Following an education at Wakefield College Of Art, Bill Nelson's first recorded works were contributions to Holy Ground recordings A-Austr: Musics From Holyground (1970) and Astral Navigations (1971). His first solo album Northern Dream was released on Smile Records in 1971 and saw notable airplay by John Peel. A year later Bill formed Be Bop Deluxe, a venture that under Nelson's guidance morphed from its initial blues and glam rock beginnings into a stylistically experimental endevour that encompassed elements of prog rock, new wave, art rock and proto punk. Bill disbanded Be Bop Deluxe in 1978, however these influences were taken further for his next project Red Noise (1978-1979), after recording the seminal Sound On Sound he concentrated on working as a solo musician and received critical acclaim for his experimental synth-pop releases Do You Dream In Colour?, Quit Dreaming And Get On The Beam and The Love That Whirls (Diary Of A Thinking Heart). The latter part of the 1980s saw Nelson progress into increasingly esoteric territory as his personal interest in occult and gnostic beliefs were packaged alongside voluminous ambient albums which were created with the immediacy of creative inspiration. This work ethic saw the release of a staggering amount of music.
Despite personal and financial troubles through the late 1980s he has maintained a prolific recorded output to this day and although he does not tour he makes a single public performance each year at annual 'Nelsonica' events in Yorkshire, England.
Editor Ian Gilby travelled to Yorkshire to interview Bill in his home studio which was called The Echo Observatory. The interview was probably the most in-depth any musician had given the magazine, running to some nine full pages, and provides a wonderful insight into what equipment Bill was using at the time.
In 1984 Bill's trusted Fostex B16 was at the leading edge of multi-track home recording technology and was used to record many albums over the years. When the time came to 'retire' the ageing analogue gear and acquire a Mackie digital system, Bill sold off many items from his studio and Ian was fortunate to purchase the B16 which he still owns today.
Also seen pictured in the studio at the time is a Sony PCM F1 stereo digital recorder. In the interview Bill mentions how he had given up mastering onto his 2-track Revox and was now using this new 'digital technology'. By the early 1990s the PCM was broken and many album's worth of material lay in the studio on digital tape inaccessible for years to come. Then around 2005 a second-hand machine was located and purchased with the help of fans. The tapes were transferred to CDr and as of 2012, Bill is now in the process of re-mastering these archive recordings for selective release under the series title 'These Tapes Rewind'. The first album in the series is 'Return To Tomorrow'.
The interview was published in two parts in the HSR Dec 1984 & Jan 1985 issues.
A DAY TRIP TO NEPTUNE'S GALAXY
The Dreamsville Rocket interviews Bill Nelson about his latest work.
You've just completed two new albums, 'The Alchemical Adventures of Sailor Bill' and 'Orpheus in Ultraland.' I understand that an extraordinary amount of time and effort went into the recording of these projects. Was the work unusually difficult for you?
BN: "Well, I think I was trying to raise the bar a little, or at least attempting to explore another facet of my musical personality. The 'Sailor Bill' album uses lots of orchestral instrumentation, strings, woodwinds, reeds, brass and so on. There's also accordion, tympani and tubular bells, as well as the more usual guitar, drums and electronics. It's a heady mix.
But yes, it was difficult, a struggle at times, not only because I decided to centre the entire album around a specific theme but because I took on a larger than usual role within the music."
In what way was this a 'larger' role than usual?
BN "It was inescapably dictated by the scale of the instrumentation used. Most fans know that, on my solo albums, I normally play all the instruments, and that these instruments are the ones found in rock music's common vocabulary:- guitars, bass, drums and keyboards. But with the 'Sailor Bill' project, I also had to play cellos, violas, violins, French horn, English horn, oboe, accordion, trombones, trumpets, tympani, tubular bells and so on. Not literally, of course, just as keyboard parts, but I had to think like the musicians who might actually play these orchestral instruments in real life, try to get into each musician's frame of mind, approach the various instruments as if they were my own natural instrument of choice. A different hat for each overdub, as it were.
Also, as the songs are rather long and have constantly changing arrangements, a lot of concentration was required. I had to keep checking on the different sections of the orchestra to make sure all the individual parts were working correctly together, going in the right direction, a bit like being a conductor. Plus, I had the technical, studio side of things to deal with too, the engineer's job, the producer's job, as well as trying to be a composer and lyricist. The tracks are complex and many-layered so the recording process was much more involved and time consuming than usual. A lot of tasks to juggle at the same time. Really, it's the sort of album that should be made over a period of years, rather than months, but, unfortunately, I don't have that luxury. Instead, I simply put in intense hours of work, every day, until the deadline looms."
So, what exactly is the theme of 'The Alchemical Adventures of Sailor Bill' and does 'Orpheus in Ultraland' also have a theme?
BN " The 'Sailor Bill' album is the carefully 'themed' one. The 'Orpheus' album is a nice collection of songs that were originally written for the 'Sailor Bill' album but either didn't quite fit the concept or were simply extra to that project's requirements. Of course the 'Orpheus' album is intended as a very limited edition Nelsonica fan convention album but, in many ways, it could be regarded as an extension of the 'Sailor Bill' project, albeit with stylistic diversions. Although it's not as consistent thematically, it should still be regarded as a proper album filled with meaningful new work. The songs on 'Orpheus' have certainly had lots of time spent on them and should be regarded as a serious part of my 'folio'. But, to answer the first part of your question, the theme, or conceptual basis of 'Sailor Bill' is the sea and the coastline of England."
What made you choose such subject matter?
BN "I've actually written and recorded songs and music dealing with similar subject matter in the past, and I'm sure that knowledgeable fans could make up a list of such material. But, when I first ventured into this latest project, I was hunting around for something to hang it on, some kind of inspirational line. After recording a few pieces with different lyrical content, I realised that two or three of them seemed to be dealing with coastal images. The English coastline has always proved inspirational to me, particularly as I have very strong, fond memories of childhood holidays by the sea.
