Bill Nelson (musician)

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Bill Nelson
Be Bop Deluxe2.jpg
[Toronto], 22 October 1977
Background information
Birth name William Nelson
Born (1948-12-18) 18 December 1948 (age 66)
Wakefield, Yorkshire, England
Genres Experimental rock, art rock, new wave, post-punk, ambient experimental music
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, artist, writer
Instruments Vocals, guitar, keyboards, drums, bass, percussion
Years active 1970–present
Labels EMI, Enigma, CBS, Cocteau Records, Twentythree Records, Populuxe Records, Sonoluxe
Associated acts Be-Bop Deluxe, Red Noise, John Cooper Clarke, A Flock Of Seagulls, Monsoon, Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO), Yukihiro Takahashi, Masami Tsuchiya, Culturemix, Joe Hisaishi, Gary Numan, Skids, Fiat Lux, The Revox Cadets, Orchestra Arcana, David Sylvian, Channel Light Vessel, Nautilus Pompilius, Harold Budd, Fila Brazillia, Bill Nelson and the Lost Satellites, Bill Nelson and his Lighthouse Signal Mechanism Orchestra, Orchestra Futura, Bill Nelson and the Gentlemen Rocketeers, Matt Howarth, Reeves Gabrels
Notable instruments
Gibson ES-345[1]
Fender Stratocaster[2]
Yamaha SG 2000

Bill Nelson (born William Nelson, 18 December 1948, Wakefield, West Riding of Yorkshire, England)[3] is an English guitarist, songwriter, producer, painter, video artist, writer and experimental musician. He currently lives in York.


Born to Walter Nelson, a musician, he also had a brother who was involved in music: Ian (1956–2006) collaborated on the Be-Bop Deluxe song "Ships in the Night" and formed the band Fiat Lux. Ian also played on the 1978 Red Noise album Sound-on-Sound and with the 2004 touring band Bill Nelson and the Lost Satellites.


Nelson was educated at the Wakefield College of Art, where he developed an interest in the work of poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau. At this time, he was also developing as a musician, drawing upon Duane Eddy as a primary guitar influence.

His first record was a brief contribution on the album A-Austr: Musics from Holyground, with Brian Calvert, Chris Coombs, Ted Hepworth, Mike Levon and Brian Wilson. Levon recorded and produced the album which appeared on Levon's own Holyground Records label in 1970. After that, Nelson appeared in a much more substantial role with Lightyears Away on Astral Navigations released in 1971. On one track, "Yesterday", written by Coombs, Levon recorded Nelson's lead guitars in an acid rock style, supporting Coombs' stylophone riff. This track also gave Nelson his first airplay by John Peel[3] on his national BBC Radio 1 programme in the United Kingdom. Nelson's Holyground recordings were released in February 2001 as Electrotype.

The same year, Nelson's debut solo album Northern Dream, released on his own independent Smile label, drew further attention from Peel which eventually led to Nelson's band Be-Bop Deluxe signing to EMI's Harvest Records subsidiary and releasing Axe Victim in 1974. Be-Bop Deluxe released the album Sunburst Finish in 1976.

After the breakup of Be-Bop Deluxe, Nelson created Red Noise (releasing the Sound-on-Sound album), but eventually settled into a career as a solo musician, recording albums in the early electropop vein such as Quit Dreaming And Get on the Beam and The Love That Whirls, both of which were released with bonus discs featuring experimental, ambient instrumentals. For a period between the late 1970s and early 1980s, Nelson self-produced on his Cocteau label a plethora of releases, consisting of solo synthesizer and keyboard instrumental pieces.[3] Many were later released on the short-lived Enigma label.


In July 1980 Nelson released the single "Do You Dream in Colour?", which after airplay on BBC Radio 1 reached No. 52 in the UK Singles Chart.[4] It was the first release on Nelson's independent Cocteau label which he had formed with his manager Mark Rye. Freed from the demands of a mainstream, commercial record company, Nelson released considerable quantities of singles and LPs on Cocteau throughout the decade, much of it by himself but also a number of singles by other artists, notably Last Man In Europe, A Flock Of Seagulls, The Revox Cadets, Richard Jobson, Q (16), Fiat Lux, Man Jumping and Yukihiro Takahashi. The more ambitious Cocteau releases included the 4-LP box set of experimental electronic music Trial by Intimacy (The Book of Splendours) and the later ambient 2-LP collection Chance Encounters in the Garden of Lights, which contained music informed by Nelson's Gnostic beliefs. In 1989, he released the 4-CD box set Demonstrations of Affection.

