Thursday 5th October 2006 -- 7:00 pm
The weather has changed quite dramatically, cold and wet today, the Indian Summer banished overnight.
Emiko's 58th birthday yesterday. Despite my constant work on the Nelsonica material, I managed to get into town for an hour and find a gift and a card. We actually went out together for a meal last night.
My own 58th birthday coming up in December, not far away now. Can't believe that we're both so close to 60. When I think about how rapidly the last ten years have flown, and how quickly a week passes these days, it's difficult not to get into a state of panic. So much still to achieve in both creative and personal terms. Life's too short when your mind is buzzing like a hive full of idea bees.
Into the last stages of pre-Nelsonica work now. The main things all in place but still a few details to attend to. Mastering the new backing tracks next Tuesday, the earliest Fairview could accomodate me. A rehearsal room now booked for Thursday to set out my equipment and wire it all up, attend to any repairs needed and try to get to grips with the new material and re-aquaint myself with the older pieces. I've made my 'charts' for the musical aspect of the set but can't make notes about the effects unit changes and which guitar goes with which number until next Thursday. Friday will be packing up other extra bits of gear, choosing, ironing and packing clothes for stage and the rest of the event and, hopefully, trying to get an early night. (Probably sleepless.) It's going to be an extremely busy Saturday.
Whilst the attendees will have approximately 11 or 12 hours of unique entertainment, I'll be there sometime before the doors open to sound check and generally try to get my act together. Jon Wallinger and the dedicated Nelsonica team will actually be there even earlier, on the Friday night, making a start on some of the preparatory tasks. Their organisational work is, as always, carefully considered and meticulous. Each year, the project becomes increasingly more complex but also equally more professional. I'm deeply touched by the team's dedication to the music and filled with admiration for their expertise. Their vibrant enthusiasm and love shines through every aspect of what they do and gurantees that the day will be special. I'm very lucky to be surrounded by such genuine people. I hope that they realise how grateful I am.
As always, we have visitors from overseas but, this year, they'll have the wonderful City of York to enjoy during their weekend, as well as the live music, videos and other presentations. An exciting change from the village of North Ferriby no doubt, even though I have many happy past associations with that place.
I've had news from Campbell American guitars that my Nelsonic Transitone prototype 2 is winging its way across the Atlantic and should be here for me to play, (and unveil in public,) for the first time at Nelsonica 06. Dean, (Campbell) has sent me some new photographs of the instrument, a couple of which are attached to this diary entry. It looks great and I'm eager to get to grips with it. Once I've assesed it and made any final suggestions, and the proposed minor cosmetic details are added, it will go into production...My first signature model! It's like giving birth but, I'm sure, somewhat less painful...
There's some work to do towards an extra, unadvertised item on the Nelsonica agenda, but I won't spoil it by giving details here. It should, however, add further interest to the day.
I'm also planning to bring Lost Satellite Steve Cook on stage with me for an improvisational piece. He may end up being part of the Orchestra Futura feature too. We'll see...He and I are getting together this coming Sunday to work on some ideas. And he'll cut my hair at the same time... (No, not on stage, here at home!)
I do find the current juggling of one thing or another difficult, stressful. There seems to be so much going on at the same time. But then, hasn't that always been the case? I'm always trying to push towards, not the future so much, as the NOW, the instant moment when fresh possibilities arise and the past is left to the sadness of ghosts.
The older we get, the more the tendency arises to perpetually dwell in what we perceive as our 'glory years'. Perhaps this is simply a sign of our increasing inability to keep up, not so much with the wider world, (which often lags even further behind), but to keep up with the rate of our own inner mercurial change and progress. The artist must conquer such tendencies, such laziness, such temptation to be sweet talked into servitude. He must constantly refuse the easy laurel, the placatory kiss on the cheek and renew his commitment to the visionary impulse that, unbidden, compelled him to embark on the work in the first place. There is no place for living art in the mausoleum of lost youth. But our maturity, our ever refined and re-defined adulthood, allows us bigger and greater adventures. Not that many people have the nous or guts to grasp this and run with it.
As always, we have visitors from overseas but, this year, they'll have the wonderful City of York to enjoy during their weekend, as well as the live music, videos and other presentations. An exciting change from the village of North Ferriby no doubt, even though I have many happy past associations with that place.
I've had news from Campbell American guitars that my Nelsonic Transitone prototype 2 is winging its way across the Atlantic and should be here for me to play, (and unveil in public,) for the first time at Nelsonica 06. Dean, (Campbell) has sent me some new photographs of the instrument, a couple sake of a few short-lived bubbles of adulation. And so I pledge a new commitment to forward motion. It will be bright, joyous, positive, enlightening, (yes, THAT word again), and strong. The rest is merely dust and husks for the sweeping.
What brought this mood on, I wonder? Maybe the nostalgia that inevitably accompanies certain aspects of Nelsonica? A frustration with the pace of progress here in my little room, in my life? 'Return To Jazz Of Lights' was finished several months ago but won't be heard by my audience until 14th of this month. I'm already thinking about the next step, where I should go from here. Is this part of the problem? That I'm in some sort of hyper-speed realm whilst the 'real' world inevitably drags its worn-out heels? Or am I just bored and disgusted with the dull, tired conservatism that seems to permeate 'pop' and 'rock' culture in general? Maybe the latter, maybe all of the aforementioned. I actually haven't a clue. Or if I have, I'm not telling here.
