Memories of the Future – a review of “Trial By Intimacy” by Bill Nelson

Trial By Intimacy - The Book Splendours by Bill Nelson
Trial By Intimacy - The Book Splendours

It’s one thing to be one step ahead.  Quite another to be 30 years ahead.  Bill Nelson has continuously innovated in music, sometimes so far ahead of the wave that he has only been noticed through those who have been influenced by him such as The Kaiser Chiefs, Ambulance, The Darkness, Foo Fighters et al.

This boxed set “Trial By Intimacy – The Book Splendours” preceded ambient electronica by a Country Decade and has just been re-released by Esoteric Records, having been out of print for many years on Bill Nelson’s DIY Cocteau Records label.

The box comprises recordings made by Bill Nelson at his “Echo Observatory” home studio. Comprising some eighty pieces of music, the set was a fine example of Bill Nelson’s grasp of ambient music and has subsequently been hailed as a groundbreaking work.

Check out this interview with the gorgeous Mariella Frostrup, which shows Bill Nelson composing material in this genre / period long before anyone owned an i Mac !


Trial By Intimacy” contains four albums of mostly short ambient pieces of music that will provoke, inspire, question, comfort and challenge your views of what one man with a tape recorder can do in a day.  Part of the charm of this material is that it was composed on primitive equipment in Nelson’s studio above the kitchen in his house.  The instruments Nelson chooses vary from state of the art electronica available at the time to children’s Casio keyboards, Marimbas and archive radio extracts.  The contrasts and contradictions between futurama and distant memories, between grown up electronica and childhood musical toys provide the listener with a naïve charm and a connection into the inner soul of the artist.  Many of the pieces were laid down in a native state, without over production and ‘polishing the grooves’ so hard that the artist is drowned in the process.

So, why would you not want to buy this album?   Tough question, but I guess the clue is in the answer to why you would alsolove it.  The primitive approach to electronic ambient music may not appeal to anyone that wants to buy their music fully produced, sanitised and so on.  Some of the pieces are sketches, which may suggest great ideas, but may feel like unfinished symphonies to some.  Bill Nelson is a Yorkshireman and to misquote the bread advert, “Trial By Intimacy” is an album “with nowt taken out“.

If you already own the vinyl, I bet it’s worn out by now.  The record company has also fully restored the original elements of the box set, including a 32-page book of artwork and eight art postcards that featured in the original set.  So, as well as four albums of material that was 20 years ahead of Leftfield, Underworld, Lemon Jelly, Moby et al you get a timepiece of the age via Nelson’s arcane photographs and written words.

Peter Cook, The Academy of Rock

Bill Nelson – Practically Wired reissued via Cherry Red

Sex, Guitars and Rock’n’Roll – How Bill Nelson taught me to become ‘Guitar Boy’
Sex, Guitars and Rock’n’Roll – How Bill Nelson taught me to become ‘Guitar Boy’

Practically Wired is a landmark album by Bill Nelson, a continuously creative musician and artist over 40 years.  This copy of the album has been re-mastered and updated with a booklet by Cherry Red Records after the original album has been unavailable for 10 years.

In case you are wondering who he is, Bill Nelson led pop art group Be-Bop Deluxe, Red Noise, Orchestra Futura etc.  A musician’s musician, with a cast of admirers to die for: Paul Mc Cartney, The Foo Fighters, Kate Bush, Brian Eno, MCR, Prince and Big Country.  Practically Wired shows off Bill Nelson’s guitar playing talents alongside his writing and production skills with his long-term collaborator and master engineer / producer John Spence.

