Investigating Bill Nelson

Cocteau Records | UK | 5x7" | 1983 | JEAN 1

Cocteau Records | UK | 5×7″ | 1983 | JEAN 1

Bill Nelson: Permanent Flame – The Beginners’ Guide To Bill Nelson UK 5×7 [1983]

  1. Do You Dream In Colour
  2. Ideal Homes
  3. Instantly Yours
  4. Atom Man Loves Radium Girl
  5. Panic In The World
  6. Maid In Heaven
  7. Electrical Language
  8. Revolt Into Style
  9. Stay Young
  10. Furniture Music
  11. Touch And Glow
  12. Dancing In The Wind
  13. Love Without Fear
  14. Rooms With Brittle Views
  15. Dada Guitare

I can’t exactly remember where I had heard of Bill Nelson first. I have the vague idea that it was a review in the singles section of Trouser Press where the initial impression might have been made. I do know that I never heard his music, even that of his previous band, Be-Bop Deluxe, on the stingy Orlando airwaves! I remember seeing Be-Bop albums like “Live In The Air Age” in stores at the time of their release, but I had no idea who Bill Nelson was… other than a Florida Congressman!

But I certainly remember where I first heard Nelson… in this handily named seven inch boxed set! With a subtitle like that, how could I not take the bait? I believe it was in the hallowed halls of Crunchy Armadillo Records that I found this gem upon its release. I felt it would be an ideal program to sample whether this Bill Nelson was my cup of tea or not. The box held five 7″ records in picture sleeves, a sheet of liner notes, and a Bill Nelson button.

bill nelson - doyoudreamincolourUK7AThe “Do You Dream In Colour” EP was a four-track/33.3 rpm affair. This was from Nelson’s 1981 album “Quit Dreaming And Get On The Beam” with a compliment of three non-LP B-sides to get all of the material Nelson had recorded out in the world. “Instantly Yours” was a churning bit of New Wave enlivened by frantic rhythms and brother Ian Nelson’s sax. “Atom Man Loves Radium Girl” deals in the sort of sci-fi kitsch beloved by Nelson and is the type of tune that indelibly prints itself in my mind. I can’t begin to count how many times this song pops up like a mental virus.

bill nelson - bebopUK7A The “Be-Bop Deluxe” EP was a sampler of three tunes from the band that Nelson made his name with. “Maid In Heaven” was an earlier song from the band’s second album, “Futurama,” but it sounded firmly planted in the mid-70s next to the other two tracks. “Panic In The World” was a step ahead from the proto-glam of “Maid In Heaven” to post-glam ethos. The glitter has faded but a hint of boogie is still in the mix. Not so for “Electrical Language,” which was my favorite song off of any of these discs in the box! This was pure technopop that was prescient by several years in its 1978 milieu. I would definitely need to get the “Drastic Plastic” album from whence it came!

red nose - furniture musicUK7AThe “Red Noise” EP gave an overview of the project that Nelson followed on with after Be-Bop Deluxe ceased to exist after “Drastic Plastic.” By this time he was perfectly in step with the Post-Punk era. Click on the cover. Have you ever seen a skinner tie? The three tracks here are a few of the less twitchy tracks from the “Sound On Sound” album that was the sole legacy of Red Noise. “Stay Young” is the liveliest track here, but “Revolt Into Style” remains a bright pop manifesto based on the George Melly book of the same name, and served to inform the name of my [now moribund] vanity label.

bill nelson - touch+glowUK7AThe “Touch + Glow” EP was one of the early singles releases on Nelson’s own Cocteau Records label. This label served as an outlet for the large backlog of music Nelson was constantly recording; an amount far in advance of what a major label was capable of releasing. He was still signed to Mercury in the UK in 1982, but singles like this allowed his current experiments to reach public ears. The cut Dancing In The Wind” still seems to be m.i.a. on CD after all of these years!

bill lnelson - roomswithbrittleviewsUk7AFinally, after four EPs comes an old-fashioned two track 45 that Nelson had issued in 1980 for the Belgian Disques Du Crépuscule label. “Rooms With Brittle Views” would have been right at home on “Quit Dreaming And Get On The Beam.” The B-side, “Dada Guitare,” was a peppy instrumental that ventured into Fripp-like territories. It would have been right at home on the next year’s “League Of Gentlemen” album by Fripp’s “new wave dance combo.” Fripp and Nelson would eventually collaborate on David Sylvian’s “Gone To Earth” album of 1986 that saw two of my favorite guitarists together at last.