My father had a thing for the sea, a kind of existential soulfulness. He liked being near it, watching its changing patterns, regardless of the weather. I can remember he and I standing on the cliffs on the East Yorkshire coast, watching the waves crash in during the winter, or standing at the harbourside in Ilfracoombe in Devon in the 'fifties, watching the paddle steamer put out to sea. In fact, the photograph of myself with my younger brother Ian, that graces the cover of my 'Diary of a Hyperdreamer' book, was taken by my father at Ilfracoombe and depicts that same steamer.
There are many similar childhood memories of coastal landscapes that haunt me still. Readers of my diary will also know that I continue to enjoy the coast and visit places such as Whitby quite regularly, all year round."
So what sort of images and feelings were you trying to capture in these songs, was it purely the waves, the sky, the seascapes?
BN "All of that, yes, but also the look and feel of seaside towns; piers, funfairs, big wheels, promenades with coloured lights. It's a romanticised view, a thing of memory that, typically, belongs more to the 'fifties and 'sixties than today's more worldly era. Terribly emotional stuff for a man of my age, I suppose! The smell of hot dogs and onions, 'fifties rock n' roll music played through tannoy speakers in fairgrounds to accompany different rides. 'Kiss me quick' hats, Fairground folk art, colourful carnival lettering, end of pier variety shows, Blackpool illuminations, Blackpool Tower Ballroom and circus, boarding houses, tram shelters on the promenade in the rain, candy floss, sticks of rock... all those low-brow signifiers of the industrial working class annual holiday, but lighthouses too, salty dog style sea captains retired from the navy and now running pleasure boat rides for day trippers, holiday camps such as Butlins, caravan sites on cliff tops, broad, quiet beaches away from the seaside towns, rock pools where a boy can sail his model boat and beachcomb with his father.
Wild flowers growing in the fields along the coast itself, soft hills rolling back inland, farms and old houses that have vanished into the sea as a result of coastal erosion, happy open air sex on a deserted cliff-top in my late teens, curving bays, early morning empty beaches, seashells and starfish, harbour bells, fishing nets, seagulls wheeling overhead, salty, breezy air, ancient ships in full sail, treasure troves, voyages to magical islands, an orange sun setting over a blue horizon. It's almost endless! For me, the English coastline is rich with romance and melancholy."
Would you say that 'Sailor Bill' is a melancholy album then?
BN "I think so... to some degree anyway. It is also a metaphorical or symbolic album. It symbolises life's stormy journey, the loss of youth and innocence, the nostalgic longing for sunnier, simpler times, the fear for one's own mortality, the beauty and tragedy of universal decay, the inevitability of things and our ultimate inability to do very much about any of it. Nature triumphing over us perhaps?
It's about yearning too, a deep ache in the soul, a sense of the constant passing of time. Time eroding our lives just as the ocean wears away the land. All very, very English... part of what makes us English in the first place. There's no getting away from the fact that nostalgia plays a big part in the English identity, for good or for ill."
Do you think the current generation has inherited that sense of nostalgia, that sense of fatefullness?
BN "I don't know for sure. There's certainly a different attitude amongst the young now. Maybe they have their own nostalgias, rooted in a different set of values. You can't really generalise these things though. But I do think that the spirit of place that crops up in English romantic art, of whatever form, whether it be books, film, paintings, music, dance, etc, is still out there, still tinting our outlook. it's connected with England being a relatively small island too, I think. That sense of isolation, maybe. As a nation, as a society, we built our simplest dreams on the blue edge of this green isle, we built our fantasy retreats, planned our humble escape from the daily grind. Those little seaside towns sprang up, adorned with their glittering light bulb arcades, crumbling palaces of amusements, fortune tellers, sea foods stalls, toy shops and tea rooms... but, sooner or later, the sea will take them all away. Already has done in some locations, to one degree or another. I often think that a half-abandoned seaside town is more fascinating than one at its peak. It's full of ghosts and memories, tiny echoes of something once treasured but now lost. Faded dreams.
It's all quite sad and poetic, not just because of the way nature shows itself to be indifferent to our dreams but also because our dreams are so small and child-like, so tenderly naive. I think it's beautiful."
Do you also enjoy the kitsch aspect of these things, the awfulness of some of it, you know, when something is so tacky it becomes interesting or amusing?
BN "I didn't approach this particular material with any sense of irony or feeling of 'kitschness' (although the kitsch qualities are sometimes acknowledged within my music and some of my titles). As sophisticated as my tastes are these days, I have a genuine affection for the simple attractions of an old-fashioned seaside town and everything that it represents culturally, historically and metaphysically. There's absolutely no sneering 'high art' bullshit involved in my approach to this work all. It's simply a warmly felt, honest, unashamed and personal reaction to my own history and experience, regardless of the subject's humble qualities. I've always looked for the transcendental within the commonplace, within the everyday, beneath the superficial appearance of things. It's not a documentary piece of music in the 'kitchen sink' sense, it's a gentle fantasy, a fabrication, but one based on increasingly misty recollections from my past."
You seem to have regularly explored your early life through your music and writings. You don't seem afraid of dealing with this aspect of your life in your work. Did you have a happy childhood?
BN "Sometimes happy, sometimes not, like everyone else, I suppose. I know that I always had an awareness of the temporariness of things, the ephemeral nature of life. This awareness seems to be an inescapable part of my nature and, naturally, it works its way into my creative life. Also, I've always had a taste for something just beyond the ordinary, something almost fairy tale like, hallucinatory. Seaside architecture and graphic design, fairgrounds, piers and so on, captured my imagination. As a child, in the 'fifties, I was enchanted by these cheaply fantastical things. The seaside was truly a magical place, sometimes a very strange place."
