William's Study (Diary Of A Hyperdreamer)
Friday 12th November 2010 -- 9:00 pm
Begun 9th November 2010
Should I attempt this diary entry when I'm so desperately behind with my preparations for this year's Nelsonica? Can I manage to keep it brief and to the point?
The answer, judging from past experience, is a resounding "no"...to both questions, but as usual, I'll throw caution to the wind and try to fill in the now statutory cavernous gap since the previous diary entry. So, here goes...
I'll own up and confess that I've spent far too much time attempting to write and record several new backing tracks for my Nelsonica 10 solo set. This year's Nelsonica is now looming dangerously at the end of the month and I really shouldn't have been chasing the muse around her musical bedroom in search of new thrills. There are so many more down to earth tasks to deal with...but, she's been her usual seductive self and I've succumbed to her charms, as a gentleman always must.
Actually, I've recorded enough new backing tracks to fill an entire album. But, having said that... how many of them have I actually chosen to use at Nelsonica? Well, humble apologies to both the muse and Nelsonica attendees, but the answer is just one. Yes, ONE.
All is not lost though, apart from many days of intense work recording the damned things. The unused pieces have been set aside and will eventually receive overdubbed guitar parts and emerge next year as a studio instrumental album, or at least something along those lines. (Provided the muse doesn't unlock the bedroom door and waggle her finger at me again.)
I've also created several new Orchestra Futura backing tracks, five of which WILL, hopefully, feature in the relevant section of the Nelsonica live performance. Theo and Dave and I have yet to test them out at the rehearsal sessions scheduled for the week immediately prior to Nelsonica. It may well be that some of them will not prove suitable, in a practical sense, but, who knows? Certainly not me at this stage. Anyway, we'll see how we get on with them at rehearsals. Improvisation is the basic nature of Orchestra Futura so, even though these new backing tracks have a formal structure, what Theo, Dave and myself play within that structure in a live situation is entirely subject to the moment.
I've also spent considerable time transcribing lyrics for the various pieces to be attempted by the 'Gentlemen Rocketeers' band. I used to have most of these lyrics, (and the musical arrangement charts), archived on my old computer but the files wouldn't transfer across to my current iMac due to an 11 year operating system difference, (and partly because the new Macs now use Intel processors). The charts came out scrambled and wrongly formatted. So, in the end it seemed that the solution was to start again from scratch, and transcribe the songs line by line from the old recordings. Tiresome and time consuming but unavoidable under the circumstances.
I suppose one problem is that I almost never listen to those old songs for personal pleasure and rarely give concert performances of them. Every time I'm in a position to perform the songs live, it's a little like approaching them as a complete stranger. People say, "oh, it must be just like riding a bike...as soon as you begin to play, it will all come back to you..." Well, truth is, it's not really like riding a bike at all. If it IS, it's a bike I seem to keep falling off. Actually, for me it's much more akin to climbing a very steep mountain, against a headwind, with my feet coated in rapidly drying cement.
However incomprehensible that might seem to some, it's no surprise to me whatsoever...I've travelled so far from the music I made when I was in my twenties that songs from that era feel increasingly alien. Well, perhaps alien is not quite the right word. But, if I hadn't moved on, then what would be the point of continuing, other than to exist as a human jukebox? Creativity requires a certain degree of bridge burning. (And several boxes of matches constantly to hand.)
Perhaps it's just the sheer amount of music that I've recorded since the 1970's that makes Be Bop Deluxe seem so many light years distant from whatever musical planet I currently broadcast from. Whatever the reason, it doesn't feel as natural for me to play those old songs as it did 35 years ago. Returning to them requires a considerable shift of focus, not just with regard to the practical aspects, but also because of the philosophical/aesthetic insights that maturity inevitably brings to the table. I guess I'm in a different head space, Or, to paraphrase the old saying: 'lots of water has flowed under lots of bridges,' (and the latter all burning furiously).
No doubt when Nelsonica rehearsals are completed and the convention live performances are safely in the bag, (despite the nerves and crises of confidence that inevitably accompany these rare outings), I'll probably be hankering after performing live again. Perhaps I'll feel like that for a day or so too, once my guitars have been safely placed back in their cases.
Then the old doubts and reservations will slowly return and I'll change my mind, retreat to my little 'garret' and get on with what I enjoy most, ie: working steadily and quietly in the studio, continuing to make the recordings that have defined my musical life these last few decades. Small marks, carved daily and diligently onto the hard-drive of dreams. That, I suppose, is my real passion.
So, putting this existential stuff to one side for a moment, what else have I achieved, abandoned or fumbled since my last dusty diary entry?
Well, wonderfully, I got to watch my first ever guitar hero, Duane Eddy, perform two live concerts here in the UK. The first at The Royal Festival Hall in London, the other in York at The Opera House. A year ago, I would not have thought such a thing possible.