He was hired by British synthpop artist Gary Numan to produce his 1983 album Warriors, with Numan claiming that Bill Nelson was his "favourite guitar player, bar none." However, the two musicians failed to maintain a working relationship, and ultimately Nelson chose not to be credited for his production role on the album. Nelson also contributed towards several tracks on David Sylvian's Gone to Earth (1986).

Nelson had bad luck with major record labels in the 1980s. A deal with CBS Records' Portrait imprint went sour, leaving the one album Getting the Holy Ghost Across (US title: On a Blue Wing) with further tracks from that album's sessions issued on the UK mini-LP Living for the Spangled Moment. In the late 1980s, Nelson signed to Enigma Records who went out of business, although they had just re-released his entire Cocteau catalogue.

As the decade ended, Nelson suffered a series of personal setbacks, including a divorce, tax problems and an acrimonious dispute with his manager over his back catalogue rights. In the case of one album, the unreleased Simplex, Nelson discovered his manager had been selling copies via mail order without Nelson's authorisation or knowledge; Nelson claims he never received any royalties from these sales.[5]


In 1992, Nelson released Blue Moons And Laughing Guitars which consisted of demos for a proposed four guitarists, two drummers band which never materialised. "This is what I do behind locked doors," he wrote on the sleeve, prefiguring much of his later, home recorded work including My Secret Studio (4-CD + 2-CD) and Noise Candy (6-CD).

In 1995, Nelson released two very different albums. Crimsworth (Flowers, Stones, Fountains And Flames) was an ambient piece which had provided the soundscape to an art installation. Practically Wired, or How I Became... Guitarboy! was a return to guitar based instrumental music, something Nelson had barely touched for the previous decade and a half.

In 1996, Nelson augmented his sound with drum and bass for After The Satellite Sings, credited as a major influence on David Bowie's Earthling album by Bowie's then guitarist Reeves Gabrels.

The nineties also saw Nelson participate in the 'ambient supergroup' Channel Light Vessel with Roger Eno, Kate St. John, Laraaji and Mayumi Tachibana.

By 1996, Nelson's troubles with his former manager were resolved in a lawsuit which enabled Nelson to recover much of his back catalogue.[5] The fully authorised Simplex was subsequently released in 2001 by Lenin Imports and reissued in 2012 by Esoteric.

In the late 1990s, Nelson created the Populuxe label, with a distribution arrangement via Robert Fripp's Discipline Global Mobile, but his relationship with them stagnated and Nelson's last release on that label was Atom Shop in 1998. Subsequent releases have been on other imprints such as Toneswoon as well as direct mail order (and later internet order) releases.


2002 saw the release of EP Three White Roses and a Budd (with Fila Brazillia and Harold Budd) on Twentythree Records. The same year Nelson released Astral Motel, the first CD release available at his annual Nelsonica event in West Yorkshire at which he also staged rare, solo, public performances. In 2003, he released a second Nelsonica CD Luxury Lodge plus two further releases, The Romance of Sustain Volume One: Painting With Guitars and Plaything. Since then, Nelson has released an average of four albums a year, often in small runs which soon go out of print. He has accomplished this using his own series of branded record labels: Almost Opaque then Discs Of Ancient Odeon for the Nelsonica releases; Universal Twang then Sonoluxe for the others. (Nelson's Sonic Masonic imprint lasted for only one release, 2004's Satellite Songs.)

Nelson's in-house releasing was made possible by the financial backing of Sound on Sound magazine, whose website hosts his online shop and is named after Red Noise's Sound-on-Sound album. In 2004, the magazine also put up the money for Nelson to take his band Bill Nelson and the Lost Satellites on tour around the UK as The Be Bop Deluxe And Beyond Tour.

