William's Study (Diary Of A Hyperdreamer)
Thursday 3rd May 2007 -- 9:00 pm
And there I was thinking that I might actually squeeze another diary entry into April but, too late. Already May is waltzing merrily through the blossom strewn gardens of North Yorkshire. Clear blue skies this last week and sunny, warm temperatures. Still more like Summer than Spring.
The Leeds University School Of Music concert went well on Saturday 28th of April. I spent a full day at the venue with my backup team, preparing the various technical aspects of the performance. Thankfully, this and the previous three months of music and video preparation paid off. There seems to have been a tremendously positive and encouraging response from those who attended the concert. A lot of hard work but a positive result.
The School Of Music generously provided me with a beautiful Grand Piano and a superb Marimba, (the latter equipped with a lower octave than my own).
These two instruments were used to best advantage on the almost 13 minute long piece, 'Only A Dream But Nevertheless'.
Its duration was made interesting, (hopefully), by the additional tone colours that the Marimba and the Piano provided. If nothing else, this particular piece allowed me the opportunity to move beyond my more familiar electric guitar textures and explore a different kind of soundscape.
Whilst on the subject of sound, I'm told by several people that the front-of-house mix, despite some initial concerns from John Spence and myself concerning the reverberant qualities of the hall, was very good indeed.
The video projection facilities were also excellent and the visual elements of the concert came across well, despite the fact that the autobiographical videos were rough sketches for what is hoped to be a much more elaborate presentation, a year or two hence.
I was lucky to have tremendous help from John Spence and Paul Gilby in the sound and vision departments, plus some sterling backup from the loyal Nelsonica team in other areas of the event. Nice to see Ian Gilby there too, someone who I never seem to have enough opportunity to sit down and relax with.
I consider myself fortunate to have found such genuine and enthusiastic friends.Treasures, each and every one of them.
The Clothworker's Hall is a remarkable building and atmospherically suited to the style of presentation I'd settled on for the event.
The music and overall concept was much more suited to a sitting down and attentive audience, rather than a 'milling around and spilling beer' one.
It's horses for courses. (Of course.)
Perhaps this type of venue provides a more comfortable and appropriate setting for my current musical tastes. It seems to place the music within a sympathetic framework, an environment where sophistication and subtlety is not only possible but positively encouraged, both from myself and my audience. I accept that it harks back to more 'traditional' notions of the concert hall, but, these days, that's not entirely inappropriate. Perhaps that's where my heart ultimately resides. It's certainly a more comfortable place to be, (in my 'almost-upon-me-and-vaguely-dreaded' sixties), than some corporate rock n' roll arena.
A receptive audience in an aesthetically pleasing setting plus the generous help and support of like-minded people. More than I deserve, I'm sure, but, all in all, a pretty fabulous way to be present in the world.
But now I'm trying to shift gears, look at the map, plot the next route through the maze of possibilities. Lots of things on my 'to-do' list, as always.
Time I got on with mixing the early '70's Be Bop Deluxe Decca sessions that I've been postponing and moaning about for so long. Still a psychological barrier there for me in some ways...Wish I could really get enthusiastic about it. I won't go into the problems I face with this, technical or otherwise, but will just, once more, say it's not something I've been particularly inspired by. but I WILL make a start on it soon and try to give it my best shot.
Naturally, I'd much rather get on with something new. Nothing surprising about that. I've never had any great compulsion to maximise the potential of my own history, no matter what the pressures from elsewhere. Should I foolishly try to qualify this again here, in these pages? Is it really worth the effort?
O.k...one more time:
What I'm doing now feels so much more alive and vital for me than anything from 30 years ago. (How could it be otherwise?)
It's about being 60 next year, about knowing much more than I did back in the early 1970's, knowing even more than I did last week.
It's simply about 'now' as opposed to 'then.'
But this hypothetical 'then' still provides the foundation of what I'm doing now, whether in musical or social/cultural terms. We can't escape our history entirely, or pull up our roots. But roots are exactly that and nothing more: just ROOTS. They're not blossoms or blooms or towering trees but just a starting point, a place to begin.
Without enough space and encouragement to grow, without light and energy, roots become stagnant, dead things. No one should forget their roots, but neither should they be strangled by them.
I suppose I still feel a little shackled by what has unfortunately become my mythical rock band past. I really shouldn't be concerned. After all, I've been sailing through other musical realms for a long time, for what feels like an eternity now. Surely it's no surprise to whatever audience I still retain that I'm duty bound to wander away from their expected course from time to time? it's become the expected thing, hasn't it?
