BILL NELSON and a disc of memories :”Oi! Get ya guitar out!”

Title: Practically Wired (Or How I Became…Guitarboy!)

Label: Esoteric

Bill Nelson holds an interesting yet rare position in the musical firmament. He might not be a superstar in terms of the general public but he has the respect of a host of dedicated fans and fellow musicians.

He is seen as an intelligent musician and is respected for it. Why else would the likes of David Sylvian, Harold Budd, Billy McKenzie, Roger Eno, Cabaret Voltaire and Yellow Magic Orchestra be happy to team up with him? That word ‘intelligence’ crops up again and again and is oft associated with the man’s lyrical content (which are full of often ironic references to topics like science fiction, Buddhism, mysticism, art and psychology). He is seen as an enigma, a mystery whose prodigious output does little to reveal or explain. Since leaving the band he founded, Be Bop Deluxe, the seventies glam/new wave/art rockers, Nelson’s music has inhabited your basic LPs but he has also moved onwards from the usual published fare and entered new and challenging forums such as the theatre, art installations and exhibitions.

This album shows one aspect of the Nelson oeuvre. It is but one facet of the whole diamond but it is one that is important to the Nelson aficionado because it stars the Nelson guitar. A side of the man that is beloved by any Nelson fan and one that is always in demand. When he produced this piece of work in 1995, Nelson was, even then, approaching elder statesman level but this post rock-like project proved to still be influential as it touches on both edgy new wave but also verges over to lush ambient soundscapes. It doesn’t stop there, though, as it adds a selection of funky beats with added guitar hooks. The warm electronic accompaniment frames the inventive musical experiences that are sprinkled with found-sound vocal samples with, if you listen close, enough Gnostic religious moments included just to add to the curiosity and the grandeur.

The usual modern day album tends to take half of a lifetime to create. Creators tend to worry themselves over tiny detail. Chords are mulled, notes are teased apart and arrangements are agonised over. This album is not part of the pattern. In fact, compared to many contemporary albums, this LP was complete with almost indecent haste. In fact, the album was created in just fourteen days in Fairview Studios back in 1994.

“Listening back to the album today,” said Nelson, “I’m astonished that something with so much variety and complexity was created spontaneously in the studio without prior preparation. All I had was a general concept and a few titles. The rest appeared as if by magic.”

Well, no, it wasn’t magic. What you hear when you hear this album is a stream of ideas which just spilled from Nelson’s head. This is why it took such a short time to create, because much of it had been fermenting with Nelson and emerged almost fully formed.

Nelson is apparently still fond of the project, even though other instrumental albums of his have been released since 1995, “The album covers a variety of guitar styles and acts as a personal homage to guitars past, present and future.” So you can see how important the instrument is to him. How a part of his musical world that guitar is.

As for that intriguing album title? The source can be traced all the way back to the 1950s Practical Wireless magazines, a monthly publication devoted to the radio hobbyist, “My father was a dedicated enthusiast,” said Nelson. “Even building the family’s first television set himself. He also bought my first guitars. The album is as much for him as for my early guitar inspirations.” Hence, this is not just a random selection of interconnected instrumental flavours, the ghost of his late father flows throughout the LP, connecting one track to another as he might have originally connected a piece of wire to a valve. This is a work of love. His father supplies the rough material, the iron ore, if you will, which the guitar is the tool to fashion the ore into something beautiful.

Esoteric has released other Bill Nelson albums including his first solo LP from 1971, Northern Dreams (the album that brought him to the attention of John Peel); the follow up to Practically Wired, After the Satellite Sings from 1995 and Simplex (2000) which features recordings made for the documentary film Henry Moore and Landscape. 

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  • Reply
    14th September 2016 at 2:06 pm

    A very good piece this is, about an album that is among what I consider to be the most important to me. My first (known) experience of Bill Nelson’s work was Practically Wired, which I had read a brief review of in a record store when the album was new. As it turned out , the store had a copy on hand , so I had a listen, and decided to take it home . This was the beginning of what has turned out to be a (2nd half of my life- ) long obsession with Bill’s music . I don’t know of another artist who has a more vital , inspired, natural, and direct connection to a seemingly endless flow of musical and sonic possibilities, and the ability to
    singlehandedly bring them out into this world . There aren’t enough words or time to describe how much enjoyment the body of work (well over 100 cd’s) has brought me , so I’ll end this by simply encouraging anyone who hasn’t explored Bill’s work to do so , and don’t just dip your toes. It isn’t always familiar waters , but there’s so much to discover , even the most finicky of listeners , like myself, can find a wealth of beauty .

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      14th September 2016 at 2:17 pm

      Very interesting email, DogBoy and I thank you for taking the time to write and send it. Thank You.

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