Strange? In what way?
BN "Well, here's a simple example: I recall the old freak shows that used to populate Blackpool's promenade, and the mysterious booths of the gypsy fortune tellers who could tell you how long you would live and whether you'd leave this world rich or poor. Even the clowns in the Tower Circus were somehow a little sinister, like escapees from another dimension where all was not exactly as it should be. The comedians at the pier variety shows had that old, 'show-biz', free-spirit kind of wildness, very different from life as I knew it back then. Slightly mad and dangerous, or so it seemed at the time! Anyway, these seaside memories and more are all tied up in the inspiration behind 'Sailor Bill'. I should also mention that, my surname being Nelson, it was impossible to ignore my own ancestor's sea faring exploits!"
You said that you've used a lot of 'classical' orchestration throughout the album. Could you a explain a little about that?
BN "Well, I have used orchestral textures occasionally in the past, even in the days of Be Bop Deluxe... 'Darkness' and 'Crystal Gazing' are two songs with real orchestra from that '70's period. But, from more recent times, a piece such as 'Bride of the Atom' comes to mind. Anyway, I felt that symphonic textures would best evoke a nostalgic sense of the English coast.
I wanted it to feel, in a way, quite 'old fashioned', sort of post-war/pre-war British film industry, Ealing Studios soundtrack type sonics... but mashed up with my guitar and my interest in electronic/digitally generated effects. But there's nothing remotely 'avant-garde' about this album really, nothing 'experimental'. Despite its complexity and densely layered production, it's highly melodic and song-oriented, but richly textured and epic in scale. It's an ambitious thing but accessible."
Obviously, you didn't have the financial resources to book a real symphony orchestra to play on this latest material, so, how did you achieve the effect of so many symphonic instruments?
BN "I used my recently acquired Yamaha Motif keyboard which has some lovely orchestral sounds on board. I also played the parts in real time, rather than use computer sequencing, to give the feel of real players being involved. There are 'loosely played' elements that add to this and the finished result isn't mechanical. Of course, it isn't quite the same as using a real live orchestra, but the cost of hiring the real thing would have been phenomenal... these are big arrangements too and would have been costly and time-consuming to score. I also decided to give the orchestra a separate personality from myself, so I've named it the 'Lighthouse Signal Mechanism Orchestra', so that it takes on an identity of its own."
Are the songs structured like pop/rock songs, but with orchestral overdubs?
BN "Not really, although there are some nods to more 'contemporary' music. Many of the songs are quite long, over eight minutes, and don't follow a rock music style repeating pattern, you know, verse-chorus or whatever. Often, the songs develop through several 'movements' and end up in an entirely different place to where they began. Sort of 'cinema classical'.
It would be difficult for someone to listen to, say, the first minute of a song and then exactly predict what the rest of the song's overall form would be. There are constant shifts of key and mood. Having said that, there IS a real consistency to the material. It should be thought of as a suite or a song cycle. Not only is the lyric content themed, but the musical motifs and textures 'cross pollinate' throughout the album. Each song is like one part of a single puzzle. It is, in effect, one big, epic piece of music."
Would you say it is a difficult album for the listener then?
BN "Well, as I said, it is very melodic, so there are definite threads for people to find their way through the orchestral maze. No, I don't think it's difficult at all. I think it's charming, atmospheric and autobiographical, but for anyone expecting tons of orthodox rock guitar solos, perhaps it might seem a bit unusual. But not too much of a challenge I hope. As long as the listener is open to the songwriting side of my work and is prepared to take the album on its own terms, I think they'll find it deeply rewarding, especially over time as there's so much detail to get to grips with.
When approaching these pieces for the first time, the listener should be patient and follow the song's course, allow it to develop to its proper conclusion. Don't expect instant gratification, just let all the different parts reveal themselves in their own time. This album could sustain a listener's interest for a fair while, once the initial surprise has been accepted! Above all, it's an album for the heart, from the heart. An emotional album for old fashioned romantics."
It seems you spent many more hours than usual on this project. What sort of effect did that intensity of work have on your life?
BN "Not good, that's for sure! My health has suffered in several ways, stress levels have been higher than usual, my family has seen far too little of me and I've been constantly pre-occupied with the work, even when away from it. You could say it became all consuming. I've lost the entire summer to this project, being locked away in my tiny studio room, hunched over my equipment whilst the bees buzzed happily outside."
Does the album consist entirely of vocal pieces?
BN "Mostly, yes. But I have inserted a few short instrumental interludes to bridge certain moods and to provide atmospheric focus as well as creating a bit of a 'breathing space' from the longer songs. The album opens with an entirely orchestral instrumental called 'The Lighthouse Keeper's Waltz' which sets the scene, as it were. A kind of overture for what is to follow."
What about 'The Ocean, the Night and the Big, Big Wheel'? It sounds like there's a fairground atmosphere there.
BN "Well, that particular song tries to evoke a romantic encounter, perhaps on a pier at night, looking back at the coastline with all its colourful lights, a funfair somewhere in there, with a big wheel and rock 'n' roll music playing as the dodgems and waltzers whizz around. But the couple in the song are tranquil, at ease with each other, peaceful against the funfair background. They're some distance from it, observing it from the warmth of each other's arms. The song itself is gentle too. It uses a mid/slow tempo electronic noise loop as a percussion track but has a big, bright, hook of a chorus, quite a pop song in some ways, but it's rather lovely too. And of course, it features the Lighthouse Signal Mechanism Orchestra. There's also a rather nice, and very appropriate period touch at the end of this track, but I won't tell you what it is. It should be a pleasant surprise for those who are tuned into it, a smile raiser!"
