INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
Northern Irish rock musician and guitarist Eric Bell is best known as a founding member and the original guitarist of the rock group Thin Lizzy. The band was originally formed in Dublin in 1969 by Bell, bassist/vocalist Philip Lynott, and drummer Brian Downey. Bell performed in the bands first three critically acclaimed albums: THIN LIZZY (1972), SHADES OF A BLUE ORPHANAGE (1972) and VAGABONDS IN A WESTERN WORLD (1973). Bell suddenly left the band on New Year’s Eve 1973 after a gig at Queen’s University in his hometown Belfast. After the split Bell first fronted his short lived Eric Bell Band and later on he has performed and recorded with such artists and groups including Noel Redding Band, Bo Diddley and Mainsqueeze. Although Bell hasn’t been too often in the headlines anymore, he has continued to perform and record with a new version of the Eric Bell Band throughout the 1990s and 2000s, releasing several albums including IRISH BOY (1998) and LONELY NIGHTS IN LONDON (2010). In April 2011, Bell and his band were a part of the “A Tribute Gig to Gary Moore” event in Dublin. After the show we had a chance to sit down with Eric and discuss about his career, future plans, Gary Moore and of course about Thin Lizzy… Read on!
THE CURRENT STATE OF ERIC BELL
First of all, in brief, what you’ve been actually doing since the Lizzy days?
Well, I was with a band called Mainsqueeze which was an 8 piece blues band. Most of the guys were former John Mayall musicians, so they were really talented. Like, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Victor Brox, Keef Hartley, you know all the old names from the blues scene in London from the 60’s. So I joined that band and I was with them for a while. Do you know Noel Redding? He was Jimi Hendrix’s bass player. I was working with Noel for two years and then I joined Mainsqueeze again and we worked with Bo Diddley for about six months or a year.
If I remember right, a couple of years ago there was a release the third Noel Redding band album called THE MISSING ALBUM. It came out like in 2005 or something like that?
That’s right, yeah. It was a live thing, a copy someone recorded in the audience. That came out, and then I started concentrating on my own stuff. So I’ve got three albums, three Eric Bell albums out at the moment. Well… I mean, there was a live album recorded in Sweden and there’s also an album recorded in Madrid called THE IRISH BOY, you know. So I’ve got like – you know, there’s one – no, there’s two live CD’s out and there’s two studio albums by Eric Bell Band out as far as I know “laughs”.
It’s funny to say, but the only place in the world where I even seen any Eric Bell Band CD’s on sale was in Finland…
Finland? I’ve seen some of those in Jupiter and in Saturn “laughs” but I’ve never seen those in here…
Right, I actually went through many, many record stores in Dublin and they didn’t even know that you’ve released any material since you departed with Lizzy and it was quite the same in London as well… They had no idea about your solo albums, you know, and that kind of amazed me?
What can you do about it? You know, you’re just playing music and you meet some people who talk a lot of shit, and it’s just part of the game. It’s a part of the game, and you meet some other people who are genuine. Well, you get that in everything, don’t you? I know because… I’ve met lot of “wankers” in music business and they just did talk a lot of shit but… I mean everybody knows that’s what the music business is a like.
How do you see the future of Eric Bell Band?
Well, the thing is … I’d like to play different places in Europe, you know what I mean, I have played all over in Europe in Finland, Denmark, and Sweden and so on and think that last time I did that was quite a long time ago. I’m up for it, you know, and now it’s about getting contacts in those places in Europe. Talk to those people and to try to get a tour together, you know, but at the moment that hasn’t happened. All I can say is that I’ve got a very good website called www.ericbell.com, it’s the official website. If anyone wants to get in touch with me like agents etc. from Europe then please do it and we can talk. There you go “laughs” One must push one, you know, to make things happen.
OTHER STUFF IN LIFE
I actually find out that you moved back to Ireland recently?
Yeah, I moved back to Ireland because I was living in London with my wife and my son and London is like, you know, I want my – you know, it’s fucking crazy. So my wife, who was born in London, didn’t like London anymore because it had changed so much and I had met Noel Redding from Jimi Hendrix Band, and he was living in West Cork – excuse me – and when I first met him, I had a sort of rehearse with him and so on, and so I rehearsed in his house, which was absolutely amazing in the middle of nowhere in West Cork, and I spent a lot of time there rehearsing this and that, and the other, and I got to know the area very well.
So that must have been in the mid 70’s?