Freed from the scheduling and homogeneous branding constraints of commercial record companies, the ever-prolific Nelson pursued numerous different artistic directions. Two Rosewood releases contained acoustic guitar pieces "submitted to electronic and digital processing." The highly personal The Alchemical Adventures Of Sailor Bill was a concept album about the English coastline, ships and the sea, while its more ambient, instrumental companion piece Neptune's Galaxy comprised five long form instrumental compositions exploring the same subject. Most of the decade's remaining albums were non-vocal and lead electric guitar-oriented. Improvisation against pre-recorded backing tracks played a major role in And We Fell Into A Dream while the very different Theatre Of Falling Leaves eschewed lead guitar in favour of keyboards. The decade closed with more voice-based material as Nelson crooned through Golden Melodies Of Tomorrow, delivered more familiar rock and ballad vocals on Fancy Planets and delved into romantic songwriting in The Dream Transmission Pavilion.

In the first half of the decade, Nelson published his collected online diaries from 1999-2003 under the moniker diary of a hyperdreamer. The last ten years of this diary remain on his official website to this day. He also gave extensive interviews to biographer Paul Sutton Reeves for a book, the publication of which was put on hold for around two years when publisher Sean Body died. Music In Dreamland Bill Nelson & Be Bop Deluxe finally appeared in 2008.

In the second half of the decade, Nelson's live performances (mostly at the Nelsonica events) broadened out from solo work to encompass two other bands. One was the improvisational, three-piece Orchestra Futura consisting of Nelson, Dave Sturt (bass) and Theo Travis (assorted woodwind, brass). (The duo of Sturt and Travis already played together as Cipher.) The other was the more conventional rock oriented, seven-piece Bill Nelson and the Gentlemen Rocketeers (again including Sturt and Travis) which played songs with vocals from the extensive Nelson/Be-Bop Deluxe back catalogue.

By 2006, Universal Music (UK) had re-issued three Mercury albums: Quit Dreaming and Get on the Beam, The Love that Whirls and Chimera had all been remastered and released with bonus tracks. Sonoluxe had reissued the CBS album Getting the Holy Ghost Across / On a Blue Wing with all the original tracks including those from Living for the Spangled Moment.


In 2010, Nelson published the first part of an autobiography.

In March 2011, motivated by a desire to capture the flavour of recent gigs on film for posterity via DVD release, Bill Nelson and the Gentlemen Rocketeers played a concert of songs spanning Nelson's career before a live audience in front of in-house cameras at Metropolis Studios, London. Dissatisfied with the resultant sound mix, Nelson remixed it himself at his own expense. Using Nelson's remix, ITV Studios Home Entertainment released a DVD of the event. This initial release quickly sold out. A promised television broadcast of the recording only materialised in a few selected territories, excluding the UK. The video and audio recording has subsequently been reissued on other formats including CD and LP. However, having signed away his rights to these recordings, Nelson has made no money on these releases.

In 2011, Cherry Red Records' subsidiary Esoteric Recordings commenced a roll-out re-release of Nelson's back catalogue for many of his releases between 1981 and 2002 with the 8-CD compilation The Practice of Everyday Life which covered 40 years of recordings. Other notable reissues have included the 4-CD The Book Of Splendours and the 6-CD Noise Candy. The Esoteric deal did not involve a rights buyout, so Nelson is properly compensated for these reissues.

In 2013, Nelson finally began releasing his out of print CD back catalogue from 2002 onwards as digital downloads via Bandcamp.

In addition to his numerous solo releases of recent years, Nelson has also made both film soundtracks and a number of collaborative recordings with other artists. In 2010, he released the soundtrack to the US TV documentary American Stamps as Picture Post while in 2014, he released the soundtrack to UK director Daisy Asquith's paean to cycling Velorama (a tie in with the 2014 Tour de France cycle race which went through Yorkshire) as Pedalscope. In 2012, Nelson finally completed The Last of the Neon Cynics, a long standing project with comic artist Matt Howarth: the latter supplied a comic (a PDF file) while the former provided a soundtrack to it. In 2014, he collaborated with fellow guitarist Reeves Gabrels (who has also worked with David Bowie and The Cure) on Fantastic Guitars.

