Archive for the ‘Bill Nelson’ Category

Bill Nelson The Hepworth Wakefield 20 Sep 2013

Bill Nelson The Hepworth Wakefield 20 Sep 2013
unityhall Last night I spent a fascinating couple of hours in the company of Bill Nelson in Wakefield, the city in which he was born and grew up. This was a one off performance that showcased Bill’s instrumental soundscapes, accompanied by live projections. The location of the gig was especially apt as it was once home to Be-Bop Deluxe’s own rehearsal space. The gig took place in the Calder building of the Hepworth, an art gallery just outside the centre of Wakefield. It was a charity gig to raise money for a restoration project for Unity Hall. The venue for the concert was a new annexe to the Hepworth, situated in an old textile mill on the banks of the river Calder. Attendance was limited to 300, apparently for health and safety reasons, although the venue could have held many more, and the event sold out some weeks ago. There were some seats, although not nearly enough for everyone, with most people having to stand. hepworth I bought myself a badge and a signed programme from Bill’s last 2004 tour, which I missed.
The evening started with a screening of Memory Codes, a very personal film created and soundtracked by Bill which looked back at his early life and at Wakefield in the ’50s and ’60s. It was interesting, if a little like a home movie, with old photos of Bill and his family, as he grew up in Wakefield.
billn1 The concert started at 8.30pm and was a set of instrumental performances, each one played on a different guitar (I counted 10 guitars, and there were 12 songs so it wasn’t quite one per song). Bill’s guitars have to be seen to be believed. They really are beautiful, exquisite instruments, all of with tinges of 50s and 60s in their design. The music is difficult to pigeon hole, as is the man himself. You can hear the influences, which Bill discussed at one point; The Shadows, Duane Eddy, Santo and Johnny. Add to that echo, futuristic, soaring solos, some funk, and some rock. The video images of the evening included many which I recognised from my youth: Dan Dare, Rupert the Bear, Torchy the Battery Boy (my favourite TV programme when I was a kid), Amazing Worlds, Sci Fi, MarvelMan, old film of Be Bop Deluxe.
biln2 Setlist: ‘Gloria Mundae’ accompanied by images of the sonambulist from the Cabinet of Dr Caligari, and which Bill explained was first performed in Wakefield in 1990 on the Bandstand with his brother.
‘I always knew you would find me’; ‘Blue Amorini’; ‘Think and you’ll miss it’; ‘The boy who lived in the future’ a new number played on the Stratovariouse(?) guitar; ‘The girl on the fairground waltzer’; ‘Beyond these clouds the sweetest dream’; ‘Sleepwalk’ A cover of the Santo and Johnny track. This was simply astounding. It was difficult to believe that it was one guy on stage producing all those sounds. I found it just stunning. Maybe that was because it was the only song which was familiar to me. ‘Golden dream of circus horses’; ‘A dream for Ian’ dedicated to the memory of Bill’s brother. ‘Artifex’ which featured the voice of William Burroughs; and the last song ‘For Stuart’ in memory of Stuart Adamson, with tinges of Big Country running through it. Bill produced Stuart’s band The Skids.
hepwroth2 Bill explained that he would normally perform an encore, but that the back stage area was so far away at the rear of the building, that it would seem silly walking right across their only to return; and hence For Stuart was the encore.
A great performance. It is over 30 years since I last saw Bill Nelson in concert, and his performances are rare occurrences these days. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I certainly wasn’t disappointed; the show made me realise what a tremendous guitar player Bill Nelson is.
sculptureThe event was a total success and a great homecoming for Bill, with lots of family and friends present, including Bill’s mum, nephew and son and youngest daughter; and fans who had travelled from very far afield, including the USA (which makes my 100 mile drive seem nothing at all :))
Stopped off for sausage and chips at the Wetherby Whaler on the way home. Pleased to see that it is still there, and still making fine fish and chips; must be 10 years or more since I last called in; it used to be a regular calling point when David played hockey in the Yorkshire league. Got home just before midnight.

Bill Nelson in concert 1979 and 1981

Bill Nelson in concert 1979 and 1981
Bill Nelson’s next venture after Be Bop Deluxe was a band called Red Noise. The band released one lp and toured in 1979. The tour took in concert halls across the country, which was a little ambitious judging by the crowd at the Newcastle City Hall gig, where there were quite a few empty seats. Red Noise were Nelson’s attempt to join the new wave and use synthesisers, and it didn’t work that well. The music was not as accessible as Be Bop Deluxe, and I found the concert a little disappointing.I might have enjoyed the gig if I’d heard the album before the concert. Red Noise didn’t continue for long, before Bill went solo. He was back in the North East at a small cinema in Jesmond a couple of years later with a show entitle The Invisibility Exhibition. This show was very adventurous for the time and took the form of a multimedia event with poetry from Richard Jobson, The Yorkshire Actors, who I think performed a section from Beauty and the Beast, and some very intriguing music from Bill. The ticket also mentions David Claridge, who I don’t recall at all. I remember it as a quite strange, challenging yet very enjoyable show.
I lost touch with Bill Nelson, ad haven’t seen him in concert since, which I regret. I see that he does continue to perform with a Nelsonica festival event every year or so in Yorkshire. I must try to go along to it one year.

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

Sutcliffe, P. (1978) “Be-Bop Deluxe: City Hall, Newcastle”. Sounds. Be-Bop Deluxe. Retrieved September 21, 2020, from

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