Keeping A Watch On The Wild Side
Or how to engage in languid nightflittery while living in Wakefield
by Angus MacKinnon
A DARKLING, crepuscular environ where pain and love are pronounced inseparable, where all the stars have dipped their spears in asphodel. Some extensive ornamental ghostgarden encircling with its mazes a stately palazzo where courtesans intrigue among shadows quickened by yew topiaries and the moon is a furtive friend. Aerial suspension among shoals of sleek-hulled airships where impossible contortions of desire are planned and performed, where the promise of sin is a wonderous opiate and love a scheming, silvery thing.
Or something like that.
It seems that Bill Nelsonís escapist dreamravel has what he calls "a common thread of humanity" within its meanderings. All four Be Bop Deluxe records have had lyrics enclosed; the last two have both charted. Be Bop songs are sly, compact modules of melody within a transistorised circuitry of guitar and keyboards. Confrontation with Nelsonís voice and words is inescapable but these are evidently amenable enough in themselves or as part of the whole to meet with general approval.
I canít believe Be Bopís capricious charm resides entirely with Nelsonís sleight-handed guitar playing. And whatís modern about "Modern Music"? Iím not sure ó and neither it Nelson, beyond suggesting Be Bop are Ďvery contemporary" and "sort of Science Fiction."
Yet its hard to match the man with his creation. Nelson comes from Wakefield, Yorkshire, accent intact. He talks 20 to the dozen; his manner is open, almost candid ó not so much eager to please as to make himself perfectly understood. He may well have written in some previous song that "itís just $ question of style" but in person makes no concessions to the tedious rigmarole of pose and poise.
He doesnít burn Gauloises down to the filter ó in fact he doesnít smoke, He takes his tea with milk and two sugars. He was wearing a similar combination of black leather jacket, tanktop sweater and grey baggies when I last saw him. - ó
Then Be 8op were still scrambling up the precipitous terse to break big. Nelson stated that he wasnít enamoured of the music business, admitting that he was reluctant to tour America and that he had every intention of continuing to live in Yorkshire, rather than move down south to "make himself a little more accessible."
He also announced plans for some experimental studio work and for a film project leading on from others heíd been involved with before turning professional. And now?
"My feelings towards the business havenít changed. If anything I feel stronger since the last album was a success. The company is willing to listen to me now Iíve given them proof of something thatís both acceptable and commercial. The nest few years have been shown to me on paper but itíd make me want to give up completely if I really thought my life was going to be that organised.
"Iím not too worried about how we achieve the necessary success as long as we donít compromise either ourselves or the music, as long as we have some degree of control.
"I still intend to make that film. There hasnít been time. And those recordings ó the problem is that itíd be silly for us to change too drastically now because it was ĎSunburstí that starred things really moving for us both here and in America. Itís not a consideration I thought about at the time but has since been put to me by er, important people."
So, invariably, it goes. But the American tour was successful and Be Bop will return there this autumn, A suite of short songs on side two of "Modern Music" is intended to convey Nelsonís Stateside impressions. While drummer Simon Fox liked New York enough to want to live there, Nelson felt generally alienated.
Such a response might seem incongruous - the song characters would doubtless thrive in the lugubrious dives of NYC ó until one concludes that Nelsonís lyrical themes of languid nightflittery probably serve as a highly personalized and strictly allegorical code. A private vocabulary that Nelson feels little need to emulate self-consciously. A common enough paradox.
Be Bop may entrance those who require a slim volume of poetics of the odd "romance in the rain" with their rock and roll (and why not?), but Nelson himself walks well this side wherever the Wild Things are. Nevertheless the ingenue quality of his lyric writing renders it pleasantly evocative.
His words sometimes verge on the mannered or evanescently fey, but, just as often flip an image up into the air like a polished coin and catch its every surprising trajectory. Although the code seems to have become a little formularized, this yearís masked ball has much the same guest list as in previous years.
"I donít feel Iím at the end of any run of ideas, not at all. Some of my words do tend to write themselves; their imagery is largely subconscious. And my singing? Iíve never purported to be an orthodox vocalist or even a vocalist proper." "Modern Music" itself is disappointing on first hearing; the momentum of development that has distinguished past Be Bop albums from one another scents not to have been maintained, But there are detail modifications in the form of studio treatments and fewer solos, The invisibly seamed title collection is an impressive feat, as is the lavish guitar orchestration throughout. Nelsonís production still focuses on multi-layered complexity and at limes the density of instrumentation becomes overbearing.
"Actually there are less overdubs than on the other records. I always conceive the material ass whole, with all the little additions. Thatís how I write. Although Iíve tempered my burning passion to fill every space in the music, You say that phasing is obsolescent. Well for me thatís its charm.
"Maybe its use is still so recent that itís not ready to become a stylized toy you can drag up in a nostalgic sense. I like those sort of tricks, theyíre harmless enough and I donít intend them with the earnestness of a Todd Rundgren. The idea was to bring out the mood of the songs more, to let them unwind gradually. Perhaps we failed,
"Bus thatís the way we like them to sound. The same goes for the imagery. Thereís no way itíll change. As little or at much as it may be, itís all me. Itís not capitalising or calculated and I canít get it out in any other way. Be Bop it the one area I get some kind of satisfaction about my creative abilities.
At which Bill Nelson laughs to counter the seriousness of hit declaration. And he still lives up north.
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