How about 'A Boat Named St. Christopher'? Does this refer to a real boat?
BN "Well, it is real but it was actually a toy boat that my father bought me! It was red and cream, made out of tin and had the words, 'St. Christopher' printed on its bow. It was powered by an electric, battery driven motor. I used to sail it in rock pools on the beach at Reighton Gap when I was a boy. It lost it many, many years ago but recently found an identical one at an antique fair. A couple of bits missing from it but otherwise in good condition. I was pleased to be reminded of the original one. It conjures up images of my father and pleasant days on the beach.
Anyway, this particular tune is an instrumental and evokes the memory of the toy boat."
What about 'Illuminated Promenade'? Sounds like this could be an instrumental too?
BN "Yes, it is. It evokes Blackpool's 'Golden Mile' with its illuminations. I went there as a very young child, a babe in arms the first time, I think. But I recall the illuminations with great fondness. I remember being wheeled in my pushchair along the promenade on a crisp autumn evening, looking up at the fantastic display of lights as the brightly decorated trams rattled by. This piece of music attempts two things, one is to paint a picture of Blackpool's Edwardian past, when the lights were in their earlier incarnation and times were more 'genteel'. The second is to pay tribute to Blackpool's variety shows of the 'fifties and 'sixties when big band style swing music was hanging on, despite the increasing popularity of rock 'n' roll music.
I remember attending traditional variety shows at venues such as the Winter Gardens and The Opera House, as well as seeing rock n' roll acts such as Marty Wilde And His Wildcats, Billy Fury, Karl Denver and Johnny Kidd and The Pirates playing in 'end of the pier' theatres. This particular album track starts off in orchestral mood, with a hint of palm court or tea room ensemble about it, then morphs into a variety show 'big band' feel, complete with trombone solo and electric organ, that sort of, 'mock-jazz' that those pit bands sometimes played in an attempt to sound 'modern.' I had a lot of fun with this track, particularly trying to restrict the jazzier elements to the feel of the period."
Would you say that you were satisfied with the album, now that it's finished?
BN "I'm not sure anything is ever finished, at least with regard to my own music. I get bored with it, or I run out of time, or equipment fails and I'm forced to draw the line but... there's always something I'd like to change, to improve upon. In fact, I genuinely 'finished' this particular project twice, and then went back to work on it some more. And if it wasn't for the fact that there's a manufacturing/release schedule to adhere to, I'd probably still be refining it, adding new material. But it has to stand on its own merits now and I no longer have any control over its destiny. It is, as they say, what it is.
As for being satisfied, I can't really relate such a feeling to my music. I guess I'm never satisfied, which is why I continue to move on, make another album. At this point in time, I just can't say what my ultimate feelings about the 'Sailor Bill' album will be. Can't tell if I hate it or love it, couldn't say whether it's brilliant or an ambitious folly. Eventually, I'll be able to see it more clearly but, right now, I'm still too wrapped up in the process of making it to be able to hear it properly. I just hope that there are some people out there who will be receptive to it and to what it is attempting to convey. I think it's a generous record, a gift to the right person... but they've got to be prepared to spare the time to unwrap it!"
Bill Nelson's custom record label, 'SONOLUXE, ' has released the long-awaited album, 'Rosewood Volume One'. This is the first ever Bill Nelson instrumental album designed to spotlight his acoustic guitar playing and is also the first ever release on the 'SONOLUXE' label.
The album's15 instrumental tracks paint beautiful pictures with sound, providing an ideal accompaniment to a mythical, dreamy English summer. The music blends tints of folk, ambient, jazz, blues and contemporary composition along with spontaneous improvisation and discrete digital processing. The album is both melodic and mysterious, humming with the electricity of imagination.
'Rosewood Volume One' is only the first half of Bill's acoustic guitar project. 'Rosewood Volume Two, ' containing another 15 tracks, will be released a little later in the year. Volume Two has a slightly more uptempo feel, whilst still atmospheric and evocative. The two albums are companion pieces and should be heard in sequence to follow the music's developmental thread.
'Rosewood Volume One' is instantly available from 'The Dreamsville Department Store'. Simply click on the Dreamsville Department Store name on the Dreamsville Home Page, then click on the 'Rosewood Volume One' listing and you will be automatically connected with Sound On Sound magazine's store. (Sound On Sound have kindly provided facilities for ordering by mail). Select your country of residence, click on the 'Bill Nelson Music' name on the menu listed on the left hand side of the page and then select the product you require. Follow instructions through to the checkout, completing your details where requested. Your order will be processed for immediate dispatch. Payment can be made by credit card or cheque.
DREAMSVILLE WEBSITE PROVES TO BE A BIG HIT WITH FANS
Dreaming of Dreamsville
The response to the recent launch of 'DREAMSVILLE, The Official Global Bill Nelson Website', has been overwhelmingly positive. Although the site is still in its infancy and much work still remains to be done, the initial reaction from fans has been extremely encouraging. Within hours of its launch, the site was flooded with enthusiastic praise and the Dreamsville Inn forum is now constantly buzzing with the vibrant thoughts and conversations of hundreds of regular visitors.
Bill Nelson, when asked how he felt about the public response to the site said: "I'm overwhelmed by the kind words and continuing loyalty of all those who have posted messages of support on the Dreamsville Inn Forum. It's a fabulous feeling to know that my music and work continues to connect with those generous hearts and minds who are tuned into it. I intend to continue the development of Dreamsville far into the future, gradually building up a self-contained resource that will diligently serve all who enjoy my music, wherever they may reside.
