There are few people in the music business to whom the term “living legend” can, and should, be deservedly applied. As far as the the Irish rock scene is concerned, there is one gentleman to whom that descriptive does not even begin to do justice – and that is Mr Eric Bell. Almost half a century ago, a chance meeting in a Dublin bar with a fellow Belfast musical exile – also, coincidentally called Eric [Wrixon] – led the guitarist down the path that would, within a few weeks, lead to the formation of one of THE most iconic bands of their generation, and one which changed the face of the Irish music scene forever: we are talking, of course, about Thin Lizzy. The rest, as they say, is history…
Wind the clock forward some 46 years, and Bell this evening returned to his beloved home turf for the last night of a short run of dates, originally designed to officially launch his newest solo album, ‘Exile’: but, as the guitarist explained earlier in our exclusive interview, things haven’t gone quite according to plan in that department… nevertheless, as they say in the best show business circles (unless, of course, you’re some pansy-assed manufactured pop group), the show must go on, and so it does, with a healthy crowd of local music afficionados making their way Belfast’s Empire Music Hall on this otherwise unattractive Sunday evening for this all-too-rare hometown showcase.
Bell looks relaxed as he strolls nonchantly onto the stage, dressed all the black and with the assurity of the experienced professional that he is, with not even the small matter of a minor last minute technical issue enough to break his stride, as he starts into an easy and eased back selection of blues rock classics. His raw-edged picking style adds his own personality to a set that sways laconically between blues, rock and country.
An early highlight is a drawling interpretation of ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’: there are no fancy effects pedals, or other forms of extraneous assistance: just a man, his guitar and a steelslide doing things with a fretboard many wouldn’t dare to attempt, purely because of the beauty of its simplicity. It’s a characteristic of his set: why over-complicate things when simple honest is the best approach?
Of course, Bell acknowledges his own musical heritage, referencing his time in Them with a fairly standard run through of ‘Gloria’. Elsewhere, his solos are cascading cadences of genius, demonstrating the skill of proving that less is more by what they leave out proving as effective as what their deliverer chooses to include. Another characteristic of Bell’s style is the deep humility he displays in front of this massively respecting, and respectful, audience, who listen intently and then erupt into huge rounds of applause at the end of each and every song. And, of course, the biggest responses are saved for the two iconic Lizzy tracks: ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ (which he describes as “a song I helped to bastardize in 1972) and main set closer ‘The Rocker’, which still features one of the best – albeit adapted over the intervening years – solos ever pieced together by a true master of his instrument.
It’s not often that you get to sit in the shadow of greatness. Tonight, perched just a few feet from the stage, it was one of those occasions.
- Photos by The Dark Queen.
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