25 July 2010

Bill Nelson: Trial By Intimacy -- The Summer Of God's Piano

Best known as the front man for Be Bop Deluxe, and for his production work with numerous bands, Bill Nelson established himself as a notable composer of instrumental music in the eighties. Though not his first such effort, Trial By Intimacy (The Book Splendours) is perhaps his most significant statement of a certain fondness for spontaneity and ephemera. This boxed set, released in 1984, consists of no fewer than four albums. That's over 80 tracks, issued from his private studio like so many falling petals from a cherry tree past its bloom.

The set, which we are lucky enough to number among our possessions, was released in an edition of 5000, some of which included a postcard set and "The Arcane Eye", a surprisingly impressive book of photography. All of this added up to a very nice package, which Nelson describes as a "musical sketchbook of instrumental moods captured during many private moments over the last few years."

The vinyl was never issued independently, though Cocteau in the UK and Enigma in the USA did release each album on CD in 1989. Those must be as rare as hen's teeth. By some oversight this music is unavailable today, and the various versions floating around the internet are of poor quality. In the next few weeks we will present rips from the original vinyl to fill this gaping hole in the Nelson catalogue.

We start with The Summer Of God's Piano, an eminently listenable work. This is best appreciated in light of The Love That Whirls, Nelson's stand-out pop album from the same year. That lovely and mysterious record manages to combine his penchant for drum machine clockworks, liquid guitar figures, ambience and over-the-top lyrics. But take away the vocals and you might have a hard time distinguishing the music on the two records. A song like "Hope For the Heartbeat" sounds exactly as though Nelson took a track destined for Trial By Intimacy and added vocals. And if you can tell which record "Waiting For Voices", "Orient Pearl" and "The Bride of Christ in Autumn" are from, it's not due to any intrinsic difference in musicality or quality.

But the real gems here are those tracks that create a different mood, through the simple expedient of adding samples from radio broadcasts and cinema. The French intonations in "The Celestial Bridegroom" mark it out as part of this new style, while "The Charm of Transit" and "Transmission (N.B.C. 97293)" rise to the top of the pile due entirely to the skill with which Nelson weaves the samples into the music.

Though the absolute best tracks in the boxed set are still to come, we are sure you'll enjoy this trip back to the gardens of Europe, circa 1984.

-- Second Chameleon


Bill Nelson: The Summer Of God's Piano
A01 Antennae Two
A02 Transmission (N.B.C. 97293)
A03 The Sleep Of Hollywood
A04 The Celestial Bridegroom
A05 Under The Red Arch
A06 Orient Pearl
A07 Sacrament
A08 Falling Blossoms
A09 The Difficulty Of Being
A10 Zanoni
A11 The Chinese Nightingale
B01 Tantra
B02 Soon September (Another Enchantment)
B03 Rural Shires
B04 Perfidio Incanto
B05 The Lost Years
B06 The Charm Of Transit
B07 Night Thoughts (Twilight Radio)
B08 Wysteria
B09 Swing
B10 Snowfall
B11 Realm Of Dusk
B12 Over Ocean

Trial By Intimacy (The Book Splendours)
4xLP: Cocteau Records UK [JEAN 2] 1984

The Summer Of God's Piano
LP: Cocteau Records UK [JC 6] 1984
CD: Cocteau Records UK [JCCD 6] 1989
CD: Enigma Records US [7 73376-2] 1989


  1. excellent post, love this era of Bill Nelson! looking forward to the rest of the box...thanx!

  2. ... am so glad I stumbled upon this article/blog.
    while a big fan of all of Bill Nelson's work, his output of this genre and
    later ventures in similar vein is Essential listening for me.