“FIND A GROWING AUDIENCE”
BY LEE MOORE
THE WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, CANADA
APRIL 29, 1978
Bill Nelson isn’t an average rock ‘n’ roll guitarist —and the outfit he leads, Be-Bop Deluxe, isn’t an average rock ‘n’ roll band. One of Britain’s faster-rising progressive groups, Be-Bop Is getting a lot of American chart action these days with its latest album, Drastic Plastic.
It’s a fitting title for the album. Nelson combines his diverse influences into a musical mix in which sleek, crystal-clear guitar lines reminiscent of the Ventures collide with screeching synthesizers and jerky, robotized disco rhythms. Lovely, fluid melodies grace much of his material, and the music underpins lyrics ranging from the playful to the menacing. Alternately seductive, hypnotic and disturbing, the music of Be-Bop Deluxe has found a growing audience.
Nelson is the man who calls the shots — he’s the band’s writer, singer and lead guitarist. There’s more than a little of the poet and the visionary in him as well, an observation that he won’t deny.
After Be-Bop’s third album, “Sunburst Finish”, Nelson was touted by the rock press as being the next guitar star. His performances on the album were technically flawless and endlessly inventive and had guitar fans panting in anticipation of the next one. If people were looking for guitar flash on the next album, Modern Music, they were disappointed. Nelson, in reaction to the flurry of praise over his talents, had pulled back a little. “That was intentional,” Nelson admits. “In England, after our first album, the record people needed something to promote and I suppose the guitar playing was the most obvious aspect to pick up on. “It got to be a bit difficult when you have to keep up with that sort of thing. You don’t always want to do it. ‘I enjoy playing the guitar but it isn’t the main point of what we do.”
There was, in fact, more guitar work than ever before on Modern Music, in the form of densely layered, overdubbed ensemble work — all of it performed by Nelson. The soloing, while infrequent, was dazzling as ever.
The involved production of Modern Music is in stark contrast to the sound of Drastic Plastic. According to Nelson, “physically, it’s very spare. There’s much less overdubbing.” He says that the album opens up a new chapter in the development of the band and, on it, he plays with new ideas as well as new toys — it marks one of the first uses on vinyl of the new breed of guitar synthesizers.
Despite Be-Bop’s futuristic sound and science fiction imagery, Nelson is very much a romantic. He cites French poet and film-maker Jean Cocteau as one of his heroes and says he agrees with Cocteau’s observation that poetry isn’t a form but a quality that permeates all the arts. It’s something that has to be present in any kind of art. It’s almost a visible substance that brings painting, drama, whatever, to life. “There is poetry in music,” Nelson elaborates. “That’s the approach I’ve tried to keep in mind with everything we’ve done, not just in the sense of lyrical content — the music itself should have a sense of poetry.”
Nelson says that he feels an affinity with artists such as David Bowie and Brian Eno, who use techniques from other art forms and fit them into the context of rock rather than as the purveyors of straight rock ‘n’ roll boogie. “Rock and roll, as the media generally terms it, is very much ‘have a good time, get loaded.’ If that’s all rock and roll is, then I’m not a rock and roller,” says Nelson. “I’m just an artist using rock and roll as my medium.”
The increased acceptance Be-Bop Deluxe has gained no doubt makes Nelson very happy but he makes it clear that the band won’t change to fit someone else’s idea of rock. “Be-Bop isn’t a band for everybody,” he says. “It’s very possessive about its fans and holds them to it. The fans understand Be-Bop fully and get a lot out of the music.”
Nelson says that he has never seen the band as a permanent outlet for his ideas and looks forward to doing more experimental music. “It’s not the sort of thing I’d expect the band to carry because trying things like that puts you at odds with the critics. I wouldn’t want to expose the band as four individuals to a barrage of criticism, but I wouldn’t mind doing it myself, because I believe in it.”
Ever the Renaissance man, Nelson has extra-musical ambitions as well — he says he’d like to publish a book of his poetry and photography.
BE-BOP DELUXE DISCOGRAPHY:
1974 Axe Victim
1976 Sunburst Finish
1976 Modern Music
1977 Live in the Air Age
1978 Drastic Plastic
1978 The Best of and the Rest of
1981 Singles A’s and B’s
1987 Raiding the Divine Archive
1994 Radioland- BBC Radio One Live in Concert
1997 Air Age Anthology
1998 Tramcar to Tomorrow
2002 Tremulous Antennae
2002 Postcards from the Future
2011 Futurist Manifesto (Box Set)