaps this is not so unusual considering how many projects I seem to regularly juggle these days... .but I do seem to have bitten off more than I can chew this time.
I've been constantly struggling against physical exhaustion and a kind of mental/spiritual malaise, every day being tinted and tainted with a combination of dread, self-loathing and panic. Just too many things dragging my concentration this way and that, a sense of hopelessness gradually overwhelming whatever optimism I've attempted to muster.
I've felt as if my work has suffered as a result too, 'though this may be entirely subjective. Whatever, it still feels like too little energy spread too thin.
The task taking up most of my time is the continuous writing and recording of my forthcoming album. For reasons not quite clear, many of the pieces of music have turned out to be long and complex. They are mostly heavily layered, orchestrally textured songs with intricate, fussy arrangements.
Each song has taken several days to complete, not just in terms of the writing but also in terms of the actual performance and recording. Mixing the finished recordings has proved problematic too, as there is so much going on just beneath the surface of the music. Getting the correct balance between the myriad interwoven components is not exactly a quick and easy job... so many details to consider.
I'm still toying with the idea of remixing a couple of songs, though I'll hardly have time for such a luxury if the finished package is to be ready for the autumn release schedule. There's all the artwork/packaging to consider too.
If these songs were ever to be performed in a completely live context, (ie: no use of backing tracks), they would require a large group of very broad-minded and eclectic musicians in tandem with a small symphony orchestra to duplicate the recorded effect. As I originally intended to write intimate pieces that would only require three or four musicians to perform the songs live, it's a shock that what eventually came down my cantakerous muse's pipe ended up being so densely layered and epic sounding. I haven't a clue as to why this should be, it's just as mysterious to me as to anyone else. I'm subject to the surreal dictates of my own unconscious and am often as much a victim of its unpredictability, as well as a beneficiary.
The songs' lyrical content has been problematic too, reflecting, perhaps, my troubled state of mind. They're not overtly angst-ridden, heart-on-sleeve, chest beaters, but they do seem to suggest a certain world-weariness and resignation. These are confusing, dualistic, personal songs whose shiny veneer maybe hides something deeper and darker. As I so often say these days, maybe it's just a result of my age and the weird times we live in.
Not entirely a waste of time, however, as the abandoned tracks have helped direct me towards some of the other pieces that I feel are much more succesful. These 'keeper' tracks are now the spiritual core of the album, which has revealed, or given birth to, a concept of sorts. (Although it is not strictly a 'concept' album in the old school sense of the term.)
But... I have to consider the amount of time this music is taking to formulate and complete itself. If I were to continue at the current rate of progress, all my other creative responsibilities would have to be dropped from my agenda. (Not a good idea.) Not sure that I like being gripped quite so viciously by a single piece of work... but this one seems to be a difficult beast to escape from.
I have to admit, however, that there is a part of me that says, 'just dump everything else and spend the next six to eight months concentrating exclusively on the new album.' In fact, I was actually on the point of doing this, including cancelling/postponing the autumn tour, when Adrian, at Opium's office in London, suggested a more practical, pragmatic alternative. He pointed out that it wasn't absolutely neccesary for the album to be one of my extra long, 'filled to the brim with tracks' ones. In fact, Adrian said, it might work equally as well as a 'mini-album' or an ep. This would take some of the pressure off and allow me more time to prepare the video material for the tour and also to deal more comfortably with all the other projects I'm currently juggling. (Against the odds.) An obvious solution, staring me in the face I suppose, but one which I'd somehow stupidly missed... but a very good proposal nevertheless.
BUT... even if I do decide that it will be a 'mini' album, (in terms of track count), it could still turn out to be 'full length' as most of the individual tracks are unusually long, so much so that the total listening time may add up to being the same as a 'normal' album. Adrian pointed out that it is probably already as long as Anthony and The Johnsons' recent album (which apparently clocks in at approximately 32 minutes or somewhere about that).
But, regardless of these thoughts, I still want to push on, to see where the current thematic or conceptual thread leads me. Luckily, the idea of making it a 'mini-album' provides a much needed safety net... At least I now know that I can 'switch off' the project and deal with the rest of my workload when the time comes to do so. A little bit less pressure, though there's still plenty more to deal with. As an explanation for my sense of urgency and panic I'll list the current workload in this diary entry, in a moment or two, BUT before I do, here is the latest information about this 'album in progress' of mine:-
The songs I've decided will be on the 'possible inclusions' list are as follows:-
'The Ceremonial Arrival Of The Great Golden Cloud.’
