Thursday 12th May 2005 -- Late Afternoon/Early Evening
A huge sigh of relief: My 'Dreamsville' site is finally up and working and has received a very generous outpouring of appreciation from its visitors. The response has been even more positive than I could have hoped for and there are vibrant, lively conversations continually buzzing in the virtual saloons of 'Dreamsville Inn Forum '. A genuine community spirit permeates the place. Excellent!
The next task is for me to install visuals and text into the other areas of the site. First priority is 'The Museum Of Memory'. I've already gathered a large number of exhibits together for this location, as I've mentioned in earlier diary entries. These items now need to be loaded into the 'Museum' itself. Next in line, after this, is 'The Academy Of Art' and 'The Guitar Arcade'.
Other duties have forced this to be put on hold though. Next week will be taken up with preparations for Harold Budd's concert on the 21st. Before that, I have equipment to repair, prepare, pack away and so on. Then a lengthy trip from Yorkshire down to Brighton for rehearsals and the concert itself.
At this point in time I still don't have an inkling about the pieces I'm to perform on. Harold is playing it very close to his chest although he has recently told me the titles of the pieces that he's prepared for us to play together. Other than that, though, no clues. Nevertheless, such a last minute approach may add an edge to things as I'll have to invent something on the spot. I have to admit that I'm flattered that Harold has confidence in me to pull whatever rabbits are required out of my hat. But at the same time, (and predictably, for readers familiar with the self-doubts that regularly fuel this diary), I have very little confidence in myself at all. But fear not... the muse will find a way. Said he, setting down his glass of Merlot and adopting an inane grin...
Perhaps I really shouldn't get myself quite so worked up about it. After all, I dive in the deep end as a matter of course with my own compositions on a fairly regular basis. (Or am I just foolishly trying to reassure myself with that last comment?) Anyway, it will be what it will be. A long time ago, when Harold and I played in Portugal together, Harold said, "Don't worry Bill, it doesn't have to be the greatest thing that came down God's pipe". But on this special occasion, particularly as it is Harold's public finale, I really want it to be wonderful, not for me, but for Harold who deserves the absolute best I can muster.
A shift of shadows, a different and far more mundane topic:- Woes of all kinds on the domestic front. So what's new? Well, here's something: Back in January, I bought a new bathroom suite from MFI. Yes, I know... if only I could afford not to shop there. Anyway, I obtained what I'd thought was a bargain in MFI's January sales. Lots of convincing chat from their salesman who assured me this was the chance of a lifetime, free taps, waste traps and fittings, a Hollywood film starlet of my choice thrown in to scrub my back, complimentary bubble bath, and so on and so forth. 'Lovely', I thought, imagining Sharon Stone's nipples giving me the Soapland treatment. I placed my order and gained brownie points with Emiko. ('Though not for the Sharon Stone fantasies.)
Eventually, I arranged for them to fit the damn thing too, not just supply it. "We have qualified fitters, Mr. Nelson,, they can do any extra work you might require, such as tiling, Mr. Nelson... whatever your heart might desire, very good quality, Mr. Nelson... a comprehensive service tailored to your needs, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah...". Out came my credit card and my hard-earned cash electronically whizzed into MFI's bank account. I left the store, trying to ignore the horror stories that several people had told me about their own, or friend's, experiences with the company. "MFI? Oooh... (big intake of breath and shaking of head), "you don't want to go there!"
Time passed as we waited for their fitter to set a date. More time passed, weeks, months, an eternity it seemed. I went into MFI's store and raised a quiet storm of complaint. My face turned black, red horns popped from my skull, lighting flashed in my immediate vicinity, my voice dropped a couple of octaves, the sky went dark and I noticed that they had to switch the store's lights on. The MFI assistant appeared indifferent to any of these ominous pyrotechnics, acting as if my frustration was something so commonplace as to be not worthy of anything more energetic than sneering disdain.
Actually, I'm trying to paint a picture of myself as a strong and indigant customer here...the truth is I was really quite reasonable, calm and polite. Of course, I should have been much heavier with them. Nevertheless, the assistant eventually wandered off to contact the fitter.... "Wait here Mr. Nelson, just a moment, Sir...".
20 minutes or so later, the assistant returned to say that they'd spoken to their fitter who had apparently said: " Fitting on May 5th...definitely". The assistant confidently wrote on my MFI paperwork:- 'Delivery: 5th of May, fitting: 5th of May'. At long last, I thought.
So, On the 4th of May, Emiko and I spent the entire day clearing the bathroom of all furniture, of piles of magazines, of dozens of bottles of cosmetics, colognes, fragile mirrors, framed pictures, vintage radio, etc, etc. We also cleared an area of access from the front door, up the stairs, through the bedroom to the en-suite bathroom. Then we scrubbed the bathroom from top to bottom....Everything ship-shape and ready to go. I put my various work projects on hold so as to be available for the following day's delivery and fitting of the bathroom suite. I'd also bought boxes of tiles for the fitter to fit around the bathroom walls. All of this work agreed with him several weeks previously. AND paid for in advance, as is MFI's rule. (Note: always read the small print, preferably with an electron microscope.) Meanwhile, Emiko dreamed of a new bath that didn't leave rust marks on her skin. I dreamed of getting lathered up in the welcoming vicinity of Sharon Stone's thighs.