In 2014, Nelson suffered a complete hearing loss in his right ear. This put a stop to any plans for playing live (and by extension Nelsonica events built around live performance) for the foreseeable future. Yet he continued to record and release music despite this disability. The first album to be affected was Quiet Bells. According to Nelson's sleeve notes, "to slowly adjust to this problem, I decided to make an album that features mainly guitar, a gentle collection of instrumentals in a neo-minimalist, ambient style."

2014 also saw Nelson honoured by Wakefield Council with a Hollywood-style star on the city’s walk of fame.




  • "Teenage Archangel" / "Jets at Dawn" (1973) [Be-Bop Deluxe] Smile
  • "Jet Silver and the Dolls Of Venus" / "Third Floor Heaven" (1974) [Be-Bop Deluxe] Harvest
  • "Between the Worlds" / "Lights" (1975) recalled after only one day of sale [Be-Bop Deluxe] Harvest
  • "Maid in Heaven" / "Lights" (1975) [Be-Bop Deluxe] Harvest
  • "Ships in the Night" / "Crying to the Sky" (1976) - UK No. 23[4] [Be-Bop Deluxe] Harvest
  • "Kiss of Light" / "Shine" (1976) [Be-Bop Deluxe] Harvest
  • Hot Valves: "Maid In Heaven", "Bring Back The Spark" / "Blazing Apostles", "Jet Silver And The Dolls Of Venus" EP (1976) [Be-Bop Deluxe] UK No. 36[4] Harvest
  • "Japan" / "Futurist Manifesto" (1977) [Be-Bop Deluxe] Harvest
  • "Panic in the World" / "Blue as a Jewel" (1978) [Be-Bop Deluxe] Harvest
  • "Electrical Language" / "Surreal Estate" (1978) [Be-Bop Deluxe] Harvest
  • "Furniture Music" / "Wonder Toys That Last For Ever", "Acquitted By Mirrors" (February 1979) [Bill Nelson's Red Noise] Harvest
  • "Revolt Into Style" / "Out Of Touch" recorded live at Leicester De Montfort Hall 8th March 1979 (April 1979) [Bill Nelson's Red Noise] Harvest[3]
  • "Revolt Into Style" / "Stay Young", "Out Of Touch" both recorded live at Leicester De Montfort Hall 8th March 1979 12" (April 1979) [Bill Nelson's Red Noise] Harvest
  • "Rooms With Brittle Views" / "Dada Guitare" - (1980) Les Disques du Crépuscule
  • "Do You Dream In Colour" / "Ideal Homes", "Instantly Yours", "Atom Man Loves Radium Girl" (1980) Cocteau
  • To Heaven A Jet: "Airfields" / "Tony Goes To Tokyo (And Rides The Bullet Train)" (1981) [The Revox Cadets] Cocteau
  • "Youth Of Nation On Fire" / "Be My Dynamo" (1981) Mercury
  • "Youth Of Nation On Fire" / "Be My Dynamo" / "Rooms With Brittle Views" / "All My Wives Were Iron" (1981) Mercury
  • "Living In My Limousine" / "Birds Of Tin", "Love In The Abstract" (1981) Mercury
  • "Living In My Limousine (Remix)", "White Sounds" / "Birds Of Tin", "Love In The Abstract" 12" (1981) Mercury
  • "Banal" / "Mr. Magnetism Himself" (1981) Mercury
  • "Banal" / "Turn To Fiction" / "Hers Is A Lush Situation" / "Mr. Magnetism Himself" 12" (1981) Mercury
  • "Eros Arriving" / "Haunting In My Head" (1982) Mercury
  • "Eros Arriving" / "Haunting In My Head" / "He And Sleep Were Brothers" / "Flesh" (1982) Mercury
  • "Flaming Desire" / "The Passion" (1982) Mercury
  • "Flaming Desire" (Long Version) / "The Passion", "The Burning Question" 12" (1982) Mercury
