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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Dave Nelson

     

    [TRACK 1]

    TONY WRIGHT:

    Okay it’s Tony Wright, 20th of May 2011 and I’m talking to Dave Nelson at his home in Hebden Bridge, and so can you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

    DAVE NELSON: Okay. My name is David Ruffden Nelson. I was born on the 27th of May 1952 and I was born in.....just on the border between London and Kent, in south east London.

    TW:

    Right. So did you grow up in Kent then?

    DN: I grew up in London – it became London very quickly after I was born, it was Kent to start with and then

    TW:

    Was that sort of the Rye area, around there?

    DN: Yeah, Greenwich, Woolwich it was in fact, on the edge there – SE9 it now is, so yes I was brought up in Elton.

    TW:

    Right. What was it like down there in those days?

    DN: It’s....it was fine as a young child because we’d got parks and woods, Shooter’s Hill was very near where we lived, that was really close......and it was an age when my parents, like everybody else, just let their kids out and said ‘go and play, come back lunch-time’ you know, or ‘come back tea-time’ – there was nothing, nothing they worried about apart from crossing busy roads perhaps, but that was about it.....yeah, so but then as a teenager we realised there was nothing to do whatsoever [laughing], you know you get to the age when you want to drink, whatever that is, and the nearest pub is a mile and a half away because it was built by.....the whole estate was built by some Scots who stipulated that there should be no alcoholic places of refreshment anywhere near, so yes you had to go up Elton High Street which is about a half an hour walk to....so yeah, Elton Park where I actually lived was completely dry.

    TW:

    So when you were little, being outside and that was something you really enjoyed, but as you got older you lost your interest in nature so to speak?

    DN: Yeah....yeah, we had a period of going into the woods and making camps and then we all....we all had go-karts and things like that, and we all had bikes and that, that got us through to about, I don’t know, probably fourteen, fifteen and then....and then it started to get tricky, you know, cos

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    TW:

    Did you become more interested in cultural things then rather than nature things?

    DN: .....well, if you’re talking about kind of music and things like that, I mean I’ve been playing piano since I was about four, and when I was fourteen or thereabouts I started playing guitar as well and so yeah, there was the whole thing about.....you kind of... I was lucky that I can play be ear as well as from music, so it was.....kind of then thinking about bands and all that kind of stuff, so

    TW:

    Were you in bands then?

    DN: Yeah, from quite an early age

    TW:

    And what kind of music did you play?

    DN: .....it was.....in the first place I was playing....playing this newly found guitar, playing kind of acoustic music and trying to write our own songs and it....over a period of time, I mean I think it would be the same band, it was called Armistice but with an ‘s’ on the end like Genesis [Armistis], but [laughing]....you look back now and you think ‘was that a great idea’ but it was a kind of pretty, pretty kind of music, there was a girl who sang and there was another girl who played flute, so it was that kind of....acoustic guitar, but it kind of morphed gradually into prog rock and me playing keyboards and things like that, and writing music....and then it became more jazz funky and stuff like that, so it kind of moved with the times

    TW:

    Was it the same people in the band?

    DN: No, no, no, some of them were the same and then some of them changed....and there was just me that was the constant factor between

    TW:

    So were you the leader of the band?

    DN: Yeah, yeah, I guess – I didn’t set out to be in the first place, but you know, these things are thrust on you sometimes.

    TW:

    And what kind of venues did you play?

    DN:

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    Oh we played local pubs and youth clubs and things like that, and....yeah.....that’s about it, but we didn’t get out of London I don’t think – we were playing in Eastbourne one time, but we must have done, we must have played elsewhere, but it was never....it was never a kind of successful thing, it was just, you know, what everyone wanted to do, so I was writing proggy kind of stuff for quite a long time – we were all into Yes and Gentle Giant and Genesis and....I can’t remember who else – all those kind of, all those kind of things.......so yeah, then that would have taken me through to my early twenties I guess, or thereabouts

    TW:

    So did you study formally somewhere?

    DN: I studied.....with piano teachers.....privately and then at......well it was still privately but it was at the Conservatoire in Blackheath, Blackheath Conservatoire which is quite well known these days.....and.....yeah, so that was pretty much it. I didn’t do O or A Level music at school, it was

    TW:

    You were a natural

    DN: Well I think I would have done them at school but I hated the music teacher so much [laughing] it was.....I think I was probably quite cocky cos I was....you know, you’d go to music lessons and if you’re the one that can play the piano then you think you know it all and so it would be ‘sir, sir’ you know, all this kind of stuff and you’d eventually get put down for that kind of thing and then you’d take your bat home, and so yeah, I did other things, but......yeah, so the music was always there, it was always playing and I did classical music up to....about the time of my A Levels and then realised it was just getting all too much, so I cut that out but carried on playing keyboards and guitar and stuff like that...shall I keep going.....I went out to work then and started learning to be an architect.....gave that up, it’s nine years part-time or something ridiculous, but......this band was going the whole of that time pretty much I was there, and eventually I got into even more adventurous kind of rock music and also contemporary...what you might call contemporary classical music – electronic music and you know, the kind of music conquering the fifties, like Stockhausen and things like that, and listening to bands who were trying to mix these things up – I’ll name check Henry Cow here - they were the main one that, you know, you’d listen to at that time, but....and that all made me want to go to university and study and that’s whatIdid,Iwentto–IgotinatYorktodoMusic. IthinkIwasthefirstpersonto ever get into the Uni of York without A or O Level Music, so that was....but then I was twenty-five and I was saying to them ‘if I do a thesis I’ll probably do it on Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and they said ‘you’re in’ basically, you know, but.....so that happened, and then after that there was....kind of being in more bands and....you know, afterwards, and all sorts of stuff like that, and finally came back to the love of doing classical music again when......when it came down to having a piano again, I mean you know, in the kind of situation I was in as a student and in flats and things you don’t get a piano because there’s nowhere to put one, I couldn’t afford one anyway, then my sister decided to emigrate to Spain and she stayed there for about four months, but in that time she said ‘oh you can have the piano’ – this is

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    the family one, you know, so I started having lessons again and it kind of went on from there

    TW:

    So did you have a musical family as well?