Someone sold me a peculiar treasure map a long time ago and I'm still trying to get my money's worth out of it. It may yet prove to be a red herring, but I'm a dreamer and a romantic, even though there's a secret price to pay for such things. Well...that's life.
Or maybe it's the internet that's to blame. No longer 'life' or society, but the damned internet. It's a fair cop...the web made me do it!
Certainly, the web made me aware that there's an audience out there, a 'marketplace,' a target I'm supposed to aim at. Previously, I never gave it more than a moment's thought. (Didn't really matter, didn't really care.) Arrogant enough to ignore it. Was that better than now or worse?
At the proverbial end of the proverbial day, it's only music. And, If I'm REALLY brutal, it's only pop music.
'Pop!' Like a soap bubble, shiny, colourful and GONE!
But now? Well, I enter into conversations with my audience every day. Know them on first name terms. Worry if they'll understand the latest album, (or at least worry about the fact that I don't seem to care whether they understand it or not.)
The scary thing is that these fans, customers, afficionados, whatever term is most appropriate, these LISTENERS, against all odds, become, day by day,more like friends...and no one likes losing friends. I do understand why many artists keep their audience at arms length. But, at this point in time, the arms length thing isn't something that comes easily to me.
Is it a need for love? For recognition? For confirmation? For acceptance? Too scary to go there. So I won't.
Maybe, someday, one day, when I'm in my mid-to-late-sixties, (God willing), I'll become a hoary old, (whore-y old), cult legend and I'll step into a celebrity-sized virtual limousine and be whisked off to the sort of glitzy restaurants that only rich rock stars can truly afford. Will I feel a sense of fulfillment, of triumph?
Probably not, knowing my track record regarding such things.
It will just be like the '80's, all over again, Thatcher on the throne and Tony Blackburn making a bizarre comeback. And I'll forget about angst and ethics and authenticity and buy myself a villa in Spain in the middle of an English ex-pat community. And we'll ship baked beans from the U.K. direct to our Spanish kitchens. Spanish Kitsch(en) Magic.
And lovely, sweet Emiko will transform herself from a quiet, thoughtful Japanese lady into a foul-mouthed, artificial blonde haridan who would NEVER miss an episide of East Enders. A fearsome she-monster, guzzling Asti Spumante without ever once taking the drooping Marlbro out of her mouth.
What an outcome. But, never mind, I'll have more extra-marital pussy than I can shake my middle-aged appendage at and I'll be as happy as the proverbial Larry. Or not.
Christ, enough cynicism. What the hell...
I shouldn't even think about it, nor let it affect the outcome.
Then...I open a magazine, ('Uncut,' I think), and in it is an interview with Jeff Tweedy from the band Wilco. I have a couple of Wilco albums on my shelf and, from what little I've read about Jeff, he seems to be a good bloke, my sort of chap. I'd certainly buy him a beer in a bar in Barcelona or a wine in Winona.
In this recent magazine interview Jeff states that, whenever we artists release a new album, we 'piss somebody off, every time.'
Later in the interview, he says the following in response to the mythology of rock music being about rebellion, aggression, about being fucked up:
'It's ludicrous. It's absurd. It's unfortunate. It's a sad thing for a lot of people to cling to, in my opinion. it's a very limiting and ultimately unrewarding mythology. It certainly prevents a lot of deep thought. It prevents a lot of emotional growth. It's like being a teenager forever. God, what could be fuckin' worse than that?
But that's what people want to hang on to.They don't like hanging on to the wonder and the openess, and the feeling that you can be transformed.'
Well..Jeff, Amen to that. Spot on, Here here, etc. As I said, my kind of chap. And a familiar topic of conversation for regular readers of my 'Dreamsville Inn' website forum.
So, God bless the artists and all who sail in them. We suffer, not for YOUR sins, dear reader, but for our singular inability to deal with our own. We're trapped in a fractured realm of mirrors, along with the fate of the wider world. But, like everyone else, we hang on by the slenderest of threads.
As the man with the Frank Sinatra hat and harmonica soundtrack once so iconically and ironically demonstrated: You're never alone with a strand.
I'll save the good stuff for the next diary entry.
The images accompanying this diary are:-
1: Bill Nelson playing his D'Angelico guitar at Leeds School Of Music concert, April 28th 2007.
2: Bill Nelson Playing the piano at Leeds school Of Music concert, 28th April 2007.
(These concert photographs by Martin Bostock.)