On the morning of the 5th, Emi and I are up really early, eager and ready for the arrival of both fitter and our new bathroom suite. A few hours later, Emi has gone to work and I'm still waiting. After a while, I start to worry so I call the fitter's number, as given to me by MFI. An answer machine answers. I leave a message. Three-quarters of an hour later, the fitter calls to say that MFI hadn't told him he was supposed to be fitting our bathroom that day. In fact he's doing another job. (I find this unbelievable as MFI had actually spoken with the fitter on the 'phone in my presence some weeks before. And it was he who gave MFI the date of the 5th.)
I ask him when he can come to do the job and he says, "call me when the bathroom suite arrives". I say:- "it's arriving today, so are you coming over later to fit it?" He says, "can't do it until next Monday at the earliest, I've taken on other work". (This is Thursday.) In a state of shocked stupor, I put the 'phone down.
I eventually recover my composure and call MFI who begin to make outrageous excuses. I demolish these firmly and methodically and ask them what they propose to do to remedy the problem. They eventually say, "well, why don't you just take delivery of the suite and we'll arrange another fitting date". I then explain to them, (as I've already explained on several occasions since ordering the damned thing), that we have absolutely no where to store a boxed bathroom suite with all its fittings, other than in the garden and there's no way I'm leaving it there. I suggest they postpone the delivery until they organise a new fitting date, perhaps Monday or Tuesday at the latest, as now suggested by their fitter. MFI say they'll call me back. Once again I sit by the 'phone, trying to grasp the banality of the situation.
When they eventually do call back, they say that they can't stop the delivery as the truck driver doesn't have a 'phone and therefore isn't contactable. They suggest I wait for him to arrive with the suite, then tell him to go away, and take it back to the depot with him. By now, steam is coming out of my ears.
I sit in the house all day, fuming and hoping the delivery truck will arrive soon. It doesn't arrive. At four thirty, I decide to go out into town as I have better things to do. When I get back, Emiko has returned home from her day working at the flower shop. She says that the delivery man actually telephoned her at the shop, saying he had a bathroom suite to deliver to our house, but no-one was in. (And this after MFI had told me that the guy didn't have a 'phone in his truck.) Emiko explained the situation and the delivery man laughed... "it happens all the time with MFI" he said. He then took the suite back to his depot.
I then await MFI to inform me of a new fitting date. I'm hoping it will be either Monday or Tuesday, as was suggested by their fitter. I hear nothing, not a sausage.
On Monday, I call MFI to see if they've sorted things out. They say, "No, but why don't you call the fitter directly?" I do so, wondering why I'm doing their job for them. All I get is the fitter's answering machine. I leave a message, explaining the urgency. No one calls me back. I call again, leave another message. This goes on for a while.
By Wednesday, I've abandoned hope and call MFI to tell them that the fitter hasn't answered my calls and ask them to get it sorted out or I'll consider cancelling my order. They say they'll try to contact the fitter. Ten minutes later, they call back to say they've spoken with him and that he can't fit it for at least another three weeks as he's taken on other work. In a daze, I tell them I'll speak with my wife about it. Emi and I then talk through the problems we've had and decide that, although it makes life more difficult for us, we really don't want to give our custom to this company any more. It's simply not good enough. I call MFI back and once again explain that they've had my money since January, it is now almost the end of May, and I still don't have my bathroom suite and that enough is enough... I want a refund. The girl on the 'phone invisibly sniggers and says "Fine, come into the store and we'll arrange it".
So today, I locate all my paperwork, receipts, etc and go into the garden to get into my car to drive to MFI to ask for a refund. And here comes domestic screw up number two:- As I swing behind the wheel, I look up to see that my windscreen is sporting a large hole with cracks radiating out from it, right across the entire screen. I get out of the car in disbelief and look at the damage. A real mess... not at all safe to drive. The cause? Our next door neighbour has been erecting a workshop the size of a small house at the bottom of our garden and the builders have, it seems, lobbed a brick or something extremly hard through my car's windscreen. Their last day today, too, apparently. A parting shot? How they did this, I have no idea. It couldn't have been something dropped from the building as my car wasn't underneath it, or the surrounding scaffolding. There was no sign of a brick or a missile either...(They must have removed it.) Whatever it was, it would need hurling away from the structure to hit my car's windscreen. My blood pressure went up along with my hackles but the builders had gone home. On tip-toe, I presume.
I urgently had to get into town so I grabbed my things and set off to walk into the village where there is a bus stop. I then waited almost thirty minutes for a bus. By this time, I'd tried to apply my Buddha head to the situation. Stay calm, let go, be cool. The problem with this, of course, is that people often take advantage, thinking that placidity equals pushover. I really should show them the other side of the coin once in a while, but they wouldn't like it and neither would I. Just like many other good-natured folk who try to let go of their anger and frustration and put themselves in other's shoes, when the pressure eventually builds up to bursting, I really blow my top. All those pent-up feelings of exploitation and injustice erupt in a very forceful way. And then those same people who had me sussed as a wuss and who were happy to take advantage of that presumption, suddenly whine and complain that I'm a nasty and vindictive old so and so. Well, tough titty. Sometimes bad behaviour begets the same. Oh, the horror!
