Nelson was educated at the Wakefield College of Art, where he developed an interest in the work of poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau. At this time, he was also developing as a musician, drawing upon Duane Eddy as a primary guitar influence.
His first record was a brief contribution on the album A-Austr: Musics from Holyground, with Brian Calvert, Chris Coombs, Ted Hepworth, Mike Levon and Brian Wilson. Levon recorded and produced the album which appeared on Levon’s own Holyground Records label in 1970. After that, Nelson appeared in a much more substantial role with Lightyears Away on Astral Navigations released in 1971. On one track, “Yesterday”, written by Coombs, Levon recorded Nelson’s lead guitars in an acid rock style, supporting Coombs’ stylophone riff. This track also gave Nelson his first airplay by John Peel on his national BBC Radio 1 programme in the United Kingdom. Nelson’s Holyground recordings were released in February 2001 as Electrotype.
Nelson’s debut solo album Northern Dream drew further attention from Peel which eventually led to Nelson’s band Be-Bop Deluxe signing to EMI and releasing Axe Victim In 1976 Be-Bop Deluxe released the album ‘Sunburst Finish’.
After the breakup of Be-Bop Deluxe, Nelson created Red Noise (releasing the Sound – On – Sound album), but eventually settled into a career as a solo musician, recording albums in the early electropop vein such as Quit Dreaming And Get On The Beam and The Love That Whirls. Many of these albums were released with bonus tracks, including records featuring experimental, ambient instrumentals. For a period between the late 1970s and early 1980s, Nelson self-produced on his Cocteau label a plethora of releases, consisting of solo synthesizer and keyboard instrumental pieces. Many were later released on the short-lived Enigma label.