Martin Cooper checks out Be-Bop Deluxe’s criminally undersung but incredibly musical and creative guitarist,Wakefield’s own Bill Nelson.
Ronan McCullagh looks at the Strat-tastic playing of South African prodigy Dan Patlansky.
Be-Bop Deluxe came to prominence in the 1970s with their stylistic blend of classic rock, prog and glam. They formed in 1972 when guitarist and singer Bill Nelson joined forces with fellow guitar player Ian Parkin, bassist and vocalist Robert Bryan and drummer Nicholas Chatterton-Dew. They also had a keyboard player, Richard Brown, who left the band at the end of their first year together. They were initially compared to acts such as David Bowie, but rather than find this a compliment, Nelson was frustrated by it. In fact his general frustration with the band’s music is one of the reasons that they finally disbanded in 1978.
During their early days Be-Bop Deluxe began playing in West Yorkshire pubs, and were signed in 1974 to EMI subsidiary label Harvest. They only recorded one album for the label with their initial line-up before Nelson dissolved the band and reformed with bass player Paul Jeffreys, keyboard player Milton ReameJames (both from Cockney Rebel), and drummer Simon Fox. Jeffreys was tragically killed in the Pan-Am Lockerbie bombing in 1988. Players continued to join and leave the band, but they continued to gain critical approval, if not much commercial success, and some of their albums included A-list producers such as Roy Thomas Baker, who at the time was producing Queen. Be-Bop’s first three album titles Axe Victim, Futurama and Sunburst Finish all nod cryptically towards the guitar.
Through Nelson’s sax-playing father he got into be-bop music but didn’t actually count it as one of the band’s stylistic influences, although some of his flowing lead lines involve jazz influenced chromatic phrases. If anything their music became more progressive as the band grew, including complex pieces like Modern Music, a 10-minute suite of songs.
As well as fronting his own band Nelson also sometimes doubled as a session player for groups such as The Skids, which featured Big Country front man Stuart Adamson, who was a big fan ofthe guitarist.
Nelson’s style involves an eclectic mix of influences, from Duane Eddy and Hank Marvin to Clapton, Hendrix, Allan Holdsworth and Ollie Halsall. However Bill later eschewed the speedy playing for more production led, sonic landscapes.
Our piece this month isn’t tricky to play, but timing will be important, as there’s a lot of
The band ’s first three alb um title s Axe Victi m, Futura ma and Sunb urst Fini sh all nod cry ptically to ward s the guitar
space in the track; always a key feature in Be-Bop Deluxe arrangements. The track has drums, bass, two keyboard parts, plus electric and acoustic guitar, so as much as anything is a lesson in how to arrange parts so that they can be heard, while leaving space for everyone else. We’re in the key of D (D-E-F#-G-AB-C#), but with a C chord that’s outside the key, and some chromatic passing notes in the solo, which include the #4 and
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NEXT MONTH Martin examines the playing style of US guitar legend Ronnie Montrose Bill Nelson usually favours guitars such as his faithful Gibson ES-345 semi and, perhaps unusually, the British made Carlsboro Twin amp. Effects include phaser, a fuzzy drive when playing lead, and a lot of reverb on occasion. Go for a basic clean tone with reverb and add effects like phaser to taste. Jump on a drive pedal for those lead moments.
Bill Nelson with the Gibson ES345 bought for him by his Dad