Sunday, 20 February 2011

Bill Nelson's Red Noise: Live and B Sides

It was never a dull moment being a Bill Nelson fan in the 70’s. Starting off with the back-bedroom Bowie meets Jean Cocteau stylings of ‘Axe Victim’ through the Prog-Pop of ‘Futurama’ and ‘Sunburst Finish’ – throw in an almost but not quite concept album ‘Modern Music’ and finish up with the inevitable live album. So far so good you might think. And then along comes ‘Drastic Plastic’. The Guitar freakout quota falls dangerously low…and does that look like a ‘New Wave’ album cover? Oh my…And the bloody keyboard player is wearing a V-Neck jumper on the back cover!

You have to blame Bill Nelson for all that (apart from the jumper). An overactive, overachieving Guitar hero with ADD, he can’t stay in one place long enough for anyone to stick him in a corporate pigeonhole, which in my world is A Very Good Thing. It does tend to confuse people tho’…

Red Noise was Mr Nelsons stab at going ‘contemporary’. Gone were the florid Pre-Raphaelitisms of Be-Bop – the rhythms are as rigid as a marching band and ultra-staccato. On their one and only album, the brilliant ‘Sound On Sound’, he is the rhythm section for half of it – playing Bass and Drums a la Todd R. He does a decent job too.

(Here's a little sampler of 'Sound On Sound' by avs002)

Red Noise had ‘planned obsolescence’ written all the way through it like a stick of Blackpool rock. They lasted one album and tour, before Bill was off on a solo thing. The next album he did - ‘Quit Dreaming And Get On The Beam’ - had a Red Noise leftover or two, but lacks the manic energy of it’s predecessor. And then, thanks to the improvement in home studio technology, he retreats to his back-bedroom (or equivalent), buys a Marimba and gets the next bus to noodletown. Some of his more ambient stuff is lovely, but I remember at the time, all I wanted was the onoff stopgostop of Red Noise.

Before you do anything else, if he haven’t already got ‘Sound On Sound’ you need to buy it. There is no excuse…it’s cheap too. Then, when you’ve calmed down after listening to it, you can download this stuff. Here’s a BBC live recording from Sheffield. 30 minutes (ish) of amazing music, with a BeBop tune thrown in (relax, it’s not ‘Ships In The Night’ although they did do that on a couple of dates…) I’ve also included the bonus tracks from their two singles – ‘Furniture Music’ and ‘Revolt Into Style’. The first single (on red vinyl, no less) was backed with two tracks which actually ‘swung’ a little, which means they would have stuck out like a sore thumb on the album. ‘Revolt Into Style’ was backed with two live tracks from their gig at Leicester De Montford Hall on March 8th 1979. This begs the question WHERE’S THE REST??

EMI dropped the ball bigtime when this got reissued…lack-lustre packaging and no extra tracks. Bah humbug.

Enjoy…and file under absolute-a-go-go

PS...if you need more persuading to grab 'Sound On Sound', then this HAS to do it - an appreciation from the beautifully named Seth Man from Mr J Copes awesome 'Head Heritage' site. Read it here.


Don't touch me (I'm electric)
Furniture music
Stop go stop
The atom age
Substitute flesh
A better home in the phantom zone
Radar in my heart
Revolt into style
Stay young 

Acquited by mirrors
Out of touch (live)
Stay young (live)
Wonder toys that last forever


  1. Great band - had the LP and the singles (still got them actually). Wish they'd put the B-sides on the CD reissue - and the complete Leicester gig (or maybe the Sheffield one) as a bonus CD!

    I love the way the tracks follow on with hardly a gap between them - like you said - manic energy. And Revolt Into Style is a fantastic pop tune!

  2. Wunderbar Ian. I'd recommend these to anyone.

    Following Mr Nelson solo since those glory days is an interesting, exhausting, bemusing, thrilling, disappointing ride.

    You never know what you are going to get, but I wouldn't swap any of it.

    We both have moved in music circles over similar periods, I have never met a bunch of fans so possessive, angsty and fanatic as Nelson followers.

  3. Thanks for this - I never got to see Red Noise but saw Bill a few times in the 80's and beyond. Never got around to going to a Nelsonica and it looks like he's stopped them now (?)


    Bob the Chiropodist

  4. Your links no longer work. Can you re-post them? I would LOVE to hear the live tracks!

  5. Try the Multi-upload option - it worked for me....