However...these two concerts were not my first experience of hearing Duane in a live situation. I'd actually seen him perform in concert once before, at 'The Savoy' supper club, in Wakefield, way back in my rose-tinted, sealed-in-amber days of youth...in the 1960's.
Back then it seemed unbelievable that Duane Eddy would travel all the way from mythical, magical, movin' n' groovin' technicolour America to give a concert in, of all places, the drab, grey, northern town of my birth...let's face it, Wakefield wasn't the most sparkling location for a legendary American golden age of rock n' roll guitarist to appear.
Of course, I seized the opportunity and bought tickets for the show, and with my then girlfriend Lynne Holliday in tow, went to 'The Savoy' supper club to witness Duane's performance. It was a special night out for both of us at the time, especially meaningful for me as I was a little older than Lynne and had such a strong connection with Duane's playing.
Lynne and I had been part of the local mod scene before becoming early adopters of the blossoming hippie/psychedelic movement.
English interpretations of American blues via John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Chicken Shack, Fleetwood Mac, etc were already well established and I had built up a collection of imported American West coast underground albums by bands such as Moby Grape, Buffalo Springfield, Love, The Mothers Of Invention, Jefferson Airplane, and many others.
Home grown bands such as The Nice, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, etc, had already taken the American psychedelic blueprint and developed it along very English lines. It was a time of creative cross-fertilisation and cultural eclecticism. As I've often noted in these reminiscences, it seemed, back then, that there were no insurmountable boundary fences. Once distant and exotic horizons were now within reach. Lynne and I enthusiastically tuned into this idealistic 'everything is possible' ethic, ('though perhaps I fell for it the most). We were both fashion-conscious, optimistic and curious. Hip teens with a seemingly infinite future ahead of us.
I recall boarding a Wakefield corporation bus to travel from my parent's house at 37, Woodhouse Road, Eastmoor Estate to Lynne's parent's house at 37, Chantry Road, Lupset Estate, (curious coincidence of house numbers,) whilst wearing full flower-child regalia, complete with beads and bells. This, as I've probably said before, required a certain amount of nerve. Looking back from this relatively remote 21st century vantage point, it seems that I must have had some sort of self-belief, or 'bottle,' though I wasn't quite aware of it in those terms at that time. It just felt right.
So...were they happy days? Yes...of course. If only because I was lucky enough to not get beaten up for dressing like a freak. Imagine doing that today in the environs of a contemporary council house estate, patrolled by gangs of mono-syllabic hoodies.
Looking back, Duane's rare UK performance at the Wakefield Savoy Supper Club in the 1960s was just as inspirational to me then as my very first exposure to his music when I was 10 years old. And when Lynne and I returned to her parent's house on Lupset Estate after the concert, Duane's guitar still ringing in my ears, we
furtively made out on the rug in front of the open fire until her mother's footsteps were heard coming down the stairs: "What on earth are you two doing?" She said, as she opened the living room door and caught us trying to look nonchalant and unflustered on the hearth-rug... (Nervous shufflings and a secretive attempt at re-arranging teenage nether-garments.) "Oh...er...just talking about Duane Eddy and watching the embers die down," I said...
Back now to 2010 and whatever coherent, current report I can muster...
Well, Duane's concert at The Royal Festival Hall proved rather emotional for me. I generally tend to ignore, dismiss or pour scorn upon my own fans' demands to reproduce my older music in concert. Especially if such demands are fuelled more by a desire to recapture lost youth, rather than to pursue anything of any real musical value. But, hypocrite that I am, there I was, front and centre stalls in the Royal Festival Hall, tears joyously welling up as Duane proceeded to remind me of exactly why I was inspired to take up the guitar in the first place, 50 years ago. It was a wonderful evening and Richard Hawley's band, who backed Duane, did a marvellous, respectful job of interpreting Duane's legendary back catalogue.
And, one more pleasant surprise: Duane's guitar tech turned out to be Gordon White, the ace guitar repairer/set up guy who fettles my own instruments so superbly for me. Good man! It turned out that Duane was highly impressed with Gordon's professionalism.
After the show, Emiko and I went back stage. I'm not really one for hanging out with bands after their gigs. I'm always rather shy, and from my own experience, aware of the performer's situation and the need for them to have time and space to recover...but the personal invitation to attend the concert was very special and I wanted to thank Duane for his kindness. It was good to meet a couple of guys in the band as well as chat with Professor Arthur Moir who runs the Duane Eddy Circle. (Of which I'm a proud honorary member!) Duane and his wife Deed were pleased to see us and we chatted about their experiences in England so far and the warm reception they'd been given by the Festival Hall audience. Emi and I eventually walked through the rain back to our hotel on the Southbank having enjoyed a memorable evening.
