Songs For Ghosts
Listening Notes to accompany the album...
These notes are as they were presented by Bill at the CD launch party and as such, do not include ALL of the album tracks and are not in the sequence that they appear on the album.
Songs For Ghosts
by Bill Nelson
You may wonder why I chose to call this double album, 'Songs For Ghosts.'
Ghosts, it seems to me, materialise, flicker and fade, changing shape, adapting to different forms and perceptions, never quite fixed, foggy and vague and yet, somehow hovering on the edge of reality, of solidity.
These songs were created in a mood not far distant from such nebulous ideas.
Recorded almost at the very instant that they occurred to me, and with virtually no polishing, they are what they are, a fusion of several styles, pop but not pop, rock but not rock, noise and silence, a musical equivalent of the overlapping dialogue in an Orson Welles movie.
The original intention was to make the album sound like a whisper from another world, but that world turned out to be somewhat noisy, almost chaotic, but it did have it’s moments of quiet.
Inevitably, concepts start out one way and end up another. Some albums are impossible to steer, they simply take their creator along for the ride, a kind of mystery tour. And that, in essence, is what happened with 'Songs For Ghosts.'
I'm not much wiser as to what the album means. This is an attempt to explain something about the selection of tracks you're about to hear, but I can’t guarantee that my comments will enlighten you much more than your own interpretation. But that's all part of the game...
Having recorded so many albums throughout my career, you could be forgiven for thinking that I've said all that is possible for me to say.
But the truth is, I feel as if I haven't yet got to the core of what I need to say, to the essential essence of my thoughts about life and the world we inhabit.
Whether that means anything to anyone else is possibly of little interest, but it's what I hang on to. Music is, in a sense, my life raft and a process of discovery.
So, here we go…
I've chosen to begin this selection with what are actually the first three tracks on Disc 1.
This first track is titled 'A Thousand, Thousand Ghosts.' It's an instrumental piece featuring piano, guitar, e-bow and sampled voices and quietly sets the scene.
The next track is quite a contrast from the previous. It's title is 'Ever The Dreamer' and it takes the form of a rock ballad with big drums, a wall of electric and acoustic guitars, a gritty Hammond organ and cello/string breaks. The lyrics conclude “There are no simple answers to this complicated process, there are no simple answers to this complicated life...”
Next up is a track with the title, 'Beyond The Sun.' It's a melancholy, reflective song featuring filtered electro-percussion, echoing guitars and Indian flavoured strings. The lyrics contain the words, “There's a silence in the meadow, there's a silence in the trees, there's a whisper in the morning that brings me to my knees...”
And: “Everyone wants to live, no one wants to die, everyone wants to give, everyone tries to fly...”
As I mentioned, those first three tracks are the first three pieces on Disc 1, which, incidentally, is titled 'The Curious King Of Dreams.'
The next piece I've chosen for you to hear comes from Disc 2.
Disc 2 has the title 'Tower Of Jewels' and this track from that disc is titled 'Travelling In Mind.'
Now, whilst the title might suggest someone thinking about making a journey, its meaning is more concerned with travelling in one's imagination, a mind trip rather than a physical one.
It's a mid-tempo rocker with a psychedelic blues guitar riff under the verses, but changes to a more pop-oriented feel on the choruses with a string orchestra entering on the bridge. The lyrics state: “Time is a loop my friend and I can't see the start or end of it...”
The next track, also from Disc 2, is titled 'Music From Another Star.' This is a slow tempo ballad with an orchestral introduction but develops with guitars, a synthetic choir and a touch of synth and classical Harp. The lyric mentions, “The raising of a red guitar,” which is a reference to my early guitar heroes, 'The Shadows'. Way back in the early 1960s, they would raise their red Fender Stratocasters skyward on certain sections of their instrumentals to add a visual element.
Now we come to a track titled 'The Almost Invisible Man,' taken from Disc 1.
I'm not sure whether this refers to an invisibility serum that didn't quite work or to the fact that I don't have a publicity agent to keep my work more visible in the rock magazines!
It's a minor key romp with a change to a major key in the choruses. Lots of guitar, of course, but touches of old-school arpeggiated synth evoking the old Casio synth sounds I used in the 1980s.
This next track also comes from Disc 1, it's a poppy little thing titled 'Zodiac.'
The Zodiac in question isn't anything to do with astrology but is a reference to the dark blue Ford Zodiac that my father owned in the 1960s and which he was good enough to let me drive, once I'd passed my driving test. I used to wash the car and polish its chrome for him every Sunday afternoon, always with its radio on so I could listen to John Peel's programme.
The song has a sort of African 'Hi-Life' rhythm pattern and a couple of heavy guitar breaks. The lyrics state: “Here on Earth is where it's at, driving my father's Zodiac, I’m on the road like Kerouac, holding true to the old straight track.”
Back to Disc 2 now for a song titled 'Illumination' with the subtitle '(Fascination In Blue).' Lots of guitar again, an abstract middle section and the lyric, “Photographic memory, figures caught in flash...”
Industrial quantities of reverb on this one, enough to sink a battleship! It has a looped coda with reversed guitars.
The next track also comes from Disc 2 and is an instrumental titled 'The Future Life.' It features sampled 'found' voices and a range of electric guitar tones and some sweet synth touches.
The coda contains an amusing phrase which I'll leave for you to spot!
A return to Disc 1 now for one of my personal favourites from the album. Titled 'Astrophysical,' it's a jazzy vocal track with electronic percussion, clean guitar chords with unusual progressions, synths and upright acoustic bass. Semi-abstract in its form, the vocals have something of an 'Annie Ross' inflection, (for those of you who know about jazz vocalists,) but with twists and turns of my own. It's not jazz in the strictest sense, of course, but definitely sits more in the jazz than rock camp. Some nicely strange noises at the end.
Still on Disc 1, here's a track titled 'Move Through This World.' A poppy number with a message of hope, advocating an easy, smooth and as non-confrontational a passage through life as possible. It includes the lyric, "Do no harm, leave no trace, move through this world with quiet grace...” A nice string section bridge in the middle.
Another from Disc 1. This one is titled 'Heaven Lights It's Lamps.' In some ways it's a grand ballad with psychedelic overtones, particularly in the coda which features free-wheeling guitars and improvised changes. It evokes a memory I have of standing on a hill above a town at night. The town has its street lamps lit, the houses below exude a warm yellow glow that speaks of home and security, whilst far above, in the cold night sky, stars twinkle and gleam, as if heaven has lamps to illuminate our lives on Earth.
The next track comes from Disc 2. It's title is 'Tower Of Jewels.'
The lyric states: “We live in a tower of jewels, no fools are we.”
In some ways the tower of jewels refers to the Buddhist notion of a 'jewel' teaching, a shining, guiding light. But perhaps we don't realise it in a conscious sense, and become distracted.
Ultimately though, as the lyrics suggest, all is well as our own spiritual bodies are the 'tower of jewels' refered to in the song.
Layers of guitar and orchestral textures, and, for those with ears to hear, echoes of a Be Bop Deluxe riff here and there.
The last track from this brief selection now. The double album contains 28 tracks and we're only halfway through that number, so there are lots more songs for you to discover and hopefully enjoy when you have the time to expolore the full range of the album. But, for now, I've selected an instrumental to close.
It comes from Disc 2 and is titled 'His Astral Form.' It features 'found voices' and a lot of electric guitar.
There is much, much more for you to hear from 'Songs For Ghosts,' but for now, I hope this selection has aroused your interest.
Songs For Ghosts, released October 2017 as a limited edition pressing of 650 CDs.