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
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, Gary Numan, Skids, Fiat Lux, David Sylvian, Harold Budd, Channel Light Vessel, Fila Brazillia, Bill Nelson & The Lost Satellites, Bill Nelson & The Gentleman Rocketeers, 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 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.


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 drew further attention from Peel which eventually led to Nelson's band Be-Bop Deluxe signing to EMI 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. Many of these albums were released with bonus tracks, including records 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]

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 went sour, leaving one album, Getting the Holy Ghost Across (U.S. title: On a Blue Wing). Nelson and his manager Mark Rye had formed the Cocteau Records label in 1981, and for many years this label handled the majority of Nelson's output, which often included multiple albums per year. Among the more ambitious Cocteau releases were the four-record boxed set of experimental electronic music, Trial by Intimacy (The Book of Splendours), and the later ambient collection, Chance Encounters in the Garden of Lights, which contained music informed by Nelson's Gnostic beliefs. 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 1980s 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] Esoteric Recordings released Simplex on CD in the UK on July 2012.


In the 1990s, he released the 4 CD box set Demonstrations of Affection and worked on some guitar-based instrumental projects such as the albums Crimsworth and Practically Wired, or How I Became... Guitarboy! Further multiple disc offerings included My Secret Studio and Noise Candy.

By 1996, Nelson's troubles with his former manager were resolved in a lawsuit which enabled Nelson to recover much of his back catalogue.[citation needed] A fully authorised version of the Simplex album was released in 2001.

In the late 1990s, Nelson created the Populuxe label, with a distribution arrangement with 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 and Voiceprint as well as direct mail-order releases.


2002 saw the release of Three White Roses and a Budd (with Fila Brazillia and Harold Budd) on Twentythree Records.

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. The lone CBS album Getting the Holy Ghost Across / On a Blue Wing had also been re-issued with all the original tracks and extras on Nelson's Sonoluxe imprint.

At his annual 'Nelsonica' event in West Yorkshire, Nelson stages rare public performances. He has recently released the first part of an autobiography.


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.

In March 2011, Bill Nelson and the Gentlemen Rocketeers played a concert of songs spanning Nelson's career at Metropolis Studios, London. Salvo Music released a DVD and CD of the event.[6]

Nelson suffered a complete hearing loss in one ear during 2014, which resulted in him creating and releasing the album Quiet Bells which, according to the artist's own sleevenotes, "Quiet Bells is the first recording made since the total loss of hearing in right ear. 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...". It was issued in 2015 on his own Sonoluxe label.



Compilation albums[edit]

  • The Best of and the Rest Of (1978) [Be-Bop Deluxe] (double LP; 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) (mixture of BBD and Red Noise material) Dojo
  • The Strangest Things 1979-1989 A Collection of Recordings Enigma
  • Raiding the Divine Archive (1990) [Be-Bop Deluxe] Harvest
  • Air Age Anthology (1997) (double CD) [Be-Bop Deluxe] EMI
  • Very Best Of (1998) [Be-Bop Deluxe] EMI-Capitol Special Markets
  • What Now, What Next? The Cocteau Years Compendium (1998) Discipline Global Mobile
  • Postcards From the Future (2002) [Be-Bop Deluxe] Caroline
  • Futurist Manifesto 1974-1978 (2011) [Be-Bop Deluxe] (5xCD 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) (8xCD, 40-year career retrospective mixture of BBD, Red Noise and BN solo material) Esoteric Recordings
  • Original Albums Series (5xCD 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


  • 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 and Tremulous Antenna. EMI


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

External links[edit]