From this zero-point, I made a bee-line to any and all Bill Nelson material that I subsequently happened upon. Any and all of it is good but I particularly enjoy the period that came immediately before this box was issued in early 1983. I’d keep up with Nelson through the early 90s and his insatiable lust to release huge amounts of recorded music moving through ambient, dance collage, and technopop styles, but at a certain point he dropped his boosters and shot through the stratosphere; far outdistancing my ability to keep up with his increasingly peripatetic muse or the cost of 4-10 albums worth of material per year!

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7 Responses to Investigating Bill Nelson

  1. VersionCrazy says:

    Nice post – similarly, was one of my earlier Bill Nelson purchases and the start of all things boxed set for Mr Nelson – he does rather like them, doesn’t he?! The good news is that ‘Dancing In The Wind’, which despite it’s home recording lack of polish remains an all time favourite of mine, has appeared on the US compilation ‘The Strangest Things’ – quite a handy compilation for a few odds and ends in fact. The ‘Touch and Glow’ single from which ‘DitW’ comes was exclusive to this box set, if I recall – so were the Be Bop Deluxe and Red Noise originally, but both these singles got a subsequent re-release in 12″ format afterwards, with recoloured sleeve colourways and an extra tracks each – ‘Jean Cocteau’ and ‘Out of Touch’ (Live) respectively. ‘Do You Dream in Colour’ and ‘Rooms With Brittle Views’ were presumably using up spare unsold stock, the latter came with a different sleeve design from my earlier copy though, so maybe not.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      VersionCrazy – Good lord! I have “The Strangest Things” but it gets a bit lost in the 20+ inches of Bill Nelson CDs on the racks! Thanks for reminding me, since I write these posts during my lunch hour at work and miles away from my collection. Discogs claims that “Touch + Glow” got a discreet release in 1982 in the year prior to “Permanent Flame” perhaps lending credence to the notion that all of it, apart from the Be-Bop Deluxe and Red Noise EPs was “on hand stock” cleverly repurposed into the genesis of Nelson’s boxed set fetish. Your copy of “Rooms With Brittle Views” with the different sleeve
      was the second of two covers available. I grabbed the woman’s face cover off of Discogs since, as I mentioned, I am at work. I’ll have to check my box when I get home to see exactly which cover I have in there.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Version Crazy – Yes, I indeed have the same cover depicted in this post for “Rooms With Brittle Views” in my box of “Permanent Flame!” I took a winning chance.

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  2. I dream of the day when Bill Nelson and John Foxx will work together — why it hasn’t already happened is beyond me, but I hope it does soon! Either it would be the Greatest Thing Ever or a clash of the Irresistible Force and Unmoving Object (d’art)! If we could get Bruce Woolley and Thomas Dolby in the room, we’d have a full-blown Retro-Futurists convention on our hands and a bunch of exploded fan heads!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – Sonnuva…!!! Why didn’t I think of that? Especially since hearing Nelson immediately made me think “I wonder what he’d sound like with Gary Numan?” Of course, by the end of ’83 we found out… to our chagrin! But Foxx… that intrigues.

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  3. Echorich says:

    I like your thinking Chas, but no Futurist affair can happen without Richard Strange for me. And like Foxx, he seem to keep going on, hosting his Cabaret Futura in England.
    Monk, as you know, Bill Nelson always brings a smile to my face. I agree that by about 2000 it has been near impossible to keep up with his instant output. I have been investigating a lot of his more “future jazz” (yes a horrible tag, but I’m not sure what to call it yet) work of recent. 2008’s Mazda’s Kaleidoscope is just wonderful.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I have it all up to “Blue Moons And Laughing Guitars” so one day I need to round up $500 or so and hit that action hard. I’ll be entering the Bill Nelson Event Horizon! Also, as a Floridian you now get to experience the “Not THAT Bill Nelson” syndrome! Have fun!

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