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THE STRANGEST THINGS...

Woke early this morning and as I laid in bed hoping to fall asleep again, my mind drifted back in time to when I was in my early teens living in a council house on Eastmoor Estate with my mother and father. The guitar had entered my life in pre-teen times but I'd really only just begun to get to grips with it.


The walls of my small bedroom, which I shared with my brother Ian, were covered with photographs of pop musicians that I'd cut out of various magazines. I'd started by pinning up images of Duane Eddy with his Gretsch 6120 guitar. Then Duane's pictures were joined by photographs of Hank Marvin with his Fiesta Red Fender Stratocaster and other musicians...just as long as they held a gleaming electric guitar in their hands. Then the girls arrived, on my bedroom wall and sometimes in real life. Photographs of Marianne Faithful who I swooned over, also Jean Shrimpton and other 'dolly birds' of that time. The Rolling Stones were added to the wall, pictures of Brian Jones with his white Vox Phantom guitar, and later, The Beatles when they began to set foot in the freak-beat beginnings of psychedelia.


My world was small, as was my circle of friends. I was a fairly shy boy, skinny and introverted. More interested in science-fiction comics than sport, but the guitar was already helping me to 'come out of my shell'.


I'd joined a local group known as 'Group 66' who played cover versions of early Rolling Stones numbers along with some Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley material. Looking back now, I don't think we were too bad at it either. I can remember us rehearsing 'Little Red Rooster' in Wrenthorpe Village Hall, one Sunday afternoon. Wrenthorpe was on the outskirts of Wakefield and it was where the group's bass player, Steve Barton, lived.


We also had to have a couple of early Beatles numbers in our repertoire because they were popular and we were expected to reflect that in our gigs in Working Men's Clubs around Wakefield. To be honest, at that time I was a little dismissive of the Beatles. I think I preferred The Stones, perhaps because they leaned more towards the Blues. But later of course, I woke up to the Beatles around the time of 'Rubber Soul' and then 'Revolver', albums that, for me, seemed innovative and musically interesting. Nowadays I appreciate The Beatles music from all eras, but back then, perhaps I was a a bit of a snob.


My confidence as a guitarist grew, though I was still a quiet boy socially. Life didn't appear to hold many opportunities for me outside of Wakefield's stereotypical job options. I'd enrolled at Art School and vaguely taken a path that might lead towards a teaching profession. Art School was a very positive and inspirational place and expanded the way I viewed things, both visually and metaphorically. It was a time of awakening. 


There was a girl at Art School called Linda Salmons. Amazingly, she resembled Marianne Faithful and I developed a crush on her. She would flirt with me but she had a boyfriend who attended the Technical College next door and he made sure other boys kept their distance, at least when he was with her.


But this was my world and all I knew. There was no hope of ever entering the glamorous world of pop or rock music. The best I could hope for was an occasional gig at a local tavern.


So, how on Earth did this happen? I recorded 'Northern Dream,' my first serious attempt at songwriting. A locally produced album, pressed in small quantities which found its way to John Peel who played it in its entirety on his radio show. That led to EMI contacting me with the offer of a solo deal. By then I'd formed Be Bop Deluxe and insisted that was the thing I wanted to pursue. After a year or so of being uncertain, EMI finally agreed and a corner was turned. The rest of the story, you probably know, line-up changes, changes of direction, a solo career and so on.


But other stuff happened, strange stuff...


I got to meet Hank Marvin and The Shadows at Abbey Road studios, and chatted with him on several occasions, which seemed like a miracle to me. Then, one late night, very early morning, when leaving Abbey Road to get in a taxi to my hotel in London, I passed a Mini in the car park of the studio. As I walked by it, carrying my guitar, the Mini's window rolled down and a voice said, "how's it going?" I turned to see who was speaking and there, in the driver's seat, sat Paul McCartney. I was somewhat speechless and he said, "We've been listening to you outside your studio door...sounds great!" I stammered thanks and then Paul said, "Good fun, this recording lark isn't it?"

Well, I never imagined I'd exchange words with Hank Marvin and Paul McCartney, but there it was.


Later, another one of the pictures on my teenage bedroom wall came to life: I was asked to have a meeting with Marianne Faithful who was interested in me producing her. The meeting was arranged at our mutual publicist's office in London, the night before I was due to fly out to San Francisco to produce The Units. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. This was the woman I had swooned over as a teenager, who I had fantasised about in the way that teenage boys do. It was a cold night and Marianne and I were given the use of publicist Tony Brainsby's front room, a cosy affair with a blazing fire. I couldn't believe I was sitting alone in this room with someone who I'd once considered an absolute jewel of beauty.


I explained my ideas for the album she was planning. I wanted to use Sakamoto and Takahashi from YMO on the recording, plus Mick Karn on bass and myself on guitar. I explained that it would be a fusion of techno and more organic elements. Marianne seemed to go for it and, after the meeting ended and I was about to return to my hotel, she said her husband was away on tour and would I like to come to her house for dinner. She said "I like to get to know my producers better..." I had a very early flight to San Francisco the next morning and needed to pack so had to explain that, whilst I'd love to take up the invitation, I'd also have to decline. Marianne looked a little disappointed but, out of the blue, kissed me warmly on the lips as I left. I was, well, you can imagine...


As it happened, Marianne's manager nixed my idea, steering her instead towards the American market and she did the album with someone else who tried to 'funk' it up with a brass section and a more orthodox approach. But, what the hell, I'd kissed Marianne Faithful!


Later still, I was given the opportunity to present Duane Eddy with an 'Icon' award from Mojo Magazine. Another nerve wracking but mind blowing moment when I came face to face with my first guitar hero. Duane was kind and gracious and we still exchange emails from time to time.


But what this journal entry is about is the mystery of how all this stuff happened. Magic? Destiny? Or just luck? There have been other similar meetings with people I've admired over the years, and I still can't figure out how a kid from Eastmoor Estate got to make those connections...




© Bill Nelson 2020

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