    DN: Well both my sisters, interestingly, are professional musicians. They both teach and my sister in Ireland is in a band that’s very, very successful over there, in fact they’ve played here as Zrazy, they’ve played here about four or five times now

    TW:

    Sorry what was their name?

    DN: Zrazy, z-r-a-z-y

    TW:

    Oh right

    DN: They’ve played at The Trades and the Arts Festival, all sorts of things. I book ‘em [laughing]......and my other sister, Debbie, plays piano and guitar and sax and she teaches in London, so we all played. They learnt oboe and bassoon I think when we were kids, I think one of them was on piano, but my parents loved music but never, they never played. I think because they were war time......I don’t think they had the opportunity to do things like that. My dad tried piano and gave up cos he couldn’t make his hands work in different directions, so he always regretted that he didn’t take up the flute or something – something where you – he probably could have managed cos I think he would have loved to have played.

    TW:

    Right. So you’re up to York now. So how did you come to be in Hebden Bridge?

    DN: Okay there’s a bit more of a gap and I’m back in London again.....met somebody, got married, had first child and....we were living in Blackheath which is a pretty nice place to live through a housing association and they eventually decided that they wanted the house for something else, and moved us to the fringes of Thamesmead, well no-one knows where Thamesmead is – it’s not terribly nice – not great for kids growing up and we moved on to another one, and so we just kind of started to spend evenings with bottles of wine and maps, and it’s one of those things where you.....you draw those lines and eventually you’ve got a shape in the middle, you know, one line’s there and another one’s there and this one, and those lines were created by.....living near cities and being in the countryside but with access to cities, so you look at cities and you can blow out some of them because they’re too ugly or too cold or too far away, and we blew out some of those nice cities because the countryside was too....like Bristol perhaps, which is a lovely city but the countryside around is a bit manicured you know, I mean that’s not quite us, and we ended up with Leeds and Manchester at the top of the list, so we moved into Hebden Bridge which you know,

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    was exactly half way between the two and with easy access to both, kind of fulfilled the thing, but I didn’t.....I don’t think we knew what we’d moved to, we just liked the look of the place – we liked the countryside, liked the up-and-over houses and all that kind of stuff, and the slightly unusual nature of the place. I should say that coming....moving north from London was no.....having been to York and also both my parents were from the north – my mum was from Oldham and my dad was from Kendal, and I’d walked around this area – we had a walking group in York and we came over this way and I remembered it from things like that, and....this may have got mentioned to you before – there’s an iconic photo, it was in the Guardian around that time, of the Birchcliffe hillside in the snow, which I remembered from.....you know....and I said ‘oh we could go and look at Hebden Bridge’ you know ‘it looked like a nice place’ and well basically we were knocked out by the house prices – we couldn’t live in London that’s for sure, that was one of the reasons for moving you know, so we bought two under dwellings to knock – they were already converted into one house on Eiffel Street – I think we paid like twelve grand or something, I mean that was quite expensive

    TW:

    When was that?

    DN: That was twenty-five years ago, so..... ’84, something like that....can’t quite do the maths, but somewhere around that time, and.....yeah, we moved in and lived there for a while......then.....well then things fell apart, matrimonially, let’s put it that way, and.....she....the two children we then had, moved to Hastings and the house got sold and then I met Jan, who lived here, and we’ve lived here since then, so yeah we were in Eiffel Street for a few years and then.....and then here really.

    TW:

    Right. I do know that you – I believe it was you who started up the Gamelan band. Is that correct?

    DN: No. It was formed by a guy called Mick Wilson who lives in Cragg Vale, and I knew him cos he was also at York at the same time that I was, so I knew him from then, and......amazed to run into him in Hebden Bridge soon after we moved here, and it was Mick’s idea to form this thing – I think he got us some kind of commission to write music for the Gamelan that’s in York. Gamelan’s Indonesian percussion, for the record – Indonesian tubes percussion, so big gongs and xylophone type instruments, and also big gongs that kind of size that you play that way on, and he formed that, well he made a whole load of instruments for it, blew his commission on these home made instruments that we use, and invited everyone he knew to come and join – I was one of those people, but he was musical director for quite a long time and then....probably five or six years and then various things happened and I took over as musical director and stayed with it till....well the band went for eighteen years, or seventeen years altogether so I was directing for quite a long time, so I think people tend to think that it was my.....my thing, but you know, fair play to him, he started – he had the vision and started it off, and wrote all the early music for it, the original music for it, so I took over on that front, loads of people wrote..Dave Nelson 20-05-11 trans Page

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    TW:

    Was this a performing band?

    DN: Yeah, community orchestra, so within limitations, so it didn’t tour in the same way – we did.....well we did loads of stuff. We played indoors, outdoors, in schools, in concert halls, we did three trips to the Sidmouth Folk Festival and we were there all week for those, did other residencies in Teignmouth, we did have a Devon connection going on here, but we also had time up here in the Lake District – we’d all just go and camp nearby or whatever – we did the Bath Festival with everyone staying in the same pair of B & Bs I think, that kind of...it was just....yeah, and then lots and lots of workshops and.....and it was good because we....we were able to....how can I put this.....there’s a whole course of Indonesian music that we didn’t play, and we didn’t play it for one reason – it was because the instruments, we’d tune them to a kind of western scale and not a Balinese or Javanese scale, which meant they still sounded Oriental but without necessarily sounding Indonesian, but it did mean we could use with other instruments so we combined flutes and saxophones or piano and on one occasion, singers, that kind of thing, so then all these kinds of wonderful projects that we kind of got up to

    TW:

    It was a fusion really

    DN: It was quite a fusion thing yeah, and all....all the music was written....was self- penned by the band so it had rock and folk and contemporary classical influences, you know, the kind of strange things and crazy time signatures and.....and all that sort of stuff, so we never – we never went near the proper stuff and always had this idea that we would find our own way. We also combined theatre with it – we had massive puppets, I mean I’m taking the ones that needed five or six people inside them to make them work, but also did shadow puppetry things, like they do in Java and Bali, but again we did our own versions of those things, you know, kind of taking the idea and then running with it in whatever way we wanted to do, which some people over here got a bit snotty about because there was definitely a....there was a Gamelan cliquey kind of group that’s kind of based round universities, but every time anybody from Bali or Java heard us, and they did, particularly at a big festival on the South Bank, they all said ‘no this is brilliant - you’re evolving the tradition – it shouldn’t stay a static thing’ you know, you’d get the same argument in jazz and fold if you want to, you know, with the various people who want to preserve it in a certain kind of way, and those who don’t, so yeah, that was the Gamelan. Eventually it ran its course I think. Seventeen years was good – a good time for a community ensemble

    TW:

    So it doesn’t exist any more then?