There's even more bullshit going on around me right now but I'm damned if I'm going to get into it here in this diary.
O.K... calm down, William. Don't over-dramatise it for the sake of your audience. Just call your insurance company and see if you can get them to send out a windscreen repairman. Or whatever it is you're supposed to do in these situations.
Sometimes, although I'm the first to say money can't buy happiness, I think that if I could afford it, I'd put a certain distance, physically and spiritually, between me and these kind of things. The older I get, the less attractive they become. Man, I'd live on a little island in the middle of some warm stream, away from the herd, counting the buttercups in the meadows and listening to the skylarks sing. The rest of the world could get on with its manipulations and acquisitions without inflicting its shit on me. I'm a fuckin' misfit and shameless with it.
Friday 13th May 2005 -- Postscript to entry dated 12th May
Early Afternoon. Last night, the man in charge of the builders was summoned to look at my shattered windscreen. He says he already knew about it. (Well, there's a surprise.) He casually apologised and suggested I get it fixed on my car insurance. I said I'd need to see what the insurance policy covered in respect to that. He said he reckoned the replacement screen would be free but, if there was an excess charge to pay, he'd pay it. I called the insurance company this morning who put me on to Autoglass who told me there would be an excess charge of sixty pounds to pay. I had to pay for it there and then, on my credit card over the 'phone. Unfortunately, they say that they can't get to the house to repair it until late Monday afternoon, which means I can't use my car until Tuesday. (The car can't be moved until the new windscreen 'sets'.)
Someone else just told me that I was stupid to do it via my insurance company at all as it will affect my no-claims bonus. I should simply have made arrangements to get the screen replaced directly and given the entire bill to the builder as it was his responsibility. Too late now, of course, as I've messed about on the 'phone all morning, trying to sort it out. Typical.
Now I have to catch up with the chores I intended to do yesterday, pick up some dry cleaning, go to MFI and get a refund, pay some household bills, etc. I've had to borrow Emiko's car as a result of mine being out of action, which means I've had to take her to work and will need to pick her up later on when she finishes. Time consuming.
On the MFI front, I heard this morning that my brother Ian had also recently bought a new bathroom suite from MFI. and it seems he's had very similar fitter problems, even though he lives in a different part of Yorkshire to me. I won't relate Ian's story here as it is just as complex and frustrating as mine. I'll just say that he too had heard similar stories from other people about poor quality service. It's nice to know we're not alone in this. An entirely different subject:- the latest issue of 'The Word' magazine carries a feature about important albums that have been underated or overlooked. In amongst them is Be Bop Deluxe's 'Axe Victim' album. Nice to see it being acknowledged in this way. The writer makes some interesting points 'though I have to say that the concept for the album was not quite as naive or innocent as he seems to think. The 'glam/Bowie' thing was done quite deliberately... but in a knowing, ironic, almost parodic fashion.
Particularly as, at the time of the band's formation, we had no master plan to land a record contract or to become professional musicians. It was, in many ways, just a bit of fun, the concept emerging from my art student background and incorporating the Pop Art and Warholism that had informed my art-school years. Plus, the glam look turned the girls on, as I hoped it might! Oh, yes, David Bowie and Roxy Music were touchstones but they also were seen as a source of pastiche. Remove the whole thing one step further from the point they might have removed it from. Shine a different light into the hollow centre of pop music. At least from a more personal angle. In any case, by the time EM I Records had become interested in signing the band, I was already steering things away from the glam style, but it was EMI who pursuaded me to hang on to the look, (and that specific batch of material), a little longer as they felt that the band's original fan-base would expect that image and style on our first album.
Actually, when 'Axe Victim' was released, I'd already written most of the material that would later emerge on 'Futurama'. But, perhaps I'm being overly fussy here... maybe I protest too much. Everyone has to start somewhere and, whilst I'm now somewhat squeamish about the early Be Bop material, I have to admit that it was bright and fun to play... and the dressing up thing was a bit of a lark, a foppish in-joke on one hand and a crowd pleaser on the other. It helped get us noticed so served its purpose. And I met some really sweet girls. It was of its time and its time was ripe.
Time changes things and the music must change too... Sometimes on a daily
basis, according to mood. This is the hardest thing for some people to deal with. Artists who move on and regularly challenge themselves inevitably have a tougher time of it than those who establish a popular product and simply stick with it. People like to be able to label or indentify things, whether it be the easy familiarity of an Elton John or, (and I admit I'm on controversial ground here), the equally predictable siginfiers of the so-called 'avant-garde'. It seems to me that things at either end of the spectrum have much more in common than they'd be prepared to admit. (These days, the avant garde is just as marketed and targeted a product as pop.) A bit of a hobby-horse of mine this subject, I know, but just stand back from it a student bed-sit's metre or two and you'll see what I mean. At the end of the day it's all disposable, ephemeral, fickle, fashion-shackled and tribally oriented.