Practically Wired is described by Bill Nelson as:
“An instrumental guitar album – The plan was to record very quickly and spontaneously; no preparation except for a list of moods and titles. A Polaroid snapshot of a personal paradise… a dream of electric guitars”

Just listen to pink buddha blues’ to get a feel for what he is talking:


We have a healthy dose of rock / jazz guitar virtuosity in tracks like friends from heaven, royal ghosts, big noise in twangtown and wild blue sky cycle.  Electronica meets guitar in spinning planet, her presence in flowers and roses and rocketships.  Some beautiful acoustic guitar patinas in tiny little thing and thousand island fountain – this track being somewhat reminiscent of ‘Islands of the dead’ from Be-Bop Deluxe’s ‘Drastic Plastic’ album, a song Bill wrote in honour of his father Walter, who bought Bill his first guitar and entranced him in a love of radio, technology, life and music.  Rounded off by some absolutely exquisite ambient piano pieces such as piano 45, every moment infinite and eternal for Emiko

Practically Wired” is testament to what can be achieved without a plan, no budget for three weeks of sex and drugs and rock’n’roll in a French Chateau and without a ‘Big Mac’ computer at your side.  As well as Bill’s more noted skills as a guitar hero, he has a fine ear, a sense of artistic purpose and a wonderful sense of the art of painting musical pictures.  Wake up, listen, learn from the teacher.  What more can I say?  This album was ahead of its time and still sounds fresh, vibrant and offers us a window into the future of real music for real music lovers.  The upgrading of the sleeve notes and other features makes it a worthwhile purchase even if you are lucky enough to own the original.

Bill Nelson performs a rich diet of his back catalogue, from Be-Bop Deluxe and beyond, a full solo instrumental guitar set and something truly inspirational with his post-modern music twenty third century trio “Orchestra Futura”, featuring bass supremo Dave Sturt and hero of the wind Theo Travis.  Limited tickets available for Nelsonica a whole day event on 29th September.

Practically Wired by Bill Nelson is reissued via Cherry Red Recordings.


Bill Nelson – A Luminous Kind of Guy

“Luminous” by Bill Nelson is re-released by Cherry Red Records
“Luminous” by Bill Nelson

I just received a copy of “Luminous” by Bill Nelson, recently re-released by Cherry Red Records.   Wow!  What a fantastic piece of work.  It is so hard to only comment on the music as the business side of the equation spills into the story.

Luminous was released after a painful divorce, a lawsuit High Court Case regarding past business practices of Nelson’s management and the collapse of a record company.   It uses uses first takes and layers them into a collection of songs straight from the electronic heart of Bill Nelson.  In case you are wondering who he is, Bill Nelson was the leader of pop art group Be-Bop Deluxe, Red Noise, Orchestra Futura etc.  A major influence on artists like Julian Cope, David Sylvian, Kate Bush, The Darkness, The Foo Fighters and Big Country, Nelson has been a continuous musical innovator over 40 years.  Nelson shows his producing skill along side his song writing ability through the use of primitive equipment in his home studio.

Bill Nelson's Home Studio
Bill Nelson's Home Studio

Hey kids, try this at home: make up a song, record it using your computer, overdub the various instruments, sing, and produce it all in a spare bedroom.  But, without a computer or the software and you will then appreciate what this gentleman has done on this album and his entire career.   And to show that Bill Nelson is not a one trick pony, he does all the accompanying artwork as well.   He has produced in excess of 100 albums over 40 years.  Lou Reed once proclaimed on the cover to Metal Machine Music “My day beats your week”.  So it is with Bill Nelson’ tireless production schedule that rivals Andy Warhol’s ‘Factory’

This record offers an insight into the true authentic soul of the artist, plus a set of diverse musical compositions to boot.  We’ll start with one of the ‘hits’:   “Burning down” – in just 3.35 Bill Nelson crafts a catchy pop song with superior subject matter and a guitar solo to die for.  I’ve always been impressed with Bill’s lyrical quality and this comes out strongly, even when it’s influenced by personal angst such as “Blood off the wall”.

