When you look at it, life isn't necessarily that complicated after all. For example, if you want a bespoke cabinet, and can afford it, you go to a bespoke cabinet maker. If you want a high quality suit, and don’t mind paying a fortune for it, you go to somewhere like Savile Row. If you want to hear quality blues guitar you go and see Eric Bell. The good news is that the last one is far cheaper, accessible to the likes of you and me, and a lot more rewarding.
Eric Bell’s new studio album Lonely Nights In London sees the former Thin Lizzy guitarist back in the studio for the first time since 1998’s Irish Boy. He serves up ten tracks that mix originals and covers in near equal measure. Drenched in honest blues, trademark melodies, and solid song writing this album is well worth the 12 year wait.
This is the guy whose musical pedigree speaks for itself. He started in several local Belfast based bands, including a brief spell with Them, who once featured Van Morrison. He was also part of Glasgow based band The Bluebeats, giving up his day jobs that included working in a pickle factory, to join and become a professional musician. Then there was The Shannon Showband who worked the Yorkshire circuit.
Back in Belfast he was in Shades of Blue and latterly in Dublin's The Dreams but in 1969 he decided to form his own band. One night he saw a group called Orphanage which included singer Phil Lynott and Brian Downey on drums. They got together, chose a name, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Signing with Decca Eric would play on the first three Thin Lizzy albums, their self titled debut, Shades Of A Blue Orphanage, and Vagabonds Of The Western World. It’s also Eric on one of Lizzy’s most successful singles “Whiskey In The Jar."
As Lizzy got bigger so did the pressure. It culminated in Eric suddenly quitting the band during a gig at the end of 1973. His time with Lizzy was not yet over however and he would later appear as a guest on their 1983 tour.
This pedigree led, at various times, to him touring with the legendary Bo Diddley and working with ex-Jimi Hendrix Experience bass player Noel Redding. The stories of Eric and Noel’s times together in and around the pubs of Cork make for great reading on the biography page of Eric’s website.
Later he formed the Eric Bell Band which today sees Eric joined by drummer Romek Parol and the ex 69’ers bass player Brian Bethell. Lonely Nights In London kicks off in style with the pulsating Bell penned “You’re My Only Woman.”
This is, despite being a studio recording, a vibrant gig of an album which contains many excellent Eric moments. Covers include Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” a track that allows him a familiar platform to smolder and seduce with some trademark blues breaks.
Johnny Winter’s “Dallas” follows, providing him with the chance to showcase his excellent slide guitar skills. The driving “Shake Your Money Maker” also gets the treatment.
The six newly written tracks all work impressively with “On The Road Blues” telling of the lonely reality of touring and has Eric singing “another room, another door, another ceiling, another floor.”
The standout title track reflects a situation that I, and many others, have, at various times, felt. You can be in a city of millions and yet feel totally alone. The lines “there’s a note pinned to a tree, but it doesn’t seem to be for me”, and “seems so strange to feel alone with so many people around” reflect the sense of lonely isolation that a big city can bring.
I can also connect with the soothing blues of “Me And Technology” which sees Eric pressing what he thinks is the 'right' button only for it to all go wrong. It’s a horribly familiar feeling of life moving too fast and has him singing of being left far behind as though he has been asleep a long, long time. You and me both.
The acoustic blues of “Nitrous Oxide” continues the atmosphere easing us towards another equally impressive gentle acoustic track “Belfast Blues (For Rhona).” In this he goes way back remembering what it was like working in the pickle factory before it all began. It’s been a hell of journey since then.
Lonely Nights In London closes with the gorgeous instrumental traditional Irish lament “Taimse Im Chodlach” which ends an album well worth the wait.