Music, for all its grand pretensions and aspirations, is ultimately a commodity. (Unless it never escapes from one's bedroom.) The minute it emerges into the world, it surrenders to the possibility of profit, either financially or in terms of perceived 'artistic' status. It gains weight, (like me), and begins to live a life of its own, out of control. Perhaps Harold, with his current vow to quit and to move on into a new phase of his life, has the guts to do what I fear the most... to leave it all behind, drop the weight and walk upright again. But despite my carping, cynical protestations, I'm hooked like a junky on the stuff. Sometimes, I resent this fact so much. Too pathetic and insecure to live without my regular sound fix. A weakness or a strength? Who knows... I can't tell any more. My next album will be called 'Brickie Victim' and will feature songs about breeze-blocks and blocked views. It could only happen to William.
Sunday 29th May 2005 -- 9:30 am
(All photos by Bill Nelson)
An entire week has passed since Harold's concert in Brighton and only now have I found time to sit down and write an entry for my increasingly late diary. When I returned home, at midnight on the Sunday after the Brighton event, I found my inbox full of emails, mostly accumulated whilst I was away. I seem to have spent all of last week trying to catch up, plus dealing with other pressing problems, all requiring my slightly-out-of-focus attention... many of them of a domestic nature but most of them musical or creative Music is a lovely thing to dedicate one's life to but, in my neck of the woods, it's a 24 hour, seven days a week job. There's always something waiting for me to work on. Not that I'm complaining, you understand. I'm just moaning a little. I like to glamourise my passion, gild it with a little self-inflicted angst. Oh, how we artists suffer!
So... here we go, my extremely nebulous and probably unreliable reflections regarding the Brighton concert:
A long train journey from Yorkshire to get there on Wednesday, 18th of May. Emi and I have to drag our suitcases from London's Kings Cross Station, dodging traffic and pedestrians along busy London streets, until we reach the Thameslink Station. Then we struggle to carry our cases down flights of stairs to the platform to catch the Brighton train. (No escalator, no lift... only in England.) As usual, we've taken far more clothes than required but, as the weather seems so changable, we've packed items for any eventuality. How I regret it whilst struggling to get those heavy cases down the stairs. We're both getting far too old for this kind of thing.
The Thameslink train to Brighton is packed solid with commuters, all looking absolutely pissed off with their lot, overloaded with stress and thwarted ambition. The train is uncomfortable, hot and stops at virtually every station en route. It feels like an eternity in hell before we finally arrive in Brighton, a genuine relief to get there after the tiring day's travel. We're met on the platform by a bright and breezy young lady called Amanda, who is acting as artist-coordinator for Harold's concert. Amanda's cheerful demeanour instills confidence as she whisks us off to our hotel. I've been feeling nervous about the event for days but Amanda's calm personality soothes things a little.
Our hotel turns out to be 'The Old Ship', situated right on the sea front, halfway between Brighton's main pier and the old Victorian one that was fatally destroyed by fire and water not so long ago. This latter pier's rusting hulk, stark, ghostly and forlorn, is plainly visible to the right of 'The Old Ship's' main entrance. Sad that it has apparently deteriorated way beyond repair now. The surviving Brighton pier, to the left of the hotel, has a funfair at it's furthest end, complete with a traditional, inverted 'ice-cream cone' helter-skelter. Later, I will take some photographs of this, hoping for a possible album cover image for the future. Or at least one that I can use on the Dreamsville website.
The sea-front promenade itself has traditional seaside cast-iron railings, painted in what I like to call 'corporation green and cream' Very similar to the one's found in Blackpool, but a little less art-deco, 'though from a similar period. A few scattered old public shelters along the prom too. Architectural whimsy... my kind of thing. I wonder if Brighton ever had trams, like Blackpool?
Within minutes of checking in, Harold Budd calls my room and invites us down to the hotel's bar for a reunion drink. I haven't seen Harold since our ill-fated jaunt to Mexico, maybe over two years ago now. (Our scheduled concert in Mexico City was cancelled after we'd arrived there.) Whilst we didn't get to play in Mexico, Harold and Emiko and I spent a week hanging out in Mexico City's museums and galleries and cantinas, enjoying a pleasant time, despite the fact that 'Gulf War Round Two' had just erupted and was dominating the tv news to depressing effect. (Check out my 'Diary Of A Hyperdreamer Book' to read more about this period.) Since that time, we've each been back in our respective habitats, Harold in LA and the desert around Joshua Tree, Emi and I in our heavily insulated nest in Yorkshire, but we have stayed in regular contact via letters and emails, as always.
Harold looks well, dapper and not a single day older than the last time I'd seen him. (How does he do that?) He remains one of my dearest friends and time spent with him is full of laughter and companionship, even if I fall speechless sometimes. The fact that he happens to be a musical and artistic treasure is simply an extra bonus... It's only when I hear him play that I feel absolutely awestruck. One minute, we're laughing at some stupid, inane reference to peas and carrots being served up to us in a pub in Selby over 12 years ago, the next I'm being elevated, uplifted and, yes, educated by the way that Harold touches the piano's keys and brings forth a chord of such exquisite shape and resonance that I could weep with envy. I hear it but don't understand it, nor would I want to... this is a mystery worth preserving. I never ask Harold how or why, I just let it sink in and settle. Somewhere down the line, the lesson that I've learned by this method makes itself known. This is part of the generosity in his art.