She’s got me floating” is a beautiful alternative ballad and a perfect demonstration of the pentatonic scale.   As is “Her true perfect serpent” – simply beautiful and charming songs.  We also get some post-hippy mysticism with pieces like “Life in Reverse” and “Language of the birds”.   Again Nelson is a real innovator here working with loops long before this technology became widely available.

Luminous” was also a fascinating preview of the future of music, since it pioneered electronic rhythms that spawned things like hip hop, all done without the aid of an Apple Mac!  This is apparent in songs like “Is this alchemy” and “Wait for tomorrow” which mix pops, squeaks and crackles with traditional synths and guitars in a perfect synaesthesia.

Bill Nelson performs a rich diet of his back catalogue, from Be-Bop Deluxe and beyond, a full solo instrumental guitar set and something truly inspirational with his post-modern music twenty third century trio “Orchestra Futura”, featuring bass supremo Dave Sturt and hero of the wind Theo Travis.  Limited tickets available for Nelsonica a whole day event on 29th September.  Also available from Cherry Red, a box set covering 40 years of Bill’s career “The Practice of Everyday Life”.

Thanks to Quinault for some context on this CD’s place in the history of the future.

Bill Nelson – “Luminous” Tracklist:
1. A Luminous Kind of Guy (2:14)
2. Tiny Aeroplanes (2:56)
3. Bright Sparks (2:42)
4. Is This Alchemy? (2:34)
5. Language of the Birds (3:46)
6. All I Am Is You (2:09)
7. Life in Reverse (3:02)
8. Telepathic Cats (2:57)
9. Two Hearts Beating (3:34)
10. Blood Off the Wall (2:38)
11. She’s Got Me Floating (3:34)
12. It’s OK (2:28)
1.3 Burning Down (3:57)
14. Her True and Perfect Serpent (5:28)
15. Wait For Tomorrow (1:48)

Luminous by Bill Nelson is re-released by Cherry Red Records.


Livin’ Lovin’ Maid – Maria McCarthy – Author, Rocker, Cool friend, Led Zeppelin fan

Strange Fruits by Maria McCarthy
Strange Fruits by Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy has been a long term advocate of music where I live in Kent and it turns out that she appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Home Truths, programme, the home of the legend that is John Peel.  Maria told the story of her infatuation with Led Zeppelin when growing up and I’ve decided to post the story here, following the exceptional reaction to the previous post on Led Zeppelin.

So here’s Maria’s story of her infatuation with Led Zeppelin and the personal consequences of that infatuation.  I must say I made a similar mistake with T.Rex albums, giving them away to a girlfriend in a moment of madness brought on by love but we’ll save that for later.

Robert was my first rock sex God. I had him plastered on my teenage bedroom wall in various stage poses; copious hair flying and shirt ripped open in mid-performance. I later wondered if perm lotion and Carmen rollers had a part to play in those curls, and if the bulge in his Levis was artificially enhanced, like the guy in Spinal Tap with the salami down his trousers. But when I was seventeen, a picture of Plant set in motion the female equivalent of my mojo rising.

In our first year of courting, my husband-to-be and I went to the legendary Knebworth concert where we experienced the glory of Plant and Page in the flesh. And when we moved in together we each had a full set of twelve inch Zepps that snuggled side by side in our newly combined collections. Robert Plant even attended the birth of our second child; he was singing Big Log, of all things, through the headphones of my cassette Walkman as I gave the final push.

When we outgrew our two-bedroom flat, we sold some of the records to raise a deposit on a house. It made sense, I know. I was nearly thirty, and it was time to put away childish things. There were new priorities.  Two Frampton Comes Alive became one, the by then unfashionable Phil Collins was discarded, and the Zeppelins reduced to one set. We kept my husband’s copies because his signature on the sleeves was a no-no for record dealers.
We moved from London to Kent with our two girls, three cats and one record collection.