  • Flaming Desire And Other Passions: "Flaming Desire" (Long Version), "Flesh" / "The Passion", "The Burning Question", "He And Sleep Were Brothers", "Haunting In My Head" 12" (1982) PVC
  • "Sleepcycle", "Konny Buys A Kodak" / "When The Birds Return", "The Beat That Can't Go Wrong Today" EP 33 1/3 RPM (1982) Acquitted By Mirrors (ABM) fan club release Cocteau
  • "King Of The Cowboys", "Shadowland" / "Carnival", "Spring" EP 33 1/3 RPM (1982) ABM release Cocteau
  • "Touch And Glow" / "Dancing In The Wind", "Love Without Fear" (1982) Cocteau
  • "The World And His Wife" / "Dream Car Romantics (In Death's Garage Antics)", "Dancing Music" EP 33 1/3 RPM (1982) ABM release Cocteau
  • "Dancing On A Knife's Edge" / "Indiscretion", "Contemplation" EP 33 1/3 RPM (1983) ABM release Cocteau
  • "Acceleration" Remixed by John Luongo / "Hard Facts From The Fiction Department" (1984) Cocteau
  • "Hard Facts From The Fiction Department", "Acceleration Dub" Remixed by John Luongo / "Acceleration Long Version" Remixed by John Luongo, "Acceleration Short Version" Remixed by John Luongo 12" (1984) Cocteau
  • ''Giants Of The Perpetual Wurlitzer: "The Strangest Things, The Strangest Times", "Phantom Gardens", "French Promenades" / "Golden Mile", "West-Deep", "Threnolia" EP 33 1/3 RPM (1984) ABM release Cocteau
  • "Hard Facts From The Fiction Department", "Daily Bells" / "Rhythm Unit", "Junc-Sculpture" EP 33 1/3 RPM (1984) ABM release Cocteau
  • The Cote D'Azur EP: "A Dream Fulfilled", "Familiar Spirit" / "Palais Des Marine", "Letter To Jacques Maritan", "Villefranche Interior" EP 33 1/3 RPM (1984) ABM release Cocteau
  • Sex-Psyche-Etc: "Sex, Psyche Etcetera" / "Several Famous Orchestras", "Who He Is" 12" (1985) [Orchestra Arcana] Cocteau
  • "Wildest Dreams", "Self Impersonisation" (1986) Portrait
  • "Wildest Dreams (Wild Mix)", "Self Impersonisation" / "Wildest Dreams (Single Version)" / "The Yo-Yo Dyne" 12" (1986) Portrait
  • "Secret Ceremony (Theme From Brond)" / "Wiping A Tear From The All Seeing Eye" 7" & 12" versions (1987) [Scala Featuring Bill Nelson & Daryl Runswick] Cocteau
  • Ecclesia Gnostica (Music For The Interior Church): "Set Me As A Seal Upon Thine Heart", "Mysterium", "Katharos", "Day Of Eternity", "Evening Adoration" / "Ecclesia Gnostica", "Young Angels By An Ancient River", "Finis Gloria Mundi" (1987) bonus release with Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights first edition Cocteau
  • "Do You Dream In Colour" / "Life In Your Hands" (1989) Cocteau
  • "Life In Your Hands", "Do You Dream In Colour" / "Get Out Of That Hole", "My Dream Demon" 12" (1989) Cocteau
  • "The Dead We Wake With Upstairs Drums", "Boat To Forever", "So It Goes" CD (1992) Venture
  • Three White Roses and a Budd: "No Shade, No Shadow", "Adrift Amidst Les Odalisques", "The Airless Time", "Blue Locus" CD EP (2002) [Harold Budd), Bill Nelson & Fila Brazillia] Twentythree Records
  • "Contemplation 2007" / "The Dreamsville Poetry Experiment" (2007) no label
  • "I Hear Electricity" / "Kiss You Slowly" (2008) Sonoluxe
  • "Frost-O-Matic" .wav (2010) Christmas single Sonoluxe
  • "Think And You’ll Miss It" / "Beat Street" (2012) Christmas single no label

Compilation albums[edit]