Of course, Dreamsville has received tremendous help from various quarters: Ian Gilby, Paul Gilby, Dave Graham, Chuck Bird and Jon Wallinger being amongst the principal guardian angels, but the ultimate success of the site is down to those many afficionados of my work who continue to support what I do, year after year... people who have been open-hearted and brave enough to negotiate the twists and turns of my creative life with me. My map is also their map and the complex journey is accomplished in unison as a shared experience, together. It is to these people that Dreamsville owes its being. And it is because of them that I'm pursuaded that my efforts might be worthwhile, despite my occasional bouts of self-doubt. I'd like to thank everyone, both behind the scenes and out in the public auditorium, for their much needed help in dragging my dreams from the shadows into the light of day. I hope that they will continue to enjoy sharing these musical and visual explorations with me."
BILL NELSON'S AUTUMN TOUR PLANS BEGIN TO TAKE SHAPE
Opium (Arts) Ltd, Bill Nelson's management company, are currently working with a London-based agency to book venues for Bill's planned November Solo UK Tour. Several possible venues have been suggested but, at this stage, nothing has been officially confirmed.
It does seem that one venue in the midlands has already been advertising tickets for sale, despite the fact that official confirmation for this particular concert has yet to be given from Bill's management team. The Dreamsville Rocket advises fans to wait until official dates are properly confirmed on the Dreamsville website before buying tickets. Basically, until a proper tour announcement is made on this site, all other announcements are unauthorised and speculative.
Whilst these plans are being discussed, Bill Nelson is working towards the actual concept and presentation details of the November tour. Bill plans to write new songs and instrumentals for these concerts, AND hopefully put together backing tracks for one or two older songs too. ('Though this latter idea is only a possibility at this stage. It will depend upon having enough time available beyond the new material). He also hopes to be able to assemble a brand new presentation of his videogram-style visuals, to act as a stage backdrop. Bill has been constantly developing ideas for the tour and, until the deadline for advertising is reached, everything will be subject to change. Like Bill's recordings, the ideas are in a constant state of flux until the final shape and form materialises.
One possible concept, however, can be revealed by the Dreamsville Rocket, and it is this: The tour may go out under the following banner: 'BILL NELSON AND THE GREAT NORTH YORKSHIRE ASTRAL ORCHESTRA, One Man, A Galaxy Of Overdubs... ' The Great North Yorkshire Astral Orchestra, of course, is simply Bill with his pre-recorded interactive backing tapes, over which he will play guitar and sing live. But the framework that the title provides adds a theatrical, romantic element to the performance, a context within which Bill can feel inspired. Long time fans of Bill's music will be familiar with his passion for inventing fictional names and frameworks for his work so it will come as no surprise that the forthcoming tour will continue in that tradition.
The element of 'play', (in the sense of a child using play to explore and respond to its personal environment), is an essential component in Bill Nelson's creative life. He has always attempted to preserve a wide-eyed wonder, a feeling of joyous awakening, whilst creating his music and visuals. An appropriate choice of titles for songs, albums, videos and concert tours becomes an essential part of this process. The 'naming of things' gives them pupose and power. Names become magical incantations, keys to unlock other realms. Whilst Bill's music could be thought of as, on the one hand, subtle, serious and knowing, on the other it is playful, whimsical and gently surreal. It is the balancing and blending of these various elements that has shaped Bill's working methods and creative choices over the years. The forthcoming Autumn tour, whatever banner it eventually goes out under, will provide a platform for further experiments in the fine art of practical dreaming.
DID BRIGHTON ROCK?
A weekend in Brighton to celebrate the work of Harold Budd, his last live performance as sadly Harold is retiring from music.
A long and frustrating drive down from Selby on the Friday meant I had a long soak in the bath as soon as I found my hotel, then with the aches and pains washed away, it was out to find a pub. The first pub I found, I went into, and who should be at the bar but Pete Harwood (guitar tech from the tour last year) and fellow Satellite, Dave Standeven. They were the guitar techs for the show, so I knew I was going to be filled in on all the gossip!
They gave me a run-down of what I was to expect the following day, including mention of a gong solo... very intriguing!
Early hours of the morning and time to find my hotel...
Saturday lunchtime found me (again) in the pub... who should be sitting there this time but Harold Budd himself! I introduced myself and he said he recognised my face from the couple of times we had met previously. It was then time for Harold to head back to the venue to continue with rehearsals and he invited me back with him so I could say "Hi" to Bill.
I hung around during the rehearsals for a while, then decided to make an exit as I didn't want to spoil the evening's entertainment by seeing too much of the show too early! But what I did see was a real interesting mix of musicians and musical styles.
So back to the pub and met up with several of the Nelson-Faithful... then onto the show. First up was the 'Balanescu String Quartet'. String quartets are not my favourite thing, probably because I have no idea what they are doing or how they are doing it, but very enjoyable all the same!
Then, on comes Harold, with Theo Travis on flute and sax. For me, this was the real start of the show. An excellent mix but over far too soon. Then it was Bill's turn, nice to hear a great welcome from the crowd when he walked on! Firstly, Bill played a couple of pieces with his acoustic guitar, but the sound mix did not do the music any justice, it all seemed rather bass driven... if only Ian Thorpe had been mixing engineer this would have been awesome!
On came John Foxx to join Harold and Bill. This, for me was one of the highlights of the evening. Bill was playing his Gus guitar, so the mix was better, unfortunately there was an electrical buzz coming from somewhere, but I didn't care! John Foxx's dreamy choral chants blended perfectly with Bill's guitar and Harold's piano, this trio really did seem to gel.
Harold closed the first half with a couple of beautiful piano pieces, which although very minimal at times, had a beauty that had me hanging on every note. So flip the disc and let's see what's on side two...
