Sunday 25th September 2005 -- 9:00 pm
I've begun to look at the calendar with the same feeling of horror I get when looking in the mirror. It's scary and something I'd rather avoid dealing with... but no choice. Time is of the essence and deadlines are looming in all directions.
The mastering session for the two new albums is set for the 29th. This coming Thursday. No more changes to the recordings are permitted now so things have to stay as they are. Nor am I allowed to change the running order of the songs as I've given my erstwhile art and design assistant, Dave Graham, the go ahead to typeset the text for both projects. In fact, we're close to having the packaging art finished although I've just now sent Dave more images for possible inclusion; photographs I took at Whitby and Robin Hood's Bay earlier today. I made the trip specifically to gather photographic images and camcorder footage. I'm supposed to have video projection material ready for the November tour dates too but, at this moment, there's neither tour material, nor tour concept, to work with. I've simply not had enough time, what with everything else I've had to do these last twelve months.
I think one of the problems is that everything seems to become focussed on a single point of time in the year, (i.e. autumn). There's the fan convention with it's now obligatory album, visual work and live performance, plus the tour schedule and it's equally obligatory new album and staging. But, it's not just that... Alongside these major projects are other tasks, some associated, some completely separate. Many of these seem to occur at the back end of the year also. Naturally, it all ends up being a sort of juggling act, a crazy attempt to keep various balls in the air at once. But, I shouldn't really blame anyone but myself. I guess I'm the sort of girl who can't say no. Hope I'm not in a terrible mess. I just feel drained and empty at the moment.
Some information has been missing from this diary of late due to writing it in a rush, particularly when other things have been on my mind. In some ways, the music making part of my life should be the easiest. Why should I complain about workloads? It's a privilege, a sort of 'calling', a natural by product of my being. It's unavoidable, automatic, self-evident. It's essence.
On the other hand... it's dangerously unhealthy, sometimes questionably unhinged and, whichever way you look at it, time consumingly hard work. For anyone else to understand just how hard, they'd need to be with me throughout an entire year, spending the same time as myself (in this tiny room that I'm audacious enough to refer to as my 'studio'), working constantly without reference to real time or real life, being totally immersed in the creation of something that begins with blind faith and usually ends up with what I can only describe as either self-doubt or godless despair. The former is preferable to the latter but neither are much fun. I wonder how many people would continue to put up with it, the boredom , the insecurity, the selfishness, the obsessive and remorseless attempt to elevate a meagre musical ability beyond its sorry limitations? (And why the hell do I do it?) How quickly would the fun wear off, the glamour be exposed for what it really is? A few months, or, as in my case, more than thirty years?
And yet, despite all this angst-ridden, pathetic, mock dramatic chest beating, I still can't give it up. Sometimes I'm actually disgusted by the hold this thing has over me, how weak I've become in its grasp. Too eager to swoon, that's me. Too desperately in need of love from strangers... But, oh, how wonderful to be given the chance to try, to be given the gift of creating music from such dreamy weakness. What a stunningly beautiful two-edged sword I've been handed! Praise the lord and load the water pistols.
You know, sometimes dealing with words is almost as much fun as making sounds. Almost. Everything is drama and our lives vain fictions that rarely advance beyond a short run at some local theatre. But, during the brief time that the footlights burn, we play the part to the hilt, believing every red velvet moment, playing it as if our lives depended on it. Which, perhaps, they do. Gilded fictions, beautiful illusions, fables made real by our sheer desperation.
So what activities of mine have I forgotten to include in the last episode or two of this diary? Well... I omitted to mention my quite probably broken foot. It happened like this: A couple of weeks ago, I was reminded that, earlier in the year, I'd accepted an invitation to officially open a new recording studio at the College of West Anglia in Kings Lynn. The opening was scheduled for September 15th. At the time of accepting, I'd no idea that September would see me pushing things to the limit in terms of project completion. When I received the reminder about the opening, at the start of September, I realised that it had completely slipped my mind. However, determined not to let anyone down, I made plans to travel down to Kings Lynn to do the honours and to talk to the students.
The night before the journey, I was dashing around the house trying to prepare clothes for the trip. I hadn't got my house slippers on and clumsily hit my right foot on the edge of either a door or a bookcase nearby, my toes taking the brunt of the blow. Instant pain but I thought it would fade after a few minutes. It didn't. That night, sleeping was difficult. The slightest contact of the bed sheets with my toes brought on more pain which kept me awake. The next morning I was a wreck, limping about the place and grimacing. My toes and foot were black and blue, badly bruised and it felt as if a couple of them might have been cracked or broken. For a moment, I considered calling Jon Lawrence (the tutor who had asked me to open the new studio), to beg off the engagement but I felt that this would not be a good thing. So I decided to go ahead as planned. Getting a shoe onto the injured foot was another problem. I had to force myself through the pain barrier but, once my foot was in there, I grabbed a walking stick from my collection and set off for the station by cab. Luckily, Emiko had taken time off from work to accompany me so she was able to support my injury, spiritually if not physically.
