Be-Bop Deluxe was founded in Wakefield, Yorkshire, England, by Bill Nelson in 1972. They never played bebopmusic, but instead came out of the blues-based British rock scene of the late 1960s. At first they were compared to the more successful David Bowie, but Nelson never tried to copy Bowie, and appears to have disliked comparisons or being pigeon-holed. This artistic restlessness eventually led him to disband Be-Bop Deluxe altogether and pursue less commercial paths of expression.
Influences upon the band's music included David Bowie, Roxy Music, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Van der Graaf Generator and Frank Zappa. The band's sound emerged as a mixture of glam rock, prog rock and straightforward rock and roll. Science fiction imagery (e.g. robots) was common in Nelson's lyrics, along with the more traditional themes of love and the human condition (albeit often hidden beneath Nelson's quirky lyrical and musical metaphors).
Nelson was acclaimed as one of the finest guitarists in British rock at the time, and the music showed that, with his distinctive tones adorning most tracks. Stylistically, the songs took elements from progressive rock, glam rock (the band had flirted with make-up in the early days) and hard guitar rock. Ships in the Night was their most successful single in the UK and USA.
Drastic Plastic, recorded under the influence of punk, new wave and David Bowie's 'Berlin' albums was a substantial stylistic change from the progressive / guitar rock of the early Be-Bop Deluxe. Eager to embrace the changing musical landscape, Nelson dissolved Be-Bop Deluxe and immediately formed a new band, Bill Nelson's Red Noise, retaining Andy Clark on keyboards, and adding Nelson's brother Ian, who had previously contributed to Be-Bop Deluxe albums, on saxophone.
The only album to emerge from this lineup, Sound on Sound (1979) can be seen as the last Be-Bop Deluxe album, as it amplified and extended the trends on 'Drastic Plastic', and was the last rock band album Bill Nelson made before moving into the introspective solo projects that were to dominate his subsequent career.
Bill Nelson was always the principal songwriter for the band. He also played lead guitar and sang lead vocals on all but one song. The original Be-Bop Deluxe line-up was as follows:
- Ian Parkin: Rhythm and Acoustic Guitar.
- Robert Bryan: Bass and Backing Vocals.
- Nicholas Chatterton-Dew: Drums and Percussion
That lineup only lasted for one album, Axe Victim (1974), and a short tour. Nelson disbanded the group and reformed with various musicians, finally settling on:
- Paul Jeffreys: bass guitar. Formerly with Cockney Rebel.
- Milton Reame-James: keyboards. Formerly with Cockney Rebel. Now with Banana Rebel.
- Simon Fox: Drums and Percussion. Later with Blazer Blazer.
However, the line-up didn't last long, and only Nelson and Fox remained in the band. Shortly afterwards they added:
- Charlie Tumahai: Bass and Backing Vocals. He was added in late 1974, after extensive auditions. He recorded the Futurama album.
- Andrew Clark: Keyboards. He originally was a guest keyboardist for the Futurama tour, but joined shortly afterwards to record the remaining albums.
The album Futurama was recorded with Nelson, Fox and Tumahai; Clark was added for the tour. This is the lineup that recorded Sunburst Finish (February 1976), Modern Music (September 1976) and Drastic Plastic (February 1978).
When Be-Bop Deluxe was in plans to reunite in the 1990s, Ian Nelson, brother of Bill, was one of the members of the new line-up, but the reforming came to nothing.