Saturday 30th September 2006 -- 9:00 pm
O.k...I know. I've been absent. From both this diary AND the Dreamsville website. Had to hide away and concentrate on the intensely time-consuming work that will hopefully provide this year's Nelsonica Convention attendees with something very, very special. No choice really, it was a matter of 'head down' or 'off with his head'. I would have been for the proverbial chop if I hadn't got everything together in time. Maybe I still haven't, despite all efforts.
It's been a tremendously long haul, this one, and not 100% finished yet...some things still to complete... but, I've finally got close to seeing it all through to its conclusion.
The amount of work that goes into these annual events is staggering. Impossible for someone viewing it from the outside to appreciate just how much effort is needed. Not just the input from myself, ('though this year's Nelsonica has a more direct, personal touch than previous years), but from the dedicated, talented and loyal Nelsonica Team whose enthusiasm and expertise helps to make the day so unique. Although the convention lasts for just one single day, there have been several months of constant, concentrated, hard work from all sides to make it a day to remember.
As noted in earlier diary entries, my own schedule has been dominated by the wide-ranging creativity that this year's Nelsonica has demanded. I'm shattered by it all at the moment. It's required a daily effort to pull it all together. I don't know whether my age makes the going harder each year, or whether it's just that I've attempted to give even more of myself to the various projects than before. I definitely think that my standards are higher, though perhaps I'm far too obsessive about minor details, (even though it could be argued that I've always been that way).
Ultimately, I have no idea how much of this fanatical attention to detail will become apparent at Nelsonica. I guess that it will look pretty much effortless on the day. Nevertheless, the bite that this thing has taken out of my life is quite something. No one to blame for these struggles but myself, of course. I don't really need to put quite so much into it, it's just that I feel compelled to do so and am subsequently exhausted by it.
Here is a list, of things achieved, giving an idea of some of the preparatory work of the last few months:
1. The writing and recording of a limited edition Nelsonica album, 'Arcadian Salon' and it's cover art and packaging. (LOTS of tracks on it too.)
2. The creation of an autobiographical video-film presentation, ('Memory Codex Number One'), exclusive to Nelsonica, lasting almost 40 minutes and capturing in images, text and music the essence of my early life. It is a 'sketch' or preliminary draft of what will eventually be a much longer and more complex work. It is also quite likely that this special screening will be the only time that this particular version of the film will be seen in public. Of course, this version is not perfect but I just hope that people will sit and concentrate on it, try to follow its drift and not treat it as a background piece. It took almost four weeks of long hours per day to get this finished for the convention, preliminary work or not. Perhaps it deserves attention for that reason alone.
3. The creation of a continuous musical soundtrack score to the above film.This will appear on an album in the earlier part of next year, along with some other recently recorded but previously unreleased material.The soundtrack occupied a great deal of my time too.
4. The creation of an hour-long, pre-recorded, radio show featuring myself as presenter and dj, playing and talking about early musical inspirations from my childhood and teenage years. I've chosen some very early musical memories to present to the listeners...from Freddie Gardener, through Danny Kaye to Chet Atkins and Johnny Smith with lots of stops in between. This will constitute part one of 'Radio Dreamsville' and will eventually be available as a Dreamsville website broadcast, 'though aired for the first time ever at this year's Nelsonica.
5. The preparation of a live instrumental performance, lasting approximately 90 minutes. I've just settled on what will probably be the final choice of tracks and running order for the set. 19 pieces of music in all. now I have to start checking through equipment and getting repairs done, then pack it all ready for transportation. I also still have to write out my 'charts' to guide me through the various pieces of music. This latter takes time.
6. The creation of several brand new pieces of music to be included in the above performance. Nine of which made it to the set. (I've still been working on this aspect of the event today.)
7. The involvement, in the above live performance, of Theo Travis and Dave Sturt, (who sometimes operate as the duo 'Cipher'), who are planning to join with me in an improvisational trio, to which I've given the name 'Orchestra Futura.' I've created an almost ten-minute long 'foundation' track for us to play over. The piece is titled 'FEVER DREAM OF THE STARLIGHT MAN.' It's a compelling, complex, modal, polyrhythmic piece. It may not frighten the horses but it may bewilder the artistically faint of heart. At least, that's my intention.
