Interview: Nelson 03/12/97
Getting hold of all of the members of NMA together, in the same place at the same time and in the presence of a computer is like trying to round up headless chickens - but, because I, Ned Ludd, am tireless in your service and like nothing better than lugging my kit and caboodle from one end of the UK to the other hunting elusive musicians, we've bagged a bit of an exclusive. Today we're deep in the countryside at yet another studio location talking to bass-player extraordinaire, the tall, lanky, henna-haired maestro of the plank, Nelson himself. Now, Nelson is a quiet kind of guy offstage, not one to push himself forward or blow his own trumpet, so persuading him to do this interview was not the easiest thing. Whereas many creative people are happy to expound their world views and share their musical thoughts, Nelson likes to quietly contemplate the Infinite. But we've convinced him to share with us today - good on yer, Nel!
NL: Now, Nelson, I've heard on the grapevine that you were involved in a very unusual project prior to joining the Army - can you tell us something about that?
N: Yes, it was a project called "The Brotherhood of Lizards" - there were 2 of us, myself and Martin Newell (who's now a performance poet) and we wanted to create a rock band that was as Green as we could possibly be. So we recorded an album using Captain Sensible's own personal 8-track tape machine, and released it on his own record label, "Deltic Records" - which is the name of a famous train, because the Captain is a complete train freak. We wanted to promote the record in the Greenest way we could so we considered touring by train, (to please the Captain!) but then we thought, no, let's go one better and do it by bicycle. So we did. We got together a 3 week tour round the south of England and set off with all our gear and instruments on our bikes - we were very fortunate with the weather, except we forgot to allow for headwinds which made it a bit difficult! We pedalled 760 miles in all - we did pub gigs, clubs, we busked and also did an Anti-Macdonalds gig. We got quite alot of TV coverage, on local news programmes and an interview on Sky TV. We had a really great time up until the last few days when we were playing in London and it was a nightmare trying to cycle round London in the traffic, trying to get to various radio stations for interviews on time and then get to the gigs - we'd had such a beautiful time out cycling in the countryside it was a culture shock having to deal with London, and I don't like London anyway, except for a quick bit of shopping now and again. In the end, I think we proved the project could be done, but even though we got interviews in the NME, the Guardian etc, - the national press, really, - we didn't sell that many records, because I don't think that people took the music seriously, they treated us as if being Green and trying to find another way to tour other than the usual ways was some sort of novelty, a publicity stunt. But we were serious, and we did prove our point, we weren't just being "crazy guys", we were musicians, who happened to be Green and wanted to tour in a Green way. But all in all, I really enjoyed it, and so did Martin.
NL: So, how did you get involved with NMA after all this cycling ?
N: I got a phone call from a guy called Anton Pace, who was working at EMI in the publicity department - he was a friend of mine and we'd worked together as session musicians on some recordings, he's a great musician, very talented - and he knew Moose Harris had left NMA and they were auditioning for a bass-player. It was weird, because I've always thought of myself as a guitar player but people always want me to play bass, so I thought, I'll have a go. Now, up to then, I'd only really heard "Vengeance", I'd missed out all the rest, so Anton sent me all the albums and I was blown away, I thought, if this is the direction they're going in, I'd love to be part of it. I really loved "Thunder and Consolation", I thought it was a great album. Then, I had to make a tape of myself playing bass, some NMA songs and some of my own ideas to prove I could actually play and wasn't a time-waster, and when they heard it they asked me to audition. It was bit nerve-racking to say the least, because Robert's drumming was so loud I couldn't hear myself play, but Justin told me afterwards I looked really calm and cool, not nervous at all, which persuaded him to give me the job!
NL: Is Robert still really loud?
NL: So, who are your bass or guitar heroes, and what music do you listen to when you've got time off?
N: Well, the funny thing is, I don't really listen to bass players, but I do like Andy Fraser of Free and Colin Moulding of XTC, because they play memorable bass lines and they're not flash. And there was that bloke out of Bow Wow Wow, who's name I forget, but he was great. I've never rated people like Mark King of Level 42, that jazz-rock stuff, it's not my style at all. I've always thought that because I hardly ever listen to any other bass-players, I've developed a particular style of my own. At the end of the day, I believe it's the song itself that matters most - just playing fiddly, complicated stuff for the sake of it can interfere with the song - if just playing one note all the way through is what the song needs, then go for it. This kind of intuitive approach also allows me to express myself onstage more, because I can just go with the music. I do listen to alot of solo acoustic guitar players like Duck Baker, Dave Evans and Stefan Grossman. I feel these guys use the guitar almost like a mini-orchestra, they play all the musical parts on the one instrument all at the same time, kind of like a piano player. I try and do my own arrangements of other people's songs and my own, in that way.
Musically, I like stuff like p.j harvey, Underworld, Spooky, Nick Cave, Captain Beefheart, KLF, Bonzo Dog Band - I don't really listen to pop music, I suppose I like what the media calls "alternative" music, stuff that's interesting, different, creative. That's why I'm in New Model Army! I listen to a real lot of music, it's part of my everyday life.
NL: Apart from music, though, what are your other interests?
N: Well, obviously, cycling! When we're in the various studios we record in, I always take my bike and cycle off exploring the surrounding countryside - I think it's a great way of keeping fit, without the boring you've-got-to-exercise bits. Cycling lets you travel at a really good speed, not too fast, not too slow. You can see everything clearly, not like when you're in a car, all locked up. You can hear everything too, birds and animals, the natural sounds you miss in a car. I read a great deal, too. I used to read alot of comics, but I've grown out of that now and read books instead! Currently, I'm reading "Ex-Utero" by Laurie Foos. I just finished "The Beach" by Alex Garland, that book everyone was raving about this summer. It had great reviews, but I found it that despite it being a good story, the characters just didn't behave like real people at all. There was supposed to be this idyllic island with fields of dope for the taking and all these so-called travellers did was fish, and eat rice like zombies. No parties (Except the last, fatal one!), no sex, no books, no music, not even many conversations - and some of them were supposed to have been there for years - what did they do? No, it was a bit of a disappointment. Sorry Alex. One of my favourites is "The Crow Road" by Iain Banks, another favourite author is Tom Robbins, I like all his stuff. I quite like Jeanette Winterson and Milan Kundera, too.
NL: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Nelson; to close, how do you see your future going - any particular projects, or anything like that?
N: I'm really looking forward to the Army tour next year, for the new album. Apart from that, I'm going to do some travelling in my van, because when you're on tour, you don't really get to see anything apart from the venue, so I'd like to return to some of the places we've been and spend more time exploring what those places are really like. Places like Hungary - and Vienna, for example, is a city I've always wanted to see more of. I'd love to go to Australia, Canada, Nepal . . . Also, I've always fancied doing an album of solo acoustic guitar tunes, so when I've got a bit more time I'll probably do that. That's it really - it's quite enough to get on with!
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