The programme stated - Steve Jansen: solo gong. I had been forewarned about this event by Dave and Pete, so was really looking forward to it. Steve started by almost brushing the surface of this huge gong, doing very light drum rolls around the edge, slowly increasing in force and moving the playing area form edge to centre to edge. The resulting sound was a resonant bass hum which tended to phase in and out while pitch was ridden up and down depending on what Steve was doing at the time. I could tell that the couple next to me weren't as impressed as I was, their tutting and complaining "Hurry-ups" was starting to get on my nerves, I could have listened to this bit alone for hours.
But Robin Guthrie's guitar soon took over from the gong-hum, playing sustained/looped chords and building layer upon layer of them until there was a wash of sound. Steve Cobby then sat at his laptop and introduced bells and swirling electronic noises, which fit in so well with the background guitar. Then came Harold, followed by Theo, then Alexander Balanescu, all adding their piece, again the mix started to suffer as people could be seen playing but not much heard at times!
Bill then joined the band with some exquisite E-Bow work, at times it seemed like a bit of a scramble between who would be playing their bit next and at times when everyone was playing it all got a bit muddy. Then came Jah Wobble and Steve Jansen and with the addition of bass and drums, this really kicked the piece into gear! Both Steve and Jah were exceptionally solid, a tight and dynamic sound that took the existing music to a different dimension. My only criticism was that I thought Jah Wobble could have varied his bass riff a bit. Whether it was to drift into a gentler style for a moment before raising the stakes again, or just to take his riff somewhere else so that it wasn't so repetitive. It made Jah look a bit like a one-trick-pony, which I know he isn't as I have seen him live before.
Also towards the end of the 'second half' was an annoying feedback sound which seemed to be getting worse and worse and which the sound engineer didn't seem to have a clue about how to rectify!
So as the piece suddenly finished (I don't think an ending had been worked out) the audience gave deserved applause in the hope of an encore... but after playing a piece of music that lasted almost an hour, how could you top that? They didn't try, but we had certainly already got our money's worth.
Best wishes to Harold and whatever venture he decides upon, I will hold fond memories for a long time.
THE DREAMSVILLE DEPARTMENT STORE OFFERS RARITIES FOR SALE
Three of Bill Nelson's favourite albums have been acquired from stock that Voiceprint Records were apparently planning to destroy. The albums are: 'Confessions Of A Hyperdreamer', 'Crimsworth' and 'After The Satellite Sings'.
These recordings are essential works in the Nelsonic canon and, for those who don't already own them, are 'must have' items. The Dreamsville Rocket asked Bill how these albums fit into the overall scheme of things and what his feelings are about them today. Bill said: "Crimsworth is an unusual album in that it contains music I composed for an art installation, back in the early 'nineties. The installation was actually called 'Crimsworth' and was built by the artist Rob Ward. The music itself was recorded at Fairview Recording Studio, near Hull, on the 21st and 22nd of July 1994, and comprises just two long 'movements.' It is primarily concerned with particular textures and atmospheres, rather than thematic development. In this sense, it is quite abstract but, at the same time, deeply reflective and soothing. Some people have said that they consider it the most 'ambient' of my works. I'm not sure whether the term is one that I'm entirely comfortable with as I find it generically limiting. Like my friend Harold Budd, I prefer the term 'discrete', in the sense that the music doesn't force its attention upon the listener. At the same time, however, I wouldn't consider it background music. It is full of detail and ever evolving micro-patterns that slowly reveal themselves to the focussed ear. It is quite accessible as a surface piece but offers further information beneath this. The deeper one listens, the greater the reward.
'Confessions Of A Hyperdreamer' (My Secret Studio volume 2), is a double-album set. (The set comprises two cds in one box). The first of these is called 'Weird Critters' and the second is 'Magnificent Dream People.' They contain a mix of vocals and instrumentals. It's actually one of my favourite collections of music. Some pieces were recorded in my 'TAPE RECORDER COTTAGE STUDIO, others at Fairview studio. Most of the recordings come from the earlier part of the1990's, 'though the album itself wasn't released until '96. I chose several tracks from these two albums to provide foundations for my videograms, many of which found their way onto the 'Flashlight Dreams And Fleeting Shadows' DVD a couple of years ago. I still think 'Confessions Of A Hyperdreamer' has a timeless feel that will come across as fresh to new listeners. It's also a very accessible collection of songs, easy to digest. The packaging features some of my visual collage art which is intended to complement the music.
The other album we've rescued is 'After The Satellite Sings'. This is a very important piece of work for me in that it explored the fusion of rock music with drum n' bass and trip-hop. It was somewhat ahead of its time and was cited by long time David Bowie collaborator, Reeves Gabrels as being inspirational in the creation of David Bowie's 'Earthling' album. In actual fact, my much earlier 'Practically Wired' album touched on similar experiments even before I recorded 'After The Satellite Sings.' In more recent years, one or two other guitarists have gone down the same avenue, Jeff Beck in particular, but 'Practically Wired' and 'After The Satellite Sings' were 'first off the starting block' as it were. I guess, in their own way, these albums have been quietly influential. 'After The Satellite Sings' was composed, recorded and mixed in Fairview Studios over a two week period. Remarkable, when I listen to it now. It sounds rich and complex, the recording quality being superbly handled by engineer John Spence. The songs are melodic and immediate too, an album I'm proud of."
All three of these albums are now available from The Dreamsville Department Store for £9.99 pence, plus postage and packing. Supplies are extremely limited so copies will be allocated on a 'first come, first served' basis.
BILL NELSON UNVEILS NEW WEBSITE!
For some time now, Bill Nelson has dreamed of creating a website which could serve not only as a research center for fans of his creative work but also as an expression of his personal life and interests. Now, with the launch of the first phase of 'Dreamsville, The Official, Global, Bill Nelson Website', that dream finally begins to materialise.