8. A special section of the convention will be given over to a tribute to my much loved and deeply missed brother Ian who passed away in April of this year. There will be rare video presentations of his work with Fiat Lux and a chance to hear the last music he ever recorded, (a cd of original material by Ian and his musical partner and good friend, John Nixon).
9. A 'live on stage' interview with myself conducted by Leeds University School Of Music's Senior Lecturer Simon Warner. Simon's appearance at last year's Nelsonica provided the audience with an insight into the pop-cultural inspirations and influences that underpin my work. This year's interview will deal with songwriting and it's methods and inspirational energies. Maybe I'll learn something. I've often wondered how I do it.
10. I've yet to prepare, (but will, in the end, probably improvise), a free-ranging talk about guitar philosophies and inspirations. This will include video illustrations and an audience question and answer session at its conclusion. I've already chosen some video illustrations for the talk. Not sure how wise my choices are though as they will definitely make my own guitar playing appear quite amateur by comparison. Impossible to compete with the likes of Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery and Charlie Bird!
11. I've created and framed 16 original artworks for the traditional annual Nelsonica auction. Along with these, there will be a rare electric guitar of mine and some Red Noise memorabilia offered for sale.
12. I've yet to create any ambient video projections for my live performance. This visual aspect may, due to the above heavy workload, end up being somewhat compromised, (or even missed out altogether), but no-one can say I've not tried my best under the circumstances, particularly considering everything else I've attempted to achieve this year. Ultimately, there's only so much one person can do, no matter how stubborn my persistence. Still, I have to sympathise with those who may regard the ordeal of just looking at me, sans projections, all alone on stage, as somewhat depressing. Believe me, even I'd prefer something projected behind me to distract the audience from the ugly old creature clinging to all those beautiful guitars. You know..."What's a lovely guitar like you doing hanging 'round that old goat's neck?"
But...luck being on my side, it should fall in place on the day, even though as you can tell from this diary entry, dear reader, that it's been a long hard slog, one way or another!
Oh, the above list doesn't take into account things such as the 'Return To Jazz Of Lights' album which will, I can confirm, be available for the very first time at the convention, before its 'official' release. (Once the convention is over, it will be available for general purchase through the Dreamsville Department Store.)
As regular diary readers know, I'm proud of this album and, along with 'The Alchemical Adventures Of Sailor Bill,' 'Dreamland To Starboard' and the two 'Rosewood' albums, I consider it one of the more personal and satisfying achievements of my recent solo career. And you know that I'm a difficult cove to satisfy.
Then there is the forthcoming re-issue, (first time EVER on cd), of the 1980's 'Getting The Holy Ghost Across' album, which, for a limited period only, I've managed to license from the mighty Sony Records. (Mighty maybe, but virtually oblivious to my musical worth.) There will be a unique chance to hear a preview of this re-issue at Nelsonica, time permitting. The album will be officially released in November on my Sonoluxe label.
There will also be an opportunity to hear my recent mixes of some extremely rare and previously unreleased Be Bop Deluxe live recordings from the 1970's which are scheduled for inclusion as part of an EMI Records special boxed set next year.
There are a few other surprises in store for convention attendees...Those who secured tickets for themselves as soon as they became available will be glad that they did so.
The event was, amazingly, sold out within a couple of weeks of its announcement and there has apparently been a waiting list of people eager to gain tickets in the event of any cancellations. Does all this lovely and loving interest in my work make me nervous? Damn right it does!
It's 12 months or so since I last appeared or performed in public and I'm definitely feeling slightly freaked out about playing live again. (The word 'slightly' reveals an attempt at understatement.)
I have, however, chosen to focus on instrumental works for this convention, not being in a vocal mood at the moment, for various reasons too complex to go into here. So the first person to shout out 'Ships In The Night' will be taken out back and his underwear searched for signs of boorish insensitvity. And if it happens to be a female person, I'll undertake the search myself. (Did I really say that?)