A couple of weeks after the Festival Hall concert, Duane performed at the Opera House in York and I was generously invited to attend this show too.
The night before the York show, I received an email from Duane's manager informing me that Duane would like me to get up on stage at The Opera House and play one of his numbers with him. I was totally blown away. When I was a skinny ten year old listening to 'Because They're Young' and miming along to the record with a home-made cardboard cut-out guitar, I could hardly have imagined that such an invitation would ever be extended to me. In fact, it's pretty unbelievable even today.
But, dream-fulfilling as this opportunity was, there was one serious obstacle. The date of Duane's York concert coincided with the formal dedication of a bench to the memory of my late brother Ian, at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield, (as mentioned in my previous diary entry). My mother, Ian's family, Emiko and myself were attending the dedication and a reception afterwards. Unfortunately, it would have been impossible for me to get from the Sculpture Park to York in time to rehearse something with Duane at the soundcheck before the concert. I had to apologise and explain my dilemma. Duane completely understood and it was suggested that we might be able to do something along similar lines next year, when Duane is hoping to return to the UK.
The dedication of Ian's bench at the Sculpture Park was an emotional, melancholy but warm affair. Emi and I collected my mum from her home in Wakefield and then drove out to West Bretton, on the southern edge of the city, where the Sculpture Park is located. Ian worked there for quite a few years, starting out as an assistant in the park's shop when he was quite young, but eventually moving up the ladder to become a respected member of the administrative staff. He was due to be made one of the park's directors until he suffered a stroke in his early 40s. Unfortunately, his illness and other unforseen problems conspired against such a thing happening.
I remember when the Sculpture Park first opened. As I've written in this diary before, it was the brainchild of Peter Murray, one of my fine art tutors when I was a student at Wakefield School Of Art during the mid 1960s. Peter conceived of the idea of a Yorkshire sculpture park in the late '70s and was instrumental in getting the project off the ground. I recall bumping into him in Boots The Chemist store in Leeds around that time. I hadn't seen him since leaving art school and was very pleased to meet him again. He told me of the sculpture park project and invited me to the opening. I seem to recall that I drove there in the pale metallic blue Rolls Royce Silver Shadow I owned in those days...Somewhat showy by current standards but this was what post-war working class kids such as myself grew up to regard as 'aspirational.' Not at all the sort of thing I aspire to now, of course. Anyway, Peter had read an article about my work in a Sunday Times colour supplement and seemed pleased that his former student had achieved some sort of wider recognition. And I, naturally, was pleased that he was pleased.
I've always been fond of Peter and still very much value his professional input during my art school years. Those were extremely influential and inspirational times for me and I continue to benefit from the creativity and experience that my art school years blessed me with. Much of what I absorbed back then, at the now demolished School Of Arts And Crafts building in Wakefield's Bell Street, informs my approach to music to this day.
My brother Ian's family, plus his close friends and colleagues, were present at the dedication of the wooden bench which bears his name. The bench is situated in an area known as, (I think), 'The Bothy Garden.' It is at the apex of a semi-circular lawn, just outside the door of what used to be the park's cafe, back in the days when Ian worked there. The location is just lovely. Anyone sitting on the bench will be rewarded with beautiful, stunning views across the rolling country landscape that comprises the Sculpture Park. It would be hard to find a more appropriate spot to locate this memorial to my dearly missed brother.
Peter Murray gave a heartfelt tribute to Ian before declaring the bench 'open' and my mum became the first person to 'officially' sit on it. How fragile and alone she looked. She's suffered so much these last few years. But she was so pleased to see the bench with Ian's name carved on it. We had both talked about having something which bore testimony to Ian's musical gifts, and the bench's inscription does exactly this. I'm very grateful to Peter Murray and Ian's sister-in-law Angie for helping to facilitate such a memorial.
An informal reception followed the dedication with drinks and sandwiches. Even the weather blessed the day with an absolutely breathtaking display of autumnal colour and an arch of beautiful blue, blue, sky. Ian, I know, would have been touched, pleased and proud. I hope that, somehow, the love that he generated in those who knew him caused ripples in the ether that day, and spread beyond our little gathering in the Bothy Garden to wherever his spirit resides. Ian is deeply missed. Half of me vanished with him when he left us and life will never be the same.
After the reception, Emiko and I drove back to York, arriving just in time to grab a meal at a nearby Italian restaurant before Duane came on to play his set at The Opera House. He seemed relaxed, enjoying himself despite recovering from an unpleasant cold virus that had struck a week or so previously.
