William's Study (Diary Of A Hyperdreamer)
Tuesday 9th October 2007 -- 8:20 pm
Since my previous diary entry, I've been working solidly towards the 2007 Nelsonica fan convention which is scheduled for the 27th of this month. By 'solidly' I really mean ' flat out.'
It feels as if I've spent the entire year locked into a punishing schedule with hardly a moment to catch breath, one project after another. Time, as so often noted in this diary, has become an elastic, ill-defined thing. It seems to flow in two directions at once and I end up feeling somehow outside of it and yet a slave to it. Inevitable when much of the work I do is done alone, I suppose.
Being cocooned in my studio for almost the entire year has an adverse effect on my health. Lack of fresh air, little or no exercise, comfort eating, etc, all take their toll in one way or another.
Hours on end surrounded by the electro-magnetic fields of my recording, video and computer equipment doesn't help much either. Current scientific research seems to indicate that electro-magnetic radiation, caused by close and long exposure to any technology involving electrical energy can cause all manner of unpleasant side-effects. I read an article about it and could tick several of the boxes in this respect.
Apparently, you can now buy special devices to plug in and counteract 'EMR.' I'm not sure whether such a gadget is much more than a scam though, a wide-open market opportunity.
Nevertheless, the negative effects of working constantly in close proximity to a great deal of electrical gear is something I can personally testify to. I have walls of electronic equipment on three sides of me and all within arm's reach.
Anyway, despite being exhausted, some sort of forward momentum has to be maintained. There is still a long list of things to pull out of the hat. All manner of magic rabbits.
Today was spent over at Fairview Studios, assembling and mastering the backing tracks for the live concert aspect of Nelsonica. My friend and engineering maestro John Spence helping with this as usual. At least that side of things is finally ready, barring the much needed rehearsal. (A rehearsal room has been booked for me on the 25th.) I also need to schedule a rehearsal with keyboard player Steve Cook who will be joining me on stage for some of the pieces.
This year's live performance will last around two hours, split into two sections with a 20 to 30 minute interval. I've given the concert the title: 'Teatime In The Republic Of Dreams.'
I'd originally planned to play for no more than one hour but once I began to assemble draft set lists of possible material, I realised that the show would have to be much longer, mainly because I wanted to include a few of the brand new pieces that I'd originally hoped to play at the concert with Harold Budd. (Which was, unfortunately, the victim of unforseen circumstances.)
I've spent just over a week trying out different combinations of music for the Nelsonica concert, changing my mind about its content on a daily basis. After much agonising and re-jigging I finally arrived at what I think is the definitive set list for this year's event. There's certainly no time left to tweak it further so I decided to commit it to the mastering process and booked the session at Fairview to copy everything across and master it, integrating the sound of the newer pieces into the overall audio spectrum.
The set will contain 21 pieces of music in all: a few older ones, some very recent ones and some brand-new, previously unheard ones.
The set also includes a new version of a 'vintage' composition of mine, stretched out to almost 14 minutes long, plus another surprise or two. I won't give too much away in this diary as it would spoil the audience's anticipation. I CAN reveal that some of the pieces I'll be performing on the 27th come from the soon-to-be-released 'And We Fell Into A Dream' album, some from the limited edition Nelsonica album, ('Secret Club For Members Only'). Other's go back a fair way. (Three are 17 years old. One is a LOT older.) But, all in all, I think it will prove to be an interesting and satisfying selection.
There's still so much to prepare though and I'm trying to squeeze as many hours into my day as possible. I've now made a start on the artwork that I need to provide for the auction but I've discarded more than I've kept. I really have to be in the right mood to make drawings and that mood has been eluding me. Tiredness I suspect. Music, for whatever reason, presents less of a problem in that I generally feel inspired on a daily basis to write and record, regardless of exterior pressures. But it looks as if the artwork will be a last-minute addition. No doubt I'll get there in the end. Maybe I should be dealing with that instead of writing this diary.