It was a long journey from Yorkshire to Kings Lynn, involving a change of train at Peterborough and then again at Ely. It rained all day as we sat on station platforms awaiting our connections, gazing out at the grey skies. I felt like an old, old man, limping around, clinging on to my walking stick. I was also embarrassed to have to explain to the college staff why I appeared so decrepit. A stupid injury. Nevertheless, I managed to get through the event which involved an interview with local media, the opening ceremony itself and a question and answer session with the students.
The tutors and staff were all very kind to me and I was glad that I'd made the effort to get there, despite the physical difficulty. Jon kindly gave us a lift to the station where we waited fifty minutes for the train before making the long trip back home. More long waits for connections at other stations required medicinal administrations of wine from platform bars to ease the pain. By the time I got home, I was pleasantly inebriated.
Now, over a week later, the foot is looking much better although still bruised in some places and my little toe continues to be uncomfortable, particularly when walking. But on the mend.
Last Friday brought me another invitation. This time to travel to Liverpool where Gretsch guitars were holding a promotional roadshow event. The show was at the Cavern Club, appropriate considering the late George Harrison's endorsement of Gretsch guitars. Fans of my own music will already be aware of my passion for Gretsch instruments and will have seen them grace the stage of my concerts over the last few years.
Once again, Emi accompanied me on the train journey to Liverpool, another unusually long trip, especially considering the distance. Not a high speed intercity train though, just a sprinter type that stopped at many stations en route. We were met at Liverpool station by Fender/Gretsch artist relations whizz Hoda Armani, a lovely man who did his utmost to make us feel comfortable and welcome. After treating us to dinner, we were taken to the Cavern Club where a very tempting array of Gretsch guitars glittered from the stage, including the new 'Billy-Bo' model, an adaptation of Bo-Diddley's unique custom built Gretsch Jupiter Thunderbird guitar that Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top has helped Gretsch to adapt from Bo's original design. As I said... tempting, very tempting!
I was introduced to Gretsch's current main man, Mr. Mike Lewis who was going to give the audience gathered at the Cavern a talk about the history of Gretsch guitars. Not only did Mike do this in an entertaining and informative manner but he 'illustrated' his talk by playing guitar instrumentals to backing tapes, in a similar fashion to the way I do at my solo concerts. Not only was Mike knowledgeable about Gretsch guitar history, he could play the hell out of them as well. He opened with a wonderfully affectionate instrumental version of The Beatles 'Please, Please Me', but finished his talk by playing one of my all time favourite instrumentals, Santo and Johnny's 'Sleepwalk'. Mike has an adult understanding of the roots of rock guitar and his playing was direct and soulful and I sat there with a big smile on my face. He even played some Duane Eddy, Chet Atkins and Eddie Cochran licks so it was worth the trip just to hear him perform, as much as to see all those juicy guitars. I wanted to stay longer, pick up some instruments to try out, talk to people more, but the trains back to Yorkshire were a somewhat inhospitable. We were left with two alternatives, catch the 9:30, change at Manchester and arrive home just after midnight, or catch the 10:30 and get home around a quarter to two in the morning.
My foot was still playing me up too so we opted to catch the 9:30 train. Hoda bundled us into a cab and saw that we got to the train in time. Eventually arrived back at Rancho Nelsonia around 12:20, feeling tired but happy, not least because of Hoda and Gretsch's generosity with the occasional glass of vino!
Another recent(ish) thing of mine which I seem to have overlooked in the diary, was my concert at the Lewes Guitar Festival, not far from Brighton.
The event took place in what was once a small but very pretty church. There was a full house and I spent some time after the concert chatting with fans and friends, a very pleasant evening altogether. Someone asked me what guitars, if any, I might still lust after. Well, as I once said, you can never have too many guitars and there are certainly a few out there I wouldn't mind getting my hands on, from the cheap and cheerful to the seriously luxurious. Of course, Gretsch have a few models that would be nice to own, including the 'Jupiter Thunderbird' adaptation mentioned above, but also a Syncromatic 400 acoustic archtop, the big one without cutaways, a real swing band of a guitar. Then there's the 6120 model that apes Eddie Cochran's guitar with the P90 style neck pickup and transparent pick guard.
