William's Study (Diary Of A Hyperdreamer)
Tuesday 15th June 2010 -- 7:00 pm
(Begun Sunday 13th June 2010 and concluded Tuesday 15th June 2010.)
Well, what a fabulous week it's been!
Last Sunday, 6th of June, I received an email inviting me to attend Mojo magazine's annual 'Honours List' award ceremony in London. The email informed me that the magazine was planning to give a special signature award to one of rock n' roll's legendary artists and that they would like me to personally present it to him at the event.
Well...you could have knocked me down with the proverbial feather. I was both excited and terrified by the prospect. The truth is I'm never really at my best in these 'celebrity situations,' being rather quiet and maybe a little shy compared to many rock musicians, but THIS was something that I couldn't possibly pass up, this was something REALLY special: Mojo magazine's 'Icon' award was going to be bestowed upon the legendary American guitarist Duane Eddy, an artist who, I can genuinely say, I owe my love of the guitar to.
I've cited Duane many times in interviews over the 36 years since Be Bop Deluxe released their first album and journalists took an interest in my musical roots but, for the record, I really should tell the story again here. In fact, I'll throw caution to the wind and allow readers of this diary a sneak preview of my unpublished autobiography. This short excerpt from the book relates how Duane came to inspire my original passion for the electric guitar. So, here's an exclusive peek at the relevant section. Remember, at this point in the autobiography, I'm just eleven years old:
"Around this time, Rock and roll entered my life in a big way via radio, television and records. My parents had bought a second-hand radiogram, a big console model with a beautifully veneered cabinet and an automatic turntable. It was a vast improvement on the family's ancient wind-up gramophone. A number of records came with the purchase, mostly old 78 rpm discs but with a few modern 45's scattered amongst them. Some were early Elvis Presley records and others were English 'skiffle' music, the precursor of rock n' roll in the UK.
Whilst listening to the console's radio one day, I heard a BBC programme, (hosted, I think, by DJ Johnny Walker), that used a beautiful instrumental recording as its opening and closing theme. It was a single, released on the 'London' record label, by a young American guitarist called Duane Eddy. The track was titled 'Because They're Young.' It was originally composed as the title theme for a movie in which Duane briefly featured with his band, 'The Rebels.' (The film also featured actress Tuesday Weld.)
Duane Eddy was cool and handsome, a kind of rock n' roll James Dean. He developed a highly distinctive and original approach to the guitar. Duane played a beautiful Gretsch 6120 electric archtop, (although I wasn't aware of such technical details back then), and, as a result of the sound he created with producer Lee Hazelwood, became known as the 'King Of Twang.' This new and unique sound was achieved by playing the melody mostly on the bass strings of the guitar, which were then amplified and fed through a reverberation chamber, often with the addition of tremolo. I discovered, many years later, that Duane had actually used a Danelectro baritone guitar on this recording, rather than the Gretsch he was so often photographed with.
When I first heard 'Because They're Young' on the radio, I had no idea who was playing the piece, all that I was aware of was a beautiful, deep, shimmering sound, offset to great effect by an orchestral string arrangement courtesy of Lee Hazelwood, the record's producer. But this sweet little tune, played so perfectly by Duane Eddy, was the spark that lit the fire under me, the one record that inspired all my consequent guitar dreams.
Not long after, I caught some flu virus or other and was allowed to stay at home to recuperate, rather than go to school. Resting in bed, I asked my mother to switch the radio on so that I could listen to 'Because They're Young' at it's usual broadcast time. She evidently realised my delight in hearing this piece of music and somehow made a note of its title and the name of the artist performing it.
The next day she went into Wakefield and purchased the 45 rpm single for me in the hope of cheering me up and encouraging my recuperation. I was ecstatic about being given the single and asked for it to be played over and over on the radiogram which stood majestically in a corner of the living room. I vividly recall laying on my bed, the sound of Duane's guitar floating through from the front room, echoing across the narrow hallway of 28 Conistone Crescent, and into my bedroom. Somehow, it was as if the future had finally come knocking at my door. The B-side of the single was titled 'Rebel Walk.' This was a supremely moody piece, a kind of beatnik, 'film-noir' theme, based around a haunting, simple riff augmented by wordless backing vocals in a kind of 'Jordinairs' (Elvis Presley's backing vocalists), style. I enjoyed this piece just as much as the 'A' side. Looking back on this, 50 years later here in the 21st Century, I now realise that I had found my life-changing 'eureka' moment, the sort of moment we are never able to never forget, a moment to appreciate forever, and, yes, to feel genuinely grateful for. If I had to sum it up in one single word, it would be: 'Magic.' Actually, I still have the original 'Because They're Young' single in my possession and treasure it greatly.