800 vinyl albums and countless seven inch singles, requiring special treatment during the move. The boxes were not to be stacked and were marked “Handle With Care.”   But after eight years, I’d had enough of the collections, filling the house from loft to cellar. I had married a hoarder; an obsessive collector of not just records, but also stamps and model trains, videos and music magazines. The house that I had once found spacious became cramped. Where was my space? If I tried clearing things out, to find a haven for my treasured possessions and indeed for myself, he’d go through the boxes destined for the charity shop, and take his stuff back out. I decided it was time for division.

The girls stayed with me along with the cats and some of the records.  My mother was appalled when he took the recliner chair for his new house. There was genuine anguish in her voice when she said, “How could he split the three piece suite?” For me it was the loss of half my Led Zeppelin collection.  When it came to dividing the Zepps I was bequeathed Led Zeppelin Three, Four, and Presence.

I gradually removed the excess shelving from the house. I wanted a slimline life, uncluttered. My love of record collecting was also a thing of the past. For years I was unable to look at second hand records. That was his place; kneeling on the floor at boot fairs, riffling through other people’s former treasures.

Then I met a new man. Whilst wandering around the small Surrey town where he lives, I was enticed by a sign leading down an alleyway to “Vinyl Hideaway”. Before I knew it, I was asking for Zeppelin, like a child starved of sweets, and boxes were laid before me by the two vinyl anoraks who owned the store. We were soon exchanging Zepp stories. They were in awe of my Knebworth experience, shocked at the loss of half my Zeppelins, and I in turn was stunned by their knowledge and extensive collection of first pressings, imports and bootlegs.

I left £23 lighter, clutching Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti – double album gatefold, a picture of a tenement building with cut out windows on the cover, filled with the letters spelling out the title on the insert. I would have bought more, but they didn’t take credit cards.  I walked down the High Street with my LP-shaped carrier bag. Chuffed, in the way that I used to be as a teenager when I carried my Harlequin Records bag before me, so everyone would know I had new records.

With my collection partially restored, my resentment over the great record collection split of 1996 is fading. My forty-sixth birthday brought me Led Zeppelin Two from my lover, and today’s acquisition leaves only Led Zeppelin One, The Song Remains the Same andCoda. Of course, after that there are Robert Plant’s solo albums.

Maria McCarthy’s book Strange Fruits can be found on Amazon.  You can find more about her at Cultured Llama.  Since Maria mentioned the great Spinal Tap, we’ll end with this piece on them, which satirises Jimmy Page’s guitar bowing technique and the use of multiple guitars:



Beyond the Fringe – The Edinburgh Festival and Leonard Cohen

Here’s a short post to mention two performances of a very special show written and performed by Joe Blair, on the life, loves and music of Leonard Cohen, this Thursday and Friday 18 / 19 August at the Edinburgh Festival – For full details please follow the link to Blue Raincoat.

The evening offers a selection of Leonard’s most special songs alongside a narrative that reviews his life as a poet, lover and songwriter.  Joe Blair spent many years putting this together and it will be a unique evening.  I met Joe a couple of years ago at a management seminar in Northern Ireland and we have been in touch ever since.  For my sins, I have agreed to accompany Joe on some of the songs in the evening using the haunting tones of the e-bow, an unusual guitar effect that makes guitars sound more like a violin, hence the name ‘energy-bow’.  I bought my e-bow around 1978 after seeing Bill Nelson play one.

Copies of our latest album “Music from the Basement of Cognition” will be available on the night.  For now here’s one track, aptly titled “I always knew you would come back to Earth” after a week of madness on the streets of England.  I did once record a Prince styled version of Cohen’s “The Butcher” and an electro-pop version of the same song in the style of Erasure, but I am not posting them here for fear of reprisals by ardent Cohen fans!

So, do come along and check our review out if you are in Scotland next week.  I’ll finish with one of my favourite interpretations of Leonard’s songs in the form of Hallelujah by John Cale:


Peter Cook is the Rock’n’Roll Business Guru, blending business and management ideas with music.