During the show, Duane graciously dedicated 'Because They're Young' to me. This was an unexpected thrill and one I'll never forget, even though very few of the audience, (who were mainly of the '50s rock n' roll generation), seemed to have heard of me or my music. Amusing, if somewhat embarrassing, to discover that it's not always the younger generation who are out of one's loop...it's sometimes the older ones too...
After the show, I was reluctant to trouble Duane as he was engaged with a very long line of fans awaiting his autograph. (Prompting thoughts of the 3 hour autograph sessions I undertake every year at Nelsonica.) I attempted to signal a farewell to his wife Deed but, she, being the thoughtful and caring person that I've recently been privileged to know, insisted that I should not feel bad about interrupting the long line of admirers to speak to Duane. She took me by the hand and tapped him on the shoulder. Seeing me, he immediately stood up and made me feel warmly welcome. A lovely man, as noted in my previous diary entry, and a hero forever.
Well, what else?
More worries about Django the cat who, though much better than he was a few weeks ago, has, it seems, suffered permanent damage to his eyes. Toxoplasmosis may be the cause, or possibly an injury to his head. The end result is that his eyes don't adjust to bright light in the way that they should. In fact, they don't adjust at all...he's on permanent night vision. In bright daylight he has to squint to reduce the impact of light on his retina.
Poor Django...He's suffered a lot in the last 12 months, what with the severe injury to his tail and all. Such a sweet natured creature too. He doesn't deserve any of this. I guess I'm pretty soft when it comes to animals. I can't help but put myself in their place and feel their pain. And, in practical terms, put my hand in my wallet to pay the vet's bills. Ouch!
The big bugaboo, for me now, of course, is Nelsonica. Rehearsals begin in just over one week...and they lead straight into the two day convention itself.
This year's ambitious, extended anniversary event has brought extra demands. The three live performance sets are daunting, especially considering, (as noted previously), how rare my live concerts are these days. Learning everything, prior to rehearsals, is the big worry at this moment in time.
There are 33 individual compositions spread across the three live sets...That's a LOT of music to try and remember. Working out the chords, riffs, melodies etc, will take time...more than there is available, to be honest.
I'm also currently attempting to create some artwork for the annual Nelsonica auction, but have fallen way behind. Yes, there will be some items for people to bid on...but probably far less than usual. The star piece at the moment though, is a four panel, framed set of drawings titled 'Four Fantasy Guitars.' Wouldn't mind holding onto this piece myself...but into the auction it must go.
Domestic issues have come into the time scale too. Lots of household tasks to deal with but Emiko has been ill, which has pre-occupied me in various ways. She picked up a nasty flu-like virus and had to stay in bed for a few days. She's not completely recovered and, in fact, seems to have suffered a relapse, (or maybe caught another bug). She isn't feeling at all well at the moment. I'm deeply concerned about trying not to catch the virus from her. If I fell ill now, it would have disastrous consequences on Nelsonica rehearsals and the convention itself. I've been taking the usual vitamins, immune system boosters and so on, in the hope of keeping illness at bay.
A few other things now, and I'll try to be as brief as possible: Had a call from John Leckie this evening. He's coming up to Yorkshire to attend Nelsonica again this year and we will do another on-stage interview/Q+A session together.
My old friend Nick Dew, (who will be occupying the drum chair in 'The Gentleman Rocketeers' band at Nelsonica), has also kindly agreed to submit to an interrogation about his experiences as Be Bop Deluxe's first drummer in the very earliest days of the band.
My regular guitar tech, Pete Harwood, is unfortunately unavailable to take care of me at this year's Nelsonica, (He's out on tour with Marillion), so Fairview Studio's Andy Newlove has bravely stepped into the breach. Pete and Andy came to the house a couple of weekends back so that Pete could give Andy an idea of how my complex live set-up fits together. In fact, we spent an entire afternoon trying to figure it all out!
It will be the first time that anyone other than Pete has taken care of this important job, at least for several years now. Andy seems confident enough but it will be a 'baptism by fire' situation for him. Unfortunately for Andy, I'm not the sort of guitarist who simply plugs an overdrive pedal into a valve amplifier and clings to a single guitar all evening. I'm more of the mad-scientist type, with an entire laboratory of flashing lights, buttons and black boxes...everything rigged up in 'glorious technicolour and stereophonic sound,' as the old movie musical song would have it. (And there will definitely be more than one or two guitars for Andy to keep tuned up!)
As mentioned in my previous diary entry, I was invited to write a review of two re-issued King Crimson albums for 'Classic Rock' magazine and the piece has now been published. It was fairly daunting task as the music is complex and not easy to critique in a few words. Although my review ended up containing far more words than the magazine had requested they were generous enough to print it in its entirety. I enjoyed writing it and was proud to see it in print. I wonder if Robert, (Fripp), saw it and what he made of it?