Yeah, about 1975, ’76, and a few years later, I took my girlfriend over to stay in Noel’s house. He had a huge place, and I said to her, “You’re going to fall in love with this place and want to live there,” and she said, “No I won’t,” and she fell in love with the place. So that’s why we’re living there now, you know?
Yeah, like 30 years later… What a great story!
Like I said it’s such a place, man. It’s crazy. Really fucking – really – coming from London to where I was living… this is like the total opposite, complete opposite.
When you actually moved there?
About nine months ago.
How long you actually were living in London?
I lived in London loads of different times. The first time I lived in London was when Thin Lizzy left Dublin. Yeah, and we had – our management said, “You should leave Dublin and live in London,” and we did and it was like fucking crazy place. So I lived there for a while and then I left Thin Lizzy and moved back to Dublin, I’m originally from Belfast, but for some reason, I moved back to Dublin, and then I stayed in Dublin for a few years and moved back to London, and I kept going Dublin-London, London-Dublin, Dublin-London for quite a few times.
Well, now after LIVING nine months in Cork, what do you miss most in London or is there any?
Well, it’s very strange because coming from London, like where I lived, it was extremely busy. It was really busy all the time, never stopped, never stopped, and then to move from there to where I’m living now, it’s like a different planet. It really is. I miss London for museums. Wake up! You know, like for museums and like book shops and stuff like that and record shops and things like that because London has got so much materialism. You know what I mean? If you want it, but where I’m living is like “Forget it”, you know? Oh, wow, the place where I live, oh, there it’s like extraordinary. Essex, it’s just an extraordinary place. It really is. I’ve been there like nine months and I’m still trying to come to terms with it. You know what I mean?
THE GARY MOORE THING
Tonight you and your band performed as a part of Tribute Event to late Gary Moore. When you first met Gary back in the days, like you, he was originally from Belfast as well so did you know from that time already?
He was, yeah. I met Gary a place called Hollywood, believe it or not, which is about five miles outside Belfast, and I was playing there one night with the band that I was in, the Deltones, and I was about 16 years of age then. (Singing), and I played in this club, and Gary Moore’s father ran the club. He ran it every two or three weeks, whatever it was, and anyway, Gary Moore’s his son, and Gary was about eleven years of age then, and I think one of the deals was that because Gary’s father ran the gig, he wanted Gary to play with every band that played there for two numbers, two songs. That was part of the deal.
So whenever I went there with the band that I was in, the Deltones, I had this little box about the size of that, a little bit bigger than that, a plastic box, which was the first pedal that was ever invented for the guitar, basically. I’m going like way back. There were no effects. It didn’t exist. They weren’t there, and anyway, I seen a guitar player using this little white box one night and I asked him about it, and he told me it was “a foul treble booster”, and I went out and bought one and the night I played in Hollywood, Gary seen it and at the end of the gig, he come up to me and he said, “What’s that little box?” and I said, “Oh, it’s a foul treble booster.” He said, “Can I try it?” and I said yeah. Everybody had gone home, you know, so the amps, amplifiers were still up on the stage, so Gary plugged his guitar into this little box and he went oh, wow, I must get one of these, you know? And we became friends at that point and he would come and watch me playing with whatever bands I was in, and I would go and watch him and it was about three or four bands that I sort of was playing guitar in, and then I left and got Gary Moore and then about two years later, I’d be in a Thin Lizzy band and I’d leave that and they got Gary Moore… you know?
So he kind of followed yours footsteps then “laughs”?
Absolutely, and I don’t know why. It was just because we were both raised in Belfast, and then like the last one was obviously Thin Lizzy. I left halfway through a tour and I found Gary and he joined.
I was going to ask you how do you actually did get along? Like you said he kind of replaced you in many different occasions so were you upset about him at some point, you know what I mean?
Not at all, it was never like that. Gary was – I never had bad feelings about Gary ever about anything, and I think he probably was the same way with me, you know? It’s just not – it was nothing like that at all.
How you liked Gary’s work with Thin Lizzy or were you interested about that back in the day?
You know, every musician has got their own stamp, you know, their own personality and whenever that comes into a group situation, then one guy leaves with his personality and someone else joins in with his personality. You know what I mean?
How much you did follow what was going on with Gary’s career after the early years?