I've also been working on video material for the new pieces I'm to play at Nelsonica...I've completed backdrop video for 'The Raindrop Collector,' 'Teatime In The Republic Of Dreams,' (the video for which allows a glimpse into the clutter and chaos of my home studio,) and 'Night Song Of The Last Tram.'
I now have such a massive accumulation of music that I can perform live (in the solo-artist/one man band context), that it's becoming increasingly complicated and time-consuming to selectappropriate material for the occasional concerts I give. So many possibilities and combinations. It's impossible to include ALL the pieces I enjoy playing so some titles have to be sacrificed in favour of other ones. I can't judge a running order until I've made a test-assembly and tried playing through it, which is why it takes so long to finalise. Invariably, I'll copy up several set-list variations to cdr, here at home, before settling on the final one. All this is done in real time and a lot of searching through my performance archives is required before I begin to copy individual tracks across to the draft set-list CD.
I always try to choose the music according to each concert's individual concept and atmosphere and attempt to ignore the obvious crowd-pleasers, instead going for thematic development according to my perception of the event's mood. Sometimes, locating that mood can be almost as difficult as interpreting it.
There's a sense of panic I experience, a panic that increases in intensity until the final set list is unveiled. Then a moment's grace before the panic returns with even greater ferocity when I realise that, (because of the rarity of my live performances these days,) I'm unfamiliar with much of the material. And, worse still, that I have little time available to remedy this problem.
Time-constraints mean that certain things are always left to the last moment: a flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, wing-and-a-prayer, jump into the deep end, tightrope walk without a safety net situation. It's all down to luck and sleight of hand. I'm probably as unscientific a performer as anyone could wish for. It's a wonder that my fingers can form a single chord, so many of them are crossed. But, superstitious or not, it's magic I'm after. Not so much a musician, more like a conjuror who dreams of being a sorcerer.
I was telling John Spence today how much I worry about standing up in front of an audience, how nervous and stressed-out I get. More and more these days, I find myself thinking that, if I could get away with it, I'd probably retire from live concerts altogether and just work in my studio. THAT'S where I'm most at home, painting with sound rather than performing the music in front of an audience. The stage has become an increasingly akward and uneasy environment for me. I have little confidence in my ability to entertain and have to fight hard to enter the performer's mind-set.
It wasn't always so. In the past I had the shield of youthful ignorance and naive bravado, believing myself invincible and marvellous. Life eventually teaches us that it's otherwise. Perhaps this loss of certainty is why we should continue to create, to attempt to communicate and perform. To transcend our personal limitations.
Incredibly, despite the years of wear and tear, (or because of them), many of us discover that, at this late stage of our lives, we actually have something of real depth to share with our audience, something hard-won and meaningful. The emphasis shifts from the reckless energy of youth to the compassionate warmth and wisdom of maturity. Worth sharing, I think.
I sometimes wonder though, whether 'rock' music audiences in general are prepared to have us share our maturity with them, rock music being increasingly predisposed to the realm of the teenager. So many people seem to regard music as little more than a disposable distraction, rather than as a life-affirming, illuminating and spiritual, (for want of a better word,) exchange.
Performing live is always a two-way process but the gulf between artist and audience can sometimes be vast. Expectations, presumptions, demands and so on can weigh heavily on both sides of the footlights. It's a very odd relationship, sometimes.
Entertainers, on the other hand, seem better equipped to deal with such things. The best of them are born to it. 'Artists' (as opposed to 'artistes'), are often crippled by insecurity, too anxious about the next step, too wrapped up in their own dark and private worlds to step into the bright theatre of other people's expectations. Secretive, furtive, full of fear and trepidation. Just too hung up?
At least, that's my experience. No need to speculate about alternative universes, some of us have been cast adrift in them for what feels like an eternity. And music acts as both our distress signal and our life-raft.
The entertainer seeks and gets instant gratification but there's an inevitable time-lag, an eternal disappointment that accompanies almost every public flickering of the true artist's latest flame. Then, year's later, some long-rusted lever is freed and thrown and a light goes on in minds that were previously dark or indifferent. How often does recognition come long, long after the event? So often that it's become a cliche?