    DN: It doesn’t exist any more. The instruments – the home made instruments got donated to the Calderdale Music Service and I believe they still use them quite a bit, but we also bought from Java several sets of big gongs and other things that you know, the real McCoy, and they got transferred to a band that we had for a while after the

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    Gamelan finished called Gong Fusion which was what it said, what it says – we started bringing in guitars and we had a didgeridoo player for a while, and keyboards and vocals and things like that, and writing songs with it, you know really....it proved unworkable as a band for lots of reasons that we needn’t really go into, but...so there hasn’t been a thing like that since but I’ve got – but then all the instruments came to me, so I’ve still got all those Javanese instruments and I use them for school workshops and things like that, and there’s a project I’m doing at the moment called ‘The Collision’ which you’ll kind of see is around at the Arts Festival where they’re using those instruments alongside rock instruments and stuff like that

    TW:

    Right.

    DN: That’s brought us up to date rather quick.

    TW:

    Well in....is it....Wainsgate Church, don’t they have some Gamelan stuff up there?

    DN: That’s where they are, they’re the ones. Yeah Wainsgate’s one of my.....it’s kind of one of my projects as a.....we put on concerts there and....but in return for me kind of working in that kind of way, I have a couple of rooms that I store all my stuff in and there’s a big room that we can use for rehearsals or whatever – multi-purpose room.

    TW:

    So are you a part of the group that’s trying to like restore the church and the grounds and that?

    DN: There’s several groups here, I mean there’s....the Historic Chapels Trust run the place from London, they own it and they’re putting.....will be putting quite a lot of money into restoring the roof and guttering and all that kind of stuff, so the bigger, broad brush stuff they’re doing. There’s also a separate fund to restore the organ so we can use that for recitals and stuff. My function is really to make sure that the......the day to day running of the building is....we have artists in there, a theatre company, myself, when I’m there, and then there are rehearsals. There’s the samba band rehearses up there and the flamenco group have rehearsed up there, and it’s open to other people to use when they want it, so it’s more the day to day running. There’s the Wadsworth Environment Group look after the grounds....they’ve put up nesting sites and coppiced stuff and things like that.....yeah so it’s kind of different......different bodies have come together to kind of make it work

    TW:

    So it’s a real community project really

    DN: It kind of is, but is hasn’t got to the sort of wider Old Town public so much, you know, they.....the pub did organise a sponsored walk last year for the organ fund and raised a load of money which was really nice, but.....so it’s not a community centre

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    like the community centre in Old Town is a community centre, but it’s....it’s got lots of nice things happening there, particularly in the summer months when it’s not too cold....yeah, we’re very pleased with it. Kind of low key, low tech, low key.....concerts you don’t.....there’s no advanced booking, people just turn up, you know, hopefully they walk there or get the bus rather than drive you know, it’s that kind of thing. We’re up there on Sunday actually.....yeah, first one of the season

    TW:

    Right. Okay, so you’re still involved with the Gamelan and it goes right back for a lot of years

    DN: ’87 we started

    TW:

    Yeah. Were you still doing a different kind of music as well then, as well as that?

    DN: At the time, oh yeah, cos I.....as I said earlier I came back to classical music when I was twenty-nine and got....after a few years I got my diploma, Associate of the Royal College of Music for Performance, and.....I’d been teaching piano, well since then I was.....I was teaching in London and then moved up here and needed to start a new practice, but I’ve been......yeah, I’ve been teaching the whole time since we’ve been here, so that’s now....twenty-five years or whatever it is, and you know, you start with one student and it’s....I think my capacity is probably exceeded when we get to anything above fifty, and I’ve had anything between like thirty and.....thirty and fifty over the years. At the moment it’s forty....five or something like that.....which is not bad for recession hit time anyway. So I’ve been teaching all that time and I’ve expanded to do more song writing and composition and theory and even guitar playing at the moment, as well as piano, and piano is both classical and jazz which I also.....I always wanted to do jazz and I kind of went back to classical music when I was twenty-nine, just because I thought the.....discipline of classical music might get these fingers really working well for playing jazz; I didn’t know I was gonna get hooked back on classical music so much that the jazz would have to take the back seat quite a lot of the time, and it’s still kind of.....it’s still kind of......it’s not the one I spend the time on, you know, I spend time on classical music and I’m getting more and more into.....but there is so much of it, I mean there’s just so much fantastic music....so yeah, I’ve been teaching all the time and been practising for things like concerts and stuff like that, and......and the jazz has been going on pretty much the whole time, developing - I’d say it’s got more interesting, it’s got more fusion-like, it’s got more......it’s got more influences from the Gamelan for example; the cross- over came from that and also working with a saxophonist called Pada Long who you may know, but.....who lives in Luddendenfoot. He and I have made music together for....probably the last sixteen, seventeen years, something like that, and he plays Irish whistles and brings those kind of Irish folky thing into the jazz and stuff, so you know, it’s kind of all gone in the mix really.....so yeah, we running jazz and classical performances and teaching side by side really over the years, so he and I had a band....in theory it still exists, but I think in practice, I think the other members have moved on to do other things... the five piece, kind of world music, mixed jazz band called Tongue ‘n’ Groove....the other players being in Leeds and the far side of

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    Huddersfield so it’s harder to get them to rehearsals and things, so I think it’s kind of...it’s kind of waned a bit now, but that’s been the mainstay of what I’ve been doing over the last few years.