Whilst on the subject of writing: Volume one of my autobiography, 'Painted From Memory,' is finally at the printers and will definitely be available at Nelsonica. It ended up costing me rather more to manufacture than originally anticipated but, hopefully, the extra expense will be worth it as the quality of the family archive photographs the book contains has been improved. My good friend and Nelsonica staff photographer Martin Bostock has been a terrific help in interfacing with the printers and I'm extremely grateful to him for all his help in getting this project from the manuscript and into book form.
Also, for this year's special 10th anniversary Nelsonica, attendees will be given a free gift from myself, a copy of a DVD titled 'Picture House.' It contains several home-produced video 'sketches,' plus an emotive 8mm cine souvenir of the period when Be Bop Deluxe recorded the 'Drastic Plastic' album in the South Of France, in the latter part of the 1970s. This was shot by myself during the band's stay in Juan Les Pins, near Antibes.
There are other videos included in the package, some of which are intended to compliment the publication of volume one of my autobiography. 'North-East' and 'Memory Codex' are two that fall into this category. These pieces are preliminary sketches for something I hope to refine and define more fully in the future, but, for now, they offer the viewer a raw glimpse of work in progress.
As with the autobiography, this specially produced, limited-edition item has, for various reasons, exceeded its original production/manufacturing budget. However, it will now no longer only be exclusively available to Nelsonica attendees. 'Picture House' is scheduled to be offered for sale via the Dreamsville website's regular store so that non-Nelsonica attendees may purchase it, (at least for as long as limited stocks last). The DVD features a splendid package design by Dave Graham and myself, which I'm very pleased with.
This year's special Nelsonica album, 'Captain Future's Psychotronic Circus,' (whose title evokes the 1960's psychedelia mentioned earlier in this diary entry), PLUS the next 'main' album release, ('Fables And Dreamsongs'), are also ready for Nelsonica. And will be put on general release sometime during the week following the convention.
So...provided I can find enough time to work on a couple more original drawings for the auction...and also get to grips with the complexities of the 33 pieces of music I hope to perform live, Nelsonica 10 should, more or less, be roughly on course.
I still need to find time for a haircut though...and to choose and iron some stage outfits! And get some guitar repairs and set-ups sorted with Gordon.
A quick observation whilst on the subject of guitars:
In my last diary entry I mentioned that I'd borrowed a Fractal Audio Axe-Fx guitar processor from my friend Clive English.
Whilst I had my reservations about the unit, I'm currently of the opinion that, although it IS exorbitantly expensive, it is much more satisfying to use than the Line 6 Pod HD500 unit I purchased a couple of weeks ago. So far, I've been somewhat underwhelmed with the latter, 'though I'm hoping that, when time allows, I might be able to program the unit to produce sounds that are closer to my own tastes. At the moment though, it seems to favour cliched rock guitar tones, and fairly brittle sounding ones at that.
Of course, if I'm to be fair, the Fractal Axe-Fx, is, (compared to the HD500), substantially more expensive...(and I do mean substantially). Maybe it's that old thing of 'you get what you pay for.' But I'm still open to persuasion...after all, I've been using Line 6 products for many years and I want the brand to succeed.
For the time being though, and certainly for Nelsonica's live sets, I'll be continuing to use my faithful Pod 2, Digitech Valve FX and Zoom 9050S units. Better the devil you know, etc...
Ok, that's four thousand six hundred and sixty three words that I didn't originally intend to write. Enough for now, at least until after the convention is done, don't you think?
The images accompanying this diary entry are as follows:-
1: A mobile-phone camera snap of Ian Nelson's bench at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
2: Bill's mum sitting on the bench dedicated to Ian.
3: Emiko and Bill sitting on Ian's memorial bench.
4: Some of the drawings by Bill that will be auctioned at Nelsonica 10.
5: Another view of the Nelsonica 10 auction drawings.
6: A closer view of the Nelsonica 10 drawings.
Sunday 21st November 2010 -- 9:00 pm
Just returned from the first day of rehearsals for the live concerts of this year's Nelsonica convention. Decided to write a very short diary entry to inform fans of progress. I may write one or two more throughout the coming week...a sort of rolling report on progress prior to the event itself.
Today's rehearsal was dedicated entirely to my solo set, so there were no other musicans involved...a relatively solitary experience. It was, however, also a rehearsal for my 'stand-in' guitar tech, Andy Newlove. Andy has bravely volunteered to substitute for my regular tech, Pete Harwood, who is out on tour and can't make the convention this year.
Andy drove over to my place from his home near Hull this morning, to pick up my equipment. I'd finally lugged everything downstairs the day before and had it all packed up, ready for collection. A lot of it too. Far too much for one solo musician.