Well, that's it. A cutting of certain ties, a new freedom, a new resolve. Bob's your uncle and the world's your oyster. This is where it begins. Yet again.
One of the things I'm looking forward to, once the pressure I'm feeling eases off, is to sit down and listen to some music, other than my own. I have a pile of cds that haven't been out of their jewel cases yet, some Lennie Tristano, some old recordings of John Cage's piano sonatas, the latest Bill Frisell album, some Derek Bailey, a little bit of Charles Ives, some Nino Rota. Then there's the new Madeline Peyroux album that I'm eager to buy and hear, oh, it goes on, a long list of lovely sounds and none of them remotely connected with what some people might think of as Bill Nelson's music. But then, they're not listening hard enough and so, as far as I'm concerned, their opinions don't count.
Talking of Nino Rota, I've been reminded of his work by the score he created for Fellini's 'Juliette Of The Spirits' which I've managed to watch late at night on DVD, ('though not all the way through yet). I first saw this film in the '70's, I think, and loved it.
Almost finished the fabulous George Melly's , Slowing Down' book, which I've been reading when I wake up in a cold panic in the middle of the night. It calms me no end for some strange reason. My brother Ian once spent a little time with George. When Ian worked at The Yorkshire Sculpture Park, he was once assigned to collect George Melly from the station and drive him to the park. It must've been a special visit or something. I can't recall the exact circumstances now but, sadly, Ian isn't around for me to call him up and check. Anyway, Ian was apparently quite impressed by George, particularly his apparent ability to allow himself the vigourous consumption of the kind of food, drink and cigarettes that were not perhaps wise for a man of his age. Somehow, George, despite various medical issues, appeared to be immune to these transgressions. My mother once commented that Ian took this as an example of the possibility of his own immunity to such things. Ian thought quite highly of George, as do I, but everyone's physical constitution is different. Not that I am particularly wise with my own health. Far from it. but, there you go...I'm reading a book by the man my brother once drove to the sculpture park. Life's like that, isn't it?
Sitting here surrounded by several bright guitars. A kind of sculpture park here in my room. They're beautiful, colourful, inviting. But I'm avoiding dealing with them and their demands. It's an ambivalent relationship sometimes. I'll have to face the music tomorrow though as I still need to run some of the Nelsonica concert set through to try to grasp the shape and form of it. It's getting closer and closer. The clouds are parting and the stars are rising, a theatre of possibility. And myself alone and trembling, moving on.
Tuesday 10th October 2006 -- 9:00 pm
Spent much of the day at Fairview studios with engineer John Spence, mastering the new instrumental pieces and assembling the final backing tracks for my live performance at this coming Saturday's Nelsonica convention. No second guessing now as the set list is finally 'written in stone.'
After a quick run through, (and a haircut), with Steve Cook on keyboards on Sunday, I've decided to add 'Nebulous Trolleybus' to the list, so there will now be 20 instrumentals performed at the convention. It makes for a quite sophisticated set lasting around one and three-quarter hours.
10 of those 20 numbers are brand new, receiving their premiere live performance at Nelsonica. The other ten include some pieces that are also relatively new, so everything should sound nice and fresh. Some of it so fresh that I'll be struggling to remember it!
As always, it was a pleasure to sit with John as he mastered the backing tracks for me. This process makes a noticable difference to the sound of the performance, ensuring that each piece sits at the correct level with the other pieces and that the sound is uniform and as punchy as possible. Not only does this provide a better listening experience for the audience but it also allows me to more clearly pick out the details within the backing tracks and thereby play in the most appropriate manner. I need to feel inspired by the on-stage sound if I'm to be at my best.
John was planning to visit Hull's annual autumn fair this evening. I would have loved to tag along with him but there's too much to attend to here, not least this diary update.
The autumn Hull fair, John tells me, is the largest in Europe and has been a regular fixture for many years. I really would have enjoyed taking my camcorder along to grab some footage for possible use in one of my videograms, but time doesn't favour this. Maybe next year...Actually, I'll probably be just as busy with Nelsonica then, AND there's the possibility of an American Nelsonica right after it.
Have been speaking with Simon Warner about our on-stage interview. Sent him some albums to fuel his questions. Should prove to be an interesting talk for those fans who take an interest in the subjects that have inspired me during the last year or two. Simon called me a few minutes ago to confirm some of the pieces to be discussed. We will have one more conversation on Friday to tie up any loose ends.
I still haven't prepared any thoughts or words for my Guitar Talk though. (A separate thing from the Simon Warner interview.) Perhaps time is against me now. I'll have to rely on my wits on the day. If the weather favours my imagination, it may yet turn out to be an interesting talk.
Before I could go to Fairview this morning, I had a diversion. I received notification that Parcel Force were holding an international package for me. It was prototype 2 of my signature Nelsonic Transitone guitar. I called John Spence to delay our starting time at Fairview and drove out to the Parcel Force depot on the edge of the city, paid the import duty on the guitar and brought it home.
I took the guitar case from its exterior packaging and opened it up. A stunning colour...the red and cream and gold make for a very rich and warm looking instrument. I bundled it back into the car and headed off towards Hull and Fairview, eager to try it out against the soon to be mastered backing tracks. There are a few minor cosmetic details still missing on the guitar, but these will definitely be present on production models. Even without these, it's a striking instrument, as John noted.
It sounds excellent. I specified a Seymour Duncan jazz pickup in the neck position which provides a glowing, warm tone to contrast with the bridge pickup's wiry twang.