    TW:

    So is that....you write all your own music or do you do sort of famous pieces?

    DN: No that was definitely hard core write-your-own. I don’t think we did a single cover version of anything in that time. I kind of feel a little bit that....you know, if people just keep playing jazz and all they do is do you know, their own version of Charlie Parker or Miles Davis then it’s not really growing as a....as a musical form, so...and there’s enough people out there if they wanna kind of keep that thing going, so it’s fair play to them, but you know, I’d rather be striking out in different directions and using what I know, so I don’t always know whether what I’m writing, what I’m playing is jazz to be honest, I mean you know, everyone’s got different definitions of this thing...it’s improvised music – it’s got a structure but within that.....and so on, so it qualifies in so many ways, but people might listen to it and say ‘oh no that doesn’t sound like jazz’ you know, but I don’t really care [laughing]

    TW:

    That’s fair enough [laughing]

    DN: You’ve got to have these fusions going on and.....lately I’ve been running, well I started last year a jazz club in Hebden Bridge...at The Trades, called the HX7 Club and that’s been going monthly, and I think that most of the things booked for that have been in some way or other, have been quite fusion based....it’s kind of jazz funk or you know, South Asian music mixed jazz, or whatever you know, so there’s been quite a bit of that going on.....and yeah, enjoying that we’ve been to listen to some really nice things as well as that – I play at it as well, I do an introductory twenty minutes of solo piano jazz quite often, so that’s nice, so that’s the other thing I do.....if you want to know any more about that I can tell you

    TW:

    Well there used to be like a Sunday jazz thing in The Trades

    DN: There still is, I mean we’ve resurrected it....

    TW:

    So you.....were you originally part of that original set up

    DN: No I played once at it, but....but yeah, they....it was free to get in and I think they had a little problem getting people there, even when it was free, and it meant musicians didn’t want to play there twice because they weren’t getting particularly well paid for it, so that stopped for a long time, that was....I remember it well, and people have said ‘oh you should definitely do that’ so we’ve put it back in – we do once a month in between, as far as we can, in between the Thursdays of the main evening jazz that’s

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    on, so yeah, and so that’s quite nice actually cos it’s more for the regional bands or artists that are around, so it’s given them....a place, you know, another place to play and that’s important these days. A lot of jazz venues have shut down for one reason or another – either the recession or claiming the smoking ban or whatever, I don’t know, I mean.....so it was good that we started up, in fact, we opened HX7 on the same week that The Puzzle stopped – The Puzzle in Sowerby Bridge – stopped doing jazz on a Tuesday night; we’re a very different thing and that’s a little tiny pub and it’s free to get in – this is....you know, you pay your ten or twelve pounds to get in and see what we put on, but then it is national and international touring stuff, so it’s a different ball game, but the Sunday lunch time jazz is more...you can just come along for a couple of quid, have your Sunday lunch, have a couple of pints, you know, and there’s a nice band playing from not far away you know....it’s good.

    TW:

    So on the classical side, you’re still doing that you say. It’s sort of the same question. Do you practice sort of you know, Bach and Beethoven and Chopin or any of those sorts of people and then perform some of that, or is it all your own writing again?

    DN: No I don’t, I don’t....I’ve never written....I’ve never written classical music apart from....as it were.....apart from when I was at university...I think it’s.....it’s kind of different with classical music....probably now I think differently about this, but I certainly didn’t think differently about it in the seventies and eighties. The trouble with what we call classical music is of course it’s many, many styles that have evolved, and nobody wants to write like the past – nobody wants to write in the style of Beethoven or Mozart or even Debussy or whatever, and.....and if you follow the line from there, you know, you get Stravinsky and Schoenberg and very soon you’re into electronic music and.....a whole load of other things and what you’re not into is – what you haven’t got is any piano music, because a piano is a total instrument; it doesn’t have all those micro tones and all that, so it always sounds like music from the past. Now since I thought that, way back, things have changed – things like minimalism have made the piano a more viable instrument again. Minimalism is a much more tonal thing; you listen to Philip Glass or Michael Nyman and you’re hearing a very different kind of thing, and the whole electronic music thing has kind of died a death, you know, over the years – it’s kind of....

    TW:

    Do you think it’s had its day?

    DN: Well certainly in the kind of......the kind of Stockhausen style and Boulez and all those people, and there are people doing it of course, it’s big in universities, but I think the....the reality that nobody actually wants to listen to it is probably set in eventually you know [laughing], has dawned on people, I don’t know, so maybe with music getting more tonal again with kind of people like Schnittke and things like that, you know, maybe there’s a place for it but it never interested me the same as writing jazz music did, so I’ve put my creative energies into that and the Gamelan of course, and I was lucky, I also had – I’ll come back to classical music in a moment - but I also had....you mentioned Calderdale Theatre School, I was Musical Director for them for a very long time and that gave me a lot of chance to write both songs and incidental