No. I didn’t follow his career but he was a very good friend and we lost touch with each other for a long, long time and just out of the blue, I got this phone call one day and he went, “Hey, it’s Gary Moore,” and I was like… Well, you know, it was like a surprise and he said, “I’m thinking of doing this gig in Dublin, Gary Moore and friends, for Phil Lynott, you know, the DVD, and I’ve asked Scott Gorham, and he’s up for it. Brian Downey’s up for it. Brian Robertson’s up for it. Do you fancy doing it?” and I said yeah, great. So he says, “Why don’t you come down to Brighton?” which is where he was living, and I was living in London, and he said, “Why don’t you come down to Brighton and stay and stay in my house for a few days?” and I said great. You know, so I got the train down to Brighton and he was standing at the fucking train station like a lover, you know? I hadn’t seen him for quite a while, but… it was great. Like we were just immediately friends as soon as we met each other, you know. Probably ’cause we’re both from Belfast, you know? Anyway, we got into his car and he drove me back to his house in Brighton and he showed me around his house and we started playing guitar. And then the next day we went to this little hall that he had and we went over “Whiskey in the Jar” for that show, the DVD.
Yeah. It was great show you did back in 2005. I actually have the DVD and it’s great to watch. You also worked together with Gary when Lizzy did its last live album LIVE LIFE back in 1983. Tell something about that event as well?
That was the last gig I ever did with Thin Lizzy and it was on a lot of the guitar players. Again, it was a phone call out of the blue. “We’re going to do this gig in Hammersmith Odeon and we have this idea of getting all the guitar players that ever played with Thin Lizzy to come down?” So… that was it and I went down but I don’t think that Snowy White was there?
He wasn’t… actually he recorded his part later on for the album, that’s what I have learned?
CURRENT VERSION OF THIN LIZZY
Well it’s year 2011 now and there’s a brand new incarnation of Thin Lizzy touring across the world. How does it feel to see them still going on UNDER that name but without Lynott?
I just think – well, I mean, like two or three things. They have to pay their rent and maybe like – maybe they just enjoy playing on the road and staying in hotels and meeting people and signing autographs and so on. You know, like for a tour, which probably lasts about 15 days, you know? So it’s very ego-satisfying.
Doesn’t it feel ANY strange to see that happening still, under name Thin Lizzy, you know?
No, not at all, no. Well, I mean, they can go so far as you can get – like in England, for instance, you can get five guys, six guys who just get together and they go to this office and they buy a band’s name, like Edison Lighthouse or something, right? Or the Tremolos, and they buy that name for 500 quid and they call themselves the Tremolos but none of them have ever been a member of the original Tremolos but they can still go out, you know?
So, in your opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that thing?
No, like all I’m saying is best of luck to them. You know, if they can go out and do successful tours and people come in, big crowds, and enjoy it, then sure enough, that’s all right by me. You know what I mean? I wouldn’t, you know, ’cause I’d be falling asleep… But there again, you know, it’s like – it’s just like you sort of approach music whatever way you can.
What if this current line-up would put another album of original material under Thin Lizzy name, how you would like about thing like that?
I honestly don’t know. The thing that – the positive thing about it all, to me, is that they keep the name alive, Thin Lizzy. Thin Lizzy is still – you think of all the thousands of bands that was around in the 70’s, the early 70’s, and they – a lot of them were very popular and had loads of hits and very popular bands. You never hear of them again. They’re all fucking gone. They’re all – loads of them, hundreds of them, that were just as famous as Thin Lizzy, but they’ve all, for some strange reason, all disappeared off the face of the earth, and Thin Lizzy is still there.
Yeah, I can see it when I come to visit in Ireland and when I go to market or bar, I can always hear Thin Lizzy still played everywhere in here?
Well, it’s still there because it’s like a sort of – I think there’s a few landmarks that made it last. Like for instance, I think, I say “Whiskey in the Jar” had a lot to do with it because it was an international hit, you know? And it’s still about. Metallica redid it. Fucking the High Kings in Ireland redid it making it a hit again and…. don’t know. Anyway, that was one thing, and then I don’t know. Like Gary and Philo getting together, that was another landmark, there are all these landmarks about Thin Lizzy, I think, that keeps it still popular, you know, and they seem to have influenced a lot of bands.
What if they would have asked you to join this new version of the band, would you have been interested to take part of it?
No, I wouldn’t be interested in that at all.
TO FIND A WAY IN LIFE
Have you ever been thinking how different your life and career would have been without Thin Lizzy?
