New Northern Dream
Listening Notes to accompany the album
New Northern Dream
by Bill Nelson
'New Northern Dream' is a sequel to 'Northern Dream,' the album I recorded way back in 1970, when I was 22 years old, and released independently as my first ever solo album in 1971.
Whilst 'New Northern Dream' doesn't attempt to copy the original album's style, it does have something of the early 1970s about it, albeit viewed through post-modernist glasses. There's a psychedelic tint to some tracks, along with a hint of irony and gentle humour.
I think it reflects some of the subject matter of those long lost days, but with a subtle twist and an affectionate 'wink', acknowledging their innocence and naivety.
It also contains new versions of two tracks that were actually on the original album, ('Photograph' and 'Northern Dreamer' plus a couple of references to 'Everyone's Hero.')
Otherwise, it's an entirely different creation, perhaps, more 'pop' in flavour than you would expect of me these days.
What I found interesting about making this album was the challenge of putting aside some of the 'sophistication' (for want of a better word,) that inevitably accumulated over the 46 years since the original album was recorded. I'm not quite sure you can
'undo' that stuff and return to a more naive state, but that was partly the intention. In 1970, I was younger and had no experience of being a professional musician, just a kid living in the West Yorkshire City of Wakefield, dreaming dreams which somehow found their expression in music. I had little hope of becoming a 'professional' musician at all. It seemed such a thing was out of reach, an impossibility, something which happened to other people, but not to me.
I had, of course, been playing guitar for several years prior to recording 'Northern Dream,' in various local bands on the pub and working men's club circuit. A necessary 'dues paying' exercise.
However, I first became interested in playing the guitar at the age of 10 or 11. A long time ago now. The years get rather blurred when you arrive at the age of 68, which, much to my astonishment, I'll be, this coming December.
As some of you may know, it was Duane Eddy, whose 'Because They're Young' single, first fired up my enthusiasm for the electric guitar. This was followed by the recordings of The Ventures and The Shadows and eventually led to the discovery of Chet Atkins and Les Paul.
Things progressed from there and before long I was listening to Django Reinhardt, Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell and Jim Hall, along with several more obscure instrumentalists. It really was a time of revelation, an eye and ear opener...and a mind opener too. But, I've harboured a love of music in all its forms since I was an infant, possibly due to my father being a saxophonist and big band leader in the 1940s.
I didn't possess the academic knowledge required to completely dissect and understand what the great guitarists were doing, but I had a deep rooted emotional and spiritual response to their work.
Even today, I'm not an 'proper' musician in the sense that I don’t have at my fingertips a knowledge of scales, modes or theories of harmony and other formulas that are essential to most musicians.
I approach music in a totally intuitive way, which comes from years of trial and error, from the heart coupled with the imagination. It seems to flow from a natural foundation, something hard to rationalise, almost a spiritual thing.
Now, I'm not saying that this approach is better, or for that matter, worse than a more formal approach. But it's all I have to work with. I generally throw myself off the roof of the academically acceptable, and trust that the music will guide me to a safe landing. That's all that's possible under the circumstances.
Right, let's get into the album:
1: 'Photograph: A New Beginning.'
This is an instrumental version of the short 'Photograph' song that appeared at the start of the original 'Northern Dream' album. I've replaced the original vocal line with a layered guitar section playing the vocal melody in stacked harmonies. The track then goes into a brief quote from 'Everyone's Hero' which also featured on the original album but is treated here purely as an instrumental.
2: 'Indigo Trees Hold Back The Stars.'
A mood setting instrumental featuring an acoustic guitar simulating an Eastern sitar sound but with a Celtic feel. An electric guitar recorded with fairly clean, ambient echo enters part way through before giving way to the sitar-guitar again. Part folk, part psychedelia, the Incredible String Band meets Davey Graham perhaps?
3: ‘Consolation Street.’
A play on the words 'Coronation Street,' a nod to the long running tv soap series. But, in this song, it's a kind of dreamy street filled with odd characters. A brass band enters with a poppy hook before an electric guitar solo and a brief vocal reference to 'Everyone's Hero' from the original 'Northern Dream' album. Elements of psychedelia, images of 'Mr and Mrs God' sitting in front of the fire, a surreal but happy atmosphere and a drifting, long, semi-ambient coda. Mixing up some of my past musical approaches with more recent ones.
4:‘Time Stops Here.’
This track sounds very early '70s to me. It features acoustic guitars and electric guitars plus a big orchestral component. It captures the feelings I have about 'old yorkshire' and its vanishing past. The lyrics, (which I won't detail here,) paint nostalgic and melancholy pictures of a period in time which has vanished but which stays close to me heart. One of my favourite tracks from the album.
5: ‘The Trip.’
As the title suggests, this is a very late '60s, early '70s styled song. It has a trippy but poppy feel. A flowing, outpouring sensation with plenty of old-school guitars, ecstatic and free, but with a note of cynicism in the final bar of the music.
6: ‘November Fires.’