3: The man in the 'You're Never Alone With A Strand' advert, (Terrance Brook), 1960.
Sunday 27th May 2007 -- 7:00 pm
Strange weather. After several warm and pleasant weeks, today has felt like late autumn. The temperature dropping dramatically, grey skies and rain all day. Tomorrow is to be colder and wetter, or so the television weatherman says. Central heating on in the house now and dark clouds circling. And we're almost into June.
Talk of climate change and global warming has brought a sense of concern in response to unseasonal weather patterns. The humble household barometer has become a meter of impending doom. Maybe soon we'll be thinking of building rocketship arks in our back gardens in preparation for the forthcoming ecological apocalypse and our migration to the stars.
Then again, I may simply be indulging my perchant for sci-fi nostalgia. I did, after all, grow up with '50's DC comics and the story of Superman's father, Jor-El, preparing a rocketship for his son, Kal-el, to escape the immanent destruction of the planet Krypton. If that happened here though, there'd be no escaping in some cute little rocket with a glass canopy and chromium fins. Even if there was, we'd probably be either too lazy or too complacent to care.
An hour ago, I returned returned home after visiting my Mother and George in Wakefield. Nice to see them but not so nice to see Wakefield's ongoing sad demise. I've written often in these diary pages about how the city of my birth has suffered at the hands of its insensitive council planning department, (and I'm being extremely charitable by using the word 'insensitive). Today, I found even more to lament .
Yet another building that should have been listed and preserved, or at least renovated in some way, has suddenly and unceremoniously been reduced to rubble.
My heart sank when I saw the empty space left by its demolition.
The City Baths in Sun Lane, a charming 1930's building that displayed elements of Art Deco and early Modernism and boasted a sculpted panel by the artist Eric Gill on its facade, is no more.
Since my childhood until just a few months ago, when I filmed the very same building for inclusion in one of the videos I made for my Leeds School Of Music concert, the architecture of Sun Lane Swimming Baths has pleased my eye. It's hard to accept that it was destroyed with such casual abandon and, as far as I know, with very little protest from those who should have known better. Another little Wakefield gem lost forever.
And what will replace it? Apparently, a block of flats. (Or 'apartment houses' as developers are so keen to call them these days.)
Such currently profitable building projects, I predict, are destined to become the ugly slums of the mid-21st Century. Just give them fifty years or so.
The standard of architectural design and construction exhibited by these tiresomely 'contemporary' (but dreadfully conservative), apartment blocks would make a child's lego-house look like the epitome of structural sophistication.
There was a time when people aspired to move out of such rabbit hutch dwellings into something more humanising. It now seems that the current generation dream of becoming factory farmed chickens, crammed into identical stacked cages where space and individuality are sacrificed in preference for a banal conformity. It's a trend. It's no longer WHO you are and what you can bring to the world that's important, it's who you WISH you were, or PRETEND to be. And then only according to some lingering, post-Thatcherite, right-wing, consumerist fantasy. Nothing deeper than labels, badges and uniforms, a Sunday-supplement pre-packaged, footballer's wives lifestyle. Identikit 'cool.' No knowledge or sophistication is neccesary, just a few credit cards and a sense of desperation. No aesthetic value, no hearfelt sense of poetry, just a shopping list of 'designer' names.
The only ideas people seem to have are those that they stumble across in Sunday supplements or on some TV make-over programme. Few of us seem capable of thinking for ourselves anymore. And despite all the wealth on display, a new vulgarity reigns. Expensive tat and a conspicuous boorishness rules the roost.
Signs of a civilisation in decline or just the rantings of a terminally disillusioned old art-fart? Your call. I've struggled against this kind of conformity for years. The slightest thought of capitulating or following the trail of the new yuppie herd horrifies me. It's not the money I mind, but the ostentatious show, the designer labels worn on the outside of clothing, etc. All that brassytrumpeting of 'status' brings out the anarchist in me. I wouldn't mind if there was something recognisable as 'taste.' or authentic style. But, generally, its glittering garbage, all the way.
Getting back to the crumbling ruins of Wakefield:
I do appreciate that local council cultural vandalism goes on everywhere these days but Wakefield seems to have been unfairly and unforgivably blighted by confused and ill-advised town planning and re-development policies. Naturally, this holds a personal significance for me as I was born there in 1948. I grew up, was educated and lived in Wakefield until my musical career moved me on in the mid '70's. My mother, sister-in-law and neice and nephews still live there and I have a genuine affection for the city.
