It was a rare privilege and a great pleasure to make a 12 hour round trip to Wakefield on Monday, to witness the artist, musician and friend Mr Bill Nelson receive a lifetime achievement award for his work in a ceremony that lasted less than 10 minutes. The Wakefield Stars Scheme aims to acknowledge lifetime achievements of local people and the ambition is to pave the area all the way from the Bull Ring to The Hepworth Gallery with these Hollywood styled pavement plaques. Bill will be sitting amongst such stunning company as Henry Moore, the composer Noel Gay, John Godber the playwright, Barbara Hepworth, Sir Martin Frobisher, conservationist Charles Waterton and many others who made Wakefield’s mark on the world.
Bill has defied convention, setting his own path in a music world dominated by people who prefer to follow the latest fashion. Perhaps one of the first to start his own independent label Cocteau Records, Bill has always been at least two steps ahead of the world. Admired by Sir Paul McCartney, Kate Bush, Brian May and many other greats. An influence on people such as Prince, Big Country, Dave Grohl etc. and copied by post-modern acts such as My Chemical Romance and The Darkness. You can read more on this aspect at Bill Nelson – integrity and creativity in a bottle.
Perhaps the most poignant moment of the ceremony was when Bill recalled that he had stood at the foot of the stage at around the age of four years old as his father Walter played the saxophone at a wedding. Bill had been given a toy saxophone to play along with his father! He has had some sadness in his life of late, as he is suffering from hearing loss. It was this news that compelled me to make the journey for what was less than an hour at the event, having connected deeply with Bill’s sense of frustration at the thought that he may not be able to make or hear music in quite the same way ever again. I also know that Bill will rise again as there are some wonderful things that can be done in this age to mitigate the symptoms that he is experiencing. It was also lovely to see Bill’s Mum who always looks fantastic, alongside Bill’s wife Emiko and the Nelson family – a proud moment for them.
I was reminded of scenes from “Dads Army” with the Town Clerk, as the Director of Culture and the Arts attempted to read his speech without any real knowledge of Bill’s work and his impact across the world! 🙂 Still, it was rather charming for all that and he made a really good effort despite his lack of knowledge of Wakefield’s finest. A little less time spent in strategic planning committees and more on the street is recommended 🙂 Bill pointed out that the last prize he won was a bar of chocolate for striking the triangle once in a performance when he was a boy! He has been hitting all the right notes ever since despite no formal musical education. Like myself, Bill claims he cannot read music, playing by ear and using intuition to guide him into new sonic territories. It’s a refreshing change to the ‘painting by numbers’ approach that turns out identikit musicians these days.
In case you are unfamiliar with Bill’s work, here’s a sample of the huge diversity of his music. Check his website out at Bill Nelson and catch up with his output. This truly was an adventure in a Yorkshire landscape which was made in heaven … Sign your name with a star …