Dreamsville is a digital hamlet that will eventually house all manner of delights, a domain that will allow its citizens a direct insight into Bill's life and work along with the multitude of things that have inspired it.
The site appears in a fairly rudimentary form at this moment but will gradually be expanded as time allows. Bill's priority will always be his music and so the development of Dreamsville will, quite naturally, have to fit around this core activity. Eventually, however, Dreamsville will provide a complete and unique resource with a personal touch and attention to detail that can only be found in an artist originated and run site.
Like any new town, Dreamsville comes loaded with hopes and aspirations, manifestos and ambitions. Its success, however, will largely depend upon its citizens and visitors. In this respect, each individual fan's enthusiasm and input is welcomed. The town's growth and future life depends very much upon the support of all those who consider themselves to be connoisseurs of Bill Nelson's complex body of work. To help create a sense of community, 'The Dreamsville Inn' has been specially constructed as a means of communication for all loyal Nelsonians, world wide. It is hoped that this pleasant and traditionally 'English' location will provide a hospitable meeting place for considered and intelligent conversation.
This very newspaper, 'The Dreamsville Rocket', will be issued as and when news arrives of activities that may interest you. All issues will be archived at 'The Newspaper Office' so that a permanent reference can be built up. You will be able to subscribe to 'The Dreamsville Rocket' for free and thereby be informed of the publication of the latest issue.
Those who have followed Bill Nelson's diary over the years will be able to continue with this by regularly checking in the 'study' area of 'Villa Nelsonia' which is accessible from the town plan on the Dreamsville home page. The ongoing 'Diary Of A Hyperdreamer' will be posted there as each entry is created. There will be other areas within the villa for Bill's personal musings too, although these will appear a little later as the site develops.
So, there you have it... Welcome to Dreamsville and The Dreamsville Rocket.
ROSEWOOD: On its way!
Bill Nelson's latest recording project, a two volume set called 'ROSEWOOD, Ornaments And Graces For Acoustic Guitar' is about to be manufactured. It is hoped to make 'ROSEWOOD VOLUME ONE' available sometime in May.
'ROSEWOOD VOLUME TWO' will be released a little further into the summer.
This project concentrates on acoustic guitar instrumentals but is more than just the usual 'unplugged' confections served up as rustic fodder for suburban hillbillys these days. It is a direct linear development from the 'Dreamland To Starboard' album and sets Bill's acoustic guitar in an ambient soundscape that suggests a jazz and contemporary classical context as well as a broader neo-roots music vibe.
The track listing for the two albums is given here:-
'ROSEWOOD' VOLUME ONE-
1. Blues For Orpheus
2. Escondido Oleander
6. Cascade. (Improvisation For Three Harp Guitars)
7. She Swings Skirt
8. Mexico City Dream. (For Gil Evans)
10. The Girl In The Park In The Rain
11. Apollonian Tremolo
12. Giant Hawaiian Showboat
14. The Land Of Lost Time
15. Sleepless In The Ticking Dark
'ROSEWOOD' VOLUME TWO-
3. 'Little Cantina'
4. 'Rolling Home, (Yorkshire Raga No.1)'
7. 'William Is Wearing The Cardigan Of Light'
8. 'The Autumn Tram, (Yorkshire Raga No. 2)'
9. 'Hi Lo La'
10. 'Rising Sap'
11. 'Blue Cloud'
12. 'See-Through Nightie'
13. 'Ordinary Storm, Waiting For Rain'
14. 'The Light Is Kinder In This Corner Of Corona'
15. 'Your Whole Life Dreaming
'Rosewood' is a limited edition release on Bill's own 'SONOLUXE' label and will be exclusively available from 'THE DREAMSVILLE DEPARTMENT STORE' or from official merchandising stalls at Bill Nelson's live concerts.
HAROLD BUDD. A SPECIAL TRIBUTE CONCERT
Bill Nelson will be featured in a very special, not to be missed concert for his long-time friend Harold Budd, being staged in Brighton on the 21st of May, 2005 as part of the Brighton Arts Festival. The concert will include performances by Jah Wobble, Robin Guthrie, John Foxx, Theo Travis, Steve Cobby and Steve Jansen, (as well as Bill) plus other special guests still to be confirmed. Check out the Brighton Festival website for further details. This concert can never be repeated and is not to be missed!
ROSEWOOD, Ornaments And Graces For Acoustic Guitar, Volume One
Bill's personal view of the album's development and its place within his work:-
"I'd considered making an acoustic guitar based album for some time... but an instrumental one that would comfortably sit alongside such projects as 'The Romance Of Sustain,' 'Plaything' and 'Dreamland To Starboard.' I also wanted to avoid the obvious 'unplugged' approach. You know the kind of thing I mean, that faintly commercial, middle class, faux-folksy, nouveau-puritanical, rootsy methodism, with its slyly manipulative suggestion of a kind of 'backwoods/backwards' naivety... the easy seduction of an unsophisticated, barefoot girl outside a log cabin with her Ma and Pa away in town to buy feed for the chickens. Or maybe the rustic lure of big beards and banjos, overalls, oil stains and tobacco, the romantic refuge of city boys stricken by an identity crisis. Not that I haven't consciously employed such notions of whimsy within my own music in the past. And I've certainly purchased and enjoyed my own fair share of those kind of albums, authentic or otherwise. So, I'm not coming down heavy on the Hollywood Hillbilly Hordes here. What I'm trying to say is that I wanted to bring something else to this project, other than its essential declaration of woody 'acoustic-ness.'
In one sense 'Rosewood' is a reversal of older confabulations, (look it up, it doesn't exist), that easy thrill of taking technology and applying primitivist attitudes to it... old hat now, (and for some time too). Not that approach, definitely not, but a slightly different one.
