Ding, ding, round 5
Bell X1 get in the ring with Tony Clayton-Lea
HERE THEY come again – one of Ireland’s most popular bands, a likeable unit with a strong predilection for writing the type of songs that get them noticed far beyond the often stifling boundaries of Ireland.
Bell X1’s new album, Bloodless Coup, is simultaneously a continuation of and a departure from a trajectory of acclaim that started more than 10 years ago and shows no signs of stopping. While they remain one of the country’s most commercially successful acts, life outside of Ireland is, by necessity, a priority. Hello the US of A.
“We first attained a profile from having a couple of songs played on The OC,” says lead singer and primary songwriter Paul Noonan. We first went over to America in the mid-2000s, played small clubs, which to our surprise were full of people who knew the songs.
“We’ve always had a hunger to get out and gain a foothold in different places. I still think the best tool in our arsenal is playing in front of people. There really is no substitute for that, and it’s been great to see over the past few years that crowds have increased and venues have got bigger. We’ve also reached beyond the bigger cities in America to the south and Midwest, and up to Canada, which is great.”
The holy grail for any music act trying to get a grip in the US is airplay. Bell X1 seem to have been making the right noises (literally), because on Sunday, American radio network NPR (National Public Radio) will be at the Guinness Store House in Dublin to record a special Bell X1 gig for their syndicated World Cafe music show, which is broadcast on 185 stations across the US. In what is a first for NPR, they are winging their way across the Atlantic in the company of 85 lucky listeners in order to show support for the forthcoming US release of Bloodless Coup, which comes out over there on the Yep Roc label. This is big thing for the band, yes?
“It’s hard to quantify that,” says Noonan. “I’m still getting my head around the indicators of what success means in the US, because radio is so formatted. There seems to be a hierarchy – and I may have this wrong – that involves jumping from Adult Alternative to NPR to the first rung of commercial radio. Then it goes up to Super Pop radio, or something like that, which is probably where Billboard comes into play.”
Whatever happens during this process, and indeed after it, is in the lap of the gods, but it won’t prevent the band attempting to balance the expectations of their Irish fans with the commercial pragmatism of wanting more.
“We’re a very different prospect in Ireland, in that we’ve been releasing albums here since 2000. Bloodless Coup will be our fifth, and before we had the massive radio play here we had a few years of touring and going to every county, playing and building what is still a really strong, supportive fan base. That is the core for us, and indeed it has fuelled everything beyond Ireland for us. We’re selffunded, and I think at some level people are very much aware of that and feel part of what we do.”
“You have to prove yourself abroad,” adds multi-instrumentalist Dave Geraghty, who is also Bell X1’s sharpest dresser. “Ireland is a small country, and as insatiable a market as it is – justifiably renowned for its love of music – you can only do so much business.”
Broadening the horizons is the thing to do, says Geraghty. But stretching these same horizons has inadvertently led many an Irish band into music industry quicksand, the result of which is, inevitably, failure. Geraghty jokes that “if you’re going to fail