Harold and Emi and I then decide to have dinner at the Hotel, rather than go out and brave the unreliable weather, which is by now looking windy and damp. The hotel restaurant isn't the best choice... it serves up a fairly dry and mediocre meal, but our happy conversation enlivens the table and the less than sparkling food becomes secondary to the enjoyment of each other's company. Much wine is consumed. Outside the hotel dining room window, a pedestrian crossing's light is sillhouetted against a background of dark sea and grey sky, first a little red electric man lights up, then a green one. The sea and sky broods as the green and red lights alternate. I make a mental note to take a photograph of this before we leave Brighton.
Later, as Emi and I retire to our room for the night, we discover that it is crippled with noise: rattling sash windows that sound like distant cannon fire, a taxi-rank beneath the window that echoes to the mad shouts and incomprehensible songs of a seemingly endless chain of drunks, (this unholy racket continues well into the early hours). Then, the noise of a heavy street cleaning vehicle, followed by a garbage truck, followed by screaming, vicious seagulls as dawn breaks. After that, the regular early morning traffic, motorbikes, delivery trucks, police sirens. By 8am, I've managed no more than three hour's intermittent sleep.
I get up to attend the first day of rehearsals, feeling terrible. I'm well past the age when I can rise above such things. I need a full eight hours to feel human. One of the problems is that I'm used to a quiet, country environment, backgrounded by gentle early morning birdsong and little else, save the occasional distant cuckoo or skylark. No chance of that here. I stagger about the hotel room, wondering how I'll cope with the rigours of rehearsals. I've not heard anything of the music Harold requires me to play. It's all unknown.
The morning weather is windy and wet and so the ever efficient and cheerful Amanda whisks Harold, Emi and I off to the Brighton Dome in a taxi. Us old folks need a wee bit of molly-coddling. The first day of rehearsals is being held here in the Dome, an entirely acoustic rehearsal too, without either monitors or pa system.
The Dome is a lovely venue, right next door to Brighton's famous Pavillion It's a long time since I've visited Brighton, way back in the 1970's actually, when Be Bop Deluxe played there a couple of times. The first of those Brighton Be Bop Deluxe concerts was a happy but poignant one for me. A girl, who I once fallen hopelessly in love with some time previously and who had, in both presence and absence, provided me with a muse-like inspiration, had moved from East Yorkshire to Brighton to attend university there. This girl was Lisa Rosenberg who, as long-time afficionados of my music will probably be aware, I'd fallen for in a big way during Be Bop Deluxe's earliest days, when the band first played at The Duke Of Cumberland pub in North Ferriby near Hull, around 1973. It was one of those trancendental affairs that change one's entire outlook...
Lisa and I shared a sweet, but all too brief, romantic relationship that survived just12 months or so... I was married to my first wife, (Shirley), at that time, though the marriage was not a happy one. (All my fault really, too young to handle it, too wrapped up in music to pack it in and tow the line, too ambitious to be the nine-to-five husband that Shirley wanted. I'm neither ashamed nor proud of that time, it happened and I did my best, which wasn't particularly good enough.)
Anyway, The Duke Of Cumberland gigs provided Lisa and I with an opportunity to be together, albeit fleetingly. (She lived near North Ferriby in the somewhat upper-class village of Kirkella.) In between Be Bop's three sets per gig we would moon and spoon and pour out our hearts to each other in the Duke's rear garden, or on a bench in Coronation Gardens by the village crossroads, or down by the side of the river Humber in North Ferriby, watching the boats drift by on the rising tide, listening to the brass bell on the sand bank warning buoy gently toll, this accompanied by the more distant bells of North Ferriby's church. The band usually had to come looking for me to drag me back on stage for the next set. I could have remained by her side, looking into her eyes all night, music forgotten.
In between these monthly gigs at 'The Duke' we would write letters of longing to each other... Lisa sent hers to me at my place of work as our relationship might have been discovered if she'd sent them to my home. At that time I still had a day job with the West Riding County Council's supply department. For my sins, which were many but generally innocent, I was a Local Government Officer. I hated the job... but how easily we are diverted from our dreams. It seemed that this was all that was available to me. And in truth, it was. I doodled guitars and song lyrics on scrap paper whilst sitting at my desk in the office, much as I had when I was at school. The idea of making a living from music seemed way beyond my reach. But I lived for those few gigs the band could get back then.
During that time, I wrote floodgates of songs about Lisa and our melancholy, ecstatic romance... 'Teenage Archangel', 'Axe Victim', and 'Love Is Swift Arrows' being the earliest. I was totally transformed by the depth of my feelings for her. Eventually, Lisa moved away from Hull to take up her law studies in Brighton and I wasn't to see her again until my first concert there, quite some time later.
