Thursday, 9 November 2017

Artist Choice; Bill Nelson

I'm gutted, Bill Nelson played an album launch show for his "Songs for Ghosts" album at the end of October and I couldn't go. There is the risk that every show might be his last, and having made it to the last two I was keen to get there.

The history from Be Bop Deluxe, through Red Noise and the solo decades is accurate enough on Wikipedia to get the picture, although for recent years it breaks down rather. As I write this Bill has a brilliant new website just launched. You should go there to understand the breadth and depth of his music and also to have a tour round the forum. This is far and away the best on the interwebs with a genuine community feel, and regular contributions from the object of our affection himself.

My Nelsonic journey started with the Be Bop De Luxe single "Japan" I doubt Bill would choose this as a point of entry to his work, but there you are...

When "Drastic Plastic" came along in 1978 I was undecided, the easier stuff was fine, but it took until the release of the Futurist Manifesto box set to really give this the attention it deserves. I'm not particularly a fan of Be Bop De Luxe, but as a stepping stone to the good stuff "Drastic Plastic" does it for me.

The good stuff being "Sound On Sound" by a group he called Red Noise. If you have any leanings towards the best 'Post Punk' or end of the 70s music you need to hear this. It's one of those albums that should be heard as an album. No substandard songs at all. Also responsible for a causing a lifetime of pain for others, as it is the album where I first took notice of fretless bass, still a work in progress.

In a story you may have heard before on the blog, I drifted with Bill in the mid 80s, vaguely aware of his new stuff and playing his old regularly. I reconnected in 2012 with "Joy Through Amplification" when it was reviewed in Classic Rock. Vortexion Dream is now one of my favourite Nelson songs. Sadly you will have to wait for it to appear as a download as the CD is sold out. (Update 19th June 2018, it's out - get it now - probably Bill's best "rock album")

Bill presses typically 500 cds which by and large sell out quickly, sadly often appearing on EBay at inflated prices fairly soon after. There are some great albums still available in his back catalogue at ridiculous prices, my choices would be "Fantasmatron" & "Signals From Realms Of Light". One of the joys of Bill Nelson's music is its diversity and if you are new I would have a happy hour browsing through the soundclips and reading the wonderful notes that accompany each entry. Some of his best work is being slowly re-released through Bandcamp. The three volume Dreamers Companion series is a good introduction to Bill's recent work, but you will be buying the complete albums as well.

A recent innovation was a live album of last year's show. "Tripping The Light Fantastic" currently on heavy rotation on the iPod, I hope there is one of this year's performance. This is Bill at the launch of the Blip! album in 2013.

Compare "I Always Knew You Would Find Me" here, on Tripping... & on "Plectrajet" for Bill's seemingly endless inventiveness over the same theme. He seems to be on a sort of stream of consciousness never ending recording session, with one album merging into the next, but with each still retaining a sense of completeness and individuality. And that is for me a lot of the appeal of Bill's music, while it is all undeniably him, with a clear definable style, you never know quite what you are going to get. Recent albums have shifted from Special Metal, one of his most 'rock' albums for a long time, to "All That I Remember" an instrumental reflection on his early life. The homespun quality of his work, warm & giving while remaining the work of a consumate professional, is another appeal in the age of the airbrushed, protooled to death recording.

Recommendations? I have 32 solo albums plus Red Noise & Be Bop De Luxe on the iPod so how to narrow it down. The albums mentioned above are all good starting points. Bill himself often mentions "The Alchemical Adventures of Sailor Bill" as a favourite. I'll admit I took a while with this one but persevering paid dividends and I agree it is one of his best and that I think is one of the big rewards of listening to Bill Nelson, for every "Special Metal" that is an instant win, there are two "Sailor Bills" that demands something in return for giving up their charms. By the time they have worked their way in to your soul you will have made friends for life. So, my advice, read the store page, visit the forum, and immerse yourself in some of the most thoughtful, considered music you can buy.

My next purchases will be the Trilogy of "Silvertone Fountains", "Illuminated at Dusk", and "Mazda Kaleidoscope" before one of them sells out. I'm feeling brave so will post this blog to the Dreamsville Forum and invite other people's reflections on the appeal of Bill. I'm sure there will be far more eloquent explanations than mine. Find it here.

Bill Nelson is one of those artists who people have "heard of" but who remains just off the radar for many. This is going to become a theme for the next few blog posts. Next time, Kim Edgar. Who?


  1. Wonderful piece, Tim.

    I guess I was trying to be eloquent when I posted the following on his forum after the event, but I probably just sounded silly:
    "Whether in person or in spirit, it's an honor to be along for the ride on your amazing musical journey. Through your albums and events, as fans, we're witnessing something unique - a truly creative artist, possessing both jaw-dropping skill and boundless imagination."

    ps. I would love to see 'Joy Through Amplification' back available again soon. In the meantime, as you mentioned, there are so many stunning albums for folks to dig into.


  2. John, thanks sounds eloquent to me. I agree with every word...