CD+DVD Reviews

Bill Nelson and the Gentlemen Rocketeers – Recorded Live in Concert at Metropolis Studios, London – Convexe – (2 CDs + 1 DVD)

A retrospective focusing on Bill Nelson’s diverse musical career.

Published on September 30, 2012

Bill Nelson and the Gentlemen Rocketeers – Recorded Live in Concert at Metropolis Studios, London – Convexe – (2 CDs + 1 DVD)

Bill Nelson and the Gentlemen Rocketeers – Recorded Live in Concert at Metropolis Studios, London – Convexe CVX902140 [2 CDs + 1 DVD], CD 1: 72:22, CD 2: 23:36  + DVD: 120:76 (color, 16:9, 5.1) ****:

(Bill Nelson – guitar, vocals; Jon Wallinger – keyboards; Theo Travis – saxophone, flute; Dave Sturt – fretless bass; Steve Cook – keyboards; Dave Standeven – guitar; Gavin Griffiths – drums)

Bill Nelson is an enigma to those who know him and an obscure mystery to those not familiar with his prolific career in and out of music. Nelson is a multi-genre artist: guitarist, songwriter, producer, painter, label manager and experimental musician and has collaborated with Yellow Magic Orchestra, A Flock of Seagulls, Gary Numan, Harold Budd and others. Nelson began his musical livelihood in the late ‘60s, released his first solo album in 1971, and over the decades has headed several bands, including the art-rockers Be Bop Deluxe (despite the name, there were no jazz connections), the prog-rock outfit Red Noise, and is currently the front man for Bill Nelson and the Gentlemen Rocketeers. Along the way, he’s put out over 100 albums, soundtracks, singles, and EPs; created unrelated boxed sets and compilations; and has various, unissued undertakings ready to go; he’s also directed video projects; and is even a practicing magician.

Since the early 2000s, Nelson has not been on stage often, so his infrequent appearances are something unusual for his cult-ish fan base. Even rarer are shows which assemble tunes which span his four decades as a musician, which is why the 2-CD/DVD package, Recorded Live in Concert at Metropolis Studios, London, is a special performance document. The 2 ½ hour production, taped and filmed in March, 2011, highlights material from Nelson’s various past endeavors: essentially, this is where listeners and/or viewers can find what they need to appreciate Nelson, since it unites nearly all aspects of what he does and has done.

Nelson opens the first CD with one of his early ‘80s cuts, “The October Man,” a casually poetic observation about desire and death: this is tightly wound, dense and vibrant music and features Nelson’s twisting arched guitar and Theo Travis’ straightforward sax. Nelson travels further into his back catalog with some tunes from Be Bop Deluxe’s initial foray, Axe Victim (1974). He eliminates some of the David Bowie influences which originally marked “Night Creatures,” and turns the song into something both more modern and also more retro. Nelson showcases his still-strong tenor voice on the ten-minute long, metaphysical ballad “Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape,” where he also offers a lengthy guitar solo which combines hard rock touches with ambient edges, which is effectively contrasted against Travis’ supple flute. Fan favorite “Ships in the Night” (a top-25 UK single from Be Bop Deluxe’s 1976 record Sunburst Finish) is a demonstration of Nelson’s sharp pop songwriting, while “Sister Seagull” (from 1975’s Futurama) displays Nelson’s abstruse lyrical viewpoint (the words and their meaning, though, are murky at best), but his strengths come to fruition on yet another Be Bop Deluxe vehicle, the apocalyptic new wave-ish single “Panic in the World,” (from 1978’s Drastic Plastic) which has a durable groove, and resilient interplay between twinned keyboards, doubled guitars and sax.

The 23-minute second disc is a windfall for hardcore Nelson fans, especially those who prefer his status as elder guitar icon: this is a mostly solo platform for Nelson’s intricate, instrumental guitar accomplishments. He commences with the atmospheric “Beyond These Clouds the Sweetest Dream,” and follows with the contemplative, picturesque duet “Golden Dream of Circus Horses,” where Nelson presents a plethora of guitar effects which are balanced by Travis’ beautifully organic sax and flute excursions. “A Dream for Ian” splashes together pre-taped, futuristic keyboard impressions alongside Nelson’s reverb-inflected guitar, which has traces of avowed hero Hank Marvin and, if one presumes correctly, a hint of Jeff Beck as well. Nelson ends the shortened second disc with another tribute, “For Stuart,” a harder-rocking sojourn which has a sonically keen quality where Nelson’s six-string flourishes are exceptionally exhibited.

Nelson aficionados get their money’s worth with the accompanying DVD. The movie, filmed in the tight confines of the famed Metropolis Studios complex, replicates the music on both CDs, but with audience interaction not found on the compact discs. Visually, the presentation is well done, with various cameras which provide close-ups, medium shots and angles of the enthusiastic spectators, who sit so near to the tiny stage, that Nelson quips as he enters, “Well, they told me it was going to be intimate. It’s verging on the erotic, I think.” Just like the two CDs, the DVD is broken into two sections: the complete band concert and then Nelson’s shorter solo jaunt. The audio is also superb: Nelson helped with the mix, supplying his meticulous ear, which he has honed to perfection; the DVD contains DTS 5.1 surround sound, which furnishes the well-recorded tunes an aural clarity where nuances are noticeable.

Longtime devotees and those curious about Nelson’s musical life story will find the 17-minute, DVD bonus interview of compelling interest: Nelson recalls the minutiae of his debut album, Northern Dream; his several ventures in different studios, from self-produced efforts to multi-tracked, professional enterprises, and how he uses digital technology as if it was analog gear; the importance of following one’s muse; his love for guitars (he employs more than a dozen during any given set); why live gigs are now uncommon and how his annual fan conventions have replaced, for the most part, his touring. The 2-CD/DVD package also comes with a 12-page booklet with liner notes, credits and select photographs.

CD/DVD TrackList: The October Man; Night Creatures; God Man Stain; Contemplation; Lady You’re a Strange Girl; Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape; Furniture Music; Do You Dream in Colour; Ships in the Night; Lovers are Mortal; Maid in Heaven; Sister Seagull; Wonder of the Moment; Panic in the World; Beyond These Clouds the Sweetest Dream; Golden Dream of Circus Horses; A Dream for Ian; For Stuart.

—Doug Simpson




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