Album Reissues Be-Bop Deluxe – Axe Victim (Limited Edition Deluxe Boxset)

Published on 30th May 2020

Be-Bop Deluxe – Axe Victim (Limited Edition Deluxe Boxset)


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Be-Bop Deluxe nearly passed me by during their brief but brightly burning four year existence between 1974 and 1978. It was only on borrowing their Hot Valves EP from a school friend in 1976 or ’77 that I became aware of William Nelson’s Yorkshire sci-fi guitar shenanigans. I became an instant fan, and as soon as I could afford it I bought Sunburst Finish, purely on the strength of its striking cover art. I was a sixth-form schoolboy, after all. One of my gig regrets is never getting to see Be-Bop, although I did get to see Red Noise, a short-lived stopgap between Be-Bop and Bill’s ultra-productive solo career. I bought all the albums, of course!

The first of those albums, and actually the last one I bought, sometime in the early ’90s, was Axe Victim, which has always suffered by being seen as, and perhaps rightly, a sub-Ziggy record made at least two years too late to catch the glam-sophisticate wave it seemed desperate to surf, right down to the band donning “brickies-go-glam” on the inside cover. Bill Nelson, with his eyeshadow and coiffured barnet stood out even then as he seemed to carry it naturally.

One of the four tracks on the borrowed EP was the very Bowie Jet Silver & the Dolls of Venus, the third track on the album, which is a very close pastoral cousin to Ziggy, sort of his countrified mate, replete with a marvellously Mick Ronson-with-knobs-on solo from the precociously talented Mr. Nelson, and indicative of the BIG Bowie fixation apparent throughout this album. The Bowie-glam idolatry doesn’t get any more obvious than on the preceding song Love is Swift Arrows, right down to the flowery language of the lyrics. There were far worse things to be in thrall to in 1974, a year when mind-numbing bombast was definitely getting the better of the increasingly remote and unwieldy top bands of the day, and not just of the progressive rock variety, so a collection of relatively succinct numbers from a bunch of Yorkshiremen in thrall to the then already defunct Zig and his Spiders was no bad thing at all. What sets Be-Bop’s debut apart from being mere plagiarism is Bill’s bewilderingly technical and dazzling melodic guitar playing, that comes bursting out of the traps on the opening title track, the song bareback riding flurries of scorching fretwork, from a guy who was soon heralded as “Yorkshire’s first guitar hero”, according to the blurb on the back cover of The Be-Bop Deluxe Singles’ As & Bs album. Mick Ronson might have had something to say about that!

Back in the beginning, the recently formed Be-Bop Deluxe, or more accurately, Bill Nelson came to the attention of EMI, thanks to his solo album Northern Dream getting a complete play-through by the inestimably influential and always and forever much missed John Peel, a Radio 1 DJ whom many of us between the ages of 50 and 70 can thank for steering our musical tastes away from the stiflingly predictable. A rather drawn out process by the label to sign the young band ensued, with Bill insisting it was the band, not the label-preferred Bill Nelson as a solo artist that was up for grabs. The process was helped along by a debut Peel session for the band in 1973, who eventually put pen to paper. Two of the songs featured on that session never appeared officially at the time, and now get an airing on this three disc set.

It is easy to overlook Bill’s talent as a lyricist, which when you get past the aforementioned somewhat and possibly deliberately derivative Love is Swift Arrows show early signs of promise on the album. This from the title track is but one example of Bill’s poetic inclinations:

Please be careful
I’m an axe victim
Hung up on these silver strings
Like sails
Like seagulls’ cries
Like church bells in the night

Bill’s lifelong love of French cultural polymath Jean Cocteau is also present and correct, the original gatefold quoting from the man.

Listening to the original LP against the new stereo mix version is something of a revelation. While the remix does it full justice, and increases the sonic range, the original production, right down to the expansive openness of Darkness (L’Immoraliste), which included Andrew Powell’s tasteful orchestral arrangement, has a remarkable clarity, unusual for the era. The producer’s chair was filled by one Ian McLintock, not a name I’m familiar with. As Bill says in the 28-page booklet accompanying this reissue, Ian had “personal issues”, and was sometimes “… ‘absent’, while still being in the room”, which might explain why I have not come across the name before. The sound must have mostly been down to the engineers, who included John Leckie, who in a long career would go on to produce many albums, including Be-Bop’s subsequent releases.

