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Art: Bill Nelson

Be-bop man is what he is.

What was it about art school that made it an invaluable training ground for so many musicians in the sixties and seventies?

I was an art student in Wakefield in the early to mid-sixties. Art school seemed like such a free and bohemian environment compared to earlier schooldays. It was as if everything was open to enquiry. There was an optimistic, kinetic, creative spirit in the air. In many ways it was a golden time and anything seemed possible. I’ve tried to maintain that art-school spirit throughout my musical life.

  

Who or what was the biggest non-musical inspiration on you back then?

I discovered French poet, artist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau while I was at art school. I found a book of his in the college library. His worked resonated with me quite strongly and I later began building up a collection of his writings, films and other items. On the very first Be-Bop Deluxe album I placed a Cocteau quote on the album’s sleeve. It said, “no longer to consider art as an amusement but as a priesthood.” It’s a romantic notion but I felt that I knew exactly what he meant. 

  

Do you ever regret choosing music over filmmaking or painting back in the day?

No, not at all... music is definitely my calling, it’s at the very centre of my life. I remember being summoned to the office of one of my tutors at art school. He was concerned that I was perhaps spending a little too much time with the band I had back then, and that it might impact on my advancement as an artist. I assured him it wouldn’t, but of course fate decreed otherwise... But no regrets whatsoever. Music has fulfilled all my artistic dreams. It’s not just what I do, it’s what I am. 

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