We loaded up the van in the cold morning air, light rain falling. Then Andy set off for the rehearsal studio in Leeds whilst I drove into town to purchase a new folding table, required for my rack of guitar processors to occupy on stage. (My old table has been comandeered by Emi for her printer and some other computer peripherals.)
By the time I arrived at the rehearsal room in Leeds, Andy had just about everything wired up, but there were a few teething problems and a certain amount of head-scratching as some of the set-up wasn't functioning as it should. Eventually, these problems were solved and, much to Andy's relief, my guitars sang loudly from the monitor speakers, signalling that rehearsals could begin.
Andy admitted that he had been feeling a little nervous about the whole thing, which I perfectly understood as there was definitely an element of being 'thrown in the deep end' about it all. Despite his trepidation, he did a splendid job under pressure and I'm sure he will be able to cope confidently with the Nelsonica performances on Friday and Saturday. Even if it will mean him tuning at least 18 guitars!
I worked my way through my solo set numbers, trying out several of my guitars and trying to decide which ones to use on which numbers. Coming back to my full stage rig after a year of working in my home studio is always something of a shock...My recording set up is relatively simple but my live performance equipment is far more complex and I have to spend time re-familiarising myself with the various pedals and switches and the variety of sounds that they allow me to access. And, of course, I have to work on the music itself too.
I ran through each number of my solo set once...(a couple of them twice to try alternative guitar selections), but didn't labour the process by going over and over any of the ones that I was unsure of. Perhaps I should have but I like to keep an edge on things, reserve some 'cliff-hangers' for the actual day of the live show, rather than have everything written in stone. This may involve making the occasional mistake but sometimes these mistakes can divert things in interesting ways. And there's always quite a lot of improvisation involved, even though the backing tracks are relatively rigid.
Tomorrow will be the first day of rehearsals for the 'Gentlemen Rocketeers' band although we wont be up to full seven-piece strength until Tuesday when Theo Travis joins us. (Theo can't make tomorrow's rehearsal due to prior commitments.) However, we have three songs to learn that have never previously been performed live, (by this band or any other...) so I guess tomorrow's rehearsal will give us an opportunity to work on the foundation of those particular pieces. I won't reveal here the titles of those songs as I'd like them to be a surprise for our audience. Besides, there's always the possibility that we may not end up using all or any of them. They have still to be tested in terms of performance practicality and general suitability. Fingers crossed though...we may get lucky.
Original Be Bop Deluxe drummer Nick Dew is pounding the skins for us tomorrow. It will be the first time that Nick has worked with Dave Sturt, (and, on Tuesday, Theo Travis). And the first time for Nick to play with the band since 2004's Be Bop Deluxe And Beyond Tour. So, plenty to get to grips with in the next few days.
Ok, that's today's news. I'm about to have dinner, then will try to work on the video piece that I'm hoping to complete in time for Nelsonica.
Somehow though, even if I work on it for a few hours every night after rehearsals, I don't think it will be finished in time. And tomorrow's rehearsals require that I sing...which puts an extra strain on things, (not least my voice). So I may be feeling too exhausted to deal with video editing after a long day with the band. Anyway...I can onlydo as much as I can. Which may not be enough.
Nelsonica has become more and more demanding every year. There's a powerful urge to build on previous years and make each one better than the last. It's not as if I'm getting any younger either.
Which is why, as I've mentioned before, Nelsonica 10 may be the final one in the series, or perhaps it will mutate, change shape and concept, becoming something less intense but, despite that, even more curious and magical.
Or maybe I'll manage to lift my foot to the next rung on the Nelsonica ladder and step the game up to something even more fabulous for the future.
Right now though, I've more than enough on my plate. Except for my dinner which I am now about to eat.
More rehearsal news later, during the week.
Images are of Bill's guitars during day one of Nelsonica rehearsals and of two flyers for the convention.
Monday 22nd November 2010 -- 9:00 pm
Just a quick note on today's rehearsal: The band assembled and began to work on the 'Gentelman Rocketeers' set, 'though Theo will not be with us until tomorrow.
As is usually the case with these first day things, there were quite a few rough edges and lots of time was spent refreshing memories, (mine included), AND trying out different arrangement possibilities. I decided to not waste time on one particular number as it was apparent after only a few minutes that it wasn't going anywhere. As it has been deleted from our list of possible inclusions, I can reveal that it was 'Propellor Of Legend.' It's a song I really like but it just didn't seem to adapt itself to the band. With only a couple of days to learn rather a lot of numbers, there's no time to waste on tunes that don't begin to gel within the first few attempts...so into the bin it went.
Other numbers sounded immediately more promising, though some clearly needed detailed examination and clarification, or the occasional rethink...Much concentration and energy was expended and, by the end of the day it had turned into an exhausting session. However, we've cracked the first layer of the ice and now must see what tomorrow brings. Everyone worked hard and gave of their best, which is all any band leader can hope for. But we've really only just scratched the surface.
