Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Class of '79

I’ve had a bit of blogger’s block recently so here’s the first in an occasional series where I rip off good ideas from other blogs.

Going way back to 1978 my favourite band was Be Bop Deluxe, so you’d think I would have been devastated when they split that year having just released (probably) their best album. In fact I saw it coming. Drastic Plastic had been a bit of a departure with it’s simpler song structures and increased use of synthesisers and sound textures and it split the Be Bop audience to a degree so it wasn’t a big surprise that Bill Nelson wanted to move on. I wasn’t particularly worried – after all Bill was Be Bop Deluxe wasn’t he? Not entirely true as listening to old live performances and some of Bill’s solo work shows but that’s what I thought at the time. Even so, as the release of the debut single by Bill Nelson’s Red Noise approached I did get a bit apprehensive. There were rumours of Bill ‘going punk’ which worried me (at the time there were always rumours of people going punk or disco).

I needn’t have worried. Right from the opening drum beat and bleeping synth I was hooked. It took the sound of Drastic Plastic a stage further. The synth was upfront, the guitar was rawer, the singing more aggressive and Bill’s primitive drum style really suited the song. It was probably better than any Be Bop Deluxe single. Lyrically it celebrates isolation and in my mind is in the same category as Bowie’s 'Sound and Vision' and Gary Numan’s 'Cars'.

The tracks on the b-side confused me somewhat. The synths were there but the songs didn’t have the textures of Drastic Plastic or the urgency of Furniture Music. They have a home made quality which in hindsight is reminiscent of some of Bill’s solo work. Over the years I’ve grown to love Wonder Toys that last forever and, er, appreciate Acquitted By Mirrors, a favourite with Nelsonians (yes, they really call themselves that).

As for going punk, with the Sound on Sound album Bill did embrace the new wave to a larger degree than most of his contemporaries but, with the way people like to pigeon hole bands, seemed to end up not finding a big audience with his old fans or the hip new wave crowd. A long, meandering and extremely inconsistent solo career beckoned…

mp3: Bill Nelson's Red Noise - Furniture Music (1979)
mp3: Bill Nelson's Red Noise - Wonder Toys That Last For Ever (1979)
mp2: Bill Nelson's Red Noise - Acquitted By Mirrors (1979)

The same person who thought Heaven 17 sang ‘Bullshit! Bullshit’ on We Live So Fast also thought Bill sang ‘My testicles are green’ at about 1.27


twopalmtrees said...

Good choice! I had a v. scratchy copy of the album that was lost years ago, but rediscovered it again through the blogoverse. An underrated talent!

Peewit said...

did you see Be Bop and Bill on the BBC4 show "guitar Heroes on the BBC" last Friday? I was watching with my boy in a hotel room in Bristol and I nearly fell off my bed with surprise to see "Made in Heaven" featured amidst Jimi Hendrix et al

you've got one more day to view it on iplayer and Be bop are on about 35 minutes in just after Michel Chapman (another hero of mine and another pleasant surprise!)

Mick said...

Thanks for the comment. He’s a typical cult artist who’s very highly acclaimed by a relatively small but loyal following.

Haven’t seen the BBC 4 show but I bought an OGWT DVD mainly for that performance. It was appearances on OGWT and So It Goes that first alerted me to Bill Nelson and Be Bop Deluxe back when I was 15. I will watch that show before it disappears off i-player.

dickvandyke said...

There you are me old goat.

Didn't Bill have a bit of a cartoon face?

Too fuckin talented for his own good I recall. Remember that comedian who used to say, "I'm too good for this place".

And wrongly heard lyrics ... I thought Michael Jackson (peace be upon him) was singing about vegetables on "Wanna Be Starting Something" ... and then I found out he actually was!

What's that all about Michael?

dickvandyke said...

Er that's you Michael (blog idea pilferer extraordinaire)... not Jacko Michael (pbuh), who clearly can't answer now re the veg quandary.

Hey that Brooke Shields has weathered well dont ya think?

Mick said...

Sorry for the slow response, Dick, I was watching Torchwood. It's like this: just as I pilfer bloggy ideas form others maybe MJ pilfered Veggy song ideas from Brian Wilson. In any case if you wanna be startin' something pick on a vegetable - less chance of getting hurt.

Just watched a clip of Brooke Shields and she does look good. Her eyebrows used to scare me!

...and I'm talking to you Tony, not the Vision On guy who also clearly can't answer.

dickvandyke said...

Mmmm - enduring image .. Jacko and Tony Hart in Heaven gluing up papier mache heads. Not the first time for sticky white stuff on the sparkly glove... allegedly.

darkdance said...

Bill Nelson's "going punk" reputation stemmed from his production work with The Skids rather than his own musical forays. It was an odd match up. As for Red Noise, which included Bill's younger brother Ian, who was later in Fiat Lux, the post-Deluxe band was very well-received by new wavers in my corner of the world. I remember playing and even getting a request or two for Furniture Music, Revolt Into Style (other single), and some of the other tracks on the Sound-On-Sound LP on my college radio program back in the day. Furniture Music also got some play in the dance clubs when Bill reissued the song on a 12" EP on his own Cocteau Records label a few years later. That after he had produced a couple of important early recordings for A Flock Of Seagulls and probably made some money.

I always read the fine print... "My carpet is the colour green" is what the same person wasn't hearing quite right.

Mick said...

As you'll see here I've featured Red Noise and Fiat Lux in the past.

The Skids connection started because Stuart Adamson was a Be Bop/Nelson fan. The little guitar lick in Out Of Town was an obvious Bill influence as were the synth parts that featured in the Days In Europa LP.

Peewit said...


What's happened to Bobby Robson?


Mick said...

Well...I tried to write a post in a state of inebriation last Friday and decided that this blog is losing focus and crap compared to how it used to be so I started deleting posts that I thought were inappropriate or not in the spirit of the blog and Bobby suffered in my drunken state.

Silly I know but that's what happened.

dickvandyke said...

Hey mickey you're so fine. You're so fine, get back online. Hey mickey ... it's dickie.

Find some old proggy stuff - just mainstream enuff for us jangly guitar types. You know, stick on one that your kids even like.

Here's a random comment... just to eek out a response. I heard Blackfoot Sue today on Pick Of The Pops. Didn't realise they made the Top 5 this week in 1972. Thought it was a bit Slade-like and then Slade came on with the No 1.

(Thinks ... It's a bit weak I know, but perhaps it'll cajoule him out from filing his Sabbath and Purple gatefolds behind the wine-stained futon).