Owning that record inspired me to attempt to play 'Because They're Young' on my recently acquired Zenith guitar, but I only got as far as the opening few bars of the main melody. The size of the real guitar's neck was much bigger than the toy guitar that I had been more familiar with, and the steel strings were much thicker and cut into the ends of my fingers. I was temporarily discouraged but it didn't diminish my passion for the sound of the instrument. Or the look of the thing. In fact, the visual appeal of the guitar was very important to me.
Not long after getting the single, I discovered a photograph of Duane Eddy in one of my mother's magazines and was impressed by how sharp he looked and how 'sci-fi' his Gretsch electric guitar appeared with it's shiny pickups and mysterious controls. I made a life-sized copy of this guitar from a flat piece of cardboard which I cut to the appropriate shape and then painted, gluing it to a piece of wood to represent the neck. (The wood was appropriated from a child's painting easel I'd had for a few years. It was the first time that I sacrificed the visual arts to music!)
To emulate the controls of the guitar, I glued old shirt buttons onto the cardboard body, totally unaware of the function of these controls on the real thing. Once my non-playing facsimile was complete, I would stand in front of my bedroom mirror and mime to Duane's record, throwing the appropriate shapes, as observed from his publicity photographs."
Ok, dear diary readers...I'm not going to give away any more of my autobiography here...but the above brief excerpt should give you an idea of the impact that Duane had on the life of an eleven year old schoolboy living in a council estate flat in Wakefield, fifty years ago. Fifty years ago? Wow....
And THAT'S the amazing thing. I've held onto my original 'Because They're Young' single and kept it close to my heart, (and all that it symbolised), for fifty years. I guess that the unassuming young guitar player who recorded that track had no idea of the power it contained, the ripples that radiated out from his far away American reverb tank, out across the world, to a skinny schoolboy here in Yorkshire.
As an eleven year old kid, I would sometimes dream about meeting Duane Eddy and, in these dreams, I'd ask him about guitar playing and he'd pass on a secret technique or two. But if anyone had said to me, "one day, fifty years from now, you will personally present Duane with an award recognising him as an icon of rock n' roll." Well, I would have thought that they were crazy. But, it seems, magic happens. (Well, I of all people, should know that!)
Something about the award ceremony itself now:
The three days before travelling to London were excruciatingly stressful. I hardly slept, worrying about what to say, about my appearance, my clothes, worrying about every single thing to the point of feeling physically sick and ill with it all. I tried to keep as much of this trepidation to myself as possible but it leaked out in even the most mundane tasks around the house.
Emiko was not able to travel with me to London to attend the Mojo awards. She had been given an important and prestigious freelance floral design commission which required her to work long hours thoughout the week if she was to prepare all the complex arrangements for her client. At first, I thought that I wouldn't be able to face the stress of the Mojo event without her by my side. I am not naturally gregarious in social situations and my nerves often betray me. Emiko has the quiet charm and ease that I lack, and her gentle presence is a great asset whenever I have to socialise in such circumstances. Don't misunderstand, I'm fine and dandy around people who I've had the opportunity to get to know and trust, but the superficial celebrity charm that seems to work for other people often evades me.
Anyway, I called my friend Paul Gilby and asked him if he'd be at all interested in accompanying me to the event to lend a little moral support. Paul, very encouragingly, said he'd be honoured to do so and I felt a little less anxious about the whole thing.
However, once the day arrived, my nerves kicked in again...even more excruciatingly than before. I was shaking at York station, shaking on the train to London and trembling like a daisy as I changed at the hotel before being whisked off in a limo to the event itself. All I could do was think of the alternative, which would have been to stay at home and later regret not accepting this wonderful opportunity to say 'thank you' to my first ever guitar hero. I HAD to do this, for Duane and for myself.
First little miracle of the evening came when the limo arrived to pick me up to take me to the event. As I walked out of the hotel door, there in front of me, (actually with his back to me), was a person I thought I knew. He turned his face, ever so slightly, to speak to someone standing next to him. The resultant half-glimpsed profile was instantly recognisable to me. It was Peter Hammill, an artist who I'd toured with many, many years previously during the early days of Be Bop Deluxe.
I probably don't need to introduce readers of this diary to Peter's extensive and highly respected work as a singer-songwriter and founder member of the band 'Van der Graaf Generator.' He is a unique and very special artist who anyone interested in music as an art form should be aware of. (And shame on you if you're not.)
