Tag Archives: Axe Victim

May 24th 1975

“Work. Bort 6 classical albums for 95p & new Be-Bop album. Party at Hiltingbury – rubbish – but in pub before=great! Drunk again”

6 classical album for 95p?!! … boy, they must have been good….right?

I think the word most associated with Be Bop Deluxe’s frontman Bill Nelson is “underrated”. As I have stated before I feel he was at least – if not moreso – as accomplished an axeman as so-called greats such as Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page. But he was also a superb songwriter, the songs on “Futurama” – his band’s second studio album – testament to that.

Personally, I feel that the word “underrated” can also be applied to this album. OK, so it gave Nelson his first taste of chart success – the perfectly crafted pop song “Maid in Heaven” – but, in my mind, it’s a much bigger album than that, chock full of wonderful material…

… which kicks off with “Stage Whispers” which (much like the title track on the band’s debut “Axe Victim”) featuring more of Nelson’s musings about being in the music industry…
This guitar does not lie
The great deception is not my achievement
Well I’m waiting in the wings with all the strings
And things that help me make the music

Hardly revelatory lyrics, but they’re wrapped inside a driving rhythm that immediately showcases Nelson’s skillful fretwork. IMHO, one of THE best album openers ever.

Then we get to “Love with the Madman” a chunky slow-paced ballad washed (again) in guitar licks and, proving that Nelson has been listening to a lot of Steve Harley whilst they toured together,  with Rebel-esque lyrics such as “you’ll go crazy with the wonder of it all

Maid in Heaven” – as already mentioned – was the hit single reaching a heady (hey, it was heady in those days!) #23 on the charts. As perfect a pop song constructed around a guitar riff as there’s ever been.

Sister Seagull” – also the b-side of “Maid…” – follows. I’ve never stopped feeling that it should have been a single in its own right. Nelson’s voice is to the fore whilst his guitar work is more subdued than on other cuts, but the whole song simply oozes drama from start to finish. It’s a whole Shakespearean play in one song.

Sound Track” was a cut I wasn’t mad about at the time, but the prevailing years have made me appreciate it more and more. The opening lyric “Tin aeroplanes trace the time, past our fading window’s eyes” is a theme Nelson would return to over and over again in his subsequent work, but here he takes a back seat to some fabulous (again, “underrated”) drumming from his new band mate, sticksmith Simon Fox. (Nelson had originally stole members of Cockney Rebel, but abandoned them in favour of Fox and bassist Charlie Tumahai, later adding keyboardist Andrew Clark)

Side 2 kicks off with “Music in Dreamland” – “maybe we’ll make music in dreamland tonight?” – yet another cut that could so easily have been a single success. Not often you hear heavy guitar licks married to what almost sounds like a Northern Brass Band section!

(As an aside “Music in Dreamland” is the title of a biography of Bill Nelson & Be Bop Deluxe by Paul Sutton Reeves that may – or may not – actually exist. The hardback version is already out of print, and I have had the paperback on pre-order from Amazon for… let’s have a look now… over nine months now, and every few months I get an update saying its release date has been pushed back again. Weird.)

Jean Cocteau” is a laid-back almost acoustic ballad infused with jazz guitar. It could sit quite easily with much of Bill’s later solo work. Just lovely in feel and execution.

Between the Worlds” takes us on a rock’nroll rollercoaster of a ride, mixing modern guitar riffs with classic 50’s “la-la-la-la” chorusing. For best effect, it must be played LOUD!

Swansong” closes the album down and returns Nelson to the feel of the debut album, simple phrasing with guitar flourishes to die for. (I have, however, always worried about the lyric “We were Siamese twins in ecstasy” because… well, if you think about it, it’s just a little bit incestuous and/or creepy isn’t it?)

This is the Be Bop Deluxe album which, for me, represents their best and most fluid work. Many people cite their third album “Sunburst Finish” as Nelson’s best Be Bop output but I’m of a mind to disagree. The debut album contained the seed of what Bill was trying to achieve and this, the follow-up, is the full germination.

Ironic then, that in an underrated career the best album is also the one underrated.