'Dreams Run Wild On Ghost Train Tracks.’
'And Then The Rain.'
'The Man Who Haunted Himself.'
'Tin Sings Bones.'
All these are vocal pieces. There are also two as yet unfinished and untitled instrumentals to add to this list... The list does not include everything that I've recently recorded, i.e.: abandoned tracks or tracks that have been completed but set aside for other possible projects (as they proved unsuitable for this one). The album is very much a work in progress at this stage, although it now has a reasonably fixed title. What is the title? Well, unless I radically re-think the album, it will be called 'The Alchemical Adventures Of Sailor Bill.' There are deeply personal reasons for this apparently surreal and light-hearted title, which I may explain at some point in the future. Needless to say, it springs from my usual internal pre-occupation with the absurdity and seriousness, beauty and ugliness of our human condition, and mine in particular. So... the cut-off point with this album will be entirely dictated by the deadlines and demands of my other work... Whether 'mini' or otherwise, there WILL be a new album, depite the pressures.
And here, by way of example, is the list of the work I'm attempting, as promised above:-
1. Prepare autumn tour set, including the making, choosing, mastering and assembly of performance backing tracks, both old and new.
2. Design tour advertising material, flyers, t-shirts, posters, etc, for above.
3. Shoot and edit new video material to use as back projection on the autumn tour. (An extremely time consuming job, this one.)
4. Prepare various items and performance events for Nelsonica 05 , (to be held in October), including design and preparation of all visual material, tickets, limited edition screen print poster, etc.
5. Create a Nelsonica 05 convention cd, including the selection and mastering of appropriate musical material, and suitable visual content, sleeve design, etc.
6. Create an exclusive music track for Sound On Sound's magazine's 20th anniversary issue.
7. Give a talk to music college students in September.
8. Prepare tracks, both old and new, for the early August guitar Festival performance in Lewes. (And boy, am I behind schedule with this one!)
9. Choose and assemble an appropriate selection of music onto cdr to send to Ronald Nameth with regard to a possible collaboration on the Ginsberg 'Howl For Now' event documentary film.
10. Contribute an article/written Q+A for a book being written about the above event.
11. Transfer to Mackie removable media hard drive and then mix the very early Be Bop Deluxe Decca audition tapes for possible release in autumn.
12. Design packaging for above.
13. Help to oversee the release of major label back catalogue. (Mercury and EMI.)
14. Select appropriate equipment for upcoming live shows, unwire from my studio and repair where required. Then pack and haul downstairs in preparation for transportation to venues.
15. Schedule a full day's rehearsal for autumn tour and ensure that everything is in place that needs to be.
16. Allocate sufficient time at home to allow a personal rehearsal schedule for the tour material so that the main reheasal is freed up to concentrate on technical/equipment/sound mixing matters, rather than musical ones.
17. Complete the writing and recording and mixing of the new album.
18. Decide track running order, book Fairview to master the final album and design packaging art for it.
19. Attend and possibly contribute towards the performance of Ginsberg's 'Howl' poem, annniversary reading.
20. Begin a possible collaboration with John Foxx.
21. Ditto with J. F. and Harold Budd.
22. Ditto with Cipher. (Theo Travis and Dave Sturt.)
23. Try to get back on track with my collaboration with American comic book artist Matt Howarth.
24. Open up further areas of the Dreamsville site, including the long promised 'Museum Of Memory' feature, the 'Academy Of Art' and the 'Guitar Arcade.'
But, as I've already said, the priority for me at the moment is to constantly work on the new album. (11 am to 11 pm, with a 45 minute dinner break, every day, with a couple of guilty Sundays off to give Emiko some kind of life other than sitting downstairs watching tv whilst I furrow my brow in the studio.)
So... this is the kind of life I lead right now:- obsessive, unhealthy, anti-social, grumpy, angst-ridden, insecure, depressive, stressful, etc. (Oh, poor, poor me, so many guitars to play!) But also, dreamlike, magical, creatively fulfilling, educational, enlightening and priveleged too. Yes... it's that special. I'm just one of those common or garden, pathetic but fabulously lucky tortured artists that you read about in tacky romantic novels... AND I've got the dysfunctional lifestyle, psychological quirks and expanding waistline to prove it.