Again, this is how I see it though it may not be the experience of others. But there's no doubt that it does take a while for some things to blossom. I could list several pertinent examples from my own career. (But, graciously, won't.)
Why there should be such a time-lag, I have no idea. I always presume that my audience is perfectly in step with me, intuitively making the same connections, crossing the same bridges over the same rivers. And, of course, a great many of them ARE doing just that, willing me on, holding my hand, encouraging me to keep up the pace, dragging me along behind them even.
But, some pennies seem to take years to drop. My hat, laid forlornly on the pavement, has a few coppers but precious little silver and virtually no gold in it. Maybe it will arrive too late, maybe never. It's not that important really, is it? Still, I wouldn't have it any other way. There's something here beyond the value of coins. Whatever it is, I'm searching for it still.
I've finished the decoration of this year's 'work box.' I think it's o.k. I've yet to decide upon, and prepare its contents though. I made the first work box last year and it was a much sought after item at the 06 convention. I plan to do one per year. Hopefully, it will be one of the highlights of this year's auction.
I've still to prepare the illustrated material for the talk I'm to give about the history of my Gibson 345 stereo guitar. This instrument has accompanied my life from teenager to soon-to-be senior citizen. Like myself, it has been 'through the wars' somewhat. I'm hoping that my presentation of its story at Nelsonica will prove interesting to players and non-musicians alike. For a thing of wood and metal, its story is a remarkably human one.
The fan convention album, 'Secret Club For Members Only' has been made ready and will be given to every convention attendee as part of their welcome pack when they register at the door of Nelsonica on the 27th. This welcome pack is another new addition to the events and will, I suspect, prove to be a collectable little item in itself.
My new 'proper' album, 'And We Fell Into A Dream' is also ready and will be offered for sale for the first time at Nelsonica. It will be officially available to the wider public via the Dreamsville/Sound-On-Sound site the following week after the convention.
There are other albums in the pipeline too although my dream of releasing them all in time for Christmas may be unrealistic due to the manufacturing pressures around that time of year. However, at some point in the not-too-distant-future, there will be the 'Picture Post' album of the soundtrack music I created for the 'American Stamps' documentary film plus the re-structured 'Frankie Ukelele And The Fire In The Lake' album.
There may also be a double album, currently titled 'The Evening Illuminator', (or maybe just 'Evening's Illuminator'), which will contain 'The Enlightenment Engine' and some other similarly minimalist, abstract pieces. (I'm hoping to include accompanying video material with this project, encoded onto the actual CDs.)
Next year will be equally as busy as this one, probably more so: I'm planning to release a selection of previously unheard archive material and some re-issues of out-of-print albums...plus a new complilation album, (possibly a double), as part of my 60th Birthday celebrations. Lots of work involved in the preparation of these, choosing the material, sequencing it, coming up with appropriate packaging art and so on.
And, if all goes well, a brand new vocal album too. I'd like the latter to take priority but it all depends on the schedule and time available to me. Nelsonica itself will be adapting to the 60th birthday thing and there may even be a couple of live concerts to tie-in to the celebration, should time and budget allow.
One further album project I'm hoping to get underway next year is the composition and recording of a pure orchestral album. This would be several steps on from some of the ideas incorporated on my 'Sailor Bill' album, but it would have no vocals and no guitar. It would be a totally 'symphonic' sound, though not deliberately neo-classical or 'ambient'. Just a modern, 'through-composed' piece drawn from all the musical treasures I've been exposed to throughout my life and which are buried in my subconcious. I want it to be a timeless and emotive work, something of real maturity. It may well be that this won't see the light of day for another year or two. Or maybe, once it is begun, it will capture my imagination so powerfully that I'll decide to work on it to the exclusion of all else and release it to coincide with my 60th birthday. Now that would be nice.
