Release: Bill Nelson and the Gentlemen Rocketeers

In the ’70s, Bill Nelson’s Be-Bop Deluxe sat in a musical space between the primitivism of Punk and the pomposity of Prog. Bebop’s technically complex music was rooted in blues and jazz but looked firmly to the future. Nelson’s later releases with Red Noise, and especially on his solo records in the ’80s, were stellar examples of how guitar-based music could incorporate the technology of the times (synths and drum machines) while offering some serious playing for fans of the instrument.

Bill Nelson and the Gentlemen Rocketeers Recorded Live In Concert At Metropolis Studios, London [Convexe], is a three disc set (two CDs and one DVD) that provides an overview of Nelson’s career in the form of a live-in-the-studio concert.

“October Man”  from the solo record The Love That Whirls

The boxed set is a guitar-porn delight. Nelson plays a different guitar on almost every one of the 14 tunes, including the Campbell American Nelsonic Transitone  in the video above, and, on another tune, another Transitone; his iconic Gibson ES 345 from the Bebop days and a three-pickup Les Paul, both with Bigsbys; a white Airline ’59 Coronado map-style and a Saturn ’63 from Eastwood; a Duesenberg Starplayer TV; a Gretsch White Falcon; a couple of D’Aquisto resembling guitars, a blue-green semi-hollow that looks like a Gretsch but isn’t, a solid-body that looks like a PRS but isn’t, and another solid-body that looks like it has paired lipstick pickups set up as humbuckers.

Early Be-Bop Deluxe

Bill Nelson has been kicked around by the business more than most as he explains in this extensive interview:

But from the evidence of Bill Nelson and the Gentlemen Rocketeers Recorded Live In Concert At Metropolis Studios, London he has emerged with his enthusiasm and chops intact. The four instrumental bonus tracks are, in this case, truly a bonus.

There is currently a slew of ’60s and ’70s bands putting out live performance discs by the original or remaining members of the band. This one holds up better than most; more than a retrospective by a guitarist who pushed the envelope, this is also a collection of great music, well performed.

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9 thoughts on “Release: Bill Nelson and the Gentlemen Rocketeers

  1. Thank you so much for all the music and the happiness and goodtimes it provided.your playing has always taken me to a beautiful jouney!!!.Ilove listening to Live at the metropolis. I think its very tasty. Stop being so hard on yourself about it.I liked it and that’s what truly matters. Thanks again

  2. I’m no expert, but I think the guitars Bill plays are (in no particular order): two Campbell Transitone (Nelsonic signature) models (in both a red/white livery and in a custom/blue livery); a D’Angelico EXS-1DH; a Duesenberg Starplayer TV; an Eastwood Airline 59 Coronado; an Eastwood Doral Jazz; an Eastwood Saturn 63; a Gibson ES345; a Gibson Les Paul; a Gretsch G6 120; a Gus G1 Vibrato; a Peerless Gigmaster Jazz; and I think the guitar that looks like a Paul Reed Smith Custom 24 may be a Patrick Eggle Vienna. His second guitarist appears to play a Duesenberg 49er and a Duesenberg Ronnie Wood.

    The Metropolis Studios set is a truly excellent performance. How Bill Nelson pulled such an impressive rabbit out of the hat, given the circumstances, is nothing short of amazing. To quote from his online diary (square brackets are my edits):

    “The […] band was hindered by a makeshift stage barely big enough for us to be squeezed onto. We suffered from a muddy, uninspiring and confusing monitor mix and were physically unsettled by an environment that felt more like a sauna than a performance space […] The heat did no favours to the tuning stability of the guitars either […]

    “The band’s entire performance was an uphill struggle from start to finish […]”

    It would be impossible to tell that from the recordings here! Why does it sound so good? Nelson again:

    “After the concert I was given a set of CDRs of stereo mixes of the performance but, after listening to them at home [… it] immediately became apparent that there was little choice but to accept the option of mixing the multi-track recordings of the performance […] at my own expense”

    It seems BN only agreed to undertake the performance because a UK televised broadcast of the event was promised by the original producers. Apparently the concert has not — so far — been broadcast in the UK and, on learning of this (second) DVD release of the event from fans, Nelson said on his website:

    “[…] I haven’t received a penny in royalties from the first DVD, I doubt if I’ll be getting anything from this […]”

    So, after taking a loss on staging the performance and remixing the sound for DVD release, and in the absence of the promised broadcast, sad to say Nelson will actually have received diddly from this project.

    Having said that, I have to repeat that this performance is excellent. For any enthusiast of Nelson’s music it’s pretty much indispensable and if it attracts others to enjoy Nelson’s music that is obviously to the good. But in fairness to the artist: people should also support his own projects where he *can* make a bob or two from his talent and industry.

  3. I don’t know what guitar moderne zine is, but I do know an adventurous guitarist when I hear one , and I consider myself very fortunate indeed to have stumbled across Bill Nelson in 1995 , via his masterpiece of that year (there’s at least one every year ) , Practically Wired, and have been following his adventures closely ever since . The ‘Rocketeer’ video was my first taste of seeing him in action , after years of long-distance listening , and that was/is a treat, but the playing and music itself always stands strong on it’s own.

    It’s impossible to pigeonhole Bill Nelson , because his output covers such a broad range of guitar styles, musical genres (often transcending genres and exploring on his own, which one of the main appeals) , and instrument palettes.
    One thing is guaranteed though, when the man straps on his guitar(s) , and that’s that the listener is in for the most tastefully articulated melodies (that I’ve ever heard) , and on top of that , the most refined and sophisticated repertoire of guitar sonics (that I’ve ever heard) . The ‘Rocketeer’ video is a fine sampling of these attributes , and is highly recommended for anyone who loves to dive deep into the beauties of electric guitar sound and music.

    DS 7-19-2012

  4. It’s about time that Bill Nelson gets credit for his incredible career in music. From the rock and roll of Be Bop Deluxe to his solo keyboard works of the 80’s in an ambient style, and his prolific output as a solo artist with his modern guitar instrumentals, Bill is an artist that continuously delivers quality. He has also worked with many bands such as Big Country, Gary Numan, Sea of Wires, and Channel Light Vessel. This collection is definitely the jewel of the Rock Legends series of DVDs and CDs; not to be missed. Five stars!!

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