Peter has chosen to plough the same deep furrow as all those artists who are driven by something other than the lure of the corn market. In short, he's the genuine article.
The first ever tour Be Bop Deluxe undertook as a support act was with Peter Hammill, on one of his solo concert tours. I remember it with great fondness. Peter treated us kindly and sympathetically. We landed our contract with EMI records during the course of that tour and Peter seemed genuinely overjoyed for us. To celebrate our signing, Peter bought a bottle of Polish White Spirit for us...(a fierce alcoholic drink with pyrotechnic capabilities). I remember a drop or two of it being poured onto a wooden bench in the dressing room of a venue on that tour. And a match being set to it...It caught fire in a whoosh of incandescent energy. We were lucky...the entire building could have burned to the ground, such was the drink's potency. Rocket fuel in a bottle.
We each, (this was the original line-up of the band), had a sip from the bottle...but it was far too fierce and strong a medicine for us. Remarkably, the band's drummer, Nicholas Chatterton-Dew, seemed able to handle it without the top of his head coming off in a cloud of fire and brimstone. What a guy!
Towards the end of the tour, Peter gave me a copy of a book of his lyrics and poetry that had recently been published. In the first pages of the book he drew a little caricature of me and signed it. I still have that book and treasure it, along with the now distant memories of that first Be Bop Deluxe tour.
So, meeting Peter again, after all these years, was a very happy experience for me.
But, back to the Mojo Honours List awards:
There was a red carpet awaiting at the venue. And a line up of press photographers. A kind of modest Hollywood Oscar moment, I thought. I had my photograph taken by the gathered photographers and, despite my trepidation and natural inclination to be dismissive of the importance of such things, I somehow slipped into the grin and bear it mode that was so often required during my Be Bop Deluxe years. "This way Bill...", "Could you look into the camera, Bill?", "Head up a little Bill...", Etc, etc.
It wasn't too difficult, just a bit embarrassing. I guess it's that, 'once you've learned to ride a bike' syndrome. All bollocks, of course, but a kind of acceptable bollocks. Most artists just grin and give out what's required of them, no matter how ridiculous they feel or how surreal it all becomes. I suppose we're all flogging our individual horses, dead or alive, according to public perception. Truth is, I don't mind this sort of thing at all really. In fact I almost enjoy it, musician's egos being what they are...
Entering the interior of the venue, I mingled with the crowd who had not yet been invited to sit at the circular tables situated before the stage where the actual awards would be given. The stage was designed to resemble an oversized stately home library, or something similar, complete with fake wood panelled wall, a giant fireplace complete with a video fire, (a pair of Gibson Les Paul guitars crossed above it like armorial bearings), and a huge screen and table filled with the actual Mojo award trophies. All very impressive I thought, but also a little overwhelming.
Amongst the crowd of celebrities I came across my old pal John Leckie. Ah...here was someone I actually KNEW and could relate to without pretence. John is a dear, dear friend who has always remained the same sweet and lovely person he was back in the '70's when we first worked together. And that despite his fame and success as the producer of many well-known bands during the intervening years. I was relieved and pleased to see him. We'd last met at the 2009 Nelsonica fan convention when John and I gave an on-stage interview about our years of working together. John's also coming up to this year's Nelsonica. I think he really enjoyed himself at last year's event.
But there were other familiar faces too: Some I knew personally from other situations, (Mark Powell, Peter Blake, John Foxx, Marc Almond, to name just four), but also people whom I had only previously been able to admire from afar, (Rufus and Martha Wainwright, Richard Thompson, Emmylou Harris, Jimmy Page, Jarvis Cocker, Roy Wood, Wilco Johnson, Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO, Roger Daltrey, Tony Christie, Richard Hawley and others.) The place seemed to be teeming with pop and rock celebrities. Shame Julian Cope didn't show though...it would have been nice to thank him for the kind words he's written about me on his website.
The table at which I was seated was graced by Beth Orton, Alex James from Blur and Andy Gill and Jon King from Gang Of Four. All very nice people. A combination of shyness, nerves and ambient noise from the hall limited my entering into anything other than superficial conversation with my fellow diners, but it was good to be seated amongst them, even though my mind was constantly fretting about the daunting task ahead of me.
We were served a three course meal, (vegetable terrine starter, braised lamb main course, then bread n' butter pudding desert). Each table was groaning with its own vast supply of booze: several bottles of wine, a crate of beer, even a bottle of Scotch. I stuck to water, worried that I might become a bit too 'loose' if I drank the wine.
