A celebration of Bill Nelson at 70
Here are some tributes that were sent to Bill as a nice surprise for him from some of his musician friends...
I've known Bill since 1987, I think, since we were introduced by a mutual acquaintance at his then home in Selby, Yorkshire. We 'caught on' right away and to this day I regard him as one of my closest friends. At the time I had just moved to London from Los Angeles and I remember countless train trips north to York where Bill would meet me and we'd make the short drive to his home and family in his vintage, and very hip, Peugeot.
Anyway, we would spend hours talking, talking about esoteric forms of religion and thought, travels, architecture -- especially medieval structures (of which Yorkshire has an abundance) -- as well as visits-by-the-dozen to country pubs and taverns (solidifying my always high regard for John Smith ale)... and not too much about music, which seemed relatively secondary, 'though we always ended up in his loft- studio laying down bits and pieces.
Our travels together included Japan, Portugal, and a brilliant month in New Orleans, Louisiana, at Daniel Lanois' studio recording By The Dawn's Early Light.
I'll stop now and save us all from going on and on till the last last page of recorded time and say simply Bill is a world-class artist and a personal treasure. An honor to know him.
I first saw Bill Nelson supporting Cockney Rebel at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London in the early 1970's. He played exceptional modern guitar, sang intriguing songs, looked skinny and sharp in a white suit and was more memorable than the main act.
A little later, I had a beautiful girlfriend, Krystina, a model - she was entranced by Bill and played that Ships In The Night record very loud. Of course, that didn't endear him to me - but I figured he was a man to watch.
As the years went on, I grew increasingly impressed by the kind of music he made and his independent spirit - recording at home in Yorkshire, setting up his own label, making all those explorations and experiments completely on his own terms. The conventional record labels just couldn't understand it - they hadn't developed the categories yet.
A little later, he recorded at my studio, The Garden, so I also got a glimpse of all the sticky legal stuff Bill had to pull himself out of. It looked bleak for a while, but he got through it all and fired up again. Took some grit.
Then the great Harold Budd signalled that he had a project or two going. Bill got there before me, entirely my fault - I thought the three of us recording together might be a case of too many cooks, (I'd also thought the same about recording with David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto, so what did I know).
Later, I enjoyed singing with Bill and Harold at Harold's Sinatrian retirement do in Brighton, and realised there might be something worth working on. But the same thing happened with Robin Guthrie, so that took me off again on another adventure, with another great original.
There were so many connections and musicians in common over the years - Harold Budd, Theo Travis, Stuart Adamson, John Leckie and Gary Numan among them, so we'd coincide at various points and always threatened to do some work together, but never pinned it down.
Over the years, Bill has accumulated this huge, adventurous body of work. He's done it all by being an independent Yorkshireman - often working under the radar. My impression of him is - a gentle man, but a man with a vision, quietly stubborn as hell and always rock solid against any weather. An inspiration.
Kate St. John
Bill Nelson is such a lovely man and one of the most creative and prolific humans I know.
Working with him is liberating as he makes your creative soul feel free to fly.
The world is a better place for all the intricate magic and wizardry he has conjured up in his songs and compositions
Kate St. John
I first met Bill in 1984 and what struck me about him immediately was that despite his iconic musician status there were no airs or graces with him, he treated me and everyone else as an equal. He's a down-to-earth Yorkshire lad at heart.
I was a 24-year old full-time kitchen designer and had been invited by him to play on his new song after hearing my bass playing on a track I'd recorded with his sound engineer at the time. He didn't care I wasn't a professional musician, or that I had no history of session playing - I guess he just liked what he'd heard…and perhaps being a fellow Yorkshire lad was good enough for him!
The day of recording was very stressful for me - I'd driven for hours to get to the studio. I was in there with a legend - someone I've paid to see in concert several times and here I was recording a bass line on his new single 'Living For The Spangled Moment' - no pressure then!
Bill was generous enough to give me as much time as I needed to jam along with the track, become familiar with it and create a sympathetic bass line. I'm pretty sure he had his own bass line ideas, but he didn't reveal them - he was happy to let me do my own thing, only injecting ideas on parts when I was struggling for ideas. I was very happy with the result, and I guess Bill was too because he invited me to tour with him.