Oh, absolutely. I was thinking about it today. I was looking out my hotel window this afternoon, and I was just thinking wow, back in Dublin again and… I mean, Dublin to me was – like I’m from Belfast, and back in the days I just got an offer to come down to Dublin to do an audition for a show band that was just forming in Dublin and I got down to Dublin. Somebody gave me a lift and I came down here with my guitar and I went along to the audition and I was there with something like 300 other musicians there, and I said “Oh my God, I’ll never get this. It’s over”, but I went in and I waited my turn, and they said, “Next,” and I walked in and I plugged into the amp and I played and I didn’t know what to think, you know? But anyway, I got the job and I ended up moving from Belfast and living in Dublin, the first time in my life, and I was with the show band for about a year and a half playing six nights a week, believe it or not. That what it was, it was six nights in a week.
That must’ve been rough time?
I did it on every week only Monday was a night off. And anyway, after about a year and a half of that, I got so pissed off playing this music, this crummy music, you know, like “Simple Simon Says”. Six nights a week, I was going, “God, let me out of here.” And I went one night to see Skid Row with Gary Moore on guitar and Brush Shiels on the bass and Noel Bridgeman on the drums and I went into this little club one night on my own with my show band suit on and my show band haircut and I must’ve looked like a fucking freak, you know?
Freaks escaped from circus “laughs”?
Oh, man, and this mole hair suit, everybody’s were like hippies, and I’m walking on with this fucking show band suit on, you know, I went into this club, and I heard this music, and I thought no, it’s a record, and it wasn’t. It was a live band, and they were fucking frightening. They just fucking blew me away completely. I couldn’t believe it. I was going “What am I doing in a show band?” you know? And that was –
It was the wake-up call for you to do something different, right?
Absolutely, and Gary did see me in the audience and after a bit they took a break and he came down and he went, “Hey Eric” and his hair was down to here and my hair was up to here, you know, and he looked like a real fucking hippie. He really did, and I said to him, “Listen, can I get up? Can I play your guitar and get up and jam with Brush for a few numbers?” and he went, “Yeah! Go ahead!” and I got up. I looked like very bad because I had this show band suit on but I played on, and I don’t know what it was like, but anyway, I played and that was the start of me leaving the show band. I don’t even know if you asked me that question but here’s the answer “laughs”
That was part of the question. In the end of your time with Thin Lizzy, I read somewhere that you were kind of pissed off for the attitude that, you know, when the outlook was more important than playing. Was it really like that?
Yeah, but in a way, I didn’t understand I was a bit ignorant. Not ignorant, but I was very, very proud of Thin Lizzy when we first started. I really was. It was such a great and original little band, you know?
You’re talking about the early stuff here?
Yeah, the early stuff. I thought the first album, very original stuff that was going on and I’m not only saying that because i was involved, but it was very original, and I was very, very proud of it. I was really fucking over the moon about that band. I really was, and then after a while, we became sort of the biggest band in Ireland very quickly. It happened very quickly, within about seven months from starting. After seven months we were like huge in Ireland with one of the biggest crowds, you know? We couldn’t believe it. The way it just happened, and anyway, our management said, “Right, I think you should all go and live in England.” So we all went to live in England and I didn’t like London, and so – ’cause I didn’t know anybody and I was living in this fucking shithole and it was really rough and see, the thing that was very hard to take is was that Thin Lizzy was one of the biggest bands in the whole of Ireland and we moved to London. Nobody knew who we were. So we had to start from the very bottom all over again. It was incredible. Like we’re coming out of Ireland going like “Yeah, we’re the fucking boys” Get to England, and it was like, “Thin who? Thin Lizzy? Who the fuck’s that?” So we had to start again from the very bottom, you know?
Phil Lynott, Brian Downey and Eric in early 70’s
THE LAST WORDS
Our time seems running out soon. Is there anything more you want to say for your fans?
Well… What I’m saying is that, that there’s official Eric Bell website there and… “Hi! Is anybody out there, its Eric Bell calling to Europe. If you want to know what Eric Bell is up to go on and check my official webpage www.eric-bell.com and say that you want me to come over and play in your country which I’m willing to do. You know, if anyone’s interested of the original guitar player of Thin Lizzy then get in touch with me” I’m a musician, I would like to play allover in Europe and that’s all I can say, really, thank you “laughs”
Thank you Eric!
ERIC BELL BAND
+ SPECIAL GUEST BRIAN DOWNEY
LIVE AT CLUB WHEATUS, DUBLIN 2011