Nevertheless, Wakefield seems to be suffering a slow, dull and painful death at the hands of its own council planning department. A victim of indifference.
I've watched the once familiar streets deteriorate over many years and it truly saddens me. Not only does it feel as if the heart has been ripped out of the place but also out of the hearts of those of us who grew up there in the '30's, '40's, 50's and '60's.
And, all sentiment aside, we knew Wakefield at a point in time when it still had something genuinely worth calling 'character.' It had colour, energy and optimism.
These feelings aren't the product of nostalgia, they're consistent with a recognition of our modern architectural heritage, a heritage that deserves to be respected and preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. It's about aesthetics, social and cultural history and community. Too often in 'The North,' people still make the mistake of thinking that these things only apply to 'big' cities like London. ( Cliched flat-cap provincialism refuses to die.) But it's equally important to understand the value of our 20th Century heritage on a local level.
I'm not alone in these thoughts...this same lament is played by a reasonably large orchestra of Wakefields citizens, not by a small group. But the council's 'planning buskers,' the one-chord wonders of County Hall, are in the conductor's chair and the result is an ill-tuned, vulgar trumpeting. The ignorant fiddling of civil mediocrity. If architecture is 'frozen music,' (as has oft been stated), then we're surrounded by the equivalent of local cover bands hacking out some god-awful copy of an equally awful original, but with far less personal investment and enthusiasm.. It's the architectural/planning equivalent of a quick knee-trembler with a groupie behind the gasworks.
Those who SHOULD be leading and guiding architectural development and preservation in Wakefield are, sadly, not in any position of power. And it seems to me that those who ARE in command are far too busy laying out their caps to catch the passing coin rather than taking time to consider the implications of their acts. Politics, lies and corruption.The universal solvent. The rot starts here.
A little further down Sun Lane, where it meets Kirkgate, sits another building which I fear will very soon vanish into the mists of memory. This is the old ABC Regal Cinema, built in the 1930's. A Deco-modernist building which has now stood empty and unused for several years. It's boarded-up condition has grown ever more depressed and dirty. Even the row of shops incorporated into the Sun Lane side of the cinema have now been left to decay. Empty, unapppreciated, unloved. A sorry sight, especially for baby-boomers such as myself whose lives were changed by the place.
It was here, at The Regal, that I went to Saturday morning matinees as a schoolboy. I'd enrolled as a member of the 'ABC Minors Club' and enjoyed the specially selected films that were shown exclusively for children, especially the flickering black and white 'Flash Gordon' and 'King Of The Rocketmen' cliff-hanger serials that were screened before the main feature.
Membership of the ABC Minors Club allowed me to wear a luminous badge which glowed green in the velvety maroon and cream art-deco darkness. Parents would drop their children off there at 9 am, go shopping and collect them later at noon. Some of us were even allowed to walk to the cinema on our own, or at least with a group of school friends.
I looked forward to those Saturday morning ABC Minors' matinees, it felt like entering another world. The art-deco ambience of the cinema's auditorium was as exciting as the films themselves. I can picture it now.
On special occasions live entertainment was presented between the films as part of the programme and I recall Johnny Kidd And The Pirates being booked to play a couple of numbers. The guitar crazy kids in the crowd were thrilled. Johnny's 'Shaking All Over' single had been a popular hit and the record was often played over the Regal Cinema sound system, along with twangy hits by 'The Shadows' and 'The Ventures.' This was the musical backdrop that we youngsters enjoyed as we took our seats in the stalls as the Saturday morning matinees began. I was thrilled by the opening, shiny, trembling, echoing electric guitar theme that created the iconic signature of 'Shaking All Over,' I heard it first there, at The Regal Cinema, rather than on the radio. It felt truly electric and added to the youthful passion I was already nurturing for the guitar.
During my final year at school, I too performed at the Wakefield Regal Cinema's ABC Minors' Matinee: I'd pursuaded the cinema's manager to allow 'The Cosmonauts,' (the little instrumental trio I'd formed with two school pals, Ian Parkin and Jimmy Crossland), to play between films. So, one stage-frightened Saturday morning, we entertained the cinema's young audience for 10 minutes whilst the ice cream lady presented her wares. It was a kind of modest 'dream come true' at the time.
We played some Shadows and Duane Eddy tunes and felt extremely nervous standing there in front of the big screen, squinting out into what was a very large auditorium. I can conjure that moment up from my memory right now.