One thing that is remarkable about Campbell American guitars is their consistency. The quality standards are always the same, from one instrument to another. So often, you have to sort through a batch of supposedly identical guitars to find what might be considered a 'good' one. No such problem with these instruments. The three Campbell guitars I own all perform to the same high standard.
As noted in previous diary entries, this year's Nelsonica will be very much a guitar-centred affair. I'm taking several favourite instruments to Thursday's rehearsal to decide on the final allocation of which instrument fits best with which track. There will be another special treat for guitar fans at the convention too. (But I'm keeeping that as a surprise.)
An enthusiastic and positive reaction on the Dreamsville site to the announcement about the forthcoming Dreamsville/Nelsonica Art Awards. I'm hoping that the standard of entries will be high and that the work submitted will serve to demonstrate the intelligence and imagination of those fans who appreciate the potential of art to enliven and enlighten our lives.
I have to admit that I've always felt a little uneasy using the word 'fan' to describe those people who find enjoyment and information from listening to the music I create. I tend to think of fans as being young teenagers with little experience of life and not much sophistication, cannon fodder for the big bad music industry's marketing machine....BUT: My own experience, as regards my 'fans', is more complex than that and far less easy to define. Two things seem to emerge from my experiences of meeting them. One is their clearly evident warmth, good judgement and humanity. The other is their wide-ranging cultural appetite. (Not the best phrase but the closest to what I feel, especially at this hour of night.)
Music seems to have informed their lives to a tremendous degree. Many of them regularly demonstrate an awareness and depth of insight that an intelligent exploration of the creative arts inevitably brings to those who care about these things. There often seems to be what one might refer to as a 'spiritual dimension' too. Certainly, my personal encounters with my audience via my concerts and the Dreamsville website bears this observation out.
So perhaps there's another word, one less loaded with notions of immaturity that might apply to those who share and enjoy my musical output with me. But I'm damned if I can come up with something appropriate... 'Connoisseurs' comes close but doesn't completely hit the spot. The word 'patrons' could be considered as part of the equation too. It's both these attributes but something more, several things more.
So, out of sheer frustration at a true definition, maybe for now, the epithet 'fans' has to suffice. Nevertheless, the word belittles the actual deed. Perhaps something as plain and simple as 'friends' comes closest.
If there's one thing I should be proud of it is that my music has attracted, in the main, people of this calibre. Or am I just imagining that this is so? No matter how hard one tries to communicate, there will always be a minority who, from no great fault of their own, nor mine, misunderstand the work in one way or another. This is, as in other aspects of human interaction, inevitable. (A cliche, I know.)
One has to accept that such confusions will be part of the scenario, no matter how hard one tries to aim for clarity. This can, for any artist driven by his or her creative forward momentum, prove to be frustrating.
I've jumped through this particular hoop over and over again during my life as a musician and no doubt will be forced to do so again and again. This is part of the 'job,' I suppose. But, as painful as it feels sometimes, it has to be done. There is no choice, other than to give in to things that one instinctively rejects as alien to one's sensibilities. It's a compulsion, in the end.
Not everyone will feel like keeping pace, no matter how hard the artist pushes. But that too is the way it should be. Things eventually find their own level. For every thing left by the wayside, a new thing is gained. I'm more than happy with that. It seems natural enough to me.
Whilst on the subject of art, (and I WAS on that subject, somewhere further back in this diary entry), I'm intrigued by Carsten Holler's work currently on show at Tate Modern. It's a kind of conceptual, futuristic fairground slide, taking up much of the vast space of Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. I plan to travel to London at some point during the next few weeks and will definitly be paying a visit to Tate modern to see this. Whenever I go to London, I make a habit of visiting one or other of the Tates, (more often than not Tate Modern), where I browse in their bookshops, have lunch in their cafe's and generally try to resit spending money on books that I can ill afford. But I do so much enjoy the experience of visiting these galleries and wandering amongst other art lovers. (There's now't more civilised than an art gallery tha knows!) How I'd love to be able to create an audio-visual piece for the Turbine Hall. Or for York Minster, or the Cocteau Ampitheater just outside Monte Carlo, or...well, the list goes on and on. A series of concerts-come-installations at beautiful or inspiring locations around the world, maybe with a documentary film crew in tow to document it. A celebration of the sound of special places, the resonance of travel.
In today's 'Independent,' an interesting article about Facel Vega cars. A company long defunct but, if I were able to indulge myself along the lines of a super-rich pop star, a company whose elegant and stylish automobiles I would enthusiastically collect and drive.
'Automobile'...so much more evocative a word than 'Car', I think.
The real news,in the REAL world, really ugly and worrying, is that North Korea has tested its first nuclear weapon. A country ruled by what appears to be a very unpredictable fanatic has now become a serious threat to its asian neighbours and the rest of the world. As if there wasn't already enough bloody-minded insanity on our own doorstep.
Bought a copy of 'The Oldie' this week...Much more provocative and stimulating than the average rock rag or whatever. What will folks think? But then, I'm getting to that age when I'm damned if I give a bugger what folks think!
One of the benefits of maturity is the ability to absolutely disregard the timid mediocrity of youth, my own youth included, by the way. We thought we had the world in our pocket but all we actually had was a soiled Kleenex and a copy of 'Spic and Span.' (Look it up on the web if you weren't a male teenager in the early to mid 'sixties.)
Late middle age allows us to behave disgracefully whilst maintaining an annoying air of knowing nonchalance and crotchety grace. If there is such a thing. Well, there IS in MY book. But it's only valid when backed up with a certain savoir-faire, (or something or other), but definitely not the loutish, beer-soaked whinging that some oldies carry over into middle-age from the cultural desert of their lost youth.
