Ding, ding, round 5

Bell X1 get in the ring with Tony Clayton-Lea

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

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

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