I've just been reading George Melly's wonderful, 'Slowing Down' book and have gained encouragement from the revelation that even at an advanced stage of decrepitude, it's still possible to have a scandalous moment or two in the, er...lets say,er.. 'erotic' deparment. (Third floor, ladies corsetry and gentlemen's relish.) Of course, Emiko has been instructed to pour me a cup of medicinal libido-suppressive tea if I become a little too frisky at the thought of this. Failing that, a stern look and a slap on the wrists will suffice. All in the interests of my blood pressure you understand.
But back to the music. Rest assured, I'm gearing up for a major vocal/song-oriented project for the coming year. (Apparently, the'chicks' go for that sort of thing. ;-) Can I take my tongue out of my cheek now? (Oh, sorry, dear, didn't realise it was in YOUR cheek!) What AM I like?!!
This Nelsonica concert, the only live performance I've agreed to during 2006, will be centred on the instrument that has fuelled my imagination for so many years: the electric guitar. As will several aspects of the rest of the convention.
The performance itself is called 'Guitar Dharmas And Bleeping Electricals,' a whimsical title but, as attendees will discover, a perfectly apt one.
I've actually included several new pieces created especially for this performance. Actually, there are now more new backing tracks than I can practically incorporate into the set, but even so, I've managed to squeeze NINE of them, all brand new, into the already packed concert agenda. This still leaves some further unheard tracks waiting in the wings for the 'Painting With Guitars Volume 2' album which will be completed early next year, all being well.
So, here is a preview of the Nelsonica Concert set list:
Bill Nelson Nelsonica 2006 Set List.
1. 'This Very Moment.'
2. 'I Always Knew You Would Find Me.'
3. 'Blue Amorini.'
4. 'Imperial Parade.'
5. 'Blackpool Pleasure Beach and The Road To Enlightenment.'
6. 'Naughty Boy, Dirty girl.'
7. 'Time Travel For Beginners.
8. 'Steamboat In The Clouds.'
9. 'A Day To remember.'
10. 'Panorama Park.'
11. 'The Girl On The Fairground Waltzer.'
12. 'Happily Haunted.'
13. 'A Dream For Ian.'
14. 'Two Brothers Test The Kite Flying Winds.'
16. 'A Telescope Full Of Stars.'
17. 'Fever dream Of The Starlight Man.'
(To be performed with ORCHESTRA FUTURA.)
(Possible Orchestra Futura involvement.)
19. 'Beyond These Clouds, The Sweetest Dream.'
Other things that have occupied me of late:
The final stages of the development of my Campbell American Signature Model 'Nelsonic Transitone' guitar, (including the signing of the limited edition certificates that will accompany each guitar sold).
Dean Campbell has been trying to get a completed guitar over to me in time for the convention but has been held up by a couple of outside suppliers, mainly the case manufacturer and the supplier of the custom made 'Atom' symbol 12th fret marker. (Cutting these atom inlays is a skilled job and it takes a while to get them perfect.)
As a compromise, the guitar he will send me for Nelsonica will be missing some minor cosmetic details but I'm assured that I will be able to exchange this for a fully completed production model in a month or so's time.
Dean called me the other week to ask if I could let people know, via the Dreamsville site, that these production models are not yet ready but, as soon as they are, an announcement will be made. (Both on the Campbell Website and here in Dreamsville.)
Apparently, Dean has been getting swamped by calls from people who have either ordered the guitar in advance or who would like to order one. His message to customers is to please be patient and wait for the official starting gun. We will inform potential buyers and those with a deposit as soon as things are ready to roll. Not too long now though, all being well.
The guitar is looking fabulous in the photo's that Dean has sent me of the partially assembled instrument. The colour is super-vibrant. I've christened it 'Rocketship Red.' With its cream and smoke grey pickguard and gold hardware, the guitar should be both beautiful and unique to behold as well as sonically exciting.
Guitars still bring sunshine into the dark corners my life. I received a great new model from Eastwood Guitars a few weeks ago, their re-issue of the early '60's Airline 'Town And Country' model. Three pickups, more controls than Dr. Who's Tardis and a retro-art-deco design that wouldn't look out of place in a classic Flash Gordon Saturday matinee cliffhanger. It will also be making an appearance at Nelsonica, along with some other favourite guitars of mine. (And a couple of other surprises.)