Rehearsing for the tour that followed was quite intimidating - after all, I was just a hobbyist bassist, yet here I was playing with professional, full-time musicians - I didn't feel deserving. However, I remember the moment that feeling changed. It was during a break from normal practice and Bill played a rough demo of Contemplation to which we all jammed along. I started to mess about with chords high up the fret board and Bill looked up from his guitar playing and said, "Ooo, I like that!" Bill Nelson likes what I just did! I'm happy to say those chords developed a bit more and feature on the finished recording.
Bill's generosity and encouragement continued through the recording process of 'Getting The Holy Ghost Across'.
Anyone familiar with Bill's music knows that he creates some amazing, simple and effective bass lines - none more so than on 'Do You Dream In Colour'. So, for him to send me a cassette of twelve demo songs without bass lines, allowing me the freedom to create my own was amazing. Even during recording, and contrary to what one might have expected, Bill hardly interfered with my ideas and was happy to hear them materialise into the finished recording. And, nothing was lost in the mix…well, apart from the slap 'n' tickle bass on 'Heart And Soul' - relegated to the fade out. That's OK…the playing was probably a bit messy anyway!
I still get a buzz today from other people's surprise when they learn of my name on his music, especially because they know me as an architectural illustrator and not a musician. However, I've recently brought my bass playing out of a long retirement. It feels good and I've had fun re learning the songs off that album, especially 'Contemplation' -my all-time favourite.
My time working with Bill has been a highlight of my life, not just because of the privilege he gave me, but to spend time with someone whose musical genius status never got in the way of his generosity, respectfulness and kindness. Bill's just 'one of the lads'.
Thanks Bill, and I hope we can do it again sometime soon!
I'm not sure what it is, but there seems to be a certain strand of DNA that connects a group of massively significant artists: David Bowie, David Sylvian, Jon Foxx, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Bill…they're different from the rest of us, on a higher plain, best of all Bill's from Yorkshire.
And let's not forget we are also talking about a wonderful, generous, fascinating human being.
Big love Bill and Happy Birthday!
In honour of Bill...
I remember the first time I saw Bill play was in Sheffield, in a legendary pub called the Black Swan, one Sunday evening in I'm guessing about late 1975. He was with Be Bop Deluxe and although we (myself and Richard from Cabaret Voltaire) weren't particularly enamoured of guitar-centric bands Bill always had something a bit different about him - he had a certain style and panache that meant we gave him the benefit of the doubt…he was intriguing, a cut above and we gave him our time and money that Sunday night.
Where he went from Be Bop confirmed Bill was a distinctive, unique artist. He not only survived the cultural killing fields of punk, that showed no mercy to many, he thrived and opened up really interesting doors for himself and the rest of us.
Bill has a wonderful grasp of things and a hunger for challenges. It was great to be introduced to him, spend time and eventually get him to play on our records - his guitar work on CODE was perfect and he even agreed to be in the video (I remember on the day he charmed the entire production team).
Visiting him in the castle near Wakefield was unforgettable - we spent the time discussing Cocteau, the Golden Dawn, Rosicrucians and got to see his collection of esoteric artefacts. And had a curry as I seem to recall.
Thoughts about Bill Nelson:
Guitar style master
Very harmonious to be in studio sessions with...
I came to Bill's music in the early 80s when I was a young lad looking for new electronic music. I knew nothing of Be Bop Deluxe and indeed it's only in recent years that I've come to appreciate what a great band they were.
It was the Cocteau recordings that pulled me in, especially 'The Two-Fold Aspect Of Everything' and the instrumental albums - I wore out a cassette copy of 'La Belle Et La Bete' and would play 'Sounding The Ritual Echo' which came as a free vinyl LP over and over.
They gave me a life-long fascination with a stripped-back, DIY approach to music, along with a love for primitive analogue synthesisers and drum machines and what a stylish way to release your own music! Oozing class and a profilic flow of brilliant releases, the Cocteau label slotted alongside 4AD and Mute in my awe-struck head.
All these things have stayed with me as I've been extremely fortunate to work with artists (such as Hannah Peel, Stephen Mallinder, John Foxx, Gazelle Twin, Gary Numan, Benge, Blancmange) who record in their own home studios with passion and imagination and release records on their own labels.
Oh and synths and drum machines still regularly figure too!
Meanwhile, as my tastes have (hopefully) expanded over the years I've come to love all the twists and turns in Bill's recording career and some of his more recent albums such as 'New Northern Dream' and 'That Old Mysterioso' are among my favourites.
(Random Music Management)