Although it was the third Be Bop Deluxe album, Esoteric Recordings chose to release 1976’s Sunburst Finish first in its recent reissue series, including this fabulous limited edition deluxe edition box set.
This decision, of course, made a mountain of sense. Sunburst is unquestionably the most popular and widely-respected Be Bop studio album. Therefore it’s understandable that Esoteric went with the album of least commercial risk, presumably to test out the temperature for release of the other five.
Released in November 2018, the box set immediately satisfied a latent high demand for a high quality Be Bop Deluxe reissue series, paving the way for the remainder of the albums to get the same treatment; a process that was completed at the end of this summer with the release of the gargantuan Live In The Air Age box, which we will look at in detail soon.
As with the chronologically previous Axe Victim and Futurama deluxe edition box sets, the Sunburst Finish version tells the story of the album, through the crucial lens of Bill Nelson’s excellent and informative essay.
Sunburst Finish was the first joint production between Bill and John Leckie. Bill had wanted to produce the album himself, but EMI had doubts about that. So they suggested he teamed up with John who was moving up from engineering roles with bands including Pink Floyd. The two immediately became fast friends and their formidable partnership lasted for the rest of Be Bop’s recording life. They are still good pals to this day.
It was the first album to be recorded by the band’s ultimate line-up, with keyboard player Andrew Clark making his recording debut, having joined the band just a little too late to be included on Futurama.
Recorded in late 1975 at London’s Abbey Road, with some sessions at Air Studios in Oxford Street, Sunburst Finish arguably created the final blueprint for Be Bop’s signature sound.
There isn’t a weak track in sight, from the blistering opener Fair Exchange, the chart bound Ships In The Night, the guitar wizardry of Crying To The Sky to the astonishing Blazing Apostles, which quickly became a key component of their live set and for the rest of the band’s ultimately short lifespan.
The Sunburst Finish Limited Edition Deluxe Box Set consists of 3 CD’s and a DVD, together with a lavishly illustrated 68-page book, a facsimile 1976 tour programme, a colour postcard of each band member, plus a replica poster.
Disc One is a remastered version of the original album mix, with an extra track in the form of the single version of the Ships In The Night. Disc Two features a Stephen W. Tayler stereo remix, with a bunch of extra tracks comprising first versions of Ships In The Night, Beauty Secrets and Crying To The Sky, alternate vocal versions of Crystal Gazing and Ships In The Night and the wonderful The Mystery Demo, which is well worth checking out as soon as you get your hands on this set.
Whereas I felt that the remix on the Axe Victim box set was not as enjoyable as the remastered stereo mix, and the exact opposite was true in the case of Futurama, here I call it a score draw between remaster and remix. They both sound great in their own ways and I found it impossible to determine a favourite. That’s a very good thing, of course, because it means I will continue to get listening mileage out of each version.
Disc Three offers up an excellent BBC Radio One Concert recorded on January 15th 1976, together with a BBC Radio One John Peel session from February 10th of the same year. The session contains some really cracking versions of Crying To The Sky, a new track called Piece Of Mine, which became a live staple, plus Blazing Apostles.
The DVD gives us both a new 5.1 surround sound 96/24 stereo mix of the album, together with a 96/24 original stereo mix. There’s excellent bonus video material with a fascinating unreleased Harvest Records promotional video of Ships In The Night and great BBC Old Grey Whistle Test studio performances of Ships In The Night and Fair Exchange, recorded on January 13th 1976.
The beautifully presented accompanying book matches the excellent standards of the Axe Victim and Futurama books we’ve already looked at, containing many previously unseen images and essays by Bill and Esoteric’s Mark Powell. Again, there are full page photos of master tape boxes, which make for fascinating reading and really add to the box set’s already impressive ambience.
Needless to say, any Be Bop enthusiast needs this set in the collection. Unfortunately, it appears to have sold out everywhere and, like so many box sets in this day and age, demand has exceeded supply and you’ll very likely have to pay a premium using sites such as eBay or Discogs. It’s still worth it, though, because, short of a repress, we’re unlikely to ever see this comprehensive and lavish a box set series for Be Bop Deluxe ever again.
Chris Wright | Now Spinning Magazine