Be Bop Deluxe in concert 1974 – 1978

bebop75polyI was quite a fan of Be Bop Deluxe and Bill Nelson in the 70s and saw them just about every time they came to Newcastle or Sunderland. The first time I saw them was supporting Cockney Rebel on their first major tour. This great double bill came to Sunderland Locarno, and I got in early to catch Be Bop Deluxe as the talk was that they were an up and coming band.

be bop1Thinking back this was a great bill. At that time Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel were just starting out, with their first (and in my view best) single Sebastian and Be Bop Deluxe has just released their first lp Axe Victim. I next saw them at Sunderland Poly Freshers Ball in Wearmouth Hall students union building (see great paper ticket above; easy to forge or what?!). They were on a high at the time. This was still before Ships in the Night. I would think Maid in Heaven was the single at the time, and the lp Futurama had just been released.

The place was packed, not just with drunken students (although there were lots of them, including me) but also with people who had turned out to see Be Bop.

bebop76Early Be-Bop Deluxe were excellent; a resplendent bird in flight and something amazing to observe and experience. Looking back, I did not realise at the time how lucky I was to see such a different type of band in their early formative stages. Charles Shaar Murray wrote in New Musical Express (1975) of a concert at Aylesbury Friars in 1975: “Be-Bop Deluxe are a good show (Good show, chaps). Nelson’s fluid, deft, powerful and intelligent lead guitar….builds up a more than considerable head of steam on ‘Maid In Heaven’ and ‘No Trains To Heaven’, and he gets lyrical all over the place on ‘Sister Seagull’ and … ‘Swan Song’. Very bird-oriented is our Bill…..Be-Bop Deluxe are still of this season’s most interesting and promising new groups. Though they haven’t yet developed the knack of transmitting the greater part of their energy and presence on record, they’re hell on wheels in concert.”

be bop2The next ticket I have for a Be Bop gig is at Newcastle City Hall in 1976. This was as Ships in the Night entered the chart and they were reaching the height of their success, and filling concert halls up and down the country.

I think I also saw them at Newcastle Mayfair and/or Sunderland Locarno in late 1975 or early 1976, but can’t be certain. Their show was faultness. Bill Nelson is a class guitarist; not flashy, but technically great, and with his own distinctive style. Bill looked an unassuming guy, not your typical rock star, and the band were difficult to categorize. They blended elements of Bowie, with Roxie, with jazz rock, and with a clear love of science fiction. Some songs were prog, some rock some pop. Some were great, others just OK, but overall they were always enjoyable in concert.

bebop77On one tour they showed shots from Fritz Lang’s classic silent science fiction film Metropolis as a backdrop (or did they screen the actual film? My memory fails at this point). As a reader of Famous Monsters and other horror and scifi mags, I thought it was great! On the Modern Music tour they were all dressed in very conservative suits, and very much the men about town. As I say this was difficult to categorize, and in some ways, quite different and challenging stuff. But I guess this was all part of Bill’s vision and his way of blending his art with his music.

bebop78Probably quite deep conceptual stuff, although I didn’t see that at the time. I just thought they were a pretty neat rock band with some cool songs, and some nice guitar. I saw them again at the City Hall in 1977 and 1978 and have all the programmes from those tours. Looking through the programmes, I noticed that support act on one of the tours was the equally challenging and plain weird Doctors of Madness, fronted by the even weirder Kid Strange. I must write something about them one day, as they were truly something else again….

bebopsunburstBe-Bop Deluxe were always something on an enigma. Band leader Bill Nelson was in many ways a genius; a perfectionist and obsessive about the detail of his craft. Sometimes the technical excellence and perfection got in the way of, and almost detracted from, the overall experience of seeing the band. This was not, in any way, a traditional rock band. There was a musicianship, detail and choreography of music that transcended rock and took it to a different level. Often, the rawness and spontaneity of a normal rock concert was lost in the Bill Nelson vision of music; a vision that remained intact throughout his career, and indeed still remains so to this day. The Northern Dream continued through Be-Bop Deluxe and the many later incarnations and reincarnations of Bill Nelson’s winding road of a musical journey.bebop1977

Phil Sutcliffe wrote in Sounds magazine (1978) of the Newcastle City Hall concert of that year: “Be-Bop are not a cliche band though and it would be absurd to demand that they have a cliche audience. It had been a good concert, quality unimpeachable. They won’t let you down either. However there certainly was a certain flatness about it all which is what I have found so difficult to explain when each element of the music could be minutely examined and passed faultless. But there were two solid reasons for the enigma, both of them showing what a rigorous band they are to deal with either as fan or critic.”

bebopdrasticplasticI googled a set list for Be Bop and found one which included familiar songs such as: Life In The Air Age; Sister Seagull (which I remember as a favourite); Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape (harking to Bill’s homeland); Maid In Heaven and Ships In The Night (both very under rated singles and not often heard now) and Blazing Apostles (which I remember as a bit of a rocker, and usually the last song or the encore).