I can still recall the surprise and tender nervousness I felt when she came backstage to say hello to me once more, at the Brighton gig in the 'seventies. Be Bop's professional career had started to gain momentum and I had changed the line up from the original one that had played at 'The Duke'. I was thrilled, pleased, flattered, devastated, shaking like a leaf to see Lisa again. And proud of her too. I remember introducing her to Simon and Andy and Charlie, who, unlike the original band, hadn't been witness to our earlier, aching love affair. I was like: 'this is the girl who inspired me to write those songs... Now you know why!' The impression she'd made on my life had been profound.
A year later, Be Bop Deluxe played in Brighton one more time and another member of the band's road crew told me that Lisa was in the audience again and that she had asked him if she could come backstage to say hello to me. But this time, my second wife Janice Monks was with me and Jan, who knew all about my old flame, said 'no way!' I can't really blame her for that as she knew exactly how besotted I was with Lisa. So I reluctantly asked the roadie to make an excuse, and not allow Lisa backstage, even though I desperately wanted to see her. I fretted about the situation for months afterwards... nay, years. I guess I've always been, (as must be obvious to those who have gone beneath the surface of my songs), an incurable romantic. Still am, by the way, and damn the consequences. The heart has its reasons.
So, Brighton revisited, but now it's the 21st Century, 30 years later and Lisa's faint ghost glows soft in the ever darkening rooms of my memory. But still there, still there, never completely vanquished...
First day of rehearsals with Harold:- Now I finally get to hear the two pieces he's prepared for us to play together. I was expecting akward keys for the guitar but the first piece apparently starts in E minor. A moment's relief. Then it shifts to something less comfortable, a key that denies me the safe harbour of open strings. Not beyond my reach though, with a little thought and telepathy. The second piece is in a slightly trickier, key... C-sharp or B-flat, can't recall which now. I jotted it down in a notebook, then forgot about it.
Harold skims through each composition with me, he on piano, me on acoustic guitar. All quite naked and vulnerable. He steers me away from going over the pieces too many times. In fact we hardly go into them in any fine detail at all. And this is the first time I've heard them. I do, however, presume to understand his approach... Perhaps this is just Harold's strategy to keep an edge to my performance, to stop it from becoming too slick, too busy The less I know, the more careful, sparingly and thoughtfully I'll play. Scary for me but, obviously, Harold must feel confident that I can provide a spontaneous response to the music. I feel a nano-byte more confident than I did on the train journey down from Yorkshire... but only just.
A pleasant meal at a Thai restaurant that evening, with Harold, Guy Morley, (the show's organiser), Amanda, visual artist Russell Mills, (who has designed the stage sets and lighting scheme for the concert), Steve Jansen, (gong and drums for the second half of the concert), and Theo Travis, (flute) I immediately feel comfortable around Theo who is unassuming and straightforward..but gifted. Russell too... he's a lovely chap whose humour belies his tremendous talent as a visual artist. I love being around people of this calibre, even if I do genereally feel as inferior as hell.
Next day, after more sleeplessness, we rehearse again, this time with monitors and PA system. Robin Guthrie arrives from his base in France and sets up a lap-top processed guitar. Robin is a lovely guy too. Everyone's lovely.
Harold decides I should play on the number he's performing with John Foxx as well as the two pieces Harold and I are doing together. He then adds one more, extra piece for John and I to play with him. So now I'm to take part in four numbers during the first half. Wow! I'm not complaining at all, in fact I'm thrilled and flattered... but I'm also terrified.
Another meal with everyone that evening at a restaurant close by the Dome, right next door to a theatre that advertises, on a banner hung outside the theatre's foyer, a production called 'Julia Pastrana, The Ugliest Woman In The World'. The banner next to this one carries the qualifing message: 'Performed In Total Darkness...' I'd told Hal about these banners earlier in the day... I thought their message was hilarious. The idea that the central character was so physically awful to contemplate, so dangerously ugly that the show had to be performed in total darkness, seemed absurdly and surreally funny. More wine back at the Hotel. I'm flagging, finding it hard to concentrate.
Another night of hotel room noise with only three hours sleep and then it's sound-check and band rehearsal time. A busy day as we have to work on the long group improvisation that will fill most of the second half of the concert. John Foxx, Harold and I run through the trio vignettes that we are to perform, but not my own duos with Harold. Harold says we don't need to do these, that we have them down fine. I, on the other hand, can't even remember what keys they're in.
John sings some very lovely, semi-operatic, sort of gregorian chant style vocals, processed through various vocoder/harmoniser effects. I play some half-reversed guitar chimes under Harold's piano arpeggios, trying to stay out of the way of the top line as much as possible. It seems to work. John is a really nice guy too and I'm pleased to be part of his performance, minimal as my contribution to it is.
Jah Wobble arrives from his gig in Paris. I've previously only met Jah once, in Leeds, when he'd involved Harold in his 'Solaris' band project. (This was a few years ago and Harold had invited me along to see the concert.) I didn't really have time to get the measure of him then. Now, I spot him in the 'rest lounge' area of the Brighton Dome where some of us are taking a refreshment break. He's just arrived from his Paris gig in time to run through our band improvisation piece. I go up and say hello and shake his hand. Within seconds I've decided I like him a lot. He has a good sense of humour and seems warm, genuine and down to earth. My kind of person.