I'm back in the last diary entry's territory here, by the sound of it. Railing against the dying of the light? No! Quite the opposite, trying to shield my eyes from it's brilliance so that I can see my way forward. Sometimes, I'm deeply dazzled. Sometimes there's a headlamp that sees through the overbright darkness as if by magic. Torchy The Battery Boy...A sky full of brilliant stars, obvious if you've got a telescope, less so if you're shoegazing.
It's autumn and the leaves are soon to be swept aside. A new broom, clear days ahead. Always looking forward to tomorrow...
Saturday soon and nerves of steel. Ready, willing and able!
Monday 23rd October 2006 -- 6:00 pm
Sometimes I wonder.
Reading back through the most recent diary entries I can sense the pressure and stress of the last few months. There's much that I would, (and should), change. My choice of words or phrase is sometimes ill-considered or untypical. At worst, totally off-target. A head spinning and dizzy with, if not euphoria, then ecstatic panic.
Yes...Peter Panic, my alter-ego, a stretched-on-the-rack-of-existential-angst Cliff Richard, a dark shadow of the boy next door. Or maybe just the village idiot, the one who raided the local library and stole all the weird books that no-one ever read. (And then scribbled in their margins, slightly obscene doodles, fingerprints, ejaculations of dissent.)
I'm exhausted but buzzing with new ideas. Spinning.
Nelsonica 06 went pretty well last Saturday. Already over a week ago but still a blur for me as I was 'on tap' virtually all the time. Lots of people there, the best attendance yet, I think. The Nelsonica team had done a fabulous job of tricking up the venue with huge posters depicting various aspects of my work, including a magnificent one for the Dreamsville website. A tremendous effort all round.
I exhibited part of my guitar collection. First time I'd seen these particular instruments out of their cases all at the same time. They looked beautiful. I took my Carlsbro Nelsonic amp to display too, 'though I went 100% digital with my live on-stage performance as I generally do at solo concerts these days.
Prototype number two of my signature model 'Nelsonic Transitone' guitar had arrived at Nelson Acres a few days before the event and I was able to give it its first proper airing during the live performance. It sounded great and there are just a few minor tweaks that I've suggested to Dean Campbell before it goes into production. The guitar caused quite a stir amongst the players in the audience during the performance. It looks striking too, the colour has turned out just as I'd intended.
My live set wasn't strictly solo. This time, I actually had other musicians to share the stage with, at least for three numbers in the set:
It was a pleasure to work, during the encore section of the live set, with Theo Travis, Dave Sturt and Steve Cook who joined me for three numbers under the alias of 'Orchestra Futura,' (an improvising ensemble of some considerable skill and imagination). We had no rehearsal, just dived in and swam for it. An ocean of sound but strong swimmers all.
Theo played impressive flute and saxophone, treating his flute via a delay-looper. Dave played bass, using an unusual Viger fretless bass guitar with a metal fretboard, going via processors and a lap top. Quite a few people in the audience were intrigued by this instrument, judging by comments made afterwards. Steve played his keyboard, sticking with piano and Fender Rhodes sounds. The entire ensemble had a beautifully fragmented jazz-electronica sound. The feed back on my website about this ensemble has been very encouraging, though, as might be expected, it was seen as a little too left-field for some of the more traditinally minded fans. For me, it was a positive step towards another bright horizon.
I'm rather keen to see where this might lead. A stimulating side-project with potential for both recorded and live music and an opportunity for me to stretch out and enjoy playing unshackled by people's pre-conceptions about the kind of music I'm 'supposed' to make.
None of this should come as much of a surprise to those fans who have been aware of my long-time passion for slightly more esoteric music. There have been plenty of precursors to the Orchestra Futura approach over the last 26 years or more, so it's not as if it's a newly aquired taste on my part. The 1980's saw me virtually abandon anything connected with straight rock music, apart from a few diversions. Works such as 'Sounding The Ritual Echo,' 'Simplex,' 'Trial By Intimacy,' 'Crimsworth,' the two 'Orchestra Arcana' albums, amongst others, explored avenues flanked by a noticably different musical architecture from the old Be Bop Deluxe sonic suburbia.
In more recent years, I've re-introduced some familiar, (to the older fans), elements to the mix. Perhaps the vocal approach has opened out a little and the music has assumed a broader, more general appeal. Even so, I've kept elements from the left-of-centre material and incorporated them into the straighter pieces. Nothing I do is ever quite as straightforward as it might first appear.
I think that, after all these years, it's fair to assume that the average listener has grown less luddite about my music...after all, I'm not exactly known for sticking with the same formula for very long. Even Be Bop Deluxe rang the changes. It's amusing to note that the style of electronica-based music that I adopted in the early 'eighties, a style that seemed somewhat controversial to many Be Bop Deluxe fans back then, has since been absorbed into the mainstream and is now perfectly ordinairy and acceptable, cropping up in everything from tv advertising to movie soundtracks. Minimalism, sampling, digital glitchs, sonically 'distressed' sounds, modal music, drones, poly-rhythmic beats, artificially created timbres and post-modernist, conceptual ideas are just as familiar to the general public as guitars were back in the '60's and '70's. Cheaper technology has made that kind of music even more common, especially now when computer sequencing software has enabled almost anyone to try their hand at it. Not only has yesterday's Abbey Road become every man and his dog's home studio, yesterday's avant-garde has become today's popularist music too. What was once an outsider form has been embraced by the herd.