For all the stress that live performance brings, playing in public does allow me to take my guitars out 'for a proper run' and it's satisfying to share their sound and visual charms with an audience, rather than keeping them selfishly to myself in my recording room. I'm just as excited about the visual aspect of guitars as I was as a beginner, all those long, lost years ago. I sometimes sit contemplating my favourite instruments, hardly believing my luck. What a wonderful thing, what a privelege, to be able to dedicate one's life to something so musically rewarding.
Of course, all this creative activity has its downside. As mentioned above, I really HAVE been pushing things too hard and I've definitely felt the consequences of this, health wise. Some worrying issues which, with my usual paranoia concerning all things medical, I've ignored, avoiding seeking a doctor's advice. Thankfully, most of these have improved of their own accord and I think it is mainly stress and tiredness that is affecting me at the moment. Nor do I suppose that much will change until the convention is over and I can ease off the fast pedal for a little while. I do need to recover from this year's exertions though.
Nevertheless, projects are already stacking up for the post-Nelsonica months. Hopefully, I'll be able to deal with them at a more leisurely and humane pace than recent months have allowed. But I must try to take a little break before starting again, if only a weekend away somewhere with my patient and loving wife.
Working on the live set list for the Nelsonica performance has also held an emotional impact for me. My brother Ian was originally planning to join me on stage for much of this year's Nelsonica set. AND the concert in Leeds next Spring. The two of us spoke about this, the last time we saw each other, just two weeks before he died. He was looking forward to it as much as I.
This last week, whilst going through some of the older material to select pieces for the performance, I was forcefully reminded of previous concerts where Ian and I had stood alongside each other on stage. There will be difficult moments during this year's Nelsonica set where his spiritual prescence will be tangible but his physical loss deeply painful. It's something that I won't be able to avoid, other than by giving up playing these pieces altogether, but Ian, I know, wouldn't want that. He'd tell me to get out there and play. And so I'll try. But I'll be missing him so much.
Forgive my melancholy mood. It's unavoidable I suppose.
On the domestic front, there have been repairs to external windows and doors and, finally, the completion of the house's exterior paintwork. The new colour scheme I've chosen, of Buttermilk and Peridot, really suits the old brickwork and ivy clad walls. (The ivy goes a spectacular shade of red in the Autumn too.)
This renovation/repair work has required me to be constantly present at the house so I've had to forgo aspects of my creative work that might have taken me away from my recording room for a while. I now have to catch up with that side of things. Guitar repairs and so on. It will feel a little bit like being let off the leash.
The house's interior needs attention too, and in more than one area. One of the house's two bathrooms (the en-suite one) has been out of commission since our ill-fated brush with MFI and is still in need of renovation. The kitchen is now seriously ready for an overhaul. It's starting to look like a 19th Century cow-herder's hut, with dripping tap and lime encrusted walls. All I need is some straw on the floor and a few chickens.
Actually, our neighbours already have the latter. A 21st Century version of 'The Good Life' 'though Emi and I are more of the Margot and Jerry type, (were those their names?) than the Barbara and Tom couple's 'back-to-the-land' pseudo-rusticism. Perhaps I've got their names wrong...it was a 1970's tv series after all. Actually, I'm probably more like Margot than Jerry, being insufferably snobby at times and just as partial to low cut dresses and canapes. More tea vicar?
And more household problems: Our living room tv set has been broken for several weeks now, the Sky digi-box has packed in completely, the hi-fi has given up the ghost long ago and both Emi's car and mine are virtually on their last legs. (Or wheels.) But I've had no time spare to deal with organising repairs due to the long hours I've been putting into the music. My mind gets focussed on work and everything else is forgotten. Perhaps, once Nelsonica is over, I can attempt to tackle some of these domestic issues, one at a time.
A headstone has now been ordered for Ian's grave and should be in place by Christmas. Despite moaning about my workload, I have managed to make fairly regular visits to the cemetary in Wakefield to place fresh flowers and to quietly remember our years together as brothers. The 'Memory Codex' video I've made for Nelsonica contains some very touching images of the two of us when we were just innocent kids. It's terribly poignant in places.
