“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.