THE ROCKER – AN INTERVIEW WITH THE LEGENDARY ERIC BELL (THIN LIZZY)
THE ROCKER – AN INTERVIEW WITH THE LEGENDARY ERIC BELL (THIN LIZZY)
There are no two ways about it; renowned guitarist Eric Bell is a living legend. Not only is he a great musician who has released some fabulous solo albums over the years, but he also founded the mighty Thin Lizzy back in late 1969 with Brian Downey on drums and Phil Lynott on bass and vocals. Bell recorded three magnificent albums with Lizzy before he formed his solo outfit. He has been as active as ever these past few years as a touring and recording artist, and if you have yet to check "Exile" (2016) and "Standing at a Bus Stop" out (2017), make sure you do so ASAP. Eternal Terror Live caught up with Bell to discuss the aforementioned albums, what inspires him, and the Thin Lizzy years.
Greetings Eric, thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions of mine. Much appreciated. First of all, how are you doing?
Eric: Yeah, I’m feeling fine, thanks, and thank you for the kind words and great questions.
I thoroughly enjoy the "Exile" and "Standing at a Bus Stop" records and consider them way up there with the very best of them. The songs are heartfelt and passionate, and the musicianship is superb. Something like the gritty "Back Door Man" or the playful "Frustration" are just phenomenal! How personal are those albums to you in terms of lyrical content and subject matter?
Eric: I just started writing songs, and memories and emotions I wanted to use…It’s funny the way songs take on a form. It’s trying to match the whole thing, to create an atmosphere, the chords match the lyrics, the guitar matches the bass, and the rhythm guitars, and the melody of the words. I like people like John Lennon who aren’t afraid to bare their soul. In their songs.
"Exile" is a very moving record with a lot of color and depth to it in my opinion. Tunes such as "Song for Gary" and "Say Bye Bye" are marvelous. There is also a sense of melancholy and longing to some of the tracks. As to "Song for Gary", was it something you had been thinking of doing since the tragic loss of the great Gary Moore? It is a damn fine composition in my opinion.
Eric: As to how "Song for Gary" came about, when he passed away, I thought that no-one was really paying him much attention. I was about to record the "Exile" album and thought I must put something on it for Gary. I thought first of all that I would just play a blues instrumental, but then wanted to do something a bit more special. I spoke the lyrics and it told the true story of how Gary and I met.
Did you attend any of the Skid Row gigs in Ireland back in the late 60s? Bernie Torme (Gillan, Ozzy Osbourne)once told me that those gigs with Gary were absolutely stunning and that it was amazing to watch him perform back then at such a young age.
Eric: Yeah, I watched Skid Row lots of times. As well as Gary being amazing, so was the bass player (Brush Shields) and the drummer (Noel Bridgeman). In fact, it was seeing them play for the very first time that made me leave the Irish show band (John Farrell and the Dreams) that I was with and eventually form Thin Lizzy.
What do the titles “Exile” and “Standing at a Bus Stop” connote or refer to? Is there a deeper meaning or significance to them? Obviously, one can read a lot of different things into them, but I was just wondering if they had a specific meaning in relation to the songs and lyrics on the albums. Both seem to refer to either a sense of waiting for something or perhaps moving towards something, but maybe I got that all wrong.
Eric: Both “Exile” and “Bus Stop” tell true stories about what I was going through at the time. Myself and my wife Rhona and baby son Erik had moved from London to Dublin, and the nightmare started. I tried to form a group, and just everything I touched fell apart. I really felt like an exile at the time. One day standing at this bus stop I was really depressed and down, and I wrote these 2 songs, trying to explain how I felt. As I say, the words in those songs tell the true tale.
When composing and writing songs, are you quite spontaneous and intuitive, or the other way around? Do you like to experiment when in the recording studio or is everything more or less set in stone before you head to the studio?
Eric: I write songs in a very strange way, I think. Very random. I get ideas that happen by accident sometimes. I might get a melody by humming as I wash the dishes, record this on my phone, and then play through other ideas on the phone (I have hundreds of ideas) until I hear one that maybe I can use. Then I have notebooks with lots of lyrics and sometimes the notebook will be lying on the table, open at a random page, and somehow the whole thing starts to take shape. But to finish the song could take months, and it plays in my head and keeps changing until I feel it’s time to really work at it and finish it. Yes, I love to experiment in the studio, which started out with early Thin Lizzy. I would make up lots of ideas for the Lizzy songs as we were listening to the playbacks.
