Be Bop Deluxe – Live! In The Air Age: Album Review

A huge Be Bop Deluxe live collection that expands on the Live ! In The Air Age album in a big way.

Release date: 27th August 2021

Label: Cherry Red Records / Esoteric Recordings

Format: 15 CD + 1 DVD / leaner 3CD option

Be prepared to phone in with a sicky and have several days free to take in the enormity of what should be the final Be Bop Deluxe package from Cherry Red/Esoteric. There’s no doubt they’ve done an excellent job in re-issuing the BBD catalogue with all the trimmings, including significant input from Bill Nelson himself, but this one is a mahoosive labour of love. The daddy.

The Live! In The Air Age puts a hefty dollop of icing on the cake. The only official live album was released in July 1977. Like many live albums, it would prove to be the band’s most successful album, peaking at number 10 in the UK charts. It marks the band at a high watermark after having released the Sunburst Finish and Modern Music albums, hence striking while the iron was hot and having the legendary John Leckie supervise several on-location recordings via the similarly legendary Rolling Stones mobile.

In the same way that Motorhead has recently issued a set of three live shows from Newcastle and Leeds that went into the making of the No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith landmark album, Live! In The Air Age does a similar job. But significantly huger! For the record, we get the original album, newly remastered from the original master tapes, restoring the correct running order of the original LP release with the bonus of three tracks drawn from a BBC Radio One John Peel session from January 1977.

Of course, the filtering or cherry-picking of any gig(s) into a single album (in old money) and often with the playing order juggled, somewhat waters down the effect, but to how many live albums from this era does that apply? Most of them to be honest, so the opportunity to do the contemporary thing and head into the archive is most gratifying.

For those with such an unquenchable desire to uncover the process and a thirst for Be Bop Deluxe (especially if you were there) comes an additional 14 discs that feature every show recorded on the 1977 tour, one interrupted by a brief postponement as Nelson, his then-wife and Leckie recovered from a mid-tour car accident. The shows in Leicester, Leeds (x2), London (x2), Bristol and Bournemouth are all included in full and provided the source material for the released album. It’s one of the complete London shows that you get with the bite size friendly 3CD version.

The band’s 1977 UK tour saw the presentation step up a gear with an audio-visual extravaganza that utilised projection screens and excerpts from the 1927 German silent film Metropolis, director Fritz Lang’s striking science fiction masterpiece. The main album ticks most of the boxes with a snapshot of the show that includes ‘the hit’ (Ships In The Night – one that Nelson certainly didn’t want to be playing day in day out for the next few decades) and the chance for the studio versions of the songs to be presented in a live format.

Shine sees them shifting into Steve Hillage territory with an extended workout of psychedelic funkiness. In particular, Nelson steps back to let the keyboard and bass combo stretch themselves for the first half of the piece. It’s probably the highlight of the album and the expanded package offers a chance to see how the piece works across a series of shows. It’s a fine example of how the multiple versions which are improvised in different ways, develop and how it’s a chance for the band to break free of the usual tight structure of the setlist that remained in place over the tour.

Despite Nelson’s confession that the studio is his preference, as opposed to the demands of reproducing the music, live onstage (as well as singing and playing the guitar), his comment on the quality of musicianship in the live setting is backed up.

The full shows give the full live story although they’re also nicely remastered and as well as showing off how the studio work translates, reveal the improvisational side of Be Bop Deluxe, particularly on pieces such as Shine and Blazing Apostles which made each concert unique. This is where you need a decent sit down with each of the seven shows to appreciate the nuances and check how Shine changes from night to night.

The release also offers the chance to appreciate the tracks omitted from the single album – the excellent lengthy Modern Music Suite the prime example – and the versions of Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape throughout the concert recordings all add an extra few minutes to the polished version for the official release. Plus there’s no need to be skipping straight to the final Blazing Apostles and missing Forbidden Lovers and Terminal Street – more than enough versions now make up for their absence on the original.