One of the highlights of the record is Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape, which became a live set staple. Here it is a mere three and half minutes long, but later live versions often stretched out to ten minutes, the defining version on Live in the Air Age coming home at a smidgeon under nine minutes. Here, this balladic showcase for Bill’s guitar pyrotechnics doesn’t miss a trick, and the band, as it is on the whole album, is as tight as a gnat’s chuff. Given their inexperience, and compared to Bill, their limitations, Be-Bop Deluxe Mk1 is a remarkable group to hear in action. Despite this, EMI always had reservations about the musical abilities of Bill’s backing musicians, which Bill finally concurred with, and this line-up only lasted for this one album.

As is often the case with debut albums, the songs recorded were already well seasoned by the time the record came out, and Bill was already moving on from the proto-glam image portrayed on the album artwork, and in some of the music therein. A lot of the second album, Futurama, was written on an upright piano, rather than the electric guitar that most of Axe Victim was borne of. One exception on Axe Victim was Darkness (L’Immoraliste), also written on the piano, and featuring a small orchestra, and an exception to the overt rockisms of the rest of the album. Its ambition is indicative of what was to come.

We’ll leave Bill with the final words: “So, Axe Victim is one brief snapshot of a band becoming something else… a modest beginning, flawed, but not without charm.”

As well as the new stereo mix, the real draw for Be-Bop fans here is the DVD with its 5.1 surround mix, and extras. I can’t tell you anything about that as I’m working from a download, but I look forward to hearing it, oh yes!

TRACK LISTING
CD One: Axe Victim (Remastered)

01. Axe Victim
02. Love is Swift Arrows
03. Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus
04. Third Floor Heaven
05. Night Creatures
06. Rocket Cathedrals
07. Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape
08. Jets At Dawn
09. No Trains to Heaven
10. Darkness (L’Immoraliste)
~ Bonus tracks:
11. Teenage Archangel (1973 Single)
12. Jets At Dawn (1973 Single Version)
13. No Trains to Heaven (First Mix) (Previously Unreleased)
14. Axe Victim (Album Version – First Mix) (Previously Unreleased)

CD Two: Axe Victim (New Stereo Mix)
01. Axe Victim
02. Love is Swift Arrows
03. Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus
04. Third Floor Heaven
05. Night Creatures
06. Rocket Cathedrals
07. Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape
08. Jets At Dawn
09. No Trains to Heaven
10. Darkness (L’Immoraliste)
~ Bonus tracks:
11. Axe Victim (First Version) (Previously Unreleased)
12. Night Creatures (Spoken Word Version) (Previously Unreleased)
13. Rocket Cathedrals (First Version) (Previously Unreleased)

CD Three:
~ BBC Radio One ‘John Peel Show’ Session 6th November 1973

01. Axe Victim (Previously Unreleased)
02. Bluesy Ruby (Previously Unreleased)
03. Tomorrow the World (Previously Unreleased)
~ The Decca Session – 13th December 1973
04. Axe Victim (Previously Unreleased)
05. I’ll Be Your Vampire (Previously Unreleased)
06. Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape (Previously Unreleased)
07. Bluesy Ruby (Previously Unreleased)
~ BBC Radio One ‘John Peel Show’ Session 9th May 1974
08. Third Floor Heaven
09. Mill Street Junction
10. 15th Of July (Invisibles)
11. Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape

DVD: New 5.1 Surround Sound Mix | 96 kHz – 24-Bit Stereo | 96 kHz – 24-Bit Original Stereo ~ Mixes
01. Axe Victim
02. Love is Swift Arrows
03. Jet Silver & The Dolls of Venus
04. Third Floor Heaven
05. Night Creatures
06. Rocket Cathedrals
07. Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape
08. Jets At Dawn (Full Version)
09. No Trains to Heaven
10. Darkness (L’immoraliste)
~ Bonus tracks:
11. Axe Victim (First Version) (Previously Unreleased)
12. Night Creatures (Spoken Word Version) (Previously Unreleased)
13. Rocket Cathedrals (First Version) (Previously Unreleased)

MUSICIANS
William Nelson – Lead & Acoustic Guitar, Lead Vocals, Grand Piano
Ian Parkin – Rhythm & Acoustic Guitar, Organ (Rocket Cathedrals)
Robert Bryan – Bass, Vocals, Lead Vocal (Rocket Cathedrals)
Nicholas Chatteron-Drew – Drums, Percussion

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Catalogue#: PECLEC42715
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 17th July 2020

LINKS
Be-Bop Deluxe – Facebook
Bill Nelson – Website | Facebook

Addendum: If Julian Dowling reads this, I still have your Hot Valves EP, sorry!

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