Bill Nelson and Be Bop Deluxe

I have not met a mother yet who does not think that her baby is the most beautiful baby there is. When I first heard a mother saying it, I thought perhaps there was some element of irony. All babies are beautiful, I thought, but you don’t really believe that yours is the most beautiful do you? I once aired these doubts. I laughed and said to the mother that every mother I had met thought that. Yes, she replied in absolute seriousness, without even a trace of irony: ‘Except that my baby really is the most beautiful.’ This is how the eyes of love see the beloved. I imagine this might give us insight into how God sees every single one of us. The mother is not blinded by love. Just the opposite – the scales have fallen off her eyes so that she sees the true value of that one small person.

It may exist, but I have never seen the same level of devotion from fathers. In men this natural instinct seems to be misdirected and applied to more superficial things. I have seen devotion to fourth rank professional soccer team, Tranmere Rovers (who at this time in the early Eighties were averaging gates of 800 people) so great that when I asked him to explain why his beloved team was languishing at the foot of the table he replied in all seriousness, again no irony whatsoever, that it was all down to a complete season ‘bad refereeing’…but next season he tipped them for promotion. This, I suggest, is blind devotion.

On a similar level of superficiality, guys have a blindness to the awfulness of the rock or pop music they grew up with. There is nothing worse than listening to somebody else’s greatest hits collection on their iPod; and nothing better than listening to your own. Especially when its a 50 year old man and everything dates from the strict.y delineated time period of 1973-1988, after which time all pop music ‘went downhill’ so demonstrating that the youth of today listen to tuneless, raucous, inane rubbish barely meriting the categorization of music (so different to what we used to listen to ‘in my day’). After 1988 this typical man started to branch out into jazz and classical and maybe now listens to chant and polyphony. But he still won’t let go of all of the rock music he grew up with, and is convinced that it has genuine artistic merit.

I might say that this hypothetical example described above applied to me…except that the music I have downloaded onto my iShuffle really is the best from a golden age of popular culture when there was genuine musicianship and that everybody should be able to appreciate it!

And to prove it here is a video of the singer/songwriter from one of my favourite groups from the late 1970s, Bill Nelson whose group was Be Bop Deluxe. When I was surfing around the net one day, I was amazed to come across this old interview with him in which he does describe the process of inspiration as something that comes from God. This is all I need, I thought, reference to God will justify its inclusion in this blog….

Joking aside, regardless of what you think of my taste for out-of-date pop music (which is probably slightly worse than I think it is), I would love to see a new popular music appear as part of the New Evangelisation. It is an assumption of many people today that what sells appeals to the lowest common denominator and can never raise people’s souls to God. I do not agree. However, the answer is not, repeat not, Christian rock as we hear it today (which is just a pale version of the forms) which no self-respecting rock fan would every really listen to. Rather, it is up to Christians to find music that is entertaining and accessible, that is powerful and beautiful. If what is good appeals to something that is ordered in us, it will always have a greater appeal than that which appeals to what is disordered in us. This will involve consideration of harmonic forms as well as the words and might well include also modern developments in rhythm and electrical manipulation of sound. Just like any aspect of the culture, provided it is employed discerningly it can be transformed into something good.

I do not know what such music will sound like. While I think it is unlikely that it could convert, it can begin to open the door to something better. The groups that I gravitated to when I was listening, I found out afterwards, were often those who avoided the rock’n’roll blues scales and harmonies, and used more conventional harmony and counterpoint. It may be a surprise to some that such groups did exist and I know of one or two trying to do this now. George Sarah in California is one. This stimulated a desire for something more that took me to classical music and ultimately liturgical.

So for any whose interest persists, here is some music by the ‘fastest guitarist in Wakefield’ Bill Nelson. Below at the bottom I show the interview made with him in the mid 1980s. Above that is a recent recording of him playing the 1975 song Maid in Heaven, now 63 and still very sharp and clear in voice and instrumental technique. The top is a recording from their heyday in the mid 1970s. You can decide whether or not you believe this is the basis of a good popular music…or just three more inclusions in my personal greatest hits collection that it is better to avoid.

Ships in the Night – 1976

Maid in Heaven – 2012

David Clayton

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David is an Englishman living in New Hampshire, USA. He is an artist, teacher, published writer and broadcaster who holds a permanent post as Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Liberal Arts at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. The Way of Beauty program, which is offered at TMC, focuses on the link between Catholic culture, with a special emphasis on art, and the liturgy. David was received into the Church in London in 1993. Visit the Way of Beauty blog at thewayofbeauty.org.

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