In other news…

Party at Hiltingbury” refers to a semi-regular event that took place at the Hiltingbury Pavilion in Chandler’s Ford. A dingy airless ‘event’ room above the accompanying sports field’s changing facilities, it was rented out to individuals for discos and parties. Parties which invariably descended into physical violence after the local ‘youth’, denied entry, would pick fights with whomever was willing to take them on. My review of ‘rubbish’ would therefore have been based on either “no fights to watch” or “I didn’t get off with anyone”

Yes “Drunk again” is a bit worrying, isn’t it? It was about this time that I discovered a love for alcohol in quantity, invariably spirits rather than beer. Bloody Mary’s (with added Worcestershire Sauce), Bacardi & Coke, Vodka & Blackcurrant and whiskies were my 17-year-old tipples of choice. It was easy when you owned a liver that could take the abuse. Now, not so much.

I am sure there will be more about my drinking in future posts.

Sadly.

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February 25th 1975

BE-BOP DELUXE – CANCELLED”

OK, here’s where I KNOW I saw Cockney Rebel play live somewhen in 1974.

I’m sure of this because I saw Be-Bop Deluxe as a support band to Cockney Rebel long before I saw them headline… plus I spent more than two weeks after the show trying to hunt down a copy of their debut album, “Axe Victim”

As excited as I must have been to see Cockney Rebel in concert – presumably for the first time? – I can still remember how Bill Nelson’s tight little band completely blew me away that night. It’s certainly embedded in my memory how, on their final number (no encores for a support band), Bill created some screaming feedback on his guitar, coolly unstrapped it and laid it on the stage to continue screeching whilst the band walked off to tumultuous applause.

I’m not kidding when I say I really hunted for “Axe Victim”. None of my regular haunts seemed to have it in stock and no-one seemed to be able to obtain copies of it from EMI, Harvest Records’ distributor. I was phoning shops on a regular basis, all to no avail. None of the mail-order companies stocked it. No-one I knew owned the album either so I couldn’t settle for a taped recording of it to tide me over. Then my Mum took a phone message one day to inform me that Whitwams had received stock and they had popped a copy aside for me. I rushed in to Winchester and was probably never as eager to pass over my £2.99 or so.

In retrospect I know exactly why Be-Bop Deluxe appealed to me back then. Guitarist and founder Bill Nelson successfully merged prog rock sensibilities with a glam rock sound and image which, when totaled, was almost impossible for me to resist. “Axe Victim” is a perfect merger of snappy pop songs and extended proggy guitar-solo-ridden pieces that go off several tangents. I’d go so far as to say everyone will find a little something they would like about Be-Bop Deluxe.

(links to You Tube videos except where stated)

• “Axe Victim” (@last.fm)
sets out Nelson’s stall perfectly, telling a kind of Ziggy Stardust-lite tale about a post-glam band apparently disintegrating…

You came to watch the band, to see us play our parts
We hoped you’d lend an ear, you hope we dress like tarts
But back stage we stand naked, all the make-up cleaned away,
My poet sheds his pretty skin, and turns to face the day

And there’s nothing to be done, no nothing to be said,
Last night I felt immortal, this morning I feel dead

And the love that gave its blaze to my heart,
Now brings a haze,
Be careful…I’m an axe victim

Hung up on these silver strings,
Like wings,
Like time machines…
Like voices on the wind

We hit the road to Hull, sad amps and smashed guitars,
Played badly at ‘The Duke’ to almost no applause…
But someone made it worthwhile, when smiling with bright eyes,
They gave me full attention and took me by surprise…

But today the feeling’s gone.. no, faded like a ghost,
Last night I saw the future.. this morning there’s no hope

And the words that I sung so clear
Are now clouded by my tears
Please be careful…’cos I’m an axe victim

Hung up on these silver strings,
Like sails,
Like seagulls cries…
Like church bells in the night…

The final 90 seconds of the song is, essentially, an instrumental, Nelson showing off his not-inconsiderable guitar skills.

Someone once remarked something along the lines of that whilst Nelson had the intellectual ability write about ‘other wordly’ things in his compositions, he often threw in down-to-earth remarks about his own upbringing, preferring here to mention an unfashionable Northern city, Hull, rather than any number of ‘romantic’ American cities he could have chosen to accentuate the story.

