He must be in his 20s but he looks about 13. He was born in Leeds but now lives in Glasgow. He is a drummer of immense natural talent. He also has aspirations as a singer of folk ballads.
The list of those he has played with is like a check list of cutting edge underground artists and includes Jandek, Richard Youngs, Ashtray Navigations, Vibracathedral Orchestra, Will Oldham, and Alasdair Roberts. A connection between these acts is that all broadly use Folk as a point of entry but then take the music into new realms – in other words into the sphere of the ‘New Weird’.
His style of playing was well described by David Keenan in May 2007: “In Neilson’s playing there is truly no past or future, simply Now over and over. Just one movement of his hands and then the next”. Alex was part of David’s Tight Meat Duo/Trio and until recently he worked in the Volcanic Tongue record shop run by Keenan with Heather Leigh Murray so this endorsement may be thought of a little biased, however, as an independent party I can vouch for this judgement.
I first saw Alex performing with Will Oldham (Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy) in Faenza (see my review here). He made a good impression then but the show I saw him play last night in Ravenna was even more memorable. He played with Six Organs Of Admittance which for this gig also consisted of Mr. Six Organs Ben Chasny and Chasny’s latest flame/collaborator Elisa Ambrogio of Magik Markers. Alex’s technique and energy was something to behold. Behind the drum kit he seems a man possessed – his playing looked controlled yet free at the same time. It is musicianship which, for one of his projects Directing Hand (with Vinnie Blackwall on wordless vocals and harp), is neatly summed up as “ecstatic improvisation”.
I spoke briefly with Alex after the gig last night – mainly to give gushing praise for his amazing performance. He told me that he is currently setting up a band which will include Ben Reynolds and be focused on what he called sentimental ballads. Ben and Alex are currently playing as part of Baby Dee’s backing band.
The new band will be called ‘Trembling …..???’ (i didn’t catch it all) and sounds an interesting avenue for a young artist with amazing talent and huge potential.
There’s a good interview with Alex in Stylus online magazine