Then there's the White Penguin, or the Duo-Jet. Of course, what would really constitute a dream come true would be to work with Gretsch towards a custom instrument. I already have strong ideas about styling and so on... but, pointless going into details, it's just a dream. Another guitar would be a re-issue sixties Fender Stratocaster in Fiesta Red, just like the one Hank Marvin played in the Shadows heyday. But with a rosewood fretboard , rather than a maple one. (I think Hank's had both at different times.) The semi-hollow Partick Eggle Vienna is very tempting too, a kind of larger version of my Berlin model, but with 'f' holes. And of course, a full sized, big bodied D'Angelico archtop would be fabulous for my sojourns in the jazz joints of my imagination.
As far as cheap and cheerful guitars goes, well, there are things like the De Pinto Belvedere Deluxe, which is a cool retro styled guitar that doesn't cost the earth. The same company's 'Galaxie 4' guitar is fun looking too.
Another U.S. company, Eastwood Guitars, do some great reproductions of 60's era cheapo guitars. They have a wonderful version of a Guyatone LG 200-T solid body which looks great in white and costs only 399 dollars direct from their site. They also do a nice reproduction of two Airline guitars... the one with full set of pickups and trem is a real mad scientist of a guitar. Nice in red, this one, or white. Of course, all this is sheer greed on my part... an addiction, but one that I manage to turn into music, somewhere along the line. Enough of guitars, I'm starting to drool.
The weekend has been mostly spent dealing with artwork tasks. I'd already spent most of last week sourcing images to use for the 'Sailor Bill' album.
It can take a while to find ones that are interesting, and just as long to discover where the actual 'feel' of the album might lay in visual terms.
There's a fair bit of trial and error to start with. Some of my earlier image selections were too much on the jolly or jaunty side. Whilst looking at the ones I'd accumulated, I played back the 'Sailor Bill' album to see if they fitted. The album's moody and melancholic nature ruled out some of the more modern, zippy images and I ended up making the decision to go down the 'antique' route. A call to Dave on Saturday morning to prime him on the general direction and things got properly underway. The initial searching around now done, we're currently in the fine tuning stages (apart from the possible addition of today's coastal photo's to the package). The album will be mastered this coming Thursday and the artwork should be ready to go off to the pressing plant along with the master by the start of October. Same goes for the Nelsonica album, 'Orpheus In Ultraland'. Before long, these two intensely detailed projects will be set aside as 'finished'.
All that will remain is the process of getting them into peoples hearts and minds. Last week, I gave an interview about the creation of the albums. The interview will appear in the forthcoming issue of 'The Dreamsville Rocket' on-line newspaper and is intended to prime the imagination for the music's arrival. The 'Sailor Bill' album requires 'slow ears...' It isn't an album that reveals itself in a hurry but, with a little care and patience, should reward the diligent listener for some time to come. A quaint and old-fashioned album but not for the narrow minded. I'm hoping to have a playback/preview party for friends and members of the Dreamsville-Nelsonica team. I'm thinking of holding this at Fairview studios so that the album can be heard on some pro-standard studio monitors.
Another side project now completed (and I may have mentioned this before in the diary), is my contribution to a book that is being published by Leeds University. This is a book about the Beat Generation, written to coincide with the university's School Of Music celebration of the 50th anniversary of Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl'. I've written, for the book, a piece about my own encounter with the Beats and the inspiration that they generated in terms of my work.
And, amongst even more new work ('though I'm keeping real details under my hat for a short while...) is a project I've undertaken for Sound On Sound magazine's anniversary issue. I can't say any more at this point in time (sworn to secrecy) but Dreamsville will inform you of what this involves soon. Stay tuned!
Bob Dylan documentary on TV tomorrow evening. Must make time to watch this... essential viewing for me, being a great admirer of Dylan's work.
Recently finished his 'Chronicles Vol 1' autobiography which Emiko bought me last Christmas. Only recently got around to reading it but it was an interesting book.
Not much time for reading now, though, still far too much to do. Nelsonica rushing up, as is the solo tour. I ought to start thinking about the material I'll perform... God knows how I'll get that AND the accompanying video together in the few weeks that are left before things get underway. If I'm exhausted now, what state will I be in by the start of November? I hope things work out. Looking forward to a break in December... 'though Christmas will take up a fair amount of time and energy. Before I know it, it will be new year and a new set of projects to get to grips with. As tough going as it sometimes is, the joy is in the making of all this stuff. Well, I must enjoy it to devote so much of my life to it.
All photographs by Bill Nelson