What can you tell us about the upcoming UK tour dates where you plan to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Thin Lizzy? Will the set list contain material from all three Lizzy albums?
Eric: This is all a bit of a mystery to me. There was supposed to be a tour coming up with the Eric Bell Trio playing songs from the first 3 albums and Brian Downey’s band Live and Dangerous playing the later stuff. We played a gig in England (Monsters of Rock) about 2 months ago but no-one has heard anything about the tour?
How do you look back on your time with Thin Lizzy? I have always felt that those yearly years of the band were extremely underrated. There were some really strong albums and tours. Do you still get a kick out of performing those classic tracks live? When either listening to them or performing them, do they bring back a lot of fond memories and a sense of nostalgia?
Eric: My time with Thin Lizzy was magical. The three of us were very close, and to be a part of something that took off, recording in London, having a hit record, Top of the Pops, etc. was pretty amazing. Yeah, I play the early albums sometimes, and it’s very emotional for me.
The debut album by Thin Lizzy is pure magic to me. It has a certain timeless quality to it that is impossible to define or sum up into words. What were those early days in the studio with Phil and Brian like? Does the album hold a special place in your heart?
Eric: The first album when it was released, it seemed nobody was really interested. The only person that showed any interest was DJ Kid Jensen. Now, 50 odd years later, people are listening to the early albums, and most seem to pick up on what we did then. I must say, we were all very stoned in the studio when we recorded the first album. (lots of bands were in those days). I just feel it’s a very warm album with a great atmosphere.
I love and cherish "Shades of a Blue Orphanage" as well. The title track is incredibly moving and beautiful. I seem to recall reading somewhere that you thought the album was not as good as it could have been and that the whole process of writing and recording it was a bit rushed, but I could be wrong about that. What are your thoughts on "Shades of a Blue Orphanage" nowadays?
Eric: Yeah, we had been gigging non-stop, and one day our management told us that we would be recording our second album in about 6 weeks time. We had about 3 or 4 very rough songs, and really that was it. So, we were just not as prepared for the album as we had been for the first one. But, listening to it these days, it does have some special moments for me, for instance the guitar solo on "Brought Down".
You have been recording and performing music for decades now. Is it ever not fun to be a working musician? Where do you find the inspiration to keep going and still deliver great shows and so on?
Eric: Being a working musician, especially as time passes, you really have to look after yourself. If you eat well and get some exercise and rest, and not indulge too much, you can keep going. It seems to me that the physical side catches up with most musicians; aches, pains and the hands and fingers not working the way they should be. So far, I have been lucky. Also, I think we all owe The Rolling Stones a very big debt. They can still go out on that stage and deliver regardless of their age. So, that has helped older musicians to have a chance to play without someone shouting up "Sod off, Granddad!!".
Speaking of inspiration, what inspires you in terms of writing lyrics? Life in general and people that you encounter?
Eric: I just jot down ideas and words on pieces of paper or little notebooks, and may not look at them for months. Then when I read them again, they can take on a different meaning. Taking all the notebooks out and words on pieces of paper, sometimes it reminds me of making a jigsaw. I find it feels very strange as some words or ideas sort of attract each other, and you end up with a rough idea of a song.
How do you like performing at more intimate venues compared to large festivals and arenas? You have performed at Sweden Rock Festival and the Rory Gallagher Festival, which are quite big affairs, but you also play smaller venues with a more intimate setting. Do you have a preference?
Eric: It took me a long time to adapt from playing small venues to being able to play big venues. Doing the tour with Slade back in the 70’s really helped us as Thin Lizzy as we had to learn how to play on a big stage. Regardless of the size of the venue, I really love the audience to be as close as possible to the stage. It seems to help me get the sound I’m after on the guitar.
These past few years you have been keeping busy, recording music, releasing albums, touring, and so on, which is incredibly inspiring to us as fans. I guess there was not really a question in there, more like a compliment. So yeah, thank you so much for the interview, Eric. Any final words to our faithful readers?
Eric: Thank You too Sir!! I’m just glad to still be a part of it all, and thank everybody out there that’s given me any type of support.