The word legend is one which is often, and even more frequently inappropriately, bandied about. But, it is a description which definitely does apply to one man: a guitar player from the humble back streets of east Belfast whose name is cemented in the mythos of the Irish, and subsequently the international, rock scene. And that is Mr Eric Bell. One of the founding members of Thin Lizzy. In fact, perhaps the driving force behind the formation of that iconic act, as our exclusive interview, at the end of last year, revealed.
It has been almost 50 years from those heady days of smoky Dublin bars, and Bell’s subsequent departure from the band just as they found themselves on the cusp of stardom. The intervening decades have not necessarily been kind to Bell, who often found himself forced to eek out an existence based on the legacy of the band he founded rather than as a highly talented musician in his own right. An existence which found himself an exile in his own land: a situation which inspired, as he also revealed in that interview, this latest album. And it’s an album, as he told us in that backstage room, which nearly didn’t happen, as the guitarist found himself forced to bin the original tapes after the producer made a complete hash of the recordings after he left the studio.
Like his fellow east Belfast native, the late Gary Moore, Bell has returned to the blues in the latter half of his career, and ‘Exile’ is an album which is very much steeped in Northern Ireland’s own distinctive twist on the artform, combining the blues itself with elements of traditional folk, country and the showband era in which musicians such as Bell and Moore, as well as contemporaries such as Lynottt, Rory Gallagher and even old grumpy himself, Van Morrison, forged and moulded their sounds. It’s an album drawn from the deepest heartwell of personal experience, drawing on same in a way which is not only both introspective and retrospective but also grateful that its creator finds himself in the position of being able to continue to express himself in the only way he knows.
‘Deep In Your Heart’ sets the mellow tone, with it’s slow slide syncopation, while ‘Don’t Love Me No More’ has a funky vibe which accentuates the underlying heartbreak of the song’s melody, and ‘Gotta Say Bye Bye’ truly evokes Lizzy’s bluesier roots, with its beautifully punctuated chorus and subtle vibrato and understated background solo. ‘Vote For me’ sees Bell deliver some typical Irish sarcasm, with its ironic yet damning lyric and complementary acidic yet genteel riff. The title track is a laconic lament, drawing on the Irish sense of wanderlust and exploration but the innate regret of doing so and the longing for the comfort of the home soil, coupled with the sense of loss when you do just that: the prodigal son returning to find himself an outsider in his own place.
‘Little Boy Running’ ploughs a similar furrow, speaking of how keeping that flame of childhood cheekiness and ambition burning inside can help us all to pursue our dreams no matter what stage of life we find ourselves at, and is punctuated by a typically Irish countrified blues paean. ‘Rip It Up’ heralds the album’s briefly faster interlude, and is good old-fashioned be bop rock ‘n’ roller of the kind that used to get the guys and gals meeting in the middle of the dancehall floor back in those showband days which Bell evokes so well, especially in his cheeky vocal and rambunctious guitar workout, while ‘Concrete Jungle’ is a funky little bruiser which weirdly evokes The Clash in its portrayal of urban decay and how that reflects upon the individual concerned: how many of us can identify with “the lift smells of urine”?
‘Thank God’ harks back to the time of his departure from Thin Lizzy, expressing a gratitude that he jumped off the rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster when he did, lest he fall into the morass of the lifestyle and its associated pitfalls which ultimately claimed the life of his good friend Phil Lynott – and also that he was able to make his peace with the late frontman before his untimely passing. Closer ‘For Gary’ winds the clock even further back: it’s a melancholic, morose, almost totally spoken word homage, recalling the first time that he met Moore, when the latter was just 11 years of age, yet understatedly elegiac and mournfully celebratory of his fellow Belfastian’s sublime talent.
‘Exile’ is a moody album. It is an album which expresses regret and longing, thankfulness and forgiveness. It is beautiful in every respect: its lyricism, its atmosphere, its musicality. It’s an album delivered straight from the heart of a musician and songwriter who has experienced every aspect of every emotion which he expresses. It’s an album best listened to late at night, with the lights turned down very low, a glass of fine wine in one hand and the person you love nestling in the crook of your other arm. Go do it.
Deep In Your Heart / Don’t Love Me No More / Gotta Say Bye Bye / Vote For Me / Exile / Little Boy Running / Rip It Up / Concrete Jungle / Thank God / Song For Gary
Recommended listening: Exile
‘Exile’ is released on Friday (February 26).
Eric Bell heads across to the mainland next week to play the following dates:
Friday 26 February – London, Borderline
Saturday 27 February – Pontypridd, District Club
Sunday 28 February – Bristol, Fiddlers
Monday 29 February – Oxford, The Haven Club
Tuesday 1 March – Evesham, The Iron Road
Thursday 3 March – Wakefield, The Snooty Fox
Friday 4 March – Darlington, The Forum
Saturday 5 March – Bathgate, The Dreadnought Club
He also plays Sweden Rock on Saturday 11 June.
- Live photograph by The Dark Queen © 2015
- You can watch PlanetMosh’s exclusive interview with Eric Bell, in which he talks about the ‘Exile’ album and the early days of Thin Lizzy, HERE.