I was thrilled to realise that the cinema manager had ordered the lighting man to focus directly on me as I played the lead guitar parts. My eyes were dazzled and, for the first time in my life, I felt the blue-white heat of the spotlight.. I imagined myself to be Hank Marvin playing to a packed theatre of adoring girls, rather than to the bunch of rowdy school kids sprawled in the stalls before us. I'm sure they wanted us to hurry up and get off stage so that the 'Looney Tunes' cartoons could be screened. Not that I noticed, of course...
I was deep in the music, living the dream. The sound of my guitar was like mercury shining under silver moonlight, all electricity, echoes and stars. There was no going back.
The earliest photograph I have of me holding a guitar was actually taken in one of the stairwells of the Regal Cinema. I may have reproduced it in this diary previously but I'll attach it once again as it's poignantly relevant to this entry's subject matter.
I'm standing on the left of the photograph, holding my first electric guitar, a dark sunburst Antoria that my father had bought me for Christmas. In the centre of the photograph is drummer Jimmy Crossland and next to him, on the right of the photo', is Ian Parkin with his red Watkins Rapier guitar. Ian, of course, eventually joined me in the very first line up of Be Bop Deluxe. He sadly passed away around 12 years or so ago.
I established a warm and ongoing relationship with the Regal Cinema's manager. Unfortunately, I can no longer recall his name. He seemed to genuinely appreciate whatever meagre talent I had and was always helpful and encouraging. In those days, older people were seen, sometimes justifiably, sometimes unfairly, as the 'enemy.' They were perceived as disciplinarians, authoritarians, the jailers of our young imagination, 'though, of course, we had yet to find words focussed enough to poetically articulate and express this rebellious notion. The counter-culture psychedelic scene that gave voice to late '60's teenage 'revolution' had not quite arrived.
Still, in the manager of the Regal cinema, I'd found a mentor of sorts, even if he did look geekily uncool.
On one occassion, two of the junior principal singer-actors from a stage production of Lionel Bart's 'Oliver,' (which was being staged at a Leeds theatre that week), were invited to perform a song from the musical at the Regal Cinema's ABC Minor's matinee.
For some reason, the band that had been booked to back up the singers didn't show up for rehearsals, and the cinema manager asked me if I could come and play in their stead. So, at the last minute, I rounded up the group that I had at that time and we dashed down to The Regal Cinema to quickly knock up a very rudimentary arrangement of the song 'Food, Glorious Food.' I have a photograph of me performing it, live on The Regal's stage that day, with the two principal boys from the musical wailing away in front. I'm playing an Epiphone Casino guitar that I'd borrowed from a friend for the performance. That particular guitar would now be worth serious money to a collector.
The roof of the Regal Cinema later served as a location for a photo-shoot for another of my early '60's groups, 'The Midnite Kreepers,' (again thanks to the kindness of the cinema's manager). The group bought matching dark blue and white polka dot tab-collar shirts from a nearby tailors in Kirgate especially for the photo session. I remember that a certain amount of bargaining went on with the shop's owner. We felt that we should get a discount because we were buying for the entire group. The fact that there was only three of us didn't deflate our enthusiasm for haggling. In the end, we were given a small discount on the total price and honour was served. The shop owner said that, if we ever made the big time we should return to his shop for some 'proper' hand-tailored stage suits.
The Midnite Keepers, (with a different drummer,) also played in the foyer of The Regal Cinema for the opening of the first Doctor Who movie. It was made by Hammer Films and starred Roy Castle and Peter Cushing. I pursuaded rhythm guitarist Ron Oldroyd to rip his shirt and let me make him up to resemble a zombie for our performance. Ron obligingly played the part to the hilt whist myself and drummer Barry Houghingly wisely kept our cool.
Again, I'm fortunate in that I have a photograph from that day, taken as we performed on a ledge adjoining the balcony above the cinema's foyer. Poor Ron...the photograph doesn't really reveal the details but he looked as if he'd just had a car accident!
The cinema manager actually gave me one of the very large publicity posters from the Dr. Who film. I wanted it, not as a souvenir of the event, but because I could use the reverse, blank side of the poster to draw on. It provided me with a very large space to create something visual.
I eventually used it to make a hand drawn poster for another of my early groups, ('The Untouchables'). Unfortunately, the coloured inks I used bled through to the other side of the paper and ruined the Doctor Who poster. If it was in it's original condition, it would be worth a LOT of money to a film memorabilia collector today.
But, perhaps I'm underestimating the value it might have to a fan of my music. It's certainly a unique and hand made period piece from my musical past.. It must be more than forty years old. ( I actually exhibited this 'Untouchables' poster at a Nelsonica fan convention a few years ago.)