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    music for the shows as well as you know, producing the music that was already written for the shows if that was the case, but a lot of them were.......were plays we put music to one way or another and so I had this outlet for doing that as well as the Gamelan and the jazz, and I felt that that was quite enough, so coming back to classical music, classical music for me has always been about.....really striving to find what the composer wanted, so it is a kind of an archive thing and sometimes I think ‘why do we still want to listen to Bach or Beethoven’ or whatever, and maybe people do and maybe people don’t, but sometimes there’s a personal quest that has to be.....embarked on here, and it’s like trying to understand and get into the mind of Shakespeare you might say, or you know, whatever, there’s a.....there’s a feeling of greater human understanding if you can get somewhere near I suppose, you know, as well as the....the challenge of doing it, you know, the challenge of.....seeing what’s written and turning that rather weird combination of black and white, you know, ink on paper into something as real as sound is, I mean, it’s sound really, you know, sound is vibrations in our ears and our brains go ‘oh yeah I think I can relate to that’ you know, but we turn the music into sound just as we turn the printed word into speech and make it expressive and communicate all those things, and how you turn what’s just a lifeless thing on a page into that is......it’s kind of a glorified puzzle – there’s a lot of clues and a lot of things you have to kind of sort out and I love it, and I’m a great one for crosswords and sudoku puzzles and you know, all that kind of stuff, so in a way there’s the challenge of doing that with every new piece – how you make this thing happen, you look for clues, I mean yes you can play the notes if you’ve got the language of music, you can reproduce the notes that are written down on the page but you don’t play the music by doing that, you play the music be adding some more to it that.....is about a different kind of innate understanding of what’s implied as well as what’s there, and you do that by knowing more about the composer, about the period, about....all kinds of things really you know, but you know, so.....so it’s a massive puzzle, I know the piece that’s on the piano now that I’m playing, I’ve been working it out since last July – it’s three pieces actually and it’s the third one that’s really challenging me, and I don’t think it’ll be finished until at least the autumn – that’s a fifteen month long puzzle to sort out, you know, and training my fingers to do it as well, you’ve got to achieve this thing that you....that you might have in your brain that says ‘oh yeah I know exactly how this goes, I’ve worked it out’ will they do it? I don’t think they will just yet [laughing] – go back to the drawing board! And I love......I love that kind of.....feel it growing, it’s like chipping your way to a big sculpture, you know, sculpture, giving yourself a piece of rock, you know, and there’s a broad brush thing where you kind of get the general gist of it and then you’re down to that fine chisel and sandpaper and every little square inch matters you know, so I mean yeah I’m into that, you know, it means I won’t get through all the pieces I’ve ever written in my lifetime but I’ll have played some of the best, that’s for sure, so that’s the classicals and that kind of informs the way that I teach a lot of the time as well, so that’s....I mean part of the reason for doing it is not to perform classical music because I know that there are so many far better players out there than I am who can do it more easily, but it’s like a personal challenge.....but I do get to play it sometimes; I did a solo recital last year in the Arts Festival, first ever in Hebden Bridge, and.....but then also I’ve been doing a lot of stuff, duet stuff and things like that

    TW:

    I saw some of your duet stuff up at Heptonstall

    Dave Nelson 20-05-11 trans Page 11

    DN: Up there with Rodger?

    TW:

    Yeah

    DN: Yeah, Rodger Scaife

    TW:

    Which was quite fascinating really.

    DN: Yeah, it was very enjoyable and it was very visual as well, I mean playing duets, because you’ve got crossing hands and a whole choreography of how you get four hands on a piano, yeah, it’s always been fun doing that, yeah, I really love playing duets....yeah, so that’s the classical music....I can’t think of anything more to say about that

    TW:

    Well there’s one question kind of following on from what you’ve said. It’s reacting to your environment really, the landscape around here. You were talking about....words and...I mean Ted Hughes sort of did it in poetry, reacting to the landscape that he found around here, and I do know some....some very early Liszt nature pieces I suppose to do on piano and then Debussy as well, doing sort of nocturnes which was all about trying to get in music the feelings of being in nature, and I wondered, does the environment affect yours do you think?

    DN: The natural world I think probably does. If I had to pick two.....if I picked two composers and they were joint equal, you know, who I will play over and over again and I will study everything they’d ever written if I can, if I have enough time – that’s Debussy and Ravel – the big challenge on piano, that’s Ravel at the moment, and they are....they’re not impressionist composers but they do....they do kind of try to convey some of the natural world in the music. Impressionism is....is a misnomer, it’s a......it’s a visual art form really, and both Ravel and Debussy were as much interested in poetry as that so you know, there’s different things you can say about that, I was saying they were very involved in writing music that kind of gets you on that kind of level and is probably therefore, yes, I think.....the landscape round here, I don’t think it affects me in that kind of way; I’ve not wanted to write music about the Pennine hills or write a ..... particularly. What I would say is that living here is very conducive to working well at all the things that I do; it’s a very relaxing place is Hebden Bridge. I’ve worked from home and living so close to the town, I can go out when I want to.....it’s.....it’s a very....if I lived in London I wouldn’t feel about music the way I feel about it and I wouldn’t be working so well; it would be more stressful, so you know, I think Hebden Bridge does play its part in the way that I work, and it brings the best, I think it brings the best out of me, that kind of lifestyle, for sure.

    TW:

    Dave Nelson 20-05-11 trans Page 12

    I mean, one of the reasons you said you moved here was because of the closeness of the cities like Manchester and Leeds. Has that proved to be the case then, the fact that you’re close to cities but in the country – has that expanded or allowed you to do what you wanted to do?

    DN: I think it’s.......I’ll have to think about that one for a moment....on many levels, yes of course....it provided a....places to play, you know, in Leeds and Bradford and Manchester, with Tongue ‘n’ Groove in particular. It’s provided a catchment area for teaching; I don’t just teach people from Hebden Bridge, I’ve got people from all over, so people come from Leeds and from Rochdale and Bury, places like that to have lessons as well, so it’s kind of added to that...I get to, when I can, I get out to see other things in terms of culture. It’s funny how...I sort of don’t want to listen...when I’ve spent all the time playing music I don’t want to listen to it all the time, I have to be dragged out to see things you know, but.....you know, yeah, I get to Bridgewater Hall and places like that......you know, so it’s great that it’s there, and to the theatre as well; I’ve been to the Royal Exchange, going again quite soon.....but not as much as I’d like to. I suppose it’s the same as when we were in London, I mean we took it for granted that it was there, didn’t always.....didn’t always go to everything we should, but knowing it was there, it was quite a nice thing, you know; so it is with Leeds and Manchester but.....but also a lot of the work that I’ve done in schools and project work and that kind of thing has been over.....further into urban West Yorkshire, in Bradford and Leeds and Dewsbury and places like that, and Huddersfield, so the presence of those places being close has meant that kind of work could develop quite a bit over the years and I’ve been doing that kind of stuff....it’s kind of gone a bit quiet now with the recession and schools not wanting to kind of book independent artists to come into their schools, well they haven’t got any money, but for several years I was doing rather a lot of that kind of work.......you know, kind of.......working with groups of young musicians or non musicians, maybe using the Gamelan some of the time, using whatever they’ve got......to hand, making music, understanding how to improvise, how to write music, collectively mainly, how to play music collectively, how to listen, how to.....you know, those kind of things that....may not turn up in their standard music lessons if they’re still doing them, or whatever you know, so there was a lot of work like that. I did a big project in Leeds that....actually that was.....I did several, but one of them was overseeing a whole load of art forms, bringing together music, visual art, dance, drama and that had....that had a kind of climax thing in The Carriage Works Theatre in Leeds and the Theatre Royal in Wakefield, and....an exhibition...installation I suppose in Leeds City Art Gallery, so that was a.....partly working with musicians on that, but letting other people take....you know, other musicians working with them as well and just kind of drawing all the threads together, so that was a major....that was a major two year project, so that was kind of a big part of ...

