Bill Nelson is living testament to the power of dreams.
Chris Jones 2004-10-29
Bill Nelson, lead guitarist, songwriter and vocalist with Be Bop Deluxe is living testament to the power of dreams. For a brief period in the mid 70s this lad from Wakefield dared to dream of a future filled with rocket ships, surrealist films and deadly women. Of course the template for all of this was pilfered from any number of sources, be it 50s pulp sci-fi, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie or the films of Jean Cocteau (who gets an homage here with the song deftly called...''Jean Cocteau''). What made it rise above the level of glam rock wannabes was Nelson's way with a tune and, of course, a guitar. So how come he's currently in the 'where are they now?' file?
Many people now know him as a rather dour practitioner of sub-Fripp ambience and noodlery but in 1974 he was a fully-fledged axe victim (as the first album was also titled). From the first track of this neat little career summation (released to coincide with the thirtieth anniversary of the band's debut) the listener veritably drowns in demonstrations of the forgotten art of fretboard wizardry. But for all of Nelson's skill one still has to contend with a certain mannerism in the singing and lyric writing. Songs like ''Fair Exchange'' or ''Sister Seagull'' are structurally divine, yet cursed with a hellish archness that irrevocably dates them.
Still, the ensemble playing is breathtaking -these boys loved to show off - and Nelson was always self-aware enough to know that rock was a game. ''Axe Victim'', ''Stage Whispers'' and ''Fair Exchange'' all begin with references to the pretence of standing on stage and playing the star. It was this increasing reluctance and awareness that the band's brand of prog glam was fast becoming an anachronism that led him to going solo. Later tracks from the band's swansong, Drastic Plastic show how he was already taking his cues from bands like the Stranglers rather than his beloved Hendrix.
Nelson never forsook his retro-futurist vision, yet by 1980 the prolific artist had shed the band's memory like a bad suit, left out for the dustman. He wanted to remain relevant. But for a brief spell in the mid-70s glossy little epics like ''Maid In Heaven'' and ''Kiss Of Light'' welded pop perfection to blistering technique. And we all dreamt...