Be Bop Deluxe Axe Victim Limited Edition Deluxe Box Set Review

As promised here is the first of 6 unboxing videos looking at the Be Bop Deluxe – Deluxe Box Sets.

We have decided to do them in chronological order as I think it makes more sense in telling the story of the band and how they progressed with each album. I am joined on this video and all the Be-Bop Deluxe videos by Chris Wright who is a huge fan of the band.

Be Bop Deluxe Axe Victim Limited Edition Deluxe Box Set Review By Chris Wright

It could be argued that the best box sets are those that succeed in telling us the full story of how the music they contain came to be. 

The Esoteric Recordings 3 CD/1 DVD limited edition deluxe box set of Be Bop Deluxe’s debut album Axe Victim really does well in this respect. 

The excellent 66-page book accompanying this box features an extensive interview with band founder and guitar hero extraordinaire Bill Nelson, who relates the story of how Be Bop came to record this stunning and fondly remembered debut album. 

In fact the whole process took some time as EMI were really interested in signing bill on his own and not the band, having been impressed with his previous solo album Northern Dream, recorded at Holyground Studios in Bill’s native Wakefield in 1971. Bill, however, stuck to his guns and insisted that if EMI were to secure his services then it would have to be under the auspices of Be Bop Deluxe. 

And, lest we forget, this was a very different band from the one we eventually came to know, featuring Bill on lead guitar, vocals, acoustic guitar and grand piano, Ian Parkin on rhythm and acoustic guitars and organ, Robert Bryan on bass guitar and vocals and Nicholas Chatterton-Dew on drums. 

These original members of Be Bop were all friends from the Wakefield area and Bill had low ambitions for the band at its inception. However, a John Peel session recorded in November 1973 started to change the trajectory to something on a grander scale. It caught EMI’s attention and thus began the pursuit of Bill’s talents, which ultimately resulted in the recording of Axe Victim in various London studios in 1974. 

The book that comes with the box set is exceptionally well illustrated with great in-period shots of the band and images of master tape boxes which reveal recording details of the 16 track masters, plus concert posters, many taken from gigs in Yorkshire in the early days of the band. 

And what an album Axe Victim was and indeed still is, with the iconic skull guitar design on the cover, which Bill says he was never happy with as it suggested a heavy metal outfit, which Be Bop most certainly were not. A truly fantastic line-up of songs that really set the stall out for what was to come in later iterations of this much loved and respected band. One of the tracks, the classic Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape, became a staple on tour throughout their history.

What does come across in the booklet and the four poster cards depicting the band members is how glam-influenced the band was at this early point in its history. Indeed the crystal clear new mastering in this box set seems to reinforce more than ever the likely influence of fellow Yorkshireman Mick Ronson in terms of guitar style. This was something that hadn’t struck me so much previously and yet, with the extreme detail of this deluxe set, it all seems to make a lot of sense in terms of where Bill was coming from at this point. 

What we see here is a band progressively acquiring its early identity, which of course was to undergo a considerable metamorphosis and constant evolution throughout the band’s life. 

Also included is a full colour tour poster which also promotes their new single at the time, the amazing Jet Silver And The Dolls Of Venus. This was an extensive tour through June and July of 1974, taking in UK-wide venues. 

The music itself is presented on four discs, three CDs and a DVD. CD One features the original stereo mix remastered for this set, including four bonus tracks, while the second disc showcases a new stereo mix by Stephen W. Tayler which presents an interesting new perspective on the album. CD Three includes the band’s first ever John Peel session in November 1973, audition tracks for Decca in December 1973 and a second Peel session in May of 1974. Disc Four, a region-free DVD, presents the album in high-resolution 96 kHz/24 bit, 5.1 surround sound, featuring both the new stereo mix and the original stereo mix together with three bonus tracks. 

Disc One is essentially a remaster of the original stereo mix by Ben Wiseman. I think it sounds great here and Bill’s fabulous guitar work, already so evident so early on, really cuts through in a way that even the original UK vinyl struggles to match. The bonus tracks include Teenage Archangel and Jets At Dawn, the A and B sides of a an earlier privately pressed single on the Smile label (a rarity). The first mix of No Trains To Heaven and first album version of Axe Victim get their debut public airing on this box.

Disc Two offers the new stereo mix, along with the first version of the title track, a spoken word-only Night Creatures and the initial recording of Rocket Cathedrals. I have conflicting feelings about the current remix trend. Is it wise to meddle with the magic, as it were, or is it better to try and improve on the limitations of recording techniques at the time the music was created? In this instance I find the remix to be more sonically balanced than the original, which some may really like. On my particular audio system, however, I found myself much preferring the bolder and more etched original mix on the first disc. 

Disc Three offers both Peel sessions mentioned earlier. I really like that John’s between song comments have been left in, as they leave the listener in no doubt as to the high esteem in which he held Bill and his band. The four Decca demo tracks are also very interesting. As is often the case with BBC recordings of this era, the sound quality isn’t the very highest level, but sufficient to take you back to a very different time when great new bands were showcased almost nightly on this incredibly important Radio One show.

The DVD is audio only, which probably indicates that there is no surviving footage of the Axe Victim-era band. I’m not a fan of surround sound being added to music that was never intended to be presented in that way. Undeniably, however, it offers an interesting new perspective and, while I’ll mainly stick to the other discs, it’s going to be a fascinating diversion from time to time.

In summary, this is a really fantastic overall package that’s still easily available and I would highly recommend prompt purchase to make sure you have this in your collection. These Be Bop limited editions deluxe box sets have proved to be very popular (Sunburst Finish is already extremely hard to find) and they are all likely to become very sought-after collectors’ items.

Chris Wright | Now Spinning Magazine

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