❉ Twilight capers with Ange Chan revisiting Be Bop Deluxe’s classic album.
Be Bop Deluxe were a British rock group who were prevalent in the 1970s, and were led by their brain child and guitarist Bill Nelson from Wakefield, Yorkshire. Nelson was an eclectic character who covered a variety of genres including pop music, glam rock and heavy metal, each genre showcasing his talent as an established and accomplished guitarist.
After numerous recordings both as a solo artist and with the band Gentle Revolution, Nelson put together the first line-up of Be Bop Deluxe in 1972: Ian Parkin (guitar), Robert Bryan (bass), and Nicholas Chatterton-Dew (drums). However, after the release of the first album, Axe Victim Nelson sacked the entire band.
The second album, Futurama featured Nelson with a rhythm section of bassist Charles Tumahai and drummer Simon Fox. Keyboard player Andrew Clark joined for the third album, Sunburst Finish which contained the only song to position in the British chart with the single Ships in the Night.
Be Bop Deluxe released a fourth album, Modern Music; a concert recording, Live! In the Air Age, which was their only Top Ten in the UK. They finally released a fifth studio album, Drastic Plastic before Nelson called it a day and shut down Be Bop Deluxe once more, but this time it was for good. He briefly tried forming another group, Red Noise however he went solo again in 1979.
Since then Nelson has garnered a reputation for somewhat prolific recordings and production jobs, as well as getting a number of successful bands started in the late 1970s/early 1980s including The Skids and A Flock of Seagulls. In 1982, Nelson is credited for getting Fiat Lux’s first single off the ground, Feels Like Winter Again and produced the record on his Cocteau label. Nelson’s younger brother Ian was a member of Fiat Lux and also recorded some tracks with Be Bop Deluxe, until his untimely passing.
Fast forward to modern times, and Esoteric Recordings has announced the release of a re-mastered five-disc deluxe expanded boxed set and limited edition (comprising 4 CDs and a DVD) of Modern Music. Recorded in June and July 1976 at Abbey Road Be Bop Deluxe’s fourth album and the second one to feature the classic line-up of Bill, Charles, Andy and Simon. The album was co-produced by Bill and John Leckie.
During their first US tour in March 1976, Bill wrote most of the material which appeared on Modern Music, which was inspired by Bill’s experiences and disillusionment of America, it’s music business, and as a dyed-in-the-wool Yorkshireman, an innate longing for home.
“Modern Music came directly from my experiences on the American tour. I’d been exposed to American culture for years, through movies and television and music so I imagined that when I got there it would be something very familiar. But it was so foreign that it seemed almost like being on another planet.” – Bill Nelson, Guitarist Magazine, 1996.
Expectation in the US was great however once the initial shine of glamour had dulled, Nelson found America to be somewhat style over substance and the song-writing reflects this, especially in the album’s key track The Modern Music Suite. Despite his disillusionment, the album featured songs which cleverly appealed to both the UK and US markets, thus ensuring it was the biggest selling album in the band’s history.
The 2CD expanded and remastered edition comes neatly packaged in a gatefold digipak with a replica poster and a comprehensive 24-page booklet with liner notes, photographs and commentary by Bill Nelson, and also by Mark Powell.
The pack includes both the original Stereo album and the re-mastered Stereo edition. It opens with the track Orphans of Babylon, quickly followed by the Bowie-esque Twilight Capers, through to piano-led, gentle tones of The Bird Charmer’s Destiny. Nelson’s guitar prowess is showcased proflically on The Gold At The End of My Rainbow through to the clever radio-tuning intro of Modern Music before launching into “modern music on my radio….!”
Recorded at a time following Bowie’s Starman and Elton’s Rocket Man, Nelson’s contribution to the space age era is Honeymoon on Mars which is surely influenced by the aforementioned tracks by his peers.
The album is completed with Make the Music Magic followed by a release of Shine on the original disc 1 version and ‘first versions’ of Forbidden Lovers and The Bird Charmer’s Destiny on the re-mastered disc 2.
The expanded vinyl re-issue has been newly re-mastered from the original master tapes, and features an impressive 55 additional bonus tracks including previously unreleased out-takes from the album sessions, a BBC Radio In Concert performance from October 1976, along with a bonus CD of a previously unreleased official bootleg of a performance at The Riviera Theater in Chicago in March 1976 recorded for FM Radio on Be Bop Deluxe’s first US tour which features a rare jam entitled Bill’s Blues. The set also includes visual material taken from a session for BBC TV’s Old Grey Whistle Test show broadcast in November 1976. The set includes an illustrated 68-page book with many previously unseen photographs and an essay of recollections by Bill Nelson. Additionally, the set includes postcards and a replica poster. It is quite simply, a ‘must buy’ for any fan of Bill Nelson or Be Bop Deluxe.
❉ Be Bop Deluxe: Modern Music, 2CD Expanded & Remastered Edition (PECLEC22699) is out now from Esoteric Recordings, part of the Cherry Red group. RRP £11.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red.
❉ Ange Chan is a regular contributor to We Are Cult and is a writer of novels and poetry. Her current long-standing, ongoing project is her third novel Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots which she hopes to see published in 2020.