And now on to other, more serious matters:- Terrorist attacks on London. What can I or anyone else say ? The horror, disgust and revulsion that we all feel about these events requires no explanatory comment from me.
Nevertheless, I'll say this, if only to release a little of the pressure in my own angry heart:- That people commit such acts of depravity in the name of religion, (whatever religion), is a sickening measure of the ignorance, stupidity, gullibility and downright self-centred, ugly righteousness of those who think of themselves as 'agents of god'. ('God' is, increasingly it seems, a convenient concept for abdicating individual responsibilty for vile criminal acts.)
The indoctrinated dupes who carry out these cruel, pathetic and ultimately ineffectual attacks are deluded lost souls, terminally infatuated with the ecstasy of self-immolation, death and glory, holy-martyrdom and all the other banal, historically tested, psychologically potent appeals to the dangerous idiot within us all. These young fools bought the tired old lie of a righteous martyr's paradise... and couldn't see past the illusions weaved by their hate-filled puppet masters. What a tragic world we live in. As always, the innocent suffer the most. And don't get me started on the political issues. There's ignorance on all sides. Enough disgust from me? More than you need... let's move on.
Despite my relentless work schedule, I have conspired to take a couple of Sundays off. A visit to Castle Howard and visits to the East and North Yorkshire coast, Reighton Sands, Whitby, Spurn Point. The latter two locations allowed me a chance to paddle like a kid in the ocean, to savour the waves and breath some fresh air, ('though I wish I had more time to do it properly and without guilt).
I justified the time away from my studio by taking along my camera and camcorder to capture images that might prove useful for the tour's video projection, or for this very website. Some of those photo's scattered amongst this diary entry... a couple of seaside days to share with you. My trip to Reighton Sands, or 'Reighton Gap' as it was known to my family in the 'fifties, was only the second time I've been there since I was a child. (My earlier diary entries reference this.)
On this latest visit, Emi and I ventured down the steep incline, cut into the cliffs, to the beach. It was the first time I'd walked on these sands since I was a very young boy. Nothing much had changed, apart from some coastal erosion, but the view of Flamborough Head from Reighton Sands was just as striking as I remembered, the beach just as sparsely populated.
The crumbling ruins of the concrete World War 2 bunkers, almost exactly as they were in the early 'fifties when my family stayed at a bungalow in Reighton Gap, still stand, braving the North Sea winds and guarding the little pools in which I once, all those years ago, sailed my cream and red painted, battery powered, toy boat, 'St. Christopher.'
I wrote 'Hello, Sailor Bill' in the sand with my walking cane and Emi took a photo. Emi and I then stood, trousers rolled up, at the edge of the sea, up to our calves in the incoming tide, which was cold and sharp and clear. We'd done the same thing at Spurn Point the previous weekend, (where I'd photographed the patterns made by fishermen's tractors in the sand on the Humber river side of the estuary peninsula).
I love this entire stretch of coastline, its variety, its history, and never tire of it. My late father loved it too, as I've probably mentioned before... in fact, he loved the ocean and the coast generally, wherever we roamed as a family back in those simpler times. I still vividly recall standing next to him on cliff tops on the east coast, or on harbour walls in Ilfracoombe in Devon, watching the storm tossed waves. The wilder the seas, the more my father enjoyed observing them. He could be a difficult, sometimes angry and occasionally volatile, violent man, but also generous, kind, thoughtful and soulful. Certainly contradictory. Those moments standing beside him, in awe of the waves, stay stronger in my memory than his darker moods.
One of my latest songs directly references my father's love of the sea. In fact, it starts with a simple statement: 'my father loved the sea, summertime, wintertime, anytime... My father longed to be, a sailor on the sea...' It sounds much better in the context of the whole song. (The song is called:- 'The Ceremonial Arrival Of The Great Golden Cloud.') It's over eight minutes long.
Weather cool verging on cold today, cloudy and no sun. The recent warm weather vanished for a time, or so it seems. But it's been frustrating to have to stay in my hot, airless studio whilst the sunshine has been transforming the surrounding landscape into an archytypal English pastoral summer scene these last few weeks. It will soon be harvest time though, fields of barley have turned from green to gold already. Leaves turning before we know it too, I suspect. The seasons change so rapidly. I continue to make music and must optimistically return to the work, pushing on regardless. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months. Time passes and life sings.
All photographs by Bill Nelson.