Graham Reid | | 3 min read
Actually, the title on this article is a fib: this is not a revisit to the astonishingly prolific English musician Bill Nelson (whom Elsewhere has never previously visited), but merely an excuse to wax lyrical about his typically indefinable album from 1981 entitled -- hold your breath -- Quit Dreaming And Get On The Beam.
And that probably is a reference to . . . ?
The absurdly talented Belarssian child-gymnast Olga Korbut who stunned the world at 15 or somesuch youthful age with her physically supple appearance at the '72 Olympics?
Actually, maybe not.
Maybe the idiosyncratic Nelson -- at this time of writing aged 68 and looking at about seven or eight metres of albums under his own name on his sagging home shelves -- had some other meaning in mind.
And he's a man you'd never second-guess.
So let's not . . . but just say if you want the shorthand on this art student/musician's long and obviously productive career you'd factor in the following: coming from a fine arts background he was inspired by the avant-garde, formed the prog-inclined Be-Bop Deluxe (1972-78, which included Charlie Tumahai who was later bassist for New Zealand's reggae band Herbs), and then Bill Nelson's Red Noise which was influenced by punk and New Wave.
But most of his dozens of subsequent albums have appeared under his own name.
The first of those was Quit Dreaming and Get On The Beam (1981) and what's interesting about it is just how much along the axis of Bowie (Lodger/Scary Monsters period), Fripp (Under Heavy Manners) and early-Seventies Eno the songs are.
In a brief 2005 reassassment of this period of Nelson's career, David Peschek in the Guardian noted this album -- which he considered the best of the three Nelson albums released by Mercury -- is "an extremely odd record, existing at the intersection of new wave, punk, electro-pop and glam: a kind of manic, Eno-esque meta-pop".
There's an often manic intensity to the songs and Nelson was described by Gary Numan as his favourite guitarist, bar none. You can hear the evidence on these songs.
And the clip below for the single Banal is sort of Bowie with a better guitar solo. And this piece has the same jerky rhythms of Bowie material at the time.
But it is the bonus album of electronica/ambient material which has perhaps stood the test of time better.
That quite separate album - entitled Sounding the Ritual Echo/Atmospheres for Dreaming -- brought together 15 pieces which he said were recorded "in the privacy of my own home on broken or faulty tape machines and speakers, each track possessing its own technological deformity".
He wrote "they are presented here not only as a form of personal exorcism but as a public demonstration of the private art of practical dreaming".
And when you listen to the more gentle ambient experiments, like the one below, you can hear why he was invited to work on material for David Sylvian's beautiful Gone to Earth album five years later.
Perhaps these instrumentals have been influenced by what Eno and Cluster were doing in the years previous (on the albums Cluster and Eno, and After the Heat) but given what he'd been doing up to this point it's possible Nelson had arrived at a similar sound quite independently.
Unfortunately as far as I can see, you can only get the titular songs album through iTunes (an expanded edition) and hear them on Spotify but the other record of instrumentals doesn't appear to be easily available.
To get that tasty item you probably need to do what I did, rumble through the discount bins of battered old vinyl.
That's a rewarding thing in itself, but even more so in my case with this one: this double set which has been bending my ear for weeks cost a paltry $4.