Of course, there's no reason why all these different 'genres' can't happily co-exist. To the open mind and ear, not only do they already co-exist but they mingle, mix and match also. The barriers have been down for some time and, for those of us who scraped away at them in the first place, the future is a wide open space. If the sound of dragging heels can sometimes still be heard it's probably from those who still locate their listening pleasure in the sphere of adolescent nostalgia. Now, don't misunderstand, I have a tremendous respect and love of the music that I grew up with and it naturally and unconsciously informs and inspires a lot of my contemporary output. Nevertheless, I'm constantly trying to widen my horizons...it's an approach I've nurtured almost from the beginning, a vigorous curiosity, a hunger for more. I'm just not one of those people who stopped listening to music post-Elvis, post-Hendrix, post-Sex Pistols, etc. (or post-Be Bop Deluxe for that matter). Life's too short to impose those kind of limits when there's so much more to get to grips with, explore and enjoy.
But that schoolboy, 'either/or' situation where one has to join one tribe or another, (but never both), that thing of never stepping over the line, of always having to wear the correct uniform, when music becomes a 'my favourite band is better than yours' slanging match, where there's no opportunity for forward movement, where musical taste becomes a closed shop. Well...I don't really go for that.
What causes such a dogmatic, narrow attitude? Fear of the unknown and the security of the familiar? Aesthetic timidity? It's sad how many people live in fear of Art with a capital 'A'. The one thing that might brighten and enliven their lives, more so than religion or politics.
Back to Nelsonica...
There were lots of other things for the audience to enjoy: An onstage interview with myself conducted by Simon Warner, Senior Teaching Fellow at Leeds University's School Of Music, was well received. I've known Simon for quite a few years now and have contributed to his classes at Bretton Hall College in the past. Also given talks with him at Wakefield's Unity Hall. (The latter place filled with memories for me. It was here that I first recall seeing my father play his saxophone with his own band at the silver wedding anniversary ball of Ada and Herman Ackroyd, who were good friends of my parents back in the 1940's and '50's.) Simon's interview this year centred on the topic of songwriting. It was relatively stress-free, perceptive and a real pleasure to take part in.
I also improvised a talk about guitars and guitar playing. I managed to do it without the list of prompts I'd prepared the night before, which, unfortunately, meant I missed some of the topics I'd intended to cover, but I just let it ramble wherever it needed to go and all seemed to work out o.k. in the end.
I can't recall much of what I said now, but I did manage to show everyone a video clip of Joe Pass playing in concert. This seemed to blow a few minds in the audience, particularly those who hadn't previously come across Joe's work. It felt like my younger days, when I'd turn friends on to my latest musical discoveries by lending them albums I'd found.
The hardest part of the convention, or at least the most emotionally testing part, was the little tribute to my brother Ian that I'd arranged. Again, I had not written anything down or reheased a speech...things just happened on the spur of the moment. I tried to talk about the childhood that Ian and I had shared, about how much I missed him, how much I wished I could talk with him. I wasn't particularly articulate, I fear. Afterwards, I realised that there was much more that I'd intended to say about him, but, due to nervousness and an inner struggle not to let my emotions run away with me, I didn't quite manage to include everything I'd hoped to get across to the audience. But at least I managed to say something, which is more than I could manage at Ian's funeral service when words would have been impossible and only tears articulate.
My mother, (and her husband George), and also Ian's two sons, (my nephews), Julian and Louis, were in attendance at the convention. I hope they felt the high regard the audience demonstrated for my much-missed and loved brother. I know he would have been deeply touched by it all.
At Nelsonica, I placed two framed photographs of Ian, (playing his saxophone), on a little table next to me on stage. Emi had made a flower arrangement which was displayed in a vase next to the photo's of Ian and I brought a small Buddha figure from my home studio, with a tea-light illuminated in it, to sit on the table too. It was symbolic of the fact that Ian had planned to share this year's Nelsonica stage with me. We'd discussed it just two weeks before he passed away. There were times during the performance that I felt his prescence.
Ian once was part of a group called 'Fiat Lux', back in the '80's and the band's vocalist and songwriter, Steve Wright, kindly agreed to come along to Nelsonica to talk about his memories of Ian. We also showed some old Fiat Lux videos and played some of Ian's last recordings, (made with his friend and musical partner John Nixon), to the audience. There was a wonderfully warm response from everyone for this.
Later on in the event, I had scheduled two separate 'meet n' greet' sessions of one hour each, where attendees could sit down, have a photograph taken with me by official Nelsonica photographer Martin Bostock, and get their Nelsonica album signed. As always, we'd underestimated how long this would take and the reality was that I ended up having one very long, continuous session of over three hours without a break. It's always nice to meet the people who enjoy my music and I'm always happy to make time to chat with them but, towards the end of this long, long signing session, my brain was less than sharp. (Not helped by a magic wine-glass by my side which, amazingly, always seemed full!) It was a very exhausting experience, not just for me but for the people at the back of the apparently infinite queue. In the end though, I think everyone went home happy, despite the fact that we'd been given less than enough seating arrangements by the venue itself. Most people had been on their feet all day, (as had I), something we must guard against at next year's event.