    TW:

    So writing music for visual....activity shall we say, whether it be, you know, 2D pictures or 3D sculpture or live dance and drama....is that something that you really enjoy doing?

    DN:

    Dave Nelson 20-05-11 trans Page 13

    Yeah, although I didn’t have to do it, I mean basically there were other musicians on the project and they were working directly with the kids to kind of draw this stuff out, and I’d be just going in and saying ‘well we could use that and we could tie that in with this thing’ and so it was like masterminding it

    TW:

    So you were like directing it?

    DN: Yeah. I was Artistic Director for the project....so kind of going into all the schools and seeing what they were doing on dance and say ‘oh yeah we could use that piece of music for that’ and ‘wouldn’t this work well’ and getting their heads together and making all kind of work, so that was great fun, but I’ve done a lot of coal face stuff as well, that was just a.....as I say a real nice one – I thought I had to mention that one because it was such a fun project to do....but I did.....yeah, so....did I enjoy that kind of stuff? Well I’d not written for an installation, I let them do that and then we kind of chased a few bits at the end, so I had a hand in it but....but I’d written for dance – I’d written dance things for the Gamelan actually, wrote a big project called ‘Life Lines’ which was forty minutes of....of Gamelan music augmented by saxophone and flute and things, for two dances, and we did that up at the Square Chapel a couple of times; that was inspired by four works of art actually originally as well, so yeah, that drew a lot of stuff in....yeah, it was cool

    TW:

    So more generally......you’ve been in Hebden Bridge a long time now. How has the creative scene, particularly the music scene, changed in the time that you’ve been here, from like when you first came?

    DN: Well if I was speaking personally I’d say it’s changed enormously, because I didn’t have any influence – I didn’t know any other musicians when I first moved here, like you don’t, I mean cos you know, you have to kind of meet these people gradually, I mean it took.....like I was saying earlier, I didn’t realise what I’d moved into in Hebden Bridge, I mean it was.....you know, I didn’t realised how different it was from other towns, even then, I mean let alone now.....now, you know, it’s unbelievably different from.....wherever, you know

    TW:

    From different parts of the country or different from twenty years ago?

    DN: It’s different from twenty years ago, and it’s different from you know, if you compare a similar Yorkshire, West Yorkshire town elsewhere, let’s say, I don’t know, like Mirfield or...you know.....well we both know it’s not like that.....but I didn’t really know anybody, so it’s come about through working with the Gamelan, meeting other musicians....it was through the Gamelan that I met Pado you know, we’ve worked together for a long time....and so on and so forth, so from a personal point of view it’s grown and grown. I now know most of the people who play anything anywhere near here you know, one way or another....and that comes about also, we haven’t mentioned the Arts Festival because of course.....you know, we don’t just book

    Dave Nelson 20-05-11 trans Page 14

    national stuff, we try and get a few local things in there as well and that’s been young bands nights for example, or some community project or other, kind of going into the festival......as well, so over the years, and that’s been going for eighteen years now, and I’ve been Musical Director of that for sixteen of them, so that’s......you get to know everyone who’s around really. Has it changed overall....I think it probably has, not always for the best. I reckon that.....oh I don’t wanna say this.....but I certainly think that there were better nights at The Trades than there are now. I don’t like the fact that so much of it is DJ nights and....you know, I don’t know how good that is for music generally, it’s great for a good night out if you wanna dance, but it’s...

    TW:

    Do you think that’s generational then, because you’re older now and that’s mainly for younger people?

    DN: It might be....but I remember going, you know, to The Trades, you know, twenty years ago on a Friday night and there’d be this amazingly good band that was playing at WOMAD next week or whatever you know, the African stuff and you know, all that....and that’s rarely seen now, you know, we’ve got the jazz back after a long lay off; there used to be great things on.....back in the day with jazz and acoustic music with Steve Tilsen doing....you know, that’s kind of back, those things are kind of on track now....but The Trades grew up with the world music thing, it was famed for it, you know, and then it all just kind of went, you know, so I think.....in some ways it’s not as good as it was, but then you kind of.....you look round and you think there’s stuff on regularly at The Hole In The Wall and you know, and that kind of thing as well, and the cinema puts on stuff, and of course we have an Arts Festival that’s putting on loads of stuff, and that’s got big. I would say that’s got bigger and bigger over the last.....the last few years.....so in lots of ways it is better, and of course there are other....this year the Blues Festival, you know, that’s kind of added to the mix, you know, so culturally there are more festivals.....and coming outside of music there’s the Ted Hughes festival in Mytholmroyd in the autumn....I can’t think what else there is, but there seems to be more and more.....you know, and that’s great, that’s really cool

    TW:

    Do you think that reflects the changing.....what’s the word....you know, the people

    DN: Yeah the demographic....I would say so, there are more and more media people piling into Hebden Bridge and they have done over the years with the skills, the talent, the know-how and the get-up-and-go to do it....I hope they take over and do this thing, [laughing] I’m approaching sixty now and need to think about kind of, you know, going to gigs rather than putting them on

    TW:

    Do you think the advent of computers and all that new technology shall we say, do you think that’s changed the nature of music at all?