Social life has been meagre, to say the least. I managed to escape my studio for Emiko's birthday last week, ('though I almost forgot it, so distracted was I by Nelsonica preparations.) We went out for a meal together to a new restaurant called 'Indochine' which specialises in south-east asian cuisine. They feature Japanese, Thai, Chinese and Korean food, amongst other oriental specialities. I had a very nice seafood Udon and Emi enjoyed an Unagi Bento. No doubt it will become one of our local favourite places to eat.
I'm looking forward to taking a break in Paris in November, 'though I've yet to find time to sort out a hotel for us...or transportation. We would like to go by train and the new Eurostar station should be open by then. I haven't visited Paris since the early 'eighties but it's a city I very much love. It will be the first time that Emi and I have been there together. a romantic and relaxing few days, I hope.
Until then, I must keep my foot on the accelerator. Nelsonica almost here now.
Friday 19th October 2007 -- 9:00 pm
Nelsonica now only ONE week away. I've completed more artwork and Jon Wallinger has collected it from me today. Another four drawings. This is the cut-off point in artwork terms as I now need to concentrate on the music preparation for the two hour performance I'm to give.
I've selected six possible pieces for Steve Cook to play with me. They've been burned to CDr and posted to Steve so that he can audition them and choose as many or as few as he feels comfortable with.
There are some equipment issues to deal with. I called Music Ground in Leeds today to make arrangements with their guitar tech/repair man, (Gordon), to adjust two of my guitars. I need to bring the action down on my Nelsonic Transitone and my Eastwood Saturn 63. Guitar necks tend to shift a little over time, particularly when they're only taken out of their cases when needed for recording or live performance. As the latter is a rare occurence these days, and the former has taken a back seat for the last few weeks due to the preparation of video and other projected images for Nelsonica, a little tweaking of my truss rods is needed. (Sounds like a hernia!)
Whether I can play them, once adjusted, is another matter. I've accidentally sliced open the index finger of my left hand whilst framing a piece of the above mentioned artwork. It's now bandaged and I'm unable to play guitar. Not a good thing when I'm about to start some kind of rehearsal schedule. Hope it's healed enough to play at the convention, if nothing else.
There's a lot of material for me to familiarise myself with, some of it brand new, as noted in my previous diary entry.
There are two distinct approches to this problem. One is to spend every waking moment between now and next Saturday running through it until it's second nature. The other approach is to just skim across it lightly, hoping that it will leave a faint tint of colour on the blank screen of memory and that there will be enough of a residue to invisibly guide me on the day, (regardless of the all too visible panic my audience will no doubt observe.) The latter method has the debatable advantage of imparting an 'edge' to the performance, a tightrope act without a safety net. Time being what it is, I'll probably have no choice in the matter. It will be the latter casual, (read 'hopelessly unprepared'), approach. It's worked before...sort of.
I completed another video backdrop piece earlier this week and have now delivered all the video material to Paul who will fulfill the role of Nelsonica's projectionist next Saturday.
My hope, with all these recent Nelsonicas, is to help shape them into a complete sensory experience. They reach beyond the limits of a fan gathering and aspire to something more satisfying and unique. That they've blossomed so much over the last few years is testament to the dedication and imagination of the Nelsonica team, a group of generous and hard working fans who, between them, have carefully expanded the event's potential.
The team members have become highly adept at preparing the details of Nelsonica over the last few years. Their energy, enthusiasm and imagination seems boundless as my attempts to keep up with them sinks under the weight of the year's work. They are, of course, much younger than me, so perhaps I can be forgiven for appearing exhausted by comparison...But I couldn't wish for a nicer, more genuine and caring group of people to look after the foundations of the convention for me. They're family now.
The core of the day still provides the opportunity for fans from both the UK and abroad to meet each other in harmonious and pleasant surroundings. This year there are more American attendees than ever and also several UK 'first timers.' But there's much more to Nelsonica than this. The new venue will, I think, be the best yet. It feels like the perfect space for what the team and myself have in store. All we need now is a little good luck and lots of good will and everyone attending should depart with happy memories of a day spent amongst excellent friends.