One new feature of the convention was the presence of the rather lovely 'Nelsonettes,' a group of young ladies decked out in specially made 'Nelsonette' t-shirts. They added a much needed feminine touch to the event as they moved amongst the attendees with camera and microphone, interviewing willing participants for a little souvenir audio-visual piece that we're hoping to assemble soon. Actually, there was a much higher number of females in the audience this year. A good thing in my book. I hope this trend continues!
amongst the attendees with camera and microphone, interviewing willing participants for a little souvenir audio-visual piece that we're hoping to assemble soon. Actually, there was a much higher number of females in the audience this year. A good thing in my book. I hope this trend continues!
One of the sweetest aspects of Nelsonica is the unexpected giving of gifts that some fans bring. They're very generous and thoughtful with their choices too. This year, I was given two extremely special and valuable books, one dealing with Chet Atkins' life and one with Les Paul's. The Les Paul book is a limited edition publication, hand-numbered and signed by Les himself. It's a superbly produced book and, for me, a huge Les Paul fan, it is something that I'll alway treasure. I was also given a book dealing with Jean Cocteau's 'Testament Of Orphee' film, which is my favourite Cocteau movie, 'though not neccesarily, in critics eyes, his best. Cocteau himself 'stars' in it though and it is clearly personal and autobiographical. I find the film very touching.
Other gifts: A vintage style tin robot-spaceman, a copy of Madelline Peyroux's latest album, (excellent by the way), a sailor's Theodolite, (fascinating!), some cds of fans' own musics, a bottle of wine, some photographs of myself at previous year's Nelsonicas, a set of American Hot Rod and Custom Car magazines from the late 1950's and early '60's, (takes me back to my early teens and the model car kit mania I had then), a set of cdr copies of vintage radio shows and interviews with Derek Bailey and Bill Frisell, some video cdrs and even a 'Jesus Soap On A Rope'!!! (And there were more besides.) It felt as if my birthday had arrived two months early.
A really nice touch was when the Nelsonica team presented Emiko with a large bouquet of flowers, (for putting up with me, I suspect!) She was completely taken aback and genuinely touched that the team had thought to do this for her.
After a very long day, we eventually got home in the early hours of Sunday morning, slightly worse for wear but relieved that all had gone reasonably well. Mission accomplished, at least until next year.
On Sunday, I had to be up early to get all my equipment back into the house. My guitar tech, Pete Harwood, who had done a super job of looking after my on (and off) stage guitar needs, brought everything back in a large van. We stacked the guitars and other equipment in the dining room and hall. I wasn't in the mood, (or energetic enough), to deal with the task of carting it upstairs, item by item, and trying to fit it into the limited space I have available for storage. (I made a start at this on the Monday but it was Wednesday morning before absolutely everything was tidied away.)
Paul and Ian Gilby called around 1 pm on the Sunday and we went to a tiny village pub a few miles from where I live for a traditional Sunday roast. It was such a pleasure to be able to relax amongst genial company after the long, stressful build up to the convention. Ian and Paul have been such good friends in recent years and their help and support is something I appreciate very much.
Sitting in the little village pub allowed us time and space that, due to our various workloads, would usually be at such a premium for us. A very pleasant, civilised afternoon.
Time still runs fast however and already more than a week has flown since Nelsonica 06. I've been trying to catch up with various domestic duties that had been pushed to the back of the queue due to Nelsonica's demands, but...I'm still behind.
Thought I might get a proper break but that seems out of the question too. I tried to book a cottage on the end of Whitby's harbour, part of my plan to have a three or four day 'mini-holiday' with Emi. However, the cottage we wanted was fully booked apart from the week around my birthday in December. This actually would have been ideal for me, a terrific birthday present but, unfortunately, Emi has to work during that week as it is one of the flower shops busiest periods, (being Christmas), so we've had to give up on the idea of a break altogether.
Maybe I'll just book an overnight stay, one weekend, at the White Horse and Griffin hotel and restaurant. Better than nothing. I was really looking forward to the view from 'Captain's Cottage' though...it has windows overlooking the harbour, the harbour mouth and the ocean. It would be cold, dark and wild in December but I love Whitby out of season and the winter weather and early nights suits it somehow. So much more atmospheric than summertime when it's crowded with tourists.
A very good documentary on the Artsworld tv channel the other night, dealing with Miles Davis' electric period. It featured several celebrity guest musicians talking about him, as well as interview clips and performances from Miles himself. I was amused when reminded of how some critics and many of Miles' fans reacted negatively to him introducing electronic keyboards and amplified guitars into his music, back in the 'sixties. It caused something of a stir. As did Bob Dylan going from acoustic folk to electric rocker, Joni Mitchell adding jazz elements to her music, etc, etc. (On another level, Be Bop Deluxe to Red Noise, Red Noise to 'Quit Dreaming', and so on. Familiar reactions for me too...but I've come to expect it and shouldn't be too surprised).
The documentary's interviews emphasised one major point: A true artist can't stand still. It was also stated that Miles, and many other creative musicians, are not in the business of being entertainers. It was inspiring and encouraging to hear these attitudes and sentiments, (which I've held since the start of my 'career'), being confirmed by artists whom I deeply respect. I caught this tv programme halfway through but the timing was perfect as I'd just come down from an evening of trying to explain, on the forum of my website, why I can never look backwards for too long. I was feeling a little marginalised for sticking to my ideals and had been suffering some mild despair. The comments from Miles and fellow artists gave me some much needed confidence. At times, there is a sense that one is a small part of a bigger picture and, no matter how meagre, that one's own contribution is both worthwhile and honourable. How I would have loved to have played alongside Miles and other's of that calibre. Perhaps that's an over-ambitious wish, in musical terms. But, hell...I'd have liked to try.