From these hesitant attempts to rationalise my methods, you might surmise that Rosewood was deliberately set aside, conceptualised, cut, dried and prepared, before I even tuned my guitar. As if the hatching of a concept was the alpha and omega of the thing. This wasn't quite the case. I may often begin in such a manner but the music inevitably demands its own violent deviation from such restrictions. It inevitably throws a curve ball.
Of course, I always have the option to adhere to the original narrow remit or ignore it completely. I could profitably pursue the clear-cut track of the super-disciplined, minimalist aesthete, or actually have fun and play around with whatever the void throws up. Some would view the latter as a lazy approach but they'd be wrong. It's tougher dealing with the freedom to run anywhere at all in a field, rather than to walk down some pre-ordained white line. The more options available, the harder the task. It can go either way or otherwise. And 'otherwise' is often the best. Just the sheer sensuousness of playing and hearing it play back provides all the joy that I need or would wish to convey... Just because it's there for me and it's mere existence appears beautiful and an accidental miracle of sorts. But... aren't all miracles accidental, God being dead, (other than in the fevered imaginations of the devout?) Despite my half-hearted resistance, I've more than often found that 'going with the flow' leads to far more vital and potent results than pursuing the established art magazine, bourgeois affectations so beloved of the chattering classes... slick, over controlled hang-overs from English '80's Thatcherism. Such restrictive attitudes, to me, are nothing more than cliched expressions of fashion as fascism, (and so on ad nauseum). Music for anal-retentives? Well, suburban coffee table, dinner-party aesthetics are generally guaranteed to bring out the rebel in me. And the boorish, anarchist iconoclast. But then, I'm bound to be biased, aren't I?
Anyway... back to the act of ART and all its absolutely irrelevant, transcendent perversions, the stuff we love and adore: Each time I begin an act of music making, I'm presented with a multitude of options. So many different angles and approaches and obsessions, all competing for my time and energy. Another cliche, perhaps, but: The artist's lot isn't so much to create, as to choose. He is adrift in a whirlpool of possibilities. It is a fierce place. 'Choose' is perhaps a misleading term in this instance. To cast the dice, is probably more apt.
I am, on the one hand, just a simple guitar player with only one song to sing. On the other, I'm a reasonably well read, thoughtful, self-injurious, open-minded, poetically motivated, conceptually aware artist with selfishly personal, troubled and complex ideas to explore, (or 'issues to resolve,' to put it in pop-psychoanylitical terms). Or, on the other hand, (Oh, yes, I have three, you know), I'm simply in love with the sound of music, the physical feel of a guitar and the crackle and fizz and superficial beauty of my own gossamer thoughts and dreams. The latter, most probably. Or perhaps all of the above. Delete according to taste.
With 'Rosewood' I wanted to take a basic, 'primitive' acoustic guitar and deal with it as if it was an electric instrument. This isn't to say that Rosewood is an experimental work. That old Jean Cocteau thing of 'taking a line for a walk' doesn't necessarily denote a dive into uncharted waters... Music's well-mapped oceans are pretty much over-fished anyway. The notion of 'newness' is as much a conservative concept as 'traditionalism.'
An establishment perpetuated myth. Pop-Radicalism is rarely new, only like shifting sand, formed by tides of time and place and commerce, rather than absolute cultural need. Often nothing more than the kind of metaphysical lies touted by snake-oil salesmen, hoping to seduce their customers with the heady perfume of miracles and danger. A pirated, fake Chanel, mixed from sour and stale ingredients, masked with vanilla. It wasn't always so...
Despite all this nebulous talk of here and there, now and then, Rosewood may be perceived by some to be fundamentally, deliciously retrogressive. Also, pretty, attractive, charming, mellow... . The plink, plonk, twang of nostagia.
I cheerfully admit it has much to do with memory and nostalgia... but it remembers a past that never actually existed. The whole thing is a figment of imagination, a chimera, a fantasy projected in Disneyesque pastels. It may appear odd and alien to those few who encountered a head-scratching moment as a result of some of the acoustic interludes on my earlier albums, or to those who still hanker after amped-up '70's guitar heroisms.
It may certainly appear odd to those who are a little too young, old, or insular to have explored the kitsch technicolour fringes of retroland, the lush meadows of English pastoralism, the smokey blue neon of '50's soho jazz clubs, the whirr and gleam of Post-Victorian fairy's wings, the rattle, bang and zoom of tin-can rocketships, the fairground colours of canal narrow-boats, the white hot hiss of steam trains, the warm, glowing golden static of Mullard valves in old radios, the Orson Welles-blessed zither's of Eastern Europe, the eternal attraction of a box of Lakeland coloured pencils alongside crisp, blank, white sheets of paper, the inevitable melancholy of impeding old age and autumn, the remembrance of youth and its follies, the tiny diamonds in snow, just after falling, the stars that shine through windows at night after love and sex, the church bells that drift over meadows and frame the first cuckoo of spring, the winding stream that sings and ripples and dazzles a bumblebee's eyes in summer, the bluebells that swoon beneath trees and perfume my dreams, the clouds that shift, change and form the faces of family ghosts in an August blue sky, the sound of my fingers on the strings of an acoustic guitar, the hum of a broken effects unit... All this, is my Rosewood and more. And Rosewood, in case you hadn't spotted it, is also the name of the most typical wood used in the construction of the fretboards of acoustic guitars. As above, so below. It's all surface and as deep as a wishing well."
BILL NELSON. APRIL 2005
Bill Nelson Discography
- 40 Vocals
- 126 Instruments & Performance
- 150 Writing & Arrangement
- 4 Featuring & Presenting
- 124 Production
- 49 Technical
- 31 Visual
- 11 Acting, Literary & Spoken