• “Love Is Swift Arrows” (@last.fm)
Again shows off Nelson’s slick guitar work, this time overlaying a drumbeat that, for some reason, always reminds me of The Kinks. I always liked the lyric “Echoed words spoken by token romantics” and how easily it trips off the tongue.

• “Jet Silver And The Dolls Of Venus
If the Bowie influence is not immediately apparent then this cut is the giveaway, just managing to fall short of being an out-and-out parody. Once again it is the guitar work that separates it from the ‘ordinary’ here, and I’ve always thought that – for whatever reason – Nelson sings this weaker than he’s otherwise capable of. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a fantastic track – the chorus again reminding me of the Kinks – just that it feels ‘undersung’, if that makes any sense? The ending is about as prog rock as you can get!

• “Third Floor Heaven” ( @last.fm)
feels a weak cut to me nowadays. It didn’t feel weak back then. It’s based around a ‘Stones’ riff that Nelson pulls off to perfection – which, yes, I tried to emulate on my own guitar… with predictably terrible results – but the lyrics, seemingly about an S&M hooker, fail to move as much as they did when I was an impressionable 17-year-old.

• “Night Creatures
This is where Nelson listened to Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” or “Sweet Jane” and created his own take on ‘people of the night’. I love the laid back acoustic feel of this cut, Nelson’s voice matching the mood perfectly. It feels like the ‘calm before the storm’ of the next track…

• “Rocket Cathedrals
Opening with what sounds like a garbled ‘public warning’ message, this quickly turns into an almost ‘pub rock’ anthem, worthy of someone like Ducks Deluxe. It just ROCKS. I never had it pegged as a song that was worthy of covering in any way shape or form, so imagine my utter surprise when, whilst researching a few things for this post, I stumbled across an awesome Brian Setzer Orchestra version of it!

• “Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape
This is the ‘tour de force’ cut of the album, almost single-handedly summing up what BeBop Deluxe are/were about. Romantic words (here, Nelson waxes lyrically about Northern England, poets, churches and more) highlighted with crafty guitar work and alternate bursts of energy and quiet. It’s one of Nelson’s songs that could have equally slotted onto any of the follow-up Be-Bop albums or the guitar-centric solo work later on in his career

Poster from a later tour

• “Jets At Dawn” (@last.fm)
is magnificently languid in its lyrics and presentation, Nelson’s guitar chops again coming to the fore. I’ve commented on this before, but it remains amazing to me that guitarists (who I consider third-rate hacks) such as Eric Clapton get all the ‘fame’ and attention for their (apparent) tricky guitar skills when they couldn’t/wouldn’t hold a candle to the likes of Bill Nelson in his prime.

• “No Trains To Heaven
has always disappointed me. Did then, does now. Seems to go nowhere and has always felt like a ‘filler’

• “Darkness (L’Immoraliste)” ( @last.fm)
returns Nelson to Bowie/Ziggy territory, having a “Five Years” feel to its composition. It’s grand, orchestral and theatrically pompous in a manner that Nelson would repeat on later Be-Bop albums. You can imagine it performed by a huge chorus on a West End stage. (The only other artists I have ever known to have pulled this sound off successfully are Simon Warner and The Divine Comedy)

“Axe Victim” is, by far, the Be-Bop Deluxe album I know the best, but its far from their finest work. I think Nelson was still finding his artistic feet and whilst its a very admirable debut, his latter fascination for all things ‘sci-fi’ would prove to the making of him and the band.

Maybe the gig was cancelled because their tour bus burned out?

Tonight though, in 1975, the anticipated return of Be-Bop Deluxe onto the live stage was cancelled. Of course, in true EFA70sTRO fashion I have not gone into any detail as to why the gig was called off, nor given any indication that it was going to be rescheduled in the future.

However, by way of a little trivia I can impart that this new tour would have featured two members who I saw perform with Cockney Rebel the previous year. Bill stole Rebel bass guitarist Paul Jeffreys and keyboard player Milton Reame-James from under the nose of Steve Harley. Bit naughty, but this kind of thing happened a lot with bands back then.

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