Formed in Yorkshire in 1972, Be-Bop Deluxe are one of British rock’s classic marginal bands. Everyone seems to have heard of them and yet few have actually heard their work.
A number of their tracks – such as Ships In The Night and Sister Seagull – were played on UK rock radio in the 70s, and the group were endlessly touted as ‘the next big thing’ by the likes of DJ’s Johnnie Walker and Alan Freeman.
Before the band formed, Bill Nelson had already established himself on a local level as a songwriter and guitarist.
His privately pressed album Northern Dream came to the attention of DJ John Peel, who played it on his show.
Someone from EMI heard it and offered Nelson a solo contract. He had by that time formed the original lineup of Be-Bop Deluxe, with Ian Parkin on rhythm guitar, Robert Ryan on bass and Nick Chatterton-Dew on drums and Nelson held out until EMI execs offered the band a contract.
Following the release of debut album, Axe Victim (1974), Nelson realised the band weren’t quite right and parted amicably with the original lineup.
Bill found gangly, energetic Kiwi bassist Charles Tumahai and drummer Simon Fox for their second album, Futurama (1975), produced by Roy Thomas Baker.
They later added keyboard player Andy Clark for Sunburst Finish (1976). Their third album was their most commercial, as the increased radio airplay showed.
It should have been all so simple. People may have even overlooked Bill Nelson’s grotesque glam barnet and the awful Sunburst Finish album cover.
Modern Music (1976) was, at its worst, a distillation of the first three LPs and, at its best, a compilation of the many ideas the band had presented already. The critics regarded it as a loss of momentum.
But punk wasn’t a forgiving phenomenon, and Deluxe were swept away by a movement whose more imaginative survivors might have felt considerable affinity with them (Bauhaus and Scritti Politti spring to mind).
Frustrated by a lack of widespread commercial success, Nelson disbanded Be Bop Deluxe soon after the release of the Drastic Plastic (1978) album, going on to form the more esoteric Red Noise and embark on a series of disparate solo projects.
His music continued to be never less than interesting though never capturing the head-spinning intrigue or creative chutzpah of his first group.