It then turned out that the Mojo Icon award was going to be the final presentation of the evening, the culminating event. I would have to sit through all the other presentations before I could do my bit and relax. As the evening went on, my nerves became more and more acute. I watched in envy as each presenter took to the stage and announced the various awards in witty and professional style. How could I compete with such bravado? My nerves leapt up another octave, almost to the realm of 'screech.' Ok...maybe just a half glass of wine wouldn't go amiss.
I'd prepared a pre-composed speech which I'd printed out, as a back up, just in case my nerves got the better of me but, as it happened, the format of the presentation was slightly different to what I'd expected and the speech would not have worked in the actual context of the show. A very nice girl, one of the event's staff, came over to our table and explained the drill to me. The format was that I would take the stage, say a few words but not reveal who the award was for. I then had to say, 'and let's have a look at his work' which would cue a short video presentation. At the end of the video, I was then to announce Duane's name, he would come on stage and accept the award from me. Right...(mild panic). It looked like I'd have to wing it, come up with something reasonably spontaneous but loosely based on my original idea. I decided to trust to the moment and play it by ear.
I watched the various award trophies being handed over to their recipients by the presenters until there was just one award left. I took a deep breath and began to squeeze my way between the closely packed tables, heading toward the stage. I was expecting the ceremony's host, Mojo editor Phil Alexander, to say something basic along the lines of, "and here's Bill Nelson to present the Mojo Icon award...". But, Phil was very generous and said some quite flattering things about my work, which came as a welcome surprise and gave my confidence a much needed boost. (Thanks for that Phil, it was very kind of you.)
I'd got up from my seat a little too soon so stood at the foot of the stage for a few moments until Phil's introduction was concluded...it must have appeared as if I was incredibly eager to get onto the stage but, the truth was, I wasn't expecting such a nice introduction.
Finally I was on stage, shook hands with Phil and walked to the microphone. I'd taken my 50 year old copy of 'Because They're Young' on stage with me. I began my short speech with "Some people will try to tell you that records don't change lives..." (Then I held up my Duane Eddy single), "But THIS one changed mine...!" I'm afraid that was all I could remember from my prepared speech, the rest of it I made up as I went along. I can't recall exactly what I said now as the next five minutes or so became a dream-like, near hallucinogenic, blur. I managed to give the cue for the video, (which showed various album sleeves of Duane's whilst a selection of his tracks played,) then said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome, the legendary King Of Twang, Mr. Duane Eddy!"
Then suddenly, walking towards me across the stage was the man whose music had launched an 11 year old boy on a fifty year long journey to here and now. I can't describe how emotional a moment it was. Quite unbelievable!
Duane walked right up to me and gave me a big hug and thanked me warmly for my introduction, then took the microphone and spoke to the assembled celebrity audience. He was given a wonderfully enthusiastic reception by everyone. We were then both led backstage where we were to be photographed together, then on to a joint interview for the Mojo website, then a few more photographs. Next came the group photographs with a selection of winners and presenters lined up in three rows. I stood on the back row next to Richard Thompson. Rufus was on the next row down and Duane sat at the front. As I said, it was all a bit of a blur and quite unreal.Duane and I were then asked to sign a Gibson Les Paul guitar that will be auctioned to raise funds for the War Child charity. It's not every day that my signature sits on a guitar alongside the signatures of Duane Eddy, Jimmy Page and Richard Thompson. Another honour that I'll treasure.
Duane also offered to sign my original 'Because They're Young' single...which was what I'd hoped he'd do. I plan to frame it along with a photo of Duane and hang it on my studio wall, next to my Les Paul, Hank Marvin and Joe Pass framed photographs.
One more nice surprise: Duane and his lovely and thoughtful wife Deed thanked me for all the things I've said about Duane in interviews and on my website over the years. I had no idea that they were aware of me at all so this came as a happy surprise. Duane's wife told me that she supports Duane in the same practical ways that Emiko supports me, so it seems Duane and Deed actually read this diary sometimes. What a thrill to discover that!
Duane asked for my 'phone number and we exchanged email addresses. It would be terrific if we could keep in touch and perhaps collaborate on something in the not too distant future. I would definitely be thrilled to create a track for both of us to play on.
Oh, I also gave Duane two albums of mine, 'Rosewood Volume 1' and 'Here comes Mr. Mercury.' I'd grabbed them just before setting off to the station to travel to London. I hope they're a good choice for him. With such a large and varied catalogue of music, it's sometimes difficult to know what to choose when I want to introduce someone to my work. None of it follows the usual routes anyway, but these two albums might have one or two tracks on them that a guitar player might enjoy.
