Album Review

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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