Classic Tracks: ‘Ships in the Night’ by Be-Bop Deluxe
MATT HURWITZ – UPDATED ON MAY 7, 2019
By 1975, British rockers Be-Bop Deluxe had recorded and released two albums on EMI’s Harvest label without much notice in the States. The first, Axe Victim in 1974, produced by Ian McClintock and recorded at AIR Studios in London, was succeeded by Futurama in June 1975, recorded at Rockfield Studios. Produced by the prolific Roy Thomas Baker, the album, which yielded two hit singles in England, “Sister Seagull” and “Maid in Heaven,” had little impact here.
But with Bill Nelson, the group’s leader/mastermind guitarist, taking the producer’s chair for the first time, alongside Abbey Road engineer (and now co-producer) John Leckie, at Abbey Road Studios in 1975, they were poised to break the ice worldwide with the recording of their third LP, Sunburst Finish, and its hit single, “Ships in the Night.” The song set the stage for fans to be introduced to Nelson’s complex songwriting and production, evidenced by another standout track, “Sleep That Burns,” which closed the album’s first side.
The album was recently reissued by Esoteric Recordings in England in a deluxe edition, featuring both stereo and 5.1 surround remixes by Stephen W Tayler. It also includes early versions of several of the album’s songs.
Drummer Simon Fox and New Zealand-born bassist Charlie Tumahai had joined the band the year before, with guitarist Nelson tracking keyboards himself during the Futurama sessions. For touring, a true keyboardist was required, so a young player, Simon Clarke, from a band in Sheffield called Mother’s Pride, was added to the lineup (after being asked to adopt his middle name, Andy, under “We already have a Simon” band rules…).
“We advertised for a keyboard player, and Andy turned up,” Nelson recalls. “He had been a church organist at one time, and was the most technically able. He was very much into bands like Emerson, Lake and Palmer and King Crimson—prog was his bag. The only problem we had with him was that he looked like a stereotypical hippie—very, very long hair, mutton chops and an Afghan coat! We said, ‘C’mon, Andy, get a haricut, smarten yourself up,’” he laughs. “He refused. He said, ‘I’m a musician. I’m not dressing up.’”