    DN:

    Dave Nelson 20-05-11 trans Page 15

    I think it’s changed the nature of the....the kind of music I was moaning about a moment ago. I think dance music is pretty much computer generated; I think it’s become the kind of music that you know, you could probably make it in your bedroom you know, if you’ve got the right software and stuff.....and that’s.....that’s good, that’s kind of broadened it out.....you know.....but I’m in two minds about it. There are....you know, the whole kind of sweat and blood of being a performing musician and what that feels like, I mean you actually do it in front of an audience and all that, that kind of, that whole middle stage of being a musician has gone, you know, you can go straight from....writing, making a piece of music, you know, in your back room, and everything else is missed out and then at the far end there’s, you know, five hundred people dancing to it, and I think the stuff in between is quite important, you know, that kind of audience interaction for example, the interaction of musician to musician, you know, the.....the thing that creates something that is greater than the sum of its parts, is all about those things, and you can’t get that from the kind of, a lot of the music that’s being created now, so yes I think that technology is to blame for that to a certain extent. In other ways......I mean certainly in terms......putting gigs on, it’s changed everything so much for the better, you know – just e-mail does that and web sites, people’s web sites and being able to instantly kind of see what people do, what they play, what they look like, you know, everything about them, and then say ‘yes we’ll have that, let’s have that for the jazz club’ you know ‘let’s have that for the Arts Festival’ and so on. That’s great, I mean that’s really, that’s really good, and I get more teaching work through my own web site and you know, most people come via that these days, so yeah, there’s good and there’s bad, you know, like anything, like any technology I suppose.

    TW:

    I mean but whatever, if you’re a creative person and you’re a young creative person, you do need outlets, even if you’re making it in your own bedroom, you know, and even if you don’t work with a group of people. The nature of that – is that still the same, the fact that like The Trades Club and you know, the various pubs, I think there are three or four now that have open mic nights, so there are all kind of like...

    DN: No you’re right, there’s all that as well, the open mic thing I think is great, that’s a lovely thing to be going on.....there’s so many in Hebden Bridge you know, I think there’s only one in Halifax and that’s the Square Chapel, the only one I know about anyway, you know, so it’s the nature of this kind of place isn’t it, that people want that kind of..... we have the creative urge and that’s all ages, you know....yeah.....I think that side of it’s good...I think the openings to make a career out of it are far less now unfortunately

    TW:

    Do you think so?

    DN: Well, both, you know, you can publish yourself, you can be a web presence and people can, you know, download your tunes and all that, but I don’t think you’re gonna make much money out of that to be honest you know, and record companies are, you know, what’s a record company these days, you know, do they exist.....you know, so it’s much harder in some ways, and it’s much easier in others, again it’s

    Dave Nelson 20-05-11 trans Page 16

    broadened out so that almost anybody can make music, but far less people, probably than before, are being funnelled through their talent and creativity into....into places where they’re gonna actually become the next, Radiohead let’s say.......different in.....probably different in jazz, I think jazz will always be a live thing you know, and it is a meritocracy more than rock or pop which is more by luck and...you know, chance plus maybe who you know, I don’t know......yeah, so I’m very pleased to say that the Art Festival is encouraging young ones – we’ve got this project on working with kids on at the moment, it’s a song writing project, and we’ve got a young band in The Trades as well, we’ve got five bands showcasing during that fortnight, in fact that’s one of the things The Trades dropped as well. We did it a few years with the Arts Festival and then they picked up on it and said ‘we’ll have one of these once a month as well because it’s really good and it means that....the school kids can come and we’ll close the bar or make it soft drinks only’ and they did really well with that for a while, and then you kind of suddenly realise that it doesn’t exist any more, so time to come and crank it up and put it back in the Arts Festival, and see if it kind of has a

    TW:

    Can regenerate itself?

    DN: Yeah, absolutely. Either somebody will run with it from The Trades or somebody will run with it from a school or something, or whatever. I mean these days I think there’s a.....I’m working with the Calderdale Rock School which is in Luddendenfoot; they’ve got several bands there that have been helped enormously by having PA systems and drum kits and things

    TW:

    Is that about learning to play instruments rather than...you know, creating in your back bedroom sort of thing?

    DN: I don’t whether it’s.....I don’t know whether they do any teaching, I can’t work that out. I went once and they were just bands rehearsing in each room – about five bands simultaneously rehearsing without much sound proofing so it was a bit mad, but three of them.....three of them are gonna play at the festival which is great.....the project I’m running is definitely about taking young musicians who can already play, but saying ‘you can not only do this thing that you like listening to and try and emulate that, but let’s try this jazzy thing or this world music thing’

    TW:

    Expand their knowledge

    DN: Yeah, and encouraging them to....because this is the band called Collision – it’s got bass, drums and guitar, two keyboard players, but it’s also got violin and clarinet and flute in it, and the Gamelan instruments, and various bits of hand percussion – weird and wonderful things, so we’re kind of saying, you know, ‘you can’t just thrash these instruments because they’ve got to have these things in as well – how are you going to accommodate that’ and you know, just giving them the chance to kind of think and

    Dave Nelson 20-05-11 trans Page 17

    play in a more, you know, kind of thoughtful, reactive way instead of just kind of going for it, so that’s what that’s about, and it’s doing well. We started at the beginning of this month with it, with rehearsals and stuff, and...and that’s.....several songs are now written and underway.

    TW:

    Is that for the festival or is that an ongoing project?

    DN: No, it’ll culminate in the festival. Basically it was all the money that was left over from....the Cragg Vale Gamelan which had some reserve money, a couple of grand....what we were able to do with that money, once everything had finished, and....well basically it came to me and I said ‘yes I could go out and have a nice holiday in Barbados, or....thank you very much, [laughing] or we’ll do something useful with it’ and that’s what we’re doing – we’re using our money to...to create this thing and then showcase it during the festival.

    TW:

    Do you think it will have a longer life than the festival?

    DN: I would love it to. What’s happened is that all the.....all the young people that are involved in it are now friends with each other on Facebook, and they’re all getting on like a house on fire, so you never know, but I think it will be down to them to....to make it happen rather than me because I’ll be moving on to something else I’m sure, you know [laughing]....yeah

    TW

    I just wondered whether there’s anything I haven’t asked about.

    DN: Oh I don’t know

    TW:

    That you might want to....you know...talk about. Something in your life or something about the area that I haven’t asked about?