Other topics now:
Whilst sorting through photographs to scan for my Gibson guitar talk, I came across some photo's I took only a couple or three years back. They were of places in Wakefield from my past. I'd returned there to capture some of the sites that were important to me as a youngster. Since then, a more recent visit has showed that several of these places have already been demolished or changed out of all recognition. Apparently there are big plans for Wakefield, plans to 'regenerate' the city.
From what has been published, apart from the proposed Barbara Hepworth Gallery, these regenerations seem consistent with the nation's current (and far too commonplace), shopping mall approach to 'modernisation.' Just more of the usual, uniform, corporate halls of consumersism that can be found in any British city. Nothing unique or distinctive.
One of these malls is set to be built on the site of Wakefield's old bus station, an edifice that was demolished a few years ago. Perhaps some may not have fully appreciated its merits, but at least it had something recognisably architectural about it. It had character and a distinctiveness that is now so often anhililated by our contemporary urban planners. Unsurprisingly, it's not architecture or art that secures these bland palaces of plenty in our less than major cities, but hard cash under the table.
Pointless to moan. Wakefield has long suffered from the indifference of councillors grown fat on quiet corruption. I used to work for the West Riding County Council and saw these attitudes first hand. If they'd shown as much anger about the erosion of the city's history as they did about the 'outrage' of me wearing a pink satin tie to the office, there may have been a few more buildings preserved for future generations to enjoy.
I weep for what they've done to the place. Even the County Supplies Building where I worked, (and where my father and uncle once worked before me too,) was a pile of undistinguished rubble when I last visited. A kind of triumph, in some ways. A tradgedy of the heart for me, nevertheless. But then, I'm an unredeemable sentimentalist, as readers of this diary are perfectly aware.
Despite the insane rush to prepare Nelsonica for its attendees, I've finally managed to organise a few days break in November for Emiko and myself. We're travelling to Paris by Eurostar, and from the newly refurbished St. Pancras Station too, during its first week of operation. I'll be thinking about John Betjeman when we board the train. He loved St. Pancras and presented a very good television documentary about its history and design, many years ago.
I've just tonight secured a hotel for us in the St Germain area of Paris and I'm finally allowing myself an atom or two of anticipation. It's many long years since I was last there, 'though Emi and I managed an all too brief holiday on the Cote D'Azur several years ago.
I really wish I could afford to park my work for twelve months and travel through Europe with Emi. We have a wonderful rapport with regard to architecture and art. I've never enjoyed such an intimate and relaxed understanding in previous relationships. We take in sights and sounds as one, swooning over the same beautiful things. I'm very lucky to have found her at such a relatively late juncture in my life. She's quietly given me the calm confidence to be absolutely myself without fear of being viewed by others as odd or strange. It's a wonderfully subtle and, (dare I say it), sophisticated understanding we share, perhaps invisible to the outside world but close, warm and tangible to the two of us. We're soul mates, in the proper sense of the phrase.
And with that small fire blazing in my heart, I'll close this diary entry until the next one. Which will probably serve to report the roller-coaster ride that is Nelsonica. Back to preparing the music now.
The images posted with this diary are as follows:-
1: Dreamsville advert. Photography by Bill Nelson.
2: Dreamsville advert with one of Bill's Gretsch guitars. Photography by Bill Nelson.
3: Photo of Bill Nelson with Guild X 500 guitar. Taken approx 14 years ago.
4: Photo of Bill's father's garage, (second from right), which Bill helped him build in the 1950's. This photo taken by Bill approx four years ago. The garage has since been demolished.
5: A photo of Conistone Crescent, Eastmoor, Wakefield, taken by Bill approximately four years ago. Bill lived here in the house to the left of the photo, (behind telephone pole), from around 3 or four years old until his early teens.
6: Anderson Street, Plumpton, Wakefield. The end terrace house, (no. 27), was the first home that Bill himself owned. He lived here with his first wife Shirley and his daughter Julia and it was here that he wrote the music for 'Northern Dream,' 'Axe Victim' and 'Futurama.'