I performed at The Regal Cinema several more times during the early 1960's. I have photographs of myself with the Gibson Trio and the Gibson Four there.
With the latter group, we performed alongside two, (then) well known TV celebrities, Ted Rogers and Ronnie Hilton. Ted Rogers later went on to become the host of the tv quiz show '3-2-1.'
Ronnie Hilton, on the other hand, had made a hit record or two, 'Tulips From Amsterdam' was one, I think. (Or was that Max Bygraves?) Anyway, Ronnie had definitely recorded a very kitsch, surreal song about seeing a mouse wearing clogs, on a stair in a windmill in Holland! Seems there was a Dutch theme in the air in those days for some reason.
My Mother made The Gibson Four a set of matching blue and silver striped waistcoats for this occassion. I guess playing alongside tv and recording stars felt like a big deal for us back then.
The Gibson Four had mutated into a sort of cabouret band, maybe because of the vocalist/bass player that we'd introduced into the group. His name was Mick Shaw and he was very much of the 'old school,' aspiring to be a bit of an all-round entertainer. As a result, the instrumental side of things began to feature a little less in our performances which, unsurprisingly, wasn't to my taste. In those days I saw vocalists as a neccesary evil, someone to stand up front and create a framework for my guitar playing perhaps! I could never imagine myself being a vocalist and my record collection, in the main, consisted of purely instrumental music.
The Gibson Four played at a nightclub in Leeds called 'The Ace Of Clubs,' on a show that included a stripper as opening act and a performance from skiffle king Lonnie Donegan. My Dad was managing the group then and I was a little shocked to see him chatting merrily away to the rather attractive stripper backstage. He'd pursuaded us to play a Glenn Miller number for this gig, as an instrumental showpiece. It was called 'American Patrol' and I remember it taking me a while to learn as it was quite a complex arrangement. Hard to say no to your dad though. He kept at me until I got it right. It paid off as we went down well at 'The Ace Of Clubs.'
Bearing that in mind, I suppose appearing alongside Ted Rogers and Ronnie Hilton at The Regal was par for the course. We were in the heart of working men's clubland and it was all about entertainment.
Eventually though, I had a big disagreement with Mick Shaw after a gig at a pub on the edge of Wakefield. The group sometimes closed the evening with a few old rock n' roll numbers, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Eddie Cochran, things like that. Nothing particularly 'out there.' Even so, I don't think Mick was so keen on this part of our show as he preferred singing the sweeter, popular ballads.
Anyway, on this particular occasion, during the 'rock n' roll' section, I accidentally turned up the output volume of my Watkins Copycat Echo Unit. This had the effect of overdriving the front end of my guitar amplifier, resulting in my first experience of feedback and sustain. It was like a gift from the gods, a revelation and I ripped into the guitar solo with a new found enthusiasm. I remember thinking, 'so THAT's how they do it..!
Unfortunately, Mick Shaw didn't like it one bit. Afterwards, in the dressing room, he said to me, "Do that one more time and you're out of the band!"
Well, considering that I'd been a founder member of the band and that he'd been the last to join, I thought he'd got a damned cheek! On top of that, I'd just discovered feedback and wasn't about to let some cheesy vocalist spoil my fun. So I just said, "Don't worry about it, I'll just quit here and now." And that was the end of my cabouret-style adventures. Before long, I'd be wearing crushed velvet loon pants, growing my hair and organising and performing at free psychedelic concerts in Wakefield Park. The magic light bulb had been switched on.
Nevertheless, those more conservative days had their moments. I still have a photograph of The Gibson Four in The Regal's foyer, posing cornily with the cinema's staff , Ted Rogers and Ronnie Hilton in the background. We're wearing the blue and silver waistcoats my mother made for us. And the jolly person in the foreground of the photograph, reclining on the floor, is the aforesaid cinema manager. One of the good guys.
So, that's why I fear for the ruined hulk of The ABC Regal Cinema. It wasn't enough that, in the late '50's, I'd walk past it and marvel at the poster for 'Forbidden Planet' or whatever...I had to eventually perform there and leave the ghost of my guitar playing youth inside it. It became part of my personal history.
If, and when, the powers that be eventually demolish the old Regal Cinema, they will take a part of me with it.
These thoughts went through my head today, and more besides. So many places I'd spent time in during my Wakefield youth have been destroyed.
Out of all the schools I've attended, only one remains and that was the first school I ever went to, 'though it wasn't built as a school. It's the old orangery in Back Lane, a building that was leased to the Collegiate School, (an offshoot of The Wakefield Academy).