Harold, earlier in the day, has been rehearsing the string quartet pieces with The Balanescu Quartet who sound magnificent. The quartet's leader, Alex Balanescu, is to join us in our group improvisation. Another musician taking part in the improv section is an old friend of mine from 'up north', Steve Cobby, who will provide lap-top sounds. Steve, who arrives not long before Jah, is his usual, absolutely cheerful self, a valuable and positive force. It's good to see him again.
We finally get to run through the group improvisation. Rough and not really ready but Harold seems fine with it all. Some technical problems:- noisy buzzes due to earth loops and lighting interference, but... the tech guys seem to sort it out. I've got Pete Harwood and Dave Standeven with me, not just to look after my gear, but to help out with the other player's equipment too, which they willingly do. Robin has been suffering some strange noises, clicks and pops through his own system. Perhaps part of the overall electrical oddness that envelops us and our equipment. Everyone lends a hand where needed. A supportive atmosphere.
I ask Harold if we should run through our duo pieces one more time. He says we don't need to as we're cool. I swallow hard and hope that I'll be cool enough to come up with the right notes.
The concert itself is a bit of a blur: I'm feeling the negative results of my lack of sleep and my nervousness has really kicked in. We all sit in the wings to watch the Balanescu Quartet perform Harold's string quartets. Absolutely beautiful... A crowning achievement, I think. Then Theo takes the stage with Harold and they play together, a lovely, poignant performance. Theo negotiating his parts with skill and insight. I reflect on the fact that it will be good to hear Harold's music in all these different contexts, with such a variety of textures... strings, wind instruments, guitars, voice, piano, keyboards, laptop, percussion, bass... The audience really seem to be appreciating it too. Their concentration is tangible.
Then it's my turn... I walk onto the stage, Pete hands me my acoustic guitar and I perch on a stool next to Harold's piano, trying to remember how the pieces fit together. Harold glances across at me, we nod to each other and off we go... like a dream, my hands moving of their own accord, the audience fading away, the music spinning its spell around us, binding us together. Just like at the first days rehearsal, I feel exposed, naked to some degree, with just acoustic guitar and grand piano, and so much space in the music itself... nowhere to hide. But things seems to gel, the guitar and piano blend sounds good from where I'm sitting. There's a tenderness to some sections of the two pieces that feels sweet and fine. I'm enjoying it tremendously, despite my nerves. Harold looks like he's enjoying it too. I hope that he is.
Then a switch to electric guitar, (my Gus 'Orphee' custom), as John Foxx joins us to sing beautifully, his voice transformed by harmonisers and vocoders. I take no chances, laying right back and allowing John space to do his thing. It all seems to work wonderfully. Then I'm off stage, relieved about the way that things have gone so far. Glad that I didn't keel over from lack of sleep...
I go back to the seats in the wings to observe Harold's solo section, he alone at the piano. What a wonderful touch he has. I wrote to him earlier this week and said: '... your solo piano pieces, so perfectly judged and executed. That business about you having no pianistic technique is utter tosh. You have fabulous technique... I have only to hear you play a single note to realise that. Your touch doesn't so much 'make' the note as 'unveil' it. Your fingers point to the invisible and it appears, singing... '
After Harold's solo performance, the interval, a quick glass of wine to steady my nerves, then Part Two. This begins with Steve Jansen performing a five minute version of Harold's solo gong piece, 'Lirio'. Steve brings forth different tones and textures from the gong using mallets, varying the amount of of attack and playing different areas of the gong's surface... it's a deceptively tricky piece to make work, and Steve executes it brilliantly. Then Robin Guthrie takes over from Steve with an ambient, delayed, looped wash of chorused guitar chords, building the atmosphere for several minutes. He's then joined by Steve Cobby, who adds lap-top digital swoops, bleeps and phase shifts, gently distressing and punctuating the piece. Then Harold joins in on piano, then Theo on flute, then Alex on violin, then me on electric e-bow guitar, then Jah on bass guitar and Steve J. on drums, setting a rolling groove in 5/4 time, solid as a rock for everyone else to dance around.
Various sound problems on stage though, it becomes increasingly difficult for me to pick out the other soloists. My eye proves more reliable than my ear for this task. I can see Alex energetically bowing his violin so I lay right back, stopping completely in some places, resisting the urge to push harder, doing my best to not impose my personal will on this thing. Let it roll Jah and Steve's groove is relentless, urgent, appropriate. An anchor for us all. Then, a high pitched microphonic squeal emerges from somewhere, feedback but not of the guitar variety. Definitely caused by a microphone. Someone will kill it soon, I think. They don't and it goes on, and on, squealing like a stuck pig, a youth club pa system run amok. Why hasn't someone located the cause and muted or adjusted the microphone? Harold seems to be indifferent to it. He sits, not playing, just digging the groove and enjoying the accumulating chaos. By now, I'm absolutely detached from it all, can't find a way into the music or think of anything worthwhile to add, so I do very little, other than just be there, adrift in the sonic ether. Then, suddenly, it's all over, the big machine grinds to a hesitant halt, the microphone feedback continuing for a few seconds before being finally silenced. We all move forward to bow before the audience. A good feeling but also a sad one for most of us: It's Harold's final farewell to live performance. But what a fabulous way to end a beautiful career. Harold's contribution to contemporary music remains unique and irreplacable. I'm humbled and honoured to have contributed a tiny something to this.