Today was rather cold and at one point the rehearsal room felt like a meat storage locker...then, when the heating blowers were switched on, the atmosphere gradually became warm. Then too warm. This, of course, plays havoc with guitar tuning as the wood of the instruments expands and contracts. Correct pitch is essential for inspired playing. There's nothing worse than trying to concentrate on arrangements and 'feel' whilst simultaneously listening to instruments that are gradually drifting further away from their shared tuning because of changing atmospheric conditions.
My voice certainly felt the strain too. It's the first time I've sung in a band situation for two years.
Singing in this sort of environment is totally different from that of the studio. (And it's several months since I've sung in my studio.)
Trying to hear my voice clearly through the monitors, (which were also my only reference for hearing my guitar), was at times a struggle. It's easy to overstrain the larynx by forcing one's voice to overcome the general volume levels in the room. Anyway...my throat feels quite raw at the moment and I must try to pace myself tomorrow if I'm not to lose it for Friday's event.
Working in my studio produces a much more polished sound...not just in terms of balance but also the tonal quality of the instrumentation. Rock music stage monitors are not the most refined or smooth sounding reference points. It always involves compromise and often produces a quite disheartening, depressing experience when musicians hear their subtleties reduced to a coarse-sounding grind. But this is what we must work with and work with it we will.
And now I'm going to take a rest before bedtime, 'though I still have several emails to deal with. It really has felt like a non-stop obstacle course these last few months. I only hope that Nelsonica will prove enjoyable for attendees, despite my usual reservations and concerns.
The photographs accompanying this diary entry were taken by Andy Newlove using my camera, but several of them ended up as damaged files and couldn't be reproduced. (I need a new camera.) The ones which HAVE been reproduced here were dramatically out of focus due to reduced light in the room but I've posted them anyway. I'll see if we can capture something better tomorrow.
All for now.
Tuesday 23rd November 2010 -- 9:00 pm
Just a very short diary entry today:
Got home from rehearsals around 7:30 after stopping off at the supermarket to buy something for my dinner and put more petrol in the car for these daily trips to Leeds and back. Emi was attending a meeting this evening and couldn't be there to cook for me so I bought a 'ready meal' that wouldn't involve me having to cook anything complicated. As I may have mentioned in the diary before, Emi does voluntary work at a centre that helps people with learning difficulties. This evening was a meeting of all the centre's voluntary workers to discuss methods and ideas and to socialise, hence her absence.
Emi has just got back home and I've only now finished my meal due to constant telephone calls which have occupied me since 7:45. (It's now 9:45 as I type this sentence.) There are several things I must deal with before the end of the evening, not least this diary entry, so it appears it's going to be another late night for me.
Today was another fairly intense day of rehearsals with the band, now fully manned due to the arrival of Theo Travis. Some numbers are sounding tighter than yesterday but we only have one more day for the Gentleman Rocketeers to rehearse before Orchestra Futura takes its turn.
And, on the same day as Orchestra Futura begins rehearsals, (Thursday), all the equipment has to be dismantled, packed, loaded into a long-wheelbase Transit van and transported to the venue in York. Which doesn't give Dave, Theo and I much time to decide what we're going to play in the trio format. It looks as if it is going to be a 'flying by the seat of our pants' experience.
Late as the hour now is, I have to come up with a final running order for the band tonight and get it printed out. This is always a tricky thing to get right. It must take into account the need to warm up my voice, number by number, until it becomes possible to sing certain songs that are now at the edge of my reach. My voice has changed over the years, darkened a little and doesn't have the higher range it once had. Not that it was anything special then. I only ever sang to express the personal nature of the songs I composed...I was never under any illusions about being some sort of proper vocalist.
My fingers are sore. Haven't had to play guitar for so many consecutive hours for quite a while. Probably not since two years ago when we last put together The Gentleman Rocketeers. Throat sore too, but that's to be expected.
Right...I'm not going to ramble on...too many other things to do before I can go to bed tonight.
Martin Bostock, Nelsonica's official super-snapologist came to rehearsals today and grabbed some shots of the band. Here they are. Much better than previous snaps I've posted since rehearsals began...(But Martin IS a professional!)
Wednesday 24th November 2010 -- 10:00 pm
Ignore the automatic time stamping at the top of this page...it appears to be one hour behind British winter time. It's already 11 pm on Wednesday night and I'm still dealing with Nelsonica essentials. AND this diary...It really is non-stop.