Just finished reading Frank Letchford's biography of Austin Osman Spare which throws light on the more human side of his life. So many of the (very few) books about AOS focus on his esoteric magical theories. It was good to read, in Mr. Letchford's 'Michaelangelo In A Teacup' book about the sensitive and preceptive character behind the magical image. Frank Letchford was a long time friend of Austin's and has written very much from that priveleged perspective. Another book about Spare waiting on top of my bedside pile. So many books to read.
My scanner has broken down. First it kept quitting on me and now it's packed in altogether. It's not even switching on...completely inactive. I need it for album sleeve artwork and for website/diary images.
I went to buy a new one but they all seem to require much more recent Mac operating systems than the one I use. I could, of course, install a newer OS but then my other software programmes wouldn't work. And I need my Final Cut Pro for the development of the 'Ghosts Etched On Glass' film. It's a love and hate relationship, computers and me.
What I REALLY need is a NEW computer, even though mine is only 6 years old. The new Mac pro dual core G5 tower would be like a breath of fresh air. My current G4 is ancient in computer terms. What a game this computer lark is.
Autumn now has a firmer grip. Red and gold and brown, 'though there's still more green on the trees than is usual for this time of year. Not particularly cold either. Lots of Canada geese wheeling over the river in town today, great screeching circles of them. A girl lifted her tourist map over her head in self-protection, frightened of being dumped on.
Had one of my apocalyptic dreams last night. Extremely realistic. High tech Eurofighter style planes with the ability to hover flying low and slow over English villages pumping hot lead and rockets into crowds of running, screaming people. A rain of metal and fire. I was there, trying to dodge the deadly hail. Got hit though.
Who were these people, glimpsed through jet plane canopies, crystal clear, strange insignia on their craft? The machinery was awesome in it's efficient beauty, bright light glinting from metal surfaces. Designer fighter aircraft, their pilots tricked out like military fashion plates, but merciless, trigger happy, ruthless. Why did I dream such a thing and why was it sharper and more vivid than my usual dreams? I've had far too many disturbing dreams of late.
I'm thinking of buying myself a new bicycle, my old one being a bit heavy, a bone-shaker. I could do with something lighter and more comfortable that would encourage me to get out of the studio more and take a little gentle exercise. Saw a nice one in a shop called 'Cycle Heaven' the other day. Like most things that catch my eye, it was expensive. I'll search around for something more sensible.
Actually, one of those 'electrically assisted' ones might be fun. Or a French Velo-Solex with the little petrol engine over the front wheel. I can just see me, putt-putt-putting along, from the village into town, dressed in my American newsboy's cap and steam engine driver's jacket, autumn leaves flying behind me. The neighbours would have a field day!
And now what? My 'to do' list is far from empty. Lots to tackle in the ensuing months. Difficult to know where best to start. Some much needed household repairs first though. Try to leave the guitars in their cases for a little while. Or am I asking too much of myself there?
Enough diary for now. I'm getting cabin-fever. Time for a stroll around town.
Tuesday 31st October 2006 -- 10:00 pm
I'm in a kind of limbo, a place when I've got plenty to do but little energy to do it. I feel as if I'd benefit from a week's holiday in Villefranche-Sur-Mer, strolling through the lamplit tunnel of Rue Obscura, or sitting in a seafood restaurant on the salty dog harbourside, taking a sneaky peek at the French girls' shapely legs whilst winking the tinest hint of a twinkling eye, a salacious old Riviera goat, living the poet's life.
I've made a start on the 8 X 8 inch canvas artwork that I'm trying to create for the 'Stars On Canvas' celebrity charity auction being held in Brighton in November, but I've thrown two half-completed canvases in the bin so far. I'm rushing it instead of considering what I really want to do. I've also wasted time trying to use oil pastels on a roughly textured and small canvas. Far too blunt an instrument.
Despite this, I have managed to complete a very simple piece, almost minimalistic, using just a brush, black ink and the merest hint of colour. It's not really a painting as such, just a drawing executed on canvas. But it's not bad. It will be my failsafe if I don't come up with something better in time for the rapidly approaching November 10th exhibition date. I went out and bought four more blank canvases this afternoon though. So, even if nothing better comes down God's pipe, I can at least pursuade myself that I've tried.
Attended a memorial service in Wakefield for my brother Ian this last Sunday. It was an emotional affair, fuelled even more by certain aspects of the religious ceremony. Perhaps that was the purpose of it...a deliberate and cathartic prodding of wounds. Although the vicar and his begowned acolytes were plainly sincere in their beliefs, I still couldn't help thinking that there was a frightening lack of light beneath all the ritual. Plenty of smoke and mirrors, though. I just instinctively felt that there was a catastrophic misunderstanding of what was really required in such a situation. There was some talk of healing, there was talk of solace, but also the usual evocation of the tortured and meat-racked Christ, the cannibalistic body and blood feast, a darkly guilty and sin-soaked ecstasy of gothic remorse. Not much sunshine or true celebration of Ian's life as it was actually lived. There was one aspect of the service though, that came closer to being universally appropriate to the situation and our love for Ian, and that was the lighting of a candle with his name on it, which we, as a family, were allowed to physically, directly deal with ourselves, with only minor assistance from the church 'staff.'