Next, it was off to the aftershow party. This was held in a little cellar club, just across the road from the awards ceremony venue. The place reminded me of a 'sixties club called 'Cafe Des Artistes' which, all those years ago, used to be in Fulham Road, (I think). I'd visited it in the latter half of the 'sixties when I'd spent a weekend with an art school pal whose parents lived in Hampstead. (And THERE'S another tale to tell in volume 2 of my autobiography!) The aftershow party place however, had a much louder sound system than any 'sixties club. The DJ played some classic music from the past, 'Green Onions' by Booker T and the MG's, and other tracks that evoked a groovy '60's retro atmosphere. Great track choices but it was just a little too loud, and of such an aggressive mid frequency that conversation was nigh on impossible. It would have been nice to have a slightly quieter environment where people could have met without having to literally yell in each other's ears. Nevertheless, it WAS enjoyable to hear some classic tracks and watch several rather attractive girls dance a 21st Century version of the 'Hully Gully' or whatever. I almost joined in but thought better of it...best to hang on to whatever decorum that remains to me as a 61 year old!
John Leckie and I shouted into each other's ears for an hour or so and I managed to catch a few words from Mark Powell and a nice guy from the band 'Kasabian.' (At least, I think that's who it was.) I also met a guy from Gibson guitars who was very helpful. I had my photo taken with ace vocalist Tony Christie too. What a very nice chap and looking enviously slim and youthful too.
Oh, and I managed to wish Roy Wood well, just as he was about to head back to the hotel. I first met Roy on a Kid Jensen radio show, quite some years ago now. He's another lovely chap...he'd been given a well deserved songwriter award at the Mojo Honours List. I still recall those early Move singles...they were a band I very much enthused about back then.
The noise levels eventually got the better of me and Paul and I decided it was time to head back to our hotel in Bloomsbury. A car was summoned, I thanked everyone in sight for allowing me to bestow my first ever guitar hero with the Mojo Icon award, and fell gratefully into the back seat of the car and set off for the hotel, tired and happy.
Next morning, I awoke, after little more than three hours sleep, with a very sore throat and an extremely hoarse voice, probably a direct result of the previous evening's aftershow yelling. I met Peter Hamill in the hotel foyer and we exchanged emails and 'phone numbers. Then Paul and I wandered down the street for breakfast, and then to Foyles bookshop so that I could peruse the 'Ray's Jazz' section. Bought a book dealing with English swing bands of the 1930s and '40s. Also a Bill Frisell album titled 'Where In The World' that I'd not previously heard.
Whilst in Foyles, I got a call from Richard at Opium on my mobile. He was calling to say that the Mojo site had my 'red carpet' photo' on it.
Then it was a taxi ride to Kings Cross and the train journey back to York and home. And a huge sigh of relief.
Saturday morning, I helped Emiko to deliver the final part of her important flower commission. She had enlisted a friend of hers to help her on the Friday morning, whilst I was in London. Everything went to plan and her client was overjoyed with the many arrangements that Emi had created for her. I'm so pleased when people recognise the sophistication of her designs.
Our new kitchen is now, finally, complete. (Fanfare!) All that remains is to move various items back into it, a task which Emiko and I began this weekend. We've almost concluded that process now and it is so good to have our kitchen back, in much brighter and shinier condition than before.
There's more to tell, as always, but this diary entry has taken up more time than I expected. I'm now going to catch up with some recording work. But what an unexpected and much appreciated honour that was. Duane, thank you so much for being so gracious to me. And Mojo magazine...thanks for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity. All I can say, to end this diary entry is: WOW!
The images accompanying this diary are as follows:-
1: Bill and John Leckie at the Mojo Honours 2010 event.
2: Bill and Peter Blake at the Mojo Honours 2010 event. (Note Jarvis Cocker in the background.)
3: Bill and Duane Eddy at the Mojo Honours 2010 event. (Bill holding his original 50 year old 'Because They're Young' single, now signed by Duane.)
4: A close up of the single that Duane signed for Bill. It reads: 'To Bill, thank you so much, Duane Eddy.'
5: Bill with Tony Christie at the Mojo awards aftershow party.
6: The Gibson Les Paul guitar, signed by various guitarists, including Duane and Bill, at the Mojo awards. This guitar will be auctioned to raise funds for the 'War Child' charity.
All photographs taken by Paul Gilby with the exception of the close up of the signed 'Because They're Young' single which was taken by Bill Nelson in his home studio.