Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Be-Bop Deluxe—
Teenage Archangel/Jets At Dawn


Released 1973 on Smile
The Seth Man, August 2012ce
Be careful.
‘Cause I’m an axe victim victim.

Why? Probably because I’ve been hung up on the sonic soarings of Bill Nelson’s silver strings for decades now for several reasons and nearly all of them include August as the reason. It always hits hardest in August and for no small reason because of the line in “Jets At Dawn” when Nelson sang ‘the calendar said first of August’ it WAS first of August when I first heard it. I know I also listened to it many days leading up to and especially including August 16th as well as deep into the following autumn. It was the soundtrack of my first love, alongside Be-Bop Deluxe’s “Futurama” and “Sunburst Finish.” Now, 33 years later on the 31st of August, I can report not only that Bill Nelson is a genius (which I already knew and hopefully you do, too), is still one of the most unrecognised talents in Rock, is a true axe victim and if I had only heard this single back then, well: it only would’ve wound me up and driven me up and over the wall even altogether further than I was already was. (Which, believe me, was a lot.) As a guitarist I rate him as an equal to (and oftentimes surpassing the talents of) Mick Ronson, Mick Ralphs, Mick Green, and Andy Scott.

Be-Bop Deluxe’s first record was the single “Teenage Archangel”/”Jets At Dawn.” Released in a tiny, homemade quantity a year prior to their Harvest/EMI signing and subsequent release of their stellar debut, “Axe Victim,” what this provincial and initial lineup of the group put on display here was a small but powerful double shot of blazing potential with Bill Nelson’s tremendous flair for guitar, vocals and lyrics to the fore. As time would soon tell, he had only BEGUN to Rock. But back in 1973, with no sleeve, a hand-written label and monophonic pressing, this seven inch slab was a cry from the wilderness heralding something special; a cry so immediate it was heard and quickly championed by John Peel on Top Gear throughout 1973. Later that year in November, Be-Bop Deluxe wound up with their first radio appearance for the very same programme.

“Teenage Archangel” continues a rock’n’roll tradition that began waybackwhen in 1954 with The Penguins’ “Earth Angel.” Relaying the theme to Mark Dinning five years later with his “Teen Angel,” it was then echoed by Donovan in 1968 on the B-side of his “Hurdy Gurdy Man” single as “Teen Angel.” With Nelson’s obsession with rock’n’roll and its many touchstone motifs, it’s surprising he didn’t wind up annotating the third track on “Axe Victim” as “Jet Silver And The Dolls From Venus (In Blue Jeans).” Then again, maybe not because for all of Nelson‘s artistic efficacy and maximum efficiency as a kick ass Rock guitarist (his phrasing and tone on record would never falter) and for all the tightness of the arrangements, his Muse did not dictate so heavy-handedly but rather ONLY SMILED WHEN HIS ABILITY WAS AS TUMESCENT AS HE COULD STAND AND THEN SOME. (Capitals mine.) Which is why Nelson was able to quaver out lines like “Rockin’ like a bitch, man” steeped in a force field of Galerie des Glaces-sized echo whilst allowing all his guitar solos to land like long-range, all-weather, subsonic cruise missile controlled air bursts to punctuate his own sung verses. Meanwhile, the other three Deluxers can power at only half the velocity as they scramble to keep up by tying a very glamourous shoestring to Nelson’s cuffed-up jeans while playing ‘Glamrock Scissors Paper’ over who gets to wear the only bow-tie between them for the next gig at ‘The Duke,’ North Ferriby, near Hull. They plead and only get a desultory ‘So what?’ from William of Wakefield in response as he’s already taken an unaccountable turn off the main route of late night, stun-gun guitar riffing into a Huddersfield back road of twilight twinkling that adorn the firmament, pledging his love to his Muse by dropping down only in volume, not feeling, so as not to spoil the mood. He passes the crossroads he kissed his Archangel for the first time, looks skyward for an answer while Messrs Parkin, Bryan and Chatterton-Dew hang low-key in the background waiting for the moment to pass...which does so so quickly that the trio nearly get left in the dust until Nelson’s deft full nelson nudges them back into touch with a sweep across his 6-string Airflow Chrysler, causing the trio to pile quickly into the back seat as Lord Nelson stomps the pedal to the metal, waves bye-bye to New Jersey and makes it to the intricate coda of neat and intuitive resolution. Whoa.

The near-seven minute length of “Jets At Dawn” sees everything in place as it would be a year later on “Axe Victim,” except for the opening “Cambridge 1969”/“Cirrus Minor” BBC FX library birdsong. The soul and spirit of the piece is in attendance, fully-formed and as uplifting as ever, although here it’s more languid and even more of the “Lazy Sunday Afternoon”-“Lazy Old Sun”-“Fat Old Sun” triptych of summer vibes (sans all music hall trace elements) with its spoken “promises of summer days” and unspoken promises of summer nights and how they could just wind up lasting forever. Led by acoustic guitar and soft rhythm backing, Nelson’s voice echoes form the near-spoken (“say goodbye...”) to the sung (“...To the others...”) as he continues: “...the old musicians of the past/Say hello to the young things/Oh, their songs are here to sing at last” as though some small promise of the future seem grand enough.

Some small promises can last a lifetime.


Note: Both sides of the Smile single finally appeared in digital form for the first time on the Be-Bop Deluxe compilation, “Postcards From The Future” (EMI, 2003) with other extracurricular-”Axe Victim” material by Be-Bop Deluxe Mk 1 surfacing on two other compilations. The first, “Electrotypes” (credited to Bill Nelson and released on Holyground in 2001) features a beautiful and elegiac “Jet Silver & The Dolls From Venus” (with harmonium, no less!) while a Radio 1 compilation of Be-Bop Deluxe, “Tramcar To Tomorrow” (Hux, 1998) features four tracks of Mk 1 Be-Bop Deluxe with the version of “Third Floor Heaven” worth the price of admission alone. It shreds all other live BBD I’ve ever heard. Fuck: Nelson’s solo alone? Gimme an album of THAT. 30 seconds longer and thrice as rapid as the studio versh on “Axe Victim,” it’s like “Queen Bitch” in 3D. On acid. In n-dimensional sonic space where everything you want from Rock appears the nanosecond you merely think about it. Oh, this fucker makes me weak in the knees, dizzy in the head and gives me quivers down the backbone all at once.