I guess the problem, for me at least, is that Christianity is shackled by the Bible and the history of the Church itself. It also makes me feel mean and churlish when I inevitably pick the fabric of faith apart, especially when so many good hearted people seem to gain something helpful from their involvement with orthodox religion but...It seems to me that much of religious thought and dogma is out of step with the true 'spirit' of the human condition. I know it is out of step with my own spiritual experience and I also know that my brother Ian had little time for religion in any form. He was a 'live-life-to-the-full' and 'damn the torpedoes' sort of chap. Any kind of religious or spiritual debate became an easy target for his scorn. Having said that, I do feel that he would have appreciated SOME sort of meaningful gesture, some declaration of love towards him from those of us left behind. He would also have returned the gesture with equal love. It was with that in mind that we, Ian's family and loved ones, gathered together at last Sunday's memorial service. I think he would have appreciated the lighting of the candle too.
My mother, Ian's wife Diane, Ian's children, Emi and I and some close friends of Ian's all shed a good few tears in the more difficult moments of the service. The still unsettled grief, the emotional rawness, did somehow glue us together. I wish that I could spend more time with what remains of my family but I always seem to be caught up in a desperate, headlong rush to maintain what passes for my day-to-day existence. The curse of modern living? This fearful sense of time running out dissolves even the best of intentions.
Before the service, Emi and I had taken fresh flowers to Ian's grave. The beautiful spring blossoms that filled the avenue of trees near his grave not long after he was laid to rest have now given way to equally beautiful russet and gold autumn leaves. How quickly time has flown.
Ian's headstone is being carved at the moment and should be in place by Christmas. It will be in light gray Indian marble with silver text. For now though, only the framework that held the flowers spelling out the word 'DAD' and a couple of rain soaked cards mark Ian's resting place. And three glass vases pressed into the soil, filled with flowers. Emi and I left just pure white ones this time.
Ian's mother-in-law, who passed away only a few weeks after Ian, lies at peace in the plot just behind Ian's. Her headstone will be erected there soon also. It is being carved by the same person who is creating Ian's.
I've probably mentioned Wakefield Cemetary before in this diary, how, in the early 1950's, I used to visit it on Saturday mornings as a child with my mother and grandmother to place flowers on my great grandfather's grave, his location now long lost to me. How also, I used to visit the cemetary during my art school years in the 1960's, sometimes to sketch or photograph stone angels, sometimes just to wander amongst the Victorian graves and memorials, marvelling at the names and lives of souls who I never knew but, nevertheless felt some strange kinship with. An impossible nostalgia born of shared mortality perhaps? There was always an immense, overwhelming sadness in the air, but an aching, tender beauty too. It was a place where people had been left behind, waylaid, abandoned by time and the world, yet freed from its ravages, despite the inevitable sense of decay.
Those perpetual Victorians, eternal miners, frozen in time mill workers, industrialists, authors, artists, doctors and clergy, etc, etc...Forever framed by and fixed in ancient Yorkshire landscapes of gaslamps, smoke and chimneys, cobblestones, dusty sash-windows, slate roofs and rainy, hooting, whistling railway sidings...Each and every gravestone marking an individual life filled with its own personal joys and sorrows, (and its own UNIVERSAL joys and sorrows!) For some strange reason, I felt more compassion, more connectedness with these distant, imagined lives than with flesh and blood passing strangers on the street. Perhaps, because death robs us of our insecurities, anger and greed, there is nothing to fear from the dead, only the living. Ghosts are our mortal fears made manifest.
After the memorial service at the church, Emi and I drove my Mum and her husband George up to the 'Kings Arms' pub on Heath Common, just on the edge of Wakefield. It's an old haunt of mine from my 'sixties art school days and also the early 'seventies. It also holds some memories of Ian for me, (though not as many as the pub he and I used to meet up for lunch at when he worked at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in the '90's.) It was here too that the Nelson family came after Ian's funeral service and reception last April.
'The Kings Arms' and Heath Common itself form part of my own history. The food may be uninspiring but the atmosphere is special. Mum, George, Emi and I decided have a meal there, nothing too fancy as George isn't a fancy eater, preferring what he refers to as 'traditional' food. Not that there was anything that he would have considered exotic on the menu anyway. So it was meat pie and veg for him and Mum and fish n' chips for Emi and I. George did let me buy him a pint of lager though.
The Kings Arms ancient atmosphere soothed and charmed us. It is still lit by gaslight, a soft flickering amber-tinted glow. The pub has several small, nook-and-cranny wood panelled rooms, all crooked and tobacco stained and stone flagged. A PROPER pub and authentically old. Outside, the common stretched away in the clocks-just-changed darkness, the village of Heath quiet in the autumnal Sunday night air, a few lights visible from distant stone cottages. If I were ever to return to Wakefield to live, this would probably be my ideal location. But I can't see me returning for anything other than to visit family or to take flowers to Ian.
Car touble last week...Emi's car needed repairs. Costly but unavoidable. Fixed now but we need to seriously think about changing both our vehicles. Milage too high and trade in value too low, but that's the way it goes with cars. TV broken in the living room too, has been for months now. And I still haven't called a repair man.
Communicated with Matt Howarth about our ever ongoing collaboration: 'The Last Of The Neon Cynics.' Matt is looking for some more music from me. I got a disc from him with a full colour version of the story on it...looks great.
Too tired to write more now. I spend far too much time on website matters. It's surprising how much mail I get from fans and how often I feel compelled to respond to topics on the Dreamsville Forum. It does occupy a great deal of my time. Perhaps its just part of that impulse to leave footprints in the sand.
Melancholia setting in. Time to go downstairs and watch tv.