  • The Best Of and the Rest Of Be-Bop Deluxe (1978) [Be-Bop Deluxe] 2-LP set; second disc comprises material previously unreleased on LP - Drastic Plastic outtakes plus single A- and B-sides Harvest
  • Singles A's & B's (1981) [Be-Bop Deluxe] Harvest Heritage
  • Vistamix (1984) Portrait
  • The Two-Fold Aspect of Everything (1984) comprises numerous A & B sides previously unavailable on LP Cocteau
  • Bop To The Red Noise (1986) [Be-Bop Deluxe] (mixture of BBD and RN material) Dojo
  • The Best Of Be-Bop Deluxe: Raiding The Divine Archive (1990) [Be-Bop Deluxe] Harvest
  • The Strangest Things A Collection of Recordings 1979-1989 (1989) Enigma
  • Air Age Anthology: The Very Best Of Be-Bop Deluxe (1997) [Be-Bop Deluxe] 2-CD set EMI
  • The Very Best Of Be-Bop Deluxe (1998) [Be-Bop Deluxe] EMI-Capitol Special Markets
  • Electrotype - The Holyground Recordings 1968-1972 (2001) includes previously unreleased pre-Northern Dream BN & pre-Axe Victim BBD recordings Holyground
  • What Now, What Next? The Cocteau Years Compendium (1998) Discipline Global Mobile
  • Postcards From the Future... Introducing Be-Bop Deluxe (2004) [Be-Bop Deluxe] EMI
  • Futurist Manifesto (2011) [Be-Bop Deluxe] 5-CD set, 1st four discs comprise 5 BBD studio albums plus the singles; fifth disc comprises previously unreleased material from demos and Live! In The Air Age recordings Harvest
  • The Practice Of Everyday Life (2011) 8-CD set, 40 year career retrospective mixture of BBD, RN and BN solo material Esoteric Recordings
  • Original Albums Series (2014) [Be-Bop Deluxe] 5-CD set, 5 discs comprise 5 BBD studio albums, tracks as originally released on LP Warner/Parlophone
  • The Dreamer's Companion Vol 1 (How I Got My Secret Powers) (2015) Sonoluxe
  • The Dreamer's Companion Vol 2 (In This I Reveal My Secret Identity) (2015) Sonoluxe
  • The Dreamer's Companion Vol 3 (Songs Of The Bel-Air Rocketman) (2015) introductory compilation of 14 tracks per each of 3 volumes taken from rare and limited edition CD pressings, personally chosen by Bill Nelson himself Sonoluxe

Compilation singles[edit]

  • Permanent Flame (The Beginners Guide To Bill Nelson) 5-Disc Set (1983) includes previously released BBD, RN and BN solo material Cocteau


  • flashlight dreams...and fleeting shadows an audio-optical diary by Bill Nelson (2003) Voiceprint
  • Picture House (2010) Nelsonica convention DVD Visuluxe
  • Classic Rock Magazine Legends Bill Nelson and the Gentlemen Rocketeers filmed live at Metropolis Studios (2011) ITV Studios Home Entertainment
  • Be-Bop Deluxe At The BBC 1974-78 (2013) 3xCD + DVD Box Set. CDs include previously unreleased material + material from Tramcar To Tomorrow (most tracks) and Tremulous Antenna (all tracks) EMI


  • Nelson, Bill diary of a hyperdreamer (2004) Bill Nelson's collected diaries from between 1999 and 2003, previously published on his official website Pomona ISBN 1-904590-06-3
  • Nelson, Bill Painted From Memory (Sketches For An Autobiography) Volume One: Evocation Of A Radiant Childhood (2010) Autumn Ink Incorporated self-published
  • Reeves, Paul Sutton Music In Dreamland Bill Nelson & Be Bop Deluxe (2008) Helter Skelter publishing ISBN 978-1-900924-04-7


  1. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions about Bill Nelson". Retrieved 11 April 2014. 
  2. ^ "Drastic Plastic" booklet
  3. ^ a b c d Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 683–685. ISBN 1-84195-017-3. 
  4. ^ a b c Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 389. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  5. ^ a b "Judgement - Nelson v. Rye". Retrieved 11 April 2014. 

External links[edit]