One thing I've had to acknowledge is that a certain amount of my health problems of late have been caused by a kind of suppressed, interiorised grief. The truth is, I've been and still am suffering from depression over Ian's loss. It's a submerged anguish, the silent cry of an angry creature gripped by tentacles of despair. Black, green and dark. I've tried to help my mother deal with her own deeply felt bereavement but, underneath it all, despite my own advice, I guess I'm struggling too. I'm not putting on a brave face so much as wearing a mask.
The plunge into such an intensely self-punishing work schedule has, in part, been a desperate attempt to escape the reality of what has happened. But sudden awakenings in the middle of the night have brought a confrontation with the finality of it all, cold realizations that have been difficult, sad and painful for me. It's impossible to accurately put these things into words. I just don't have the language for it. Nor does anyone else suffering bereavement.There's a hopelessness at the bottom of this particular emotional pit that I find extremely debilitating. I just need to work my way through it to something approaching equilibrium. Right now, it's all mood swings and extremes. Lots of well meaning advice from people and, of course, lots of well meaning advice from myself to my mother. But it's all noise and static at the end of the day. It can be tuned out.
In truth, Mum, Diane and Ian's children, Ian's friends and myself have no option but to walk on these burning coals until we feel their pain no more. One day, (I'm told), the coals will become just glowing embers, warm, happy memories of Ian's life and a final acceptance of its outcome. Right now though, it's something else entirely.
More future projects for me:
Pomona Books have approached me with a proposal to publish volume 2 of 'Diary Of A Hyperdreamer.' I had some reservations about the merit of a further printed volume of these diaries but the Pomona have pursuaded me that it's an artistically valid project, so I think I'll give it a go. I'll sort it out in November/December. I also have had an offer from Sound-On-Sound publications to publish my autobiography. This isn't complete yet so I need to spend a large part of next year working on it. I've completed the period from birth to leaving school but that still leaves an enormous amount of writing and research for the rest of the book. It will be a large publication and, all being well, may have an accompanying DVD documenting parts of my earlier life.
Still no definite news regarding the Paul Sutton-Reeves authored biography 'Music In Dreamland' but I understand that there have been some behind the scenes proposals to try and get it finally into print. It's been a difficult time for Helter Skelter as the company's guiding light and main man has become seriously ill. His health is of much more concern to me than the book though and I accept that patience in needed. It will surface when the time is right for it to do so.
There will soon be discussions regarding the content of the EMI Be Bop Deluxe box set, mainly in terms of my contribution to its booklet text and images. Mark Powell, the independent researcher whom EMI employ to remind them of what treasures they have in their back catalogue, is planning a visit to interview me for the project.
I also have to make a start on the 'Ghosts Engraved On Glass' video-film that I'm to present at Leeds University's School Of Music next spring. The 'Memory Codex' video I'm presenting at Nelsonica is, as already noted, a kind of rehearsal or dry run for that project. It's enabled me to see what material I have already and how much more I need to locate to bring the project to a fuller conclusion. A lot of work to do here.
There is review of the forthcoming re-issue of 'Getting The Holy Ghost Across' album in the latest issue of 'Record Collector' magazine. Not a bad review at all but, (and Mark P should really know better), the album wasn't produced by John Leckie, as Mark's review states, but by myself. It says as much on the tin. Credit where credit is due and all that.
Actually, there was a similar error from Mark P a while back when, in another review for Record Collector, he stated that I'd worked with Ryuichi Sakamoto on my 'Chimera' album when in fact it was Yukihero Takahashi. Next time he visits our house, I'll give him a gentle refresher course! He's a nice guy though and wrote a very good book called 'The Ambient Century' in which I feature alongside some of my contemporaries. For those new to this kind of music, it's an enlightening read.
Time is passing and here I am, still typing. There are other things that I'd like to deal with in this diary entry but, already, I'm feeling guilty for spending so much time writing it when I should really be working on the final details of Nelsonica. So...I'll turn my attentions back to the job in hand. Nearly there now. Lord, I hope it all comes together on the day.