After the show, lots of socialising, wine, hugs and exchanges of emails. General happy drunkeness. I'm feeling dizzy with it all. Richard and Adrian from Opium are there, as is Permanent Flame webmaster Chuck Bird and long time fan Eric Tilley who have flown over from America just to see the concert. I'm given gifts by the pair of them: Toy rockets and an autographed photo of a U.S.astronaut who shares my name. Whatever fog I've been inhabiting these last few days becomes even foggier, but with sparks and flashes of electric colour, warm smiles and feelings of empathy. And all I've consumed is wine and music!
Emi and I get to bed sometime after 4am. Up early on Sunday morning to catch the train to London. Before leaving, we grab breakfast and I grab some photo's of Brighton's seafront. That pedestrian crossing. Then a taxi to the station and a coffee on the platform before departing for London. Upon arrival in the big city, Emi goes down to Surrey to attend one of her Buddhist meetings, whilst I stagger on alone, like some hung-over, sleepless zombie, along the South Bank, weaving my weary way to the Thames Modern gallery where I treat myself to a solitary lunch and a video of Lotte Reiniger's 'The Adventures Of Prince Achmed'. An exquisite, 1926 animated feature film that I recall seeing on tv when I was a very young boy.
Then an afternoon of obscure bookshops and window shopping before I meet Emi for dinner at Trader Vic's bar/restaurant in Park Lane, prior to catching the late train back to Yorkshire. We arrive home just before midnight... exhausted but happy.
Since then, it's been a game of catch up. Tons of emails to deal with, some tweaks to the design of the Carlsbro Nelsonic Deluxe amp that is soon to go into production, website postings to attend to, this that and the other... including this diary entry. Busy as ever. None of it means much. All of it means everything. This is what I do, for what it's worth.
Rosewood out now. Finished copies sounding and looking good. Not pop music but not beyond understanding. It's a heartfelt album, all the way. Well, that's one way of rationalising it. But does it need to be rationalised at all? Of course not. It's what it is. Nothing more to say about it than that. Other than an outpouring of joy.
Now: New technical breaks and breakdowns in my studio. My stand-alone cd burner hardware has developed a fault and needs repairing. As a result, I'm currently unable to burn cds of my home mixes until it's fixed. When will this be? Knowing my form, someway down the line from here. Also, my Line 6 Vetta 2 combo amplifier returned from Brighton damaged... the master volume control broken off, a snapped spindle. (Probably happened in the van.) The amp will need to go back to Line 6 for a new volume pot, spindle and control knob fitting. These are distractions I could do without. I really need to be working on the new songs for my autumn tour, recording a new album to release at that time too. Plus I need to shoot new video footage to create a stage backdrop video. And design a tour programme, t-shirt etc. There's also several Dreamsville website things to deal with, more design work to complete for Carlsbro, the Nelsonica fan convention to try and pull together... No time to rest, as usual.
Re Nelsonica: The venue I'd hoped to hire for this year's convention turned out to be horrendously expensive. I would have been looking at well over £8,000 plus to use the rooms I had in mind. It would have been a very nice venue, with comfortable facilities, but, it was way outside the budget. I'm now looking at an alternative venue and awaiting prices but... it may be that I have to rely on the old Duke Of Cumberland again this year... we'll see. If that proves the case, I'll research a better venue for next year's convention instead. That way I'll have more time to check out different options. With the workload I've had so far this year, plus the two Rosewood albums, the urgent need to build a new website, etc, etc, my convention plans have become somewhat last-minute. Hopefully, I can pull something together, even at this late stage. I'm still aiming at the end of October. Fingers crossed.
Had an email from Matt Howarth, enquiring about the music for our Neon Cynic project. I've not sent him a CDr of the music I've created so far. I meant to and should have done this ages ago. I'll try to get something off to him this coming week. He's apparently finished all the visuals and has coloured the entire comicbook novel. The only thing that's needed now is my accompanying music.
Here at home, (on the 'domestic' front...) these last three days, we've had two of Emi's friends from Japan visiting us. I've been driving them around the Yorkshire tourist spots. Howarth yesterday... (adventures in Bronte land), and today we're off to Whitby. The intention is to introduce them to 'The White Horse And Griffin' and its seafood delights... if I can drag myself away from this diary and actually get dressed, that is. Must hurry It's a bank holiday weekend and the roads will be a nightmare. Caravans, pensioners, 'recreational' vehicles, 'people carriers' full of screaming kids, whimpering dogs and snarling husbands. The usual highway of life. Luckily, I know some back roads and scenic routes.