I went there at five years old. It was a private school, rather than a state one. I've probably written about it in a previous diary entry so I won't go on about it again. My autobiography will contain more details. (When I find time to continue writing it that is.)
The other schools I attended, (The Wakefield Tutorial School, St. John's Junior School, Ings Road Secondary Modern school, Wakefield School Of Art), have all been demolished.
Emi and I decided to park up and go into 'The Ridings Centre,' a typical '80's era shopping mall that was built on the site of the old Mecca Locarno ballroom where I used to go dancing in my teenage years. I wanted to check out the WH Smiths' shop in there as I knew they carried books on Wakefield's history. I suddenly felt in the mood for researching the city's past.
Emiko and I entered the shopping complex. I led her to an area that, if the old Locarno building had still been standing, would have been directly where the Locarno's balcony once overlooked the mirror ball-bespangled dance floor.
It would also have been the exact spot where Richard Harris stood in a legendary scene in Lindsay Anderson's 'This Sporting Life' film, looking for trouble. (The Locarno Ballroom was used as a location in that film.) And the very same spot where I had oggled the girls when I was barely into my teens, watching them whirl to the music of Del Shannon, Eddie Cochran, Brenda Lee, Bobby Vee, Little Eva and Chubby Checker. A couple of years later, it would be the music of the Tamala, Stax and Atlantic artists, and I'd be down there dancing with the girls, rather than just gazing at them from the balcony..
But all that remains of those days are memories and a few feet of celluloid. The Locarno Ballroom has long since slipped into another dimension, it's physical space now occupied by cheap coffee shops and a branch of T.K. Maxx. Another bland shopping centre. It pays no tribute to the brylcreemed, quiffed, cola-drinking, hot-dog and onion scented, jiving rock n' roll palace that once stood there with it's red neon 'Locarno' sign blinking in the long-lost Wakefield rainy night.
Emiko and I walked into WH.Smiths and I located the local history section. I already have several books dealing with Wakefield's history but I found four others that I didn't have.
Two of these were written by Kate Taylor. Kate is now in her seventies and is a well respected local historian. She was born in Wakefield in 1933. I already have two or three books by her but decided to purchase these newer ones.
One of them is called 'Not So Merry Wakefield.' (Wakefield was once known as the 'Merrie City.')
In this book, Kate Taylor tells the story of the city from a very personal perspective, that of her own life story. She documents and laments the damage done to Wakefield by planners and developers over the years.
I've yet to read the book properly but, briefly scanning through, it seems to contain experiences common to us both, even though Kate is 15 years older than me. She mirrors my own anger and melancholy for architecture long lost.
Another book I bought deals with the history of Wakefield's trams. These had been phased out in favour of buses by the time I was old enough to be aware of public transport although trams were still a big feature in Leeds throughout my boyhood.
We returned to the car park and left the Ridings Centre. The drive to my mother's home passed other dramatically altered sites from my youth. Just past the railway bridge on Ings Road is the spot where Ings Road School's woodwork block once stood, where I'd once attempted to build a solid body electric guitar. There's nothing there at all now, just a new road that cuts between the bridge and the industrial shopping sheds of Toys R' Us, etc. These typical retail outlets stand in the space that Ings Road Secondary Modern school once occupied.
Behind this, where the school's old prefab gardening and music classrooms once stood, is a multiplex style cinema. When we were pupils there in the 'fifties, we could never have imagined that this is what the future would hold for our school. Not that we would have particularly cared back then. We were always glad to get out of the place and go home.
Still, it was in Ings Road School's Hall that I gave my first ever public performance as a guitarist. It was part of the school's Christmas concert and I plugged my guitar into the hall's pa system...one speaker and about 3 watts of power. The guitar caused it to break down so the science master ran into the wings of the stage to give the little amplifier a mighty kick. It started up again immediately, much to my relief.
After visiting my Mother and George, Emi and I drove back home, the rain and spray from trucks on the motorway making conditions hazardous. It's a bank holiday weekend and Emi isn't back at the flower shop until Thursday. I'm trying to take a break too but I think it will be difficult as there's a list of things to do. As usual.
I'm already working on this year's Nelsonica convention album, even though the event isn't being staged until October.
Jon Wallinger and myself have now selected and booked a new venue, the Park Inn in York. There will be far better seating arrangements than last year and a slighty larger room. The date of the convention has been fixed as Saturday October 27th. The dedicated Nelsonica team and myself will soon be meeting to discuss this year's approach.
