Saturday, April 16, 2011

Be-Bop Deluxe: Sister Seagull

My first taste of our bubbling under group Be-Bop Deluxe came in 1977 when I purchased their “Live! In the Air Age” album. This double disc set had one record in white vinyl and the second in black vinyl. I was hooked on this English art-rock band from the moment the needle hit the vinyl.

“Sister Seagull,” which had been a flip side of their 1975 “Maid in Heaven” was also featured in a live context on this album. “Live! In the Air Age” was their most popular album in the US charting on Billboard’s Top 200 Album Chart at 65; however, they never attained wide-spread appeal in the States.

While the song never charted when originally released on their second album “Futurama,” its feature on “Live! In the Air Age” caused AOR programmers to go back and revisit the studio version. “Futurama” never charted in the US; however, the studio version allowed guitar virtuoso Bill Nelson to show off his talents by the way of overdubbing the lead over his rhythm and accompaniment parts – something he couldn’t do live – as he was the only guitarist in Be-Bop Deluxe.

Nelson is really an underrated guitarist, which is unfortunate as he is quite good. It’s a pity not more people haven’t heard his work. Five thumbs up.

Live Version

From a 1975 performance on the “Old Grey Whistle Test,” here’s a live version of “Sister Seagull.” While it isn’t the best recording as the tape had stretched, it gives you an idea what this band was like live. Along with Nelson on guitar and vocals, bassist Charlie Tumahai also contributes backing vocals. A member of the Maori community of New Zealand, Tumahai died of a heart attack in 1995 at the age of 46.

Simon Fox handles the backbeat, while keyboards were supplied by the band’s newest member Andrew Clark. Using his Rhodes Electric Piano, Clark doubles the rhythm part normally played only on guitar by Nelson at the beginning of “Sister Seagull.” The realistic strings are courtesy of Clark’s Mellotron.

Because of the limitations of only one guitar, the live version is a bit mellower as Nelson cannot do those fantastic leads while playing rhythm guitar parts; however, he does get to shine on the solo. Nelson is playing a sunburst Gibson Stereo ES-345 run with added distortion and an Echoplex during his solo.


Sister seagull, oh you're flying me to high
Feels so dizzy underneath your open skies
And it's strange the games we play to hide the crime
Sister seagull you're the reason I survive

I am a prisoner who has thrown away the key
My soul has vanished with the bird who flies so free
And the wings of change have spread themselves o'er me
Sister seagull you're the reason I survive

I am waiting here for the tide to turn
And the pathways of the air to open
Will you meet me there
By the golden stairways to the clouds
To the clouds

I am a changeling
Like the wind across the waves
Though in the end there will be nothing left to save
I will return one day
With all the time you gave
Sister seagull you're the reason I survive
I survive
I survive


  1. I had almost exactly the same introduction to BBD at the same time, with the same reaction. "How did I not know about these guys??" Apparently, though, that put me in the majority here in the States. It was only by happy accident that I ever learned of them at all. An expat friend of my brother's brought the album with him when he moved here from the UK, and the rest was history.

  2. It was their Live in the Air Age album and the guitar tone that hooked me too. Have been a huge fan ever since and have purchased the same guitars and amps used by Bill during this phase.