This is a guest review from one of our Facebook Group members – enjoy! Phil Aston
Be Bop Deluxe – Live In The Air Age
What’s the greatest live rock album of all time? Clearly you’ll get very differing opinions from different folks. However, my long term experience is that anyone who owns this fabulous 1977 LP/EP set will count it among the very best they have heard, if not THE best.
For me this right up there with the usual candidates from Led Zeppelin, Little Feat, This Lizzy, Peter Frampton and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The problem I have in being balanced here is that this is a recording from Be Bop’s early 1977 tour which included the first music gig I ever went to, at Ipswich Gaumont. Therefore it has a special resonance with me, above and beyond its vast musical merits.
I really have to question if I ever saw a better concert overall. The album cover art features black and white clips from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, which was shown on a huge screen above the band. An incredible effect that just fitted in perfectly with Bill Nelson’s retro-futuristic vision. I’ll never forget it.
The band played for around three hours, largely due to uber perfectionist Bill Nelson complaining of Gibson 355 guitar tuning problems, that no one else could hear, quite honestly. He, therefore, felt compelled to give us more. Wonderful.
Live In The Air Age takes me right back to that memorable February night (11th), at a not exactly sold out Gaumont, it must be said (a travesty). This is just how they sounded. Bill’s unrivalled axe wizardry, Simon Fox all over the drum kit in masterful fashion, Charlie Tumahai’s distinctive bass, backing vocals and conga playing, and Andrew Clarke’s quite dazzling keyboard work, that was to eventually see him making a fantastic contribution to David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes, among other notable later album appearances.
My recollection is that each and every track on Air Age was played that night, including the instrumental jam Shine, which was never released on a Be Bop Deluxe studio album, having been created during one of the band’s Abbey Road sessions. It features here on the EP, which was available in various forms around the globe. In the UK it was a 7 inch vinyl single, while USA fans could choose from a sonically superior white or black vinyl 12” version. I have the black LP/EP, not least because coloured vinyl was a bit noisy back then, in this superb and hard to find In near mint condition original US pressing on Harvest. Most copies look worn through the tremendous use they’ve had, it seems
While their four studio albums are all remarkable recordings, I think it would be fair to say that Air Age is the ultimate Be Bop Deluxe experience, because Bill’s playing was pretty much peerless at this time. The solos on the previously unreleased Mill Street Junction and Piece of Mine, Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape, Sister Seagull and at many other points across the tracks, are all absolutely brilliant.
The only possible negative is the decision to not to include any material from the previous year’s Modern Music album, save for a brief crowd chorus of Terminal Street. Trust me, the band’s live performance of the incredible Modern Music Suite was something to behold. Maybe it will appear in an extended version someday.
What a privilege to have witnessed it all first hand. And yet, tragically, hardly any video footage survives of this stunning era, which quickly gave way to the more streamlined, and fabulous, final album Drastic Plastic and subsequent tour, before Bill tired of guitar heroism, forming the influential Red Noise and then moving on to an eclectic and astonishingly prolific solo career that continues to this day.
I reckon this must be one of my most played albums and I have undoubtedly listened to it right through literally thousands of times. And yet I never tire of it, not even close.
Without hesitation, I say that Be Bop Deluxe was the most underrated band of the 70s. Live In The Air Age is a staggering testament to that viewpoint. I simply can never get enough of it.
Astonishing that this landmark album has never been reissued on vinyl.