Another hippy-trippy song with a reference to 'Keep Your Feathers Fine,' one of my earliest songs. Brass bands feature here to give it that 'Northern' vibe. Also about my childhood memories of 'Bonfire Night', on November 5th, when neighbours would gather around a bonfire in the back garden of the house to celebrate the gunpowder plot.
7: ‘Between The Seasons.’
This carries a direct reference to 'End Of The Seasons' on the original 'Northern Dream' album. It's a waltz, as was the earlier song, but has a slightly different, and perhaps more melancholic feel, as is to be expected 46 years after the earlier song was recorded.
It has a slightly country feel with the guitars emulating pedal steel at times, swathes of strings and an epic atmosphere. The lyric concerns a man "in between seasons, drifting away..."
8: ‘The Lamp Of Invisible Light.’
A song about the tides of time and my love of old gaslit Yorkshire and its East Coast. Lyrics include "These words are forged by fire and time, the savage languor of midsummer..and I am drunk with love and wine, but we're not getting any younger...”
I guess it tries to record the passage of time and the 'wonder in the air' available to us all if we simply open up to it. The 'Lamp Of Invisible Light' is something we each carry within us, according to our individual capacity for illumination.
9: ‘New Northern Dreamer.’
Perhaps the closest reproduction of a track from the original album. A deliberately straightforward rendition of the main theme but taking the psychedelic coda a little further out, using reverse wah-wah guitar, (as on the original,) but extending things into somewhat more drifting territories over a longer running time than the first recording.
A gentle acoustically driven song with electric and orchestral overdubs. The lyrics refer to a state I fall into sometimes, a state of nostalgia and drifting into past reveries. An attempt at some sort of continuity against the odds. We're all 'running scared' as the lyrics state. Mellotron flutes and archaic string samples are for those of us old enough to remember the psychedelic '60s.
11: ‘The Pond Yacht.’
This piece could easily have found a place on the 'Sailor Bill' album as it attempts to capture the simple joy of sailing a boyhood pond yacht in the 1950s. Mainly acoustic driven but with electric overtones, it's a totally instrumental evocation of those times.
12: ‘In A World Of Strange Design.’
Contains the lyric "I met the ghost of my former self, he didn't speak to me, he was somewhere else..."
Funny how your former self chooses not to acknowledge your present self, isn't it?
This is another poppy, sweetly psychedelic song with lots of guitar and straight forward rock drumming. Lyrics also state: "It's almost supernatural, the way God plays with time, the days go by so quickly, feels like a pantomime..."
13: ‘Miracles To Happen.’
Features accordian and brass band quite predominately, along with acoustic rhythm guitar and strident lead guitar. Lyrics state: "I am drunk with holy water" and, "The scene is set for miracles to happen..." Reads like a screenplay in some ways but is another blatantly old fashioned pop song.
14: ‘The Legendary Spaceman Blues.’
A sly nod to 'Bloo Bloos' from the original 'Northern Dream' album. I guess had to include one blues number as a homage to the earlier album. Lyrically, it has its tongue firmly in its cheek, (as did the original track come to think of it.) But it does give me a chance to air my blues playing in public! Lyrics state: "I'm driving through heaven, I've got the spaceman blues...Lost in the cosmos, with those old spaceman blues."
15: ‘A Month Without A Moon.’
Perhaps the most romantic song on the album. Big guitars, big orchestra, big chord changes, tender vocals. As the lyrics say: "How bravely Autumn paints the sky..."
16: ‘A Northern Man.’
One of my personal favourite songs from the album. I tried to hint at a really old fashioned music hall feeling with some of it, particularly the vocal and waltz time tempo, adding in early '70s guitar playing, Yorkshire brass bands and a touch of that old psychedelia again.
The lyrics are an affectionate pean to the dated and cliched view of Yorkshire, (and Northern,) men, as flat capped, ferret and pigeon rearing innocents, somewhat unsophisticated, but honest, decent and hard working. In this song, I try to portray the typical old school Northern Man as a sensitive and philosophical soul, walking in the park and smelling the flowers. It both reinforces and destroys the stereotype, setting up ambiguities in the listener's mind as to whether the song celebrates or satirises that particular view of a 'Northern Man.'
I'll leave it up to you to decide!
17: ‘Hymn Of The Old Albion Co-Operative Society.’
When I was a child, my mother and grandmother would visit the Wakefield Co-op, which occupied a vast area of the Unity Hall. It was like a glamorous department store in some ways, with corridors leading to various departments, from food to clothing and furniture.
It was originally established in Victorian times and really hadn’t changed much in the early 1950s when I recall going there. My grandmother also used to collect 'dividends' from the Co-Op as a regular customer. The 'Divy' man called at her house in Marriot's Buildings every week to allocate the latest 'divy' to her.
This final track on the album may seem like years away from that time but I hope it contains some of the old fashioned charm that made a visit to the Co-Op in those days seem magical.
New Northern Dream, released November 2016 as a limited edition pressing of 500 CDs.