I've given this year's event the title: 'SECRET CLUB FOR MEMBERS ONLY.' It's tongue-in-cheek, taken from a new instrumental that I unveiled at the recent School Of Music concert. A studio version of the piece will be on the convention cd as the title track.
Other pieces set created for the cd so far are:
'Ghost Show.' (A previously unreleased vocal piece from 2005.)
'I Remember Marvelman.' (A new 'pop' vocal piece.)
'Dark Ivy.' (A new instrumental in a similar style to 'Secret Club.')
Only four tracks so far but I will continue to work on more this week. I have to get the convention cd music completed very soon as an exciting new project is on the horizon:
This is a soundtrack commission for an American Documentary film being made for screening on the Public Broadcasting System over there. It's a film about the history of American Postage Stamps, told from the point of view of the artwork that they carry. The film, (I've seen the pilot version), has interviews with several artists who have designed stamps for the U.S. Post Office and there's lots of footage of these designs, with themes ranging from literature, art and music to sport and science. It's been beautifully shot and edited by an American company called 'twenty2product.'
Actually, this project has been on the drawing board for a couple of years or so but has only recently secured the backing of PBS and the US Post Office. As a result, it can now go into final production.
I have to create a thirty minute soundtrack for the film, plus a couple of 30 second promo stings.
Before I begin to compose and record, I need to clear the decks a little and prepare my studio for the concentrated period of work. required. Once things kick in, it's going to be relentless and I'll have little time for anything else for a couple of months. (This diary included.)
My Mackie mixing desk has developed a new problem which I need to rectify. For some months now, the 'play' button on the tape transport controls, ('though there's no tape as such, it's just controlling hard disc playback), has been loose and wobbly. The other day, it vanished inside the desk, leaving a thumb-sized hole in the desk's surface. I can still get things to play back by shoving my finger into the hole and locating the stub on the pcb that the 'play' button once used to connect with. It's far from convenient though. It's also not a good idea to stick one's finger inside a mixing desk that is switched on and connected to the mains. I wonder if Mackie can supply me with a new control button to clip onto the playback stub? Once the bank holiday is over, I'll need to investigate this.
The buttons on the Mackie D8B desk are definitely one of its weak spots. There are other buttons on the desk that sticking or giving me cause for concern.
I suppose I do work the thing hard though. It's hardly had a day without use since it was installed, seven years ago. As with the old analogue system I used before going digital, I work around technical problems and restrictions in all kinds of peculiar ways. It gets a bit Heath Robinson at times but eventually I arrive at some sort of result..
Another current project involves the painting of a guitar. Respected American Custom Car and Motor Cycle paint artist, Nicholas Del Drago, is to paint a standard Campbell Transitone guitar for me. Nicholas' work is stunning and I'm thrilled that he has offered to create something for me. The theme will be 'fifties British sci-fi so I'm in the process of scanning images from Dan Dare and so on to send him as reference points. The guitar may be ready in time to exhibit at this year's Nelsonica.
I also need to work with David Graham on the design details for this year's convention, particularly the 'Secret Club For Members Only' cd packaging art.
And, of course, the Be Bop Deluxe Decca Sessions mixing project is still languishing on the back burner. AND all the other stuff noted in previous diary entries. It gets to be more than overwhelming at times. But...that's the way it goes. Emiko is always pointing out that people don't realise how many hours I put into my work.
God, is that the time? I've been writing this thing for AGES and I still haven't scanned the images I want to include with it. Another epic diary entry. More of an autobiogaphy chapter in places. I'll search out the photos and do the scanning tomorrow and post the diary later in the week.
Right now it's time for bed.
The images attached to this diary entry are as follows :
1: A 2004 photo' of The Regal Cinema in decay.
2: The Cosmonauts at The Regal. (B.N. on left of shot.)
3: Bill Nelson and two of the cast of 'Oliver' on stage at The Regal.
4: The Midnite Kreepers on the roof of The Regal. (Left of photo to right:: Jez Shaw, Bill Nelson, Ron Oldroyd.)
5: The Midnite Kreepers at The Regal's opening of the film 'Dr. Who And The Daleks.' (B.N. in shades.)
6: The Gibson 4 at the Regal. The group, (in striped waistcoats), left to right: Mick Shaw, Jez Shaw, Ron Oldroyd, Bill Nelson. Ted Rogers and Ronnie Hilton behind with cinema staff. The Regal's manager laying down in foreground.