Today was the final chance for the band to work on the songs for Friday's Gentleman Rocketeers performance. 14 songs in total. We've been really pushing hard to get to grips with the music in a very short space of time. If we had another couple of days to rehearse, plus a warm-up gig or two, we might be able to blow quite a few more well known bands into a cocked hat but time is fiercely against us and we will have to trust to luck. I'm hoping that I will rememember the finer details of the arrangements and that my voice will hold up... it's feeling raw and sore this evening again.
Re-shuffled the running order today to try and pace the strain on my voice a little better. I need to step up to the more demanding songs a little bit at a time. Unfortunately, there are more demanding songs than warm up pieces! (I hope the audience will be gentle with me.)
The band members have worked very hard too, we've attempted different twists and turns in some songs, only to revise them on the next run through. We may get confused on Friday, (I know I will), but our audience will be guaranteed TONS of fun, no matter how rough the ride may get in places. Some old favourites in the set and a couple of surprises too!
Tomorrow is set aside for the Orchestra Future rehearsal. It's a sort of 'work in progress' thing. It may contain some set pieces AND some completely off the cuff, spontaneous improvisation. We'll see what happens...
Tomorrow is also when the equipment has to be packed away, put into a truck and driven over to York. So, there's rather a lot to accomplish in just one day.
I have to say how marvellous the musicians in the band have been these last three days...Dave 1, Steve, Nick, Jon, Dave 2 and Theo...I can't thank them enough for their dedication and support. They're all wonderful people and I'm very lucky and genuinely feel honoured to share a stage with them. I hope they realisethis...I know I can appear somewhat distracted and worried at these times, particularly when Nelsonica involves me in several activities at once alongside the performance of the actual music. My mind is all over the place and it's sometimes hard to think about the more 'humane' aspect of playing with in a band. Anyway...it's going to be a very special two days and something for fans to enjoy and, hopefully, remember with great fondness.
Here are a few more amateur snaps taken by myself.
The first is of my brave stand-in guitar tech Andy Newlove, holding my Gretsch 6120.
The second is a pic of Jon and Steve, intrepid keyboardists.
The third pic is of Dave Standeven, packing his Duesenberg guitar into its case.
Thursday 25th November 2010 -- 6:00 pm
Well, the final Nelsonica rehearsal now complete. No band today...just the trio. Orchestra Futura sessions are relatively painless, just Theo, Dave and myself sitting together on stools with various loopers and effects pedals at our feet, dreaming via sound. A lovely day with no need to sing or play loud rock guitar solos...all I had to do was just gently drift on the sonic breeze. Lovely!
I've abandonded some of the backing tracks I'd recorded for the Futura set...(including 'Reginald Dixon And The Tower Of Tomorrow'). But these abandoned pieces WILL appear in studio form next year, on an album or two. Instead, we're aiming for a looser set which will alternate between pre-recorded interactive backing tracks and totally improvised pieces comprised of live loops and spur-of-the-moment shifts of atmosphere. These are mainly modal pieces based on evolving drones and enigmatic/ ambiguous tonal centres. None of these improvisations have titles as they will literally be created in front of the Nelsonica audience's ears and eyes. Fresh, instamatic and chaos-magical. There's no predicting what might happen!
I'm featuring my Gus G1 midi guitar prominently throughout the Orchestra Futura set, playing various ambient pads, strings, choirs and Japanese flute sounds from the guitar, as well as more orthodox guitar sounds.
I'm looking forward to this element of Nelsonica very much.
Didn't take any photographs during rehearsals today...totally forgot. Totally lost in sound you see.
Snow hit York this morning. The lane outside our house was really slippy. Main roads were not too bad but the forcast for tonight and tomorrow is not
good. Icy cold at the moment...there will be some travel problems tomorrow I guess. Hope everyone attending Nelsonica will be ok.
Tonight I have to re-arrange my charts for the band set, get all the lyrics in the right order, etc. Also need to write out the general Orchestra Futura set list. Decided to drop the solo number I was going to open this set with, ('Stardust and Pearl'), and must tonight choose an alternative solo piece to break the ice. (Literally, if the weather forcast is to be believed.)
I also must decide on stage clothes and iron and pack them. Actually, I had commissioned a Japanese friend of Emiko's to make a rather unique stage jacket for me using rare velvet and Japanese print fabrics with applique and bead trim. Unfortunately, it hasn't arrived from Japan so it looks like I'll have to rethink my outfits for the next two day's performances. A shame as it's turned out that the cost of making the jacket is far more than I expected. Perhaps I can put a couple of live concerts in, sometime next year, to show it off...and help pay for it!
Ok, that's it. Nothing between me and Nelsonica 10 now except another sleepless night, worrying if everything will be ok after all these months of intense hard work and planning. But, before that, a few hours of final double checking, belt and braces style. I'll be seeing some of you tomorrow...please be gentle with me.