5 September 2018

To Heaven A Jet/ Revox Cadets - Airfields/ Tony Goes To Tokyo (and rides the bullet train)

Mystery synth-pop with heavy Bill Nelson involvement

Label: Cocteau
Year of Release: 1981

What a peculiar release. Bill Nelson is something of a cult figure in Britain, producing major progressive/ art-rock work with Be Bop Deluxe and later Bill Nelson's Red Noise. Hailed by artists as diverse as David Sylvian, Andy Partridge and Gary Numan, Nelson arguably hasn't really had the full credit he's been due for influencing the direction of modern pop and rock. Seldom ever on the radio, and generally ignored by the kinds of major magazines who run retrospectives on classic rock artists, he's one of those seventies artists whose run of success was too modest to place him in the mainstream, and too big to cause anyone to trumpet his virtues as a "lost artist".

By 1980, he had run into a dispute with Harvest Records about his Red Noise project, and subsequently made arrangements with them to begin a new career on his own Cocteau Records label. Far from using it as a vanity press for his own output, Nelson also released a number of records by other artists. While some of these will be familiar to most readers, and Nelson was astute enough to release early records by A Flock Of Seagulls and Fiat Lux, it was also home to some very strange records like this one.

This double A-side split between two groups, the brilliantly named To Heaven A Jet and The Revox Cadets, is one example. I can find no biographical information for either group, and neither went on to release anything else so far as I can see - though Bill Nelson did apparently play bass on To Heaven A Jet's side of the single due to their own bass player unexpectedly departing prior to the recording session.

"Airfields" has turned up on a number of unofficial 'lost eighties' compilations in recent years, and is worth a listen. Combining icy synth washes with new wave vocals and basslines, it's definitely of its time, but has a doomy and uncertain atmosphere that's a pleasure to absorb. 

The copy of the record I have is rather worn and scuffed on the Revox Cadets side for some reason, so apologies in advance for the poor sound quality. It's a staccato synth instrumental which sounds like the kind of strange electronic pieces Depeche Mode used to bury on flipsides occasionally during this period. It's nice enough, but it's hard to hear why it's been given a "Double A side" status with its partner track. 


Nation Stole My Robots said...

That could be Bill Nelson singing on "Airfields" too.

23 Daves said...

Yes, I don't like to speculate too much, but I do have to wonder just how much involvement he had with both sides of this single.

Rob M said...

This is intriguing, and I'm not sure why I've not heard this before. The early 80s is my favourite period of Nelson's work, he was overflowing with ideas at the time and he hints on the sleeve of "Quit dreaming" LP that there's a lot of material also awaiting release.

While the vocals on "Airfields" do sound like Nelson, the rest of the music doesn't - having the main melody played on a string synth wasn't how he would operate in the early 80s. However I'm convinced "Tony goes to Tokyo" is Nelson. The drum machine sounds and patterns are similar to ones found on Nelson's "Sounding the ritual echo" LP of 1981, and there are hints in the melody of a YMO influence which would lead more directly to songs like "Eros Rising" and the whole "Chimera" album of 1983. One final note - Nelson sold his four track Revox tape recorder to Vini Reilly of the Durutti Column, who recorded their second album "LC" on it. Co-incidence? I think not. It even sounds like Nelson's own "Connie buys a Kodak". If that song isn't Bill Nelson I'll eat my metaphorical hat.

23 Daves said...

The credit to "VU Disney" is definitely suspect, Rob - there's a pseudonym if ever I've seen one. On the basis of what you've said, my suspicion is that To Heaven A Jet were put in the studio to record an A-side and a flip, but due to some complications (possibly caused by their reduced line-up) never managed to record the B-side, and Nelson stepped in with an out-take or off-cut to fill the space.

I can't find anything online that conclusively proves this, though!

Ian Fryer said...

What a fascinating release. Thank you for uploading.

tedsam said...

Revox Cadets was indeed a nom d'etape for Mr Nelson. There was one other track released under this moniker: 'Highway 2000' on the Cocteau Records compilation Signature Tunes, which also included 'Airfields'. I can find nothing further about To Heaven a Jet.

Note that Bill, now 70, is still astonishingly prolific, releasing several albums of new - and normally extremely good - material every year. The latest, Stand By: Light Coming..., will be out later this month through Burning Shed.

Vlad The Chart Collector said...

Have always been intrigued about To Heaven a Jet too. Seemingly a one-off, captivating song - so of its time, but that's precisely its charm. B-side is great, and its without doubt Nelson (though why did he use such primitive rhythm box instead of already employed CR-78 or even TR-808? Very puzzling, perhaps an old demo?), wish he did more like this one. An excellent single, in short.

Steve L said...

I bought this 7" when I was 13 and it had just been released. Everything on Cocteau was so good, Playback by Q was bought around the same time and all Bill's great solo singles. I think there is another To Heaven A Jet single, but I don't have it.