    DN: I’m just trying to think. We’ve covered a lot of the main things that I do....yeah......I think....my life....apart from the teaching, cos I know that’s always there, I can pick and choose what other things I want to do, or rather I can be open to suggestion on all the other things, so whenever the phone rings I’ll consider doing

    TW:

    So are all these collaborative things that people get in touch and say ‘would you like to be part of this’ or do you have your own idea that you then try to get other people involved in?

    DN:

    Dave Nelson 20-05-11 trans Page 18

    Over the years it’s been a bit of both. I’ve worked with organisations that are.....their job is to set up projects with young people or whatever, like Yorkshire Youth Music and Youth Music and.....oh...the Aim Higher, Raising The Table creative arts type of projects, that kind of thing, that were in Leeds, so you’ve got a kind of bigger organisation behind you that’s can either fund it or looking for funding directly from wherever. They....some of those have gone, they’ve just gone to the wall, vanished, you know, Creative Partnerships, one of them, no longer exists, Youth Music, I’m not sure exists any more....Aim Higher’s going I think, so it’s a kind of a sign of the times we live in now, it’s just changing, but....but other times I’ve done projects where I’ve just set it up and see what happens, you know, definitely....and the Collision project we could do because we knew we had the money from.....the money available to....to make it work, and you know, I’d love to be in a situation where I could do these things for free in a way you know, then I could say ‘well that project will continue because I’ll just do it as a voluntary activity’ – the trouble is I’ve got about four other voluntary activities with the Arts Festival, Wainsgate Chapel and the Jazz Club – that’s three actually.....oh, and maybe the...I’m hoping not the cinema because I’ve been involved in the asset transfer, the initial stages of that, and I’d very much like not to be involved in it too much longer if I can find other people to kind of run with it who are more into films than I am, you know, I’m involved because.....on behalf of the Arts Festival which is a bit of a stakeholder because it puts on stuff there

    TW:

    Don’t they wanna get more live things at the cinema, not just films? Isn’t that part of the plan?

    DN: I would like to see more.....more live things there, not so that it doesn’t become a cinema or anything like that, but it would be nice if it had better equipment to allow that to happen. It would be nice if it had an in-house PA system that was a mixing desk that was viable for that, and perhaps better lighting.....no, I think I started a bit of a furor by saying, you know, we could look at other places that have more......more rock music on like the.....what they call it......in Holmfirth......you know, and people said ‘well then it won’t be a cinema any more’ but nobody wants it not to be a cinema, I just think it could have other uses too, and maybe those other uses would be good for the community, I don’t know. I had this town at heart, you know, I think that’s.......the things I do, I want to do because I want them to be good things in this town, and when I book stuff for the Arts Festival I’m thinking ‘will people in Hebden Bridge go to this or will they not?’ and if they don’t, I’m not gonna think ‘but they’ll come from further afield’ and book it, I’ll just say no, you know. I want things to work for people here and.....that’s really where I’m at.....when I budget for the Jazz Club I’m thinking ‘well, this is a bit esoteric this one but maybe that will appeal to them’....to the good burghers of Hebden, you know ‘this is the one for them’ and yeah. I guess over the years you’ve got a bit of a finger on the pulse for what’s going to do that, you know, so yeah, that’s where I’m at really. I’m a good citizen really [laughing]....do me bit....yeah, I can’t think of anything else that I’m involved in. I’ve just started up playing bass by the way, that’s my fun thing, that’s my hobby. Piano playing’s my profession, you know, and playing bass is a hobby, definitely. I’ve been playing for about six months and I’m loving it, I just think it’s great fun

    Dave Nelson 20-05-11 trans Page 19

    TW:

    So is that just for your own amusement or

    DN: I take it down to the jam session at The Hole in the Wall and go and play bass down there, you know. I reckon I’ll get more gigs with it in the end than piano – people always want bass players, so who knows, maybe this is a stage in my life, it’s a change of career, I don’t know – I don’t think so, but anyway

    TW:

    Are you evolving?

    DN: I never stop. I still have piano lessons; I still go to summer schools, you know, to improve my piano playing....and the teacher I go to, who is a concert pianist and consummate teacher as well, and doesn’t need to do this, but he still goes to other people for advice about, you know, how to play certain things or whatever, and I think if you ever stop that, you kind of start to....what’s the word.....I don’t know......start to desiccate somehow intellectually. I just want to......I just want to keep learning all the time and keep changing what I do, keep adding to what I do.....and hopefully, I mean I might get Alzheimer’s in twenty years’ time [laughing] – hopefully it’ll mean all that, who knows? No, I have no.....I have been self-employed, I have no pension and no....no whatever the state may choose to give me, so I’ll have to keep on working until......and I’m looking forward to that, you know, I think I’ll be able to keep on teaching till....you know.....to a ripe old age, hope so, I hope I keep playing that long as well.

    TW:

    Right. Do you think it will be easier to....maybe teach bass and.....you know, in three or four years’ time rather than teach piano?

    DN: I don’t know. I could add it to my portfolio; I’ve already.....in a rudimentary kind of way I’m teaching.....guitar to a couple of people, you know, just show them chords and different....kind of teach them how to different kinds of strums, but I’m not a guitarist – I just use it, I use it to help write songs and help me compose things, you know, quite often have it next to me when I’m composing, just kind of flit from one to the other, cos you get different ideas from other instruments, and having the bass.....I don’t know, I’ve always been a bit of a bass player. My left hand on the piano is always kind of providing bass lines, so I always knew what I wanted from that, and I know where the notes are on the bass – it’s a fretless this though, so that’s a bit of a challenge [laughing]...and you know, so I’ve taken to it like a duck to water really, but.....so who knows, it might well be that I do more of it in the future. It’s an easier instrument to carry around that’s for sure! So who knows?

    TW:

    Okay, well I think we’re about at the end now

    DN: Yeah have you got what you need?

    TW:

    So I’ll just say thank you very much

    DN: It’s been a pleasure

    TW:

    Yeah, okay, great

    [END OF TRACK ONE]

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About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

Get in touch

Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge
HX7 8DG

Phone: 01422 844450
Contact Us