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Bell X1 interview | Leeds Cockpit | 1/6/04

Saved By The Bell

Interview and photos by Dawn

I first stumbled upon the Irish charms of Bell X1 back in April when twice witnessing them support the wonderful Keane and being instantly spellbound by their unusual yet bewitching melodies - not to mention the infectiously energetic (if slightly eccentric) antics of captivating frontman Paul Noonan.

A month later, I catch up with Paul (vocals, guitar, tambourine and other assorted instruments, with an endearing habit of stopping mid-sentence to hold your gaze whilst searching for precisely the words he wishes to use) and Dave Geraghty (lead guitar, banjo, keys, harmonica and a seemingly permanent warm smile) in Leeds during their own tour and, given that the band name refers to the first aircraft to break the sound barrier, it seems fitting that the venue in which we meet is the Cockpit. Somewhat relieved to find that both Paul and Dave's engaging Emerald Isle accents are perfectly coherent to my relatively untrained English ears, my only other worry is that the pair won't understand my own indecipherable Teesside twang.

'We'll just nod and smile politely!' Paul teases with over-exaggerated enthusiasm, the twinkle in his eyes as mischievous as Dave's accompanying grin - or perhaps a smile mentioned in the lyrics of the band's Snakes & Snakes song...

Thus far, Bell X1 have released three singles in England and an album, Music In Mouth, but back in Ireland they also released an earlier LP, Neither Am I. 'We've had a lot more time to conquer Ireland, or to promote the band,' says Dave. 'Our profile's bigger than here all right. Or maybe it's just that the country's half the size!' And is there any chance that Neither Am I will be released in England? 'No plans as yet.'

'We'd love to,' says Paul enthusiastically. 'I think if the single goes well and the album goes stratospheric then our back catalogue will be lashing the shops. I mean, I feel now that if anyone does have our first album here that they should spread the word - burn away.' He pauses. 'I don't know how long I'll have that altruistic attitude for - I might get all Metallica...'

The last time the band were on the road was the aforementioned Keane tour: 'It was crazy,' says Dave before Paul explains: 'That whole tour was sold out on the back of one single and there was just this huge frenzy. It was almost like Beatlemania - we've never seen it like that before - and I think we had to work a bit harder. When we supported Aqualung and especially Tom McRae in Europe, the audiences were very quiet; for Keane we had to step it up a bit.'

'There were people who wanted to come and see Bell X1,' continues Dave, 'but the gigs were sold out by the time we were announced, so hopefully that's enhanced the ticket sales for this tour because now people do have a chance to come and see the band.'

'It's been brilliant!' enthuses Paul of the shows thus far. 'It's our first proper headine tour. We've done a couple of support tours, so it's been really encouraging to see people show up.' The gigs are to promote the single Eve, The Apple of My Eye, released on June 14th, which is a different version to that on Music In Mouth:

'Eve was probably one of our oldest songs,' says Paul, 'so every time we went to record it, we added a bit. As a result, it ended up about five and a half minutes long.'

'We wanted to make it Bohemian Rhapsody you see,' Dave jokes, adding weight to Paul's theory that 'it was going quite "rock opera".' So which version do the band perform live - or is it a hybrid of both? 'It is a hybrid,' nods Paul. 'A bit of both.'

'Just to confuse the fans a little bit,' smiles Dave.

'There were some high-level negotiations and a compromise was reached in the wee hours,' says Paul. 'We tried it the old way, but to me it just didn't sit well. We're doing it with the old structure and the new kind of feel and instrumentation.'

Music In Mouth was released in 2003 but originally recorded in 2002: 'It took about ten months from start to finish,' says Paul. 'We kind of went away after three months thinking that we had finished, then decided that we hadn't and faffed around with it for another six months, so I suppose just at the start of 2003 we were actually finished. We've been touring it ever since, but I haven't got bored of the songs.'

One of Bell X1's biggest strengths is their intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics; in particular, Next to You demonstrates an intriguing way with words.

'It's changed quite a bit over the years,' says Paul of the band's songwriting technique. 'Dave or I would come along with basic ideas, whether we'd written them separately or together, then we'd flesh them out as a band. If I have a 'moment', I write it down or record it on my phone or onto a dictaphone and then when we go to actually write songs, I just try to piece ideas together. A lot of the songs come from maybe single lines or a certain sentiment.'

'That song in particular was the first where it was really obvious that we would co-write, where people came together with very solid ideas,' says Dave. 'For that reason it's almost like a little celebration song for us. I just had the lyric "Time pulls a face when I'm next to you" and then Paul had this classic second line which was "I hope the wind changes" - the question/answer kind of thing. But musically as well it all just fell into place on that song in particular, which was a lovely feeling. It's nice that we've got a healthy respect of each other's style of writing.'

'Admire each other's work,' adds Paul, not entirely seriously as Dave turns to him and feigns an American accent: 'I love your early stuff, man!'

The mischievous glint has returned to Paul's eyes. 'Well, you know, it took a while to actually...' (he pauses, looking for the words) 'not feel starstruck in your presence!'

Backstage, the laid-back attitude and gentle Irish lilt belie Paul's onstage persona. One of the liveliest frontmen you will ever see, his manic tambourine-playing has already gained him a reputation - although perhaps he's a little too enthusiastic at times?

Paul inspects his hand. 'Oh, it's gone now, I can't show you, but I had a huge blister after the first show of this tour. It was chafed!' he pouts. 'It was all chafed and swollen! I often lose bits of tambourine,' he continues. 'The jangly bits on the more modestly-priced models - they fly out into the crowd. Now I've got a bit of a posh one. It's a sign of progress...'

And hopefully far from the last, for with songs and performances like theirs, it would be a tragedy were Bell X1's career not to take off here in England as it has for the boys back home.

Huge thanks to Paul, Dave, Brian and Roger. Visit www.Bellx1.com for more information.

 

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