Be-Bop Deluxe – Axe Victim

27th July 2022 · 1970s, 1974, Music

Be-Bop Deluxe filled a Bowie-shaped hole in my musical education after Aladdin Sane. I loved them despite – no, because of – the obvious similarity.

Not just between Bill Nelson’s mannered, effete vocals, and clever, pretentious lyrics, which often referenced Bowie with mentions of supermen and queers.

But also his guitar style, which was reminiscent of Mick Ronson, and made you wonder whether there was something in the Yorkshire water (Ronson was from Hull, Nelson from Wakefield).

In that era of voting in the NME poll every year, I’m sure I gave Bill the nod in the Best Guitarist category, doubtless to the ridicule of my Blackmore and Page-worshipping peers.

At boarding school in Yorkshire myself, Be-Bop Deluxe were one of the first live bands I ever saw in 1974. They were supporting Cockney Rebel at York University and, as local heroes, they drew an enthusiastic crowd in their own right.

Like Bowie, both bands – Be-Bop Deluxe and Cockney Rebel – shared a propensity for theatricality, flowery lyrics and arcane song constructions.

Unlike Steve Harley, who had decreed that his band would have no electric guitar, Bill Nelson’s group was a showcase for his expertise on the instrument.

Never more so than on the opening track of their debut album Axe Victim, and another song called Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape.

I played it to death. The tone of Bill’s guitar, as instantly recognisable as Dave Gilmour’s, still sends shivers down my spine.