And like Jimmy Cricket (bizarre welly wearing Irish comedian) used to say – “there’s more…” The box set – and despite a £99 price tag, well worth it – also adds a DVD of Star Rider In Concert, first screened on television in 1977 and appears exclusively in this boxed set for the first time. Add an illustrated 68-page book with many previously unseen photographs and an essay of wonderful recollections by Bill Nelson who seems to really have embraced these projects despite being a musician who looks to the now rather than the past. He speaks candidly of the increasing frustrations of the trappings of success and the demands of touring and the audiences (which, apparently, got warmer as the tours headed north – test it out…).

This massive live collection serves as a fitting final tribute to a band that burned brightly and to a visionary whose vision

Here’s the version of Shine from the album:

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6 replies »

  1. The 16 disc box contains so much great music, but do you have the answer to two questions?
    – Do you know why “Blazing Apostles” are not at the first concert in Leeds on February 13?
    – Where can you read about where the songs are recorded from on the main album itself?

    Cheers/Anders from Sweden

    • Probably not much help to be honest Anders. I’d guess that the missing Blazing Apostles was down to something like technical issues and a failure to get the song on tape that night or maybe just (for some reason unknown) dropped from the set that gig which was the first of two nights in Leeds. As for which shows the main album songs are from, there seems no detail in the album notes – I only read a pdf copy – although some detective work and a good pair of ears might help you to decipher the live takes from the gigs in the set to the official release. However, the official album version might have not always reflect the rawer version on the collection of live shows. Good luck with your quest and feel free to post any findings!

      • Thanks for your reply, Mike. You’re probably right that Blazing Apostles aren’t at one of the Leeds gigs due to technical issues. Why else remove such a good song. As for which gigs the songs on the original LP come from, it’s still strange that no one has been able to research this. Now it might be a little easier when all the gigs that the songs come from should be included in the box. When I’ve listened to it enough and come up with an answer, I’ll get in touch :). But otherwise, perhaps the easiest way to get answers to the questions is to ask Bill Nelson. Do you think he would answer?

      • Could be worth asking Bill directly. He’s been very active in the BBD reissues and his notes on each have been excellent. Mind – he may be none the wiser, as live albums are often compiled by the label with little input from the band. However, Bill’s the type of musician who likes quality control so he may well have a better insight. Good luck!

  2. My answer from Dreamsville:

    Hi Anders,

    Thank you for your message…

    If I may answer all I can on Bill’s behalf…
    Yes, the Blazing Apostles track was missing from the Leeds gig because there was a fault with the tape. It wasn’t an issue at the time, as the intention was always just to pick the ‘best’ cuts from the various gigs to make one cohesive album.

    Regarding which tracks were used for the original album, I’m afraid that Bill will have long forgotten…
    I did try to do some comparisons, but it was proving to be a long job comparing them all so I gave it up after a while!


    Jon Wallinger
    Dreamsville webmaster

  3. I wrote to Dreamsville a few months ago asking about which gigs the songs on “Live! In the Air Age” came from and got a reply from you that it was understandably difficult for Bill Nelson to remember. A few days ago I joined Steve Hoffman’s Music Forum on the Internet where it is possible to exchange information about good music. There was of course a thread about the Live box where I asked the question about the songs and quickly got an answer from the pseudonym TwentySmallCigars who posted the following list.

    1. Life in the Air Age – Leeds, Feb 13
    2. Ships in the Night – Leeds, Feb 13
    3. Piece of Mine – Bristol, March 27
    4. Fair Exchange – Leeds, Feb 13
    5. Shine – Leeds, Feb 13
    6. Sister Seagull – Leeds, Feb 14
    7. Maid in Heaven – London, March 26
    8. Mill Street Junction – London, March 25
    9. Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape – Leeds, Feb 14
    10. Blazing Apostles – London, March 26

    and the outtakes from the Futurist Manifesto set:

    1. Modern Music – Leeds, Feb 13
    2. Forbidden Lovers – Bournemouth, March 28
    3. Down on Terminal Street – Leicester, Feb 12
    4. Swan Song – Leeds, Feb 14

    That last one was really a nice bonus. I haven’t had time to check for myself if this is true, but there is no reason to believe otherwise. Thanks again, Bill Nelson, for wonderful music!

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