I was sad when Bill Nelson decided to call a halt to Be Bop Deluxe, and I continued to follow him in Red Noise and as a solo act for a little. I’ll write something about that part of Bill Nelson’s career tomorrow.bebopmidernmusic

Murray, C. (1975) “Be-Bop Deluxe at Aylesbury”. New Musical Express. Be-Bop Deluxe. Retrieved September 21, 2020, from http://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Article/be-bop-deluxe-at-aylesbury

Sutcliffe, P. (1978) “Be-Bop Deluxe: City Hall, Newcastle”. Sounds. Be-Bop Deluxe. Retrieved September 21, 2020, from http://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Article/be-bop-deluxe-city-hall-newcastke

Many thanks indeed to Ian Davies  for allowing me to use his images of Be-Bop Deluxe in 1975, performing at Newcastle Polytechnic; images taken from photographs which he took himself at the concert. I suspect this was the same tour during which I saw them at Sunderland Polytechnic. Happy days. Images © Ian Davies 1975

support be bopIan Davies would like to know who the support act was at the Newcastle Polytechnic show in 1975. Does anyone have any idea?Here is a photograph of the support band on that night. If you have any idea who this is please add a comment. Many thanks Peter

10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mitch on October 3, 2013 at 10:48 am

    I was at a couple of the City Hall concerts mentioned above.

    Sept 1976 – The Modern Music tour – support band was Burlesque.
    A great show.
    Set list was – Life in the Air Age, Orphans of Babylon, Sister Seagull, Maid In Heaven, Bring Back The Spark, Kiss of Light, Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape, Fair Exchange, Ships In The Night, Twilight Capers, The Modern Music Suite, Forbidden Lovers, Down On Terminal Street.
    Encore; Blazing Apostles.

    Feb 77 – The Live In The Air Age tour – the band played the entire Live In The Air Age Album – support was from The Steve Gibbons Band. This wasn’t as good as the previous years concert.
    Set list was – Life in the Air Age, Fair Exchange, Piece of Mine, Sister Seagull, Mill Street Junction, Ships In The Night, Swan Song, Maid In Heaven, Shine, Adventures in A Yorkshire Landscape, Twilight Capers, The Modern Music Suite, Forbidden Lovers, Down On Terminal Street.
    Encore; Blazing Apostles.

    Sunburst Finish has always been one of all time favourite albums.
    The guitar solo in the track Crying To The Sky is simply incredible – a song they never performed live. Shame!

    Reply

  2. Posted by vintagerock on October 3, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Great stuff Many thanks Mitch Best wishes Peter

    Reply

  3. Posted by Tony Poolan on November 21, 2014 at 9:47 am

    I saw them every time – like you – from the Maid In Heaven period until they disintegrated and Nelson went off to be avant-garde. Early on in particular they were excellent and on a roll. I saw them with Richard Strange and the Doctors of Madness at the Mayfair – yes he lived up to his name and they had a violin player (I actually have their vinyl album to this day!). That was when Sunburst Finish was just out I think.

    The Metropolis film clips were, if I remember correctly, shown at the City Hall on the Modern Music tour. From 1976 they had outgrown the Mayfair. They started to get a lot of TV and radio attention and again if I remember correctly did a Sigh and Sound in concert when Drasti Plastic arrived. It was clear from the change in style then that Nelson wasn’t going to hang around – and he didn’t – cue Red Nose etc.

    He was an excellent guitarist, technically faultless – and a bit eccentric I think – in fact the band were uniformly good and Charlie Tumahai on bass was a good second front man. By the time of Modern Music Bill was writing more and more ‘lovey-dovey’ stuff and I think that he baulked at that, hence the change for Drastic Plastic.

    The other guys seems happy to tag along pretty much and of course until Bill moved on and Tumahai ultimately suffered a heart attack and died in the mid-nineties.

    I now live in Yorkshire and Bill holds an annual convention, meets and greets and plays – one of these days I’ll go!

    Reply

    • Posted by vintagerock on November 21, 2014 at 9:51 am

      Hi Tony Many thanks. Be Bop Deluxe were indeed a great band “back in the day”. I too remember Doctors of Madness well and saw them a number of times; Richard Strange was a real character. I haven’t been to one of the Bill Nelson conventions, but did go and see him perform at a concert in Wakefield a year or so ago and he was superb. Best wishes Peter

      Reply

  4. Posted by Kenny Fraser on October 7, 2021 at 7:26 pm

    I saw the band in Kelso during the Kelso Arts Festival in the seventies … John James was also on the bill playing excellent ragtime guitar. It was an excellent gig that I remember fondly. Is there anyone else out there who was there ?.

    Reply

  5. Loved this band but was never lucky enough to see them.
    I well remember the Peel sessions and that ‘Sight & Sound In Concert’ special.
    I now have all of the albums on vinyl, which is unfortunately as close as I am ever going to get.

    Reply

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